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James Schuyler




Drew down the curse of heaven on her umbrella
furled and smelling of wet cigarettes,
Jo ran off in rain one pitchy night,
one bloody a.m. found her staring, snoring.
“Why do we all stay up so late?” Jo queried.
“Though I don’t stay up so late as my friends.”
She tripped the little bomb of wasps.
They got her.
Tears for Jo, four, each perfect, waspish.
A silver tongue and piss blond hair
decants a funeral oblation for the mouse.
“She was a rare sight, a winning wonder.
Jo cultivates her toothaches elsewhere.”


It darkens brother
and your crutch tip grinds
the gravel the deer stepped delicately along
one breakfast, you were a kid.
Mother says after thirty
decades clip by
“and then you have the sum”
or spent it.
What was it like when the car
swerved on the ice,
what did you think of,
how long did you wait
in the wreck with the pain?
I see the sumacs by the turning space
turn their lank leaves,
the railway moves to us

and the willows below us
and think of you turning nineteen,
of the deer, the sumac, trains, a wreck.


          The window looks over an arbor. The grape leaves, bluish-green on one side and creamy on the other, are tossing every which way like a choppy sea churning up sand. Beside the arbor are four very tall hollyhocks, three with pink flowers, and one with red, like girls walking on a beach when the water is too rough for swimming. The hollyhocks sway in the wind like the masts of little sailboats, while the great elms and
honey-locusts bend as though they were under water, with surf continually streaming through their upper branches. The sky and the river are the color of pewter, but the sky has been rubbed soft while the river is rough as ground glass. River and sky are kept apart by the hills on the further shore, dark and muted, with buildings glowing in them.
          The dense air brings the sound of a far-off train very close.
          Some orange day lilies are looking out from under the edge of the
woods. They are not moving at all.
          The rain begins with a thousand pin-pricks and a big yellow butterfly flying wildly about over the hedges, and stops. Bumble bees, like little flying bears, are floating up and down the stalks of the hollyhocks as smoothly as elevators.


What a sweet dear good boy he is, I said aloud to the empty room.
I never expected to feel like Elizabeth Barrett Browning again,
not this soon.
It’s not so soon.
Surely it’s undignified for a gent to want to take another
gent bouquets, and absurd?
Just as surely I could not care less.
Surely it’s an incredible invasion of someone else’s privacy to sit
          around writing unsolicited poems to and about him?
          Well, as you-know-who would say,
I’m sorry but I just can’t help it I feel this way.
What kind of thing does a man say to a man he’s in love with? Things
I can’t tell you how adorable you looked in your new suit and that tie
          the other night.
Then he says, That suit is rather me isn’t it,
then I say, yes,
and the world lights up like the hot star they say it used to be
or may become
burnt by the sun.
It’s still glowing!
That’s not my sleeve, that’s my heart.
Not less than any other lover who ever wrote I want to describe his looks,
the way his wide eyebrows uniquely die away in a haze of fine short hairs
          on the East and West slopes of his forehead,
the way they join in a tuft, a small explosion of longer hairs above his
the crinkled pink of a new small scar, still touched by the black recent
the fullness of his lower lip, like the excess that shaped the pear,
          sulky and determined, boyish and sweet,
Greek, before they got refined:
but if I’m such a lover why can’t I remember the color of his eyes?
I know their movements, how they twinkle wickedly (love is all about
when he’s silly-drunk and cute,
how animal and slitty they get when he’s tired,
their hard look at the floor when he won’t be shy:
I think they’re the color of the sky, which is not always blue.
Then there’s his jaw that has a long-bow curve to it
his hair curling on his nape, not silky or wiry, lively,
and in a quick transition to a longer view
the thin-skinned very-naked whiteness of his back with muscles lapped
          moving in it,
his belly, firm as a flank, sprouting little curves like dune grass around
          the Lake Nemi of his navel:
Moon! look down and see the small dark pit of your reflection on this
          shaded plain of flesh.
Heart, dream no further:
do you want to go off like the rockets on the 4th at the Washington
I must get back to work,
but first I’ll look at the clock and imagine where he is.


Zumph. These words

out of a funnies.
What do the funnies say?

Look, in this drawing
they are walking up a country road
far from a great war.
The balloon coming out of the little one’s mouth
says, “My, I’m sure hungry
and tired from walking.”
The big one’s balloon says,
“We can ask at that farm house up ahead
to put us up for the night.”
Here, in this long panel that takes the space of three ordinary panels,
they are sitting around the supper table
with the farmer and family
eating creamed chicken on waffles.


I hate Greenwich Village like Vachel Lindsay said
                          somebody’s always throwing bricks
what’s Allen Ginsberg got against Vachel Lindsay?
Dear Allen:
             just to’ve thought of
is quite something. And sincerely I admire you
and haven’t a clue
when you say “poet is priest.”
                                           “binding with briars…”
haven’t you read everything? Even corny for fun?
I suspect your favorite painter is Balthus.
“That’s a terrible thing to say.”
                                           Now you will think I don’t like Balthus.
Didn’t you ever look at Blue Poles
and want to wade in the man-high fishy-eyed surf
or tell that Noailles poet lady Vuillard painted in bed
             “mover over?” Anna de,
who wrote about gladioli and borzoi:
that’s what I mean: her poems can’t be good:
             they might be but think of the fun, making them up
imagining how they smell
             of the kind of perfume a woman who would rather talk than eat
you go big for Americana: where
is Vachel Lindsay buried anyhow? He used to give readings
             in the Hotel Mayflower in Washington
             which is like finding a fat book in a tank full of trout
                     Allen, it’s Sunday and like the song
I just dropped by to tell you
                     I hate the Village and like you
                     and what you said to me once
                                                at the San Remo may it burn to the ground
       honest injun—
                             poets are people


Not one of the first, the inventors, the wonder-workers,
Yet, water-born, he took what was theirs and there
And from it worked his own:
Let fountaining water fall among figures
Gesturing freely as the water sketched
At the height of its jet,
Changed jets to obelisks,
Bubbled the fish-scale domes,
Made doorways and windows bloom like lotuses
On the water-flat faces of palaces,
Cast, like a net’s cork floats, a colonnade around St. Peter’s fountain.

From the blown conch-shell water foams
In the tangled, stony water world of Bernini’s Rome.


                                              (translated from Leopardi1)

As, in lone night,
above silvered fields and water,
when a breeze plays,
and distant shadows makea thousand vague aspects
and deceptive objects
among calm waves
and branches and hedges and small hills and houses,
arrived at the confine of the sky,
behind the Apennines or the Alps or into the infinite
breast of the Tyrrhenian Sea,
the moon sets; and the world grows colorless;
shadows vanish, and the dark
hides mountain and valley;
blind rests the night,
and singing, with a sad melody,
a wagon driver salutes the last ray
of the fled light
which before had led him on his way:

so is taken, so
from mortal years, goes
youth. In flight
are the shadows and shapes
of delighting illusions; and less often come
the far-off hopes
that prop a mortal nature.
Life is left
wretched, darkened. Casting his gaze before him,
in vain the confused traveler searches
the long road which he must take
for goal or reason; and finds
that the place of human kind
from him, as he from it, is truly estranged.

1. The last Canto of Giacomo Leopardi, Il Tramonto Della Luna (1837).

             …quale in notte solinga… —Leopardi

It clears away: the rain
is only rain that didn’t fall.
I got my hair cut.
The night, well it’s another
windy mess. In Andy’s,
a stranger says he’s got to use the phone.

“What’s the emergency, jack?” says Andy,
and “if it’s a baby, then the call’s on me.”
That’s Andy. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving.
November is my birth month:
Indian summer, early dark,
sometimes snow. Were Andy’s folks
from Naples? and what Andy
said was lipstick, and I thought was a scratch
on the stranger’s cheek:
did his wife, when she felt her labor start,
fling out her arms?
Or was that phone call just a gag
like Andy says? who knows.

who would not believe
what you could not believe,
I love you so!
I will not go
to Recananti, when and if I can.
If it tortured you with boredom,
I believe you.
I’ve seen those hick burgs.
Still, “the sea, far off there…”
furrowed at dawn by a static ripple

the sea, the seafood,
the rabbit-warren streets
full of kids and junk and things to eat,
the grinning pushing lying thieving mob:
old No-Nose in the Via Chiaia
waiting to pounce: “She thinks I’m rich,
I know I’m poor; O.K. sister,
if you can take it, I can:
what’s a penny between friends?”
the post-war gala
at San Carlo: the fatties
in their homemade-looking silks and black-and-whites,
Caniglia sang Norma
and her song
came up to me the way a line can fill a space
and sick with vertigo I looked down
on her fire-flashing wig:
Neapolitans can be very nice,
but Naples is not nice
that brought you—what’s a wheezing cripple
among friends?—distraction
in human company.

JAMES SCHUYLER (1923-1991), recipient of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for The Morning of the Poem, belonged to the first generation of New York School poets and published seven books of poetry and three novels during his lifetime. His Collected Poems was published in 1993 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Nathan Kernan is currently working on a Schuyler biography.

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