The Floating Bear - issue #37 -1969

CANTICLE OF ST. JOAN for Robert Duncan

It is in God's hands. How can I decide
France shall be free? And yet, with the clear song
of thrush, of starling, comes the word, decide
For human agency is freely chosen. I embrace
the iron crown, the nettle shirt, as I
embraced our lord god in the darkling wood
He of silver hooves and flashing mane
Who shall be nameless.
Nameless as spruce and holly, which endure.
Hold St. Michael, but the ace of swords
is bitter! and the grail
not to be drunk, but carried into shelter.
The dragon, my naga, purrs, it lays its claws
about the bars which will soon close around me.
I stand in its breath, the fire, and read love
in its eyes like crystal balls which mirror gore
of the burning, pillaged cities I set free.
O brew me mistletoe, unveil the well
I shall lie down again with him who must be nameless
and sink my strong teeth into unhuman flesh.

Blessed be the holy saints, now and forever.
Blessed be Margaret & Bridget
Blessed be spruce & fir.
The sacred waterfall, Diana's bath, the wind
which brings iron clouds.
They fly out of the sea to the north, they recommend
that I wear woman's dress, they do not see
that I am Luci-fer, light bearer, lead & I follow
Mother, Sara-la-kali, sacred Diana, I could have borne
a babe to our sovereign god but would not
 in this captivity, this blood
on my hands and no other
who seeks to destroy the light in this holy forest
the yellow me call Europe

Where is my helmet? Battle
is what I crave, shock of lance, death cry, the air
filled with the jostling spirits of the dead,
meat & drink, the earth enriched with brain & entrail
horses' hooves sliding, the newly fallen
finding soft soggy bed on the fallen leaves, tears are too light
red with our sorrow as we reclaim the ground
free to lie again with the horned man, the overlords
must build their edifices elsewhere, here we stomp
in our wooden shoes on the bare earth, take in our arms
boughs of the great trees, the misty fabrics of wee folk
flesh of our breathen, soon to grow cold, the children
half imp who live on earth as it were hell, I hear
the Voice, it bids me seek no forgiveness for none
is my share, my blessing is leaden sky, the sacred blood
of the children of forest shines like jewels
upon it.

O am I salamander, do I dance or leap
with pain, can I indeed fail & falling
fall out of this fire? half charred to smolder
black under blackening sky, the god is good
who made the stake strong, made the chains strong, I laugh
I think I laugh I hear peals of unholy laughter
like bells. The cross was ours before you holy men, its secret
there, where the two sticks meet, you cannot fathom.
I hear the cart creak home that brought me, the driver
won't even stay for this end-leap, pirouette.
Inside the grail is fire, the deep draught
melted rubies, blood of the most high god
whose name is Satan, and whose planet earth
I reclaim for the Bundschuh, sons of men.
My hair is burning and the mist is blue
which cracks my brain, I am not in the flame, I am the flame
the sun pours down, the Voice is mighty roar
O little children's bones! the sword & cup
are shivered into stars.

- Diane di Prima


  1. Claudia,

    I'm amazed at the similarities between diPrima and Samperi. I'd thought I'd see something a little more radical, even in a poem entitled "Canticle of St. Joan", from a poet associated with the Beats.

    I find the spirituality in Italo-American poets interesting.

  2. Conrad,
    Yes, I agree. But the times must have been so radical for poets and artists.

  3. yes...I too, for what it s wort ... agree

    she was/is (as Frank was) well grounded simultaneously "inside" pol and "outside" of the politics

    comes I guess from her grand leaps from Dinners and Nightmares
    through LOBA
    from her PIECES OF A SONG Selected Poems

    Three Laments


    I believe
    I might have become
    a great writer
    the chairs
    in the library
    were too hard

    two very strong, original 'voices' who 'nailed' the notes


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