Jerome Rothenberg: 'The mysteries of mind laid bare in talking,' for David Antin (1932–2016)

Photograph by Charles Bernstein
Photograph by Charles Bernstein



I would also say it

speaking    would like to hear it

catapulting from my mouth


not like a flow of words

but a barrage of pulses

one athwart the other


mindful how some spirit

wracked you

who were singular in speech


the mysteries of mind

laid bare in talking

discovered first, then lost


the way all times

are lost   when no one

counts them off


a dream expresses it

still harder to remember

pressured to write it down


they wait a new device

a camera to record

the images in dreams


the images in memory

of days in New York

or of walks in Paris


linked in talk

& warm embraces

on the other coast


is where we come

to die    at last

the more we wander


conversant with the dead

companions all

stiff necked & lonely


when you ask me for

a discourse

still more satisfying


that our cheating hearts

hold back

then let it fly




the memories

of being young

your black hair

in the wind


later to be lost

like something

keys hair someone

a contingency


my noble forehead

that you saw

or claimed to

in the loss of yours


the stream of language

hard to fix

or to deflect

once lost


first meetings

faces also lost

like words on paper

that we shared


carried over time

the thoughts

of sickness

shared with all


like dying

thrice denied

the distance between

now & now


I do not see you

any longer

but know the voice

full in my mind


so much like mine

someone had said

imagination all

that makes it sound


timed to my heart

that keeps the beat

flesh sundered

turned to ash




can it be fair

to write


a love song

to a friend



from friend to friend

the voice comes

& the answer

that a stranger overhears

robs him of speech


the guest is half


nowhere he turns

or runs   caught

in a web


or caught between

two open doors

is right for him

the way out west

leads back to asia


asia leads him

into wilderness

a bitter landscape

where no friend



no gaze or touch

so tender

those who fight

for love

once living


know it as a taste

sweet in the mouth

though distant

at length   at last

the friend is double


in your sight

but turns from you

the time to come

draws nigh

then shatters


& does the poem exist

when there is no one there

to hear it?




who does not dream

dreams deeper

by not dreaming


until the door

swings open

draws you to

sleep within


what forms

assailing us

the scattered dreamers


curtains closing

on our eyes

in frantic bursts

lights streaming


take the shape

of birds & stars



move across the sky

the eye in love

with tentacles

in mauve & amber


the new year


without you


then the rest

is dream

whether the images

arise or not


the screen goes blank

foretold by you

the dreamer


here is the death

we feared

infinite space

to every side


absent all light



After Wang Wei

O my friends! there is no friend.


at Weiching

            morning rain

                        the fine dust damped

a guest house

            green among

                        green willows

urge a friend

to drink a final

glass of wine

west of Yang Pass

            there is

                        no friend




except the memory

the loss   a dream

that will not stick

but comes & goes

as if we hadn’t

dreamed it


for which I name you

poet of the dream

in whose denial

dreams come forth

the word “desire”



pleasures first

a place as large

as Prospect Park

where others

feast & bathe

some sleeping


& the dreamer

kicks his shoes off

wades into a pool

the north branch of

an old estate

its master far away


then goes from room

to room in search

of shoes   as prelude

to a silent movie

buried like his life

too deep for tears


for which the word

the woman

throws at him

is hog (he says)

not out of shame

or fecklessness


but turning

subject into object

echoing the master’s

words   the world

is everything

that is the case


waking & dreaming

much the same




[N.B. The dream covered lightly in the final section, above, is from David Antin’s “On Narrative: The Beggar and the King,” published previously (2010) in Poems and Poetics (Jacket2). The present posting on February 1, 2017 coincides with what would have been his eighty-fifth birthday.]