It is the duty of every man,
And woman, to write the life of the mother.
But the life of the father is written by
The father alone. – Now he is of great size
In Poland of Death, and his garment is sewn
Of superior cloth. I came upon him down
An alley of that place, sitting on a wall,
At the intersection of two walls, looking wise:
Known there as Louis of Minneapolis,
The maître à pensée of the necropolis.
And his song was, “When the deep purple falls. . . .”
As I came up, he cast me a sharp glance
And stopped short at the middle of the verse
(“Sleepy garden walls . . .”) – meaning, “This is
Your last chance to say something.” “Say something!”
“How do you like my suit?” And so I say
To him, “You looked better naked and small.”
And he says, “What’s given here can never be
Refused, or lost. That’s the rule. Take this nail!”
Then he started an old song I didn’t like
At all. Something of the “matter of the race” –
At very least the long and sonorous breath
Of a dark language. – O Poland of Death!
I asked a beggar-woman of the cemetery
What he sang, the young one smelling of sea
And milk who sweeps the sill. “Louis,” she replies,
“Is a proud Jew now, dwelling among the dead,
A big Rabbi of rats dressed in a suit
That fits. A prince!” And then – before my eyes –
On the vapors of the universe – the head
Of Louis hung – like Brutus, the conspirator;
And its song poured back centuries of rain
From the Etruscan jar of an old man’s voice
Into the water-wells of the abyss:
“Now I know everything,” it sang, “being in
The right place! – How did I get so wise?
When I proceeded Doctor of Philosophy
Torches smoked and flamed from every tower.
(Let the flame leap up, the heart ignite and burn!)
The celebrations of commencement were elaborate,
And I was clothed then, as you see me now,
In a suit that fits, sewn of superior cloth,
Invulnerable to the rust, the moth,
And the diurnal changes of the light
In the air. My boy, the truth is great.”
“Louis,” I cried, “soon I am going to die.
The world is nearing its end. Say something
I can understand!” So he pulled out a beret
Of reddish brown, put it on his head, and smiled
Like a prince, as the woman said, or king –
(Of grave-diggers, as it seems, or wolves or Jews).
And I heard, then, the father calling to the son
And the son responding to the father from afar,
And the daughter to the mother, and the mother
To the children – voices like falling water,
Or the shadow of swans, the sigh of the swan’s feather:
“After a thousand years the Devil will be loosed
On a day, and in the morning of that day
This Louis will ride forth in his 1950
Chevrolet of prophecy – with feet, hands,
And four on the floor (Ezekiel I).
And the Rektor of the University
The Archbishop, the Lord Mayor, and the General
Of Artillery will applaud his face
And he will meet the host in the air,
Igniting the auto-da-fé of the sun.”
But all I understood, in fact, was the next phrase
Of the song he was singing as he sat
At the intersection (you will remember it)
Of two walls, “When the deep purple falls.”
This time he got as far as the “nightingales.”
Then stopped, and shouted, “This is the story
Of my life. I am the Professor now
Bigger than the Lord God. He was seduced
And made the world against His will – by art.
My son, I never married. I have no children.
I was smart. My father was a butcher, and empiricist
Who knew the Law. (And that explains, in case
You want to know, why I hate cats! . . .)
When the end comes, like a dark wife at last,
It will be among the nightingales and rats
Of the necropolis, as the ‘purple’ falls
On Poland of Death.” He turned his face, then,
And stopped his voice, never to speak again.
The Etruscan jar rang. I said to him: “Louis
I will sing you a new song.” And the abyss
Supplied its word, “Halleluya!” Praise
The Lord. Then the beggar-woman of the cemetery
Saw her chance, and gave the old man on the wall
A proper kiss. For what? For being wise,
And (after all) unmarried, and for dressing well.
Happy, happy Louis! The new song was this:
“Father, not father, O roi magicien!
Mother, not mother, O name of Beatrice!
Does the cloth forget its weaver, does the field
Of millet in its season no longer remember the sower,
Or the birds that feed on it honor in later summer
The labor that laid it down? O Yes! And the pot
The woman’s hand who made it has forgot.
How much less the mind, reading and running hard,
Touches the world. (O touch me, roi thaumaturge!)
Therefore, Louis of Minneapolis at ease upon a wall,
Sucking on a nail – the Jew in charge –
Demands a word when the deep purple falls.
What do I hear? An audible air of voices
Calling out and answering: ‘Au revoir,
Ma chére femme,’ ‘Mon frére,’ ‘Mon soeur,’ ‘Mon pére.’
What do I see? Poland of Death! Louis driven out
(The Doctor in his garment of superior cloth)
Into the field behind the wall and shot!
‘What is the past?’ ‘What passes?’ ‘What is to come
When I have died?’ . . . What is to come? No figure
Has it yet, no form. – Night falls in a room.
Someone in the dark is scratching with a nail:
The chronicler. Upon the road to the necropolis
Approaches always the chrome of battlecars,
Convertibles in columns like descended stars.
What is the past? – Night falls in a room. A king
Gives laws in the abyss on a drowned throne.
What passes? – The auto-da-fé of the sun.
What is the WORD? Halleluya. The Lord is ONE.