Restoring the words

This entry is part 30 of 42 in the series Antiphony: Paul Zweig


I’m reading Paul Zweig. This is the twelfth poem in the third (“Eternity’s Woods”) section of his Selected and Last Poems, followed by my response. See here for details on this experiment in responsive reading.

One Summer Before Man
by Paul Zweig

Listen! The undergarments of the women
Are rustling OM. It is the Sanskrit
Of skin, the Hebrew of hair. . . .

[Remainder of poem removed 11-18-05]

* * * *

One Autumn Before Computers

A giant puffball bulges among
the dried stalks of goldenrod
like a misplaced hope.
I stuff it in my coat pocket & look
around for others, without success.
That evening, I chop its spongy cloud-flesh
into a sauce with clams.

Then, too, there was the spruce tree
a porcupine had recently girdled.
It stood in the dense center of a galaxy
of needles, some fallen pale side up,
some dark green – a pleasing blend.
Out at the feathery edge, a scattered pile
of hickory shells. I crouched there
tracing words with my finger
over & over in the soft dirt,
as if into the uncomprehending palm
of a young Helen Keller.

I try to imagine what it would be like
to write for such an audience:
one autumn before home computers,
on a Xerox machine at the university,
my father making a copy
of a copy
of a copy
until my poem rose from the page like mist.
I forget the point of the exercise, now –
something about the need to keep
the originals, maybe, or to write
as firmly as we could.

Or years before, at another college,
going with him into the library
after hours, to run off copies on
what must’ve been one of the very
first Xerox machines, enormous,
full of lights & noises –
the only thing stirring
among all those wordless books.
“Will it make a copy of me?
I was five years old.
“Sure. Close your eyes.”

I remember the heat as its beam raked my face,
my mounting excitement
& the letdown that followed,
squinting at a piece of paper heavy
with drying ink. What would I have done
if, as I’d expected, the machine had given
birth to my identical twin?
Imagine someone with whom
deceit is impossible.

Thirty-five years later, I still recall
how the sky looked when we went
back out: fast-moving clouds
back-lit by an almost-full moon.
It was a revelation.
“Clouds at night!” I whispered,
taking one last glance behind me
into the shadows.

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