Mudlark Poster No. 39 (2002)

James Sallis

The Death of Virgil | The Death of Poetry | Artaud

James Sallis’ most recent collection of poems, SORROW’S KITCHEN, came out from Michigan State UP in 2000. BLACK NIGHT’S GONNA CATCH ME HERE: SELECTED POEMS is due out from Salmon Publishing, County Clare, Ireland, late this year, 2002. [There is no duplication between the two volumes.] Other books include CHESTER HIMES: A LIFE, named a notable book of the year, 2001, by the NEW YORK TIMES, and GHOST OF A FLEA, his most recent novel, 2001, that occasioned an essay for the TIMES’ ongoing feature “Writers on Writing.”

The Death of Virgil

for Joe Roppolo

In the carriage house out back, refurbished
and let for twice its worth,
Virgil packs for departure:
the grips and Gladstones of his mind are full.

What of all this will you miss,
old man? the youth asks, his tender hand
(that could be so wonderfully cruel)
cupped at the poet’s brow as though to catch
what might brim over there, ideas, sorrow,
some final redeeming image.

Virgil looks up, at himself, callow
coming to mind—such a beautiful word.
Such a beautiful child. And so much
he might have done.

I will miss, most, the world’s distractions,
he knows; but says nothing. There is no one
to hear. And that other world waits, the one
beyond speech, that has no use for words
and, like this one, he supposes, little enough
for servants of the word such as himself.

The Death of Poetry

On Lines by Rozewicz

For some time now (hardly a thing the general citizen takes note of) the price of the death of poetry has risen. Used to be you could engage an assassin for a single large-denomination bill and a couple of drinks—or just a couple of drinks if you waited till near closing time. These were professionals, mind you, expertly trained, highly disciplined; they gave a clean kill, good value for the money.

Having contracted one of these freelance samurai in the matter of an acquaintance recently featured on the inside back page of BOOK WORLD and awaiting his report, I sat half-awake outside a coffeehouse and dreamed of Leo Tolstoy lying on his handbuilt bed big as a raft in a nest of tangled hair, and the hair was not his. The hair was his country’s—destiny’s.

His face came up like a flower’s, like the sun’s, so yellow and dazzling that I covered my eyes. Are you all right, sir? the waiter asked.

When I took my hands away, there, engraved on the palms, were prints of what he had seen: this bowl of unadorned grain, tanks climbing the ladders of their own treads into silent cities, airborne balloons in the shape of great heads, children who cradle bombs lovingly, like household cats, in spindly arms.


The revolt against poetry
continues. No more literature!
And yet, language goes on working
its way up out of you, through you.

What you know, you will know
absolutely, you insist, or not at all.
Metaphors bring to mind
those floppy rubber boots the British wear.

Tear down all walls!
Bury all towers!

Then you pause and I see,
in your eyes, that you know:
you are, yourself, the world
you demolish, the only world.

Copyright © Mudlark 2002
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