31 March 2005

From Duino Elegies: The Fifth Elegy
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by A. Poulin, Jr.

You, who fall a hundred times
a day, with the thud only green fruit
know, out of that tree rising from
a cooperation of motion (rushing faster than water
through autumn, spring, and summer in minutes)—
you fall and bounce on the grace:
sometimes, half pausing, you feel a look
of love for your seldom tender mother
surge up to your face; then it loses itself
in your body whose surface quickly absorbs that rippling,
shy, barely tried expression . . . And again
the man’s hands are clapping for that leaping;
and before a pain has gotten near
your ever galloping heart, the burning
in the soles of your feet arrives ahead of
its own spring, chasing a few live
tears into your eyes. And yet,
your blind smile . . .

30 March 2005

Carol Peters & G. W. Waldrep

What if I said the yellow dog was me wanting to be bowled over
plowed under by desire.
When a person says beauty, it means they are feeling something.
Terror is the opposite of being dead
of being gray and safe.
Why am I walking on the beach in bare feet over shards of coral
if I don’t want yellow dog head
teeth tearing my hands my heart to bloody rags—
Look. I am alive and will still be alive after this experience
or not.

G. W. Waldrep, on the other hand, knows what he is doing:

What Begins Bitterly
Becomes Another Love Poem

The earth has a taste for us, in its unknowing
appetite there yet resides a hunger, incompletion
that draws all life to its dark self. What, then,
shall we say of the flesh's own desire, distal
thumb-brush at evening? There is nothing to say,
the vowels cluster uncertain in the beautiful vase
the throat makes, fricatives corralled behind
ridge of gum and bone-splinter. Flesh and earth:
fire is an illusion, to which water is the antidote.
The day was a bright one, there seemed no need
to move about with mirrors, the usual circumspection
and indirect approach. The abundance of small life
argued some measure of clemency, likewise
the Jerseys lowing in the paddock breeze, tender
shoots of cress and sweetpea spiralling upward.
But fire is a cruel hoax: now you see it,
now you don't, the object of your affection
cast in carbon on the hard ground which will,
in time, receive. Roadside the irises bloomed
two or three feet max above the soil's surface,
rough tongue resting lightly on each leaf, each
violet exclamation. In full sun your hand guided mine
to the wound. A small one. Water and blood,
like the nurse said: prestidigitation of the body.
We stood without shadows on asphalt at midday.
What we call patience is only fire again, compressed.
I remember: your face flushed, stray petal lodged
in the damp whorl of your dishevelled hair.

29 March 2005

Carol Peters

Dog No Dog

The yellow dog head advances, swinging
from side to side, followed by muscles,
the yellow body, flippety puppet tail.
Me all terror, not terror, supplicating
hands outstretched, petition, that is to say,
my threat: Stop here. No. Stop here.
Lippy horsy mouth, teeth behind.
Hey, Pup. Stop here. Go away. I hate
dogs, bounders, that is to say,
this is my day and my beach.

[20" rain in 3 days = duck bliss; still raining]

28 March 2005

Carol Peters

Doggy Day

I cup my hands to meet
the yellow head of a dog
plows ahead of his body
I jump down from the coral
plinth the stippled riot
fractures my pace slow and pickety
my big toes gambol dive
down into wet sand
the dog’s weight
motion intent
nose and mouth like a lippy horse
unreined the ancient child
collapses around him
absorbs dogness
frothing devotions
encompasses the head
the dog wrapped in palms
breast where love comes from
what he is testing
his fever my truth

[With a forecast of partly cloudy possible showers, we've had 4-6" since last night and if I walked outside, I'd be wet. Wireless to the world rocks.]

27 March 2005

talking back and forth

In 1979, William Stafford and Marvin Bell attended a conference in Fairbanks, Alaska and afterward, began a correspondence that carried on for two years and produced a book called Segues: A Correspondence in Poetry.

Eventually I found the book buried deep in the Hawaii State Library system, and I read it through last night, am reading it through slowly again this morning. Here are the fifth and sixth poems in the sequence:

Hunting What Is
by William Stafford

There are days when everything waits—you run
down the street, and it’s cool, and now has a light
inside it, and you are entering that light
as a part of time, by giving your look—

But things are hiding. As you run the street
angles widen ahead even as they close
behind. True, you felt close, back there,
but what opens is also true, and the street. . . .

So it all marks your life—what you pass
and almost find will define your part.
You claim, “Things are happening to me!”
And the world goes hovering on as you pant, “Mine.”

by Marvin Bell

I go out to find whatever comes
but the first fifteen minutes
are for trying to breathe, the next
fifteen for using both legs
without almost having to count
cadence, and the second half hour
for water, two cheeps at a bird,
and the reassurance that important chemicals
are now in the bloodstream. The first
fifteen minutes are the hardest,
anyone will tell you that, the first thirty
are the hardest, and the first hour
is the hardest hour, but in the second hour
something goes right without your knowing:
a mixture of good motions, oxygen
and a certain giving up
that permits you not to hurry
and gives you back for every slow minute
two that are beyond you. It’s the slow
who have to keep going who get to take back
the possessive note they struck
when they were strong. Weak, they find
fatigue is buoyant, they can coast, float,
and they sometimes have thoughts
too pure to be brought home
but not righter than others, despite
what you see on the talk shows
with your legs up and your toenails blacker.
Out-and-back runs, says David,
are like folding a piece of paper.
At the far end, you know what to do.
Loops are the worst, repeating what you see
as if you owned it. You look forward
to the past; the run lengthens.
I like runs that take a hill in one direction,
pass a body of water,
go down one street no one knows,
and find a breeze. Most of us save the long run
for Sunday, which is sensible
not religious. No believer, after all,
but no doubter, I do
look around, except uphill, the more so
after the first two hours
(when it gets easier).

22 March 2005

Another Rilke girl

[from The Sonnets to Orpheus, translated by Stephen Mitchell]


Dancing girl: transformation
of all transience into steps: how you offered it there.
And the arm-raised whirl at the end, that tree made of motion,
didn’t it fully possess the pivoted year?

Didn’t it, so that your previous swirling might swarm
in the midst of it, suddenly blossom with stillness? And above,
wasn’t it sunshine, wasn’t it summer, the warmth,
the pure, immeasurable warmth that you gave?

But it bore fruit also, it bore fruit, your tree of bliss.
Aren’t they here in their tranquil season: the jug,
whirling to ripeness, and the even more ripened vase?

And in the pictures: can’t we still see the drawing
which your eyebrow’s dark evanescent stroke
quickly inscribed on the surface of its own turning?

21 March 2005

there's this stick being passed around

Jilly passed it to me:

1. You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Cause I am.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Between the ages of ten and twenty, I had a crush on everyone in all the books in the world. I thought all their lives were what I wanted mine to be. I wanted to be Anna Karenina and Kitty. I wanted to be all the ruined women and all the ruinating men. I wanted to be Heathcliff. I guess having a crush on is not exactly like wanting to be, or is it?

3. The last book you read.

Deep Song and Other Prose by Federico Garcia Lorca.

4. What are you currently reading?

Gettysburg Review: Winter 2004, E. P. H. Jephcott's Proust & Rilke: The Literature of Expanded Consciousness, Helen Vendler's Soul Says, Federico Garcia Lorca's Collected Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke's Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens's Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens's The Necessary Angel,, and Segues, which is a poetry badminton match between William Stafford and Marvin Bell.

5. Five books you would take to a deserted island:

I would have to kill myself because I could never choose. I'd take Proust and the largest anthology of poetry I could find but it would have to include all the poetry of Shakespeare, Rilke, Heaney, Bishop, Dickinson, Wright, Ashbery, Graham -- wait, isn't this a stupid question? Couldn't I take my laptop and my wireless Internet connection? I'd take the OED. The Secret Garden and the Narnia books. I'd take a pencil.

6. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

I’m going to pass the stick on to Cliff Garstang, Myfanwy Collins, and Katrina Denza because they all have blogs and are responsible literati.

20 March 2005

Three by Lorca

[from Collected Poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, edited by Christopher Maurer]


Sure enough,
you've got two big boobs
& a string of pearls
on your neck.

A child of the mist
holds your mirror.

Though you're very far off
I still see you,
placing a hand like a rainbow's
over your sex
or lazily punching the sky
into shape, like a pillow.

We're looking at you through a lens—
the renaissance & me.

Clock Echo

I sat down
in a clearing in time.
It was a pool of silence.
White silence.
Incredible ring
where the bright stars collide
with a dozen floating
black numbers.


Why was it the apple
& not
the orange
or the polyhedral
Why this virgin fruit
to clue them in,
this smooth & gentle
What admirable symbol
lies dormant at its core?
Adam, Paris, Newton
carry it inside their souls
& fondle it without a clue
to what it is.

17 March 2005

Wallace, are you listening?

I promised to write an imitation of Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by today, and great news -- I did. It's not ready for viewing, but a poem sits there on the page, and a later walk down Diamond Head beach gave me ideas for revision. Interesting that Stevens studs his poem with concrete nouns (blackbird, snow, mountains, eye, tree, winds, icicles, window, glass) and uses few active verbs. Among his abstract nouns, some of my favorite words in the poem: pantomime, inflections and innuendoes, bawds and euphony (both in the same line!), equipage.

Meanwhile, here's the Wallace Stevens poem of the day from The Auroras of Autumn. My faithful blog readers already know how I feel about any poem that contains an elephant.

Puella Parvula

Every thread of summer is at last unwoven.
By one caterpillar is great Africa devoured
And Gibraltar is dissolved like spit in the wind.

But over the wind, over the legends of its roaring,
The elephant on the roof and its elephantine blaring,
The bloody lion in the yard at night or ready to spring

From clouds in the midst of trembling trees
Making a great gnashing, over the water wallows
Of a vacant sea declaiming with wide throat,

Over all these the mighty imagination triumphs
Like a trumpet and says, in this season of memory,
When the leaves fall like things mournful of the past,

Keep quiet in the heart, O wild bitch. O mind
Gone wild, be what he tells you to be: Puella.
Write pax across the window pane. And then

Be still. The summarium in excelsis begins . . .
Flame, sound, fury composed . . . Hear what he says,
The dauntless master, as he starts the human tale.

[Latin: puella = girl; parvula = very small]

15 March 2005

a Rilke sonnet

Wait . . . that tasted good . . . But already gone.
. . . A little music now, a tapping, a humming—:
you girls who are silent, you radiant girls,
dance the taste of the fruit you are tasting.

Dance the orange. Who can forget it,
how, drowning in its wealth, it grew
against its sweetness. You have possessed it,
as it transforms the delicious into you.

Dance the orange. Fling its sunny clime
from you, so that ripeness may shine
in native breezes. All aglow,

peel perfume from perfume! Share the relation
that the supple pure reluctant rind
has with the juice that fills the joyous fruit.

[From Sonnets to Orpheus, Part I, 15, Feb 2-5, 1921; Gass translation]

Gass decanting Rilke's entire life

More from Reading Rilke: Reflections on Translation by Willam H. Gass:

"If, from earliest youth, your inmost self had cried out to escape its circumstances; if you’d looked about and wondered why your presence had been needed even for a moment where you were; and if that meant you had to disappear into an inner distance, leaving your face and figure to fend for themselves, seeking a realm where you could claim an absolute autonomy; if, somewhat to your shame, considering your abject and unaccomplished condition, you had immortal longings in you; if you knew without being told, without having seen any evidence, without therefore knowing, that you were unique, that inside your small delicate body, behind your heavy-lidded eyes, a wide world was contained, and every house there was haunted by dreams, dreams of greatness, ambitions that Ewald Tracy, your namesake, gave away in a petulant moment—“I am my own lawmaker and king,” he’d said, “nobody is above me, not even God”—and furthermore, if, to write the great poetry you meant to write, you had first to be a great poet (for where would this sublime stuff come from if not from a sublime soul?), then the fatal division of the self is set; then that hidden ruler must remake both actor and role and push them onto the stage. So his childhood name is eventually altered; so is his handwriting, at Lou Salome’s suggestion, though that is accomplished through the persistent efforts of his will; consequently he must change his nature, change his life; change . . . change . . . with the worry that (in unhappy harmony with his mother’s practice) a fine label would not improve the cheap wine that had been decanted down the bottle’s slender throat to create a successful deception. Henceforward the poet will be nothing but a Poet, and wander if he must, free to find his inspiration, free to wait for the Muses’ touch, despite life’s temptations, despite the need for the crowd’s applause, because he’ll be Orpheus, singing though he seems only a head now, floating downriver in the furious flux of things, for really he’ll be whole, head and heart will be at last one. Yet in all this there is the possibility that he’ll fail in the role he has assigned himself: which is? that the perfect self (an Angel) must play the part of a perfect appearance (the puppet); in other words, in the first place, that the poetry won’t come, and he’ll be an ape or a mimic, or, in the second place, that the audience will not be there to applaud, wll see the puppet is a puppet, and that, in the third place, the puppet, full of resentment at having lost a normal life for nothing, will turn upon this inside Angel and pull upon his strings, the strings once, solely in his hands, and haul him down from on high (since he’s not as on-high as all that, not as perfect as the imagined Angels of the Elegies); whereupon the whole show will be over. Doctor Serafico will have failed to heal himself—and there will be no Angel, no poetry, and no poet."

If I didn't say it before, this is a thrilling book that every poet (writer, artist, human) should read.

Carol Peters


Here is a thing I can never get used to—
standing at a kitchen sink,
squirting soap into my palm,
clasping and unclasping myself.
Who is this, all sinew and backbone?
Shoulders dipping with the motion of her hands.
Why does she want her hands clean?
What will she do next?
I don’t believe myself.
I wait
to be unmasked.

14 March 2005

how do poets do it? part umpteen

I'm going to try to do an imitation of a Wallace Stevens poem -- ha ha -- so I picked a simple one. Who's doing it with me?

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Due date March 17th. Go.

13 March 2005

how do poets do it?

Crawling along one of my referential threads, I have recently read the two Edward Hirsch books about poetry and am in the middle of reading Gass on Rilke. One book leads to the next. These three are outstanding.

The Gass book is subtitled Reflections on the Problems of Translation, and the book is certainly about that, and the subtitle will likely prevent all of you from buying it. I warn you, it's much more than that. In the introductory chapter, the one where Gass skims rapidly across Rilke's short life, are two paragraphs so outstanding that I'll quote them here:

"This is love, Rilke is told—and aren’t we all told?—take a look: here are mother and father being nice to one another, exchanging gifts, adoring their furniture, their pets, their child; here is a faintly smiling madonna, and there a stern saint, and now a priest, to whom one is unfailingly polite, next a nurse, a friend, a dog whose tail wags; but on top of what we are told, like a cold hand, soon rests what we see and feel and finally know: the mother who picks us up and puts us down as she would a piece of knitting; the joyful union that parts, perhaps like wet paper, without a sound, in front of our fearful eyes; the cat who sings its sex in the night and runs away; those saints who swallow only candle smoke and say nothing; the dog whose devotions knock us over or dirty our pants; or the priest, with a forced warmth heating his polished face, who twists the arm of an unruly acolyte because the boy doesn’t dare yelp during the service; the nurse who says “good night, sleep tight” over the closing latches of her traveling bags; and finally those friends . . . those friends who skip scornfully away to play with children who have called us dreadful names: which layer is the layer of love? is it only made of words—that kiss called “lip service,” that caress called “shake hands,” that welcome that feels like “good-bye”?

During childhood, contradiction paves every avenue of feeling, and we grow up in bewilderment like a bird in a ballroom, with all that space and none meant for flying, a wide shining floor and nowhere to light. So out of the lies and confusions of every day the child constructs a way to cope, part of which will comprise a general manner of being in, and making, love. Thus from the contrast between the official language of love and the unofficial facts of life is born a dream of what this pain, this passion, this obsession, this belief, this relation, ought to be."

Imagine if more biographers thought and wrote like this. Imagine if anyone did. By the second chapter, Gass is comparing at least sixteen translations of the Duino Elegies, including multiple versions of his own, and it's a lesson in poetry and translation, training, creativity, inspiration, synthesis, choice. It's remarkable. Every poet should buy this book.

Gass so convinces me of his authority that I don't wink when he launches into something like this:

"Rilke's easy way with words led him astray, and he was late in his mastery of Goethe, Holderlin, and many others. Rilke's salad days were followed by arid stretches, by doubts, difficulties of all kinds, and these were painful for him, but no doubt necessary. Meanwhile, he was trying to understand his own conflicted nature. It is important to remember that the body fuels the mind. And that character controls both. The creative life of the mathematician is usually over by age forty. Perhaps the emotional problems the scholar is fleeing, by working in a world of total abstraction, no longer exert the same fearful pressures. Rilke needed his neuroses, he thought, and he refused, for that reason, to undergo psychoanalysis, although it was suggested to him."

Knowing that one of Rilke's lovers was Lou Salome, who ranged from Nietzsche to Rilke to Freud (I'm leaving out the really famous lovers), I imagine Rilke was resisting strong arguments.

12 March 2005

the 6th of 6

from Six Significant Landscapes by Wallace Stevens in Harmonium:


Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

11 March 2005

hanging with Wallace

Floral Decoration for Bananas
by Wallace Stevens from Harmonium

Well, nuncle, this plainly won’t do.
These insolent, linear peels
And sullen, hurricane shapes
Won’t do with your eglantine.
They require something serpentine,
Blunt yellow in such a room!

You should have had plums tonight,
In an eighteenth-century dish,
And pettifogging buds,
For the women of primrose and purl,
Each one in her decent curl.
Good God! What a precious light!

But bananas hacked and hunched . . .
The table was set by an ogre,
His eye on an outdoor gloom
And a stiff and noxious place.
Pile the bananas on planks.
The women will be all shanks
And bangles and slatted eyes.

And deck the bananas in leaves
Plucked from the Carib trees,
Fibrous and dangling down,
Oozing cantankerous gum
Out of their purple maws,
Darting out of their purple craws
Their musky and tingling tongues.

10 March 2005

reading those moderns

The National Poetry Almanac is celebrating "groundbreaking poetry books" this month, and on March 5th, they named Harmonium by Wallace Stevens, which happened to be on the shelf, and I happen not to have read it since I was eighteen and certifiably psychotic. Here are the first two poems. I often wonder how much Stevens and Plath contributed to my psychosis in those days.

1. Earthy Anecdote

Every time the bucks went clattering
Over Oklahoma
A firecat bristled in the way.

Wherever they went,
They went clattering,
Until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the right,
Because of the firecat.

Or until they swerved
In a swift, circular line
To the left,
Because of the firecat.

The bucks clattered.
The firecat went leaping,
To the right, to the left,
Bristled in the way.

Later, the firecat closed his bright eyes
And slept.

2. Invective Against Swans

The soul, O ganders, flies beyond the parks
And far beyond the discords of the wind.

A bronze rain from the sun descending marks
The death of summer, which that time endures

Like one who scrawls a listless testament
Of golden quirks and Paphian caricatures,

Bequeathing your white feathers to the moon
And giving your bland motions to the air.

Behold, already on the long parades
The crows anoint the statues with their dirt.

And the soul, O ganders, being lonely, flies
Beyond your silly chariots, to the skies.

[my bolding]

09 March 2005

more Carl Phillips

A fine interview with Carl Phillips here.

I highly recommend From the Devotions. Here is a scrap from "The Blue Castrato" that flared at me:

II. To His Diary

Played Mister Lazy, mostly. Found
the weather fine, but did not step
inside it. Prayed, as usual. Read
the new books that, if I don’t watch out,
I shall find myself fairly whelmed
by. Over soup, had wrongful thoughts—
only of wanting something like more
variety, but bad is bad:
said prayer again. Restored, I glued
the handle back on the broken pot
I’ve never loved: no color, badly
fired. Though it looks more humble now,
I like it more. . . . The evening quiet.
Some hunger (food, et al.). Resisted.

Also, this exquisite bit from "On Restraint":

There are horses in the distance, so say so.

There are horses in the distance,
not running, smoke-still.

Not running yet: the idea of To run.

Not running but getting ready to run.

There are no horses in the distance, but
say so.

There is smoke,

or a fog that, from this distance,
is any number of horses, not running.

08 March 2005

Demons, Angels, and Spirits that Walk in the Night

Here's the project I've set myself for the next week.

Wake at least once in the night and write for ten minutes.
Write with a pen on paper about demons and angels.
Write in the dark or near dark if possible.

Write whatever comes.
Let it come.
No censor.

If I can stay awake, I'll write for longer than ten minutes.
Write for thirty minutes or an hour.
Try not to wake up.

Some time during the day, I will type whatever I can understand from my scribblings into a computer file and print it out. Put it away.

The rest of my life, I plan to live in my normal fashion.

So who else wants to do this with me? Jilly and Thom -- I'm counting on you.

numbers for geeks

Thank you Sally Rosenthal for

What's Special About This Number?


further numerical wonders here

06 March 2005

Junot Diaz in LA

Interesting commentary about Aimee Bender talking to Junot Diaz found at Moorish Girl.

Am particularly interested in what Diaz is reported to have said about culture of shame and 3rd person vernacular voice.

05 March 2005

a Carl Phillips reveal

From Rock Harbor published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux:

Loose Hinge
by Carl Phillips

Of the body: most,
its resilience, have you
not loved that, its—its

that too?
And the unwitting

prayer getting made
between them,
as when we beat at

what is closed,
closed against us, and call
the beating, in time,

song. To have been
among the hands
for which the stone lets go

its sword,
or the tree its gold

what must that
feel like? With what speed

does the hero grow
used to—necessarily—
the world’s surrender

else—how call it
strange, how

not inevitable? Heroes,
in this way at least, resembling
the damned

who are damned
as traitors, some
singing. We could not

help it,

made me
—as if
betrayal required more than

one party, which it
does not.
Admit it: you gave

yourself away. We are
exactly what
we are, as you

suspected, and—
like that—the world
obliging with its fair

examples: rain and,
under it, the yard
an overnight field

of mushrooms,
the wet of them, the yellow-
white of, the

nothing-at-all, outside
themselves, they
stood for. You’ve been

a seeming
exception only. Hot;
relentless. Yourself the rule.

03 March 2005

a poem by Victoria Redel

Victoria Redel, poet, novelist. In 2002 I studied with her at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. This poem is from her first volume of poetry, Already the World:

Maybe There Is Nothing Special Going On

Maybe there is nothing special going on.
We are reading or we are eating supper,

Maybe we are driving a back road. I look over
and see that if I stopped the car and got out,

if I started dancing and singing on the loose dirt,
if I put down the book and held your face in my hands,

or pressed myself to you, it would not matter,
You are too far from me.

Grief—I’ve seen her at night;
the way she dresses up, my god, she sparkles,

she shimmers. I can't blame you. I'd go to her too.
Who wouldn't want her and then want her again

once they'd felt all the ways
she makes a body shake.

02 March 2005

beginning to read Ashbery

this from John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror:

As You Came from the Holy Land

of western New York state
were the graves all right in their bushings
was there a note of panic in the late August air
because the old man had peed in his pants again
was there turning away from the late afternoon glare
as though it too could be wished away
was any of this present
and how could this be
the magic solution to what you are in now
whatever has held you motionless
like this so long through the dark season
until now the women come out in navy blue
and the worms come out of the compost to die
it is the end of any season

you reading there so accurately
sitting not wanting to be disturbed
as you came from that holy land
what other signs of earth’s dependency were upon you
what fixed sign at the crossroads
what lethargy in the avenues
where all is said in a whisper
what tone of voice among the hedges
what tone under the apple trees
the numbered land stretches away
and your house is built in tomorrow
but surely not before the examination
of what is right and will befall
not before the census
and the writing down of names

remember you are free to wander away
as from other times other scenes that were taking place
the history of someone who came too late
the time is ripe now and the adage
is hatching as the seasons change and tremble
it is finally as though that thing of monstrous interest
were happening in the sky
but the sun is setting and prevents you from seeing it

out of night the token emerges
its leaves like birds alighting all at once under a tree
taken up and shaken again
put down in weak rage
knowing as the brain does it can never come about
not here not yesterday in the past
only in the gap of today filling itself
as emptiness is distributed
in the idea of what time it is
when that time is already past