Retroduction to American History

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Cats walk the floor at midnight; that enemy of fog, 
The moon, wraps the bedpost in receding stillness; sleep
Collects all weary nothings and lugs away the towers,
The pinnacles of dust that feed the subway.

What stiff unhappy silence waits on sleep
Struts like an officer; tongues next-door bewitch 
Themselves with divination; I like a melancholy oaf 
Beg the nightly pillow with impossible loves. 
And abnegation folds hands, crossed like the knees 
Of the complacent tailor, stitches cloaks of mercy 
To the backs of obsessions.

  Winter like spring no less 
Tolerates the air; the wild pheasant meets innocently 
The gun; night flouts illumination with meagre impudence.
In such serenity of equal fates, why has Narcissus 
Urged the brook with questions? Merged with the element
Speculation suffuses the meadow with drops to tickle 
The cow’s gullet; grasshoppers drink the rain. 
Antiquity breached mortality with myths.
Narcissus is vocabulary. Hermes decorates
A cornice on the Third National Bank. Vocabulary 
Becomes confusion, decoration a blight; the Parthenon
In Tennessee stucco, art for the sake of death. Now 
(The bedpost receding in stillness) you brush your teeth
“Hitting on all thirty-two;” scholarship pares 
The nails of Catullus, sniffs his sheets, restores 
His “passionate underwear;” morality disciplines the other
Person; every son-of-a-bitch is Christ, at least Rousseau;
Prospero serves humanity in steam-heated universities, three
Thousand dollars a year. Simplicity, Flamineo, is obscene;
Sunlight topples indignant from the hill.
In every railroad station everywhere every lover 
Waits for his train. He cannot hear. The smoke 
Thickens. Ticket in hand, he pumps his body 
Toward lower six, for one more terse ineffable trip, 
His very eyeballs fixed in disarticulation. The berth 
Is clean; no elephants, vultures, mice or spiders 
Distract him from nonentity: his metaphors are dead.

More sanitation is enough, enough remains: dreams 
Do not end—lucidities beyond the stint of thought. 
For intellect is a mansion where waste is without drain;
A corpse is your bedfellow, your great-grandfather dines
With you this evening on a cavalry horse. Intellect 
Connives with heredity, creates fate as Euclid geometry
By definition:
  The sunlit bones in your house 
  Are immortal in the titmouse, 
  They trip the feet of grandma 
  Like an afterthought each day. 
  These unseen sunlit bones,
  They may be in the cat
  That startles them in grandma 
  But look at this or that
  They meet you every way.

For Pelops’ and Tantalus’ successions were at once simpler,
If perplexed, and less subtle than you think. Heredity
Proposes love, love exacts language, and we lack 
Language. When shall we speak again? When shall 
The sparrow dusting the gutter sing? When shall 
This drift with silence meet the sun? When shall I wake?

© Allen Tate