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September 2005

Two Poems by Lawrence Joseph '70, '75 JD

In It, Into It, Inside It, Down In
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Lawrence Joseph
Image: © Robert Buchta

How far to go?—I have to, I know,
I promised. But how? How, and when?

And where? It was cold. The sky,
Blue, almost burst, leaves burnished

yellow. Nearing Liberty, Liberty
and Church streets. So it happened

in early November. Which is to say
a story took place. Once again

new lines, new colors. One scene
and then another. Characters talking

to one another. It was she who
opened the conversation. "A wild rose,

and grapes on vines along the ground,
a butterfly on the green palmetto,

plums the size of walnuts, gray
and vermilion"—she sat up straighter,

lips pressed together, looking me
square in the eyes—"and why, you tell me why,

in this time of so many claims to morality,
the weight of violence

is unparalleled in the history
of the species . . ." What needs to be said—

why not say it? "Who dares to learn
what concerns him intimately,"

is how he says it in his book. Then the mind
runs through the spaces left behind, crossing

over to a different place. It certainly was
a well-dressed crowd. Here, again, the General,

the Attorney General, a beeper in one hand,
a crucifix in the other; here, again,

language, a language—a style, a groove, a fate.
On the esplanade, Battery Park, a newspaper,

old, caught in a gust, a child,
lost, crying—the pain was ours, I know it now;

beauty, the answer, if you must know—
the sun ablaze on the harbor. Hearing

a sentence phrased in . . . a tenor? Countertenor?
an error of nature, after all—made

of thought and of sound, of feelings seen—
in it, into it, inside it, down in.

In A Mood
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Less stupid than I seem, less
intelligent than I think. Observing

the subtlety innately a part of Near
Eastern manners, the mysterious

uses of power not entrusted to me.
Holy books' tribal signs inscribed

on skulls, a war—the Undersecretary
for Imperial Affairs says with a shrug—

is a lot more than a cosmic phenomenon.
In the spaciousness of syntax and text,

history's, or a history's, spaces composed,
the feeling, the meaning, aspired to,

the poem of an era. What will, indeed,
be revealed by the most expert lies

binds which economy, which comedy?
And all those memories in a mood.

Lilac-shaded shades of dark green
around the Bridge—that too, that evening.

A woman and a man beside the river . . .
A line consisting of a burning sky,

a sky on fire . . . the sky is on fire!
Then what, and then again what, unfolded . . .

Lawrence Joseph '70 BA, '75 JD, is the author of five books of poetry and one of prose, Lawyerland (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1997), which John Malkovich has optioned for a film. (Michigan Today featured Lawyerland in our Summer 1997 issue.
See : Lawyerland
Joseph was also the subject of a feature, "Poet of Detroit" in our December 1989 issue.)

Joseph's new book finds him in a time and place where "the immense enlargement / of our perspectives is confronted / by a reduction of our powers of action'—where the word 'wargame' is a verb and 'the weight of violence / is unparalleled in the history / of the species.' Along the New York waterfront, on a crowded street, at the site where the World Trade Center was, not far from where Joseph lives, the poet enters the scarred and corrupted places through his imagination, paints what he sees with vivid words, peoples the spaces with victims and observers, and interprets the events in a spare and searing staccato that marks his verbal palette throughout this remarkable volume.

The poet John Ashbery says in his book-jacket blurb for Into It: "As Lawrence Joseph notes, 'the technology to abolish truth is now available.' Fortunately, we have poets like him to respond to this challenge, which he does in poetry of great dignity, grace and unrelenting persuasiveness. 'Sentences made of thought and of sound, of feelings seen' give the lie to the destructive element that wants to submerge us. Joseph gives us new hope for the resourcefulness of humanity, and of poetry."

Also forthcoming from Lawrence Joseph this month is Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16 paperback. Joseph lives in downtown Manhattan with his wife, the painter Nancy Van Goethem. He is also a professor of law at St. John's University School of Law.




Michigan Today Poetry Archive >



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