From 'A Cruel Nirvana' (2): Four narratives & two praise poems from narratives & realtheater pieces

In celebration of the publication by SplitLevel Texts

Eleanor Antin: Poland/1931 collage with Jerome Rothenberg (c.1974)
Eleanor Antin: Poland/1931 collage with Jerome Rothenberg (c.1974)


. . . .

It is dark & I go
It is dark & I don’t go
I go & I don’t go
It is dark
& I go
& I don’t go


He is King.
He matters.
He is King.
He forgives.
He is King
He is King.
He attends a wedding.
He is King.
He attends a decision.
He attends.
He attends.
He dances.
We see.
He is King.
We siphon.
The inheritors dance.
He matters.
He is King.
We attend a wedding.
He is King.
He is King.
He forgives.


          Some had been quarreling for years.
          He was old but had impulses, she was never old & the story of her life was
          If she cried he would turn from her, if he turned from her she would buy
something blue.
          A table was in the room & was their table.
          Their machines were in the kitchen, their clothing was of no special size though it
was often used.
          Their clothing was never old.
          Their impulses were never certain.
          If she spoke on the phone he read a book, if he was at home among friends she
was never at home & they were rarely together.
          Their home was their own.
          He was rich.
          She received him.
          Which one was in love?

for Russell Edson

          The relation between a man & his wife was always closing. Whichever way he
looked was not his way, whichever way she looked she saw her hands dissolving.
          Soon her hands were in a country different from where she had ever been.
          So a man & his wife were sometimes living in a garage. The man was taking a tire
from a wall while the wife was putting oil onto a seat. The wife was bathing with an
oil that was an oil for motors.
          How many hands begin to shine she tried to tell her husband.
          One-two-three-four they sang together, as they had done it once before in Poland.
          This is a man I can admire thought the wife.
          This is a Polish wife & more answered the man.



          A father who had lost a son stopped a group of strangers & asked for directions.
          Each stranger had a different opinion, but the youngest told him, “Your son is
          So the father mourned for ten years, after which his son returned to him.
          “Where have you been?” the father asked in anger.
          When the son refused to answer, the father turned from him & walked into his
          Later he relented & came outside, but all he found there was a group of strangers.


           He arrived that day where there were many Jews.
          Some sat on boxes, some sat in carts, some sat looking at their hands, some sat &
sang, some stood & sang, some sang & walked around the market.
          Jews spoke first to Jews.
          It was sensational & awkward.
          Some spoke to some others, who were also Jews & who were speaking to no one
not even to themselves.


          When two men had a disputation one man argued for the use of soap.
          The other, who was a stranger in that town, countered question with question.
          “Will the man who gets clean love his neighbor?” he demanded, & again, “When
Moses was forty years in the desert, did he not bathe with hot sand; & were not the
odors from his loins wafted to Jehovah as a living sacrifice?”
          The first man grew silent though his finger still pointed to Leviticus.
          The Angel of the Garden was crying in his throat.


          Three men were standing at the corner of the third one’s house.
          His door swung open.
          Now a third one was crouching with his back to the door.
          “I am willing” spoke the second to the first.
          The first said “I am King.”
          Three kings watched an airplane in the sky.
          “I am King” the second said.
          Now the door swung shut.
          The youngest spun the marble.
          Which was the King?



He was wise.
He was jewish.
He was philanthropical.
He was interested in sofas.
He withdrew & held back.
He is one of our friends.
The stories he tells you have an insistence all their own.
He is moving back & forth back & forth between here &
          some other location.
He is most respectful at sunup.
(Most respectful & mostly at sunup.)
(As we like to say.)
We hear of him.
This is good he tells us referring to the items at hand.
He was less willing as a young man.
He is the subject of a sentimental biography.
He wears tight collars but keeps the buttons loose. 


 He said he was a fool.
He beat his breast.
He bit his fingers.
He bent over & let men kick him in the ass.
He smiled.
He giggled.
Some men giggled with him.
He heard them giggling.
He was remorseful.
He was last.
He knew when he had had enough.

[NOTE. The word has reached me from Aaron McCollough, co-editor with Karla Kelsey of SplitLevel Texts that my new/old book of poems, A Cruel Nirvana, is now officially available for purchase from SPD ( The editors describe the book as follows: “A CRUEL NIRVANA both is and is not a new Jerome Rothenberg collection. In other words, almost everything in this collection has been published before. Each of the three major sections (Narratives and Real Theater PiecesThe Notebooks, and Conversations) was originally published individually. A CRUEL NIRVANA brings together these long out-of-print smaller gatherings in a way that illuminates their important place in Rothenberg's crucial contribution to Twentieth- and Twenty-first Century poetics. Returning to these poems, properly contextualized, one finds them communicating in one field of immanence. If we feel exhausted by meaningless violence and marketing, A CRUEL NIRVANA shows us wellsprings of meaning and power we missed or just couldn't see in our exhaustion or disaffection.”

To which they add the following statement, very moving to me, from Graham Foust: “As a younger person, I discovered the work of Paul Celan by way of John Berryman’s Dream Song 41, but how could Berryman have discovered Celan, other than through Jerome Rothenberg’s 1959 New Young German Poets anthology? I think of Rothenberg’s work – all of it: his writing, his editing, his translating – as one of the singular threads that holds the world’s various poetries together. // Though out of print for many years, much of the early work has not been out of mind, and today it feels entirely relevant and absolutely necessary, as if it had been written sometime just before tomorrow. As someone once said of Bob Dylan, there’s no ‘early’ or ‘late’ Rothenberg, there’s only Rothenberg up ahead of us and us just getting there, wherever it is he’s been.”

Would it were so. (J.R.)]