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The Islands of Africa

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to Rimbaud

Two pages to a grape fable
dangles the swan of samite blood
shaping sand from thistle covered fog
Over sacred lakes of fever
(polished mouths of the vegetable frog
rolling to my iron venus)
I drop the chiseled pear
Standing in smoke filled valleys
(great domains of wingless flight
and the angel’s fleshy gun)
I stamp the houses of withering wax
Bells of siren-teeth (singing to our tomb
refusal’s last becoming)
await the approach of the incendiary children
lighting the moon-shaped beast

Every twisted river pulls down my torn-out hair
to ratless columns by the pyramid’s ghost
(watered basin of the temple stink)
and all the mud clocks in haste
draw their mermaid-feather swords
(wrapped by Dust) to nail them
into the tears of the sea-gull child
The winter web minute
flutters beneath the spider’s goblet
and the whores of all the fathers
bleed for my delight

Philip Lamantia, “The Islands of Africa” from The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia. Copyright © 2013 by Philip Lamantia. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.
Source: The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California Press, 2013)
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The Islands of Africa

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  • Surrealist poet Philip Lamantia was born in San Francisco in 1927, the son of Sicilian immigrants. Largely self-taught, he started writing in elementary school and became interested in surrealism after seeing the work of Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí at the San Francisco Museum of Art. He dropped out of high school and moved to New York City, where he eventually became assistant editor at View magazine. In New York, Lamantia became acquainted with André Breton and Max Ernst, publishing his first book of poems, Erotic Poems (1946), before he was 20. Other collections include Narcotica (1959), Ekstasis (1959), Destroyed Works (1962), Becoming Visible (1981), Meadowlark West (1986), and Bed of Sphinxes: New and Selected Poems, 1943–1993 (1997).

    In the 1940s, Lamantia returned to San Francisco and took courses at University of California, Berkeley. He traveled in France, Mexico, northern Africa, and the United States and lived for a while...

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