A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

2.12.11

THE ETERNAL GRATITUDE

December, blazing and jovial--It's my season

and I spend my walks in the evenings staring obsessively at Jupiter early in the east, by midnight pulling its blue kiln toward the south. Waxing moon, thin and mean, growing farther and fuller the deeper into this first week we pursue. I can't help reciting Frost to myself, "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars--on stars where no human race is." And though I'm obsessed with that beautiful sad lunatic John Clare, re-reading his descriptions of leaves, frosts, bees, thrush, autumn walks "Into the nothingness of scorn and noise / Into the living sea of waking dreams" mostly because I feel as he does

in that late asylum poem: "I am the self-consumer of my woes, / They rise and vanish in oblivious host" I am also reciting a funnier Auden version to myself and to my little bat-faced dog as the Santa Anas pour a new chill through our nights in Southern Cali, "Admirer as I think I am / Of stars that do not give a damn:

          Were all stars to disappear or die,
          I should learn to look at an empty sky
          And feel its total dark sublime"

Auden makes me laugh as much as Frost makes me lonely, sleepy, agonistic, bruised.

I wish I was funnier on the page, but it's all so serious. What a reaper with this ridiculous grim! So much meandering broken moody recitation, I think it's the moon. I think it's Jupiter in my sights. I used to live in a second floor loft in Arizona, with windows open in every direction on the desert, night-ripe, thicketed with a sea-like blackness. I painted the walls an inner avocado--it had a golden quality, that antique green--and I littered it with silver bronze and Mexican painted crucifixes. All night I could mark the constellations, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter as they drew close threatening to poison themselves into the moonlight dissolve, and then retreat, flinching, pulling, struggling away on their separately entranced halcyon trajectories. The waves were furious and small. I lay awake, I lay awake, and stared to all that outer phenomena.

I've been thinking about hatred. Hatred as clarity. Hatred as insight. The criminal as heroic philosopher. Flannery O'Connor's Misfit, or the boy murderer in Simenon's Dirty Snow, two distinctly different kinds of villains, but who achieve a kind of brutal understanding of the world. I'm thinking of an episode of This American Life in which child rapists and murderers play Hamlet in prison, and the kinds of incredible insights they lend to these roles, insights that are nearly impossible to distinguish or to reconcile with the despicable violences of which they are admittedly guilty. How is it that good men are terrifically incapable of goodness. No pleasure but meanness? Perhaps it's the mirror

that is most true: men terrifically incapable of goodness are good men too. No meanness but pleasure.

We are alive between the aster and the star.


I'm thinking of my recent obsession with Thomas Bernhard, whose long monologues as novels remind me of Javier Marias' in that they proceed in a kind of real time, in which a whole novel happens in the course of a single night, and the internal monologues of a single character illustrate the many digressions of a mind at dis-ease. Except that Bernhard's characteristic tone is straightforward loathing, not faced with mystery so much as disdain, contempt for the unforgivable privileged masquerade of social mediocrity. What's amazing is that his characters, if you can stomach a whole novel filled with personal disgust, pay off in the most striking ways. The final sentences of Extinction, for example, are so stunning for the simple justice that so much hatred allows his character to mete, even at his personal expense.

More than reading Gottfried Benn or Thomas Mann, maybe only as much as reading Hamburger's translations of Celan, reading Bernhard makes me want to learn German. To speak it like a sex talk. Here's a long passage from Bernhard's Woodcutters translated by David McLintock: I've been opening the book almost daily lately, re-reading it aloud to myself, and then, almost as if in prayer, simply the one word over and over, negligence


"And I told myself that this year alone, which was not a very long time, I had attended the funerals of five of my friends. They're all dying off one after the other, I thought, most of them by taking their own lives. They rush out of a coffeehouse in a state of sudden agitation, and are run over in the street, or else they hang themselves, or suffer a fatal stroke. When we're over fifty we're constantly going to funerals, I thought. People who were born in the country go back to the country to kill themselves, I thought. They choose to commit suicide in their parents' home, I thought. All of them, without exception, are basically sick. If they don't kill themselves they die of some illness that they've brought through their own negligence. I repeated the word negligence to myself several times; I kept on repeating the word--it was as if the word gave me pleasure as I sat in the wing-chair--until the people in the music room noticed, and when I saw them all looking in my direction I stopped repeating it. They were all friends of mine thirty years ago, I thought, and I could no longer understand why. For a time we go in the same direction as other people, then one day we wake up and turn our backs on them. I turned my back on these people--they didn't turn their backs on me, I thought. We attach ourselves to certain people, then suddenly we hate them and let them go. We run after them for years, begging for their affection, I thought, and when once we have their affection we no longer want it. We flee from them and they catch up with us and seize hold of us, and we submit to them and all their dictates, I thought, surrendering to them until we either die or break loose. We flee from them and they catch up with us and crush us to death. We run after them and implore them to accept us, and they accept us and do us to death. Or else we avoid them from the beginning and succeed avoiding them all our lives, I thought. Or we walk into their trap and suffocate. Or we escape from them and start running them down, slandering them and spreading lies about them, I thought, in order to save ourselves, slandering them whenever we can in order to save ourselves, running away from them for dear life and accusing them everywhere of having us on their consciences. Or they escape from us and slander and accuse us, spreading every possible lie about us in order to save themselves, I thought. We think our lives are finished, and then we chance to meet them and they rescue us, but we are not grateful to them for rescuing us: on the contrary we curse them and hate them for rescuing us, and we pursue them all our lives with the hatred we feel toward them for having rescued us. Or else we try to curry favor with them and they push us away, and so we avenge ourselves by slandering them, running them down wherever we can and pursuing them to their graves with our hatred. Or they help us back on our feet at the crucial moment and we hate them for it, just as they hate us when we help them back on their feet, I thought as I sat in the wing chair. We do them a favor and then think we are entitled to their eternal gratitude, I thought, sitting in the wing chair. For years we are on terms of friendship with them, then suddenly we no longer are, and we don't know why. We love them so fervently that we become positively lovesick, and they reject us and hate us for our love, I thought. We're nothing and they make something of us, and we hate them for it. We come from nowhere, as people say, and they perhaps make a genius of us, and we never forgive them for it, just as if they'd made a dangerous criminal out of us, I thought as I sat in the wing chair. We take everything they have to give us, I thought, sitting in the wing chair, and we punish them with a life sentence of contempt and hatred. We owe everything to them and never forgive them for the fact we owe everything to them, I thought. We think we have rights when we have no rights of any kind, I thought. No one has any rights, I thought. There's nothing but injustice in the world, I thought. Human beings are unjust, and injustice prevails everywhere--that's the truth, I thought. Injustice is all we have to hand, I thought."




. . . . . . . . 

9.11.11

CALACAS NEGRAS, FLORES BLANCAS

Early November's a good month for painting your guitar like a bullfighter's suit of lights, black as the night sky littered with constellations. Throw in a few beheaded marigolds, a human heart pierced with a sword, a white rose laughing like a skull's head, and a rooster scratching a bit of fire into the dirt. Throw in a paletero like a blonde christ with wet wounds in his hands.  Throw in the virgin wearing her headress of knives and bare tits and opened arms. You could be painting the velvet interior of my cousin's lowrider Impala, or the tattoo across his back. Let's write it in Old English, Vivir Mata.

Something about the new cold taste in the air. My Day of the Dead. And here comes Lila Downs' weeping singing in the lower register about a bolt of lightning that withdraws like a lover's betrayal:


quiero a dios a ti te pagen / con una traicion igual 


para cuando t'emborraches / tu sepas lo que's llorar


songs on days like this have taught me / sorrow in revenge is true

love, or maybe it's all the badgood / telenovelas of my childhood.

. . . . . . .

"Who knew chopped bone could sing?"

It's a perfect day to re-read Rigoberto Gonzalez' new book of poems from Four Way Books: Black Blossoms. His interests remain romantic and grotesque, the fable that is not so much elegy as it is the song of the flowering undead visitations of memory, memory that rises "like lavendar, the fierce blossoming of beauty and mortality."

I still have my zombie fetish left-over from October, in case you couldn't tell.

The first thing you'll notice about this book is how carefully crafted it is. Each poem asserts a rhetorical force in its chosen form: poems of strict stanzas in tercets or couplets or quatrains. Also the recurrence of the sonnet. I can't help but remember Frost's complaint that free verse is like playing tennis without a net and Gonzalez' web here is built into the book itself. In four sections and 62 pages it's a focused read that offers the reader space to really appreciate the work. The third section is a single long poem, "Vespertine", and I love the weight of it there on its own, this elegy for a dead friend whose memory returns to the author while he's driving: "simple mercies / love silence though the engine / has its own sordid tale".  The "tale" is of utmost importance to this poet, who never misses a chance to remember real experience into a kind of Grimm's fireside fable. But Gonzalez's fables are not tales of morality. They appear and revel in that horizon in which Eternal Enemies, as Adam Zagajewski has called them,  get married. Love and Time play dead together.

It's the locomotion of Gonzalez' imagination in these poems that's so attractive, the dead have new lives spilling out of his enjambments, and they come back with all of the gruesome wreckage of their bodies, hopes, demons, their sense of humor, their lusts and dreams. The first section is a gathering of dramatic monologues or ekphrastic poems, the second a sequence of sonnets "Frida's Wound" and the final section a sequence of "Mortician" poems, a character reminiscent of say, Komunyakaa's Thorn Merchant, or  Vasko Popa's The Little Box or Zbigniew Herbert's Mr. Cogito.  What we find in each poem is the fact of Gonzalez' imagination peeling outward in re-creation. Metaphor in his poems is a doorway to the life of a fable, and the black flower is an inverted meditation on death as life. Death, Gonzalez reminds us, is something the living do.

. . . . . . . .




Flor de Fuego, Flor de Muerte


            Los Angeles

            Cempoalxochitl. Marigold. Flower,
the scent of cold knuckle delights you, as does

            the answer to death's riddles:
What's the girth of the hermit tongue once it retreats

            into the throat and settles like a teabag?
What complaints do feet make when they tire of pointing

            up and fold flat like a fan of poker cards?
Where do the dead hide the humor of the ass crack

            when the buttocks unstring their fat?
When you sprung into the earth, all other colors coughed

            and gave you the gift of sick-bed
sullenness and the contagious texture of tragedy:

            Once there was a widow who exchanged
her heart for your head, but you outgrew her body,

            protruding from her chest like an unsightly tumor.
Despite that she carried you, cradling you in her hand

             during mass, a solace in the memory
of her husband's scrotum. If she heard a hymn

             in your petals it was the sound
of trousers unzipping. If she could name the smell inside

             the folds of your corolla,
she kept the word wet against her tongue. The widow

             held you tighter then. So you stung her
palm in protest and then crumbled when she flung you

             like a shooting star--
all awesome arc and damned glory of evisceration.

             To pay her back you pierced the shivering
heart she balanced on your stem. You loved her

             all over again because she turned
yellow with death, because she was like you,

             something dry to come undone
in pieces in the pitted ground. Flor de muerto, flor de fuego,

             you humble down life
to the last ember. Even the phoenix tired of sewing

             its bird bones together
and couldn't outlive you, oh mortality muse, oh end.


                                                                               for Maythee Rojas



. . . . . . . . .



I've got the book under my pillow like ripped starlight under a stone.

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can.

. . . . . . . . .

4.11.11

BELLES LESTRANGE

It's a pale shield that stabs and shakes out of the dark moment of a tree. All the shrubs and armaments open in the rain and shudder. Little kings in the dull monotony of the rain. Limelight on the Glass. The moon is green. From what other galaxy.

I don't know why the rain brings me here. I love the bruised sky. The hysterical vanishing, and from the black streets a kind of dawn. The constellations in the grass are made of broken brittle glasslike mercury.

Listening to songs that sound like the names of flowers: Sweet Louise, Princess of China, The Sun Will Rise. Folksy fingered guitar-strummed stereo-licks. Loud. Roughly Petaled.

Norman Dubie's latest book The Volcano from Copper Canyon. I haven't yet read a review of his recent work that says anything I care to repeat--no one knows how to talk about his work. They talk up his intelligence, his historical gravitas, his visionary detail. What I love about his new book is his sense of fucking humor! The human being lit up by a bit of starlight is monstrously funny. He's intense and playful, and like a monk of something sublime, he knows the instant is to flash and perish, and we flash and perish to know it.

. . . . . . . .

It's November but it feels like Spring.

Poetry is a funny king.

. . . . . . .


"The Song of the Strangelet"

The sailors are proper envoys
to a picnic table, hard-
boiled eggs
rotating in a field of salt--
chrysanthemum petals
like a discharge in the trees
and the abduction in the evening,
whole stadia of magnets
showing teeth. Two swiss
playing basketball
with rifles and cigarettes.
The algorithm in an open field
abducted by a romance of wheelbarrows--
science like all superstition
fondles the grim ignorance
that is chance, chance
of course is the teakettle
waking father by the fire
that could be a particle accelerator
liberating its first ghost,
a machinist extrovert
standing at the end
of a lensing
twelve thousand galaxies in width--
he waves at the youngest of sailors
who shows
him the middling digit of proverb's three,
our very ether
ruptured by it. Who could
eat at Joe's
                  after this?


. . . . . . . .

I stole it, and I liked it

and I liked the secret hold of it

. . . . . . . .

The ragged white roses
grinning wet

and faceless in the growing darkness
have skeletal poses

on the corner of Olive and Fountain Boulevards

. . . . . . .



5.10.11

HARPSPEED

Rain and ache. Today in Southern Cali the storms are in, though it feels like we leapt from fog to fall, with only a few bruisy bright summer days in between.

I've got my love locked down.

Antony and the Johnson's re-make of Beyonce's first solo hit "Crazy in Love" playing on repeat.

Gray, green, black, silver, neon and night. Little lightspeed harp of the rain.

Increasingly seasonless. And old. Honey. The lines, the lines . . .

Thomas Bernhard's my new saint. Reading Extinction, a booklength monologue of an heir who must return to the estate, to a family he hates and who hates him in return with a silent, submariner's loathing. Something about it reminds me of Howard Sturgis' Belchamber, a gorgeous, sad novel about another heir for whom it all falls apart, though that novel is filled with the poetry of a sad gay queer who lingers over every detail as if it were a cologne commercial, all incense and extreme close-ups of hemlines and sneers. It makes me think of Wilde's descriptions in Dorian Gray, they're fast, cinematic, piercing. Bernhard has the movement akin to Banville, without the dense fits of passion. Bernhard's character is a thinker, and a vain egomaniac. Don't trust him.


. . . . . . . . .

13.8.11

THE ETERNAL BLINDFOLD

A bell rings in the middle of Dostoevsky's long story about a husband, a wife, and her lovers. Fast, energetic, moody types--and like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky is obsessed with types, the Suicidal Devil, the Crazy Karamazov, the Lovesick Idiot, and so on--I don't know how I've missed The Eternal Husband before, but I'm glad to find it again. It's a quick read to cover the kaleidoscope of human emotion: laughter and death, sweet admiration, friendship, hope, hate, beautiful lost love, fits of passion in a dream, and all as Mucholsky in his brilliant study of Dostoevsky's life and work asserts, in one of the most focused, and in the author's own words, "harmonic and balanced" structures he's ever been able to control.

It's fast and sweet. Boccherini's Quintet No. 4 in D, the fourth movement, a fandango for guitar and strings. Milos Karadaglic's recent recording. You can drink it in a day.

"The object in life of which he had had such a joyful glimpse had suddenly vanished into everlasting darkness."

Which reminds me of Eduardo C. Corral's poem up at Gwarlingo.

Corral's poem recalls Robert Frost's "Desert Places" in that a speaker looking celestially outward, gazing at the midnight external, finds himself staring into the center of the mortal self, into the center of a human night. Simic, while writing about the work of Jane Kenyon in Orphan Factory has said about the short lyric of 10-20 lines that the proof is in its voice. His assessment of Kenyon reminds me of both Frost and Corral: "the distance to her at times appears infinite, and that is the cause of her meloncholy. . . . Lyric poetry for her, to paraphrase Chekhov, is that illness for which many remedies are prescribed and for which there's no cure."

The locomotive night is falling fast, oh fast, and in Corral's little coffin for cut moonlight the speed of the vision, and the allure of the poem, relies on the malleability of his metaphor. Like the poets of the deep image in the 60's, or as Bly preferred, the psychic image, Corral is invested in visionary description, and seeing the crescent moon through the midnight window becomes wringing out a ghostly dishrag on his face. The human fever is relieved by the cold rag, and the field of white appears. Like in the work of great romantics, sickness is sight. Transgressively, we find the speaker looking into this white, bare kingdom, the inner landscape of bone. He plucks the thorn. The only truth available to a poet in search of beauty is death. The distance the poet finds is not cosmic so much as it is infinitely small and inside. Like Corral, one has to climb into his grave, sit cross-legged and close his eyes to see The White Nothing. In its Emptiness, Nature is the white night of the self. Even the voice has no where to hide. The elliptical pace of the poem is as necessary to its success as the metaphor, the deep image, the psychic transformation, but I can't get it to copy here. The speed of Corral's lines, breaths, and image-making is true of most of what I've seen in his forthcoming Yale prize winning collection, Slow Lightning.

I'm going to steal it.

I think I now I'm moving on to some Beckett, something with ominous constellation.

. . . . . . . .

12.8.11

OUR SIZE OF SORROW

Something somber and triumphant at the same time, something like Respighi's "Nebbie" sung by Pavarotti, who I saw at the Met once begin in a whisper, next to a piano, a lullaby that ended in a death cry, a silence that ended in a splendor, a galaxy-sweating supernova, black and robust and pouring painfully, a golden, wound-colored tenderness, enough for all of us. . .

The inevitable downfall of the ambitious, shrewd, daring, practical Queen Cleopatra, Pharaoh and Goddess Isis, who murdered her brothers and her sister and from whom we inherit the 12 hour day and monthly calendar, the census, our economic practice of using denomination marked monies, patroness of the arts, libraries, languages (having spoken 9 fluently herself), her city famous for its diversity and love of the theater and wit and laughter and dramatic celebrations and lavish Ptolemaic processions, its insurmountable wealth, gold and grain, all eventually taken as spoils and adopted by the Romans who wrote her as the historical villain of the ancient world and whose conquerer named the last month of summer after himself to commemorate his victory over her turncoat manic-depressive Dionysus, giving her children to his ex-wife his sister, August.

History is better than literature. Stacy Schiff's biography is a welcome read. It offers a portrait of a murderous family history, the impressive successes of the girl queen who was married first to Caesar and next to the greatest Roman general of his era, Mark Anthony. She was feared and loathed by the Romans, who were a developing nation of dogs, famous for brutality in war and public restraint, their misogyny apparent in both their philosophy and their politics. Monklike and without splendor. Or money. They needed Egypt, and her downfall was the rise of the western world as we know it. A culture that prizes the celebration of libraries, artistry, pageantry--a rebellion-free reign of education--sounds too good to be true, and it's shocking to imagine an ancient community in which 1/3 of all businesses were owned and run by women, in which women had rights to hold position and even take their ex-husbands to court. The difference between a history driven by the Romans instead of the Egyptian Queen is something like the difference between what anthropologists say is a lost evolutionary line--if we had only evolved from the the peaceful, maternal communities of the Bonobo, instead of from the violently territorial, paternalistic chimp.

What's even more striking in Schiff's book is the final chapter, in which all our particularly American sensibilities are defeated in the Queen's defeat. Her death is humiliating beyond belief. No amount of hard-work, determination, ingenuity or belief can help her. "The Secret" with its insidious message that your life is the outcome of your desires, that your suffering is your own fault, and that success is a result of your good wishes, the faux physics of the "laws of attraction", fails. Great men of our adored history are here painted in mediocrity and deception. Octavian, a lesser warrior than Mark Anthony, Cicero, bitter and grudgeful, Herod, scheming and weak, make a formidable alliance against the foreign lover queen and the sell-out general. Even Mark Anthony is moody and temperamental. Depressed when he is defeated in battle, even suicidal and in silent exile. The one unsung hero is perhaps swift Agrippa, whose January flight through the Mediterranean surprised Mark Anthony and whose arrow landed fatally at the end of that summer, changing history and making Octavian what he is to us now.

Shakespeare's play, I was surprised to find, is actually very accurate. I'm grateful though for Schiff's account, which abstains from making assumptions about Cleopatra's sexual ferocity, or her romantic desires, offering us instead a portrait of someone whose ambition and success were only matched by a terrific, a tragic, an impossible fall:

"She lost a kingdom once, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at 18, a celebrity soon thereafter, she was an object of speculation and veneration, gossip and legend, even in her own time. At the height of her power she controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, the last great kingdom of any Egyptian ruler. For a fleeting moment she held the fate of the Western world in her hands. She had a child with a married man, three more with another. She died at 39, a generation before the birth of Christ."

Shakespeare's words speak just as magnificently for her death-scene as for her entire life:

"Give me my robe, put on my crown. I have
Immortal longings in me."

5.2.275-6

Steal it.
. . . . . . . .

10.8.11

LOBO

Antonio Lobo Antunez, the Portuguese novelist with that Yaqui witch, my great-great grandmother's last name.

A few years ago I read that Faulknerian account of a drag queen and could barely sleep, it was so lush and panicked, disembodied, ranting, flooding, harsh, sublime.

America feels very far away from this account of a young soldier, furious, phantasmagoric, his re-telling of his days as a medic to a dozen or so prostitutes between and during his desperate nights of making love. The haunted and gruesome Land at the End of the World, which was nicely translated but literally The Asshole of the World. Why is the closest we've come to a novel like this Tim O'Brien's account, his Lt. Cross humping through Vietnam, anatomy and exhaustion, automotonic, the zombie-fevered syntax? Or the gruesome poetics of Owen, the sad sensuality of Komunyaakaa, bodies blown up, dismembered, sacrificed, the gruesome realities and painful lyricism of the young veterans who survive? But nowhere--maybe in Mailer's Naked and the Dead is there something angry, pervasive, maddening, something that changes language and sight too--perhaps in some of Simic's poetry--but where are the recent novels of war weathered soldiers, the furious, wailing, desperate, alive, demanding stories that blame us for our disengagement as a nation, for our myopic obsessions with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and our MTV "reality" fetishes, our hiccuping newsfeeds that hide the bloodandguts truth and spin our politics as if they weren't puppeting us against each other, relying on our sheep psychology to take hold and deflect the fires of dormant emotions and call our inherited moral codes all to inflate the 1%, the egos of the powerful, and deflect our rightful rage at the daily hungers, the daily dead.

"Do you believe in upheavals, great adventures, inner earthquakes, soaring flights of ecstasy? Forget it, my friend, it's nothing but an optical illusion, smoke and mirrors, a mere theatrical trick no more real than cardboard and cellophane of the scenery used to create it or the force of our own desire to give it the appearance of movement."

I gulped the whole thing back like a shot of expresso and my eyes lit up like a night H-bombed to shit.

Then I picked up Stacy Schiff's biography of Cleopatra, and started to read about the incestuous bloody chess game of ancient sibling rivalry. . .


. . . . . . . .

8.8.11

MIDNIGHT GREEN

Bach this morning, and coffee.

The Trondheim Soloists' recording of violin concertos, whose recording of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons with Anne-Sophie Mutter, if you haven't heard it, is to die for.

Marine Layer, mountains deep. As in, all the way to Pasadena, white and gray. My face, peeking out from underneath a car tire. Bleak car.

Cars all crashing through redundantly and far, like the sea. The highways heave.

Then a fly wrecks my coffee like a dead asterisk. Exploded star.

Also with Wallace Stevens' last collection, The Rock, which, the more I read it, reminds me of Frederick Seidel. Unexpected arrows. I haven't sat enough, or stared vacantly enough, or walked enough barefoot over the grass, or got undressed and watched the nervous glitter of the leaves on the Chinese Banyan through the window, or lined up the bones of my dead hummingbird, or just sat at the bottom of the helix-hinging wild of the pool with my eyes closed to say exactly what I mean.

Take "The Green Plant":

Silence is a shape that has passed.
Otu-bre's lion-roses have turned to paper
And the shadows of the trees
Are like wrecked umbrellas.

The effete vocabulary of summer
No longer says anything.
The brown at the bottom of red
The orange far down in yellow,

Are falsifications from a sun
In a mirror, without heat,
In a constant secondariness,
A turning down toward finality--

Except that a green plant glares, as you look
At the legend of the maroon and olive forest,
Glares, outside of the legend, with the barbarous green
Of the harsh reality of which it is part.


I wish I could think of a Seidel poem to read along side of this, because I feel the echo of it everywhere in his Collected, in his declarative end-stopped lines, his qualifications, his prepositional repetitions, juxtaposed with the momentum of that last 3 stanza sentence. . . Stevens predicted something like Seidel's work, if only by writing "the grotesque is not a visitation. It is / Not an apparition but appearance". Seidel appears, and plenty of critics have said how frightfully. He does murder well. He does it so it feels like a beautiful hell. But my favorite of his poems relate a cosmic brutality to some tender vulnerable weakling.


"Midnight"

God begins. The universe will soon.
The intensity of the baseball bat
Meets the ball. Is the fireball
When he speaks and then in the silence
The cobra head rises regally and turns to look at you.
The angel burns through the air.
The flower turns to look.

The cover of the book opens on its own.
You do not want to see what is on this page.
It looks up at you,
Only it is a mirror you are looking into.
The truth is there, and all around the truth fire
Makes a frame.
Listen. An angel. These sounds you hear are his.

A dog is barking in a field.
A car starts in the parking lot on the other side.
The ocean heaves back and forth three blocks away.
The fire in the wood stove eases
The inflamed cast-iron door
Open, steps out in to the room across the freezing floor
To your perfumed bed where as it happens you kneel and pray.


. . . . . . .

6.8.11

STURM UND DRANG

"I've been sacrificing so to strange gods that I feel I want to put on record, somehow, my fidelity--fundamentally unchanged after all--to our own. I feel as if my hands were imbrued with the blood of monstrous alien altars--of another faith altogether."

If the first 200 hundred pages were a difficult ascent, like the strain of the roller coaster as it locks and raises inch by inch upward, straining toward that briefest star-like peak, as the eye spills forward and the heart prepares, as the clock is felt and there is time to wonder that you're still there at all, the last 2hundred 70 pages completely fall out from underneath you as the floor imminently blushes, the angle slams, the blackness trembles from that supernal and mortal height--the body falls, and the mind is in flames. You yourself feel that you're a manifestation of the "sacred rage" of Waymarsh. (Or maybe the Adagio from Mendolssohn's Fmajor sonata for violin and piano. I'm obsessed with Anne-Sophie Mutter's 2008 recording this week!)

At the finish of James' The Ambassadors it feels as if everything in the world were at risk, all is lost, and yet nothing happens. It's as if we're creatures made of anticipation and failure, and that's the sad thrill of humanity. The comic dimension of the tragedy of feeling. Like that contemporary, if no less broken, Ophelia-haunted Maria Gostrey, who plays the part of the reader, the attentive inquirer, patient, even omniscient, who like us finds herself, protected as she was, singed now with a desire she's kept secret, perhaps even from herself, and willing, ultimately, inevitably, to reduce herself now for its fulfillment, to give herself to love as if to servitude, whom with, by the end of the novel, we "sigh it at last all comically, all tragically, away", mumbling as much to ourselves in the mirror of self-denial as to the myth of true love, "I can't indeed resist you." And there it is. The uncompromising, sensual Lucretian truth of it.

Steal it if you can.

. . . . . . .

5.8.11

THE HAPPIEST ENEMY

So you wake up, and the light is there, like a bit of Mendelssohn's violin drilling sweetly from the other side of the black leaves in Eminor.

Stevens: "The fiction of the leaves is the icon of the person" but really he wrote: "poem".

This daylight's too concerto.

Started Henry James' The Ambassadors, last night, the first of his last three great novels, before the Dove's Wings and the Gold Bowl, and read until his sentences got so far ahead of me I was spilling into them. The dream came like a chess move and the other player was faceless. I'm somewhere between the winning Chad Newsome and the wiser, more useless, Strether. And then a few lines from Ashbery come again out of the breaking dark:

"Now it's years after that. It
isn't possible to be young anymore.
Yet the tree treats me like a brute friend;
my own shoes have scarred the walk I've taken."

The weather inside is controlled and bleak. It's a delight, really, to be safe here on the other side of the Chinese Banyan and watch the sunlight cut the throat of the street. I don't care how Eliot that is of me. Coffee in exile and basil. I could boil an egg.

I think I'll sit here and YouTube mens synchronized 3M springboard diving in Shanghai instead.


My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.