Alter Brody.

A family album and other poems online

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And seats herself down in a chair,

[90]



Just in front of my own.

I caught a glimpse of her face

As she turned to look at the clock,

And the warmth of her big black eyes,

And the delicate curve of her nose,

Stabbed through my head like a knife.

XXII

I remember a January afternoon,
Cold and wet and foggy,

When we strolled through the snow-covered Park.

Her arm was tight in my own

As we strolled through the ghastly lawns.

" Look,

Isn't it wonderful? '

II Yes," I answered,
Looking aside at her face.

6 Do you know,
I love the Park in Winter."
" Yes," I trembled,
Tightening her arm in my own,
I remember a January afternoon,
Cold and wet and foggy.
This was my June.

XXIII

I am tired of waiting.

Life's the waiting-room of a clinic

And I suppose the doctor is Death,

And the grave must be behind the little door marked

" Private."

I think I'm going to faint;
My head swims. . . .

[91]



A baby tumbles from her mother's arms,

On the hard, stone floor

God!

The white door of the little room marked " Private " opens;

A man in a black suit comes out;

My name is called!

XXIV

" What's your complaint?

Pains in the back of your head?

My dear boy, how do you know it's terrific?

Don't sleep, eh?

Is that so?

Anything been happening to worry you lately,

Any affairs of yours gone wrong?

Been jilted by your sweetheart, perhaps?

Nothing of that, eh?

Let's examine your heart;

Open your shirt up,

Way up.

More!

Your heart's all right.

Are you leading a normal life?

How about your appetite?

Is that so?

Take these pills four times a day,

After every meal and at bedtime;

There's nothing the matter with you *

Nothing organic, that is,

Just functional nervousness.

You'll be alright,

Good-bye."

[92]



TO-DAY



TO-DAY

The wind goes sighing through the streets;

Prowling stealthily into each open door;

Tapping at the windows;

Like a maniac,

Searching, searching

For what it knows not!

To-day

My soul goes sighing through my heart;

Prowling into old familiar corners;

Treading long-forsaken byways

And looking backward

Fearfully

Why?



[93]



THE FIDDLER

LIKE Nero of old

I sit amid the ruins of my life,

Fiddling in tune

While my soul is on fire

Poet! Poet! Poet!
Incorrigible Poet!



[94]






CROWDS



CROWDS!

I am shy

Yet I love crowds

I love to plunge into a crowd as a swimmer plunges into the

sea;

I love to feel against my ribs the rough pressure of life;
I love to push and be carried along with the tide
I love the rude shoulders of men.

Crowds!

I am a dreamer

Yet I love crowds

I love to hear in my soul the rhythmic jar of existence;

Only in the crush of the mart can I build my dreams;

Only in the noise of the street can I find my songs

I love the harsh voices of men.

Crowds!

I love crowds

Yet in the midst of them,

I am lonely.



[95]



GROTESQUE

CLEAVING

The darkness of the night

Two spires shoot upward ;

Two spires of fretted stone.

Behind them

The long gray body of the great Cathedral

Squats like a Beast.

There is something threatening in your strength;
There is something sinister about your strange magnifi-
cence

Grim, gray Beast!

Is it the ghost of dead Faith still haunting me?
Is it the power of old spells still binding me?
I have seen you standing strong
Under the high stars,
And revelled in your might.
I have seen you rising
Coldly clear
Under the cold moon,
And worshipped your beauty.
Tonight

This beauty is an apparition
Challenging me,
Maddening me,

Defying my soul with its strength.

[96]



Ah, that I could take you in my hands and break yo*i

between my palms,
Great Beast!

With the vehemence of my hate

Encircle my arms about you and crush you in my embrace.
How stolid you stand!
How insolently calm,

Buttressed with strong, stupid masses of stone,
And strong, stupid masses of soul,
Tauntingly, flauntingly firm
Beast! Beast! Beast!
Gray-coated Leprosy,
Charnel-house,
Urinal,

Carved for the worship of God
Where big-bellied Bishops and Cardinals
Empty themselves of their lies. . . .
Avaunt!

How filthy you are
With putrid odors;
The stench of decayed superstitions reeks from your

haunches.

Hypocrisy shines on your face like a bloated boil
Ripe for the scalpel
Ah!

If I could only prick that boil with the point of my pen
And squeeze out the pus with some forceps
Exposing the sore,
That all the world might see it
Even as I

How loathsome you are!

The poisonous breath of your mouth corrupts the air
Like a pestilence.
I choke,

C



I faint with its fumes,

I fall, fall, fall

Endlessly,

Into the torpor of death,

Into the horror of hell

Endlessly. . . .

Beast! Beast! Beast!

Gray Beast with the ravenous maw

Devouring my soul,

Avaunt Avaunt !



[98]



A CLUMP pF PINES: MOUNT MORRIS

PARK

LIKE swarthy young gods

The pines rise from the sloped forehead of the hill;

Looking upward over its bald top

Into the downward curving sky

That frames it in a blue infinity.

Behind them

The trees straggle up the hillside

With naked branches waiting to be budded

Impatient of Spring.

Wantonly,

The birches spread their white limbs in the sunshine;

The poplars sway with tender passion;

The young oaks stand taut with desire.

Behind them

The lawns lie bellied out under the sunshine

Each faded grass-blade impregnated with new life.

Children play on the walks.

Full-bosomed young mothers

With moist breasts crushed under their coats

Sit on the benches beside the baby-carriages.

At the bottom

The City spreads like a besieging army,

Petrified into massed blocks manacled by long streets

As it surged forward.

[99]



The houses glare impotently at the hill
Out of their sun -dazzled eyes.

The churches lift up their steeples among them like stand-
ards.

But the pines rise in their fenced copse on the hill-side
Solemnly apart

Over the massed houses and challenging steeples;
Over the warm placid lawns and restless spring-stirred trees;
Standing as in a sacred grove,
And looking fixedly over the hill
Into the infinite abysmal blue.



[100]



ON A PARK BENCH

UNDER the green-bosomed chestnuts bulging into the drive-
way

She sat there

Big-bodied and immobile as the trees;

Ripening in the warm insinuating sunshine

Like a huge plant.

Feverishly

The automobiles hurried after each other before her vacant
unheeding eyes

Sparkling into view like sudden suns

And darkening out of sight.

Like a moving tapestry

The equestrians swept after each other across the drive

Shining brown haunches, polished black boots gleaming
through the leaves.

The birds darted through the sunlight like fishes

Riddling it with a million melodious trills.

She sat there

Rooted to the bench,

Feeling only the bulging mystery in her womb,

Dull-eyed and grandly immobile,

Growing with the green lawns and the silent sap-veined
trees.



[101]



THE PLAY POND: CENTRAL PARK

UNDER the dazzling sweep of sun-burnished blue skies

The pond blinks between the recumbent hills,

Rippling ceaselessly away

From the whirlpool of white fire

Flaming on the further side.

Saturated with light

The trees climb down the bent backs of the hills

With drooping heads and faint limbs

Pale from the weariless lust of the sun

Like raped women.

Out of its great round eye

The pond gapes piteously at the trees.

Like a quarry seeking shelter,

In frantic ripples

It scurries under the explosive, blinding sparkle

Groping at its planked rim,

With little lapping tongues

But the trees are far and helpless

Ravished with sunlight

And the hot, hard planks are merciless as the sun.

Nearby

Across the scorched backs of the hills

The mansions sit back comfortably on the broad sidewalk

of the Avenue
With well-shaded eyes

[102]



Watching the tortured pond struggling under the glare

Like a pinned butterfly.

On the green benches ranged around the pond

Women sit in white groups

Reading, knitting;

With lowered eyelids

Evading the blazing pond.

Beside the rim of the pond

A red-haired little boy squats on his brown chubby hands

With eager lips and unblinking blue eyes,

Watching a wilful breeze driving his toy schooner,

Against the feverish ripples fleeing from the fire

Cruelly, swiftly,

Into the heart of the flaming whirlpool.



[103]



-THE DESERTED CHURCH

IT has stood that way for years,

Awesomely empty

A flat-roofed lumbering structure in the shape of a half

cross,

Jutting out of the block at the corner of two busy avenues;
The long head of the cross stretching towards the street
With a sign on the door telling passers-by it is for sale;
The two arms receding awkwardly into the block.
Weed-covered grounds
One boasting of a tree
Flank the long head of the cross
On either side.
Windows,
Tall, narrow slits
With broken panes and curved tops,
Stare gravely into the ground like owls
The building stands there like a tomb
Deserted of its God.

I pass it sometimes on my way to the library,
At night

When gray clouds sail over its flat roof like shrouded souls,
And the yellow moon shines down from among the clouds,
On its bare, brown walls,
Through its tall, dilapidated windows,
On the gaunt spare-branched tree.

[104]



Then I am almost afraid of it

I am afraid of the God that is haunting His old home. . . .

If I were bold enough to climb over that fence

And steal up close to one of those windows,

And look through its broken panes

I think I would see Him sweeping up and down the chancel,

Seeking vainly for His old worshippers,

Listening vainly for the blessed sound of the Mass,

Forever hushed

Yes,

God's ghost is haunting this gloomy church

I am afraid of it!

Soon,

An enterprising Jew will buy up the property,

And turn it into a moving-picture house

(Jews are not afraid of God because they created Him.)

"The Vitagraph Palace" or " The Art Motion Pictures"

or " The Lee Avenue Theatre " or some other name
Will glare in electric letters over the door;
Signs and posters all around the building will tell the public

what is playing.
At night,
Sweethearts from the cosmopolitan neighborhood will sit

together in the aisles,

Playing secretly with each other's hands in the dark,
Flirting together in a dozen different languages,
While the hero and heroine make love to each other on the

screen,

Where once the altar stood.
Gayety and pleasure shall crowd into every nook of the

church,

And God's ghost shall be driven out.

[105]



MY BELOVED

AT night

When I am asleep,

My Beloved comes to me

And falls upon my breast

And caresses me

Calls me her Poet, her Artist, her Soul;

Calls me her Genius, her Saviour, her God

I crush her in my arms

And kiss her

And bite her

Amorously

I may not hint at half the joy we have;

I may not tell of half the love we share;

At night!

In the daytime

I sit beside her,

Sometimes,

And talk to her

Bashfully

About all sorts of things

Literature, Art, Philosophy

She listens,

Sometimes

I am a very queer fellow

She thinks.

[106]



A BROOKLYN BY-STREET

Two straight rows of low brick buildings

Interminably red, interminably neat, interminably double-
storied ;

Fronted with the same brown porches and the same small
grass plots,

Stare at each other across the street,

Placidly,

Out of a hundred windows.

Automobiles

Race between them intermittently;

Delivery-wagons

Rattle by from the markets

Stopping at some of the porches;

A boy alights from a wagon

Carrying a parcel

He is tall and freckle-faced

A girl in a white dress is sitting on one of the porches,

Reading a yellow-bound book. . . .

I wonder what she is reading

A story or an essay or a poem,

A novel or a play!

I think she is reading a poem:

Her eyes are so open and restless,

Her lips are so languidly pensive

I am sure she is reading a poem.

[107]



If I wanted

I could walk up that porch and speak to her.

I know

She wouldn't mind it.

I would walk up those steps and say to her, smilingly:

" Pardon me ... but . . .

May I ask you

What are you reading? '

(I can almost see her,

Lifting her face from the book,

Startled somewhat!)

" Some poetry. . . . Swinburne's .... my favorite."

" Mine, too."

" Do you like him? "

" I love him;

He's a wonderful wizard of words ! '

And . . .

" Did you read his ' Garden of Proserpine '? "

' I was reading it now for the twentieth time
I'm crazy about it! '
And . . .

" Did you read them?
Laus Veneris, Dolores, Fragoletta, Faustine,
Anactoria, Hertha, Aholibah, Thalassius? "
"All!"

" What marvellous word -woven tapestries all ;
What palaces builded of sound,
Oriental, Ionic and Gothic;
In color, melody, rhythm,
In power and passion of words,
There's no one like Swinburne! '
And . . .

4 Do you remember the opening chorus

[108]



In ' Atalanta in Calydon '?

A Greek might have written it

(Apologetically)

You see,

I know these things

Being a poet myself "

"A poet!

You? "

And . . .

If I wanted

I could walk up those steps and speak to her

All this and much more . . .

But something

Out of a hundred hooded windows

Staring complacently

Cowes me and drives me away

Abashed.

I wonder what she is reading! . . .



[109]



NOCTURNE: FIFTH AVENUE AND
CENTRAL PARK

THE omnibus moved jokingly up the Avenue

Double-storied and top-heavy;

Shaking the drowsy passengers on the roof,

Sideward and forward.

The sky curved over us like a dim dome,

Moonless and murky,

Indefinitely deep.

A few stars struggled out of the thick mists

And followed us.

On one side slept the Park

A long, black mass of trees,

Facing the Avenue and melting backward into the blacker

sky.
On the other side stretched the white mansions of the

Avenue,

With blinds pulled down and curtains drawn close,
Big and empty looking.

The omnibus moved joltingly up the Avenue.
Tall, curved lamp-posts,

With great electric globes bulging from their bent heads,
Challenged us on either side like sentinels.
The Avenue stretched endlessly before us,
Shining under their white glare,
Like a moonlit river.

[110]



WINTER NOCTURNE: THE HOSPITAL

A MASS of ledged rock

Steep and brown and long

Ribbed with white streaks of snow

Rises up suddenly from among level blocks of tenements,

Lifting the red hospital buildings on its top,

Higher

Over the huddled heads of the tenements

Over the uncoiled length of the Elevated

Up to the very disc of the moon.



'AFTER THE LECTURE

I AM sick of believing and disbelieving

Cults and creeds and systems of thought;

Philosophy, Morality, Cosmology, concern me no more

Let the eternal verities go to the dogs!

Enough has been prattled about them

Aristotle, Socrates, Plato;

Fichte and Hegel and Schelling and Kant.

It is all so simple to me

I know it is Good to be out under the stars tonight,

And Evil to be pent up in a sultry lecture room.

I know it is Good to be walking beside you, dear,

And Evil of you to be philosophising so much.

I know it is Right to put my arms around you and kiss you,

And Wrong of you to deny me that kiss.

As to who made this ramshackle, top-heavy Universe,

Dear little girl,

Let God have the credit.



[112]



NOCTURNE: CENTRAL PARK

THE snow soughed ceaselessly through the air

In long thin threads like rain,

Ceaselessly, softly descending,

On the white sheeted trees with their freighted branches

Bending under the full moon;

On the undulating, creamy lawns

Glistening in the moonlight;

On the frozen surface of the Pond

Gleaming from behind the trees

Like a sheet of lacquered silver.

Clouds,

Big-bellied and fluffy

Like great grey whales

Sailed across the blue arch of the sky,

Brushing against the round disk of the moon,

Putting out the stars in their path

Like sputtering matches

Only the moon shone steadfastly in the sky

Like a lighthouse set among the clouds.

We stood together,
Made one in each other's arms
Under the low-bending branches of the sheeted trees,
Under the gray-dappled moonlit sky
Her eyes shone through me like two moons

[113]



Lighting up strange vistas within my brain;

Her soft cheek pressed warmly against my own;

A stray wisp of black hair fell from under her hat,

Caught between my lips, and rilled my nostrils with an

odor of crushed flowers
And the snow soughed coolingly on our hot faces.



[114]



SPRING TRYST

WHAT shall I say to her first,

As she comes tripping to meet me,

Here at our tryst in the Park-

Comes with her wide hat aslant

And her hrown eyes glowing beneath

What shall I say to her first!

Shall I put on a piteous face
And pout:

' I have waited so long;

The birds taunted me from the tree-tops as I stood here;-
Chirping two, two, two, two, two,
Silly, silly, silly, silly boy,
She will never come she will never come
See, you naughty birds,
She has come! '

Or shall I look tenderly at her:
" You are tired, dear;
Sit down . . .

What a sweet dress you have on to-day;
It goes so well with the Spring,

The rose on your cheeks and the green on your dress;
Only what shall we do with your eyes
They are so brown! '
Or shall I let my joy free,

[115]



Caged in my throat like a bird:

" Darling,

At last

I am so happy!

All night I was wakeful thinking about you,

And my heart kept ticking the seconds;

I am. so happy, so happy

I think I could fly! "

Or shall I take her hand,

Gently,

And lead her down to the pond :

" Do you remember the time we stood here

Here, under the very same trees,

When the trees were sheeted in snow,

And the pond was frozen across,

And the wind bit into our faces

You jested:

4 Do you know

We ought to draw up a petition to the Spring,

All loVers,

And ask him to hurry this way! '

Do you remember? " . .. .

Or shall I not say anything at all to her,

But clasp her in my trembling arms,

And speak to her lips and her cheeks and her eyes anc

her brow
Where shall I kiss her first!



[116]



AT THE FLORIST'S

THROUGH the big show window on the Avenue,
The flowers called to me as I stopped
Piping and chirping and singing in a dozen different colors,
Like a tree-top of bright-plumaged birds:
' Take me to her, bring me with you, choose me for her;
I am sweet, I am sweeter; but I am more beautiful, but I

am more graceful."

I looked recollectively through the frosted glass.
You are familiar to me," said I to a little red flower who

was louder than the rest
''Aren't you a jasmine? '
4 Oh! " trilled the little red flower impatiently through her

creamy throat,
4 Only a month ago she passed here with you and told you

my name
Take me along with you and I'll forgive you for being so

stupid."
' Take us too," breathed a cloud of white flowerets in a

corner

4 Don't you remember us?

That time ... on the Palisades ... in June. . . .
She passed her fingers through our stems to show us to

you, and we glittered on them so
Like seed pearls, you said."
"And me

[117]



Don't you remember me? ' said a little yellow flower

naughtily.
" She pinned me near her bosom that time, and you crushed

me there with your kisses."
I blushed.
"I I remember something like that, but I can't think of

your names.

You see . . . one sees you so seldom in the city. . . .
Please excuse me this once;
When she gets well I'll
And who are you? !> turned I to a big crimson flower that

interrupted my eye.
" Never mind my name," answered she drawing herself up

haughtily on her tall stem,
; You'd forget it anyway if I told you
Take me with you and she will know."
'* Please take me to her," pleaded a little blue flower in a

crowd of ferns.

'* She never pointed me out to you, but I love her so much;
Take me along with you and make me happy
I will look so beautiful in her hair! '
' I am truly sorry," confided I to the little blue flower as

I walked away
'' I have only a dime for carfare and can't buy any of you

for her
But I will put you all in a poem and read it to her."



[118]



A POSTSCRIPT

DEAREST!

When I pressed you to my heart that time

And the impatient engine drowned our last good-bye

I walked back through the station,

Dizzy,

Because of the kiss I carried,

Poised tremulously,

Like a bird upon my lips.

Breathless,

Lest my breath blow it off;

Fearful,

As one who bears a fragile treasure home;

I walked back through the crowded staring station

Into the crowded staring street,

With moist half-open lips

Until the shy bird spread her wings

And flew within for shelter,

Making my heart flutter with her wings.



[119]



NOCTURNE

(FOR H. R.)

As we walked there by the park-wall

The moon went with us all the way,

Shining from behind the trees

Big and round and yellow

Like a Chinese lantern

Dangling from the dark sky

By some invisible thread;

As we walked there by the park-wall

The moon followed us all the way,

Big-faced and piteous,

Like a wild creature

Snared behind the impenetrable net-work of the trees;

As we stopped there in the doorway

The moon watched us all the time,

Yellow-faced and envious

Like a jealous lover

Peering through the lattice of the trees.



[120]



A ROW OF POPLARS: CENTRAL PARK

THE poplars stood in a straight row,

Upright under the moon,

Facing the broad sidewalk of the Avenue

Their tipped heads rising high over the park wall,

Their slender bodies cutting sharply through the humid

air,

Like dark-draped statues.
Elms,

Thick-trunked and fan-shaped,
Arched towards each other across the walk,
Forming a leafy arcade by the park wall.
Crowds sauntered through the arcade,
In twos and threes and fours
Streaming back and forth
Bevies of young girls,
In light summer dresses, with hair curled roguishly over

their ears,

Laughing and chattering as they tripped along,
Coquetting boldly with the boys;
Plump-bodied, perspiring matrons trying to keep pace with

their husbands,

In stiff silk dresses and little straw hats;
Sweethearts strolling arm-in-arm,
Looking at each other happily,
Oblivious of everything else.

[121]



At intervals

On the long benches by the park wall,

Couples sat huddled amorously together

Their intertwined shadows projecting into the walk,

Under the passing feet.

Nearby,

On the other side of the park wall,

The poplars stood in a straight row,

Upright under the moon,

Virginally slender

Holding themselves stiffly aloof.

Afar

The lake lay in the moonlight

Gold and black and silver

Rippling together.



[122]



THE OLD COURTESAN

(AFTER THE BRONZE CAST BY AUGUSTE RODIN)

SHE is old and ugly

Battered with years,

Like an inn

That life has deserted

Long ago

Love once held revel in her heart;

Youth once lay captive on those breasts;

Now!

She is old and ugly

Wrinkled with years,

Like a grape

That Life has squeezed out

Over its cup

Time has pressed flat the fulness of her cheeks;

Lust has sucked dry the sweetness of her lips;

Now!

She is old and ugly

Yellow with years,

Like a parchment

That life has scrawled over and over

With villainous rhymes.



[123]



' PRIDE

YESTERDAY,

Passing through the Bowery,

I saw a dry crust of bread lying on a heap of offal,

A big, starved-looking yellow cat was rummaging through

the heap.

She seemed to have noticed the crust of bread
Evidently it was too hard for her teeth.
Just as I was turning the corner
A tramp lurched by.
He was not drunk,
He was hungry
So he staggered as he walked.
I stopped.

My eyes fixed themselves on that heap of offal;
And on the dry crust of bread lying on top of it;
And on the old yellow cat rummaging beside it. ...

The man stopped also;

He was examining that heap of offal

His eyes wandered from the dry crust of bread to the old

yellow cat.

Something within him drew him to that heap of offal ;
Something within him revolted against it.
The man hesitated

On the top of the heap squatted the old yellow cat

[124]



Munching, munching, munching;

The man hesitated

Finally he dragged himself away,

Proudly.



[125]



PSALM CLI



PRAISE ye the Lord, Nations!

Praise ye the Lord with the bayonet and the bullet

Praise Him with the scattering of shrapnel, praise Him

with the throwing of hand-grenades
Praise, praise ye the Lord !

II

Raise ye trenches on the hill-tops;

Build ye fortifications on the high places of the earth;

That ye may worship the Lord

Fittingly !

Ill

Praise ye the Lord, for His vengeance consumeth the Na-
tions;

Praise ye the Lord, for His terror abideth forever;


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Online LibraryAlter BrodyA family album and other poems → online text (page 4 of 5)