Tuesday, November 19, 2019

of fields Before I had had my milk


Wind, just arisen
(Off what cool matters of marsh-moss
In tented boughs leaf-drawn before the stars,
Or niche of cliff under the eagles?)
You of living things,
So gay and tender and full of play,
Why do you blow on my thoughts -- like cut flowers
Gathered and laid to dry on this paper, rolled out of dead wood?

I see you
Shaking that flower at me with soft invitation
And frisking away,
Deliciously rumpling the grass . . .

So you fluttered the curtains about my cradle,
Prattling of fields
Before I had had my milk.
Did I stir on my pillow, making to follow you, Fleet One --
I, swaddled, unwinged, like a bird in the egg?

Let be
My dreams that crackle under your breath . . .
You have the dust of the world to blow on.

Do not tag me and dance away, looking back . . .
I am too old to play with you,
Eternal child.


Poem by Lola Ridge, text as published in Poetry (October 1918). The text on PoemHunter has "mattress" in the second line -- which must be right, I suppose -- but inferior punctuation, etc.

Lola Ridge, b. Dublin 1873, emigrated age 4 to New Zealand, educ. Sydney, moved to San Francisco 1907 then New York. Worked as a model and in factories. First book, The Ghetto, about the Hester St area of the Lower East Side. Committed left-wing activist (her third collection is called The Red Flag), d. New York 1941.


East River

Dour river
Jaded with monotony of lights
Diving off mast heads….
Lights mad with creating in a river… turning its sullen back…
Heave up, river…
Vomit back into the darkness your spawn of light….
The night will gut what you give her.


An Old Workman

Warped… gland-dry…
With spine askew
And body shrunken into half its space…
Well-used as some cracked paving-stone…
Bearing on his grimed and pitted front
A stamp… as of innumerable feet.


Wall Street At Night

Long vast shapes… cooled and flushed through with darkness….
Lidless windows
Glazed with a flashy luster
From some little pert cafe chirping up like a sparrow.
And down among iron guts
Piled silver
Throwing gray spatter of light… pale without heat…
Like the pallor of dead bodies.


Here's one of the longer New York poems.



Crass rays streaming from the vestibules;
Cafes glittering like jeweled teeth;
High-flung signs
Blinking yellow phosphorescent eyes;
Girls in black
Circling monotonously
About the orange lights…
Nothing to guess at…
Save the darkness above
Crouching like a great cat.
In the dim-lit square,
Where dishevelled trees
Tustle with the wind—the wind like a scythe
Mowing their last leaves—
Arcs shimmering through a greenish haze—
Pale oval arcs
Like ailing virgins,
Each out of a halo circumscribed,
Pallidly staring…
Figures drift upon the benches
With no more rustle than a dropped leaf settling—
Slovenly figures like untied parcels,
And papers wrapped about their knees
Huddled one to the other,
Cringing to the wind—
The sided wind,
Leaving no breach untried…
So many and all so still…
The fountain slobbering its stone basin
Is louder than They—
Flotsam of the five oceans
Here on this raft of the world.
This old man's head
Has found a woman's shoulder.
The wind juggles with her shawl
That flaps about them like a sail,
And splashes her red faded hair
Over the salt stubble of his chin.
A light foam is on his lips,
As though dreams surged in him
Breaking and ebbing away…
And the bare boughs shuffle above him
And the twigs rattle like dice…
She—diffused like a broken beetle—
Sprawls without grace,
Her face gray as asphalt,
Her jaws sagging as on loosened hinges…
Shadows ply about her mouth—
Nimble shadows out of the jigging tree,
That dances above her its dance of dry bones.


A uniformed front,
A glance like a blow,
The swing of an arm,
Verved, vigorous;
Boot-heels clanking
In metallic rhythm;
The blows of a baton,
Quick, staccato…
—There is a rustling along the benches
As of dried leaves raked over…
And the old man lifts a shaking palsied hand,
Tucking the displaced paper about his knees.
And a frost under foot,
Acid, corroding,
Eating through worn bootsoles.
Drab forms blur into greenish vapor.
Through boughs like cross-bones,
Pale arcs flare and shiver
Like lilies in a wind.
High over Broadway
A far-flung sign
Glitters in indigo darkness
And spurts again rhythmically,
Spraying great drops
Red as a hemorrhage.


Here's another of her poems remembering childhood. This is a section from the autobiographical sequence Sun-Up.


Cherry, cherry,
glowing on the hearth,
bright red cherry….
When you try to pick up cherry
Celia’s shriek
sticks in you like a pin.

When God throws hailstones
you cuddle in Celia’s shawl
and press your feet on her belly
high up like a stool.
When Celia makes umbrella of her hand.
Rain falls through
big pink spokes of her fingers.
When wind blows Celia’s gown up off her legs
she runs under pillars of the bank—
great round pillars of the bank
have on white stockings too.

Celia says my father
will bring me a golden bowl.
When I think of my father
I cannot see him
for the big yellow bowl
like the moon with two handles
he carries in front of him.

Grandpa, grandpa…
(Light all about you…
ginger… pouring out of green jars…)
You don’t believe he has gone away and left his great coat…
so you pretend… you see his face up in the ceiling.
When you clap your hands and cry, grandpa, grandpa, grandpa,
Celia crosses herself.

It isn’t a dream….
It comes again and again….
You hear ivy crying on steeples
the flames haven’t caught yet
and images screaming
when they see red light on the lilies
on the stained glass window of St. Joseph.
The girl with the black eyes holds you tight,
and you run… and run
past the wild, wild towers…
and trees in the gardens tugging at their feet
and little frightened dolls
shut up in the shops
crying… and crying… because no one stops…
you spin like a penny thrown out in the street.
Then the man clutches her by the hair….
He always clutches her by the hair….
His eyes stick out like spears.
You see her pulled-back face
and her black, black eyes
lit up by the glare….
Then everything goes out.
Please God, don’t let me dream any more
of the girl with the black, black eyes.

Celia’s shadow rocks and rocks…
and mama’s eyes stare out of the pillow
as though she had gone away
and the night had come in her place
as it comes in empty rooms…
you can’t bear it—
the night threshing about
and lashing its tail on its sides
as bold as a wolf that isn’t afraid—
and you scream at her face, that is white as a stone on a grave
and pull it around to the light,
till the night draws backward… the night that walks alone
and goes away without end.
Mama says, I am cold, Betty, and shivers.
Celia tucks the quilt about her feet,
but I run for my little red cloak
because red is hot like fire.

I wish Celia
could see the sea climb up on the sky
and slide off again…
…Celia saying
I’d beg the world with you….
Celia… holding on to the cab…
hands wrenched away…
wind in the masts… like Celia crying….
Celia never minded if you slapped her
when the comb made your hairs ache,
but though you rub your cheek against mama’s hand
she has not said darling since….
Now I will slap her again….
I will bite her hand till it bleeds.

It is cool by the port hole.
The wet rags of the wind
flap in your face.


Terese Svoboda on Lola Ridge:


and on her own journey into writing Ridge's biography:


[Image source: https://therumpus.net/2016/11/anything-that-burns-you-a-portrait-of-lola-ridge-radical-poet-by-terese-svoboda/ .]



At 1:57 pm, Blogger tsvoboda said...

she's an amazing poet.

At 3:10 pm, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

I agree Terese, and thanks so much for all you've done to make her speak once more to us.

At 3:38 pm, Blogger tsvoboda said...



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