Commentaries - January 2014

Williams's 'Between Walls': A student's notes

(c) Maddie Gee, September 2012, English 88, University of Pennsylvania

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (3): 23 verses from Sousândrade’s Wall Street Inferno

Translation from Portuguese by Odile Cisneros

[Along with Whitman & Darío, Sousândrade (Joaquim de Sousa Andrade, 1833-1902) emerges today as one of the great nineteenth-century forerunners to a full-blown poetry of the Americas.  Nearly forgotten after his own time, he was brought back through the enthusiasm of Haroldo & Augusto de Campos, to become, in Latin American terms at least, the epitome of a late experimental romanticism & a prefigurer of new poetries to come.  His masterwork, as boundary shattering & as American in its own way as Whitman’s “Song of Myself” or Pound’s Cantos, was a long poem entitled O guesa errante [The Wandering Guesa], in which “layout, neologisms, verbal montage, and sudden changes in tone evoke the newspapers of that period and the hectic world of the stock market.”  Thus the Cuban novelist Severo Sarduy, and Augusto de Campos further: “… a trans-American periplum (with interludes in Europe, Africa) from Brazil (Maranhão) to Colombia, Venezuela, Peru … Central America, the Antilles, and to the USA.” At the journey’s center is the Guesa, a legendary figure of the Muisca Indians of Colombia, destined from childhood for ritual immolation. To escape the xeques or priests who would carry out the sacrifice, the Guesa (or Sousândrade speaking for him), makes his own pilgrimage, “to end sacrificed in Wall Street, surrounded by stockbrokers’ cries.”

                A shorter selection from O guesa errante & a more extended commentary can be found here on Poems and Poetics, & a long excerpt from Robert E. Brown’s alternative version was included in Poems for the Millennium, volume three. (J.R.)]

 

1           (Guesa, having traversed the West Indies, believes himself rid

            of the Xeques and penetrates  the New-York-Stock-Exchange;

            the Voice, from the wilderness:)

 

            – Orpheus, Dante, Aeneas, to hell

            Descended; the Inca shall ascend

                        = Ogni sp’ranza lasciate,

                                    Che entrate…

            – Swedenborg, does fate new worlds portend?

 

2          (Smiling Xeques appear disguised as Railroad-managers,

                                Stockjobbers, Pimpbrokers, etc., etc., crying out:)

 

            – Harlem! Erie! Central! Pennsylvania!

            = Million! Hundred million!! Billions!! Pelf!!!

                        – Young is Grant! Jackson,

                                    Atkinson!

            Vanderbilts, Jay Goulds like elves!

 

3          (The Voice, poorly heard amidst the commotion:)

 

            – Fulton’s Folly, Codezo’s Forgery…

            Fraud cries the nation’s bedlam

                        They grasp no odes

                                    Railroads;

            Wall Street’s parallel to Chatham…

 

4                      (Brokers going on:)

 

            – Pygmies, Brown Brothers! Bennett! Stewart!

            Rothschild and that Astor with red hair!!

                        = Giants, slaves

                                    If only nails gave

            Out streams of light, if they would end despair!..

 

 

5                     (Norris, Attorney; Codezo, inventor; Young, Esq., manager; Atkinson

                                    agent; Armstrong, agent; Rhodes, agent; P. Offman & Voldo,

                                            agents; hubbub, mirage; in the middle,  Guesa:)

 

            – Two! Three! Five thousand! If you play

            Five million, Sir, will you receive

                        = He won! Hah! Haah!! Haaah!!!

                                    – Hurrah! Ah!…

            – They vanished …   Were they thieves?...

 

6              (J. Miller atop the roofs of the Tammany wigwam unfurling the Garibaldian mantle:)

 

            – Bloodthirsties! Sioux! Oh Modocs!

            To the White House! Save the Nation,

            From the Jews! From the hazardous

                        Goth’s Exodus!

            From immoral conflagration!

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

100         (Reporters.)

 

            – Norris, Connecticut’s blue laws!

            Clevelands, attorney-Cujás,

                        Into zebras constrained

                                    Ordained,

            Two by two, to one hundred Barabbas!

 

101         (Friends of the lost kings:)

 

            Humbug of railroads and the telegraph,

            The fire of heaven I wished wide and far

                        To steal, set the world ablaze

                                    And above it raise

            Forever the Spangled Star!

 

102                         (A rebellious sun founding a planetary center:)

 

            – ‘George Washington, etc. etc.,

            Answer the Royal-George-Third. Depose!

                        = Lord Howe, tell him, do

                            I’m royal too…

            (And they broke the Englishman’s nose).

 

103          (Satellites greeting Jove’s rays:)

 

            –‘Greetings from the universe to its queen’..

            As for bail, the Patriarchs give a boon…

                        (With a liberal king,

                                    A worse thing,

            They founded the empire of the moon).

 

104         (Reporters:)

 

            – A sorry role on earth they play,

            Kings and poets, heaven’s aristocracy

                        (And Strauss, waltzing)

                                    Singing

            At the Hippodrome or Jubilee.

 

105         (Brokers finding the cause  of the Wall Street market crash:)

 

­        – Exeunt Sir Pedro, Sir Grant,

                Sir Guesa, seafaring brave:

                        With gold tillers they endure

                                    The Moor,

            Appeased by the turbulent waves.

 

106         (International procession, the people of Israel, Orangians, Fenians,

                  Buddhists, Mormons, Communists, Nihilists, Penitents,

                  Railroad-Strikers, All-brokers, All-jobbers, All-saints, All-devils,                                              
                  lanterns, music, excitement; Reporters: in London                                                                                    

                  the QUEEN'S ‘murderer’ passes by and in Paris ‘Lot’ the fugitive

                  from SODOM:)

 

                ­­– In the Holy Spirit of slaves

            A single Emperor’s renowned

                        In that of the free, verse

                                    Reverse,

            Everything as Lord is crowned!

 

107          (King Arthur's witches and Foster the Seer on Walpurgis by day :)

 

            When the battle’s lost and won–

            –That will be ere the set of sun–
            –Paddock calls: Anon!–
            –Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
            Hover through the fog and filthy air!

 108         (Swedenborg answering later:)

            – Future worlds exist: republics,

            Christianity, heavens, Lohengrin.

                        Present worlds are latent:

                                                Patent,

            Vanderbilt-North, South-Seraphim.

 

109         (At the roar of Jericho, Hendrick Hudson runs aground; the                                                                     

                  Indians sell the haunted island of Manhattan

                                                   to the Dutch:)

 

            – The Half-Moon, prow toward China

            Is careening in Tappan-Zee…

            Hoogh moghende Heeren…
                        Take then
            For sixty guilders Yeah! Yeah!

110         (Photophone-stylographs  sacred right to self-defense:)

 

            – In the light the humanitarian voice:

            Not hate; rather conscience, intellection;

                        Not pornography

                                    Isaiah’s prophecy

            In Biblical vivisection!

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

117          (Freeloves proceeding to vote for their husbands:)

 

            – Among Americans, Emerson alone,

            Wants no Presidents, oh atrocious he!

                        = Oh well-adjudicated,

                                    States

            Improve for you, for us, for me!

 

118         (APOCALYPTIC visions… slanderous ones:)

 

            – For, ‘the Beast having bear’s feet,’

            In God we trust is the Dragon

                        And the false prophets

                                    Bennetts

            Tone, th’ Evolutionist and Theologian!

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 

173          (WASHINGTON ‘blinding because of them’; Pocahontas without personals:)

 

            –        To starving bears, a rabid dog!

            Be it! After the feast, bring in festoons!..

                        = Tender Lulu,

                                    Crying and you

             Give honey to ‘foes’, bee?… and sting poltroons?

 

174          (Guatemalan nose, curved into Hymenee’s torch; Dame-Ryder

                  heart on the poisoned window-panes of the ‘too dark’ wedding pudding:)

 

            –        ‘Caramba! yo soy cirujano–

            A Jesuit… Yankee… industrialism’!

                        Job… or haunted cavern, 

                        Tavern,

            ‘Byron’ animal-magnetism!..

 

175          (Practical swindlers doing their business; self-help Atta-Troll:)

 

            –        Let the foreigner fall helpless,

            As usury won’t pay, the pagan!

                                = An ear to the bears a feast,

                                                Caressing beasts,

            Mahmmuhmmah, mahmmuhmmah, Mammon.

 

176          (Magnetic handle-organ; ring of bears sentencing the architect of the

                  PHARSALIA to death; an Odyssean ghost amidst the flames of Albion’s fires:)

 

            –        Bear… Bear is beriberi, Bear… Bear…

            = Mahmmuhmmah, mahmmuhmmah, Mammon!

                        – Bear… Bear… ber’… Pegasus

                                Parnassus

            = Mahmmuhmmah, mahmmuhmmah, Mammon. 

Entry 4

MLA Dream

Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten at The Vulnerable Rumble, Chicago, 1/11/14
BW and Lyn Hejinian at The Vulnerable Rumble

Let me set the scene. Getting to MLA was difficult, involving two attempts at traversing Michigan, one blocked by light snow over black ice, obscuring the lanes, and the other hindered by a hundred miles of freezing fog. But what could be better than the entry to the conference hotel after that? The first person one sees is an augury — it was Jonathan Eburne, energetic promoter of surrealism and the avant-garde. Next, in the lobby, was David Lloyd, intent on networking for the policy discussion on travel to Palestine (see forthcoming post on the BDS campaign). Whatever it was that drew me here, now is the moment and this is MLA. And there were sessions, disappointing to be sure in many instances but confirming in others; the book display, with major presses like UC, UPNE, and New Directions not attending; the Pavlovian wine and cheese at 5 in the book display, leading to the perennial overflowing hotel bar, overlooking ice breaking on the Chicago River. A lecture on utopia might be going on right down the corridor, followed by sustained applause through folding partitions. Nods to putative adversaries, for whom one bears no ill will, coming out of the men's room; blowing off a former chair—twice!—in the food court at Nordstrom's next door. Such stuff we are made of! In the spirit of a ludic MLA, I present my fantasy from some years ago:

Dream of a post-Soviet MLA. There is a session
I simply must attend. The MLA bureaucracy will
attempt to undertake an act of self-criticism.
Only, of course, it will be undertaken as a report
of someone else's act of self-criticism in order to
make it historical. J. Hillis Miller reports: the
post-Soviet bureaucracy has undertaken an act
of symbolic self-criticism. The motorcycle of
official government vehicles has stalled. A round-
ed, apricot-colored limosine will not proceed in
the customary direction any longer. It is stalled
now, for a very long time. This is an act of self-
criticism. Now it is turning slowly, away from the
line of cars in the motorcade, alone, toward an
unknowable destination. Ellipsis. J. Hillis Miller
reports on the new line of post-Soviet thinking in
literature. In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye
will be read. Its counternarrative everywhere
destabilizes dominant values, or the values of
dominance, in intense but fruitful moments of
private anguish. The horizon of the future is now
opened by . . . or will be opened anew by . . I have
been wanting to hear this report it seems like
forever. I tell Ron Silliman he must come too, but
he refuses. "You can't trust this new claim to a
regulative counter-perspective." "But, Ron, this
report is not some mere impressionistic word  
salad, you know, like when we went to Lenin-
grad. It's backed up by hard scientific evidence,
as well as the gleam of what I'm going to say in
my paper. The stalled motorcade really is a new
direction in institutional history. And the post-
Soviet bureaucracy has proposed to canonize a
new work. Ron is skeptical, undermining. He
wants to bust open my party with J. Hillis Miller,
won't read The Scarlet Letter, doesn't want to
hear about the stalled post-Soviet motorcade.
Why is he being so antagonistic, anyway? What
good will it do him?

I am not sure when I wrote the above poem, but I know I read it at one of many offsite readings I have participated in at MLA. This was, it turns out, the one where X— dove across a grand piano and cut Y—'s necktie with a pair of scissors. For that reason, there is probably no memory of my having read this poem, though it got a laugh. This action was, I thought then and still believe, a terrible violation of personal space in the name of—what? An attack on the institutions of poetry? A restaging of the avant-garde as belated and useless? A product of the marriage of convenience of art and power? Likely a bit of the latter, pointing out and criticizing the continuing fantasy of the union of two kinds of literary value—collective and institutional—with the boom-and-bust of the academic market, and its totalizing anxieties, as backdrop. 

Now back from MLA, I can submit my report on the state of collective fantasy. Again I participated in an offsite reading ("The Vulnerable Rumble," organized by Laura Goldstein, Jennifer Karmin, Laura Mullen at Outer Space Studios, sponsored by the Red Rover Series). As a site of collective fantasy, the state of poetry is good: some twenty performers were given a minimal set of instructions on how to stage a two-hour collaborative performance, with no rehearsal and much trepidation, and it worked. What was really impressive was the montagelike sequence of entrances, interruptions, dissociations, and exits that framed each individual, or group, routine (the vaudeville element was marked). Twenty poets and an audience of a hundred or more made this possible by really listening to the cues, ironies, and gaps of the performance; poetic content was produced, as it were, out of airy nothing.

My interventions were these: one a staged duo with Lyn Hejinian, where she read a page of poetry loudly and with dramatic emphasis, while I mumbled a paragraph on Amiri Baraka (here), while sitting on the floor next to Lyn. Having done with that, I rose to present a mini-essay on David Letterman's segment Is This Anything? (here), which I hoped would be used as a question to be asked of the performance as a whole. Later, and after a lot of great performances that truly were something, I felt moved to break into song ("Beyond the Horizon," by Bob Dylan), followed by an attempt to narrate my meeting Dylan as a sixteen-year-old, all those many years ago (here). The generational politics of this proved to be too much for several performers; two surrounded me physically and one attacked me verbally, right in my ear, with some high-pitched noise that did, in fact, shut me up for a second.

It felt great to be attacked in public in such a productive way! There were many such bright moments—Jonathan Stalling trying to insert Chinese tonal poetry into the mix but never managing to do so; John Keene declaiming Baraka's "I am inside someone who hates me" against Carla Harryman's reading of Dutchman; Alan Golding's preemptive strike on Rob Halpern's Music for Porn, with Halpern reclaiming it; Ronaldo Wilson's masked drag and electronic noise clips; some awesome stand-up comedy on interracial sex; and a number of impromptu duos and trios. The spirit of Baraka was invoked in the process, and (but?) the result was as good a collaboration between black and white performers as I have witnessed. Something must be going right in Chicago for this to happen, but it wasn't MLA. (On MLA, I do have more to discuss of a serious nature—but for now, you're listening to my dial tone.)

"MLA Dream," copyright (c) 2014 Barrett Watten.
 Photo credit: Jennifer Scappetone. 

A thimbleful of cultural heat

The Modern Languages Association is large enough that it is districted into divisions, like “American Literature to 1800” or “Women's Studies in Language and Literature.” This year, the “Literary Criticism” division's special panel at the big annual gathering (a brutal job fair veiled by an ever more threadbare academic conference) was on “Marx and Poetry.” This may be for the simple reason that the division’s head gets to choose the topic: Kristin Ross has written one of the great works of Marxist poetry criticism, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.

But it may be a measure (one might admit to optimism) of some cultural heat, perhaps a thimbleful, gathering around poetry and around historical materialist approaches thereto. After all, Ross got elected. And the Rimbaud book, her debut three deacdes ago, is recently back in print. The panel was well-attended. Despite perfervid dreams to the contrary, Marx has not been a major theme of the academy in recent years, but that may be changing, and not just in the academy. Indeed, the point here is not to capture some sea-change in the MLA, but to discover in it traces of a broader shift.

As many have noted, Marx has returned to broader discussion since the 2008 crisis, returned in a cloud of capitalist anxiety if not yet with a vengeance. And poetry too. Well, that is simply an opinion, but poetry of late seems to us reinvigorated and filled with interesting poems, poets, and developments. One might also note it seems to have done a better job than prose of carving out spaces online; after all, like the single song, the poem is well-formed for the disaggregations typical of netspace, the slicings and dicings of digitality. Poetry likes the mix-taping of the world.

There are doubtless several ways to think about this general motion of "Marx and poetry," and several scales in which to think. The great economic crisis of 1973 stoked an already extant North American poetics loosely (sometimes closely) tied to New Social Movements and the new left in general, explicit in its political content. This made a sort of pair with an emergent poetry claiming a form-based "politics of the referent" — a pair not always as frozen in static opposition as we sometimes recall. Regardless of their real relation, these are examples of a moment in which Benjamin's "politicization of aesthetics" (itself proposed in the midst of a global economic crisis, increasingly political in character) was explicitly on the table — in some way exceeding the bromide that all poetry is political.

But we would also note the particular set of propositions accruing over the last few years which go beyond simply relating poetry to political economy or vice versa, beyond suggesting one should speak to the other. Instead, we have seen the ascent of a line of thinking wherein poetry and finance are one and the same — or at least, have a shared (as opposed to merely congruent) nature. Perhaps the most striking of these has been Franco "Bifo" Berardi's  The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance. This is not the place for a full review, but the brief book is odd and ambitious. 
It was mentioned multiple times at the Literary Criticism panel. In brief, it makes a two-way claim about the relationship of political economy and poetry. In the first motion, contemporary finance is understood as a set of operations for reorganizing signification intensively to yield its results: "semiocapital," wherein "finance is not the monetary translation of a certain amount of physical goods; it is, rather, an effect of language." But in finance's internalization of poetry's logic, poetry — now a kind of synechdoche for cognitive, linguistic work in general — is captured, divided from its rightful terrain, and neutralized. 

Financial power is based on the exploitation of precarious, cognitive labor: the general intellect in its present form of separation from the body....signs fall under the domination of finance when the financial function (the accumulation of value through semiotic circulation) cancels the instinctual side of enunciation, so that what is enunciated may be compatible with digital-financial formats....The subsumption of language by the semiocapitalist cycle of production effectively freezes the affective potencies of language. The history of this subsumption passes through the twentieth century, and poetry predicted and prefigurated [sic] the separation of language from the affective sphere.....The financialization of the economy is essentially to be seen as a process of the subsumption of the processes of communication and production by the linguistic machine.

But it will turn out, thusly, that poetry offers the great weapon against the reign of finance. "Poetry is the language of nonexchangeability," after all, and it is poetry's specialization in nonexchangeability, in highlighting the gap between the signifer and referent, that it retains political force.

Digital financial capitalism has created a closed reality which cannot be overcome with the techniques of politics, of conscious organized voluntary action, and of government. Only an act of language can give us the ability to see and to create a new human condition, where we now only see barbarianism and violence. Only an act of language escaping the technical automatisms of financial capitalism will make possible the emergence of a new life form. The new form of life will be the social and instinctual body of the general intellect, the social and instinctual body that the general intellect is deprived of inside the present conditions of financial dictatorship. Only the reactivation of the body of the general intellect — the organic, existential, historical finitude that embodies the potency of the general intellect — will be able to imagine new infinities.

This gap in poetry, which Bifo in a final move identifies as irony, becomes thusly the instrument of finance's overcoming.

Irony suspends the semantic value of the signifier and chooses freely among a thousand possible interpretations. The ironic interpretation implies and presupposes a common ground of understanding among the interlocutors, a sympathy among those who are involved in the ironic act, and a common autonomy from the dictatorship of the signified.

If we have quoted at length, it is because the arguments are worth engaging. One can see rather easily how this argument is exquisitely flattering to poets: not only is what we know the secret of the global economy, but also the secret of its defeat! The unacknowledged legislators of the romantic era have nothing on us.

Of course there are still reasons to be skeptical. The first skepticism would surely be the way that such an idea — we won't need a revolution, nor direct struggle, just a change in our thoughts leading to new forms of life — is the very definition of idealism. Soothing no doubt to those for whom broad and likely bloody turmoil means the loss of something aside from their misery and their chains, but no more plausible for that. A second skepticism might involve the unstated provincialism: for all the ballyhoo, the idea that labor these days has become linguistic might not be a great story about much of the globe. Third, and perhaps a bit more technically, we might pause to consider the fact 
that there's no such thing as semiocapital. It turns out that finance's operations rest pretty heavily on quite non-semiotic things. The claims on claims on claims on claims of, say, a note entitling one to a portion of the senior tranche of a collateralized debt obligation synthesized from the right to lots and lots of different mortgages...well, that financial instrument's value collapses for rather prosaic reasons. Mostly the fact that the original mortgage holders start defaulting because they have shitty jobs that can't keep pace with the housing bubble, or don't have jobs at all.  

But perhaps that is a perfectly poetic reason. Perhaps one of the things we might expect to see is not the ongoing dereferentialization of poetry, but a poetry of unemployment, a poetry of dispossession, a poetry of ecological catastrophe. And perhaps we won't confuse it with forms of struggle which, we expect, will not be routed around — no matter how devoutly some of us may wish. 

Jackson Mac Low: 27th Light Poem, for Jerry (Jerome) Rothenberg (An Essay in Poetics) 10-11 October 1969, 19 May 1970, & 20 January-25 February 1975 (first publication)

Jerome Rothenberg & Jackson Mac Low with Charlie Morrow at center
Jerome Rothenberg & Jackson Mac Low with Charlie Morrow at center

                                    I

 

A      B      C      D      E      F      G      H      I      J      K      L      M      N      O
1       2       3      4      5      6       7      8      9     10    11    12    13     14    15

P      Q      R      S       T      U      V      W      X      Y      Z
16   17    18     19    20    21     22     23     24    25   26 

J-10, E-5, R-18, Y-25 = “EE” – 2 + 5 = E-7;

R-18, O-15, T-20, = K-20, H-8 = S-8, E-5, N-14, B-2, E-5,

R-18, G-7

j-10   = jack-o’-lantern light

e-5     = earthlight

r-18  = refracted light

r-18  = refracted light

Y-25  = e-7 = ether-lamp light

 

r-18  = refracted light

o-15  = amazonstone light

t-20 = k-20 = kindly light

h-8   = s-8 = shaded light

e-5    = earthlight

n-14 = noonday

b-2    = m-2 = moonlight

e-5    = earthlight

r-18  = refracted light

g-7    = j-7 = jalousie light

 

Is it Jack-o-lantern light

or earthlight –

this light that’s refracted over here

        to where I imagine I am –

or is it refracted light

or an ether lamp?

 

j-10   = jack-o’-lantern light

e-5    = earthlight

r-18  = refracted light

o-15  = amazonstone light

m-13 = moonshine

e-5    = earthlight

 

Not Jack-o’-lantern light,

& probably not earthlight,

but light refracted thru

an amazonstone,

bright green amazonstone light,

possibly moon shining thru stone

(possibly earthlight).

 

How wd we know

whether or not

light refracted

by an amazonstone

is kindly light

                                                [a long silence]

Here I have a shaded light,

earthlight

or noonday

or moonlight,

but even if it be earthlight,

it is a refracted light

that filters thru imagined jalousies.

                                                      (10-11 Oct. 69/ 20-21 Jan. 75)

 

                                    II

                                                      (19 May 70/ 21 Jan. 75)

Imagined jalousies

can only refract

imaginary light –

imaginary earthlight

or imaginary moonlight

or the imagined light of an imagined noonday

– but can imaginary earthlight

ever be imagined as a shaded light?

 

& what can make an imagined light

be imagined as kindly,

& who can imagine light

refracted by an amazonstone

who’s never seen one?

 

Can one who’s never been far from the earth

ever imagine earthlight

as one can imagine moonshine

or even imagine light

refracted by an amazonstone

once one knows it’s green?

 

Casn one ever imagine earthlight

as one can imagine the flickering yellow light

(or maybe merely remember it)

of a grinning orange pumpkin jack-o’-lantern?

 

I can only imagine ether-lamp light

as a kind of bluish movie light,

a horrible light,

since all I know of it

is from Shattuck’s Banquet Years

 

I quoted it in the 11th Light Poem

for poor dear dead Dick Maxfield,

whose light escaped or leaped

before this poem began.

 

– Let me sing your requiem,

dear Richard, dear friend,

you are a great composer,

& your murderous doctors were wrong,

just as you must have known they were,

except at moments like the one that took you away:

peace,

Richard,

peace. –

 

In 1897 in a charity bazaar in Paris

“in a rambling wood-and-canvas structure off the Champs Elysées”

they “set aside a room for a showing

of Louis and Auguste Lumière’s

recently perfected cinématographie. . . .

 

“The film program attracted many children,

and a turnstile was installed to keep them orderly.

 

“An ether lamp provided light for projection. . . .”

 

& the whole place burned up.

 

Tho I’ve never seen it,

I can imagine the light of an ether lamp

refracted thru water,

but I who’ve never seen,

directly or reflected or refracted,

true earthlight

can hardly imagine it

as easily as well-remembered Jack-o’-lantern light.

 

                                    III

 

Why talk about Jack-o’-lantern light or earthlight,

refracted or reflected,

& why mention the light, reflected or refracted,

of an ether lamp

when the dog is barking crazily in the yard?

 

I can remember Jack-o’-lantern light

as easily as I can hear the dog

barking & crying crazily in the yard,

but the crazy sound of her barking in the yard where she’s been chained

& stands in the dark in the rain

blots out the possibility

of my imagining earthlight,

refracted or reflected or direct,

or amazonstone light,

direct or reflected or refracted,

for I can barely imagine moonshine

this dark & rainy night

when I hear poor Josie,

whom the landlady owns, not we,

& who’s been chained in the yard with the silent new male dog,

barking & crying crazily in the yard

in the dark

in the rain,

& nothing in me wants to make the effort

to imagine earthlight.

 

I cannot imagine light

refracted by an amazonstone

while Josie’s crazily barking,

& never can I imagine

any light that’s kindly

as she’s barking, barking crazily in the yard.

 

I can only imagine

letting Josie loose

in the shaded light of streetlights

that falls on her on the driveway in the yard beside the house;

& rather than half-illusory earthlight,

I can barely imagine

ordinary noonday light or moonlight

as Josie barks & barks in the rainy dark;

& any earthlight imaginable

is sure to be refracted

not by jalousies

but by Josie’s crazy barking.

 

                                    IV

 

Even the lamp’s electric bulbs

are giving a kind of darkness

as Josie barks in the yard

& I hope against hope

that those in the house next door

will let her loose before I’m forced to do so.

 

Altho when I open the window

I find the rain has stopped

& the moon & a star or planet

are shining,

I know I’ll soon be forced to let her loose

& risk a fight with Rev. Williamson

if Jose keeps on barking crazily

& crying on her chain in the yard in the dark

as the unchanging light of streetlights

barely makes her visible in the yard.

 

                                    V

 

A full orange Jack-o’-lantern moon

is rising toward the zenith

as Josie sits in the yard

quietly whimpering

– so quietly you often cannot hear her with the windows closed –

but sometimes barking loudly,

usually when people pass by,

walking their own dogs.

 

A full orange Jack-o’-lantern moon,

shining in the cloudy sky,

nearly at the zenith,

is all that’s left of the lights from Jerry’s name.

 

The lamplight of my double-headed aluminum-colored gooseneck lamp

& the greenish reflected streetlights

& rarely passing headlights

are all the light that’s there

besides the orange Jack-o’-lantern moon.

 

But an airplane flashes green & white & yellow light

as Josie starts her barking once again

after “the Rev” and her handyman come in.

 

I wait to see what “Christian love” will do,

confronted by the crazy

barking & the crying

of Josie in the Jack-o’-lantern moonlight

& the shaded light of streetlights.

 

What has stopped her barking now?

 

I can hardly bring myself to look

down from my upper window & across the yard

to see into the shadows

where Josie now seems silent.

 

The streetlights & the headlights barely glimmer

as I sit in the yellowish lamplight

writing the poem’s ending

& wondering if it’s whimpering I hear

below the city’s roar

& that of passing jets.

 

Is the high-pitched sound I hear

whimpering or birds

or “merely” in my ears?

 

Raising the window, I hear her softly crying,

but when she hears the window rise

or sees me looking out,

she begins to bark once more

as crazily as ever.

 

I should have left

bad enough

alone.

 

My cowardice because I have no money left to move now

makes me end this poem in disgust,

with aching legs & head & sore throat,

just before I push the clink switch

to darken the double gooseneck’s bulbs.

 

[NOTE.  Looking at the 27th Light Poem in retrospect it’s now evident that its composition went over a period of some five or six years, nor can I recall at what stage in the writing Jackson first passed it along to me.  Whenever it was I must have had a copy of some sort & must have misplaced or buried it along with other manuscripts & notes accumulated in the intervening years.  I don’t recall anyway that it was ever published, and it has only come back to me recently through the kind offices of Anne Tardos & Michael O’Driscoll during their compilation of Mac Low’s complete Light Poems, scheduled for publication later this year by Charles Alexander’s Chax Press.  So it’s in anticipation of that major & long awaited work that I’m first publishing it here.  (J.R.)]