Wednesday, 9/2/20 at 10:05 PM
Updated: 9/2/20 at 12:00 AM

Is poetry dangerous?

The self botanizes.  
He dreams of breeding, one day,  
an odorless narcissus.  
The otters are gone from the bay
and I have seen five horses
easy in the grassy marsh
beside three snowy egrets.

Bird cries and the unembittered sun,
wings and the white bodies of the birds,
it is morning. Citizens are rising
to murder in their moral dreams.
The pelicans are gone which had, wheeling,
Written Chinese poems on the sea. The grebes are gone
That feasted on the endless hunger of the flashing runs
Of salmon. And I imagine that he saw, finally,
That though rock stands, it does not breed.
He feels specific rage. Feels, obscurely, that his sex
Is his, not god-force only, but his own soft flesh grown thick
With inconsolable desire. The grebes are gone.
He feels a plain man's elegiac tenderness,
An awkward brotherhood with the world's numb poor
His poems had despised. Rage and tenderness are pain.
He feels pain as rounding at the hips, as breasts.
Pain blossoms in his belly like the first dark
Stirrings of a child, a surfeit of the love that he had bled to rock
And twisted into cypress haunts above the cliffs.
He knows he has come back to mourn,
To grieve, womanish, a hundred patient years
Along this fragile coast. I imagine the sky's arch,
Cloud-swift, lifts him then, all ache in sex and breasts,
Beyond the leached ashes of dead fire,
The small jeweled hunger in the seabird's eye.
Summer is over and his friends are gone—
vanished as inexplicably
  as the pearly fluids
which gushed from sporting ladies
  in the novels of a hundred years before.

The leaves of the plane tree
  brown and curl, the world
tenses in the early cold toward final
  literal insistences: autumn,
death, the cold comfort of reason
  and clitoral orgasm. In the day's work
he married two seven-sided orgies
  in a ceremony as delicate and involuted
as copulating octopi,
             wafting pale purple
   hedges of sea heather.

His friends are gone and he is reflective.
 The essence of seasons is repetition.
They die and shine, die and shine.
A friend, the other night,
read poems full of rage
against the poor uses of desire
in mere enactment. A cruel music
lingered in my mind.
The poems made me think
I understood
why men cut women up. Hating
the source, nerved,
irreducible, that music hacked
the body till the source was gone.
Then the heavy cock wields,
rises, spits seed
at random and the man
shrieks, homeless
and perfected in the empty dark.
His god is a thrust of infinite desire
beyond the tame musk
of companionable holes.
It descends to women occasionally
with contempt and languid tenderness.
I tried to hate my wife's cunt,
the sweet place where I rooted,
to imagine the satisfied disgust
of cutting her apart,
bloody and exultant
in the bad lighting and scratchy track
of butcher shops
in short experimental films.
It was easier than I might have supposed.
o spider cunt, o raw devourer.
I wondered what to make
of myself. There had been a thaw.
I looked for green shoots
in the garden, wild flowers in the woods.
I found none.

(It makes me want to wrench my heart out.)
I think Hass is strongest at his most elegiac.
(from "Applications of the Doctrine", "Palo Alto: The Marshes," "The Return of Robinson Jeffers," "The Pornographer, Melancholy," "In Weather," from Robert Hass's Field Guide)

Tags: hass elegy