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Then the storm swirls, a rearranger,
swirls through the woods and through time…

A poem listens
to both rooms from the middle
ground of its title, the threshold strip

of metal, stone, or wood,
the bottom part of a doorway,
the barefoot part of a mind. From

there I am treading into a space
of watching made open
to me by the poet

and already underway. What would
you expect from a poem with a title
like “A Man Watching”? From what

direction would you expect to hear
its speaking voice? For Rilke, it is
an “I” that speaks from the place

of watching: I can see that the storms
are coming/by the trees (in one trans-
lation) or I can tell by the way the trees

beat (in another). What has happened
to the man of the title? How has he
slipped inside direct experience?

What is “direct” experience?
How should it come to belong
to anyone agreeable to standing

in for the speaking voice, and also
for the inaudible source, the reserve
of the watching experience,

a silence through which
it crosses? Following Machado, I
have tried to practice an ethic: what

the poet is searching for is not the fund-
amental “I” but the deep “you.” It may
be I who is watching a man watching

trees, but through the invitation to watch
with the watching, you have slipped inside
direct experience, standing with the

consciousness of a voice who speaks in
the open light of reasons. I can see that.
I can tell by the way… What if you were

to write a poem that began with an act
of detection—of reading what is there
as well as what is apparently coming?

How might you take the measure
of a given experience? Where would
it start? With noticing something about

trees? Or would your opening be some-
where else? How big would it need to be
this opening, how subtle, or specific—

bearing in mind it must come with
empirical coordinates for what you
are reasoning out.

And what would the opening
be shutting out? As if a sluice gate were
guiding this act of watching. Sluice

being a linguistic descendent of ex-
clude. Sluice being a word for gushing,
cleansing, and spilling, but only by

shutting water out of other, number-
less options. In gold mining, for
example, a sluice gate would

be the trough with grooves
down which water is forced to run,
thereby separating what is valued

from what is merely sand and gravel.
To watch with the man watching
is to feel how consciousness runs

through grooves. You step into
an “I” agreeing to these grooves,
the forms of discernment they

want to accomplish. At the same
time, you’ll sense that for all
the human

sluice gates—personal pronouns,
properties, proprioceptive

sluice gates are there to be overflown.
The body is the storm center, the origin of co-
ordinates, the constant place of stress…

Everything circles round it and is felt from its
point of view. The word ‘I,’ then, is primarily
a noun of position… just like ‘this’ and ‘here.’

This is pragmatism radically opening
the “I” to positionality and thereby al-
leviating it of substance. I could be

a substance barely—only insofar
as “here” is a substance, or “this” is
a substance, or “there.” I can see that

the storms are coming/ by the trees.
I can tell by the way the trees beat that
a storm is coming. Now you are taking

apart the act of telling, unearthing
its deciding and recounting sense.
How often humans do this double

kind of telling and how rarely we
feel around inside it for what it really
entails. The poem recounts what it

counts on to be vital. What it
counts as vital. Then why not stay well
inside the theater of the poem?

Why make an audience, why make
the actor aware of the proscenium?
Why break the fourth wall before

the play has even been cast? Why
spotlight the director however many
rows back they are in the dark?

can tell. I
can tell.

As Gibbons has noted, the voice
of the poem tries out for the part
of being the one who watches

and tells. The voice of the poem
auditions in the double sense of trying
out and listening. The audience

listens to a voice that has already
auditioned for the role, that has
listened for its own

arrival in grooves of idio-
syncratic sensing, as if meeting were
a particular relation to what is

already there. To speak with the
ends of our pointer fingers. Here. This.
I can tell by. I can see how that means

this by the way that it does
that. At the instep. At the arch. A con-
sciousness of consciousness will

sometimes tear the poem apart,
though we’re told that consciousness
cannot even make an object of itself.

Or only in the realm of sciamachy, shadow-
boxing, a conflict with an imaginary
opponent, the sham forms

of fighting we do for exercise or practice.
To make the poem an opponent of itself
you can have it aim to close the very

opening it makes
through the double art of telling. Or close
in such a way that the opening is now

altered from how you originally
felt you’d entered it. In “Blue Flags”
Williams breaks the wall of the poem or-

ganically, with reeds, with children.
With children who disappear into
the reeds after the voice of the poem

has stopped the car and let them
“down” where the streets “end.”
You cannot watch these children

because of how the reeds are said
to be “high over their heads” but
you can hear them chattering

through the veil or curtain or text that is
the poem telling you they are still there.
You know they are inside the poem,

inside the reeds of the poem, because
the teller tells you they are. You are
watching children you cannot see.

You are watching them by listening.
In listening you are rewarded
with what the title

told you you would be: But blue flags
are blossoming/in the reeds/which the children
pluck/chattering in the reeds/ high

over their heads/ which they part/ with
bare arms to appear/with fists
of flowers.

Does Rilke not have the same wall,
veil, or workings of image in mind
when he pictures Orpheus carrying

bowls of fruit
across the thresholds of the dead? The
fourth walls of all fourth walls are surely

the thresholds of the dead? And though
the children appear living in Williams’
poem the fists of blue flags they bear

through the reeds are strangely ab-
stracted from the messengers
who bear them.

What is a “fist of flowers”? A hiero-
glyph? A fist can grasp as well
as impart. To part

the reeds is to vivify a place within
and a place without. We are without
the reeds in the sense of being

outside them. But aren’t we given
the gift of what is inside them, blue flags
(iris)? And aren’t we permitted to grasp,

at the poem’s closing, an even further
sense of interiority—their fragrant
gummy stalks? Williams

calls this “the smell of calamus”
though the common name of calamus
would be “sweet flags” not “blue

flags”—and its flower wouldn’t be blue.
How this changes the parting of the reeds
by the bare arms of the children, the hiero-

glyphic fists of flowers, is something I
don’t want to dwell on. Let the flowers
that break the fourth wall of “Blue Flags”

be blue; there is wild iris growing
among the reeds, among lemony-scented
calamus. Blue flags. Sweet flags. Odysseus

Elytis says something beautiful about
poetry in The Little MarinerWhen
we discover the secret relationship

of meanings and traverse them deeply
we’ll emerge in another sort of clearing
that is Poetry.

And Poetry
is always as single as the sky.
The question is from where one sees the sky.

Recently I learned something that put
the meaning of the word rigmarole
in a new light, and seemed to solicit

a new horizon, or at least a practice
given to new horizons. I can tell you
what it means besides a long, rambling

story or statement or a lengthy and com-
plicated procedure. In the first of his
explanatory notes to the novel, Wives

and Daughters, editor Angus Easson discusses
Gaskell’s use of the word in her opening
sentence, To begin with the old rigmarole

of childhood. Easson explains how the form
Gaskell is borrowing in the sentence that
then follows this one is a form traceable back

to a nursery rhyme like “The House That Jack
Built.” Gaskell turns the form into a kind
of Victorian zoom lens: In a country

there was a shire, and in that shire there was
a town, and in that town there was a house,
and in that house there was a room, and in

that room there was a bed, and in that bed
there lay a little girl… Rigmarole in this
procedure is a form of repetition with

difference, which produces in me some-
thing of the orderly shifting I look for at
the end of a kaleidoscope, an accumulation

intercut with variation. Like lying under
a serrated willow tree with sun and gentle
wind, or like watching snow amount

in time to a place of subsiding
specifics. What can you tell by rigmarole?
Frost tells its secrets in reverse, when in

“Directive” he conjures a place by telling
what is no longer there of it: there is a house
that is no more a house/Upon a farm

that is no more a farm/And in a town
that is no more a town. Here the nest
effect is less about building a habit-

ation than unbuilding it. Or perhaps
it’s better to say that Frost is interested
in a stripping away that is aimed at making-

present. An archaeological form of rig-
marole. We are to weep for the house
that is no more a house. We are to see

it was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
And yet the movement of the poem to its
eucharistic directive, Drink and be whole

again beyond confusion, draws on the myth
of the grail, and places the goblet under
a spell, and discloses its location to the

worthy initiate—I have kept hidden in the instep
arch/Of an old cedar at the waterside—as well
as its parenthetical provenance: (I stole

the goblet from the children’s playhouse). A tree
with an instep arch inhabits its own
version of threshold; a strip

at the bottom of its door becomes
a root in the care of earth. As a blade or
leaf of grass has its own version of earth

and solar threshold. In every blade of grass
rises the strength of the sun. In very mortal shines
the star of immortality. A morning thought

from The Egyptian Book of the Dead, from
an ancient text that begins with its own
form of zooming

out: The snake will rise to heaven
in the talons of the hawk…
In what

rigmarole, I wonder, might I locate what
Goethe meant when he said
the spirit world

shuts not its gates? I can see the gates
at the edges of yards, and yards
at the edges of towns,

and towns edging out to states and states
at the edges of a union, and a union
edging against the earth,

and an earth etched out of a galaxy,
and galaxies never entirely
giving themselves away.

I can tell by the way this rigmarole feels
something is about to happen. I can ask
the spirit world to help.

I can watch for spirits loosening
matter’s gates. I can lose count of stars
wheeling in and out. I can bless

the children chattering inside
the reeds. I can watch for a storm
where the storm is meeting the trees.

Sarah Gridley is the author of four books of poetry: Weather Eye Open (University of California Press, 2005), Green is the Orator (UCPress, 2010), Loom (Omnidawn Publishing, 2013, awarded the 2011 Open Book Prize by Carl Phillips), and Insofar (New Issues Press, 2020, awarded the 2019 Green Rose Prize by Forrest Gander). Other honors include the 2018 Cecil Hemley Memorial Award and the 2019 Writer Magazine/Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is in the first year of an MA program in Theological and Religious Studies at John Carroll University.