Lackawanna Elegy

America
   The tongues of your rivers burn with thirst
America
   The coal in your mountains goes mad with sunlight
America
   The arms of your sequoias ask pity of the storms
America America

     Your heart’s drum
     Eats its own bones
     The eyes of your clocks
     Turn counter-clockwise seeking the past

And on her crumbling headland the Indian woman
Turns toward you eyes weighed down with asphalt
Her mercury and orange head shrinks just slightly
Her small breasts bared to the gnawing white ants

     She paints on the sand
     The oracle which a night effaces
     A rattlesnake gripped in her teeth
     She exorcises the white ghost
     Locked in the Kiva of hate

A shiver of feathers down the reed of the spine
Stirs your ash body America
A thorn is stuck in your twilight brow
A thorn is sown in the fields of hemp
A thorn is screwed into the heel of your dancers

America beware of your past
Of the Katchinas filled with menace
For wrath ripens its fiery apple
In the orchards of the Appalachians
In the desert colored by witches

In the rose-garden of your sick soul
The holocaust waits to begin.

— Yvan Goll
(Trans. by Galway Kinnell)

Cover Lackawanna ElegyBorn on the border of Germany and France, poet Yvan Goll worked in both French (Surrealist) and German (Expressionist). Worried because of his Jewish background, he fled Europe for New York at the beginning of World War II. In 1945, he returned to Paris, where he died of leukemia in 1950.

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