Three Poems


Ruth Lepson

AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM
 
Shelley was selfish--his m's give him away.
 
A few pages under glass--I had lost the faith that anyone should bother with them.
 
The women huddled together--Austen, Bronte, Browning.
 
The men not politic, perhaps, but political.
 
Yet many sentences are simple.
 
Merry Chaucer from family of wine merchants.
 
A note, the N-Town cycle, shows the performers of the medieval mystery plays a traveling company. "It was intended to be performed on a Sunday at N-Town."
 
The Anglo-Saxon Beowulf "is known only from this copy, written out about A.D. 1000…severely damaged, in 1731, in a fire."
 
Danish king Scyld Scefing’s body placed in a ship, "A gold banner flies over his head," "set adrift to be swallowed up by the sea."
 
Spenser's f like a tadpole, a medieval cross, two lines trailing after it.
 
"As elemental fear" writes Sir Walter Raleigh from his Tower, in his History of the World.
 
Fills the left column of the left page and writes one stanza, bottom right.
 
Of Diana, Aurora, "Beauty that rumor made."
 
Donne, "son of a prosperous London businessman," "secret marriage to Ann More"; his father-in-law had him arrested. His g and his y begin the same way.
 
Philosopher Bacon "Found guilty of bribery and corruption." In his hand a moment of thickness, a moment of thinness.
 
Bricklayer, soldier, actor Ben Jonson--his page dense rectangle tiny words heading towards the binding.
 
(Herrick's manuscript "temporarily removed.")
 
Milton's "extracts from some 90 writers,” with added comments of his own.
 
In Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia, Urne-buriall," (1658), "a meditation on death," each stroke moves from the bottom left to the top right, parts of the paragraph crossed out.
 
A parliamentarian "surviving the restoration to serve Charles II in several embassies" wrote newsy letters--page long, writing medium-sized, full of affectation. "deprived of the Poet Laureatship in 1688 for his loyalty to the Stuarts."
 
Dryden's heroique Stanzas to the memory of Oliver Cromwell--his f like an 8th note, his l like a snake moving toward a piper. His letters underline other letters.
 
"The largely self-educated son of a Roman Catholic linen-draper," Pope translated the Iliad at the rate of 30 to 50 verses a day; here are some copied on the backs of letters addressed to his mother and to himself at Twickenham.
 
Here the "final verses of Achilles' lament for Petroclus in Book 19, facing a rough sketch of the shield forged by Hephaestus for the Greek hero." The surprise of his childlike drawing of the shield "hidden as the word of love." Words are crossed out and others written above them, articles are taken out, the syntax changed. "sigh tear for what he left behind"
 
Defoe's long lines in a large book straight as in musical staves, the letters rounded.
 
Swift's letter--hand tiny and light, long page, no margins.
 
 
 
 
YOU AND ALL
 
            for robert creeley
 
 
you were like an open-armed minister
 
without the religion, just
 
a sense of It, openheartedly intelligent
 
love, sadly, happily, dig it
 
 
 
 
MAYBE JESUS HAD A SURFBOARD
 
maybe jesus had a surfboard the people bring lots of clothes to the washed-out beach they color it up want the world to come into stay back stay at some reserve overpowering as these long waves wide waves dunes sky we live under the surfers look like cormorants their black skins grouped then splitting apart my feet have made their sand holsters the sea sheds its skin at low tide the beach umbrella a sparkly grey blue jellyfish
 
what can be said that is at bottom not vanity staving off dark death not
 
fear not fake love not too nice yet trees and we see sky when someone dies is it an emptied landscape or is it why we live quietly to look to what end our own end
 
this is where I have come now my mother is dead I have come to a beach house with a friend