DIRT DUST DINGINESS AND CONTAMINATION
Lying here mastered by a fit of oncoming flu,
I study the dingy yellow walls, the struggle
of the cream-trimmed woodwork to be
brighter--instead of flushed, fleshed with the history
that browns every least thing in this ancient conurbation.
I feel it moving inside my skin, dragging the murdered
queens within the stage of my brain, squirting me
with returning plague, Victorian miasma,
the nightmare bodies hidden within warped cupboards--
bloodless and faded like the severed thumb
of that famous De Witte in the city museum of the Hague.
Hung. Hustled and hacked by a mob. On longterm view,
his shriveled digit in a cramped box in a vitrine.
In London the lemons have too many pips.
The here of here began too many centuries ago.
Everything a too-much swarming memory,
a dinginess, an old-speak clinging to bandaid
as sticking plaster. Stepping off the #10 bus,
you may Alight here for British Museum.
In Jane’s country bedroom the bright lemon walls,
the white chenille cover pulled over her comfy bed
streaky with northern sunshine, while outside
her broad window the gleaming washes of snow.
Hills of Vermont. Nothing especially high.
In the Cabot Village Store the old joke applies.
Ask: How many Vermonters does it take
to change a light bulb? Reply: One to change it;
another to talk about how good the old one was.
We too love the old, even the old across the Atlantic…
On the Piccadilly Line, on the Victoria,
in the brown, the black, and the blue stations,
the smell of old wet coal suffuses the low
tunneling passages, from which the hump-backed
cars emerge to roar at us, the dull-coated mice
quickening on the tracks below our feet.
In New York rats pop out of rubbish, along gutters
beside the demolished buildings making way
for the new. I see, I pause, in fear of them. My natal
city quite old; the traces of Europe--Asia too--stick
like sticking plaster, the rot between Manhattan boards
as stale, corrupt, contagious as any other. You
cannot rub, wipe off, erase or diminish the past.
Daily I rise to circle the listings--finding the latest
Jacobean oddment played by candlelight, plus
the girl who ardently says Juliet’s lines as if
they had come to her mind that minute--or where
the Hamlet-browed pianist sways before me,
a whole well-loved concerto in the tumble
of his hair and the flash of his hands.
If Europeans did not invent I castrati,
it was here--on continent and island, here--
even the young Haydn barely escaped the knife--
where in church and opera house
the voices of damaged children grown
to brittle-boned men most brilliantly rang.
My ears, my feet move with the crowds past Holborn,
St. Martin-in-the-fields, to cross Trafalgar Square,
passing demonstrators, monuments--assailed by
postindustrial stinks--a notable waft of sewage coming
briefly past St. Pancras on the way to the British Library--
rumbles, squeals, sirens, the hissing traffic
of the oil-soaked Now. Ecstasy is something
any animal could know, but it takes
the human to think up purity and betray it.
Copyright © Lorrie Goldensohn 2015
Lorrie Goldensohn has published poems in The New Republic, Yale Review, Notre Dame Review, and Salmagundi. Columbia University Press published two books of hers, one a study of Elizabeth Bishop, which was nominated for a Pulitzer, another a book on 20th century British and American soldier poets, nominated for a Book Critics Circle Award, and a third, an anthology of American War Poetry. The current Yale Review has her analysis of newly discovered Elizabeth Bishop correspondence as its lead article. She is now retired, but taught for many years at Vassar College.