dreamed I was in a desert and because I was sick of myself
I started beating a woman.
It was devilish cold, I had to do something,
Make a fire, take some exercise,
But I had a headache, I was tired,
All I wanted to do was sleep, die.
My suit was soggy with blood
And a few hairs were stuck among my fingers
-They belonged to my poor mother
"Why do you abuse your mother," a stone asked me,
A dusty stone, "Why do you abuse her?"
I couldn't tell where these voices came from, they gave me the shivers,
I looked at my nails, I bit them,
I tried to think of something but without success,
All I saw around me was a desert
And the image of that idol
My god who was watching me do these things.
Then a few birds appeared
And at the same moment, in the dark, I discovered some slabs of rock.
With a supreme effort I managed to make out the tablets of the law:
"We are the tablets of the law," they said,
"Why do you abuse your mother?
See these birds that have come to perch on us,
They are here to record your crimes."
But I yawned, I was bored with these warnings.
"Get rid of those birds," I said aloud.
"No," one of the stones said,
"They stand for your different sins,
They're here to watch you."
So I turned back to my lady again
And started to let her have it harder than before.
I had to do something to keep awake.
I had no choice but to act
Or I would have fallen asleep among those rocks
And those birds.
So I took a box of matches out of one of my pockets
And decided to set fire to the bust of the god.
I was dreadfully cold, I had to get warm,
But that blaze only lasted a few seconds.
Out of my mind, I looked for the tablets again
But they had disappeared.
The rocks weren't there either.
My mother had abandoned me.
I beat my brow. But
There was nothing more I could do.
by W.S. Merwin
Antipoems: New and Selected (edited by David Unger), New York,
New Directions, 1985.