Two Poems by Daniel Tobin


Triumphs and Laments

(the mural by William Kentridge)

As though these words were shadows sprayed
across a wall of travertine
such figures resurrect the scene
blanched to presence on this page—

stone, really, the white river wall
stenciled with attributes of moss
and merely human detritus,
its negative space colossal.

Here within this running frieze
Romulus murders again his twin,
soldiers behead barbarians
while a saint sighs in ecstasy.

Here lovers in a fountain splash
wildly for La Dolce Vita,
as the broken march defeated
to where the ghetto flies to ash.

Bruno, too, lashed to his pyre
upside down, his eyes set
on infinities, mouth clamped shut,
stokes the verities of empire.

Forms, in this smoky procession,
move cinematically on
toward some ever-far beyond;
a glum fade will be their passion.

Are they awash in Plato’s Cave
played there from the glowing embers,
That which I do not remember
signed above their hopeless way?

Deliberate fingers of the air
blacken slowly all we see,
and like spot-lit graffiti
they issue all to disappear.

Meanwhile, in some stray niche of time,
Michelangelo, blind, old,
glides his hand along the fold
of a statue’s marble thigh,

and recollects the ideal age
when his chisel found the seam
to the body inside the dream,
the stone, the blow, the rock, the rage.


Not in this world long,
nor long for this world,

I made my passage
into the beast’s depths,

sloven-furred Jonah
whose ascension out

was reflex retching
to the kitchen floor

through twin scimitars
of a mouth yawning

in dumb revulsion.
My tail’s a question

that curls to my face,
as if it might take

compassion on it,
the unlit portals

of my eyes staring
timidly at yours,

my innards a scat
of livid berries

vested in the creel
where the paws tore through.

No matter. I know
countless centuries

from now it is you
will be cowering

in some deeper dark
while my kind, grown quick,

will possess the earth
when you diminish—

late intimations
of thunder lizards

hedged by the infinite
into the barnyard.

About the Author

Daniel Tobin is the author of six books of poems, Where the World is Made, Double Life, The Narrows, Second Things, Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), and The Net (2014). His seventh book of poems, From Nothing, is forthcoming in 2016. He is the author of the critical studies Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Awake in America, and the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems and Lola Ridge, and Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art. His awards include the “The Discovery/The Nation Award,” The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, and fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.


Top photo is Bruno: Triumphs and Laments, 2016 (CC).

Post photo is Triumphs and Laments, 2016 (CC).

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