Sep '03 [Home] Degree 365—Year One of 9/11: Sep '02
PoetryPrivate Form, Public Expression
Photo: Mark Dow
Emmett greets me at the doorWAY and
gently circling in place says that the Knicks
have won. Emmett means truth, means ant,
and if you don't know whom I mean
maybe you've already stopped to register
the poet's tic of using private information
as if the world would give a shit, maybe
already put this aside or thrown it aWAY
or thrown it aside or put it aWAY and what
the hell is a poet nowadays anyWAY, well,
he may be somebody tunneling on display
or circling back around where he come from
though the WAY in's repeatedly to float a WAYs.
Funny how many poems open with doorWAYs
but how few with Emmett, the truth, and
an ant standing there in it, standing there
circling in it, circling in the doorWAY or just
to one side of it, maybe you think we just
must make it all up as we go along or are
one of us raised strongly strongly to believe
the lines connect the dots already there.
Therefore, in the egotistical vein, the obsolete
if statistically sentimental strain, rag-and-bottled
man, rattled, hostile take-me-over-easy, man,
aware of you there in the fluttering wingbeats,
deferring to your surer sense of making sense,
muddied with your groundless obscurities,
refreshed in your clear pause and pooled rushings,
waters at the join of opposing tendencies
encompassing selfishlessly until
the idea of individuation, new world which senses
and knows that it senses the old ones, idea
outlined, circum-described until the thought's
tactile, fingers articulate caressing the sanded edge
of a new bureau, possibility, or shelf, one leaf nodding,
quietly laughing into the ear-mouth of wind
until, as in a bridge of ants, each one one
and everyone, all the treefull shakes in delirious
unsurprised recognition of the sawdust scent
they see, I, a re-arrangement sling.
Maybe you feel you don't think you know
what believing in something can mean.
What's most invisible's the main thing after all.
Might you be the window and the being
scene through it at once and between?
In the beginning, after all, were creation myths
one told oneself one overheard and yet was
the primary recipient of. Even though it was odd
it has lost its edge, worn thin in once upon
a no time flat, dull and void although
the deep's faces weren't undone with us yet.
An unseen but reliably calculated fabric strings
along to cover the heart, snug and sung,
my universal unified theory of shadows
more substantial than the trees, fence-slats, and
polygonal-perimetered lightpost column-casings
they're cast by, through, with the necessary
help of, across the flagstone walkWAY, which,
in a manner of speaking, ends, at a new
chain-link fence spring's first butterfly, to
this eye, zitters back or forth through as
if it were nothing; its ungainly signature
bears some relation to colors we can't even
see; how odd; though we can see others.
I can smell the oily butter trail it left
lingering as it dissolves; that's how smell works.
The butter means moving pictures, and the trans-
lucent flicker as it melts, one sort of light
inside another, and Delmore of the maudlin intelligence
flees the screening, licking his lips of snow.
The ether, like seltzer, is filled with bubbles
that rise to the surface and burst. The most recent
red-shift data seem to tell us Copernicus
was wrong: the Chrysler Building is the center
of the known and unknown universe. Frankly,
Frank, I don't feel too good about the random
inclusions which we are expected to value
qua sore thumbs. Point made, time passed.
Weave the whole net or stay home, set out
to stay put and catch the infinite drift.
One man's surface is out of another man's depth.
I say this because the two can be confused
and because I like the WAY that it sounds.
Yes there's something almost staged here and
or almost real, that's the convention we got
together to perform. On the one hand, Bernini
sent a flood-wave from the stage, and Milton
himself — take my eyes, please — may have been
in the audience which gasped with recognition and
surprise, fear and relief, when the hidden moat
caught the wave and kept them dry.
A splash is of a different order, eye
contact from an actor who sees right through
you. On the other hand, having mended,
the fisherman flings, the weights pull the mesh
farther into its form as it morphs with dark wavelets
pier-lamps catch the crisp edges of and sinks
above a bottom-feeding shadow only the quiet
expert saw, a ray-shaped liquefaction, shallow
water's ether-ore, one or two hundred four-inch
sardines which in an hour'll be floured and fried.
Make room for the mystery, it's already here.
If the bed is already unmade when I get
in it, how will I dream of the sleep
that is my own? The bubble of z's rises,
is squeezed against the ceiling of my limited
conceptions, of my unlimited conceivings, leaving
its elastic boundary in the shape of the rectilinear
frame, until the sleeper which this might be
it, turns or tosses or gets a leg jambed
gently between sheetrock and the invisible paralysis
wall of doze: you knows how one architecture's
disposed, echoes and conforms to what's in-
and outside it. My living room unconsciously
reduplicates the street, the clouds adapt
my headcrown curls and are on their WAY, alarm
clock buzz is a soothing electrical hum
in the dream of sleep before daddy drives
home to mamita curtailing his overgrown rug.
Even what's seemingly self-contained
can wheeze down into a lapse if someone
trips across Ariadne's cord. We better get
out of here. People say that sometimes because
they're scared. It's nothing to be ashamed
of. There's nothing to be proud of. There's
lots of things to think of, but of all
the things to think of of, there's none
that's not a variation on the rest. The knotted
thread via which I had hoped to escape is cut
by the sight of a trampoline girl's sprung
takeoff through the trees. Distraction. She's in
another backyard. From this side of the front
windows the planes climbing from Kennedy fly
toward me, from this side of the back they
fly aWAY. Everything can be oriented
around anything else. I fail you again in
failing to cease being the center the world
and everything revolves upon. So wedge
a lever against my callused toe and heave-ho.
Ready? On three. There's got to be a WAY
to get this thing down if somebody got
it up. Go on and aim your own divining rod
at like delights, delights the likes of which
you'd like to turn the dark on in, seize
the slippery eye of her intuition whose salty
melting creamsicle no ice cream truck can hold
a cone to. Caution: Children. Joy and Pain spot
one another from a long WAYs aWAY off and
in the closing-down distance as distant or
close as rather long-lost-to-each-other relations,
identical twins bearing not the slightest
resemblance except that each one's essence,
which eats you, lines the edges of its
opposite's inexhaustible shape. Thus those moments
or extended hours and years when the knowing
and the not knowing, foam and shallow clarities,
slip from foot-bottom and between your toes,
rug out from under, one tongue of something else
which is not you or else is, and which either
loves you like itself or does not know your name
or both. I had been picturing the liquid juncture
where what's slipping aWAY, as we say, is one
basis on which what's coming in over it rides.
We're usually most oblivious to what we most
depend upon. I know you know. That's part
of what we do. Repeat. I know you know.
That's part of what we do. Repeat and rise
each day and so on. I had been picturing watery
tongues in the special mouths and the expanding
silence of sorts between arrival and departure, just
picturing them inside of my mind, that's all. It's
not so lonely here as it seems, only more so.
Mike is the grillman, Lillian's looking to get
laid, Gita is quiet, but shy? not quite, Bob's
a former New York State Attorney General,
Selene a social worker with a no-nonsense heart
and small teeth, Deb will surprise you with a joke
just as she goes, George is willing to be amused
but he stays out of the picture, Patrick conceals
great anger, Arieanne dances with careful abandon,
Ahmad is friendly as well as flamboyant, Beth
is not ill-at-ease when there's not much to say,
Barbara's the other Barbara's tender instincts
have hardened with her having something
to prove, Anna is rejuvenated on meeting someone
from her hometown and they switch to their
native tongue to converse while Ron
willingly waits, he seems to know exactly who
he is, Jeff seems less certain, like Elizabeth, who
is searching but not sure she is doing so, and
the other Elizabeth turns sidewise, laughs
softly and hard, straightforward in her under-
stated beauty; as you can see, she has fallen
for me. I'll see some of them never again,
be some of them alWAYs. They are all people
whom I have recently met, it was a crowded
week to ten days, the world revolves around
each one and here they are in adjoining rooms.
The DJ threads persuasive segues, corridors of
layered rhythms in which he surrenders to a version
of the fact that the dancers as well as the bodies
that happen to dance will find their own WAYs
in and out of the doorWAYs. Across town, wall
drawings in a corporate cave on 42nd Street
create a nouvelle Cro Magnon milieu, less spon-
taneity and more panache, as if we had
forgotten how to have our pancake and have it, too,
the border the great powers imposed without
a whit of our consent, we who know from
our evolving daily paths the natural boundaries'
meanderings, how the downstream turn's higher
velocity is precisely what accounts for fertile soil
build-up there, which, aside from agriculture and
civilization, causes the reversal of speed and of
the meander, which is a continuation of meander,
the doodling persistence of the stream from above
dividing clichés from the deep idiosinkrasies
we each share with only our twin. Once
I had another theme, at least I think it was
me, no doubt it will return when it sees fits.
One I now leaves me out of this, is confident
that, as a approaches z, not in front of everyone
but off-stage, round back, but without breaking
character in stride, that the map of it all
based on a one-to-one scale of it all
will, unlike in Lewis Carroll, completely unfold
as it falls, increasing the darkness around us
in between the narrowing gap, a reassuring
blankity-blanky which we feel, feel comforted
by, and think that in facts we can all almost
touch. Once we get hold of it one of us will
finish unfolding it while the other one drives.
While the glove compartment is open against
your knee, navigator, slip those precious digits,
nicotine-stained nail-edge like amber-smudged
pearls, back into the oblique corner, underneath
the owner's manual the compact heft of which
grazes knuckles, the wholly inadequate compilation
registering as if in analog zig-zags the subterranean tickle
brushing it aside, metaphorically speaking, slip 'em
back there for those few coins which presidents
of this great nation have grown greasy upon,
put them back into circulation where they belong,
where they'd been for so long, minted leaders
conspiring in our pockets and purses, in whispering
range of our family equipment and photos, respectively,
male and female he forgat them, their messages dispersed
across the palms of panhandlers and minimum-wage cashiers.
Speaking of spark plugs, Gide observes that the gap
between opposing tendencies that pull you apart
but which you hold together by not being able
to let go of produces the spark that drives you.
Avoid corrosion, gauge the gap, nourish the spark.
To know what someone is trying to say who has
not said it, or, here's the comforting though
against-the-grain rub, because you know it,
has: that's all we need to know, that's all.
Funny how the puzzle seems most disjointed when
all the pieces are spread out in front of you. They'll
find each other if a patient child or compulsive
parent acts as the go-between for a while.
No memories of the present and yet I close my
eyes; does everyone fight something without form,
something formless, I mean, something parsed
into powder mistaken for nothing but meanwhile
slipped above the radar and reforming itself on
a wider perimeter, its formlessness notwithstanding,
the destroyer at its center regenerating waves,
or is that just me? There goes that buttered fly
again. I have no idea what poetry is now that I've
developed strong opinions about it. There are signs
of hope everywhere, though, though they seem,
I seem to say, to require a certain degree
of interpretation. Yes, my lines may as well
be almost arbitrary, no, I am not feeling one
hundred percent. One of those people I met
suggests my idea of imagination presupposes a gap
between itself and the act; you should have seen
how she rested her fingertips on the fine skin
the cut in her sky-blue v-neck sweater revealed;
let me give you some context since so many
poems don't. It's a fat wet spring, in fact
I just got wet when you said that. Drips
of rain which almost stopped dropping
but adhere to a woody vine which incidentally
graces another doorWAY than the one you're
imagining now, how presumptuous of me, except
for their transparency they're indistinguishable from
the nodes wherein buds nod thinking through
the ramifications of making their first move.
On the other hand there are the small vessels
mass-produced with the individual's emotional needs in mind
either overflowing or withdrawing self-importantly
from prefabricated brims. Fuck their false humility
and the hoarseness they rode in on. The few necessary
examples whom I will not misrepresent by naming remain
with us and worth reaching for, even if the impoverished
academy has managed to kiss their ass and miss
savoring the tickle and tang of the crinkly carnation,
reddish clinkers and wild dilberries caught in
the cross-hairs of the blissful eye of solitude.
Don't let someone else tell you how to read.
The culture's full of pat advice these days.
Making sense of the poem is like making
sense of a person, or of a world for that
matters, the danger being you create an
alternate ghost mistaken for the quote-
unquote original, like subtitles by someone
who knows the vernacular well but sometimes
get lost, as if they were not even really there,
against a white background, or simply say too
compactly what the actors have gone on about
for far too long and at a much greater length of.
But enough about me. The rain in slanty e-
longations is a just-this-side-of-visible scrim
rushing down and down amidst the faint applause,
and through it, in a shallow dip on a tarred rooftop
which looked level to the jaybird-nekid eye
until rainwater filled its imperfections, or let's
just say unevenhandedness. In the roundish
puddle ringlets ripple scattershot; too, in
the impromptu gutter tributary, one motion
reconsiders the street's slightly sloped spread, gist
horizontal, while drops resupply the reservoir
as if materialized inches above before impact,
soft circles of landing anathema to gravity's
louder intentions but insistent as the recurrence
of now, also now, a kind of cognitive dissonance
which our wider awareness of water will one day
wear aWAY. Uniformity opens the doors to
subtler gradations. I'll give you another example,
but enough about moi. O next to the i,
curve and line, Emmett circling just inside an
open door. Better yet, chalk drawings in the park's
afternoon sky, which are what what I'll call I
have been meaning for some time now to tell.
Olmstead's vision concerned illusion and clearings, or
that's the superficial impression you get from his rep.
It's like the boy what bang his head against a wall
because it feel good when he stop. What
is? Oy! The babbling one does to get back
to that buried pause, that empty parenthesis
wherein one truly FLOATs upon the mere idea, a
gentle embankment of FLOATing like the meadow
a glacier cut sloping in Freddy Law's park.
Rising from Kennedy, a silver stylus slits
the blue bowl, bowing its tight trail straight
above the crisp-edged daylight moon one might
say's brighter than the sun since one can see it.
AnyWAY, as the vapor begins its visible dispersal,
its chalky bleed into the sapphire sparkling
all the more when flaked against the grain,
which constitutes, perhaps, the visionary sheen
of Crane, as the vapor trail starts widening, i.e.
coming apart, it also FLOATs, or should I say
sinks, downward, in front of the afternoon moon.
The tiny blade or plane, more sharply lit
with reflected sun, is farther west but still in sight,
as if drifting of its own accord, just ahead
of its tail, and silently centered in its own
muffled rolling roar, as its enunciated past
now exhales further, underlines the flat face,
becomes an alto-cirrus at about 10,000 feet,
another departure already exhausts a fresh
brushstroke, more or less where the previous
one just was. We picked up our conversation where
we remembered having laid it down, we
were different as well as the same, the both of us
were, whatever the adults say, children make up
the rules and mean it and change them as they go.
It's because they don't stand out from themselves
the WAY we do; it's just because. The Knicks
have advanced but won't get past the Pacers.
It's only a game. I don't hate New York, he said
from the bridge, only Mars is in retrograde as Venus
enters Gemini and the anniversary of the
individual birth I share with my twin,
worried lover, loving warrior, arrives.
In other words, like one ant reacting to
the trail is like one neuron and when we
zoom out to the bridge the colony makes
of itself so that it, the colony, can cross on over,
is part of a brain, the ghost of which is
a mind, a kind of spirit that senses
the scent as it exudes it, following,
which is obedience, but following itself,
which is freedom, even if encircled,
so I see the lower leaves of the elm melt
in the twilight's steady orange nonchalance
and beside it a woman's bouffant holds gold,
and down the sidestreet our little star sets,
dots the i, then seeps through the world as
we know it, everything bathing as the leaves
were bathed, the light being still, being
what is shimmering, cemented-over brickwork
bathing, dogs half-asleep on the sidewalks
bathing, gazes across the grass unfolding and
the traffic swimming, anachronistic monuments
of eagles flagging solitary soldiers, announcements
in bold letters and unreproducible tones,
and the supernatural semaphores, greens even
and reds and glassy ambers uncontradicted and glorified
along with the rest of us in the freshening dusk-wash.
I don't know who is who and find no
quiet place to surrender. I had only been
trying to say that one day I lay down
and saw the moon, bright in the afternoon,
and that a plane left a vapor trail above it
which crossed in front of it as it dissolved
and as another was drawn where it had been.
Between philosophy based on cloudy premises,
half-ass science in which the lab-rats mind
the store, unrealized if continuous song, and
steady watching amenable to sway until perhaps
one disperses or is at least thoroughly bathed,
I choose between. You know, there are people
who know the notes they're aiming for and whose
melodies you'd even recognize even though they
can't carry a tune. Do you see what I'm getting
at here? I wonder if I wish I could say it more
clear. As you leave they will want to ask
when you will return; I make this blanket
generalization hoping it will cover a number
of you, because I'm thinking about saying
that this is not necessarily about being one
place and elsewhere, though it's not necessarily not.
It's not only windows that can be dense and
re-worked but also transparent. Brice Marden's
70's triptychs, for one, recently shone uptown,
windows on well-worked thick blankets of color
covering color; the aesthete keeps his cool inviting
us to narrow the gap between voyeuristic remove
and the passions he's keeping warm under the covers,
defiance melted to a safe consistency, evenly applied.
On the other hand the older Rothkowitz refuses to
outgrow insistence on the undisguised push and pull;
for one, mama's smooth soothing frees the sheets to slip
one into slumber, for the other the fussing fingers
interrupt their murmur with stabs in the dark and unsure
completing like Tourette's constant touch and retouching.
Speaking of the masks which become us, try
this one on for size. At the dash lift your eyes
from the page —
if you came back to yourself
where had you been to, and are you slightly refreshed
if somewhat unsettled? Is it possible or possible to
believe we might have gazed out the same window,
out of library, cafeteria, or home, or just out of
our minds? What is that dusk-orange that drops
down to particulate gold and is suffused and upholds
and envelops not just us and these trees but
all networks of reaching and the unforeseen embrace?
What is orange, orange, orange, orange
sunk down into gold, into gold, into gold?
FLOAT a moment in tranquil propinquity,
a melancholy rendezvous with something in the air.
The existence of existence is almost too much
to bear, yet as it approaches dissolution
falls into place and is lightfooted if
somewhat unconvincingly on the coalesced stepping-
stones in the waters we can't help but keep
missing in the sense of knowing they're there
while denying ourselves the surrender to say so.
I'm surprised to hear myself say so, but then
what's to distinguish these words from the sound
of yesterday's breeze, or was it the day before's?
You can feel the arrival coming in more WAYs than one.
Emmett is six and has six letters to his name.
His father, with an assistant, made those wall drawings
with dirt in the figurative shadow of the Chrysler Building
which is both real and is a toy, solid and shiny, able
to pierce day or night night and day, the heart
with pure surprise. In which everything stops.
Hovers. FLOATs a moment in its own glassy amazement
and full surround, and then regroups and falls
in without having broken stride, as if
the projection had evenly slowed, even stopped
but evenly returned to normal speed before one
could even imagine the image of the celluloid
melting aWAY to a hole which is the blank
illuminated screen. But maybe there is no danger,
perhaps the slowed-down frames are just that
and not the result of projector malfunction which
means of course that the slow parts were recorded
at higher speeds. Now I see what the rabbi meant
who is said to have said we have free will
and everything is determined. The best WAY to explain
the WAYs of God to Man is to leave God
out of it. Pianist Alfred Brendel says Mozart's
genius is to surprise us with the expected. I knew
he was going to say that. Healthy organisms know
what is outside themselves, that is, what is
not themselves, therefore what is outside is
inside, at least in its opener more negative form.
If my logic is faulty, my women's intuition makes up
for my senselessness of direction. I briefly lost
my focus and the spring but summer-like air filled
with insects and migrating seeds dallying and zipping
throughout as if the contrast were just adjusted
then the blink and return. Well I'm repeating myself.
Living systems regulate themselves and know
when it is closing time. Thank you for coming.
I was born on my birthday, someday later I'll die;
everybody. The loose ends are not, it turns out,
lifelines, so why not let the wind lift them from
our open hands, send them back into continuous flight
from where they might be scattered at our feet. One
last thing. A steely shimmer sees or is seen from
a dreamed-of height; it's unheard of; I should know;
some splendid smooth and gently jagged lullaby
has kept me waking now for nights on end on end.
Mark Dow has poems forthcoming in LIT, Pequod, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Downtown Brooklyn.
He has just completed American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons (forthcoming, University of
California Press) and is co-editor of Machinery of Death: The Reality of America's Death Penalty Regime
(Routledge, 2002). This is his first appearance on the magazine. He lives in Brooklyn.