Chicano Poet

Friday, February 06, 2009

Thirteen Going On Poetry

Back in the early and middle Sixties I discovered
the public library in my hometown. The librarian’s
name was Dorothy Byrne. She had a keen eye for
poetry because she kept the poetry section stocked
with great poets. I had to walk or ride my bicycle
from the gravel-paved streets of my barrio to the
white side of town and would be questioned by cops
all the time. When I told them I was going to the
library, a dirty little Mexican teenager going to the
library, yeah, right. Sometimes they would follow
me and wait outside to make sure I wasn’t lying.
They wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to sneak
out to rape and pillage. It was in this well-stocked
library that I first encounter Delmore Schwartz,
his poems spoke to me in the wilderness, especially,
of course, The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me, and
In The Naked Bed, in Plato's Cave, plus countless
other of his poems in Summer Knowledge. Yet,
probably his most astounding poem to me back
then and even now was Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon
along the Seine. Back then it was not that easy to
get or see a copy of Seurat’s pointillism, but I had
seen it in a book somewhere before I came upon
the poem. So even today (I think) you can still see
that Schwartz influence in some of my poetry.
Perhaps at the very time I was marveling over his
poems he was reciting his verse or drunk at the
White Horse Tavern or at the San Remo in the
mighty metropolis while I cautiously wandered
the dusty streets of my hometown. No one read
poetry at La Perla Lounge where my grandfather
hung out with the cantineras, the saloon girls who
would let you rub up against them, and dance
with you for a quarter or worse, I thought.

Seurat's Sunday Afternoon along the Seine

By Delmore Schwartz

To Meyer and Lillian Schapiro

What are they looking at? Is it the river?
The sunlight on the river, the summer, leisure,
Or the luxury and nothingness of consciousness?
A little girl skips, a ring-tailed monkey hops
Like a kangaroo, held by a lady's lead
(Does the husband tax the Congo for the monkey's keep?)
The hopping monkey cannot follow the poodle dashing ahead.
Everyone holds his heart within his hands:
A prayer, a pledge of grace or gratitude
A devout offering to the god of summer, Sunday and plenitude.
The Sunday people are looking at hope itself.
They are looking at hope itself, under the sun, free from the teething
anxiety, the gnawing nervousness
Which wastes so many days and years of consciousness.
The one who beholds them, beholding the gold and green
Of summer's Sunday is himself unseen. This is because he is
Dedicated radiance, supreme concentration, fanatically threading
The beads, needles and eyes -at once- of vividness and permanence.
He is a saint of Sunday in the open air, a fanatic disciplined
By passion, courage, passion, skill, compassion, love: the love of life
and the love of light as one, under the sun, with the love of life.
Everywhere radiance glows like a garden in stillness blossoming.
Many are looking, many are holding something or someone
Little or big: some hold several kinds of parasols:
Each one who holds an umbrella holds it differently
One hunches under his red umbrella as if he hid
And looked forth at the river secretly, or sought to be
Free of all of the other's judgement and proximity.
Next to him sits a lady who has turned to stone, or become a boulder,
Although her bell-and-sash hat is red.
A little girl holds to her mother's arm
As if it were a permanent genuine certainty:
Her broad-brimmed hat is blue and white, blue like the river, like the
sailboats white,
And her face and her look have all the bland innocence,
Open and far from fear as cherubims playing harpsichords.
An adolescent girl holds a bouquet of flowers
As if she gazed and sought her unknown, hoped-for, dreaded destiny.
No hold is as strong as the strength with which the trees,
Grip to the ground, curve up to the light, abide in the warm kind air:
Rooted and rising with a perfected tenacity
Beyond the distracted erratic case of mankind there.
Every umbrella curves and becomes a tree,
And the trees curving, arise to become and be
Like the umbrella, the bells of Sunday, summer, and Sunday's luxury.
Assured as the trees is the strolling dignity
Of the bourgeois wife who holds her husband's arm
With the easy confidence and pride of one who is
-She is sure- a sovereign Victorian empress and queen.
Her husband's dignity is as solid as his embonpoint:
He holds a good cigar, and a dainty cane, quite carelessly.
He is held by his wife, they are each other's property,
Dressed quietly and impeccably, they are suave and grave,
As if they were unaware or free of time, and the grave,
Master and mistress of Sunday's promenade -of everything!
-As they are absolute monarchs of the ring-tailed monkey.
If you look long enough at anything
It will become extremely interesting;
If you look very long at anything
It will become rich, manifold, fascinating:
If you can look at any thing for long enough,
You will rejoice in the miracle of love,
You will possess and be blessed by the marvellous blinding radiance
of love, you will be radiance.
Selfhood will possess and be possessed, as in the consecration of mar-
riage, the mastery of vocation, the mystery of gift's mastery, the
deathless relation of parenthood and progeny.
All things are fixed in one direction:
We move with the Sunday people from right to left.
The sun shines
In soft glory
Mankind finds
The famous story
Of peace and rest, released for a little while from the tides of weekday
tiredness, the grinding anxiousness
Of daily weeklong lifelong fear and insecurity,
The profound nervousness which in the depths of consciousness
Gnaws at the roots of the teeth of being so continually, whether in
sleep or wakefulness,
We are hardly aware that it is there or that we might even be free
Of its ache and torment, free and open to all experience.
The Sunday summer sun shines equally and voluptuously
Upon the rich and the free, the comfortable, the rentier, the poor,
and those who are paralyzed by poverty.
Seurat is at once painter, poet, architect, and alchemist:
The alchemist points his magical wand to describe and hold the Sun-
day's gold,
Mixing his small alloys for long and long
Because he wants to hold the warm leisure and pleasure of the holiday
Within the fiery blaze and passionate patience of his gaze and mind
Now and forever: O happy, happy throng,
It is forever Sunday, summer, free: you are forever warm
Within his little seeds, his small black grains,
He builds and holds the power and the luxury
With which the summer Sunday serenely reigns.
-Is it possible? It is possible!-
Although it requires the labors of Hercules, Sisyphus, Flaubert,
The brilliance and spontaneity or Mozart, the patience or a pyramid,
And requires all these of the painter who at twenty-five
Hardly suspects that in six years he will no longer be alive!
-His marvellous little marbles, beads, or molecules
Begin as points which the alchemy's magic transforms
Into diamonds of blossoming radiance, possessing and blessing the
For look how the sun shines anew and newly, transfixed
By his passionate obsession with serenity
As he transforms the sunlight into the substance of pewter, glittering,
poised and grave, vivid as butter,
In glowing solidity, changeless, a gift, lifted to immortality.
The sunlight, the soaring trees and the Seine
Are as a great net in which Seurat seeks to seize and hold
All living being in a parade and promenade of mild, calm happiness:
The river, quivering, silver blue under the light's variety,
Is almost motionless. Most of the Sunday people
Are like flowers, walking, moving toward the river, the sun, an the
river of the sun.
Each one holds some thing or some one, some instrument
Holds, grasps, grips, clutches or somehow touches
Some form of being as if the hand and the fist of holding and possessing,
Alone and privately and intimately, were the only genuine lock or
bond of blessing.
A young man blows his flute, curved by pleasure's musical activity,
His back turned upon the Seine, the sunlight, and the sunflower day.
A dapper dandy in a top hat gazes idly at the Seine:
The casual delicacy with which he holds his cane
Resembles his tailored elegance.
He sits with well-bred posture, sleek and pressed,
Fixed in his niche: he is his own mustache.
A working man slouches parallel to him, quiet comfortable,
Lounging or lolling, leaning on his elbow, smoking a meerschaum,
Gazing in solitude, at ease and oblivious or contemptuous
Although he is very near the elegant young gentleman.
Behind him a black hound snuffles the green, blue ground.
Between them, a wife looks down upon
The knitting in her lap, as in profound
Scrutiny of a difficult book. For her constricted look
Is not in her almost hidden face, but in her holding hands
Which hold the knitted thing as no one holds
Umbrella, kite, sail, flute or parasol.
This is the nervous reality of time and time's fire which turns
Whatever is into another thing, continually altering and changing all
identity, as time's great fire burns (aspiring, flying and dying),
So that all things arise and fall, living, leaping and fading, falling, like
flames aspiring, flowering, flying and dying-
Within the uncontrollable blaze of time and of history:
Hence Seurat seeks within the cave of his gaze and mind to find
A permanent monument to Sunday's simple delight; seeks deathless
joy through the eye's immortality;
Strives patiently and passionately to surpass the fickle erratic quality
of living reality.
Within this Sunday afternoon upon the Seine
Many pictures exist inside the Sunday scene:
Each of them is a world in itself, a world in itself (and as the living child
links generations, reconciles the estranged and aged so that a grand-
child is a second birth, and the rebirth of the irrational, of those
who are forlorn, resigned or implacable),
Each little picture links the large and small, grouping the big
Objects, connecting them with each little dot, seed or black grain
Which are as patterns, a marvellous network and tapestry,
Yet have, as well, the random freshness and radiance
Of the rippling river's sparkle, the frost's astonishing systems,
As they appear to morning's walking, a pure, white delicate stillness
and minuet,
In December, in the morning, white pennats streaked upon the
He is fanatical: he is at once poet and architect,
Seeking complete evocation in forms as strong as the Eiffel Tower,
Subtle and delicate too as one who played a Mozart sonata, alone,
under the spires of Notre-Dame.
Quick and utterly sensitive, purely real and practical,
Making a mosaic of the little dots into a mural of the splendor of
Each micro pattern is the dreamed of or imagined macrocosmos
In which all things, big and small, in willingness and love surrender
To the peace and elation of Sunday light and sunlight's pleasure, to
the profound measure and order of proportion and relation.
He reaches beyond the glistening spontaneity
Of dazzled Impressionists who follow
The changing light as it ranges, changing, moment by moment, ar-
ranging and charming and freely bestowing
All freshness and all renewal continually on all that shows and flows.
Although he is very careful, he is entirely candid.
Although he is wholly impersonal, he has youth's frankness and, such
is his candor,
His gaze is unique and thus it is intensely personal:
It is never facile, glib, or mechanical,
His vision is simple: yet is also ample, complex, vexed, and profound
In emulation of the fullness of Nature maturing and enduring and
toiling with the chaos of actuality.
An infinite variety within a simple frame:
Countless variations upon a single theme!
Vibrant with what soft soft luster, what calm joy!
This is the celebration of contemplation,
This is the conversion of experience to pure attention,
Here is the holiness of all the little things
Offered to us, discovered for us, transformed into the vividest con-
After all the shallowness or blindness of experience,
After the blurring, dirtying, soothed surfaces which, since Eden and
since birth,
Make all the little things trivial or unseen,
Or tickets torn and thrown away
En route by rail to an ever-receding holiday:
-Here we have stopped, here we have given our hearts
To the real city, the vivid city in which we dwell
And which we ignore or disregard most of the luminous day!
...Time passes: nothing changes, everything stays the same. Noth-
ing is new
Under the sun. It is also true
That time passes and everything changes, year by year, day by day,
Hour by hour. Seurat's Sunday Afternoon along the Seine has gone
Has gone to Chicago: near Lake Michigan,
All of his flowers shine in monumental stillness fulfilled.
And yet it abides elsewhere and everywhere where images
Delight the eye and heart, and become the desirable, the admirable,
the willed
Icons of purified consciousness. Far and near, close and far away
Can we not hear, if we but listen to what Flaubert tried to say,
Ils sont dans le vrai! They are with the truth, they have found the way
The kingdom of heaven on earth on Sunday summer day.
The voice of Kafka, forever sad, in despair's sickness trying to say:
"Flaubert was right: Il sont dans le vrai!
Without forbears, without marriage, without heirs,
Yet with a wild longing for forbears, marriage, and heirs:
They all stretch out their hands to me: but are too far away!"


At 5:59 PM, Blogger Poet Hound said...

Beautiful poem, I'm so glad you shared it. Now I'll be perusing my library for Delmore Schwartz and if they don't have, I'll be requesting they order his poetry.
It's humorous that the cops followed you, a boy in love with poetry, instead of true deviants. They hopefully became bored enough to leave you alone after a short time, did they?

At 12:18 AM, Blogger RC said...

Poet Hound,they have a pdf collection of Delmore's poetry at poemhunter which you can download free.The poem I posted is from Summer Knowledge.It is not in the pdf download.

As far as the cops,no they hassled me all the way through high school.The shortest walk to high school was through the white barrios.


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