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



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,


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)



                                                      (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. –


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.




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.




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.




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



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.)]