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Weldon Kees

Late Evening Song

For a while
Let it be enough:
The responsive smile,
Though effort goes into it.

Across the warm room
Shared in candlelight,
This look beyond shame,
Possible now, at night,

Goes out to yours.
Hidden by day
And shaped by fires
Grown dead, gone gray,

That burned in other rooms I knew
Too long ago to mark,
It forms again. I look at you
Across those fires and the dark.

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First Anniversary

After you died, strangers from town
Wheeled the black wood you wore
To the big window. It was then
The walls, the ceiling, and the floor
Enlarged. The room was monstrous, overgrown.

Through that long afternoon, all we could share
Was space. All we have known
From that time on is fear. Again
The wheels turn and the silk-lined box is gone.
The room is dwarfed, immutable and bare.

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The End Of The Library

When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set
Of Bulwer-Lytton
And then the Walter Scott.
They gave a lot of warmth.
Toward the end, in
February, flames
Consumed the Greek
Tragedians and Baudelaire,
Proust, Robert Burton
And the Po-Chu-i. Ice
Thickened on the sills.
More for the sake of the cat,
We said, than for ourselves,
Who huddled, shivering,
Against the stove
All winter long.

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1926

The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.

An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighbors, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.

I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.

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La Vita Nuova

Last summer, in the blue heat,
Over the beach, in the burning air,
A legless beggar lurched on calloused fists
To where I waited with the sun-dazed birds.
He said, "The summer boils away. My life
Joins to another life; this parched skin
Dries and dies and flakes away,
Becomes your costume when the torn leaves blow."

--Thus in the losing autumn,
Over the streets, I now lurch
Legless to your side and speak your name
Under a gray sky ripped apart
By thunder and the changing wind.

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Lines For An Album

Over the river and through the woods
To grandmother’s house we go ...


She waits behind the bolted door,
Her withered face in thirty pieces,
While blood runs thin, and memory,
An idiot without a name,
Recalls the snows of eighty years,
The daughter whose death was unexplained,
Darkness, blue veins, and broken leases.
Grandmother waits behind the door
(Sight dims beyond the curtain folds)
With her toothless smile and enuresis.


Over the river and through the woods
To grandmother’s house we go ...

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To A Noisy Contemporary

Your ego’s bad dream drums that vision
Encountered on page one, pages three to eighty-nine.
Count the wound-up places where we went aground.
As an entertainment, zero. Hero horror. Try the line

Of incestuous relations, hearty friendship, or the cult
Of the ectoplasmic navel and the ravishments of guilt.

Page two was delightful. And the margins were wide;
One was tempted by the imagery of bloody wrists,
Your hysterogetic spasms and italicized reproofs.
You may well supplant the tuba if the music lasts.

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The Smiles Of The Bathers

The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water,
And the lover feels sadness fall as it ends, as he leaves his love.
The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollow
and old:
The pilot's relief on landing is no release.
These perfect and private things, walling us in, have imperfect and
public endings--
Water and wind and flight, remembered words and the act of love
Are but interruptions. And the world, like a beast, impatient and
quick,
Waits only for those who are dead. No death for you. You are
involved.

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The Beach

Squat, unshaven, full of gas,
Joseph Samuels, former clerk
in four large cities, out of work,
waits in the darkened underpass.

In sanctuary, out of reach,
he stares at the fading light outside:
the rain beginning: hears the tide
that drums along the empty beach.

When drops first fell at six o'clock,
the bathers left. The last car's gone.
Sun's final rays reflect upon
the streaking rain, the rambling dock.

He takes an object from his coat
and holds it tightly in his hand
(eyes on the stretch of endless sand).
And then, in darkness, cuts his throat.

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The Speakers

"A equals X," says Mister One.
"A equals B," says Mister Two.
"A equals nothing under the sun
But A," says Mister Three. A few
Applaud; some wipe their eyes;
Some linger in the shade to see
One and Two in neat disguise
Decapitating Mister Three.

"This age is not entirely bad."
It's bad enough, God knows, but you
Should know Elizabethans had
Sweeneys and Mrs. Porters too.
The past goes down and disappears,
The present stumbles home to bed,
The future stretches out in years
That no one knows, and you'll be dead.

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