Eight Variations

By Weldon Kees 1914–1955 Weldon Kees
1.
         Prurient tapirs gamboled on our lawns,   
         But that was quite some time ago.
         Now one is accosted by asthmatic bulldogs,   
         Sluggish in the hedges, ruminant.

         Moving through ivy in the park
         Near drying waterfalls, we open every gate;   
         But that grave, shell-white unicorn is gone.   
         The path is strewn with papers to the street.

         Numbers that once were various
         Regarded us, were thought significant, significant   
         Enough to bring reporters to the scene.
         But now the bell strikes one, strikes one,

         Strikes one—monotonous and tired.

         Or clicks like a sad valise.

    2. Note to Be Left on the Table
    This ghost of yours, padding about the upper halls,   
    Given to fright-wigs Burbage might have worn,   
    Moaning in doorways, jumping out at maids,   
    Has not convinced me even yet. Can this be you?   
    Your life was frightening enough, but this   
    Poor pallid counterpart who fuddles in its role   
    Is inexcusable. Go haunt the houses of the girls   
    You once infected, or the men who bore   
    Your company far oftener than I; annoy the others   
    For a change. Is this, my house, the medieval hell
    You took to at the grave’s edge, years ago,
    After a dozen other hells had burned themselves away,   
    Or are we purgatory here? If not,
    You make it one. I give you until noon.

3.
Ruined travelers in sad trousseaux
Roost on my doorstep, indolent and worn.   
Not one of them fulfills despised Rousseau’s   
Predictions. Perhaps they are waiting to be born.   
If so, the spot’s been badly chosen.
This is a site for posthumous investigations,   
Pillows stuffed with nettles, charnal notions:   
Apoplectic executioners, bungled incisions.   
Indeed, our solitary midwife fondles the hemlock.

We welcomed one poor hackneyed Christ,
Sad bastard, croaking of pestilence. The basement
Holds him now. He has not as yet arisen.
The tickets are ready; the line forms on the right.
Justice and virtue, you will find, have been amazingly preserved.

         4.
         As water from a dwindling reservoir
         Uncovers mossy stones, new banks of silt,
         So every minute that I spend with you reveals   
         New flaws, new features, new intangibles.   
         We have been sitting here for hours—
         “I spent that summer in Madrid,
         The winter on the coast of France—
         The Millotsons were there, and Farnsworth.
         My work has perished with the rest
         Of Europe, gone, all gone. We will not see the end.”

         You said goodbye, and your perfume   
         Lingered for hours. At first it seemed
         Like summer dying there, then rank and sharp.

         And yet I did not air the room.

      5.
      Among Victorian beadwork and the smell of plush,   
      The owls, stuffed and marvelously sinister,
      Glare from dark corners, waiting for the night.   
      High up, the moose’s passive eyes explore
      Candles, unlit, within cut-glass. A door
      Is opened, and you enter with a look
      You might have saved for Pliny or the Pope.

      The furniture has shrunk now thirty years
      Have passed (with talent thinning out, and words   
      Gone dead), and mouths of friends in photographs   
      Display their hopeful and outmoded smiles.   
      You counted on at least a sputter of nostalgia,   
      However fretful. That was a mistake. Even the moose   
      Regards you with a tired, uncomprehending stare.

         6.
         Signboards commemorate their resting place.   
         The graveless of another century
         Came and were conquered; now their bones   
         Are dust where idiot highways run.
         Land in their eyes, unquiet ancestors
         (On fences yellow signs clang in the wind)
         Unstirred by suns drying the brown weeds   
         Above them now in parched and caking land.

         But when they speak of you, they feel the need   
         Of voices polished and revised by history,   
         The martial note, words framed in capitals.

         It is good to be deaf in a deafening time   
         With the sky gone colorless, while the dead   
         Thunder breaks, a cracked dish, out of the mind.

      7.
      The eye no longer single: where the bowl,
      Dead in the thickened darkness, swelled with light,   
      Transformed the images and moved the artist’s hand,   
      Becomes a framework for our mania.

      And haunts the stairway. Friends depart,   
      Taking their last look from the roof,   
      Saying goodnight and carrying their view   
      Of grapes the model ate in Paris years ago.

      Blue in the morning, green some afternoons;   
      The night, ambiguous, forgets the signature.

      The dust in attics settled and his stove
      Grew cold. About the model nothing much is known.

      It ends the wall and complements the view   
      Of chimneys. And it hides a stain.

         8.
         And when your beauty, washed away   
         In impure streams with my desire,
         Is only topic for ill-mannered minds,
         Gifted and glassy with exact recall,
         Gossip and rancid footnotes, or remote despair,   
         Let ruined weather perish in the streets   
         And let the world’s black lying flag come down.

         Only in calendars that mark no Spring
         Can there be weather in the mind
         That moves to you again as you are now:
         Tired after love and silent in this house,
         Your back turned to me, quite alone,
         Standing with one hand raised to smooth your hair,   
         At a small window, green with rain.

Weldon Kees, "Eight Variations" from The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees edited by Donald Justice by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1962, 1975, by the University of Nebraska Press. © renewed 2003 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Source: The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees (2003)

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Poet Weldon Kees 1914–1955

Subjects Relationships, Love, Disappointment & Failure, Living, Health & Illness, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Mythology & Folklore, Desire, Realistic & Complicated

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 Weldon  Kees

Biography

Weldon Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska and attended Doane College, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska, earning his degree in 1935. In addition to writing, Kees was passionate about painting and throughout his life created many forms of art including experimental films. In 1955 Kees took his sleeping bag and his savings account book and disappeared, leaving his car on the Golden Gate Bridge. It is not . . .

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