Against Pluralism

By Donald Revell b. 1954 Donald Revell
Who will you point to? In the needle's eye,
or selling what you won at the strait gate,
who will know how to kiss you and just when
to pull the hair at your neck and say your name?
No single victim will ever be the last.
Not, at least, until one victim purifies
the whole issue of suffering
by crying out that his pain means nothing
because it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.
The clusters of exiles in their storefronts
will be free then. History will end.
Lover will take her hand from her lover's mouth
and see only his mouth, not a sightless
fish's eye scored onto the sheet's marble.

It's a wise child who knows it is no angel.
The rest of us grow up hovering, visiting
our lives in the moment of pain or orgasm
or when the little fingers of pity push
inside us and we feel loved. Our suffering
gales beneath our wings like applause.
We long to repeat it, to explain it
to stay aloft and clear our lives in that
mid-heaven of nostalgia and apology.
We hover over the camps, the forced retreats,
the ends of nations that no one can recall now
except as code words for catastrophe.
We alight for pleasure, touching the victims
as the hurt husband touches the bed his wife has left.

Father loved you with a passion. Or else
from fear of your long, inarticulate future,
he turned silent, edging into crank broadcasts
by a small radio on the screened porch.
Perhaps, as my father did, he moved out
into another house and had a daughter
with a redheaded woman who mistook his silence
for grief. My father never lost anything.
For years, I went to school with the daughter
as she grew fat and her red hair reached her knees.
Who were the victims? At what moment
should my father have cried out, the mothers
have cried out, or I have taken the fat hand
of my sister and walked off through the needle's eye?

And it's a wise child who can understand
that the mothers and fathers on the trains
see only the receding pastorals,
the lamplit villages of other angels,
and that his suffering is only one pinpoint
on a lithic hoarding of departures
each passenger reads like an advertisement of heaven.
The wise child goes crazy. How could he not?
How could he not be heartbroken to learn
that even compassion is compassionless, that it uses
the real or imagined pain of others and himself
for wings, for memory, for a marriage proposal,
for the cruel angelism that adores victims
and makes a fifth, airier element out of pain?

We recede. We recede. A virus finds
that place deepest behind the heart where it
unweaves itself into a pattern of false starts
like knots of villages and the one house
lightening at the crest of a green street
as its doors close to us. Dearest,
that is another crime of pluralism.
Hope, jagged with beginnings, scatters
our one real life among a dozen houses,
little illnesses of longing whose low
fevers contract the heart. You have but one heart.
And I have one. At the crest of a green street
we give them away. The night thanks us.
The fences shiver with cats, and the flowers close.

Feeling comes from nowhere and goes nowhere.
It is not a train. It is not one instance
of lovemaking or a lifetime spent together
running the dogs, dying finally face down
in the yard bed of herbs. We are all the same.
Or, rather, we should believe we are the same
in order to be happy with the same things
and not to be stealing from each other.
We put each other in camps. I crush my lover with a kiss
and then it is impossible to love her.
What must die if we are to live without barbed wire
and bad sex is the very idea of otherness.
And to kill the idea, we have merely to find
one victim in ourselves who will die for nothing.

My father could not stop getting children.
The people on the trains cannot stop watching
the passing villages for their own ghosts
and early angels. I cannot stop finding
houses in which to lose my heart a dozen times
in the fits and starts of a little passion exalted.
Life is not going to be bearable, I think,
for a long time. The exiles will play cards
in their storefront lodges. History will slide on.
And one will pull the hair at my neck. And one
will cover my mouth as she makes love to me.
The streets are snowed in under heaven's leaflets.
Our beds are scored with the sightless eyes, the eyes of others.
The air is sickeningly heavy with applause.

“Against Pluralism,” by Donald Revell from New Dark Ages (Wesleyan University Press, 1990). © 1990 by Donald Revell and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press,

Source: New Dark Ages (Wesleyan University Press, 1990)

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Poet Donald Revell b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Living, Disappointment & Failure, Youth, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Home Life, Relationships, Parenthood

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

 Donald  Revell


Born in the Bronx, Donald Revell received his PhD at SUNY Buffalo and is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, translations, and essays. His recent books include Tantivy (2012) and the prose work, Essay: A Critical Memoir (2015).Steeped in the work of Henry David Thoreau and William Carlos Williams, Revell’s poetry is “seriously Christian but not doctrinaire, mystical without setting intellect aside, angry over . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure, Youth, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Home Life, Relationships, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

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