I’ve been reading Paul Zweig, and responding to his poems with poems of my own. This is the twenty-first poem in the third (“Eternity’s Woods”) section of Zweig’s Selected and Last Poems, followed by my response. See here for details on this experiment in responsive reading. I’ll remove Zweig’s poems after a week or two to prevent egregious copyright infringement.
Parting the Sea
by Paul Zweig
Fog hides the shallow ditch, no more
Than a grassy furrow, marking the edge of our land.
* * * *
Molding the Image
Stay up on the mountain too long, & it changes you.
Droplets of cloud cling to your beard.
Your skin begins to glow like a salamander’s belly.
The occasional groans of the trees start to sound
like the way a crowd should murmur.
Waking up every morning to find the same,
present moment whispering
its incessant demands in your ear –
it makes you intolerable.
You lose touch with the teeming pleasures
that ordinary people crave, because their days are long
& time points in one direction.
Living in the clouds, you lose all perspective,
until one day your worst fantasies
rise up against you:
the luster of gold unfastened from wrist & ankle,
oiled bodies ready for some glistening bullock.
The smashed tablets.
The swords dripping with gore.
Look, I am not that man Moses,
so incoherent with whatever strong emotion
happens to possess him.
God gave me the subtle tongue of a go-between
& the vision to match, bending
in both directions. Look,
the needs of the people are holy to me.
I have been to the mountain, & I can tell you,
there’s nothing up there that’s even faintly human.