Cassiopeia

April 11, 2014

…how
strong (as strut or wing, as polytope, as things are
constellated) how
strung…
—Charles Olson
Each night, Cassiopeia came so near,
Andromeda was able to study her cat-like poise
With such a friendly gaze it seemed just noise
From earth. But what she sensed was fear.
Her mother had grown monstrous with age, feline
In the worst sense, cat-quick and sensual—
As if each act could be consensual,
But wasn’t—for not even sex, as sublime
And quick as cats are, sufficed to calm her.
When morning came, the music in her head—
Crescendos, decrescendos—stopped her dead:
Her eyes out there, her eyes forever closed.
She’s trapped, like you and I will never be,
A constellation—and its atrophy.

I don’t know if it was inspiration or not, but you might like to listen to Alice Coltrane’s Andromeda’s Suffering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfsYmrqB8EE

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3 Responses to “Cassiopeia”

  1. Thomas Davis Says:

    Actually, I am not saying the poem is a failure, Jim. The energy in the poem is extraordinary, like a fine piece of jazz. It just doesn’t lend itself to teasing out the meaning by examining each line. But isn’t that a strength in a way? There is a crazy dance in the poem that pops meanings into existence, but then takes them away the minute you look at them. Maybe this should be called quark poetry; the meanings flash in and out of existence based upon the reader’s awareness of them. Poetry does not have to be any more straightforward than an abstract painting.
    I hope the move goes well. That’s always a challenge and a half and exhausting. I hope we never move again. I assume you’re still in New York, though, and not some other place in the universe?

  2. extrasimile Says:

    No, Thomas, I think you’re right. This one is a failure. In the back of my mind was a, I guess, somewhat obscure idea of considering human love (or sex) from the perspective of very different scales of existence. Or is it three: cats and constellations, and mythical beings? I do like the line ‘ Her eyes out there, her eyes forever closed’. Maybe I should start over with just this line.
    But thanks for the feedback.
    (By the way, I am in the process of moving. Very time consuming. I hope things will settle down soon.)

  3. Thomas Davis Says:

    For once, Jim, I think you are beyond me. I’m shocked! Two constellations out in space, mother Cassiopeia who once bragged about her daughter’s beauty in a way that stirred up a god and a sea monster, and daughter Andromeda, the mother of a Greek dynasty,
    trapped, like you and I will never be,
    A constellation—and its atrophy.
    What I get out of this is that these two constellations are hanging out in the night sky and the daughter notices the mother had a
    cat-like poise,
    the daughter’s attention being a little like noise from earth (and earth is a noisy place, isn’t it?).
    But what she (the daughter) sensed was fear.
    Her mother had grown monstrous with age, feline
    In the worst sense, cat-quick and sensual
    up there in the night sky.
    Sensual then leads to consensual sex (between cats who are sublime?) not calming the mother down–so,
    When morning came, the music in her head—
    Crescendos, decrescendos—stopped her dead:
    Her eyes out there, her eyes forever closed.
    I agree, though, the constellations are pretty fixed. Ptolemy set them in their places ages ago, and I suppose, since Cassiopeia’s eyes are closed in more ways than one, she has grown a little frightening and not at all like her daughter was naked and chained to rocks waiting for a sea monster–or at least that’s how I sort of remember the story.
    Mostly I take this effort as a piece of jazz that rumbles around the insides of a tire as the universe rolls toward its inevitable end. Or something like that, old Greek mythology, dynasties, constellations, and dead and living stars all mixed up in the poem somehow.


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