by Robert Lietz
Robert writes: I am currently working on a few different collections, including Character in the Works: Twentieth-Century Lives, is a large, 250-page manuscript in which I create lives for individuals whose names are inscribed on old fountain pens Ive collected, taking clues from the chracteristics of the pens, from the history of the period, and from old pen advertising of the day, sometimes incorporating phrases from the ads in the poems themselves. The 24 poems in the collection run from 2 to 33 pages and are accompanied by prose introductions of a sentence or two or as elaborate as several hundred words, setting the stage to enable the poems to work as poems and to capture not so much the facts as the feelings of living during the past ten decades. Since the characters, each with his or her own story-line, could well have lived near and been familiar with one another, there are implicit crosscurrents in the text, implying larger contexts and venues for the materials other than a volume of poetry alone, including stage and possible film adaptations of the work.
Permanite -- Imperial
- 1 -
They look the
same to him, too young
for thieving or desperate love,
broken by so much, deserving such safe sleep
because they had seemed fit, because
their fathers had been shipped away and spent,
deserving caution, love, houses
prettied again for Christmasses and breakfasts.
-- 1916. He's one and all of them,
this shock of children too young to enlist,
and nightmares skulking in their common dark,
one, and one, entering their days and then
the absence of such days, leaving him to bear,
themselves in villages, themselves behind
in storied villages. A finger runs along its own
familiar hip, leaps off remembering,
and when the child coughs, no cures for him on streets,
among the kids who work their claims,
except to cough and doze and mend the vacancies,
remembering the cut of Love,
looks that last through one and other lifetimes.
-- One look and middle April chills to bone.
One look and he, summers ahead for him or not,
will leave the place for good, having
agreed to meet "the World on its terms," and shops
for blocks, a-buzz with Armistice.
-- A man would need such scope, would need
to concentrate, seem fit, made up for streets
he means to plead his business in, to bear the gist
that tears off masks of innocence.
Promise, he thinks, might yet affect an even hand.
And "symmetry" attain, the lively maps
of venue reconceive the argument, troubles
a man neglects, having come too far to pay
the price for company, preferring
the women's eyes, explaining seasons to him,
as much as these the victims of such pasts,
having lived first hand the breach
of beast and evidence...
- 2 -
But what's a
man to think, scribbled in,
set large in the mosaic and noisesome politics,
of 2 men, more, torn by dark and appetite,
a man to think of these, whispering uncle
and enough, and of the ghosts of clemency
as evenings fall, as evenings form, re-form,
filling their foreign properties
with who knows what desires, who knows what
inspiring and mad worth?
19-X. A spot let drop out of the century.
urgencies slip by. As onion
seem apiece. And wops. And hot heads
earnest as bad dreams, a child's,
a husband's dreams, and even
He wishes the
troopers, the rough girls
well, good luck to stand the chill,
to stand the shock of bones, of skin rubbed raw,
of shadows crossed
between their schooling and home-study, having
had his fill of it, having come too far
to say what wrongs we might have done by quotas,
to tip the spiralling lamps of stars,
casting their dead light now in anybody's favor
-- Upon himself and all of them. And on
this high string's glide, bringing the bass around,
midnight's blue strings, on feats of sleep
a man prepares himself in lagers, settling
himself again in the bluesman's
- 3 -
He's signed for all of it, locked up and walked, expecting Canada, Great B., Ft. Wayne to make a purchase. And having seen the misdirection in the driver's eyes, locked up and walked, stepped in as dusk or chill inspired him, and all the shops' bold shades, the lines revealing or fashionably prim. Nothing to witness or confess. And nothing himself almost, he almost likes that glance, however seasons drift, enjoys that look behind the cigarettes and bottoms up, remembering the eyes that watched him opening the Parker, that could not bear the wait, enjoys the deeper cold between the tavern lights and foyer, a woman's news as local as local means to get. And he, like an old hound dreaming on the driveway stone, imagines the chase that's left for him, the sweet coordinants, a man who's caught himself, who's saved and lost himself to dreams, as if there had been no yesterdays, no kids, in love, in uniform, bled, aspiring, and he himself, spun about and pitched, were not required to explain, to see through days begun with spreads and sweetened tea, with sticks of cinnamon, required to explain the ends of it, the looks of eyes, and eyes spent looking deeply into figures, the sudden and lively shades in all things personal!
- 4 -
father does not sleep,
because the ghosts must seem too young,
arriving colorfully, accompanying
the first shift out of doors, leaving a man
to his own odds among the old men
of the business, he cannot stand the blood,
cannot stand to hear the stubbly, sad men
sorting through designs, to hear the young men
following their fathers' enterprise,
beneath the ceiling light and the gilt portraits
of the founders. As if a man
should read around squared corners in advance,
and the looks of men, seeking heat from steam,
men fisting loaves they've gathered out of stones,
should shame a man to flinch
before the breadth of his noon meal, to balk
at wooing margins and receipts
-- Too much accustomed to say quit, too much
assured such streets, skewed by spans
of cordiality and grief, parting men and cash,
will now absorb the looks
in all the tenant eyes, the looks of horse-police,
employed to serve the letters of instruction
-- As if struck air should sound with provenance
and stars accompany batons! As if
the looks of these, the popularly corrupt,
should shame his bleached reserve, should now
exact such change as men at heart require,
more deep, more durable, to be of use in streets
where all the versions cross,
informed by all the autumn starts
- 5 -
MacArthur, Anacostia, Ford Rouge
So long as
there are belts, bright shops,
crannies to lure, (the whetting
always as it seems,) cuff-studs and fobs,
the gleam suppressed
in doomsday catalogs, recipes a month's work
scarcely tabs, inviting gentlemen...
Was it the glassed front wall on Time
or lack of curtains that amazed,
the planet in fall gear, inviting a heart to join
the snoozed and amply fed,
or the voices, (pitched, rediculous,) detailing
complaints against the landlords
and the State? Seasoned with Bach and Telemann,
plates of silks arrive, rainbows of cravats.
And one believes, brags in his good luck, believes
the morning's eggs, bronzed loaves,
believes in winds come up, clearing off the smoke
emptying the spaces underneath
the porchboards, the places where kids
dreamed, where orphans spilled
their innocence, these sovereign breathers,
fleeing the passed light, alike in bruise
and in their deep mobility...
And who could
bear the names, accept
the hybrid antidotes, nothing but miles to gain,
feeling the rush of wind
among the ancient instruments, seeing the veterans
camped, decisions ahead for them
like kinds of signature? Somebody's getting
after all. And somebody, scooping pods,
rinsing the lentils gratefully, will now be seen
among the sacks in generous moonlight,
among the used sacks now, and the neatly lain,
worn on emptying. He imagines
the bread lines, the miserable jazz, excitements
blue-burnt, asking out of Time,
that mad bunch lively as dime-store parakeets...
-- An officer, letting the diva weep,
will let the lamp's low glow, winking out almost,
reveal the flatness there, and axis
of syringe, the ways he's come to think of it...
And he, legend's own wild son,
will stand up, gladdening porchboards, igniting
the parties where these dance,
in powdery tights, impossible chapeaux,
ignoring the nightmare dinner guests,
sampling the par-boiled charred fowl,
the snow-faced cheese, and the breeze
still calm beneath the turrets
and lax flags.
one remedy. One razed
and timely yard. Anacostia on fire!
-- For all the spices and rinsed bowls, the jangling
prodigies, all the August scores:
Flames leave men veteran! Flames
run among the shards, a masque
of fire devouring guitars, while he, a god
more silent than the rest, pours honey
and fresh cream, even as men watch hungering,
rubbed to such a sheen, counting
the geese and plates heaped high with grinning hogs.
-- They will leave their kids to him,
matriculating steel, to his hard science
of worship and assent. And he,
silent as the last struck butte, will approve
the aftermath, the milks of sequel,
treated not to scare, unmoved by years
in love or offices, or by the looks
of kids, forever less than he supposed, apportioned
slices off the beast, the carcass come to
commonly and starved.
with tears, pour down
from spilled interiors, leaving texts
for thinking on, next editions of Here's How ,
while these, with him, a porch imagining,
look deeply into place, their pockets suspect
from the start, and while the moon itself,
silvering fresh ink, betrays a stitched and patched
and seemly elegance.
-- A people makes it mind to last, piqued
by Roosevelt, Sinclair,
embracing meaner politics, figuring the dark,
like wind-roused luminaria, the dark a bistro
lit as much as anyone could bear.
-- He sees a further range, so many idling,
imagining the German sweater,
the German filling every inch of it, and sees
the genial lugs, hired to menace these
who take their first steps toward the coastlines,
stepping down from that rouge barge,
leaving this slosh that might be blood,
hearts pounding to produce, hearts
to endure the backshot dead,
this prism where all the lively
colors come to nought.
- 6 -
He looks behind night skies, endures the sovereign lingering, into the stars' backyards where creatures swoop and choose, nursed on strengths men swapped to seem a surface glow, to seem this dulled gold wash the brutal seasons rubbed to base. Were these the fierce originals? Were these the minds they'd stranded in safe zones, that shook the hard luck boulevards, indifferent after all? These the limbs and be-nimbling club sports, installed as all the old men's snoutings-for? A man believed in boards and simple profits once. And now conceives this work, these ordinations of desire, to end in getting fancy up to shop, bringing hands at rest to lose themselves in catalogs. And sees, above the meanest trench of Time, the speeding galaxies stand still, the jetted gasses twist and squirm, 10 times the speed of light, conceiving the hues and streamlined turns of everything, a work at rest that would appear to be in motion, begun in forces now more puzzling and blunt. He feels the costs of company, of wishbone orphanage, repeating himself apprenticings, drifts of product line, such dreams as first love nursed, warmed by sunlight in the wash off Pt. Pelee, by the names and dates inscribed in permanite, depending more on it, and more on chairs a family learns to live with like mistakes, the looks of woodwork joyful living bruised, unready again to be so used by argument, so used by risk and by compounding interest. 1931. And Time, freeze-framed. And Time exists as avalanche, the press of dreams collapsing over them. The heart accelerates, keeps pace. And dark absorbs patrician afterlight. And Love, forgiven as plague snows, Love gets on in sudden alphabets, a man remembering the touch, and fingers quickening, the feel of origins, behind him and ahead, fists arguing refinements on the mother tongue, remembering the quarrels kids went into backstreets to continue, the looks and heart of it, given the push and shove a country bullheads through, and now this creepy scratch of European witness, these faces that might be thugs, made to secure the storied streets with bayonets.
- 7 -
turn the decades over in a flash.
He feels the sudden once of it, himself
the quick material, note and stroke, atom to atom
and edge to edge, impossibly brought to,
himself the house of an idea he resists, having
reached into the pockets of such time,
and having tried such instruments, Cranor/Lietz,
having believed in wands of light
and spans of steel tingling. But how to speak of it?
The times turned fierce, the traffic there
where light appreciates, where tomorrows curve,
become the source of this high noon, where he,
unable as routes home, will be reduced by mood,
as if the oldest music had been granted
from the start? No sleep another night. No ease
as futures, as ideas tick, the house alive with it,
revealed to him in grains, household imperatives,
in these newest inks setting in new weaves,
careers conceived in tasks of styling. Hadn't the land
believed so much in evidence?
Hadn't the country warehoused
doubts, found reason enough
to ride that railroad, to make an end of them,
peddlers too pat to be held long as suspects, enflaming
the chiefs and knockabouts, and yet
the stuff of gossip, dust, inspiring the medicine
and local praise for quacks? Faces
cheer their own display on these long-handled spoons.
And the Italians dead, their executions sown
in a season of renewals, in stories repeated of trenched earth,
of legendary heists and twisting Gerry aces.
As if they could not, any of it, let go. As if he
were not too young, too bruised to stay the deaths,
were not unequal to this laughter living rocks put on,
a people not too young, having set machines
against the lines of stove-pipes and slapped boards,
clearing out the 'villes, leaving the flattened stacks
and looks of men in bandages, and leaving
a man no sleep, himself as much the formal
ordered argument, the silent partner,
driving the point home.
- 8 -
They look the same to him, gambling their lives to find some shelter under els, and will not let him sleep, let him excuse himself, too young, having played in cash and been dissatisfied, allowing no help at heart to still the beast that keeps him late, Cranor/Lietz, having driven his point home on desk-top wood, been lost as these as idleness extends. How long could pocket-change becalm, policy keep the heart employed, when dreams arrive as smears in ill-run newspapers, when men, resembling kids he'd been to school with, put on the looks of refugees, finding the soups cooled, tent, truck -travel ahead, breads burnt or underdone, flickers of seasonings like questions hunger wrestles back? Had suits a man slipped on shamed overalls? Had starlight seemed an enduring rush of stags, daylight to thrill, built with him in mind, until his hand, that had seemed automatic, stalled, because the hand reacts and sometimes disappoints, finding designs on hold, until behaviors change, until inventions leap in new materials?
- 9 -
walnut, dark grain dark eyes
flame to complement, cherry complements,
the corner piece and shelves, the chairs where she,
where he had heard deliverance,
bank holidays ahead, and projects fathoming
the President-elect. Pad by pad, loose sheet,
in pencilled and unstopped hues, evolve such texts
as Love corroborates, in the kids' hellos,
having set their crystals back, the sounds of flats
climbed to and making way for premises.
A man who might have shocked or made demands
absorbs the freshenings, the tangles of such needs,
Cranor, working late, and Cranor, warmed
by gas-light whispering, by electric glow, finding
his way among the secrets of design,
seeking in ruins green veins to thrill the greys
of winter projects. Because the spirits
ask for it, because it's months, then seasons, decades
underbelt, he lets Love's mile-posts remind,
stands singular, awake, assuming the parsed stars
in street-lit shallow skies, hearing
the press, the awful poetry, the voices squeezed
by August calls to arms...
A man will
climb remembering, to rooms
where colors flare, required by his bit,
accepting the looks of love and changing offices,
bulbs winking overhead, accenting
the care-cut sheen, the scents that were
where stairwells turned and dropped.
December's soon enough, he thinks. And thinks
to leave the work to thieves,
to doves still at their longings as the twilight frays,
the minutes ribboning, and the minutes
made more rigid with enforcements. Would she
have loved his shy enlistment then?
Or loved a boy his underage survival, as now
she calms the shots of green and cowardice,
the looks in all remembering, the dreams set drift
in seeing something like?
What a man should be at 50 leaves me blank. He
sees this post-noon company, the tiles of light
arranged, until the ghosts enjoy a wilder influence,
discerned in permanite, changes ago,
he thinks, in this his colleagues' Christmas tribute
for jobs done, in these repairs he'd hoped
no eyes but his would notice...
Let large men do what large men will with cash!
And men endure
this chill, '41, '2, '3,
the brightening drift and crest, remembering
ahead, seeing the hedge-line flames,
woods of bones, weathervanes, wrapped flags,
as if crossed lines were seen to reconverge,
in the eyes of squatters more miserably possessed,
and in the young men's eyes, betraying
their own hands, agreeing not to strike,
and in the young men's eyes, signing for short time,
descending knolls, descending
the grassy banks into the lethes of their ballistics,
into the deep autonomies where seasons burn,
a people, given to signature, to grips of novelty,
absorbed in news and news' forgetfulness.
-- And he, having lived too many winters to pretend,
he pleads the sweet austerities, and sees
the trellises sawn through, that grief or dream
had climbed to flower on,
these children practicing, and now these tips
of starlight, dropping with batons,
a people practicing in places
until fingers scream.