Issue 154, Spring 2000
At graduation, a few scholarly patrons flung money at me from afar, and I went to Italy to chart the constellation of Ezra Pound's allusions, icy and distant in his Cantos alone. I brought Ezra everywhere for a year, his books bundled deep in my backpack, like captives held behind the glass of a departing phaeton. I visited towns for a stanza—sometimes a line-treating the annotations of biographers and fellow travelers as chalk marks on a fence: Go here, it is very beautiful. Don't go there, it is nearly destroyed.
By recompense, this dead Idaho poet was directly responsible for twenty-seven pounds of books in a single black backpack: the Cantos; a balky moss—green Anglo-Saxon grammar with foxing on the fringes; a great lemony tome from the University of California, Berkeley, asserting that Pound most certainly meant "Hrooshia" as "Russia," but probably spelled it that way for inflection; a Greek primer, cast to the time before the koine, but after the Nekuia, the deep graven basis of the Odyssey; four dictionaries; two plump splaying dogeared Norton anthologies; a self-published treatise on Rimini, the stronghold of Pound's hero Sigismundo Malatesta, now a sullen beach town on the Adriatic; The Pound Era, by far the most inspired guide to his works and preoccupations; the great gifts of his friends—The Tower, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, itself with a volume of glosses in tow; the Divine Comedy of Dante, with vulgar Florentine versos facing stern Scots prose rectos; La Vita Nuova in Italian; the King James Bible, with Jesus' words set in red ink; and a copy of Personae I had once given my mother as a gift, then cadged, unread, from her shelves.
And other volumes discarded, one on a ledge by the British Museum, another at a flophouse in Kathmandu, a third at the southernmost hostel in the world. And pens, and leaves folded into a ruddy diary, and far too little underwear, and a perpetually wet towel, and ruby slivers entombed in cotton batting, and the coinage of many cultures.
Do the gods ordain a single poet for each poor, grasping soul? Did they see Ezra Pound's cackling face in the burning glades of the afterlife and decide to entwine us? He died the year I was born, 1972, after what friends and biographers described as a decade of silence-Tempus tacendi-as Jerome in the desert was inspired to write in his Vulgate. (Was his soul twined to the Christian God's as mine was to Ezra's? Was my lack of faith a mistake, like a letter rerouted in the mailrooms of Christianity and delivered to Ezra's address?) It is hard not to wonder about those who pursue such a man-whose wartime broadcasts were so inscrutable that his propaganda masters wondered whether he was a double agent speaking in code; a coprophiliac—a bather in shit, and bathing others, liberally, in it; a renowned anti-Semite; a man who kept a mistress at the top of a hill and a wife at the bottom; who gave his daughter, by the mistress, to the care of Tyroleans; who traveled in time; who wrote with a Chinese pictorial dictionary and the mad manuscripts of a deceased New England professor at hand; a redhead; a man who would never describe a building in print, unless it was ugly; a poet of lovely, ineffable lines, Jamesian sensibility, indirection then the vulgar news of the flesh.
An act of longing that happened so many years ago it seems another life ushered me into Ezra's contradictory mysteries. A child deep in love with the idea of love, furtively I came to a yellow and black volume with the promising Hawthornean title Poems to Remember. I was sure the veil had been rent in my favor for a tall honey-haired girl with a sibilant name, and anxious to find a poem to honor us.
The volume opened to a poem I dumbly termed WPIA, as if commissioned for a long-dead public works project-but the words had chosen me:
Be in me as the eternal moods
of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are—
gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
The shadowy flowers of Orcus