Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Poetry: Sarah Manguso

Sarah Manguso
The Rider

Some believe the end will come in the form of a mathematical equation.
Others believe it will descend as a shining horse.
I calculate the probabilities to be even at fifty percent:
Either a thing will happen or it won't.
I open a window,
I unmake the bed,
Somethow, I am moving closer to the equation or to the horse with everything I do.
Death comes in the form of a horse covered in shining equations.
There will be no further clues, I see.
I begin to read my horse.
The equations are drawn in the shape of horses:
Horses covered in equations.
I am tempted to hook an ankle around the world as I ride away.
For I am about to ride far beyond the low prairie of beginnings and endings.

Legal Labyrinth

Good lord, I'm tired of all this.

Where does this keep coming from? Why does this keep happening?

I dunno, man . . . even when it's obviously a conspiracy, I'm hard-pressed to figure out what the conspiracy is about. I'm not willing to stop at Racism—certainly it's a huge factor, but the administration's ridiculous desires for revenge and secrecy don't start and end on that word. The administration is already in power, and we have reached a point where all this is not really helping them maintain it, and yet they keep pushing it. And they know they can't stay in power forever—it isn't *really* like they're dictators propagating this system. If we don't believe in the reality of the war on terror, if we believe the myriad reports that say most Guantánamo detainees are innocent bystanders, what is pushing those in power to this point? Maybe I'm naïve, in fact I probably am, but since I've never quite believed in evil, I really can't figure out what would be keeping them here. Nothing I can come up with seems powerful enough.

The other trouble is, to me the violations are obvious, blatant, because I think of everything as being under the control of the U.S. Constitution. Guantánamo certainly doesn't have a constitutional leg to stand on, but I keep hearing corners of arguments about how different, how distinct, military law is. Can anyone out there speak to that?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday Poetry: Kenneth Koch

Repeat poet sorry sorry. But I like him awfully much and it will probably happen again. Brace yourselves. And brace yourselves equally well because this poem is long. And you should be almost as impressed with my decision to type it as you are with the poem itself.

Thank you. Now we present:

Kenneth Koch
A New Guide

What is needed is a guide to all situations and places . . .
-Le Vicomte de Cyrillac

Vous voyez cette ligne télégraphique au fond de la vallée
et dont le tracé rectilinge carpe la forêt sur la montagne d'en face
Tous les poteaux en sond de fer . . .

-Blaise Cendrars, Feuilles de Route


Look at this champagne factory
It is in Epernay
From it comes dry white wine with innumerable bubbles
(It is made in a series of fifteen gabled white buildings—sheds)
Borges writes that mirrors and fornication are "abominable"
Because they increase the amount of reality
This champagne factory transforms reality rather than simply increasing it
Without it Epernay champagne wouldn't exist.


Look at this wolf.
He is lighter than a car
But heavier than a baby carriage.
He is highly effective.
Each wolf manifestation is done entirely in the classic manner of a wolf.
He stands completely still.
He is not "too busy to talk to you,"
Not "in conference" or "on the phone."
Some day there may not be any more wolves.
Civilization has not been moving in a way that is favorable to them.
Meanwhile, there is this one.


Look at this opera.
People are moving without plan.
They are badly directed.
But how they can sing!
One can tell from the faces of the audience how marvelously they sing.
That man there's face is like a burst of diamonds
That very slim woman has fallen into a faint.
Four nights ago at this opera house a man died.
The opera stopped four young men came with a stretcher to carry him out.
I was told that when he was in the lobby a doctor pronounced him dead.
Look at the audience now. They are full of life.


Look at this camel.
A man unused to camels is trying to mount it.
The camel's driver motions for the camel to kneel down
On its front knees, which it does.
The man mounts it, the camel gallops away.
To qualify for his position the man must demonstrate his ability to ride a camel. He has failed.
Maybe he will be given another chance—if it is decided that this was a defective camel.
The worst thing that can happen is he will be out of a job. He will not be shot.
The camel crouches down now in the sand,
Quiet, able, and at ease, with nothing about it defective.
If the camel were found to be defective, it would be shot.
That much of the old way still goes on.


The purple architecture runs all around the top of the Buddhist temple and then it is graduated into sculptured green, yellow, and pink strips.
Look at the young monk in a yellow and orange silk gown—he begins a prayerful journey up the four hundred and fifty steps.
Red blue white and purple sculptured kings and demons and Buddhas look down at him as he climbs and then look level at him but never look up
For they are near the top and their heads aren't constructed so that they are able to bend.


Look at this orange.
It was "made" by that orange tree over there.
That orange tree seems to be smiling
As it waves a little bit, just the slightest little bit, in this Andalusian wind.
If it waved much more it might start to lose its oranges.
It would.


Look at this arch.
It is part of a building more than seven hundred years old.
Every day from the time he was eighteen, probably, the man who made it worked in stone.
Sometimes he had a day off—the stone would be in his mind.
He would find in his mind ideas for patterns, lines, and angles.
Now those ideas are gone.
We have a different art.
But for what we most believe we don't have art at all.


The woman is covered by a sheet and the man has one a white mask.
The man takes out the woman's heart
And puts in another. He bends down to listen—
The new heart is beating! He asks for the wound to be closed.
He takes off his mask and goes into another room.
The woman stays in this room. She has a good chance of staying alive.


Look at this old tower in Lisbon that is now a museum for Portuguese blue tiles called Azulejos.
On each tile is a patterning of blue lines.
Thick ones and thin ones curving and straight but more curved ones than straight ones
And on most of them a picture and on some of them, actually on a good many of them, words.
One tells the story of Orpheus
On this one is a young woman
Holding a cane she points to an allegorical landscape—
A river, a bridge, and sheep. Underneath the image is written
This other tile (there are, it is said, eighty
Tousand of them, one cannot describe them all)
Shows a large blue-and-white scaled fish. Underneath it, it says


You see this actor, on this stage, he is rehearsing his role in a play
Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. He wears jeans and a frayed white shirt.
It is not yet dress rehearsal. He is rehearsing the part of Florizel. He is speaking
In unrhymed decasyllabic verse. Over here to his left is a young woman, Perdita.
She too is casually dressed—shirt and jeans.
Her brown hair is tied behind her head in a knot.


Look at this Greece.
It is hardly the same as Ancient Greece at all
Not even the old buildings:
Look at this man walking with this woman.
In a public park in Athens, in possession of happy lust.
Their faces can't have been the same in the fifth century BC.
Nothing can have been.


Look at this woman.
It has taken the human race millions of years for anyone to get to be the way she is.
An old woman in a red dress sitting looking at television.
Look at her hands.
They are a little dry but she is healthy.
She is eighty-two years old.
On the television screen is pictured a ship. There is a close-up of the deck, where
A little boy is playing with a dog. The woman laughs.


Look at the clouds.
They may be what I look at most of all
Without seeing anything.
It may be that many other things are the same way
But with clouds it's obvious.

The motorboat runs through the sky reflected in the river.
Look at the long trail of clouds behind.


Look at this celebration.
The people are festive, wearing masks.
There is a great variety of masks—dog mask, horse mask, mermaid mask, mask of a giant egg—
Many people are drinking despite the masks.
To get the drink to their lips they tilt the mask.
The masks, tilted upwards, look like hats.


Callé de los Espasmos
This is Spasms Street, named for a symptom of a fever one can get from mosquitoes at the very end of the street, where it becomes a path, near the mountain and surrounded by jungle, and leads to a waterfall and also sometimes to this fever.
Few people contract the disease and few know why the street is named Spasms Street. it is identified by signposts about every half mile: Calle de los Espasmos. The house this woman lives in is a kilometre from here, the zone is not dangerous.


Look at this bannister.
People put their hands on it as they went down.
Many many many many hands. Many many many many times.
It became known as the "Bannister of Ladies Hands." It was said one could feel the smoothness of their hands when one touched it oneself.
Actually what one felt was the smoothness of the marble
That had been worn down by so many touching hands.
Look at the sign that is on it now: The Bannister of Ladies Hands. To Preseve This Monument Each Person Is Requested To Touch It Only Once.
Look at the young boy there touching it twice, then a third time.
What if a guard catches him.
The fear is that if the bannister is touched too much it may completely wear away—the illusion of touching the soft hands of women in low-cut red dresses, going down to their friends and lovers, will exist no more.
The sensation will have vanished from the world.


Look at this beautiful road
On which horses have trodden
Centuries ago. Then it was a dirt road.
Now it is a stone road
Covered with tar.
The horses' prints are no longer visible.
Nothing is visible. Yes,
Now a motorcycle and a car go past.


Look at my friend.
He is saying to me Did you know that I am sixty-three?
He has a beautiful wrinkled face but in which the face has an almost complete mastery over the wrinkles. The wrinkling process is still held in abeyance by the face.
You're looking pretty good to me, I say.
He smiles.
Some day his face will be totally invaded by wrinkles like the pond in the Luxembourg Gardens on a windy fall day.
Even then, though, the main features of his face that I like will be visible.


This Egyptian temple is five thousand years old.
Look at the lion and look at the baboon. Both are in sphinx shape.
Look at the structure of the notes on this sheet of music.
Look at this well-known beauty now seventy years old. She says
It's fine up till seventy when you can still be sexually appealing. But after that—
Look at the harbingers of tempest—or of spring?—birds,
Birds are like thoughts that the sky had after it made a decision
About what to do, and today they are flying violently.
Look at this cloth
Spread out on the roof, beginning to show drops of rain.
Look at the green iris of this Peruvian flamingo's eye.
Look at the gravel on this path. Look at this old man's unevenly knitted grey sleeve.


Look at this woman.
The man she is with can't believe she has any connection to him.
She doesn't. She turns the corner.
But he walks after her.
After a few hundred feet he has the courage to say Hello.
You are very beautiful. May I walk with you a little ways.
She nods her head, smiling. She doesn't understand him because he is not speaking Spanish,
The only language she understands.
The man says, in English, I have just arrived in Barcelona.
She smiles, not understanding a word, except "Barcelona."
Two women and three men go by, speaking Catalan.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Oh, Snap.

We are perhaps coming out of a serious April cold snap in Chicago.

I don't know if we're coming out yet, because I didn't know that we were going in.

It's occurred to me that all my living in and knowledge of Chicago has happened since the Industrial Revolution, and that most of the oddities I know of its weather have at some level been affected by that. Bad things are always sort of happening; crisis is when we near the point of no return.

Which was obvious, but I still just thought of it.


Friday Poetry: Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich
Ideal Landscape

We had to take the world as it was given:
The nursemaid sitting passive in the park
Was rarely by a changeling prince accosted.
The mornings happened similar and stark
In rooms of selfhood where we woke and lay
Watching today unfold like yesterday.

Our friends were not unearthly beautiful.
Nor spoke with tongues of gold; our lovers blundered
Now and again when most we sought perfection,
Or hid in cupboards when the heavens thundered.
The human rose to haunt us everywhere,
Raw, flawed, and asking more than we could bear.

And always time was rushing like a tram
Through streets of a foreign city, streets we saw
Opening into great and sunny squares
We coudl not find again, no map could show—
Never those fountains tossed in that same light,
Those gilded trees, those statues green and white.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bygones Be Bygones

So what did the counterculture movements of the 1960s and '70s really do, in the long run?

That question troubles me more and more, these days. While certainly the death rate in Iraq is much smaller than that of Vietnam, there's no draft, the war's only been going on under one president thus far, and we the country as a whole (to distinguish from we the military towns, for whom circumstances are obviously different) are not being asked to make Wartime Sacrifices. Without belittling the tremendous accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, public schools and urban centers remain de facto segregated. People yearn for a return to a different president, a different kind of politics, just as the mainstream did in the 1960s, which leads me to wonder if that different kind of politics has ever actually existed.

Two pieces of work have been making this move upfront in my mind: Robert Altman's Nashville, which I saw a month ago, and Sing a Battle Song, a compilation of three 1970s publications by the Weather Underground, which I read for the Feminist Review.

With the exception of the characters' outfits and the occasional specific political referent, Altman's film could have been made a year ago and made sociopolitical sense. It follows the usual pastiche of Altman characters through Nashville, including a leftist iconoclastic presidential candidate's entourage, several country and folk musicians and their lovers and former lovers (including the mother of two deaf children), Southern figureheads, a groupie visiting her aunt and uncle. As is common in the few Altman films I've seen, nothing happens until the end, and everything happens.

Particularly haunting in the film was the folk refrain on which it ends: "It don't worry me/It don't worry me/You may say that I ain't free/But it don't worry me."


So who does it worry?

Sing a Battle Song is the opposite of Altman's film in some ways: it showcases a harsh, naked, determined idealism, misguided and even stupid in some cases but in many others incredibly strong, correct in my slanted perception of the world, well-argued and -researched and -thought. Yet it seemed, as with Nashville, that almost all the problems that were part of the conversation existed, in almost exactly the same forms, today. Internal struggles had changed; the larger structure of power in the world had not, had in fact gotten worse rather than better. That was my first reaction, anyway. Certainly the force of the corporation-defined-as-a-person has only grown, and has led to deeper levels of corruption in government, business and shadow economies.

Monumental strides, particularly on the domestic front, were made in that time. I don't get to deny that. The feminist movement has changed my life, made it something completely different from what it would have been had it never happened. The civil rights movement was huge, in terms of legal fallback and changes in public perception. I mean, not only is there an African American candidate for president as we speak, he's the current Democratic frontrunner in fundraising and in some ways in the public eye. (Not that I am the public eye or anything. But I do mean to distinguish him from other black candidates of the past, like Shirley Chisholm, even as I still honor her accomplishments.) However, off my recent reading of Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen, there was a lot of stunning racial integration work done during Reconstruction that was basically undone by whites in power for a good sixty years after, that we may not have reached the Reconstruction's level of integration, justice and acceptance since that time. I'm confused about my own position regarding reparations today, but at the time forty acres and a mule would have been an absolutely sound, logical policy, not to mention just, and the fact that it was out there immediately after slaves were freed says a great deal about the time. And today, there's a whole lotta ghettoization going on. International relations feel like they've been at a fairly steady decline, though someone who knows more than I will and should take issue with that; hubris is certainly on the rise, flying in the face of a lot of facts. I don't know what will change it—not that there's any way I would know such a thing, but it still sets me ill and iller at ease.

Connor's been on me lately about my political negativity, about my semi-belief that America's system of government is on the wane. He has a point, always, but I've never known how to address it. Considering these pieces, I have to wonder, now, if that's what I wish would happen. If lately I feel like the systems, the cycles, are just so built on corruption (what was so pure that it could be corrupted, I wonder?) that we'd somehow be better off if it were to all fall apart and have to start again. But the truth is, there's no way EVERYTHING is going to fall apart, so it's a stupid longing, a silly philosophical desire on my part. It's the part of me that believes revolution is the way, when another several parts of me believe revolution is always followed by a forceful reactionary force, that revolution's always conducted by a passionate minority against a majority powerful enough to whiplash back, or that believes in the Russian-Revolution/Animal Farm version of overturn. But it's true that very little we as a human race do is honestly unprecedented; the hope is that this time we'll be able to find a different way to change it. Altman's film makes me feel less hopeful about that, and Sing a Battle Song made me feel that the problems simply faded from the forefront of human minds (to the extent that they were ever there) rather than actually being changed or solved.

I'm not sure how to let bygones be bygones when, you know, they're not. When history is only part progress, though we're taught in school to regard it as linear; in other ways it's cyclical, in still other ways it's a constant reinvention of the wheel. In some ways history straight-up does repeat itself. Does it have to? I really don't know.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Previous Friday Lack of Poetry, and Friday Poetry: Donald Justice

Excuse the delay.

I learned two weeks ago that a young woman I knew, my classmate from kindergarten through twelfth grade, has died. The delay was caused by my desparation to find the Perfect Mourning Poem, the ideal epitaph. I've since concluded that that's impossible. The poem below, for some reason, is the closest to anything I'm thinking or feeling right now. In addition, go here and here and check out "Stories" and "Garcia," respectively. I had not seen this woman for years, but she was a lovely and exponentially talented human being.

Donald Justice
Variations for Two Pianos
For Thomas Higgins, Pianist

There is no music now in all Arkansas.
Higgins is gone, taking both his pianos.

Movers dismantled the instruments, away
Sped the vans. The first detour untuned the strings.

There is no music now in all Arkansas.

Up Main Street, past the cold shopfronts of Conway,
The Brash, self-important brick of the college,

Higgins is gone, taking both his pianos.

Warm evenings, the windows open, he would play
Something of Mozart's for his pupils, the birds,

There is no music now in all Arkansas.

How shall the mockingbird mend her trill, the jay
His eccentric attack, lacking a teacher?

Higgins is gone, taking both his pianos.
There is no music now in all Arkansas.