Ten Poems from What Is Owed the Dead


Granted, Ez, Monticello’s stables are nice
To visit, wouldn’t want to live there, but then
Spent no time in open cell or closed tent
Either, “Caged Eagle,” old buzzard, lamenting, ,
Your “twice-crucified” dead, chthonic tonic,
“H., M.” among the strewn corpses, the stench,
Mussolini poem was lost when the hard drive
Crashed, no great loss, always another sawed-off
Little Caesar around, hic, “Mother of God,”
Blacksmith’s spawn, rusticus ready
To fill the air with deception and betrayal,
Kiss the current Führer’s furry arse, that part
Of the job apparently not too difficult,
“Is this the end?” why is it, do you think,
That the silence of those final years rings truer
Than so much of all that village explaining?


“Not a search for God,” alone on the train,
“Railroads of the Night,” (10/22/59), reading
Mexico City Blues, twenty-two, not digging it,
Didn’t know enough, dumb as a pig, nightfall,
Car crowded, Sweet Briar girls strut the aisles,
Hang over seat backs, bare thighs, “poor girls,
Did they always want attention?” sitting
Next to me, smashed thumb, red wine shared,
Bottle in a twisted paper bag, friends shot down
In a Budapest street (he got away), Soviet tank,
“God in search of a human being,” you,
Jaqui Keracky, navel hernia, ,
The taped silver dollar, “a very lonely guy,”
Kallaquack, “Mother of God, is this the end?”
Remember, Brother Jack, “nobody’s alone,”
Canuck, Hunky, self, “for more than a minute.”


Regnant, your “magistracy,” Tom, demanded, so far
From Mississip, “strong brown god,” to Thames, show me,
Through glasses, down distinctive nose, Anglo, “pubs
Being open,” Christmas, “till midnight,” clerk, then, publisher,
Then, “time present,” E. P. (whom you owed much), stiff
Salute, “DUCE,” honored, and you vilified, “Apeneck”
Critics de(con)struct (unmoving words: racist royalist
Anti-semite wife-crushing rotter
), wonder if they
“Have understood a word” you wrote, “hoo hoo hoo,”
Bird in rose garden, (close reading, only fifties Cold War
), O. P., “loved bad jokes,” limp with laughter,
Dame Edith, whoopee cushion, (sexist piggy), “effanineffable,”
Yet defined wasted century, “Marie, hold on tight. And down
We went.” T. S. (all those initials from you, F. T., W. H., e. e.,
Pell mell), if you’re right “time past” is “present in time future,”
Then hope remains, “all manner of thing shall be well.”


“So happiness,” Frank, “and sadness,” you said,
“Mix here,” and “everything in old age can sadden,”
But broke down early, five, mother forbade games,
Thus books, “so make all things clear,” then war,
DUCE on broken Italian walls, home, UK, then
Known, one poem in Oxford English Verse, one
In Twentieth Century Modern, but always there
And here, your edged, proud term, “Outsider,”
Not like those kids in Gorran Haven, “We’re outsiders,”
Pleading, “Let us in,” not really in, you, ever,
Except somewhat in USA, “this country, its laws
Of glass,” taken up, later on, clambering with love
Over stony flooded Cascades in Virginia (03/84), always
“The attempt to wake,” poetry, “and breathe,” you,
“And be,” who knew, “because to love is frightening,”
How easy it is to choose “the freedom of our crimes.”


Caedmon’s dream (c. 658-680), herdsman, alone
In outer dark, necessary angel’s command, neither wrote
Nor read (nor sung, left hall in shame), heben til hrofe,
Roofed only by heaven, praised hefaenricaes uard,
Great God, heaven’s shepherd, “first English Christian
Poet,” not first poetic shepherd, Theocritus, ,
Centuries (c. 270 BCE) before, contenders, love’s lamenters,
Unlike you, not really herders, only “got up as poets
In farmer suits,” thoughts muffled in wool, thick tufts caught
By wind and wire, Skye (06/24/87), Virgil, too (39 BCE),
Tu modo nascenti puero,” pastoral prophecy or just more
Wool gathering, shipped sheep, “sniffed, poor things, for their
Green fields,” cry, fall ill, one by one by one, die, wooly
Bundles, mere mutton, and yet, drowsy herdsman, you heard
“That great shepherd of the sheep,” love’s continuing
Demand, “feed my lambs,” no doubt, “feed my sheep.”


Yes, it continues, Anna, tyranny, oppression,
Repression, recited legalisms, “This is not
A threat,” illegal trials, truncheons, the knout,
Worse, of course, much worse, if not here,
There, if not there, eventually here, you knew
Behind pig’s flat blank eye, look of stupid
Noncomprehension, pig’s brain always thinking
Of slop, the sty, act of betrayal, evil alliance,
“Executioner’s feet,” slaughter, of the innocent,
The dear, Mandelstam (), of the duped,
Babel (), Mayakovsky’s loud future
(), mass graves, lost masses,
Licked that satanic () arse yourself
To save son (), asked in prison line,
“Can you describe this?” you answered,
In devastation, , yes, must, will, did, can.


Loneliness, you, Ovid, on the Black Sea, Pontus
, year 8, exiled, imperial claim, for love,
Ars Amatoris, Nelly, 1940, safe in Sweden
From Nazis but not from die Blicke, glances,
Der Toten, of millions going up in black
Smoke, Joseph, 1972, you, safe, too, in U. S. A.,
persona non grata in terra incognita,” behind
All of you, landscape, pines, lindens, aspens,
Those faces, most of all, language, “vix
Subeunt ipsi verba Latina mihi
,” old words
“Rusty and stiff,” intoned (02/76) Russian
Verse, few understanding, sleeves rolled up,
Cigarette poised so carefully on filter beside,
Joseph, hand on shoulder, to shy student poet,
New room, new world, , emptiness,
“Don’t be,” exile’s best advice, “nervous.”

Exile 2

Old Ovid, wrote home, sad complaint, Tristia,
Wet weather, cold, those hairy men, begging,
Ex Ponto, forgiveness, return, but no return
For you, thousands, millions, the Bantu here, other
Side of town (06/30/05), extracted, killing ground,
Planted here, across street, Evergreen Burial Park,
, grandparents, parents, then, soon or late,
Carved stone awaits, place of final exile, abode,
The Bantu, beans, “JESUS SAVES,” hand to mouth,
Like you, Nelly, know “ein Fremder hat immer,”
Always stranger, strange land, like an orphan,
Seine Heimat im Arm,” home held close,
Even in chimneys’ shadow, clutched like Zohar,
And words, letters, sounds, looted, switched,
Mystic’s wisdom, all is exile away from light,
Nervous or not, afraid, in darkness, exile, always.


Es steht da,” it is there, like “unser Leben,” all that
Is the case, words, your being able to “accept many
Things,” wars, one you fought in, “vom Wahnsinn
Surrounded, madness, three dead brothers, Selbtsmord,
Tempted yourself, suffered “die Schrecken der Hölle,”
A single day quite enough, instead “Selbstgespräche,”
Conversations, Ludwig, often stammered, with yourself,
Silent, locked, where “man nicht sprechen kann,”
Yet sure philosophy should be written “nur dichten,”
As a poem, spoke like a lion (who could understand?),
Today lionized, reviled, revered, explained, imagined,
Abused, outed (puzzle “solved”), despite commandment,
Spiele nicht,” don’t toy with, “den Tiefen,” depths
Of another, whole cloud of philosophy “kondensiert,”
Last days, dreams, rain, “Mut,” fumbled, now for keys,
Mislaid spectacles, then, finally, face to face, “das Wort.”


Illuminated, “un semplice lume,” you, Dante, once lost,
Off “la diritta via,” then found, now needed, millennium
Of continuing inferno, torture, lies, lies, oh lies, “malvagio
,” traitors, mass graves, traitors, traitors, bloated
Rivers, language emptied of all meaning, rank deception,
Heated sour air, bombs bursting bursting bursting,
Betrayers chewed in each, “ogni bocca,” hellish mouth,
But, dead, still get around, H., baked organs bottled,
Juggled in Kremlin, “one-ball business,” M., bald head
Pounded like punching bag, strung up, dug up, boxed,
Bent double, planted again, again, S., too, laid stiffly out,
Then, Moscow night, hurried out of sight, not out of mind,
Una selva oscura” indeed, and every day keeps coming
Down, there, here, pot-belly Führer, porcine Duce, weird
Sisters at their brewing, need you now, maestro, now,
Reshape penumbra, now, into lasting shape of light.


Ezra Pound: “Canto XXVIII”
W. R. Burnet: Little Caesar

Jack Kerouac: Mexico City Blues
Stella Kerouac: Interview (10/21/69)
W. R. Burnet: Little Caesar

T. S. Eliot: “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees,” Four Quartets (“Burnt Norton,” “The Dry Salvages,” “Little Gidding”), “Sweeney Among the Nightingales,” “Fragment of an Agon,” “The Naming of Cats,” The Waste Land
George Barker: “Elegiacs for T. S. Eliot”

F. T. Prince: “The Yüan Chên Variations II,” “Walks in Rome I, IV,” “Not a Paris Review Interview,” “Soldiers Bathing”
John Ashbery: “America”
Colin Wilson: The Outsider

Caedmon: “Caedmon’s Hymn”
Theocritus: “Thyrsis”
David Slavitt: The Eclogues of Virgil
Virgil: Eclogues IV
W. H. Davies: “Sheep”
Hebrews 13:20
John 21:15-16

Anna Akhmatova: “Requiem”
George Orwell: Animal Farm

Publius Ovidius Naso: Tristia, V, vii
David R. Slavitt: The Tristia of Ovid
Nelly Sachs: “You onlookers”
Joseph Brodsky: “Abroad,” “December 24, 1971”

Exile 2
Publius Ovidius Naso: Tristia, V, vii
Joseph Brodsky: “Anno Domini”
Nelly Sachs: “Someone comes”

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Über Gewissheit / On Certainty; Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung / Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; Bemerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik / Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics; Vermischte Bemerkungen / Culture and Value; Philosophische Untersuchungen / Philosophical Investigations
The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
Evangelium S. Johannis 1:1

Dante Alighieri: Inferno, Paradiso
Sergio Luzzato: The Body of Il Duce
Ron Rosenbaum: Explaining Hitler
William Shakespeare: Macbeth