Selections from 7 Hells--Variations by Jerome Rothenberg

Jerome Rothenberg is an internationally known poet, polemicist, translator and anthologist with over eighty books of poetry and ten assemblages of traditional and contemporary poetry such as Technicians of the Sacred and Poems for the Millennium. Poetics & Polemics 1985-2005 appeared late last year, and Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3, co-edited with Jeffrey Robinson, was published in January 2009.


Variations on the Hell of Measures
                                               How can any of you know what it feels like
                                               to count coins in Hell?


   Hell has windows as the skin has numbers, & the sun flashing on the sidewalk
blinds the little customers who bathe in it.
   In my head as on my flesh the poems appear, responding to my call.
   My palms turn violet & blue, smoother than Chinese silk.
   My room is filled with rain, as hell with fire, while an eyebrow slightly raised
signals deceit.
   The other hells are kept in store.
   A hell of numbers follows one with rhymings.
   Ribs grow heavy.
   The night is meant for grief no lotions over legs or fingers can assuage.
   Lost in the smoke we wait for day to come, for coins to burn the swindlers who
demand them - like a brand.
   Crates pile up.
   Windows break.
   Death makes the mind turn white.
   Hands open hell for others.
   Let its fires trap the birds who fly through them.
   Let disaster make them all turn black.
   Let them cry out with pain, the counters filling up with cloth in boxes, broken
open in the night, unmeasured, boxes smelling of the sea, the intellect
imprisoned in their darkness, knowing the right questions but afraid to ask.
   Make it pliable like wax & let it drip over the outlaw´s cashbox.
   Words have their birth in it, & metals drawn out of the earth & melted give us coins.
   The years ahead are green.
   The bedposts where we rest are iron.
   Our eyes are iron too & blind us.
   Call it Hell.



Variations on the Hell of Thieves
                                       The thieves, the thieves, the lovely thieves are no more.

When a wind blows
in from the sea, a door
swings open & light
white as hell
nearly blinds us.
Night begins later,
the skin on my fingers
flakes off. A rank wind
shakes the ladders
we climb on,
the earth more distant,
for which we still
hunger, the sea
filling up with our tears,
our voices lost
in the wind.
Thieves who scour
our shores at evening,
whose voices sound under
our windows, whose tears
hide our pain,
cry out with one voice,
past shadows & windows.
one voice for
earth & one voice
for water,
& thieves dressed
like thieves,
a hell like
no other, a house
overlooking the sea,
on a night
when coins
ring & death
has a voice,
like a thief's voice,
earth returning
to earth,
then to water,
a voice
thieves dissemble
in dreams.
Thieves & a sea
& a chimney
down which thieves
clamber. More
thieves in the snow,
skin & hair
growing white.
A shadow that thieves
spill like blood,
like the voice
from a stone,
the voice
of the dying.
Thieves & voices,
shore, wind, & sea,
tears & eyes,
fingers spinning
a thread,
in fear of the sky
& the earth,
of thieves
lost at sea,
a grave
& a stone
left for thieves
where thieves