Today, Labor Day, a clear sunny day with the tender blue char in the sky hinting of October. I felt a resurgence of the old feeling, the old Faustian urge to understand the whole in one sweep, and to express it in one magnificent work—mainly America and American life. Bunting, flying leaves, families drinking beer in their own backyards, cars filling the highways (the war being over officially now), children tanned and ready for school, the smell of roasts coming from the cottages on the leafy streets, the whole rich American life in one panorama. I had the feeling that I was alien to all this, as I walked around … that all this could never be mine to have, only mine to express. I felt like an exile. I told this to my mother, saying perhaps we were too French to be American, with a little too much of the bleak severe Breton in our lives and not enough emphasis on its fire and Celtic passion. … All of this, the cottages with laughter and good food and wine, the cars on the highways, the radios blaring, the flags and bunting—all of this, not for my likes, never. It’s strange, since I’m aware that I understand this far more completely than the people who do have the American richness in them.
People that I meet and pass In the city's broken roar, Faces that I lose so soon And have never found before, Do you know how much you tell In the meeting of our eyes, How ashamed I am, and sad To have pierced your poor disguise? Secrets rushing without sound Crying from your hiding places -- Let me go, I cannot bear The sorrow of the passing faces. -- People in the restless street, Can it be, oh can it be In the meeting of our eyes That you know as much of me?

Take It Everything

The light before nine at night in the Roman ghetto
is a light we would find beneath lakes if like fish

we could live without lungs to pump air.
God might have made fish to be heavy as lead,

said Galileo, but he wanted to teach us about ease.
Families have gathered at outdoor tables

to eat warm cheese on warm bread with their fingers.
An old man in an apron smiles like several fields

to an old man with two bills in his hand. This for me?
asks the man in the apron, tossing up English like fruit

that he’s just learned to juggle. This for you,
is the answer he’s given: Take it, everything!

In Italian there’s a tense for a past so far past
that most people forget how to use it. It’s a tense

for a past that has no direct link to right now.
600 years ago in a prison beneath a castle

built into the bed of the Bay of Naples, a monk
spent three decades in water that reached to his knees.

For ink he squeezed blood out of cockroaches
to write: The world is a grand and perfect animal

and: Each piece of dirt is alive. With deck chairs
they drag from their kitchens at dusk, widows cluster

on bricks that are lit with the light inside lakes.
Their bodies are certain as books. He could have built

bones for the birds out of gold, Galileo explained, and made
their veins of living silver. The old man in an apron

sits down at my table, says: Here you are welcome,
whatever you want—you are guest of the house tonight.