Friday, March 20, 2015

Warren Meredith Harris Meets Marc Chagall in "The Soul of the City"

Warren Meredith Harris’ collection, The Night Ballerina: A Poem Sequence in Seven Parts, was published by BrickHouse Books in 2012. His poems appear in The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Pembroke Magazine, The Main Street Rag, Ekphrasis, The Penwood Review (UK), The Anglican Theological Review, The Jewish Literary Journal, The Howl, Edgz, Poem, Big River Poetry Review, freefall, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Flaming Arrows  (Ireland), and others. He has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, served as editor of a literary magazine, and written verse plays and adaptations, some of which have been performed in Chicago, Virginia, and New York City, including a broadcast on New York City public radio.

Night Life
Marc Chagall, The Cowshed, 1917

A steer's head, 
gigantic, crescent-eyed,
projects through the roof
of a slaughter shed
into the black and heavy blues
of the star-speckled night.

Red spatters an injured horn,
flecks a corner of the eye,
stains the window lintels.

A deep bovine bellow
softens into words:

"I see the butchers
wiping their knives on the grass,
the boy with curly hair who whispers
he will not taste of me—
though I know he will!
I see thousands of the Tsar's boys
beneath the soil,
the Tsar's troops, Russians and Jews,
in shallow pits.
"The butchers are praying
for an end of it there,
by the banks of the Stypa,
that our village be spared. 
They have smeared my blood
on the window frames,
and already the death angel
has passed by!

"The night is alive. 
I see through the darkness
swimmers in the starry river
and drifters on rafts
between the banks
of deep turquoise hedgerows.

"I see hidden
beneath the distant roofs
some who are whispering
over the remnants of their supper
as the little ones sleep,
some laughing
between swills of vodka,
or studying Torah,
or weeping over the Passion,
some praying,
or washing, or sleeping,
or making music or love.

"All is well.  Enjoy this night
and savor the thought of tomorrow,
when I will be for you
the aromatic feast
from the roasting pot."
Marc Chagall, The Soul of the City, 1945

Two Women

White spirit, swirl down
as trailing gown, breasts,
and hair-dark inward eyes.
Disembodied face, breathe on me
breath of the faded synagogue,
the dark, snowy street,
and a dream blue horse and driver.

Umber-haired lover,
press to your warmth
a willing cockerel, so that I,
a lost Janus, can again take brush
and make a Jew crossed,
forsaken until he gazes
on the temple's fiery curtain.


Celebration?  Too soon and hard in the large room with dull orange walls.  At a corner stand bearded men, and one of them signing to skeletal faces outside a window with his index finger up—it's a boy!
Marc Chagall, Birth, 1910
At an inside doorway other men's heads line up like scrolls on temple shelves.  Crimson curtains, deep, dark folds, hide from their male eyes the blotchy-faced,  exhausted mother, still naked and bloody.  An erect midwife displays the son, while a figure — the father — peeks from darkness at the foot of the bed, pulls himself off the floor, and speaks:

"Ah!  What sounds!  What sights!  Maybe a soldier gets used to such things, not ordinary men.  I don't expect Eden.  But this!  Why, Lord?  Birth as scary as death?

"I'd like to have a word or two with Adam.  Such a schmuck!  To throw away the Garden for a woman!  Except for him, I could be right now in the synagogue by golden lamplight studying Torah in peace, making my point to Ezra and Moyshe (the blockheads), while back at home, my new son would be arriving as easy as a loaf of bread from out of the oven — no need for all this sweating and screaming and bleeding — and maybe dying.
"Did I cause this?  I only followed your words, Lord.  I found the joints of her thighs—jewels indeed.  And I got me to the mountain of myrrh.... 

"Ah!  So I'm a schmuck, too!  Now I know what the old men mean when they say, 'A man studies until he is seventy, and dies a fool.'  So be it.  But if I could, I would spend the rest of my days only swimming in the sea of Talmud!" 

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