Merrill Leffler



This is a paean to relief and ecstasy

A man's poem of course—the electric ah!

in the long stream arcing a high rainbow

under the spotlight moon, a covenant between

my body and the earth's.

I think of Li Po smiling

silently on Green Mountain and can hear Rumi

drunk on rapture—drink my brother he calls to me,

think of the elephant loosening a great ebullient

stream that floats a river past your house and drops

turds so immense you could build a hut from them

along the shore to shelter your children.

  What release!

Think of your child pedaling under your hand

and of a sudden—it just happens—you let go

and he's off on his own, free for that first time—

the achieve of, the mastery of the child.

(Hopkins of course.) See the stalwart trees in their silence

the stones resting in the driveway, the cat curled asleep

on the front porch, the smear of blood

on the lion's mouth sitting over his fresh gazelle

the morning paper and its stories shouting

for attention. The plenitude of it all.

                                    And perhaps

somewhere a friend is dreaming of me, or someone

a stranger is peeing ecstatic under the same moon.

A covenant then between us.

                        True or not. It is no matter.





wasn't always so. It was a white hot

'69 Corvette once or in 1954 a new

T-Bird sleek and ebony passing you

with wild contempt, or even a Kaiser

convertible in 1952, rose-colored

knight of peculiar countenance striding

on Sunrise highway east towards Montauk

and the sea. Heads did turn in strange surmise.


            But beauty ages, pal,

and even the best lines go soft, the sweetest body

(let's face it) cannot hold up. Service it

though you will, garage it against life's storms,

follow every precaution — you can never

do enough. Either fatigue finally sets in —

or boredom. Salute their former dignity

or stash them in a museum, or write

encomia remembering them fondly

or sing of glories (like the ancient poets)

that inevitably go to ruin.

            You know the course:

the child becomes a man, survives

to three score ten, more or less, and then

becomes a child again, or worse.

Soon he's merely memory and then a blank.

Listen up. The day is calling, and the night.

Damn the clichés. Full speed ahead.

Pull out all the stops. Just drive the poet wrote

"into something rich and strange" — and keep

the damn thing straight and on the road.





To see the world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower

The world is charged with the grandeur of God

Trailing clouds of glory do we come.

For in his morning's orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him

Exuberance is beauty. Energy is eternal delight.

Surely some revelation is at hand

And I am dumb to tell

For he on honeydew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

My heart in hiding stirred for a bird—

the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

That thou light wing'd Dryad of the trees singest of summer in full-throated ease

But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land

A robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage

Never again would birds song be the same

They bring the eternal note of sadness in

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

About suffering they were never wrong, the Old Masters

Your ma and pa they fuck you up, they don't mean to but they do.

I smiled at him but he stuck out his tongue and called me nigger.

Black milk of dawn we drink it at dusk we drink it at noon

They cannot look out far, they cannot look in deep

I shot him dead because, because he was my foe, just so.

I learn by going where I have to go.

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy

Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for Me

How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

When I consider how my life is spent

I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than kill a hawk

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained

What did I know, what did I know of love's dark and lonely offices?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

No memory of having starred atones for later disregard

Send not to know for whom the bell tolls

I have wasted my life

He moves in darkness as it seems to me

Though I sang in my chains like the sea

Arg, we were all beautiful once, she said.

The art of losing isn't hard to master

Women have no wilderness in them

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee.

The feelings I don't have, I won't say I have

You see what I am: change me, change me

For christ's sake, look out where yr going

For you  as yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend

We will make our meek adjustments

A man's a man for a' that

Whatever lives lives because of the life put into it

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses

Each new attempt is a raid on the inarticulate

Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul

When I have fears that I may cease to be—

The nothing that is not there and the nothing that is

The Truth must dazzle gradually—

We set up mast and sail on that swart ship.

To follow knowledge like a sinking star.

Now I am grateful to my small poem for teaching me this again

Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame

As imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown

Shine on, shine on, Perishing Republic.

Merrill Leffler's third collection of poetry, Mark the Music, will be published in the spring of 2011.  His first two collections were Partly Pandemonium and Take Hold. With Moshe Dor, he recently guest-edited an issue of Shirim with their translations of poems by the late Israeli poet Eytan Eytan. Leffler is the publisher of Dryad Press (



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