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The Last Canto

Gary Geddes
From:   Changes of State, 1986


I seldom budge
from Rapallo.
Venice is no Byzantium
these final days.
Stench from the canals
worse than the cattle ship
I sailed to Europe on.

Mr. Nixon was half-right:
poetry did not pay,
but there was a future in it.
The age demanded
a scapegoat and a saint.
Being American
I applied for both jobs.

The world has been my whale-road,
wanderer and seafarer
among the lost manuscripts,
charting connections
few had even dreamed of.
I've gone about my business
like a pack-rat.
You have to do that,
have on hand ten times
what you can ever hope to use.
Tennyson was right
about being part of all he met,
but he hadn't met enough.

As the range broadened
my speech became barbarous,
that of a man who's lost contact
with the words of his fellows,
though he knows their hearts'
most intimate desires.

I once advised trashing the metronome
and composing with the music
of the speaking voice.
Now I say:
Exercise the mind
and school the heart;
voice will rejoice
in its tender chains
like a bridegroom.

While my former countrymen
have given up on ideas,
except in things,
whatever that means,
and play with themselves
like clergymen,
less out of need than habit,
I dream
of ideas in action
and of forma, even the canetto,
where the dance of ear
and intellect
draw dormant filings
into the pattern of a rose.

I wrote in an article
in T.P.'s Weekly in 1913:
The artist is always beginning.
Any work of art
which is not a beginning,
an invention, a discovery,
is of little worth.

I still hold that view
though at times, I admit,
I counted the cost.

I have spoken too much of usura,
or not enough.
Even the air we breathe
is rented for a price.

Forget my dicta:
direct treatment of the thing
and all that rot.
The thing, so-called,
has yet to be revealed.
I have found poems
to be wiser and more honest
than poets.

Remember the ideogram
from the Chinese,
the one representing truth
which shows a man
standing beside his word.
Nothing more.
The merchant's wife
dying alone
in her unkempt garden
by the river
praises
my irregular feet,
though she draws the line
at Social Credit.

Forget me too:
listen to the poems.

You see, I'm prescriptive
to the end, a weakness
acquired in Hailey, Idaho
and never shaken.




Gary Geddes's works copyright © to the author.


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