Michael Davidson: Four Poems from Bleed Through, plus one other

BAD MODERNISM

 

            Suddenly all is / loathing (John Ashbery)

 

and there’s plenty to be unhappy about

if I can just get the reception area festooned

in time for their arrival, paper cups

and those little plastic whatsits so that,

gorged on meaning,

they troop through the glass doors

seeking interpretation, first floor

mildly historical, second floor

desire matrix, parents accompany

their indiscretions straight

to the penthouse, and someone

hands them a phone, “turtles”

they’re called, heads bobbing

as though they had a choice

to be party favors, deep structure

on your left, follow the clicking

to a white cube, we only work

part time, the other part

we illustrate profound malaise,

I like these cream filled versions

so unlike what we get at home,

having said which

we re-wind the tape,

slip it through a slot marked “aha”

and take the El home,

the smell you smell afar

is something boiling over.

 

            ***

 

BAD MODERNISM: THE WHITE CITY

 

When the rotor hums for a long time

among the gawkers

I fall into a ghost trance

and become a white man again,

nothing must penetrate this history

because nothing can be distinguished

from itself, down

on Midway Plaisance, amidst the lights,

the dark beauties offer darkness, the eyes

go there while the will stands still,

in the Hall of Dynamos

the dead warriors will return

in a language no one remembers,

they have a stall in the Pavilion of Silence,

the ears go there

searching for treaties, tales of the elders,

from up here

the land is all parcels

like one of the new paintings,

nothing penetrates this illusion, prose

covers the brown earth

and in the hum of its scroll

can be heard a crowd of the visitors

clamoring at the entrance

with their tickets

to the white city.

            ***

 

BAD MODERNISM: SOUVENIR

 

            the Garden of Allah is unknown to the senses

 

Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

flies over minarets

you can almost see the wire,

 

he smiles while looking down,

she’s having the ride of her life,

later, as Susannah

 

at the Well

her alabaster will startle

cigar smoke in Secaucus

 

produce a sense of height

the sense of money and the other

brocades that assist intimacy,

 

an artist on the Hudson

paints the Holy Land

as it stretches to Poughkeepsie

 

sun gilding the Berkshires

like light on an odalisque,

these arabesques make one almost

 

intimate, as the night comes down

drawn by camels,

the explosion could be heard

 

as the absent one

raised his glass

and the building fell on children

 

and the dust blew across the street,

by these slaves naked in the bazaar

we have entered the modern

 

the capitol dome

sports a fez

the Shriners wave from a float.

 

            ***

 

BAD MODERNISM: INTERSTICES

 

We’re between rationalism and whatever is left out,

stuff caught in the drain, sex in the park

where it threatens to rain, the war

drains the state of excess

and leaves a hard residue of cash on the sill,

we spend it in spectacular restaurants

with nothing not green, nothing but grass,

the new owner greets us with something amber

and amuses on a plate, there’s Kant

in the corner, wave to him honey,

it makes the trip from the Valley

seem a minute in a mall;

 

there was the Dual Monarchy

but that didn’t last, then came the partition

and the annexations, new colonies

that became the old estates

and they brought out new epaulettes

and paraded them in the renamed square,

it’s hard to catch up once you’ve begun

the long division, I remember now

we’re between civilization and discontent

there’s one of them now, turning his fork

through a reasonable salad;

 

 

if it weren’t for the password

no one would enter paradise, there are so many

passwords I forget how to bludgeon myself

into a primitive hut in the name of something

once flame-like, insistent, piercing

the heart, passing a window in a moving train

we see ourselves as our fathers

no wonder we reach for the red handle

and send cars screeching into the ravine,

anything to avoid this inexorable motion

and the docent who appears

to explain it.

 

            ***

 

PROVISIONAL CERTAINTIES

 

I look in the box marked “save”

and find the file “inutile”

for which I appear to have been searching

since the last dream of leaving,

 

I am perpetually late

and write my address

on an envelope to be enclosed

in a second envelope, there are no stamps

 

no pen, we are celibate

in a world at war, intimacy

has been ruled ineffective

or perhaps “inoffensive,” the Court

 

has a ruling somewhere

in a language no one is allowed

to learn, I hate to be obtuse

but what is a flagellant

 

for? I saved the receipts

for our trip to the desert,

you set up the tent in the wind

while I boiled water,

 

we shared a language, read Stendahl

in the rain, now

I tie my shoes, wincing

over a body that has learned to live

 

without time, the mirror

time proffers and a little dog

trotting along at my heels,

it must be

 

time to roll up the sky

and alphabetize the Gods

according to their ability to sanction grace,

we who were once chosen

 

must file a request

to speak with the concierge,

there are no more rooms

and the passage is vacant

 

at the Hotel Chopin,

but the city is based on a map

and each night we enter the labyrinth

untutored in acronyms

 

that may refer to us,

in the park

portals of memory can be seen

through the mist,

 

on the opposite side of the lake,

a small boat with a red sail

is on its way

into the present.

 

[NOTE.  Bleed Through, now published by Coffee House Press, is a long awaited “new & selected poems” by a poet who has influenced & interacted with many & has slowly come to a visibility of his own among the most lucid & critical/poetic voices of our time.   The testament of Ron Silliman, for one: “Michael Davidson’s poetry has always been a push-pull experience between total courage and exacting care, as if a fine Swiss watchmaker had suddenly taken up skydiving.  It’s a heady ride, dedicated at once to both risk and precision, and the pleasures of vertigo, thrill, speed, and terror are never very far.  At the end of it, you find yourself surprised at how quiet it all was, up there in the clouds, or just how solid the ground now feels.”  Or Michael Palmer for another: “Across a lifetime in poetry, Michael Davidson has plumbed the relationship between the ordinary and the uncanny, and the timeless and the timelessly amusing, within this all-too-mortal coil.  His welcome ‘new and selected’ is rich with those swift turns and exploratory revelations poetry, at its most dynamic, is singularly designed to offer.  It is a pleasure indeed to hail his accomplishment.”]