Prufrock’s Lament

Memento Mori

LET us slow then, you and I.
When vile emissions spread out across the sky
The ether that lays us upon the table;
Lets us skulk through fear-deserted streets,
The mutterings retreat
Of soulless nights in one-night cheap brothels
And raw rust juggernauts and mortar shells;
Streets that follow past the seediest tenement
Too usurious to rent
To lead you to an overwhelming bastion, …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us leave ere made to visit

In the room the women all have gone
No longer talking of anyone

The fetid smog that rubs its back upon the russet stains,
The blood-red smoke that scrubs its muzzle on your windblown pains
Licked its tongue into the mourners of the evening,
Lingered upon the fools that beat the drums,
Let fall within it black soot that falls from enemies
Slipped by the barracks, made a sudden leap
And seeing that it was a hard October night
Curled once around the mice, began to eat

And in time there will be need
For no poison smog that slides along the street,
Rubbing its black upon the sinner’s stains;
There will be need, there will be need
To prepare a face for the faces that you meet,
There will be need to murder and repeat,
And need for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Need for you and need for me,
And need yet for a hundred prisons and divisions,
Before they take your friends and family.

In the room the women all have gone
No longer talking of anyone

And in time there will be need
To ponder, “Do I swear?” and “Do I swear?”
Need to turn back and ascend the track,
With a target in the middle of my back—
(They will say, “How his wit is growing thin!”)
My worn out coat, my collar turned up firmly to my chin,
My necktie torn and ragged, but a belt around a waist too thin—
(They will say, “But how he harms and begs are sin!”)
Do I dare
Explore the multiverse?
In a minute there is time
For precisions and divisions a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evening’s mournings aftermaths,
I have parceled out my strife, no hope or laughs;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music of a far-out toon.
See how grow I jejune?

And I have known the lies already, known them all—
The lies that trick you with a formulaic phrase,
And when I am inebriated, staggering on gin
Then how have I no sin
To throw out all the buttons of my nay campaigns
And how grow I jejune?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are bracketed, light and spare
(But in the streetlight, aimed most anywhere!)
Is it odor from a shell
That makes me feel unwell?
Arms that lie across a table or racked around a room
And then should I resume?
And how have I no sin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow ways
And watched the smoke that rises from sewers
Of lonely folk with heart hurts living beneath our feet?

Should I have seen the lairs of jagged maws
Scuttling to kill the roars of silent peace

And the afternoon, the evening, roams so restlessly
Stirred by strong fingers,
Awake, mired … or it malingers,
Should I after pleas and fakes and vices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and preyed
Though I have seen my head (grown mostly mute) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it after all,
After the quips, the harm I’ve made, the fee,
Among the barristers, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worthwhile,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To squeeze the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say, “I am Psyche, come with warning,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, holding a pillow on my face,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worthwhile,
After the cheap wine, and the alleys, and the littered streets,
After the hovels, after the pain pills, after the pants that drag along the floor—
And this, and so much more?
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a laser lightshow threw the nerves in patterns in the dark;
Would it have been worthwhile
If one, holding down a pillow or relishing a brawl
And turning toward the speaker should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not a rich mogul, nor was meant to be;
Am an accountant, bored, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the boss, no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, mad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous,
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow cold… I grow cold…
Shall I wear my best when in my coffin rolled,

Shall I first pursue my cause? Do I dare to test my reach?
Shall I wear the rebel trousers and charge into the breach?
I have heard the cannons roaring, each to each

I hope they’ll not roar my death at me.

I have seen them smoking, melting from the heat
Bombing the lowest while the city’s sacked
When the world falls upon them, harsh attack.

We have lingered in the chambers so elite
By call-girls wreathed with cigar smoke, a crown
Till cosmic choices break us, and we’re gone.

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