18 Walter Billeter

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[The New Australian Poetry. page 218]

Walter Billeter


      IN MEMORIAM PAUL CELAN (1920-1970)

You are dead now and can breathe, should we,
whom unknowingly you taught,
not becry you — did not Rilke
recognise the angels’ terror, yet still
sing up to them? Maybe a dead man’s open eye
sees other words, sees things that can’t be taught
a blindman’s hand
; maybe ours is to listen
to the smoke-mouths’ conversations and to
praise the grower of the no one’s rose? Or
must we try to find remembrance in forgetting,
return to poppy and to memory — that crossroad
where your breath began? There ARE still kingbirths,
we are told, and witnesses that testify for the beginnings:
the breath of origin still permeates this world.
Would we, in following your traces, embark
another boat, be washed against a stranger shore
or one that’s more familiar? Would our ocean be the same?

So many questions thrown about! So much
what? and where? and when?  —, so much night!
                                                                                        Lightwards,
the answers dance across the pages, word-compelled.


[The New Australian Poetry, page 219]

Walter Billeter

You sang.
                                          What
did you sing? — Of thread-suns
and of light-compulsion, of songs
to sing beyond mankind — you
sang, o how
you sang! And all those
words
you chiselled
from the silence, these crystals,
these immaculate crystals, taken, pain-
stakingly picked from your breath
’s paths, those un-
crowned names
crowned out by you, a star-throw
from the comet’s brow, into
the night —

Kingmaker, you

                              but this is not to be a list
of your achievements, these aren’t the words
I hear when I swim leewards of your words’ light:
you are dead now and I ride,
am ridden by, another ocean, much
unlike yours,
my memory-wound, crowned inwards and
of other colours — can you breathe? — is mourning,
                                                                                            dirge.

When I remember

all the names ( all those
names
burnt with the rest. So much
ash to be blessed.
 — And so much
silence, cooked like gold, in
charred, charred
hands)

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 220]

Walter Billeter

                                            and think about your speech
of wounds
                    and sores healed sore
and watch

the wordrich
rivers
flowing from
the nearer-
sailing
pus-point of the crown,

                                                          I hesitate — at once, your
gorselight
makes me
                    shiver and

(there are
still kingbirths, one star
you told us, may still
have light
)

                                                            find ease.

Ease and shiver then, utmost poles
of emotion in motion.
Pulsation. Propulsion.

The Great In-Between (where
among star-psalms and night-
prayers
the babbleonian word-world
builders
hustle about and your
silence un-
locks the word
with night-strong
hand)
forms a bridge
that spans across, spans over
to you,

              and your breath
shakes its arches, touches

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 221]

Walter Billeter

the pillars
at the place where the fingers
as nail-moons
descend
to the page where they will crumble
apart, into words,
and arise
in order to shine, to shed light
on the ocean,

the ocean that rides me, whose waves
carry me on
to the pillars, their foam
sprays
your breath-touch, they
carry me on
into the open
where, amputated, a light-
arm arises, a stump
cruising darkness, bleeding light.

So it’s light now — crowned out
your words, spewed
out into night, a seven-pointed
dice-face
far from the beaker and beyond
the game —

                    and still
we cannot name the hour
of our arrival —
so much darkness
clouds
the beginnings.

                                So much

night! — a spinning top, galactic.
And curdled star-

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 222]

Walter Billeter

milk, light, I drink,
the night rode you, I
vomit — (all
seems to go
in circles
here), the night
rode you, it
rode you straight
, I drink
the light, I
drink and drink (all
seems to go) the smoke-
mouths’ conversations
(in circles
here) and ashes
to be blessed
 ———

You are dead now and can we
expand
the field of art?
Should we?

You breathe a NO! a great, round
ever-no (another
circle, there, within
the circles
here), you breathe and
no, you say, go with your art
into your most particular narrowness. And
free
yourself.

Nearer
further
light and
darkness
round in
circles
day and
night. —

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 223]

Walter Billeter

Games.

Who throws
the dice? deals
the cards?

Where?

Who sets the rules? And why?

(Words like waves seem to roll along
towards somewhere, while up
and down they’re dancing
at their place —

                    but
                              if movement is standstill,
                              is silence — speech?)

You are breath
now, you
were, you are
at home, you
touch (a gentle
breeze, an as-
piration) the stones
that weigh the nets I threw; you
are
(quotation, misquotation)
a-
live,

(here, in
these pages), I threw
my nets:
come,
swimming light, the night
is far, is vast, is here ——

 


[The New Australian Poetry, page 224]

Walter Billeter

(all the rites of evocation!

To becry your death
or our loss?

Are these pages nothing more
than glistening signs,

You are dead now — can we
breathe?

Stillborn,
                    the words weigh the paper —,
                                                                         — —)