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Sight Map

ne w califo rnia p o e t ry

edited by Robert Hass


Calvin Bedient
Brenda Hillman
Forrest Gander

For, by Carol Snow


Enola Gay, by Mark Levine
Selected Poems, by Fanny Howe
Sleeping with the Dictionary, by Harryette Mullen
Commons, by Myung Mi Kim
The Guns and Flags Project, by Geoffrey G. O’Brien
Gone, by Fanny Howe
Why / Why Not, by Martha Ronk
A Carnage in the Lovetrees, by Richard Greenfield
The Seventy Prepositions, by Carol Snow
Not Even Then, by Brian Blanchfield
Facts for Visitors, by Srikanth Reddy
Weather Eye Open, by Sarah Gridley
Subject, by Laura Mullen
This Connection of Everyone with Lungs, by Juliana Spahr
The Totality for Kids, by Joshua Clover
The Wilds, by Mark Levine
I Love Artists, by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
Harm., by Steve Willard
Green and Gray, by Geoffrey G. O’Brien
The Age of Huts (compleat), by Ron Silliman
It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems, 1974–2006, by Leslie Scalapino
rimertown / an atlas, by Laura Walker
Ours, by Cole Swensen
Virgil and the Mountain Cat: Poems, by David Lau
Sight Map, by Brian Teare
Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy, by Keith Waldrop
br ian tea r e

Sight Map

Poems

University of California Press Berkeley Los Angeles London


University of California Press, one of the most distinguished univer-
sity presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by
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For more information, visit www.ucpress.edu.

University of California Press


Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

University of California Press, Ltd.


London, England

© 2009 by The Regents of the University of California

For acknowledgments of previous publication, please see page 85.

library of congress cataloging-in-publication data

Teare, Brian.
Sight map : poems / Brian Teare.
p. cm. — (New California Poetry ; 26)
isbn 978-0-520-25875-4 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 978-0-520-25876-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)
I. Title.

PS3620.E427S55 2009
811'.6—dc22 2008021098

Manufactured in the United States of America

18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 09

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum require-


ments of ansi/niso z 39.48-1992 (r 1997) (Permanence of Paper).
If transcendence exists between us, if we are visible and invisible
to each other, the gap is enough to sustain our attraction.
luce irigaray, To Be Two

for Kerri & Darrell

But where is the bridge placed—at the end of the road, or only at the end of our vision?
Is it all bridge, or is there no bridge because there is no gulf?
charles ives, Essays before a Sonata
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Contents

40:57:54 n / 76:54:35 w
Emerson Susquehanna 3
To Be Two 10
Lent Prayer 16
As If from Letters of Surveyor Samuel Maclay 19
To Take the House Out of Doors 24

42:53:6 n / 71:57:17 w
Embodiment 29
Morphology 30
Theory of Trees 38
Spirit Photograph 40
The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect 42
Long after Hopkins 44
pilgrim
The ravine a canoe, 49
Errant. 50
A type of spine. 51
Ash, birch, beech, pine. 52
Errant : Reply. 53
As being is to begin. 54
West to dust. 55
To drag about, to torment, to wallow, 56
Devotion, 57

37:48:9 n / 122:15:4 w
Sanctuary, Its Root Sanctus 61
Thoreau Etude 67
Genius Loci 69
Abandoned Palinode for the Twenty Suitors of June 76
An Essay to End Pleasure 80

Notes 83
Acknowledgments 85
40 : 5 7 : 54 n
7 6 : 5 4: 3 5 w
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Emerson Susquehanna

i. “When we have lost our God of tradition

Not thaw brought to the river—


thought, long winter a surface that holds
no current or image.
And there’s language laid down like that, mind

locked in a long walk through the chill of a single word, and there’s cattails
fraught where water’s not
any longer, and God ’s a pall called down to mind the meaning
given a life. Once thought

the word makes mind too small


like Bible-colored Sundays all study and chalk and exotic
potted palms dotting a holy land
entirely crayon and the lavender mimeographs leave

on the hands. The word God has always been my mother’s


fingers separating
my sister’s hair, three strands gathered in a braid so tight white at the parted dark
roots stood out, word

3
a migraine in its wake, word endured alone in a room. Shades
drawn over pain, word’s
a mind’s light ingrown, caught, nitid knot snarled upon
itself . . . Subzero, months

from thaw, we walk—o trees, trouble,


tremble at the roots of being, underneath,
under laws, the order of things
so deeply a violence and unnumbered like the snow.

4
ii. & ceased from our God of rhetoric

But I don’t know


their names—rust

worked under each


wing like sweat

lunettes; synthetic
silk crest stitched

to a white head;
small gears completely

grease preening
ash, mechanical

sheen of oil,
charcoal—only

this description eats


and screams

squanders territory.
What use is it

to see? Faith
the world is knowable?

5
There are ways
to understand

and none is living


or lyric, limp

or stutter.
If I send a letter

(this sudden utter


other means

than speech)
when I don’t

know to love
language other

than to run
a larceny

all machine and god-


likeness, gear

and hinge, pocket


watch, tie-

pin, money clip and wing


tip, my father’s

6
impostor I am
then, my words

a mere guess at
what isn’t. It isn’t

mastery I’m after.


It’s certain

other terms
than my own

I wait for. For


instance : birds

without names
fly anyway

ceaselessly
up the ladder

cast from visible


to invisible—is it

it only seems
there’s a way

to know the way?

7
iii. then may God fire . . . with . . . presence.”

And you can never catch it


nor make it still
and so it is like thought in this
or weather
that you might live within it
or by its constraints
but never touch it—
and there is the sorrow
it will never know you
though you feel all winter
the shiver of how it never hesitates
in touching you.
Or, said another way :
it snowed all day and into the night.
The view developed
slowly like a photograph
in a bath of chemicals—
what began as white
grew whiter
by virtue of contrast
until it seemed overexposed

8
so little shadow was left
like a sentence revised too often.
What happens is the mind
travels outward
because it wants to be the soul it has heard tell of.
Nervous work
like a bird—sky and power line, garbage can, underbrush—
it goes to them;
it intends itself toward oily black seeds
toward reflections
in ice and in glass
and it goes to the wind
and is shut out
which is no one’s home.
Ever leave-taking,
action is its only description :
each shadow on the lamp-lit street
seeming to rush—molting out of itself—
each upward
to snow—
multitude of hurry, confusion—midair
to meet the idea that made it—

9
To Be Two

i. Certainty

Between two who love each other


there is no room for doubt. Each breath
freezing : fixity is altogether [ ] text.
[ ] falling further [ ] farther
alone, I had thought : Subtext, what
is the fabric of estrangement? A veil
between what is and what I think? I.e. : I
can say what I like [ ].
I ask the barometer falling, Fahrenheit as it
charts [ ] disappearing : what fact
will the water hold as I walk? Sleeping
is [
]. [ ] was an error
I can’t bear. There are propositions I
love with certainty and knowledge, both :
absolutely, in the dark, this hand that
thigh to thigh touches mine is mine;
the memory of fucking [ ].
Believe again this notion of my voice,
what it is to touch me. I ask because this

10
is [ ] walking [ ] the river [ ]
[ ] falls inside it, [ ]. Ice
is a skin that can’t bear touching and weather
deeper than feeling : [ ].
I don’t own any farther than guessing what
I have recorded : what’s called emotion, or [
], a form of a failing of certainty. The world
is [ ] thinking. I remember the veil,
the sum of uncertainty. “I once knew”
isn’t sentimental; it’s eaves, ice. What I know
glitters in error’s margins [ ]
and descends intently. “Touching you
I know I [ ] you,” you [ ]. What you said
like snow holds my footprints : I will watch [
] where I’ve been to disappear—

11
ii. The love poem

: is veil, thin as breath


: freezes and holds what is.
: finds itself afraid.
: is itself far more.
: is subject.
: marks the line.
: can say “The river slips shut,”
says the world is the totality of facts,
swallows the known sum down.
: is the cause of distemper?
: is the ear put in fear;
is an island of light;
is a statement of fact.
: can’t touch, can’t—
: is the ability to know.
: touches mine; is mine;
is it certain?
: can’t find you.
: remember?

12
: isn’t speaking this.
: can’t write itself, though.
: shifts and clicks.
: is an error.
: can’t speak in a form.
: is more accurate.
: is called intellect.
: is what I confuse with what
is torn, but not sundered.
: isn’t a lie, and it
is split like everything
is mica-fine in silence.
: is how.
: won’t be lost.
: falls for as long as . . .
: will walk again in thought.

13
iii. The Veil
Between two who love each other is a veil, thin as breath.
There is no room for doubt. Each breath freezes and holds what is
freezing : fixity is altogether every text, finds itself afraid
of falling further and has gone farther, is itself far more
alone than I had thought. Subtext, what is subject
is the fabric of estrangement : a veil marks the line
between what is and what I think. I.e. : I can say “The river slips shut,”
can say what I like, but what I read says the world is the totality of facts;
I ask the barometer falling, Fahrenheit as it swallows the known sum down,
charts the mercuric disappearing, what fact is the cause of distemper?
Will the water hold as I walk? Sleeping is the ear put in fear,
is thick arras or ambsace, like an alcatraz is an island of light
across water. “There was an error” is a statement of fact
I can’t bear. There are propositions I can’t touch, can’t
love with certainty and knowledge, both. Is the ability to know,
absolutely, in the dark, this hand that touches mine is mine,
thigh to thigh touches mine is mine, is it certain?
The memory of fucking is nothing if it can’t find you.
Please, believe again this notion of my voice; remember
what it is to touch me. I ask because this isn’t speaking; this
is a kind of walking to the river. A letter can’t write itself, though
a life can, and snow falls inside it, hissing. Ice shifts and clicks,
is a skin that can’t bear touching and weather is an error
deeper than feeling : I can’t live like this, can’t speak in a form
I don’t own any farther than guessing what is more accurate :
I have recorded what’s called emotion, or what is called intellect
is a form of a failing of certainty. The world is what I confuse with what
is called thinking. I remember. The veil is torn, but not sundered :
the sum of uncertainty. “I once knew” isn’t a lie, and it
isn’t sentimental; it’s eaves, ice. What I know is split like everything
glitters in error’s margins, like ambivalence is mica-fine in silence
and descends intently. “Touching you is how
I know I love you,” you said. What you said won’t be lost
like snow holds my footprints : I will watch what falls for as long as
it takes for where I’ve been to disappear—will walk again in thought.

15
Lent Prayer

The way prayer is root to precarious : two crows creep


the steeple. Not winter
not spring. Given a chance
a season out of season will write
bastard pastoral, elegy
full of errant splendor and spent sheets of sleet, rain all spondaic
and unrelenting. Pallid nouns look familiar
but they’re dead :
after thaw, after crocuses, even tulips : new snow, and robins
caught on a border without name, lost
to a scrim of frost, dozens
dead, each a lace of lice. The way soul has
no certain etymology, how weirdly what’s rootless goes
wrong-like, fog
erasing syntax that holds
nouns in the sentence called landscape, looks like : streetlight tree
snowdrop stray-cat tow-truck leaves sidewalk snowmelt : except
what’s visible
shifts, wind
arranging things,
the neighbor’s lit window gone down the block like a dog
off its lead.

16
But all the small-town lights have left
for the Susquehanna
where they lean over water and rinse long-
billed birds into shallows, cattails
that shiver
the river like quills
sunk in dark ink. If I bring
to the banks what nouns I’ve found,
what of it?
Clean of scene they shine
in the mind like fish flick water open, switchblade-
quick : weathervane
horse-cart milk-pail police-tape
farmhouse snowplow : if
I put them back, I’ll hate the tableaus
they make : cows
crapping in crabgrass; on Market Street
little flags flapping; or two Amish girls
pressing curd through cloth;
dirty water. It’s written :
the opera house burned
in 1906. What is it goes on living

17
in a town like this, between penitentiary and nicotine, the way form lives on
in both feign and fiction : arson
or accident, the plaque says this
is the original cornerstone : because
the root of error is wander
who wouldn’t want
out of a town so wrong? The current’s fed under the bridge
like fabric to a sewing needle, each light
a small satin boat
stitched slow in folds.
Who wouldn’t want to go
to them,
the lights? As prayer is
route to precarious, the river trembles on its treadle.

18
As If from Letters of Surveyor Samuel Maclay
(Spring, 1790)

sent for you last week dogwoods


a swansong white flowers
on whitewater weather continues

cloudy but little rain intelligence


with its attendant circumstances
embarrasses me much no word

from something to do patience


exhausted dear shaved myself
and then returned the word

pluvial the maple a map


of the river’s tributaries rinsed
glistening province of inquiry

19
my black nets set past cattails
dredge drawn up leaves
alluvium grasp and clatter

of crawfish all hunger


could gather this morning I saw
a deer fording the river

to a small island I felt unable to work


full proof having nothing
the mind destroys everything careful

the world is
the river brims first the few
roads go

under but this is a letter weather


the shine of water on nouns
let it be remembered

20
.

I made a plum pudding


in a bag as fine a one as I ever ate
this with a dish of tea

concluded the month of May obliged


to spend the morning baking
bread things I admire their industry

water folds the arms


of a host of brown coats shine worn
whitely into each elbow

I write I fancy I hear canoe poles


returning this not only keeps me
uneasy for the moment but in pain

21
in consequence as I am in want
of word I imagine your letter corn
stubble troubling the flood fields

no geese riding the river’s stir


and fervor what you sweep from
the porch pine needles berry

stains click of seed husks things


birds leave I leave you too
and send what facts I can sunken road

refracted bent branch made heavy


with wet black bark a clot of leaves flood
plain and waterline my loneliness

22
a season when the bank’s given the river
rising everything it had here I am
in country unsettled without either

canoe or horse a field remarkable


for the great number of bones found
in it I write to report

they all appear in good humor

23
To Take the House Out of Doors

The fading taste of his fingers


means travel.
Where bedsprings
coil their only noise repose
keeps a list : for the lip
a chipped cup; the hand
a kettle; his tongue
three kinds of steeping :
jasmine anise mint.
Your mind rid of
nothing is the one thing
you love : the field in which
chamomile; the river a breadth
in which breath
crests a white feather.
You think the way tulips mate
the colors of bees—
by anther, by stamen
to your mouth the lured world
at brink. Milkweed
is soft as semen; a kiss
a chair in the grass; to fuck

24
a bed crowning the cherry;
his love is to take
the house out of doors.
Where will it go? One way
out of town, traveler.
No one sleeps on a bridge.

25
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42 : 5 3 : 6 n
7 1: 5 7 : 17 w
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Embodiment
(White Birch)

how a birch shirks its skins : strange


grain of the language of prayer : to disturb
words addressed to where God is is
what writing is : alphabet alive beneath
the alphabet so far into whiteness
each mind to itself creation come crawling
matter out of nothing : always
longing inquires at the threshold a question
unanswered : not skin but the look
of skin : what once overheard the talk
of God became matter : ask the birch
did the soul have a choice :

29
Morphology
(Field Guide to the Ferns)

i.

Eros where rain weighs


most—shift
of his ribs, spine

bent—leaflets
arced on an axis—your
mouth the ground

he took root in.

30
ii.

To remember
see : “Interrupted”—

his mouth—

“Smooth
Lip” or “Wooly”

the way a fern’s name interprets


its structure :

you had a different nipple.

31
iii.

“Netted Chain”
is an organic syntax. Is one

kind of sentence—

did he put
his fingers there?—

“Venus” is another. And

32
iv.

“Fragile”—rhizomic
spreading
beneath—you
lay down;

“Male”

fiddleheads
furred and pale—

it wasn’t long before—

33
v.

pinnate—

penetrate.

34
vi.

Eventually you found yourself


on the page : “index

of anatomy”—see :
venation—how
there’s a language
describing
entirely :

tongue—see : how willingly


you brought
your body to him

35
vii.

(see also : “Hart’s


Tongue”)—

36
viii.

how there’s a method


entirely the end
of love : how willingly

a shape takes the name it’s given


by the observer : a description
of what feeds on it.

37
Theory of Trees
( White Birch)

if narrow
if limbs
white, also
are given
skin cousin
to paper

must thought be
brought closer
be invested
mind clothed
wholly
in action : writing
my companion
color : my paper

dress : a warring
of time, garment
of spar spent
in rending

38
.

embodiment :
awful
beautiful : never-
lasting

is form
home if form
gives damage

hospice : who was


I : whose limbs
were mine
when error
entered flesh

39
Spirit Photograph
( White Birch)

It was you who brought rhetoric


to the tree : fallacy’s five kinds
of pain. Argument, traveler, carries you
where? First

was whiteness borrowed


from light. Second : a skin
wholly incident, whose only home is
being

looked at. It isn’t beauty, its second name


(paper) third, or fourth : pinkish
underskin scored with short parallels, like prayer
is made to know order or a God

40
not present at the creation
of longing. Tearing back the bark you made
there a fire to heat the sentence
until meaning relented, ash

the syntax, ash the fifth


you lent it, which is metaphor
which is nomenclature, bark back-
ward curling as if you knew words from

damage. If only it had been real


fire you stole from the dictionary
of agony : of five kinds
the sixth is not knowing the difference—

41
The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect

as when afterward blood returns its stir


to the ear

though his salt still haunts the mouth

it is said
God spoke to matter

during creation
what was asked of it

and what sound came after


what remains remembered in flesh

of such speech

is it longing
is the birch its shape

curled bark a presentiment of pain


its whiteness

is it that of skin
vacant as the place he’d taken among fiddleheads

42
surely alone is the reliquary

I take to the river’s ruined mill


the town bell tolling eleven

is the bones I keep


behind words’ closed carved doors

if matter is the first martyr there is


nowhere left to go

hear me

my way alone
I bequeath to the compass

each step hedged between hours


I leave a lily
carried for the marriage of what turns away

43
Long after Hopkins

Nothing at dusk, lord, but dust


and road to keep it. The field kneels
under white pines, umbra the edge
to whom this is addressed :
a mind part fern, part birch :
two turkeys slowly S-ing their necks
through inflorescence, arrangement
more precise than what light leaves
fields : painterly flowers more color
than picture, more words for color
than tint : alizarin or violet, you could
write goldenrod, write cornflower,
but Queen Anne’s lace still hems
the low horizon. Faith, what is it
abides, what’s left of pastoral
but unreality. Ask artifice. Ask ornament.
Go ahead and ask : what principle
animates the natural : owl pink Lady’s Slipper
orchid white-tailed deer woodchuck :

44
is it only what’s visible that’s knowable.
Twenty dandelions gone to seed;
tent worms slung in the articulated
tree; what’s tiresome : mind
unanswered, writing to supply
scaffolds to hold up scenery, nothing
but queries and plywood, string
strung to a high struck bell auguring :
it’s too late to see a third turkey
left headless, wreck of feathers
the owl scared, scattered in grass—

45
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pil g rim

A pilgrim, where am I? In the shadow of death.


And in what path am I journeying? In the path of error.
And what consolation do I have? That which pilgrims have.
hildegard von bingen, Book of Divine Works
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The ravine a canoe,

wind narrows its deep creek current through, carries the landscape
forward, into disappearance. Boulder to dust, keenness of no use or
latitude. The path follows far as the vanishing point. Wind’s edge, the
map ends here.

49
Errant.

Lost to document and topography, you ask : what logic have I followed,
is it mine, is there elsewhere I might go : but sleep is a kind of English :
constantly, no answer.

50
A type of spine.

From fetal to unfurl, ferns. Upturn, the path among boulders breaks its
fever of mosquitoes. The pond lists with pollen. At bank a tipped birch
soaks its silver sidelong in the water that holds what, goes where, and
nothing, nowhere are answers you’re ready for. Ripple. Midge. Gelid
nebulae of frogs’ eggs.

51
Ash, birch, beech, pine.

Among them, understory where ferns forest the floor in miniature.


Seeds reel down from a supreme unraveling. Upwards, fungus terraces
the trunks; lichen further whitens blanch; the path doesn’t end here,
disperses where forked infinitely. Lent to the lingering shapes of trees,
death lives an other kind of life.

52
Errant : Reply.

You are here now infernal beneath the meadow’s far hem : do you want
it to go on, this life a screed of signs, this struggle under the slumber of
everything : you have tunneled this far : there is, isn’t there, a language
entirely wakeful, you ask : because all you left behind has dreamt of it

53
As being is to begin.

Laid down among the signs a self assigned. Decided it was only ever
upward unto nothing, grass and wildflowers, each stem the very thread
of trembling, as little weight as color on the eye. There was an order you
could choose to enter, another, in doing so, to leave. You were, as before
a river or tree decides to branch.

54
West to dust.

At the crossroads, digitalis quickens its cups. What in wind to hold, to


home, what to house you now? Call back walls, the black slate roof, the
locked door that answered your name like a key. Asphalt westward is
wet, and longitude, and summer is everything is a noun is touched by
water, being led—let it—latitude, curving over, along, farther, away, a
way west to dust.

55
To drag about, to torment, to wallow,

roots of the sweet word I trammel : valka, he’s gone, fucking someone
else. Nothing goes by luck in composition, not in this city of four kinds
of sleep : ends, ended, will end, will have ended. Lake water poised at
the lip of spillage, each image trembles as it’s written.

56
Devotion,

vovere, vow, yes, forms repeat themselves so : cars daily traffic


streets whose shape the lake dictates, my thighs open like a fan
against heat. Day after day the notebook also, the dirt in the path
so packed it shines. In any weather you’ll find me kneeling.

57
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Sanctuary, Its Root Sanctus
(Lake Merritt)

I loved him, but not


without ambivalence when he pushed
inside me, desire and fear two men kneeling, one
over the other, their hands
locked.
By the lake I walk inside memory of his
movements inside me, and it is this fullness most resembles my experience
of God. What could have been
waves instead tick—walled
halted—
against brick. The lake water ends
with an i in it, slip lisping to lip
and, stalled, it sticks. I try to keep it
here—the lake and its description—
before it becomes metaphor,
the poem referring to water
raising into significance
a resemblance between the lake
and metaphor. High sun banishing
clarity beneath a surface nova-ed
white, the lake interpreted

61
is no lake at all, and the waves
no longer waves, the shoreless
shore, and the poem, the prayer
the impossibility of emptiness : being
fucked is a version of prayer : I desire
something
neither received nor seen. Even the lake
is an interpreter, the sky here
a sargasso of glass
here a hot ripple of tin, there
the pale pink pattern called mackerel, and birds
disturb interpretations
I in turn have interpreted. The lake
water ends with an i
in it, slip lisping
to lip, and, stalled, it sticks : there’s nothing I can do
about loneliness
except watch it flare, metaphor
in the landscape by the lake
I walk inside memory of him moving

62
inside me, and it is this fullness most resembles my
experience of God. What could have been waves
instead tick—walled, halted—against brick. And even the lake
is an interpreter, sky here a sargasso of glass
here a hot ripple of tin, there the pale
pink pattern called mackerel, and birds
disturb interpretations I in turn have interpreted.
The lake water ends with an i in it, slip
lisping to lip, and, stalled, it sticks. The walk home
begins as imagery that leaves everything out,
though an image becomes metaphor if
I choose : blue heron at the spill gate; wind’s
whitecaps; fog negating the clocktower; a man
in black, his back to me, rowing past buoys;
and it is this last image, slow slur over the surface
the neat wake the boat leaves, in which I invest
meaning. I try to keep it here—the lake and its
description—before it becomes metaphor,

63
the poem referring to water raising into significance
resemblance between the lake and metaphor.
I left him by underground, left the city
that stinks, rain coagulating crusts left
for pigeons, a lost dog’s lost flyers leeching red ink
into gutter water, junkie cursing her dead
mother, “Fuck you man, the bitch is dead,” left
her and her bedroll and her hands’ gnarl
of scars folded, doubled over. High sun banishing
clarity beneath a surface nova-ed white,
the lake interpreted is no lake at all, and the waves
no longer waves, the shoreless shore
and the poem, the prayer, the impossibility of emptiness
waiting at the gate, at the door, while walking
up the stairs toward his glance and nonchalance,
the unmade bed, while we argued and made
up, undressed and fucked and bed, stairs, door, gate
I was already gone :

64
the walk home began as imagery
that left everything out
though it’d become
metaphor
if I chose : blue heron at the spill gate; wind’s
whitecaps; fog
negating the clocktower; a man in black, his back
to me, rowing
past buoys; and it was this
last image, slow
slur over surface, neat wake
the boat left, in which I invested
meaning. I tried to keep it there—
the lake and its description—before it became metaphor, the poem
referring to water raising into significance resemblance
between the lake and metaphor.
When is it the mind turns
from perception? I left him
by underground, left the city
that stinks, rain coagulating crusts
left for pigeons, a lost dog’s lost flyers leeching red ink into gutter water, junkie
cursing her dead mother, “Fuck you
man, the bitch is dead,” left

65
her and her bedroll and her hands’
gnarl of scars
folded, doubled over. High
sun banishing clarity beneath a surface
nova-ed white, the lake interpreted
was no lake at all
and the waves no longer
waves, the shoreless
shore, and the poem
the prayer
the impossibility of emptiness : when
did I turn away, when
did I substitute the word prayer
for fucking, when
did he begin to leave? while I waited at the gate? at the door? while I walked
up the stairs toward his glance and nonchalance? the unmade bed?
while we argued
and made up, undressed and fucked?
and bed? stairs?
door?

gate? He was
already gone.

66
Thoreau Etude
(Lake Merritt)

Ghosts of commerce,
of loneliness, buildings
embark in the waves
of the lake in a wake
of lights where
insurance—its lit silver
insubstantial—
promises nothing
but neon
in triplicate : crest,
trough, fat signature
listless in flat-water.
What you thought
was promised
wasn’t. Downtown
flares, fulminous
acetylene
crash and ashen sky-
line asymptote : gull
wing and gasoline,
hunger cry and truck

67
bed : an economy
endless as bill
boards’ utopia
replicas : “the heavens
hang over them
like some low screen.”

68
Genius Loci
(Oakland)

Make it
the place
it was then,
so full it split
vision to live
there in winter
so late & wet
abundance
toppled toward
awful—birds
of paradise
a profusion
the ripe colors
of anodized
metal; in gutters
umbrellas
smashed
like pigeons,
bent ribs bright
among black
slack fluttering;
camellias’
pink imagoes
dropping

69
into water
& rotting,
sweet stink—
& did not
stop :
the inundated
eye, over-
populous
urban eye,
the whole
place, to look
at it, was
a footprint
in January :
everywhere
cloudy water
rising to fill in
the outlines,
& meanwhile
indoors differed
by degree
alone : without
love, loosed
from God,

70
there were
lovers & touch
rushing in
to redraw
your boundaries
constantly
because
it was a tune
you kept
getting wrong,
the refrain
of what it meant
to live alone,
months of that
and then

sudden summer, sheer release, streets all cigarettes & sashay,


balls-out tube tops, low-riders & belly fat, the girls on the block
all like Oh no she didn’t, and girl, she did, she was mad skills
with press-ons & a cell phone telling him where to stick it, a kid
on her hip, just like that, summer, sheer beauty & lip gloss
that smelled like peaches, & you going to the store for whiskey

71
& condoms like everyone else on a hot, long afternoon
so long & hot it would just be sunburn to walk anywhere if it weren’t also
a pleasure, thoughtless & shiftless & horny & drunk,
just someone thinking summer wasn’t up to anything deep, & lo,
there he was, his punk ass pink as a Viking in a tight
wifebeater & lingering by the public pool, drinking beer so sly
it didn’t look illegal, & he wasn’t a good idea but
did you have a light? & it seemed the whole summer went like that,
taking fire out of your pocket & giving it away, a ditty
you could whistle it was so cliché, like the numbers they gave you after
& you never called, the number of swollen nodes of the kissing
colds you got & later the number to call to get tested, the number of the bus
to the clinic, the number they gave you when they asked
you to wait, the number of questions asked, number of partners, number
of risks, number of previous tests, the number of pricks
—one—to draw the blood, the number of minutes you waited before
results, & then you decided you had to get the tune right,
the how to live it so it doesn’t kill you, to take a number & wait in the long
line
of the city’s bankrupt humanism like the bus that never comes
no matter how long you wait, & the grocery bag breaking, & if you were going
to sing that one, the one that sounds like all I got is bruised
tomatoes, broken glass & dirty bread & no one waiting at home, would you

72
.

start with genius,


as in, the spirit
of a place?,
& small, as in
of the back, wet
in heat
& the urge
to touch him
there, skin
just visible
between his jeans
& t-shirt,
to see if
he’s sweating,
to see
if he feels
what you feel?,
& if he does,
is that all
the spirit the place
will give,

73
a small thing
shared, just
a phrase, not
a whole song,
but something
to build on?,
& if it isn’t bread
& if it sure
ain’t tomatoes
it isn’t empty,
is it, like the signage
you walk by
that fronts
the Lakeside
Church of Practical
Christianity,
hawking
a knowledge of God
so modest
it seems trivial?,
& it isn’t ever,
is it, the how
to live it
so it doesn’t

74
kill you,
the where
to touch it,
the when
will genius
sing your name
so it sounds
like a place
you can live?

75
Abandoned Palinode for the Twenty Suitors of June
(18th & Sanchez)

It wasn’t that the sidewalk offered


admonishment : Stop thinking about sex.
It wasn’t that kind of neighborhood.
It wasn’t the right time of year. Late
spring rode low on the hips, season

long as the inch between his t-shirt


and jeans, long as a city block :
the whole street lived there whenever
he walked by. It wasn’t that his room
was small and faced traffic, that in his city

there were five useful verbs : un-


button, unbuckle, kneel, open, come.
You were learning to read your body
the way he did : a possible series of
entrances, a fathoming of how deep

the material. What it means to be


entered by a man : an image is the stop
between uncertainties. How, his cock
inside you, his face displayed meaning
where before it had hid inscrutable

and where, afterward, his frank gaze


would close again, a camera’s aperture.
Perhaps after all that was the real thrill,
the click of capture, your image folded
in on itself. No matter what pleasures,

76
what promises, your image—not unlike
eucalyptus, gingko or bottlebrush, trees
without fruit that lined his street solely
for ornament and shade—was but shape
he’d pause beneath briefly, considering.

And his body, his image, what were they


to you? Alone, you’d remember his upper
lip’s deep dip, his clavicles, their dark lunettes
deepening as he leaned above you, bitter
chicory of his beard, the briefs he preferred

to boxers. A series of lessons in how to read


differently, he was tutor to below grammar.
Your language was changing. Unbuckle : a bell
rings with its tongue. Unbutton : as plush is
to push. Kneel : boot cut. Open : the moment

before ink touches paper. Come : would you


give it back, his image? Walk back past flyers
tucked under wipers, the row of glass a stun
of sun, to meet yourself before meeting him,
afternoon gathering its proffered romance

and ass, the backward glance that said yes?


What would you give up to remain as you
were, a visitor at the corner where cautious
and carnal cleaved and the florist’s window
disgorged a forest of orchids? You would

77
leave yourself uncoupled, untouched,
mouthing nouns all flowers—now round,
now sharp—bachelor’s buttons, mums,
agapanthus, protea, poppy, in order to
stop among certainties, imagery of pansy

and lavender, but you could never


again give it up, how to pleasure changed
language : floribund, its inflections those
a throat loans moaning, “o” the low notes
bowed strings goad : now gorgeous, now

cat-gut guttural, all adjective : rapt,


rasped, you went down on his language,
didn’t you, wet to the root each uttered
word of the twenty suitors of June? Viking
beard, shaved balls, recurved cock, rancher’s

hands, scald scar, Zippo, whiplash, fifteen


cigarettes, the one without money, without
tears, whose mother called, whose armpits
you promised you’d put right here, four
shots and a hard-on, pool cue, nightstick,

handcuffs and rubber boots, taxi, patio,


barstool, bedroom, you fucked them all—
he didn’t mind being plural—and you,
in the center of your life, finally changed,
both within your language and without,

78
as light tilted, slid summer-wise and cormorants
returned the span of their wings to hang black
over shining buoys, waves’ crests wind-snapped
like the slack in flags. Beside the lake
you paused, briefly, considered the shape

his image took in the look of things. Bird :


bone enough. Wave : ephemeral’s shell.
Spindrift : to return to air. Air : to lean into
lean, lengthening shadows of after afternoon,
how weirdly the planet slanted toward solstice.

79
An Essay to End Pleasure

By each inadequate window in the dark


low-ceilinged house; by the river
spiked with ice; on the bridge
from town to county; at the market
where Amish sold pretzels and cheddars, cheap toys, greens, headcheese
and livers; along snowed roads slow
to the mailbox; after floodwater
took the curves toward the highway; I waited
and he never came. Downed, crested,
covetous,
birds rushed what the river left the last
crust of snow : plume,
leaf, branch, pod, silt,
thistle : they browned in thaw, softened
in dirt. I waited
past thaw, after ground
and riverbank took the water back; the walk
dotted with cherry blossoms,
when I left I wrote :
rain’s noise to flush weight
of camellias, scentless as birds,
from the bushes. Downed, they
brown, soften in the dirt. May

80
turns fog on a spindle : thread
to bind recent greenery to back-
ground : sewn woods wild
as backs of tapestries. The voice
grows archaic with noticing;
the mind, precise. A new kind
of bird feeds at the river : think
of weeks the eye will take
to count its feathers; years
the mouth will wait to drink
what small air from its bones—
and now, here, March turns fog
on a spindle :
what comes to the eye comes as light
after winter has washed
its white sand at least twice, as if ornament could adorn
the worn shore of the ordinary : goose shit on the lake path, a flotilla
of plastic bags in waters currents carry under the city. We come back
to this : as if inevitable, the sheathed cock;
as if necessary, the thighs part;
and the mind divided : his mouth here, then there
my hand : meanwhile the eternal internal
ache relaxed past pleasure stammer

81
stammer my mouth
apotheosis
precious. But it is all dear :
the thread that binds
recent greenery to background,
kisses tentative, pressing, each
to sustain a pattern, the sewn
woods wild
as backs of tapestries.
Watching the work of his pale skin
gather, gooseflesh
where my mouth just was : we are
as much as we see : the voice
full-throated with noticing; the mind
precise. How the mouth knows what the eye knows :
egret, heron, bittern,
grebe, gull, coot, cormorant,
scaup, mallard, but
friend, a new kind of bird
feeds at the lake : think of weeks the eye will take
to count its feathers; years
the mouth will wait
to drink what small air from its bones.

82
Notes

What follows is mostly recognition of what I’ve borrowed or outright stolen.


All etymologies are from the Oxford English Dictionary.

40:57:54 n / 76:54:35 w
“Emerson Susquehanna”: The title of each section is a portion of a sentence
taken from Emerson in His Journals, ed. Joel Porte (Harvard University Press,
1982).
“To Be Two”: The title is taken from a book of the same name by Luce
Irigaray (Routledge, 2001); the image of the veil between lovers is also hers.
A few phrases and some examples of language games concerning certainty
are taken directly from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty (Harper & Row,
1972).
“As If from Letters of Surveyor Samuel Maclay”: The poem borrows directly
from Maclay’s Journal (Wennawoods, 1999), which he wrote while he was
surveying the west branch of the Susquehanna, near Lewisburg (which was
then Derrstown) in central Pennsylvania.

42:53:6 n / 71:57:17 w
The “white birch” series responds to Gennady Aygi’s poem “Birch at Noon,”
from Child-and-Rose (New Directions, 2003).
“Embodiment” responds to Brenda Hillman’s assertion, in “First Tractate”
from Death Tractates (Wesleyan University Press, 1992), that “The soul got to
choose. Nothing else / got to but the soul / got to choose.”

83
“Morphology” owes a tremendous debt to Boughton Cobb’s Field Guide to
the Ferns (Houghton Mifflin, 1956); the nouns or phrases in quotation marks
are actual names of ferns found during hikes in New Hampshire.
“Theory of Trees” is a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1865 journal in
A Hopkins Reader, ed. John Pick (Oxford University Press, 1953).
“Spirit Photograph” refers to the nineteenth-century practice of attempting
to capture, via photograph, evidence of ghosts, such as ectoplasm or the
possession of mediums during séances. It’s dedicated to Laura Larson.
“The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect” refers to the Gnostic creation
myth that it was in fact the speech of God that formed matter. The title is
taken from a Manichean hymn in Barnstone and Meyer’s The Gnostic Bible
(Shambhala, 2003).
The opening of “Long after Hopkins” ghosts the opening of Jorie Graham’s
“Imperialism” in The End of Beauty (Ecco, 1987).

37:48:9 n / 122:15:4 w
“Thoreau Etude”: The final three lines are from Thoreau’s A Writer’s
Journal, ed. Laurence Stapleton (Heinemann, 1961).
“Abandoned Palinode for the Twenty Suitors of June” quotes graffiti at
the corner of 18th and Sanchez (in the Castro of San Francisco) and was
triggered by the legend of Stesichoros’ palinode, as recounted by Anne Carson
in Autobiography of Red (Knopf, 1998). Also: the phrase “an image is the
stop between uncertainties” is taken from Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood (New
Directions, 1961).
“An Essay to End Pleasure”: Again, some phrases are from Thoreau’s
A Writer’s Journal.

84
Acknowledgments

The following appeared, sometimes in different versions, in these journals,


with many thanks to their editors:
26: “Morphology”
American Poetry Review: “Sanctuary, Its Root Sanctus”
Bayou: “Embodiment” and “Thoreau Etude”
Blackbird: “As If from Letters of Surveyor Samuel Maclay” and “Lent Prayer”
Bloom: “Genius Loci”
Crowd: “The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect”
Gulf Coast: “Abandoned Palinode for the Twenty Suitors of June” and “An Essay
to End Pleasure”
Hotel Amerika: “To Be Two”
The Literary Review: “Spirit Photograph” and “To Take the House Out of
Doors”
Pool: “The ravine a canoe,”
The Seneca Review: “Emerson Susquehanna”
VOLT: “Long after Hopkins”

“The Word from His Mouth, It Is Perfect” was reprinted in The Gertrude Stein
Awards (Green Integer, 2008). Many thanks to Douglas Messerli for selecting
the poem for inclusion.
Gratitude to Jeff Maser, and especially to Jason Davis at palOmine Press, for a
limited edition chapbook, Pilgrim, in which all the poems of that section first
appeared.
Further gratitude to the editors of the New California Poetry series and the
staff at University of California Press, most especially to Rachel Berchten and

85
Claudia Smelser, whose intelligences patiently and sensitively shepherded this
book into being.
There are many to whom I owe thanks for their direct support of and belief in
this work: Rick Barot, Gaby Calvocoressi, Joshua Corey, Susanne Dyckman,
Cynthia Hogue, Laura Larson, Jane Mead, G. E. Patterson, D. A. Powell,
Jaime Robles, Margaret Ronda, Reginald Shepherd, and Jean Valentine.
& there are two whose editorial suggestions concerning this manuscript were
irreplaceable: Elizabeth Robinson and Kerri Webster.
But the largest debt of gratitude goes to the Stadler Center for Poetry at
Bucknell University, the MacDowell Colony, and the National Endowment
for the Arts, without whose generosities this book would never have been
written.

86
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