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Homage to Rakosi

The poet Carl Rakosi passed away four years from this past Wednesday. Two weeks ago I wrote a bit about George Oppen, and the two have some remarkable parallels in their careers. They both were in some way products of the Objectivist movement in the 1930s. Both became involved in Marxist politics for a time. And, perhaps most interestingly, they both had huge periods of silence in this middle of their lives. Oppen’s lasted 24 years. Rakosi’s lasted 27. During that time, Rakosi worked many jobs, always searching for the one that would allow him to make a living while leaving enough energy for him to write. He studied law, medicine and psychology, ultimately working for many years as a social worker or psychologist. Meanwhile he wrote no poems, nor did he even read poetry. In 1965, two years before he was eligible for retirement as director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service in Minneapolis, he was jarred back into writing by a simple thing: a fan letter. Andrew Crozier, a student at SUNY Buffalo tracked him down and wrote him a letter in admiration of his poems from the 1930s and asked if he was still writing. This made the idea of returning to poetry possible in his mind, and three years later, New Directions published Amulet in 1968. He published well into his 90s and died at the age of 100.

The Lobster
Eastern Sea, 100 fathoms,
green sand, pebbles,
broken shells.

Off Suno Saki, 60 fathoms,
gray sand, pebbles,
bubbles rising.

and slow-
motion benthos!

The fishery vessel Ion
drops anchor here
plankton smears and fauna.

Plasma-bearer, visible
sea purge,
sponge and kelpleaf.
Halicystus the Sea Bottle

resembles emeralds
and is the largest
cell in the world.

Young sea horse
Hippocampus twenty
minutes old,

nobody has ever
seen this marine
freak blink.

It radiates on
terminal vertebra
a comb of twenty

upright spines
and curls
its rocky tail.

Saltflush lobster
bull encrusted swims

backwards from the rock

The Citizen
Prometheus is now chained
to a promontory
for daring to think that
the universe is limitless
and bare, held together
by rigor, with only his
random, rogue imagination
to cope with it.

For this the vulture
gnaws at his bowels.

The terrain is fascinating
but the citizen is chained
to a real promontory
as a brash new breed
takes over in Congress,
young, self-righteous,
with an instant answer
in ten or less words
for every problem,

and out of TV imaging
steps a President, strong,
up-beat, dependable, while
in the corporate board room
canny, fine-tuned men
prepare the agenda for them,
and clerks enter ???Payments
for Political Favors’
in the company books.

Investors and billionaires
swarm in the city.

As on a distant planet
devoid of public events
a beggar stands most
patiently with a tin cup.

And everywhere
the same old working man,
his nose to the grindstone,
expecting nothing,
not knowing where to turn.
Like Prometheus, the citizen,
who rages, “God
damn this debasement!
Must we become cynics?”

Oh, citizen!

Jig, You Wine Bums
bite the hard cool

apple of the air!

The season of muscatel has come

when the squirrel runs

up the tree fornicating

and the deer bolts

and man reaches

for his calking gun

and paint brush

and the middle aged hiker

throws his shoulders back.

Look at him go!

This is lavender and rose

time in drawers

when the sun is cooler but more blinding

and the maple leaves distil its light

into a cheerful red liqueur.

Now, wine bums,

the winter is long.

Elixir falls from the air

and even the misanthrope

‘s eye twinkles

in the commonplace.