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An Incantation Against Ghosts

ISSUE:  Spring 1944

The Hero
Calm settles the audience Before its vision.
This one, a Lordlike sprite,
Has shamed decision,
Flung his metal riding wings
Down and the clouds dapple his glass;
Though the wind cries and birds wheel
And scream flying as they pass,
The gunned nose falls like death
Down in boiling air
And the four props feathered Ride madly.
There! There! Through the mist that streams,
Flat on the crenellated ocean top
Jumps the black invader.
Turret tops
Fling their lighted guns up
In fiery lines of white beads.
The scream is higher
Our enemy is nearer
The clouds replaced by black fire
And bang!
He is vanished with his dead ship Into the streaming sun.
* * *
If we see the actual man
There is something else to be seen.
What has made his audience fat
Has made him exceeding lean.
Crew shattered and dead,
Gasoline dropped in the sea,
A hole edged in jacket
Where his stomach zipper should be,
This man considered his bombs
Wedged in a closed bay
And that a hostile monster
Spent its passion without pay.
It was rage and hopelessness
That dropped his bomber’s nose
And put his splitting the air
With the vaudeville shows.

Our sages wring their tear-drenched locks
And stand like outraged Gods
On the mountaintops, shouting decayed lament
Of broken glass and paradox
And cold catastrophic odds
Against our knowing there’s more than brick or rent;
Or that on the other hand we may
Have gotten ten thousand a year
And spent it on incense crumpets lavender and tea
Or a scented mind. “This world,” they say,
“Is a smashed vessel, we fear,
(Because we think it) of ashes and pots and debris.”
“All our faiths turned out cheats
And man is a broken drum.
We are the ash results of white hot heats
And down from the peaks we sadly come”—
To find new fires as Buddhist,
Catholic, communist, soldier, or nudist.

The world is a mad slaughter and all the hills
Are tipped with fire.
But if the rivers stop
And tanks cross in the light of murdered towns
And shells flash breaking the blackness at night,
It is nothing new, nor is the end of illusions.
Astride a whirling world of random confusion
More subtle than the latest prophetic peace,
We fashion hope to clothe our naked souls.
We make an altar cloth of our ideals
And fashion a pillow of mythology.
They will rip and burn, they will tarnish,
And we learn that none of our pillows and props are actual.
We burn them with imaginary fires
And cut them with the blades of dreamlike swords.
We must trust and believe a little more warily.


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