Conjunctions:17 Tenth Anniversary Issue

Tangled Reliquary
Tangled reliquary under all surfaces.
Nothing moonlike occurs there
Only partial coves
And entrances.
How cool it must have been 
the vat of the previous 
Before these habits ordained the real. 
Some of us must have seen each other 
Naked in opulent dawn, our nerves 
Drawn up as from an ancient well 
Mossy, slick, unstuck at every seam 
So we enter the sleeve of history 
Out of which the magician pulls 
His lawn ornaments: Dancer, Prancer, 
Our Lady of Provocations, flags, targets, 
The bluebird’s house.
On the adjacent field
A swarm of butterflies alights 
On a bald tree. This is the Tree of Changes 
Mentioned in the lost book of A. 
Her auspice was a riddle, 
Sphinx or no sphinx,
Whose meanings we can piece together 
From her journals which were torn into bandages 
To wrap the wounds of the dying. 
Such wanton songs 
Paginate empirical trust
And the ruse of the first place. 
Not that story again, what we cannot say 
To the sun as it dispenses its sheen 
Out over the harbor, but only 
How can you perform your agile sway 
Without shelter and without us?
So the riddle of the disembodied name
Sets in motion its primal mischief
Sanctioned and forbidden in the vastly gone.

This would be a good day to go sailing 
Or to wash the car, but I have
Neither boat nor car. There’s a plotless web
In the air like a banner pulling us along
Into something to look back on.
What if I wandered so far
Only to come here
To the relentless you
Have kept in store for me
Before the song, above the river,
All the names etched in stone
And only slowly annealed
To the spawning wind, in whose face
We will soon be included, having been shown 
The near field’s shambles
And grace. Come here
Like a shoulder or a girl’s skipping step 
Toward evening on a Friday,
Lapis amulet, Samurai sword, 
Chinese silk stained with azalea,
A single earring the color of a toy globe 
All stolen from a thing called April 
Still wet with fresh rending. Come 
Here in a language once learned 
Only a few phrases remembered: 
Bonjour, je t’aime, il fait beau.

Perhaps one of those popular, musical Sundays
Would save us, galloping at high speed in, out,
Only a glimpse from high up in the revised setting
Crowded with tyranny. So I wanted
Once again as a plaything, some jewel, box, horse 
On which to come fleet of vision, 
Glad to pretend. The cartoons sailed
Against the brocade, and the stairs 
Were where the prayers were kept 
Like instruments of torture
Basking in shade, the scent of new snow, 
Locks of hair under glass.
                                       The day, however, 
Has spun upwards so it seems to be
A sort of chapel of divided light
And the season, punctured, leaks
Down on us old balloons from a faint dead planet.
And I had promised never again to try to
Put anything back together,
To obey the errant barge of upheavals,
Not to seek cause and effect in the prevailing wind.
But now shards of promise
Glint through the network of uneven shifts
Like the wandering voice of an ancestor
On the other side of the dunes. Bricks or dunes.
But what will I tell the children?
As in a photo of two persons dancing
There are some things we never will hear.
Shout and coo, shout and coo,
Each of us away. So one who is the one 
Wants to sheath me in his ear.
Him sings his tunes
In the aberrant remonstrance. And I 
Agree to this fear he tells me of 
Whose words are what he cares to do. 
Both hands are up in a moment 
Not so much surrendered as bequeathed 
To our common night. Dear dream, 
Will you assist us, give pause 
To any and all of these lessons,
Take us, each, into such fond technologies 
That the thigh’s spasmodic hum 
Frees action as well as solace. 
But the eye’s horizon 
Is dialectical and unreasoned, 
Its gown disembodied because unsaid.
The blue floor calls itself June 
And wants to lay me down
On its shine of now 
And peel off the shadows 
One by one until I am it.
Then sail into the air
Sheet after sheet
          this and that
                 here and there
                       now and then 
Only as real as what follows. 
That the balloon man lost his head 
That the screen fell to the floor
In a heap of landscape
                                    such mornings
That the clay pot
Lay in shards
That the dry flowers were cast
Across the rug, ancient seeds, crumbs
                                                           such mornings
And the light reached all the way into the dark
As if handing it forward
From some child’s grave
From the curled soil’s boundaries
From whatever captivity
We wish to sew into artifact
But which, like the light just named,
Eludes us, frail and pinioned in the glossy tablets
Of alchemical reserve;
That the elegy is betrayed
As the child follows her hand to its sanctuary
And touches its core
And unriddles its riddle
In the beckoning need
That the cluster of disavowal gives way
And could not be shy
                                                       such mornings—

Ann Lauterbach's eleventh poetry collection, Door (Penguin), was published in 2023. Her essay on Mina Loy was published in Mina Loy: Strangeness is Inevitable (Princeton) and on David Novros in David Novros Wall Paintings (Paula Cooper Gallery). She has published ten collections of poetry, including Spell (Penguin), as well as several chapbooks and collaborations with visual artists, including work with Ann Hamilton, Lucio Pozzi, and Ellen Phelan. She has written on art and poetics in relation to cultural value, notably in a book of essays, The Night Sky: Writings on the poetics of experience (Penguin). She has written catalogue essays on Cheyney Thompson and Taylor Davis, among others, and has been a visiting critic (sculpture) at Yale. Her 2009 volume, Or to Begin Again, was nominated for a National Book Award. Her poems have been translated into French and German. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, The New York State Foundation for the Arts, Ingram Merrill, and The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Since 1990, she has served as Co-chair of Writing in the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and, since 1997, David and Ruth Schwab Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. She has been a contributing editor to Conjunctions since 1984. A native New Yorker, she lives in Germantown, New York.