Conjunctions:64 Natural Causes

After After Nature

The unsaid strafes its enclosure.
I’m in a store, a storage,
among forgettings that anchor them.
The pasture is all snow and its perceptions
drain the day
onto a disheveled, reckless halo
unspun from a saint’s hair
as if scribbled.
The withheld stares
back onto its insolent intention, some girl
in the bridal threshold of a museum
her white shoulders
readied for sculpture and for the thin fingers
of her groom. Tidy these ancient portals,
says the Bergsonian moon, there’s more
to see of the great murals
whose scansion is blocked
by the banquet’s black plumes and
crimson napkins, fake beads of hanging ice.



The baffled children stand their ground.
The boy who cannot smile
the girl who stares into the mutant air
my own mirrored self
dancing in the aisle of beloved
animation, singing along
to a tune rescued and
hid under soil
piled on the floor in that corner.
That room, that window, those stairs
and across the wide portico a muse
yelling in French
and the mother in pails, the mother in ashes.
And the flowers? You ask. They were
announcements that came slowly up
with the man with a sack on his shoulder.
The snow will not burn but falls as heaving flame.
The drifts are catalytic
plummeting toward amnesia
and a recessed doll appears, her eyes
painted open.



I did not ask for this bouquet. Please return it.
The form of attention bewilders
and the signal’s arc wavers. If I
gaze I gaze, and the blue mountain
is indifferent, like Wittgenstein
staring out from his captive picture.
Some beauties are best left unobserved.
Some dues are best left unpaid.
And if Sebald once retrieved
Grünewald’s journey,
exposing the throat and often turning
the face toward a blinding light

then let us be
amazed and wander up a hill
and turn to see
the bereft tribe following Moses
out of Egypt, following
an uncertain path into a tent onto which
only a vane fastened with string
remains. The route was written
but the map’s insignia and
all the variants of white
dispersed through the holy frame.



Wait here a minute. I need to attend to
the soot. A gashed estrangement
dramatizes the ocular theme.
Rag rag rag. It’s a quick refrain,
what the broom might chant.
Accidents happen and rage resumes
under the free rights of dream,
the unsafe conditions
masked by law. The scene
melts into its recursive
harm; the tent
blown up by a young man in the film
of the young man in the film.
The black boy is shot and shot and shot.
Which war are we after? And home
he came smelling of sandalwood and silk,
the scent of beautiful strangers.
The yoked extravagance, the carnal scene,
fire and ice, her crimson
lips stamped on the rim of a glass.
Take them back. The apparition
thwarts declension for the sake of an image.



We settle for stone
even as it attracts disaster
just at the welcoming hour.
Now the exposed branches
have turned
yellow, their threads crawling
out from the scripted scene.
Arendt talks about metaphor
enthusiastically; she honors
the sign of what she calls
that which will never attach itself
to thingness. The philosopher’s
wonder is fraught; words charge
our love with action
and action blurs syntax. She thinks
we can see what we hear
just as it vanishes.
The chickadees orchestrate
the silence of the hawk’s
swerve; all is readied for accounting
as for abstraction.



I liked it better elsewhere,
in the drafty aftermath,
along the dark hall or
sitting on the porch, before the fly
awoke from its winter nap.
Up it crawls on the glacial window.
If I say cardinal, do you see red?
Grace is legible; we collect variously,
accordingly, in the zone
allotted. So a democratic yield
might fashion our taste
for the old sword or the ripe fruit
or the red panoply
of Matisse. Love
moves among us and elicits
the daring collective.
Marvelous and outward we go
toward the plight to heal
what has no mercy, incorporated
as sorrow or bliss, sold separately
to those who come to witness.



Abstraction is invisible, it
pours through the sockets
of the hours and the
broken debris goes
out to sea—a flood of names,
old particulars—
what never was translated;
some drafts on paper—
erode the banks and the banks
rise up into the empty horizon
like nameless cartoon giants.
Be not afraid.
These fives, these tens,
watch them change hands
to bring forth shiny arrest.
Dip the oak leaf in gold.
Dip the screen into the rushing waters.
The days will end without portraits.
The days will end. Rag rag. 

—For Thomas Wild

Ann Lauterbach has published ten collections of poetry, most recently 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.