cantos 20 & 21 from CANTILENA,
Span Four, The Bewitched Groom
A boy returns from an expedition and regales his parents.
Lights-out, he puts his ear to their bedroom wall.
Taken for dead, Er, Man of All the Peoples
comes to on the pyre, the battle's damp cord wood,
and climbs down to rasp out his embassy,
and the reviewers quibble over details, those made superfluous
by the histories. Look for him on the docks,
ballasting his disgust in the tavernas.
Jan Karski, the Polish Errol Flynn
smuggled through a tunnel into the ghetto,
comes up into the chambers of Mr. Justice Frankfurter,
and the eminence says, Do you know I am a Jew?
Karski points to the pyres, lays out the numbers. Silence.
The exile Polish Ambassador motions to him:
Don't say anything.
--Frankfurter turned his back to us, three, maybe four minutes.
Then, looking me straight in the face: --Mr. Karski,
a man like me, talking to a man like you, must be frank.
So I say, I am unable to believe you.
--But Felix! You cannot say this to him, as if he is lying.
He has been checked and rechecked. This is his fourth mission.
--Mister Ambassador, I did not say that this young man is lying.
I said that I am unable to believe him.
There is a difference.
I know better than to call haulage
of the heaviest, the unchosen
that chooses me out, by a light name,
for transitus of the bull or the tree rules--
yet motion that we share we give name and time.
As if the century were
an express at night, lamps on
blankly in the corridors,
and looking out into blurred passage one saw
the dark unmarked, and then, slumped
at car's end, the attendant
nodding to the abrupt sway:
there the spell thins, we are of not only
what hurtles us, for mere breathing
can draw in and lift
out over the rain-streaked roof
to let all shoot loud restful and terrible
untouched by the space it reams
leaving nothing even of
its own ramming force: neither
The Franz Schubert nor The Phoebe Snow, keeping
neither wet steel nor the smell
of oil, it threads to hum
and ozone in the great peace.