Twenty-First Century Robert Herrick.

Delight in Deletion

A sweet deletion of excess
Kindles in me a wantonness;
A bomb upon the inbox thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring text, which here and there
Excites the inner editor;
A noun neglectful, and thereby
Words to flow confusedly;
A massive wave, deserving frowns,
Of mad, tempestuous ‘moticons;
An email-string’s infinity
Creating incivility:
Do more amuse me, than when art
Is too correct in every part.

I sought an excerpt and sought for it in vain…

… (to paraphrase Yeats), as I looked around for language about tea in order to honor the first International Tea Day,

I finally remembered “Lament” by Thom Gunn. One of the most beautiful AIDS-era poems, it recalls the long sad death of a friend, and among its lines are these:

… Your cough grew thick and rich, its strength increased.   
Four nights, and on the fifth we drove you down   
To the Emergency Room. That frown, that frown:   
I’d never seen such rage in you before
As when they wheeled you through the swinging door.   
For you knew, rightly, they conveyed you from   
Those normal pleasures of the sun’s kingdom   
The hedonistic body basks within
And takes for granted—summer on the skin,   
Sleep without break, the moderate taste of tea   
In a dry mouth.

Lyrics for a Stay-at-Home Order

Time passes slowly up here in the mountains
We sit beside bridges and walk beside fountains
And catch the wild fishes that float through the stream
Time passes slow when you’re lost in a dream

Once I had a sweetheart, he was fine and good-lookin’
We sat in the kitchen while his mama was cookin’
And stared out the window to the stars high above
Time passes slow when you’re searchin’ for love

Ain’t no reason to go in a wagon to town
Ain’t no reason to go to the fair
Ain’t no reason to go up, ain’t no reason to go down
Ain’t no reason to go anywhere

Time passes slowly up here in the daylight
We stare straight ahead and try so hard to stay right
Like the red rose of summer that blooms in the day
Time passes slow and then fades away

Lyrics for Self-Isolation

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island

Walking Around in Rehoboth Beach

Dedalus in the diaphane; Dalloway downtown:

This is the currency pols call walking around

Consciousness afoot in freak-time,

The modern viral mariner’s rime.

So, thinking, along the extra sand

Piped in to make the beach expand,

How brilliantly we domesticate

Beaches and dogs… Impatiently we await

Our next trick: The all-clear! probe

Of the fatal microbe.

Bright mild sun and cloudless slate

And just enough wind to exhilarate

Make it a world well worth coming back to

After the coronal tide that terrifies you

Dissolves like the faintest reed

And our wildest fears recede.

“To Helen,” for a New…
... world.
Safeguard, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a lathered sea,
The worried-well hygienic bore
To their own healthy shore.

When quarantined I feel a rale
Thy hybrid structure virus shreds.
Thy micelle bubbles now we hail:
Thy hydrophilic head
And thy hydrophobic tail.

Valentine’s Day Poem



Valentine's Day: Jordan Peterson Interview at 9:45

It's intolerable to be the beau of the broken,
The dearly beloved to whom their woe is spoken.

Yet how in hell did that start?
When did I become Miss Lonelyheart?
I'll tell you what I'd really like:
Let's have you think of me as Shrike.
Cynical, cold, and all-obscene,
Indifferent to pain and just plain mean.
Because then you'll all go far away.
You won't press up against me in a panic and say
'Save me from the fact of being me.'

I haven't any shields! Can't you see?
Can't you see what it betokens?
What a murderous, nasty love you've woken.

Crossing Bill Barr

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear tweet for me!
And may there be no moaning from Bill Barr
      When I’ve destroyed judiciary

   But such support from apparatchiks
      For my love Roger Stone
Who after all his dirty tricks
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the golf!
And may there be no discontent to quell
      When I absolve.

Poem.

CLEAR SAILING

The cost of clarity is cold weather.
 Fog kept the beach mild;
It clouded over the quadrantids.

 New Year’s dinner, the four of us together,
 I toasted: “Bewildered, and beguiled!
But when I raise my lids

No need to question whether
Four hearts are reconciled.”
Meanwhile, January rids

The beach of fog, and there’s never
A chance of warm retreat.  It’s wild:
All softened unknowing forbid…

So we breast the chill, the clear-eyed pressure,
The sharp-horizoned world to which we are unreconciled,
But which strands us here, shivering, unhid.

Seven Stanford Coaches, Six Fake Test Takers…

… Five Briberies! Four Bogus Apps…

How do you solve a problem like McMansions?
How do you solve a problem like McMansions?
Cavernous shells impossible to sell?
Rent them all out for huge illegal parties
Making the life of those around them hell


Price is eight hundred daily for the trashing
Don't give a thought to local rules and regs
Jam all the folks and weaponry you want to
Plenty of room for super jumbo kegs


Everyone lies, the owner and the renter
Neighbors complain but town officials suck:
"We won't do shit, but here's a little wisdom:
When bullets start flying the best thing to do is duck."

Poem.
OCTOBER: MY FOREST OWLS

It's on its own, the black wind of autumn,
The start of autumn, after long summer. 
I know it's started, because the night world 
Is suddenly cold, unapproachable, 
A planetary blank that fronts my face
When I slide back the door to the owl's cry.

Two owls, in fact, working on their marriage
Against a black backdrop, against darkness.
Anxious call, anxious response.  On their own.

“How do you plan to spend your resurrection?”

A hilariously smug Christian poses this question to Jack Gladney in White Noise, as they contemplate the aftermath of what everyone’s euphemistically calling the ‘airborne toxic event.’ In its end-time confidence, it’s sort of the ultimate anti-poetic question. Poets – poets of our time – tend to be present-moment mavens, anxiously, ecstatically, completely committed to intensity of earthbound experience. Linda Gregg, who died this week, was prominent among them.

For years she lived on Greek islands with Jack Gilbert (she dedicated one of her books to him, with the epigraph It was like being alive twice.), himself a quintessential greed of being poet:

Using up what
little time we have, relishing our mortality,
waltzing slowly without purpose. Neglecting
the future. Content to let the garden fail
and the house continue on in its usual disorder […]
Hesitant occasions of pride, feeling himself feeling.
Waking in the night and lying there. Discovering
the past in wonderful stillness. […] Above all,
his greed. Greed of time, of being. 

A friend once mentioned to Gregg the name of a painting by Paul Thek – While there’s still time, let’s go out and feel everything – and she loved it and said Jack would have loved it.

One form of poetry you get with this disposition – and both Gilbert and Gregg wrote this way – is a seemingly dashed-off-from-this-moment’s-feelings, impressionistic set of tenuously connected statements and images, inside of which lies the somewhat hidden, somewhat obliquely referenced, tragic nature of life. Because there’s obviously a price to be paid for this seriously committed ecstatically open presentness – Gilbert talks about the price explicitly in this poem – and because, as some sage put it, Wherever you go, there you are. Which is to say, let’s not pretend that while you’re getting a major bang out of a Milos sunset, you’re not a neurotic like everyone else, with an inescapable personal history.

So… a poem of Gregg’s to remember her by. I’ll interrupt it with commentary. Go here for the uninterrupted poem.

Looking for Each of Us

[The title I think contains a double meaning: She’s looking for the meaning of her past, and the past of her now-departed lover Gilbert, in a bunch of postcards she saved from those years. She’s also doing the work of looking for both of them, in the sense of her having taken on an obligation.]

I open the box of my favorite postcards   
and turn them over looking for de Chirico   
because I remember seeing you standing   
facing a wall no wider than a column where   
to your left was a hall going straight back
into darkness, the floor a ramp sloping down  

[de Chirico because his surrealistic paintings often feature weird mysterious interiors/architectures with lots of open spaces and ancient statuary – all of this richly suggestive material for a woman trying to fill in the gaps of her romantic past in Greece.]


to where you stood alone and where the room   
opened out on your right to an auditorium   
full of people who had just heard you read   
and were now listening to the other poet.   

[She recalls maybe their first encounter at one of his readings; his partial emergence behind partial walls, columns, in the dark… A figure for her never quite getting him, or never quite getting his vacant, open, shadowy, setting – his existential location – clearly looked at.]


I was looking for the de Chirico because of   
the places, the empty places. The word   
“boulevard” came to mind.

[Came to mind, perhaps, because the world she’s remembering was broadly open – as broad as a Parisian boulevard … And while all that openness was then, let’s say, beckoning and sexy, in retrospect, having been in various ways wounded in their relationship, it now has a more de Chirico feel – ominous, even threatening.]

Standing on the side   
of the fountains in Paris where the water   
blew onto me when I was fifteen. It was night.   

[Again an image of her peripherality to, partial understanding of, a scene – as she was peripheral to Gilbert at the reading. She recalls being at the “side” of the fountain, aware of it mainly because of the water it blew onto her, and of her being in the dark. There’s visceral experience when you’re young – the water – and there’s detached retrospection when you’re older.]

It was dark then too and I was alone.   
Why didn’t you find me? Why didn’t   
somebody find me all those years?

[Here I think she’s back to the scene at the poetry reading – another dark shadowy setting of insufficient knowledge. She recalls her lonely youth, as she went “undiscovered” for so long by people like Gilbert, who should have recognized right away the love she had to give.]

The form  of love was purity. An art. An architecture.   
Maybe a train. Maybe the shadow of a statue   
and the statue with its front turned away   
from me. Maybe one young girl playing alone,   
hearing even small sounds ring off cobblestones   
and the stone walls.

[Her engagement with de Chirico’s visual world continues as she recalls her pre-sexual world of aesthetic feeling. Each of her maybes describes an image in a de Chirico painting, with the sense of her own peripherality and insufficient understanding implicit in his scenes: the statue’s front is turned away from her; the avidly sensitive, avidly feeling, young girl is desperate to hear even the smallest meaningful sounds from the world around her… In a way she’s returned to that world now.]

I turn the cards looking   
for the one and come to Giacometti’s eyes   
full of caring and something remote.
His eyes are loving and empty, but not with   
nothingness, not for the usual reasons, but because   
he is working.

[Still not finding the de Chirico, the poet finds a photograph of another artist, Giacometti, whose love, like her earlier, pre-sexual love, expresses something purely aesthetic and has nothing for her emotionally – and the implicit comparison here is with her poet/lover, whose love for her similarly turned out to be, let’s say, more about being engrossed in aesthetic “work” than about human caring.]

The Rothko Chapel empty. A cheap   
statue of Sappho in the modern city of Mytilene   
and ancient sunlight. David Park’s four men   
with smudges for mouths, backed by water,   
each held still by the impossibility of what   
art can accomplish.
A broken river god,
only the body. A girl playing with her rabbit in bed.   
The postcard of a summer lightning storm over Iowa.

The poem concludes with a cascade of images – one postcard after another glanced at on the way to the de Chirico she’s still after and won’t find – so she won’t find the clarity she seeks. She finds instead art’s oblique truths, with plenty of emptiness: Giacometti’s empty eyes; the empty Rothko Chapel; vast ancient sunlight in a cheapened world. And then there’s a precise description of the Park painting, a painting which accomplishes perhaps exactly what Gilbert and Gregg were ultimately, with all their intensity of movement, after: being “held” in the moment of fullness and intensity forever. Which is what powerful poems do: They elaborate such moments so strongly as to arrest them.

But now? The men’s godlike reality in their generative hyper-present moment, captured by the artist, is only painted body now – cheapened, broken. And the next image – the girl playing with the rabbit on her bed – is not I think a postcard, but a personal memory stirred by all of the images she has seen. It’s a kind of sudden reversion to the real – not passion, not art, but plain old autobiography — her own inescapable personal history.

By the time we get to her final postcard, we’ve transcended even personal history: The summer lightning storm over Iowa zooms everything out to nature as its blind tragic force crashes over the best-laid passionate intensities and geographical exoticisms. We end in Iowa.

Poem

Seal


Mourning doves and dogs barking and new bees

And the traffic heavy out of Dulles:

I’m gone a week and I come back to spring.


At the beach I walked right into a seal

At rest on the blank Atlantic shoreline.

For a second I couldn’t believe it.


The seal watched me stand there being slack-jawed

And then I dropped my shells and my backpack

And again and again took its picture:


Gray, gazing, grazing.  Crazy.  I alone

On the printless winter sand at seven

Circling, thirty feet away, the wild seal.


And this was stark, and not spring: printless sky

And featureless seal and long trackless strand

And nothing of green and the buzz of bees.

Hot stuff…

… on a cold day.

The link is to Christine Gosnay’s erotic poem, “Strangers,” which seems to UD a nice antidote to the current freezing conditions in her world. Not that things aren’t freezing in Gosnay’s poem; they are. But they’re also jazz-hot. The poem’s a surrealistic sexual reverie, and it runs hot and cold. Let’s eavesdrop.

The title suggests that the object of her reverie will be a stranger with whom she had sex; or the title might be suggesting that whatever the degree of knowledge and intimacy, we are always sexual (and other kinds of) strangers to one another. As in the Philip Larkin poem:

Talking In Bed

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds in the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation
It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Gosnay finds very strange words indeed as her speaker evokes for herself, in memory, in reverie, a sexual encounter. Here goes.

Tremendous orange things are happening somewhere.
I lay a wooden stick for stirring on the white note
on the desk. I lay a stain on the clean note.

Somewhere things are happening. Marvelous orange
and purple things. Flooding rivers at dusk, wheels threading
roads in the desert. Strangers. Strangers. Sea.

Makes no linguistic sense; the first sentence calls to mind Chomsky’s famous Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. OTOH, the emotional feel of that jumbled sentiment might also call to mind the wonderful first scene in the film Amélie, where the child-like, fantasizing title character suddenly vividly imagines all the exciting sex that must be going on in various places in Paris at that instant. Tremendous vivid and hot (orange) things are happening somewhere; and the images in this poem (flooding rivers at dusk…) leave little doubt that it means to evoke orgasmic release.

The poem’s speaker sits at a desk with a coffee stirrer, and when she puts it down on a clean sheet of paper she leaves a stain. This trivial domestic moment will broaden symbolically as the poem proceeds; it will become an icon of a white-sheeted bed on which a woman leaves a post-sex stain. It will remind the speaker of the sexual encounter that will produce her reverie.

Somewhere you are lying in a white bed. The clock
on your thigh is ticking. Somewhere a human form
is being lifted from the ground.

Somewhere, yes, and I am counting. The clean note
with its numbers has changed. I will remember.
You are a location, with a bed.

Now she addresses her stranger/lover directly; or perhaps she addresses herself. In any case, the simple point here seems to be that she found this sex both memorable and transformative: She has been lifted by lust into a new life – the once “clean” note on which her life was written has changed, “staining” her (not in a pejorative sense) forever. She now knows herself through that sexual interaction: You are a location, with a bed.

The road ends somewhere in the flooding river
at dusk. Why here, strangers. A cartwheel in the stow hold
of a ship. A stranger who wheels it on the ice.

Somewhere the ship has frozen. The ship has frozen
in the ice. A frozen form. The ship cannot be lifted
from the purple sky at dusk.

She’s revolving and revisiting her images now – river, road, strangers, wheel, dusk – all with the intent, I think, to suggest the following. Sex can be what Kafka says certain books can be: ‘the axe for the frozen sea within us.’ Sex can set rivers flooding, can break through the ice of the isolated self, and, weirdly, that can even happen – especially happen? – between strangers.

Stain in the somewhere. You are lying in a white bed.
Why here is the river. On the thigh. Remember
what we did with clocks. Orange and purple.

Lovely trees in the frozen sky. Holding somewhere and threading
thighs. Strangers. I lay a stain on the white bed.
Remembering what tremendous purple things we did.

Stain in the somewhere; holding somewhere. It’s wonderful the way she sustains the vague surrealism that authentically conveys the dusky fuzzy encounter and its dusky fuzzy remembrance. Looking up from that flooded bed, she now remembers, she noticed the lovely untransformed frozen world framing her transformation.

The mind ends every thing stirring. Somewhere the ship
is being lifted from the desert. Marvelous. You will change
from the river location to the sea.

Somewhere, things are happening. You are lying in the white bed
beside the sea with coffee. I am lying in the white bed.
Tremendous strangers. Blind roads in the sea.

There are many ways to read the first sentence, but in keeping with the rather simple reading I want to do: Everything in me was so excitedly stirred that I blessedly lost – temporarily, wonderfully – the very capacity for thought. Truly you lifted me from the desert of the self – selfishness, self-awareness, self-consciousness… I have gone from river to sea; from self to world. Three times she writes tremendous; twice she writes marvelous. This liberation from the stow hold of a frozen self, this being wheeled out into bliss, is too massively, enigmatically stupendous for words, so I’ll content myself with somewhere, and with vague indicators of immensity: tremendous, marvelous.

There are ways out of the frozen self! But the roads are “blind” – which is what this inchoate but symbolically controlled poem very nicely conveys. (Recall the first phrase of Joyce’s story, “Araby”: North Richmond Street, being blind...) Even at moments of intensest liberation, we don’t know where we’re going – we barely know where we are – and the best we can do is ruminate on liberating events. This poem is the trace of that rumination.

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