Saturday, May 29, 2010

5. Versions of Light Projected onto a Page

The notion of their being
as we want them, and there being
what we want, might cause
exultation within us
in the form of breathing (at a
more rapid pace) or an insistent
beating of the heart, or at the end
the loss of control, the giving in, the giving over
to the final experience
of it. But, as we see,
as we see it, events never turn out as they
might but only
as they have.

So it is (in this manner that
I’m speaking of) that we came here today,
to the Adirondacks, to this camp, for a
quarter of a century now, to Still Point, a name
from a poem written, psalmic, in fours,
held in place by structure and
tradition. I am in a small bedroom
with sloping ceilings of knotty pine,
and the interlocking of wood, the pattern
of placement, holds this structure
together after so many decades
in these harsh and snowy woods.
Nancy sleeps beside me,
her breath steady, determined,
and living.

Life seems limitless some days,
as if we could finish everything
we have started. We know we
cannot, as I learned today that Leslie Scalapino
has died, one of that meager palmful
of our best poets (and none of that number
men to my ear, though I greatly admire
the poetry of some men and disregard the poetry
of some women). I never knew her,
though you had published poems
of hers recently, and in those
I could hear her younger
voice again. I will often compare
my surprise
at the instant when I first became aware
of her death
to the first time I was able to imagine the inevitability
of my own. Although I do not
recall my own death.

The lake is dark now beyond my feet,
its water out of sunlight, but the moonlight
shines across it in a straight line,
a slim incision into the cold,
phthalocyanine blue water of the lake.
Loons call quietly
to each other across the darkness,
the warbling sound of their voices
a kind of water, as the voice of your poems
gathers and transmits a tumbling light
forward to some unknown location,
your voice repeating its fragmentary riffs,
which catch the light momentarily
so that the each poem is
a flickering mass of words,
of sounds.

But a man’s voice cannot have
the same character. Everyone’s is
a genital language, guided by the affinities
of gender, what the genitals require and what
the fact of these genitals cause to be. Scalapino’s
writing she carefully controlled, sometimes erotic,
sometimes political, and always the voice
of an observer. Even if speaking of
itself, it was a voice that repeated outlines
of her life, not an actor in a play.

We poets
may be relegated in life
to telling.

Yesterday, Nancy noticed
that the irises in our yard had bloomed,
the exaggerated vaginal flourishes
topping the erect stems of the violet flowers,
each surrounded by flat and sharpened
ensiform leaves. The iris, thus,
has the metaphoric characteristics of two
sexes, carrying off beauty
with resolve. The iris—which might also
be the muscle of the eye that reacts to light, that
shrinks the pupil to reduce
the light accepted, that
opens it to let light in—
resides in sunlight, which
doesn’t exist at this moment in this place.

This thought, the conceit
of believing in my own thinking, reminds me
that poetry is devalued because it offers
no solutions (a poem won’t stop a rupturing
flow of millions of barrels of oil into
the Gulf of Mexico, a poem won’t stop
a war in Afghanistan, a poem
won’t save a life) and because it is a feminine act
(an act of voice, the art of speaking). Give me
a frilly handkerchief sprayed with rosewater,
and I might be able to write a poem,
write against my genitals, find
the fictive voice that
makes the bearded throat
capable of song

(though I do not want
to sing as anyone else, I don’t want to sound
like anyone else, I don’t want to learn
to be like anyone else,

not even you
with your cultured voice
that plays each word
like a note
of the tenderest song
our ears might bear to hear).

I hear again
a solitary loon, its voice like darkness, a slow
undulating song, calm water rocking in a small lake,
a controlled wail, lament for the dead,
the spoken sadness of those
too cold to feel.

What is the loonsong you see?

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