Who in walking with me seemed
no more than the passing of other
people in the same street
- Mark Young, 'In Memoriam: Robert Desnos'
Soon afterwards, the inmates began to hear the word Stadtverschoenerung:
City Beautiful! -
James Buchan, Frozen Desire
It's impossible to walk in those starfish-infested streets.
Robert Desnos, La Place de l'Etoile
Landscapes walked with legs of coal, steel, glass, starlight,
under a sconce of sky against which stars shed
legacies: in the branches of a lime hung
crown, valance, alm box, candelabrum,
and the new moon made a quick exit.
City in which is described a struggle,
on our hands and knees in the snow
we dig for rabbits.
City of weirs and bridges,
Neruda's grave above the castle wall,
if I have any taste at all
it is for relics.
To walk is to remember; your feet are thematic.
They describe their ruin in tread and step and fall.
The first journey (and your last) was to circle this star-shaped fortress
with its six towers, garrison church, water tower,
and hospital for assassins.
as the carpets of starfish on the cobbles buckled and split;
before the hunger and the typhus got you.
Concentrations of fallen boulders as we passed over
the trail, black oak, Monterey pine and Monterey cedar,
macrocarpa and radiata: here the Mariposa Battalion stopped
to reload, here the driver pulled over and the bus broke down,
here the manna clung to the scrub and fed the survivors, here
the here turned up its toes to the stars.
Even the fish remembered.
Then the stars were shot out, one by one.
Twinking the text with a black brush,
black butterflies on a black firmament.
Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Flossenburg
and then the typhoid got you
in this City Beautiful with its 1200 rose bushes,
bandstand, playground with swings and roundabouts,
kindergarten, madhouse, cafe, dormitories stacked with suitcases,
tiers of bunks, some curtained for the married couples,
and station departing for points east:
after the film crew had left in August, the transports began again.
Begin again. Where?
Pick up your steps, size seven shoes turning to stars,
size seven hands turning to fish,
seven teeth turning to tusks,
enter twelve waiters from the cafe carrying trays loaded with starfish.
in M. Rimbaud's little shop in Harar
with its scissors and fancy buttons and pots and pans
and coloured wools and pelts and coffee and aromatic gums:
a place designed 'to serve the impression of normalcy'
except the dogs pissed on the skins
and when he fed them strychnine, 2000 died.
By the time he departed for Marseilles
he could not walk and they carried him down
to the sea, strapped his leg to the donkey's neck, but that
hurt too much, laid him in his tent at night where he scraped
a hole and lifted himself on his wrists to relieve himself.
He wist not that the skin of his face shone,
the cloud by day and fire by night,
his guide had to help him onto his horse,
plant the reins in his palm, close the digits,
hot and stormy, poor and diseased,
five or six days to the peyote fields,
on the fifth day the sky and land were all red
and the road was burning, masturbating Indians
lined the way chanting the chant: Go back go back
go back to from where you came -
words where should have been rocks
and hieroglyphs where trees
Tarahumara was text:
Welcome to the backlot
where Wyatt Earp got shot.
Thoughtfully showers are provided
when the LA sun gets too hot.
If you think you've been here before,
you haven't yet begun,
Remember how Moses and the Lord coincided
on Mt Sinai in the ten commandments.
Sing before you whistle
and walk before you run.
It all takes place before your eyes
under the universal sun.
For the journey, lingerie, shoes, perfumes, stationery,
brooches, glasses, tusks, spectacles, watches,
and a tightrope walker in white pumps and black tights
with a sequin-speckled leotard,
to carry you over the falls at the border, on his back,
one by one, and plant you safely in the wilderness beyond,
where the Resistance plots to steal back the tablets of the law.
Yet one lingers, like a postcard, on the parapet of the Bridge,
tilts into hard rain and the East River wind,
before the shrill leap,
see-sawing sycamore ride like sweet brute notes
blown out of mouths of brass,
Joke dropped into a wake.
Paralysed Washington Roebling, like God
with blue-print in hand, star-chart in the other,
watched from his window on Columbia Heights, Brooklyn:
death of the father by poisoned foot,
death of the modernist by stepping into space.
What begins as a lark, easy dust and well-built bridges,
cheerful soldiers waving and pointing,
the gates of the Camp for Literature and Astrology
where the prisoners bake their own bread,
turns to walking, walking walking, and the walking of walking,
so much walking and such strong walking:
winter, rolling trains, acrid smoke,
heavy shawl of woven Scottish wool,
chalk and flint to chew, latrine water and ditch water,
waking at dawn to find the guards fled,
and the shadow you lay down beside last night
now a shadow of its mere self,
shadow of shadow itself.
Scene: the Golem's Town.
A: Why this way why this way, not so fast why do you walk so fast
B: The streets of Paris have suddenly begun to ramify, isn't that it
A: I have a brother in Wenceslas Square, you see - that's where
I'm going -
B: No, no come this way, up the castle wall, to the poet's grave
A: Why do you walk so fast, my friend, vagabond legs,
rheumatic candle, silver instrument for cleaning the nails of the dead
and silver comb for creaming their hair with egg and oil
B: Light it light it -
A: Let me go, your hands are like iron, my shoulders burn -
B: Look down now, the old town out of sight, the wall, the cathedral and
castle across the river,
all yours! all yours -
A: You must be pressing on some vein, I can't breathe -
B: I give it to you, I give it to you -
A: At dawn I was knocking at your door, hammer hammer hammer, shouting
it's me, me, it's me -
B: I don't believe in ghosts, only the struggle between us, friend,
and now I give it to you,
all yours all yours -
Two rag-pickers, one lamp-lighter and a grit-spreader,
picking up the starfish, cleaning up the street.
A: Open up, open up!
Admit me! Admit me -
Bridge of statues, ice dawn, solid light, rabbits everywhere -
© Murray Edmond