Friday, August 12, 2016

Varnish, a firefly, and the vanishing dragonflies

Did you ever read a book that left you with the feeling that there was more there below the surface then you could grasp? Ben Lerner's new book, The Hatred of Poetry, did that to me today. Especially the last six or seven pages of what might be termed an essay or maybe not. Twice while reading it this AM the eerie occurred.  He imagines as a child uttering the words vanish or varnish while pointing at an object such as a back hoe or tree or a neighbor. He says, "If you are five and you point to a sycamore or an idle backhoe or a neighbor stooped over his garden or to images of these things on a television set and utter "varnish " or utter "vanish" you will never be only incorrect; if your parent or guardian is curious, she can find a meaning that makes you almost  eerily prescient-the neighbor is dying, losing weight, or the backhoe has helped a structure disappear or is glazed with rainwater or the sheen of spectacle lends to whatever appears onscreen a strange finish.To derive your understanding of a word by watching others adjust to your use of it: Do you remember the feeling that sense was provisional and that two people could build around an utterance a world in which any usage signified? I think that's poetry...."
About four years ago I wrote a poem titled Melancholia and the Age of Varnish. I used those two words varnish and vanish . In my poem they carried for me that same feeling he describes.

I put this book down to watch a young dragonfly hover over a car parked along the street in front of the sidewalk where I sat drinking coffee downtown. He would zip away and suddenly return to a holding pattern over the car roof. I realized it was gazing at its reflection. At that moment another one entered, zig- zagging around the first. Then they tore off together, one tailing the other like Top Gun. They skirted from one end of the street to the other. I thought of where their home might be. Then the reflection and the arrival of another made me think of relationship. When I returned to the book I hadn't read very far before I came to this: "(A few summers ago I attended an aggressively mediocre opera at a gorgeous outdoor theater in Santa Fe, and when my boredom had deepened into something like a trance, I happened to see from our distant seats a single firefly slowly flashing around the orchestra, then floating onto the stage, then drifting back beyond the proscenium: its light appearing here in New Mexico and then three leagues from Seville, here in clock time and there in the continuous present tense of art...)"






Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Hom

There I am across the street
In my yellow raincoat, 
the hooded rain hat, 
the rubber boots clanking.
 Scuffle, scuffle. 

She will read to us. 
The Black Stallion. 
I am on a cushion
made by my Dad. 
I am dreaming as
She reads. Isn't that
what listening is?

The boy is at the center
of my mind. All day
and into the night. 
In the middle of the
night I wake up. 
There is no room
for anything beside 
the horse. Everything
is the Black. 

In the morning 
I remember Her voice. 
She is reading. 
I am listening...
I am in love. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Bhavana



I tagged the little ant as he scurried around on my car. I was parked in a city lot.
I realized I had carried the ant far from home.  Instinctively I brushed him to the
asphalt vaguely thinking it would be safer. As he danced about I began to imagine
what he might be up to. A re-orientation of sorts? I imposed an idea of destination,
wondering if the ant's idea of home included a non-local sensibility. What we did share
was an almost incomprehensible sense of each other.  But out of this musing emerged
another: that the ant's situation is mine as well.  The Great Movement is afoot everywhere.
The bigger vehicle carrying me is vast and essentially unknowable. Yet I dance, adjust
the dials, ever attenuating a desire to go home. Later, in my driveway, I daydreamed about
a tiny technology that would allow me to monitor the ant's movements. Would he adapt, resettle, carry a bodily habit that informed his journey?  Or would a mysterious directive carry him toward home. I stood there looking east toward downtown.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Strategic Withdrawal

David James Duncan
Strategic Withdrawal

any movement inward
            -- as into a chair by a window the light of which you use only to stare into a cup of tea
            -- or as into a habit of tea-drinking, as opposed to coffee, because the former behaves so much more quietly within the body, so softly helps open the eyes and the mind
            -- or as in letting the eyes come to a standstill, in some space on the page of a book you’ve been reading, in order to stare at nothing, or at something inside, or at something neither inside nor out – an association-sprung scene, an entire small world, maybe; a place so pungent you leave your body to stand in it for a time
            -- or as turning over a handwritten letter, before or after you’ve read it, to run your hand across a blank side, the written words invisible now, yet palpable in the impressions the pen left in the paper, the strange backward slant you never think of as being there, the earnest weight of the writer’s departed hand, physical track of her thought still traceable, the “handicraft” evident in the paucity of words, the whole page, though we think of paper as “smooth,” as idiosyncratically and subtly bumpy as the skin of your love’s body, in which also dwells a reverse side, unseen side, of breath, blood, inchoate words, nonverbal language
            strategic withdrawal: any movement backward, away from the battle lines of one’s incarnation (as in the phrase “spiritual retreat” but without the once-in-a-blue-moon connotations of those two words, because the backward movement needed, the spiritual retreat required, is moment to moment, day to day)
            strategic withdrawal: any refusal to man our habitual political or psychological trenches or to defend our turf, for though the turf may be holy, our defenses, when they grow automatonic, are not
            any refusal to engage with that testy or irritating or ideologically loud or theologically bloated person in your life – you know the one: the agitatedly racist or religionist, politically powerful or compulsively processing pedant, coworker, parent, friend, or (God help you) spouse whose opinions are too poorly formed, too loudly held, or just too incessantly divulged to allow you to achieve peace in the presence of so much clanging banging editorializing mental machinery
            any retreat (however ignominious it may seem to the will or the mind or the ego) not just from all such exchanges but from the underlying tensions and history that launch the exchanges (your side of the tensions and history, anyway: the side you’ve an inalienable right to retreat from)
            any movement away from one’s “urgencies,” one’s “this-is-who-I-am” nesses, one’s responsibilities, agitations, racial guilt, sworn causes, shames, strengths, weaknesses, memories, workaday, identity, public or secret battlefields
            any movement toward formlessness
            silence
            emptiness
            primordiality
            any movement toward a beginning, as in Genesis 1, John 1, Quran Tao Te Ching Diamond Sutra Mahabharata Kalevala Mumonkan Ramayana Torah Gita 1
            and toward one’s own “in the beginning”
            toward one’s origin (root of originality); toward one’s ignorance (that underrated state the embracing of which precedes every influx of fresh knowledge); toward one’s amorphousness (state of all clay before the potter conceives a form, wedges the clay, centers it, and begins throwing the cup or bowl); toward one’s interior blankness (the state of the paper preceding every new idea, drawing, poem); toward one’s wilderness (wild: the condition of all worlds, inner and outer, before the creation of the man-made bewilderments from which we are endeavoring to withdrawal0
            strategic withdrawal:
            any attempt to step from a why, however worthy, into whylessness
            as in an extemporaneous walk to a destination unknown; a walk during which everything but your movement through God-knows-where becomes the God-knows-what you’re doing
            or as in going fishing without the desire for fish so that desirelessness becomes the prey you’re catching
            or as in a stroll to a neighborhood cafĂ© or tavern one or more neighborhoods removed from any in which you’re known, which establishment you then enter not to socialize, read the paper, or eat the (probably bad) food, but just to nurse a single slow drink as you soak, without judgment, in the presence and riverine babble of your city and native tongue
            strategic withdrawal: any act you can devise, any psycho-spiritual act at all, that embodies a willingness to wait for the world to disclose itself to you, rather than to disclose yourself, your altruism, your creativity, skills, energy, ideas, and (let’s face it) agenda, myopia, preconceptions, delusions, addictions, and inappropriate trajectories to this world
            willingness to drop trajectories; willingness to boot up with all extensions OFF; willingness not to save the world but simply to wait for it to disclose itself to you, whether anything seems, even after long long waiting, to be disclosing itself or not
            an act of faith then, really; faith that the world is always disclosing itself; faith that lack of disclosure is impossible; faith that what blocks Creation’s ceaseless flow of disclosure is, invariably, our calluses and callousness, our old injuries and injuriousness, our plans, cross-purposes, neuroses, absurd speed of passage, divided minds, ruling manias, lack of trust, lack of faith – overabundance of faith, cf. Thomas Merton: ‘Prayer is possible only when prayer is impossible”
            strategic withdrawal: to step back, now and then, from the possible to take rest in the impossible: to stand without trajectory in the God-given weather till the soul’s identity begins to come with the weathering: to get off my own laboriously cleared and maintained trails and back onto the pristine hence unmarked path by moving, any old how, toward interior nakedness; toward silence; toward what Buddhists call “emptiness,” Christians “poverty of spirit,” Snyder “wild,” and Eckhart “desirelessness: the virgin that eternally gives birth to the Son”
            strategic withdrawal: this prayer: When I am lost, God help me to get more lost.  Help me lose so completely that nothing remains but the primordial peace and originality that keeps creating and sustaining this blood-, tear-, and love-worthy world that’s never lost for an instant save by an insufficiently lost me
            “We’re all in the gutter,” said Oscar Wilde in the throes of just such a withdrawal, “but some of us are looking at the stars”
            strategic withdrawal:
            look at the stars

Shepardstown, West Virginia; cross country
Delta jet; and Lolo, Montana: summer 1999

-David James Duncan
My Story As Told By Water

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Remote Bird

A code, a lens,
for connectedness. 
A switch, the taunt
string between two cans. 
-No! Stringless. 
Just the two. Just 
the ocean in each one. 
-No! Just my hand cupped
like a wing on my ear
and yours the same. 

Why is this happening?
-the failure to regard-
the distant distance
where I carry my heart
like a small tree
turning to the sun. 
I turn then, over and over
until it feels like a dance. 

The light is always on my head,
An earworm, a remainder,
a lesson in no news. 
In that movie
I say stop. 
There again
the pointing to,
the lack of. 
Nothing is crucial,
not the dying
not the grocery aisles. 
But a just inserts itself,
asserting a constant moment,
attenuating a frequency,
a modulation 
of longing for
your presence. 

Near me 
A small bird
fluffed
lands sharply
on a branch. 
Can you hear it
where you are?




Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Crow takes a turn

curbside crow
lying like 
dark gloves.
white  
market body bag.
trash can.
night clan dream.
exhumed.
buried among
lilies.
overhead-
they count.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Trance/Atlantic



Take it from me  now.

You are standing.
Facing sea.
When you speak
your voice draws a ray.
You call it shoreline.
The moment you demarcate it,
it is yours, not to be shared.
But then the moon and the
pulling, bruised night
take back this possessive.
You look down.
Your blue feet are an inscription.
Under the hood of cloud cover
you ask for more light.
You need more light.
The shine rolls away, leaving
this opaque gender,  loss.
You want to ignore these shapes.
Feet are so familiar, too final.
After endless illuminations
they settle under a shore that sparkles.
Beneath the next moon you
try to explain with gestures,
hands that sign deja vu,
that hold nothing
and release everything.