This is an extremely difficult poem. Do not be upset with yourself if you are having trouble understanding it. Auster takes language to its limits: his stanzas are almost falling apart, so loose is the connection between the images and ideas in them. Let me just comment on this one stanza:
Into the hub the shell implodes,
Persists in a pun of loam and rock,
Rising as stick, to invade, to drive
Out the babble that worded its body
To emerge, to wait for future Blows--city in root, in deed, unsprung, even out
Of the city. Get out. The wheel
Was deception. It cannot turn.
The wheel is a wagon wheel. It was made by humans, just as the road on which the wagon is traveling is also human-made. But nature, "rising as a stick" from the road, jams the wheel. So nature thwarts man's creation, and Auster seems to belittle it: "The wheel / Was deception." The wheel is one of man's greatest inventions, and it promised humanity a thousand years of breakneck progress. But was that progress merely a "deception"? And words--what does Alter say about words elsewhere in the poem?
This image: "Into the hub the shell implodes." Auster seems to be saying that an egg has been crushed in the wheel. Where did the egg come from? The ground? I can't tell. This is a very difficult line to interpret. ("Shell" could even simply be a part of the wheel--not an egg-shell, as I have it.) HOWEVER, we know that the egg is at "the hub," which means that the spokes of the wheel radiate from both the hub and the egg--so you have an image of an Egg with spokes radiating from it.
This is a primal image, a mandala (a circular diagram of the cosmos/mind). In the center of every mandala is the source of all Life, and here we have an egg, a source of life, at the center of the wheel. But the egg is crushed, and this is obviously a symbol of death--the death not just of a little bird but of what it stands for, as the center of the mandala: Eternal Life. The egg is crushed--Eternal Life is destroyed--when the wheel hits a root coming up out of the road.
What does the root symbolize? Well, the root wants to "drive / Out the babble that worded its body." "Babble" evokes the story of the Tower of Babel, from where all languages originated. Humans tried to build a tower to heaven, so God made them all speak different languages, for that way they could not organize their extremely complicated architectural effort. So "Babble" can symbolize language: The root wants to "drive out" language, which "worded its body," making it something that humans could understand and conquer. The root, then, seems to represent a force destructive to man and his Mind (language). It is more powerful than his mind, too, since it succeeds in jamming up the wheel. I suggest that the root is Nature outside of words and ideas: pure nature, without any religious interpretation glossing over it, distorting it, giving it meaning. For Nature has no meaning, and death is as real as life.
And what are the spokes? In a mandala, they are the spiritual force of Eternal Life (i.e., an egg) as it spreads into the material world of death and broken wheels. It radiates outward like the rays of the sun, touching everything with Eternity, especially everything on the edge of the circle--at the wheel part of the wheel. (Take a deep breath.) Spokes are language.
This is a poem about language. Find all the different parts of the poem where language comes up. Words, in my hasty interpretation, are the radiating "spokes"; they give Life to everything; but the wheel breaks--the wheel (which can also represent Man's mind) is "deception". Man's mind tries to create a good and ordered world, in which there is Eternal Life and hence Eternal Meaning, but the "shell implodes." At the center of everything is death and meaninglessness. (Remember the line about worms at the beginning of the poem?) Dark!
Feel free to quote me in your paper. You can say something like this:
Joel K. argues that "[s]pokes are language" (personal communication).