Prologue to an
walked through the wilderness
of this world through the city with the loud electric faces and the crowded
petrols of the wind dazzling and drowning me that winter night before the West
I remembered the winds of the high, white world that bore me and
the faces of a noiseless million in the busy hood of heaven staring on the
They who nudged through the literate light of the city,
shouldered and elbowed me, catching my trilby with the spokes of their
umbrellas, who offered me matches and music.
Take away, I told them
silently, the flannel and cotton, the cheap felt and leather, I am the nakedest
and baldest nothing between the pinnacle and the base,
an alderman of
ghosts holding to watch-chain and wallet on the wet pavement, the narrator
I have Old Scratch by the beard, and
the news of the world is
no world's news, the gossips of heaven and the fallen rumors are enough and
too much for a shadow that
casts no shadow, I said to the blind beggars and the paperboys who shouted
into the rain.
They who were hurrying by me on the narrow errands of the
world, time bound to their wrists or blinded in their pockets, who consulted
the time strapped to a holy tower, and dodged between bonnets and wheels, heard
in my fellow's footsteps the timeless accents of another walking.
the brilliant pavements under a smoky moon, their man's world turning to the
bass roll of the traffic, they saw in the shape of my fellow another staring
under the pale lids, and heard the spheres turn as he spoke.
This is a
strange city, gentlemen on your own, gentlemen arm-in-arm making a rehearsed
salute, gentlemen with ladies, ladies this is a strange city.
in the friendless houses in the streets of pennies and
pleasures a million
ladies and gentlemen moved up in bed, time moved with the practised moon over a
million roofs that night, and grim policemen stood at each corner in the evil
lonely, said the ladies on their own, we shall be naked as new-born mice,
loving you long in the short sparks of the night.
We are not the
ladies with feathers between their breasts, who lay eggs on the quilt.
As I walked through
the skyscrapers, where
the lamps walked at
my side like electrocuted men or the trees of
a new scripture, I jostled the devil at my elbow, but lust in his city
shadows dogged me under the
arches, down the black blind streets.
the shape of a bald girl
smiling, a wailing wanton with handcuffs for earrings, or
the lean girls that lived
on pickings, now in ragged woman with a muckrake
curtseying in the slime, the
tempter of angels whispered over my shoulder.
We shall be naked but
for garters and black stockings, loving you long on a bed of strawberries and
cream, and the nakeder for a ribbon that hides the nipples.
We are not
the ladies that eat into the
brain behind the ear, or feed on the fat of the heart.
I remembered the sexless shining women in the first hours of the world
that bore me, and the golden sexless men that cried All Praise in the sounds of
Taking strength from a sudden shining, I
have Old Scratch by the beard, I cried aloud.
But the short-time shapes
still followed, and the counselor of an unholy nakedness nagged at my heels.
No, not for nothing did the packed
thoroughfares confront me at each cross and pavement's turning with these
figures in the shapes of sounds, the lamp-chalked silhouettes and the walking frames
of dreams, out of a darker allegory than the
fictions of the earth could turn in
twelve suns' time.
There was more than man's meaning to the bare skull
bogies thumbing the skeletons of their noses, to the marrow-merry snackers
scratching their armpits in a tavern light, and to the dead man, smiling
through his bandages, who laid hand on my sleeve, saying in no man's voice.
There is more than man's meaning in a stuffed man talking and more in
the horned ladies at your heels than a pinch
of the cloven delights and the tang of sulphur.
hell shift up and down the city.
I have the God of
Israel in the image of a painted boy, and
Satan, in a woman's shirt,
pisses from a window in
See now, you shining ones, how the tuner of harps
has fallen, and the painter of winds like a bag of henna into the gutter.
The high hopes lie with broken bottles and suspender-belts, the white
mud falls like feathers, there out of Pessary Court comes the Bishop of Bumdom,
dressed like a ratcatcher, a holy sister in Gamarouche Mews sharpens her index
tooth on a bloodstone, two weasels couple on
He who played the sorcerer, appearing all at one time in a dozen
sulphurous beckonings, saying, out of a dozen mouths.
We shall be naked
as the greased lightning of a serpent
striking from within the nest holes at the bases of the cathedral pillars,
tracking the margins of four cindery winds.
A mouse tailed woman and a
holy snake, the symbols of the city writher before me. But by one red horn I
had that double image, tore off the furry
stays and leather jacket.
We shall be naked, said Old Scratch
emerging, as a Jewish girl crucified to
We are all
metaphors of the
sound of shape of the shape of sound.
Break us we take
The snake and the woman stroke a
cross in the air.
I saw the star fall that broke a cloud up, and
dodged between bonnets and wheels to the ill-lit streets where I saw Daniel Dom
lurching after a painted shadow.
We walked into the Seven Sins.
Two little girls
danced barefoot in the sawdust.
A negress loosened the straps of her
yellow frock and bared a breast.
Buy a pound, she said, and thrust her breast
in Daniel's face.
faced the women and caught the half-naked negress by the wrist.
Like a woman confronted by a
so strong, my love, she said, and kissed him full on the
Before the sea could circle us, we were out through the
swing-doors into the street and the mid-winter night where the
moonlight, salt white no longer,
hung windlessly over the city.
They were night's enemies who made a
lamp out of the devil's eye, but we followed a midnight radiance around the
corners, like two weird brothers trod in the glittering web prints.
their damp hats and raincoats, in the blaze of shop window, the people jostled
against us on the pavements, and a gutter boy caught me by the sleeve.
Buy an almanac, he said.
It was the bitter end of the year.
Now the star fall had ended, the sky was a hole in space.
long, how long, lord of the hail, shall my city rock on, and the seven deadly
seas wait tidelessly for the moon, the bitter end the last tide-spinning of the
Daniel lamented, trailing the midnight radiance to the
door of the Deadly Virtue where the light went out and the glittering web
We were forever climbing
the steps of a sea tower, crying aloud from the turret that we might warn
us, as we clambered around the
spiked maiden in the turret corners.
Make way for Mister Dom and
Walking into the Deadly Virtue, we heard our names announced
through the loudspeaker trumpet of the wooden image over the central mirror,
and, staring in the glass as the oracle continued, we saw two
distorted faces grinning through the smoke.
Make way, said the
loudspeaker, for Daniel, ace of Destruction, old Dom the toper of Doom's
kitchen, and for the alderman of
Is the translator of man's manuscript, his walking
chapters, said the trumpet-faced, a
member of my Virtue?
What is the color of the
Put a leech on his forearm.
Make way, the
image cried, for bald and naked
Mister Dreamer of the
bluest veins this side of the blood-colored sea.
As the sea of
faces parted, the bare-backed ladies scraped back from the counter, and the
matchstick-waisted men, the
trussed and corsetted stilt-walkers with the tits of ladies, sought out the
darker recesses of the saloon, we stumbled forward to the fiery bottles.
Brandy forth dreamer and the pilgrim, said the wooden voice.
Gentlemen, it is my Call, said
the loudspeaker, death is in my house.
It was then, in the tangled
hours of a new morning, surrounded by the dead faces of the drinkers,
the wail of lost voices, and the words of
the one electric image, that Daniel, hair-on-end, lamented first to me of the
death on the city and the lost hero of
There can be no
armistice for the sexless, golden singers and the
the flying beast and the
walking bird that war about us, for the horn and the
I could light the voices
of the fiery virgins winking in my glass, catch the brandy-brown beast and bird
as they fumed before my eyes, and kiss the two-antlered angel.
for nothing were these two intangible brandy maids neighboring Daniel who
cried, syringe in hand.
Open your coke-white legs, you ladies of needles,
Dom thunder Daniel is the
lightning drug and the doctor.
Now a wind sprang through the room
from the dead street; from the racked tower where two men lay in chains and a
hole broke in the wall, we heard our own cries travel through the fumes of
brandy and the loudspeaker's music.
We pawed, in our tower agony, at
the club shapes dancing, at the black girls tattooed from shoulder to nipple
with a white dancing shape, frocked with snail-headed rushes and capped like
But they slipped from us into the rubber corners where their
black lovers waited invisibly; and the music grew louder until the tower cry
was lost among it; and again Daniel lurched after
a painted shadow that
led him, threading through smoke and dancers,
to the stained window.
him lay the city sleeping, curled in its streets and houses, lamped by its own
red-waxed and iron stars, with a built moon above it, and the spires crossed
over the bed.
I stared down, rocking at his side, on to the unsmoking
roofs and the burned-out candles. Destruction slept.
Slowly the room
behind us flowed, like four waters, down the seven gutters of the city into a
A wave, catching the loudspeaker in its mouth, sucked up the
wood and music; for the last time a mountainous wave circled the drinkers and
dragged them down, out of the world of light, to a crawling sea-bed; we saw a
wave jumping and the last bright eyes go under, the last raw head, cut like a
straw, fall crying through the destroying water.
Daniel and I stood
alone in the city.
The sea of destruction lapped around our feet.
We saw the star fall that broke
the night up.
The glass lights on iron went out, and the waves grew
down into the pavements.
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