\ Big Bridge #9


Jerome Rothenberg


Three Caprichos, After Goya


The young & the old

change places

& will continuing changing

in the nick of time.

Old mothers sicken,

then they die.

The end comes

when it does     the reckoning

lost in the shadows

from which the mother beckons,

leans her head against

the daughterís arm.

A swarm of mothers now,

their voices

like electric bees,

is never far from where

the hag steps forth

poor doll with winter eyes

with one last yarn

to spin. The mothers fall down

hard, encumbered

by old baggage. They have sat

all night & pared

their toe nails to the bone

& only then gone out

to snag

their daughters.

Every motherís child is up

for sale. The streets

of Buenos Aires drag down

many a poor soul,

the old song says.


Tight stockings

make a manís balls swell

they say. They play

love like a game,

place a slippered foot

on a bidet & rock around

the clock. Old women

count the days,

the hours left behind,

the thrusts made

by the perfect pelvis.

Some body with a name

like yours     steps

from his clothes,

a dream of women in

tight stockings

filling half his brain,

the other half

long gone.

A chair goes up in flames.

The man remains inside

a burning house,

the sand dissolving

in the pit.

He dreams about his own leg

stuffed into its silk,

the fit of which

is like a miracle

& heats him.

Few of them remember

what began it,


they were always there.

Now that his pants

are halfway down

he looks at them

with wonder,

thinks that theyíre halfway



A swarm of little birds

with heads of men

& women,

this is his dream

& yours.

The mothers in the world below

hold back a laugh     a fart

that dances in the air

between them. One is old

& holds a bone

between her fingers,

watches how a daughter

prongs the screaming

bird man, props him

on anotherís lap,

the spittle from his mouth

against her dress.

All who will fall,

like these,

have one commitment,

it is not to you

but to the air

they ride on.

Some are angels,

some are myopic men,

the one atop the tree

a woman known for envy,

hidden thoughts,

a fountain at her source.

Adrift or flying


theirs is the fate of sailors.

Bind them     pluck them.

Those who have enough of dreams

wake every morning,

ready to be the slaves

of those who dream for pleasure,

naked & wounded,

eager like them

to kill.




The eye stays open,

hot as sky

a mylar covering

over their heads,

a steamy paradise.

Who knows what road to take?

A coin reflected in a glass of water

shines. Small men

start on a summer journey,

puffed eyes peering,

dressed up to beat the band,

pale voyagers.

A star called wormwood

is no star     no balmís

in Gilead

no feet that walk on fire

trust its heat.

The strangers on the beach

cry out     pull back

& feel the sand

cold on their toes.

The name of one is Dr. Moto.

He is the beau of Carla,

daughter of the duke,

& beds her.


caught under his net.

They follow

where the footprints lead,

down to the pan yards.

Poetry is not their sprach,

no more is outrage.

In a froth or frenzy

someone breaks

into the vault in which

a babe, his eyes

on fire like a dollís,

lies slain.


Time comes to a stop. The fan

beats over their heads,


& light breaks through the window

in short bursts.

We live inside a novel.

We are friends

no longer, but the journey,

once delayed,

is ever closer, opens

like a deck of cards,

a map conecting distances,

a poster with a face

& little words

extending in a line

along its sides.

The possibility of metaphor

disturbs him.

Doors slam shut.

He is nobodyís fool

but runs beside

the men with guns

cocked for the final

shootout. Mocked

by some he takes you

for a comrade,

turns himself

into a raging bull,

The throngs who rise

against him


Hand in hand

the dead walk in a line,

hoping against hope,

like children.

It is enough. It

is enough.

It doesnít last.

The false commanders

lead the charge.

The story, started

in a dream,

is winding down.


Each day, another death,

their little world

shuts down,

the big deaths fill the earth.

The time is never

right, the long & short of it



A simple heart

shines from the breast

of strangers.

Everyone comes clattering,

climbs steps,

the more they rise

the more the just man

falls. Unsung

he is the last among the least,

their brother.

From his hump

he brings forth songs

but doesnít sing


He is the fitful mourner,

you.     A face

without a man

he keeps his thoughts

from God.

His doubts run deep.

The dew drips

from his fingers,

on the perch above him

sits his secret

angel     mad

with stars for eyes

& mindless,

whose nostrils breathe life

to the world below.