Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, by Amiri Baraka

for Kellie Jones, born 16 May 1959

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars,
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night, I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.

Ashes, by Paula Meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

Suicide In The Trenches, by Siegfried Sassoon

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Suicide of a Moderate Dictator, by Elizabeth Bishop

This is a day when truths will out, perhaps;
leak from the dangling telephone earphones
sapping the festooned switchboards’ strength;
fall from the windows, blow from off the sills,
—the vague, slight unremarkable contents
of emptying ash-trays; rub off on our fingers
like ink from the un-proof-read newspapers,
crocking the way the unfocused photographs
of crooked faces do that soil our coats,
our tropical-weight coats, like slapped-at moths.

Today’s a day when those who work
are idling. Those who played must work
and hurry, too, to get it done,
with little dignity or none.
The newspapers are sold; the kiosk shutters
crash down. But anyway, in the night
the headlines wrote themselves, see, on the streets
and sidewalks everywhere; a sediment’s splashed
even to the first floors of apartment houses.

This is a day that’s beautiful as well,
and warm and clear. At seven o’clock I saw
the dogs being walked along the famous beach
as usual, in a shiny gray-green dawn,
leaving their paw prints draining in the wet.
The line of breakers was steady and the pinkish,
segmented rainbow steadily hung above it.
At eight two little boys were flying kites.

French Movie, by David Lehman

I was in a French movie
and had only nine hours to live
and I knew it
not because I planned to take my life
or swallowed a lethal but slow-working
potion meant for a juror
in a mob-related murder trial,
nor did I expect to be assassinated
like a chemical engineer mistaken
for someone important in Milan
or a Jew journalist kidnapped in Pakistan;
no, none of that; no grounds for
suspicion, no murderous plots
centering on me with cryptic phone
messages and clues like a scarf or
lipstick left in the front seat of a car;
and yet I knew I would die
by the end of that day
and I knew it with a dreadful certainty,
and when I walked in the street
and looked in the eyes of the woman
walking toward me I knew that
she knew it, too,
and though I had never seen her before,
I knew she would spend the rest of that day
with me, those nine hours walking,
searching, going into a bookstore in Rome,
smoking a Gitane, and walking,
walking in London, taking the train
to Oxford from Paddington or Cambridge
from Liverpool Street and walking
along the river and across the bridges,
walking, talking, until my nine hours
were up and the black-and-white movie
ended with the single word FIN
in big white letters on a bare black screen.

Kaddish, Part I, by Allen Ginsberg

For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956

Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on
the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking,
talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues
shout blind on the phonograph
the rhythm the rhythm–and your memory in my head three years after–
And read Adonais’ last triumphant stanzas aloud–wept, realizing
how we suffer–
And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember,
prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An-
swers–and my own imagination of a withered leaf–at dawn–
Dreaming back thru life, Your time–and mine accelerating toward Apoca-
lypse,
the final moment–the flower burning in the Day–and what comes after,
looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city
a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom
Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed–
like a poem in the dark–escaped back to Oblivion–
No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream,
trapped in its disappearance,
sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship-
ping each other,
worshipping the God included in it all–longing or inevitability?–while it
lasts, a Vision–anything more?
It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder,
Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul-
dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant–and
the sky above–an old blue place.
or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side
—where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the
first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock
then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward
Newark—
toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice
cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards—
Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school,
and learning to be mad, in a dream–what is this life?
Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light
on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the
sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward
the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty
you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved
thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again,
with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on
the street, fire escapes old as you
—Tho you’re not old now, that’s left here with me—
Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with
us—enough to cancel all that comes—What came is gone forever
every time—
That’s good! That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove,
torture even toothache in the end—
Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul,
in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change’s fierce hunger—hair
and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin,
braintricked Implacability.
Ai! ai! we do worse! We are in a fix! And you’re out, Death let you out,
Death had the Mercy, you’re done with your century, done with
God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure
—Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the
world—
There, rest. No more suffering for you. I know where you’ve gone, it’s good.
No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more
fear of Louis,
and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts,
loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands–
No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you
killed her—or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart
—But Death’s killed you both—No matter—
Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and
weeks–forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human-
ity, Chaplin dance in youth,
or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin’s at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar
—by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital
ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds,
with the YPSL’s hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts
pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and
laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920
all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to
have husbands later—
You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and
will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill
—later perhaps—soon he will think—)
And it’s the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now
—tho not you
I didn’t foresee what you felt—what more hideous gape of bad mouth came
first—to you—and were you prepared?
To go where? In that Dark—that—in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the
Void? Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream? Adonoi at last, with
you?
Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull
in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon–Deaths-
head with Halo? can you believe it?
Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence,
than none ever was?
Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri-
umph,
to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower–fed to the
ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe,
shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.
No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the
knife—lost
Cut down by an idiot Snowman’s icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost
thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old
roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric
irons.
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—‘Paranoia’ into
hospitals.
You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later. You of
stroke. Asleep? within a year, the two of you, sisters in death. Is
Elanor happy?
Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over
midnight Accountings, not sure. His life passes—as he sees—and
what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, or that might
have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im-
mortality, Naomi?
I’ll see him soon. Now I’ve got to cut through to talk to you as I didn’t
when you had a mouth.
Forever. And we’re bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson’s horses
—headed to the End.
They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it’s our own
life they cross—and take with them.

Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar-
ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder.
In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under
pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept.
Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless,
Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I’m
hymnless, I’m Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore
Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not
light or darkness, Dayless Eternity—
Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some
of my Time, now given to Nothing–to praise Thee—But Death
This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won-
derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
—page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God’s perfect
Darkness—Death, stay thy phantoms!

II
Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven’t written your
history—leave it abstract—a few images
run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years—
remembrance of electrical shocks.
By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your
nervousness—you were fat—your next move—
By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you—
once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my
opinion of the cosmos, I was lost—
By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of
particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)—
But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and
spied a mystical assassin from Newark,
So phoned the Doctor—‘OK go way for a rest’—so I put on my coat
and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed,
unaccountably—‘Where you goin Lady to Death’? I shuddered—
and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask
against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma—
And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of
the gang? You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on–to New
York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—

Don Juan [If from great nature’s or our own abyss], by George Gordon Byron

If from great nature’s or our own abyss
Of thought we could but snatch a certainty,
Perhaps mankind might find the path they miss—
But then ‘t would spoil much good philosophy.
One system eats another up, and this
Much as old Saturn ate his progeny;
For when his pious consort gave him stones
In lieu of sons, of these he made no bones.

But System doth reverse the Titan’s breakfast,
And eats her parents, albeit the digestion
Is difficult. Pray tell me, can you make fast,
After due search, your faith to any question?
Look back o’er ages, ere unto the stake fast
You bind yourself, and call some mode the best one.
Nothing more true than not to trust your senses;
And yet what are your other evidences?

For me, I know nought; nothing I deny,
Admit, reject, contemn; and what know you,
Except perhaps that you were born to die?
And both may after all turn out untrue.
An age may come, Font of Eternity,
When nothing shall be either old or new.
Death, so call’d, is a thing which makes men weep,
And yet a third of life is pass’d in sleep.

A sleep without dreams, after a rough day
Of toil, is what we covet most; and yet
How clay shrinks back from more quiescent clay!
The very Suicide that pays his debt
At once without instalments (an old way
Of paying debts, which creditors regret)
Lets out impatiently his rushing breath,
Less from disgust of life than dread of death.

‘T is round him, near him, here, there, every where;
And there ‘s a courage which grows out of fear,
Perhaps of all most desperate, which will dare
The worst to know it:—when the mountains rear
Their peaks beneath your human foot, and there
You look down o’er the precipice, and drear
The gulf of rock yawns,—you can’t gaze a minute
Without an awful wish to plunge within it.

‘T is true, you don’t—but, pale and struck with terror,
Retire: but look into your past impression!
And you will find, though shuddering at the mirror
Of your own thoughts, in all their self-confession,
The lurking bias, be it truth or error,
To the unknown; a secret prepossession,
To plunge with all your fears—but where? You know not,
And that’s the reason why you do—or do not.

But what ‘s this to the purpose? you will say.
Gent. reader, nothing; a mere speculation,
For which my sole excuse is—’t is my way;
Sometimes with and sometimes without occasion
I write what ‘s uppermost, without delay:
This narrative is not meant for narration,
But a mere airy and fantastic basis,
To build up common things with common places.

You know, or don’t know, that great Bacon saith,
‘Fling up a straw, ‘t will show the way the wind blows;’
And such a straw, borne on by human breath,
Is poesy, according as the mind glows;
A paper kite which flies ‘twixt life and death,
A shadow which the onward soul behind throws:
And mine ‘s a bubble, not blown up for praise,
But just to play with, as an infant plays.

The world is all before me—or behind;
For I have seen a portion of that same,
And quite enough for me to keep in mind;—
Of passions, too, I have proved enough to blame,
To the great pleasure of our friends, mankind,
Who like to mix some slight alloy with fame;
For I was rather famous in my time,
Until I fairly knock’d it up with rhyme.

I have brought this world about my ears, and eke
The other; that ‘s to say, the clergy, who
Upon my head have bid their thunders break
In pious libels by no means a few.
And yet I can’t help scribbling once a week,
Tiring old readers, nor discovering new.
In youth I wrote because my mind was full,
And now because I feel it growing dull.

But ‘why then publish?’—There are no rewards
Of fame or profit when the world grows weary.
I ask in turn,—Why do you play at cards?
Why drink? Why read?—To make some hour less dreary.
It occupies me to turn back regards
On what I ‘ve seen or ponder’d, sad or cheery;
And what I write I cast upon the stream,
To swim or sink—I have had at least my dream.

I think that were I certain of success,
I hardly could compose another line:
So long I ‘ve battled either more or less,
That no defeat can drive me from the Nine.
This feeling ‘t is not easy to express,
And yet ‘t is not affected, I opine.
In play, there are two pleasures for your choosing—
The one is winning, and the other losing.

Besides, my Muse by no means deals in fiction:
She gathers a repertory of facts,
Of course with some reserve and slight restriction,
But mostly sings of human things and acts—
And that ‘s one cause she meets with contradiction;
For too much truth, at first sight, ne’er attracts;
And were her object only what ‘s call’d glory,
With more ease too she ‘d tell a different story.

Love, war, a tempest—surely there ‘s variety;
Also a seasoning slight of lucubration;
A bird’s-eye view, too, of that wild, Society;
A slight glance thrown on men of every station.
If you have nought else, here ‘s at least satiety
Both in performance and in preparation;
And though these lines should only line portmanteaus,
Trade will be all the better for these Cantos.

The portion of this world which I at present
Have taken up to fill the following sermon,
Is one of which there ‘s no description recent.
The reason why is easy to determine:
Although it seems both prominent and pleasant,
There is a sameness in its gems and ermine,
A dull and family likeness through all ages,
Of no great promise for poetic pages.

With much to excite, there ‘s little to exalt;
Nothing that speaks to all men and all times;
A sort of varnish over every fault;
A kind of common-place, even in their crimes;
Factitious passions, wit without much salt,
A want of that true nature which sublimes
Whate’er it shows with truth; a smooth monotony
Of character, in those at least who have got any.

Sometimes, indeed, like soldiers off parade,
They break their ranks and gladly leave the drill;
But then the roll-call draws them back afraid,
And they must be or seem what they were: still
Doubtless it is a brilliant masquerade;
But when of the first sight you have had your fill,
It palls—at least it did so upon me,
This paradise of pleasure and ennui.

When we have made our love, and gamed our gaming,
Drest, voted, shone, and, may be, something more;
With dandies dined; heard senators declaiming;
Seen beauties brought to market by the score,
Sad rakes to sadder husbands chastely taming;
There ‘s little left but to be bored or bore.
Witness those ‘ci-devant jeunes hommes’ who stem
The stream, nor leave the world which leaveth them.

‘T is said—indeed a general complaint—
That no one has succeeded in describing
The monde, exactly as they ought to paint:
Some say, that authors only snatch, by bribing
The porter, some slight scandals strange and quaint,
To furnish matter for their moral gibing;
And that their books have but one style in common—
My lady’s prattle, filter’d through her woman.

But this can’t well be true, just now; for writers
Are grown of the beau monde a part potential:
I ‘ve seen them balance even the scale with fighters,
Especially when young, for that ‘s essential.
Why do their sketches fail them as inditers
Of what they deem themselves most consequential,
The real portrait of the highest tribe?
‘T is that, in fact, there ‘s little to describe.

‘Haud ignara loquor;’ these are Nugae, ‘quarum
Pars parva fui,’ but still art and part.
Now I could much more easily sketch a harem,
A battle, wreck, or history of the heart,
Than these things; and besides, I wish to spare ‘em,
For reasons which I choose to keep apart.
‘Vetabo Cereris sacrum qui vulgarit—’
Which means that vulgar people must not share it.

And therefore what I throw off is ideal—
Lower’d, leaven’d, like a history of freemasons;
Which bears the same relation to the real,
As Captain Parry’s voyage may do to Jason’s.
The grand arcanum ‘s not for men to see all;
My music has some mystic diapasons;
And there is much which could not be appreciated
In any manner by the uninitiated.

Alas! worlds fall—and woman, since she fell’d
The world (as, since that history less polite
Than true, hath been a creed so strictly held)
Has not yet given up the practice quite.
Poor thing of usages! coerced, compell’d,
Victim when wrong, and martyr oft when right,
Condemn’d to child-bed, as men for their sins
Have shaving too entail’d upon their chins,—

A daily plague, which in the aggregate
May average on the whole with parturition.
But as to women, who can penetrate
The real sufferings of their she condition?
Man’s very sympathy with their estate
Has much of selfishness, and more suspicion.
Their love, their virtue, beauty, education,
But form good housekeepers, to breed a nation.

All this were very well, and can’t be better;
But even this is difficult, Heaven knows,
So many troubles from her birth beset her,
Such small distinction between friends and foes,
The gilding wears so soon from off her fetter,
That—but ask any woman if she’d choose
(Take her at thirty, that is) to have been
Female or male? a schoolboy or a queen?

‘Petticoat influence’ is a great reproach,
Which even those who obey would fain be thought
To fly from, as from hungry pikes a roach;
But since beneath it upon earth we are brought,
By various joltings of life’s hackney coach,
I for one venerate a petticoat—
A garment of a mystical sublimity,
No matter whether russet, silk, or dimity.

Much I respect, and much I have adored,
In my young days, that chaste and goodly veil,
Which holds a treasure, like a miser’s hoard,
And more attracts by all it doth conceal—
A golden scabbard on a Damasque sword,
A loving letter with a mystic seal,
A cure for grief—for what can ever rankle
Before a petticoat and peeping ankle?

And when upon a silent, sullen day,
With a sirocco, for example, blowing,
When even the sea looks dim with all its spray,
And sulkily the river’s ripple ‘s flowing,
And the sky shows that very ancient gray,
The sober, sad antithesis to glowing,—
‘T is pleasant, if then any thing is pleasant,
To catch a glimpse even of a pretty peasant.

We left our heroes and our heroines
In that fair clime which don’t depend on climate,
Quite independent of the Zodiac’s signs,
Though certainly more difficult to rhyme at,
Because the sun, and stars, and aught that shines,
Mountains, and all we can be most sublime at,
Are there oft dull and dreary as a dun—
Whether a sky’s or tradesman’s is all one.

An in-door life is less poetical;
And out of door hath showers, and mists, and sleet,
With which I could not brew a pastoral.
But be it as it may, a bard must meet
All difficulties, whether great or small,
To spoil his undertaking or complete,
And work away like spirit upon matter,
Embarrass’d somewhat both with fire and water.