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The Burning-Ground


ISSUE:  Spring 1980

                                      to the Muse
Because Thou lovest the Burning-ground,
I have made a Burning-ground of my heart—
That Thou, dark one, haunter of the Burning-ground,
Mayest dance Thy eternal dance.

I imagine a cold night, the nebulae—
the Crab, the Spiral, the Horsehead, the Dark—
carelessly burning. Below, a madman stabs
the drum with his knife,

a seamstress stumbles toward a cart in the rain,
and soon the story begins:
of a child born dazed, upside-down, like a bat
adopted by darkness,

who closes himself in his wings, learning early
the need and the taste for disguise.
I grew up, a Jew who forgot
to smear his door with the blood of the lamb—

that boy in the Brothers Grimm
who used grinning skulls for bowling balls
was my older brother, but he never taught me
how he did those hard-headed things.

So many fears bowled me over in alleys;
the long nights, dumbly enraged, rattled their torches
in puddles, headlights, and people’s eyes.
And terror pried open a door in my chest.

But instead of the Angel of Death, you
came through that door, with your languorous
hair, your music of sexual groans, and your face
gleaming like a diamond of flesh.

This constant desire for you
is the painful foot on which the dancer
spins, the airless region
where planets revolve.

I want to plug myself into your stars—
red giants, white dwarfs, even the blackest holes—
and let their cold fires, their shocks and flares,
run through me.

Like that demon-dragon of folklore:
Within the walls you do little harm, perhaps
a stray light on tables, a troublesome spirit
that teases the eye.

But if you abandon the house,
if you pass out through door or window,
a scream shakes the shingled roof
and the whole house bursts into flame.

Why, on a night of torpor,
night of the weary thighs of smoke,
when the fishermen find their lives
lost in the nets,

do you bring me back to your windy
fever, to dead horse eyes,
to alchemies of doubt and self-hatred?
Is it just so your needles of lightning can stitch

wonder back into my brain,
so your smile can dazzle my wounded silence
like quartz crystals shining
from split rock?

Like a pen, where the poet scratches your skin
he leaves his own blood behind.
Your servant faces that implacable sea,
helpless, entranced, with nothing to do

but open himself to its leaps
and its legions of foaming despairs.
You lead him, like red and blue lights
on the runway, guiding the plane toward flight.

Though you’re silent, unconcerned, I
can’t turn away. I want your harsh gifts
to singe my heart. Dark one,
come haunt this burning-ground.

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