That great invention

This entry is part 10 of 42 in the series Antiphony: Paul Zweig


I’m reading Paul Zweig. This is the tenth (and title) poem of the first section of his Selected and Last Poems, followed by my response. See here for details.

I am trying to refrain from critical/appreciative comments here, but folks, I think you’ll agree that is one magnificent f—ing poem. I might risk leaving this one up permanently.

Against Emptiness
by Paul Zweig

Whatever surrounds the raw body of wind
And rolls over me in silence;
Whatever I am this screaming body for . . .

I want to climb to you, foot by foot,
Along the prayer ladder:
Dusky flower,
Gloom tree in the nerves,
And then my body rigged with magic,
Crying to fill that great invention, your emptiness,
Your tricky silences between stars.

The prophet casts his life upon the water;
Upon the waking fish and those, asleep,
Who interpret their solitude without end.
They ascend by their teeth,
By the cell rot of unaccomplished days,
Each small death tidied into words, until
The walls of death enclose them, and they are
Grateful to be remembered by their failures.

Know these words: demon, angel,
And they will follow as you climb
From pit to pit, leaving behind each day
A cell of your rage, a life,
Until, exhausted into wisdom,

Your face will ease you into death;
Your wise face, shedding its peacefulness
Like a lie upon your angry children,
Your patient devils, and the intricate
Joy of the angels you never named.

* * * *


I leave the house, & right away a mosquito finds me & starts weaving a nest for my ear with her shrill petition. This time of year, I can hardly take an unencumbered step. Piles of bear shit, pudding-full with half-ripe black cherries, litter the path. A garter snake turns my airborne leg rubber with vertigo six inches from the ground. Caterpillars rappel from the treetops, & spiders – legions of the solitary – work to enclose every last cubic foot of open space. My hands are in constant motion, wiping the silk from my face & clothes, but no exorcism holds against the hob-nailed micrathena, her collection of mummies & her soft yellow nebula of eggs. Emptiness is a mirage; an architect would go mad. The other morning I fled to the former clearcut, where deertongue & panic grass dripped with dew. My feet were soon swimming in my boots. Where is this outside, this fabled refuge? Home for lunch, I gaze inquiringly into a bowl of steaming soup.

Sky-blue petals in
the wet grass. I crouch down,
my mind blank as a cloud.

Back home, I look it up, chagrinned:

Series Navigation← Green plagueTo greet the quietness →

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