Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Three mountain songs

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
that shine.

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?

(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

A setting of "Getful of apple"

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

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.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

These period pieces

Because of formatting, this poem is available as a two-page .pdf dowloadable here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

His eyes are amber and slate

At the next table over, a man. He is small
of jaw; some might go further--I think
too far--and say "like a rat or a mouse."
But no. He is too lean and upright
and, in his delicately quarried eyes,
too deliberate and attentive: he is too bright.
It is true that, when he smiles--as often--
or laughs, although little sound comes out,
he shows a great many yellowed teeth. But we
should see how rarely he blinks, and each time
dares to think how bright and upright
is the woman across the table, his daughter: 
he couldn't be prouder or--what amounts
to the same--more relieved. The feeling is plain
in the granite-in-rainfallen grey of his eyes.
He is clearly surprised at having raised her.
He blinks and, thinking back, he wonders
what it would have been to have been raised
by a woman who … --he blinks-- or had
the strength --and thinks, despite that radiant
glow, of a woman bent over below
fluorescent lights, a linoleum kitchen
in colorless white and green, a white
that can never come clean, be it scoured, the bruised
and reddening silence--no sound is allowed
to come out--the desperate acceptance and over-
exposure to slams of cupboards and drawers
--he blinks-- the flatware rattled, the occasional
shattering glass --he thinks-- of feverish
polish and impossibility of shine.
His eyes are amber and slate --he thinks,
somehow it is not too late-- and the sun
through passing clouds --he has saved, if not
his mother, then another young woman after all this time.

(Edited and begun 10 April 2011; directly inspired by a vision, 9 April, of a patron at the local coffee shop; indirectly inspired--already envisioned--by the bright but clouded natural light, and its effects on the skin of tablemates, at meal 3 April. Many thanks to the visible and otherwise perceptible beauty, so deeply lived-in, of all involved.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The musical rain; or, Four ways of looking at a lack of heard

I. The brightest thing there could be
 ... these may mean the
same thing, the poem whose appearance is re-
fracted by language and textual tradition (that
is to say, by human concreti-
zations of abstract time), much like the ex-
perience of working in a room with artificial
light: a thoughtless buzzing overhead and
blocking any vision--no matter how late one
works into the night or tarries (now, think of wicks
smoldering down, their slow unsmokeless
burning of the passing day)--of the light of those
formerly studied stars, such that one
hasn't learned to speak their language, but
mostly to know that a language was, long ago
spoken: and, now that the lines of communi-
cation have been broken (having always already been
bent by gravity, slowed in its slowing
wells, its curved and carvèd pits of
stick and commemoration, its granite
walls of implacable devotion to deepest
reds), to curse (for this is the light's profit
on't, taught not how to speak but to be
spoken: not the use of language but the
use by it). A man with a magic
book and a man who, earlier than you, was
able to look at the sky at night as a
being far and away, close to some
homely metaphor, of a distance never to be
conquered, for sure, but far and away the
brightest thing there could be at night: those
chaste stars, those chasèd stars, the
air's unbreathable purity and those
stars' excelling pursuit. Such a man, his
eyesight fading, would seek to transmit and,
so, transform their clarity of vision. (Like the
pilgrim on his way, the poet having once been a
pilgrim, any vision of the stars, any would-be re-
vision of a poem blacks out and backs out of trans-
lation at the cost of lost rhythms and times, the a-
scent much harder, against gravity and
out of its well, outwards and as it were
sootily out of the condensation and
frost-bitten meanings of hell ...

II. But the rest is not music

 ... likewise,
"the youth lies awake in his cedar'd garret and
harks to the musical rain": the covering
roof keeping him out of that rain and,
so, out of the rain, which may become
music at a deepening distance alone (that
is to say, at delay and--absent a
bed of mussed and drily muffling
hay--in a disembodying echo and decay).
He harks not to the 'the music of the rain' but to "the
musical rain", its incidental remaking (and
this is the problem of a poem as a poem, of
any top-heavy cybernetic relation): now
lost is the rain as naked and dripping,
lost is meaning in a youth's contrastively
feverish brain. Instead, there is a strained
tapping and slide, the sound of the rain as it
flickers and slicks the jointed cedar and
drips and naturally slips and anoints
what clasps itself, what tarries, to the migrant
spaces between. (These cannot be starred,
their darkness one of old dinosaurs' bones, in
which a red-shifted and reptile track of the
skies has sunk, having too deeply drunk of
blackest tar, into the deepest-
slumbering pit: as the youth pictures it, having
listened to Darwin, dreaming pre-Cambrian
minds, a matter of memory given over to a
claw-footed lumber, now hard like a daydreamed
fruit in matter of fact unripened, the
tap of leanest finger to greenest
rind). There is not only the audient
youth but, making his situation all the more
lonely (he is not pelted by rain but
sheltered and, having but feeling no pain, he can
be no song to himself: no recording of
sounds, only a distorting of sounds), that
haughty, insentient roof. He must have
a mind of rainwater to regard what ought to have
been his own mass of rain-matted hair, his own
rain-kissed skin and all the other wetted not with-
outs but rain-tossed withins, and not to hear
any misery in the sound of what
cannot, any longer, come in, what his over-
hanging roof--overmindful of body, un-
mindful of mind, the roof as permanent
keeper of wholly impermeant time--but the
rest is not music--just won't allow inside.

III. Still, the sounds drift in

 ... and, still, "the sounds drift in. The buildings are re-
membered" by the echoes of rain, its swift and in-
different pointillism: their pieces in uncertain
unions, only honoring the fact of their flat and
hollowing stops of the drops to fall, then to
catch at the breaks and streak where the nails went
slightly imperfectly in--their grey and
greening bronze and blooming rust, their
rustic thin and ten-penny overtones--where the
joints have grown more cottony still to any
feeling over years for the inclement weather, arth-
ritic and exquisitely sensitive to touch, to the
sapping cold and warming, to the the cycle of a
too-much-with-us and sublimely impossibly
far-and-away frequency of attention. The
sounds drift in, meaning that within is now
not without, no longer: the roof a trans-
lucence to sound, a sparkling skin, and a-
gain the angled room: a darkly
resonant space. The bright sunbrown of the
angled youth: he lies awake: he be-
lieves, he lies like a leaf of grass caused to
quiver and hum, held sheltered by fingers and
over which runs the harmonical breath of the
missing musician, what Whitman, recent to tele-
pathic dreams, would in his better lights look
past (that smoky with meats sweated and
dried, a long practice with poultice, with the a-
spirant departure of water from clothes, he
knows their sputtering sizzle, just as much a trans-
mitter as the spattering roof); like the shore to
which these breakered, these housebroken waves of
sound must drift! Could only they hit and
find their fit of skinny rivulet down
skin, as it cools from the day's worth of work, blue-
shifting, and warming to the sheltered pleasure of the
dark, of the cedar'd garret, of the poem that
he must find himself in. (There's a woman who
knows that it's bathers' bodies are better instru-
mental than the cedar of which more ancient or
plaited, upstanding hair might oily re-
dole.) Such a musical sound is a miracle of
loss, the sound of the rain interfered by the
mindless boards: a sound at the cost of
weltering what otherwise could be signal (only
try, only strain to hear those streamers of
water long down and around those bathing
boys!) but, thanks to the cedar, is not any
longer let in to the skin: is sound for
sure, but only in place--for it is special
pleading for ones, like nuns, to fret not at
narrow rooms--of a youth's special feeling for noise.

IV. Finally, about the voice

Is this roof's cedar that in whose limbs, un-
clothed, the blackbird alit? And if he
did, if so, did he know--even as it was
snowing and going to snow, and although it
wasn't yet night (and so no need for
any artificial or cultural light) but
had for so long of the day been evening--that his
perch would make this music of the rain for a
listener, who listens not in the rain (which,
frozen in the mind, is turned to snow of a
technically memorable kind) but within? Is
this why the blackbird is made not to sing, but--as
if the whole poem--"is involved in what I
know", that knowledge being, finally, about the
voice, its "accents and lucid, inescapable rhythm"?

(Edited 8 March 2011, begun 3 March 2011. After nearly a year, over which I wrote mostly academic prose, this sequence marks a return to writing poetry deliberately. To readers of modern poetry, references to Whitman and, especially, Stevens (no (consanguineous) relation) will be clear; in some phrases and images there are also Wordsworth, Milton, and Shakespeare. More ancient authors must probably be thought to appear here and there, but don't knock yourself out.)