Archive for April, 2011

Selkirk Island Cantabile

April 27, 2011

It’s where they bear the wherewithal of stars; where
the meta-talk—the cantabile—the cannibals use is used to turn their food
in to franks and beans; where the indirect object (‘for you’)is you; where one left
footprint left on a lonely beach (it was not lonely; he was), a track
to trace the trail back home;
where that man wears only his unmentionables—
still unkempt, still wet from sea water and sweat;
where Exquisite in Betweens is both a brand name and his raison d’être.

Don’t call them unmentionables, pal.
It’s underwear beyond compare, sir, silk breaches
that breathe ambrosia stain; it’s  silken songs,
sung castrato. A cod piece for your fish, mate,
some place to store the oar…
In truth, it’s been perfected for and by the inmates here.
(I call them my mates, my intimates).
I’ll sell them for a song.


April 25, 2011

The Lady Mineola

April 22, 2011

Garrulous prose: a child’s mere babble. And yet a man who drools, the idiot, the man of tears who restrains himself no longer, who let’s himself go—he too is without words, bereft of power, but still he is closer to speech that flows and flows away than to writing which restrains itself even if this be restraint beyond mastery. In this sense, there is no silence if not written: broken reserve. A deep cut in the possibility of any cut at all.
—Maurice Blanchot

My daughter, Minnie Ha-Ha, found the shallow grave
where I’d buried the Lady Mineola—not
deep enough—in the backyard. ‘We was just digging,’
she’d said, as if that explained it. Kids do
that all the time, you know.  They dig big holes,
turn them into aristocrats—as if
the act of digging in the earth
were an act of investiture. But this time
no one was fooled. Minnie’d been looking high
and low for her Ladyship.  We knew that.
It’s tough to have a puppy die…
especially if you’d treated it with ‘un-tender hands’
as if you yourself were the murdering ‘org’
(in Minnie’s spelling), the one she wrote a poem about.

The ground is dry behind the shed, protected from
the rain and ice and snow. My bad, okay, I know.
Minnie Ha-Ha, I should’ve taken
Mineola out in to the woods,
let her decay in peace—
and not be holding a séance for
her soul, not bring this all back to life:

Get down on thy back, damsel.
The book between us should satisfy us both,
for your master is mine as well—

as if the burning dawn is like a candle,
like a dawn that never saw air or sky,
the mind’s timid transplant, and the one
you never will forget, the Lady  Mineola, who
wanted nothing more than to play with Minnie Ha-Ha in
my daughter’s last demesne… Stay on thy back, damsel.
Stay in thy grave. Refrain, refrain!

While Vigils are kept at Night

April 20, 2011

If you can, play them the music first thing
this morning. Go to them, stay there, make them
a breakfast that no one will want to eat.
A piece of toast, Ma.
You have to put something in your stomach, Ma.
Just some toast.
That is the real repetition—
where simple words become new metaphor.
You have to stomach this too, Ma.

Night comes. We watch. I wonder,
I hear myself say, I wonder
before the movies made it real
could we imagine in slow motion—
you know, the way it looks—?
I said this like it was a theoretical question.
We watch as the words track across the sky.
Like I was asking a theoretical question
about movies and the mind.
Like no one knows what I’m really talking about.

The Known Spellings of Words

April 15, 2011

excuse me doctor Angelita is here
to ask you on the edge of sleep

insistent questions about a pain
too great to be just the land

but must be the storm as well
like you were asleep and dreaming

and didn’t wake in time to get to the hospital
but instead you dream that it killed you

a poem that its prediction is words
the ones that also said you were  destined

to be among the known spellings of words
and today the doctor called with a wordless thing

he called and called—even during lunch
it’s about turbulence, he said,  not endurance

not a new child, not Angelita to talk
to you on the edge of sleep

on the edge of sleep where the voices talk
and speak not of sleep, but of voices

a mind winding down, you need to see them
or be aware of the great context

he said, and not in the sight of
the known, not anything known

Hansel’s End

April 12, 2011

A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

—Wallace Stevens

That apples fall, overripe in Eden…
that revelations have failed to uncover
the proportions, as such, of paradise,

is of no surprise, not to Gretel, for
she smells the pears, the bananas, the coffee.
We’ll have a nice breakfast out there, she thinks,

but nothing more. ‘Here comes the witch!’ the kids
all scream. ‘Let’s name her, Witch Gretel. She’ll steal
our cocks. She’ll leave warts on our hands!’

She lives alone out there
in a small cottage she named ‘Hansel’s End’.
She lives in dread of snails.

The kids all scream, ‘Here comes the witch!’
They call her Great Gret, after Brueghel. ‘If we
throw rocks, she’ll put us in a pie.’

She’s lived alone in Hansel’s End among
the silhouettes, in the vague hope
of luring Hansel back, of picking up his trail

of earth bound snails, the glistening path that‘s draped
on all the rocks , as if that old story were true
that snails were fallen angels,

as if an apple could tempt again, or fall,
overripe, in Eden. Some paradise.
Some revelation.  Still Gretel lives in

a masquerade. Even with all her rectitude
and probity, she can still see Hansel,
his trail of bread.  Look close! Don’t touch her tail.

There’s poison there, you know. And it will hurt
more than you know. She’ll eat your bones. She’ll lock
you up with chains and ropes of pain. She’ll lock

you in her scary stare, with her eyes set,
so deep in her scabby face—
like pomegranates here on earth,

like the mortal realm or the angels in
paradise, for they all fell…
There was a Witch named Aunty Blue,

who will steal both your socks but just one shoe.
Stop, little girl, she cried, for it’s too late
to run and hide. Your bones are deep inside

me now. I call you home,
home to Hansel’s End.

Repetition, Redundancy, Recursion, Teaching, Slow Poetry, Repetition

April 8, 2011

Information can be handled quite well by a drum. If we follow along with James Gleick in his new book The Information, it seems that one of the important advances in information was made by the ‘talking’ drum. The great advantage was that they were loud. You could pass a message a good distance and everyone with ears to hear got the message. The great disadvantage was that drums trying to reproduce human speech needed a great deal of redundancy built into the messages sent. And you needed more than ears. Here is a message transcribed by missionary Roger Clark in 1934:

In the morning at dawn, we do not want gatherings for work, we want a meeting of play on the river. Men who live in Bolenge, do not go into the forest, do not go fishing. We want a meeting of play, in the morning at dawn.

All this to announce a funeral. Because there were only two sounds to work with on the drum, conventions developed; more information was needed to overcome the drum’s limitations. If the same sound gets you to a puddle, a promise, or a poison, you had to say a little more to keep things clear. The message above was a call to a funeral that was happening in the morning when you might be thinking of gathering for work, or of going into the forest, or of going fishing. Tomorrow morning, don’t go.  And…if you want to promise to poison the puddle, you’re going to have to elaborate very carefully. There’s a muddle for us to step in, I promise. It will be like a poison in the middle of the puddle.


I tell this story over and over: There’s this logician who gets into the shower one morning with a bottle of shampoo. The instructions on the package are to soak your hair thoroughly, wash, rinse, and repeat. He never gets out of the shower.

The reason I tell the story repeatedly is different that the reason the logician can’t get out of the shower. He’s caught in a loop; I’m always warning my logician friends not to get in the bath with this soap—at least not with an infinite amount of it.


Good teaching relies on repeating. You stand in front     of a room full of confused eyes. ‘Let me say that again.’ Just don’t say it exactly the same way, okay?


What about translation?  In class the other day, we were learning about Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Here’s the opening line, thrice:

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in his bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

One morning as Gregor Samsa awoke from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed INTO A GIGANTIC INSECT.

They do say pretty much the same thing. Version 3 uses the same words as 2, but moves them around a little. The upper case letters—does that really change anything?


But perhaps you can never repeat anything. But perhaps you can never repeat anything. But perhaps you can never repeat anything.

Fess up. You read the second ‘but’ differently from the first, didn’t you? And the third time? There was a little murmur of, ‘okay I got it’—right? I heard you.

Suppose I asked you to write the above three sentences ‘in your own words’.

Suppose I asked you to summarize the sentences so as to show me you understand the point I was making.

Okay, take out a piece of paper and number from one to ten. Write this sentence—‘Take out a piece of paper and write this sentence ten times, but do not repeat yourself.’—ten times and do not repeat yourself.


It is time to listen to Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room’ .


And last, take a look—I mean, read—John Armstrong’s foray into what he is calling slow poetry. ‘Slow’ because he’s asking you to read it slowly. ‘Poetry’, because he’s calling it poetry. Slow, because you’re going to have to perform it. Poetry, because you’re going to have to perform it. Poetry, because maybe it’s a type of music and music always messes with poetry.

Slow poetry? Slower poetry? John, you mean to tell me there is such a thing as fast poetry?

Dog and Cat

April 2, 2011

The point is for the paws to pause at ‘pause’.

Reading is not pausing. Pause.

It could be, Cat, it could be interrupting. Pause.

Nonsense. As all cats know, you pause at the end of a clause. Period.

Of course. You pause and pause and pause, your paws pause.

Dog’s paws pause. Cat’s paws are known for their claws. Period.

Sure, pause at ‘period’, pause to end a clause, Cat, but end a line

without an end…

Oh Dog. Without an end, a clause is not a clause, all claws leave marks to end the clause.

O Cat, I’m talking enjambment, where your paws—with or without claws—pause

out of respect, pause,

out of respect for the rhythm of the line, pause,

out of respect for the music of words, the clause, pause,

the claws, the paws, pause,

the way the pause claws its way to the final pause, pause,

then at the end, why, Cat, why, a final clause , a last pause…

Yes, Dog, I see. At the end, the paws applause. Pause.



It’s Memorial Day!

April 1, 2011

The Marching Metaphysicals, in March, en masse,
suffer psoriasis, heartburn, heartache,
the occasional backache and/or mustache pull
(so difficult to tell)…
so when ‘Strike up the Band’ is started up—
distant, around the corner—Wee Willie
is surprised. Gee Whiz!
…and runs in front of Hook and Ladder Co.12,
crushes a leg, and is carted off to the hospital.
It starts to rain—shit—pours cats and dogs.
What a day, what a parade.
Dead soldiers deserve better.

Time passes. Time has passed. Time will pass.
Willie’s okay. He lost the bottom two-thirds
of his right leg, but, you know, come the Vietnam War,
pretty much every boy in town got his ass drafted.
I still remember that Memorial Day.
1953, I think it was.
What a day for a parade. What a soaking!
We’ll see you later, okay?
Corn dogs, my place, tonight, about seven.
Just bring your own heartache.