For I Have Lived Like a Dusty Angel -- 7 Poems of Michael Blumenthal

For I Have Lived Like a Dusty Angel

By Michael Blumenthal

And the muddy waters have washed over me,
coating my large wings with soot, clouding my eyes,
and the raging blood has coursed through my veins,
flooding the flatlands of virtue and decency,
ravaging the structures, inundating the houses,
shattering the windows, and I have grown heavy
with my deeds, and light with desire,
been betrayer and betrayed, wounder and wounded,
taken my turn at whatever was possible,
bad father good father infidel satyr,
been decent, forgiving, tender, wounding,
whoremonger exile patriot rake.
I have shaken the birches, made love
under the sycamore, wept beneath the willow,
I have trembled with desire
beside the mock orange (What good am I
to anyone, I ask, if I’m not good
to myself? Why pray to an invisible God
if I can’t please the beckoning flesh?)
And what more can a man ask of his body
but that it confess to everything? Sad bird,
this human one, but happy in exile: a confusion
of tongues, a mottle of trembling needs,
the dust still gathering on these broken wings
the darkness, the hunger, the flickering soot.


The Disappointments of Childhood

By Michael Blumenthal

Perhaps a bird was singing and for it I felt
a tiny affection, the same size as a bird.

Imagine now, an affection the same size
as the thing it's felt for: for the seed,
seed-like emoluments of liking and,
for the rain, droplets of tenderness
clustered in puddles at your feet.

And now remember how, as a child,
someone is telling you they love you.
How much does daddy love you? they
ask and you, childlike, spread
your arms as wide as a child can.

Little do you know it then, but the rest
of your life will be spent measuring
the distance between "that much"
and what love, in fact, is capable of ---

the narrow width of a man or a woman,
their terrible thinness,
their small bones
growing constantly inward
from your spreading arms.


The Old Painter at the Violin

by Michael Blumenthal

Because it is his destiny
to love what is beautiful
and, what's more to add to it,
he sits on his high stool,
before what he has already made,
in his jeans and blue sneaker
and his torn, grey socks,
and plays Vivaldi to his own Matisse,
Boccherini to his love for Cezanne.

On the easel before him,
in a white, luminous vase,
are the peonies and the poppies,
the dahlias and the bachelor buttons,
he has made from his mind's eye
the night before, and around him
his Bottom & Titania, and his dead wife,
who remains in this life and in the room
by his memory and by the rendering
that gives life to his memory

"I went my own way," he says,
and so he goes, still. And so he goes,
as well, to his violin, not
to improve anymore, he admits,
but so as not to go backwards,
because, even at seventy-eight, he says,
to go backwards is the greatest sin of all.

And so he plays on. Not perfectly,
but because just the same;
no better than yesterday, but
at least mo worse. So that Vivaldi
and Cezanne would have been proud.
And as his arms glide over the strings,
he is a happy man: Happy
because he holds to his own vows,
happy because he never goes backwards,
happy because the peonies and the violin,
in his hands are one. Happy
because, in the cacophony of this life,
the one voice he always heard clearly was his own.


Freudian Slip

By Michael Blumenthal

Though she coaxes the embroidered silk
over her head with the care of someone
attending a ball, the slip is transparent,
and in the moonlight filtering through
the bedroom window, her body is even
more real for its inspired accidents:
her breasts brazen and shy both at once,
mangos and the ordinary flesh.

It is how mistrust begins: this
and the second voice that whispers
beside you while she sleeps, the thrush
with a bluejay's cadence, archipelago
with its islands strung together so tightly
it mimics the mainland. And when she says
night, love, night frightens me, you know
she does not mean darkness.

And when she says I love you
she means watch your step,
the rest of your life.



By Michael Blumenthal

Bleibtreustrasse: a street in Berlin, whose name is taken from the German verb treubleiben, "to remain faithful."
I have sat on many streets,
in dark caf├ęs at midday, and in dimly lit bars,
and know how neatly the heart seeks out
its original home, how easily we drift
to do the dark things done to us. Whose heart
has ever been wise enough for more goodness
than, unformed, it was granted? What boy
who's sniffed at his own body in search of treachery
hasn't grown treacherous? And who
hasn't listened, trembling,
while life cried out: diversify,
and love called back: to specialize?

How often have I walked out, ravenous,
with thoughts of betraying you? But,
time and again, the voice of some better being
cries out, and I see your rectifying face
in the mirror over the bar. O love,
who can resist being shamed into goodness
by his own late luck? And who can resist
the thrill of his own betrayals? Why
should I lie to you? It never ceases,
the longing. I stare out onto the street.
I turn my lustful eyes back toward the page.
I grieve for my one life. I praise my life.
I speak your name.



by Michael Blumenthal

To make the frozen circumstances dance, you have to learn to sing to them their own music. Karl Marx

I turn to my cold blood
in the language of blood.

And in the shrill, ivory tones of neglect,
I sing to the widening penumbra of my neglect.

In the incoherent babble of the child,
I return to my childhood.

And in the sharp, unfeeling syllables of betrayal,
I renounce my betrayals.

I will be a master of many tongues,

a Pentecostal rabbi chanting to the ghosts
of all my infidelities as they fall from the heavens.

And I will skate by
on the ice that has become my life

whispering to the moon
in the language of the moon,

beckoning to the stars
in the voice of the stars,

waiting for the mute tides to ripple
beneath my rubbery legs

as I stoop to address the ice
in the cold, brackish language of water,

and of salt.


From Laps, Section #28

by Michael Blumenthal

Repentence and forgiveness,
Steinsaltz says,
are the Jew’s sacraments,
so here in these baptismal waters
I am one stroke forgiveness,
one repentence (these gestures
cover all I know), my arms
arcing like the back of a sunflower
over the surface as I realize,
again, why I am doing this:
because swimming is a kind
of forgetting, and there are days,
like today, when I would like
to forget all I have done, all
that has been done to me,
and merely swim.

And so I ask myself, while turning:
Is grief sincere? Or is
a mere wetness in the face
enough to move a man from grief
to joy? A fervent yahoo
in the balls now overtakes
my sense: the tragic washes off
to whence it came, and I'm
alive again, a bathing-suited lump
of pectorals and lust,
a man so eager to be cleansed
of all tristesse
he stoops to stroke
this wet, amorphous circumstance,
this sometimes antimetaphysical and happy plunge.

Poet's Brief Biography
( From )

Michael Blumenthal

Michael Blumenthal was born March 8, 1949 in Vineland, New Jersey. He attended State University of New York at Binghamton where he studied philosophy. After graduation from college he taught German and at a school for emotionally disturbed adolescents. He received his law degree from Cornell in 1974 and joined the Federal Trade Commission as a lawyer (1974-75). He left the FTC to become an arts administrator with the National Endowment for the Arts (1975-1976) and then editor at Time-Life Books (1977-80). He returned to the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1980 as assistant to the chairman, a position he held until 1981.

Blumenthal was a lecturer in poetry at Harvard University and director of Creative Writing. From 1992-1996, he was Senior Fulbright Lecturer in American Literature in Budapest, as well as an editor at the Central European University Press. From 1996 to 1997, he taught at the University of Haifa in Israel. His poetry has received various awards and fellowships.

His writings include: Dusty Angel (1999), The Wages of Goodness (1992), Against Romance: Poems (1988), Days We Would Rather Know: Poems (1984), Laps: A Poem (1984), Sympathetic Magic (1980), All My Mothers and Fathers: A Memoir (2002), When History Enters the House: Essays from Central Europe (1997), Weinstock Among the Dying: A Novel (1993), To Woo and To Wed: Contemporary Poets on Love and Marriage (1992)