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Ancient Jiriziah is not a place
on any map

but its minarets jut up in spires across the
sky and its alleys of camphor and teak

reek of antediluvian atmospheres

and we somehow remember its light and
rose-tinged shades and long to

return to it and see it at the next
turn in the road

Jiriziah of the flashing doorways

Jiriziah of the interconnected gardens of
begonia and bougainvillea camellia and

until really it might all be in the
coil of rose petals as they

emerge from the bud

a botanical rather than historical or
archeological reality

Dream of return inside the incoiled bud before blooming

and the slaked camels in silhouette resting from their
caravan and a shiver of silver silk through the
marketplace and women’s covered forms rushing

through darkening streets? All a

pre-blossoming memory or
interuterine dream?


Inside this little heart of mine
a universe resides

I don’t have to travel far to find
a Samarkand or New Hebrides

The tomes of Alexandria’s shelves
the corals of Adriatic deeps

The moons of Jupiter or Mars
or where extinguished starlight sleeps

It’s here encoiled in these valves
these chambers with their echoings

across vast cloudlands and near breaths
the same for paupers as for kings

And in particular its Lord
by every ant and flea adored

(from The Throne Perpendicular to All that is Horizontal)

There’s no place that He isn’t
in interstices tinier than between

the crossbar and the “t” of “tiny”

But ask me if I think He’s
everywhere watching me

in love’s evergreen countenance
of stern forbearance

the way an object casts a shadow
when the light’s behind it

onto any wall
pure or impure

and I might as well drunk be genuflecting freely
before mud Chukwu at the

village entrance in Nigeria with the
other pagans only in worse state

since they in ignorance are

worshipping Allah
on the knob of His door

(though the door itself be holy)

while if I know He’s here but
don’t abide

I should know but don’t know
there’s nowhere to hide

(Note: A lovely snow poem by the great Mexican poet, Xavier Villaurrutia [1903-1950] which I’ve translated, and ceremoniously try to read at the first snow of every winter, if there is one… An eerie, cold and silent poem…)


A nada puede compararse un cementerio en la nieve.
¿Qué nombre dar a la blancura sobre lo blanco?
El cielo ha dejado caer insensibles piedras de nieve
sobre las tumbas,
y ya no queda sino la nieve sobre la nieve
como la mano sobre sí misma eternamente posada.

Los pájaros prefieren atravesar el cielo,
herir los invisibles corredores del aire
para dejar sola la nieve,
que es como dejarla intacta,
que es como dejarla nieve.

Porque no basta decir que un cementerio en la nieve
es como un sueño sin sueños
ni como unos ojos en blanco.

Si algo tiene de un cuerpo insensible y dormido,
de la caída de un silencio sobre otro
y de la blanca persistencia del olvido,
¡a nada puede compararse un cementerio en la nieve!

Porque la nieve es sobre todo silenciosa,
más silenciosa aún sobre las losas exangües:
labios que ya no pueden decir una palabra.



Nothing can be compared to a cemetery in the snow.
What name can be given to whiteness on top of white?
The sky has dropped indifferent stones of snow
on tombs,
and now all that’s left is snow on snow
like a hand resting on itself for all eternity.

Birds choose to slice through the sky,
wounding invisible corridors in the air
in order to leave the snow alone,
which is like leaving it virgin,
which is like leaving it snow.

Because it is just not enough to say that a cemetery in the snow
is like dreamless sleep
nor eyes left blank.

If something has a sleeping insensible body
from the fall of one silence over another
and from the white persistence of oblivion,
then there’s nothing that can be compared
to a cemetery in the snow!

Because above all snow is silence,
made even more silent on top of bloodless gravestones:
lips made wordless.

Take down the universe bit by bit,
dismantle its brute manifestos,
cancel the President’s breakfast in the
Van Buren Room, on the Roosevelt table, by the
Zachary Taylor fireplace,
demote the ambitious CEO pinstripe by pinstripe,
unthreading his intricate
signature on checks and contracts with a
similar but reverse flourish,

call in all Greek fishing boats, with or
without catch, the handsome young
oarsmen dreaming of buxom taverna
waitresses in scoop-neck blouses, whistling,

call back all executive orders: Buy! Sell!
Liquidate! Kill!
erase that rat-like look of satisfaction in the
eyes of the slavish underlings who would
love to carry them out,

return all glasses, broken or unbroken, to
The Management, lipstick or not
on their rims, drinks finished or

let all fruits and vegetables picked for
world consumption
return to their stems,
tree boughs, stalks, branches,
twinkling again in the respectable
rawness of real sunlight,

return all zoo animals to their natural habitats,
lemurs, wild-eyed, amazed and
a little disoriented to be
back home instead of in
concrete cages with one ramp and a
single-nailed tree bough,

let the high and outrageously higher notes
return to their sopranos, their mezzo sopranos, their
coloraturas with their grueling
study and practice since childhood,
return each painstaking note to its
silent source under the larynx’s unknown
grottos and reservoirs,

return the diamonds, zirconium and
all dubious emeralds in reality true
gems back to their
earthy beds, cool to the cheek of them,
covered over again by the sediment of time,

whirl all planetary motions back and
back into the oblong serene, the
octagonal octave of undressed
joy before the unstopping gaze of firstness,
everything fresh, new, before stretching, before
first heartbeat-ticks,

it’s over, it’s time to just stand still, let all
worlds slam back into their generating
chests, heartbone
serenade, voice dumb,
mind vacant as the North Pole,
just the tiny sound of the scrunch of
clean snow underfoot, the

darkness blowing back onto our faces like the
winds of discovery when the great
explorers rounded bends and saw
Victoria Falls for the
first time, the Pacific Ocean, the
first teenage kiss on a
back porch late
September, brisk
in the chill air of oncoming winter,

let the whole thing fall back into itself, fold
up into its carrying case across
illimitable stretches of space, let

Johnny the young artilleryman carry it, carefully,
between land mines, let it
down slowly, let it very

slowly and carefully down.

12/12/97 (From Open Doors, in preparation)

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