Eyes: which strike the flint
of the centurion’s broadsword
the cruel wrath
of an arrogant Caesar.
I have had my hands
on the steel of empire:
the tight-muscled, bulging youth
strong as their ire is released from the march -
the cold rage
in the triumphal arch
of their hips
as I bring them to shoot for the thousandth time
on a slave’s welcoming lips.
My body is the whore Caesar gave to the army
bathed and perfumed to please
the snorting, loutish troop
the arrant lust of the martial.
All roads lead
to my bleeding cunt
all roads lead from the wild savannah
where the night-flowers unsex their pollen
from the stamen’s jail
as the dusk-song breaks the twilight
through a nightingale.
Fled is that music, fled –
fled that ecstatic mystery;
the girl who hurt with yearning
each evening in June
who dreamed of a magical world
in the voice of a passing stranger
soon to be dead.
That world proved no more than the spectacle
afforded a beast in a cage
at the noble republic’s
of blood lust;
but as the terror of the dream
that young girl shut out with a cry
before the nightmare dwindled in the eyes
and reassuring hands of her mother.
In a way, I have lived here.
If must be, I will die here.
But each drop,
each drop of the sweat
each drop of the sweat of my body was chaste
each word I spoke here
to a different place
to an ecstatic vision in my mind
to a dream
a bestial tongue
I speak in the language
my mother taught me
talking to myself, dreaming…
often talking to myself…dreaming…
O nightingale -
break your song on the night of a different future
to awaken some dreamer to a world without hate
where the stars are not incandescent with rage
and love is the only slave
in your empire.
c.f.: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
No hungry generation tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown…”
“Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats
Another phrase from Keats’s poem is, of course, quoted directly in the text. The place of enunciation established by the language of the poem is presumably that of a heteara, that is a woman forced into prostitution by the Roman state. The text was provoked by Adorno’s remark that it would be obscene to use the word “nightingale” in a poem written after Auschwitz.