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Three Poems
Fall Day

They are blowing the leaves away
and then together. They are doing
things with leaves to the leaves. 
And taking the leaves away. 
This happens. Philosophers
have no convincing explanation. 
Biologists keep canny silence. 
Tell me how many leaves they say
what kind of leaves they say
and how many of each kind they say. 

These questions are the same as silence. 
When it is cold the mind walks
a long way to school because
at a certain point in childhood
you stop having a body. 
It happens at a particular street
the street has a name the bus passes. 
The clothes are still there still real
they move by themselves. 

This is the meaning of childhood: 
you do not exist. The Count of Monte Cristo
is waiting to become you
he has a sword he has a girl at either elbow
offering him green wine and hashish paste. 
You have read about the world now here it is. 
Cars and trucks hurry past 
terrified of your emptiness. 
Even the leaves are frightened of you
or would be if there were still leaves. 

Bruckner at Saint Florian

in the back of the mind, 

the old shed, shack, 
corner burlap
sack of potatoes

we poor men ate this. 

Not now. Something else. 
Now is paper. 
                    A whole orchestra
trying to remember. 
Who were we when we were? 

Sometimes sun stuns. 

He falls off his horse
all the way into the sky

          when you think, 
everything becomes a matter of distance
and no unit
                    of measurement
          measures us all. 

No measure. 
                    Immoderate music
          a cloakroom full of violins

but I wanted amber, the umber
of shadow on suntanned
women also trying to remember

everybody was who everybody was. 

Now if you get lost in this music, 
this knot-browed deep-breathing kneeling music, 
you’ll be in a place where everything is found, 

why should I bother you
with imagining
to make you remember
the everlasting Christmas of the heart

music is always people on the move
but where are they going? 

where the star fell off its sky
and came to us
and we listen, 

can I wear you on my hands
can I touch the world by you
can I pick it up and bring it home? 

Home is the hard word here, 

to live at last in the word
or even the sound of a word
is the realest estate

to live in your word, 

your magdalen mouth. 

Ritual Dances

Turn it so ON is on top
before you plug it in
then the message will come out right— 

your character, accurate as ever
and neat as a muscle, 
will be like a tight ship in one
of those eighteenth-century metaphors
about states and statesmen and
(this is what’s important) 
you will sleep now. Sleep Arizona sunset, 
wake up Vermont, 
everybody is a mountain walking past your bed: 

show me. Show me 
with your body how it’s done. 

The place where men plant peas. 
What exactly is sorghum anyway
and could I tell you if I knew? 
I am generous with my information— 
it’s the mud I swine around in, 

here’s some for you: the privilege
of the hypotenuse is equal
to some of the fugues on the other nine themes
but which? 
                    Lead me to your thalamus at last
where all the silly conjugations lead
and leave a lady
                               asleep in her suppose. 
I always leave the answer
so plainly writ you think it was the question. 

o you and me, you and me
what a sexy game of raid the larder— 
a Sufi person on the top shelf lodges, 
I hear the click of amber beads the hum of zikr
sometimes in the wallboard from the other side

where what I thought was me was sleeping. 
But my sleep was only a dream. 

No, you say, it is a ship yourself
under full sail, on a wild sea
beating through the straits of semaphore— 
o there’s no such place, no sea, 
go back to sleep, 
knowing there is no such sign. 

Work your way into the sweater put it on
how many yards of yarn to knit one
degree of early winter morn away
so you can know the day? 

                                         Lover, she tells me, 
it is Sunday—numbers are much too holy
to use for counting things or reckoning— 

numbers are for worship—kneel
before the sanctity of sevenness
and I will be your deaconess and you be glad. 

Then the church was empty. 
The hanged man had
been dragged (or dragged
himself) over the hill
and left in the deep leaves
for vultures and foxes
as he instructed. 
His books were carried off
and catalogued by nearby scholarship, 
the spilled wine and lamb fat wiped up, 
his thin rope unwrapped from the transom. 
And all of a sudden it was just
as if he had been dead all the time, 
or else a tall mirror in a furrier’s salon
waiting for the skin to speak again. 

It’s all right things keep starting— 
can you feel the politics on its way, 
the smell of it on my hands? 

The brave policeman walks the lonely moon, 
governments are bliss-inhibitors, that’s all, 

yet those who trim our pleasures get
no pleasure from their cut. 

There is a caste of men who think they’re born
to tell other people what to do
and there’s another caste to make them do it. 

Without them the rest of us could stroll around
finding things and giving things to each other
all the livelong day and sleep deep
without the prattle of dismal instructors

and when we woke we’d have new dreams to share. 

All music is about Russia
Every river is the space between your own legs— 

You think I don’t understand the dance
Just because I stand
Motionless against the wall
Counting the bricks with my shoulder blades

My poor lost wings
I fly back through the wall
I fly backwards through every solid thing, 
All music is trying to describe Russia
The trees and factories of it, the bleak of season, 
Torrid wheat fields and the shadows
Of hawks swoop down on alders by the stream

And every river flows inside your skin
And finds a way and finds a way

The dance leaps up into the air 
sometimes the dancer follows. 

What it would have been to be a dancer
or to have danced what it could have been

and not alone but not either together
because a dance is one whoever does it

and one dancer is all by the self who
or who thinks to dance = an idea

the body has of itself
                                   to move
regardless of anything but here

the dancer leaps from an idea of the ground
to an idea of the rock—feet

remember earth and collarbone
remembers sky how is there any room

for an idea of you let alone actual you

but the dance is not something to see
it is illicit and imperial, it hides in daylight

it dares anyone to watch, 
the best dancer hates to be seen

dances alone a dark closet

all the room the dancer needs is in the dancer’s body
its moves are what space is made of

space comes after
space happens to the dance

place is what is left when the dance is done.  

Robert Kelly has published more than fifty books of poetry and prose, including Red Actions: Selected Poems 1960–1993 (Black Sparrow Press). He also wrote Lapis (Godine/Black Sparrow), Threads (First Intensity), and the novel The Book from the Sky (North Atlantic).