"The poem holds its ground on its own margin . . . The poem is lonely.
It is lonely and en route. Its author stays with it."
Paul Celan, Meridian speech.
17 May 1986.
Or whenever "now" is.
Enough to look at here
For the rest of a lifetime.
Even the simplest things,
a shoe, a prosthetic
reminding you of
Slowly the particulars
get scattered to the wind
and one is left
with what is under the surface
trying to come to light
what has not yet
been found nor
"For histrionic or fanatical stress on the mysterious side of the mysterious takes us no further; we penetrate the mystery only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optic that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday."
Things are very bright tonight—
the city reflects against the clouds.
Shiny talismanic buildings
push objects back into their
specificity, yet the misty
low weather ceiling makes
what we see paradoxically
Though I had saved the headlines.
Emotions wash up and across
us. But mainly impotence.
Instant knowledge, all news all the time,
that's one slogan,
and immobility. Were there other times like this—
over and beyond the bearable?
The question is callow. But heartfelt.
It surely seems a bloody time—where
someone is murdered down South 23rd St.,
a rough place, disgrace of,
drugs, deals, rage, and guns,
(today being the Night of the day
war started again),
the shame of War, the one begun as a "slam dunk,"
cabal of manipulation and
And with no more Time, the vagueness
from which the now vague dead imaginarily
from the outside.
From the other side.
We no longer encounter them
in good conscience.
As for monuments—
What is the point of pure revulsion? I am beginning
to be very simple, to have very simple thoughts, no
complicated language, therefore; nothing
It's a question of "among" or some
shatter of the reflection
"to see them"
and "to know ourselves."
The distortion and elongation,
Which is one way or another
we seem to be assassins.
To refuse this "we"—
in one sense easy, and already done,
in another sense
seems almost impossible,
us held hostage to ourselves.
bind us to the damage,
And I was
You and I had crossed that bridge,
the Brooklyn Bridge,
I said "I want that danger."
Now I am frightened.
Walking through those streets or these. Watching
the marks: trying to penetrate the enormous
sadness. The armoring. The cost. The woe.
Registers of the squandered.
Weakness. Scale. The scale of it all,
and its claims of totality.
under the keystone of that story.
Then there is the sudden burst of joy
that it is. That it is. Not as such, not as this
(and it is hard to see without shame),
remains fluid, dazzling, in play.
The poem alternates among
these states. Is annunciation of them,
these desires indignant for a name.
darkened, stippled, riven
with confusion and contradiction.
The dark being both obscurity and incipience,
it's light that becomes
The problem is to articulate
any promise of the civic,
without this glint of the apocalyptic.
Bewildering what happened.
The profligate rip of earth, of persons,
of the sharers—plants & mites & languages—
down to the very bit of fleck along the crack.
Is it "your dead" or "you're dead"?
One in the news, or not,
one in some myth, or not—
who no longer finds
credible the humane part
of human nature.
Yet knows in the gut
that something large was thereby lost:
and wants to find it, choose it again,
affirm it as possible.
Open the door
says a weeper
to a stone room,
do not take the path
of the indifferent.
It is astonishing
how much time has passed—
almost forty years, a round figure—
though as time goes, not particularly long.
Just the working day of a lifetime.
To accept that things did happen
the way they did
seems to accept too much.
Perhaps I haven't grasped the necessity
of an amor fati argument.
Though what choice is there?
Some fascists will be buried with their Legion of Honor medals.
Some coups and juntas masquerade with "free and fair" elections.
Perhaps this amor fati produces what here is called joy.
But still it is riven
And in this space a birth of enigma
to which one owes one's own enigma.
It is just what implacably happened,
and closer up, grief after grief,
error after error, profit after profit, scarification
and burning. Sharpened on the altar,
the knife, its whetted majesty, is readied
for another human sacrifice.
What art to make anyway?
what art for this recurrence?
"The intensity of seeing"
would be an improvement
(citing out of context),
as if the sheer clarity of pointing
the dialectical oscillate of meditation
could ever illuminate this time and place.
Yet flawless analysis and a temperate
framing of the stakes
cannot assuage an other part, one flailing
with this particular mood and air—
with the cold rags of carnage.
The watchers are struggling.
They're over their heads, have only subjunctive
qualifications, get stunned
in whirlpools of historical sentence,
battered by broken beams and rogue barrels,
as if after a shipwreck.
They are struggling.
And sorry pieces of matter
explore this site.
A sense of desperate outrage
anneals the onlookers
onto the very page
on which these words are put
as fetish substitute for the directness
"Shortly after the Tuesday bombing, young boys
with black plastic bags moved among the wreckage,
collecting pieces of flesh
scattered around the site of the blast . . ."
Then closed in the shadows. The world
when children have to pick
And it's just boys, teasing, or scheming, or
pretending nonchalance, or competitive.
Perhaps sometimes laughing.
For it must be impossible to
weep or rage the whole time through the terrible.
Here are your trash bags. Go forth and fill them.
But is it impossible not to become inhuman?
So—what is the normal?
Speaking to several people at once. Teasing to
some, earnest, flirting, honest, self-conscious.
Speaking as several people at once,
pastoral, neo-classic, professional, sleepless—
Well, it's a warm spot here or there.
One street coming round the little square,
the spaces of home perched
variously, with amiable
In the city. Waverly, right at the corner of 24th.
These pinholes, these spots of light,
as if keys,
open actual houses.
Or the moon, whose warm gold is
actually a street light on the corner
but looking as if it had just risen,
low in the sky, and living
right down the end of our block.
Any consolation that the only typo was in "the father"?
That must have been "the feather"
fallen to the ground
saturnine and angry
from the calling, cawing bird.
And finally I remembered the little villages,
and my long-ago images of great desire,
multicolored buildings overlooking water,
many entrances, many windows,
but couldn't remember how to get there
and was crying
right in the dream,
weeping and crying
in that dream.
A postwar lasts far longer than they think.
You, for one, will not be surprised.
Torn hope's interconnected-
ness and fallout has become a large and
Being occupied, we try only
to be preoccupied.
Stuff stuff stuff stuff
This is a pretty pickle.
Perhaps the game will
go to extra innings.
It was a Pitcher's duel, turns out.
The enormous fastballs
hit people in the stands.
"Wild pitch, wild pitch,"
They say. "Accident." No penalty.
Too bad. Too bad again.
A diplomatic letter will be sent.
Truce will be declared when
Enough territory has been taken.
Which hardly compensates
for the impact of,
for the depredations of
eating away like acid at the walls of possibility.
There is some distance from this to be negotiated.
But only if you're fairly lucky.
She had asked for photocopies
of essays by Edith Sitwell and a few books on H.D.—
and they reached their destination—in Iraq!
I could afford the postage
I could afford the books
And wrote carefully collegial letters into distances
I could hardly conceive of, though
the university, understudied/female writers,
a doctoral candidate, her thesis topic, then her degree
were familiar territory enough—
all lodged or wedged in another world
thereupon become toxic, dangerous.
And so the correspondence stopped.
Is she still alive?
She was very earnest—her letters, pious.
How speak about any of this.
Her opinions about the newest-coming war
were, on paper, not at all like mine.
To the degree, that is, that it had been possible
to speak openly.
I want polyphony
I want excess
I want no art object
No product, no saleables, no
administrative specs, no oversight
I want the wayward and unpredictable
caused by anything
equally stressed, stubborn or obtuse,
companionably destabilized or destabilizing.
I want to make the gesture comes through me
I want to be touched
I want fullness
I want rapture
the erotics of writing
the pleasures of the daze
the over-reach of structure
and the desire for exactness
all sweet together
exfoliating, rolling, roiling through
I won't quote a word,
but that notable double-crossing chess game
reveals trouble in the desert,
trouble in the lineage, trouble in the choices,
trouble in the allegory.
What more to say about the Father of everything
from the inevitable, suspicious, atheist
watching the claim made around the one—
the beautiful, longed-for, pensive son.
They are all male singletons:
one A, one I and one One
(undercounting various brothers
who do not matter in the tally;
nor enumerating most sisters,
though they certainly existed).
Single, except for the One who sent an
who rammed the ram into the thicket,
who filled the curly ewe,
who took her mewling newborn sheep.
Thereupon the regime of human sacrifice
was declared theologically finished.
But not politically and ideologically finished.
Who registers deep lakes of darkness;
Who receives the streak of light upon water?
Who is aroused by the saturated ripples at dusk?
As if all processes could be palpable:
As if this were the beginning
As if nothing had been written
As if there were no tradition
As if there were no traction.
We know this is impossible
But if this were the beginning
What would one want of words?
Stet astonishing events fast come ordinary
Stet particular Presidents
Stet plume of smoke
Stet people burn
With an increase of allusions and referents.
Or another answer.
People are transformed by the blood on their hands.
Underneath the skin
Self-justifying minor monsters
Backed by the monsters to whom
Monuments are built.
What one-dimensional sense of Strategy
What Willingness to squander the fodder
What worship of callous outcomes?
What avid and implacable Calculation
What single Illumination
What mono-Ocular blind-sided Vision?
If we destabilized, if
we assassinated, if we bought off,
if we lied about matters of record,
if we set up, undermined, corrupted,
provoked, if we tampered with
ballots, if we used victuals
to twist the convictions of
What then? Then what?
what will prevent this happening
Chickens come Home.
And Us Chickens.
Two old sayings.
High crimes and low cunning,
One must refuse. Easy, so far.
Yet a clutch of events
hatches in the world at large
leaving a rash, a stain, an infection, a pandemic.
The haze of power, lures of cheap stuff
freeze the heart and desiccate ethics.
So here is failure. Here is shame.
And the nice life? The poetic vista?
Coziness and connection?
There is no elsewhere.
Even the poem is not elsewhere.
If one began: it.
It was. It happened. Once upon.
Here. Where nothing
Particular is "happening."
Either here or "nearby."
Each stone turns inside out
To manifest atomic openness
As it shows its coordinates,
Thus. To be so. In is.
That stone has more empathy than power.
It does not seek geopolitical advantage
But is simply here, in this, with us.
Some topographies and folds
Cannot be fathomed by the ascription
Of only three dimensions.
This is intended as consolation.
If I were to say all this, all at the same time
The way it's felt,
The page would go black from overprinting,
An unreadable un-negotiable plenitude.
A self-canceling copia.
And at the same time with webby, resonant strings,
The sound would be everything touched, and pulsing
Snow blowing from the north plasters the route signs.
What road to take, given
indiscernible numbers and destinations, forks
into little places on "the" way.
And later, still driving blind
before I dropped.
There is at once too much
and too little
for getting the force of it, the rebuff
cup of die, cup of day, freeze and thaw.
Such glitter of ice; how did I get here?
This road is so dangerous.
The covenants that are
To fabricate them as
Humane and secular
And thereby to address
Wrongs of the world, ruthlessness,
Despoiling and injustices:
Is the agenda in front of us.
Walking up and down in it
walking to and fro in it
the ordinary and normal
is the tragic and joyous
is the compromised and the small;
cramped and compassionate
We live in cosmic coincidence
"at the climactic moment
the extraordinary place in the second movement
at the very peak of a monumental
orchestral crescendo, the double basses
are suddenly left alone,
with only a trembling, pulsating quiver beneath them"—
Feeling that pulsation as if in vigil,
Echoing "the cry of human entanglement,"
We want to contribute to the discussion.
We saw the sullying and the malfeasance.
We tried to speak simply
The name of common sense
But were dismissed
As inadequate, discountable, marginal.
Treated, perhaps, as dead.
Now that the moment continues
Can there be new generation?
Is there a beginning? It is an up-swelling
So far not totally plausible. But palpable.
This is tentative; this is qualified.
But the level of crisis is more than we know.
And the alternative?
It's hard for me to talk about poetry. Of its particularity. My sense, against consumable reason, that it matters. So much is at stake. So many abandoned worksites. The yes and the no simultaneous. The struggle to repair, even simply to state what is, how it is, and why it is so overwhelming, with permanent and never answered questions.
When I meet the professionals whose job is to evaluate development, aid, impact on health, functioning infrastructures, and literacy education, who will study the uneven global distribution of illness, who want delivery of services, social accountability, changes of policy, who insist upon small articulations of new outcomes that modulate from the despoiling outcomes, who want to identify where an alteration is possible, who want to assess, by firm input-output criteria, the work that is done . . .
I fall back on admiration and questions. How to make the confrontation spoken by poetry offer the force of an intervention—so that one feels the whole
differently. Beyond one, but inside one.
How to talk about the level of art as grounding and arousing. As compassion, empathy, resistance. As respect for the unknown, even the unknowable. As entrance into the intricacy of languages and structures, into the mesh of musical grammars. How move beyond the "technology of solutions" by making analysis itself a verbal saturate. How to produce resonance.
So I began writing into the poems
I put words deep into the poems
As into a tunnel
to speak point black.
The antics of the waning moon at dawn
touching its juicy crescent to the hill
a sudden flare, a sign, a light
upon the nations—
changes. Volta! volta!
One sees the earth turning,
one sees time enacted, pivoting.
So she stole her father's teraphim.
What, in the name of monotheism,
was that about?
Those rare black stones.
Sacred knick-knacks, idols,
symbolic lion grabbed at that got chipped,
cover them with the ass of female claim,
settle in for the duration, and refuse
("being in the way of women")
Say you are neither disloyal nor pilferer.
And sit tight on the icons and rocks of meaning
gathered from the paternal household,
the talismanic counterfoils, even
the fewest and smallest
from the fierce storehouses of articulation
You will remake these goods in your own blood.
"I didn't take enough."
"So go get more."
Tokens from the broken labyrinth.
The distant water
spins the tiny-moon inside whose
shadow was thinly outlined, whose light flickered
like a fizzling bulb, like a spray-of-mist,
like a simile, like an eclipse.
The moon to come
lies dark inside its narrow needle tide.
Textures of incipience and mystery.
Vibration and call.
The light strikes; we read the shine.
Struck like a clear bell,
Again and Again.
Struck words with
Their patchy shapes in the light
Of time, in reflections
Upon day, in the specific
Wake occurring here tonight,
Dark in the garden, debating stars.
There is a space beyond; it has been
called "utopian space" and
we scrabble toward it, struggling
with a twisted goal that presents itself
oddly, like a knot in which
Is it inside or outside?
Are we both in and out from it?
Are we both made of it and helping to tighten it,
So clotted, so intransigent, so graceless?
Yes. Were I to cry out
full as a symphony, but in a littler space,
this intensity of conviction, this witnessing,
would emphatically signal
What is important and what is not
in a real place filled with signs?
Night-shadowy floaters, the cloaked allure
of an insomniac mother
checking quiet beds
in dreamy rooms of night,
care and cura
quick foot snuffling thru the house
like a mouse, thru the room
like a worm,
this called vers
long music, symphonic,
the erotics of connection
the longing of zone.
And later, Day-low-violet color, checked out curiously,
for periwinkle or hepatica is the tiniest question—
not socially useful, nor of general interest
simply the name of one small thing
hands on something coming
lips on something other
the yearning to enter
to be entered
and to leap with
That dazzling blue teardrop
with its swirl of clouds known from here
yet imagined as if seen from above is
imprinted inside us, like a mystery.
We—inundated with a flood of light.
We—"glad to the brink of fear."
To mothers who cannot
protect their young?
They probably know
expressed as resignation
but surfacing in little sleights of hand,
candy, or sugar sprinkled
on packaged bright-white bread
spread thin with marge.
To girls asked to filter the universe
by the poets who evoke their beneficence?
What will protect them
from the enormities
that they might suffer in their skirts and veils
while staged on the buffer zone they
are imagined to constitute?
To the little dolly dressed, undressed
in her tiny clothes. Always the word tiny
calls something forth, calls
the all that's never known
into a small detail,
a much-loved ribbon shirred to fraying;
blue and white yarn, the doll frill
kept in that tin trunk made for tea
then taken as a treasure;
the chip, o broken thing! a person able to wiggle
her ears and wink her eyes—surprise! oink!
a little air wherever we are, a
tiny, sweetish song.
The terrible political moment, after the demo,
Though next to nothing was yet accomplished,
When "everyone went home, and no one came back."
Rain cloud caught in the valley
rain falling fast from all directions,
pulses of light intermittent and vibrant.
Despite everything, the instruction
to pull green from yourself.
"A little breath, a bird
she sits on the edge of the bathtub,
where she breathes in and out"
with "another morning
looks out of the morning"
both may be thought of as defining
in tender scale and proportion.
It was what could then be written.
One nano-second later and
a snarl of light that crashed to the floor binds one
to the terrors of historical time.
That's what awe is, that's what fear.
Demanding an intransigent response
To the knife and to its addictive power.
The necessity here still,
Of the world's puff and elegance,
Of the world's implacable substance,
Solidity billowing . . .
But trying to act
on this murky path,
overcast wet air, headlines thrown
keeps on demanding other knowledge:
for negotiating heavier elements:
The sofa holds a wrinkled nude
Shivering in her blue mood,
Wrapped in a blanket.
A hospice houses someone crying.
Her skin so thin with dying,
It's swaddle-wrapped so it won't split.
Once again a sense of occurrence,
one distressed moth,
violent, heaving across
this little life and heart
one street one sign one sight one
opening straight out into
Can only write hungry
and luminous as phthalo blue
such astringency and tension.
Color as deep as the dream
as writing into such time
the work of this time
of making it bear
the nervy weight
of almost unmaking itself.
Lack of a door labeled "door."
And then the lack was a door.
being archive of feelings to come—
And of what else we don't know.
It is really "quite curious . . ."
Notes to "Draft 85: Hard Copy." This poem, as will be evident, is mapped loosely on, thinks about, and responds to George Oppen's 1968 work "Of Being Numerous." This includes citations both marked as quotations (as in sections 4, 9, and 40) and unmarked (as in sections 10 and 18), allusions, and variations around keywords in Oppen's sections. There is also a use of material from my donor drafts, "Draft 9: Page," "Draft 28: Facing Pages," "Draft 47: Printed Matter," and "Draft 66: Scroll." This poem was written in largest measure during a residency at Bellagio, with many thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation.
The epigraph from Paul Celan, "The Meridian"; Speech on the occasion of receiving the Georg Büchner Prize, Darmstadt, October 22, 1960, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop. In Paul Celan, Selections, ed. Pierre Joris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
The stanza "with what is under the surface trying to come to light" is cited and modified from a brochure for the A.I.R. Gallery written by Lucy Lippard, 1976. The citation at the end of section 1 is Walter Benjamin, "Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia" (1929), translated by Rodney Livingstone. In Selected Writings, Volume 2, 1927–34, ed. Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999, 216 (inclusive pages 206-224). The word "apocalyptic" in this section draws on Robin Blaser's argument that the scale of the lyric is precisely anti-apocalyptic, in The Fire: Collected Essays of Robin Blaser, ed. Miriam Nichols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006, 93, 97. In section 8, the Legion of Honor medal alludes to Maurice Papon. Convicted of crimes against humanity in 1998 for his part in the transport of Jews from France to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps, he was no longer allowed to wear the medal, awarded to him by Charles de Gaulle for service to the country during the Algerian War—a service also marked by political thuggery and murder. When he died in February 2007, his lawyer Francis Vuillemin said, "I will personally ensure that he will be accompanied in his grave by the order of the Commander of the Legion of Honor, which he received from the hands of Charles de Gaulle, for eternity." International Herald Tribune, Monday, February 19, 2007, on the front page and p. 3. In section 10, "Children picking up pieces of the dead . . ." is from the International Herald Tribune, Wednesday, February 14, 2007, p. 5, under the headline "Iraq to Seal Borders for Baghdad Security," from AP news and IHT. In section 15, "felt-and-fat-and-dirt-and-muslin-maze" comes from a sympathetic comment by John R. Keene in his blog J's Theater, describing my work in Drafts: http://jstheater.blogspot.com/2005_05_01_archive.html from Tuesday, May 24, 2005. In section 21, there is a glancing allusion to Wislawa Szymborska's poem "May be left untitled," from People on a Bridge, trans. Adam Czerniawski. London: Forest Books, 1996, 56-57. In section 25, the description of the isolated double basses, from James Freeman, program notes (slightly modified), for Arthur Honegger's Symphony No. 2 for String Orchestra and Trumpet (1941); program from concert, Orchestra 2001, January 29, 1995. The citation in section 26 is from Meredith Quartermain's response to an earlier version of this poem. Section 33 is first based on an insight by Juliana Spahr in thisconnectionofeveryonewithlungs: Poems, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, and finishes with the end of a citation from R.W. Emerson: "Crossing a bare common in snow puddles at twilight, under a clouded sky . . . glad to the brink of fear" from "Nature." In section 34, thanks to Drury Sherrod. One poet alluded to is Rilke, in Duino Elegies. The citation in section 35 is from Ann Snitow, in conversation. The material cited in section 37 comes from my first book, Wells (1980).