Poetry

Forty Thieves
a book of poems by Warren R. B. Dixon

 (will be published during 2016)


The listener will find in this sheaf of poems a medley of tunes unfaithful to any particular view of the world. As the dying novelist says in the very last poem, “Once I was as many as men.” Even so, a certain duality of Weltanschauung does appear among these songs. From Medieval times, comes an alchemist’s illustration of the philosopher’s stone depicting a two-headed goddess standing thereon, suggesting its twin nature. Science, as a messenger, brings us good news about how to handle the world materially but brings bad news about what the world is. In particular, it brings bad news about ourselves. One may escape that consequence the way of Martin Gardner, simply by relying upon being a mysterian while recognizing that life after death and a personal God are beyond all proofs of their truth or falsehood. Such improbabilities apparently remain possible, even believable, for wonderfully intelligent men and women. Which of us actually knows final things in the replicable way of carefully controlled empiricism? A human comprehends God no more than a dog understands calculus. As for life after death, Swinburne has told us eloquently what a blessing it is that dead men rise up never. So then, who wants to live forever? Actually, many of us do, or perhaps naively think so. The voice behind these poems has it both ways, the glory of a mystic caught in God and the stoicism of a ghost caught in a machine. We can see as well as MacBeth that life is a tale told by an idiot, yet which of us has listened to the Sixth Symphony of Prokofief and heard anything less than the voice of God?

Then, too, these poems are about that sweet madness, the ills and ecstacies of the stricken heart. No matter how trivial these may seem in retrospect, at the time of their happening they seem the axel of existence itself. In more respects than one, they often can be exactly that, the most alive moments of our life.

As for the poems themselves, why not prose instead? Prose and poems after all have in common that they are words strung together to express an image or an act or a thought. However, Monsieur Jourdain, who spoke prose all his life without realizing it, had no such bonanza with poetry. Unless we are writing poems for The New Yorker, even staggered prose will not quite do. MacLeish has told us that a poem should not mean but be. Buson has said even more about it when he told us, “The butterfly sleeps on the temple bell.” Poetry celebrates such moments, in a way that prose cannot.


The poem below is one of the forty thieves, placed here as a soupcon.


Transformation from Hugo

“Demain dès l'aube, à l'heure où blanchit la campagne... .”

You do not answer my letters.
In your carelessness, you left things behind.
You left your name on flyleafs and silences,
On the backs of photographs and envelopes.
You left your absence like a presence in these rooms.
The finches ask for you at the kitchen window.
The tulips that you buried in the garden have come back,
But you have not returned. We have been apart too long.
Tomorrow I shall call your little mare in from the meadow
And spread your Indian blanket across her back.
I shall saddle her with tooled leather,
With a silver saddle horn and fluted stirrups.
I shall bridle her with the little bells you bought at Chateaugay.
Tomorrow I shall ride down from the mountain,
For I must go looking for you. We have been apart too long.
I shall ignore the neighbor's hound that will follow the mare a mile.
I shall not see the Queen Anne's lace,
Nor the green mist in the stands of birches.
I shall not see the hawk in the pines at the mountain pass,
Nor see the three brave sails upon the waters beyond Valcour.
I shall not see the gathering rain distant and gray upon Vermont,
Nor the straight blade of sunlight forged across Champlain.
I shall ride slumped in the saddle, thinking of you,
Seeing only the gravel road beneath the trotting mare.
I shall be anxious and nervous to find you again.
I shall not hear the bridle bells beneath my gloves,
Nor even the distant bells that belong to the Mother of God.
I shall come to a silent town and leave the mare grazing beside the river.
I shall not see the iron gate at the beginning of your street,
Nor the names of your neighbors down the row.
When I come to your house I shall kneel on its perfect lawn
And place a sprig of myrtle across your name
Upon the marble ledge that marks your grave.