Jerome Rothenberg









sad in his world
or in yours
he walks for years beside
the economic lilies
explores the mysteries of bread
a wax archangel
stands on his tongue
his hands     cold     dry
deprived of water
in the room under the room
where Lenin sat
aromas of Bukovina gather
Moinesti with its corn mush
brinza cheese
redheaded Leah
like a hungry wolf
the word he dreams is
dada ice
dada piano
dada flower
dada tears
dada pendulum
dada vanilla
dada don quixote
dada humid
dada archipelago
dada pharmacy
dada sexenial
dada dichotomous
dada dichroic
dada dicrotic
dada didactic
dada didelphian
dada diluvial
dada dingdong
the fur of dada stretched out in the sun
dada on a hill old fox old dada
sammy rosenstock alive old exile
got Zurich on my mind
glass toys betwixt the stars with chains
electric flags & posters
"logic is a complication!
"logic is always wrong!
cries dada
holy cow
o cube
o hobby horse
the freedom first encountered in
first trip to Zurich
ghosts drunk on energy
they pulled the bells of war down
martyred the cabaret
until it exploded
like yiddish dada in the street
the overture to cheese
o Sammy brother
the sad one of your tribe
you said: disgust
you sat next to the photo of
redheaded Leah
under the axe & clock
your monocle hung from your vest
red life grew distant
in the room where Lenin sat
the walls sang politics to us
his nurse’s name was "dada"
so was yours
& sputtered poetry
redbellies laughing thru empty skulls
"my name is Sammy Rosenstock
"is later Tristan Tzara
"I am so sad with life
"I love it
"I am of course Rumanian
"I allow myself to contradict
"I put an owl in a hexagon
"I climb on the stage
"I’m prim
"I’m formal
"I applaud the revolution
"the hands of bandits
"blind worms & dada nightmares
"invade your bowels
" messiahs are passee
"the word we dream is
"dada sweepeth out
"dada teareth linens
"rips clouds & prayers to shreds
"thou rides on hiccups
"dada has a balcony
"we squat there     pregnant birds
"we shit on thine umbrella
"dada is against the future
"dada lives
"in fire          wisdom      fear
"– is fear of dada
"like a star? —
"no           like a fish      a plant      the moon
"a metal word
"distorted      boiling
"illumines the urethra
" sixty fingers on each arm
"I am a monster too
"I play with cushions
like hymns of queens
the eye of Lenin
now so wide
pushes the curtains
the chess game opens like a poem
metaphysics of perdition
rules them
tired of the stars
his horse eats colored snakes
o angel horse
on thee rides Hugo Ball
himself an angel horse
here Huelsenbeck & Jung walk
here Arp
here Janco
here kings of Zanzibar
here april nuns
here Tristan Tzara
ghost of Abulafla no ghost
he makes his buttocks jump
like belly of oriental queen
madonna face of Emmy Hennings
a silent fiddle
cuts the room in two
Hugo like a mannikin
at piano
stammers      yodels      farts in rhyme
in lusts of sabbath
— hiccups —
— bowwows —
dusts off the mask of dada
cardboard horsehair leather wire cloth
wears dada collars      dada boots
cothurnus of a bishop
lesbian sardines
ecstatic mice
vanilla derbies
from comers of Cabaret Voltaire
how many kings crow?
how many krazy kittens
cry for you?
how many centuries between
Zurich & Moinesti?
how many grandfathers?
how many clicks before the poem ends?
how much incesticide?
how many accordions to serenade
redheaded Leah?
Lenin dies
brave gymnasts march again
thru workers’ suburbs
Stalin’s moustache adrift
— o feckless future —
writes Mandelstam:
"huge laughing
"cockroaches on his lip
"the glimmer of his boot-rims
"scum & chicken necks
"half human
"the executions slide across his tongue
"like berries
o revolutions of the fathers
you tease us back to death
pink sands of California
line my coast
saloons & oracles
stemming the tide
can’t end it
you are dead
& dada life is growing
from your monocle
ignored      exalted
you lead me to my future
making poems together
flames & tongues      we write
like idiots
ballets of sperm
a brain song for the new machine
squadrons of princes pissing in the street
— intensity      disgust —
an empty church from which
you drew the drapes back
the face of Jesus on each drape
"on each Jesus was my heart"
you wrote
messiah of stale loaves
of frogs in shoes
god dada
messiahs are passee
there is no greater saviour
than this      no eye
so credible
your fart that night was luminous
it stoked the cannons
thruout Europe
in the bus to Amsterdam
in Missouri in Brazil in the Antilles
in a bathrobe
under your bed the shadows massed
like sleeping robbers
the moon became our moon
again o moon
over Moinesti
o moon of tiny exiles
moustaches of antelopes we eat
& cry out "fire"
a swamp of stars waits
toads squashed flat against
red bellies
at center of a dream
— magnetic eyes —
whose center is a center
& in the center
is another center
& in each center is a center
& a center on each center
composed by centers
like earth
the brain
the passage to other worlds
passage to something sad
lost dada
an old horse rotting in the garden
maneless      waiting
for the full moon
someone leaps into the saddle
rushes after you
exuding light


[From That Dada Strain, 1983]




                      for Robert Duncan


I was given a poem in the dream … a poem I read out loud … where I could feel the words coming in bursts but couldn’t salvage them … I only knew the poem’s name was ‘seedings’ & that it followed after a performance of ‘cokboy’ in which I had to improvise the final lines, unable to remember what they were. … Between poems I made a comment about Duncan’s peculiar way of reading, knowing he was dead but seeing him sitting in the audience & nodding at me when I started reading.




Now in the dream
I read aloud
the poem of seedings,
like the last time I saw you,
& how it opens me
to further words, new
as I see you sitting there,
old friend,
alive, to hear my stammer
like your own,
that mark of poetry upon
each poet’s tongue,
I call the listeners to hear
in us, while laughing,
at some other poem I read before,
obsessive words
we all can nod our heads to,
but I could not find
the ending,
not for all the years of reading it
aloud, & heard somebody say
— not you but somebody —
time is the thief of language
(meaning tongues)
like that the cat gets hold of



shadow of George Oppen,
having lost
his words, the shadow of a poet
he’d become,
or Blackburn speaking of it
first: I’ve lost
my verbs & nouns,
my alphabets
& birthdays,
who am no kind of man without
those seedings,                                                                                                                          sparks,
the pain obliterating all
or else the mind
retreating from itself,
like Williams in his old age
— & no flight of small
cheeping birds —
but ‘No. my hands
are tongue-tied . You have … made
a record in my heart
(Blackburn records it)
or my mother or my brother looking
much like you did, Paul,
the mouth become a hole
the language jammed into our cavities
— cancer aphasia alzheimers —
the poets punished for their poetry,
sharing their punishment with other beings
or what happens
when the mind & body — little
sad machine —
starts shutting down



the cat is death,
the thief of language,
meaning tongues,
enough to construct a mythos on
at last   old male cat
comes in thru his window
to talk to him
although it finds him voiceless,
waving kindly to my son
who stands outside
— hi, Paul —
the tape is turning, sends
my own voice back to me
he must have placed with care
there on the reel
to mark our visit —
& this was twenty years ago
& more now   a time no cat
could possibly survive
during which time the deaths have come
reality by that thrown back
into the cat’s mind,
where all reality resides
till death disrupts it
& erases world & time at once
your time & mine, Paul,
as it erases words,
stares out at you
so big   it trembles
on your screen,
ascends your vertebrae,
gone into dust by now,
poor spook,
our voices on the tape
already gone for you
although you labored to engrave it,
lugging that big old box around
— from reel to reel
to still more real —
when there was a world to live in
& the words to know it by
quickly came into mind & hand,
— no   there is no memory
among the dead
& even when you write them down
it isn’t I who speak
these words   but you
& only for a time



Write a poem for the dead & leave a place for all the dead to enter. … Consider their words as seeds or treat the dead themselves as seeds … & see a cat’s face as the face of death. … Go into the cat’s mind … an apotheosis of Cat. … Directive: since the cat is living there, attend to how it stalks, the way it moves through space & time.

but death abolishes
all space & time —
like Gertrude’s Oakland,
like the cat’s mind,
where no there is
& the world appears as constant pulses,
present running into present
only   void of past
& future
so the cat becomes a number
lying on its side,
the cat becomes a distant echo,
one who vanishes
without a word,
the ocean convulsing to the sound of cat,
the way the world convulsed
& dreamt itself,
the dream became our lives,
by which we marked the world’s
beginnings & will mark
its end   so simple
that there is no world to prove
beyond us   as the cat’s world
ends when cat goes
into death, takes with it
what must be memory of garden,
crooked stems & whiteveined lilies
on black stalks,
& does the poem exist
when there is no one there
to hear it,
when the poet’s throat is emptied
of his verbs & nouns,
lost brother walking on
some lonely ridge
holy tears,
too far into his death
to call it back
the birds around him in the thousands,
the gulls above the bridge
so many cries   such fast desires,
cold birds outside his window
his own skin at the world’s edge,
crying for his gods
                  / October almost
5 in the afternoon
the words so easily disposed
between myself & you
that I would quote us into life
dear Paul   would trust
the rest to follow
shortly, into life



a poem of seedings,
in the traces of

others who have gone before,
from life to life,
those tied to us as friends or kin
we look for in the empty field
& wonder   where
or in what form
they vanished
who were here just yesterday,
still in the mind
we set a place for them,
a house with swollen rooms
& in each room
a solitary dreamer
sits there   face obscured
by sunlight
Is this your mother?
someone asks
or she who took her own life
twice   the first dose
not enough
so that she woke up laughing
in her bitterness   or she
whose father drove her
to her death,
the poet who survived her
shaken, broken
& the other poet’s wife,
also so young,
whose photographs surround the room
where I once stayed,
still stay in memory   but
feel it
disappearing too
or dwindling
cut & broken in
until we can make a covenant
with death   we let it
follow us
the walls come tumbling down,
leaving no margin for
our distant lives


6 / Death Thoughts


While Thinking of Those Already Dead

since the world was different when they died,
how would they recognize it now?
it is for this reason that it is better that the dead
stay dead   their confusion would only alarm us
who remain alive & sometimes have to think
about the dead & what to say to them
to set things straight


Eternal Question

I wonder sometimes what the last word will be
spoken or heard before I die,
& I feel a great sadness not to know it
in advance, or ever know it



if there is nothing after death,
then there was nothing before death,
& life is the greatest illusion after all,
the way you fell for it
& I did,
there will be nothing behind us when we die



                     o these are wounds of love
                       these precious eyes

those who have lived a life of poetry
will die
         & meet the poets
it will be five o’clock
the blanket on the bed will fall away
the fat man will absorb the shock
love brings him   & now
unlike the others in the tunnel
he will forget to crouch
forget the dead who stand before him
blow their words like knives
over his head   beware   beware
the car door opens & a relentless squad
enters the imagination
in which   as in a sylvan clearing
poets mill around a thorn bush
for those who lived a life of poetry
to stare upon   to take the hands of
in their own & touch with lips
so dark the sun can barely reach them
old friends gone beforehand
let me call them one last time
by name    by seeding them
into the poem its body dark with soil
among whom a new fellow comes
the lately fallen ghost
who took her own life    fell
until no sky remained between
the soil & her
depression of the spirit raging
like the hungry ghost
inside her    throws her down
bones throbbing
makes her to feel her tongue
jammed down her throat
hermaphroditic in the shadow of
the phallic altar
there is god (she says) & man
& there are monsters
leading the way to death    among the friends
who wait her presence
those who have lived a life of poetry
whom we will only see once
in that final moment when we join them
before the chill sets in
the bliss of language lost to us
forever    drifting
like mindless phantoms
empty voices
without our verbs & nouns



The Times Are Never Right


Warm days  hanging

over San Diego,

where streets

slide into murky

canyons.  What

is this but

home & what

is  home

but a misnomer?

Pisces has shifted

into Aries.


bumps shadowing

the server’s

arms are no

concern to anyone

yet called to our

attention show

a strain, a  fearsomeness

hard to conceal.

The times are never right.

A  skin of air is over

everything.  The sun

flows like a liquid,

all the universe we see

has never happened.

There is no truth to time

except for birthdays.

In a city under siege

a ceremony

gathers, scattering

the birds.

We live forever

in the instant,

in the house we share.

A groom & bride

are figures,

smaller than a  thumb

& little reckoning

how short

the passage between

death & life.


20 . III . 02  /  for  diane ’ s  birthday





The Mystery of Evil


                                      for Oda Makoto


The mystery of evil

rests in God,

no less in terror.

Fathers who shun the world

cry scandal

where they spawn,

eyes dark as dungeons,

a wool beard

on every face.

Men grow transparent

in their rages,

oblivious the more

they claw with


at each other’s flesh.

The mystery of terror

rests in God,

no less in evil.

Poems are written

to the dead,

the ones

who do not speak nor share

a common language.

In the air of caves

a figure like a god

lies broken.

His glasses tumble to the ground.

His breath smells sweet to everybody.

Fools find places

where they track the stalkers,

legs that cross a line,

a line that dwindles to a point,

a point that shatters.

Stars collide.

The words of poems

go up in smoke.

Mothers brandish babes

like weapons.

There is no

boundary dividing

life from art.














Jerome Rothenberg was born and raised in New York City, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrant parents and is a descendant of the Talmudist Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg. He attended the City College of New York, graduating in 1952, and in 1953 he received a Master’s Degree in Literature from the  University of Michigan. Rothenberg served in the U.S. Army in Mainz, Germany from 1953 to 1955, after which he did further graduate study at Columbia University, finishing in 1959. He continued to live in New York City until 1972, when he moved first to the Allegany Seneca Reservation in western New York State and later to San Diego, California, where he has continued until the present.

In the late 1950s, he published translations of  German poets, including the first English  appearances of poems by  Paul Celan and Günter Grass, among others. He also founded Hawk’s Well Press and the magazines Poems from the Floating World and some/thing (the latter with David Antin), publishing work by a number of the most important American avant-garde poets of the day and his own first book, White Sun Black Sun 1960. He wrote in the context of what he named  “deep image” “in the 1950s and early 1960s, and during that time he published eight more collections and the first of his major anthologies of traditional and modern poetry, Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poems from Africa, America, Asia, & Oceania (1968), which still remains in print in a revised and expanded edition (1985). By the end of the 1960s he had also became active in poetry performance, had adapted a play (The Deputy by Rolf Hochhuth,1964) for Broadway production, and had opened the range of his experimental work well beyond the earlier “deep image” poetry.



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