Related to the Marx Brothers through his mother, Richard Marx Weinraub was born in New York City in 1949. He was educated in New Jersey and Oregon, receiving an MFA and a PhD from the University of Oregon. Weinraub has been teaching literature and creative writing courses at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan since 1987. Some of his poems have recently appeared in Asbestos, CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Faden, The Paris Review, POUI, Soul Fountain and Slate. A book of his poetry, a sonovella entitled Wonder Bread Hill, was published in 2002 by the University of Puerto Rico Press. It has been translated into Spanish by Elidio La Torre Lagares and the Spanish edition is forthcoming from Terranova Press.
POETS WEAR PRADA â€˘ Hoboken, New Jersey
Richard Marx Weinraub POETS WEAR PRADA â€˘ Hoboken, New Jersey
The poems in HEAVENLY BODIES deftly blend mythology, cosmology, and family romance (or are these all the same?) into a mix at once familiar and strange. Cool and precise, Weinraub's poems never miss a beat or waste a word. —Rachel Hadas, author of River of Forgetfulness and Halfway Down the Hall.
Like the planets they contemplate, these poems, while rotating on their own axis, orbit around the stars of birth, desire, and death. Though they are transfixed by celestial rocks, they are also moved by the smell of quinces, pears, and apples. Cool alabaster on the outside, inside they are made of “Galilean sea.” This slender collection encompasses, to paraphrase Yeats, the heavens in a womb. —Jee Leong Koh, author of Payday Loans.
This is a book to remind us of the age-old task of the poet. The poems in HEAVENLY BODIES find in familiar words a genealogy that leads back to miracles and myths. Weinraub's wry association of ancient miracles and contemporary life refresh our language and sharpen the taste of experience. —Peter Wood, Professor Emeritus, The College of New Jersey
Also By Richard Marx Weinraub Wonder Bread Hill (University of Puerto Rico Press, 2002)
Heavenly Bodies Poems by
Richard Marx Weinraub
POETS WEAR PRADA â€˘ Hoboken, New Jersey
Heavenly Bodies First North American Publication 2008. Copyright ÂŠ 2008 Richard Marx Weinraub All rights reserved. Except for use in any review or for educational purposes, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any informational or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher. Poets Wear Prada, 533 Bloomfield Street, Second Floor, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following publications, where these poems have previously appeared: Asbestos, Asheville Poetry Review, The Brownstone Poets 2007 Anthology, The Lyric, Nomadâ€™s Choir, Slate, and Soul Fountain.
ISBN 978-0-9817678-4-0 Printed in the U.S.A. Front Cover & Illustrations: Roxanne Hoffman
In memory of Robert Dunn
Contents The Name of the Earth / 1 The Root of Moon / 2 Figure Venus / 4 Venus De Milo / 5 The Progeny of Mars / 7 Playing with Mercury / 8 Europa / 11 The Ball of Earth and Heaven / 12 The Anarchy of Neptune / 14 Persephone Meets Pluto on the Web / 16 Art Forms of the Infinite / 18 Sappho/James Merrill / 19
THE NAME OF THE EARTH The Earth was shafted by the Ancients. Coming out of Night and Death, she had no personality and was so desperate she espoused her own creation, Heaven. Today her plight is just as bad; we never call her by her name just the generic “Earth,” for how do you pronounce or spell Gaea? So nothing is named after her. Her husband got a planet and her son a car. Her grandchild is God himself. And Gaea’s great-granddaughter is a fish, a fern, and female loveliness incarnate. But as for me, I love the Earth— the hardness of her vein— and wouldn’t trade her in for any planet with a better name.
THE ROOT OF MOON We all come from the “menses” of the moon as “moon” comes from the period in Latin perhaps it was an egg dropped from our womb perhaps it laid the stars as Jim supposed One thing’s for certain: phase turned into phase when Latin metamorphosed into Spanish so many words in Spanish were the same as those for moon in tongues across the earth So through the singularity of time the word for moon is mona in Old English which means “inebriation” (thus moonshine?) and “female monkey” (forerunner of speech?) And moon is mano in Old High German a hand, a pal, a side, a coat (of silver) the face it shows the world since it turns on itself as quickly as it turns on us The moon’s a peanut, mani in Old Norse because the earth is eighty times as massive there’s little atmosphere so meteors have left a billion craters on its shell In ancient Sanskrit masa means the moon while masa is “the populace” in Spanish the Indo-European is the root of what has given us our mother tongue 2
FIGURE VENUS Venus is the lit reflection orbiting around its source in a perfect annulus through an oval world Venus is the ancient shellback shining in the foam of night through a scarlet atmosphere almost high and dry Rotating upon its axis opposite to how it moves moodily around its fire with a crown and lune Venus is the only body in the system of the sun turning in a deviate paradigm like love
VENUS DE MILO Imagine your love is Venus de Milo— but whole—come to life in your living room. Her alabaster cast has turned back to olive; she is eighteen—younger than Empire— and pure—for she came before Christ. Now picture this woman (who’s not quite a woman, but a child conceived in your fantasy) just sits there in front of your living room window turning clouds into nimbus—your tool to a chisel— as you make her—the image of God. She’s not God exactly—but the rock of your vision as it pinches her small milkless breasts— and parts her—with tresses of marble—and lashes her buttocks so hard that you feel like a man who can forge a new world out of stone. Her Vulcanized lover—you’re thrown out of heaven and fall—for her morning and eve. You’re deformed—while she twists in a natural manner away from you—hours a pop coming back to your niche with pricks in her arms.
Imagine you kiss your impassive creation and bitterness shudders your frame. The smack that addicted you to her is yours, so youâ€™re losing your marbles detaching her arms to be mortar in Loveâ€™s subterrane.
THE PROGENY OF MARS September 11, 2001 Mars is most like Earth in many ways: it rotates on its axis only thirty-seven minutes more than what we think of as our fleeting day. And Mars wears different hats: its polar caps like ours are cold, but at its small equator men could relish in a climate that compares to Rome’s. Perhaps that’s why they made Mars father of the city’s founding wolves and why we’ve stood its satellites and acquiesced to Roman law. So as Mars marches with his cronies— Terror, Panic, Strife, and War— the groaning rises right behind them and the earth streams with our blood. Finding glory, light, and sweetness falling in the perilous siege, martial men rejoice when dying on the sanguinary field. Muhammad’s sword, the face of Christ, and Aaron’s rod appear on Mars. Could it be what named the planet was the force that drove us here? 7
PLAYING WITH MERCURY I remember playing with mercury as a boy in science class. Passing it round as if it were booty, the macho guys took control giving me only a minute or so. Amazed at the dryness of the liquid which felt as heavy as gold, I fingered the dirty quicksilver snake and rolled it into two balls, but since I was last my time was soon up. Little did I know that pure mercury can poison the mind and heart— that worming inside the skin’s open pores it undermines vital force— that being effeminate made me strong. Later I fell for a bronze Mercury, Bologna’s feathery god looking a lot like a brazen fairy with wings on his green sandals and fingers as lithe as a pianist’s. Now I know he’s a skinny lyrist— a liar, a lyricist consort of thieves who sweet-talked Apollo after stealing his cattle receiving the caduceus for a song. 8
I follow his purse like Persephone from Hell to the living world. Mercury carries the wine of my name to the nymphs (little buggers) through the tent of the stars (astrology).
Though it resembles a mirroring moon going through changes like me this Venus with horns rises so early the only mercurial light I can see is the nightâ€™s vapor lamp.
EUROPA Europa has been ravished by some bull believing that her continent is whole and what has come from violence can control the cannibal inside her labyrinth Europa thinks of Lebanon and dreams that Asia still is going to take her remembering the rape by Jupiter the horns that took the form of crescent moons Europa turns herself into a moon a satellite of what she hates and loves she has an icy shell but is made of an undulating Galilean sea Europa dreams of something that explodes herself, the earth, the sunâ€”she is not sure ashamedly, the vision makes her thaw for then the world must live inside of her .
THE BALL OF EARTH AND HEAVEN at Shea Stadium Dad’s explanation of the ticking “perv” in me: the irritation of the seventh nerve in me. My twitching left eyelid and lower right form one huge eye: the station of the God I serve in me. The number seven train beneath my seven hills: the agitation as the synapse swerves in me. I contemplate the end—the seventh seal— and note my off-key nation’s anthem throws a curve in me. Uranus, seventh from the sun, is streaking towards my orbs—a Haitian bringing out the verve in me. The ball of Earth and Heaven bats till Kingdom come ejaculations of my father, Irv, in me.
THE ANARCHY OF NEPTUNE 1 Although we stamp our lines on Neptune’s face, the sea does not know boundaries; it creeps into our country’s crevices taking its beachfront real estate and flinging the coral, driftwood, and crab into the open arms of our worst enemy. 2 And though the sea will turn on us from a lazy Susan to a carousel of Davy Jones’s crazy horses foaming at the mouth in a New York minute, it doesn’t have an enemy alien but lets the anemone have its name. 3 The ruler of the sea, Neptune, is Neptune— a loser—to Athena’s olive tree— a slave—to Zeus—building the Trojan towers; Apollo played into his drudgery. And even though he made the city’s ramparts he didn’t hold a grudge against the Greeks who burned his town—and fled upon his image. 14
4 The planet has a moon named Nereid as Neptune had a sea nymph for a wife. Her father was “the god that never lies,” the Old Man of the Sea. Their son was Triton—Neptune's largest moon— the system's queer as it moves east to west. The threesome was discovered by a guess. 5 Zodiacally, Neptune is two fishes for through the body spirit is revealed— the human blood is virtually seawater and Neptune takes the form of its container— the shoal, the mouths, the arms, the bowels, and bottoms show Neptune is the consummate conductor disseminating seamen through our sphere.
PERESPHONE MEETS PLUTO ON THE WEB My belly hurts—I need to fill my basket. The patch is glowing—lavender and silver; those morning glories pale to this narcissus. I pick it—and the brilliant field collapses— oh God! My God is standing nude within it. His impulse is so terrible and splendid. He grabs me by the wrist and pulls me down. Three dimensions fold into dark windows shot with arrows from an unseen weapon. Hourglasses pour time into Hades. Hands and fingers severed from the body point the way towards logos and black icons I can’t understand. There is no color beneath the secret places of the earth. It is so shadowy—where’s my dark Master? “I’m there beside you child. What’s your desire?” I want to cry out loud, “You fucking bastard!” I want to see the earth, my mother, Ceres, the meadow of soft grass, the rose, and iris. I want to disappear beneath God’s helmet. I want to eat His pomegranate seed.
I want to be the Queen, the slave, of Pluto consuming willessly His dark attachment to make the worm into a caterpillar to give me butterflies from what was bitter so that the tundra turns into a garden and a sweet pome grows from the pomegranate to answer Pluto: â€œIM what I am.â€?
ART FORMS OF THE INFINITE In memory of Gene Mohr I’m mourning you in verse; I’m sorry Gene about my grievous form, but you will rhyme quite nicely with your love, your wife, Lolinne, forever more—though you are free of time. I should be writing stanzas that are free and volatile to celebrate your work on boundless Nuyorican poetry spontaneously coming from a quirk. But oftentimes the poetry we choose to write or write about is opposite to what we really are—a chance to lose ourselves in art forms of the infinite. My anarchy found comfort in your calm— so you, my friend, are what you worked upon.
SAPPHO/JAMES MERRILL Edgar Cayce reckoned the spirit lives on other planets—even on asteroids or comets—after death. At the Ouija board James Merrill invoked him. Calling James, I wanted to hook up tenish; graciously, he offered to host our meeting. Merrill sat on “Grandmother’s love seat.” I then chose a felt armchair. Good as gold, James roasted some nuts for breakfast serving almonds, sunflower seeds, and filberts— crystal bowls reflecting his hair more yellowviolet than torchlight. Merrill smelled of quinces and pears and apples— ripened pomes. He brought out his proof, his dummy, newly written poems I devoured moving onto the love seat. Next to him, I read of his grandma’s pre-war building—right inside of that ancient chamber. Sadly, soon A Quickening of Salts would change to A Scattering .... Spirit—is it infinite? Or is it mind drying up like the albedo of the rind? I would like to think James alive—on an asteroid we call Sappho. 19
Acknowledgements “The Name of the Earth” was previously published in The Brownstone Poets 2007 Anthology. “Venus de Milo ” was published in Asheville Poetry Review. “The Progeny of Mars” appeared in Asbestos. “Playing with Mercury” appeared in Nomad’s Choir. “The Ball of Earth and Heaven” appears in Slate. “The Anarchy of Neptune” was published in Soul Fountain. “Art Forms of the Infinite” was previously published in The Lyric.