Sojourning alone in Paris,
he thought, now finally
he was a poet. All the props
were his: the cloak, the hat
like a cringing accordion,
the mustache, the walking stick
pronouncing ends-of-sentences
on the sidewalk.
Only he had not reckoned
on the loneliness. Isolate,
terrible as a lavatory,
it chilled him, coming in from
the warm purple streets.
His room lay in the darkness
like a terrapin, promising nothing.
Something unseen, a posterity,
crouched in the corners, watching,
ticking off his movements: his forearms
as he washed his shirt
in the basin; the casual
lighting of a match. That eerie tiger
noticed everything. His neck
prickled at his writing stand.
“If you love me, guard
my solitude,” he wrote
to endless mistresses, his wife,
his friends. Solitude!
It is the sallow wallpaper
of furnished rooms.
Worried as a snail, he worked,
extruding a thin slimy track.
While to him a young man
earnestly wrote: Dear Mr. Rilke,
how shall I become a poet,
having a most desperate longing
to do so, and in my bosom
some small songs?
And like a garden, the replies
profused, lavishing
in leaking roses, borders
of bachelor’s buttons, blue
at the buttonhole,
and the scent of solitary
sentry lilies: sentences
burgeoning like blood from a slit
No tourniquet could stanch it.
The heart, spurting, sprinted
onto the page. “Dear Mr. Kappus . .
Loneliness, that leech obscene
on his mouth, was sucking,
glutting out whole sonnets,
clots of sound.