Monday, December 23, 2013

Whispered Bingo

The paint behind maturity is charming. They have alpaca beans here at the airport. We surge over a contraption of plywood and talk water as I juggle the words of an emphatic perspective involving glue and Pythagorean consonants. My entire slam stunned the workmen. I winced and gave a great groan as we spread our leather in a spring of expansion, which mollified the sculptors.
And now I must bump into another chronicle of beams and photogenic powder. An eye necessitates flutter, so we flutter. The music box sputters with sighs. We rival the crinkle of corners in a paper sack that jumps into sneers during a veer toward raw sienna. There is a treasure in all of us that tosses on the Mediterranean along with all of our parrots.
My walnut entertains revolt. A throat envies our roots in fingers. It rivers a burning confusion. The concertina navigates its urges there. I roll the equipment forward and travel to Norway where I plead for a conference of trees and plants.
The ceiling here is a color I have mapped by chewing gum and spitting it out at the local bazaar. I tend to unfold myself there and coolly argue prices with a sow and a lobster. I have sewn my absence from a cloth of acceptance. The oarlocks have approved my grab of the oars. I evergreen thunder in my coaxing corrugation.
The locals steal our greenery in excerpts, then bring it back as sandstone. The mind squirms without a propeller. I feel this so affectionately that I am focused and lyrical. My smell wheel creaks with iron. My address demonstrates an unfettered taste for whispered bingo.
Fabrication heals a great wound of oysters. The air ages in our hope. A bulb of snakes prophesies a philodendron’s grip on the earth of our tomfoolery. Club the science of bias sing the angles of tilt until it crackles and seams then hang it in a window for the light to filter and show us what an aura can do to an experience of denim. If you buy my narrative I will send you a signed volume of alarming doctrine.
Wait skidoodle until the clouds carry their own salvation. This above all know yourself and expect banging. The clay reveals a palpable ripple and it is brown to send a blue machine to a red toupee. We bleed pages at breakfast. The pronouns joke with fire.
Here is a rag of limestone forged in consciousness like a bank. Think of money as a procession of mists climbing a totem of lost horizons. We pass over Möbius, Alaska in a series of loops, splashing our map with arbitrary lines and emotions that grow into mountains. We push an open dribble. I quark I paint I pepper I teem with participles and sob.
I am sobbing, I am a sobbing fool for construction. I explode on impact. I pull a preposition and flip during my plunge into contemplation. A blood faith angel bubbles verbal paraphernalia. I believe it is a form of grammar that causes the sky to pin itself to the night and twinkle.
I scratch a friction inquiring it. I squirt a station forged in railroad milk. I cook, I skulk, I arrange what needs arranging and ride the rest to a maple tree plunged into being, the way wood does when it carries the wind on stilts. It is sublime to drool pencils. Working this struts your concern, I know, because your kerosene is burning the wick into a sweeping identification of mass.
Mass is energy when it assumes heft and purport. It is a device of two rings pivoted at right angles in a moving vessel. It is a door opening to a room of clocks and monsoons. It is complex as a piano and simple as a pin. It is this confusion distilling into a soft blue light of absolution. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We're Going Up Now

Seagulls on the horizon in reveries of flight the water is calm broken clam shells litter the beach. There is a rowboat resting in the sand and a swimmer emerges from the water carrying a starfish. It’s a woman who is nude save for the tattoo of a breeching whale on her lower back. An echo stains the communication between a color and a reflection. The foundry is closed. The words to describe it are rough and archaic. The ocean makes a sound like religion. Like the monks of Mont Saint-Michel. Like the sound of blood in the heart of a mosquito. Like the weight of a perplexity in the whisper of a nun. Like a crown of thorns. Like pins in a map. Like Galileo’s telescope. Like the knife of beauty when it stabs a nerve.
The bells of a sleigh ring in a cemetery buried in snow. Actors rehearse Hamlet in a high school gymnasium. Membranes exchange fluid. Miracles of lace sprawl against the sky. Mannequins in a display window gaze into the void with painted eyes and fashionable clothes. Everything is flux and color and ice. Genitals warm. Champagne sparkles. The air invigorates. The succulence of flesh causes gerunds to shine like sapphires. The bog is silent. Nevertheless the contraries of muslin and soap solicit the bonhomie of philosophers and chubby engravers. The world turns on a muscle. Wrinkles introvert in chiaroscuro. The light in the hotel lounge slithers toward abstraction. A man takes an oath. The linen is delivered on carts. People grab bagels and glue.
Suppose below a mirror the propane within drifts through a paradigm of progress. Tattoo what sunlight you can to your inner excelsior. There is a pamphlet about the galaxy. Its revelations are honored with thatch and adobe. Float an ocher. Demand an appearance at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Fondle a lyric. Rub this guitar to gravy. There is plaster if you regret the armchair. By lip I mean wildcat. Do that. Sometimes the veins will exaggerate the effect. Run in and slide around on it. The desk is thrilling. But the floor is an answer to baptism. It would cure an octagon of urine. Soak the nutmeg in images like cardboard. The box is a journey of corners. Think of a subtlety and then turn it into a lake. The haiku will flex a pineapple to hoses. And then the whole ensemble comes together to form a peacock.
The ribbon of deviation affirms the gentle camber of the highway. The almanac grumbles its predictions like a puddle emits rags of impatience. The sun bathes in a paragraph. Rumors of grace awaken the hills. There are days when I feel like I could fly and days when I emit the radar of reverie while tassels of suicide wink at the teleology of postage stamps.
Last night there was a thin layer of frost on the windshield which immediately disappeared as soon as the heater got going and Cat Power sang “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again.” We went to Fed Ex for more ink cartridges in order to print more images of myself imitating the disk thrower in the Louvre and put it in Christmas cards. Life is often a bouquet of events that arrive in pieces, like a mushroom or village. For example, the sentence which is dipped in thought and holds together by sunflowers and rain. All I need is a little wire, a grasshopper and a volcano and I can demonstrate the fragility of butter. Anyone can fold infinity into a ruby if they have enough time and fingers. The eyes of the hummingbird are sharpened by storm. But the nails of the cabin are the same as the nails of the attic.
There is a ghost on the ceiling holding an alpaca. Behind him is a procession of palpable odors, including smoke, vanity, and justice. The squirts are pungent. We adhere to the blobs that we believe in not the sputters of vowel in a fathom of turmoil. Those are for telephones. I wince at the sneer of perspective. The oars swing out and the boat moves forward. We behave like this after the play spreads its meanings on stage and the chatter of the actors dilate into private soliloquy. I love it when that happens. I employ my vertebrae for an erection that will last. If you turn the page, you will see a picture of my medication. It awakened this chronicle I built. It is huge and pink and brings a dark presence of cows into the light of an elevator paneled in black walnut and East Indian rosewood. We’re going up now. Hold on. Chew an airport if your ears pop. This voice I’m using hasn’t been invented yet. It’s still on paper. Think of it as a float. Poetry is a contraption for dancing under your skin. I’ve heard it’s quite charming. I believe I’ve heard indications of this in the so-called grapevine. Unfetter your sand and listen to the surf. There. Now pummel our leg with a universe.
I am amid bumps now, things called words, excresences imagined as knots of light and Palomino clay. They have a wonderful pull. There is a great cherry to put in the mouth and suck. It’s sublime to argue with the air. But if you pull this chain and feel a tension at the other end, prepare for rain. Hold on to your hat and ride like the wind.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Hunt for Burning Seed

I feel the highway warp. The hunt for burning seed. What phantom copper it stirs. We rattle our fiery blades. I smear poems with structure.
It makes the plywood theological. I extend a chromium sneeze. I withdraw I blush aluminum. I spin irritations to brush. The spice starts a compliment.
The salon treads its veins. What eyes aren’t living clay? The trees heave toward elegance. My clarinet needs this liniment. It sparkles a visible wisdom.
Structure is an incidental energy. The dollar is an engine. My puddle walks beside itself. I am feeling a string. I am feeling extra extraterrestrial.
An hibachi provides its whatness. I am my own tendency. Personality is an intriguing push. The muse bends a murmur. The palette clangs like culture.
Categorical imperatives worry our sympathy. Throats stir toward anarchic dance. Our reality is an art. The blisters free their volume. The waves paint our sleep.
We play with shining parallels. An immediate apple jets red. A gauze effects a minuet. We get around on blood.
All this is is foam. What happens is glimpsed amusement. The Bach strays into stories. The apples grapple to slop. We make books under pomegranates.
The books express our trinkets. Our syntax our burning desires. Our winter shoes our occupations. Our adjustments our insoluble dreams. Our necessities our aquarium mirrors.
Sandwiches obtain illusionism from belts. They alter exasperation and arabesque. Arabesque is an oily experiment. This occurs in five bones. And then becomes a river.
It goes up an elevator. Water strengthens an old rattlesnake. The oval hobnob prompts affiliation. Aching is proverbial for curls. Everything else is simply shade. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

This Is What Happens

I go in search of a refill for my pen. I write with a pen that is no longer being manufactured and so feel lucky when I can find a refill for it. I have to negotiate some really heavy Pearl Jam traffic to get to the drugstore that carries refills for my pen, but it’s worth it. It’s a very special pen. What pen isn’t special? How many people get attached to a pen? Whenever I nail its liquid blue songs to a sheet of paper I know it is no ordinary pen. When I put words down on a sheet of paper and the words open their mouths to sing Magnificat I know it is no ordinary pen. Clocks and almonds float in a chamber of mirrors. Text becomes quantum in a beautiful amiability of hills and snow. The sauerkraut of an acrid emotion adds a practical advantage to the calories of a marriage actualized by pulley and glitter. The empire confronts its own image in a bottle of formaldehyde. I glean specimens of elevation from a hysterical temperature and open the doors of perception to a public unraveling in strands of lethal sentimentality.
I get this way every year. Sad, immoderate, clairvoyant, worn, angry, coconut, hairy, gnarled, haywire, cheeky, incorrigible, null and void, seriously hilarious and hilariously serious, transparent, obscure, sticky, haggard, illegal, radical, numb, dumb, unconformable and hazy. That about covers it, except for the reindeer, which are myriad and supernatural, the way reindeer were meant to be. Why else occupy the forests of Finland?
When it gets really cold, the windows awaken to the abyss of levers in the heart of a lizard.
Permit me to offer you an agate. It’s an agitated agate because the agency of its aggregation is purely geological and a friend to the community of ooze on the skin of a river.
Gypsies have set up a camp on the frontier of a country whose incandescent moods are continuing to evolve into a culture of drills and terrible examples.
When the winter solstice arrives, we will enter our beds and disembark on a long round color of clay.
Winter solstice is close. The nights linger long into the day, and the day itself collapses as soon as it mounts the sky and twinkles down at us with commercial zeal. An elderly man in a Santa costume rings a bell by a Salvation Army kettle. A fountain is frozen into the shape of a dragon. Snowflakes are painted on a storefront. Hunting knives are on sale for $65 dollars and a bolt action Remington with a walnut stock is going for $148.50.
Silver bells, silver bells, it's Christmas time in the city. Ring-a-ling, hear them sing, soon it will be Christmas day.
I don’t know where I got it. Twisting a stubborn cap from a root beer bottle? But it’s a tiny cut, barely a cut at all. There was no blood. Just a tiny tear in the skin on the underside of my thumb that now looks like a tiny eye with a tiny eyelid winking at me.
This is what happens when you read Philip Lamantia. You see eyes everywhere. Even your eyes become eyes. And your I’s become I’s. I is an other. I is an electron in a phosphatase enzyme. I is an owl flying by at twilight.
Every moment is light the light that is in darkness the light in the Alaskan town where the Haida rock band plays the light astir in the water in the lower basin of the fountain of four bishops in the parvis of Saint Sulpice of Paris the light illuminating the digits on the front of the stove the sound of light is the rustle of a newspaper the sound of light is a spiral nebulae in cosmic expansion the sound of light is the truth of Being embracing existence in its ecstatic essence.
We are ourselves both the instrument of discovery and the instrument of definition said Charles Olson which is of course why language is a prime of the matter and why it is necessary to fly lions and dolly the vibrational energy of phonemes across the entrance to the hotel and always take the direction that is best understood as a dew point everywhere that a fog fosters the growth of the immaterial and each moment is explored for its intricacy and coins.
We must learn to incise the gleam of nothingness in our shirt sleeves and gleefully imitate the transparency of air in a tire whose tread is patterned like Spinoza’s studio and somewhere in Italy there is a road that disappears over a hill of poplars and birds whose music disappears into the afternoon whose breath is forever filling the sentences created by a thousand lost sensations.
City sidewalks busy sidewalks it’s the solstice silly let’s get dark and unreal let’s adorn ourselves with blackberries let’s finalize the deal and diffuse flat needles and erect cones in celebration of ghost dances and Gestalt psychology let’s turn into paragraphs and leaven like the bread of heaven like ball peen hammers like El Salvador like gymnosperms like pawn tickets like the crisis of poetry when it suddenly discovers itself in the physiology of a crumb.
I feel the need to build a poem of tiny crystals that make a certain vibration when it is lightly touched and the thermonuclear fusion that powers the sun illumine new tools of thought. I need to do this soon. Because it is happening. Atoms and planets and passions are happening. Opinions and chemicals and movements are occurring. It is all completely absurd and outdoors and spurting. And this is what happens. This is what happens when you read Philip Lamantia. And the planet spins toward a new season of bones and roads and overly explicit jugs and the puzzles find new descriptions and the oceans continue their gamble on infinity and a concentration of words glides into the hysterical sublime of this moment. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Magic Wands and Traffic Lights

Bright, cold, sunny day, first week of December. We go for a run. As we finish our last mile, we pass a brick apartment building. I notice a chicken in the kitchen window of the first floor apartment. It doesn’t move. It’s a stuffed chicken. Why would someone stuff a chicken? Was it a prize chicken? A pet? A few yards further Roberta and I prepare to cross Queen Anne Avenue North, one of Seattle’s busiest arterials. After many years of negotiating the crosswalk with only a little yellow light feebly flashing a word of caution to the motorists rocketing up the slope to pay heed to the pedestrians, which they mostly do not, we now have a full-fledged traffic light, a ponderous apparatus with a set of signals the drivers must take seriously.
The grade up Queen Anne Avenue North is quite steep. When it snows in the winter, it becomes a popular ski slope. The rest of the year drivers shoot up the slope with extreme aggression, which I believe has something to do with fighting gravity, or the anxiety of falling rearward if the engine of one’s car suddenly gives out, or one’s tires lose their grip, which sometimes happens. When it rained, the tires of our Subaru Justy used to spin and squeal like teenage banshees at a Justin Bieber concert. We would barely make it to the top.
The crosswalk is well-marked, but no one pays any attention to crosswalks in this city. It’s just white fluorescent paint gobbed on asphalt in thick meaningless stripes.
The most worrisome aspect to this crosswalk are the drivers who, heading north up the steep slope, do not see that the car ahead of them is stopping for a pedestrian. They assume the car is stopping to make a left turn, or stopping for no reason at all, which is typical of Seattle drivers. Seattle drivers have a tendency to lose cognition of their function as drivers and stop, presumably to receive a sign from God or the unconscious to give them renewed purpose and direction in life, or sink into the wax of their being and ferment in inanition. Until then, they’re just going to sit in their car and gaze over the steering wheel as gobs of spit drool from their chin.
This is a common occurrence on the steep slope of Queen Ann Avenue North. The drivers behind, irritated and cursing, make a sudden strategic move to the right, thinking to pass the stopped car and reenter the proper lane as soon as they crest the hill. It’s a lucky pedestrian that notices this, and a lucky motorist that sees the pedestrian before creating another traffic fatality.
The new light is wonderful. There is a button to press that makes a little beep, or blip, and the light turns red almost immediately. Cars stop. One proceeds into the crosswalk feeling like a king or queen on the way to a coronation. The power to stop traffic with a color is a form of magic. The eyes moisten. The pope and court retinue await our arrival on the other side. The motorists gaze at this spectacle with seething impatience. But, perhaps, also a little awe, as the court applauds our arrival and our heads bow to receive anointment and crowns.
We pass a high granite wall on Highland, where the street curves gently to the north, then straightens in an east/west direction. The big rocks are sparkling. I’ve never noticed this before. It must be the direct light of the sun creating this effect.
Later, after showering and getting dressed, we go shopping for groceries. Not much. Just a few items. The bill comes to $80 dollars. I’m amazed. I examine the receipt more closely when we return home. How is it possible that this amount of groceries could be so expensive? How do people manage? Are goods becoming scarce? Is it price fixing? What gives?
The coffee is the most expensive item. We got two one pound bags of Starbucks coffee, at $14.00 each. $4.59 for whipping cream, $4.99 for a jar of strawberry jam, $5.29 for a hunk of Romano cheese, $4.49 for a two quart bottle of Welch’s grape juice, $5.29 for a container of Feta cheese. $3.39 for spaghetti sauce, $3.39 for a dozen eggs, $20 for wine and root beer.
There is a sheriff’s car in the underground parking garage when we arrive, the lights on the roof of his black and white car flashing. There is no immediate explanation for this. No one is being cited or arrested. The sheriff and his car are still there when we return with our groceries, the car lights still flashing. This worries me a little as we are driving the neighbor’s car. They’re on an overseas trip and asked if we could drive their car from time to time, as this was recommended by the local mechanic. If we were to be stopped by the police for some reason we would have some explaining to do. Fortunately, we exit the garage without any incident.
We watch a segment on Thalassa about a fish in the Sea of Galilee called tilapia, or Saint Peter’s fish, so-named because of the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth. It is assumed that the species was the tilapia, though it is not so named in the Bible. It is also probably the tilapia that appears in Mathew 14:15-21 (King James version):
15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
18 He said, Bring them hither to me.
19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
The meat of the tilapia is white in color with a flaky texture a little firmer than that of catfish. It provides more protein than it takes to raise it (unlike farmed salmon or tuna), are omnivorous, preferring phytoplankton or benthic algae; in the Sea of Galilee they love protein-rich duckweed and filter algae from the water using the tiny combs in their gills. The fish are highly adaptable, easily cultured and can tolerate low oxygen levels and a range of salinities. They’re happy in ponds, rivers, lakes, canals, even irrigation channels. They have high reproductive capacities and quickly establish self-reproducing populations. The fish has an oval shape and is sometimes referred to as an “aquatic chicken.”
Tilapia is known as izumidai when prepared for sushi.
Thalassa is a program on our French cable station (TV5 Monde) featuring everything and anything to do with the ocean. Water has been on my mind a lot lately as I’ve been reading L’eau et les rêves by Gaston Bachelard. I was struck by one passage in particular, having to do with Poseidon defending the daughter of Danaos from the attack of a satyr. Poseidon thrusts his trident into a rock and water gushes out, thereby discovering a life-giving spring on the otherwise completely arid island of Lerna. The story, gleaned from Charles Ploix, is referred to as a “baguette magique,” a magic wand. I find this interesting. The image of a stick thrust into a rock and producing water has an obvious sexual implication. This makes me wonder further about the phallic power of the magic wand. A conductor’s baton, for instance, is shaped very similar to that of a magic wand, and as the conductor waves it rhythmically about, it seems to draw from the orchestra a world of sounds and timbres as if it were a form of conjuration as much as musical direction.
The pen, too, is a form of magic wand, a little stick full of ink from which words are conjured, worlds created.
There is similar imagery in the poetry of William Blake, as in this passage from the Book of Thel: “Can Wisdom be put in a silver rod / Or Love in a golden bowl?”
The first recorded instance of the word ‘wand’ with reference to its magical power is (according to the OED) this passage in Middle English from The Wars of Alexander, an alliterative poem surviving in fragments on what is called the Ashmole manuscript housed at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It was written sometime between 1450 and 1500 by an anonymous author: “On hiȝt in his hand haldis a wand / And kenely by conjurisons callis to him spirits,” which I translate as “On high in his hand holds a wand / And keenly by conjurations calls to him spirits.”
I discover another spring, this time in the pocket of my coat. But it’s detritus, not water, that I bring forth from its depths: two ticket stubs to Nebraska at the Guild 45th, two ticket stubs to Philomena at the Uptown, and a receipt for four pillows from Fred Meyers.
The pillows are wonderful and have made a significant change in our lives, providing rest and sanctuary, a place that is soft and receptive for the weight of the head, full of the problems of life, and hungry for sleep and renewal. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Next Sensation

The Allegory of Bullets baffles me if I am outdoors with a gun. It is not a real gun. It is a poetry gun. Poetry guns shoot bullets of apparitional jelly. People get sticky, then transcendent, then roll over and laugh.
My backpack is stuffed with autumn. I am my own unofficial engagement ring. I inflate it, then float it above my finger, as if it were a potato, or a slender specimen of yellow crisis. I am proposing to the sky. I am proposing that we get married in a play, exchange pithy dialogue, and float clouds full of light and despair over the heads of the audience.
Yes, despair is a form of light. It is blue, of course, a soft blue light. Sometimes it trembles with life and its shadows spread on the ground, swallowing oil refineries and propagating intrigue.
Go ahead: I’m listening. If the power fails, speak louder. I will stretch the light of the candle into the next room, where Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein are playing cards.
Gasoline is an energy I secrete. It murmurs quietly as it swims to the surface of my skin and fantasizes a singularity of paregoric rust. The drugs arrive and include my propeller. I have camaraderie with a soap dish. I love the glow of French ocher in the winter. I love the hothouse imagery of Swinburne, the long postulations of Coleridge by the orchids. I feel soft whenever we exceed the dimensions of goldfish and become glamorous with destiny.
Whatever that is. It’s an aggressive word, I know that. Sometimes my eyes swim through its syllables and come out the other side tilted and revelatory. It’s hard to order breakfast that way. People tend to back off. Fortunately, I have a special glue that holds the paragraph together. It’s what I call begging the pigment to bristle, or configuring the geese along a wire of dangled echo. I rip the air in half and a rattan chair falls out. I sit in it and command empires. The day becomes eager. I strain to spit antiques. I linger. I snap rubber bands. The translation of a moccasin materializes in a pond of English. I parody its insults with a studio apartment and a ball of shouting ganglions. This is what we look like when we sip funny beverages. I loan a little butter to the melody of a birch tree and chat with a terrine of cherries.
Roots are fascinating, are they not? They’re a form of theater that occur invisibly in dirt. Eventually, costumes and dialogue appear in the form of an oak, or chestnut. My knee contains a certain force, but I do not pretend to know what it is. I move plastic objects about and belong to a circle of amusement created by fever and angst. There are days that I feel like a warehouse for worry. I inhabit a white dream that tastes of mirrors and knowledge and study the horizon for signs of correspondence. When it comes, I thread a needle and begin to sew Renaissance doublets and writing becomes a phenomenon not unlike boiling water. Meaning rises in the form of steam, condenses, drips, and the bouillon turns brown with wickedness and mahogany.
A scarlet thunder warms in the hot sauce of comprehension. I do not refute Reason, but I do like to swing it back and forth, then hit it with a pillow. A hammer of fog pounds nails of light into a wave of time. Time is muslin, I believe, which is an improvement over crying, which is lyrical.
The drama that is brown whispers of green in a patch of red. The substantive dissolves in the alembic of a preposition. It is time to go hunt for our food. We approach the tigers, who are scratching themselves as they come awake. We prepare for the journey. We load the camels. The tigers follow us into the next sentence, which is raining, and hinting at the shape of someone approaching from the other end. Shakespeare? Jim Morrison? Jimi Hendrix? I do not know. But if I were wrapped in a cocoon, I would be emerging about now, spreading my wings and swerving to meet the next sensation.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Eidolons and Elves

The Not Forever, poetry by Keith Waldrop. Omnidawn Publishing, 2013.  

Call it serendipity. Call it synchronicity. Call it Woodpile Geometry or Compound Probability. Call it a Happy Bright Penny of Epistemic Relativism or Sudden Pullulation of Loop Quantum Gravity in a One-Bedroom Möbius Syzygy, but at the same time I found myself immersed in The Ontology of Physical Objects by Mark Heller, and discovering that when we get down to a small enough level where a given particle has no real matter but is a mathematical tendency with a flavor that is up or down or strange or charmed, Keith Waldrop’s new collection of poetry from Omnidawn, The Not Forever, found its way into my hands.  

The Not Forever begins with a quote by Niels Bohr: “The word reality is also a word…” Consequently, I knew what I was in for. A brief flip of the pages revealed a poetry of mostly short lines surrounded by a lot of space, which is often a sign of elliptical fragmentation, polymeric iridescences piquant as a pink mosquito, the layout so visibly evident as a component of space that the reader knows instantly the words are not entirely trustworthy as units of semantic value and significance, but take their heft and hue from the dynamic of interrelation. Poetic structure is always a fusion of ideas with the material, a magnetic field in which the solidity of symbol and sensory qualities are rattled by abstraction. But when the lines are this condensed and there is evident an intense focus on the atomistic qualities of language, each word is freshly initial, creative, generative. Structure is laid bare. Space is a-temporal, a-logical, abstract. It is never oral; hence it is pure, authentic, autonomous. Space gives the poetic line its éclat. Signs have meaning in relation to other signs. Things get mathematical. And slippery.  

It was characteristic of Niels Bohr to respond to ontological questions by professing a lack of interest in reality and shifting the emphasis to language. The full passage from which Keith has taken this quote (from “The Philosophy of Neils Bohr” by Aage Petersen) reads as the following:  

We depend on our words… Our task is to communicate experience and ideas to others. We must strive continually to extend the scope of our description, but in such a way that we cannot say what is up and what is down. The word “reality” is also a word, a word which we must learn to use correctly. 

The Not Forever is divided by Roman numeral into eleven sections. Section IV, titled “Space-Time Descriptions,” is a series of nine poems which include the lines “summer // and barbarous // sun feels / cold,” “palace, a different smell,” “imaginary lines, imaginal / rules // sea,” “door / out of another world, not // rows of teeth but // separate systems, placed / in the center of my / mouth, three // thick walled cities,” and “world // as if // opposite // as // if world.” The vigorous blend of sensation and abstract thought in these lines, coupled with the dissonant amalgam of imagery, generate an exquisite confusion, a domain of the imagination in which the apprehension of homelessness, of a decentered subjectivity flooded with ecstatic Being, finds expression in a language that is set in continual motion. The lines are brief, taut, tactile. They are set in space like stones in a creek to help with a crossing. The immediate impression is one of simplicity, but that is a deception. They’re not quiet epiphanies of eastern poetry, à la Cid Corman, but the evocative propositions of a physicist working equations out with words rather than mathematical symbols. The sense of motion comes from the interplay of contrasts; it is a function of space and time free to turn in various directions.  

There is an analogue in music: by dividing the world of sound into definite areas and shifting movement from major to minor, composers mirror the interplay of forces pervading and procreating the universe.  

The world itself is revealed to us in fragments. Reality is multi-dimensional, keyed to our five senses. Beliefs have a hard time stabilizing. Experience, which itself is composed of thousands of simultaneous events, is most honestly related in fragmentation.  

The many allusions to science, to quantum mechanics, evident in Keith Waldrop’s work calls to mind those wonderful remarks Louis Zukofsky made in his essay on poetry in the collection Prepositions. In particular, his comparison of poetry to the rigors of science: 

To think clearly then about poetry it is necessary to point out that its aims and those of science are not opposed or mutually exclusive; and that only the more complicated, if not finer, tolerances of number, measure and weight that define poetry make it seem imprecise as compared to science, to quick readers of instruments. It should be said rather that the most complicated standards of science  -  including definitions, laws of nature and theoretic constructions  -  are poetic, like the motion of Lorentz’ single electron and the field produced by it that cannot 'make itself felt in our experiments, in which we are always concerned with immense numbers of particles, only the resultant effects produced by them are perceptible to our senses.’  

On page 65 of The Not Forever, the single line “A relativity of the taut string,” fascinates me. The picture of a string is clean and easy. The qualifier ‘taut’ identifies it as either a guitar or piano string. Though it occurs to me it might also be the string of a lute, violin, cello, Finnish jouhikko or Chinese huluhu. It might not even be attached to a musical instrument. It is my mind that attached it to a musical instrument. Or, rather, it is the qualifier ‘taut’ that nudged my mind to create a picture of a string on a musical instrument. It could also be the string of a pendulum swaying back and forth as the earth turns, or possibly a fish, striped marlin, wahoo or skipjack tuna. The word ‘relativity,’ which also happens to be the subject of the sentence, is what makes the string vibrate, gives it resonance, resilience, a palpable presence.  

Relativity implies movement. Implies indeterminacy, quasars, pulsars, immense distances in space. Distances so immense that time and space expand into semantic shampoo, viscous translucencies oscillating and rippling with cosmic forces. The line and its seeming simplicity carry a charge that is fantastically complex, bundles of energy traveling in transverse waves.  

The line appears as the last of four poems in section V, with the mysterious title “also a fountain [re-buildings].” The first poem, whose lines are longer than most of the poems in the collection and approximate the more neutral rhythms of prose, are an interweaving of texts, one of which is from a very short story in Icelandic Folktales and Legends edited by Jacqueline Simpson called “The Origin of Elves,” and concerns a lost traveler who is granted the rather ballsy request to sleep with one of the daughters of a “mature woman” but discovers that she has no body. She tells him that she is a spirit, and as such “I cannot give you pleasure.” The otherworldly character of these lines is accented by a series of other fragmentary lines that appear to be from a Greek translation of the New Testament, the scene in which Jesus breaks bread, gives portions to his disciples, and tells them that the bread is his body, “which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  

The irony here is that since the authorship of these lines is somewhat dubious, and may in part be Keith Waldrop, or not at all the product of Keith Waldrop, but rather fragments gleaned from reading, Keith Waldrop’s “body” is not here either. It is a world of signs. It is a domain of symbols and otherworldly shadows, eidolons and elves.  

The otherworldly character of this section, with its clear implication of non-existent bodies and transcendent realities, reminds me of Mallarmé’s chimerical bouquet of flowers in his prose poem essay “Crisis of Verse,” in which he writes: 

What good is the marvel of transposing a fact of nature into its vibratory near-disappearance according to the play of language, however: if it is not, in the absence of the cumbersomeness of a near or concrete reminder, the pure notion. 

I say: a flower! And, out of the oblivion where my voice casts every contour, insofar as it is something other than the known bloom, there arises, musically, the very idea in its mellowness; in other words, what is absent from every bouquet. 

As opposed to a denominative and representative function, as the crowd first treats it, speech, which is primarily dream and song, recovers, in the Poet’s hands, of necessity in an art devoted to fictions, its virtuality.

Words, when it becomes apparent that they do not have any real connection with the things to which they refer, go further than fulfill the dreary functions of communication; they negate the physical reality to which they refer and assume a different kind of presence on the page of a book, sheet of paper, or vibrations of a voice in the air.  

The Not Forever is a crepuscular world in which allusions to quantum mechanics intermingle with citations from fairy tales and quotations from the Bible. Dream and particle create shadows of correspondence with (as Keith phrases it) the “dense tangle cluttering” the “junkyard of matter” that constitutes what we call reality.  

Or “Oort’s garden, gently raked…” 

I’m not entirely sure who Oort is, but it might be Jan van Oort, creator of a comic strip and children’s book character called Paulus the Woodnome. Paulus is the keeper of a wood and is helped by an owl named Oehoeboeroe (pronounced Oohoobooroo), a raven named Salomo, and a badger named Gregorius. There are also visitors to the wood, including the fish-horse named Joris, giants and acorn men. 

It may also be a reference to the Oort Cloud, a hypothesized spherical cloud of icy protoplanetary green dust grains named after Dutch astronomer Jan Oort predicted to lie roughly a light-year from the sun (and which, coincidentally, was reported in the news today in connection with the Comet ISON, "a shining green candle in the solar wind," passing near the sun in the region of the Oort Cloud; there was hope that at least a remnant of the comet might survive; it did not.).

I'm guessing that Oort's Garden, whatever it may be, is a pretty terrific sort of garden whose flowers might be called into existence by wand, syllable, or vibrations in the air.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being and Nothingness

Breakfast has become a competition with the toaster. It’s slow. It’s the slowest toaster of all time. It has outlasted empires. It occupies regions of the spacetime continuum with the obstinacy of a barnacle on a Santa Monica boardwalk piling. It measures chronological intervals in terms of geological formation. Its slowness gives the structure and topology of time a voluptuous sinuosity and meanders and eddies and fetid estuaries. Its slowness is a curse and a blessing. I have learned how to adapt. I have learned how to maneuver through conceptions of immediacy and sensory experience. I have widened my embrace of the universe. I can smell the burning of distant suns. I can smell the electrical coils of a kiss in the fourth dimension.  

Here is what I do while I wait for the toaster: earn a Ph.D in astrophysics, astroturf, and ataraxia. Enter marathon poker games in Las Vegas. Raise turkeys. Watch trees cycle through seasonal changes in terms of sap flow density, leaf stomatal conductance, and leaf transpiration. Write letters to dead poets. Invent participles. Disassemble and reassemble the refrigerator. 

I finish breakfast and go online and try to fix my YouTube problem. It may not be strictly speaking “my” problem. The forums indicate that everyone is having problems with YouTube. The frame keeps freezing anywhere from ten to thirty seconds into a video. It would appear that Google is having a Spam war. I wonder if there is a connection between the frames freezing up and the shitstorm of penis enhancement ads I’ve been getting and endlessly deleting in my Spam File. I can’t believe how popular these penis size enhancement pills are. People must actually be purchasing them online. Why would anyone want to increase the size of their penis? It occurs to me that some penises out there might be truly petite. But how is a pill going to increase the size of someone’s member? How would that work? What obscure chemical in the jungles of the Amazon has been discovered to increase the size of a man’s penis? You don’t find women wanting to increase the size of their vagina. I think there the situation might be reversed. Reducing the size of a vagina, perhaps, rather than augment its volume. Why do I not see pills for that? Women seem to be better adjusted to whatever nature has given them. 

I go for some coffee, but there’s only enough to fill not quite half of my Beatles mug. I decide to make more. The lid is stuck. This is a porcelain lid Roberta recently discovered in our cupboard. She likes these lids. I’m content with the cone reposing on top of the pot. Roberta prefers to put the cone aside and put a lid on the pot. It’s more aesthetic. But I can’t get it off. I think it was intended for a different pot and doesn’t quite match the size of this pot. It’s really stuck. I go for a pair of pliers but then realize I can’t use pliers on a porcelain handle unless I can figure out how to cushion the pincers of the pliers. And why is pliers plural? It’s really only one tool. Why is it called a “pair of pliers?” I return to the problem at hand. Maybe a butterknife. I get a butterknife and work the tip of the blade under the lid and begin wiggling it a little. I hear something break. There are two small lobes on the underside of the lid to keep the lid from falling into your coffee when you’re pouring more coffee into your mug. One of them has broken. But now I can get the lid off. We keep the lid. A lobeless lid fits better than a lobed lid.

I am a reading a page from La vie de Joseph Roulin by Pierre Michon, a fragment of which has been read by French actress Alexia Stresi on a program on France Culture radio called Je déballe ma bibliothèque, when I hear a knock at the door. I get up to go see who’s there. I hear footsteps going up the steps and figure it must be the mailman. It is. I open the door, and there is a package. I open the package. It’s a copy of Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre, a gift from James Heller Levinson and his partner Mary. I happened to mention to him in an email that my copy is lost somewhere in our storage bin and I had to check a copy out from the Seattle Public Library, which someone called back before I could renew it. That was kind of them. I open the book randomly to page 544 and read the beginning of the paragraph at the bottom:  

The “master,” the “feudal lord,” the “”bourgeois,” the “capitalist” all appear not only as powerful people who command but in addition and above all Thirds; that is, as those who are outside the oppressed community and for whom this community exists. It is therefore for them and in their freedom that the reality of the oppressed class is going to exist. They cause it to be born by their look. It is to them and through them that there is revealed the identity of my condition and that of the others who are oppressed; it is for them that I exist in a situation organized with others and that my possibles as dead-possisbles are strictly equivalent with the possibles of others; it is for them that I am a worker and it is through and in their revelation as the Other-as-a-look that I discover “Us” in which I am integrated or “the class” outside, in the look of the Third, and it is this collective alienation which I assume when saying “Us.” 

Man, does that bring back memories of every job I’ve had. I remember one incident in particular with astonishing clarity. I was working for the mailing service of a university in a building with three floors. We, the drivers and mail processors doing the actual grunt work, worked on the lower floor with the loading docks and Pitney-Bowes machines and pallets. The administrators and program assistants and such worked on the third floor. The break-room for the workers was a tiny space that had formerly been a storage closet. It stank so badly I could not go in there. I took my breaks out on the loading dock, even in the cold of winter. The break room on the third floor was huge, and had a spectacular view, big tables and comfortable chairs. It was available to me, but the janitor always seemed to be there doing his work during my break. I dated for a short while a woman in her early thirties who worked on the third floor as a program assistant. I was in my early forties. It was quite obvious that although I was fully committed to my writing during my off-hours, I was not enjoying the success of a Tom Robbins or Sherman Alexie. My position was somewhat of an embarrassment to her. I went to visit her during one of my breaks and waited for her in the reception area on the third floor. The big boss strolled in. He was a tall man, probably the same age as me, maybe younger. I still remember his look. He barely looked at me at all, but when my presence there caught his attention, his look was identical to that of someone who had just seen a cockroach, or unidentifiable insect.
Later in the afternoon, I go for my usual run. Puget Sound is very serene. There is a turquoise mist obscuring the Olympic Mountains to the west, and four big cargo ships waiting to get loaded with grain at Pier 91. 
Water is magical, I think to myself. Everything about it is magical, especially the way it evaporates. Vaporizes, and becomes clouds and columns of turbulent reverie. The reverie is in my head, not in the vapor, but it still seems like reverie, a form of reverie performed by an element. Heat and moisture teased into a Bohemia of wild slippery shapes, elusive apprehensions of invisible forces that blossom into prominences of fleeting convocation.  

The snowman in Zen philosophy is a symbol of transcendence. The snowman is water. Water in the form of crystalline ice particles, fine symmetrical flakes that compound into a being made of snow. Which, when the temperature rises, melts and evaporates. Perfect metaphor for the ephemerality of carnal existence. The Nothingness that is at the core of Being.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Bump What This Garlic Dances

Bump what this garlic dances. Eat pluck a balloon it fishy tense. The toward smear constrains form. Photogenic veins move over the asphalt toward massive dimensions of flighty theology. Twang forge shoot there there. Bake a wince we kiss against. Play a philodendron. Slither through a representation of meat. Stumble into pulling as the ego does when it reddens with inspiration. Pin it to the cupboard. The highway compass clashes my it to an innocent voice. Glow boat the murder act to engorge the flex. A adapt a. Squirt window along an old camaraderie. Joy in empty mass. I reach a rip and snap a box against its focus. This is a thesis that aggressively hammers turpentine. We Mediterranean we. Spring purple. Hurl apparitions. Hop development. This is becoming pretzel. Wildcat paths that job into Pythagorean aesthetics.
The regret box heals what we delay in feeling. I want to dribble a birth. A few dry butterflies effective as explanation, or tears. Before includes turpentine. Joy in the grouse. A convulsive sterling parody we combine with blots of clavicle. This may be dangled over your eyebrows, unrivalled in all but jollity. Mirror medications enhance the secretions. We tend to attack what we most forbear in our physiology. Except spouts. Admonition indigo for an oath we made in buttons. Drift juggle. Massive ablution at a brushwork. I answer all that our antenna incites to chronology. Ancestry energizes what we  twinkle. I toy the procession over fiction. Towered and nascent is the strength we hem. Mood the generator rides over in green life.
Catch pack my adherence donkeys. I flap the almond and murmur like a blossom. I have felt literal since the moccasin medicine cab ride in downtown wind. Hunger this hop to a cool escape. Argue behind the logic of claws. Wear my age.
The palette teems with persuasion, the laughing vapor of a Technicolor window. I have flickered what progress bubbles and discovered contraptions in philosophy that philodendron upon height and turn glad. Spread your instincts on a moistened sorrow. A pronoun tied into a knot of syllables. Act it there. Do a summer garnish at a path below the garage.
We hammer ourselves for elevation. We give prominence to the symmetry of cylinders. Drill work walking through a sense of personality. We clank provocation until the paradigm is over. Slippery creosote excels the apprehension of steel. A flit beyond the sternum’s inch plays havoc with a ceremony of alcoholic participles. Wash your blossom and tease a vertical heat. I feel the umber open to the moan of its own shadow. Thought chat bohemia by a sensual parable. Clean roots of a turpentine heart holding the scent of a stethoscope. I circle a rock and kiss a French knot. I writhe among a hill. I widen to embrace a convocation of geese. I watch the dips and age an eating spit. Molasses rides the escalator to a planet of red abstractions. I stumble through my gun aiming at a vague apprehension of glass, the glimmer of pain in a landfill of broken sonnets. It is loaded with bullets of heavenly scripture. Enough opium to appease a feather of yourself. Charcoal unearthed at a site of tumultuous spirit. Glow of spokes in a mouth of bicycles. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Silly Sunday

It’s 11:30 a.m. a Sunday in late November. I just put in a load of wash and got the Sunday paper from the porch. It’s sunny, chilly, not terribly cold. I take the paper out of its plastic envelope and look for the funnies. I try to avoid the news. Not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s stupid. The writing is bad, the topics are shallow and have little to do with any actual truth, and the bias leans toward the inane and narrow. The headline is, in fact: “Big-time coaches score big-time perks.” Did I say inane? Spectacularly inane.  

Dagwood, on the other hand, is spooky. He is followed around by a drone. He sees it while leaning back in his office chair. It follows him as he goes to a photocopier. It follows him as he goes to a water-cooler. It follows him home. He enters his home, walks past Blondie who is startled to see him followed by the drone, and Dagwood says “Whatever you do, don’t say anything about the boss.” Is this meant as a sly attack on the use of drones, or what the French would call a “banalisation,” a humorous acceptance of the use of drones and surveillance of our daily and private lives? I suspect it is the latter. Dagwood has never been edgy.  

I don’t know who the woman is on the cover of Parade. She is young, in her late twenties or early thirties, is very pretty, a bit on the heavy side, zaftig, with shiny long blonde hair, a red dress and red high-heeled sandal shoes. A red and white Christmas ornament dangles from her left outstretched arm and a large red globular ornament hangs from her outstretched right arm as she attaches it to a white (presumably artificial) Christmas tree, at the base of which are a group of beautifully wrapped presents. The caption reads: “My Best Christmas Ever! With a dashing new husband and visions of babies dancing in her head, Kelly Clarkson celebrates the joys of the season.” Who is this woman? Is she famous? Is she a TV personality? I look inside. I discover that Kelly Clarkson is a “jet-setting international pop star” who just acquired her pilot’s license. 
I suddenly feel very old. I have become one of those old people so out of touch with the world of media that I don’t know who Kelly Clarkson is.  

I hear a distant siren, rumble of a truck, drone of a passing airplane, our new Whirlpool frig kick in with a pop and a whirr. It’s the kind of whirr that translates in my mind as “cold.” “Your food is getting chilled. I am your refrigerator and I am spinning my gears and eating electricity so that your food may be nice and fresh.”  

Thank you, Whirlpool Refrigerator. I wonder what our apartment would look like if all the furniture had dialogue balloons over it. The chair would be saying: “….” I can’t imagine what my chair would be saying. The chair never makes any noises. It supports my body. But it supports my body as an object, wood and fiber, structure and geometry. It has what Aldous Huxley would call a definite “whatness” but I can’t say what that whatness would say if its whatness employed language.  

It is clear I am not destined to write cartoon strips. A cartoonist would know what a chair might say. A cartoonist would draw a chair and the chair would say “I am a chair. I have Being. Yet one cannot speculate about this Being without oneself being a chair. How else would one know what it is to be a chair? To be inorganic? That is to say, to be solid and void of blood or any other animating fluid, void of bone, void of muscle and vision, void of skin and fur. Yet I exist. For there is Being. The primal mystery for all thinking is concealed in this phrase.” 

I hear another plane. There are lots of planes in Seattle. Kenmore Air is less than two miles from us on Lake Union, Boeing Field is 8.2 miles to the south and Sea-Tac, also to the south, is 16.5 miles. I rarely hear jets. I mostly hear planes.  

I hear the liquid rebellion of metaphysical baubles. I hear the osmosis of eccentric membranes, the conflagration of alphabets and the singing of whales in my toenail. I hear a sack of fog moaning in my testicals and hazy secretions fulfill the wizardry of ink. I hear the promiscuity of light in a junkyard of ancient suns and a carnival of molecules in a drop of fire.  

Right now, I’m attempting to establish the reality of a frog with a handful of words. The legs of the frog are long and supple and affirm the vivacity of being. Yet the frog resists becoming a frog. What I have here is the image of a frog. Do you see the frog? If you can see the frog then the frog has a true existence. There is something essential about this frog, although it remains an imaginary frog. But is it ‘a’ frog, or ‘the’ frog? “The” frog, the frog I began assembling, assembling with letters and phonemes, the articles of language, may be different than the frog you have imagined, are imagining, have yet to imagine, have put off imagining until some time in the future when you have more leisure to think about frogs.  

Here are some things I like, besides frogs: the smell of hardware stores, cherry cordials, shovels and magazines, the smell of freshly dug earth, dollop of honey drooling onto a piece of toast from a tablespoon, the quiet glamour of soap, the paradox of dance, the mystery of transparence. 

And books. I have a book that traces the history of sunlight in my shirt and a book on the idleness of colors under the influence of space travel. Olives and catalogues. Dictionaries and incunabula. I have a book that makes a noise like morphine and another that walks through itself word by word looking for thread. A book that squirts windows and a book that grapples with the camaraderie of turpentine.  

A purple apparition hops into a sentence of green and performs a diagnosis on burlap. I rip a paragraph out of the air and snap it against a box of Mediterranean apples. I sip the absence of walls. I pluck a balloon and eat it. The paraphernalia of history dances on a twang of sternum.

I’ve forgotten that I’ve put my clothes in the washer. I go to the washer. I take out my clothes and put them in the dryer and come back in and try to figure out what’s going wrong with YouTube nothing plays. I start Patton Oswald and he starts a monologue about sweat pants and then he stops. YouTube won’t play. I try moving it forward, that doesn’t work. I click it on and off. That doesn’t work. Then I remember that I left my cardigan sweater with the clothes in the dryer and go retrieve it before it shrinks. I come back and try to get Patton Oswald going again. I get him going. He’s a very funny man. But it feels wasteful to be spending my time watching a standup comic when I could be writing wonderful paragraphs, big fat paragraphs full of subtlety and vertebrae. I could put a desk in it. I could qualify the desk. I could call it a sanguine desk. And the desk would instantly become a sanguine desk. But that would be a failure as a desk. To attribute an emotional state to a desk is to destroy the deskness of the desk right down to the root of the word, which is from Medieval Latin, desca, meaning “table to write on,” which in turn is from the Latin word “discus,” meaning “quoit, platter, dish,” which in turn is from the Greek root diskos, meaning “discus,” as in “discus-thrower,” or “discobulus.” I like “discobulus.” 

I actually have a photograph of myself mimicking a discus thrower in the Louvre. I am positioned like the discus thrower, preparing to swing my body round and let a discus fly out of my hand. Only I don’t have an actual discus in my hand. I have nothing in my hand. But then, neither does the discus thrower, who is naked, and marble. He appears to have something in his hand, but I’m not sure what it is. I’ll have to study it more carefully if I am ever in the Louvre again. Meanwhile, I think my clothes are dry. I can go now. Go and discover the rest of this day.  




Saturday, November 16, 2013

Michel Deguy: Poésophe

Michel Deguy has oft been saluted as the “French Dichter-Denker,” or “poésophe.” He is a thinker poet of the first order. “Deguy redefines the art of poetry,” his friend Jacques Derrida observed in his essay on Deguy “How to Name:” “in a performative and irruptive gesture, he gives it a new definition, a new name (he rebaptizes it) and thus, in another space, from his invention of a new cartography, he assigns it a new task. He assigns one to it, that is to say, he signs a new concept of the art of poetry, a new correspondence to its ancient name, and a new responsibility.”
Deguy’s poetry resembles oak: it is hard-grained, enduring, complex, and pushes its roots deep into the abiding earth. There is a roughness to its bark, its outer husk, the heave and tumble of its syllables, what Baudelaire called “l’élastique ondulation.” The sacred oak of the sanctuary known as Dodona, located in in a mountainous region of limestone folds and thrust fault blocks named Epirus in the ancient Greek world, had oracular significance; it was the favored tree of Zeus. Priests divined the pronouncements of Zeus in the rustling of its leaves.
Oak trees are large, spreading their branches in a pyramidal profusion of radial prodigality, catching the wind in wonderful agitations of give and take. Oak is able to do this because its internal structure consists of cells that stretch inward from the bark to the pith and stabilize the framework, keeping the vertical fibers from splitting. It is the constant buffeting of wind that brings the oak tree to life, that causes it to shake and bob, chatter and convulse.
“There is no inertia in consciousness,” observed Jean Paul Sartre. Agitation is the life of the mind in its exertions toward meaning, those rare and wonderful encounters in the more delicate, exquisite region of one’s Being where Being encounters is its own Nothingness.
Poetry speaks to that region. It is where consciousness, to quote Sartre again, “makes itself, since its being is consciousness of being; it sustains being in the heart of subjectivity, which means once again that it is inhabited by being but that it is not being: consciousness is not what it is.”
So what is it? We must look to comparison. The eyeball cannot look at itself, but only through itself. We need a mirror in order to see the very eyeball that permits us to see.
Analogy and metaphor, contrast and comparison are the mirrors whose Funhouse distortions permit us to see those things that are hidden in the transparency of language. It is a paradox. It is the very communicability of language that obscures and vulgarizes access to the ineffable. It is when language falls into the service of expediting communication that, as Heidegger puts it, “language comes under the dictatorship of the public realm, which decides in advance what is intelligible and what must be rejected as unintelligible.” Poetry is a site of resistance. It is the irreverent play of language that frees it from the “cult of rhetoric,” the banality of communication, and instigates the kind of flexibility needed to apprehend the marvelous, what Proust termed “un peu de temps à l’état pur,” a “bit of time in a pure state,” the power to apprehend  -  to taste, smell, grasp, fondle  -  that which is absent, unreachable, fugitive. Past events, ghostly emanations, the aura of intensity surrounding everyday phenomena exquisitely defamiliarized in a rite of poetic exaltation. “L’imagination poétique est le hôte de l’inconaissable” remarks Deguy in L’energie du déséspoir.
Deguy’s poetry is generous, generative, and germane: it burgeons in analogy, flourishes in comparison. Reading Deguy is an intellectual adventure. The spirit of inquiry is immediate and strong and boundless in ramification. I think of Deguy whenever I rush into a room and forget to turn on the light and must feel my way in the darkness for familiar objects, a desk, a bed, a bureau, and eventually a lamp. Illumination, too, is immediate. Phenomenal.
The word ‘phenomenon’ stems from the Greek verb phainein, meaning “to shine, to appear.” In other words, that wherein something can become manifest, visible in itself. Martin Heidegger devotes a chapter to it in Being and Time. He elaborates further:
An entity can show itself from itself in many ways [von ihm selbst her], depending in each case on the kind of access we have to it. Indeed it is even possible for an entity to show itself which in itself it is not. When it shows itself in this way, [“sieht”… “so aus wie”…] it “looks like something or other…” This kind of showing-itself is what we call “seeming” [Scheinen]. Thus in Greek too the expression (“phenomenon”) signifies that which looks like something, that which is ‘semblant,’ ‘semblance’ [das Scheinbare,” der “Schein”].
Again, the paradox of revelation by concealment. There are occasions in which, to bring something to view, to make something manifest, apparent, we must conceal it by putting something in front of it. This, essentially, is the true function of comparison, to say something is “like” something. We see what these things have in common, and what they do not have in common.
The principle of comparison is crucial to a deeper understanding of Michel Deguy’s work. The French word ‘comme’ (the English equivalent of ‘like’ or ‘as if’) is pivotal, operates a “pivotal reciprocity,” as Deguy phrases it. Derrida compares it to a circuit breaker, or light switch:
… one could be tempted to say that the interruption, let’s say the switch or circuit breaker of the comme will have been exhibited more and more in the clarifying machine, in the seeing machine which a poetics is… the logic of a certain “as though” comes along to disturb the truth, to divide the selfsame presence of the comme, to work otherness into the assembly of resemblance and to therein slip the simulacrum or fiction, a fiction without configuration. This movement seems to become accentuated in all the works that follow, right where they faithfully continue to implement the poetic thinking of the comme.
It’s as though the comme, about which one believes too hastily that it unites, symbolizes, and promises identification, had ceased to operate or let itself be operated. It would seem to be operable and to produce works. It would announce the inoperable. Not by contradicting itself but by still working in the name of the comme, about which Deguy often recalls, expressly for example in Things of Poetry and A Cultural Afffair (1986), that “poetry forbids violent identification, through the comme”; or that “comparison looks after the incomparable, the distinction of things among themselves.”
Let’s not call it a moment in order to designate a period and a turning point in the history of Deguy’s work or thinking, but rather a momentum (a movement, a force, a lasting impetus) that inscribes, records, and simultaneously produces, acts, takes note of the shape of a crease both internal and external to the comme. Internal and external like an obsession making poetry at once chant and disenchanted. In truth it inaugurates a poetic disenchantment, or a des-cant, a defection of the poetic chant as its rhythmized movimentum, the breathing, inspiration, and expiration of the caesura. Where ends that which is never-ending.
I bought a copy of Comme Si Comme Ça on the Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris. Since then, Deguy has become a compulsion. The impulse to immersion in his work pulses, propels, pulls the attention in a momentum of smoldering foment. There is heat. There is appliance. There is feeling. Most importantly, there is interrogation: searching, probing, branching out. Divergence, expansion, proliferation. And their contraries: compression, condensation, distillation. Enchantment and disenchantment.

Deguy’s influences are names generally connected with modernist and postmodernist poetry, in France and the United States: Baudelaire, Nerval, Rimbaud, Ducasse, Mallarmé. There are touches of surrealism, but Deguy’s poetry always remains engaged with actual, raw experience, the complexities and abrasions of external reality, the so-called “everyday.”  Yet, strangely, although it avoids the phantasmagoric manias of the surrealists and opens itself with breathtaking frankness to some of life’s more painful and intimate experiences, Deguy’s poetry does not degenerate into the anecdotal, one-dimensional work more apt to be found in the New Yorker or read by Garrison Keillor on NPR. Kenneth Koch expresses this complex dynamic in the introduction to Given Giving, a collection of early poetry by Michel Deguy translated into English by Clayton Eshleman:
Deguy’s work doesn’t show the same confidence in the world of dreams, sensation, and the unconscious. He is interested in how his predecessors wrote  -  unexpected transitions, confidence in momentary sensations, willingness to remain unclear  -  but not in their conclusions. The unconscious, the irrational, isn’t the answer. The intellect or, perhaps more precisely, intellectual disciplines, such as psychology and linguistics, come back in his poetry. They come back as directions and as points of view and, verbally, as part of the very texture of Deguy’s poems. They are not, however, any more than are dreams and the unconscious, the Answer: in fact, for all their intellectual atmosphere, Deguy’s poems suggest that, for him, if anything is the answer it is the happy -  or distressing  -  confusing mixture of all the complicated thoughts and points of view that delineate his subjects. This kind of complexity is expressed not by a sustained lyric tone  -  this is less revelation than questioning  -  but by a changing surface of tones, and kinds of language. The poem proceeds, verbally as well as thematically, by means of hesitations, interruptions, changes. It stops, it diverges; it often has an air of being unfinished  -  even, one could say, of having gone nowhere, the way a moment goes nowhere, a moment of perception or sensation with all its intermixture of memories, associations, ideas.
These qualities are precisely what draw me into Deguy’s work and provide a range of possibilities, a spectrum, for where I’d like to take my work. Though I must say it is far from being strictly a matter of writing and literary endeavor. It is a matter of Being, of coming into fuller awareness with the phenomenon of being alive, animate, mortal, vulnerable, often overwhelmed by a glut of sensation and feeling and often an acute sense of loss and a commensurate sense of dread. Deguy has a term for this, too, which he borrowed from Blaise Pascal. It has to do with a certain disproportionality, of smallness, of diminution and mortality in the face of things  -  magnitudes  -  beyond our ability to comprehend them. “This whole visible world,” observed Pascal,
is only an imperceptible trace in the amplitude of nature. No idea approaches it. However much we may inflate our conceptions beyond these imaginable spaces, we give birth only to atoms with respect to the reality of things. In the end, the greatest perceptible sign of God’s omnipotence is that our imagination loses itself in this thought.
Let man, returning to himself, consider what he is with respect to what exists. Let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature, and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the universe, let him learn to estimate the just value of the earth, kingdoms, cities, and himself.
What is a man in the infinite?
But to present him with another equally astonishing prodigy, let him examine the most delicate things he knows.
Deguy’s À ce qui n’en finit pas (To that which does not end), is one of the most moving collections of poetry I’ve read. It grapples with issues I find difficult in the extreme to come to terms with, the loss of a loved one, mortality, the pangs of solitude. À ce qui n’en finit pas was published in 1995. It is a threnody, written shortly after the passing of Michel Deguy’s wife of forty years, Monique. I find it remarkable that he not only had the strength to write, but to explore his pain and this universal sorrow with such remarkable articulation, depth, and frankness.
The work consists of short prose fragments, each a deep reflection on the experience of loss, on the nature of existence, on coping with the absence of a partner, and the dynamics and sometimes harsh reality of marriage itself: “Je relate que la vie conjugagle fut contentieuse, violente, impossible. J’ai souffert du marriage comme personne, comme beaucoup comme tout le monde?” (“I relate that conjugal life was contentious, violent, impossible. I suffered in marriage as anyone, as many as everyone?”).
The book is unpaginated because, Deguy remarks, “each page, or almost, could be the first, or the umpteenth. There is no ordinal series. Everything begins with each page; everything ends with each page.” He had, in fact, originally wanted the book to come out as a roll, a forever unrolling scroll of paper.
“Non-being is a euphemism,” Deguy remarks. It is impossible to conceive of non-existence. As soon as we begin to imagine non-existence, it recedes. It cannot be imagined. Imagining non-existence is to give it a conceptual being. To give it a name, such as “non-being,” is to give it an identity and mask its stark reality. “Non-being” is a term, a philosophical abstraction, an entity of sorts. The finality of death is so utterly beyond human imagining that its impact on the living must be filled with something, anything, flowers, prayer, shrines, graves, tombstones. There must be devised a substitute, a proxy, a recognition that acknowledges death as a fact but not as a reality. Who hasn’t felt at home in a funeral home? What a wonderful (albeit expensive) fiction.
Jean-Luc Nancy remarks on the phrase “non-being is a euphemism” as a “mild way of speaking
that assuages, refuses to accept the crashing violence, the dazed sense of loss, and the bitter realization that says “I know that I cannot bring her back alive.” What he [Deguy] describes here as a “scrap of Orphic allusiveness,” which opens his lament for the dead, or threnody, should of course be taken to refer to both Monique and poetry too. Or rather, not to Monique and poetry but to the one as the other. Not the one absorbing the other, in order to prettify it or make it more touching. Not intimacy exploited but intimacy exposed, precisely because it has to be laid bare, and this has to happen to avoid its being poeticized. Philippe would call this, I think  -  and for once he would say it in the manner of Michel  -  the intimation of intimacy. Not a poetical trafficking with death, or a morbid trafficking with poetry. But the one as the other because the nonliving bringing back of the past, which is infinitely over and with which the bringing back of the past must grapple. The “euphemism,” he reminds us elsewhere, “was invented by the Greeks to mean: to pass over death in silence.” To restore death to its silence by speaking it, which also means to allow death to speak amidst our human, all-too-human silence, and to speak with its ever-fresh, ancient voice. To pass over death: not to pass beyond it, nor to endure and maintain oneself in it, but to pass with it, within it, on a par with its eloquent silence, if that is possible.
It is by way of Deguy’s use of the aforementioned word ‘comme’ that he is able to give such an acute sense of presence to alterity, the “eloquent silence” of the unknowable, its possibility as appearance in perceptual consciousness. It is the logic of one hand touching the other. Comparison brings the unknowable  -  that which resists perception, eludes even a thematic framework  -   within perceptual range, particularly when the objects of our consciousness are altered, inverted, converted, reconstructed. “Death,” remarked Deguy in a piece titled “// et ratures,” “is that ‘unknowable,’ immeasurable thing whose event comes to transform all life, perhaps ‘giving all things the status of figure.’” It is a haunting. An obsession. Deguy elaborates further:
We are haunted, to pick up on that saying by Mallarmé, which is also a saying by Merleau-Ponty (one of those imaginatively charged terms whereby philosophy gets ventriloquized by poetry); obsession: an intimate, cureless mode of the two-in-one relation… if at every point in language “the union,” the sound-sense crease has already always occurred. To this obsession, which is indivisibly “obsession with the world" in its figures or “rich postulates enciphered” (Mallarmé), poetry devotes itself, tearing language away from this usage that lessens it through univocalities, but also dialectics that restrains play itself.
Deguy is a prolific writer, but only two of his books have been translated into English thus far: the aforementioned Given Giving: Selected Poems of Michel Deguy, translated by Clayton Eshleman and with an introduction by Kenneth Koch, published by the University of California Press in 1984, and Recumbents, a translation by Wilson Baldridge of Gisants: Poèmes, first published in 1985 by Editions Gallimard. Recumbents (published by Wesleyan University Press), includes a substantial essay on Michel Deguy by Jacques Derrida, “How to Name.”