The Alarm Clock, Diego Maria Rivera

A Fragment Found in the Dead Critic’s Notebook

There is as well the matter of that man James
who stood aloof, self-satisfied, possessed
of a cabinet-maker’s pride, like a deity at rest
declaring it all good, a mind obsessed
by endless lifeless sentences that flutter
and thud like blasted game-cocks on the heath,
a man with much to say but precious little to impart
because you see we’re just not smart enough
to snare the subtleties that flit among his subtle souls
who trade in codes and villainies and arch, hermetic wit.

What wonders of the singing mind, one wonders,
that his fluent sibling William might have wrought
if only he had given feather to his thought
and loosed his lucid observations to the lifting air,
into the imprecisions of the poetry or tales
that we imperfect people tell ourselves,
the songs that hang like hives in hell,
as Stevens had of Baudelaire.

Or from the ceiling of a cork-lined room
where another man lay prostrate on a narrow bed
to weave an endless canticle of loss
from the tangled filaments of life misspent,
from the work that time had spun around
the idle hours of still another than this other man
of its own accord, the work of a pitiless fatigue
that moved his dying hand, of a science
far too intimate for abstract formulation,
of an art too late, too cruel, and far too urgent
for admiring satisfaction.