I. Sorrows are fleeting. Or so we hope
to the extent that we suffer
rather than inflict them.
Whence the name of the graveyard, Fleeting
II. And past the riparian gates of the place
the Amstel parades the cozy houseboats
of the coital rich, like sarcophagi
mildly rocking, mildly on the shoulders
of pallbearers all to testify that twice
you cannot screw on the same river
though the poplars in reflection may promise the abiding.
III. Coots, whose young are black,
tread pollution with red, lobed feet.
Pollution asserts its own
Almost like the clean flows the dirty.
Do not be so arrogant as to think you
can truly, Ð mortal, harm the world.
IV. But more beautiful than we
remain our monuments. We can hardly
live up to the gravity of everything
that makes the world, including those things
with which we have tampered, we thought
Poverty doesn’t exist, the perceptible is the immortal:
such are the successes and deceits of every graveyard
austerity being so sumptuous and loss
a crepitant lane under vigorously sighing trees.
V. We don’t have senses. It’s that our senses
have us. This is what, for the most
part, keeps us going,
each of us a river of sensations
like a mirror that, yes, has depth.
VI. So even what appears to us as toxic
exalts us with its capacity
to be apprehended.
VII. So the three dimensions stand at the tomb
of Anonymous reminding us
KNOW THYSELF is a task none fulfills alone
and our beauty resides, like flowers
in a vase, like water in a bucket,
like a corpse in an open casket,
in a world that tastes us in true
ignorance of our own self-assessment
wherefrom comes that exquisite appreciation of us
which excludes us entirely.
VIII. Poverty is wealth. Best, therefore,
the confessed exiguousness of epitaphs.
IX. And anyway, no learned attic that ever
went up in smoke
escapes its perpetuation
in the floating cypress-top
glossed by the queries of dimmed birds.
X. Ants glitter like mica in search of steady rock
from which to glitter.
Up goes the tombstone like the fluke of a whale
and it is drawn, so slowly, down.
XI. But everything flows.
This the management of Zorgvlied knows.
These are plots, my friend, on which rent is due.
Seven years, and your corpse is turned out.
XII. Meanwhile, ten thousand turning leaf-
shadows mollify the rock of tombs to make it almost
Galatea wakening from mineral, a maiden
who might shiver from the North Sea stepping.
Heaven must be material.
Questions and Answers
What inspired “Zorgvlied, Amsterdam”?
“Zorgvlied, Amsterdam” attempts to catch my sense of Dutch culture, in which (it seems to me) pathos and practicality mesh strikingly.