February 3, 2023

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How much? [poem by Jerome Sala]

Hieronymus Sala

(Editor’s note: Since we posted the conversation between poets Jerome Sala and Jack Skelley, we’ve been taking requests for their poems. Here’s How Much? by Jerome Sala from his book How Much? New and Selected Poems. Check it out this section for a poem by Jack Skelley)

How much?

— by Jerome Sala

How much is it worth –
the actual copy of
Poems by Pierre Reverdy
Frank O’Hara had in his pocket
as he wrote: “My heart is
it’s in my pocket
Poems by Pierre Reverdy
Probably not
as much as Duchamp’s chess game
or urinal: that’s because O’Hara
was not a painter, but a poet,
and you know what that means:
while the other arts add value
to their objects, conspiracy
with the world of goods
to promote the enrichment economy,
Verse makes its objects worse
relieves them of their value
throw them out into the world
beyond the cave of making money
to another place that we don’t have
understand and not be able to name.
how much is it worth
the real heart of Frank O’Hara,
bereft of metaphors?
Can his heart actually be sold?
such equipment,
Or must we be lost forever
in the damp fog, at the abyss
of the heart itself
an irretrievable object?
When Shelley was
cremated, his heart refused to burn.
Mary Shelley carried it with her
wrapped in a silk shroud for years
in a glass.
As a revered Tibetan Buddhist
Teachers die, their hearts become relics
and shall bestow blessings—
the biggest of them
is the knowledge of emptiness.

[Originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Dec. 18—Jan. 19, 2019 issue.] Now available in How much? New and Selected Poems by Jerome Sala (NYQ Books).