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Nocturno de Washington.

As the XVth Century Chinese scholar Xyangyan swept the path to his shack, a pebble hit a stalk of bamboo and at that moment he achieved the enlightenment he had searched for all his life.

--in "The Flight of the Sixth Patriarch" by Kano Motonobu


They called forth the train whistle at midnight, the end of October, the wrecking-ball month. They called forth the snow and it came in ricochets, singes of ancient fires. They suited up. They brought home bacon and oranges, the twelve-month year, the lawns of the wealthy, the shacks of the poor. God gave his blessing and it was good. They made the twelve tribes and the rabbit ears, the cemeteries, tractor-trailers, parakeets, the ivory trade, the undersea stones, pews and pencils, commuter lines at dawn. They stopped, looked out over the vast creation, saw the empty fields covered with weeds, the gutters glutted with bottles, the board rooms with barrel-chested har, har, har. They recycled empties, restored the ruins of Hollywood props, they colorized Ava Gardner's lips, Bogart's ashen skin, pulled levers, made bridges rise and mountains disappear. A sailing ship sailed on, corazon, corazon, down to the bottom of the ocean, the darkest amplitude, the starkest drowning. The captain wrote " Rocks and sharks have come upon us unaware. They called forth flamingos and the third race at Hialeah when the two-year-old filly stumbled and broke a leg. They called forth compassion, a bullet through the brain. They loved the right things right, then went home before intolerance, "so without all manhood, emptie of all pity . . . and the dirty fingernails of wisdom. They called forth hunger, the Western wind, a peg-legged woman sleeping on a park bench (Walker Evans, Havana, 1933). They carried forth dust-bowls and breadlines, tenements and ideology. They brought up children and long rains, longer droughts, 17,000 wars to end all wars, old men cooked in greed, the buzzard hubris pecking out the eyes of saints, America la grande, America en pavor. They called forth the left and called forth the right, wrote down the seven moralities, the twenty amenities, signed manifestoes, sold condoms on credit, pantihose to patriarchs. They joined a long line of indigents wanting tickets to Paradise, but the show was sold out. They called forth bilge and arbitrage, an ignorance like prairie fire. They called forth whimpers intertwining, una nina azul banada en la tristeza, Bleed America, Inc., breach in the stone, Bleed America, Inc., hymen broken, leaf abstracted, and the river glass-like, silent, slithering through travesty, and the rats in the tenements chewing and contemplating, blinking and defecating.


At midnight the Washington Monument rises. Here in the clouds is the cusp of power it says to the snow whirling down, here is the center of all matter. Let no one mistake our intent, let no one come here doubting the limits of our strength: perpetuity, policy like glass, unblemished, invariable. The monument stands behind, before all. The president is asleep, his cabinet is asleep, the people's representatives, every one under covers. Only a scholar up late with his books fixes coffee, looks out the window, wonders when the snow will end. In the distance the train whistle bleats. The sky is falling on government, wasting itself on mall and monument. The scholar thinks knowledge is nothing, knowing is all. Night everywhere, leaving its dust under fingernails, behind ears. Night filling up with snow, replicating sleep. Night of tantrum songs and howling dogs and tears. Night the substance of solitude, the bucket of fog, the insomnia overcoat. Night the misanthrope, the ambidextrous, lipless laughter, empty room. If there is no option, let the winter out. If there is no residue, let the haunches grow. If the past does not billow to the future, let the ship be shoaled, and the cold muffle the nightmare-hum. The scholar sits in yellow light. He remembers wife and children, the parents he left behind. He remembers the jasmine in the garden, the river flowing past his fishing line, past the places of his dreams, the offices and roads, the city and the sea: One life, one moment out of which grows the need, the calling, the sound of a pebble swept against a bamboo stalk.
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Author:Medina, Pablo
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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