Rainer Rilke’s muse might have curled
his fingers around a hardwood handle, kolinsky sable-tipped,
instead of a swan’s verb-carved wingfeather,
pulsed pigment down his pitching arm,
not ink, dreamed him blobby paintings,
not pristine poems, and rendered moot,
struck mute, really, those high-minded and fussy
objections to English translations,
how the German for the German
allowed him so much more art per pound
of his exceeding great mental weight than, say,
Indiana’s finest could ever yield.
Coarse American cardinal, a promenading peacock in Deutschland.
And yet, how is it fair, in that alternative universe,
that up from a possible Rilke easel a painting on one
taut canvas, hanging wall-glommed and dumb as a grave,
his brushwork could easy nod the onlookers,
visitors from a thousand bordered lands?
When readers of this world, however, they do clamor
for clarity and insist on sublime subtlety
on the same one-way fare, and
in the motherland of Kokomo, among its kith and kin,
no sprechen Sie Deutsch, No sirree, Bob!
But, please, let us at least dare to drape Herr Rilke
with the pearly gray and mauve raiment of the mourning dove,
who arched her being over the vast abyss,
“one with the day, the night, [and] knows what serenity is,
for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear
in the course of her wanderings.” That one,
the one that descended from the spiritsong
of Rilke’s open heart, a sunbright voice in every tongue,
a lullaby like rising wind and falling rain.