Kenneth Patchen was an American poet and novelist. He experimented with different forms of writing and incorporated painting, drawing, and jazz music into his works, which have been compared with those of William Blake and Walt Whitman.
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Famous Kenneth Patchen Poems
Fall Of The Evening Star
Speak softly; sun going down
Out of sight. Come near me now.
Dear dying fall of wings as birds
complain against the gathering dark…
Exaggerate the green blood in grass;
the music of leaves scraping space;
Multiply the stillness by one sound;
by one syllable of your name…
And all that is little is soon giant,
all that is rare grows in common beauty
To rest with my mouth on your mouth
as somewhere a star falls
And the earth takes it softly, in natural love…
Exactly as we take each other…
and go to sleep…
Wherever the dead are there they are and
Nothing more. But you and I can expect
To see angels in the meadowgrass that look
Like cows –
And wherever we are in paradise
in furnished room without bath and
six flights up
Is all God! We read
To one another, loving the sound of the s’s
Slipping up on the f’s and much is good
Enough to raise the hair on our heads, like Rilke and Wilfred Owen
Any person who loves another person,
Wherever in the world, is with us in this room –
Even though there are battlefields.
That should be obvious
Of course it won’t
Any fool knows that.
Even in the winter.
Consider for a moment.
They never have.
Certainly it means nothing.
It’s all a lie.
What else could it be?
Any way you look at it.
A silk hat.
A fat belly.
A nice church to squat in.
My holy ass…
What should they care about?
Twelve kids on the fire escape…
Flowers on the windowsill…
You’re damn right.
That’s the way it is.
That’s just the way it is.
The Orange Bears
The Orange bears with soft friendly eyes
Who played with me when I was ten,
Christ, before I’d left home they’d had
Their paws smashed in the rolls, their backs
Seared by hot slag, their soft trusting
Bellies kicked in, their tongues ripped
Out, and I went down through the woods
To the smelly crick with Whitman
In the Haldeman-Julius edition,
And I just sat there worrying my thumbnail
Into the cover—What did he know about
Orange bears with their coats all stunk up with soft coal
And the National Guard coming over
From Wheeling to stand in front of the millgates
With drawn bayonets jeering at the strikers?
I remember you would put daisies
On the windowsill at night and in
The morning they’d be so covered with soot
You couldn’t tell what they were anymore.
A hell of a fat chance my orange bears had!
In The Footsteps Of The Walking Air
In the footsteps of the walking air
Sky’s prophetic chickens weave their cloth of awe
And hillsides lift green wings in somber journeying.
Night in his soft haste bumps on the shoulders of the abyss
And a single drop of dark blood covers the earth.
Now is the China of the spirit at walking
In my reaches.
A sable organ sounds in my gathered will
And love’s inscrutable skeleton sings.
My seeing moves under a vegetable shroud
And dead forests stand where once Mary stood.
Sullen stone dogs wait in the groves of water …
Though the wanderer drown, his welfare is as a fire
That burns at the bottom of the sea, warming
Unknown roads for sleep to walk upon.
Saturday Night In The Parthenon
Tiny green birds skate over the surface of the room.
A naked girl prepares a basin with steaming water,
And in the corner away from the hearth, the red wheels
Of an up-ended chariot slowly turn.
After a long moment, the door to the other world opens
And the golden figure of a man appears. He stands
Ruddy as a salmon beside the niche where are kept
The keepsakes of the Prince of Earth; then sadly, drawing
A hammer out of his side, he advances to an oaken desk,
And being careful to strike in exact fury, pounds it to bits.
Another woman has by now taken her station
Beside the bubbling tub.
Her legs are covered with a silken blue fur,
Which in places above the knees
Grows to the thickness of a lion’s mane.
The upper sphere of her chest
Is gathered into huge creases by two jeweled pins.
Transparent little boots reveal toes
Which an angel could want.
Beneath her on the floor a beautiful cinnamon cat
Plays with a bunch of yellow grapes, running
Its paws in and out like a boy being a silly king.
Her voice is round and white as she says:
‘Your bath is ready, darling. Don’t wait too long.’
But he has already drawn away to the window
And through its circular opening looks,
As a man into the pages of his death.
‘Terrible horsemen are setting fire to the earth.
Houses are burning … the people fly before
The red spears of a speckled madness . . .’
‘Please, dear,’ interrupts the original woman,
‘We cannot help them … Under the cancerous foot
Of their hatred, they were born to perish –
Like beasts in a well of spiders …
Come now, sweet; the water will get cold.’
A little wagon pulled by foxes lowers from the ceiling.
Three men are seated on its cushions which breathe
Like purple breasts. The head of one is tipped
To the right, where on a bed of snails, a radiant child
Is crowing sleepily; the heads of the other two are turned
Upward, as though in contemplation
Of an authority which is not easily apprehended.
Yet they act as one, lifting the baby from its rosy perch,
And depositing it gently in the tub.
The water hisses over its scream … a faint smell
Of horror floats up. Then the three withdraw
With their hapless burden, and the tinny bark
Of the foxes dies on the air.
‘It hasn’t grown cold yet,’ the golden figure says,
And he strokes the belly of the second woman,
Running his hands over her fur like someone asleep.
They lie together under the shadow of a giant crab
Which polishes its thousand vises beside the fire.
Farther back, nearly obscured by kettles and chairs,
A second landscape can be seen; then a third, fourth,
Fifth … until the whole, fluted like a rose,
And webbed in a miraculous workmanship,
Ascends unto the seven thrones
Where Tomorrow sits.
Slowly advancing down these shifting levels,
The white Queen of Heaven approaches.
Stars glitter in her hair. A tree grows
Out of her side, and gazing through the foliage
The eyes of the Beautiful gleam – ‘Hurry, darling,’
The first woman calls. ‘The water is getting cold.’
But he does not hear.
The hilt of the knife is carved like a scepter
And like a scepter gently sways
Above his mutilated throat …
Smiling like a fashionable hat, the furry girl
Walks quickly to the tub, and throwing off
Her stained gown, eels into the water.
The other watches her sorrowfully; then,
Without haste, as one would strangle an owl,
She flicks the wheel of the chariot – around
Which the black world bends …
without thrones or gates, without faith,
warmth or light for any of its creatures;
where even the children go mad – and
As though unwound on a scroll, the picture
Of Everyman’s murder winks back at God.
Farther away now, nearly hidden by the human,
Another landscape can be seen …
And the wan, smiling Queen of Heaven appears
For a moment on the balconies of my chosen sleep.
The Naked Land
A beast stands at my eye.
I cook my senses in a dark fire.
The old wombs rot and the new mother
Approaches with the footsteps of a world.
Who are the people of this unscaled heaven?
Whose blood hallows this grim land?
What slithers along the watershed of my human sleep?
The other side of knowing …
Caress of unwaking delight … O start
A sufficient love! O gently silent forms
Of the last spaces.
Irkalla’s White Caves
I believe that a young woman
Is standing in a circle of lions
In the other side of the sky.
In a little while I must carry her the flowers
Which only fade here; and she will not cry
If my hands are not very full.
Fiery antlers toss within the forests of heaven
And ocean’s plaintive towns
Echo the tread of celestial feet.
O the beautiful eyes stare down…
What have we done that we are blessèd?
What have we died that we hasten to God?
And all the animals are asleep again
In their separate caves.
Hairy bellies distended with their kill.
Culture blubbering in and out
Like the breath of a stranded fish.
Crucifixion in wax. The test-tube messiahs.
Immaculate fornication under the smoking walls
Of a dead world.
I dig for my death
in this thousand-watt dungheap.
There isn’t even enough clean air.
To die in.
O blood-bearded destroyer!
In other times…
(soundless barges float
down the rivers of death)
In another heart
These crimes may not flower…
What have we done that we are blessèd?
What have we damned that we are blinded?
Now, with my seven-holed head open
On the air whence comes a fabulous mariner
To take his place among the spheres—
The air which is God
And the mariner who is sheep—I fold
Upon myself like a bird over flames. Then
All my nightbound juices sing. Snails
Pop out of unexpected places and the long
light lances of waterbulls plunge
into the green crotch of my native land.
Eyes peer out of the seaweed that gently sways
Above the towers and salt gates of a lost world.
On the other side of the sky
A young woman is standing
In a circle of lions—
The young woman who is dream
And the lions which are death.
The Dove walks with sticky feet
Upon the green crowns of the almond tree,
Its feathers smeared over with warmth
That dips lazily down into the shadow …
Anyone standing in that orchard.So filled with peace and sleep,
Would hardly have noticed the hill
With its three strange wooden arms
Lifted above a throng of motionless people
Above the helmets of Pilate’s soldiers
Flashing like silver teeth in the sun.
The Hangman’s Great Hands
And all that is this day. . .
The boy with cap slung over what had been a face. ..
Somehow the cop will sleep tonight, will make love to his
Anger won’t help. I was born angry. Angry that my father was
being burnt alive in the mills; Angry that none of us knew
anything but filth, and poverty. Angry because I was that very
one somebody was supposed To be fighting for
Turn him over; take a good look at his face…
Somebody is going to see that face for a long time.
I wash his hands that in the brightness they will shine.
We have a parent called the earth.
To be these buds and trees; this tameless bird Within the
ground; this season’s act upon the fields of Man.
To be equal to the littlest thing alive,
While all the swarming stars move silent through The merest
. .. but the fog of guns.
The face with all the draining future left blank. . . Those smug
saints, whether of church or Stalin, Can get off the back of
my people, and stay off. Somebody is supposed to be fighting
for somebody. . . And Lenin is terribly silent, terribly silent
To leave the earth was my wish, and no will stayed my rising.
Early, before sun had filled the roads with carts
Conveying folk to weddings and to murders;
Before men left their selves of sleep, to wander
In the dark of the world like whipped beasts.
I took no pack. I had no horse, no staff, no gun.
I got up a little way and something called me,
‘Put your hand in mine. We will seek God together.’
And I answered, ‘It is your father who is lost, not mine.’
Then the sky filled with tears of blood, and snakes sang.
Do The Dead Know What Time It Is?
The old guy put down his beer.
Son, he said,
(and a girl came over to the table where we were:
asked us by Jack Christ to buy her a drink.)
Son, I am going to tell you something
The like of which nobody was ever told.
(and the girl said, I’ve got nothing on tonight;
how about you and me going to your place?)
I am going to tell you the story of my mother’s
Meeting with God.
(and I whispered to the girl: I don’t have a room,
She walked up to where the top of the world is
And He came right up to her and said
So at last you’ve come home.
(but maybe what?
I thought I’d like to stay here and talk to you.)
My mother started to cry and God
Put His arms around her.
Oh, just talk…we’ll find something.)
She said it was like a fog coming over her face
And light was everywhere and a soft voice saying
You can stop crying now.
(what can we talk about that will take all night?
and I said that I didn’t know.)
You can stop crying now.
Be Music, Night
Be music, night,
That her sleep may go
Where angels have their pale tall choirs
Be a hand, sea,
That her dreams may watch
Thy guidesman touching the green flesh of the world
Be a voice, sky,
That her beauties may be counted
And the stars will tilt their quiet faces
Into the mirror of her loveliness
Be a road, earth,
That her walking may take thee
Where the towns of heaven lift their breathing spires
O be a world and a throne, God,
That her living may find its weather
And the souls of ancient bells in a child’s book
Shall lead her into Thy wondrous house
The Snow Is Deep On The Ground
The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.
This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.
Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.
The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.
The Rites Of Darkness
The sleds of the children
Move down the right slope.
To the left, hazed in the tumbling air,
A thousand lights smudge
Within the branches of the old forest,
Like colored moons in a well of milk.
The sleds of the children
Make no sound on the hard-packed snow.
Their bright cries are not heard
On that strange hill.
The youngest are wrapped
In cloth of gold, and their scarfs
Have been dipped in blood.
All the others, from the son
Of Tegos, who is the Bishop
Of Black Church—near Tarn,
On to the daughter of the least slut,
Are garbed in love’s shining dress;
Naked little eels, they flash
Across the amazed ice.
And behind each sled
There trots a man with his sex
Held like a whip in his snaking hand.
But no one sees the giant horse
That climbs the steps which stretch forth
Between the calling lights and that hill
Straight up to the throne of God.
He is taller than the highest tree
And his flanks steam under the cold moon.
The beat of his heart shakes the sky
And his reaching muzzle snuffles
At the most ancient star.
The innocent alone approach evil
Without fear; in their appointed flame
They acknowledge all living things.
The only evil is doubt; the only good
Is not death, but life. To be is to love.
This I thought as I stood while the snow
Fell in that bitter place, and the riders
Rode their motionless sleds into a nowhere
Of sleep. Ah, God, we can walk so easily,
Bed with women, do every business
That houses and roads are for, scratch
Our shanks and lug candles through
These caves; but, God, we can’t believe,
We can’t believe in anything.
Because nothing is pure enough.
Because nothing will ever happen
To make us good in our own sight.
Because nothing is evil enough.
I squat on my heels, raise my head
To the moon, and howl.
I dig my nails into my sides,
And laugh when the snow turns red.
As I bend to drink,
I laugh at everything that anyone loves.
All your damn horses climbing to heaven
The Cloth Of The Tempest
These of living emanate a formidable light,
Which is equal to death, and when used
Gives increase eternally.
What fortifies in separate thought
Is not drawn by wind or by man defiled.
So whispers the parable of doubleness.
As it is necessary not to submit
To power which weakens the hidden forms;
It is extraordinarily more essential
Not to deny welcome to these originating forces
When they gather within our heat
To give us habitation.
The one life must be attempted with the other,
That we may embark upon the fiery work
For which we were certainly made.
What has been separated from the mother,
Must again be joined; for we were born of spirit,
And to spirit all mortal things return,
As it is necessary in the method of earth.
So sings the parable of singleness.
My comforter does not conceal his face;
I have seen appearances that were not marshalled
Perhaps I am to be stationed
At the nets which move through this completing sea.
Or I have hunting on my sign.
Yet the ground is visible,
The center of our seeing. (The houses rest
Like sentinels on this hawking star.
Two women are bathing near a trestle;
Their bodies dress the world in golden birds;
The skin of their throats is a dancing flute. . .
How alter or change? How properly
Find an exact equation? What is flying
Anywhere that is more essential to our quest?
Even the lake. . . boat walking on its blue streets;
Organ of thunder muttering in the sky. . . A tiger
Standing on the edge of a plowed field. . .
What is necessary? What is inseparable to know?
The children seek silvery-pretty caves. . .
What are we to teach?)
The distance is not great
To worlds of magnificent joy or nowhere.
The Deer And The Snake
The deer is humble, lovely as God made her
I watch her eyes and think of wonder owned
These strange priests enter the cathedral of woods
And seven Marys clean their hands to woo her
Foot lifted, dagger-sharp—her ears
Poised to their points like a leaf’s head
But the snake strikes, in a velvet arc
Of murderous speed—assassin beautiful
As mountain water at which a fawn drank
Stand there, forever, while poison works
While I stand counting the arms of your Cross
Thinking that many Christs could hang there, crying.
My Generation Reading The Newspapers
We must be slow and delicate; return
the policeman’s stare with some esteem,
remember this is not a shadow play
of doves and geese but this is now
the time to write it down, record the words—
I mean we should have left some pride
of youth and not forget the destiny of men
who say goodbye to the wives and homes
they’ve read about at breakfast in a restaurant:
‘My love.’—without regret or bitterness
obtain the measure of the stride we make,
the latest song has chosen a theme of love
delivering us from all evil—destroy. . . ?
why no. . . this too is fanciful. . . funny how
hard it is to be slow and delicate in this,
this thing of framing words to mark this grave
I mean nothing short of blood in every street
on earth can fitly voice the loss of these.
Eve Of St. Agony Or The Middleclass Was Sitting On Its Fat
Man-dirt and stomachs that the sea unloads; rockets
of quick lice crawling inland, planting their damn flags,
putting their malethings in any hole that will stand still,
yapping bloody murder while they slice off each other’s heads,
spewing themselves around, priesting, whoring, lording
it over little guys, messing their pants, writing gush-notes
to their grandmas, wanting somebody to do something pronto,
wanting the good thing right now and the bad stuff for the other boy.
Gullet, praise God for the gut with the patented zipper;
sing loud for the lads who sell ice boxes on the burning deck.
Dear reader, gentle reader, dainty little reader, this is
the way we go round the milktrucks and seamusic, Sike’s trap and Meg’s rib,
the wobbly sparrow with two strikes on the bible, behave
Alfred, your pokus is out; I used to collect old ladies,
pickling them in brine and painting mustaches on their bellies,
later I went in for stripteasing before Save Democracy Clubs;
when the joint was raided we were all caught with our pants down.
But I will say this: I like butter on both sides of my bread
and my sister can rape a Hun any time she’s a mind to,
or the Yellow Peril for that matter; Hector, your papa’s in the lobby.
The old days were different; the ball scores meant something then,
two pill in the side pocket and two bits says so; he got up slow see,
shook the water out of his hair, wam, tell me that ain’t a sweet left hand;
I told her what to do and we did it, Jesus I said, is your name McCoy?
Maybe it was the beer or because she was only sixteen but I got hoarse
just thinking about her; married a john who travels in cotton underwear.
Now you take today; I don’t want it. Wessex, who was that with I saw you lady?
Tony gave all his dough to the church; Lizzie believed in feeding her own face;
and that’s why you’ll never meet a worm who isn’t an antichrist, my friend,
I mean when you get down to a brass tack you’ll find some sucker sitting on it.
Whereas. Muckle’s whip and Jessie’s rod, boyo, it sure looks black
in the gut of this particular whale. Hilda, is that a .38 in your handbag?
Ghosts in packs like dogs grinning at ghosts
Pocketless thieves in a city that never sleeps
Chains clank, warders curse, this world is stark mad
Hey! Fatty, don’t look now but that’s a Revolution breathing down your neck.
There’s a place the man always say
Come in here, child
No cause you should weep
Wolf never catch such a rabbit
Golden hair never turn white with grief
Come in here, child
No cause you should moan
Brother never hurt his brother
Nobody here ever wander without a home
There must be some such place somewhere
But I never heard of it