So Norman Mailer is dead.
He crawled along the avenues,
He broke the mirrors that he kept staring into.
Like plaque he has stuck to our brains.
When his face was thrown up against the horizon,
How could we not dream of him,
When his name was scrawled in every prayer book we opened?
Perhaps we need a root canal,
How dazzling our teeth of knowledge will gleam.
We will inhale the violet herbs of the fields,
The moon will burn our eyes white.
So Norman Mailer is dead.
The restaurant was serving
The avocado sandwich of history.
It was enriched by slices of hard-boiled egg.
Hard-boiled men came swaggering through the swinging doors,
They had neglected to wash their hands.
At the other tables
Families huddled in the dark
Around the light of lone candles,
With grips at their side.
Oh and there was one of the statesmen,
He was ready to order.
His diction was superb.
He asked for a slice of land,
The flank, without fat,
The south done rare,
The north fully broiled—
I could see his guests at the table
With eye patches and bandannas,
Their dinner knives already in their hands,…
What a meal!
They chewed so loudly,
You could hear the bones snapping
(At the curb, big white trucks with water cannon
Stood ready to clear the spinach from between their teeth).
A flood of sudsy water rolled out from the kitchen,
History is over, cried the janitor,
But they kept on eating,
Their eyes gleamed in the light that burned from candles
Made of scrolls and words and buried desires,
And the radio chattered so loudly
With static and brute phrases
And stale laughter and sports figures
That everyone else in the restaurant
Gazed with despair at their flambeaux.
And the hair of the statesmen grew thicker and whiter,
And whatever they said was transcribed onto paper napkins
And immediately transported to the kitchen,
As, in a corner of the restaurant,
Two health inspectors were wrestling on the ground
(Each one wanted to be in charge,
They disagreed vigorously with each other’s methods),
And one of the crew called for deviled eggs,
And from a dark table
A meek sheep-faced man sibilantly asked for angel food cake
And closed his eyes and chewed silently.
And to my immense surprise, the restaurant stayed open.
The sun had long since set,
It should have been time for breakfast.
Where were the truckers, bringing fresh eggs and fresh bread?
I am sitting in the restaurant still,
The statesmen are squabbling over scraps of squab,
They are leaning over and biting the corpse of a horse
Lying on a bed of rice,
They are dragging other patrons’ tables to themselves
And sweeping off the ratatouille.
More statesmen have been invited to the feast,
They keep pouring into the restaurant,
Mafiosi with shiny cheekbones,
Two sheiks riding camels,
The Queen of Spain (they had to exhume her,
And she is still brushing clumps of earth from her eye sockets),
Make room for Hugo (I love his smile),
There’s Ahmadinejad, he’s got his own table,
And three thousand centrifuges are wheeled out from the kitchen,
There’s the fellow without a chin, with the weak mustache,
He’s banging his fork and demanding service,
And the maitre d’, in a star-spangled top hat
Is racing back and forth, pointing out seats,
But no one is paying him any mind
(Except for the King of Saudi Arabia,
Who sticks a five dollar bill up his nose)
And the wine waiter comes out
With a map of the world folded over his arm
And a bottle of aquifer water
That he swiped from a silent table,
And there is Condi,
“I have organized this special evening!”
But no one paying any attention to her,
They are watching Ehud Olmert tap-dancing,
He is wearing a bear costume and singing mah yafit,
As the head of the Israeli Tax Authority is picking pockets,
The Minister of Defense is looking through capped binoculars,
The Minister of Justice has cornered one of the waitresses,
The Chief of Staff is on his cell phone, trading stock options,
The head of the opposition is giving a speech
(He is standing on top of his rivals to make himself taller),
Yosef Beilin is greeted warmly, he is wearing his rubber mask,
Stalin or Chirac (it’s hard to tell which),
Oh and there’s Shimon,
He’s casting handfuls of rose petals and singing of a new Middle—
Oof! That clumsy oaf Mubarak has knocked him down again!
Olmert is still dancing,
His big eyes are solemn, he is tired, he says, of winning dance contests,
But “Dance, varmint!” shouts that gun-slinger, Abbas,
Two million rounds of ammunition are slung around his neck.
The president of Malaysia has been invited as well,
And the washer women of Dubai,
The hat check girl from Casablanca shows up
And the plenipotentiary of Brazil,
For this dinner must not be allowed to fail,
Condoleeza Rice is still yelling in the corner,
For we all have a stake!
Ehud Olmert is being wheeled into the kitchen,
The crowd stares at the door
(The Minister for the Environment looks carefully around,
As he riffles through wallets).
Out pops Olmert, he is dragging a sacrificial lamb,
The hubbub starts up again.
When I sneak out of the restaurant, it is four in the morning,
The stars are still shining, the moon is waning and waxing like crazy,
I turn on the car radio, Shlomo Carlebach is singing.
Oh I hope this is a tune I haven’t heard before!
The statesmen of the world
Are a ragged alley
Where you die alone, without glory.
Our breath has been taken away from us,
Newspapers appear with blurred absences of our faces,
Pompous words parade across the horizon
And crush us with their comedic boots.
We are owls hypnotized by light,
We are sheep hypnotized by grass.
We would prefer to be eaten and torn on the hillside
Than make our arrows drunk with blood,
Our swords consume their prey.
These are our mountains,
These are our children.
They are not nurtured by our tears,
They will not understand our dying.
If you take down the bricks of this flying tower one by one,
These bricks with which so many have been stoned,
These brickbats of thoughts concealed in windy towers,
These towers on sandy plains
Where princesses with great coils of hair cried,
Where princes climbed the narrow bridges of their tresses,
Where the kites of their imaginings whirled out of control in the sky,
Where the sun shone on the jerboa, who was hustling home with the news
Of new food to his mewling children,
Who writhed in the darkness like naked fingers,
Who basked in each others’ warmth and moistness.
The moistness in my bones causes my flesh to melt,
It causes the room to melt, that man with the pasty face
And my thoughts and my eyes and my ears and my shoes
And the whiteness behind the whiteness
And all the niggling boxes of my words
And the little cages where discontented gerbils mutter grievously.
Change just one eyeball every week,
One ear, one conscience, one brainpan,
One kneecap, one set of veins on the back of your hand,
Your children are sleeping in their warm small imaginations
And they seek the feel of your new limbs.
But I will shine, said the sun,
Because I am the sun.
Worried constellations of mother stars huddled
And rocked thin nebula in their cosmic arms.
Somewhere a nova burst forth,
A star that had tried to be a planet for ten million years,
Looking at all the other stars doing their jobs dutifully,
Blazing down on planets of boiling rock and ash.
On one planet a microscopic cell was born, an amoeba, stretching its cilia tentatively forth in the lap of salt water,
It basked in the rays of a star it called the sun.
The song of the spheres rocked the sun in his cradle
And a shiver of atomic warmth trembled through him,
And the planets bobbed in the sea.
The newness of the earth crackles like a log in the fire,
Like a cellophane wrapper,
Like a nuclear conflagration.
Radio towers stick up out of the earth
Like worried, frizzy hair,
The dawn rises with a tired, dusty yawn,
And the hills breathe the somnolent sleep
Of a hundred thousand dreams of earth and slow-flowing rivers of lava
Across mountain brains of massive thought.
Like Mexican jumping beans, our cars pop along their highways,
Our airplanes skitter through the atmosphere,
Our newspapers land upon our porches,
Are brought into the house, read and put out,
The day and night flicker,
Our babies grow up, become grandparents, are buried,
A pack of birds flits along the air currents,
A baby nurses from her mother.
The mole of responsibility came crawling along my marrow,
It sniffed with its inquisitive snout
The thick rich earth of my cerebrum,
It descended into the belly of self-satisfaction
And laid down its head on its paws and slept.
In the morning it had transformed itself into a glowing lion
That stood staring at me across the restaurant floor,
I could barely bring my spoon to my lips,
I left my croissant untasted.
All about me I saw people sitting at tables
With moles burrowing through their marrow,
Their faces looked pinched and they called for more coffee
That lion’s hair was glowing and he looked ready to eat me alive,
So I quickly leapt into his maw and I said,
“Gallop, mighty lion, gallop!”
And we are galloping still.
A cloud like a buffalo pushed its massive shoulders through the membranes of my dreams,
Valleys turned to liquid slow-motion torquing birds
And my heart went out
And came back into the street with its silence
Resonating the growl of morning car transmissions
And a dog bark of calligraphic yips
Springing against the swift stinging white paper.
No more falling into cotton mysteries,
Death has been gazing down from the high-rise apartment building
For two decades,
Sometimes we meet in the elevator.
Sometimes on the beach sandy pebbles press against my soles
And there is a rush of sound and chatter.
The words sat on a windowsill
And jeered at the passersby below.
The wrinkled stones of the sad, dusty house
Basked in the weak pale glow
Of luminous clouds of adjectives.
Do I dare to go outside?
Is my jacket warm enough,
Will the children want to play with me in the park,
With its green lawns of metaphors?
Shall I lead a troupe of scouts?
This was the question mark from the steam
Of a cup of Turkish coffee
That a pale hand held
And the pale green pennants fluttered in the blustering breeze
And high overhead flocks of small birds,
Rowed across the sky,
And the Persian carpets in the cluttered home
Stained the atmosphere
With their golden and scarlet dreams.
And the children played
And the tree leaves shivered
The fire-spark notes
Of their invisible tunes.
I shall go on growing older,
I am already as old as a wrinkled skin of a peach,
I am already as old as a dusty road lumbering into distant eyes
Of distant night cities.
I have shown up to show you a wrinkled hand
And to delight in the photographs of your children.
I have had so little to say for so many years,
I let the night hours grow mute,
I left an entire civilization of crickets and darkness
Outside my door,
I slept in the comfort of day
While the night passed outside me,
A distant wind invisible to the inside of houses.
Here is the syntax of the shadow of a tree,
Here is the vocabulary of a night breeze,
Of the invisible paths of the moon,
There rides a car with the planet of day huddled within its cab,
Its plangent radio,
Here the planet yearns its silent spirit.