Now I shall spy on beauty as none has

Spied on it yet.  Now I shall cry out as

None has cried out.  Now I shall try what none

Has tried.  Now I shall do what none has done.

And speaking of this wonderful machine:

840    I’m puzzled by the difference between

Two methods of composing:  A, the kind

Which goes on solely in the poet’s mind,

A testing of performing words, while he

Is soaping third time one leg, and B,

The other kind, much more decorous, when

He’s in his study writing with a pen.

In method B the hand supports the thought,

The abstract battle is concretely fought.

The pen stops in mid-air, then swoops to bar

850    A canceled sunset or restore a star,

And thus it physically guides the phrase

Toward faint daylight through the inky maze.

But method A is agony!  The brain

Is soon enclosed in a steel cap of pain.

A muse in overalls directs the drill

Which grinds and which no effort of the will

Can interrupt, while the automaton

Is taking off what he has just put on

Or walking briskly to the corner store

860    To buy the paper he has read before.

Why is it so?  Is it, perhaps because

In penless work there is no pen-poised pause

And one must use three hands at the same time,

Having to choose the necessary rhyme,

Hold the completed line before one’s eyes,

And keep in mind all the preceding tries?

Or is the process deeper with no desk

To prop the false and hoist the poetesque?

For there are those mysterious moments when

870    Too weary to delete, I drop my pen;

I ambulate—and by some mute command

The right word flutes and perches on my hand.

My best time is the morning; my preferred

Season, midsummer.  I once overheard

Myself awakening while half of me

Still slept in bed.  I tore my spirit free,

And caught up with myself—upon the lawn

Where clover leaves cupped the topaz of dawn,

And where Shade stood in nightshirt and one shoe.

880    And then I realized that this half too

Was fast asleep; both laughed and I awoke

Safe in my bed as day its eggshell broke,

And robins walked and stopped, and on the damp

Gemmed turf a brown shoe lay!  My secret stamp,

The Shade impress, the mystery inborn.

Mirages, miracles, midsummer morn.

Since my biographer may be too staid

Or know to little to affirm that Shade

Shaved in his bath, here goes:

                                                “He’d fixed a sort

890    Of hinge-and-screw affair, a steel support

Running across the tub to hold in place

The shaving mirror right before his face

And with his toe renewing tap-warmth, he’d

Sit like a king there, and like Marat bleed.”

The more I weigh, the less secure my skin:

In places it’s ridiculously thin;

Thus near the mouth:  the space between its wick

And my grimace, invites the wicked nick.

Or this dewlap:  some day I must set free

900    The Newport Frill inveterate in me.

My Adam’s apple is a prickly pear:

Now I shall speak of evil and despair

As none has spoken.  Five, six, seven, eight,

Nine strokes are not enough.  Ten, I palpate

Through strawberry-and-cream the gory mess

And find unchanged that patch of prickliness.

I have my doubts about the one-armed bloke

Who in commercials with one gliding stroke

Clears a smooth path of flesh from ear to chin,

910    Then wipes his face and fondly tries his skin.

I’m in the class of fussy bimanists.

As a discreet ephebe in tights assists

A female in an acrobatic dance,

My left hand helps, and holds. And shifts its stance.

Now I shall speak . . . Better than any soap

Is the sensation for which poets hope

When inspiration and its icy blaze,

The sudden image, the immediate phrase

Over the skin a triple ripple send

920    Making the little hairs all stand on end

As in the enlarged animated scheme

Of whiskers mowed when held up by Our Cream.

Now I shall speak of evil as none has

Spoken before.  I loathe such things as jazz;

The white-hosed moron torturing a black

Bull, rayed with red; abstractist bric-a-brac;

Primitivist folk masks; progressive schools;

Music in supermarkets; swimming pools;

Brutes, bores, class-conscious Philistines, Freud, Marx,

930    Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets, frauds and sharks.

And while the safety blade with scrape and screak

Travels across the country of my cheek,

Cars on the highway pass, and up the steep

Incline big trucks around my jawbone creep,

And now a silent liner docks, and now

Sunglassers tour Beirut, and now I plough

Old Zembla’s fields where my gray stubble grows,

And slaves make hay between my mouth and nose.

Man’s life as commentary to abstruse

940    Unfinished poem.  Note for further use.

Dressing in all the rooms, I rhyme and roam

Throughout the house with, in my fist, a comb

Or a shoehorn, which turns into the spoon

I eat my egg with.  In the afternoon

You drive me to the library.  We dine

At half past six.  And that odd muse of mine,

My versipel, is with me everywhere,

In carrel and in car, and in my chair.

And all the time, and all the time, my love,

950    You too are there, beneath the word, above

The syllable, to underscore and stress

The vital rhythm.  One heard a woman’s dress

Rustle in days of yore.  I’ve often caught

The sound and sense of your approaching thought.

And all in you is youth, and you make new,

But quoting them, old things I made for you.

Dim Gulf was my first book (free verse); Night Rote

Came next; then Hebe’s Cup, my final float

In that damp carnival, for now I term

960    Everything “Poems,” and no longer squirm.

(But this transparent thingum does require

Some moondrop title.  Help me, Will!  Pale Fire.)

Gently the day has passed in a sustained

Low hum of harmony.  The brain is drained

And a brown ament, and the noun I meant

To use but did not, dry on the cement.

Maybe my sensual love for the consonne

D’appui, Echo’s fey child, is based upon

A feeling of fantastically planned,

970    Richly rhymed life.

                                I feel I understand

Existence, or at least a minute part

Of my existence, only through my art,

In terms of combinational delight;

And if my private universe scan right,

So does the verse of galaxies divine

Which I suspect is an iambic line.

I’m reasonably sure that we survive

And that my darling somewhere is alive,

As I am reasonable sure that I

980    Shall wake at six tomorrow, on July

The twenty-second, nineteen fifty-nine,

And that the day will probably be fine;

So this alarm clock let me set myself,

Yawn, and put back Shade’s “Poems” on their shelf.

But it’s not bedtime yet.  The sun attains

Old Dr. Sutton’s last two windowpanes.

The man must be—what?  Eighty?  Eighty-two?

Was twice my age the year I married you.

Where are you?  In the garden.  I can see

990    Part of your shadow near the shagbark tree.

Somewhere horseshoes are being tossed.  Click.  Clunk.

(Leaning against its lamppost like a drunk.)

A dark Vanessa with a crimson band

Wheels in the low sun, settles on the sand

And shows its ink-blue wingtips flecked with white.

And through the flowing shade and ebbing light

A man, unheedful of the butterfly—

Some neighbor’s gardener, I guess—goes by

Trundling an empty barrow up the lane.

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