Portrait of the Poet As Landscape

By A.M. Klein, 1909–1972, Ukraine/Quebec.

I
Not an editorial-writer, bereaved with bartlett,
mourns him, the shelved Lycidas.
No actress squeezes a glycerine tear for him.
The radio broadcast lets his passing pass.
And with the police, no record. Nobody, it appears,
either under his real name or his alias,
missed him enough to report.

It is possible that he is dead, and not discovered.
It is possible that he can be found some place
in a narrow closet, like the corpse in a detective story,
standing, his eyes staring, and ready to fall on his face.
It is also possible that he is alive
and amnesiac, or mad, or in retired disgrace,
or beyond recognition lost in love.

We are sure only that from our real society
he has disappeared; he simply does not count,
except in the pullulation of vital statistics-
somebody’s vote, perhaps, an anonymous taunt
of the Gallup poll, a dot in a government table-
but not felt, and certainly far from eminent-
in a shouting mob, somebody’s sigh.

O, he who unrolled our culture from his scroll-
the prince’s quote, the rostrum-rounding roar-
who under one name made articulate
heaven, and under another the seven-circle air,
is, if he is at all, a number, an x,
a Mr Smith in a hotel register,-
incognito, lost, lacunal.

II
The truth is he’s not dead, but only ignored-
like the mirroring lenses forgotten on a brow
that shrine with the guilt of their unnoticed world.
The truth is he lives among neighbours, who, though they will allow
him a passable fellow, think him eccentric, not solid,
a type that one can forvie, and for that matter, forego.

Himself he has his moods, just like a poet.
Sometimes, depressed to nadir, he will think all lost,
will see himself as throwback, relict, freak,
his mother’s miscarriage, his great-grandfather’s ghost,
and he will curse his quintuplet senses, and their tutors
in whom he put, as he should not have put, his trust.

Then he will remember his travels over that body-
the torso verb, the beautiful face of the noun,
and all those shaped and warm auxiliaries!
At firstlove it was, the recognition of his own.
Dear limbs adverbial, complexion of adjective,
dimple and dip of conjugation!

And then remember how this made a change in him
affecting for always the glow and growth of his being;
how suddenly was aware of the air, like shaken tinfoil,
of the patents of nature, the shock of belated seeing,
the lonelinesses peering from the eyes of crowds;
the integers of thought; the cube-roots of feeling.

Thus, zoomed to zenith, sometimes he hopes again,
and sees himself as a character, with a rehearsed role:
The Count of Monte Cristo, come for his revenges;
the unsuspected heir, with papers; the risen soul;
or the chloroformed prince awaking from his flowers;
or- deflated again- the convince on parole.

III
He is alone; yet not completely alone.
Pins on a map of a colour similar to his,
each city has one, sometmies more than one;
here, caretakers of art, in colleges;
in offices, there, with arm-bands, and green-shaded;
and there, pounding their catalogued beats in libraries,-

everywhere menial, a shadow’s shadow.
And always for their egos- their outmoded art.
Thus, having lost the bevel in the ear,
they know neither up nor down, mistake the part
for the wh ole, curl themselves in a comma,
talk technics, make a colon their eyes. They distort-

such is the pain of their frustration- truth
to something convolute and cerebral.
how they do fear the slap of the flat of the platitude!
Now Pavlov’s victims, their mouths water at bell,
the platter empty.
See they set twenty-one jewels
into their watches; the time they do not tell!

Some, patagonian in their own esteem,
and longing for the multiplying word,
join party and wears pins, now have a message,
an ear, and the convention-hall’s regard.
Upon the knees of the ventriloquists, they own,
of their dandled brightness, only the paint and board.

And some go mystical, and some go mad.
One stares at a mirror all day long, as if
to recognize himself; another courts
angels,- for here he does not fear rebuff;
and a third, alone, and sick with sex, and rapt,
doodbles him symbols convex and concave.

O schizoid solitudes! O purities
curdling upon themselves! Who live for themselves,
or for each other, but for nobody else;
desire affection, private and public loves;
are firendly, and then quarrel and surmise
the secret perversions of each other’s lives.

IV
He suspects that something has happened, a law
been passed, a nightmare ordered. Set apart,
he finds himself, with special haircut and dress,
as on a reservation. Introvert.
He does not understand this; sad conjecture
muscles and palls thrombotic on his heart.

He thinks an impostor, having studied his personal biography,
his gestures, his moods, now has come forward to pose
in the shivering vacuums his absence leaves.
Wigged with his laurel, that other, and faked with his face,
he pats the heads of his children, pecks his wife,
and is at home, and slippered, in his house.

So he guesses at the impertinent silhouette
that talks to his phone-piece and slits open his mail.
Is it the local tycoon who for a hobby
plays poet, he so epical in steel?
The orator, making a pause? Or is that man
he who blows his flash of brass in the jittering hall?

Or is he cuckolded by the troubadour
rich and successful out of celluloid?
Or by the don who unrhymes atoms? Or
the chemist death built up? Pride, lost impostor’d pride,
it is another, another, whoever he is,
who rides where he should ride.

V
Fame, the adrenalin: to be talked about;
to be a verb; to be introduced as The:
to smile with endorsement from slick paper; make
caprices anecdotal; to nod to the world; to see
one’s name like a song upon the marquees played;
to be forgotte with embarrasment; to be-
to be.

It has its attractions, but is not the thing;
nor is it the ape mimesis who speaks from the tree
ancestral; nor the merkin joy….
Rather it is stark infelicity
which stirs him from his sleep, undressd, asleep
to walk upon roofs and window-sills and defy
the gape of gravity.

VI
Therefore he seeds illusions. Look, he is
the nth Adam taking a green inventory
in world but scarcely uttered, naming, praising,
the flowering fiats in the meadow, the
syllabled fur, stars aspirate, the pollen
whose sweet collision sounds eternally.
For to praise

the world- he, solitary man- is breath
to him. Until it has been praised, that part
has not been. Item by exciting item-
air to his lungs, and pressure blood to his heart,-
they are pylsates, and breathed, until they map,
not the world’s, but his own body’s chart!

and now in imagination he has climbed
another planet, the better to look
with single camera view upon this earth-
its total scope, and each afflated tick,
its talk, its trick, its tracklessness- and this,
this he would l ike to write down in a book!

To find a new function for the declassé craft
archaic like the fletcher’s; to make a new thing;
to say the word that will become sixth sense;
perhaps by necessity and indirection bring
new forms to life, anonymously, new creeds-
O, somehow pay back the daily larcenies of the lung!

These are not mean ambitions. It is already something
merely to entertain them. Meanwhile, he
makes of his status as zero a rich garland,
a halo of his anonymity,
and lives alone, and in his secret shrines
like phosphorous. At the bottom of the sea.

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