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Edgar Bowers

An Afternoon at the Beach

I'll go among the dead to see my friend.
The place I leave is beautiful: the sea
Repeats the winds’ far swell in its long sound,
And, there beside it, houses solemnly
Shine with the modest courage of the land,
While swimmers try the verge of what they see.

I cannot go, although I should pretend
Some final self whose phantom eye could see
Him who because he is not cannot change.
And yet the thought of going makes the sea,
The land, the swimmers, and myself seem strange,
Almost as strange as they will someday be.

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The Virgin Considered As A Picture

Her unawed face, whose pose so long assumed
Is touched with what reality we feel,
Bends to itself and, to itself resumed,
Restores a tender fiction to the real.


And in her artful posture movement lies
Whose timeless motion flesh must so conceal;
Yet what her pose conceals we might surmise
And might pretend to gather from her eyes


The final motion flesh gives up to art.
But slowly, if we watch her long enough,
The nerves grow subtler, and she moves apart


Into a space too dim with time and blood
For our set eyes to follow true enough,
Or nerves to guess about her, if they would.

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Amor Vincit Omnia

Love is no more.
It died as the mind dies: the pure desire
Relinquishing the blissful form it wore,
The ample joy and clarity expire.

Regret is vain.
Then do not grieve for what you would efface,
The sudden failure of the past, the pain
Of its unwilling change, and the disgrace.

Leave innocence,
And modify your nature by the grief
Which poses to the will indifference
That no desire is permanent in sense.

Take leave of me.
What recompense, or pity, or deceit
Can cure, or what assumed serenity
Conceal the mortal loss which we repeat?

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The Mountain Cemetery

With their harsh leaves old rhododendrons fill
The crevices in grave plots' broken stones.
The bees renew the blossoms they destroy,
While in the burning air the pines rise still,
Commemorating long forgotten biers.
Their roots replace the semblance of these bones.

The weight of cool, of imperceptible dust
That came from nothing and to nothing came
Is light within the earth and on the air.
The change that so renews itself is just.
The enormous, sundry platitude of death
Is for these bones, bees, trees, and leaves the same.

And splayed upon the ground and through the trees
The mountains' shadow fills and cools the air,
Smoothing the shape of headstones to the earth.
The rhododendrons suffer with the bees
Whose struggles loose ripe petals to the earth,
The heaviest burden it shall ever bear.

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The Poet Orders His Tomb

I summon up Panofskv from his bed
Among the famous dead
To build a tomb which, since I am not read,
Suffers the stone’s mortality instead;


Which, by the common iconographies
Of simple visual ease,
Usurps the place of the complexities
Of sound survivors once preferred to noise:


Monkeys fixed on one bough, an almost holy
Nightmarish sloth, a tree
Of parrots in a pride of family,
Immortal skunks, unaromatically;


Some deaf bats in a cave, a porcupine
Quill-less, a superfine

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Clear-seeing

Bavaria, 1946


The clairvoyante, a major general’s wife,
The secretaries’ sibyl, read the letters
They brought her from their GI soldier-lovers,
Interpreting the script. I went along
One afternoon with writing of my own.
“This writing is by one you cannot trust,”
She frowned, and all the secretaries smiled.
But when she took my palm, she read the brown
Fingers for too much smoking and the lines
Of time and fate for a long and famous life.
“Soon you will take a trip by land and sea.”
Across the hall, her husband, half asleep
And propped high on his pillows, when I bent
To shake his hand, seeing my uniform,
Called in a whisper as if he still dreamed,
“I told him not to go to Russia!” Then,
Remembering the woman at my jeep,

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The Stoic: For Laura Von Courten

All winter long you listened for the boom
Of distant cannon wheeled into their place.
Sometimes outside beneath a bombers’ moon
You stood alone to watch the searchlights trace


Their careful webs against the boding sky,
While miles away on Munich’s vacant square
The bombs lunged down with an unruly cry
Whose blast you saw yet could but faintly hear.


And might have turned your eyes upon the gleam
Of a thousand years of snow, where near the clouds
The Alps ride massive to their full extreme,
And season after season glacier crowds


The dark, persistent smudge of conifers.
Or seen beyond the hedge and through the trees

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Clothes

Walking back to the office after lunch,
I saw Hans. “Mister Isham, Mister Isham,”
He called out in his hurry, “Herr Wegner needs you.
A woman waiting for a border pass
Took poison, she is dead, and the police
Are there to take the body.” In the hall,
The secretaries stood outside their doors
Silently waiting with Wegner. “Sir,” he said,
“It was her answer on the questionnaire,
A clerk for the Gestapo. So it was.”
Within the outer office, by the row
Of wooden chairs, one lying on its side,
On the discolored brown linoleum floor
Under a GI blanket was the lost
Unmoving shape; uncovered, from a fold,
A dirty foot half out of a dirty shoe,
Once white, heel bent, the sole worn through, the skin
Bruised red and calloused, uncut toenails curved
And veined like an old ivory. No one spoke.
Police stood at attention by a stretcher.

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John

Before he wrote a poem, he learned the measure
That living in the future gives a farm--
Propinquity of mules and cows, the charmed
Insouciance of hens, the fellowship,
At dawn, of seed-time and of harvest-time.
But when high noon gave way to evening, and
The fences lay, bent shadows, on the crops
And pastures to the yellowing trees, he felt
The presences he felt when, over rocks,
Through pools and where it wears the bank, the stream
Ran bright and dark at once, itself its shadow;
And suffered, in all he knew, the antagonists
Related in the Bible, in himself
And every new condition from the beginning,
As in the autumn leaf and summer prime.
Therefore he chose to live the only game
Worthy of repetition, in the likeness
Of someone like himself, a race of which
He was the changing distances and ground,
The runners, and the goal that runs away

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For Louis Pasteur

How shall a generation know its story
If it will know no other? When, among
The scoffers at the Institute, Pasteur
Heard one deny the cause of child-birth fever,
Indignantly he drew upon the blackboard,
For all to see, the Streptococcus chain.
His mind was like Odysseus and Plato
Exploring a new cosmos in the old
As if he wrote a poem--his enemy
Suffering, disease, and death, the battleground
His introspection. "Science and peace," he said,
"Will win out over ignorance and war,"
But then, the virus mutant in his vein,
"Death to the Prussian!" and "revenge, revenge!"

How shall my generation tell its story?
Their fathers jobless, boys for the CCC
And NYA, the future like a stairwell
To floors without a window or a door,
And then the army: bayonet drill and foxhole;

[...] Read more

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