FIVE FOR THE GRACE OF MAN
~ by Winfield Townley Scott
See this air, how empty it is of angels
Over O’Ryan’s barroom. The bum thrown out
Shoulders the sidewalk, pushes it away,
His hat rolling and his baldspot gleaming
Under the rain and under O’Ryan’s lights.
I watch from the opposite curb and do not know
Why the old boy was booted; he got the air
Maybe because his nickels were gone, maybe
Because he tried to cadge from those who now
Bar the the door and laugh when he tries to enter.
See him there, arms at surrender pressing
Against the mucky glass, the jeering faces
He touches but cannot touch: they’re in, he’s out;
— Like a child’s game: only he’s sort of old,
And drunk and broke, alone, the game turned real.
A clock strikes midnight and the street lamp burps,
Calms and hums again and tries to light
This soot-clogged, rain-flecked unangelic air.
I lean on the iron rails above the river
But stare at the emptied road: bar closed, whores home.
I am always waiting for something I do not know
And may as well wait here as any place.
Back streets are better than main streets for waiting
And night is better than day, being privater,
Vacated by all I am not looking for.
As the world pitches east I’m on a line
Between O’Ryan’s darkened bar and the light
Storm-hid but drumming of the star Orion.
Romantic-Classic and me in the middle:
Not much, but all there seems to be tonight.
I am getting the habit of hunting graveyards
In search of living moments; as though the air
Emptied in fact of mortal flesh, the ground
That took it in might hold the germ of it
And I knowing it was here, know what was here.
See this air, how empty it is of angels,
And how the sunlight falling on the names,
Dates, new masonic emblems and old cherubs
Holds with the calm of daylight on the dead
The possible answer to all our separateness.
As though at the extreme of alienation,
My parenthetical hands training my face,
I peer into the house of this completion
To know my meaning, even to find whether
All men are brothers or all my enemies.
How shall I ever come to any good
And get my works in schoolbooks if I use
The rude word here or there, but how shall I
Let you know me if I bequeath you only
The several photographs, the family letters?
There is no image of a tired mind
Tired of its own vanity for fame.
I turn in the comfort of the midnight rain
And as much for pleasure as necessity
Piss in the river beyond O’Ryan’s bar.
The night is common with fatigue and rain,
With one o’clock and far freights, then with trucks
Roaring toward the Post Road, then my walk
Resuming sound; trees shake out the showers,
I get a second wind, and the sky’s clearing.
I know men happy drunk, some happy sober,
And some that, drunk or sober, are alone —
Rather, know they are alone. Myself,
I’m occupied investigating angels
Though there’s a power of prose draining the air.
Poetry, I hear, is to be read aloud —
Like epitaphs by cemetery strollers
On Sunday afternoons? There’s always Monday,
Which interests me more: I want an angel
Easy in the house on weekday mornings.
I want the separated hand and voice
Brought commonly together: flesh and word
Concerning whether stars or buttonholes
Only together can come through night and death
And move with morning light as with massed liberating wings.