I sat yesterday at the scene of a previous poem,
listening to a unctuous woman recite M. L.
Greenwood’s God Bless the USA,
cringing at how poorly she scanned it.
Poetry is often the refuge of people stuck
between an old truth and a new expression.
and I respect what they’re grasping for, and I’m proud
to be an American
So I played marches with the band,
sitting under a tent in a parking lot
and listened to a recording of I Am the Flag
the high school JROTC played through speakers
connected to someone’s iPhone, while they
passed a folded flag to anyone
who wanted to touch it.
The ritual would not have been diminished by
Quaker silence, an undeclared question.
He played taps again under the tree,
a sweet, sad, eternal bugle call.
There is something I used to get
out of writing poems for no one, or not many
that I seem to get better out of writing
social media comments, replies
to great influencers
The feeling of bending something in the airwaves
the morse code static
a slight influence in the real world
but it’s not the same
it’s not occurring in a different, better room than the rest of my life.
I look at file dates and think
that was four years ago
and wonder what’s happening to my mind,
what keeps happening
the accelerating rate
things keep changing
My primordial mind has transposed you
with my father’s preacher friend
who died about ten years younger than you
on a bike, wearing no helmet
so it eventually dawns on me that the
helmets, ranging from an ’80s Vetta Italy
to a Giro Prolight with the Roc Loc retention system
and the Shimano cycling shoes, with Look-compatible cleats
(with the patented 9 degrees of float)
are yours; I think (I am very close to waking)
of the short story Content of the Dead Man’s Pockets
by Jack Finney, and I think that your pockets
are garages, the fourth bedroom,
and perhaps the third.
I find the thing that is really you:
a Sony Beta BMC-100 video recorder.
I gaze at the quality of the casing and controls;
I try to connect the recorder to anything I own
anything that will play something
that only outputs on a three RCA plug composite video connection
wanting to see something about your last days,
since I missed them
but of course the massive video cassette is full of you,
younger than me
recording your kid’s baptism, a niece’s wedding,
and a high school band concert by your son,
now a USAF general.
I try to imagine you from the camera’s perspective;
safely inside the excluded 270 degrees
the occasional shake
and the loud laugh.
The deepest dream is of mad governors,
Down, down we feel it, till the very crust
Of the world cracks, and where there was no dust,
Atoms of ruin rise.
– The Deepest Dream – Mark Van Doren (1894-1972)
He appears, inexplicably,
on a panel talking about the death of JFK,
the day after, late in life, surely years after
he wrote The Deepest Dream.
He doesn’t say much. Unlike his son,
not given the answers, he doesn’t
wind on like the others, doesn’t speak at all
until late in the program, and then
speaks mainly of the past.
But then later, coming to this:
Whoever did this…
defeated his own end more completely
than one can say.
But then, he is still speaking
of the past, of Brutus and Cassius,
of Lincoln. Perhaps thinking
of the early church.
The camera pans the eminent men:
the worldly philosopher
and seems as dazed as they seem
in the wake of the few lucid words
that anyone can say.
There are performers,
Acting as singers and dancers in an Iowa State Fair.
In the original they were singers and dancers
In a Broadway musical, and perhaps
obliged to act like they weren’t as good as they were.
Tonight’s performance is in a community theatre
which perhaps simplifies the process.
There is an audience on the stage
watching the performers
who are performing the act
of watching; they comment on the show
at the fair they’re not part of.
There is the audience
which is here to see State Fair
the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical
They are the only ones free to acknowledge
that the song they’re hearing was cut
from Me and Juliet,
which was a play within a play.
The orchestra, for want of a proper pit,
sits behind the audience
and watches the play when
they’re not playing
And pushes the audience
to laugh at the right times.
I keep finding you as a friend of friends,
or in the spuriously precise terms of LinkedIn,
a 2nd degree connection. You’ve added
various certifications and jobs at companies
which weren’t even around in the days
we worked around a so-called platonic attraction.
The ways we fit together broke down under the strain.
Much of this wasn’t true.
What’s true was: a lemon-scented shampoo smell in a lobby;
the then-stylish bob from which you’ve moved,
on a fit, sun-damaged woman in a tennis dress;
the sound of a certain cultured accent;
a taste for Shiraz I still have,
and tell myself has nothing to do with you.
This frictionless conservation of momentum
this communication event horizon –
I could send this message to you right now
and there’d be only one reason
you wouldn’t answer.
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
– Martin Mull(?)
At first, we’re told, guttural cries
were what passed for expression.
Passed is not the right word, but professional
critics often rule out categories, deny
expression after the fact, and have tried,
from Mozart to Schoenberg, to call attention
to the various sins against form, the tension
between the old skins and new wine.
Schoenberg, for his part, had no use
for laws that came after the fact,
said they burst under special kinds
of tests — exceptions which make us loosen
rules disprove their need. He backed
off to be free of a tonal bind.
He backed off to be free of a tonal bind
of his own making — tired of being
a test case poster child, perhaps,
or just to hear an audience
understand again. Now we do
dance about architecture, expanding
criticism to throw the rope around the free form
and strangle it.
The jazz cats
cut class when they passed
out theory blue books. Nuts
to the squares who have to sit
with a slide rule and figure out
Coltrane blowed a G#13
just to know, just to get back
to the guttural cry, to every
Originally written in the ’90s, and I’ve been tinkering with it ever since.
It wasn’t that important to solve anyway,
which is good, because it doesn’t yield
to analysis or much of anything.
Even in physics we learned one can observe
vector or velocity, not both,
which leaves room for something. Call it God,
but not the god of flannel cutouts in cigar boxes,
musty Sundays, leading us to ever more thinking.
But it’s not nothing.
Or if it is, it’s the type of nothing
expressed in the tired old lines:
Have you seen my wife?
Is she about 5’2″, red haired, wearing a blue sweater?
That’s her! Have you seen her?
No, man, I haven’t.
“Found” Line-sestina: Cologne Cathedral’s Stained Glass Window, Gerhart Richter, 2007
It could have well been placed in a mosque or a synagogue.
– Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Köln, objecting to the commission of the window.Read More »