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Breath Span

Paul Auster

1.   Along with your ashes, the barely

      written ones, obliterating

      the ode, the incited roots, the alien

      eye--with imbecilic hands, they dragged you

      into the city, bound you in

      this knot of slang, and gave you

      nothing. Your ink has learned

      the violence of the wall. Banished

      by your brothers, you cant the stones

      of unseen earth, and smooth your place

      among the wolves. Each syllable

      is the work of sabotage.


2.   Flails, the whiteness, the flowers

      of the promised land: and all

      you hoard, crumbling at the brink

      of breath. For a single word

      in air we have not breathed, for one

      stone, splitting with the famine

      inside us--ire,

      out of bone's havoc, by which we kin

      the worm. The wall

      is your only witness. Barred

      from me, but squandering nothing,

      you sprawl over each unwritten page,

      as though your voice had crawled

      from you: and entered the whiteness

      of the wail.


3.   Scanned by no one

      but the loved, the margins

      rehearse your death, playing

      out the travesty

      of nakedness, and the hands

      of all the others

      who will see you, as if, one day

      you would sing to them, and in the longer

      silence of the anvil, name them

      as you would this sun: a stone,

      scourged by sky.


4.   Vatic lips, weaned

      of image. The mute one

      here, who waits, urn-wise,

      in wonder. Curse overbrims

      prediction: the glacial rose

      bequeaths its thorns to the breath

      that labors toward eye

      and oblivion.

      We have only to ready ourselves.

      From the first step, our voice

      is in league

      with the stones of the field.


5.   The blind way is etched

      in your palm: it leads to the voice

      you had bartered, and will bleed, once again

      on the prongs of this sleep-hewn

      braille. A breath

      scales the wick of my stammering,

      and lights the air that will never

      recant. Your body is your own

      measured burden. And walks with the weight

      of fire.


6.   Unquelled in the voiceless

      hull, where seed ends, and augurs

      nothing: you will plow

      the choral rant

      of deepnesses, and go the way

      that eyes go. There is no longer

      path for you: from the moment

      you slit your veins, roots will begin

      to recite the massacre

      of stones. You will dwell.

      You will raze

      your house here--you will forget

      your name. Earth

      is the only exile.


7.  The dead still die, and in them

      the living: all space,

      and the eyes, hunted

      by frail tools, confined

      to their habits.

      To breathe is to accept

      this lack of air, the only breath,

      sought in the fissures

      of memory, in the lapse that sunders

      this language of feuds, without which earth 

      would have granted a stronger omen

      to level the orchards

      of stone. Not even

      the silence pursues me.


8.   The left hand locks the door.

      The right hand pries a darkened stone

      from this pyramid of seeds,

      and all light

      grows without us. From one word

      to the next, the page is the heir

      of desert: its distance

      and obscenity, of which I am

      the scribe,--and the shadow, stumbling

      through this vast stone room,

      where the darkness cures me

      of my name.


9.   Rats wake in your sleep,

      and mime the progress

      of want. My voice turns back

      to the hunger it gives birth to,

      coupling with stones

      that jut from red walls: the heart

      gnaws, but cannot know

      its plunder; the flayed tongue

      rasps. We lie

      in earth's deepest marrow, and listen

      to the breath of angels.

      Our bones have been drained.

      Wherever night has spoken,

      unborn sons prowl the void

      between stars.

From Second Aeon, final issue, 1974

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