CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
For Robin Blaser (1925–2009)
The loneliness was verbal, started in the
act of seeing the world before us, finding out what we needed to know.
There is singularity
and there is the enclosed shell of the singular.
A long way from home the shelled pieces
shell-shocked you could say. How can anyone
recall the first experience of
death’s half open doors left
to receive us …
I wandered over to you in the blink
of an eye said there’s something courage
can’t deny ‘the maul the oar and handsaw’
arranged where you left them
a fortnight ago.
‘It is astonishing
how much time has passed—’
How is it we come back here
again and again ageless
aging in place of what once formed
Yet the capacity to wander, worldless, without home
except in the language we speak, so that it forms a kind of shell
a loose cavity in which we find ourselves
again and again enduring the weightedness of words, their stained
improvident elements, word by word, written down on
so many pieces of looseleaf, scratched really, unreadable
at this distance, as if a fold of ash had absorbed
then smudged the writing beyond recognition.
‘The true human dialogue, that of
hands and eyes, is a silent dialogue.’
My hands are tied to yours … the way
our hands make one proposition in time
with others. ‘We touch and not
having given and not.’
The isolation wears the body
down … from one to another
some lost art of standing still
facing what comes.
‘The older you get as a writer, the more you’re struck from time to time
by a word that you’ve never written. Such a word can evoke an
entire period. And it’s not just the older you get the more you’re
stuck, but you’re also stuck more frequently. For the openness of
the glossy stamp of words comes only in later years, the more
frequently you encounter worn-out words, indeed words that have
become worn-out by your own use.’
‘I believe I heard language
through my daughter’s belly, and fell as she
did under its spell … ’
A brief spell. Standing inside
its aura. Spellbound. Fearless
and fearful at the same instant. Birth-
knot of the unsaid, spelled backward … An interval
woven of befores and afters, as if communication were itself
a seal of wordlessness, the infant drawn backward
and forward at the same instant, weighted
by silence, not weighted but
floating past us.
Something close to pity folds
us into its thorny reclusive self again.
I had lost your address sent the
card twenty years ago to have
it come back so many years from now
‘And this is real pain,
Moreover. It is terrible to see the children … ’
The mortal thread
pulled tight. Dear single
eye, open and close, open
If the face softens the angle of vision
lost for a moment partway you carry its
ashy deposit under your tongue.
Death creates a space.
One by one, blind leading the blind.
The contents of a lifetime imaged
again and again … held up
to the light you said the light is holding us up
In the light when language fails us
we fail language
one sees the ‘heartlessness
of words,’ the eye
to what it sees
closing shut on the particulars of a world.
‘When the anticipation of death comes
so indisputably to hollow out the living
present that precedes it, and when
mourning is at work, how will we know
our time has come?’
Marked out without
plan or reason
for a walk at sunrise, the sun
light when it falls
across the fields and you walk low to the horizon
a précis of movement in time.
‘A light that now fell on the flowers as if a field of freshly cut
flowers mown grass had come into view. What did I remember of the
first image of them. Flowers and grass, yellow and green, in the rain
a boy was leading me back over porcelain tiles, so that I was drawn to
the strange hexagonal patterns, and began to grope my way with his
hand in my hand, kneeling down, groping as others passed us on
their way into the fields. When he moved away from me in the distance
I saw the yellow and red flowers glowing in the July heat and his body
lithe young small-framed erased in a flood of light.’
We are unable
to face you, and stop here
speechless, an aporia
of unwilled abandonment. Dreaming
as you would have us do
‘out there to carry it
a gift to a wedding’
Blind obligation, sweet obligatoes of a passage back to one
who remains unseen.
The strangeness of your face in passing that ‘brings us together in the difference
and sometimes the silence of speech.’
A voice no less than any
other I may know, its companionate need
that estranges and comforts me.
I am not without comfort … or strength …
Soft circling gulls
winging their way back east …
‘Flaunts of sunshine … bask … lie
back … light … bask … light sovereign … earth …
in our hands … ’
There is no salt on your table.
No bread no water.
If you come to the table
and ask for salt when you come
you will find the table bare.
One sits here a long time here … inside
there is one table against the wall.
And again there is no table
we can lean on.
‘Words open out upon grief’
Yet the windows are without light when the season enters its latest phase
vistas darkened by what’s missing from the vision.
Visionary abjection or the faces of strangers as far as one can
see against a window surface plain as day the last forms of
daylight broken into patterns of seeing.
And ‘the reaching out the risking of touch’
is the plurality of our loss fulfilling
itself in leave-words under the limbs of a tree in April light.
Wintry not blue light. Dusk’s
sensual presence. Saying there is
a house in white fields
in the middle of which
tree stands erect.
‘I have embraced you there … and therefore
propose the way behind you.’
In some unreal moon
note the formation
of a single branch
cut in half.
The sky shining
under a scarf of iris.
standing alone, past recall … your voice
lured by the fiction of a voice, the summoning of a language
I can remember but not yet speak.
‘What’s in it is neither true nor false.’
‘I’m game if you are.’
‘Put the dead together in a line … ’
The hidden is a name, a pact, willed
back from hiding. Nom de plum.
‘I stood back from you, observing, waiting my turn
to come forward.’ There is less
need to say it. Mired in the distance …
each in its own house.
The earth held in common … awaiting us …
When the body is free
of itself can any of us
be free of what it gave?
Hand moving through the frame
inside a cut-out of light blue
sky raised blue above
trees not one
but many in the framed
portrait of a man sitting in full view
of others, trailing off
as one sits with him
then goes away.
And behind where he sat … your
coffee cup resting before you and your hand
extended toward us.
The card bearing news
of your passing—
‘Language is love.’
Reversing what you had written
‘Love is language.’
And held the page up to the light
pieces of it burning in the midmorning glare.
there is this backward
turning among the slow-flowing
‘the play begins with the world’
from our mother’s lips. Set
back from her … sent back from
her living will. ‘Erect as she’
Yet deity fled … godless … in how many
guises, ghosts returning through
the language she spelled out for us.
‘For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality’
Where the shadow takes
shape takes time
comes back into fatherless motherless song
What do you see my little one
close your eyes little bird
what do you know my little one
close your eyes little bird
close your eyes
Night song. ‘The noise
of light’ enfolding you.
Sea night. Sea black.
As if returning to childhood and the rhythms of
speech, adulterous, incestuous, giving pleasure
by the hour. ‘Reclusive’ you wrote me and it was
to my ear a way of understanding what had
happened, the course of a lifetime, 40 years is not
so long to remember, it comes again in one
wave, wavelets, rings of foamy water, ringing
‘It is a moteless clarity behind us.’
The weight of it
astonishing, after all this time
to return in the clothes of a stranger
awaiting some new turn, some possible refuge
from all that’s happened.
What to say to our children
years later when they read these words … passing
strangely between their hands, page after page, ‘like a knife blade
driven into mystery.’
A continuity in what one writes so that you can divest the self, almost
arrive at its starting point, begin again with smoothed over sheets of paper laid
end to end, a nonending pattern progressing line by line, blurred, blistered, pasted over,
marred, brilliant squares of light, illuminated by a ‘fine flame
almost unseen in common light.’
One wants to read in light of what he has written.
Reading what one has written the urge to destroy what one writes.
Working hard against the impulse that it bears out what we started to undo, unsay. Mirror
writing, a blank slate, nothing has been here, nothing will
be left where it was.
‘A brutal dream drenched with our lives
intemperate, open, illusory,
to which we wake, sweating to make
substance of it, turn
its face to us, unwilling, and see the
snowflakes glitter there, and melt.
—there’s nothing more to say.’
The gloss is this much
of what can be known, paratactic blaze of grammar
that squelches the possibility of an alternative position, almost
as if we couldn’t catch our breath, held in a state of rapt awareness—cracked
‘whereness’—irrecoverable in prose:
She had sunk down on the manuscript-chest, and
notwithstanding her fluid lightness under which the
leather cover of the chest did not bend the fraction
of an inch, her hands were so closely and physically
linked with his that his fingers were blissfully
able to feel her soft features, for she held her
face buried in her hands.
‘We’re undoing ciphers, bending
brittle bits of bone, bird wing, abstracted
pieces of half-eaten meat, climb into the court of
judgment, arise, make way, the primping and grooming
of sleek complexions, one sleeps till noon
one makes his way to the sound of the cithara
while the night comes on, and one forgets
as much as he learns, that to inscribe
the pages in blood is not the same
as to cut the throat that sings.
Surely you have it in you, left at the seaside
where once you took a daughter
to her mother’s side, laid under the
canvas your carving stick and knife, your
pen dipped in salt water, a lamp
heavy with residue.’
When you stepped outside
winter had passed, limbs crossed
above your doorway, settling ‘wet
black trees of my humanity, my skin.’
A lifetime ago you said
‘robed in my words I say the snake
changes its skin out of honesty.’
As if we once could become
skin shed on open ground
the hand that traces its
shadow in silence
each brightness holding equal
amounts of shade.
‘Come back from your hiding place … ’
The words are wound tight
’round the wrist of a child heading out to play.
Years later there is only the ring
of their presence remaining. And the blackened
ground where they stood.
This preamble … turning over rough soil
‘tell it, repeat, enter the shine
how old we are’
“It is astonishing / how much time has passed” is from Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Draft 85: Hard Copy.” “The true human dialogue, that of / hands and eyes, is a silent dialogue” is from Edmond Jabès. The quote in section 2 beginning “The older you get as a writer” and the somewhat adapted passage beginning “A light that now fell on the flowers” in section 3 are from Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 2, Part 2, 1931–1934. “Fine flame / almost unseen in common light” is borrowed from Denise Levertov. “It is a moteless clarity behind us” is from Forrest Gander, “Exhaustible Appearance.” “Words open out upon grief” is from Robert Duncan, Letters. Section 11 is adapted from Epistles of Horace, tr. David Ferry. “Like a knife blade / driven into mystery” is from Zbigniew Herbert, “Mr Cogito and Pop.” The quoted material ending section 15 is William Carlos Williams, in a letter to Denise Levertov, February 16, 1958, from the Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams. Phrases and lines, marked and unmarked, from the poetry of Robin Blaser appear throughout this poem.
Andrew Mossin's book of critical essays, Male Subjectivity and Poetic Form in "New American" Poetry, was published in April (Palgrave Macmillan 2010). He has recently completed a work of autobiographical prose, The Presence of Their Passing, and is currently at work on a new collection of poems, The Pledge. He teaches in the Writing Program at Princeton University and lives in Doylestown, PA with his two daughters.