How to Read Ezra Pound


How to Read Ezra Pound

At the poets' panel,
after an hour of poets
debating Ezra Pound,
Abe the Lincoln veteran,
the Spanish Civil War,
raised his hand and said:
If I knew
that a fascist
was a great poet,
I'd shoot him


Paestum Thunderstorm, Twenty Years On

It was otherworldly. You'd have been rapturous:
lightning over the temples \ wine-dark sky—
no one in that drenched expanse but us

unless you call the thunder a god's voice.
We were soaked completely through, the girls and I.
Even without the storm, you'd have been rapturous,

showing your girls your most beloved place
(that's how I billed it; it's why they came with me)
from our honeymoon travels. No one but us.

But you'd hate the new confinement to the grass.
Back then, we wandered each antiquity;
there's a whole roll of photographs: me, rapturous,

posed at column after column, my face
a likeness of its likeness in your eye.
Of course, it wasn't really only us.

Our girls—you should see them; they're rapturous—
were there as pure desire, standing by,
just as you—pre-disaster, pre-psychosis,
came briefly back in those drenched ruins to us.


The Perfect Stranger

He saved my baby's life, then just walked away. He was
a perfect stranger. He still is.
—at the scene of the fire

for Patricia, eventually

No one knows how he makes his way in this imperfect world.
He doesn't have a come-on, a gimmick, or a pitch—
to say nothing of a proper name he'll own up to.
He's so good at whatever he does, it calls for no introduction.
His face is a composite of every low profile he's kept.
No perfect likeness will ever be sold as a bobblehead figurine.
He has no identifying marks. He'll never be caught dead
standing out in a crowd. If he sits down next to you at the bar,
the last thing on his mind is where have you been all his life.
He can't be out looking for that kind of trouble.
But should he come across the purse you left behind in a hurry,
you'll find it at the door in the morning, everything inside
perfectly intact, without a note of explanation. It's already more
than he really wanted to know: who you are and where you live.

By now he's in a rush of his own, all but disappearing
into one more day's white noise. But he'll be there
under a third-story window when the smoke starts pouring out
and a mother drops her baby down as softly as she can pray.
By noon he'll be at the courthouse, posting bail after unlikely bail.
His afternoons a quintessential walk in the park—
he'll have some CPR to give. A Professor-of-Humanities Chair to endow
at a school that's gone MBA-crazy. Maybe he'd say it's nothing,
really, if only he felt like talking. What else does he have to do
except to show up where he's so completely unexpected?
It's never going to be his day to drive the office carpool.
He won't be counted on, looked forward to.
Statistically speaking,
we're usually strangers ourselves, and I don't know how in the world
some days most of us are nothing if not civil to each other.
But the perfect stranger would seem to be another matter entirely.

Sometimes in his sleep he dreams up secret imperfections:
he's washing whites with colors. Forgets to turn off the lights.
Or there's a knife stuck deep in the toaster again,
mud on the dress boots or blood in the sink,
the wrong-size spoon stirring quietly in the soup.
His bid for a perfect game is spoiled by a 3-2 pitch in the dirt.
But who's he kidding? When he wakes up, there's not a chance
in hell those things will happen.
When I woke up today I thought
of him sitting down for breakfast, bending over a plate of eggs
cooked, of course, to perfection. And I was strangely relieved
to think he might be out there somewhere, carrying the ball
for everyone who can't quite measure up. But then again
he doesn't have anyone like you to lie down next to,
his concentration so utterly blown on a regular basis.

Surely you must know by now how often you're the reason
for these imperfect words—even when it doesn't seem that way
at first. But notice how, just four lines up, a perfect stranger
led me back to you. And he'll be out of here soon enough.
This poem actually began so long ago, it's not funny anymore.
Before the perfect stranger came to me, I was working hard
on the Moon, sweating out some Space-Race-paranoia epic, or so
I supposed. But even on the Moon I couldn't stop myself from saying
sometimes it's hard to tell apart the two extremes of love—
the giddy weightlessness, the stubborn sense of gravity. And then I said
we're better off not trying.

Down here the view's no less breathtaking,
and you and I get it mostly right in the long bed of our life together,
some days especially beautiful for the flaws that show up there:
how you make off to the other side with the blankets in your sleep.
How I often talk in mine, resorting to the future-perfect tense—
maybe tomorrow, next week, or more surprising years from now,
I will have learned, finally, to believe it when you tell me
I'm the only less-than-perfect one for you. That much still
could happen. But no doubt that's another poem completely.

And whenever I wake up that absolutely uncovered,
there's no way to pretend that we don't see
you're about to get what you've had coming all along.
That would be me, so excited that somehow I'm still flying
the flag you were raising over and over in my dream.
And I've got the whole day to explain, if I have to. Nowhere else
I'm unexpected. I already know by heart exactly who you are
and where you live and how we're about to fit together
pretty damn well, if not perfectly, one more time.



Six months left to live, they told me,
Quite certain. Quite, I said, from quit
And from quittement, completely.
Also, in bull-fighting, a move to distract

The bull with the fluttering cape.
Could I tell you anything you do not know?
In midsummer, a cricket ball thrown up
And going to take the catch, the field unmown.



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He's the catastrophe we strive to cap
with ice-like hydrates, blowout preventer stacks.
Gushing spill in a world of scarcity.
Hemorrhage of energy, despite every
tourniquet of containment. Infinite spew.
Staunchless plume of animacules, the nimble
swimmers jostling in any cubic centimeter.
Plenty's horn, the topsy-turvy tornado.

We are engineers, contriving options,
tapping and funneling, drilling counter wells
that will never arrive at the infant Omnipotence
who rock-a-byes inside us, the purler that broke
the goat's horn.
North is stretched out over the empty
place. Earth hangs upon Nothing. Myth is irrevocable.


My beautiful soul

It is the beggar who thanks me profusely for the dollar.
It is a boat of such beggars sinking
beneath the weight of this one's thanking.

It is the bath growing cold around the crippled woman
calling to someone in another room.

And the arthritic children in the park
picking dust off summer
speck by speck
while a bored nurse watches.

The wind has toppled the telescope
over onto the lawn:
So much for stars.
Your brief shot at the universe, gone.

It is some water lilies and a skull in a decorative pond,
and a tiny goldfish swimming
like an animated change-purse
made of brightness and surprises
observing the moment through its empty eye.

Thank you, thank you, bless you, beautiful
lady with your beautiful soul ...
It is as if I have tossed a postcard
of the ocean into the ocean.

My stupid dollar, my beautiful soul.


The inner workings

This afternoon my son tore
his shorts climbing a barbed-wire fence. Holy Toledo, I said
when he crashed back through the cornstalks
with half of his shorts gone.

The sun was ringing its sonorous silent bell underground, as someone's
grandmother tucked
an awful little cactus under
a doily embroidered with buttercups.

In prisons

exhausted prisoners napped, having
brief and peaceful dreams, while beautiful girls in bikinis tossed
fitfully in their own shadows
on a beach

and somewhere else
in some man's secret garden shed
the watchmaker; the lens maker; the radio-

maker, the maker
of telescopes, of rhetorical devices:

The time-maker, the eye-maker, the voice-maker, the maker
of stars, of space, of comic surprises

bent together
over the future

clumsily tinkering with the inner
workings of its delights.


Space, between humans & gods

The day
en route to darkness. The guillotine
on the way to the neck. The train
to nudity. The bus
to being alone. The main-and-mast,
and the thousand oars, the
thousand hands.

And the ship sailing on
toward the glory and the gone.

And you, too, my beautiful one, having
outgrown another
pair of shoes,
tossing them into the box
we've named Goodwill.

And then the donkey ride to Bethlehem.
The long slow process of boarding the plane.
And my father

ringing the bell for the nurse
in the night, and then

not even the bell. Ringing

the quiet. Waiting
in the silence

as she travels toward him across it

wearing her white.



Truthfully, I ruminated when I came down from the tree.
Had sorrow made me say all these things?
Had someone been with me, they would say at once
that I was 'deeply wounded.'
I would like to show them
the squirrel that flickers in and out of sight, small as a crumb
but still able to animate the dark forest.

Her soul is surely the picture
of this tranquil elation that quivers and rests inside me.
The squirrel was drawing my path toward the forest.



God is proven in some way by the extreme difficulty of believing in him...

July already, and the land is soon to burn, the sun at midday casting
its least shadow. Across the road, the unmown pasture will whiten
under its glare, and the world goes brittle with heat.
The land loves the light, and suffers from the light, and lets it go
when the day is done. The illuminated air has a density, and I feel
as though I should part it with my hands when I step from the shade.
You don't have to look hard to see that the light is always leaving—
even rising towards you, taking its lowest angle down the countryside,
it is passing. The days should be getting shorter but I can't sense it
in the slow coursing of this one. It is difficult to believe
even the things you've seen; there is nothing that I know
for certain. A mockingbird lands on a post and has more to say
about what will bear us skyward than I do. The day is without music—
or any that is organized in a way I can hear. It is easy to forget
the words you've read in books and all you've been told is true
with the world this bright and close at hand. I am learning to look
with a new kind of wanting. There are a few minutes as the day dims
when the details in the distant line of trees become clarified,
the tree forms taking on greater depth, their lobed leaves individuated
as the light releases them, the rich texturing of each tree
suddenly present, rendered with a painstaking draftsmanship,
then they blacken and solidify, emptied of every last particular,
a jagged line backed by a sky which will stay brilliant for some time
to come, as though the light that once lay in the weeds now waits
in the air above, wondering, I suppose, why it is we do not follow.