Stefan Brecht

Selected Poems

Taught I was

these were the last days. Watch the wheel, they said,

see how the world is a village, now dark & crumbling, riding

on its upper rim: soon it will turn, the wheel, dragging

man’s world down

down through the dark waters of renewal

to bring it back up again

quite otherwise:

abluted, kin to light,

pure. “I saw it budge,”

said my father, “I felt the impulse,” said his wife. Having believed them,

I lost my faith. The vision

left me. “It may well turn,” I thought,

“but the world will come up unchanged.” Nevertheless,

their words had clung to my eyes, I saw

the village, dark & crumbling, ever

ephemeral, perched on THE WHEEL, unworthy

of consideration, distasteful even,

& I closed my eyes.

from Poems, City Lights 1977

The three ladies hoarsely enjoy

their cigarettes together

before turning in,

one on the sidewalk,

one on the steps,

and one up by the door

to the Allerton Hotel

in the doorway’s light

half a block from the corner,

at 4 a.m. Memorial Day weekend,

a Sunday.

from 8th Avenue Poems, Spuyten Duyvil 2006

at a small table

in the cool morning

outside the closed café

on the deserted avenue

the couple banters

with nothing on the table top

their charm a matter of some apprehension

as I pass

appreciation withdrawn: the town is big.

from 8th Avenue Poems, Spuyten Duyvil 2006

It’s six a.m. and the sun is rising Memorial Day

on him reading on this Monday Sunday’s ads, seated carefully

back to wall, legs crossed, on the pavement, on another two pages,

his finger tracing down the column, facing the street stretching

the road of asphalt and the two strips of concrete concave and slightly shiny

running in the morning

not endlessly but far past him someone that you might say really has no place to go

but in the American Dream will get his shit together and start trudging

looking for that job to-morrow down the endless street, or more likely not

but looks neat, hair parted, the short line of his finger out from the wall

back toward his stomach slowly tracing the black letters

extended into the far longer line of the street stretching past him like

a banquet table, arching

past him from north to south, swelling as though beneath it rested a lily pond

and the avenue were a Chinese bridge, ornate and carved over its darkness, and he

the scholarly poet

gathering his wits in the early morning

on his estate.

from 8th Avenue Poems, Spuyten Duyvil 2006

March ’91

It’s winter, though on some days it seems not so. The war is scarcely

finished but spirit quickly moves: a poster

fairly printed in black on white evokes the crimes committed, ours.

from 8th Avenue Poems, Spuyten Duyvil 2006

Of late, more and more often, in the street men carry

the faces of Indians as though some upheaval

had brought to the fore in their faces the arched cheekbones, opaque

agate eyes, the wide expanses on skulls like boulders

of this race exterminated hereabouts and in the islands, the cast

of features of these victims, integrity of impassive non-collaboration,

pressing forward in these aliens

shaped, I surmise,

not by blood but by circumstance.

from 8th Avenue Poems, Spuyten Duyvil 2006

I admire

Che Guevara.

I recommend his life & death

to all those

capable of it.

from Poems, self-published 1976

Considerations. V.

The hero seeks himself, a transformation,

yet fears, he’s the only one he is.

What has he? Only what he seeks to shed.

But in the crucible: will he remain?

For God is threat and evil nothingness.

Yet ludicrous his search if he comes out of it

another: the hero dying as at birth. A life spent for a change of clothing

and at the end one is at best and worst redressed.

Or caught at the annihilation

with one arm in a sleeve

the jacket noway better than the one one struggled out of.

from Tyuonyi, 1988, issue 4

Thanksgiving (1974)

The tenderness of love is extraordinary

in that in silent ardour it embraces this one

& this one’s body, her body, she, in one

her smile, her way of moving, speech, her thought

in flesh, & in her flesh herself, so holds

the other, other in her smile, her way of moving, speech, her thought

no longer other but her own true self

in love & loved at one embraced

& known.

from Poems, City Lights 1977

languages, any language seemed to me

so treacherous a code, every word

an alien vibration, world in itself,

about several nuclei indefinable,

that my phrases,

uttered in an access of muscular euphoria,

would instantly float away, silver

shivers receding

into the sea of air, their meaning all but

unseizable, nowise


I might mean:

so that I have been reduced

to an essential muteness,

emptymindedly watching

my sentences

bubble away.

from Poems, City Lights 1977


When I dug down

through the turf of his face

I found a topsoil thicker & blacker

than I had expected

& full of junk, cokebottles, a bicycle frame, old

shoeleather, even

the giant iron hoops off old wagon wheels,

no longer there, but

soon hit groundwater, whereupon

almost immediately, I came upon

the sea,

the self-same sea,

the sea-green sea,

& slipped away in sheaths of color endlessly.

from Poems, City Lights 1977