The Dance of Masks

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Come with me to the heart of this darkened town.

Set fire to the trees boxed in concrete
full of phosphorescent woodpeckers
Set fire to the display shelves of desiccated meat
obscured by low light and the constant shrill pitch of the sellers.

In this momentary era of low expectations
the spigot of joy is slowly being closed
by the oxidizing hand of the powerful
and the deafening silence of the comfortable.

During this time, when dead animals prowl again,
rendering to pieces any attempt at interpretation,
the cantos of penniless writers
and the sensual movements of dancers
conjure a brief spring beneath the colossus.

Without our cars, on our solitary marches,
we still dance in our abominable masks –
beat-box boy-people in an era of spectacle,
winged messengers awake amid the sleepers.

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Look into the heart of the caveman’s city.

We file in, callous prisoners under a vast heaven,
faint somnambulist voices in this bottomless midden.

I flag a cab with my tattooed leaves of song
and fall into the flood without stopping for breath,
counterpointing the descant of file clerks,
their rabid footsteps levitating with hope.

The Chinese worker is now the emblem
without compare, though as naked as his wife;
and the director of the bank is now a commuter
who submits to the cruel silence of money,
still wearing the voodoo mask of Wall Street.

You cannot stand outside the dance:
you are the horse that carries the lost cowboy,
you are the hand that bales hay on the hillside,
the horizon line that gathers in the children.
This is our impetuous, primitive ballet with the unstoppable machine,
ignorant in its lunatic frenzy.

Why is the root of the olive tree now a formula?

Our slight songs are as terse as the mantras of cowboys.
Only if you are queen of the sheep will the hellions protect you.
The sky glows with tenderness
now that your gamble is lost to the wind.

We cannot stand outside the dance. We must dance it.
The masked ballerina enters the ranks of blood and numbers,
enters the hurricane of iron, loses her hat full of gems.
What strange dark nights, in this time without light,
on the continent of rummage sales,
at the delta of flotsam and jetsam, at the frontier,
holding on by our nerves.

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
What a dance of light lost over the city!

I find myself on the terrace, bathing in the light from the moon,
the acrid wind jams with the muscles of night.
My eyes drink in the sweet emptiness of the sky,
while large, roomy Buicks
gulp up the crystal sentiments of the streets.

The bloody goats drink up the light from abandoned astronauts
and the dead soldiers under Manhattan.
The natural air is impugned by priests,
trembling like timid molluscs, crouched in sin.

Fathers have no sons: more dead than the ballet’s toy soldiers.
The dead stand like drunkards, undone by their own hands.
The only sons outside the dance of masks think they have escaped:
those sons, those cowboys of the plains, those handsome men,
those that were crucified on their own muscles like enduring sheep,
that broke their backs in the wide open country of the mountains,
those that drank from the bank of dead children’s tears,
they are the ones who made these exquisite little pyramids of power.

This is not a dance for fathers!
Now there is no dance for fathers!
There is no king,
no millionaires of holy azure, no ballerinas in the dry cathedrals,
no builders, no queens, no bosses, no lovers.
There is only this mask,
this mask of aging tradition,
there is only this mask!

What these slippery cobras want is the ultimate piss-up,
they want our esteemed leaders to sit on their patios,
having their drinks beside their musty pyramids;
they want us to sell off our shares in their old fossils
and quickly now, quickly, buy, buy, buy.
Ah, Wall Street!

Here is your mask. Your mask is your mirror.
Come on; let’s escape this boutique of venom
for the anguished imperfection of our city.

(a synesthetic translation of Danza de la Muerte
from Poeta en Nueva York (1930) by Federico Garcia Lorca)


About Nicholas Power

The poetry of Nicholas Power and his reviews of singular poems in a sequence titled Cadence.
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