22 September 2013

Fires of artifice

by John Hollander


                            And Adam gave names to all cattle, and
                            to the fowl of the air, and to every
                              beast of the field . . . Gen 2: 20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
   Glurd; though whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; though pliant-footed,
   Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier
   Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
   Not yet sunk to primitive.

Though, verdle; though, McFleery's pomma;
   Thou; though; thou --- three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket; though, kabasch; though, comma-
   Eared mashawk; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming,
   Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
   Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
   Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
   Naming's over. Day is done.


Fire is worst, and fires of artifice thirst after more than
             Water does and consume
  More than the world: the night within which the world
      Turns more brightly than we can even
          Guess burns out, while tears in a black
          Retina spurn hope of repair and
              Flare into smoky whisps.

Whispered desire for firing darkness with history, fleeing
            Lights that are strung along
  Mirroring darkened waters, hissing itself
     Upward, dying in aspiration,
         Quenched in night; declaring themselves,
        Candles burn down, rockets burn up in
            Moments they will outlive.

    No light can outlast darkness. But light
Is all we have to live by. Fire plays over creation
              But fireworks must do more
          Than remind. Out of the earth's heart
          Flaming salts fly upward into
          Pieces of darkness and spark,
      Silence of spaces tha ttrusting, following,
              Faces expect them to die in.

                   High in that night
         The end comes in a cottony silence,
And then the painful crack begotten of all the unquietness
      Yet to be: a death too much like life.
O! like white needles in the mind's dark forests, thrust
           Up against the ear-drummed brain
           O see, O hear the rocket die!
      (Whorls and realms of light leap out, leap
  Upward to color, to traces of shape, to life)

                  Darkness was first
          And fire followed in violet, white and
Astonishments of orange, shot at the rim of emerging time,
        Widening, as still it is: around
The full moon, nigh above this wide pavilion, hangs
          An interior unpierced
          Until the bunched homunculus
       Head of one high-arching squib rakes
   Down at the sphere, penetrates and escapes inside

            The moon,
     To the light that bleaches its fire
With the inaudible big bang,
The sudden thudding of shock when created
Pain, reflected in rings of thunder
     Becomes an eternal remembrance.

We who have been burned, we who have watched
The sights of firing life, still celebrate
   Fire with fire. Bright times
      Are remembered in heightened nights
For benched spectators, awaiting streaks of light
   Above the grandstand, in the park
   In the darkness of wild July. When the past
Burst, erupting into event, the flames
           Came hard upon
   The explosion, but burnings of celebration
Flare up before the crash. The cranium
   Of the world's darkened bowl seems now to crack.

We who have returned, guarding our hearts
From burning memory will not again become
   Children bewildered. Wild eyes
      Are forgotten, and frightening lights
Are quenched in blanketing darkness. Sheets of fire
   And screaming whitenesses of dream
   Are redeemed from fear of life by the black
Night of generation itself, by flights
          Of upward love,
   Into your most interior hollows, O my
Sole light, my muse, my mind's uranium
   In whose star-pierced urn all my ashes die!

       For half of life
   Nights came so that I might burn
   Like a Roman candle, high inside
      The blacknesses of summer.
   Then there were fireworks. Flesh
      Learns of its half
   Of death from the mind's flashbulb white
       Coming into being, seeing
Something that must come of all this burning,
All this becoming something other than darkness.

from John Hollander, Selected Poetry, 1995

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