Read Book of Mercy Online

Authors: Leonard Cohen

Tags: #Poetry

Book of Mercy

BY LEONARD COHEN

FICTION

The Favourite Game (1963)
Beautiful Losers (1966)

POETRY

Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956)
The Spice-Box of Earth (1961)
Flowers for Hitler (1964)
Parasites of Heaven (1966)
Selected Poems, 1956–1968 (1968)
The Energy of Slaves (1972)
Death of a Lady’s Man (1978)
Book of Mercy (1984)
Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs (1993)
Book of Longing (2006)

ALBUMS

Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)
Songs From a Room (1969)
Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
Live Songs (1972)
New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1973)
The Best of Leonard Cohen (1975)
Death of a Ladies’ Man (1977)
Recent Songs (1979)
Various Positions (1984)
I’m Your Man (1988)
The Future (1992)
Cohen Live (1994)
More Best of (1997)
Field Commander Cohen (2001)
Ten New Songs (2001)
The Essential Leonard Cohen (2002)
Dear Heather (2004)
Live in London (2009)

for my teacher

I
1

I
STOPPED TO LISTEN, BUT
he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

2

W
HEN I LEFT THE KING I
began to rehearse what I would say to the world: long rehearsals full of revisions, imaginary applause, humiliations, edicts of revenge. I grew swollen as I conspired with my ambition, I struggled, I expanded, and when the term was up, I gave birth to an ape. After some small inevitable misunderstanding, the ape turned on me. Limping, stumbling, I fled back to the swept courtyards of the king. ‘Where is your ape?’ the king demanded. ‘Bring me your ape.’ The work is slow. The ape is old. He clowns behind his bars, imitating our hands in the dream. He winks at my official sense of urgency. What king, he wants to know. What courtyard? What highway?

3

I
HEARD MY SOUL SINGING
behind a leaf, plucked the leaf, but then I heard it singing behind a veil. I tore the veil, but then I heard it singing behind a wall. I broke the wall, and I heard my soul singing against me. I built up the wall, mended the curtain, but I could not put back the leaf. I held it in my hand and I heard my soul singing mightily against me. This is what it’s like to study without a friend.

4

A
FTER SEARCHING AMONG
the words, and never finding ease, I went to you, I asked you to gladden my heart. My prayer divided against itself, I was ashamed to have been deceived again, and bitterly, in the midst of loud defeat, I went out myself to gladden the heart. It was here that I found my will, a fragile thing, starving among ferns and women and snakes. I said to my will, ‘Come, let us make ourselves ready to be touched by the angel of song,’ and suddenly I was once again on the bed of defeat in the middle of the night, begging for mercy, searching among the words. With the two shields of bitterness and hope, I rose up carefully, and I went out of the house to rescue the angel of song from the place where she had chained herself to her nakedness. I covered her nakedness with my will, and we stood in the kingdom that shines toward you, where Adam is mysteriously free, and I searched among the words for words that would not bend the will away from you.

5

‘L
ET ME REST,’ HE CRIED
from the panic at the top of his heap of days. ‘Let me rest on the day of rest,’ he entreated from the throne of unemployment. ‘This king is heavy in my arms, I can’t hold up the Pharaoh any more.’ He fastened his collar to the darkness so he couldn’t breathe, and he opened the book in anger to make his payment to the law. An angel, who had no intrinsic authority, said, ‘You have sealed every gate but this one; therefore, here is a little light commensurate with your little courage.’ His shame climbed up itself to find a height from which to spill. Then there was a sweeter saying in a stiller voice: ‘I do not put my trust in man, nor do I place reliance on
an angel.’ Immediately the Torah sang to him, and touched his hair, and for a moment, as a gift to serve his oldest memory, he wore the weightless crown, the crown that lifts the weight away, he wore it till his heart could say, ‘How precious is the heritage!’ The crown that leaps up from the letters, a crown like dew that gives the grass to drink beads out of the darkness, the mother’s kiss at the beginning of the war, the father’s hand that lets the forehead shine, the crown that raises up no man a king above his company. ‘Lead me deep into your Sabbath, let me sit beneath the mighty ones whom you have crowned forever, and let me study how they rest.’

6

S
IT DOWN, MASTER, ON
this rude chair of praises, and rule my nervous heart with your great decrees of freedom. Out of time you have taken me to do my daily task. Out of mist and dust you have fashioned me to know the numberless worlds between the crown and the kingdom. In utter defeat I came to you and you received me with a sweetness I had not dared to remember. Tonight I come to you again, soiled by strategies and trapped in the loneliness of my tiny domain. Establish your law in this walled place. Let nine men come to lift me into their prayer so that I may whisper with them: Blessed be the name of the glory of the kingdom forever and forever.

7

I
PUSHED MY BODY FROM
one city to another, one rooftop to another, to see a woman bathing. I heard myself grunt. I saw my fingers glisten. Then the exile closed around me. Then the punishment began; a small aimless misery, not in the heart, in the throat, then the removal of the body, the birds singing to a treasure of garbage, then world amnesia, a ghost bathing and shitting. Then I was judged by the face of one I tricked. Then the fear of justice. Then, for the ten thousandth time, the reality of sin. Then the Law shining, then the memory of what it was, too far, too clean to be grasped. Then I longed to
long for you again, to know the ache of separation. How long must I be uninhabited by a soul? How long sustain the mutiny of this denial? O master of my breath, create a man around these nostrils, and gather my heart toward the gravity of your name. Form me again with an utterance and open my mouth with your praise. There is no life but in affirming you, no world to walk on but the one which you create. Forgive me with these hours and this midnight. Give this thought a master, and this ghost a stone. And do not let the demons boast about your mercy.

8

I
N THE EYES OF MEN HE
falls, and in his own eyes too. He falls from his high place, he trips on his achievement. He falls to you, he falls to know you. It is sad, they say. See his disgrace, say the ones at his heel. But he falls radiantly toward the light to which he falls. They cannot see who lifts him as he falls, or how his falling changes, and he himself bewildered till his heart cries out to bless the one who holds him in his falling. And in his fall he hears his heart cry out, his heart explains why he is falling, why he had to fall, and he gives over to the fall. Blessed are
you, clasp of the falling. He falls into the sky, he falls into the light, none can hurt him as he falls. Blessed are you, shield of the falling. Wrapped in his fall, concealed within his fall, he finds the place, he is gathered in. While his hair streams back and his clothes tear in the wind, he is held up, comforted, he enters into the place of his fall. Blessed are you, embrace of the falling, foundation of the light, master of the human accident.

9

B
LESSED ARE YOU WHO HAS
given each man a shield of loneliness so that he cannot forget you. You are the truth of loneliness, and only your name addresses it. Strengthen my loneliness that I may be healed in your name, which is beyond all consolations that are uttered on this earth. Only in your name can I stand in the rush of time, only when this loneliness is yours can I lift my sins toward your mercy.

10

Y
OU HAVE SWEETENED
your word on my lips. My son too has heard the song that does not belong to him. From Abraham to Augustine, the nations have not known you, though every cry, every curse is raised on the foundation of your holiness. You placed me in this mystery and you let me sing, though only from this curious corner. You bound me to my fingerprints, as you bind every man, except the ones who need no binding. You led me to this field where I can dance with a broken knee. You led me safely to this night, you gave me a crown of darkness and light, and tears to greet my enemy. Who can tell of your glory, who can number your forms, who dares expound the interior life of god? And now you feed my household, you gather them to sleep, to dream, to dream freely, you surround them with the fence of all that I have seen. Sleep, my son, my small daughter, sleep – this night, this mercy has no boundaries.

11

H
E CAME BACK FROM HIS
prayer to the cat on his lap. He fed the cat, he let her go out to the moonlight, and he hid in the pages of Abraham. Like one newly circumcized, he hid himself away, he waited in the trust of healing. Faces of women appeared, and they explained themselves to him, connecting feature to character, beauty to kindness. Various families came to him and showed him all the chairs he
might sit in. ‘How can I say this gently?’ he said. ‘Though I love your company, your instructions are wasted here. I will always choose the woman who carries me off, I will always sit with the family of loneliness.’ Saying many words of encouragement his visitors departed, and he entered more deeply into his hiding. He asked for his heart to be focused toward the source of mercy, and he lifted up a corner, and he moved a millimetre forward under the shadow of the tabernacle of peace. His cat came back from the moonlight, flew softly to her place on his lap, and waited for him to come back from his prayer.

12

I
DRAW ASIDE THE CURTAIN
. You mock us with the beauty of your world. My heart hates the trees, the wind moving the branches, the dead diamond machinery of the sky. I pace the corridor between my teeth and my bladder, angry, murderous, comforted by the smell of my sweat. I weakened myself in your name. In my own eyes I disgraced myself for trusting you, against all evidence, against the prevailing winds of horror, over the bully’s laughter, the torturer’s loyalty, the sweet questions of the sly. Find me here, you whom David found in hell. The
skeletons are waiting for your famous mechanical salvation. Swim through the blood, father of mercy. Broadcast your light through the apple of pain, radiant one, sourceless, source of light. I wait for you, king of the dead, here in this garden where you placed me, beside the poisonous grass, miasmal homesteads, black Hebrew gibberish of pruned grapevines. I wait for you in the springtime of beatings and gross unnecessary death. Direct me out of this, O magnet of the falling cherry petals. Make a truce between my disgust and the impeccable landscape of fields and milky towns. Crush my swollen smallness, infiltrate my shame. Broken in the unemployment of my soul, I have driven a wedge into your world, fallen on both sides of it. Count me back to your mercy with the measures of a bitter song, and do not separate me from my tears.

13

F
RIEND, WHEN YOU SPEAK
this carefully I know it is because you don’t know what to say. I listen in such a way so as not to add to your confusion. I make some reply at every opportunity so as not to compound your loneliness. Thus the conversation continues under an umbrella of optimism. If you suggest a feeling, I affirm it. If you provoke, I accept the challenge. The surface is thick, but it has its flaws, and hopefully we will trip on one of them. Now, we can order a meat sandwich for the protein, or we can take our places in the Sanhedrin and determine what is to
be done with those great cubes of diamond that our teacher Moses shouldered down the mountain. You want to place them in such a way that the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night, will shine through them. I suggest another perspective which would include the light of the celestial bodies within the supernal radiance of the cubes. We lean toward each other over the table. The dust mingles with the mist, our nostrils widen. We are definitely interested; now we can get down to a Jew’s business.

Other books

Child of the Mist by Kathleen Morgan
Erased by Elle Christensen, K Webster
Dark Admirer by Charlotte Featherstone
Rebekah Redeemed by Dianne G. Sagan
Jessica and Jewel by Kelly McKain
Hunted by Beverly Long
Ice Run by Steve Hamilton
The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper