Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"Waiting" by Keith Harvey


At dawn she wiggled from their nest of pine needles
and laurel leaves.
When he tried to rise,
she pushed him down
and shook her head.
She staggered from the woods,
her legs swollen and her feet
round like breadfruit,
holding her distended belly,
teetering with every step.
He hid his head among the leaves,
ashamed that she would suffer so.
He watched the morning light
strike her shoulders,
dabbing a halo of light around her dark head,
her hair cascading down her naked back.
She entered the bulrushes,
that marked the river,
and then disappeared.
He imagined her wading across the river,
climbing the red clay bank
onto the yellow grass of the savannah,
where the sun boils and the red lions hunt.
Once she was gone, he lay flat,
listening to the metallic rattle of the cicadas,
their noise roiling through the woods like waves
against pumice rocks on black sand.
He was now afraid.
To find solace,
he gathered crow feathers,
cracked a zebra’s femur,
smeared gelatinous marrow
over his pale skin,
and attached the feathers.
He painted his face black
with soot from last night’s fire
and tied a crow’s skull to his head
with a strand of his red hair.
He climbed a rock
and squatted.
Turning toward the south,
he shook a dried gourd
and cawed into the dry air.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Wolf" by Keith Harvey


Near a stone house,
in a shadowed

the wolf flees.

Hounds’ howl
and hunters’ horns

awaken the boy

he sings
in a nest of sheets
so soft and sweet
that the wolf,

and mounts
the porch
to peer
through glass.

by his double,
his snout snaps
against the pane.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Afterbirth" by Keith Harvey


She braced herself
against the bark
of the baobab
and screamed,
her cries startling the hyenas
who chased their stubbed tails
around and around
until dust floated
over the sweet grass
of the savannah
and yellowed the child,
who fell toward earth
in a rush of blood and brine.
Here was her revenge,
her premeditated step
toward reclamation
of the Garden.
She gazed
upon the termite’s tower
that defiantly stood
against the blueness
of the sky
and knew
that this mound
of industry
would be his symbol.
She laughed
once he was free,
lying on the earth,
his uncircumcised member
pointing toward the stars
parallel to the termite’s spire,
because creators
often laugh
after creation,
just as He laughed,
when he pried her
from her man’s
red clay chest.

"The Cobra" by Keith Harvey

The Cobra

She sat,
her legs spread,
in the shadow
of a baobab tree
and rubbed her belly,
as the baby kicked
to the rhythm
of the cicada,
their sounds
through the heat
like shifting shells
in a dried gourd.
She focused
on a termite mound
rising from the savannah
to divert her pain.
Ants scoured the grass
around her feet.
She closed her eyes
and entered
the other world,
the home of the cobra,
who waited
and upon her entrance
rose up,
a temple
of scales,
and spread its hood;
its forked tongue
and stung her nose.
She recoiled
and cursed
as her water broke
and soaked the sand.

Friday, June 16, 2006

"Crow and Crane" by Keith Harvey

Crow and Crane

As she lay
on her side
on ferns
full of him
she watched a crane
through the shallows
at the river’s edge
snap a frog in two
with its beak
and swallow
with a forward thrust.
She closed her eyes
and saw crows
fly in parallel
a mating ritual,
a preamble
to the crane’s feast,
and she praised the crows
for their instruction
and worshipped
the whiteness
of the crane’s wing.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rodin and Eve

I read the King James version of the Bible. That is is the only version I have ever read and it is frankly the only version I am interested in reading. I like the language and the images, the metaphors and the tropes. So when I started my cycle on Adam and Eve I turned to the Bible that I have carried since I was twelve years old to review the chronology of the story.

In the latest poem in my cycle, Eve becomes pregnant. The Biblical chronology is that first they are expelled from the Garden and then in Genesis 4:1: Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, 'With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.'

In my version Eve watches the animals and wonders why they are alone. When Adam is asleep, she initiates their mating and her plan to increase their numbers. However, later, when she is afraid she praises the Lord for her pregnancy, hoping that he will protect her.

In imagining Eve's pregnancy I studied several artists's rendition of the event and I found Rodin's unfinished sculpture, entitled Eve, the most interesting. I was happy to learn through reading Rilke that the model for Eve was pregnant at the time.

Rodin confided to Dujardin-Beaumetz: Without knowing why, I saw my model changing. I modified my contours, naively following the successive transformations of ever-amplifying forms. One day, I learned that she was pregnant; then I understood. The contours of the belly had hardly changed, but you can see the sincerity with which I copied nature in looking at the muscles of the loins and sides. It certainly hadn't occurred to me to take a pregnant woman as a model for Eve; an accident - happy for me - gave her to me and it aided the character of the figure singularly. But soon, becoming more sensitive, my model found the studio too cold; she came less frequently, then not at all. That is why my Eve is unfinished(H. Dujardin-Beaumetz, Entretiens avec Rodin, 1913)

Door Images in Paul Celan's "Grabschrift für François"

I heard an interview the other day with the poet Billy Collins, who said that the theme of all poetry is death. I am not sure that I believe that but in regard to Paul Celan it seems to be true. Recently, I discovered a new image, related to death, that possessed a certain resonance for me. It is the image of two worlds, two places, two doors, and a space in between. I noticed the image first in Grabschrift für François, a poem written after the death of his first son. However, there is an echo or a trace of the theme in a letter written to his wife Gisèle on January 7, 1952, almost two years before the death of François.

He begins the letter by saying, Maïa, mon amour, je voudrais savoir te dire combien je désire que cela reste, nous reste, nous reste toujours/ Maïa, my Love, I want you to know how much I desire that this remains, we remain, we remain always. As I read this I have the impression that he is afraid that the present moment, the moment in which they are in love and together, may pass. He continues with the image of doors slamming behind him as he quits a world and moves toward her. The question is, of course, what world is he leaving: the world of the work camps, the world of the refugee, the world of solitude. He explains by saying, car elles sont nombreuses, les portes de ce monde fait de malentendus, de fausses clartés, de bafouages [sic]/ because they are numerous, the doors of this world made of misunderstandings, false expressions, and nonsense.

In the first sentence of the poem Grabschrift für François, he writes that the two doors of the world stand open, opened by “you,” his son, in the “Zwienacht,” the “two night.” Here the dichotomy between life on the one hand and death on the other is emphasized, opening up a space, a space of existence for the “living,” the survivors, who hear the two doors slam (hit) and slam (hit). In the second sentence he says that “we hear them slam (hit)(schlagen) and slam (hit)(schlagen) and we carry the uncertain, and we carry the green in your always.”

The notes to the letter, composed by Celan’s son, Eric, state that the letter was written while his father was upset at the accusations of Yvan Goll’s wife that Celan had plagiarized certain poems. It is interesting to note that during times of extreme emotional distress that the image of the doors between worlds emerges in his conscious mind.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Crow as Image

As I began working on my cycle of poems about Adam and Eve the crow appeared. His appearance was not benign. In fact, the power of the image was so strong that I felt the crow taking over. It was also at this time that I discovered Ted Hughes' collection of poems entitled Crow, an event that I considered synchronistic in nature and effect. As I read through this collection, I will be discussing the poems.

The crow has always been important to me and for many years I thought of the crow as my totem. In alchemical terms, the crow is associated with the nigredo, the first stage of the great work that leads to the philosopher’s stone. The nigredo is black in color and symbolizes “putrefaction.” The Hermitis Trismegisti Tractatus Aureus describes the initial stage of death and dissolution, the preamble to the great work, as follows: “the First is the Corvus, the Crow or the Raven, which from its blackness is said to be the beginning of the Art.” In the first stage, “the old body of the metal or matter for the Stone is dissolved and putrefied into the first matter of creation, the prima material, so that it may be regenerated and cast into a new form.” Lyndy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge University Press 1998.

Additionally, the crow in Amerindian mythology is sometimes a trickster, a demiurge or a god; in oriental mythology the crow stands for the yin, the feminine; in Norse mythology the crow is guide and companion of Odin; and in the Old Testament, Noah sends out the crow as scout before sending the dove.

Even our old friend Hermes is associated with the crow because it is the crow who reports to Apollo Hermes' theft of the cattle. See earlier posts on Hermes and Apollo.

The crows appear in my latest Adam and Eve poem-"The Plan."

The Plan

She was sore,
rubbed raw by pumice stone,
and pink from red water.
Crow feathers floated down stream
toward a blacker sea.
He lay beside her,
inert, unaware of her mission,
his mouth open,
snoring in the shade of the fir tree.
Yellow butterflies left pollen traces
on his ruddy brow
and ants crawled across his feet.
She compared the red lion
under the baobab tree
servicing his six females
with him
and judged him puny,
with only one mate.
As he slept, she hatched her plan
to make him powerful and rich.
She lowered herself onto him,
suspecting this was the way,
after watching the bison,
the monkeys,
and the eels mate,
after seeing the crows locked together
free fall through the white clouds,
and after listening to the angels gossip.
They fit;
she rocked like the limbs of the fir
swaying in the southerly wind
until he popped
like an oyster
in her salty mouth.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Schadenfreude" by Keith Harvey

Starting in 1944, the B-29 Superfortress was used in the Pacific Theater. The most famous B-29 was the Enola Gray, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.


Bottle flies buzz in September.
Bumblebees wallow in yellow flowers.

At the sound of the siren,
the matron orders,
you must slide from your seat,
shelter yourself beneath your desk,
plant your head between your knees,
and thread your hands over your neck.

Anna crouches
beneath her desk
and I see her white panties.

On the way home
butterflies dance from rose blooms,
hummingbirds drink from honeysuckle,
and mockingbirds trill in the oak trees.

We play in Anna’s shelter.
We lay on cool concrete
and imagine an after-world,
as mice scurry
behind cartons
of surplus K-Rations.
Our sweaty hands
reach for darkness.

At home I lie on my bed.
B-29s hang from the ceiling,
pieces of a half constructed B-24
cover my desk.
I hear the president on television
and I dream of the world after
with Anna and the mice
in the gray coolness
of the shelter
where our hands touch

the shadows.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pearl Fichman, Paul Celan and reading Rilke

Recently, I discovered Pearl Fichman's unpublished memoir of her life in Czernowitz, entitled Before Memories Fade.

I found it an interesting and touching story and I commend it to anyone intrested in knowing what Paul Celan's world was like before and during World War II. Further, Ms Fichman sheds a great deal of light on what happened to Celan's family and the members of their community when the Germans arrived.

There is also a charming vignette, describing Jewish teenagers on an outing, listening to Celan, then Paul Antschel, reading Rilke. She writes: We sometimes went on long hikes, to the woods around Czernovitz, a day’s outing. Everyone carried a knapsack on the back, wore shoes with heavy soles and white, knee-high cotton socks. The girls wore a "dirndl" which consisted of a white blouse, a flowered skirt and a little apron, adorned with lace. It was the way the Tyrolians dressed, an old Austrian custom. Sometimes, we would sit in a meadow and one or another would read aloud. Paul Antschel, who later changed his name to Celan, loved to read to the group poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, in German, of course. Sometimes we’d read aloud H. Heine poems and sometimes we’d sing.

"Thaw" by Keith Harvey


I squat on clay, fishing.
Long hair bison graze on the opposite shore,
while red lions roar in the savannah.
Vultures circle on whispered warmth.
She approaches, crow feathers falling from her skin,
her face painted black with soot,
a crow’s skull balanced on her head.
I am hot and these feathers stink, she says.
She sinks into the red water and scraps black feathers
from her skin with a pumice rock.
She emerges pink and clean
and lays on fragrant ferns
beneath the fir trees.
I wade into the river and wash.
Winter is over;
the bushes droop with berries,
their cinnabar juice stains my lips,
their thorns tear my skin,
as bees covered with pollen
yellow the sky
with their hum.

Friday, June 02, 2006

"The Crow People" by Keith Harvey

The Crow People

The crows were the last to leave.
Even the snow leopard fled
when the snow turned blue
and the river shimmered
and sparkled like diamonds.
We huddled in our cave and debated
whether we too should follow the crows.
It was that night that we became the crow people.
We covered ourselves with feathers
And painted our faces black with soot.
We moved south following the droppings
of the long horned kine.
We cawed in the frosty mornings
and huddled in the branches of a fir tree
at night.

"Winter Plus One" by Keith Harvey

Winter Plus One

After the first smothering snow,
I swore it would not be colder.
She shrugged her shoulders
and shuddered beneath the leaves,
as I stoked the starving fire.
I was wrong;
it did get colder.
Ice blued
and scrapped the soil
like flint
scratches fat
from a goat’s skin
straining the earth
with a frigid fist
pushing the long horned kine
south with the crows.

Talking Drum in Paul Celan's "Sand from the Urns"

Before we move on to the fourth line, I want to concentrate on the image in the second and third line. A headless minstrel, turning blue, beats a drum made of moss and pubic hair. This is a vivid and precise image of a surrealistic phenomenon. In other words, it is exactly what a surrealist image should be. The minstrel is both a musician and an artist, just as a poet is both a singer and a painter of verbal imagery. As a minstrel, Celan is saying that he is servant or a performer in the service of someone else, someone in charge, someone superior. In this case, this someone is the unidentified “you,” a “you, who through the minstrel’s performance, grows through the performance. The painting or drawing within the poem occurs in the sand, the same sand that fills the urns. So through the painting in the sand the urns are filled and the “you” is nourished. More precisely, the minstrel’s performance is a celebration of the memory of the “you” in the face of the forgetting and thereby a remembrance and an enhancement of the “you”.

Additionally, the minstrel plays the drum for the ”you.” The playing could be an entertainment but also a communication. Drums were used in Africa to communicate over long distances and were called the “talking drums.” Interesting enough is the fact that the “talking drums” were shaped like an hourglass, a container of sand that measured time. The communication here is between the forgetting and the remembering.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Unconscious Mind in Celan's "Sand from the Urns"

Mondvogel, Edgar Jené 1950.

In the third line of Sand from the Urns, the minstrel, without a head, performs for the “you.” Er schlägt dir die Trommel aus Moos und bitterem Schamhaar;/He beats the drum of moss and bitter pubic hair for you. In using “pubic hair,” Celan situates the performance lower than the head, the seat of intelligence. The drum comes from the genitals, a more primal, less conscious region and the moist earth. “Moss,” “pubic hair” and “mold” seem to be connected through appearance and texture and align themselves with a lower more complex conciousness. We could list the comparisons, including, inter alia, color, texture, dampness, accessibility to light, fecundity, and smell. However, I believe he selected these terms for all those associations and also to create a Gothic sense of mood, to find words that would convey an expression of dampness, decay, seclusion, and earthiness and lead us to a deeper, non-rational meaning, a meaning that feels fecund and fertile.

Support for this analysis arises from Celan’s prose work-Edgar Jené und der Traum vom Traume, which appeared in 1948 as introductory text to a book of paintings and lithographs produced by Jené. See earlier post on Jené. Celan, in discussing the paintings, states that “But my mouth, which lay higher than my eyes and was bolder because it often has spoken in my sleep, had run ahead of me and called back its ridicule to me: . . . ‘You would be better off getting a pair of eyes from the bottom of your soul and placing them on your breast: then you will find out what is happening here.’”(Quoted and translated by Jerry Glenn in his Paul Celan, Twayne Publishers, Inc. 1973) Celan, first, says that the words spoken in a dream, from the unconscious mind, are wiser than intellectual analysis and, second, he calls for direct access to the heart, to the feelings. In other words, rational discussion through the intellect will not produce truth. One must contact the source of the image, the unconscious mind, to find images strong enough to perform for the “you.” The head, the conscious mind, is useless because it will try to bring order to the chaos of images. The unconscious mind, with its fecund images, conveys a more profound image, richer in quality, and fraught with the elements of depth, i.e. soul.