Auden On St. Mark's Place Poem by Derek Mahon

Auden On St. Mark's Place

Rating: 4.5

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Hail, floppy-slippered bear of St. Mark's Place!
I seem to glimpse your cheesy, limestone face
where you loom at a dirty window, gin in paw,
on a hot evening during the great Cold War.
The young Trotsky wrote and printed Novy Mir
in the basement, now a xerox joint; but your
own permanent revolution is the resilient spirit
of the risen Christ, your multicultural heaven
illuminating the new world we inherit,
redeeming by intellectual grace and merit
the Unaufgeklärten in the boondocks, even.
Joseph the druggist, Abe in the liquor store,
Maurice the mailman, Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore
are the happier for your grumpy love; for, funny
in Hobbit T-shirt and dubious Levi's, you
were a victim of nothing but irony, Gramsci's new
"disease of the interregnum"; and to castration-
and-death phone-threats replied without hesitation:
"I think you've the wrong number". Lord of martini
and clerihew, who saw Rome and the other empires
fall, who were so insistent on your privacy,
who so valued personal responsibility,
what would you make now of the retentive pax
Americana, our world of internet and fax,
a still-thriving military-industrial complex,
situational ethics, exonerative 12-step programs,
health fascism, critical theory and ‘smart' bombs?
While we hole up in our bath-houses and catacombs,
votaries of Eros if not always of Aphrodite,
I see you ride at rush-hour with your rich pity
and self-contempt an uptown train packed to the doors
with "aristocratic Negro faces", not like ours,
or reciting ‘The Unknown Citizens' at the ‘Y'.
When will she - Gaia, Clio - send downpours
to silence the "gnostic chirrup" of her calumniators?
When will we hear once more the pure voice of elation
raised in the nightwood of known symbol and allusion?
Oh, far from Mother, in the unmarried city,
you contemplate a new ode to Euphrosyne,
goddess of banquets; and in the darkest hours
of holocaust and apocalypse, cheap music and singles bars,
you remind us of what the examined life involves -
for what you teach is the courage to be ourselves,
however ridiculous; and if you were often silly
or too "prone to hold forth", you prescribe a cure
for our civilization and its discontents
based upon agapé, Baroque opera, common sense
and the creative impulse that brought us here,
sustaining us now as we face a more boring future.

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