you are in the diode archives spring 2010



Westbound: Little Cat Feet

A universe of near-unendurable suffering, in which our fate
      is to endure pain rejoicingly in order to receive more pain.
The man in the light rail car is bleeding from the chin.
      By now it’s just an ooze, but his face and shirt are stained.
There is something—what?—peculiar about his cheerfulness,
      an electrical storm rolling over the prairie of his hippocampus.
What do you do for a living, he asks, and, told, asks it again.
      I’m bloody, he says. Bicycle. And he points where it hangs
From a rack. It’s mine. I’m restoring it. What do you do for a living?
      I like poems. This one’s my favorite: The cat comes in
On little cat feet. You know it?  The cat comes in. The bicycle
      hangs perfect on the rack, dusty, but well oiled and functional.
Restoration? The arc of our lives carries us forward, its pace
      controlled by an invisible metronome. He says that boys
Laughed at him when he fell. I said Fuck You. What do you do
      for a living?  His hands worry the thickening blood
On his neck. I like that poem too, I say, but it’s fog: the fog comes in
      on little cat feet. He frowns, thinking. Yes, he says, the cat
Comes in on little cat feet, and he slouches his shoulders, arms out,
      creeping in the air. See? It makes an image in my mind.
When the prophet Elijah entered Bethel, the little children
      mocked his baldness, and, the Bible tells us, he turned back,
And looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord.
      And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tore 
Forty and two children of them. His bloodied hands shake.
      We are going somewhere. It makes an image in my mind.


Eastbound: The Book of Enoch

We recognize the man with the whip by his smell, even in the dead
      of night, as we call it, even when we sleep, as we say,
Like a stone: he enters our dream and the stink of his sweat
      wakes us just before the flagrum comes down, commuters
On the platform driven, train driven. The world is burning,
      Heraclitus wrote.  East, the great desert takes the lash
Of solar flares. The man in the window seat is not perspiring.
      A leather bag and a bottle of water rest in his perfect khaki lap.
I have resumed the studies I started years ago, he says; I investigate the angels
      who are everywhere around us. The aisles of this train are full of them,
And the platforms at the stations; some of us in these seats are angels.
      His face behind his sunglasses is serene as the train rolls smoothly.
In the ancient book, canonical in Ethiopia, the angels lusted
      after the daughters of women. They made a pact of silence
And fathered a race of giants, who prospered and devoured the earth.
      My grandfather learned this from adepts in Addis Ababa:  
We must love everyone and be kind to every stranger, lest we offend God’s agents.
      Beyond the horizon there is a great mechanical quaking,
The gears of the Imperium grinding into a corrosive bronze dust.
      And there I saw One who had a head of days, and His head was white
 like wool. And we recognize him because he punishes us for our inconstancy--
      we are not faithful to our Being like the stones or the fruits of trees.
Therefore shall ye execrate your days, and the years of your life shall perish,
      ye shall be blown across your desert lives like tumbleweed
Before the Mercedes-Benz, ye shall enter into office buildings weeping
      and drive yourselves, and marry, and suffer the everlasting scourge.


Paul Celan in Paris

What was it Heidegger wrote? Everybody wondered. The words were plain on the page,
      but the sense of that German prose would break a skull.
Past midnight, Antschel struggled with the massive book. Do not imagine he did not know
      the Philosopher was a Nazi. He marked the obvious
Lines with a marginalized six-pointed star. He could feel the book burning itself, its ashen
      pages yielding a crematorium pollution. The Jew
In him attended, with the greatest care. The Jew in him? What was he thinking? Had he
      become a prison? The Philosopher's German strung
Its concertina wire around the bedroom. Soon everyone would die of it, soon everyone's
      name would change. Retranslate: Dasein. The Seine.


Poe on Broadway

       —in memoriam J.D. Salinger

He could not hold it against the bird that it shat,
      copiously and often but unpredictably—
Lacking a sphincter, it had no choice—
      But its moodiness and outbursts
Of viciousness were harder to forgive. While it
      could not take off a finger, like certain parrots,
That beak was dangerous, and he had the scars
      to prove it. It rode his shoulder
Like a miasma of depression--it was a raven,
      it had a role, a tradition to uphold—and he walked
The city, from boarding house to subway to diner,
      bearing an imposed symbolic predisposition
To gloom. A talking raven was a common idea, one
      explained implicitly by the role it played: it must seem
Like natural supernaturalism for a black bird on a shoulder
      to utter the fated Nevermore. In truth, his raven
Could not talk—he had tried to teach it and failed, perhaps
      because he could not bring himself to split
Its tongue—and so had himself learned ventriloquism,
      which the bird consented to accompany
By opening and closing its beak on a secret signal.
      That was all it took to make a modest stipend
If you were content to live alone in a cardboard box
      down the throat of a blind alley, with a shitting bird
For a neighbor. It was a living. Each morning on his corner—
      a good spot on Broadway no less, that he’d swindled
From a juggler—he’d set his tip jar down.
      It might take an hour for his repeated riff to catch
An ear, especially on busy weekdays, given the traffic noise,
      but always sooner or later, someone would lift
An eyebrow, pause for a moment, smile or not, and drop
      Something into the jar. This was the routine
For years, and he never ceased to be surprised
      no one inquired, ever, how the thing was done.



That was a harsh, dark gift; no one wanted it, but it sustained them
      through the suppurations, vomiting, and delirium
Which many were convinced was caused by what they were given.
      For some, it was the true, pure cure; for others it was a poison
That might heal them despite itself and them, or might destroy them.
      But there was such a plague on the land—so virulent and disgusting—
That sooner or later everyone would be brought to the point of trying it.
      There was the smoking cityscape, shop windows smashed, subways deserted,
And I, numinous I, was the carrier, with my medical kit, and my one filthy syringe,
      and that chemical poetry that in the end they would kill me to possess.  


T. R. Hummer is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose, most recently The Infinity Sessions (poems) and The Muse in the Machine: Essays on Poetry and the Anatomy of the Body Politic. His latest collection, Ephemeron, is forthcoming from LSU Press in 2011.  He has published poems in literary journals and magazines including The New Yorker, Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, and Georgia Review. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes. He teaches creative writing and literature at Arizona State University.