POEM|  David Lehman
These Fragments I Have Shored
 
A cento is a collage-poem composed of lines lifted from other sources -
often, though not always, from great poets of the past. In Latin the
word cento
means ''patchwork,'' and the verse form resembles a quilt of discrete
lines
stitched together to make a whole. The word cento is also Italian for
''one hun-
dred,'' and some mosaic poems consist of exactly 100lines culled by
one poet
from the work of another to pay tribute to him or her. The ancient
Greeks as-
sembled centos in homage to Homer, the Romans in homage to Virgil.
Ever since T. S. Eliot raided Elizabethan drama and 17th-century poetry
for ''The Waste Land,'' the collage has held a strong attraction for
modern po-
ets. The cento as contemporary poets practice it is a specialized
form of the col-
lage: an anthology poem from diverse sources. John Ashberydid one called
''To a Waterfowl'' in 1961, and it is so good I was tempted to
include it in the
new edition of ''The Oxford Book of American Poetry.'' I still
remember one
couplet by heart: ''Calm was the day and through the trembling air, /
Coffee
and oranges in a sunny chair.'' The first line is by Edmund Spenser,
the second
by Wallace Stevens, and the combined effect is the magic of Ashbery.
Writing a cento may be a kind of extension of the act of reading, a
way to
prolong the pleasure. What makes the cento so appealing a poetic form
- and
one with increasing popularity - is the opportunity to revel in
quotations and
yoke them strategically for a variety of effects beginning with
surprise and hu-
mor and ending sometimes in clarity and vision. After editing this
new anthol-
ogy, I felt inevitably drawn to the idea of forging a cento from its
pages, in hon-
or of the poets and as a souvenir of the experience of working on the
project.
Here it is.
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If the sun shines but approximately1
Only where love and need are one, 2
Who in this Bowling Alley bowld the Sun?3
Of whom shall we speak? For every day they die4
Younger than their kids - jeans, ski-pants, sneakers.5
And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes6
Waking far apart on the bed, the two of them.7
And so it was I entered the broken world.8
Good morning, Daddy!9
Every woman adores a Fascist,10
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart.11
When I am slitting a fish's head,12
Would he like it if I told him?13
Odd that a thing is most itself when likened,14
Everything only connected by ''and'' and ''and.''15
There are no flowers in Hell.16
Give all to love,17
A burnt match skating in a urinal18
That never lost a vote (O Adlai mine).19
What you get married for if you don't want children?20
And because it is my heart,21
Above, below, around, and in my heart,22
Blessed be God! For he created Death!23
And rock-grained, rack-ruined battlements.24
One's sex asserts itself. Desire25
And that White Sustenance - 26
Despair27- in a Sahara of snow,28
As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort.29
Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,30
Weep for what little things could make them glad.31
We hurt each other as the bridegroom and the bride hurt each other.32
And I wish I did not feel like your mother.33
Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain,34
There is nothing lowly in the universe.35
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,36
The sea in a chasm, struggling to be37
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,38
On this green bank, by this soft stream,39
Where strangers would have shut the many doors,40
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.41
Heard on the street, seen in a dream, heard in the park, seen by the
light of day,42
What is yours is mine my father.43
What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do.44
And this is not as good a poem as The Circus45
Especially the lines that are spoken in the voice ofthe mouse.46
He opened the car door and looked back47
And clapped his hands and shouted to the birds.48
And that was the whole show.49
>
1Laura Riding, ''The World and I.''
2Robert Frost, ''Two Tramps in Mud Time.''
3 Edward Taylor,
''The Preface'' to ''God's Determinations Touching His Elect.''
4W. H. Auden, ''In Memory of Sigmund Freud.''
5James Merrill, ''Self-Portrait in TyvekTMWindbreaker.''
6Edgar Allan Poe, ''Annabel Lee.''
7John Ashbery, ''Decoy.''
8Hart Crane, ''The Broken Tower.''
9Langston Hughes,
''Good Morning,'' from ''Montage of a Dream Deferred.''
10Sylvia Plath, ''Daddy'.'
11Robert Frost, '' 'Out, Out -' ''
12Elinor Wylie, ''The Puritan's Ballad.''
13Gertrude Stein, ''If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso.''
14Richard Wilbur, ''Lying.''
15Elizabeth Bishop,
''Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance.''
16H. Phelps Putnam, ''Bill Gets Burned.''
17Ralph Waldo Emerson, ''Give All to Love.''
18Hart Crane, ''The Tunnel.''
19John Berryman, ''Dream Song No. 23.''
20T. S. Eliot, ''The Waste Land.''
21Stephen Crane, ''In the Desert.''
22Conrad Aiken, from ''Preludes.''
23Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
''The Jewish Cemetery at Newport.''
24Jean Garrigue, ''Song in Sligo.''
25Herman Melville, ''After the Pleasure Party.''
26Emily Dickinson, ''I Cannot Live With You.''
27Emily Dickinson, ''ICannot Live With You.''
28Robert Lowell, ''For the Union Dead.''
29Anthony Hecht, ''The Dover Bitch.''
30Jean Toomer, ''Georgia Dusk.''
31Robert Frost, ''Directive.''
32Walt Whitman, ''Song of Myself.''
33Edna St. Vincent Millay, ''Rendezvous.''
34Anne Bradstreet, ''The Author to Her Book.''
35A. R. Ammons, ''Still.''
36Theodore Roethke, ''Dolor.''
37Marianne Moore, ''What Are Years?''
38Wallace Stevens, ''Sunday Morning.''
39Ralph Waldo Emerson, ''Concord Hymn.''
40Edwin Arlington Robinson, ''Mr. Flood's Party.''
41 Wallace Stevens, ''The Idea of Order at Key West.''
42Kenneth Fearing, ''Green Light.''
43Walt Whitman, ''As I Ebb'd With the Ocean of Life.''
44John Ashbery, ''The Instruction Manual.''
45Kenneth Koch, ''The Circus(1975).''
46Billy Collins, ''Workshop.''
47Galway Kinnell, ''Hitchhiker.''
48Robert Pinsky, ''From the Childhood of Jesus.''
49Charles Simic, ''Country Fair.''
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David Lehmanis series editor of ''The Best American Poetry'' and
author of ''When a Woman Loves a Man,'' among other books of poetry and
prose.  ''The Oxford Book of American Poetry'' has just been published.