Christopher Middleton [England/lives USA]
Felo de se
Bothering us for a long time,
This laundry woman: Beneath
A blue segment of sky she is
All brown and profiled against
A cliff so laboriously hewn
That it resembles a rampart.
Like a baby mask her face,
Black crescent moons for eyebrows
And greys to streak her bodice,
But yellow or brown the rampart
Towers behind the woman, as if
Its gravity propelled her—darkly
Her combed hair clings to the head
She launches forward, stooping.
Awkward skirts impede her,
Surely now she has to be hurrying
Somewhere. A little daughter
Runs at her left side, one foot
Lifting off the shadowy ground,
Hurled stooping forward she
Mimics her mother, and the labour
Extracted from the mother, that
She will inherit too. Still,
Goya’s glimpse of them has put
Happy family bonding into question:
Are they running to the fountain
Or to the river at all? Are they
Running away from something
Hidden? Their velocity
Must have to do with bread. Yet
Won’t they have had to scoot,
In those times, across the picture,
Basket on the mother’s haunch
Bumping up and down on it, because
Shirts coiled in the wickerwork
(Where bristles dashed, dripping
White, the profile of a billygoat)
Had been stiff with blood, or wet?
The next up for execution
Needed snowy linen, so the French
Bullets could be met with decent
Spanish gestures, death be dignified,
You now conjecture, whereupon
Some villagers in bleached
Apparel sign to us how best not
To die, if only, in Bordeaux,
Goya, to assuage despair, stands
Candle-crowned for half the night,
Imagining, him, in grief and detail,
Horrors he had likely never seen.
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Of him or her who placed it
there, and why
No one knew anything.
Judge Roy Bean of Long Ago
Beheld once in a magazine
The face of Lily Langtry,
And in the twilight often
Judge Bean upon his porch
Rocked in a rocking chair,
Upon his porch he’d rock
And dream and dream of her.
A distant blue, how it pulls
The flesh to Long Ago
And far away, although
Judge Bean had hopes:
Lily Langtry just might come,
Passing through, and sing to him.
Not far from where the judge
Had sat and rocked and hoped
There was a tree festooned
With bottles that were blue.
Over the tips of many twigs
Somebody had been slotting
Milk of Magnesia (Phillips),
His empties, by the dozen.
Well-water there is hard;
Deep canyons through the rock
The Rio Grande, a trickle now,
Had had long since to carve.
There too the mountains host
Various flocks of birds,
Yet not a one would choose
To nest in such a tree.
The tree, so dead its twigs
That pronged the bottles, have
They in the meantime broke?
A striking sight against the sky,
An image not to be forgot,
So many bottles of blue glass
And sips of milk drunk up,
It still explodes to mark
Dimensions in the mind,
A horizon in the heart.
Long before the twigs had pronged
Blue bottles for my sight,
Like Tao it had for sure
No name at all, that place
Where Judge Bean rocked;
But Lily Langtry’s face
Nothing airy in his mind,
Not despairing of his dream,
One stormy day he took his pen
Now Langtry is its name
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Hearing at night the first Fall Norther
I think no more of Artaud’s tantrums;
No more of Ungern-Sterberg’s magnificent
Of balance perfect in the form of a pear
I think, then poof it goes, the Buddha
That wall: it is the rock face of a
Fumbling for a handhold, slowly slowly
I step sideways, the ravine at my heels
Deepens, unsteadily I must step sideways.
Nose to nose with my mountain wall,
The path no wider now than a foot’s length,
How will it end, where then shall I go?
I had to limber up, to risk a look:
And what I’d thought was not, was not—
But was a plain, immense, and it was
Soon to become a fair field of folk.
Still it wanted curvature for a horizon,
Still it hid its dells and lakes and alps;
Now in it rose, I see, putting them there,
Many many footholds I had mistaken
For brushes quicker than a breath,
Of clothes in the café, in a shop—
Yet people, singly, clusters, were appearing,
All distinct, each face rich in expression:
Scowling, perplexed, then relief, the smile
Brief or broadening, and grim if in
Every single glance grew thriftily from the
Unmistakeable, inexchangeable, the body.
And by the halls the horror of it got me:
There was no way to make good
Wrongs of my doing. With one quick breath,
No way, the chuck the humbug; to be done
With dithering; understand at least
A secret dread; so to bring crashing down
As vapour only, absorbed back into earth,
The tabernacle cant, enforced conformity,
Those violations that had shrunk my time,
And to annul in me the predator,
Root out of met he pest, indifference.
Oh well, so much abstract projection
Still is, tooth and nail, a hanging-on.
Symmetry I did perceive, agile in faces,
Story, or in suspense, it might promise
Value, though passion rushed, then halted.
You could glimpse the star, absurd, it was
Where the well-shaft had no end.
Then I was touched.
Then I was free.
I turn, how else, alone again, to the
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When he had pulled upright his
he said he hoped he would not be disturbing
He unpacked his kit from the cart and lost
but baited his lines with worms from a box
and made a long cast for the lead to plop
When he says he in Tex-Mex but spoke as a
no Spanish, he explains that he took
to school, learning the way they speak it
When he was little his father died, says
So he helped in the house, cleaning and
cooking the beans, washing dishes for
When he had a family of his own, two boys
and a girl, he told them, one by one, as
there’ll be no lazy nobodies in my house,
told them when it was time to grow up
and that it won’t be easy but here’s your
grow up to be somebody with an education:
Now there’s my boy in the marines (this
war, it makes
no sense) but then his line is aviation,
in law-school the girl, the other boy in
and all three speak Spanish as well as they
When he’s et to make a cast with this third
he says his father-in-law’s funeral cost
but his own uncle’s was cheaper for he was
And when he has cast with a fourth rod far
into mid-river, he says that he’ll be
in Marble Falls where the catfish bite
that because of the funeral he has a week
But when he went to Mexico he didn’t like
didn’t like the Mexicans, a crooked lying
says he, they look down on us, call me a
Me, I’m a carpenter, he says, I can build
a pretty house, restore, where wood has
gone to rot,
repair, adapt, install any kind of cabinet:
anything to do with wood, I can do it with
fishing is just a pastime when you’re
and it has clouded over now, the fish like
Yes, he says, any kind of wood, I can
and we were standing under a water-cypress,
a very tall tree that has gone brown by
the tangle of its roots ran in long looped
cylinders out under water, while he talked.
wearing a cobalt gimme cap with NY in a
an olive-green tabard (pockets in place of
drainpipe trousers and spongy-soled suede
yet all I had asked was if he knew perhaps
a meaning of felo de se, supposing it Spanish.
Not theft, he said, thieving is robar, robo;
what you said, might that be in a book?
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Noted poet and
translator Christopher Middleton was born in England, but for many years now
has resided in Austin, Texas. Green Integer will publish his prose work, Depictions of Blaff in early 2007.
Coypright ©2006 by