[previous] [next] [more by this author] [home]
Cold Cash
Stephen Berg

for Helen, at 60

O howls of crystal, milky souvenirs, desire piercing its own
unsleeping eyeball with desire, glimpse of the ephemeral soul,
bed where we talk and unfold and confess the impossibility of

What else is there to our lives except your head raging with
snakes and echoing skies, walls brushed gold by centuries of
light, leisures of pure design, dreams of a relaxed god who
serves and saves and provides whatever next wish blossoms
into the faceless smile of mortality.

O birth of an endless self, imagine us without you, poor
scavenging guests condemned to work, poor burgeoning
weeds singing like poets without words,

Possibly value, possibly the last murder, possibly gray, possibly
nothing less than a blind fuck in an alley, possibly tradition
and belief, possibly even the wild god of hope inspiring the
suicide of wishes, preventing our failure.

But imagine someone dying and you wake up and 18 million is
yours, left by this unknown uncle from Davenport, Iowa, and
there you are in the real world for once, not art, the world of
having and owning and never having to die, of being better
than, above, the world of gilded snot and full-fed lips and
sleep unbroken by loss, pigskin, peach silk cushions, cupolas,
Louis XIV Roman chairs, the clear sweet light of complacency
flowing in from Sardinia.

Who knows what it would mean, the central Chinese figure for
this might be some wizened bald guy in robes sitting on a
cushion chanting while I hum to myself ``As Time Goes By,''
who knows what it is we really hope to achieve when one of
those stark moments of truth overtakes us and we feel
absolutely free, calm, happy even, and can choose anything
instead of being held in suspense by all we know we can have,

Which is nothing according to Medusa's wailing mouth in the
statue I saw reproduced in House and Garden, and tore out, and
study right now as I am writing, thick gray slit of a mouth,
huge voluptuous lips, blank eyes with a residue of carving
where the pupils were done in relief, and of course snakes for

And yet we think of love, and the failures and the relentless
calling to us we hear from its pale villas and graves, war
heroes, that's what lovers are, I can see us, the deepest glance
into the soul, the gaze not even a high Mexican valley can

The point is what can money do for us but remind our
vulnerability to act and awaken to itself and become the new
shield through which the army of nature with its loving
unknown deaths may enter us and restore our souls to the
laughter of revolving doors taking us from the inside weather
of a lobby to the outside street of lighted buildings, skies,
gusts of intense stupidity and fun.

So I was told by my real mother, whom I cannot remember,
what could be crazier than to marry oneself but that's what
money is, a broken egg at the bottom of a torn pocket, a
tabletop in which we see our hungry faces, but there isn't a
dish of anything on it for us to eat.

Very funny, someone cackles inside, I was only 5 when someone
handed me a book with ten red white and blue stamps in it
which would someday become a bond which would someday
become cash if I bought more stamps and waited long
enough, what was wrong with me? I just found that very
book in my dead mother's panty drawer, (I was collecting her
things), I guess I never cashed it in.

That's me, in my never-ending attempt to be a husband, not to
mention son, father, fisherman, gardener, runner, great lover,
just a normal American citizen, not Mayakovski, not a guy
who believes he can face death without a tear or a little shit in
his pants,

And yet among these helpless ruminations there's another thing,
what does the earth want from us, if anything? what are we
supposed to do for the sake of it all as emissaries to an
unknown kingdom?

I thought this was funny once, but not now, not even the
weirdness of Mallarm‰ or a pheasant dinner can distract me
from asking how and why it was done, instead of answering
by picking out a Jaguar, Baum et Mercier, or a beachfront
condo to console my enviable loins.

O even my own ordinary tables and chairs are laughing at me
for having them so close, so deep in my mind that when I
come home nights I almost greet them with a word of praise
and relief, who belongs to whom? what a rich question, since
no more stories of the past are possible on this yacht of
material possibility.

Sometimes in the bathroom I'll be standing there cock naked
loving every minute of it, maybe even liking that place and
time better than anything, the cozy steam of the hot water
turned on full, the mirror clouding up, readying myself with a
shave, then adjusting the shower water just right for the day
so I can step in under the stream and not decide how long to
take, feel I have hours, then begin to regret the necessary exit
I'll be making before long into the dry commercial world of
dog-eat-dog, of schedules and tasks, of making success better
than that opposite term, which is, after all, the nature of the

But will we ever know it, will the shower ever be our home? on
certain days a feeling overtakes me, sits like a happy dog in
my belly, of being poor, of having nothing but friends and
poetry and a warm place to sleep, and it occurs to me that
intelligence of this sort is denied to those who cannot hear the
crystal howling or see the milky souvenirs or experience the
despair of desire's baleful stare or know the soul's unyielding
misery as it lies back letting its voice unfold the nonfactual
snakes of light, of a destitute prompt unmotherly hammer
driving in the nail, in the dirty unpainted wall of truth is
beauty, beauty is truth, you know it and it's enough,

O which is why Let me touch you, Touch me, lie like two
transparent knives willing to be picked up inside each of us,
for no particular use, on no table, in no man's silver sheath,
sparkling as the light at any time plays through their blades in
the eternally joyful hands, ridiculous as Tolstoi, that cannot
pick them up.

[previous] [next] [more by this author] [home]