May 2008 – Bruno In Venice West

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By Lawrence Lipton

For Giordano Bruno
burned by the Inquisition
in the year 1600

Velvet and warm sweat under the torches
the Procession entered the city, tall bronze men
on the bronze great horses and the boys
carrying banners, the fat prelates wheezing
under the icons, and the musicians

Up Main street, pausing to erect
the great crucifix in the Circle
before the U.S. Post Office, turning
into Windward avenue to St. Marks
Hotel, their flags and vestments, clowns

In motley, peddlers hawking live birds
and Turkish sweetmeats, drunks and tarts
lurching along under the colonnades
like any Saturday night, the P.A. horns
blasting rock ‘n’ roll, sob ballads

At the tavern doors, the winos
wandering in and out of the alleys,
blinking in the neon lights, and you
Giordano Bruno between the halberdiers
and the smoking torches wandering

In the wind off the Pacific, here
in this our Venice by the western sea
as when, hooded, under the marble
colonnades of old Venice once
you walked, curing the Doges; burning

Sapphire and crimson under his golden umbrella
the merchant prince, over the pigeon droppings
among the trash cans, Kinney’s dream
of gondolas and gondoliers, his
picture postcard Venice, chicken wire

And Pittsburgh Pipe and Iron, the columns
plaster, peeling now, the Grand Canal
fouled up with oil, the derricks taller
than windmills, we too, O merchant prince
live on to see the dreges and ravelings–

Tall steel and glass, high windows,
greed piled high on pride, the blessed
percentages; in vaticans of wealth
the popes and antipopes give audience
to the press, the old putridities,

And men go gibbering to themselves
aloud, hearing nothing, bereft
of all the simple certainties.
“When the first button’s wrong, all
are wrong,” you said. Bruno, Bruno,

When the iron key turned in the lock 
and the door clanged shut and the iron hand 
moved in the darkness, Bruno, was there 
sword play in the streets, the torches 
of the Night Watch lighting up

Cut purse and slit gullet, perfumes, 
pomades, the stinking armour, 
rapes, vomits, silk brocades? 
Here the century that began in plush 
and diamond stick-pin elegance

Explodes grotesquely beyond fire and ice 
orbiting in vacuums of space 
mathematics of disaster, madmen 
trapped in spidery black geometries. 
Do you remember Tintoretto’s

Mounting circles within circles? 
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus. 
The bible shouter on the corner 
speaks in tongues (I hear bullroarers 
drums of Africa!) The neo-Platonist
Newly dead, dumbfounded by his immortality, 
Newborn in worlds he never dreamed 
where life steams out of methane gas–
Bruno, Bruno, pinned to the center of 
the burning wheel, Adam Cadmon

In his mystic circle–”All is good 
and tends toward good,” you said. 
I walk beside you, unseen by
the halberdiers, up Ocean Front, 
wind whipped, slat-beaten, leaden-eyed

Past Dinty’s hot dog stand, a lush 
holds out a spastic hand, a junky 
hustling for a fix; the moon
is coming up a size too large, 
smog orange over the mountainous east.

Is it true the end is fire and ashes 
and no phoenix cries? Bruno, in 
the cold wet sea wind mountainous 
words tell out the last dark secrets, 
what is there to hide? I know

Four hundred years have not sufficed 
to cool those fires; the gentlemen 
of Florence, Genoa her ships at anchor, 
blood and incense rancid in the Roman Sun,
the poisonous wines of Florence, serpent

Women walk with hooded eyes–what 
was old Venice but a tourist trap, 
city of traders, merchants, speculators, 
middlemen, promoters, bankers–
jeweled slippers in the pigeon shit.

This, Bruno, is the Grand Canal, 
swamp scum, litter-. that’s old Michael 
toting a six-pack to his rented room, 
the window shades arc drawn on Teena 
and her lesbian lover, tears will flow–

0 Sappho of the golden eyes–this door 
conceals a love of three; those eyes 
in the window, broken mirrors in an empty 
room, rags and ashes, old newspapers, doors 
rot on their hinges, and the old go mad

Numbly contemplating death. hand 
reaches out to hand, a child 
dreams in a fever; old Cap in his
tiny shack reads by a ship’s lantern–
upturned faces under water, eyes

Like a stunned carp’s. This bridge 
has no approach no destination, 
hung between two hells. Was there 
thunder in your heart the night 
you pulled the crystal vault of heaven down!

And Tintoretto’s angel hosts lost 
endlessly in endless space 
with Thor and Adonai–they burned
you for it Bruno. This Venice 
of the West was born a bastard

Misshapen in tile womb out of 
some old world whore of Commerce 
by P. T. Barnum bred–when business 
and the arts are mated, 
money takes the Muse to bed

Bonds debentures title deeds wrapped up 
in flags and sermons, stamped 
with the Great Seal of the State; 
the Laws and Statutes are his alphabet his 
capital all upper case, cock o’ the walk

Three gilded balls his ensign out of 
Calvin Luther by the dark satanic 
mills now white supreme, on every 
dotted line his X has sealed 
your doom–and mine–

He’ll kill you for it again, Bruno, 
the Xian Gentleman, his 
AM FM TV movie image multiplied 
is stinking up a continent–
the commercial more and more becomes the show.

The wind has changed, the dry Santana 
hot breath of the desert: it’s the Hyperion 
sewer you smell: your Venice was no rose bed 
open sewers and tanners vats the fish wives 
haggling, sweat and fear, the smell that money makes

The windows darken, only the street lights 
and the torches now, our Venice sleeps; 
Your eyes burn, Bruno, scanning the heavens, 
vacant now; no angels hymn 
the heavenly court, we are rational men;

Those are landing lights, a Constellation 
blinking to a touchdown, that was not thunder 
but a sonic boom, our safety 
lies in speed, they tell us, death on wings 
the enemy is crafty, never sleeps

And godless, cobalt is his brain 
and poison gas, his heart burns liquid 
hydrogen, his breath is solar flame 
his fingers are a million secret spies 
we are his image–sanctified.

The latest satellite arcs across 
the sky, a star whose manger is 
a launching pad, the child a robot cradled 
in steel arms, his halo liquid fire 
his brain an electronic brain,

Our wise men bring no frankincense 
and myrrh, no visions wrung from love or pain
but only slide rules plots top secret 
plans, we do not stone our prophets, Bruno, 
we give them target dates.

Agnosco, ergo sum; we’ve come 
full cycle. Cohesion, color, sounds 
waves and radiations: res extensa. 
Giordano Bruno chemically 
changed by thermal action, Jesus

On the cross: a rearrangement 
of the particles. Our men 
of science will define the event: 
a thermodynamically stable 
configuration known as death.

Why has the music stopped? Look back, 
the Procession fades away, a slow 
dissolve, you stand alone; your 
lidless eyes are indrawn lost 
in contemplation like a foetal sleep

Where are the drums and trumpets? 
I had thought to hear the papal legate 
read out your doom in bastard latin 
hear a shout go up to heaven 
with your flames. I should have known;

A dead God needs no crucified 
to sanctify his name; no faith, 
ergo, no auto da fe;
we have a choice of trivial martyrdoms: 
if we must die for truth we die self-slain.

Your image fades and there is nothing now 
only the blind window panes 
of broken houses telephone poles 
that lean against the moon cracked 
pavements sinking into foul canals

I turn, retrace my steps to Windward 
and the Ocean Front, the pigeons 
of St. Marks Hotel are roosting in 
tile plaster niches, one lonely jukebox 
whimpers from an open tavern door

“I love you baby, why do you treat me 
so mean? “ A single wino staggers 
down the empty street, I cross 
the beach and look out to sea. “Sophocles 
long ago heard it on the Aegean”–here too

Many a truth-tormented Oedipus 
has reached land’s end, walked in 
for reasons Sophocles never dreamed 
and made his last incestuous marriage with 
the sea, as Bruno made his with the flame.

Homeward bound I stop for coffee at 
the Greek’s, scan the morning papers–
This night’s business may have meaning 
for our time-a poem or a play? I have 
work to do. I think (to paraphrase)

I shall not drown myself today.


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