Robert Kelly, from 'I TAROCCHI NUOVI or, Major Arcana of the Sacred Ordinary'




I presume to offer a glimpse of a new Tarot. The major arcana of the deck are ordinary things of this world, and the suits are not four but infinite, for there is no end to the counting numbers, and no end to the things they can count. This deck is prefigured in a story published half a century ago called “The Infinite Tarot,” where there was talk of the Ace of Sewing Machines and such like. There are no such racy conjectures in the present pack, of which after research and deliberation I offer to the world only the Major Arcana, the Trumps. Of course there are many ordinary things in this sacred world, but these seem to have special cogency, special power to alert the mind to the sacredness of ordinary things. I use the Italian title to honor the great primal images of Mantegna’s Tarocchi.


January 2014






But what are you looking for

in all these pictures?

They’re all dead people by now,

the Husband, the Child,

the Nun, the Prophet lying

drunk beneath his tree,

the Tree, the Cellar Door,

the Dog. Dead or fallen

ruinous and sad. Are you sad?

Do you come to the cards

the way you’d drink some wine

or call a friend you haven’t seen

in years? Did you ever know him

anyhow? The images don’t lie

because the images don’t die.



Did you know I’d be here

when you came in, a sly voice

no louder than a silken

dress on a thigh, a whisper

of light in the dingy trees

around your yard? Why

can’t you take care of anything?

Do you want to wind up

like me, a voice yearning,

yearning for ears, doesn’t

really matter, even yours?



But I can tell you everything.

You whisper to the cards,

they whisper to me, I whisper

to you. A lot of susurrus

to go round, mice in the pantry,

tiny endless appetites questing

like you for anything. Like me.



Because I began out there like you

then got trapped in it. I asked

and it answered, I leaned close

to hear every detail, and before

I knew it or could flee, the voice

became my own. And I’ve

been talking ever since. Now

what was it you wanted to know?




crosslegged on his table

in strong sunlight

finding old stitches

in an older coat.


He will unpiece it

and take each scrap

and make a new coat

for a naked man.


Meantime he squints

at the fraying thread

praying to the God

of seams and sewers,

Hera’s aunt,

the Spider Queen

of Anatolia

who taught us

to connect.

And why not?


Magic lives between

the skin and the cloth,

silk or hide

makes no matter.


Magic is all.

He unstitches

and stitches afresh

in fine red thread—

under the table

wind is blowing

scraps of linen

here and there.


You and I are

just a week from being born.




A man holds it

in front of his chest

but his eyes are not on it,

they look out at you,

viewer, querent,

whatever you are.


Unknown to him

or at least unnoticed

there is a woman in the class

small, perfectly formed,

eyes open, rather beautiful

she is, and she’s looking

right at you too.


This is Melusina,

the elemental

daughter of water and air,

you need her to live.


When the man has drunk his water,

all of it or only some

she will still be there,

adrift before his eyes


and yours,


out from the image

into your world

or whatever you call it,

this thing around you.

And then he gives it to you.




He holds a hammer in his hand.

He holds a wounded sparrow in his hand.

He holds a yardstick in his hand.

He holds a letter in his hand he hasn’t finished reading.

And never will.

            He holds a key in his hand.

He holds an antique ormolu clock on his hand.

It tells old time.

He holds a book in his hand, it’s open, pages riffled by wind.

He holds a kitten curled up on his palm.

He holds a photo of a lost love in his hand.

He has forgotten her name.

He holds a mirror in his hand but does not look at it.

Who knows what he would see?

He holds an ear of corn half-eaten in his hand.

He holds a bottle perhaps of water in his hand.

He is sustained by the simplest things.

He holds a rifle in his hand.

Does he know how to use it? Not sure.

He holds a butterfly net in his hand.

He feels ridiculous but he loves things.

He holds his hand out and a dragonfly lands on it.

He holds his father’s cane in his hand.

He holds a map of China all open and dangling.

He holds a silk stocking draped across his wrist.

He holds a branch of holly in his hand.

He holds a wad of paper money in his hand.

He holds a pair of scissors in his hand.

He holds a bell in his hand.

He holds a dog-leash in his hand but no dog is in it.

He holds a wooden flute in his hand.

He holds a red ball in his hand.

He holds a kitchen strainer in his hand.

He holds a stone in his hand.

He holds nothing in his hand.


[NOTE. The preceding excerpt is from a remarkable new series of on-line poetry works, Metambesen, edited by Charlotte Mandell & Robert Kelly & freely available on the internet.  In the words of the editors: “As citizens in the commonwealth of language, we are anxious to make new work freely and easily available, using the swift herald of the internet to bring readers chapbooks and other texts they can read and download without cost.”  Beyond that noble & notable plan, my showing it here is a further tribute to Kelly himself, who was a poet essential to my own formative years as a poet, a time of transformations now a half century in the past.  With him there was a brief time in which we struggled together with the dimensions of “deep image” as a strategy of composition developed by us along with a cohort of contemporaries in New York & elsewhere.  In my own case this was the forerunner to that ethnopoetics to which I came on my own by the end of the 1960s, but looking back now I feel sure that it was Robert who was an early one & possibly the first to point me in that direction.  Rounding out his seventh decade now, he represents for me & for many others a poet of the greatest powers & with a devotion to our art & to the shared life from which it springs second to none in my memory. (J.R.)]