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John Bloomberg-Rissman

from Travels to Capitals

Travels to Capitals is large-scale work drawing on the artwork of Donald Evans and the poetry of Michael Palmer. To read Bloomberg-Rissman’s introduction to the work, click here. To visit Bloomberg-Rissman's website, which includes the complete text of Travels to Capitals, click here.

We walked on the river bank in a cold wind, under a grey sky. Both agreed that life seen without illusion is a ghastly affair. Illusions wouldn’t come back. However they returned about 8.30 in front of the fire, and were going merrily till bedtime, when some antics ended the day.

Virginia Woolf

Diary (10 November 1917)

and paradise thus daily fall
unlikely wings
on usual shoulders

Ronald Johnson
ARK (ARK 65, Windmill Spire)

The Miracle of Katibo

I ran down Chin at last
In a small café on Boulevard Lafour
Called something something Heaven

“Though I’m blind,” he’d said
“You’ll recognize me by my book:
Athanasius Kircher:
The Last Man Who Knew Everything

“I’m glad you’re here”
He greeted me when I arrived
Then he ordered a brace of skylarks
And a bottle of local rum

(Ah, Katiban rum …
One sip - you’ll say goodbye
To all your aches and pains
Two sips - you’ll ask
What happened to my body?)

“Let’s stroll,” he said
After we’d picked the last bone clean
Even a blind man knows

When the sun is shining”

A Katiboise named Joy Alive
One of Chin’s brighter students
Hailed us as we crossed the Place de ’40

He introduced me
As “our distinguished visitor”

I hoped that made up
For my rumpled suit and three days’ growth
Of what only a saint could call a beard

Her dissertation
Which he’d come to Katibo to supervise
Discusses phasing in
A self-sustaining economy
To replace one based on sugar cane

As we passed a shop she said
“Look in this window
“Tell me what you see”

“A display of Poppy G3’s,” I replied
Then I quoted the ad I’d seen a million times
“Its brain is bigger than your brain”

“The Poppy G3
in Katibo,” she corrected

I raised my arm
As if in response
To a classroom question

“I have a G3,” I said

“So do I,” said Joy

South On The River: A Suite Of Poems From Old Sung-Ting


South on the river clouds thin

Hills rise higher

A quarter mile up a lone bird drifts
White wings motionless

South on the river again

Again, official business

We round the bend, reach the border
Pass beneath the old stone bridge


Hills rise higher

Trees thin

Streams race over rocks

Banks close in

From the bottom of this gorge
Sky’s a thin blue sliver

A lone boat passes

Someone on board sings a Blind Owl song:

So tired of cryin' but I'm out
On the road again


Houses hang high off cliffs

Every window’s lit

Balconies of laughing crowds
Toss torches into space:

Slow shooting stars
That arc across the night
And disappear into the river

Farther from home than ever ...

What festival is this?


The neighbor’s dog growls

I say, “Jasmine, it’s only me”

She pokes her muzzle through the fence
Bares her big teeth

Roses mirror sunsets here

I sit in the yard
Til it’s finally night

Setting the lamp beside the bed
I read the book of poems you gave me
No longer quite so lonely
Making myself at home
In my little pearl of light

(for Beth)


I thought each spring
Would bring
Another “poem with jacarandas”

How wrong I was

How the years whiz by

The blossoms:

Scattered again

The ground:

Littered again with blue light


I glance through a stack
Of very important documents

Official stuff

I could screw up
The fate of millions
By checking the wrong box

So what has me so not interested?

Spring through the window

Sun on the ivy

A sturdy old pine

A glittering web

(for Steve)


The name of the nearest mountain’s
Stone Fish Peak

As the Great Sage said
It swims in an endless sea

At its foot’s a ruined village:

Armies …

Rubble …

Ash …

Halfway up
I become my body
Breathing hard
Counting my steps
Mumbling “I should have stayed home
“Content with the photographs”

I spend all night on top
Wrapped in a blanket
Drafting lines
Like “the moon’s beautiful music”
And “the sky-field’s stars”

Mist rises with the sun

I make my way back down the path
Pass a man
Rope looped over a shoulder
Pass a woman
Gun in one hand
Rabbit in the other

For half an hour
I’m the only person in the world

I kick a pinecone for miles
And write you letters

“The villages”

The villages

The villages

The people

The customs

The dress

The word

The bed

The basket

The tears

The x

The notebook

The time

The mutations

The laughter

The jokes

The secrets

The boundaries

The speech

The suffixes

The punctuation

The circle

The stroke

The canvas

The wall

The thoughts

The moment

The leaf

The bodies

The past

The novel

The poet

The crowds

The mountaintops

The nickel

The box

The dollar

The text

The questions

The question

The forest

The paths

The blind

The question

The townhouse

The question

The dream

The mother-tongue

The question

The organs

The God

The question

The days

The week

The y

This Is The Last Page


This is the last page

Now my charms are all o'erthrown
And what strength I have's mine own
Which is most faint

Have I been brave enough
To write something
Even if no one likes it but me

O frightened dove
Fluttering in my chest

Have I waved the white flag


Big blue notebook
You are not just jumbled alphabet

You are the world of dew
The and yet ... and yet ...

Where I sit in the arbor
Amid the shadows of the grape
Waiting for Borul
To drive us into the hills tonight
To dine at the inn at Werckabe
The one with the moonlight garden
Asters under the stars


How you caress me
Beautiful hands of words


My imagination is not pure enough to present
The single beatific image

Thank you Clark Coolidge

There is no Inside
If everything including my flesh and je
Are and they are Other

I have always lacked Character

Streets yes but not Cities

Times yes but not Time

A childhood verb

I will never be rich enough
To live in that Village


These fragments …

These letters …

Writing on a wall …

Poor tagger idiom …


It’s all over
But the fun and suffering

Thank you
For the chrysanthemum tea

Copyright © John Bloomberg-Rissman, 2005