le dernier couac du Rabbi Tarfon
There is some way the world is and also Some way the inner world, fierce female visitor By night, is, who beats the ground and cries out Aicha, aicha. I myself have heard her, And do still hear her, cry the name of her god. - Where your treasure is, there is your heart also. Oh my particular student, where is your heart?
"You can see for yourself, kid! - That's the ruin On the precipice at Deep - a wild resort. Far below the ruin, using my Zeiss Field glasses, I made sketches: remembrances Of the world. Then, as we approached, successive Apertures revealed buttresses. And a row Of beautifully shaped, arched window-openings In Gothic style came into view. It seemed A cathedral and full of magic. But when Quite near, I saw that, in sober reality, The walls were barely 24 feet high And also, inexorably, the sea Had devoured the cliff, sea-sounds made inaudible The sermon, the whole church doomed to wrack and ruin.
- "An ocean of voices has stormed ashore At Deep since the beginning of the world. Each voice speaks out loud when the wind is up. Each voice is singular, lost in thought, Though water. And the intricate black breakers Are tenements of many rooms. In each room Is one chair and in each chair sits a man Or woman thinking: 'What was not,' they think, 'Comes to be. And what comes to be infallibly Passes into memory. And what passes into Memory may become, for a time, a song. Then it vanishes. Songs vanish, they do Not end. It is infinity, the dying Without the death, ruins the house of God.'
"O kid, standing at this shore, the earth Exploding about us as the storm waves Strike the rock, I wonder there can be traffic Between shores so distant and so disturbed! But to the river mouth the daily boats come home. - No longer twilight, it is now night. A huge sun has gone down into the ocean. All roads and other public ways on earth Are dark. And ocean, with the air above it (Also a public way) is dark and void As it was in the beginning. The paths Are deserted of their children and the forest Tracks unknown - not yet remembered, or never Again remembered - by men or by animals.
"'When comes the long awaited, the orient pearl?' - What the beginning meant is discovered To mind only at the end of the story (Or, more precisely, near the end of the story For the end is nothing.) Then, great desire Wells up in you (in me, my kid!) like water, The only great desire there is: - to know The outcome as we approach the source. Look there! A boat of some kind (notice how It scorns all human instruments, and seeks No oar, nor engine, nor other sail than wings) Heaves to upwind and sends ashore a naked man, The blue jewel of the whole story in his eye (The lights, the signals, and the colors of it).
"And YOU are the woman who knows he sees her Because of the blue jewel in the sailor's eye. His penis grows thick and all that goes with that. Think of it, kid, huge and heavy in your hand! Sex flows from death to life. Between the arousal Of the pilgrim who takes the blue-eyed sailor In her arms and the consummation of her passion (And the long sleep) extends this too brief vigil Of the senses - ascent with others on the mountain As the song of the blue-eyed sailor, from The beach, grows faint and fainter and the rains Come on. - Night on the mountain is full of thunder In the hour before the dawn, the darkest one. At last, the sun's light brightens the uplands.
"O Lambs! Follow us to school on the mountain. Something is coming to pass on the blue floor Of the schooolroom in the rising light. Some children go to school alone on the heights. Others go, smiling, in company of friends And animals. - Today, there are three of us At the start: myself (the one with the Zeiss), YOU Kid, whoever you are, and a dog called Butch, A famous hound whose real name is unknown. (People - as you may have noticed - don't say much. But if you have a dog with you more gets said. Look a dog intently in the eye, any dog! It may recite an astounding poem to you.) Higher still, upon the summit out of sight
"Where are perpetual snows and icy springs And fiery altars daily ignited, And the ceaseless bells, the mountain sheep Unshorn go to water. How like a school- House in a field of flax this mountain stands In the blue acre of ocean - n which the wind (Darkening the voices) has been at work night And day since the beginning of the world. (And God knows what yet may come from the water!) But now, on the floor of the schoolhouse, something Is coming to pass at last in the blue light. NOW, as at the hour of our death, a man Or a woman stares at his own body, or At her own body. He sees the irreparable
"Wound of which he must die. 'It cannot heal,' He says. She too sees the irreparable wound Which cannot heal. 'It cannot heal,' she says. The god supplies the mountain and the path. The poet supplies these chains. And the winds, Which are the strange sounds of her pleasure, Wander the steep slopes of the island mountain (My Jew purgatory) both night and day.... - At first, seen from far off, in the low light Of a huge sun going down beneath the great Acre of ocean - at the punctual moment Of the disappearance of the track, now Filling up with new snow - on the left hand, Behind the rock buttresses of the mountain
And in the serene air of evening (darkening Yet crystalline) - there suddenly appeared An energetic insect of great size or, Maybe, a naked animal covering its excrement. But then, as we approached, we saw it was, In fact, a desolate woman. She scratched The stone, working with the nails of both hands At a dark patch on the snow as if she Had spilled black ink on rock. No matter how hard She scratched, the stain was there for all to see. 'What god,' I thought, or demon has decreed This labour (as it were) of burying a story And digging up the same story - forever. 'Aicha,"aicha' she cries and beats the ground.
"As I stood behind her, looking down at Her spread buttocks into which her heels pressed, The mountain shook. She fell flat as if violated. Then rose, turned around covering her shame, And spoke to me - : 'OK! I am just now dead So I can't say yet how things will come out Now I have left behind the burning farm, The freezing wash, the screaming animals, "No longer in Lethean foliage caught."' Then she said, 'Pigs are cleaner than some people. City people, for example (with "indoor Plumbing"), shit in their own houses. But pigs Shit outside as country men and women do And then wander on under wintry stars,
"'Across the stubble of the home field, all The way to the Ice Palace on the frozen lake: - A clean cold bedroom and cold bed, with walls And stainless sheet and coverlet of ice.' Then she said, 'I'm Irene. - Don't look at me. Don't touch me. Do not say my name. Every flake Of snow that fell in the garden, Oct. 23 1939, every infant fallen from the sky, Is on this mountain still. What are these snows? The return of souls, silent and composed.' - 'Then where are the snows of yesteryear? Where are they?' I ask. - 'Well, look around you. They're right over there.' - 'Where?' - 'Over there In the shade of the rock where the sun never
"'Comes.' - 'And where is Eloise whom I adore?' - 'She's over there, too, sitting in the snow Lecturing the animals.' And it was so: 'Amo ergo sum,' I heard her say. 'There is EVENING KNOWLEDGE and MORNING KNOWLEDGE every day.' As Eloise spoke the sunken path darkened And the cold snake edged in toward the white dust At the center of the path which was still warm. Eloise, sitting in the melting snow, Turned from her animals and addressed the mountain, 'To my master who is also a father, To my husband who is also a brother, His handmaid who is also his sister and Wife and daughter and mother, Heloise!
"'Not long ago, delectissime, not long. Bruno, Bruno of the many worlds! Does The moon move, a "ghostly galleon tossed upon Cloudy seas"? Is the road "a ribbon of silver"? Or do clouds move and the moon stand still In an infinite pool? Kiss, kiss, Master Bruno. I beg you. Your Eloise wants to know. No more stories. Think what you owe me, my true- Love. Give us rules.' Then, the blue-eyed sailor's song (Called 'EVENING KNOWLEDGE') rises from the beach And reaches to the highest tower of the darkening Mountain, among the eagles and their thoughts: 'How salutary to go to the sick or the dead. It is better to visit a house of mourning, My beloved, than a house of feasting,
"'For to be mourned is the lot of everyone. The body of the dead woman must be washed At once by the sisters, clad in some cheap But clean garment and stockings, and laid On a bier, the head covered by a veil. These coverings must be firmly stitched or bound To the body and not afterwards removed. The body shall be carried into the church. Meanwhile the sisters shall devote themselves To psalm-singing and prayer in the oratory. The burial of an abbess shall have one feature To distinguish it from that of others: Her entire body shall be wrapped in a hair Shirt and sewn up in it as in a sack.'
"The sailor's song stopped. Night descended from its tower. We slept, and the world was without us for a time.... - I know sleep of two kinds: the first sleep is Waiting for what may come, a sort of patience, But wearisome and a continual disgrace - Seeing nothing but the dark and heating nothing But the street. The second sleep is without end: Suddenly at the shore with others where, From the river mouth, the daily boats depart East by northeast into the eye of the storm. Thus sail the unborn and lovers, dead upwind. The skies send down bolt after shining bolt Into the earth of the far shore. And we lean On the rail together stating at the dark
"And the falling fire which we take to heart. Look, kid! Between the world, and the poem of The world, there is the difference of great sanity. The poem of the world is great sanity But the world is another thing - or nothing. If there is to be a poet, then there must Be great sanity. 'For sure,' they will say. 'In that person there is sometimes great sanity, More than in trees.' For, when there is a poem, Another may walk out with the page in hand, At evening, and may read it by the light That is still left. And the neighbors become Apparitional and the horned cows that mourn Among the sallows where the path runs through The meadow - at the low dark place - and disappears.
- "When we awakened, it was Good Shepherd Sunday. We sat up and listened in the matutinal dusk To the quick water-stream - lymphae loquaces - Bright talk in the dark - falling from the melt Of spring snows above: 'O tribute of wild tears!' How many of us? - Irene (the retired peasant); Eloise (wet trousers) at her prayers and Letter writing; Me (the Jew); Bruno, well- Hung blue-eyed sailor (he had come up somehow In the night), old as the world; one kid (YOU); And the talking dog formerly called Butch. The ocean was still dark and the sky over Except for certain light-riven clouds eastward, Far out near the horizon, beneath which the dawn
"Shone on the water like a clearing in a wood. The light was rising on Zion and its springs, Which is to say: 'On the mountain we met....' - Ocean screamed. The sailor was patient - he Had had enough. And then, out of the darkness, From around a bend of the path, MORNING KNOWLEDGE Itself came into view - top of the line - With lights flashing like a Christmas tree, Hatchback up and on the tape deck: 'Never cross The sweet-flowing waters of ever-rolling Rivers placing the left foot before the right...' In the car was a tall dark woman, naked And looking good. The dog-poet, 'Butch,' moaned. And Edith Stein, Carmelite, placing her right Foot before her left, stepped down from her limousine.
"'I am Sancta Edith. I was once a Jew. Now I am a Christian. This mountain is My desert. Abbess Eloise is my friend. I was killed naked so I now am naked. Look at me.' Butch licked her toe but said nothing. 'It had always seemed to me that our Lord Was keeping something for me in the mountain That could only be found there. And it opened At last on 21 April, 1938, in Easter week. In deep peace I stepped across the threshold Into the house of the Lord. That was why The mountain shook and Irene fell down hard. I am naked now. But I will get a new dress Where the flax is threshed in the sapphire light,
"'The threads spun, then woven, the cloth cut And the garment sewn on the schoolhouse floor. I say this to all of you, but particularly To the old guy with the Zeiss field glasses And sketch pad (remembrancer of the world) And to the bedroom-blue-eyed sailor, well- Hung troubador of one song, a drone of first knowledge ('How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away,' etc.): In my Purgatory all stories are Suspended, for a time, in the blue light Of outcome. Then they disappear. All life Disappears. It does not end indifferent To outcome - it disappears. Every poem, Rightly conducted, i.e., without looking away
"'From the wound, is a test: whether the maker Of the poem can endure the one coherent Conclusion to which the poem has led him. Whether he is willing to know what is Given him to know and be seen as one Who knows precisely that, or whether she Is willing to know what she is given to Know and to be seen knowing precisely that. In any case, such is the first knowledge, the Bottom of the hole. Jew! Have you forgotten? You will die waiting in the same way that The rock is devoured by Ocean so that All the sacred places fall and disappear In water and the grove lack an altar.
"'Most of the life of men and women is spent Waiting and so the greater part of a man Or woman dies waiting, body and soul, Dies and what he is waiting for is death And what she is waiting for is death also. The body and consciousness of the body Are waiting but the ocean does not wait. Neither patient nor impatient, the sound Of the wave and the blue light....' - Suddenly, On the cliff side of the path a gouged up root, With a voice like Shelley, screamed, 'Sancta Edith, Meine Schwester, what does Aquinas say? Straw, STRAW? I am Rabbi Tarfon. Some of Us eat straw.' He also said, 'Death can overtake
"'A man only when he is idle, for It is written God WILL not overshadow Is-ra-el until her work is done...! But now she cries, fierce female visitor In Zion, bearded sybil by night beating The ground: "Aicha! There is some way the world is."' O kid! From the highest rock of my Jew Purgatory, when the eye-beam which all This time has wandered abroad at last Inherits its beautiful estate, then Unless the poet falsify his report You can see all the way to the next room Over which window evening is drawing down And slowly the curtain of night is drawn."
Truluv the Sailor and the Abbess Eloise Reread the story, this time through to the end Because it was written through to the end. Then they sit together and think about it. The waves come ashore at Deep, the beach shudders, Smooths itself and is still. All the watery rooms Are empty of shadows. Eloise changes Her wet clothes and then walks upward alone. Truluv, the blue-eyed sailor, goes back to work. He's first mate on the Ghostly Galleon carrying Edith Stein as supercargo, Irene as dramaturge. Now she knows how things come out in the end: The dernier couac of Rabbi Tarfon; Thereafter, the cobalt text - oblivion.
Allen Grossman's most recent books are The Philosopher's Window (New Directions) and The Long School Room, a book of essays.…