The Eternal City

The Eternal City: Poems

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 96
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    The Eternal City
    Book Description:

    Chosen by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon to relaunch the prestigious Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets under his editorship,The Eternal Cityrevives Princeton's tradition of publishing some of today's best poetry.

    With an epigraph from Freud comparing the mind to a landscape in which all that ever was still persists,The Eternal Cityoffers eloquent testimony to the struggle to make sense of the present through conversation with the past. Questioning what it means to possess and to be possessed by objects and technologies, Kathleen Graber's collection brings together the elevated and the quotidian to make neighbors of Marcus Aurelius, Klaus Kinski, Walter Benjamin, and Johnny Depp. Like Aeneas, who escapes Troy carrying his father on his back, the speaker of these intellectually and emotionally ambitious poems juggles the weight of private and public history as she is transformed from settled resident to pilgrim.______

    FromThe Eternal City:WHAT I MEANT TO SAYKathleen Graber

    In three weeks I will be gone. Already my suitcase standsoverloaded at the door. I've packed, unpacked, & repacked it,making it tell me again & again what it couldn't hold.Some days it's easy to see the signifi cant insignificanceof everything, but today I wept all morning over the swollen,optimistic heart of my mother's favorite newscaster,which suddenly blew itself to stillness. I have tried for weeksto predict the weather on the other side of the world: I don't wantto be wet or overheated. I've taken outThe Complete Shakespeareto make room for a slicker. And I've changed my mind& put it back. Soon no one will know what I mean when I speak.Last month, after graduation, a student stopped me just outsidethe University gates despite a downpour. He wanted to tell methat he loved best James Schuyler's poem for Auden.So much to remember, he recited in the rain, as the shopsbegan to close their doors around us.I thought he would livea long time. He did not. Then, a car loaded with his friendspulled up honking & he hopped in. There was no chance to linger& talk. Today I slipped into the bag between two shoes that bookwhich begins with a father digging--even though my fatherwas no farmer & planted ever only one myrtle late in his life& sat in the yard all that summer watching it grow as he died,a green tank of oxygen suspirating behind him. If the suitcasewere any larger, no one could lift it. I'm going away for a long time,but it may not be forever. There are tragedies I haven't read.Kyle, bundle up. You're right. It's hard to say simply what is true.For Kyle Booten

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3610-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Tolle! Lege!
    (pp. 1-2)

    In truth, I have less faith in the gods than I do in the chair I passed one night set out with the trash on John Street, even though it seemed to me then to be already beyond saving & I was too tired to try to lift it & carry it away. Stripped of its cushions & fabric, the frame, by moonlight, looked like some primitive technology, a fragment of the heavy plough scientists dug from a Danish bog & dated through pollen analysis to the 4th century B.C.—the wooden wheels they knew it had had having long...

  4. I
    • The Magic Kingdom
      (pp. 5-6)

      This morning, I found on a slip of paper tucked into a book a list of questions I’d written down years ago to ask the doctor.What if it has spread? Is it possible I’m crazy?I’ve just returned from Florida, from visiting my mother’s last sister, who is eighty & doing fine. At the airport, my flight grounded by a storm, I bought a magazine, which fell open to a photograph of three roseate spoonbills tossing down their elegant shadows on a chartreuse field of fertilizer production waste. Two little girls emptied their Ziplocs of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish onto...

    • Dead Man
      (pp. 7-9)

      We spend our lives trying to grasp the premise. William Blake is not, for instance, William Blake, but rather a 19th century accountant from Cleveland on the lam for murder & the theft of a horse. In the closing scene,

      he is going to die, & so is Nobody, his half-Blackfoot, half-Blood guide. Sure, this is a Western, a morality tale

      about a destiny made manifest through the voice of a gun & a hero whose mythic flight from innocence

      destroys him. But we all come to the end of the line soon enough. The obvious just seems wiser


    • Florum Principi
      (pp. 10-13)

      Prince of Flowers, who set out to give an order to the multitudes, my collection is so different from your own,

      which you filled with the carefully pressed

      lectotypes of bear’s ear & foxglove & carpeted with the pinkBorealiswhich blooms so briefly midsummer beneath the Lapland pines.

      Mine holds two tarred boxes & boatless oars & the broken sonar equipment, which came with the house & goes on sleeping on a shelf in the garage,

      despite the revving of a neighbor’s Jet Ski—on a hitch in his driveway, spewing exhaust one moment & stalling the next—


    • The Drunkenness of Noah after Jean-Louis Chrétien
      (pp. 14-15)

      Most afternoons Margaret Boone’s father threw his crumpled Pabst cans into their cold fireplace, took off all of his clothes, & passed out in the living room’s recliner. And when my mother became too ill to bathe herself, she sat on a plastic stool in the tub as I worked my way around her with a sponge. No one is shocked: nearly none of it is too painful or too foul. Routine, even, after a time, for all the kids in the neighborhood, to simply spread her father’s fallen shirt across his lap. And how common to dream, like Tristan...

    • Fitzcarraldo
      (pp. 16-17)

      The camera rests again on Klaus Kinski’s face: changeable sky, a tangled jungle we cannot crack.

      Franz Joseph Gall—the phrenologist whose undertaking

      has become as absurd to us now as the dream of carrying a steamboat over a red mountain of clay—knew, at least, that the brain is the opera house

      of the mind. He called Individualitythe memory of things& sat it so low on the brow, the first frontal convolution, that the singular self seems to conduct us

      from the bridge of the nose.

      It is both possible & impossible to alter the world with...

    • The Third Day
      (pp. 18-19)

      This morning I locked myself out again, realizing just as the door of the complex’s communal laundry clicked shut behind me that my keys were still atop the triple loader. I’d been thinking about the senator I’d seen last night on television & the language—terroristic, Islamo-fascist enemies of freedom—he’d used to describe those whose ideologies conflict so starkly with his own. And Augustine’s question: is evil a thing in itself, or merely, as he came to argue in the end, the absence of good. Later, when I finally find a neighbor—glad she’s home, glad she is willing...

    • The Heresies
      (pp. 20-21)

      That the truth is both visible & blinding. That the alloyed belly of the world—nickel & iron—poured from the great madness of Wisdom, who,

      expelled from the Divine Light for seeking the cause of what is cause-less, wants now only to be rejoined with what she has lost. That the sea

      & the rain & especially these few beads of condensation, collecting here on the half-lit pane—out of nowhere—are her tears. The cold stream

      from the faucet is an elemental being wholly unlike ourselves. The wheat weeps at the harvest & the loaf, some say, cries...

    • Un Chien Andalou
      (pp. 22-24)

      I ride the train, after not having ridden the train in a long while. Outside, another deserted warehouse district.

      The woman beside me leans back, rests an opened Catholic missal on her lap. On the left page, Jesus, in full color,

      holds up the cup of wine.

      Early spring & the cloudbank that scattered delicate flurries all morning is disbanding now to the south.

      Just after dawn, I watched as two nurses lifted my arm above my head & using a long latex bandage forced the blood down & out of the limb before inflating the double cuffs of a...

    • The Synthetic A Priori
      (pp. 25-28)

      At a church rummage sale, I study the perfection of shadows in a painting by Caravaggio, although what I hold is only a small print of Christ—its frame broken—dining at Emmaus with three of the Apostles. And because the table is dramatically, if not unbelievably, lit, the bowls & pitcher & loaves send their dark crescents onto the immaculate white cloth. When the Savior raises his hand to offer a blessing, its shade deepens further his crimson smock.Tenebrosus: that rich, convincing darkness. As though the master understood that the obscured world only seems to us somehow even...

  5. II
    • The Eternal City
      (pp. 31-44)

      The attic fan rattles in its hammered tin house—as seemingly ceaseless as the body’s unquiet engine. Today something’s gone awry: the drone, usually poised, a nearly silent arpeggio, has become a disinterested scream. This is the third heat wave of July. Again the fire department sounds the citywide alarm & then police cars wail. Rome is burning! But Rome is not burning. Instead I am reading, in a shrill hum, about Marcus Aurelius—because this is what I do on days too hot to move—the heads of the red geraniums steaming in their planters—too hot to imagine...

  6. III
    • Another Poem about Trains
      (pp. 47-50)

      Ah, Weary Traveler, in a nation of small travelers, if you are riding just now on a train—not somewhere in Europe, not to or from Prague or Venice, not across a great divide, but simply disappearing, as you have always done, back into nowhere, leaving, say, Philadelphia or Baltimore, New York, to arrive at another New Lebanon, another Lindenwold—

      & feel, suddenly, the urge for stillness, or a sense of yourself held down against the earth by nothing but the sky, & the idea comes to you to push back the heavy door & leap down, not violently but...

    • What I Meant to Say
      (pp. 51-51)

      In three weeks I will be gone. Already my suitcase stands overloaded at the door. I’ve packed, unpacked, & repacked it, making it tell me again & again what it couldn’t hold. Some days it’s easy to see the significant insignificance of everything, but today I wept all morning over the swollen, optimistic heart of my mother’s favorite newscaster, which suddenly blew itself to stillness. I have tried for weeks to predict the weather on the other side of the world: I don’t want to be wet or overheated. I’ve taken outThe Complete Shakespeareto make room for a...

    • Some Great Desire
      (pp. 52-53)

      Becausehereis nothereanymore, meaning what was once at Königsplatz has been moved to Grosser Stern, it’s no surprise if some part of it is missing. I’d hoped to see the marble bishop holding a tiny church in his palm. And St. Catherine with her wheel & St. Barbara with her tower, but they are not around. Soon enough I’ll learn that I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but no matter, for whatever figures from theSiegesalleeremained after the bombings were carted off, buried & exhumed, reburied & forgotten long ago.

      At theSiegessäule, I start...

    • Three Poems for Walter Benjamin
      (pp. 54-61)

      It must, in winter, be, for a midday hour or two, a nearly windless well of light. But in late July, another asylum: an almost chilly green-gray shade. If a side door hadn’t been left open, I’d have never known

      this one was there.

      Here, then, is the reason the swings & slides in the sunny corner parks are deserted. And here, Benjamin says, is the tiny grove where the city-god itself safe-keeps space & time—

      they ripen like the neighborhood toddlers, fall in love. Even now, one thunders on its plump legs after the other.

      This morning, still only...

    • No Lightsome Thing
      (pp. 62-63)

      Mid-November, though some inner clock had me turn a moment ago to February’s calendar page. Not the temperature, but perhaps the dreariness of the day, more & more wind & rain. Still, just beyond the window, an elegant bush continues to dangle hot-pink petals despite the red mounting in its leaves & still farther on, something climbing the mossy rocks gives up purple flowers while whatever’s advancing beside it brings forth blue. This is the year my friend has devoted to documentary theater, a play about Christians. When one character tells another it’s hard to live in the end time,...

    • Angels Unawares
      (pp. 64-67)

      A stranger in the house of strangers:

      an enormous grasshopper—carried in on a sheet from the line & nearly tucked into the cupboard

      with the linens but for the muffled rubbing of its legs & wings. Magisterial, as it was borne in an old pan back out into the garden,

      there is no specimen to match it at the little museum on the hill where I go later seeking the exact word for what I’ve held.

      What there are

      are stuffed herons & harriers, a shelf of the common Coleoptera, butterflies & bees. A resin cast of a large...

    • Letter from Cornwall: To Stephen Dunn
      (pp. 68-70)

      Here, the rain hammers even as the sun shines; in this way it’s not so different from the coast we know. Perhaps space, despite the stone-built hedges, does not cut cleanly & everywhere the sky shimmies sometimes just this same opalescent gray. And if all the great logical-linguistic dichotomies turn out to be, like the clamorous echoes of the gull off the moors at Zenor, one voice, caught between the cliffs, switching back upon itself—

      well, you’d hardly be surprised. And if some days the words are less interested in the world than they are in their own making, isn’t...

    • Letter from Gozo: To Gerald Stern
      (pp. 71-73)

      Only last week, sick with a fever & retching, what I saw were my mother’s hands hooked to my wrists. One grasped the rim of the yellow sink, shaking; the other held my hair away from my face. I do not know why I think you of all the poets will understand this: how my toes sometimes seem to be my father’s toes & the past, a cobbled organ I have entered, thin as air, & somehow become.

      The summer she died, I slept on a folding cot beside my mother’s bed, & one morning I woke in the early...

    • The Festival at Nikko
      (pp. 74-74)

      Sometimes we are asked to prove who we are. Just this morning at the library I had to open my passport & ask a stranger to vouch for me so that I could take home a book. If you live long enough, you realize that you are not the person you were. Here in this kitchen—a kitchen I might in conversation callmine—I own exactly one sharp knife & the wooden spoon I use to stir the sauce. A greasy tin kettle, pulled from the back of a cabinet, soaks in warm water. The days are like no...

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 75-76)
  8. Notes
    (pp. 77-78)