Of Being Numerous

by George Oppen

George Oppen

'Whether, as the intensity of seeing increases, one's distance from Them, the people, does not also increase'
I know, of course I know, I can enter no other place
Yet I am one of those who from nothing but man's way of thought and one of his dialects and what has happened to me
Have made poetry
To dream of that beach
For the sake of an instant in the eyes,
The absolute singular
The unearthly bonds
Of the singular
Which is the bright light of shipwreck
Strange that the youngest people I know
Live in the oldest buildings
Scattered about the city
In the dark rooms
Of the past-and the immigrants,
The black
Rectangular buildings
Of the immigrants.
They are the children of the middle class.
'The pure products of America-'
The ancient buildings
Jostle each other
In the half-forgotten, that ponderous business.
This Chinese Wall.
They carry nativeness
To a conclusion
In suicide.
We want to defend
And do not know how.
Stupid to say merely
That poets should not lead their lives
Among poets,
They have lost the metaphysical sense
Of the future, they feel themselves
The end of a chain
Of lives, single lives
And we know that lives
Are single
And cannot defend
The metaphysic
On which rest
The boundaries
Of our distances.
We want to say
'Common sense'
And cannot. We stand on
That denial
Of death that paved the cities,
Paved the cities
For generation and the pavement
Is filthy as the corridors
Of the police.
How shall one know a generation, a new generation?
Not by the dew on them! Where the earth is most torn
And the wounds untended and the voices confused,
There is the head of the moving column
Who if they cannot find
Their generation
Wither in the infirmaries
And the supply depots, supplying
Irrelevant objects.
Street lamps shine on the parked cars
Steadily in the clear night
It is true the great mineral silence
Vibrates, hums, a process
Completing itself
In which the windshield wipers
Of the cars are visible.
The power of the mind, the
Power and weight
Of the mind which
Is not enough, it is nothing
And does nothing
Against the natural world,
Behemoth, white whale, beast
They will say and less than beast,
The fatal rock
Which is the world-
O if the streets
Seem bright enough,
Fold within fold
Of residence ...
Or see thru water
Clearly the pebbles
Of the beach
Thru the water, flowing
From the ripple, clear
As ever they have been
My daughter, my daughter, what can I say
Of living?
I cannot judge it.
We seem caught
In reality together my lovely
I have a daughter
But no child
And it was not precisely
Happiness we promised
We say happiness, happiness and are not
Tho the house on the low land
Of the city
Catches the dawn light
I can tell myself, and I tell myself
Only what we all believe
And in the sudden vacuum
Of time ...
... is it not
In fear the roots grip
And beget
The baffling hierarchies
Of father and child
As of leaves on their high
Thin twigs to shield us
From time, from open

Last updated January 14, 2019