THE DISQUIETING MUSES
Mother, mother, what illbred aunt
Or what disfigured and unsightly
Cousin did you so unwisely keep
Unasked to my christening, that she
Sent these ladies in her stead
With heads like daring-eggs to nod
And nod and nod at foot and head
And at the left side of my crib?
Mother, who made to order stories
Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear,
Mother, whose witches always, always
Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder
Whether you saw them, whether you said
Words to rid me of those three ladies
Nodding by night around my bead,
Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.
In the hurricane, when fatherís twelve
Study windows bellied in
Like bubbles about to break, you fed
My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine
And helped the two of us to choir:
"Thor is angry: boom boom boom!
Thor is angry: we donít care!"
But those ladies broke the panes.
When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced,
Blinking flashlights like fireflies
And singing the glowworm song, I could
Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress
But, heavy-footed, stood aside
In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed
Godmothers, and you cried and cried:
And the shadows stretched, the lights went
Mother, you sent me to piano lessons
And praised my arabesques and thrills
Although each teacher found my touch
Oddly wooden in spite of scales
And the hours of practicing, my ear
Tone-deaf and yes, I learned elsewhere,
From muses unhired by you, dear mother.
I woke one day to see you, mother,
Floating above me in bluest air
On a green balloon bright with a million
Never, never, found anywhere.
But the little planet bobbed away
Like a soap-bubble as you called; Come here!
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breath or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had timeó
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire stare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belson.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And I faced my traveling companions
Day now, right now, at head, side, feet,
They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,
Faces blank as the day I was born,
Their shadows long in the setting sun
That never brightens or goes down.
And this is the kingdom you bore me to,
Mother, mother, But no frown of mine
Will betray the company I keep.
I shall never get you put together entirely,
Pieced, glued and properly jointed.
Mule-bray, pig-grunt and bawdy cacklers
Proceed from your great lips.
Itís worse than a barnyard.
Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or
Thirty years now I have labored
To dredge the silt from your throat.
I am none the wiser.
Scaling little ladders with glue spots and
bails of Lysol
I crawl like an ant in mourning
Over the weedy acres of your brow
To mend the immense skull-plates and clear
The bald, white turnuli of your eyes.
A blue sky out of the Oresteia
Arches above us. O father, all by yourself
You are pithy and historical as the Roman
I open my lunch on a hill o black cypress.
Your fluted bones and acanthine hair are
In their old anarchy to the horizon-line.
It would take more than a lightning-stoke
To create such ruin.
Nights, I squat in the cornucopia
Of your left ear, out of the wind,
Counting the red stars and those of plum-color.
The sun rises under the pillar of your tongue.
My hours are married to shadow.
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a
On the black stones of landing.
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melo strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new minted in this fat purse
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful--
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked
at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A women bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really
Then she turns to those liars, the candles
or the moon.
I see her back, and relfect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and agitation of
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in
me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible
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