Erica Jong

(26 March 1942 / New York City)

For Howard Moss - Poem by Erica Jong

Already six years past your age!
The steps in Rome,
the house near Hampstead Heath,
& all your fears
that you might cease to be
before your pen had glean'd. . . .

My dear dead friend,
you were the first to teach me
how the dust could sing.
I followed in your footsteps
up the Heath.
I listened hard
for Lethe's nightingale.

& now at 31, I want to live.
Oblivion holds no adolescent charms.
& all the 'souls of poets
dead & gone,'
& all the 'Bards
of Passion & Mirth'
cannot make death-
its echo, its damp earth-
resemble birth.

You died in Rome-
in faltering sunlight-
Bernini's watery boat still sinking
in the fountain in the square below.
When Severn came to say
the roses bloomed,
you did not 'glut thy sorrow,'
but you wept-
you wept for them
& for your posthumous life.

& yet we all lead posthumous lives somehow.
The broken lyre,
the broken lung,
the broken love.
Our names are writ in newsprint
if not water.

'Don't breathe on me-' you cried,
'it comes like ice.'


Last words.
(I can't imagine mine.
Perhaps some muttered dream,
some poem, some curse.)

Three months past 25,
you lived on milk.
They reeled you backward
in the womb of love.


A tepid February Roman Spring.
Fruit trees in bloom
& Hampstead still in snow
& Fanny Brawne receives a hopeful note
when you are two weeks dead.

A poet's life:
always awaiting mail.


For God's sake
kick against the pricks!
There aren't very many roses.
Your life was like an hourglass
with no sand.
The words slid through
& rested under glass;
the flesh decayed
to moist Italian clay.


At autopsy,
your lungs were wholly gone.
Was that from too much singing?
Too many rifts of ore?
You spent your life breath
breathing life in words.
But words return no breath
to those who write.

Letters, Life, & Literary Remains . . .

'I find that I cannot exist without poetry. . . .'

'O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!'

'What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth. . . .'

'We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us. . . .'

'Sancho will invent a Journey heavenwards as well as anybody. . . .'

'Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul.'

'Why should we kick against the Pricks when we can walk on
the Roses?'

'Axioms in philosophy are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses. . . .'

'Until we are sick, we understand not. . . .'

'Sorrow is Wisdom. . . .'

'Wisdom is folly. . . .'


Too wise
& yet not wise enough
at 25.
Sick, you understood
& understanding
were too weak to write.

Proved on the pulse: poetry.

If sorrow is wisdom
& wisdom is folly
then too much sorrow
is folly.

I find that I cannot exist without sorrow
& I find that sorrow
cannot exist without poetry. . . .

What the imagination seizes as beauty
must be poetry. . . .

What the imagination seizes must be. . . .


You claimed no lust for fame
& yet your burned.
'The faint conceptions I have of poems to come brings
the blood frequently into my forehead.'

I burn like you
until it often seems
my blood will break
the boundaries of my brain
& issue forth in one tall fountain
from my skull.


A spume of blood from the forehead: poetry.

A plume of blood from the heart: poetry.

Blood from the lungs: alizarin crimson words.


'I will not spoil my love of gloom
by writing an Ode to Darkness. . . .'

The blood turns dark;
it stiffens on the sheet.
At night the childhood walls
are streaked with blood-
until the darkness seems awash with red
& children sleep behind two blood-branched lids.


'My imagination is a monastery
& I am its monk . . .'

At five & twenty,
very far from home,
death picked you up
& sorted to a pip.
& 15 decades later,
your words breathe:
syllables of blood.

A strange transfusion
for my feverish verse.

I suck your breath,
your rhythms & your blood,
& all my fiercest dreams are sighed away.

I send you love,
dear Keats,
I send you peace.
Since flesh can't stay
we keep the breath aloft.

Since flesh can't stay,
we pass the words along.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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