Sunday, February 12, 2012
I am told that tights aren't pants, but the girl
at the next table over looks thoughtful to me
in style. She purses her beautiful lips
like petals: a red just this sweet side
of pink, of the sort one imagines appeals
to bees -- as if, like us, they bother
with the colors of what they drink. And skin
the proverbial cream. She is also wearing
what seems to be a new man's button-down:
a pale, morning-glory blue (or morning-after?),
shades lighter than the darker blue of her eyes
(cornflower); the sleeves, pushed up, slip down
the length of her arms, like water down off-white
stems; and the collar, folded open, shows just
enough throat to signal her defiance of the winter.
(She quickly removed her coat.) Her style
belongs to the spring. I am, meanwhile,
torn between thinking these sorts of things
and noticing that, when she eats, and I
have seen this, now, many times, she almost
invariably manages to slime in tendrils
of her own hair, not very long -- it is naturally
salsify blonde -- in with bites of sandwich,
and then spends time extracting the hair
with pesto'd fingers and cleaning it of masticated
food and her own saliva; the ends
are now tinted green. I am counting the bites.
This is a good deal less appealing than pants that are tights.
(Composed 12 February 2012, on the first cold day of a winter that has been unusually warm and dry, such that certain things have been unseasonably in bloom.)
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Presented here are the surviving thirteen fragments from an unknown epic poem in at least six books, plus four fragments of what is for metrical reasons a clearly different text and may be from a commentary that has become confused with the epic in the manuscript tradition. Although the structure and content cannot be known completely, the surviving material suggests that a model was at least the first six books of Virgil's Aeneid (c. 19 BCE). The fragments have been arranged with that model in mind, while their original ordering in the manuscript is indicated via bracketed numbers.
The title and the author of the poem are unknown. Internal references suggest a date in the late 20th- or early-21st-century, although somewhat earlier or later cannot be excluded.
attributable to Book 1 
… the edge in their quickening smells of native sage and skin
in the dark as it cools, the tap of her second-hand heels like the color
of oiling a hide, of counting down the remaining time,
the straps of her bra showing through like ink in a practiced hand,
the margins ribboning black on the flawless book of her back,
the pages the pale white curves of her shoulders and blades, her eyes
and their almost glower -- he reads -- how they crinkle and narrow with laughter
and mean, she is laughing now …
attributable to Book 2 
… a night in the long-ago South, this night
in the West, the feeling that a drive will eventually end, and with it
the feeling of her fingers curving over his shoulders from behind, he keeps
both hands on the wheel, his eyes on the rearview mirror, he tries
not to angle it down as he drives. "I think you're cute, professor."
(He is not a professor; it's what she likes to ...
attributable to Book 2 
… her lover and the man had gone back, her partner,
they had left already then circled around, they had fallen, and the women --
both blonde, they had bonded while lying improbably together on the floor
underneath the dining-room table, shielded from the light and aglow,
both at that moment like honey when the sun is first let into the comb.
Only who is the honey, with its collagen flow, its gloss and gleam
like a moan in the vulpine, cornering glean of the sun? And who
the firm and pliant chambers of the comb? …
attributable to Book 4, of some uncertainty in ordering relative to each other 
[8a] He walked her home, after bad but earnest blues music, middle-aged,
and flavorless beer, and even there she had gotten herself
gently stoned. They were perfectly arm in arm, just the right heights,
and to passing cars she called out "Chivalry!" It was the middle of the night.
[8b] Later, while he brushed his teeth in the kitchen, her flaxen hair
in the chrome and silvery dark: she had done it up loosely with long black
pins, and strands curved down to those curving shoulders of hers.
He traced them with his …
[8c] He watches her wash the concert blush from her face and the green,
that cometous green, from under the slate rainshower of her eyes.
attributable to Book 4, but possibly corrupted by marginalia, as the diction does not completely match that of other fragments; it is not certain whether all or part of this passage is direct speech 
… it's bones, eye-sockets, it's the way it would fit,
and the delicate rhythm of ears, their shadows, as hair is brushed back
like a kiss [plucked up by the roots], only once, just once and again,
one's way, it's a loss of one's way to the tick of the clock of her second-hand
heels, those too-swift boots, her strut, he is looking -- he knows
he should not be looking -- at the curve of her <butt> in fashionable black,
he is looking at the round of her <ass>, and now not a [snatch] of any hair
but a kiss, just one, only once, her … dusky like smoke,
… her skin … powdered
attributable to Book 6 
… and gesturing now with his hands to show branchings of possible lives --
he is sketching the four dimensions in three -- he is sealing their corner
away from the raucous air quietly; the table in-laid
with jostling tiles and glazed with ice mopped only haphazardly
up from the frozen margarita she spilled, as the one tilts further
away from the other: not the two, they lean closer together like lovers:
attributable to Book 6 [8d: in the manuscript, immediately after [8c], but more likely a reflection in book 6 on an episode not completely narrated in book 4]
" … how short you seemed, next to me, in your white undershirt, your white
unbooted feet. How small. And sudden the thought came to me
that here we could be as if already old: after years had passed
but not taken any four copper coins as their toll; as if we had somehow
managed to hold on to something of a life as it rose like a dream,
rose, as they say, through one or the other of the gates of ivory
and bone, looking up and seeing light. With a groan it breathed itself
away. We had never even kissed. It was as if we had managed to miss
all the usual paltry aggressions and fears, those few minutes only
alone in the noise of a few dingy bars over so many years,
a few minutes only in rented cars and a van, one night, after you had made a point
of singing off-mic, and one morning after that had stretched into early
afternoon, while we shared a catfish lunch (we had both been slightly
drunk and had no taste for … "
attributable to Book 6, evidently near to his final words to her 
[9a] "I repeat myself in case -- it is not a hope: in the properly futureless feeling,
a sideways motion like sharing that drink from the faucet after brushing,
when our heads had to turn so far on their sides -- I can see you remembering --
that our glasses fell in, both of us laughing and seeing what could,
had it all only been otherwise, have been such a lovely quiet
and life. You won't face me. But I can see you tracing, in your mind,
the tracks of that ancient flame. I repeat myself from far back,
from far enough back: the right moment, that might … and its backwards
motion and drive, its backwards curve, in my mind I reach back
for your fingers curving over my shoulder from behind. … "
[9b] "At [the time], I kept both hands on the wheel."
[9c] "I offer to carry your bags, I can see … you refuse"
[9d] "In my [dreams] I keep both hands on … "
Commentary [4: the reference to 'this poem' and what seems to be a quotation, albeit from a section lost to us, would seem to make this identification certain]
[4a] … this poem the momentum imparted by life,
this life as it leaves, that drive as it drops
her off at her hotel, that curve -- "No, really:
those curves" -- as it gains in speed as it always …
[4b] … turning so straightly away. Now only
in the mind ...
Commentary? [10: the level diction and clarity of syntax would seem to make this identification rather certain, despite the metaphor]
Whether or not we have had to leave
Creusa behind, we stand to run
aground on Dido's shores and leave
Commentary? [6: whether this is the poet's or the commentator's is impossible to decide, despite the difference in meter; if the poet's, it is possible that this belongs to a different poem, although it develops a related image of a similar theme]
… and it's not the hair like bales in springtime
sun, it is not so long, this is no
fairy tale, that urges to try
to climb away from an evident life:
like a bowl its sides are thinner than air
and slower-than-lightly curving, light
as the lives we might have lived flash, gloss
in the table, lens flare, and loss of childhood
fables away …
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The wind, tonight, like the roar of the waves, the
waves white-capped by the moon. The creak of the
pines, their sway as if in a dream of
limbering up their roots and timbering
ships: as if they dream, to a tree, of
wanting to fall, that clasp of brackish
water about their curving forms, the
viscous slip together of their own sticky
saps with blackening pitch. But the ragged
canyon below is only tricklingly
streamed, and the valley beyond has long since
watched, in the light of countless rising
suns, its steaming waters recede, in-
deed forgotten the march, as if in
search of the suns' last place of sleep, of
staunch and prizing glaciers. The rocks sink
low to the hill and ballast the creaking
trees. The wind drops brown and verdant
needles on mosses of impossibly soft sea-
green, a soft and unmoving sea-foam. These
colors, tonight, like the white just edging the
darkening craters of the moon: this windswept
life like nothing so much as the light on the
airless surface of the moon.
(Begun 18 January 2012, edited 24 January 2012, "in the kind of chill that the working brain / foolishly thinks it can evade by keeping still." I tried to evoke the sort of sense-perceptual experience of a place that, repeated over years, becomes infused with the feeling of time passing: the particular experience of the place seeming to capture both the surprise and the familiarity of 'it all'. With shades, probably, of some of the 20th- and 21st-century British fiction I read over the winter.)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
1. There is empty, where a mountain used to be
and there is only the sound, as up from a well,
of people, a hole in the passive ground,
in the massive earth: a hole in the impassive
earth--they are echoing forth, in the light
like a plastered wall, they are thick like branching
cracks, as a house: it settles over time,
in seasons of chill and slackening heat,
and we their spiraling leaves.
They shake in the light, and we--with a mind
to speak like a child will sparkle its voice
through the vanes of a fan, such an enervating hum,
because he feels that all is not as
it is said to seem to sound, as if
electricity will never give out--
he touched a coin to a socket, and the burn
flat black, a spark and scorched new kitchen
veneer--as if the body will never
give out in the mind, lie down in the light
that is clear and is like no fire.
And there is empty, where people used to be,
and trees that were never blown down or away:
there is only the shadow, and only the things
As a mountain must one day go, and in
the hollow, the moss, its ply and drunken
sapling green, its strong and watery being.
All this a memory of seeing.
And the loss, sky-black, below.
2. In the mountains, there you feel free
if your living is elsewhere, but your living is there
and not for so long that the height has flattened out,
but later, for any earlier insight
is a terrible perversion, monstrous, prodigious,
like a stillness resolved--it is the aversion
of the fixated eye, looking at and looking out--
into a choice, and the product of a choice:
a child who is surely alive, although
his heart is stillborn, a rouged and brazen
body box, skin fresh, for the ash made gummy
and molded like modeling putty.
The bodies are plump and soft; his heart
is made to pump blood, and when he breathes,
there is a sound like leaves that, dead, still rattle
over the asphalt like tin.
But in the mountains, you may wish for him to die
and, laying him out for animals, on the moss,
sky-black, to find, you may prefer to say why.
3. Not quite all around the mountain, the road,
and on it leaves, a rattle like tin
that is not elemental but machined of the earth,
filled once with a fluid of vegetables, salted,
machined of the clear-cut mountaintop, ziggurat-
truncated flat, or meat for the man
or woman who is tired all day to reheat--
as well as all night--and eat until 'deeply' and,
however impossibly, 'filled':
The impossibility being that oceanic
feeling when one, whether man or woman,
is the shore and the other--or child--becalmed:
when the land has locked the people under and in.
And something warmed over.
There is empty, where a glacier used to be,
its great indifference to the living--in passing
tones they hiss like steam, their swift
and inaudible being, their groans--and its glide
like window-glass over time to the bottom
of the frame.
How many more hammerings flat or
thin? How many more leaves that sound
like tin, and are heard--so rarely are they gold--
in the stillness that holds, on the surface, between
two sky-black waves of the sea?
two sky-black waves of the sea?
(Edited 28 August 2011, begun 18 August 2011. These three together draw for their central image on Wang Wei's "Lu Zhai", a poem that does wonderfully much more than it says, and for their central theme, if there is one, on Plato's suggestion--more haunting when removed from the context of his elaborated metaphysics--that we may remember more than we have experienced. With thanks to students and colleagues in the Language & Thinking program at Bard College.)
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I'm honored to note that "Getful of apple" has recently been set for mixed chorus. A recording of the first live performance may be found here. The composer is Kari Francis, vocal percussionist for Musae, known from such videos as this.
Monday, May 2, 2011
The look that a woman or girl reserves
for a prettier woman or girl. It is
in part resentful, in part--her darting
eyes--full of pity and need, of a glancing
feeling of sympathy pains at pinched
toes, at arms and shoulders exposed
to the prickling air, of flush at pluck
of hair (her eyebrows and who knows?).
The one--as they say, as she may have been told--
is mousy and must seem dutiful: merely
dressed, not adorned, and dully colored,
she is used to standing out only when not so many
others are around. The other is strawberry
blonde and hungrily thin; she is clothed
much closer in, and shows much more
of her pale and prickling skin. She does not
wobble on her heels, however improbably
high. But she is not less dutiful.
The one is looking; the other is listening
in, to the thinned and darkened voice
of an older woman nearby: she used
to smoke, and still she wishes to smolder,
with makeup stark and clear. But it is
not bright: like her eyes--well past resentful--
and the heatworn russet of her hair, the color
of heatwoven corn. (And if you husked:
the stretched and restitched skin that barely
covers the skull, the cottony tufts
of the will, desire worn thin, rewashed,
and worn again.) The look that a woman
or girl reserves at what she feels is the end.
(Begun 28 April 2011, edited 2 May 2011. From life or what has been made, not asked, to pass for it.)