Aaron McCollough: 'Four Preliminary Notes' & 'A Stray Note' from 'Underlight'

[Reprinted from Underlight, published 2012 by Ugly Duckling Presse]


     In Contact with the Ground (Personal Sun) 


I needed to match our feelings, mine and the other living things.


May I tell you how this became deadly without polluting you.


I reached out for the dog that lay on the downed wire that led to

     the lightning.


I put the wrong things in my body till my skin extended to harder

     surfaces. Canals.


Practiced the sacrifice. Bought a gun.


All this brought me closer to the ground,

     which I learned was inert.


I chose a suitable room.


But isn’t the whole plot a forest of suicides since Christ is hung on

     every tree.


My discovery, my watering descent.





Each soul to the quick.


God’s center in this gutter, your reading glance.


The circumference, maybe nowhere.  Flaws in the windows.


Not strictly joy, when I reflect on creation.


The light of knowledge just leaches through vapor.


All deals double back.


The soul whatever, even if turning somehow occult.


The mouth has potential but even closed it holds nothing in

     or out.


Mouths are more like rings than openings. Rings are groans.


Whatever I’ve done to harm you is the idea of men and women.


I’m trying to sound out the beginning so I can stand it.


How miserable, you lamented, is the soul that depends on a soul.


Having not yet noticed the problem’s reflection.





Is there a badness in you like a pruned branch. That’s tough.


Think of the soul in bigger, rougher shapes.


Rough soul.The hawk wants a mate, so does the man, the lion,

     says the beast.


This is one way to self it out.


Messias can mean measured. Always found wanting. Quell.

     To kill or well out like water.


We feel something divine most under gravity and say yes, whatever

     you require.


This was the window shade drawn. That was an open one.


The burden of responsibility for your desire almost becomes my



I do adore the flaws near fitting. Narcissus blistering the surface.


The record is complicated enough to include sacraments of abuse,

     but no one says so.


Lord, make me large so I can see you in your smallness.


Barking like crazy at the threshold.



     A Quintessence 


Fear of getting stuck makes the soul aware, forlorn.


The messenger, he ran; he took on need and got hanged. Sticking

     is constant.


Her look says no amount of permission can overcome the law’s



The window bounds everything, and all threats are announced.


Measured in a friend and jackal, our evenings narrow, but friends



Permit these stops as the reed still quavers higher. Observe small

     minutes. Even if this means more defilement, unlatch the top

     again and put your face in the steam.


Not a failure of the tongue; what the mouth cannot encompass

     with every organ and orifice.


We are trying to make do with this dross, this sweat of the sun.


The tree branch a warbler. The incisor that’s plugged in the hide.



     A Stray Note, Sometime Called “Runout Groove” 

The little chirruping birds (the Wren, and the Robin)

                        This one is like the dogs by the sea in Aesop

                        who cannot get at a floating corpse and therefore

                        try to drink themselves a path


They sing a meane; the Goldfinch, the Nightengall, they joyne

                        in a flowing stream water rolling on water

                        over a stable bed fleeing and pursuing

                        and driven by the following drawn by the former—

                        same stream, waters ever-changing


in the treble; the Blacke bird, the Thrush, they beare the tenour;

                        this one is like Gryllus, the boar who prefers it

                        to his prior infirmities, the law’s push-

                        pull, the reason’s civil argument,

                        order into which unlikeness obtrudes, always


while the foure footed beasts with their bellow sing a base

                        and the beasts are like children, they think this

                        is happening, not familiar,

                        not triumph, hardship, thing I’ve done wrong


and the man stands there strumming strings made from another beast’s gut;

                        the young boy in his lawn smiles making a sign

                        across his throat; from this line goes all difference,

                        an opening that’s easy to recognize


[NOTE.  In McCollough’s fifth book it is clear again how his work calls up sources & resources that expand while they almost deny the personal nature of the work that the work also proclaims.  Of all this he writes: “As the titles of the ‘Preliminary Notes’ poems might suggest, I was thinking about the Alchemical tradition during their composition. My actual notes from that time indicate an engagement with the work of Thomas Vaughan (brother of poet Henry Vaughan) and also with pseudo-Dionysius. I was already deep into the writing and rewriting of the manuscript for the book that would ultimately be called Underlight but which was under the working title ‘Rough Soul.’ Although it’s probably true that all of my books are about ‘personal magic’ at some level, or about trying to work magic on the world and the self from my own isolated garden, “Rough Soul”/Underlight is especially personal. The book is a house. It’s my house with the traumas, recoveries, and ecstasies marked in ways that are often obscure, and the ‘Notes’ poems offer the reader some tips about the rules of the house. I’ve always been drawn to Medieval/Early Modern micro-/macro-cosmological descriptive vocabularies. My house is a cosmic house. So, the ‘Notes’ poems are meant to offer tips about the rules of the cosmic house. The genius of the place is the Hebrew letter ‘Bet.’ First letter of the Torah. Number 2 in gematria. The letter with which the creative act can take place (as it does in Torah: ‘Bereshith’).The place for creation. House. ‘Rashi points out that the letter is closed on three sides and open on one; this is to teach you that you may question about what happened after creation, but not what happened before it, or what is above the heavens or below the earth’ (pseudo-Dionysius). The book questions and rejoices in what’s happened since creation as a way to feel out what might be above or below it. The seed is in the ‘Notes’ poems.”]