Tuesday, April 22, 2014

NPM: More Variations on a Theme: The City

Francis Criss, Third Avenue El

Today's batch is dedicated to anyone who has ever been seized by strange epiphanies in New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo, and blew their own mind trying to arrive at an understanding of the nature of the colossal, inexplicable thing surrounding and blaring at them on every side.

Hilda Doolittle (1886 – 1961)

Can we believe——by an effort
comfort our hearts:
it is not waste all this,
not placed here in disgust,
street after street,
each patterned alike,
no grace to lighten
a single house of the hundred
crowded into one garden-space.

Crowded——can we believe,
not in utter disgust,
in ironical play——
but the maker of cities grew faint
with the beauty of temple
and space before temple,
arch upon perfect arch,
of pillars and corridors that led out
to strange court-yards and porches
where sun-light stamped
black on the pavement.

That the maker of cities grew faint
with the splendour of palaces,
paused while the incense-flowers
from the incense-trees
dropped on the marble-walk,
thought anew, fashioned this——
street after street alike.

For alas,
he had crowded the city so full
that men could not grasp beauty,
beauty was over them,
through them, about them,
no crevice unpacked with the honey,
rare, measureless.

So he built a new city,
ah can we believe, not ironically
but for new splendour
constructed new people
to lift through slow growth
to a beauty unrivalled yet——
and created new cells,
hideous first, hideous now——
spread larve across them,
not honey but seething life.

And in these dark cells,
packed street after street,
souls live, hideous yet——
O disfigured, defaced,
with no trace of the beauty
men once held so light.

Can we think a few old cells
were left——we are left——
grains of honey,
old dust of stray pollen
dull on our torn wings,
we are left to recall the old streets?

Is our task the less sweet
that the larve still sleep in their cells?
Or crawl out to attack our frail strength:
You are useless. We live.
We await great events.
We are spread through this earth.
We protect our strong race.
You are useless.
Your cell takes the place
of our young future strength.

Though they sleep or wake to torment
and wish to displace our old cells——
thin rare gold——
that their larve grow fat——
is our task the less sweet?

Though we wander about,
find no honey of flowers in this waste,
is our task the less sweet——
who recall the old splendour,
await the new beauty of cities?

The city is peopled
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:

Though they crowded between
and usurped the kiss of my mouth
their breath was your gift,
their beauty, your life.

Sandy Wager, Urban Sorrow

The City
Contantine P. Cavafy (1863 – 1933)
George Valassopoulo, translator

You said, "I will go to another land, I will go to another sea.
Another city will be found, a better one than this.
Every effort of mine is a condemnation of fate;
and my heart is——like a corpse——buried.
How long will my mind remain in this wasteland.
Wherever I turn my eyes, wherever I may look
I see black ruins of my life here,
where I spent so many years destroying and wasting."

You will find no new lands, you will find no other seas.
The city will follow you. You will roam the same
streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods;
and you will grow gray in these same houses.
Always you will arrive in this city. Do not hope for any other——
There is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you have destroyed your life here
in this little corner, you have ruined it in the entire world.

M.C. Escher, Hall City(?)

John Fuller (1937 – )

In cities there are tangerine briefcases on the down-platform  
and jet parkas on the up-platform; in the mother of cities  
there is equal anxiety at all terminals.
  West a business breast, North a morose jig, East a false  
  escape, South steam in milk.

The centres of cities move westwards; the centre of the  
mother of cities has disappeared.
  North the great cat, East the great water, South the great  
  fire, West the great arrow.

In cities the sons of women become fathers; in the mother of  
cities the daughters of men have failed to become mothers.
  East the uneager fingers, South the damp cave, West the
  chained ankle, North the rehearsed cry.

Cities are built for trade, where women and men may freely  
through knowing each other become more like themselves;  
the mother of cities is built for government, where women  
and men through fearing each other become more like each  
other than they care to be.
  South the short, West the soap, North the sheets, East the  

In cities the church fund is forever stuck below blood heat; in  
the mother of cities the church is a community arts centre.
  West the Why-not, North the Now-then, East the End-
  product, South the Same-again.

In cities nobody can afford the price; in the mother of cities  
nobody dares to ask the price.
  North the telephone smile, East the early appointment,  
  South the second reminder, West the hanging button.

In cities the jealous man is jealous because he is himself in his  
imagination unfaithful; in the mother of cities the jealous man  
is jealous because he reads the magazines.
  East the endless arrival, South the astounding statistic,  
  West the wasted words, North the night of nights.

In cities we dream about our desires; in the mother of cities  
we dream about our dreams.

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