The Prophet Bird

I have heard the shrill call of your prophet bird.
Night and the moon have brought me out
to the sea shore to hear its funereal song.
I will not weep, cannot despair.
I stand on this storm-blown, sea-rising
drought-ridden planet, yet my heart
is not sinking, even as maniacs
wild-eyed Kalashnikoved & holybooked
explode themselves and bring carnage around them,
even as I consider Europe a vast boneyard,
the Middle East a trashheap of uncivilizations
piled high since the first silt of Nile & Tigris
gave idle kings & priests the criminal idea
they had dominion over everything, and for all time.

What creatures! Fashion a stylus or a horn of brass,
and then a scimitar. Invent polyphony,
then make for Torquemada
an exquisite device for torture.
Should such vile animals,
with the table manners of Harpies,
be written off by the Animal Kingdom,
turned out by thorn and briar by the Plants,
poisoned to extinction by acrid Minerals,
blotted by the very sun and stars?

I answer only that Beauty redeems everything.
Even the tiger, when it is not hungry,
looks on the bounding gazelle
as a thing of wonder.

For the line of one neck and shoulder
on a Phidean marble,
one phrase of Handel or Mozart,
one heart-stopping dab of paint on canvas,
we are forgiven much.  We share with life,
from pseudopod to mammoth,
from the most delicate tendril
to the great bulk of whale-flesh,
the way the all-too-familiar disk
of the sun-faced daisy might see us,
the fascinated horror we feel
as we regard the self-
illuminating eye of the giant squid —
all monstrous to all, all beautiful to all
as long as life goes drunk on self-delight
and aches for the touch of its kind,
as long as we know that all life enjoys
the benediction of earth-turn and sunrise
that the first word the Universe uttered
was Surprise!

Another human chapter is ending.
It is not the end of everything
(only the thin-lipped prophets
with their dry-leaf Bibles
believe that everything will end).
The story is not over.
It will never be over.

Walls and guard towers have fallen,
death camps and prison camps closed.
All this is good. That some mass murderers
sleep in their pensioned beds disturbs me.
That new Lenins and Berias and Stalins
are waiting to be born, disturbs me.

But life itself has something in store for us.
We will star-leap if we must to another Earth
if we cannot learn from this one.
The air, yes, is a different color now.
Trees on the mountaintops brown in its acid.
If elm, beech and chestnut
possessed a smiting god to call upon
the green world would rise and smother us.

Full half of the cause of the harm we do
is that we live so briefly,
so little time for giving and healing
after so much seizing and taking.

So let us live longer, not less,
let us become old-timers, undying,
cyborgs if we must —
if all the great men and women past were there for us,
even if only as their brains afloat in a tank
in squawk-voice semblance of living,
still they would come to us
the way the ghost-Athena seized
the sword-hand of Achilleus,
saying to him, Don’t do that

It is because we die
that we make Earth an ashtray,
choke ocean with petrol and styrofoam.
I do not worry much about banks, and mortgages.
Things fall apart, and pass away.
Their place will be taken by other things.
I would welcome the end of six-lane highways,
the tic-tac-toe of airplanes across the sky.

I see a different millennium unfolding
not of steel girders and oil derricks.
So long as we escape the total madness
of mouth-foaming God-told-me-so
hand-on-Apocalypse men,
so long as our better natures prevail

I will live to see every book ever written
available free to everyone on earth,
Beethoven free, Homer and Virgil and Dante,
Shelley and Poe and Whitman for everyone,
a never-closing museum that all may walk
alone or in the best of company —

Your prophet bird
would sing disaster,
minor in downward scale —
my bird, the melody inverts,
beaking the flats away,
my scale ascending.


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