Maxwell Bodenheim

1892 - 1954 / Mississippi / United States

Imaginary People

I: POET
You have escaped the comedy
Of swift, pretentious praise and blame,
And smashed a tavern where they sell
The harlots' wine that men call fame.
Heralds of reckless solitude
Have offered you another voice,
But men are still a tempting jest.
You roam and cannot make a choice.
When you have played distractedly
With a humility, you tire
And change the pastime to a pride.
These are but moods of one desire.
You throw an imitating gleam
Upon the dwarfs that line your road,
Then with a worn hostility
You tramp along beneath your load.
II: WOMAN
To hide your isolation, you become
Tame and loquacious, bowing to the men
Who bring you ornaments and poverties.
Your cryptic melancholy dwindles then,
Solved by the distant contrast of your words.
Your loneliness, with an amused relief,
Sits listening to your volubility
And idling with an enervated grief.
The play does not begin until you say
Your last 'good-night,' for you have only made
A swindled fantasy regain its parts.
Throughout the night you held an unseen blade
Upon your lap and trifled with its hilt,
And now you lift it with submissive dread.
Should you attack your loneliness and grief
Now that they are asleep? You shake your head.
III: CHILD
Like puffs of smoke inquisitively blown
Across the slight transparency of dawn,
The births of thought disperse upon your face.
A tenuous arrogance, when they have gone,
Clings to its tiny wisdom and denies
The feeble challenge. Warm emotions swarm
Upon the flushed impatience of your face
And merge to lordly, evanescent form.
New sights bring light oppression to your mind.
You struggle with a hunger that transcends
The glistening indecisions of your eyes
And wins a flitting certainty. Your trends
Lead to a fabled turmoil that escapes
The stunted messengers of trembling thought.
Yet, when your hand for moments closes tight
You feel a dagger that your fears have caught.
IV: OLD MAN
Below your skull a social gathering glows.
Weak animosities exchange a last
Chat with emotional ambassadors
Who honor the importance of your past.
You turn your hammock and surrender limbs
to sunlight, and increase the hammock's swing
As though you suavely bargained with a friend.
Its answers are impersonal and bring
A tolerance that wounds your lack of strength.
A final insurrection cleaves your rest.
You raise your back, then lower it convinced
That motion now would be a needless test. . . .
And with your falling back, the gathering
Within your head melts through a door, chagrined,
And everything within you dies except
A blue and goblin hammock in the wind.
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