31 JANUARY 2009



About Leonard Schwartz






Ego big enough to encompass both master and slave
he identified only with the master. Lost in the matter
of her own passions, but not at a loss for passion,
which is what really matters. Discomfited
in all five languages she spoke. The line
which pronounces she worked as a prostitute
comes as a shock, even the second time I hear her
read it: what does that say about the way
I form impressions, frame my experience?
Not taken in by that gesture of Southern gentry,
ego peeking from behind the drapes, gumming up
the breath units. So close up to one another
her presence is rendered invisible. Pregnant,
on the other end of the line, discussing her translation.
Didn’t he say the human species was just
getting started?
We stared at one another, smiling,
trying to guess how much the other knew.
She of the true synesthesia, hearing the flowers in all
their blue, she of the true synesthesia, revealing vision
in verbs, pollinators of the verb “to be”.
Her voice worried the sentences she read
just the way those sentences had to be worried:
I thought about her professed incapacity
to remember anything, wondered how she had
translated Proust. Emptying his pockets
for his beloved, emptying his bank accounts
for his beloved, giving up his very health
for the guy, but not giving up
his taste for adventure:
did the beloved have a taste for adventure too?
If your heart is feeling heavy
perhaps you should not wear that strap
over your shoulder, it cuts
off circulation, you need circulation,
put the bag down, please.
Had she really lost her husband at the moment of respite?
You believed your hopes would be fulfilled by the latest
political candidate, one who would be different than the rest.
Your Southern gentility intrigues me, the way it rimes
so charmingly with a perverse streak, a responsible streak,
and the generous swath of being
you seem to tend to so serenely, in the midst of storm.



Waiting in the wrong Vietnamese restaurant
for the right San Franciscans. A charming clutch
of promises, a dearth of hatchlings -
still, he’s very charming.
Willingness to listen
to many forms of nonsense, maintaining
the whip of intelligence without
lashing the speaker, except when necessary.
Eyes wide with all the sensations that neighbor wonder.
Busy, busy, busy, rearranging a complicated
circuitry to the fuse box of one’s own complexity.
Beauty growing into its own body, mastering
the length of those elegantly long limbs.
Recalcitrant in all ways, refusing amity,
even refusing self-interest, but a terrific poet.
Self-involvement become a métier, image
one offers of oneself the basis of one’s calling.
Snuffling and moving slowly, singularly unattractive,
deeply immersed in the richest depths of language.
There is a mode of thought that takes into account
the invisible differences that shape perception
and you are its administrator. Someone you like, who,
upon reflection, you have nothing to say about.
Anxiety level masked by endless travels, rumor has it
he is suicidal, rumor, that unmitigated disaster,
aide-de-camp to suicide. To not yet have known love
is to idealize self-same, making oneself into the blindest,
cruelest, creature imaginable. I could really
be attracted to her if only she wasn’t so young;
present at the birth of poise. To be passive
in the face of spousal demands, two sons demands,
his own inner demands, great poet
patient with the words.
He needs more help with the grief,
he keeps on moving, it helps him grieve.
Smooth on the outside, smooth on
the inside, easily stirred up, thrown off-course,
an inner meekness reflected in his face
and wide, steady gaze, eminently likeable.
Smooth on the outside, smooth on
the inside, slow moving, set solidly
in himself, parts of his visible body, his hands
in fact, deeply concealed. Someone you like
who, upon reflection, no impression of whatsoever.
Obedient to the sparks in the ordinary,
mischievous in the face of the ho-hum, rebellious
when the ordinary insists on itself as mere.
The ordinary was a beacon, regulating his breath
but not his sweats, his performance anxiety
before each class. To enforce a silence
out of fear of difference, to be baited
into strife. To register one’s dissent with
couple formation, its gnarled, guarded, gate.
Controlling her sheep by giving him
a wide meadow to graze in, mindful of both
biological fictions and her own fierce pride.
Said he drank too much, but I couldn’t tell, I could
never tell, I believed in the words as propositions.
He told her she looked lovely, and got away with it.
Dithering, dithering, dithering. On the verge of madness
but so compelling, so self-deprecatory,
none of us could look away,
or stop listening, or ask for a better writer.



He thought I was having an affair with his unrequited love
but I wasn’t, and we could no longer speak, he and I,
when I wanted to discuss “important” business.
Omnivorous intelligence, wolfish mien
huge blind spot. Everything so languorous, so leisured
and yet free from any tinge of bourgeois leisure,
so articulate, so enviable,  I wondered what his trick was.
The new poem amazed with its liquid will.
The conversation was flattering, I hoped it wouldn’t stop.
Things slow down every time he buttonholes me,
I struggle with my impatience, not having
completely overcome my own inner punk.
Fidget. Fidget. Je repete : fidget. Fidget.
The wind up and the pitch –
a big wind up, a quick pitch concerning
the act of the poem, its anti-absorptive twitch.
The shtick of the singular but not
the wink-wink of personal tics.
Bruin presence, bruin gestures to boot,
hulking presence on the periphery of the poem.
European sophistication meets
provincial attitude towards Asia
in this close friend. The only language we had in common
was the language of poetry, and it worked.
How, where, when, wield love
as a political concept?
At the end of the arc of memory -
his turn with Memory - a gust of wind
in which Sappho was present.
to the work of the word, handing over his life 
to the development of writers, the dissemination
of their works.
Immersed in his own writing the way
a soggy log half sinks, half floats,
submerged but still moving slowly forward. 
I know what you’re trying to do, she said,
I know what you’re trying to do.
So few of us pursue those special words
associated with Ideas, the poet complained.
She looked hot in the cramped, unventilated office.
I did not know her texts were to be performed in the breeze.
He leaned back in his chair, let me blab on, waiting for me
to go somewhere with it, but I wouldn’t for years.
A halo suddenly visible over the speaker’s head.
Wasn’t paying attention, and the next time we met,
he had no jaw.
His race grew increasingly mysterious.
To have know a woman twenty-eight years and still
be puzzled by her every choice, her manner of thinking.
Everything he said passed through me without a trace,
which was surprising because he was recognized as great.
This resentment I feel after having done her
so many good turns. His rejection of my work, hurtful.
A lucidity a little ahead of our lucidities.
A madness a little more maniacal than our madness.
An urbanity a little further… oh, never mind,
but the attention to color in her poems is astonishing.


Two philosophers collaborating on a single thought.
Boyish sophistication? Absent in voice, absent of gaze,
absent from time, yet continuously present.
Buchner leading off and playing 3rd, Canetti batting 2nd
and playing right field, Grass batting 3rd and playing center.
No answer forthcoming, but the tone of voice, deep.
An animal, an erotic animal, so why would anyone
get angry with him over his obvious course?
He was disappointed I hadn’t read
his whole novel, she must have told him I’d asked
for the reviews, which I was grateful she had tracked –
it was her job  – was grateful she had given me.
When one of my feet goes in the wrong direction, I tumble.
The sexual froth not far below a few of those movements.
Addled, then bright, perceptive, then lost.
Giving his mystery the benefit of a doubt.
“Middle World”, by which he means
a place of uncitizens, ripe for new words.
Talking once more about the table we need between us
for the event to transpire. To talk about food,
to talk some more about food, and then to dine
for many hours, speech forming the meal’s punctuation,
after which he writes about food, about dining.
Southern gentility, voice of the Chattanooga
inflecting the Euphrates, dredging up
The Drowned Book that never really drowned:
an auto-da-fe is one thing but certain books
are made from water and put those fires out.
Her poems babbled with the sound of moving water,
liquid letters working their way through every obstacle.
He drank too much, and it ruined everything.
She bubbled in the back of the convertible,
a subversive scribe at the height of her powers.
The slave woman’s ghost would not permit the poet
to relinquish the ground her body was buried in.
The new translation of “He felt no sense of fatigue
except that at times he grew irritated at not being able
to walk on his hands” reads
“He felt no fatigue, except sometimes
it annoyed him that he could not
walk on his head”, and is brilliant.
Single mother and her daughter on pilgrimage
to Mecca; no problem, but West Virginia is.
Coptic in Cairo leads one to tip-toe.
“God” as word obscures the energy it names.
To repeatedly write it till it’s emptied of mystery.
Clearing the name, clearing naming itself, nipping
at the numbness. Something happening among
other things doesn’t necessarily make things change
though it might, images extending from the art
of the possible, fully composed. He fought to make
his vision full of life. In my sleep I speak to you
of the driver’s wheel in your hands, urge you to look
at the road, not me in the back seat: you didn’t listen.
Where is the word for the light that holds sway
in the hidden wood of those living these days?
You found the voice inside the inanimate thing.
You spoke for the people denied any voice.
You believed in the sentence, only the sentence,
and the most basic tenets of a refined realism.


Tiny telepathic exchanges, overt accrual
of social capital: to accidentally ruin
a working relationship with a single remark
rubbing salt in anxieties of influence.
Puking out the poisons
of social exchange: never registering
enough of the poison to experience anything
but nausea. Overcome by institutional control
as one might be slipped a mickey.
So shocked by her intimate surroundings
she cannot seem to speak, to even find a seat.
Nothing sinks much faster than a stone:
the philosopher’s stone skims the surface
of the sea, after uncounted skips
comes to rest, forming an island;
hurricanes to follow, upset of Ideas.
Jangle of the alphabet, every letter’s
psycho-musicology researched,
developed and deployed.
Geology provided more than a metaphor,
it provided the very basalts, crystals, lava
with which to form - I don’t know what to call it.
A planet? A sea-bed? The tectonics of the actual?
Unresponsive to the last seven messages.
The very generosity of speech limited the conversation.
Discussing the weight and worth of the word zaftig.
Swooning at the very mention of the word zaftig.
He couldn’t drive, wouldn’t fly, preferred not to walk.
Voice on the phone a poet in India,
saying something appreciative about my wife.
Shocked that she would be satisfied with such
a dimwitted man; maybe she isn’t.
He thought he had the job, he thought he had
the job, he thought he had the job.
A performance artist afraid to read, speak,
or appear on stage. The rhythm
of the internet, the rhythm of his I-pod,
the vibration of his cell phone, a twitch in
his omphalos, all simultaneous, all turned on,
technoid yet encoded in slickness’ of the womb,
maternal inspiration matter-of-factly denying
his work, that is, the products of her inspiration,
are anything but a hobby.
Sweet confections, a touch of acid -
Buber, Freud, and others of that café culture
for whom speech was the core of being  -
Vienna a tease to those modern conversationalists
relegated to the phone.
The moment she revealed to him he and I had shared
the same lover seventeen years before.
Forest of word and thing
at its point of inception,
peak of hoariest age:
breadth and sky, earth and athleticism.
He could do that too, his language was that patient,
his delirium that protracted, his ear that deeply
in tune, empowered, entombed. Seeking
out the sanctuary of the Church, the space
of prayer, the better to escape a shrewish wife
and brood of growing children: the painter
has a revelation, begins to paint the inside
of churches, saves his marriage and his world.
Who knows what shocks today’s menu
of email will bring to my nerve endings?
In winter, when light from the screen
is particularly prized and texts spool from
that source as from an infinity of desires,
these shadows, sisters to the seasons,
carry high value, as our veritable social bodies.
The original wetness inside one’s limbs, lashed
to the inner mast of light in its computer circulation.
Yesterday struck me square in the face, an acid
corroding my innards. Wishing to speak of love
sheer as some mountains, rugged as others.
Without his interest my work wouldn’t be.
She held up the whole project to gain extra pages.


Profound intimacy, sharing a secret you probably
shouldn’t have. Letting him massage the balls
of my feet. The crow with four legs or,
properly speaking, five legs, and the fellow
who brought this bird back to mind
through literary salvage, his wonderful book.
True friendship is usually steeped in transgression.
She thanked me for making her look good.
She thanked me for telling her that her advisor
was a jackass. Classic male overcompensation
for being five foot one. Wanted to know how I knew
her husband’s work, implication being how come
I wasn’t paying attention to hers. Last I heard
he was selling carpets. On a lake at the
Temple of Heaven, the park closed to everyone
but our group, when the famous professor
gives me the most perplexing look. Was it
annoyance?  A mathematician burst into
our meeting and urged us not to be political.
The African literature panel a disaster
the French moderator says, they treated me like the girl
to bring coffee. The crow with four legs
or, properly speaking, five legs, spilling the coffee.
A book I assigned helped her see what art-making was,
there she is in the performance. That’s an abuse of power
she howled in my face. The Tao Te Ching
as table talk, long into evening: that first night
in which everything was written. From the most
sophisticated postures of meaning-making
to the most inchoate levels of sound, on a dime.
What did happen between her and those two guys
on that road trip to California? How did it end up affecting
American poetry? She wondered
if their flirting was “freaking out” his wife, but his wife
was immersed in the man at her side. Will our
professional relationship survive all the rough housing,
though we never once rough housed with each other?
He wants me to find him a job teaching Russian? He
sees me as a mentor of sorts, but she thinks he hasn’t been
properly respectful. Every time I see her I think
we three would make the ideal couple. How many
years to make the one animation? Not those small,
small gestures of the soul many of us make, those
mean, mean gestures (“How small it’s all!”) 
but the good maximalist reach.
I called for a new theory of emotion, one that would
admit in emotion, at least theoretically. X played
with such a closed hand Y stopped playing with him.
Metabolically slow, metabolically slow, metabolically slow.
I know you want to destroy me but I would rather not
destroy you. It’s unerotic. The old poet
wanted to gun down every writer on the stage
at the Metropolitan Museum, the reigning poet laureate
the first to take an imaginary bullet.
A one eyed poet
whose generosity of spirit saved him from such
late resentments.
A certain warmth her mind and her depth of suffering
lends to the room, not to mention her brooding beauty,
her raven black hair. 
Sent me a letter emphasizing fullness
over purity: it was formative.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer:
 “just one of those things”, my former
professor says over the phone:
others complained he had a burr in his ass
but I loved his New England Buddhism,
the shape of his beard.
Working off the shock by repeating certain thoughts
again and again.
That same dazed smile, no matter what you say
to him, year after year.
Promises kept in the poems at least, if not in life,
he promised  without chagrin, or maybe with
a surplus of chagrin,
I wasn’t sure which he valued more, poetry or life.



is the author of numerous books of poetry, including A Message Back And Other Furors (Chax Press), The Tower Of Diverse Shores (Talisman House), Language As Responsibility (Tinfish Editions) and The Library Of Seven Readings (Ugly Duckling Presse). Schwartz also hosts the radio program Cross Cultural Poetics, archived online at Pennsound.