Cover image for The mercy seat : collected & new poems, 1967-2000
The mercy seat : collected & new poems, 1967-2000
Dubie, Norman, 1945-
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Publication Information:
Port Townsend, WA : Copper Canyon Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 409 pages ; 24 cm
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PS3554.U255 M47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"If Joseph Stalin feared poets, so should you"--Norman Dubie

Copper Canyon Press is thrilled to present Norman Dubie's first collection in over a decade. Dubie is not simply a poet's poet, he is a reader's poet. His poems draw upon and recast the world's great tales, and salvages from the backwaters of human history moments of redemptive, imaginative beauty. The Mercy Seat collects new poems together with work from all of his seventeen previous, out-of-print books, and presents a major body of work.

Previous praise:

"One of the most powerful and influential American poets-Dubie is perhaps best known for his dramatic monologues, the urgent personal histories of personages from the past-artists, writers, thinkers, and musicians. The famous speakers and renowned figures who appear-Ovid, Chekhov, Beethoven, Klee, Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, Ibsen and others-are, for Dubie, important exemplars of new ways of seeing, of new modes of perception. These poems have a fierce clarity and disarming ease; they are detailed and compassionate, personal yet universal."-- Washington Post Book World

"The reader new to Mr. Dubie's work is likely to be struck first by the vigor of his forms and the bravery of his language.";- The New York Times Book Review

"A critic wrote, 'If Marc Chagall were an X-rated poet, he'd be Norman Dubie.'"-Norman Dubie

Norman Dubie is a Regents' professor at Arizona State University. He has been the poetry editor for The Iowa Review and the director of the graduate poetry workshop at the University of Iowa. His award-winning poetry includes The Clouds of Magellan, The Horsehair Sofa, Alehouse Sonnets, Groom Falconer and more. He lives with his wife and daughter in Tempe, Arizona.

The Friary at Blossom, Prologue & Instructions

The pond-lilies are like little executions
over the water, the flat physical collars
of aristocrats and the cords that lunge
for the bottom. The yellow perch circling
the impeccable underneath of farewell, government
and mud in April.

The image of a horse diving into water
ignores the wild dogs up on the cliff,
their failur

Author Notes

Norman Dubie, author of twenty books of poetry, is a Regents' professor at Arizona State University. A practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism whose work has been translated into thirty languages, Dubie received the PEN Center USA Literary Award for The Mercy Seat: Collected and New Poems.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Dubie generated nearly 20 books of poetry in rapid succession, beginning with The Horsehair Sofa in 1968 and flowing continually throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He was avidly praised and awarded, and then, after Radio Sky (1991), the torrent slowed and silence accrued until the release of this substantial and triumphant collection of long-out-of-print works and a major set of new poems that could readily stand on its own. Dubie is a daring and exigent monologist, taking on guises both imaginary and historical and writing often of death. In his early works, he channels the spirits of Ibsen, Chekhov, Hardy, and Poe; relates the fable of Saint Jerome, the donkey, and the lion; and ponders the torments of World War II. In his latest poems, Buddhism and the tragedies of Tibet replace the sorrows of the Christian realm, and the past is seen as the future. Dubie's language has never been more beautiful or insistent, nor his imaginings more startling and surreal as he pushes "some simple wretchedness unto bliss." Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the mid-'60s, Dubie has spent the last few decades ensconced at Arizona State. The clean, Stevensian, surreal declaration that has served as jumping-off point for many of his generation has served Dubie just as well throughout this 30-plus year oeuvre tour, to the point where the master haunts poems like "The Clouds of Magellan (Aphorisms of Mr. Canon Aspirin)" and "Buffalo Clouds over the Maestro Hoon." The early work reads like high-brow pastoral, forming a pleasant, poignant, mildly foreboding kaleidoscope of images, as famous American and European artists and writers mill among cloudfall and bobbins and hymn books and ferns and hints of World War II. In the better, later poems of the book's second half, things begin to jut out and matter: if, as in an early poem, "We love the details mice leave in the flour," the later work finds "We are now the mice in field/ Frightened by the orange fattening crest/ Of three small fires circling/ The wreckage of a blue and white Cesnas." The moments gathered in a typical Dubie poem are suspended in a kind of vectoral stasis; the car crash in "The Open Happens in the Midst of Beings" is poised against "two waiters, clearly in love, smoking by the river." Dubie dedicates the book to the Dalai Lama, and when political realities and the true stakes of the world anchor his complexly balanced poems, as they begin to do as the book progresses, his project comes into focus. As with Iowa gatekeeper and Copper Canyon stablemate Marvin Bell, it may be that Dubie's best work is ahead of him. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Most often associated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he apprenticed and taught for many years, Dubie has put together a career defining "collected works" whose sheer bulk readers may find daunting. Combining new poems with those from his 17 prior books of POETRY many of which are out of print the Vermont native vividly depicts a Spartan childhood and rural poverty ("On the broken stairs of a trailer/ A laughing fat girl in a T-shirt is pumping/ milk from her swollen breasts") and pays debt to a harsh Puritan god. Having helped define the surreal Midwestern naturalism that inhabits much of American "workshop POETRY," Dubie writes with an intimacy that belies the elusive and complex nature of his poems. Narrative-laden and replete with dreamlike imagery, the poems often consist of dramatic monologs whose subjects range from Beethoven, Einstein, and Chekhov to an escaped slave in Massachusetts, and they cloak an unavoidable reality permeated with the guilt of the survivor. An essential purchase. Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     Popham of the New Song for Pamela Stewart I. Neither all nor any angels arrive in the mind where The spruce and fir shake at the sun in the morning Spilling some yellow over the water. Some yellow And the motion of next to no motion Across the rocks, a salt-air, the old oceans Return us, slowly tug us, along the familiar fiction Of childhood. We were children. No longer. This is the beginning of something Not given, hopefully, too often: the present Moment. No little engine in a little boat. But the Bucket with a hole in it. From the well to the house. The loss of water like a problem; the referendum that Doesn't make an ocean. It has lost all confidence In us. A last essay in a bowl. We are sorry but the salvages were wages. It's the way the little clams In their black beds peep and then stare At the crocuses, now, up and alarmed, everywhere. There were two books not yet dusted with a feather. Not yet books as books in rooms. The liars are all out on the smallest branch That cracks the window. Around the cellar windows There is a black sticky paper. The green of the pine This time is saying to the winter: Give it up, give it up. A man sits back and relinquishes his childhood, his child's Childhood, his child. No longer carrying clear water In a small cup. One foot before the other. He wonders If the bright color of a bird breaking from the thicket Will be enough. This is not the beginning or the end Of just one or the other season. This is a man Who believes that a child has grown and grown but Never in the mind. In the mind under the boughs She has just weakened. And, now, bring the towels and basins. The fresh linen And ribbons. It's evening. And neither all nor any of the angels arrive here In the rooms where a child is being clothed in jewels and dresses. The wooden boats knocking around Outside like two old women calling for a cat who's died                   Out in the first mud and forsythia. Far outside. II. And so a man I love says fifteen years is all he has; And so I say to the man I love: A great wheel Made of wood and iron Will make but one revolution in fifteen years, crossing Fields outside Odessa, ropes and songs and mules Making it an infinite nostalgia of a white animal. Do men in bright blouses surround a senseless element. The way a horn is tipped Spilling squash, winter melons, and huge black Leaves that are smoked in lodges near a stream. The coronary like naked children standing in a pond. Of forms, I tell him, the body is profound. It is of bread and water that people die. The will-to-change Lugs a piano on its back. And retires, humid At midnight with a glass of milk. It hits the sack. This mover of objects down the stairs says there is Only one piano in its life and it is black. We dressed the child and said, perhaps, that two friends Died. There is no wife. The measure of her waist is equal to the radius Of the wheel above or the wrist of the ambiguous child. Who was put in a boat. Who waved good-bye. The will-to-change is a likable vertebrate. Surprised? Is that what we mean when we say they die. Or is it that we're all alike. The watercolors Of then and now. Your father in Russia. The clover, or The shock-tactics of lucid flowers all wired Into bundles and found On the chests of dead Sicilian children. A clover only Of the mind. I mind! Who tripped Us on the stairs. A picture of little hope in a prospect of flowers. A marvelous fall on the stairs and all the little hammers And teeth of the will-to-change broken, scattered Across the floor. I will not go! To Peoria this time friend. Or Odessa or Romania. Nothing will? Romania? Margaret and Rita Are children on the stairs, and all afternoon they comb                  Each other's hair. They don't believe in me or you. III. OPPOSITION Four farmers seen through an open window falling asleep While playing cards In the very early morning at a small railway station In Belgium. And so poetry wins a few hearts. This is a small boy's way of insisting on adventure, But with the violence of a great-grandmother who spits. We are defeated by the commonplace splendor of a battle Between night and late evening. The figure for the struggle could be a virgin On a porch shaking out a tablecloth while calling To the birds. Come and eat! Come and eat! Vigorously shaking her tablecloth; all the birds Fleeing to the nearest tree. Can nothing be done Right in my story. The rare black Auk is resting on her eggs. There is a beautiful tall blonde in a flapping dress Stepping from a train in Belgium. There is an open Window through which she sees four farmers playing Cards while looking out an open window at her knees. Somewhere between them there's a sheet Of hotel stationery carried by a breeze. Somewhere between what? She and the farmers? Or her knees? In the congress of degrees of              slow speech There is the great black Auk about to say something. "All across Europe I hear women dying in childbirth." Or, "Up in the tree the owl and the nightingale Speak to each other and tremble but don't sleep." Poetry can win a few hearts. A woman stands in a tub: You think one breast is smaller than the other. But then you're not sure. You've fallen In love. There is one idea That is easily Released with just a finger and a thumb. Behind the virgin the screen door slams just once And all the birds are coming down out of the trees And not very secretly. The great black Auk Is screaming for joy. Her lovely young! Things are getting Better for my story. We're back where it had begun. One of The farmers leans and says to the youngest, "Did you see                  That letter fly between her knees." They are drunk. IV. LES PAPILLONS NOIRS A black sedan draws along the woods stopping For occasional white daffodils; there are still Some patches of snow. The two women looking To both sides of the road. One says, "Emma Bovary Had a beehive below her window and the bees Circling in the sunlight would sometimes strike Against the window as fast yellow balls." The other says, "Once after some winter rains everything Froze and to take water from the well I would First with slack rope and a flatiron in the bucket Drop the bucket to open the water. Seldom have I felt physical." "And then the shadows of evening are falling." Dreamlike. "The triumphs are, of course, never physical." The two women still cruising along the woods. The younger remembers the Viscount's arm red And twitching in mud and straw by the wagon. The first Clear desire to touch a muscle. Once In the war her mother wrestled a large leg away From a starving horse. It was Winter and she saw for the first time those black butterflies, Those light ashes floating at the edge of everything When your eyes are sore and tired. She also Remembered her brother who drilled with the militia On Sundays. Boys just up in the trees Cheering and insulting; all of their legs dangling but Not belonging to the scene or to the promise of Anything simple like white daffodils in new dirt at evening. (Catching minnows with a colander.) This is the younger's Story and going only from one thought to another. What provokes the birds in the morning is her man. At the sink he vomits, the small waist moving regularly, Poisoned with mayonnaise he had made with his father On Saturday. The men make the mayonnaise on Saturday. All the eggs and peppers. The bowls of ice and green cigars From Vaubyessard. The smoke Like April now steaming in the woods at evening. Black Butterflies. White daffodils. A red muscle. Like monks Sitting down to copy. Two women bent over flowers                  On a newspaper. They say, "What to keep.                                         What to throw away." V. for R.P. Blackmur There are the countless, returning New England widows and Spinsters. They are returning from the shed with wood Or kerosene. They follow in their own footsteps A course, soft but exact, like reapers with knives Bare to the waist crossing a yellow field. They know their lives, early and late, and talk peacefully To the elderly hen who lives in straw, why not in the attic. "I buried our garden last week." A blue face With a buttercup under each eye. The painted face of a woman laid out In a stone house; trying to raise herself Just with her elbows: her elbows looking more Like the back legs of a cricket or a fly. Emily Dickinson's job was to lay out knives In the seminary dining hall in the morning And to wash and dry them at night, counting them twice, While returning them to the purple drawers. Running to her Room under the curfew bells. She said Her father never snored. He thought She would hide some of her letters In the big bushes by the vegetables and marigolds. There was an interview with a pigeon. Twice I dreamed I was a Jew in China Eating blue leaves off branches with roots. So these women were young and knew young men From Amherst and Salem. Young men watched From windows walking in circles under elms and oaks. The wheeling princes of rank and order Come to visit first with the father and then The daughters. "The mysterious beauty of someone red And, yes, the energy even of his stutter." Well, I said they are all, now, stepping high And precisely through snow and back from The shed. Maybe, there's even a ghost or two. In summer represented by lightning striking The iron rooster on the roof of the barn. They know their lives, early and late, and set out Knives in seminaries and, nevertheless, Die a natural death. And, nevertheless, value coal                  With alabaster. And suffer affliction like an insect. VI. THE JOYOUS, THE LAKE How two women can be the same, for instance, in Poland On a wharf at a lake where naked women are Being instructed by soldiers to walk quickly along To the end of the wharf, at last, every two of them Are passed a blanket to share as they step down Into the steady boats. It's a wet October day. Some cry. Some sing. Naked you are beside Yourself.These pairs of women on the hard benches In the boats are like that, and especially at the width Of each boat: two large middle-aged women working The oars, their blankets fallen to the floor Of the boat. Pulling it across, not sisters, Occasionally looking over a shoulder. In the middle Of the lake it rains on everyone briefly; all the songs Now are to help the women rowing. The sleeves of the soldiers are of red wool and they are Also miserable. They are Like a corpse in soil included in the scene. Pastor Cruikshank looks out over the lake. I offer Him dry matches. I say that order is for the birds If it appears as the survival of restraints After the feelings it meant to contain are no longer felt By anyone on the face of the earth. He says, Well, and for That matter all the birds are in Marseille. The Nazis in Warsaw. And we, my boy, are on the shore of a cold lake. Perhaps, all Feelings are the birth of the shape they take. Now, I thought Of that, but made it his speech. Please, reach me down That book, that jar, or the feeling that runs The nude in the morning away from the water up the sloping Lawn to the cottage with a yellow gate. An air or melody. The Pastor says that Puritans gathered on a beach In their capes and looked back across the ocean Remembering the crazy bobbin on a nail of bone, The green milk in the shade, And the green manure in the barns outside a village. What color was the pond? That too was a mistake. And then he left drawing a thumb across his leg. That means Nothing to us, early or late. The women in the boat Were the last delay of a dream aria with water. A bird                  Drops down from a tree in the sun in Marseille. VII. SONG A bird drops down from a tree in the sun in Marseille. This is a bitter poem. This is a poem that meant To be an admission of love to a woman Whom it admits it loves. This is a bitter poem. This is a poem of love for a woman and a bird both Dropping out of a tree in the sun; yes, in Marseille. And actually I'm now just writing this poem. You On the other hand are just now reading this poem. From here on it is already written for you; not yet written For me. Why do I continue with it? Because you are inseparable from the woman this poem Has a love for, and the bird, also; almost down from the tree. This poem loves a rotting boat in a green cove, some Daffodils, and a young Nazi lacing a boot by a dead truck By the lake in a cold rain. He is looking at a copy Of Heine. If this bothers you. (The poem's affection For the soldier.) Then the rest of the poem is not written For you. It is a poem that couldn't love The woman I love. It is a poem I couldn't love but It is a poem of love, I think, despite either of us. The young Nazi finishes lacing His boot by making a careful bow. Now is that Altogether surprising. It is a surprise to the woman This is written for who is sometimes, also, the only Person reading this poem. Yes, she could be you. This is the achievement of this poem. That it is Now finally speaking just to you . This is No longer a bitter poem; no longer a poem          that could continue! Copyright © 2001 Norman Dubie. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

The Friary at Blossom, Prologue and Instructionsp. 3
Part 1 Poems 1967-1990
Popham of the New Songp. 7
In the Dead of the Nightp. 17
For Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965p. 18
Indian Summerp. 19
The Hourp. 27
A Village Priestp. 28
Descent into the Hours of the Peregrinep. 30
The Pennacesse Leper Colony for Women, Cape Cod: 1922p. 31
Pastoralp. 33
The Obscurep. 34
About Infinityp. 36
Anima Poeta: A Christmas Entry for the Suicide, Mayakovskyp. 37
Monologue of Two Moons, Nudes with Crests: 1938p. 39
Elegy Asking That It Be the Lastp. 41
Nineteen Fortyp. 42
February: The Boy Brueghelp. 43
The Czar's Last Christmas Letter: A Barn in the Uralsp. 45
These Untitled Little Verses in Which, at Dawn, Two Obscure Dutch Peasants Struggled with an Auburn Horsep. 48
Her Monologue of Dark Crepe with Edges of Lightp. 50
The Wedding Partyp. 53
The Immoralistp. 55
Sun and Moon Flowers: Paul Klee, 1879-1940p. 56
Ibisp. 58
The Trees of Madame Blavatskyp. 62
The Mothsp. 63
Elegies for the Ocher Deer on the Walls at Lascauxp. 69
Ghostp. 81
The City of the Olesha Fruitp. 83
The Seagullp. 87
A Widow Speaks to the Auroras of a December Nightp. 90
The Hoursp. 92
After Three Photographs of Brassaip. 94
The Dun Cow and the Hagp. 96
Elegy to the Siouxp. 98
A Grandfather's Last Letterp. 101
The Gangesp. 104
Elegy to the Pulley of Superior Obliquep. 105
Thomas Hardyp. 107
Grand Illusionp. 108
Youp. 113
Elizabeth's War with the Christmas Bearp. 114
Aubade of the Singer and Saboteur, Marie Tristep. 116
The Fox Who Watched for the Midnight Sunp. 120
Comes Winter, the Sea Huntingp. 122
Double Sphere, Cloven Spherep. 126
The Composer's Winter Dreamp. 128
The Night Before Thanksgivingp. 132
Ode to the Spectral Thief, Alphap. 133
The Parallax Monograph for Rodinp. 136
The World Isn't a Wedding of the Artists of Yesterdayp. 139
The Scrivener's Rosesp. 141
The Circus Ringmaster's Apology to Godp. 146
Coleridge Crossing the Plain of Jarsp. 148
Principia Mathematica: Einstein's Exile in an Old Dutch Winterp. 150
Lord Mythp. 153
Not the Cuckold's Dreamp. 155
After Spring Snow, What They Sawp. 157
The Everlastingsp. 159
An Old Woman's Visionp. 162
Several Measures for the Little Lostp. 164
Grandmotherp. 166
Pictures at an Exhibitionp. 167
To a Young Woman Dying at Weirp. 170
Penelopep. 171
Chemin de Ferp. 172
Hummingbirdsp. 173
Elsinore in the Late Ancient Autumnp. 174
The Open Happens in the Midst of Beingsp. 177
At Midsummerp. 179
Parishp. 180
Revelationsp. 182
Elegy for Wright and Hugop. 184
New England, Springtimep. 186
The Elegy for Integral Domainsp. 188
Arkhangel'skp. 190
Nine Black Poppies for Chacp. 191
The Widow of the Beast of Ingolstadtp. 193
Meister Eckhartp. 194
Dreamp. 197
The Diamond Personap. 198
La Pampap. 200
The Funeralp. 201
Sanctuaryp. 202
The Duchesse's Red Shoesp. 204
Danse Macabrep. 208
New England, Autumnp. 209
Through a Glass Darklyp. 210
The Trolley from Xochimilcop. 212
The Huts at Esquimauxp. 215
Oration: Half-Moon in Vermontp. 217
An Annual of the Dark Physicsp. 219
The Lion Grottop. 220
The Trainp. 222
Lamentationsp. 224
Old Night and Sleepp. 226
Ars Poeticap. 227
Baptismalp. 229
Poemp. 230
Traklp. 231
Jeremiadp. 233
Groom Falconerp. 235
Accidentp. 237
Feverp. 238
Of Politics, and Artp. 239
The Apocrypha of Jacques Derridap. 241
The Death of the Race Car Driverp. 243
The Fishp. 244
Buffalo Clouds over the Maestro Hoonp. 245
An American Scenep. 247
Northwind Escarpmentp. 249
New Age at Airport Mesap. 250
Shipwreckp. 252
Safe Conductp. 254
The Saints of Negativityp. 255
The Desert Deportation of 1915p. 257
Near the Bridge of Saint-Cloudp. 258
Amenp. 260
Radio Skyp. 261
Coyote Creekp. 263
Thomas Merton and the Winter Marshp. 265
Anagram Born of Madness at Czernowitz, 23 November 1920p. 266
Tomb Pondp. 268
A True Story of Godp. 269
Revelation 20:11-15p. 270
A Depth of Fieldp. 271
Looking up from Two Renaissance Paintings to the Massacre at Tiananmen Squarep. 272
Confessionp. 273
The Diatribe of the Kitep. 274
The Evening of the Pyramidsp. 276
A Dream of Three Sistersp. 278
Homage to Philip K. Dickp. 280
Inside the City Wallsp. 282
The Bus Stopped in Fields of Misdemeanorp. 283
Two Women on the Potomac Parkwayp. 284
Psalm XXIIIp. 286
A Renunciation of the Desert Primrosep. 288
A Blue Hogp. 289
Margaret's Speechp. 290
Bellevue Exchangep. 292
Simple Philo of Alexandriap. 293
November 23, 1989p. 295
In the Time of False Messiahsp. 296
A Physical Moon Beyond Patersonp. 297
Part 2 Poems 1991-2001
The Mercy Seatp. 301
Elegy for My Brotherp. 303
At the Death of a Mongolian Peasantp. 305
A Skeleton for Mr. Paul in Paradisep. 307
A Fifteenth-Century Zen Masterp. 309
The Caste Wife Speaks to the Enigmatic Parabolasp. 310
Ghosts on the Northern Land of Urp. 312
After Sky Xp. 316
The Photographer's Annualp. 317
"Gently Bent to Ease Us"p. 330
Poem for My Friend, Clare. Or, With White Stupas We Remember Buddhap. 332
Bells in the Endtime of Gyurmey Tsultrimp. 334
The Clouds of Magellan (Aphorisms of Mr. Canon Aspirin)p. 337
A Genesis Text for Larry Levis, Who Died Alonep. 374
The Amuletp. 376
"Somebody'll Hav' to Shoot Ya Down"p. 377
For Milarepa, in Ruse, on Rice Paperp. 379
On the Chinese Abduction of Tibet's Child Panchen Lamap. 381
The Shadows at Boxfordp. 383
The Reader of the Sentencesp. 385
Last Poem, Snow Treep. 398
About the Authorp. 401
Index of Titlesp. 403
Index of First Linesp. 406