song of the dead city

June 4, 2008 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

       Song of the Dead City

crystal, distorted moments:
this young girl’s breast
   for a moment revealed, and i,
twice her age, cannot quite
   look away, though
i do not move to touch her.

and as a child, at her age,
i can remember watching, just so,
   my untouched love by-walking,
unglancing:  recording
   each hip-shot sway,
each graceful curve’s allurement.

      (in Alexandria, they say,
      the Blind King parties, of nights,
      in the ancient ruins.
      ghosts and mad fancies:
          i knew
      the wise man quite well, once,
      long ago.)

how many names have i called?
and how many paths
  have i sought, yet unbelieving
in my course’s goal?…i have not seen,
   i hope to touch
    my Grail, my Other:

     from some single
     point, or focus:
 to know all earth, the sky.
     the meaning
 of these traces, touches,

     cannot be said nor bound.
that trickster turner
     catches and passes, unslain,
unslaying, unsaid…


In the Dead City
 i resided a while.
At first, viewing
         the new buildings,
the gleaming cars
    i could not understand its name.

     But when i
     approached you,
     you could not
     hear me.

      Too many questions
     behind the first admission.

…silent, stumbling, deathly
          tired, i entered
   the desert.

(as i scribe my poems
     on the sand, the conscientious
         keeper of the desert, wind,
     whisks each line, each trace


Few words
have been meaning, most touches
have merely
   slipped away:  and have been,
on the whole, forgotten.

–When I first met you, i’d been
  in the desert
         some months.  My lips
  were cracked and dry, my eyes

were full of visions…
in the dead city, where
the madmen and the thieves
do roam and stray, you
tended my wounds, my aching
i fascinated you:  ragged, long-haired,

 but the wolves
  or the madmen (i am not,
i confess, quite sure which) howled
    and i left, unheeding

to your calls.  (In
the Dead City, you
tended my wounds, and i
left you.)

i returned
to the desert and its
wordless teachings.

 o, i say, do you
remember touching me
in the Dead City?


and once by a river
i saw an old man,

i heard the old man

“i would have silence,
   silence and a dry crust,
 and a dry crust

“i would come under
 the shadow of that Rock,
  that red rock, that
      dry rock,
 i would come under
 the shadow of that

“but at the Hill
 there was no answer,
    i could not find
 that open grave, i…

“i found no silence,
no peace, only plenty
    and much
merry-making, they…

“they have all become rich:
     in the sanctum
 whited sepulchres, they
   know not hunger
 nor any need, they
    have become rich.”

i saw his hands, too,
marred by scars, as if,
  once, his palms
had been pierced…

 his hair was long, and wild
     as his eyes; no
salon would be graced
     by such a one…

he sat by the river and
wept, sat by the
    by-rushing and wept…

wept for the unborn
dead and all
the world’s sorrows, wept…

but his shoulders, bowed,
     would no longer
support the world’s weight…

       o, but having

 heard the Man
and his sorrowing cry, i
can but search
   for the shadow
of that Rock,
       his rock.


     In the city of the dead,
     in that City, madmen roam
     to and fro,
     seeking for a god
     whose name they
     no longer remember.

     (Once, i recall,
       i saw one sitting
      in the seat of an auto
      long dead.  That great
      God, i say, was dead.)


These visions
are illusive, lending
little connection.

But once, bathing
nude with a girl, i think
she was sixteen, and beautiful,
made no attempt
to seduce her.

may be called
many things.

Absent-eyed, dreaming
in a fall wind, i journey
far straits, datheless voyages.

The winter, that year,
came early, bitter (ah, but
i remember
the summer’s roses, sweeter
for the cold that followed)…

 each huddled each
to house, clasping
what need would call
  one’s love…

odd, that the spring
should sunder so many!  perhaps
we know little
of those mysteries, our selves.


o, yes, travellers have come
with names of their gods
and stories of strange visions, promises
of never-never lands…

the world remains.  though
i name the thunder Thor,
and call the earth Urmutter
this makes the name

no less of man, no more
of the thing itself.

at the fane of the dark,
the nameless god, we gathered

to celebrate our mutilation.
(i have not seen the
 light in some years, now)…
our habits have scarred us,

here, in this desert-bordering
city.  (the blind boy, sitting
across the square from my door,
    sings of sunset.)

fugitive dreams, vain fancies, thoughts
of an old man
in a dry and unsolaced
season.  (peace, and a dry crust)


I saw you, last night,
dancing alone in your rooms,
   half-nude, with
a slow and stately grace.

But when i called you,
you would not or could not

Passing one another on the street,
at times, we brush.
Though we’re near neighbors,

you’ve never deigned to
notice me or my
feeble gestures of greeting
  (your beauty stuns me dumb)

–i should have been
a hermit, an ascetic.
rather, i hesitate

before touching or its lack
neither affirm love
   nor gainsay it.

but, as you pass once again–
as i review private, midnight
at times i ache to touch you.


At times i ache
in the west wind, dreaming
of leaving.  I
have been here
     four years, now.

(I know these hills well.
 Spring-green, summered
 tinder dry; autumn-russet
    and, of winter, again perversely
    green…my memory
 as my socks ticked
with beggars-lice…)

There is so much
i’ll never know, though
through all those
  different countries i’ve known
there was really
all difference, small change…

At times, all the faces
i’ve known parade
   before me…perhaps

i have had too many
  friends and lovers.
dry man in a wet month,
   glooming over following winter:  perhaps

we’re jesters all.  as i stare,
disconsolate, desiring
my untouched, unknown,
   mysterious Other.


This dates from about 1972, although I worked on it for another eight years or so.  I wanted to have the literary references without clumsiness and indeed without being necessary.  The major attribution is to Samuel Delany’s Dahlgren.  I am not saying that anything else much was in common.  I would hope the one major homage poetrywise is obvious although it certainly isn’t linear.


When I quit working on it, I closed the “voices” manuscript.  Otherwise, it would have become compulsive.  In my poetry I don’t capitalize the personal pronoun for a very simple reason.  English is the only language in the world to capitalize the personal pronoun.  Such usage in my opinion has an intrinsic, inescapable effect.


As far as the “meaning” of this goes, I’m sorry but I can’t actually help you.  I am a relativist (that’s as close as current English can come to my actual philosophical stance) and in this case it definitely means that the creation is (rather necessarily) a private event, while the spectator’s is another and just as valid.  That means I disagree with a lot of English teachers that want to tell you how to read.  O well.


–Glenn and no doubt the second time I’ve done this.

Entry filed under: poetry, writing and thought. Tags: , , .

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