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The Lesson of the Classics
The remaining oracles were obscene,
like unfolding a towel and finding maggots there and the next moment a detonation of green
flies. So many sexual martyrs had tied machinery to their sallow backs, their weedy shoulders, hoping monstrousness might revise
the brutal logarithm of excess tenderness, of man and woman with Iphigenia who must die, of government that must undress
the condemned in open court before they die.
The love of honor became murder.
Human, purposeful embraces at night
became machinery on a martyr's back.
If you have a family, starve them.
If your passport lies open on the desk
of a stranger, man or woman it makes no difference,
your life ended an hour ago.
There on the desk, your inverted face
in the passport photo sobs and twists farewell as if it were already on fire.
If you have a child, you kissed
it for the last time an hour ago.
They are strapping something to its back,
the shape of an olive tree, the size of snow.
Infant spittle beads like mercury on the temple pavement. It is an oracle,
caustic ichor of many victories.
He does not shout. His voice is a perfume sprayed into shafts of sunlight, a smell of flowers burning too fast, too close together.
His brochures explain the rapacity of nature,
the sad inutility of the fountains dedicated to Heine in 1900.
Heine's face is unintelligible.
The bare extremities of the Lorelei gesture starvedly in the copper bowls,
eroded to wires and moth-metal.
Graffiti obscures obscenity with obscenities.
The sun is not a sphere.
The sun is a wall. Behind it, the police strut gaudily as umbrella birds, and no emergency believes in the wall.
In his hot alcove, the prophet stares unblinking,
scorching himself deeply so it may never happen quite this way again. He says
"In the desert I prayed only for mercy,
not happiness, not vindication, willing to settle. No price can be too high, no
cruelty excessive if the end finds cruelty exhausted and mercy audible as a hammer's sound in rain."
Flowers burn too fast, too close together.
Poverty is the last taste of sunlight from 1900 where we shall meet again.
The Massacre of the Innocents
The law moves quickly in the rain and chokes the world with memorials.
The courts accept the lowest superstition into evidence. And we embrace quickly in the rain,
conceiving a hale infant with hands to wrinkle the bedsheets toward it, wave by trough by wave.
We had the autumn. We had an hour of massacre and then the wintertime.
I am beginning to believe in Fate,
in the circulation of ash inside the bone, clattering along the pavements like yellow shrapnel. It needs no purpose.
It needs only an engine and a name.
When you open a child, there is nothing but a cramp of terror and a wrinkling hand.
In the unannealment of autumn, autumn shatters.
In a crow's mouth, love is a crow's mouth,
and the white percussion of faith is all the sound.
I heard it — white percussion like pianos striking pianos, and no outrage, no transport.
Murder wrinkled its hand inside my house that is my house no longer.
Man is weakest.
Faith chokes the world with his memorials.
Unbelief chokes the world with his nakedness.
There is no future if the past is helpless.
Let it find engines equal to these bones.
The idol of the moment is for all time.
I love the unresilience of it,
inexpressive nudity of seawater painted onto a car's windshield,
improvised when there was nothing to know.
You may kill the spider, but spare the web.
My son feeds at the breast like that.
His face grows smaller as his body grows.
At his level, the wind has an ant's legs,
and there is nothing to know except the anatomies of wind changing,
acquiring flesh oh at all levels.
I depend upon the idol of the moment as upon the unsustained, saving grace of the night school, the yellow instructors weeping unashamedly when none else is moved at all. I hear the sounds anatomized in the wind's sound,
sustained in my son's voice.
Faith is improvisation. It marks the sky with a double helix of airplanes,
our better humanity, and fills the interstices with a child as the rain falls and the wind stutters away into the shadows at an ant's pace.
Everything irreparable deserves worship,
least gesture of the wind, music.
On the Cards
Upstairs is warmer but is not the future.
Somewhere else, in a cage, the winter nations of circus-men and half-men and refugees are interrogated out of existence.
Upstairs, the family makes music.
But in the future's idiot containment,
questions turn to ice, and the first snow of many deaths turns black before it falls.
Someone stirs it up inside me.
Native of the capital city,
musician's bastard, tour-guide,
she is new perfectness, and I am her creature.
Having been happy for so long in a cage, she used up all her sex in that cage, confessional she now recites as we drive past the monuments.
Families make music for circuses.
Time puts an end to circuses.
In animal sentences, loveliest time that I shall ever know, the future increases, recites, recovers tear-jerking horizontal landscapes in black ice and the mercy to love a father's vanity and not the father,
a mother's bitterness and not the mother.
Orphancy of the confessional acquits black earth and cradle, what I was waiting for.
We are living in the beautiful district.
The wind lets no leaf touch the ground.
Next door, in bright sun, a girl on stilts is so fabulously illuminated she blends into the light below her legs.
We are a people without holidays.
On the old street, men would kill their wives for a stiff wind. Their freedom was laws,
and their lives stank. No one is healthy where discarded children return cureless and the wind's telegraphy on flagpoles
(colonial savage other) speaks the fates of animals, the edicts of holiday.
Concede a limb to save a limb, an eye for an eye that looks outward only.
My heart was a sieve of law and had no reward but my next child's slower illness on the ward where they made Christmas in July and every month. The stockings never came down.
On the old street, sacrifice depended upon faith. In the beautiful district,
light stands firm beneath the children,
I live alone, undiscarded, and sacrifice is the ordinary of each day.
Sun and wind intensify without interruption and we blend to one color the color of windows.
The morning dares not lift its eyes. The orchid copulating with the sightless wasp renews its contract, its disadvantage.
We have returned to questions of the earth so late, decades late, and death increases the dignity of each surviving thing unto the last disadvantage.
I do not lift my eyes. I execute the angel of intimacy in darkness where each word is mistaken, each brutal affection a wasp upon my sex sightless as the future come and gone.
Death increases. It is a real density to be enjoyed as potency in dismantled tenderness.
Nothing dissipates upon waking.
The dream scenarios (the hotel bars,
the success of Communism, armored flowers)
obviate the questions of the earth never asked in custody.
None to deceive from this day forward.
None to love until another decade blows the tiny souls aflame.
Wasp's progeny will feast on orchids.
As he was a boat dragged through the streets,
they turned their hoses on him.
He did not sink, not either did he reach the isthmus of his children.
He was not the worst.
They come to power tomorrow.
By the unpated hulk, behind a rail,
beneath a bulb, their rostrums come to power tomorrow when sky no longer recites the sky but rates of exchange and blue anthems.
He could still feel the impact of his borders.
They tore themselves away with sounds of pavement scraping a keel.
He could still feel the bed-shapes of horizon,
girls shaped like extradition.
I saw the photographs fall out of his pocket.
No innocence could have been more helpless.
Seed of the heart travels poorly,
feeding on emptiness like mercury,
useless revolution of no tone.
Who rejuvenates the martyrs rejuvenates the tyrants.
Best governs who least grieves, whose limeheart quickens to no sound in the coming days.
Anniversary of Many Cities
Darkness undrew the air where it was naked,
poppy and dramaturge, flower and firebomb.
Too much innocence survived.
Something remnant, twilight without end on the receding cockpits, tainted the alcohol of orphancy. Every wall was a shafthouse, every plume of smoke a woman lewdly photographed by her kinsmen.
I live on credit.
I love a man, and he is meat.
I love a woman, and she is red hair,
a plume of smoke who loves me longer.
All over Europe, restorations proceed and make a sound exactly nothing, a tone between a whine and a detonation.
Whoever minted the coin of total war made everything else worthless, counterfeit.
Take it to the madhouse or take it to bed,
it is still war. Getting and spending are war. Because there is no such thing as immortality, sufficient unto the day are its casualties.
What does not die deserves to live.
The Next War
We have rehearsed our enemies.
Just as the lover's hand instructs its shadow in white mystery, in dark no dark,
we have instructed our deaths in other people,
put words in their mouths, shown them how to stand.
Never in sunlight again, or ourselves in sunlight.
I was alone on the dunes, at the reading lamp of the North Sea. Blond hair and black hair.
When it is tired, when there is no music,
history turns to its extremes, rehearses the scene of the dagger, murder in a room with no exit, locked from the inside.
When I am tired, my hands fall to my sides.
The dunes return to the sea, blond hair to black hair.
If my death is in another's hands,
his shadow will understand my shadow as we lean backward out of the lamplight,
a plate of darkness, a photograph of nobody.
Racial and ethnic strife are as we taught them.
We rehearsed our enemies,
our hands buried up to the wrists in them.
The words they use will be familiar.
Their bodies will be young, transparent inexhaustible choreography when there is no music, locked from the inside.
It is the right time for hallucinations.
Drowning in a sty, the sailor feels the ocean's buoyancy.
Dying in a web, the moth discards its wings and falls free.
I wish something would put its hands on me,
give me stronger poison and then stronger.
The beautiful flotillas do not stop.
Undying love drifts and delays.
I am capsizing.
Great joy lingers still.
Nothing can be said for suffering.
It is legible only to strangers and at great distances. It detests survivors. It drapes gun-carriages
with flowers, lampposts with hanging boys.
It is the right time for hallucinations,
most nakedly of inmost west.
Her death would be less tender now,
dusted over with charity,
a web of useless wings, a shallow sty.
She gave me stronger poison and then stronger.
I miss her.
In the back seat of the taxi,
dark breathlessness says "Hurry, hurry."
City More Than I Suspected
Where Lot's wife left the train the world's hair unraveled and fell,
not wantonly, but with the precision of hopelessness, the dead man who handles his cigarette and fork like a surgeon, knowing death's weight.
Under the toque of my life I'm begging, I'm cakewalking.
I hurdy-gurdy and my friends become other animals or fanatic labyrinths.
The world's hair falls too slowly,
China is unavenged,
and every child is justified spitting from the schoolbus when his spittle hits home.
My friend whispers the sonnet of his first adultery into the telephone.
His baby son is an idiot,
and his wife grows large with uncontainable loveliness she fills with voices.
Years of idiocy cannot stop my admiration.
Years of betrayal on the grand scale taught China nothing.
Impossible cloud crossing the mountains,
she is perfect only where the spittle strikes her.
Perfect only zero in Asia,
pretending to the life of a woman,
she handles her mob genitals roughly.
Where Lot's wife left the train the salt-taste of her hair made Heaven of hopelessness.
No one travels farther than that.
The Other The Wings
Vivid out of nowhere,
the ashen paper-smell of summer cripples the garden.
The poor peonies are dead of their own weight,
every wound exposed.
I went walking. In the park, the defunct observatory wore a helmet of hot moonlight. Its basement glowed where the AA meeting, already frantic with cigarette smoke, made exaggerated, weightless gestures like those of astronauts on the lunar surface. Otherness is not the prelude to meaning. The moon cures no addiction, prevents no wars.
Vivid out of nowhere,
the wind is food.
I have my key, I have my penny.
ZumZum, it is 1970,
and I am tired of my dignity.
Nothing in the world sustains it.
On the pavement, jadeweed was an island in its own shadow. Each house along the street exposed interiors in yellow lamplight, but no one moved inside. To see things without imagining their circumstances is the most difficult happiness. Red hair reaches down to the jadeweed. Summer music begins, the nowhere passage from lighted house to dark house.
Vivid who were frightened before,
the circumstances of physical life,
weight and wounds,
drift instead of death.
The hairy back of Arnold Schoenberg is a moth.
I found a wad of paper and picked it up. Inside, intact and dead, a moth, a brown sex in a white carnation. Things only fly that have no cause, no allegiances, not even to their bodies. The effect is catastrophic. I held a naked roof in my hand, a famished gratitude. Before it died, the moth was not a flower. It had flown across mountains.
A vineleaf at the window at night flattens the world better than Justinian.
A garden is a species of policeman.
The cricket is a species of mole. When I think of loving someone new, I feel blinded. I hear the jewels singing in the houses of my neighbors, in the treetops and underground. We are all in hiding. The deportations did not end with the war, continuing since the world began.
The loneliness of a man's perversion makes him an angel.
He finds himself touching himself with a stylus,
hearing needle music intently out of his skin.
The enthusiast does everything he can to postpone his pleasure. He takes the lovely soprano to a bad cafeteria in a bad museum. She sings in spite of all, something by Brecht, high and deadpan. When she leaves the cafeteria, her hair bounces. Nothing can be postponed any longer. The insect vaudeville of the trains runs faster.
If on Palm Sunday not palms but panes of glass.
A man is not an animal.
The mandibles of desire sting through walls.
In my shirt draped on the chair a shadow-lyre blackens windows with its sound.
If she were small enough, in the complete darkness, she could sleep between the strings. Music untitles the Jew of summer, a species of angel. The stylus reaches all the way across the alley. Sleeping there, the perfect soprano wears every surface of her body to bed. The starlight also reaches her, no one to say otherwise.
The Hotel Sander
After the storm at sunset the day's inconsequence and canal, the heart of it,
is black and white.
Without a superstition no one is a liar.
When I reached out my arm, my mother was careful, almost studious. She would say, "It is not a piano. It is an alarm."
After the storm, only visible an aquarium two flights up in the son's room.
An animal whines.
An automobile brakes.
The fish ride pearls of air in the tank.
To the east of my middle years, I found a pool of water hung with dragonflies. Stagnant under beautiful skin, the pool, more closely than a weapon, focused my attention to the center of each breath I drew. Erupted a fountain, green on the one hand, green on the other.
The late Dame was his widow.
It is not a negro.
It is a hairpiece.
Without a superstition,
all east surrenders to all west,
the point of travel diminishes to a climax.
When I would touch my face, my mother slapped my hand away. The outline of leaves, missing from the pavement, bears great responsibility for the year ahead, its stone flagon of the truth behind the bookcase, up the hidden stair.
Each to his own veracity rides a single pearl of air,
miserable parody of a city.
The aquarium upstairs, the storm murders the truth also.
I was sounding an alarm.
A Type of Agnes
We must kill the street.
Dada never to know,
seized by dissent,
to speak is to disbelieve.
What they called a torch what I spend my life with he made at a café table at one o'clock in the morning.
The bedroom slanted in five directions and the river took each one. It was a toy house, took each one. At the top of the stairs, my whole life fell into boxes. She raised a baton. She raised a river. When the waters reached the glassworks, no pain is sharper than crystal in the lungs.
Where it was raining he built a bicycle underneath the cars,
silvered. I needed desperately to return to be lovers.
Beautiful house in shade,
who never returned I never knew.
We must kill the street because it brings too many people forward into light they cannot bear, into the accusations they cannot answer. If Heaven takes an animal by the throat, it is a torch. Seized by dissent, it invents the traffic. The selfless lesbian Geschwitz in the adagio.
Never to know with whom I spend my life more in love than usual this morning.
September little river and little differences.
The street joins them.
The crystal furnace was rebuilt in less than a year. The river lifted a baton and the work began. No distinction is rational. I do not believe in anything, what they call a torch, silver underneath the cars. My childhood was better, dense on a blue Sunday where the water lay.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Erasures"
Copyright © 1992 Donald Revell.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I Marina Pacifica,
The Lesson of the Classics,
The Massacre of the Innocents,
On the Cards,
Anniversary of Many Cities,
The Next War,
City More Than I Suspected,
The Other The Wings,
The Hotel Sander,
A Type of Agnes,
You See Corsica,
And Nothing But,
III Apart from Solitude,
Mayakovsky Welcomed to America, 1925,
Apart from Solitude,
An Episode of the Great Awakening in New England,
Warm Days in January,
On the Cape,
What People are Saying About This
“In his astonishing and sobering new volume, Erasures, Donald Revell strips bare the fleshy veneer of culture to reveal the machinery of terror and history of oppression beneath.”
“In Donald Revell’s haunting new collection, the momentous political changes of the last few years rumble like aftershocks. Yet through the erasure the old life, life as we know it, continues to gleam, desperately, winningly.”
"In Revell's haunting new collection, the momentous political changes of the last few years rumble like aftershocks. Yet through the erasures the old life, life as we know it, continues to gleam, desperately, winningly"John Ashbery. "Erasures is rare among collections of poetry today in being first and foremost, genuinely moving"Marjorie Perloff
"In Donald Revell's haunting new collection, the momentous political changes of the last few years rumble like aftershocks. Yet through the erasure the old life, life as we know it, continues to gleam, desperately, winningly."John Ashbery
"In his astonishing and sobering new volume, Erasures, Donald Revell strips bare the fleshy veneer of culture to reveal the machinery of terror and history of oppression beneath."David St. John
"In Revell's haunting new collection, the momentous political changes of the last few years rumble like aftershocks. Yet through the erasures the old life, life as we know it, continues to gleam, desperately, winningly"--John Ashbery. "Erasures is rare among collections of poetry today in being first and foremost, genuinely moving"