Letters To Live Poets (I)
God knows what was done to you.
I may never find out fully.
The truth reaches us slowly here,
is delayed in the mail continually
or censored in the tabloids. The war
now into its third year
The number of infants, among others, blistered
and skinned alive by napalm
has been exaggerated
by both sides we are told,
and the gas does not seriously harm
does not kill but is merely
Apparently none of this
is happening to us.
I meant to write to you more than a
ago. Then there was as much to hear,
as much to tell.
There was the black plastic monster
displayed on the roof
of the shark aquarium at the wharf.
At Surfers’ Paradise were Meter Maids
glabrous in gold bikinis.
It was before your country’s
president came among us like a formidable
virus. Even afterwards —
after I heard (unbelievingly)
you had been run down on a beach
by a machine
apparently while sunning yourself;
that things were terminal again —
even then I might have written.
But enough of that. I could tell by the tone
of your verses there were times
when you had ranged around you,
looking for a lift from the gift horse,
your kingdom for a Pegasus.
But to be trampled by the machine
I don’t have to praise you; at least
I can say I had ears for your voice
but none of that really matters now.
Crushed though. Crushed on the littered sands.
Given the coup de grace of an empty beer can,
out of sight of the “lordly and isolate satyrs”.
Could it have happened anywhere else
than in your country, keyed to obsolescence?
I make these words perform for you
knowing though you are dead, that you “historically
belong to the enormous bliss of American death”,
that your talkative poems remain
among the living things
of the sad, embattled beach-head.
Say that I am, as ever, the young-
old fictor of communications.
It’s not that I wish to avoid
talking to myself or singing
the one-sided song.
It’s simply that I’ve come to be
more conscious of the community
world-wide, of live, mortal poets.
Moving about the circumference
I pause each day
and speak to you and you.
I haven’t many answers, few
enough; fewer questions left.
Even when I’m challenged “Who
goes there?” I give ambiguous
replies as though the self linking
heart and mind had become a gap.
You see, we have that much in common
already. It’s only when I stop
thinking of you living I remember
nearby our home there’s an aquarium
that people pay admission to,
watching sharks at feeding time:
the white, jagged rictus in the grey
faint blur of red through green,
the continually spreading stain.
I have to live near this, if not quite with it.
I realize there’s an equivalent
in every town and city in the world.
Writing to you keeps the local, intent
shark-watchers at bay
(who if they thought at all
would think me some kind of ghoul):
rings a bell for the gilded coin-slots
at the Gold Coast;
sends the president parliament’s head on a platter;
writes Vietnam like a huge four-letter
word in blood and faeces on the walls
of government; reminds me when
the intricate machine stalls
there’s a poet still living at this address.