the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2008



R. Nemo Hill


"So let the bells ring out to the furthest horizon!
And you slave girls there, why are you standing around? Go set out
the glass food, the glass wine, the glass fruit:
our glass master is coming…"

—Yannis Ritsos


Fragments of glass are removed from sleep
at a rate of approximately 200 per hour.
The young man in the bed
does not stir, and so does not suspect
our complex and invisible operation.
His hand moves slightly, quivers.
A lock of his hair flutters uneasily
in the breeze stirred when one of our more careless novice technicians
moves brusquely by the bed
on her way to breakfast with the Director
of the Institute.

It seems at times as if there is so much glass
beneath the blankets
that we will never be done
with our delicate task of dissection
and re-assemblage.
And we do, of course, like to think of ourselves as musicians
rather than mere surgeons.
As if ours were a task not simply of removing bits and pieces
from the specimen in question
(changing the body through robbery, so to speak)
—but rather one more constructive in nature:
an assignment to build rather than to destroy,
to build within the body of this young man
(or any young man)
something new, and fresh.
These empty spaces, for example: wide, empty, open spaces
by each act of shift
or shed or shatter.

There are certain somewhat unpleasant realizations that are forced upon us
in our isolation here at the Institute.
And it is not uncommon, during the course of one's work,
to look up for a moment and see a colleague or two
standing and staring down at his or her own transparent hands—
studying the thousands of tiny cuts there,
studying the mysterious absence of pain.

The young man awakes shortly before dawn,
disrupting all of our finely-tuned calculations.
He is bleeding profusely
(a practice we abhor)
and we avoid his gaze at all costs.
We show him our huge brown paper sacks filled with polished glass.


Poor Bug

There's a cicada in the garden in a tree nearby my porch
that is desperately trying to break free, to change the course
of the usual dynamic of acoustical routine.
He is trying now to improvise outside of the machine
by starting and then stopping—
slowing and then speeding—
flowing and impeding.
It's as if from out of nowhere an idea's got caught between his wings,
and like a poet he's no longer sure just what or why he sings.

The accustomed tone, continuous, that satisfied before
just doesn't seem sufficient now and leaves him wanting more.
Mere stamina cannot exhaust the impulse to make sound,
and technique intrudes where only simple instinct's song was found.
Now there's dissonance and rhyme—
repetition and relation—
inspiration and impatience.
Before too long, here come both sense and nonsense to disturb his health,
and I think I hear the poor bug in the tree conversing with himself.

Like an ancient laundrywoman singing down beside the river;
or a lonely alcoholic telling stories to his liver;
like a madman on an urban street, regaling unseen guests;
or a scholar in his study, bouncing echoes off his desk;
He's been sighing on and storming—
whining and warbling—
buzzing and garbling.
When without the slightest warning he falls mute-weighed down, no doubt,
by this burden of self-consciousness. I know what that's about.

(Petulu, Bali-1997)


Noon and Night in the Garden

In high noon's heat, the field of vision freezes.
No breeze disturbs its crystallizing verdure.
Paralyzing all, this green light seizes
each particle of living air before
it can begin to breathe or cast a single shadow.

Then suddenly, two nervous jet-black pair
of wings appear—like flakes of swift obsidian,
two butterflies abruptly dancing there,
two scratches crossing light's meridian—
incising the green screen, revealing black below.

These cracks in bright green ice re-freeze, they heal.
These wounds close up as the winged ones vanish, dancing.
And yet the damage has been done. I feel
beneath the light, night steadily advancing.
Eyes blinded, yes. But another, hidden sense still knows:
beyond noon's thin green skin, night's fathomlessness flows.

(Petulu, Bali-2005)


Simple Circular Affair

Every drop of light here by the window shall be put to terrifying use.
Look! Over there! Where its brilliant vinegar is corroding
each brick of each wall balanced on nothing but what can barely be seen of the sky.
There arises a dismal hum
as spring laments its own inexorable approach.
Dogwoods bark. Uranium is enriched. Time passes.
This rhythm binds my hands and feet.
And in the glass of the window
there is an explosion! An orange & blue ka-boom
that cries awake! awake!
to the human eye—
which spins rapidly round and round
much to the amusement of a group of small children
who have gathered in the explosive sunlight
to warm themselves, and to forget
what it is that they have not yet been forced to learn.

Their games are simple, circular affairs
that involve marbles and strings and absurd fears.
Light falls in cascades all around them—threatening them
with eternal imaginary clarity.

This rhythm binds my hands and feet.
All week I cannot sleep or eat.
But perhaps it is unfair to speak so quickly
of something so distant from the chair on which I am sitting.
Perhaps, blinded by the retreat of that shadow I know too well,
I have unwisely animated
yet another moment's wide desire.

This rhythm binds my hands and feet.
All week I cannot sleep or eat.
Each line I write is incomplete.



Back to Poetry