Saturday, January 31, 2015

HAPPY BIRTHDAY THOMAS MERTON! ~












How to Enter a Big City 
Thomas James Merton
(1915-1968)
 

I

Swing by starwhite bones and
Lights tick in the middle.
Blue and white steel
Black and white
People hurrying along the wall.  
”Here you are, bury my dead bones.“

Curve behind the sun again  
Towers full of ice. Rich  
Glass houses, “Here,
Have a little of my blood,”  
Rich people!”

Wheat in towers. Meat on ice.
Cattlecars. Miles of wide-open walls.  
Baseball between these sudden tracks.  
Yell past the red street—
Have you any water to drink, City?  
Rich glass buildings, give us milk!  
Give us coffee! Give us rum!

There are huge clouds all over the sky.
River smells of gasoline.
Cars after cars after cars, and then
A little yellow street goes by without a murmur.

There came a man
(”Those are radios, that were his eyes“)  
Who offered to sell us his bones.

Swing by starwhite buildings and  
Lights come to life with a sound  
Of bugs under the dead rib.

Miles of it. Still the same city.  


II

Do you know where you are going?  
Do you know whom you must meet?

Fortune, perhaps, or good news  
Or the doctor, or the ladies  
In the long bookstore,
The angry man in the milkbar  
The drunkard under the clock.  
Fortune, perhaps, or wonder  
Or, perhaps, death.

In any case, our tracks
Are aimed at a working horizon.
The buildings, turning twice about the sun,  
Settle in their respective positions.
Centered in its own incurable discontent, the City  
Consents to be recognized.


III

Then people come out into the light of afternoon,  
Covered all over with black powder,
And begin to attack one another with statements  
Or to ignore one another with horror.
Customs have not changed.
Young men full of coffee and
Old women with medicine under their skin
Are all approaching death at twenty miles an hour.

Everywhere there is optimism without love
And pessimism without understanding,
They who have new clothes, and smell of haircuts  
Cannot agree to be at peace
With their own images, shadowing them in windows  
From store to store.


IV

Until the lights come on with a swagger of frauds  
And savage ferns,
The brown-eyed daughters of ravens,
Sing in the lucky doors
While night comes down the street like the millennium  
Wrapping the houses in dark feathers
Soothing the town with a sign
Healing the strong wings of sunstroke.
Then the wind of an easy river wipes the flies
Off my Kentucky collarbone.

The claws of the treacherous stars  
Renegade drums of wood
Endure the heavenward protest.  
Their music heaves and hides.  
Rain and foam and oil
Make sabbaths for our wounds.  
(Come, come, let all come home!)
The summer sighs, and runs.
My broken bird is under the whole town,  
My cross is for the gypsies I am leaving  
And there are real fountains under the floor.


V

Branches baptize our faces with silver
Where the sweet silent avenue escapes into the hills.  
Winds at last possess our empty country
There, there under the moon  
In parabolas of milk and iron  
The ghosts of historical men  
(Figures of sorrow and dust)
Weep along the hills like turpentine.  
And seas of flowering tobacco
Surround the drowning sons of Daniel Boone.




_________________________________

The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
(New Directions)









3 comments:

Luster said...

Bob,

Happy birthday indeed. Merton was just a name in the pantheon to me until 1975 when I found myself with a broken heart staying alone in a hillside cabin and discovered the cabin contained a copy of The Portable Thomas Merton which I read cover to cover. A boon companion now for forty years.

stay close,
mike

Luster said...

oops I checked the book shelf. It's the Thomas Merton Reader….

m

Bob Arnold / Longhouse said...

Mike,

Susan asked me this morning when she saw the photograph of Merton up on the Birdhouse — who exactly brought me to the great fellow's work? It was actually my 9th grade teacher Francis Shannon, as out-of-school-reading, and naturally enough it was "The Seven Storey Mountain." Away I went. I have never stopped reading him to this day. Maybe the two books closest to me are "Rain and Rhinoceroses," and "The Sign of Jonas," simply because of where and when I read them (young fellow in a cabin in the woods). All the volumes of his letters, no matter to who, are essential. We get to be where Merton thinks and plays and sways in those books. The poems aren't chickenfeed, by the way.

all's well, Bob