JOHN HORVATH - POEMS
"Holy Mother, bless this furnace
though its blasting burns my feet
and lay me in grandfather's grave;
Keep me in your prayers; remember,
I have passed through hell before."
Panie! Czymze ja jestem przed Twoim obliczem?
Prochem i niczem--Prochem i niczen.
Lord! How must I seem before Thy countenance?
Dust and dirt--dust and dirt.
Each of us fits into a small jug of memories.
Jesuitical cub beaten by nuns for speaking strange,
the tongue of grandfathers reluctant at surrender,
dreaming childhood tales of death to the last men--
their children hung from the ramparts
answered the sultan's demand for surrender
else women and weak succumb as men watch--
and their women like lancers march at the foe
singing Kyrie Kyrie parashou Kyrie
singing Lord Lord grant it o Lord!
that we may die brave Christian undaunted;
but, we who live uncalloused, souls untempered
bow to nuns who slap knuckles, sting to the bone
with their words declared
perfect, their kingdoms discovered,
their lists of conquerors, conquests
our old blood drips from our skins,
seals our lips against words
and deeds our grandparents preserve
jellies and jams, pickles and paprikas,
garlic and onions, only a taste of the passé,
grandfather's folktales of honor and purpose
we have forgotten the troubadour tongues
that never speak openly what we are thinking,
why had we come; how's this ignorance different?
Hush, brood. Golden the streets and flowers of candy,
everyman's Christian, wealthy and happy,
be grateful, be silent, be Anglo or Afro
not third person plural
you and I you and I you and I choose.
(Builders in Babel)
There are two visions of Metropolis: one is the macabre dance of work;
The other is abode of Superman who's taken on a simpler name--"Clark".
One's children want Arbeit Macht Frei; the others want their dear Lois Lane.
We've come as intellects with skills and craftsmanship only to be slain,
To build, to forget where we have and who we have once been.
In tunnels of indifference toward our burdens of employment
At raising up the tower we cannot hear ourselves in thought,
In the carriages of ignorance that proceed toward their profession
Simple workers know no others, know no heart between their hand
that labors and the heads that craft the blueprint. Build the tower.
We have come to build the tower, engrave the tower walls
With spartan slogans--Great is His Making, Glory to the Maker,
Great are those who bade this undertaking, Glory to the Worker.
Man the machines, compel the mayhem, make a storm and clamor
Up to Heaven, a joyless hubbub unrelenting--Build the Tower.
To Babel we come to build the tower to God's heaven,
To recall we were saints who've lost our souls in
Coarse work, coarse behavior as we work. Our souls
Immortal rub away slowly on concrete and mortar;
Soffit and steel rub fine our will made into walls
That climb toward heaven. No entry for us there.
To Babel we come to work on the tower; the tower
To build, to forget where we have, who we have, been
And what we seen. Mortise and cornice and girder
And timber by yards and feet and inches, the meter
Of coarse work grunts into our dailey bread. Spar
And mast, gunny and tatter, hovel and horror we've seen.
To build, to forget where we have and who we have been.
We have sat silent at our suppers with our children dumb as stone,
Felt chisel and the hammer heavy in the hand that uplifts the fork,
Fell to sleeping at the banquet table, fell to dreaming of our work.
We have wakened every other morning in so upright and stiff position,
That we needn't wash wee hours from our eyes to resurrect our vision;
We have worhsipped Goddess Workplace, been seduced by Harlot Paycheck,
Tell our children "Follow in these Footsteps" out of shame or odd dislike
That they forsake the whence we've come and make our camp into a home.
Why struggle, if fathers have succumbed; if not forever, why've we come?
Let us take this word and that from brother/sister worker
Indifferent to gender, subjunctive, and prescriptive grammar.
Until a wayward way with words duns us dull, marks
Hopeless our words now broken as aggregate blocks
Heaped at the tower base where they sound common,
The bewildering gibber of them abhorrent as shards.
We have cut our tongues on such talk; Our sad words,
To Babel have come to build towers to God's heaven;
Some among us utterless in prayer; altogether numb
Or doubting, they have no selves to offer in surrender.
Soon lacking past and wanting all recall of former ground
On which we rose up to this vanishing point, this crown
Whose rootless tree in shallow wind brings lightning down
To crumble the diligent spires that spirit replace.
We once tongues had that gentle wagged and musically nasal
Bid words come soft as blankets of snowfall unbidden
Before coarse work and the coarse behavior of work
Bent our backs and burgled our brogues into blank-
This and space-through that of unsayable; but
That was all Then. It was before you know. Like
Once upon a time. 'Fore the scattered gathered.
When the soul of a man was home and his word.
And TV dinners shushed the child's clatter out.
Our fathers came to the tower and sat on it hard.
O Superman, remember you are Jar El's son and nothing more;
Escape while you've power to else succumb to Babel's Whore.
Another in the Canopic hold, a young man who sleeps
escapes the draft, the fright of war. Each sleeper
has a number though unknown--preceded by Anglo and Frenchy,
Deutscher and Swede; followed by compliant Asians, swarthy
Arabs, and darker breeds--these but one chosen from many.
The man who sleeps escapes. The harbor lady holds her book
and counts then turns away unnumbered ones. Among the rest,
there are three secrets must be told:
Is there madness in your line?
have you committed crime?
disloyal to your government?
"All three define me;
I am here, you see!"
A secret test? And if I pass to what brotherhood admitted?
Let me tell secrets of daughter and son, father and mother,
of ancestors who riot on my lips, calisthenic on my tongue--
a grand trapeze troupe of flying death-defying truth
they were who worked in the old country without a net,
There is no net a book can be to safely take them home
after a long fall toward humanity exposed
in center ring for entertainment of so few;
I am but a clown who stands before you now.
You do not laugh at me or do you laugh some strange way
I cannot understand as yet? I will, you know; I know I will.
And who asked YOU and HOW is your name cut and carved anew
into that book, were you refuse, tempest tossed, or untrue--
came to visit with NO secrets that you'd care to hide?
This is a land or not of hidden histories, all pious and upright,
all here come untainted by the bloody hand of somewhere else?
Were YOU so dull to pain and dumb to hurt that every word
was TRUTH--did you open up the empty spaces of your heart?
Between us, a common fault spreads continents apart; adrift,
I am prism and ray of light that seeks the torch that breaks
upon the night; the shore and sea--a moment when we met
and we were one in violent love of what you have and what
I want; then I recede: back to the sea and sand.
In sleep escape the past or into steerage we return.
Look here, friend, a circus tale;
write into that governmental book:
Lion and the tamer share one cage--
those outside have shallow life until
the lion's leap or tamer's pistol
ends the lion or they lay together
whilst another act replaces them
to dazzle and defy their deaths.
I am the madness of waking from pleasant dreams
to cities burning and the deck awash with blood.
The running feet that sped directionless just swept
me up and dumped me in this boat: so here I sit.
Or, if you will or must, then say that
In the marketplace there's order to our barter
and haggle between old friends; to buy a swine,
half of the price to me was that I must awhile
here then report the Western duty on lean pork.
O words that do not march in martial file,
O flightless birds that are another tongue half learned,
This accent accented by the past; This riot of my blood
that must debark--O small dark sinking ship of reason
opon troubled seas that crash thine progeny abandoned
onto these shores. To what vacant isles in uncharted
parts have I cast my lot.
In every escalatored store someone sings a ragman song;
another chants the fishmonger's. I hear in cash machines
that register my purchase of a dream, the sea, the surge;
the great stark bilgesludge sea is with me now, the barter
and haggle, the calling out my wares is the seashore
and the circus sound of rash decision to leave behind
the winter ice and summer's heated rock make grains
of sand that edge these continents of desperation I became.
American, point me into the street and point to me
in the street where children run after, Neh-neh-neighing
at my strange lisp and awkward gait: "Neh-neh, there's
the man who has a PAST" is what they shall call to me.
Certainly, a PAST long gone but genetics living. Hubbub
hangworld forgive me for I know not
who I am nor what I did or am to be.
For this I gave up sleep. I might have slept til nightmare pass;
I might have bit my tongue and whined my prayers in alleyways;
I might have sent my neighbor to prison or to ruin.
O tireless mute language of the dead who fought,
I survive like the moon, pulling at the crazy sea:
The tide's a wave unbidden pulled from deep past;
Is there madness in the line?
Have I committed crime?
Am I loyal to my government?
All three define me!
Here I am, you see!
A million of the millions died and I escaped to change my name
to give my seed still stranger ways to speak, to think, to weigh
the world as if it had no past, as if I hid from death and died
to life; my children Edenlost must must invent their history.
Peace, I wish on them, that they may not memorize
those who sacrificed to God and then memorialize
(this is a godless country without books and such folk
as tell dull tales in unbroken speech as common ways).
This is an Eden where the artist speaks as if one dare
not dream beyond today. No past, no future,
nothing other than this bland today. I arrive full grown
upon the best of shores at the best of time.
Keep the passage secret hidden in as if you've always slept
with mother on paved street of gold; Keep passage secret;
The shame of passive silence is not yours but mine
from time to time throughout all time.
Where's that other circus act?
The man who's shot from canon
into crowds who cheer at blood
splattering the big top tent...
CHOOSING THE WEATHER
And Now, GARLIQUE!
none of the taste and none of the odor
Bobwhites sing mornings
before June dew forms
on low grass outside town.
Gregory held the cherry bomb
between his teeth like a rose
to prove he was brash
and young--ten years old.
Boys in his gymclass
can be cruel falcons.
Not one of the others
smelled of the garlic.
They cry in their circle
over the bloodsite: come
see the flesh torn from our prey.
Summer fires burn over
the plain grass today.
No sheltered remains.
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