World Trade Center/ Black Holes/’74

I may have flunked physics
but I was full of black holes
and wind that was slamming the tower

as I rose in the glass box
up to the 80th with a check
from Chilean Line. Black holes

opened relativity, created frozen stars. 
In the sky-lobby on the 99th I loafed
over headlines of John Dean’s testimony

and the suicide of a CEO--
I heard the relativity of the wind.
Everything was like. I was trapped in similes

I hated. I couldn’t leave my head
and so the sound was insidious, then beautiful,
Then .  .  .  it was there

(if I say I once heard bird-bone pipes
in an old church in the Caucasus
like this wind blowing in the tracery

of the top floors, in the pipelines
and farther up.) Through the glass
I could see the other tower wavering—

the silver like broken mica--
I was falling matter dislodged by the idea
of a place from which nothing can return:

Jackie Wilson’s tremolo, Paganini’s
broken wires, the frantic shaking
of the small bells at the altar

going up into some place
beyond the smudged-out sky
above the radar needle,

above the planes coming out
of the fog on their way to Newark.

It was possible to hoist an object
out of a black hole with a rope;
this bit of knowledge I was hanging on to.

from Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2007,
for more poems by Balakian in this issue see

from June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000

Ellis Island

The tide's a Bach cantata.
The beach is the swollen neck of Isaac.

The tide's a lamentation of white opals.
The beach is free.  The Coke machine rusted out.

Here is everything you'll never need:

hemp-cords, curry-combs, jade and musk,
a porcelain cup blown into the desert

stockings that walked to Syria in 1915.

On the rocks some ewes and rams
graze in the outer dark.

The manes of the shoreline undo your hair.
A sapphire ring is fingerless.

The weed and algae are floating like a bed,
and the bloodless gulls--

whose breaths would stink of all of us
if we could kiss them on the beaks--

are gnawing on the dead.

The End of the Reagan Era

Endless horizons of wheat and corn
out of Willa Cather’s reach,
and Ross Perot moving through it all.

I clicked a lever for my candidate,
the curtains opened like at Oz,
and my vote blew out the doors of the Jehovah’s Witness hall.

I walked back through the saffrony maple leaves
just wet enough to stick to my basement trap door,
and sat outside and read some student papers on the Gulf War.

I thought of the states floating in their electoral colors
on the screen the way the scuds and patriots
flickered in their matrix dots before and after

the Giants played the Bills on channel 4.
In another century Galileo said “but still, it moves”
under his breath, and today the Vatican agrees.

Since legends keep us sane, I think today
of Cianfa, one of the five thieves of Florence
who was clasped by a six-foot lizard

who ate his nuts and went right up his torso
until the two of them were two-in-one.

I love the clemency of roads this time of year
the way they tail off to the beautiful barns.

Mandelstam in Armenia, 1930

Between arid houses and crooked streets
a shadow could be your wife or a corpse
and a mule’s hooves sounded like Stalin’s
fat fingers drumming a table.

In the Caucasus eagles and hawks
hung in the blue’s basilica.
A swallow flew off a socle
into the wing of an echo–

history’s caw and chirp and bird shit
on the tombs in the high grass.
Oh hairy serrated stems
poppies flagged like tongues.

Petals of flat paper
lined your thumbed-out pockets.
Anther seeds burned your pen.

From a cloud of broom a red bee stumbled,
to your fish-globe brain.
a casket of light kissed the eyebrows of a tree.

Lake Sevan’s rippling blue skirt
lapped you. Slime tongues got your eyes.
A half-dead perch slithered your ear.

When the evening air settled
on the creatures of the mountain
the sun was the Virgin’s head.

Here, where the bush grew with fresh blood
and ancient thorns, you picked the rose
without scissors. Became an omen.

Rock ’n’ Roll

The groove in black vinyl got deeper

What was that light?
A migrant
I slid into a scat,

and in the purple silk
and the Canoe

there was sleekness and a rear-view mirror.

And the Angels flew out of the cloisonne vase
They were the rachitic forks hanging in the midnight kitchen.
And so I called you after the house was still.
My turquoise Zenith melting

And you asked:  what was that light?
I was spinning.  I was the trees shivering,
and the snake of coiled light on the ceiling
was moonglow.

I wasn’t a fool in a satin tux.
I was Persian gold and blue chenille
I was the son of the Black Dog of Fate.

I said: I saw a rainbow of glass
above the Oritani Theater.

Lord, lead me from Hackensack New Jersey
into the white streak of exhaust.


“North Sea’s just over there.”
the Flemish waitress said.  You can see
everywhere but you can’t see anything,

then the headlights make the fog a little gold
the way the maples turn in my yard
back the upstate valley

where my son dives in a leaf pile
on his way to school with his friends,
and I keep turning his ritual over in my mind: 

the two pills of chemo at night,
6 MP it’s called, so familiar now like a ham and cheese sandwich.
Tomorrow when I drive north to Bruges, he’ll get his shot

of methotrexate--nutriphils, platelets, the invisible
hooks between cells.  On my book tour in Amsterdam
an Indonesian journalist asked me how

 gentital contact could bring a President down.
Histerica Passio dragged our quarry down
“Isn’t that’s Yeats?” she asked.  We giggled but just kept

the tape going. Through the window the canals shined
like they were under varnish
and I could see the lines beginning to form in front

of the Anne Frank House already at 8:30.
The charm of the brown brick
like something out of Vermeer--an absurdity,

as if it were a gloss
on the idea of Jews hiding out in the suffocating dark.
A girl your daughter’s age menstruating there.

It comes back to me now the first time I heard that word
at 10 when my mother explained it to me.
Menses. Why girls bleed at 13.

I was startled but gratified by her honesty,
for bringing me one step closer to life.
To the body and its order.

And for whatever reason
no one can tell me why the shut-off
switch of the white cells breaks down.

The cool opaque light of Vermeer falls on the brick.
A little piece of blue heaven Ann Frank
called her secret annex. Cool daylight on Herengract.

when the window opens,
there’s a gilded coat of arms,
some Chinoiserie, the brass studs in a Spanish Chair.

In the midst of the carnage
of the Dutch war for independence
the painters of the lowlands

reduced the world to the folds in a woman’s skirt,
a wine glass of seduction, the rhyming shapes of trees.
cloth & bread & wicker; a room could be a camera obscura.

To be able to move freely, to have some help
with my work again at last, Ann wrote,
in other words, school.

I carry the image around: my son
diving on a pile of leaves in the maple light—
 order gone to chaos in a snap.

sleeping waters and calm  streams
consume the borders  goes the Armenian proverb.
I had no answer for the Indonesian journalist.

I couldn’t explain the history of impeachment
or Monica Lewinsky. Was it too easy to focus on the
way light hardens around a pear in a bowl,

or spreads from a knife
on the edge of a table
before it returns to a vanishing point?

In the back yard the light settles on
piles of gold leaves, my son and his friend Max
chuck a rake into a blue spruce

laughing at the fish-shape dangling
from the bough. The poplars rise into the Flemish blue
and the sea’s more than a sound in the mind.