For Francie Shaw
Chaim Soutine 12
The Heroes 17
The Manchurian Candidate: A Remake 21
The Iliad, Continued 38
To the Future 39
Fake Dreams 42
The Pope 42
The Avant-Garde 44
The Library 47
The Game 50
In a Nutshell 61
To the Past 62
Religion in the Regions of Matter 64
Writing in Real Time 65
Love and Probability 78
Ohio Urn 80
To My Mother 82
The Wounded Boundary 84
Product Reproduction 86
Poetry and News 87
The Revolt of Process 89
Ideal Poem 91
The Womb of Avant-Garde Reason 92
Symmetry of Past and Future 103
The Masque of Rhyme 114
Aliens have inhabited my aesthetics for
decades. Really since the early 70s.
Before that I pretty much wrote
as myself, though young. But something
has happened to my memory, my
judgment: apparently, my will has been
affected. That old stuff, the fork
in my head, first home run,
Dad falling out of the car --
I remember the words, but I
can't get back there anymore. I
think they must be screening my
sensations. I'm sure my categories have
been messed with. I look at
the anthologies in the big chains
and campus bookstores, even the small
press opium dens, all those stanzas
against that white space -- they just
look like the models in the
catalogs. The models have arms and
legs and a head, the poems
mostly don't, but other than that
it's hard -- for me anyway -- to
tell them apart. There's the sexy
underwear poem, the sturdy workboot poem
you could wear to a party
in a pinch, the little blaspheming
dress poem. There's variety, you say:
the button-down oxford with offrhymed cuffs;
the epic toga, showing some ancient
ankle; the behold! the world is
changed and finally I'm normal flowing
robe and shorts; the full nude;
the scatter -- Yes, I suppose there's
variety, but the looks, those come
on and read me for the
inner you I've locked onto with
my cultural capital sensing device looks!
No thanks, Jay Peterman! No thanks,
"Ordinary Evening in New Haven"! I'm
just waiting for my return ticket
to have any meaning, for those
saucer-shaped clouds to lower! The authorities
deny any visitations -- hardly a surprise.
And I myself deny them -- think
about it. What could motivate a
group of egg-headed, tentacled, slimier-than-thou aestheticians
with techniques far beyond ours to
visit earth, abduct naive poets, and
inculcate them with otherworldly forms that
are also, if you believe the
tabloids, salacious? And these abductions always
seem to take place in some
provincial setting: isn't that more than
slightly suspicious? Why don't they ever
reveal themselves hovering over some New
York publishing venue? It would be
nice to get some answers here --
we might learn something, about poetry
if nothing else, but I'm not
much help, since I'm an abductee,
at least in theory, though, like
I say, I don't remember much.
But this writing seems pretty normal:
complete sentences; semicolons; yada yada. I
seem to have lost my avant-garde
card in the laundry. They say
that's typical. Well, you'll just have
to use your judgment, earthlings! Judgment,
that's your job! Back to work!
As if you could leave! And
you thought gravity was a problem!
Unclose your eyes, you look ridiculous,
untip your head, shut your lips.
Listen. I'll tell you a secret.
I learned this when I left the shtetl
-- that means home town,
everyone's from the shtetl. That bottle
you're clutching. In the shtetl it's called
the bottle of last things.
Everyone gets one. It's supposed to
be invisible, it's bad luck to mention it, they say.
But take it down from your mouth.
You didn't know you were holding it!
They say that's good luck,
and the tighter you close your eyes the better.
The world in there, all yours:
visions, powers, messiahs.
Now that you know -- hoist it back up,
run your tongue around the rim,
feel the glass, if it's beveled smooth,
curl your tongue into the neck,
do whatever. It's yours.
But the big secret is . . .
It's empty! Glug glug!
You've swallowed it all! Tasted good?
Who knows! All gone!
Bottoms up must have been
your very first word!
And guess what that means?
Finis! Curtains! Triumphal openings, Picasso elbowing over to chat -- nothing, forget it!
I've found out the hard way.
But at least I'm not in that ridiculous posture anymore,
squeezing the neck, eyes screwed shut, piously sucking.
Here's my advice: throw it away.
smash it on the curb,
go heave it through some stained glass.
Just get rid of it! Now:
head level, mouth shut, eyes open,
forward march . . . we're big doomed heroes!
God can give you the world
(glug glug!), sacred word, covered ark and all,
I can paint you
pictures of whatever -- curtains blowing open,
nice tablecloths, high class space,
sides of meat, streaming red, glistening, clotted yellow.
Push the paint, whip it around.
It likes it. A strip-tease
without the tease and without stopping at the skin.
The girl thinks I want to see her body --
surprise! Keep your clothes on, sweetie,
you're here to wave away flies.
They're actually pretty, patchy fur swarming
over the side of beef if you
let them settle, but it's
much prettier bare.
Your arms are killing you? So what.
After four days hanging there it doesn't
smell so great?
Hey, my blood didn't taste so great
when the god-fearing neighbors beat me up
in the name of the almighty.
Thou shalt make no graven images
and thou shalt smash the kid
who tries to paint the rabbi
and here's one for free
in case anybody forgets what No means.
Let's build a frame of common
sense, stating the case with deeply
received ideas and fields of trophies
to hold the still-warm ashes, yes?
What's happening? Soutine, non-verbal painter
of crooked landscapes, people, meat, is speaking,
supposedly, but it can't be, time
is a problem, and place,
one's place in the senses, facts of habit, recognition,
situations where art is produced, carefully broken windows
placed at careful distances
from customers who are always right.
The dramatic monolog is far down on the list
of living forms, supine, disgusting really.
What is an anecdotal Soutine to me,
and what am I to these
acidic bursts of no one's speech
and they to the decomposing composition?
The desire for heroic writing splits
into appetite (glug glug!) and horror
at the achieved sentence (keep waving!),
while the eye (your mind or
mine?) sticks the words like pigs,
with syntax underneath to catch the
flows of meaning. The taste
of lost things is a tyrannical pleasure
and is always in infinite supply.
For the sake of art,
modernist coffee, Paris,
it would be nice
to hold some things separate,
let the anxious animal graze outside forever
on museum grass
while, inside, history's waterfall flows upward,
sharp white walls
keeping the vision of taste safe
from the mouth that wants grapes
perpetually bursting into the old original wine:
Make It New.
is the shtetl of shtetls.
Unless our home
is language, raising us
inside its womb. Reading its shifting glitter
I almost forget I ever learned
to write in half-lit
rooms and blocks and days.
There are lives outside
the correction chambers of this page.
Couldn't it be stronger? Time
to stop and name. Print
on paper for the neighbors.
Never turn down
what the gods
give. What gods?
Eyes see out.
Or you can argue.
Those people are dead.
Their money's gone.
Like, kind, paired eyes
blink, shut, close.
unlegislatable? Are there
holes in my head?
I ape my body.
Could this be
The key turns
Tongue through the door.
Change the way
talks. Sweep up
while the weather
The story rules
Bend the bars
with puny words.
Back and forth.
his tiny spear,
his will a dot,
a dime. Phone's
Go home to
your wife, Odysseus,
goat, bear, name
in the meter.
The line breaks
Long dark purple waves
A mountainous litany
where they died.
The insanity, sing,
goddess, of the son
of the father,
psyches blown flat
to hell, human
god's orders, start
anywhere. Crash forward
to undone thought.
The river rises
and talks, a
The man, to me,
polyvalent, the one
who, very much,
trying, wandered, hurt.
Home and war
are absolute categories.
Touch the monster, you die.
Who can see
around the block?
I'll lash myself
to my ear, pulse
Behavior only looks
from a place
I don't follow.
each other down
there. The plot's
cross-purposed. No one
forgets a word.
Long ago, sitting
on a coarse beach,
The names repel
No one could ever quite
Wishes pound words.
noise fall down
off them, they
go, they're gone.
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: A REMAKE
1st shot (for the trailer)
Bang we see the crosshairs targeting
the spineless forehead
Didn't you hear me the first time?
We know you know what we're saying to you.
They have such power over me
but Frank isn't bothered by them all that much.
Ulysses lies there on his floor
a closed block with a big name.
Closeup of the dustjacket: words.
They have power over me.
The dustjacket is orange and black
but this is black and white so I just say it.
The cover isn't part of the book -- obviously.
I'm not in the movie -- obviously.
5th shot (for the trailer)
A harpsichord on the soundtrack signals
something's false -- this is the 50s remember.
On top they're hearty, fussy old ladies;
underneath they're murderous cold war hypnotists.
On top they're discussing hydrangeas; underneath
they make soldiers strangle each other.
On top it's a movie;
on top the frozen war.
Underneath markets wither; underneath
pleasure, all its eggs in one basket, explodes at the sound of shots.
Underneath you have to follow these words to the letter.
You're on top.
At last the truth can be told.
Let all the spies stand naked.
I was sitting in the den
watching a tape of The Manchurian Candidate,
secular, married, legible, American,
looking at what's showing.
Let all the words be sold at cost.
Let all the words be read at cost.
I was playing solitaire because of Korea.
The deck contained 52 diamond queens.
That was in the movie,
but a picture is exactly where I don't want to live.
PANDA -- Where would you like to live? China?
KOALA -- I'd love to visit. The food, the umbrellas, the bicycles. Where would you like to live? Australia?
PANDA -- Australia's too ironic for my taste. I'd love to visit, though. I've never seen a kangaroo. Their leg muscles must be remarkable.
It looked as if I was coming out ahead.
Not quite victory, perhaps,
but what have we been fighting for
all our lives if not
a New York
where you can go into a bar in the fifties,
order a beer and read Ulysses?
I saw paradise the other night.
It was as easy to read as breathing
and writing one's invitation to the world
in progress, frank, surprised, very amused.
It was a dream I can't remember
-- obviously -- in a phrase not this one:
this is just an assertive shielding
echo, a deeply loved surface.
Then I woke up. I was watching television.
The clicker and a right hand above grey couch material.
The grey voice never transgressing word boundaries,
the plate compartmentalized, the carrot section
filled precisely, never a spatter of pureed orange
slopping into the section for desire,
which was filled with a clear layer
of deeply loved picture:
the blonde biking by tearing off her blouse to bandage his leg
where the snake had conveniently just sunk his admittedly
abstract, offscreen fangs
-- Why not? narrative homeruns
over the abyss of incoherence
ice cream --
I saw leaden geo-toy Raymond Shaw
murder mother and father
in the snap of the plot;
while I was waiting for the kids to go to sleep
so you could nicely slip your underwear off.
Oops you went to sleep.
I never meant any of this.
I have not done these things. Any of these things.
I write for you and strangers.
in her bra, outside. Summer.
Some are others.
I place myself in the position of the viewer, then I view.
On the night in question I was home all evening, viewing.
Frank Sinatra's had it. The social cardboard's
not worth the sweat he constantly carries around on his face.
Wherever he looks:
locked American lives.
No writing the great book.
Might as well read the ashtray.
No loving the great smile, no riding
the city down to bodies
that can be yours for the right song,
the instant aria just before the light changes.
Too many cigarettes,
too many buddies strangling each other.
Why? Because the smiling Chinese totalizing science sentencer
pronounced the words, just the pleasantest trace of accent,
"With the hands."
14th shot (for the trailer)
I Chinese view duty-free writing strangle experience
you Amerikanski mister irony door plenty WD-40 but no key
poly-sci thinker figure out later-never.
Frank wasn't strangled but now he can't read Ulysses.
It means nothing to him, just another big brick of paper named
When the world is weird,
being bounced around on a word trampoline won't get you any rest.
From in front of the VCR field in the psychic past of the Cold War,
this is Bob Perelman.
Yes, mother, every word must count: 6
Yes, father, I will count each word: 7
If any one of them gets away
then I will be alone in
a locked mess. The warm curves
the grassy hills and the actual caves
I will want to write myself.
Please I'll write it myself.
The way the streets look from inside the house,
at night, either end blocked or shielded,
the maple leaves lit black green
by streetlights, stating my feelings of home,
mouth and ear and leading them
out to the attentive spark. I read
Jack Kerouac who is free
to drive a Ford in the specific direction
of heaven where art
is a very good investment,
although you only should say that
well after the fact.
In 1955 the many love the few
or at least the few are free to think that they do
and "it was a very good year,"
the present recording its pleasure in being
recorded. Frank Sinatra is rewarded
with a stage full of panties and keys
while standing up and swaying,
his inward light spotlit smokily,
throat open to extort
every sung syllable,
the bedroom board meeting
smoldering, shareholders on fire,
humming along. In 1955, art is
as exciting as the perfect bid,
the sunsoaked homerun,
the victory over the others
that they like too, acknowledge, buy,
put on the wall.
but the early offscreen doors don't reopen.
17th shot (voiceover)
The Manchurian Candidate stars Frank Sinatra
as Benny Marco, Lawrence Harvey as
the horrible Raymond Shaw, Janet Leigh
as Benny's girlfriend, Angela Lansbury as
Shaw's mastermind mother. American soldiers are
betrayed in Korea, and captured by
the Chinese Communists. After offscreen brainwashing,
they are shown to the Russians.
Both groups are intellectuals, quoting conflicting
studies as the commonsense Americans sit,
bored but patient, in alternate shots,
brainwashed into thinking they're at a
horticultural meeting in New Jersey where
matrons in white dresses and broad
flowery hats are attending a lecture
extolling scientific gardening. "Another modern discovery
which we owe to the hydrangea
concerns the influence of air drainage
upon plant climate." Slow modern harpsichord
jangles the soundtrack. The film is
racially progressive: when the onscreen American
soldier is black, his hallucinated matrons
are uppermiddleclass black; there's no plantation
subtext. When Shaw is ordered to
strangle another soldier, he's almost too
polite, saying "Excuse me" as he
brushes another's chair; the soldier to
be strangled is polite, too. It's
a liberal utopia: good manners have
triumphed over competition. The Chinese are
jovial and authoritative -- they've perfected the
procedure. They can make the Americans
believe anything: the Camels they're smoking
turn out to be yak dung.
It is to laugh, for the
Chinese mastermind at least. The Russians
are surly and badly in need
of dental work. You can't believe
what you see. But you have
to look. Finally, the poem is
beginning to focus. We know you
know what we're saying to you.
KOALA -- I hit my head; I had a dream. Isn't that how it always starts?
PANDA -- Maybe that's the way it starts in the West. It's not a collective form; there's no rhetorical place for people to come together. That's the way you've started, but that's not the way it's supposed to start. Hitting your head is personal.
KOALA -- I was cutting the grass and I hit my head on the branch of an apple tree. An old one, twenty-five feet tall with two live quarters sprouting north and south, two dead ones east and west. It was not symbolism, only matter. If you don't believe me, you can feel the ridge of healing flesh on my head, under the fur here. It's as real as history.
PANDA -- Cutting the grass is a fairly trivial instance upon which to balance the non-concentric circles of history. Go in, I would have said, have a little lemonade, & read Whitman or the Misty poets. Particulars only exist by being collective.
KOALA -- So the public -- fuzzy little me in the case of your remarks -- becomes crucial.
PANDA -- When you're a nation, being cute is not enough any more. No, a public is a serious, collective enterprise. The ironic single writer in a cage, treasonous, or loyal, or mad, riven by pathos, unfamiliar tears . . . it doesn't really matter much to the words or the world. Once the hypnosis of the singular is snapped, that is. Before, one can think that anything might happen on the page.
KOALA -- I'm willing to bob for very small favors, balls of hard, candied poetry swimming almost ethically in the sweat of irony's personal furnace around which individuals are gathered into gendered masses in lieu of lives for all lived under the changeable blue fields of utopia otherwise known as international justice!
PANDA -- International justice! I think we might as well change the subject, don't you?
KOALA -- Fine. Which do you hate more, symbolic poetry, or poetry that's all language?
PANDA -- Easy: poetry that's symbolic.
KOALA -- But what about poetry that's all language?
PANDA -- Poetry that's all language makes me cry when I'm asleep and can't hear the tears hitting the pillow, I mean the page.
KOALA -- I actually hit my head: that means something. It was hot, I was one body for the duration, cutting the leaves of grass and I saw myself walking on air on cloud stilts of biological perpetuity and sweat of the word. I was not a nation, I was not a species, I was a speaker, fully alive just because I like the sound of that the noisome hiss of this making a made world under me undergo twisting birth and destruction just to keep me saying what I was going to say anyway! Or anything else! Or nothing so what black hole blank! An apple an unoriginal rhetorical sin a day goes astray into the many minds of the many many others who don't think this! And neither do I! Neither we nor me! Am I allowed to say this? No! I say it! Thanks to the body beyond species, beyond genre, thanks to the dictionary, the strikers, the Haymarket lexicographers! The Tiananmen Square grammarians! I say it! Out loud! Where was I? Where are we? Don't you love the intrusion of speech where no speech can be, life where sounds are the slippery start to never finish but get there already anyway . . .
PANDA -- Did you show that to your trainer before you turned it loose on me?
KOALA -- My teacher?
PANDA -- I'm assuming your teacher was your trainer before he was your teacher.
I can't remember the movie anymore.
Art means throwing scraps of code
to the bodies as appetite supplements.
The screen is softwired so the bars disappear.
after the primal shot
I can see eyes painted open
on the death mask of that lovely
arrangement I used to call the world,
America, my life, the page,
the academy of the future,
which, as it turns out,
is in the past. They even move.
They're mine: that was home.
It's plain that there was time
and that it took place
but its quick pleasures are now words
in a language with only scattered survivors.
A single word means nothing.
Or a line without a world.
The present is full of survivors' sentences.
With disoriented conviction and memory
too deep for instrumental speech
swimming sinkingly toward pre-owned futures
hosed down the hyperspace of capital
where freedom spells the rampant logos
turning attractively bemused typefaces and icons
toward the traffic.
Or language it for yourself.
Make your own recipes: ironize,
experiment, write wrong,
but don't forget
the old pleasures:
skies, turkeys, playgrounds.
We know you know.
Meanwhile, one drives,
an open lane a paycheck of sorts,
leading to the autobiography glimpsed
in the gas station john mirror.
During the war there's nothing to eat
but information and denial, the new
mixing with the old
down through all the details. Taste.
Who folded my clothes?
You did! I did!
Who watered my tears?
You did! I did!
Who batted an eye each word I woke?
You did! I did!
Who waited for me to sleep so I could wake one step further inside
You did! I did!
KOALA -- To survive you have to be willing to do anything. Anthologies! That's where the money really is, or might be. At least so I imagine from my fuzzy animal distance. Reprint the material! Dominate the gene pool! Rise like Godzilla and make them read you for fucking ever!
PANDA -- If you use language like that, you'll have a hard time even making it into the La Brea tar pits.
To be free and to be
Frank Sinatra the pinnacle artist
but to be pictured as homo ordinarius
keeping the public world private
by visible quotidian heroism:
that's the lesson scorching the director's desire
in every shot. If you feel like arguing
with the movies, then step outside.
The Chinese mastermind has the one
successful marriage in the movie.
(Yes, it's offscreen: you can't have everything.)
He's really a most happy fella.
We rejoin him as he leaves
the Russian doctor-spy's so-called clinic in NYC
after ordering Shaw to murder
his would-have-been father-in-law, the honest muckraking journalist,
as well as the love-of-his-life blonde.
Don't fall asleep,
this is plot.
Everyone has to sacrifice.
Except for the mastermind perhaps,
jauntily tugging his gloves tight,
saying now he has to get off to Macy's
for some Xmas shopping.
Smiles the happy social smile sans dissonance:
the wife gave him a list yea long,
shrugs: what are you gonna do?
He knows how to get in bed with capital
and let it charm his pants off.
Having them "tight enough
so everyone will want to go to bed with you,"
as Frank O'Hara writes, is a youthful gesture
under the dappled shade of capital's
That's one thing.
But to live as a large system of control is quite another.
As the mastermind leaves, the Russian stares.
He just doesn't get it:
he believes in history
not Macy's, inexorable direction, totality,
the concrete-translucent materiality of class to classless truth,
one world one history at the end!
Meanwhile one's provisional oneness
stands and waits with oblique conviction
against the waterfall of wage-slaves
-- that rainbow spray is guilty as Sunday!
Those sunny lakes, those caves of ice,
those miracles of rare device
forced from the deep romantic chasm
of bourgeois pastoral-pornographic shopping,
which that crypto-individualist Chinese mastermind indulges
with his credit flowing past the respectful cashier
like vodka down a mule's throat!
Thus the Russian revolutionary-bureaucrat-murderer-actor
placed on the verbal screen
by the all-too-human history of this shot.
Shaw's gunsight targets
Communist McCarthyite foster father's forehead,
as said before, though in a novel continuum.
The movie wants to reach the new world
and, in the same gesture,
to conclude. A narrative should hold you
with intimate concern, but not too close
because you'll be heading out one day,
pegged, looking back
for the recognizable trees, the known cars,
glad animal movements traded in
for manageable novelty . . .
Is the nostalgia for creation or destruction,
or for something that hasn't happened yet?
Beside the encrusted place names,
flags of private longing
flutter against the vistas,
and molecular revolutionaries dream of taking all desires to court
and setting them loose beneath the robes of judgment.
To pull the gown from knowledge,
to pull the eye from noon,
and not to see the catered wants
of Tom, Dick, and Harry
navigating the street, the mall, the clicker and the dust!
And Jane, Ketisha, and those tender technocratic shoots and stumps, you and me?
On screen, nations personify the pursuit of happiness,
tearing families to shreds and the shreds
to costumed certainties of loss and rage.
Beyond the blinds:
the end -- rain falling on cue,
Frank Sinatra crying, Janet Leigh wordless.
The days regular as sprocket holes,
while decades slide by
with unevenly layered minds of their own.
You! Hypocrite viewer! With nothing but mirrors
for pleasure, knowledge, luck.
My hand in yours if you read me.
Those deprogrammed people glimmering beyond
the evening's blocky conspiracy theories,
willing their present without shooting our past
to a bloody parable
-- have you found a way to call them yet?
THE ILIAD, CONTINUED
leaving a land
transected by the Styx
let the current
stick and random stigmata
[Iliad, Book 21: When Achilles dumps too many bodies into the Skamander, the river tells him to stop.]
TO THE FUTURE
I always expected some kind of
indefinite continuance but it turns out
my body was smaller and more
attached to its beginnings than I
thought. So the world will end
up breaking apart. No surprise there,
really, though I'll probably feel a
bit shocked all the way through:
familiarity has its charm, as real
as sex, and it's a lot
more spread out. I'll jot down
some lasting impressions -- sorry -- last impressions.
Last night I caught a fragile
glimpse of the writing surface of
dreams: it was like a sheet
of water I could feel as
an edge my body interrupted; I
was in a pool, sticking out,
and when I wanted anything, felt
desire as the words say then
the edge would disappear -- it would
be the same temperature as me and
I'd find myself back in the
story. Which was? Something about getting
published. There was a tall building,
downtown San Francisco where they assembled
flyers to be distributed in laundromats.
These were frequented by large immigrant
populations as well as disgruntled aristocrats
back from the ex-colonies. Then I
was in the laundromat, naked, washing
the books I managed to save
from the war. These were quite
sturdy, as you might imagine. The
sex practices of the sixties, set
to music by Marianne Moore and
Jimi Hendrix. People would study these,
as well as other power sources:
wind, sun, linebreaks. Once a page
would get clean enough then I
could write on top of it.
Like now: fake dreams, skittish prophecy --
it doesn't matter as long as
the breath comes a little quicker,
and the pulse firms and skips:
not too much: the door between
centuries turns out to be quite
narrow. An Egyptian Pulled Glass Bottle
in the Shape of a Fish;
Six Words to Name a Nipple.
My heart's pounding a bit: it
must be the future. So long.
January 19: No contact this morning.
The Pope and I were going
to have lunch at what he
said would be "The Waldorf." We
walked there through a somewhat subaqueous
New York: sweating walls, women in
Hawaiian shirts, men in aprons with
beads of perspiration on their cheeks.
Suggestion of mold everywhere, most surfaces
carrying hints of blue, green, silver.
Some low lintels even had seaweed.
The Pope was wearing his full
outfit: his miter of course made
him look quite tall and his
robes puffed him out sideways too.
I asked him how he was
handling the humidity. He said it
was all Gore-tex, gesturing toward his
robes as we strode along. We
laughed. But I didn't hear the
swishing sound Gore-tex makes: his clothes
were quiet. We got to "the
Waldorf," which was a Greek place,
the "W'orf." It really was something
of a wharf. We sat at
a table made from a large
wooden spool, the kind for holding
miles of phone wire. The ceiling
was low, decorated with fishing net
and red and green colored lights.
We looked out at some dark
view that had water in it.
He ordered fried calamari and so
did I. So now the time
had come. "What about Jesus Christ?"
I asked him. "He's supposed to
have come down from heaven, and
I'm not interested?" The Pope finished
squeezing a wedge of lemon onto
his sandy curlicues. He kept looking
at what he was doing as
he spoke, although in fact he
had finished doing it. "The file
cabinets were ordered a long time
ago. They thought they were very
big at that time. Nobody's allowed
to look in them, anyway. Look,
I'm enjoying my squid. How's yours?"
Yes, mine was pretty good too.
I noticed his English was unaccented.
How come no hint of Polish?
"I'm universal," he said. We laughed.
January 17: Nothing. Scraps. Can't remember.
I was marching in the avant-garde
army. We were on a dirt
road leading to Trenton. It was
sunny, well-tended farms, beets doing well,
tomatoes, peppers, and we had momentum.
The occasional Model-T pulled off to
the side to let us by.
People were wearing more or less
what I'd read about. The Baroness
was wearing purple metal; her breasts
were aggressively festooned. Pound wore a
brown suit; tall and dowdy, he
joked that he was president of
Ohio State. He took some buckeyes
from his pocket: "You can't eat
em, but you can't beat em."
He closed them tightly in his
fist at the punchline; I heard
him repeat the routine. Eliot wore
a kind of lederhosen jogging suit:
shorts and suspenders but made out
of soft grey shoddy. In fact
his suspenders broke, as one could
easily have predicted. He stopped, shamefaced
as his chestnut leather undershorts were
revealed. He fell out and began
doing fast continuous pushups. He was
short and quite strong. He pistoned
with a cartoon intensity which, it
became clearer with every stroke, wasn't
going to go away. We left
him there. Marianne Moore wore a
long white gown with a dildo
tucked in a slot right above
her buttocks. No, it was a
tight scroll, which she could unroll
and read, although only a few
words at a time, as they
were highly acidic. She had a
short haircut, walked fast & happily.
The skirt-material was canvas, she thrashed
it from inside, it billowed. She
was sailing. I was next to
the Baroness. She turned to me,
playfully but intently rubbed some metal
on her breast against my arm.
It was hard to keep the
sense of tableau from sliding: we
were walking forward at some clip.
She said this was my "inoculation."
She laughed, revealing a gaptoothed mouth,
problems: brown teeth, purple gentian stain.
Then she sucked my arm: "To
compose you." She had a whistle
hanging between her breasts. She took
it, blew hard: some people came
with a wide litter: "Come on,"
she said, while we all continued
marching forward, "You need to get
particular." She hopped up weightlessly. Dreams
are more unfair to the dreamer
than to the dreamed, I thought,
heaving myself up after her. Once
I was up there, she looked
at me sharply: "You think this
is the avant-garde? You don't know
where the edges are. Where do
you think these guys are heading?
Trenton! Trenton Makes and the World
Takes!' The avant-garde? Professionalization! Reviewing!
Look. See the wisps? Khlebnikov is
burning his last book. He's not
in the army. There. In the
middle of the cabbage. What a
bad dad." She laughed. "He's set
his beard on fire this time!"
Fake. False. Faux. For the archive.
January 28: We were going to
have sex in the stacks. We
were in the 800's, standing eagerly
amid the old copies of the
Romantics. Looking at the dark blue
spines of Wordsworth's Collected, I thought
how the intensity of his need
to express his unplaced social being
in sentences had produced publicly verifiable
beauty so that his subsequent civic
aspirations seemed to have importance enough
for him to become Poet Laureate
and how his later leaden writing
upheld that intensity and verifiability, only
instead of searching wind and rocks
and retina for the sentences of
his social being, he chirped his
confirmed lofty perch to other social
beings in lengthy claustrophobic hallelujahs for
the present moment. There are devices
to keep it still, long enough,
and he had learned them. Rhyme
was a burden, crime was unambiguously,
explainably wrong, time had snuck around
behind him. He had carved his
own anxiety into a throne and
now he was stuck on it,
remembering sadder days when he had
wanted to be happy with a
purity that made him blink, thinking
back. He remembered in a trance:
the past seemed unbearably near. Our
more slippery, contrapuntal hallelujahs were planted
in the immediate future, only a
few buttons, zippers and a little
elastic down the road. We had
first snuck into the men's room
but it had been crowded with
two intensely separated men hunched at
urinals 1 and 6. We turned
to hurry out, and you pointed
to the magic marker graffiti on
the beige tiles: "This place needs
a women's touch" answered by "FINGER
MY ASSHOLE, CUNT!" This second message
had been modified by an arrow
indicating "CUNT" was to be moved
from behind to before "ASSHOLE": "FINGER
MY CUNT, ASSHOLE!" We were eager
to prove syntax was not mere
vanity and that bodies could use
it to resist the tyranny of
elemental words. And wouldn't it be
nice to get knowledge and pleasure
on the same page. So we'd
hurried out to the deserted 800's.
February 24: Yesterday there was weather;
tomorrow there will be none. I'm
in an academic office, surrounded by
screens, each with a keyboard attached.
The screens depict scenes in cities;
I'm to type in words. I
type "PLAY" and a section in
the southeast of one city blows
up: a seven-story parking structure and
a big boxy sewage treatment facility
with its attendant pond goes boom:
a grainy spray of particles expands
up in a vee and then
falls while the sound system produces
a sharp burst of static until
the particles have vanished, leaving a
tan crater. "GUILT," on the other
hand, creates a whole flat small
town on a screen which had
shown verdant' forest. I see a
little car moving down "Main Street."
It stops and makes a right.
I go over to a third
screen with a generic New York
City and type "I LIKE HORSES"
but nothing happens. "I GET OFF
ON THE HORSES OF INSTRUCTION THE
HELL WITH THE MARLBORO MAN": still
nothing. Apparently syntax cancels out the
effects. Okay, so just plain "HORSES."
Anything? Yes, a tiny pup tent
has appeared in the lower righthand
corner, on the sidewalk in front
of a department store. I try
"I": a second pup tent. "LIKE":
a third. The power of writing
in this particular game is starting
to feel, shall we say, illusory.
An authority (dressed in blue) is
in the doorway with three large
yellow envelopes. He is holding them
out to me; none have return
addresses and the authority is both
offering and withholding them. It is
mail/not-mail (perhaps one is a letter
bomb). I can see the address
on the top envelope -- it was
written with a sweeping gesture by
someone using a two-tone (red and
silver) pen and shows great flourish,
I know from this that the
top envelope contains a literary magazine.
Suddenly I feel deeply vexed; tears
start, though I hold them, and
I feel dizzy. I don't know
about the other two envelopes. I
don't take them. I gesture toward
the screens. "You take a turn,"
I say. But he pauses, "a
turn" doesn't compute. He seems to
feel the screens and keyboards are
a site fraught with dignity and
heroic challenge. I offer him a
cigarette. He takes it with earnest
gratefulness. As I offer the match
he's in bureaucratic heaven inhaling with
rapt concentration. I drop the pack
to the floor, squash it, rubbing
it heavily with the ball of
my foot until tobacco and paper
are spread. Tears are flowing down
my cheeks. He's smoking, wide-eyed, silent.
Soon I'm standing on the grass
near home, which is set amid
an array of terraced gardens. Other
people are there, including T. Three
times in quick succession a terrific
thunderous roar fills the air and
the ground rumbles and shakes. We
all know then that hundreds of
miles away great monsters have emerged
from the ground. They are reptilian
but insect-like, giant ants with nimble
alligator limbs. It is comforting to
know they are "hundreds, maybe thousands"
of miles away, but eventually they
will come; it's common knowledge that
they particularly hate poets. Their most
fearsome posture is when they arrange
themselves into words. They can get
us at a distance that way.
We talk nervously, trying to inhabit
our seconds with the timbres of
our voices; we make long sentences;
we gesture and laugh as accurately
as we can. Timing is crucial.
[with Lyn Hejinian]
December 25: I was at Putney,
it was beautiful.
Reuben was graduating,
this was the end of my close involvement.
Francie was on one side,
Chloe Deal on the other.
Do you need another woman in your twosome,
dream kept unrolling.
I went over to George Iffington with the tortoise shell glasses and
He was full of literary talk,
did he know who I was?
Brecht would write a play, he dismissed,
then a novel.
Never stuck with anything,
that was his problem.
I leaned up close,
heard nothing but class.
Then Robert Lowell drove into the diningroom in his stretch limo,
Iffington got in as Lowell ranted.
"Can you write better than Sid
Kunitz, Bob Berryman? That's the only
question it makes any sense to
stammer back to." He swerved sharply
to avoid a buffet table, but
didn't quite make it. A tailfin
hurled a tray of cold cuts
to the floor. "The answer is
you, manic, self-born, self-deceased, performing for
also-dead papa, stuck up over the
stage like a lead eagle, eyes
welded shut to render judgment all
the more unanswerable. So you dance
to that blindness, type your flintlock
accuracies into that stone page. If
you dislike those odds, long as
a loser's memory, then face backwards
and wait for the future to
commence. Don't blink, you'll spoil. Meanwhile
the missiles bristle like red, white
and blue thistles, or the Cold
War's over, isn't it? Mine is.
I'm overexposed now, with critics crawling
between my lines. Get a life,
then get it over with! Follow
me, you bad singularities, worse infinities!
If you want a career, die!"
The car nosed significantly against the
wall and he backed up, leaving
a silver smear on the splintered
pine boards. The left headlight was
smashed. "1946, 1966, the pricks stuck
a crown on a head that
was barely mine. The wavering ceilings
of home! And so I was
elected king of poetry and lived
more or less ever after in
the castle where they manufacture awards
without labor, far down in the
upper middle reaches. It's all done
by Santa's literary elves with their
mirror-powered pleasure-centers and delicate feeding tubes,
pressing the bar, spreading the word,
North Pole on south, Satan's auratic
face on the dust-covers. Dust to
dust for the industrious poets. Microbes
of culture carbuncling the prairie that
knows no trough above the nightly
news. My native massacres! All for
a few dozen home runs, a
few hundred creamy hotels. That's not
all I wanted. I'm not boring
you by any chance? Dead men's
rants are the worst, stuck in
traffic, suing the dictionary." By now
the diners were up and shouting
as he zigzagged rapidly. He hipchecked
one, who flew sideways, and then
caught another flush in the back,
dragging him under the front wheels.
"I myself am fame, hard, gemlike.
Or was. Mention me outside, if
there still is one. The cock
is crowing and the reviewless dawn
begins to glare. Here, take the
wheel. Islington? Stifflington? -- No license? Anxiety's
our golden rule, our sublimated sublime.
It's cheating: that's how you play."
December 2:Nick and Nora were in Hershey
for their honeymoon; they even toured
the chocolate factory the first afternoon.
Of course there were martinis before
and smoke after sex, like the
movies said. Her cigarettes and his
cigars re-asserted personal Alleghenies of taste
under the omnipresent smell of chocolate.
The putative 3-D of the thin
clouds was an almost satisfying picture
of the unpredictable organizations of imagination.
And then the taste, the ash
of the usual wants, making their
tongues a touch ugly and articulate
in the midst of desire, stirring
the whole kettle, at least a
layer or so down. But pleasure
was much bigger than their bodies,
and, after they had had their
particular fill, they began to notice
the chocolate air again. They lay
back and stared up at the
off-white silk of the canopy. Tasks
lay ahead, inert, scattered, and the
more they thought about them, the
more urgent. "You know, there's Kingston
in San Fran, and Hughes in
Harlem. They're not getting any clearer."
"Train schedule?" "In my jacket." Nick
gestured over toward the ornamental desk
the hotel provided. He fell back
and sighed. "Chocolate. Think you'll ever
be able to stand it again?"
"Yeah." "Yeah, huh?" "Yeah': you're very
perceptive." Nora reached for a bar
on the bedside table, opened it,
and broke off a piece. She
put it to his lips, pushed
herself onto him to free her
other hand, which she used to
open his mouth. He resisted, but
she edged a thumb and forefinger
in and stretched insistently. When it
was open enough she laid the
square of chocolate on his tongue.
"Feeding time." Then she closed his
lips, pinching them and sliding them
back and forth across each other.
"See. It's good." She watched his
tongue moving inside and grinned when
she saw him swallow. He answered
through compressed lips, "Yeah, it's good."
IN A NUTSHELL
Credo in a kind of American Jewish Hamlet-like
bagel, a bit round for action yet leavened
enough by contact with the near live past
-- you call it landscape, I call it history --
to provide a layered vantage. Round yet curiously
unconscious in the center as if problems with
royal parentage might be dissolved by fanatic attention
to license plate coincidence. Heart beats, mind floods,
whose news is this? Turn, turn again, spread
a minimum of cream cheese, feed desire its
networks. A you for all the secrets. But
if I have to vote, edge, root, fax
& already feel, as opposed to an unrehearsed
life, well, slide over a few inches &
we'll make room for each other's public. Not
the heresy of paraphrase, not the hearsay of
phrase, but a general agreement to differ from ourselves.
TO THE PAST
Take down my books, mother,
the song says and I see
rain streak the sacred tablets,
graffiti between music and speech.
Take them down,
for I am alive today
my body an example,
the computer a black tray,
semiautomatic code behind the plastic
spraying a lichenlike display,
autonomous wash of power
down the drain, prismatic, pissed away
to ease the painful suture
where tip of tongue
meets tip of iceberg,
language melting in its future.
Before I could read,
I heard you with as much belief
as any made
thing in the snowy heights
pursuing the self, apelike, alplike
-- I mean, let the pines do
what they want, squirrels leap, clouds work on their memoirs all day:
still, I'll never undo
the stitches of artificial life. And I hear
something similar happened to you
and to your you
and to her
before that, all the way
back to the history bogs where stenographers
lie frozen in writing degree zero.
Take them all down, they won't stay put anyway.
In some other poem
you wiggle your can
crazily, signifying America
for William Carlos Williams making music
in a gender
desert. Modernism's big adventure
is still in print
on matchbooks and corporate towers,
an education in management distances
holding mirrors up
to men in cars,
women floodlit in anorexic bowers
with customers paying for the pleasure
of buying. Meaning is a dog,
following masters, scratching after hours
in the local doghouse,
a mea culpa inside each command,
flash floods leaving the syntax damp,
pliable, but the dead
resistant as sand.
For now, motion
is still modern,
automatic, riding flindered wills
past each moment.
RELIGION IN THE REGIONS OF MATTER
I'm Jewish. The sky is pink.
The words are written. Respect the materials.
End of poem.
The body in pain, the body in panic, the body in court of law, the body under the wheel of the sentence, the body flying on the sound of the line as it hits.
There's enough shampoo for tomorrow & enough milk for breakfast, the only problem, really, is tone and direction.
The sky is grey.
As grey as if having written it once means writing it always.
There's the original audience: imaginary, improbable as an ever-fixèd mark, and what to say to that? tugging at the anchor in the dark messing up the stars on the water. Don't call it "information": the screen's too undulant for generations to know each other's names except as nagging contracts, life and contacts. Thanks, Echo, tanks. Words sound. Who knew, except for you? Puppy tail, Talmud trail. Are you Jewish? I'm Jewish.
Don't worry, I'll revise, I'll see the sky again, sober as a historian at a graveside desk.
Turn over, lovely trout, and let me fry your other side.
You smell delicious, and if love is a metaphor,
then food is an allegory of this very world
-- you know, the one with bones in it,
and an appetite for time, and bodies like ourselves.
WRITING IN REAL TIME
Real time, lived experience:
sixteen thousand four hundred and thirty eight.
Aren't you the real life of adjectives?
Sixteen thousand four hundred and thirty nine.
Real, lived, gong-tormented,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty,
you have begun writing a poem:
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty one.
One can be Pound,
take a short walk on a long pier,
reading books on microbes,
scratching wrists raw,
thinking at racial & aesthetic purity,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty two.
Imagine sixteen thousand four hundred and forty three,
the stars and the stripes forever,
blue sky on a 29-cent stamp,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty four.
My cap is on -- San Diego Chargers -- my life is gone.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and forty five,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty six,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty seven,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty eight,
sixteen thousand four hundred and forty nine.
Turn the Washington Monument into a maypole.
Humanize reason, nation.
Sing sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty
and the plangent quartertone just above,
underdone, twinged down at dark 10:00 A.M.
beside the canal with a heron highstepping
in curiosity sans irony toward some garbage.
You can adjust to the demands,
can you not, knight-at-arms,
alone & palely counting the red sumac leaf,
falling once, through still air,
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty one.
Not that these demands must come to consciousness,
better that they are consciousness itself,
not your or myself,
the demand to write to see complete
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty two,
and not be those other ones,
decades ago, wrapped in slaughter,
glamor, gemütlich verbal vacuum
of the known name some other time.
The world, once behind me,
is now all before me,
though not exactly for me.
The world is exact.
These words are exact.
Only sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty three
is inexact, itself,
deformed rain of every, next.
This is the same poem,
the one poem,
the sole aesthetic object,
thrown down and broken open by its rules.
The puppy leaps up,
hoarse, cowed, needy, grateful,
springing out of zero,
you, yours, it's you,
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty four,
your smell, your cheese biscuits.
The puppy leaps, the entertainment god
smiles at entertainment, the President helicopters
-- these are some of the different faces of the same moment
to which we assign the number
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty five
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty six
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty seven
sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty eight
and sixteen thousand four hundred and fifty nine.
I've changed my mind.
In theory, it's enough to think.
In practice, the woman wiping the stony black plastic tables
at the Science Museum restaurant
has two hours and twenty minutes to go she told me.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty one.
Does that man beat that woman or just read the paper?
It's too late to retrace half thoughts.
They sounded intriguing, but are written
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty two.
What a triumph it would be to get to 17,000.
I've thought that more than once
the last few months,
though never in that form,
never using the word triumph'
or the construction What a . . .'
Triumph of the will to lunch
& kill the world to praise the name
sixteen thousand four hundred and
turn back to check verisimilitudinous ink
so close so almost exactly so
with word-to-world marriage
as a sacrament to be placed
in the open reading mouth
watering in a dry month sixty three.
Human the life
the seconds of the same,
human the human
or cease to speak the name,
dogeared sounds spell the golden mean
throughout the greater Philadelphia area,
London per se,
the place placed here
to mean to be.
Sensual awakening in even the best books,
short dirty looks,
wife's warm thigh touching just now,
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty four.
Got a lot of work to catch up on tonight
sixteen thousand four hundred sixty five
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty six.
And I don't want
to cheat myself
of any of it
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty seven.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty eight,
the once mighty past
the rubble from the best imperial jokes
back to ice caves and earth wobble
& blood-soaked vegetable rituals
vouchsafed to T. S. Eliot & Julia Child,
sixteen thousand four hundred and sixty nine
LAPTOPSixteen thousand four hundred and seventy one.
Here I sit, brokenhearted
producer of American consumption,
lived to write, but
only monitoring the screen.
The exception is now
the only golden rule.
If a body is
a body, then where
in the world is
the World Bank? Right
inside the latest word,
mi palabra su palabra,
living the exchange rate
every time they open
their single-mouthed dictionary
four hundred and seventy.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy two,
LAPTOP (Side B)
Single body single life
is not how
it works. Bushels
rot on docks,
bodies along banks
of pronounceable rivers.
Soft, large, heaped
round numbers form
blurred museums awaiting
the single uncountable
denominator. The founding
fathers guard the
past, a limited
edition of statues
of virtuous activity,
anchoring feelings of
free circulation. Pictures
of bodily wealth
or financial health
almost appear, floating
behind providential malls,
where to park
is to live
the Thanksgiving logic
of a progress
without classes, hoping
for nothing but
the best for
the best. For
the rest, charred
A PIECE OF PAPER
White wooden rectangle cut and milled smooth to touch as finger slides along creamy visibility cells locked in sequence supporting the surface rolling pastoral fields where noon glare makes reading the sun mean sun blink your blindness inside legibility beating down calls figures of speech
to recline in the empire's massy shade sexy if it comes to that and begging to be personified used indulged you May it's June and time to say what you like mouthing your words starting with the lovely body of this one here on top of the unspoken fibers never commanding a just price
forced to pay homage to the rainbow in the book construed to say I won't hurt you again violent creation of identity in a sonnet to one's own free will in the face of immediate wrath bad odds underneath the surface small room to maneuver up here too where I write in unstable groups of
signifying others who speak and live or not they weren't given air time and paper to ride the recursive point of entry
sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy five,
sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy six
and sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy seven;
sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy seven
and sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy eight;
Here is a fixed picture
of what I learned
the language is a day
taught to be time
and place & night
to lay omnisexed heads
organically named mechanically twined
to test both wills
walking the canonized street
in publically ciphered clothes
to hand one's life
a degree in consumer
senses by sorting instantaneously
through trays of seconds
with judgment learning to
speak as naturally as
a leaf growing to
be a legitimate leaf
and to be green
I stands for
identify the subject
of desire on
the one hand
HIV positive driveby
Bosnia positive but
on the other
universal dictator stood
in front of
legibility's cut edge
flanked by urban
heat beneath mythological
dictionaries fallen from
the sky or
pushed one local
leg over the
railing for self-fashioning
the circuits give
no narrative clue
individual solace comes
from eating light
in the movies
Were you born in one place?
Yes sir in the swamps under
sunlamps in the valley of empiricism
holding veined relics of the old
measures moments spilled for the saga
to gather encrusted gems a life
is a sketch of that life
name over substance Did you die
in one place? Yes sir in
the swamps under sunlamps in the
valley of empiricism holding veined relics
of the old measures moments spilled
sixteen thousand four hundred and seventy nine;
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty.
These are affects, trance ones
that I don't know
& embrace to feel
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty one.
murmur of numerable.
Children of sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty two
-- boys will be men
and never themselves without a little
blood in the pudding
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty three.
I will never be
but mean mean mean
like a heathen down on Keats' knees
praying to sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty four.
There is no cutting short
the significance of placing this word
here and now
as deaths and disasters
finally make dents in taste
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty five.
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty six
wanted dead or alive.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty seven.
One must be
absolutely modern and not write
sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty eight.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and eighty nine.
I am writing
what other writers only thought they wrote.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety one.
My life is a complete fragment of yours.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety two
sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety three.
An exploded mall totality shoplifter
yelling at the security guard
caught red-handed enforcing my world
sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety four.
Rather than write out
sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety five
I now want to insert a false memory
of teen sex thees thous shirt & trou
and the cleverness that only wants
to come and be done with itself,
O for a draught of vantage
to be able to name the named
sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety six.
Poem is value.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety seven
sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety eight.
Now more than ever.
Sixteen thousand four hundred and ninety nine.
1 6 5 0 0
I now see balanced world
1 6 5 0 1
saw was my maiden name
1 6 5 0 2
before I breathed the air
1 6 5 0 3
to see it like nothing.
I & you.
Sixteen thousand five hundred and four.
He & she & it.
Sixteen thousand five hundred and five.
We & you & they
sixteen thousand five hundred and six
& thass that
sixteen thousand five hundred and seven
sixteen thousand five hundred and eight
fall apart & flaunt their parts.
Sixteen thousand five hundred and nine.
dog & pony backwards go time
sixteen thousand five hundred and ten.
He does not know
that he is writing
sixteen thousand five hundred and eleven.
He thinks that
sixteen thousand five hundred and twelve
he is being himself
sixteen thousand five hundred and thirteen.
He places a connecting log in the fire
sixteen thousand five hundred and fourteen.
He feels warm then hot
then cold, stitches showing,
sixteen thousand five hundred and fifteen
and exactly in the middle
sixteen thousand five hundred and sixteen
psychology, or so he thinks.
Sixteen thousand five hundred and seventeen.
Sixteen thousand five hundred and eighteen
sixteen thousand five hundred and nineteen.
Makes a small picture for now.
LOVE AND PROBABILITY
This probably rhymes
with that. Your
display on the bed
in our heads
makes that purple
number for instance
something that pulses
I can say
throb some or
a bit more
and we can
can't spell. Mine
probably rhymes with
yours. Each time
I hope to
hold the same
some residence of
to say and
not be tangled
that died on
the way to
the mall, mad
that the world
anything more interesting
than ranked merchandise
because when it
comes time to
say what we
want we want
turned inside out
so the sun
signifies and we
can use the
light the ancient
hurtling you know
could do me
up and drop
me over so
many palpable edges
You start out with the neighbors'
air conditioners humming into the fresh Ohio
morning. They are outside you, and this
will do, for subjective purposes. Crane
learned to read here, McGuffey, too.
"Ma-ry had a lit-tle lamb" is how
it runs in the original Reader.
Which is to enter the fallen world?
Or no? Each word reflecting the perfection
of its riverine tapestry, fishing poles
from here to Saturday and the
fish eye stared back at consciously and,
not to put too fine a point
on it, dead. Mossy stones, tour
buses idling in the sun, "Cursed
be he who moves these bones" or
should it be "moves these letters"?
But doesn't any writing issue that contract?
Where does that leave us, the nothing
if not mobile readers and writers
moving in delicious obedience to desire
as if time could roll over, play
dead, sit up and beg in one
seamless sentence? The downmarket televangelist on
17 thunders at this theme: "You may
boast of your macho lifestyle. But
on the other side of your
last breath . . ." The Grecian-Urn-like audience sits, I
change channels, each phrase means to change
the culture, and sure, Herbert, take
another breath, a deep one, for
us all. The past says: It was
late August, morning, one of the years,
it was when I was still
a person. I want to learn
the first words for memory, for going
inside and watching light paint the ceiling
and evaporate. There are no such
words. Your last breath, Mom, was
a quick choke. You built my pronouns,
faces, he's and she's people mirror
and live between, before they disappear inside.
TO MY MOTHER
The sequences are seemingly
unbreakable chains of seconds,
which the surroundings demonstrate
best when left alone,
and so I breathe
the smell in the
dark prop plane, feel
the motors and hear
nothing else, memorialized sense
carving this from outside,
the pen lifting from
the page, a worm
without an apple, a
truth without a population
or history to spell
the names, and from
here I predict a
future that will stay
clear of creditors though
let's keep the sun
airing the streets and
tuning the messages. In
this free future there
are to be no
enemies. All territory the
shape of a wave.
Only death to read
desire's final. Personifications are
faked deaths, I know;
people are real, me
too, and I know
the real one goes
cold at the end,
it's written into the
pen stroke I or
body or language uses
to divide knowledge. Before
teaching me social location,
you died and undid
the difference between now
and then. I touched
cold forehead, old skin.
Another lesson I am
now absent at, abstracted
into sense and memory,
floating writing in the
stolen boat it's too
late to give back.
THE WOUNDED BOUNDARY
This poem doesn't
even know what
I am telling
know nothing, do you hear! Nothing! I am looking at
"The Garden of Earthly Delights,"
berries on heads, assholes for
flower vases, and all the
bodies pale, similar, glazed
to keep the pleasure in.
Where's Waldo? Where's
|now? I can't tell, and don't|
|know where our machined|
|desire fits||,||but I|
|you don't||have a|
|your breath||less pregnancy.|
POETRY AND NEWS
Good, I think. That is, if
I can read your writing. There's
something about curving ink that makes
meaning crawl back to the cradle
where fancy lies in wait, its
codicils quaint squiggles the next morning.
It's like reading the weather in
epitaphs. The sound on the page
always about to, a gleam in
the ear, in the dark with
the light on, breathing . . . but night
has fallen deep inside the national
lie, a kind of pocket of
victimized economic membrane, leaking hometown blood.
The green is featureless, the caddy
mutinous. The gatekeeper reads old scores
by the glow under the door.
This is great, and you are
lovely, that is, if I'm reading
your body the way it wants.
Appetites and sirens contrapuntal on the
street. People outside the shelters read
the sentence that says I live,
you live, everybody else can fight
for what's left. Atrocities float above
the depths of the news cycle.
The stringer at the shore drowns
another typo, feeding the calm of
an order floating above its past
like a menu above a terrace.
Dinner and counting stars. Categories are
courtship, of a sort, Jews left,
Armenians right. The palace is up
to something, but the officals keep
filing out. Technically, the day has
been punished enough. Its history has
been smuggled into the sky badly
smudged. Those who can, go home.
THE REVOLT OF PROCESS
Good, codicils the mutinous. Appetites the
I quaint light The and depths
think. squiggles on, gatekeeper sirens of
That the breathing . . . reads contrapuntal the
is, next but old on news
if morning. night scores the cycle.
I It's has by street. The
can like fallen the People stringer
read reading deep glow outside at
your the inside under the the
writing. weather the the shelters shore
There's in national door. read drowns
something epitaphs. lie, This the another
about The a is sentence typo,
curving sound kind great, that feeding
ink on of and says the
that the pocket you I calm
makes page of are live, of
meaning always victimized lovely, you an
crawl about economic that live, order
back to, membrane, is, everybody floating
to a leaking if else above
the gleam hometown I'm can its
cradle in blood. reading fight past
where the The your for like
fancy ear, green body what's a
lies in is the left. menu
in the featureless, way Atrocies above
wait, dark the it surface a
its with caddy wants. from terrace
Dinner a is filing enough. sky
and sort, up out. Its badly
counting Jews to Technically, history smudged.
stars. left, something, the has Those
Censorship Armenians but day been who
is right. the has smuggled can,
courtship, The officials been into go
of palace keep punished the home.
|And on the street,
ideal readers are
just now giving
birth to the future
|while chained to pre-owned
words, structured sentences,
oversexed genres. The semi-
continuous buying, yelling,
|driving by & shooting
are constructive devices
pledging allegiance to
these markers of convenience
|and indifference, erect
moisture, power made
visible, tucked in, polished,
|but swallowed all the same.
One falls into memory
any second, pronoun utopia
frozen into not-quite-foreign
|wars. The ozone-poor, syringe-
tormented, fleshtoned world's
body produces unburied life
and composts it in New Jersey
|near Madagascar, while I
myself and you yourself,
we waterslide in post-conscious
media, a choice of channels
|and erogenous zones, the
suits of economic armor
walking through the shows
and we can vote for them
| as our shame slides
to fear and meets
turned inside out
|on the freeways. It's
not nation time, it's
time to learn languages,
at least one, to start, empezar.
|naturalmente los arboles
nos riden y se disaparecen
y nonnaturalmente debemos
estudier ses hojas blancas
THE WOMB OF AVANT-GARDE REASON
A P O E M I S
I M M O R
T A L
T n o t o n l y B E
R b e c a u s e i t c o n t i n u e s A
U t o b e r e a d b y g e n e U
T r a t i o n a f t e r g e n e r a t T
H i o n b u t b e c a u s e e a c h s Y
e n s i t i v e r e a d e r, h a v i n g e
x p e r i e n c e d t h e p o e m, a b s o
r b s t h e e x p e r i e n c e a n d c o n
t i n u e s t o f e e l i t. B U T N O T
E V E R Y O N E F I N D S I T
E A S Y t o b u y a l l t h e b o o
k s h e w a n t s a n d c e r t a i n
l y n o o n e c a n c a r r y h i s
e n t i r e l i b r a r y i n h i s
p o c k e t. I t i s f o r
t h e s e r e a s o n s
t h a t I h a v e
c o m p i l e d
t h e P o c k
e t E d i t
i o n o f
I m m o
r t a l
P o e m s
o f t h e
E n g l i s h
L a n g u a g e.
-- Oscar Williams
through a fly's
mind when it hits
pretty a process as
time has legs
and hands and learns
to use them to set poetics
in the grammar of annoyances,
un-untangleable liens of meant what I didn't want to say
and where from here?
By then it's
desks. Who heard?
You (singular) guard
He, she, it reads speculatively
(Quick! for the factories and portfolios are full of children)
You (plural) guard
They throw tomatoes, bricks, keys, panties
Father's car was in the garage
with a full tank and the keys
above the visor.
The wind has no clock,
but many frequencies,
each a local call, in material combat with the shrines,
which fight back allegorically, absentmindedly,
and the winds blow the leaves of prophecy
in benediction, contradiction, lifting and sealing
the curtains of memory
rustling their signs and signatories
to reveal the body of the future
wearing only light
The words will no longer be utopic settees
in niched rooms,
no more giving comfort
to the enemy within
who sees legibility as a monument lit at night
no more bowing beneath the flourishing arm
of the scene painter perspectivally responsible
no more living inside those burning Oedipal circles
with their loops of ashy flame hypnotically extinguished
and reignited, annealing positions
in the aerobic bureaucracy
of personal growth,
These same flames
have been burning for 200 years
in the dark paternal mills
backlit by the lemony dawn of romantic factories
that increased concentration of surplus emotion in individual psyches
and set personal cupids above every mirror,
replacing an economy of need (masculinized subsistence)
by an economy of desire (feminized superfluity).
Once we have met our needs,
we are free to develop desires,
and desire is infinite.
It branches in phrases,
with no light save what is
with the breezes
blown through capital
to green subjective spaces
trickling down into the inward sense
and outward tastes,
whence, sitting astride every perceived social fence,
I see or saw,
teetering amid time's
a natural history of the sublime,
stretching away through the shining wastes
of disembodied economic crime.
If you notice my toga I'll take it off
so that you will notice nothing but my body
and its chosen prosthesis,
its hand, its ear, its mouth, its solar anus,
its Lawrentian phallic godhead, its Kahlo-esque song of its other,
its computer, its macro, its chosen form,
in a word,
And once it's off I'll leave it on the floor shimmering and quivering
and asking to be sensually mourned
and in the performance of said mourning
I will do an unnamed dance to the supersession
of memory to music I will not have to remember
and which, one light day, you may hear.
And pain once buried the path
will articulate itself
along my naked body
and your desire will pull you
toward me and toward the meaning
of all your prior sentences.
And the future will lie down
with the past.
Under the naked aegis
of this spectacular identification
I will swell and connect in unmeasured strains, leaping
with bound feet, found objects
and verbally mandated politics -- that's a joke
and you're a great audience -- or the next one
will be; and the one after that even better --
deeply in bed with the loftiest leftiest clouds, je ne sais pas,
mujer de mi hijo, hija de mi hija, leaves, hojas,
the never to be seen future
that I keep telling you
sons and daughters
to study for.
If you notice my toga
I'll take it off
as my prosthesis strums
some object in measured strains
and I'll leave it on the floor
shimmering and quivering to be sensually mourned
and I will do a dance from memory
to music I also am remembering.
Thus the future will shine out
from my naked body
and your desire will pull you
toward me toward the meaning
of your prior sentences.
Tomorrow we empty out
the Grecian Urn:
cardboard, cigarette ends, other testimony
of summer nights, sonnets, confessions,
great honking depictions of the quotidian apocalypse.
We will use Ivory Liquid on it and a gentle
plastic scrubbie because we are, or are to be,
well-meaning and -meant subjects of history.
Numerous intimacies I will only
allude to here have confirmed
bluffing the days off the table,
doubling any bet
any one sentence can make.
My toga on the floor,
I do a dance
Thursday we'll do Stein & Joyce. Lautréamont & Proust Tuesday.
If any children will be watching
named for the war I couldn't stop
they can be picked up and pointed
specifically at the spectacle
better than a channel changer or meditation or revolution,
excited, held up higher than heads,
higher than the exalted light of lessons,
specially chosen, but, as always seems to happen,
the rhetoric doesn't match the reproduction of cultural values,
something's not quite right, the room is too big,
the echoes too hard to identify with,
anxiety, prayers or sexy dressing take the place
of being able to say the words
in the correct sequences
with the correct tonal values,
you ask Watt
What is Projective Verse
and he answers
Edgar Allen Poe
and Edgar Guest.
about to die, well, one of these decades anyway,
objectified his desire
by yanking his career down about his knees.
Standing in front of the mirror
he mocked every retina
and sang these words
to the muse of Art History:
that is not yet
art and may never be,
so cunning is the indifference
of our enemies, blurb on!
With our neologisms & ye-olde-isms -- pray,
theologians and collegians, pray! --
fluttering about our caprisoned heads,
our gender a thing
of the future and our will
driven to market and driving all value
to the necessity of bartering
with geographically uncertain
to thy meanings
we go, we will go, we have gone.
into the camera oscura,
spread the legs of patriarchal poetry
and begot reason and reason
begot sensibility and sensibility
begot eroticism and eroticism
begot poetics and poetics
It was just before
My privates had been on display
throughout the prior decade:
marching merchandising and simply putting up
with being screwed by beings
you could see but couldn't be.
They're on tv,
they're on the tips of our tongues
and the salt of wit begins to taste nasty,
a sort of of toxic backdrop of reasons not to take out the garbage
because A, it's not our turn, B, there's no place to put it
and C, it's all garbage out there anyway,
oceans airwaves soundtracks landfill anthologies;
and B, again, I am, and you are, simply grammatically,
RSVP or nay, Armageddon or Sarajevo,
and that's all there's time for,
so plague me no plagues, sky us no skies,
and keep your eyes
on the moving stream of words.
One two three on up to five hundred thousand
I told a story they gave me troops
I hardly had to ask
not many wanted to be among them
but they went out and did
what they thought they couldn't have been told to do.
And I thank and spank them and dance
inwardly between their chosen words:
a still small voice
in the hard-pressed leisure centers
spreading shame and glory throughout the body,
a singing telegram announcing a self-owned slavery
that needs to train permanently and a reason
to tame the voices, and press the word shavings into a mold:
let the head wear its hair thoughtfully
and stylize its openings.
The dance -- my only memory --
was named for a round of peace talks
that never got to the ground.
They simply hovered with a helicopter's
edginess in plain sight
until the mountain that was
formed by castoff lifeforms was deserted,
though its outlines suggested paradise.
I described one particular city
so thoroughly I literally wiped it
off the map so I don't remember where it was
or what I wanted because I don't look anything
like I did
or if I do
I don't remember.
Reproduction or critique.
Reproduction of critique.
I was really local that night.
I gave Mina's underwear to Frank to smell;
later when he started wearing them
I began to read him seriously.
Perhaps you get the impression that I prophecy at random,
weaving the falls of memory into a kind of
permeable dream slush fund payable to no known account
and sayable in no known accent, perhaps
my genderectomies disrupt your pleasure differentials,
my pessaries and sacramental stogies fallen under the couch
and wrapped in the merest shimmer of cat hair make you fear
that the ultimate destination of identity will be necklaced
with extreme irony, the most rigorously personal
fateful aleatory taste die with your days,
temporally mourned, as impossible to reorganize
as to piece back your liver, your first view
of an expressway, vehicles produced by desires, producing desires,
themselves the leftovers of desires,
when you thought you would be left over, too.
They will die
We have lived
SYMMETRY OF PAST AND FUTURE
The absence of theory has seized the masses, Adorno
OBEDIENT PLIES OF WRITING SO FLEXIBLY THIN THEY'LL SAY ANYTHING EXCEPT AFTERWARDS.
HISTORY GLIMMERS OUT OF A PAST ONE PART REPRIEVE AND TWENTY PARTS EXECUTED DESIRE.
IT HIDES IN THE SHAPES.
WHAT'S MISSING CENTERS AROUND YOU,
LAUNDERED ENCLAVE OF SENSATION,
LIBIDINOUS CORPORATION OF BODY PARTS,
CRASH-TESTED BY THE LATEST INVOLUNTARY MEMORIES,
REFLEXES MUDDLING THROUGH,
RETINAS CURVED AROUND THE VANISHING POINT.
A SKY FALLEN ONTO THE MORNING PAPER,
UNFOLDED TO GIVE TERROR A HUMAN FACE
AND SHOW IT IN A POEM.
POEM! THE VERY WORD
IS A SHTETL PHOTOGRAPHED,
ITS ACCENTS REMOVED NOW FROM ALL CHANGE.
THE WIND STILL BLOWS FROM THE FUTURE
BUT THE ERA OF THE SINGLEHANDED SENTENCE IS NEARING ITS CLOSE.
HOW MANY DIVISIONS ARE YOU STANDING IN FRONT OF?
Where language is, there
I was once, infant,
everywhere, held in the
devices of an enchanter
who smiled, hand over
heart, pledging perception's daintiest
favors, far back and
fast forward. The jailers
are in eternity, too,
with their pieces of
cake that have nourished
our formulas for pleasure
for so long now,
the past humps up
until it can only be
guessed at, tangled in
the bedclothes. Dark morning,
the whippers burning in
the sconces, eager for
a full day's work.
no salt water
But we live in a land where the laugh track floods,
the candidates rise above class,
ties loose, chests there to be beaten,
where the wind blows free for the first month,
after that some charges apply.
The absence of theory pulses in my neck,
at least I've thought so,
sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling off my socks.
Break the life-mask of empiricism and, underneath, prophecies
become visible: the death of the past, swaddled in
old jargons of self-expression, those other bodies.
The next layer down we find a typewriter,
at least in my case,
the platen nubbled in a grid where the breath habitually roosted.
So you work away, dusting and smashing alteratively,
a kind of rhythmic settling of ever older scores
like an eye sinking into its socket.
Which reminds me. There was this
South Seas island, and in the
alley, after the shows, they'd gather,
to wait for the stars. So
this one person is there, staring
at the bricks, not really seeing
them, the invisibility of the obvious,
et cetera, etc. In some versions,
they're classes. Class: I met some
of my best friends in class.
And so the one brick says
to the other brick, "You ever
see a shrink? And the second
brick says, If I saw a
shrink the whole wall would be
in big trouble. And the first
brick says, I hate to be
the one to break the news,
but you're not that important. And
brick number two says, Touché, and
big deal, too. Touché away all
day, and I'd hardly feel it.
But how about you? Did you
ever see a shrink? And the
first brick says, Yes, it so
happens that I did, one time.
I go in there and the
shrink says, You need to find
the inner you, that'll be one
hundred dollars, and I say, You're
kidding, the inner me is in
no way different from the outer
me, if you don't know that
from the get-go then what am
I doing here? Touché, says the
shrink, you're right, it's been a
long day, and you're not my
last brick. And then I say,
Now if you're going to be
asking for my sympathy then you
should be paying me, how about
we make it ninety bucks, because
I'm not one to copy your
material. Ha ha, says the shrink,
but that one I've heard before.
No, what I meant to say
is you've got to find the
real you. Forget inner. Real hooks
up with the material conditions among
which consciousness undergoes its traumas and
desires, and it can lose its
shape, easily. Well, I say, I've
heard that one before, and it
was in a better version, too.
I mean, "material conditions among which
consciousness" -- who do you think is
still listening at that point? You're supposed
to be helping people, not getting
it, whatever "it" is, right, whatever
"right" is, so the teacher won't
take out his red pen and
get your paper all bloody.
Anyway, the way the better version
goes is when you say, That'll
be one hundred dollars, then I
say, When I find the real
me I'll get him to pay
you, and then you're supposed to
say, It's not that simple, -- Wait,
how does it go from here?
Ah but that's why you're here,
interrupts the shrink, to get access
to those repressed memories. Then maybe
you can find the real you.
Shut up, I explain, so I
can remember how it goes. You
say, It's not that simple . . . Wait.
Oh yes. Then I say in
answer to that, You're right, who
knows who is who, I don't
know who I am, and you
don't know who I am, I
could be anybody, I could be
you, maybe I owe myself one
hundred dollars, who knows? and maybe
you're me and you owe me
one hundred dollars, who can say,
but I'll tell you what we
can do, let's just split the
difference, you give me fifty and
we can call the whole thing off.
Which except for the usual allowances
is pretty much exactly the way
I heard it," says the brick.
And speaking of identity. Once there
was a Jew, a Serb and
a Samoan, in a lightbulb, when
it starts raining, first only a
few drops. But it turns out
that one stands for ten, ten
means a hundred, and then the
uncountable masses of others who maybe
kick your skull around if you
get too close. In some versions
it's a soccer ball. A whistle
blows. You touch my mirror and
boom: Seven centuries of annoyed family
epics, nothing but episodic payback with
crescendoing spirals of blood blocking exactly
the same arteries and messing exactly
the same stony thoroughfares. This thinking
with things as they exist, what
good does it do anyone not
yet born? Back in my century,
back in the matter with me,
I flew, like other poets, we
signed our letters and sold them,
kept them, lost them, gave our
love to particular people, meant by
this something like I'm touching the
keys and this once they are
not as cold as some medieval
suet, blessed and eaten, damned and
waiting for the future where the
dead are already buried en masse
by judgments already made, beneath lobs
of fundamental meaning smashing bridges with
aimless accuracy, probing the most removed
non-readers for the smell of their
heirs. Give my love to their
particular cases in particular places, which
I can't see from here and
so I also have to lob
the whole mass forward with undifferentiated
obsessesiveness, into what looks illegible. Until one
day, a day that will
never die, since it only exists
in the past and the future,
with my body blocking the otherwise
THE MASQUE OF RHYME
Adding my pee to the sea
of rhyme, it's time I admit sameness
is a bit of a hoax.
Yes, my body lies over social oceans
like yours and slightly like Rover's,
except he barks to speak and we
speak to bargain and intermingle. All's
translation in love and war. Do you
hear the joke about the marriage of
true mind to impediment after impediment?
That's what we call "language," at
least around here. What rhymes with "rhythm"?
"Mythic"? You have to squint to
hear it. Squint and scatter letters to
the five senses, shake off circumstance, and
find yourself in words: squatting amid
ashes while the wicked affluent legislators
dress for the ball. Your feet ache
and stink. The thought-track wakes and thinks:
novelty again, the same old novelty.
It's almost worse than royalty. My biographic
foot in the glass shoe -- fate
or déjà vu? The rhythm of
days produces chill, stupor, and after considerable
training, a bunch of personal pronouns.
It's Thursday, history's late as usual. Meanwhile,
some sort of sexual traffic jam
has been goading us all into public
revelation. Offstage, Fact slapped Value on the
butt, and said, Break a leg,
make a killing, show those suckers
where to suck. And Value answered, Don't
be vulgar, Fact, unless you're speaking personally.
As for me, where the bee
sucks, there suck I, a mean-er,
a be-er, an arriviste tooling down that
divided highway heading where none, they say,
ever returns. And when I don't
come back, say I told you
everything about yourself except the future, lie
alone in our bed of roses
whence, they say, poems arise, to amuse
the students when we've gone to prose.
I'd say more but you hear
those stuck horns blaring: that's been
my cue ever since I can remember.
Other books by Bob Perelman
The First World
To the Reader
The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing
and Literary History
The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce,
Stein, and Zukofsky
Hills 6/7 Talks, Editor
The Masque of Rhyme
a.k.a, parts 1 and 2
Copyright © 1998 Bob Perelman
Library of Congress Card Catolog No. 98-067901
Design & typography by Geoffrey Young & Chad Odefey
Cover photograph, "Forest Hills, London, 1998" by Francie Shaw
Backcover photo by Francie Shaw, 1998
Versions of some of these poems have appeared in The Alterran Poetry Assemblage, The Colorado Review, Diacritics, Electronic Poetry Review, Fragmente, The Gertrude Stein Awards in Innovative American Poetry, The Harvard Review, The Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, lingo, Onward: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Raddle Moon, Textual Practice and This. Chaim Soutine was published as a chapbook by Editions Hérisson; The Masque of Rhyme was published by Chax Press; Fake Dreams by Potes & Poets.
Roof Books are distributed by Small Press Distribution,
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This book was made possible, in part, by a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.
ROOFBOOKS are published by Segue Foundation,
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