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The Receptive Man

ISSUE:  Autumn 1943

You too heave moved, your gestures bent with elegies
Among the sad misplacements of the late known world,
Life in your hands, strict defeat in your eyes.
The metaphor is your apology; your days withhold From happy accidents of chance or formal choice The soft excitements of cut glass and old gold,
Pictures of living in whose symmetric ease
This anarchy is cancelled while the past like a perfect waltz
Revolves among politer melodies.
Walking in streets your interest, cosmopolitan though false,
Wilts in the imposition of faces and you are lost.
Like the hero tricked by legend you are someone else.
Nevertheless, your presence at the charity is missed When, encountering a sad dog or a bright child,
You call the first taxi and go home depressed.
Something alive pursues, something recalled Beyond the flowered panels of the third floor rooms Where the rocking-horse ran and stories were told
In the space between bed-time and the darkening faces and dreams.
Mixing a drink, tuning the radio to Bach,
You ride the ghostly hazards of difficult themes Untouched; but the sulking dog on the boulevard wakes
You, or the child’s fierce joy, and you turn
To the highball gone watery and the radio’s stale jokes.
Portraits are mirrors, you think, and if you mourn
It is not waste eminence that claims your grief
Nor the uncompromised eye of the child wherein you learn
Wish and the sudden capture of dead belief;
Though museums have taken your life in the shapes of death
And battlefields your death in the awkward shapes of life,
Your whitening hands, so long withdrawn from both,
Ache with their ambitions . . . A stranger in the streets,
Drunk, assaulting an obdurate doorway like a moth,
Grants you a moment of unimpeachable anger; but he retreats,
Worn-out and reasonable, cheating even your pointless rage;
You draw the blinds and put on all the lights.
Trapped in a looking-glass, but full of improbable courage,
With two bare hands you stand alone;
You achieve that fiction of a lion, king in his cage.
But you have kept irony, at least, and the disguise comes down,
For it is all happening somewhere else for real.
Without soliloquies, your classmates take a worthless town
In the tall grass of the tropics; though hundreds fall,
Death is the instance of the unequivocal, they had expected no less.
You light a cigarette and flick the match farewell.

Yet morning comes among accumulated elegies And in their curious circling, you hear gunshot and child’s-play;
You go to the window, and it is neither Monday nor doomsday,
With life in your hands, strict defeat in your eyes.


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