Monday, September 6, 2010

105. Limnitations

I can think out
to you these
few things
broken in
pieces like
chalk, like
brittle,1 like


the limitations
of the expansive

distances2 beyond
which we see

something too big
to remember


secreted or kept3
within or

allowed to seep
from the body

the sticky syrups
of the body

under surfaces
but straining to

leave through
orifice or wound

the body


desire is not
a subtraction

of the man5
and does not

with the


held within
it as it turns

its eyes from
the stars6

desire is
the addition

to a



those parts
of existence


(and thus
accessible to)

via the

but the word
holds within

its body
gravid with

the sense

of scent
(that sense

that wanders
in and out

of grasp)
and sent9


but some-
thing also

directed on
to another


water10 is

for the

of the

to pull
it one

way or

it has
no will

or way
of its own

but merely

and fills
and it

to be

pushed but
it is




and gotten

the way
we hold

onto what
we don’t

know we
still know

the moon
for gotten14


or the under-

thought how
for instance

the under-
thought pulls

you under
drowns you

in dreams
or worries

the labored
breathing of

the impre-
gnable16 unlike

that ulterior

thought that
hidden idea

that darkly
guides where

ever a bright

seems to


is weightless

but heavy
with heat

on the wrong
days a dog17

could sleep
within its



deft and

a symbol18



and let

go as if
in flight


a passing

the words
don’t mean

except as
the language

allows them20
to be

in thrall

with an
Other since

One self
is never

in itself


of love

of word

sound of

of want

want and


poetry is

like contract

killing23 but
the work

is more

and pays
less and

some say
the rewards





this is
tho even25

at this

it might
not be

a letter

to you

and the

is O


1 Cf. “peanut,” as in “peanuts and penis,” an unavoidable pair and an unavoidable pun of the day, followed by the immutable pair “anteater and antelope.” What belong together do not necessarily belong together.

2 Words can be both general and specific, so a distance may be the measurable space between any two points (which is the general use of the term) or it might be a great expanse between two points, as it is that the word seems most naturally to mean to us. Poetry is about the use of words and so must take such polysemy into consideration.

3 “Secreted” and “kept” are words that may have the same meaning in some instances or contexts, and which share phonemes more than they share letters, since letters, the characters of a written language, are usually only general guides to sound, which exists on a different stratum of meaning.

4 A poetic license is valid for five years before the poet must renew it. The body is always a potential “suppurant,” even though the word did not come into existence until a few minutes ago.

5 Punning against a folk etymology, we can find within “desire” (though not desire) the senses of castration, impotence, the inability to father children, even the effects of the feared and fabled vagina dentata, a terror so quaint given a man’s frequent inclination to be surrounded whenever possible by the faux vagina dentata.

6 “Desire” is a word without a certain etymology, but these lines reveal an assumed etymology for the word, and one a bit wondrous is its poetic disturbances of the mind.

7 An idea derived by sexological research that seems to show that women are aroused by seeing any type of sex acts (heterosexual, homosexual, even between bonobo monkeys) despite whatever their own sexual tendencies are. This arousal, researchers have assumed, derives7a from the fact that what arouses a woman most is the feeling of being desired, whereas men are more aroused by the desirability of others, of potential or imminent sexual partners. (Of course, I’m not a sex researcher and am reporting only my interpretation of the findings of research presented for the layperson.)

7a “Derive” is almost “desire.”

8 The poet Philip Booth once told his graduate poetry writing class (including me) at Syracuse University that we should avoid using esses too much in poems, because they did not record well and sounded harsh on audiotape, but I can not avoid sibilance, which seems what the tongue is made for—not to make a sound itself, but to direct and restrict the air between itself and the alveolar ridge and out of the mouth in such a way to produce a remarkably continuous sound.

9 Certainly, these are merely a pair of puns, not some significance the word actually carries within itself, yet I cannot shake those hangers-on from the body of the word.

10 Water is on my mind as I have been spending the entire day eating nothing more solid than gelatin or sorbet, preparing my body to cleanse itself, drinking laxatives to loosen the solider syrup of my body, and washing it all away with water. Water runs through me and out and out of the house and away, and then water comes again and repeats it all, drawn by the pull of gravity.

11 At this point, this segment of poetry ascends to pun, suggesting other ways to consider the actions of nature. Just a step from a pathetic fallacy here.

12 The w’s (or their sounds) are (or is) the sound of water moving.

13 And the bilabial plosives stop the water in its place. I have no idea what the sounds of a poem of mine are doing until after it is written. My ear guides me, but the ear is merely a specifically trained part of the brain.

14 Tmesis heightens the ancientness of the word “gotten.” This is a bit of North American writing, not English.

15 Even a word that doesn’t truly exist, except as a potential word, a latent word, can have strata of meaning within it because a language follows certain multiple and complex rules that we, as its users and thus those who keep it alive, understand without even thinking about them directly. And I didn’t even refer to the adjectival form of the word here, where something underthought is something ill considered, and usually noted as such only after the action it generated has come to a poor conclusion.

16 The awkward break in the word is intentional, allowing for extra meaning on either side of the hyphen, but “impregnable” is already carrying out more than one role in this spot even without this extra meaning, provided once again by tmesis.

17 At this point, a single phrase ends one sentence and begins another demonstrating a kind of verbal imbrication. A sentence, though, never ends in spoken life, which is real life and the source and venue of real language. Listen carefully to a sentence someone speaks, how it is begun, then begun again, interrupted by itself, then goes off track, but keeps running, not really stopping, but interrupted by another sentence by the same person or by another voice in the conversation. Language is not clean and neat (the big lie of the poem is that it is). Language is messy and ragged, as messy and ragged as life.

18 The pun is a kind of prevarication that pretends it doesn’t know the difference between a voiced and a voiceless bilabial plosive. The ear knows, the mind knows, and they hold the two thoughts together at once and as one.

19 English can cram more phonemes into a single syllable than any other language I know, and that denseness of sound is difficult for second-language speakers of English. Yet that fact is one of the treasures of English, and one poets don’t often lean towards.

20 Of course, the opening of this section is meant to provide evidence of this opening statement. The making of bald didactic statements in a poem is a poor excuse for poetry, so sneaking a little punning into the mix helps alleviate the damage of directly saying what I should simply show.

21 There is a pun in this word that I almost miss myself, but the phrasing around it should bring it out. (NB: I am not identifying all the puns in this poem, just a few of them.)

22 And wanting more.

23 A point possibly never made before, and one made here only as a form of denial, or what we might call irony, if we were rhetoricians (which we are not).

24 Sometimes a single word is so powerful that it can make an entire point all by itself. If that word is a poem, we call it a pwoermd. (NB: Philip Booth also taught us never to use the word “so” as an intensifier.”

25 Even if a linebreak may seem meaningless, it possibly isn’t. The linebreak should enhance meaning by emphasizing points, forcing productive tmetic breakages in syntax, and by guiding sound.

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