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The Elegy

A.M. Klein
From:   A.M. Klein: Complete Poems (I & 2). ed. Zailig Pollock. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990. 2.673-8.


Named for my father's father, cousin, whose cry
Might have been my cry lost in that dark land—
Where shall I seek you ? On what wind shall I
Reach out to touch the ash that was your hand?
The Atlantic gale and the turning of the sky
Unto the cubits of my ambience
Scatter the martyr-motes. Flotsam-of-flame!
God's image made the iotas of God's name!
O through a powder of ghosts I walk; through dust
Seraphical upon the dark winds borne;
Daily I pass among the sieved white hosts,
Through clouds of cousinry transgress,
Maculate with the ashes that I mourn.
Where shall I seek you ? There's not anywhere
A tomb, a mound, a sod, a broken stick,
Marking the sepulchres of those sainted ones
The dogfaced hid in tumuli of air.
O cousin, cousin, you are everywhere!
And in your death, in your ubiquity,
Bespeak them all, our sundered cindered kin:
David, whose cinctured bone —
Young branch once wreathed in phylactery!
Now hafts the peasant's bladed kitchenware;

And the dark Miriam murdered for her hair;
And the dark Miriam murdered for her hair;
The relicts nameless; and the tattoo'd skin
Fevering from lampshade in a cultured home,—
All, all our gaunt skull-shaven family-
The faces are my face! that lie in lime,
You bring them, jot of horror, here to me,
Them, and the slow eternity of despair
That tore them, and did tear them out of time.

Death may be beautiful, when full of years,
Ripe with good works, a man, among his sons,
Says his last word, and turns him to the wall.
But not these deaths! O not these weighted tears!
The flesh of thy sages, Lord, flung prodigal
To the robed fauna with their tubes and shears;
Thy chosen for a gold tooth chosen; for
The pervert's wetness, flesh beneath the rod;
Death multitudinous as their frustrate spore!
This has been done to us, Lord, thought-lost God;
And things still hidden, and unspeakable more.
   A world is emptied. Marked is that world's map
The forest color. There where thy people praised
In angular ecstasy thy name, thy Torah
is less than a whisper of its thunderclap.
Thy synagogues, rubble. Thy academies,
Bright once with talmud brow and musical
With song alternative in exegesis,
Are silent, dark. They are laid waste, thy cities,
Once festive with thy fruit-full calendar,
And where thy curled and caftan'd congregations
Danced to the first days and the second star,
Or made the marketplaces loud and green
To welcome in the Sabbath Queen;
Or through the nights sat sweet polemical
With Rav and Shmuail (also of the slain),—
O there where dwelt the thirty-six, — world's pillars!—
And tenfold Egypt's generation, there
Is nothing, nothing ... only the million echoes
Calling thy name still trembling on the air.

Look down, O Lord, from thy abstracted throne!
Look down! Find out this Sodom to the sky
Rearing and solid on a world atilt
The architecture by its pillars known.
This circle breathed hundreds; that round, thousands,—
And from among the lesser domes descry
The style renascent of Gomorrah built.
See where the pyramids
Preserve our ache between their angled tons:
Pass over, they have been excelled. Look down
On the Greek marble that our torture spurned—
The white forgivable stone.
The arch and triumph of subjection, pass;
The victor, too, has passed; and all these spires
At whose foundations, dungeoned, the screw turned
Inquisitorial, now overlook —
They were delirium and sick desires.
But do not overlook, O pass not over
The hollow monoliths. The vengeful eye
Fix on these pylons of the sinister sigh,
The well-kept chimneys daring towards the sky!
From them, now innocent, no fumes do rise.
They yawn to heaven. It is their ennui:
Too much the slabs and ovens, and too many
The manshaped loaves of sacrifice!
As thou didst do to Sodom, do to them!
But not, O Lord, in one destruction. Slow,
Fever by fever, limb by withering limb,
Destroy! Send through the marrow of their bones
The pale treponeme burrowing. Let there grow
Over their eyes a film that they may see
Always a carbon sky! Feed them on ash!
Condemn them double deuteronomy!
All in one day pustule their speech with groans,
Their bodies with the scripture of a rash,

With boils and buboes their suddenly-breaking flesh!
When their dams litter, monsters be their whelp,
Unviable! Themselves, may each one dread,
The touch of his fellow, and the infected help
Of the robed fauna with their tubes and shears!
Fill up their days with funerals and fears!
Let madness shake them, — rooted down — like kelp.
And as their land is emptying, and instructed,
The nations cordon the huge lazaret,-
The paring of thy little fingernail
Drop down: the just circuitings of flame,
And as Gomorrah's name, be their cursed name!

Not for the judgment sole, but for a sign
Effect, O Lord, example and decree,
A sign, the final shade and witness joined
To the shadowy witnesses who once made free
With that elected folk thou didst call thine.
Before my mind, still unconsoled, there pass
The pharaohs risen from the Red Sea sedge,
Profiled; in alien blood and peonage
Hidalgos lost; shadows of Shushan; and
The Assyrian uncurling into sand; —
Most untriumphant frieze! and darkly pass
The shades Seleucid; dark against blank white
The bearded ikon-bearing royalties—
All who did waste us, insubstantial now,
A motion of the mind. O unto these
Let there be added, soon, as on a screen,
The shadowy houndface, barking, never heard,
But for all time a lore and lesson, seen,
And heeded; and thence, of thy will our peace.
   Vengeance is thine, O Lord, and unto us
In a world, wandering, amidst raised spears
Between wild waters, and against barred doors,
There are no weapons left. Where now but force
Prevails, and over the once-blest lagoons
Mushroom new Sinais, sole defensive is
The face turned east, and the uncompassed prayer.
Not prayer for the murdered myriads who
Themselves white liturgy before thy Throne
Are of my prayer; but for the scattered bone
Stirring in Europe's camps, next kin of death,
My supplication climbs the carboniferous air.
Grant them Ezekiel's prophesying breath!
Isaiah's cry of solacing allow!
O thou who from Mizraim once didst draw
Us free, and from the Babylonian lair;
From bondages, plots, ruins imminent
Preserving, didst keep Covenant and Law,
Creator, King whose banishments are not
Forever, — for thy Law and Covenant,
O for thy promise and thy pity, now
At last this people to its lowest brought
Preserve! Only in thee our faith. The word
Of eagle-quartering kings ever intends
Their own bright eyrie; rote of parakeet
The laboring noise among the fabians heard;
Thou only art responseful.
                                       Hear me, who stand
Circled and winged in vortex of my kin:
Forego the complete doom! The winnowed, spare!
Annul the scattering, and end! And end
Our habitats on water and on air!
Gather the flames up to light orient
Over the land; and that funest eclipse,
Diaspora-dark, revolve from off our ways!
Towered Jerusalem and Jacob's tent
Set up again; again renew our days
As when near Carmel's mount we harbored ships,
And went and came, and knew our home; and song
From all the vineyards raised its sweet degrees,
And thou didst visit us, didst shield from wrong,
And all our sorrows salve with prophecies;
   Again renew them as they were of old,
And for all time cancel that ashen orbit
In which our days, and hopes, and kin, are rolled.



A.M. Klein's works copyright © to the A.M. Klein Estate.


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