Cyrus Cassells
 

Cyrus Cassells is the author of four acclaimed books of poetry: The Mud Actor, Soul Make a Path through Shouting, Beautiful Signor, and More Than Peace and Cypresses. His fifth book, The Crossed-Out Swastika, and a translation manuscript, Still Life with Children: Selected Poems of Francesc Parcerisas, are forthcoming. Among his honors are a Lannan Literary Award, a William Carlos Williams Award, a Pushcart Prize, two NEA grants, and a Lambda Literary Award. He is a Professor of English at Texas State University-San Marcos, and lives in Austin and Paris.


SOUL MAKE A PATH THROUGH SHOUTING


for Elizabeth Eckford
Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957


Thick at the schoolgate are the ones
Rage has twisted
Into minotaurs, harpies
Relentlessly swift;
So you must walk past the pincers,
The swaying horns,
Sister, sister,
Straight through the gusts
Of fear and fury,
Straight through:
Where are you going?

I’m just going to school.

Here we go to meet
The hydra-headed day,
Here we go to meet
The maelstrom---

Can my voice be an angel-on-the-spot,
An amen corner?
Can my voice take you there,
Gallant girl with a notebook,
Up, up from the shadows of gallows trees
To the other shore:
A globe bathed in light,

A chalkboard blooming with equations—

I have never seen the likes of you,
Pioneer in dark glasses:
You won’t show the mob your eyes,
But I know your gaze,
Steady-on-the North-Star, burning—

With their jerry-rigged faith,
Their spear of the American flag,
How could they dare to believe
You’re someone sacred?:
Nigger, burr-headed girl,
Where are you going?

I’m just going to school.


LUSSEYRAN’S CLAIM

Jacques Lusseyran (1924-1972)
In ignoble Buchenwald,
it began with the blind

Resistance hero’s claim:
Poetry, true poetry, is more

than literature; it’s magic!
So, by basins of bracing water,

where whey-faced prisoners washed,
in the blue hour before labor,

this adolescent Parisian,
pummeled, denigrated for fashioning

a defiant cell
of over six hundred young men,

this risk-taking prodigy who found
an incontestable light

cached under his abraded eyes,
his lids, and words

written on a chalkboard
more radiant than all equations--

suddenly began to recite,
for a chilled, flummoxed,

hard–to-rouse audience,
all the poetry he could summon:

First Rimbaud,
followed in swift succession

by cunning, enigmatic Baudelaire,
some bell-clear Hugo,

then unerring lines from Apollinaire,
so pertinent

to their brutal and bounded days:
I know all sorts of people

who aren’t equal to their lives.
Their hearts are poorly smothered fires . . .

Ensorcelled, soon rallying voices joined
marshalling Jacques Lusseyran

in his rosary of pain-staving poets,
more and more,

until they formed a wellspring chorus
of fifty impassioned men,

chanting, lisping,
gesturing at times, swaying,

beating their chests,
in a raise-the-roof beauty--

Reader, from the book of shoring victories,
keep Lusseyran’s claim:

how a word-dazzled Hungarian Jew,
ignorant of French, memorized

a stanza of Baudelaire
in the onerous, ticking days

before his transport to Poland;
how a once-prim,

suddenly emboldened prisoner implored:
Touch my forehead,

it’s sweat--
that’s what warms us up,

poetry!
Lusseyran, only fear

of the whip or the gallows, only poetry
can affect us like this!

Here, tomorrow, in the ink of dawn,
Jacques,

beyond the meant-to-crush-you barracks,
the widow-making watchtowers,

true poetry—adamant
as in-a-hurry pistons,

out-galloping hooves;
true poetry— unfailing

as the rescuing oath
of a milk brother;

true poetry—full manna
for the yellow-starred,

far-flung men marked
for “transfer to the sky”:

Eden breath,
fountain spire, telltale

arrows of Apollinaire,
lodestar,

contraband,
fist-defying

kiss of peace, immense
cloak of humanness

ennobling life and death.


Berlin, 2007
 


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