Thursday, June 21, 2018


Two old women were fighting in the street, pinching each other like a pair of angry black lobsters. One or two nighthawkers watched them appreciatively.

Nobody knew how the quarrel had begun.

A young woman on the other side of the street also observed the fight but she was more absorbed in the windows above, which went dark one by one. It was the hour of sleep, and with the extinction of each light the night became longer.

People had given up staring at her, she had been standing there for so long. She was like a familiar ghost, but she was strange looking; her clothes were too long and her hair much too untidy, like those of a person barely saved from drowning. Somebody, a little earlier, had quickened his step and looked away because a winged creature was clinging to her mouth and she had not stirred.

Now the creature had flown away on its own mysterious business, leaving the red on her mouth slightly smudged.

She wondered how it was that the people in the street were not dancing, dancing to the monotonous rhythm in her head. It was loud and dangerous and it made wonderful music.

A tall woman came striding around the corner and stopped near her. On a leash she had two big blonde dogs the same colour as her hair, itself like a separate animal sitting on her head.

The dogs were excited and pulled her over to the young woman.

"What are you doing?" she said. "At this hour..."

She bent down and seemed to address the dogs.

"They have been dancing for hours you know, the hounds...they led me here."

"I am waiting for Fernando."

"And you have no tears left?"

"No, I haven't any more," admitted the young woman. "Although I tried pinching my breasts and thinking of death, it was no good. So I came out here."

The blonde woman took a sheepskin off her arm and wrapped it around the other. "Come," she said, "you must get free, free to kill and scream, free to tear out his hair and free to run away only to come back laughing."

"His hair is so long and straight and almost blue, blue grey, I love it so much."

She relapsed into infatuated silence.

"Be careful; I shall slap you..." said the blonde woman irritably.

"You can't love anyone until you have drawn blood and dipped in your fingers and enjoyed it."

They were being pulled along by the big blonde dogs and occasionally dragged zigzagging across the street to another fascinating stink.

"My name," said the blonde woman, "is Elizabeth...a beautiful name which suits me admirably."

"Margaret," said the young woman sadly, "is my name. Margaret."

"Musical Margaret," said Elizabeth, giving a loud triumphant laugh, which sent the dogs bounding forward.

"Not yet!" screamed Elizabeth. "Not yet...But they always obey me in small things, although I am directed in others...They lead me, my trust is implicit."

They were pulled into a small square, charming with trees and elegantly windowed houses; the dogs went straight to Number 7. In they went and up a rather bleak marble staircase. Up and up to the highest landing and finally in through a small blue door to a diminutive hall littered with beautifully coloured and rather soiled clothes. Their entrance provoked a flight of large moths, which had been grazing peacefully amongst the more mature fur coats.

Somewhere a musical box played a ver old song.

"The past," said Elizabeth, unleashing the dogs. "The adorable living past. One must wallow, just wallow in it. How can anybody be a person of quality if they wash away their ghosts with common sense?"

She turned on Margaret ferociously and laughed in her face.

"Do you believe," she went on, "that the past dies?"

"Yes," said Margaret. "Yes, if the present cuts its throat."

"Those little white hands could cut nobody's throat."

Elizabeth laughed so much that she reeled around the room.

"How old is Fernando?" she asked suddenly. "Older than you?"

"Yes," said Margaret, who looked ill. "Fernando is forty-three."

"Forty-three, that makes seven...a beautiful number."

The dogs rolled about voluptuously amongst the silks and furs.

Elizabeth pulled Margaret into the kitchen, where the long-dead stove was littered with cooking utensils or half full of what looked like green food; but Margaret saw that the greenness was a fluffy growth of fungi. Most of the crockery on the floor was covered with the same feathery vegetation.

"We just had dinner," said Elizabeth. "I always cook too much...You see, I don't like meals, I only eat banquets."

She dipped a spoon into the nearest dish, after having examined it closely...

"It dropped into the lavatory the other day," she explained, "while I was washing up. Hungry?" she asked.

Margaret said that she was not hungry.

"Then come..." said Elizabeth. "We will talk."

The musical box started to play again and Margaret remembered the tune because Fernando had always hated it. He had once said that he preferred to pour boiling oil into his eardrums than listen to that tune; it was called "I Will Always Come Back."

The third bedroom was a bedroom whose dark strawberry walls were stained with age. The disorder was possibly greater than that in the kitchen and hall and the bed was rumpled and looked as if it was still warm from lovemaking.

Elizabeth stood at the door smiling and looking at the bed, then she bent down and picked up a satin shoe and threw it across the room. Margaret screamed as two mice jumped out of the wrinkled sheets and scuttled down the counterpane with the smooth legless rapidity that terrified women.

"There has been so much love in here that even the mice come back," said Elizabeth. "It is like the ticking of a clock; you have to listen to hear and then when you listen you can't stop hearing."

"Yes," said Margaret. "Yes, that's right."

She kept wiping her hands on her skirt, they were damp. The two dogs were sitting near the end of the bed, they were listening.

"I always wear cotton wool in my ears," Elizabeth went on. "Otherwise the sounds outside distract me. I am only human, not like them..." She looked at the dogs.

"I cut his toenails myself. And I know every inch of his body and the difference between the smell of his hair and the smell of his skin."

"Who?" whispered Margaret. "Not Fernando?"

"Yes, Fernando," answered Elizabeth. "Who else but Fernando."

-Leonora Carrington

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Royal Summons

I had received a royal summons to pay a call on the sovereigns of my country.

The invitation was made of lace, framing embossed letters of gold. There were also roses and swallows.

I went to fetch my car, but my chauffeur, who has no practical sense at all, had just buried it.

"I did it to grow mushrooms," he told me. "There's no better way of growing mushrooms."

"Brady," I said to him, "you're a complete idiot. You have ruined my car."

So, since my car was indeed completely out of action, I was obliged to hire a horse and cart.

When I arrived at the palace, I was told by an impassive servant, dressed in red and gold, "The queen went mad yesterday. She's in her bath."

"How terrible," I exclaimed. "How did it happen?"

"It's the heat."

"May I see her all the same?" I didn't like the idea of my long journey being wasted.

"Yes," the servant replied. "You may see her anyway."

We passed down corridors decorated in imitation marble, admirably done, through rooms with Greek bas-reliefs and Medici ceilings and wax fruit everywhere.

The queen was in her bath when I went in; I noticed that she was bathing in goat's milk.

"Come on in," she said. "You see I use only live sponges. It's healthier."

The sponges were swimming about all over the place in the milk, and she had trouble catching them. A servant, armed with long-handled tongs, helped her from time to time.

"I'll soon be through with my bath," the queen said. "I have a proposal to put to you. I would like you to see the government instead of me today, I'm too tired myself. They're all idiots, so you won't find it difficult."

"All right," I said.

The government chamber was at the other end of the palace. The ministers were sitting at a long and very shiny table.

As the representative of the queen, I sat in the seat at the end. The Prime Minister rose and struck the table with a gavel. The table broke in two. Some servants came in with another table. The Prime Minister swapped the first gave for another, made of rubber. He struck the table again and began to speak. "Madame Deputy of the Queen, ministers, friends. Our dearly beloved sovereign went mad yesterday, and so we need another. But first we must assassinate the old queen."

The ministers murmured amongst themselves for a while. Presently, the oldest minister rose to his feet and addressed the assembly. "That being the case, we must forthwith make a plan. Not only must we make a plan, but we must come to a decision. We must choose who is to be the assassin."

All hands were immediately raised. I didn't quite know what to do as the deputy of Her Majesty.

Perplexed, the Prime Minister looked over the company.

"We can't all do it," he said. "But I've a very good idea. We'll play a game of draughts, and the winner has the right to assassinate the queen." He turned to me and asked, "Do you play, Miss?"

I was filled with embarrassment. I had no desire to assassinate the queen, and I foresaw that serious consequences might follow. On the other hand I had never been any good at all at draughts. So I saw no danger, and I accepted.

"I don't mind," I said.

"So, it's understood," said the Prime Minister. "This is what the winner will do: take the queen for a stroll in the Royal Menagerie. When you reach the lions (second cage on the left), push her in. I shall tell the keeper not to feed the lions until tomorrow."

The queen called me to her office. She was watering the flowers woven in the carpet.

"Well, did it go all right?" she asked.

"Yes, it went very well," I answered, confused.

"Would you like some soup?"

"You're too kind," I said.

"It's mock beef tea. I make it myself," the queen said. "There's nothing in it but potatoes."

While we were eating the broth, an orchestra played popular and classical tunes. The queen loved music to distraction.

The meal over, the queen left to have a rest. I for my part went to join in the game of draughts on the terrace. I was nervous, but I've inherited sporting instincts from my father. I had given my word to be there, and so there I would be.

The enormous terrace looked impressive. In front of the garden, darkened by the twilight and the cypress trees, the ministers were assembled. There were twenty little tables. Each had two chairs with thin, fragile legs. When he saw me arrive, the Prime Minister called out, "Take your places," and everybody rushed to the tables and began to play ferociously.

We played all night without stopping. The only sounds that interrupted the game were an occasional furious bellow from one minister or another. Towards dawn, the blast of a trumpet abruptly called an end to the game. A voice, coming from I don't know where, cried, "She has won. She's the only person who didn't cheat."

I was rooted to the ground with horror.

"Who? Me?" I said.

"Yes, you," the voice replied, and I noticed that it was the tallest cypress speaking.

I'm going to escape, I thought, and began to run in the direction of the avenue. But the cypress tore itself out of the earth by the roots, scattering dirt in all directions, and began to follow me. It's so much larger than me, I thought and stopped. The cypress stopped too. All its branches were shaking horribly--it was probably quite a while since it had last run.

"I accept," I said, and the cypress returned slowly to its hole.

I found the queen lying in her great bed.

"I want to invite you to come for a stroll in the menagerie," I said, feeling pretty uncomfortable.

"But it's too early," she replied. "It isn't five o'clock yet. I never get up before ten."

"It's lovely out," I added.

"Oh, all right, if you insist."

We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hours of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves. I sang a bit to cheer myself up. I was chilled to the bone. The queen, in the meantime, was telling me that she fed all her horses on jam.

"It stops them from being vicious," she said.

She ought to have given the lions some jam, I thought to myself.

A long avenue, lined on both sides with fruit trees, led to the menagerie. From time to time a heavy fruit fell to the ground, Plop.

"Head colds are easily cured, if one just has the confidence," the queen said. "I myself always take beef morsels marinated in olive oil. I put them in my nose. Next day the cold's gone. Or else, treated in the same way, cold noodles in liver juice, preferably calves' liver. It's a miracle how it dispels the heaviness in one's head."

She'll never have a head cold again, I thought.

"But bronchitis is more complicated. I nearly saved my poor husband from his last attack of bronchitis by knitting him a waistcoat. But it wasn't altogether successful."

We were drawing closer and closer to the menagerie. I could already hear the animals stirring in their morning slumbers. I would have liked to turn back, but I was afraid of the cypress and what it might be able to do with its hairy black branches. The more strongly I smelled the lion, the more loudly I sang, to give myself courage.

-Leonora Carrington

Sunday, June 10, 2018

the descent of Alette

"I floated" "down in darkness" "among" "the other bodiless"
"people" "from the black train" "Heard" "their whispers:" "'I feel"
"so light so empty" "of heavy thought,' they said" "I feel" "so
unbounded'" "So we rode" "soft air" "like leaves falling" "but with

no notion" "of any" "ground to fall to--" "Then" "an old man"
"an old man's voice began" "to sing:" "'When the snake" "was the train,"
"when the snake" "was the subway, we" "entered her walking over"
"her long tongue" "her long tongue" "And inside her" "was red & white"

"& we looked out" "through clear scales" "Inside her" "was red plush,"
"was bone white" "was safe; and we" "rode her" "as she slithered"
"through the earth &" "its darkness" "through the earth &" "its dark smell
"We let" "the snake swallow us, take us into" "herself" "She had no"

"arms to hug us," "she gave us" "her whole body" "We were in"
"her whole self" "Safe in her whole self" "When a snake was" "our
mother" "When a snake was" "our train'"

-Alice Notley

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Polygon Love Poems

1. Almost anything can be preserved in a jar.

2. Mid-dusk dreams: women
with swollen hairstyles,
mirroring bombs.

3. What gives us the right to listen to someone else's body?

4. I don't know to whom these places belong.

5. At our vertices: God.

6. Imagine the most terrible light.
I want to know if we will imagine

the same light.

-Alisha Dietzman

Minor Cantation (for M. Palmer)

It wakes up burning.
The morning star-
thrashes across the ecru land.

A grassy cough
maeuvers yellow to gray,
fescue, like absentminded tools.

Here no man
gets what he wants: the mood
of opioid, an empty glass

what nerves it down,
man the devil, a place to follow
henceforth into.

-Jennifer Soong

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Baby Is Born Out of a White Owl's Forehead--1972

At this time there are few
poems about pregnancy and childbirth
do I find this curious
I want to shriek at
any identity
this culture gives me claw it to
pieces; has nothing to
do with me or
my baby and never will,
has never perceived a
human being.
My baby is quiet and wise, but I'm
a trade name and I'm
rainwater on a piano--I'm so
scared then but now of then I'd say
I want to make your tunes go away
to have a child is more casual
than, you might say, and more serious than
the definition
for who, frankly, was ever born
or gave birth?

After the usual pain and the well-meaning,
mostly but not all,
intervention of others and others' words and meanings
I find him. Lying next to me yes and being
nursed by me.
I serve him why not he isn't wrong.

I'm infused with a noxious dispirit
as the world makes me be a woman
everything has gone wrong in some sense by now.


Of two poems one sentimental and one not
I choose both
of his birth and my painful unbirth I choose both.
The woman in the photo has a haircut from Vidal Sassoon
wears a black silky synthetic top and probably a long skirt
the baby on her lap in sleepers and
a blue and white Peruvian cap.
They look abstracted in the same way.
He is the baby unchaotic
he is born and I am undone--feel as if I will
never be, was never born.

Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child
not to be a form of woman
but in allegiance to the process I
can't quite see.
I have begun to.

I sit with my sons in a barely cared-for apartment
inside from Chicago in the TV's ambience (black and
white, like the snow) purple crocuses there
Ted's becoming sick with a lasting illness
though we are calm while money doesn't press us
a moment of happiness, these bodies are clear
all four finally clear and
still clear

but first, for two years, there's no me here.

-Alice Notley

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Our Songs

after Joe Brainard

For a long time now I've been trying to write about our songs. But I can't. But I'm going to try again.

I lived for our songs my whole life. And I loved them more than dearly. These songs were written in the 20th Century mostly, & the early 21st. The songs that made you feel that everything was not enough. That saturated life with an airbrush of jewelry & infinite sexual feeling. That kept you up all night. That were more, in their sound, like the night than night itself. That were better than fucking. That made you want to die in their arms every morning. I loved & admired them too much.

I heard our songs long before I ever knew their names. Through my brother, & my mom & my dad. They said our songs were great so I believed them.

The first of our songs I ever loved was "Sir Duke." I heard it through the walls in the house. It made them seem watery. Thin, like skin deep. And I remember falling in love.

We lived together in a blue & white place. I had a bedroom with a window overlooking a streetlight, a basketball hoop, & some cars. Your average little villa suburbana. My family liked to listen to music so logically as I did as well. All I thought of were the records. The way they made me feel. Playing our songs was mainly dreaming.

Our songs were meant to be endlessly repeated. They made you want to dance a lot. They made you want to sing a lot. They made you want to tear the whole goddamn thing apart. I think that almost everything our songs made you want to do they made you want to do it a lot.

Our songs made us go to extremes. Or perhaps they just found us there.

Our songs were made of ragged gloss, immaculately done, & full of candy. They were like abandoning cessation. Young forever. Always new. The purest stuff. Dark & absorbing & bright with luscious changes & effects.

Our songs were like a movie of Romeo and Juliet made in a commune by the sentient effluvia of nothing, mainly gold, & demanding you tell them you loved them.

Our songs were always early.

Our songs would make you hate them one day & then the next feel compelled to defend them with your life.

If you liked songs one time that absolutely didn't mean that you would have to like them the next. Our songs were very intelligent. Thus liking them or disliking them was purely emotional. Depending on how you happened to feel at the moment. This could be infuriating. But it was terrific too. I mean, likes & dislikes are really pretty boring anyway. Once you have them.

Our songs had beautiful voices. There were so many tones. Fast. Defiant. Obsequious. (Melodic) to the point. (Shameless) often garish. Elegant. Both too much of this world, & not of it at all. (Poetry).

Our songs were not something you wanted to argue about unless you were very good at denying the ecstatic its station.

Our songs were data pastries capable of setting steam & snowflakes on fire. I know that they knew they were. So they were. Our songs had a way of enveloping a room.

It's weird, now, to think of our songs as being short. But I think they were. Not short, really, but brief. They were three or four minutes. Mainly about longing. Or fulfillment. Or about the impossible.  Or sex. It seemed strange that our songs could support all that feeling, & exceed it in the end, like new life.

Our songs were more capacious than the human conceptions of god. (Cloudless & starry) their furnished mansions. And their sweet, dependable claim on our souls. Their empty vessels. Our moist eyes. And our glowing red complexions. Red partly (I think) from having come so hard from listening. And partly (I think) from confusion at how involuntary all that coming seemed. Or partly seemed.

Our songs were like an aspic suzerain of dreams come true, & if they'd had a ring I would have kissed it to deepen the chintz of life's arresting costume jewels. They were their own bright orange moon guarding midnight & thought from the marital indignities of work. I worshiped them because they were the serpent & the lamb. Because in being that they taught you how to love.

Our songs didn't cost very much. They excelled at kismet. Partly because we'd been wishing for them. Partly because they were our wishes. Our songs were generous.

Our songs never took back the things that they gave us, & if we were loyal, they gave more & more so that after their potential was exhausted they replenished themselves with miraculous efficiency. Our songs were generous.

Our songs could be excessive. More than excessive. Sometimes, when we were drunk, they could be downright overwhelming. But they were worth it. Some songs could get by with a lot. I was all for it. If you were able get away with it. Our songs could get away with it. & did.

Our songs were our confidants. They were invincible. Or so it seemed when crying on their shoulder. Mostly they were cartoons. Our songs would do the drawing first & then we'd fill the balloons. Instantly. On the spot. It was all very 'us.'

Our songs were somehow very vulnerable. At the same time there was an air of confidence & superiority about them. This combination was electric. 

Our songs loved our money. Electronics. Heartsick lovers. The formulaic. World cities. Summertime. Noise. Generalities. (Etc.)

Our songs could barely demonstrate euphoria without making good on the promise of its end.

Our songs made privations of happiness a flesh wound, & this was how they showed us what we'd lost. Frail & light. With a long kiss & insidious demeanor. Always thrust forward. Eyes closed. A dumstruck look. Casual. Confident. "I know you are listening."

Our songs were an ocean of Grolsch & Campari. On cold winter nights we swam in it, naked, & warm, so as to not be scared to death.

I remember our songs were always coming back to life. I tried to write a poem somehow especially for them (especially good) & it turned out awful. 

Now I want to stop this 'our songs' stuff & tell you what the songs really mean to me. Now. Personally.

I wrote in a diary long ago that "If I were to have a deity it would be our songs." I do. & it's them. Because our songs really were life. Which, as you know, was no so pretty. Hurt in that way. It's very time consuming. Often my feelings' material was lost in the search for magnanimous expression. But when our songs got angry at the world they lost their tempter. When our songs were unhappy they cried. If our songs loved you, you knew it. Our songs had a natural gift (I assume it was natural) of being able to be themselves, whatever that might mean...Our songs showed their feelings. Our songs needed people & they needed for people to need them. (Who doesn't?). But our songs let it be known. Our songs admitted to being human. Perhaps (I hope) they were even proud of it.

The most important thing I am still learning from our songs is just do whatever you want to do & don't worry too much about it.

Our songs had the most infuriating way of making everything sound so simple.

Thinking about our songs makes me think of myself, or what if felt like to have on in that old fashioned way. I am thinking of the people I loved. How I failed them, never telling them I needed them so badly. How greedy it was, to be blase. I am thinking how our songs were just the oppositve. They demanded a lot of people. Emotionally. & in other ways too. I am thinking, perhaps, that our songs were just these sequin-studded mental water features, electrified by avaricious world spirit feeling in excelsior they grew multi-cellular & sentient, then diffused themselves as a live stream of rebel natalities enjoined to the emergence of restive public world before things like that were eclipsed altogether.

-Dana Ward

Saturday, September 7, 2013


When the show was over I didn't know what to do with all the props. There had been the thing with Tony and the car. And that got settled. But those costumes. The hats and breastplates and spears. For some reason I didn't tell people to take them home and they probably just assumed I wanted them, but my apartment is small. We just put them out on 9th St. where the city collects the trash and homeless people picked them up and put them on and for weeks I got reports of men standing on St. Mark's Place with a Roman spear asking for change, or a man sleeping in a doorway with his breastplate on, his hat lying next to him. The uniforms changed bodies all the way to river and back until they were gone.

-Eileen Myles

The Definition of a Thief

Walter B., as he rummaged through Beatrice's blouse pockets, asked her carefully what the word "thief" meant. He had heard this word before. Once in the great field. And once in the kitchen. It felt like a word with great distance. For years it had already seemed too late to ask. But not with Beatrice. Not now. With Beatrice he could ask anything. Gently removing his hands, as he had once removed hers, Beatrice said, "it is an instance, Walter B., of carrying away something that is not yours to carry away. For example," she continued, "if I am carried away by an idea, this idea becomes for me a thief. I become nothing, in this instance, but a stolen object. I comb my hair and eat my breakfast only in the realm of this idea. To be a thief, Walter B., and this is the most important part, to be a thief means to be a person who is only able to be an existing idea if he or she carries away and then dwells in another. Do you understand?" she asked. But Walter B. had stopped listening. He was staring at Beatrice's mouth. As if he could reach inside it and pull out a long gray hair. Or an egg filled with red sugar.

-Sabrina Orah Mark


A change, a final change includes potatoes. This is no authority for the abuse of cheese. What language can instruct any fellow.

A shining breakfast, a breakfast shining, no dispute, no practice, nothing, nothing at all.

A sudden slice changes the whole plate, it does so suddenly.

An imitation, more imitation, imitation succeed imitations.

Anything that is decent, anything that is present, a clam and a cook and more singularly still a shelter, all these show the need of clamor. What is the custom, the custom is in the centre.

What is a loving tongue and pepper and more fish than there is when tears many tears are necessary. The tongue and the salmon, there is not salmon when brown is a color, there is salmon when there is no meaning to an early morning being pleasanter. There is no salmon, there are no tea-cups, there are the same kind of mushes as are used as stomachers by the eating hopes that makes eggs delicious. Drink is likely to stir a certain respect for an egg cup and more water melon than was ever eaten yesterday. Beer is neglected and cocoanut is famous. Coffee all coffee and a sample of soup all soup these are the choices of a baker. A white cup means a wedding. A wet cup means a vacation. A strong cup means an especial regulation. A single cup means a capital arrangement between the drawer and the place that is open.

Price a price is not in language, it is not in custom, it is not in praise.

A colored loss, why is there no leisure. If the persecution is so outrageous that nothing is solemn is there any occasion for persuasion.

A grey turn to a top and bottom, a silent pocketful of much heating, all the pliable succession of surrendering makes an ingenious joy.

A breeze in a jar and even then silence, a special anticipation in a rack, a gurgle a whole gurgle and more cheese than almost anything, is this an astonishment, does this incline more than the original division between a tray and a talking arrangement and even then a calling into another room gently with some chicken in any way.

A bent way that is a way to declare that the best is all together, a bent way shows no result, it shows a slight restraint, it shows a necessity for retraction.

Suspect a single buttered flower, suspect it certainly, suspect it and then glide, does that not alter a counting.

A hurt mended stick, a hurt mended cup, a hurt mended article of exceptional relaxation and annoyance, a hurt mended, hurt and mended is so necessary that no mistake is intended.

What is more likely than a roast, nothing really and yet it is never disappointed singularly.

A steady cake, any steady cake is perfect and not plain, any steady cake has a mounting reason and more than that it has singular crusts. A season of more is a season that is instead. A season of many is not more a season than most.

Take no remedy lightly, take no urging intently, take no separation leniently, beware of no lake and no larder.

Burden the cracked wet soaking sack heavily, burden it so that it is an institution in fright and in climate and in the best plan that there can be.

An ordinary color, a color is that strange mixture which makes, which does make which does not make a ripe juice, which does not make a mat.

A work which is a winding a real winding of the cloaking of a relaxing rescue. This which is so cool is not dusting, it is not dirtying in smelling, it could use white water, it could use more extraordinarily and in no solitude altogether. This which is so not winsome and not widened and really not so dipped as dainty and really dainty, very dainty, ordinarily, dainty, a dainty, not in that dainty and dainty. If the time is determined, if it is determined and there is reunion there is reunion with that then outline, then there is in that a piercing shutter, all of a piercing shouter, all of a quite weather, all of a withered exterior, all of that in most violent likely.

An excuse is not dreariness, a single plate is not butter, a single weight is not excitement, a solitary crumbling is not only martial.

A mixed protection, very mixed with the same actual intentional unstrangeness and riding, a single action caused necessarily is not more a sign than a minister.

Seat a knife near a cage and very near a decision and more nearly a timely working cat and scissors. Do this temporarily and make no more mistake in standing. Spread it all and arrange the white place, does this show in the house, does it not show in the green that is not necessary for that color, does it not even show in the explanation and singularly not at all stationary.

-Gertrude Stein

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Pussy jerky dry. HOLOCAUST FLUFF she says. You don't write that kind of stuff.

When my mother bleeds she likes to have a steak. I like steak. I like the taste. I like it very rare. I like a  rare steak with salt and pepper. I like it lean, I like it red. My mother has red hair, red-orange, and she wears lipstick, orange-red. I have her wide feet; they redden when we wear high heels, which we do, because we are small women, and because a small woman in heels gets further than a small woman alone. I know. When i was little and did not want to eat what was on my plate, they told me that if a horse fell down in the ghetto people ran out of their apartments with knives. Hunger. What does one thing have to do with another.

I like the sight of my own blood. It makes me feel alive. I like a blood drive, and to feel the tube warming up with blood; to watch it fill the plastic pouch. Health. A packet of my inestimable substance. I think about what cannot be contained in this world. A box of night? Compounds: Human. Boxcar.

There is a stupidity in the conflation I am in the act of, cow with cattle car and mother with me, cunt and carcass and book and stomach. But this stupidity, if it belongs to me, is also exterior to me. Humans got brutalized by being packed into cattle cars and dying in them or by them which in turn humanizes, necessarily, the suffering of the beasts for which cattle cars were made. Then what. Signification is incestuous, iterative, autofellating. I am not sure this is living. I am not so sure that there is any.

Last year I found myself in Switzerland kind of unexpectedly. I was there for school. I didn't have any money but a Stafford Loan came through just in time. In Switzerland they have banks, cuckoo clocks, mountains, and cows. I was studying in a little tourist town high in the Alps. For a week I couldn't sleep. I listened to Jane Eaglen sing Wager on my iTunes and looked at the hard Matterhorn and the permafrost, which they say is melting, in strange blue light. I had the shits. All of us did. So much yogurt, so much cream. In class, all you could hear was the professor's voice and the gurgling digestive systems of twenty-odd people. It was hard for us Americans to assimilate so much unctuous dairy product. In Switzerland they have little vacuum-sealed pots of cream, like the cups of creamer you get with diner coffee in the States. Last year in Switzerland all the little pots of cream had trains on them. This year it was flowers, whatever. But last year.

Different colored train cars, and some cabooses.

I remarked upon them to a few of my professors. Using the local vernacular, I suggested that this conjunction or superimposition of the locomotive and the lactate suggested that technology always already bears the mark of the maternal. Or vice-versa. That transportation has become the womb of the world, the mother of us all. Like in Proust. A modernist idea. Glaucous ova thinking. Whatever. Everybody was like, yeah.

What suckles, what fuels, what lulls you to sleep. GO. GO.

If the style is too much of an achievement then the edifice becomes what it is, alone, marooned inside of the real. You have to fuck with everything.

Medicated lines. No but the ducts and tubes need your health and have to get rearranged because you were already unnatural. LOVE. Beckett is so complete he is a joke. Stay GO holey or
INCORPORATE. A nice person. Aren't you. How badly do you need the book to estrange itself from "life" so that you can stand it, or how badly does a narrative long to be beautiful. What does poesy care. Some flotsam on top of the lives of nice people. I see only the particulars, and, of these, only the particulars that concern or serve me. I want to live in a world in which it is possible for me to be LOVED WAKE UP and in which I do not hate myself for existing. I want to live in a world in which everybody I know is not on pills because of their feelings POEM GET UP but I know what it is to want to die. I have got to have the smell of semen on my skin GET UP GET UP POEM and not be afraid of everything easy like feeling and be able to keep on dying going on and capable of FEEL UP UP UP UP

Her belly sawed open and steaming, and stupid waving legs even though her neck GET UP ends up in a hole. The steaming world, the annals' recitation, our pleasure as a ball. I actually want to be a woman even though I am supposed to be one.

They have a melancholy aspect, the translators. Even in health. I think that the "long relaxed curve of time" of which John GET UP Ashbery has written could have something to do with the gradualness of the way in which their spines decline and then rise a bit to meet their haunches. Imagine them stacked each upon each like bells in a carillon. Imagine that the word that sounded itself in what rang on the holy day was GOAD, GOAD.

Even I can figure that a body is in a way ultimately an INCENSE. Likewise, pornography has no smell, i.e., NO BODY. The day after I cut garlic my hand smells. The day after I hold a cock I smell it. Many happy returns. Transmission device: the hand. I am not a book UP UP UP

-Ariana Reines

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Culture of Saving Cindy's Face

Cindy Song has been missing since 2001
without a trace of butter, lavished instead

with talc and vapor, moisture from a bath
that Cathy Song spied, seeing her at Utamaro's girl
powdering her neck, where she is still elusive,

faceless, a universal back of head, hair piled
like fan-back chair reserved for company
that doesn't come, hair twisted in relaxed
whiplash curve

like blackened arroyo (her hair a twist of blackened
wicks). There is an ear that doesn't have to be ear
except the logic of its placement, for the lobe is not typical,
the flattened end of a lever that begins just under the chair,
that if lifted would also raise the chair, perhaps freeing
small birds though, if there, they've been at ease nesting
in the head, enjoying free range of wider shoulders
where wingspan became possible. Stone-faced, equally

at home in gardens that old cemeteries become whether or not left
alone, stone girls on pedestals, cracked wings shedding pebbles,
studding the ground with fossilized eyes. Possible source
of the powder with which she powders her neck, adds
substance; she is delaying decay as avalanche. I am also stalling

so as not to have to deal with the lack of face. If not respect,
it could be shyness, demure approach usually successful
that is at work, but I doubt it, since embarrassment or despair
about facelessness would supersede a classically feminine
approach. There was a need to classify

such births as ordinary for the Andaman Islands
with a falsely documented evolution that parallels genuine
independent evolutions in Madagascar. John Mandeville
had revelations of the gloriously grotesque: a precedent
established by John the Divine on Patmos,
so discrediting Mandeville for not having voyaged literally
doesn't wash, and arguably his small habit of hallucinogens
self-prescribed to fortify his weak constitution
was a vehicle which did transport him. More accepted

is an account of such a no-face birth in the fifteenth century
to a woman from whom such deformity was expected,
she'd been accused of every known sin,
and some secretly admired her (I assume) for creating new ones,
wondering what it might mean if her talent could be diverted
to the good, falling short of calling this diversion salvation.

The child didn't live
long, and the facial plane wasn't flat, but none of the features
fully popped out, as if they were retractable, and had retreated
into little bunkers.

To get at the mouth behind nonexistent lips
required pokes and surgical travels not then perfected; the cry,
some say the baby did cry, and left the midwife dead (the first honest
stab at cry--it really did pierce) was as from a well the baby
had fallen into, the face indeed seemed to have fallen, a typical
first-souffle face, eyes presumably could look at their own
orbital sockets and see some of the brain
as a cave of mammillated stalactites

though the baby, considered unfortunate and condemned,
born this way to emphasize lack of innocence and humanity
(which the lack of innocence should have confirmed),
the undescended testes no help in proving anything useful
to a case for consecrated burial, but no language,
nor did anyone else, for this condition
that was thought to be devoid of human condition,
give the thin evidence of forked tail insemination:
The skin that buried the face

though thin was more elastic than usual, a stretch
not prone to rupture yet more delicate than nylon stockings,
so it was easy to poke most anything through, a fatal
fingernail of failed midwifery right through that face
sealed in opalescence associated also with angels
though none had been captured for examination, and at
that point, there were not any more advanced alien studies
so the mother, though no one actually called her that,
couldn't claim forced copulation
with voyagers coming to earth to plant their seeds
--and where better than inside so much ego,
when relative fertility is compared? Also, better to resist

comparison that might have had some validity, realized
those too aware that Mary herself had given birth to something
that exceeded humanity, no gospel writers emphasizing
His normality
but rather how divinity manifested itself--even so, He did
resemble Mary, that's who everybody said He looked like.
This faceless child of Germany in truth perhaps better resembled
the facelessness of God who doesn't see with human eyes
or hear with human ears, & so forth, exceeding limits
of human sensing way more than bees, bats, dogs more on
His level of perception. That the exceptional child

did not live long was good, and perhaps arranged:
a smothering
although facial features were already smothered
by skin that already covered it like a sheet pulled
to cover up the dead with a less offensive muslin
easier on the narrow range of human sight.
It may have breathed, this strange boy whose name
was withheld for fear of cursing any other Hans.
Strange Boy
seemed name enough. But to call Utamaro's girl a victim

of facelessness isn't quite right; it seems she'd need just to turn
to show her face, except that it's detached, lays on the mirror
the faceless girl holds at an angle that could not catch
her own reflection, so the mirror's face comes from elsewhere
and the faceless girl looks beyond it:
the mirror is aimed over her shoulder,
the face in it is there as something on a platter, as a cameo
for a giant, whitened lily on a reflective pool without current,
without need for anchors, not far enough out
to have to look for harbor that should not be the default position,
and what's on the platter looks like Cindy Song, exactly
the way that I remember Cindy Song, missing since 2001,
as Utamaro divined she would be when he painted her face
and only her face in the eighteenth century, finding
what a girl would lose in the nineteen-eighties when born faceless
to a more resourceful family, the luck of existing

when there's more skill in exploiting resources, in taking
advantage of both medical and mystical advances,
so her parents lifted the face
from the painted girl who offered it to anyone in the future
who might know how to make a face stick, take vein and root
in the rich soil and dirt of evolved flesh, and become real:

Utamaro's girl did have a mask
that Cathy Song found irresistible, its extension
into a curve of shoulder like the slope of a hill
set deep in snow
in a country of huge white solemn birds.

At the end of 2003 I saw that face again detached:
a photo of Cindy that was all face, as if lifted again
from the reflective platter thousands of atoms away
from a neck powdered into existence,
and I'm not going to find Cindy with that face

that she has taken off, that flower whose wilt
she has discarded, unable to put it back on
after stepping out of her bath so refreshed,
like somebody else, the molt behind her reaching
the drain.

-Thylias Moss

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Conversation 8


We lie in the dunes, she says, drowned between sheets to the wind. Green capped white, the surf's disguise of beginnings, depending on the length of curve observed. If I must have a god I'll take the matter between noun and verb. The nothing that defines, shapes next-to into phrase or cleanliness. Then again, the nothing between the teeth of a comb parts nothing but the nothing between hairs. So maybe I'd rather have an old woman sprawled barefoot through fields and space foam, pushing her breasts at any weed in the world as if the only true way to see were by touch.

An intelligence that comprehends the sperm, he says. Tubes, valves transporting cells toward strange attractors, riot canals through the blood, one-way excess. Once you miss one run of the ladder you can't stop falling. The hole takes over the argument, pigeons the sky, and the clouds, so calm a minute ago, blush and swim wild with reproduction, albeit sexual.

A space between boundary and blur, she says, a nakedness beyond male and female, edge of the sea. The tongue surrounds the mouth, so that you answer questions I failed to ask or pass sentence that has not been pronounced. The say radiation bathes the entire universe in a feeble glow and thought chases after the receding galaxies at such speed there is no question of a center and the squeeze of gravity becomes mere alibi.

But no ducts to the marrow of the mind, he says, most private part, opaque like a trauma, no fixed address. No field glasses on the firings, the real event, swerve of light. The germ of your thought swimming too deep. Endlessly in ambush, attention dissipates into longing. I listen to my thirst and I know incurable's the rule.

-Rosemarie Waldrop, from Reluctant Gravities

Friday, March 22, 2013

Kept Boy

I think a color photograph is one of the hardest things a man can submit to.
I think those two hearts were never so delicately rendered.
Considering the tumult in the streets, we'll be lucky if the flowers arrive by morning.
Sensation modified by higher harmony is always a grand idea, but no one has yet figured out the right proportions.
Stop me if I'm doing it too hard.
It's unclear how to measure non-revolutionary time, in pauses, divaginations, or in retrospect.
My mother would have found this scene entirely charming.
Whatever successes painting and the plastic arts have had, there's nothing like a hot bath and shaving cream to bring your thinking round to better days.
Can I offer you another?
Never will such an evening of dance and cataclysm be so fondly recalled as tonight.
Like chess itself, the task of polishing the pawns is mysteriously boundless.
Several of our sharpest commentators have run aground on their own figuration, likening our champagne to the sound of gunshots.
This silk is dazzling.
Whatever you say, coach.

-Christopher Nealon, in The Joyous Age

Thursday, December 6, 2012


situational, room is only room. perhaps
this is only the best. perhaps this noise
the furthest from truth.

if in fact there is noise.

this corner of somerset harbours holes in
the ground, a small plastic duck. the
water remembers the shape of the stone.

if a crushed language leaps. if chalk rolls
through the window or still.

-rob mclennan

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

- e. e. cummings

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Imaginary Unit Persists

Once I was a knight, they called me Sir Hermina, informally Mina. I sported a lance and wore a midriff. Recall that iced coffee is cold. Hair should be washed every other day. No! In my SRO, I live amongst big fakers. The tunesmiths filled the hallways. Unrepentant ambling. What is wrong with a harem? A red dress, a white one and a brown one. Actually, tunics, and my ladies were gentlemen. Like Kierkegaard, Kafka and Walser, I am a steadfast bachelor. Like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, I am a stubborn umemployee. My problem is emotion—they say I squander equanimity. Yet much is left, although all is already written. Personally, I exist to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. T for truth, i for the square root of – 1, which is imaginary. I need to trim my fingernails and toenails. Neither mental nor personal hygiene. Nu, and dental? Forget that. It’s time to be dreamy. There are no mountains here. Perhaps in France or Switzerland. Also the Waldau Sanatorium outside Berne. I will take with me my pale green Hermes Rocket typewriter made in Switzerland in the year of my birth. They have rec rooms. I debuted as Don Giovanni or Faust or a split-second Antigone. The adventures splintered. A shaved head raises courage. Prod the issue with twigs. A tree here or there, a wall, an illegal firearm. I, Mina, persisted in willful romantic musings. Many are choses, few are called. An aristocrat of yore gets impoverished, but destitution suits me. The men appreciated my nonchalant affections, the ladies liked my curlicues. Mountain peaks twitched, clouds parted, a rod of sunlight pushed me. On the stage, a lackeyish bow. To stuttered claps, I exited. Reencounter myself here, listening to the raving bum by the moat. Dash it!

-Mina Pam Dick

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Work Song

My name is Henri. Listen. It's morning.
I pull my head from my scissors, I pull
the light bulb from my mouth--Boss comes at me
while I'm still blinking.
Pastes the pink slip on my collarbone.
It's OK, I say, I was a lazy worker, and I stole.
I wipe my feet on his skullcap on the way out.

I am Henri, mouth full of soda crackers.
I live in Toulouse, which is a piece of cardboard.
Summers the Mayor paints it blue, we fish in it.
Winters we skate on it. Children are always
drowning or falling through cracks. Parents are distraught
but get over it. It's easy to replace a child.
Like my parents' child, Henri.

I stuff my hands in my shoes
and crawl through the snow on all fours.
Animals fear me. I smell so good.
I have two sets of footprints, I confuse the police.
When I reach the highway I unzip my head.

I am a zipper. A paper cut.
I fed myself so many times
through the shredder I am confetti,
I am a ticker-tape parade, I am an astronaut
waving from my convertible at Henri.

Henri from Toulouse, is that you?
Why the unhappy face? I should shoot you
for spoiling my parade. Come on, man,
put yourself together! You want so much to die
that you don't want to die.

My name is Henri. I am Toulouse. I am scraps
of bleached parchment, I am the standing militia,
a quill, the Red Cross, I am the feather
in my cap, the Hebrew Testament, I am the World Court.
An electric fan blows
beneath my black robe. I am dignity itself.

I am an ice machine.
I am an alp.
I stuff myself in the refrigerator
wrapped in newsprint. With salt in my heart
I stay good for days.

-Mark Levine

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

St. Mark's Planetarium

I was a star and it was boring.
Informed of my quadratics,
At home with my hang-ups and trips,
There were totems, tolls and ribbons,
Deathly paintings of stairs.
It was a reincarnation I have never felt,
Yanking brute ions in streams of the reciprocal.
I lay my hands on the ore of my failures
And remained on a hillside, covered in claws.
It was still early, the recycling hadn't come.
Mediocre ran up my throat
Like a lawn in heat. I loved it.
I loved it so much there was a ceremony:
Nests in flames, the nests of palace spiders.

-Noelle Kocot

Friday, June 15, 2012

Letters to Wendy's

May 25, 1997

Wendy's needs a stench area. People like a stench. Their initial reaction--pained withdrawal--is always quickly followed by cautious fascination. A stench is a stink that has found a way to entrench itself. It is metaphor: abstraction digs in to a real body and decomposes it to the point of presence. People like a stench because it mimics their own truest moments.

-Joe Wenderoth

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Wave

To pass through pain and not know it,
A car door slamming in the night.
To emerge on an invisible terrain.

So the luck of speaking out
A little too late came to be worshipped in various guises:
A mute actor, a future saint intoxicated with the idea of martyrdom;
And our landscape came to be as it is today:
Partially out of focus, some of it too near, the middle distance
A haven of serenity and unreachable, with all kinds of nice
People and plants waking and stretching, calling
Attention to themselves with every artifice of which the human
Genre is capable. And they called it our home.

No one came to take advantage of these early
Reverses, no doorbell rang;
Yet each day of the week, once it had arrived, seemed the threshold
Of love and desperation again. At night it sang
In the black trees: My mindless, oh my mindless, oh.
And it could be that it was Tuesday, with dark, restless clouds
And puffs of white smoke against them, and below, the wet streets
That seem so permanent, and all of a sudden the scene changes:
It's another idea, a new conception, something submitted
A long time ago, that only now seems about to work
To destroy at last the ancient network
Of letters, diaries, ads for civilization.
It passes through you, emerges on the other side
And is now a distant city, with all
The possibilities shrouded in a narrative moratorium.
The chroniqueurs who bad-mouthed it, the honest
Citizens whose going down into the day it was,
Are part of it, though none
Stand with you as you mope and thrash your way through time,
Imagining it as it is, a kind of tragic euphoria
In which your spirit sprouted. And which is justified in you.

In the haunted house no quarter is given: in that respect
It's very much business as usual. The reductive principle
Is no longer there, or isn't enforced as much as before.
Hunch; past experience matters again; the tale will stretch on
From now on, and the ground on which a man and his wife could
Look at each other and laugh, remembering how love is to them,
Shrank and promoted a surreal intimacy, like jazz music
Moving over furniture, to say how pleased it was
Or something. In the end only a handshake
Remains, something like a kiss, but fainter. Were we
Making sense? Well, that thirst will account for some
But not all of the marvelous graffiti; meanwhile
The oxygen of the days sketches the rest,
The balance. Our story is no longer alone.
There is a rumbling there
And now it ends, and in a luxurious hermitage
The straws of self-defeat are drawn. The short one wins.

One idea is enough to organize a life and project it
Into unusual but viable forms, but many ideas merely
Lead one thither into a morass of their own good intentions.
Think how many the average person has during the course of a day, or night,
So that they become a luminous backdrop to ever-repeated
Gestures, having no life of their own, but only echoing
The suspicions of their possessor. It's fun to scratch around
And maybe come up with something. But for the tender blur
Of the setting to mean something, words must be ejected bodily,
A certain crispness be avoided in favor of a density
Of stuttered opinion doomed to wilt in oblivion: not too linear
Nor yet too puffed and remote. Then the advantage of
Sinking in oneself, crashing through the skylight of one's own
Received opinions redirects the maze, setting up significant
Erections of its own at chosen corners, like gibbets,
And through this the mesmerizing plan of the landscape becomes,
At last, apparent. It is no more a landscape than a golf course is,
Though sensibly a few natural bonuses have been left in. And as it
Focuses itself, it is the backward part of a life that is
Partially coming into view. It's there, like a limb. And the issue
Of making sense becomes such a far-off one. Isn't this "sense"--
This little of my life that I can see--that answers me
Like a dog, and wags its tail, though excitement and fidelity are
About all that ever gets expressed? What did I ever do
To want to wander over into something else, an explanation
Of how I behaved, for instance, when knowing can have this
Sublime rind of excitement, like the shore of a lake in the desert
Blazing with sunset? So that if it pleases all my constructions
To collapse, I shall at least have had that satisfaction, and known
That it need not be permanent in order to stay alive,
Beaming, confounding with the spell of its good manners.

As with rocks at low tide, a mixed surface is revealed,
More detritus. Still, it is better this way
Than to have to live through a sequence of events acknowledged
In advance in order to get to a primitive statement. And the mind
Is the beach on which the rocks pop up, just a neutral
Support for them in their indignity. They explain
The trials of our age, cleansing it of toxic
Side-effects as it passes through their system.
Reality. Explained. And for seconds
We live in the same body, are a sibling again.

I think all games and disciplines are contained here,
Painting, as they go, dots and asterisks that
We force into meanings that don't concern us
And so leave us behind. But there are no fractions, the world is an integer
Like us, and like us it can neither stand wholly apart nor disappear.
When one is young it seems like a very strange and safe place,
But now that I have changed it feels merely odd, cold
And full of interest. The sofa that was once a seat
Puzzles no longer, while the sweet conversation that occurs
At regular intervals throughout the years is like a collie
One never outgrows. And it happens to you
In this room, it is here, and we can never
Eat of the experience. It drags us down. Much later on
You thought you perceived a purpose in the game at the moment
Another player broke one of the rules; it seemed
A module for the wind, something in which you lose yourself
And are not lost, and then it pleases you to play another day
When outside conditions have changed and only the game
Is fast, perplexed and true, as it comes to have seemed.

Yet one does know why. The covenant we entered
Bears down on us, some are ensnared, and the right way,
It turns out, is the one that goes straight through the house
And out the back. By so many systems
As we are involved in, by just so many
Are we set free on an ocean of language that comes to be
Part of us, as though we would ever get away.
The sky is bright and very wide, and the waves talk to us,
Preparing dreams we'll have to live with and use. The day will come
When we'll have to. But for now
They're useless, more trees in a landscape of trees.

I hadn't expected a glance to be that direct, coming from a sculpture
Of moments, thoughts added on. And I had kept it
Only as a reminder, not out of love. In time I moved on
To become its other side, and then, gentle, anxious, I became as a parent
To those scenes lifted from "real life." There was the quiet time
In the supermarket, and the pieces
Of other people's lives as they sashayed or tramped past
My own section of a corridor, not pausing
In many cases to wonder where they were---maybe they even knew.
True, those things or moments of which one
Finds oneself an enthusiast, a promoter, are few,
But they last well,
Yielding up their appearances for form
Much later than the others. Forgetting about "love"
For a moment puts one miles ahead, on the steppe or desert
Whose precise distance as it feels I
Want to emphasize and estimate. Because
We will all have to walk back this way
A second time, and not to know it then, not
To number each straggling piece of sagebrush
Is to sleep before evening, and well into the night
That always coaxes us out, smooths out our troubles and puts us back to bed again.

All those days had a dumb clarity that was about getting out
Into a remembered environment. The headlines and economy
Would refresh for a moment as you look back over the heap
Of rusted box-springs with water under them, and then,
Like sliding up to a door or a peephole a tremendous advantage
Would burst like a bubble. Toys as solemn and knotted as books
Assert themselves first, leading down through a delicate landscape
Of reminders would be better next time to a damp place on my hip,
And this would spell out a warm business letter urging us
All to return to our senses, to the matter of the day
That was ending now. And no special sense of decline ensued
But perhaps a few moments of music of such tact and weariness
That one awakens with a new sense of purpose: more things to be done
And the just-sufficient tools to begin doing them
While awaiting further orders that must materialize soon
Whether in the sand-pit with frightened chickens running around
Or on a large table in a house deep in the country with messages
Pinned to the walls and a sense of plainness quite unlike
Any other waiting. I am prepared to deal with this
While putting together notes related to the question of love
For the many, for two people at once, and for myself
In a time of need unlike those that have arisen so far.
And some day perhaps the discussion that has to come
In order for us to start feeling any of it before we even
Start to think about it will arrive in a new weather
Nobody can imagine but which will happen just as the ages
Have happened without causing total consternation,
Will take place in a night, long before sleep and the love
That comes then, breathing mystery back into all the sterile
Living that had to lead up to it. Moments as clear as water
Splashing on a rock in the sun, though in darkness, and then
Sleep has to affirm it and the body is fresh again,
For the trials and dangerous situations that any love,
However well-meaning, has to use as terms in the argument
That is the reflexive play of our living and being lost
And then changed again, a harmless fantasy that must grow
Progressively serious, and soon state its case succinctly
And dangerously, and we sit down to the table again
Noting the grain of the wood this time and how it pushes through
The pad we are writing on and becomes part of what is written.
Not until it starts to stink does the inevitable happen.

Moving on we approach the top
Of the thing, only it was dark and no one could see,
Only somebody said it was a miracle we had gotten past the
Previous phase, now faced with each other's conflicting
Wishes and the hope for a certain peace, so this would be
Our box and we would stay in it for as long
As we found it comfortable, for the broken desires
Inside were as nothing to the steeply shelving terrain outside,
And morning would arrange everything. So my first impulse
Came, stayed awhile, and left, leaving behind
Nothing of itself, no whisper. The days now move
From left to right and back across this stage and no one
Notices anything unusual. Meanwhile I have turned back
Into that dream of rubble that was the city of our starting out.
No one advises me; the great tenuous clouds of the desert
Sky visit it and they barely touch, so pleasing in the
Immense solitude are the tracks of those who wander and continue
On their route, certain that day will end soon and that night will then fall.

But behind what looks like heaps of slag the peril
Consists in explaining everything too evenly. Those
Suffering from the blahs are unlikely to notice that the topic
Of today's lecture doesn't exist yet, and in their trauma
Will become one with the vast praying audience as it sways and bends
To the rhythm of an almost inaudible piccolo. And when
It is flushed out, the object of all this meditation will not
Infrequently turn out to be a mere footnote to the great chain
That manages only with difficulty to connect earth and sky together.
Are comments like ours really needed? Of course, heaven is nice
About it, not saying anything, but we, when we come away
As children leaving school at four in the afternoon, can we
Hold our heads up and face the night's homework? No, the
Divine tolerance we seem to feel is actually in short supply,
And those moving forward toward us from the other end of the bridge
Are defending, not welcoming us to, the place of power,
A hill ringed with low, ridgelike fortifications. But when
Somebody better prepared crosses over, he or she will get the same
Cold reception. And so because it is impossible to believe
That anyone lives there, it is we who shall be homeless, outdoors
At the end. And we won't quite know what to do about it.
It's mind-boggling, actually. Each of us must try to concentrate
On some detail or other of their armor: somber, blood-red plumes
Floating over curved blue steel; the ribbed velvet stomacher
And its more social implications. Hurry to deal with the sting
Of added meaning, hurry to fend it off. Your lessons
Will become the ground of which we are made
And shall look back on, for awhile. Life was pleasant there.
And though we made it all up, it could still happen to us again.
Only then, watch out. The burden of proof of the implausible
Picaresque tale, boxes within boxes, will be yours
Next time round. And nobody is going to like your ending.

We had, though, a feeling of security
But we weren't aware of it then: that's
How secure we were. Now, in the dungeon of Better Living,
It seems we may be called back and interrogated about it
Which would be unfortunate, since only the absence of memory
Animates us as we walk briskly back and forth
At one with the soulless, restless crowd on the somber avenue.
Is there something new to see, to speculate on? Dunno, better
Stand back until something comes along to explain it,
This curious lack of anxiety that begins to gnaw
At one. Did it come because happiness hardened everything
In its fire, and so the forms cannot die, like a ruined
Fort too strong to be pulled down? And something like pale
Alpine flowers still flourishes there:
Some reminder that can never be anything more than that,
Yet its balm cares about something, we cannot be really naked
Having this explanation. So a reflected image of oneself
Manages to stay alive though the darkest times, a period
Of unprecedented frost, during which we get up each morning
And go about our business as usual.

. . .
And though there are some who leave regularly
For the patchwork landscape of childhood, north of here,
Our own kind of stiff standing around, waiting helplessly
And mechanically for instructions that never come, suits the space
Of our intense, uncommunicated speculation, marries
The still life of crushed, red fruit in the sky and tames it
For observation purposes. One is almost content
To be with people then, to read their names and summon
Greetings and speculation, or even nonsense syllables and
Diagrams from those who appear so brilliantly at ease
In the atmosphere we made by getting rid of most amenities
In the interests of a bare, strictly patterned life that apparently
Has charms we weren't even conscious of, which is
All to the good, except that it fumbles the premise
We put by, saving it for a later phase of intelligence, and now
We are living on it, ready to grow and make mistakes again,
Still standing on one leg while merging continually
Into an inexpressive void, the blighted fields
Of a kiss, the rope of a random, unfortunate
Observation still around our necks though we thought we
Had cast it off in a novel that has somehow gotten stuck
To our lives, battening on us. A sad condition
To see us in, yet anybody
Will realize that he or she has made those same mistakes,
Memorized those same lists in the due course of the process
Being served on you now. Acres of bushes, treetops;
Orchards where the quince and apple seem to come and go
Mysteriously over long periods of time; waterfalls
And what they conceal, including what comes after--roads and roadways
Paved for the gently probing, transient automobile;
Farragoes of flowers; everything, in short,
That makes this explicit earth what it appears to be in our
Glassiest moments when a canoe shoots out from under some foliage
Into the river and finds it calm, not all that exciting but above all
Nothing to be afraid of, celebrates us
And what we have made of it.

Not something so very strange, but then seeming ordinary
Is strange too. Only the way we feel about the everything
And not the feeling itself is strange, strange to us, who live
And want to go on living under the same myopic stars we have known
Since childhood, when, looking out a window, we saw them
And immediately liked them.

And we can get back to that raw state
Of feeling, so long deemed
Inconsequential and therefore appropriate to our later musings
About religion, about migrations. What is restored
Becomes stronger than the loss as it is remembered;
Is a new, separate life of its own. A new color. Seriously blue.
Unquestioning. Acidly sweet. Must we then pick up the pieces
(But what are the pieces, if not separate puzzles themselves,
And meanwhile rain abrades the window?) and move to a central clearinghouse
Somewhere in Iowa, far from the distant bells and thunderclaps that
Make this environment pliant and distinct? Nobody
Asked me to stay here, at least if they did I forgot, but I can
Hear the dust at the pores of the wood, and know then
The possibility of something more liberated and gracious
Though not of this time. Failing
That there are the books we haven't read, and just beyond them
A landscape stippled by frequent glacial interventions
That holds so well to its lunette one wants to keep it but we must
Go on despising it until that day when environment
Finally reads as a necessary but still vindictive opposition
To the caring, all explaining. Your finger traces a
Bleeding violet line down the columns of an old directory and to this spongy
State of talking things out of a glass exclamation point opposes
A discrete claim: forewarned. So the voluminous past
Accepts, recycles our claims to present consideration
And the urban landscape is once again untroubled, smooth
As wax. As soon as the oddity is flushed out
It becomes monumental and anxious once again, looking
Down on our lives as from a baroque pinnacle and not the
Mosquito that was here twenty minutes ago.
The past absconds
With our fortunes just as we were rounding a major
Bend in the swollen river; not to see ahead
Becomes the only predicament when what
Might be sunken there is mentioned only
In crabbed allusions but will be back tomorrow.

It takes only a minute revision, and see--the thing
Is there in all its interested variegatedness,
With prospects and walks curling away, never to be followed,
A civilized concern, a never being alone.
Later on you'll have doubts about how it
Actually was, and certain greetings will remain totally forgotten,
As water forgets a dam once it's over it. But at this moment
A spirit of independence reigns. Quietude
To get out and do things in, and a rush back to the house
When evening turns up, and not a moment too soon.
Headhunters and jackals mingle with the viburnum
And hollyhocks outside, and it all adds up, pointedly,
To something one didn't quite admit feeling uneasy about, but now
That it's all out in the open, like a successful fire
Burning in the fireplace, really there's no cause for alarm.
For even when hours and days go by in silence and the phone
Never rings, and widely spaced drops of water
Fall from the eaves, nothing is any longer a secret
And one can live alone rejoicing in this:
That the years of war are far off in the past or the future,
That memory contains everything. And you see slipping down a hallway
The past self you decided not to have anything to do with any more.
And it is a more comfortable you, dishonest perhaps,
But alive. Wanting you to know what you're losing.
And still the machinery of the great exegesis is only beginning
To groan and hum. There are moments like this one
That are almost silent, so that bird-watchers like us
Can come, and stay awhile, reflecting on shades of difference
In past performance, and move on refreshed.

But always and sometimes questioning the old modes
And the new wondering, the poem, growing up through the floor,
Standing tall in tubers, invading and smashing the ritual
Parlor, demands to be met on its own terms now,
Now that the preliminary negotiations are at last over.
You could be lying on the floor,
Or not have time for too much of any one thing,
Yet you know the song quickens in the bones
Of your neck, in your heel, and there is no point
In looking out over the yard where tractors run,
The empty space in the endless continuum
Of time has come up: the space that can be filled only by you.
And I had thought about the roadblocks, wondered
Why they were less frequent, wondered what progress the blizzard
Might have been making a certain distance back there,
But it was not enough to save me from choosing
Myself now, from being the place I have to get to
Before nightfall and under the shelter of trees
It is true but also without knowing out there in the dark,
Being alone at the center of a moan that did not issue from me
And is pulling me back toward old forms of address
I know I have already lived through, but they are strong again,
And big to fill the exotic spaces that arguing left.

So all the slightly more than young
Get moved up whether they like it or not, and only
They very old or the very young have any say in the matter,
Whether they are a train or a boat or just a road leading
Across a plain, from nowhere to nowhere. Later on
A record of the many voices of the middle-young will be issued
And found to be surprisingly original. That can't concern us,
However, because now there isn't space enough,
Not enough dimension to guarantee any kind of encounter
The stage-set it requires at the very least in order to burrow
Profitably through history and come out having something to say,
Even just one word with a slightly different intonation
To cause it to stand out from the backing of neatly invented
Chronicles of things men have said and done, like an English horn,
And then to sigh, to faint back
Into all our imaginings, dark
And viewless as they are,
Windows painted over with black paint but
We can sufficiently imagine, so much is admitted, what
Might be going on out there and even play some part
In the ordering of it all into lengths of final night,
Of dim play, of love that at last oozes through the seams
In the cement, suppurates, subsumes
All the other business of living and dying, the orderly
Ceremonials and handling of estates,
Checking what does not appear normal and drawing together
All the rest into the report that will finally be made
On a day when it does not appear that there is anything to receive it
Properly and we wonder whether we too are gone,
Buried in our love,
The love that defined us only for a little while,
And when it strolls back a few paces, to get another view,
Fears that it may have encountered eternity in the meantime
And as the luckless describe love in glowing terms to strangers
In taverns, and the seemingly blessed may be unaware of having lost it,
So always there is a small remnant
Whose lives are congruent with their souls
And who ever afterward know no mystery in it,
The cimmerian moment in which all lives, all destinies
And incompleted destinies were swamped
As though by a giant wave that picks itself up
Out of a calm sea and retreats again into nowhere
Once its damage is done.
And what to say about those series
Of infrequent pellucid moments in which
One reads inscribed as though upon an empty page
The strangeness of all those contacts from the time they erupt
Soundlessly on the horizon and in a moment are upon you
Like a stranger on a snowmobile
But of which nothing can be known or written, only
That they passed this way? That to be bound over
To love in the dark, like Psyche, will somehow
Fill the sheaves of pages with a spidery, Spencerian hand
When all that will be necessary will be to go away
For a few minutes in order to return and find the work completed?
And so it is the only way
That love determines us, and we look the same
To others when they happen in afterwards, and cannot even know
We have changed, so massive in our difference
We are, like a new day that looks and cannot be the same
As those we used to reckon with, and so start
On our inane rounds again too dumb to profit from past
Mistakes--that's how different we are!

. . .
But once we have finished being interrupted
There is no longer any population to tell us how the gods
Had wanted it--only--so the story runs--a vast forest
With almost nobody in it. Your wants
Are still halfheartedly administered to; sometimes there is milk
And sometimes not, but a ladder of hilarious applause
No longer leads up to it. Instead, there's that cement barrier.
The forest ranger was nice, but warning us away,
Reminded you how other worlds can as easily take root
Like dandelions, in no time. There's no one here now
But emigres, with abandoned skills, so near
To the surface of the water you can touch them through it.
It's they can tell you how love came and went
And how it keeps coming and going, ever disconcerting,
Even through the topiary trash of the present,
Its undoing, and smiles and seems to recognize no one.
It's all attitudinizing, maybe, images reflected off
Some mirrored surface we cannot see, and they seem both solid
As a suburban home and graceful phantasms, at ease
In any testing climate you may contrive. But surely
The slightly sunken memory that remains, accretes, is proof
That there were doings, yet no one admits to having heard
Even of these. You pass through lawns on the way to it; it's late
Even though the light is strongly yellow; and are heard
Commenting on how hard it is to get anybody to do anything
Any more; suddenly your name is remembered at the end--
It's there, on the list, was there all along
But now is too defunct to cope
Which may be better in the long run: we'll hear of
Other names, and know we don't want them, but that love
Was somehow given out to one of them by mistake,
Not utterly lost. Boyish, slipping past high school
Into the early forties, disingenuous though, yet all
The buds of this early spring won't open, which is surprising,
He says. It isn't likely to get any warmer than it is now.
In today's mainstream one mistakes him, sincerely, for someone else;
He passed on slowly and turns a corner. One can't say
He was gone before you knew it, yet something of that, some tepid
Challenge that was never taken up and disappeared forever,
Surrounds him. Love is after all for the privileged.

But there is something else--call it a consistent eventfulness,
A common appreciation of the way things have of enfolding
When your attention is distracted for a moment, and then
It's all bumps and history, as though this crusted surface
Had always been around, didn't just happen to come into being
A short time ago. The scarred afternoon is unfortunate
Perhaps, but as they come to see each other dimly
And for the first time, an internal romance
Of the situation that rises in these human beings like sap
And they can at last know the fun of not having it all but
Having instead a keen appreciation of the ways in which it
Underachieves as well as rages: an appetite,
For want of a better word. In darkness and silence.

In the wind, it is living. What were the interruptions that
Led us here and then shanghaied us if not sincere attempts to
Understand and so desire another person, it doesn't
Matter which one, and then, self-abandoned, to build ourselves
So as to desire him fully, and at the last moment be
Taken aback at such luck: the feeling, invisible but alert
On that clear February evening thirty-three years ago it seemed
A tapestry of living sounds shading to colors, and today
On this brick stump of an office building the colors are shaggy
Again, are at last what they once were, proving
They haven't changed: you have done that,
Not they. All that remains is to get to know them,
Like a twin brother from whom you were separated at birth
For whom the factory sounds now resonate in an uplifting
Sunset of your own choosing and fabrication, a rousing
Anthem to perpendicularity and the perennial exponential
Narration to cause everything to happen by evoking it
Within the framework of shared boredom and shared responsibilities.
Cheerful ads told us it was all going to be OK,
That the superstitions would do it all for you. But today
It's bigger and looser. People are not out to get you
And yet the walkways look dangerous. The smile slowly soured.
Still, coming home through all this
And realizing its vastness does add something to its dimension:
Teachers would never have stood for this. Which is why
Being tall and shy, you can still stand up more clearly
To the definition of what you are. You are not a sadist
But must only trust in the dismantling of that definition
Some day when names are being removed from things, when all attributes
Are sinking in the maelstrom of de-definition like spars.
You must then come up with something to say,
Anything, as long as it's no more than five minutes long,
And in the interval you shall have been washed. It's that easy.
But meanwhile, I know, stone tenements are still hoarding
The shadow that is mine; there is nothing to admit to,
No one to confess to. This period goes on for quite a few years
But as thought along a low fence by a sidewalk. Then brandishes
New definitions in its fists, but these are evidently false
And get thrown out of court. Next you're on your own
In an old film about two guys walking across the United States.
The love that comes after will be richly satisfying,
Like rain on the desert, calling unimaginable diplomacy into being
Until you thought you should get off here, maybe this stop
Was yours. And then it all happens blindingly, over and over
In a continuous, vivid present that wasn't there before.
No need to make up stories at this juncture, everybody
Likes a joke and they find yours funny. And then it's just
Two giant steps down to the big needing and feeling
That is yours to grow in. Not grow old, the
Magic present still insists on being itself,
But to play in. To live and be lived by
And in this way bring all things to the sensible conclusion
Dreamed into their beginnings, and so arrive at the end.

Simultaneously in an area the size of West Virginia
The opposing view is climbing toward heaven: how swiftly
It rises! How slender the packed silver mass spiraling
Into further thinness, into what can only be called excess,
It seems, now. And anyway it sounds better in translation
Which is the only language you will read it in:
"I was lost, but seemed to be coming home,
Through quincunxes of apple trees, but ever
As I drew closer, as in Zeno's paradox, the mirage
Of home withdrew and regrouped a little farther off.
I could see white curtains fluttering at the windows
And in the garden under a big brass-tinted apple tree
The old man had removed his hat and was gazing at the grass
As though in sorrow, sorrow for what I had done
Realizing it was now or never, I lurched
With one supreme last effort out of the dream
Onto the couch-grass behind the little red-painted palings:
I was here! But it all seemed so lonesome. I was welcomed
Without enthusiasm. My room had been kept as it was
But the windows were closed, there was a smell of a closed room.
And though I have been free ever since
To browse at will through my appetites, lingering
Over one that seemed special, the lamplight
Can never replace the sad light of early morning
Of the day I left, convinced (as indeed I am today)
Of the logic of my search, yet all unprepared
To look into the practical aspects, the whys and wherefores,
And so never know, eventually, whether I have accomplished
My end, or merely returned, another leaf that falls."
One must be firm not to be taken in by the histrionics
And even more by the rigorous logic with which the enemy
Deploys his message like iron trenches under ground
That rise here and there in blunt, undulating shapes.
And once you have told someone that none of it frightens you
There is still the breached sense of your own being
To live with, to somehow nurse back to plenitude:
Yet it never again has that hidden abundance,
That relaxed, joyous well-being with which
In other times it frolicked along roads, making
The best of ignorance and unconscious, innocent selfishness,
The spirit that was to occupy those times
Now transposed, sunk too deep in its own reflection
For memory. The eager calm of every day.
But in the end the dark stuff, the odd quick attack
Followed by periods of silence that get shorter and shorter
Resolves the subjective-versus-objective approach by undoing
The complications of our planet, its climate, its sonatinas
And stories, its patches of hard ugly snow waiting around
For spring to melt them. And it keeps some memories of the troubled
Beginning-to-be-resolved period even in the timely first inkling
Of maturity in March, "when night and day grow equal," but even
More in the solemn peach-harvest that happens some months later
After differing periods of goofing-off and explosive laughter.
To be always articulating these preludes, there seems to be no
Sense in it, if it is going to be perpetually five o'clock
With the colors of the bricks seeping more and more bloodlike through the tan
Of trees, and then only to blacken. But it says more
About us. When they finally come
With much laborious jangling of keys to unlock your cell
You can tell them yourself what it is,
Who you are, and how you happened to turn out this way,
And how they made you, for better or for worse, what you are now,
And how you seem to be, neither humble nor proud, frei aber einsam.

And should anyone question the viability of this process
You can point to the accessible result. Not like a great victory
That tirelessly sweeps over mankind again and again at the end
Of each era, presuming you can locate it, for the greater good
Of history, though you are not the first person to confuse
Its solicitation with something like scorn, but the slow polishing
Of an infinitely tiny cage big enough to hold all the dispiritedness,
Contempt, and incorrect conclusions based on false premises that now
Slow you down but by that time, enchaliced, will sound attentive,
Tonic even, an antidote to badly reasoned desiring footfalls
Of the police approaching gingerly through the soft spring air.

At Pine Creek imitation the sky was no nearer. The difference
Was microtones, a seasoning between living and gestures.
It emerged as a rather stiff impression
Of all things. Not that there aren't those glad to have
A useful record like this to add to the collection
In the portfolio. But beyond just needing where is the need
To carry heaven around in one's breast-pocket? To satisfy
The hunger of millions with something more substantial than good wishes
And still withhold the final reassurance? So you see these
Days each with its disarming set of images and attitudes
Are beneficial perhaps but only after the last one
In every series has disappeared, down the road, forever, at night.

It would be cockier to ask of heaven just what is this present
Of an old dishpan you bestowed on me? Can I get out the door
With it, now that so many old enmities and flirtations have shrunk
To little more than fine print in the contexts of lives and so much
New ground is coming, undone, shaken out like a scarf or a handkerchief
From this window that dominates everything perhaps a little too much?
In falling we should note the protective rush of air past us
And then pray for some day after the ware to cull each of
The limited set of reflections we were given at the beginning
To try to make a fortune out of. Only then will some kind of radical stance
Have had some meaning, and for itself, not for us who lie gasping
On slopes never having had the nerve to trust just us, to go out with us
Not fearing some solemn overseer in the breath from the treetops.

And that that game-plan and the love we have been given for nothing
In particular should coincide--no, it is not yet time to think these things.
In vain would one try to peel off that love from the object it fits
So nicely, now, remembering it will have to be some day. You
Might as well offer it to your neighbor, the first one you meet, or throw
It away entirely, as plan to unlock on such and such a date
The door to this forest that has been your total upbringing.
No one expects it, and thus
Flares are launched out over the late disturbed landscape
Of items written down only to be forgotten once more, forever this time.

And already the sky is getting to be less salmon-colored,
The black clouds more meaningless ( otter-shaped at first;
Now, as they retreat into incertitude, mere fins)
And perhaps it's too late for anything like the overhaul
That seemed called for, earlier, but whose initiative
Was it after all? I mean I don't mind staying here
A little longer, sitting quietly under a tree, if all this
Is going to clear up by itself anyway.

There is no indication this will happen,
But I don't mind. I feel at peace with the parts of myself
That questioned this other, easygoing side, chafed it
To a knotted rope of guesswork looming out of storms
And darkness and proceeding on its way into nowhere
Barely muttering. Always, a few errands
Summon us periodically from the room of our forethought
And that is a good thing. And such attentiveness
Besides! Almost more than anybody could bring to anything,
But we managed it, and with a good grace, too. Nobody
Is going to hold that against us. But since you bring up the question
I will say I am not unhappy to place myself entirely
At your disposal temporarily. Much that had drained out of living
Returns, in those moments, mounting the little capillaries
Of polite questions and seeming concern. I want it back.

And though that other question that I asked and can't
Remember any more is going to move still farther upward, casting
Its shadow enormously over where I remain, I can't see it.
Enough to know that I shall have answered for myself soon,
Be led away for further questioning and later returned
To the amazingly quiet room in which all my life has been spent.
It comes and goes; the walls, like veils, are never the same,
Yet the thirst remains identical, always to be entertained
And marveled at. And it is finally we who break it off,
Speed the departing guest, lest any question remain
Unasked, and thereby unanswered. Please, it almost
Seems to say, take me with you, I'm old enough. Exactly.
And so each of us has to remain alone, conscious of each other
Until the day when war absolves us of our differences. We'll
Stay in touch. So they have it, all the time. But all was strange.

-John Ashbery