Clayton Eshleman: 'Wound Interrogation'

[From Penetralia, a new collection of poems, to be published by Black

Widow Press in 2016]


In Matta’s “Wound Interrogation,” 

a Malangganesque robot thrusts a flattened palm against

a large pulpy vaginal wound hung before it.

   Matta comments:

“The wound is separated from the human being & subjected to the torture of intense examination by heinous machines. The bloody red insides of the wound convey a life striving to exist, while the grays & blacks of the demon robots remind one of an industrial plant.”


This morning at the end of first light

the sky was drinking a sap so old I could hear the ayahuasca

cloud pythons gargling menstrual-seminal elixir.

I sensed the oracle gas between that Hadic distance &

Matta’s robots interrogating—I propose: Persephone’s sexuality.


Who exactly inhabits Hades’ kingdom?




Can I interrogate this region of dense, cold air without light?


“You can, but my icy lace is blinding

& my knuckles, feeble from your Herculean viewpoint, are

hurricane poundings, tidal flail.

I am the dream jaguar which you created so as to,

while lurching out of bed, crash onto the floor.

I am the kobold which bit your ankle as you climbed out of a cave.

While you were driving home that night I bit again 

so that you smashed into a ditch & really did that ankle in.

I am, in other words, untapped center, shifty ‘always.’

In my casket chloroform are blind troll suns, split

gourds of brain jam, simmering golden sweat known as world wars.

You glimpsed my erection in Lascaux’s “Shaft.”

So I opened my beak toward you that you might watch me scram via

a bison’s vagina-winsome hanging guts

There never was a beginning!

All is nexus & midriff cast on an alabaster plain of marauding

tarantula-shanked camels…”




The frailty of being holed & rampant with closure.

Blake’s angels feast on my neck

as strapped to this fuselage of honking verbs I watch Hades:

a zyzzogeton munching on alfalfa alpha.


For that matter, what is deliverance?

To find oneself present at Pluto’s cornucopian spread & grasp

that one must not pluck a single grape?


The first Persephone, Laussel, pumped time out of her held-aloft bison horn,

& with that image phantom she impregnated herself!


Between the cracks in the time board,

to write from a double periphery, in swerve with the labrys…


“Not to subject the change,” Hades quipped,

“but what bugs you the most about America today?”


One: The suppression of the horrifying truth of the 9/11 assault  (more appropriately referred to as “The Pentagon Three Towers Bombing”) infests the American soul with a stifling sense of unreality charged by the rivers of blood flowing alongside the Euphrates & Tigris through a destroyed & failed state that may never again be reconstructed. I note that otherwise responsible political thinkers like Oliver Stone & Bill Maher will not even engage this ongoing nightmare.

   The truth of The Pentagon Three Towers Bombing is, like an undiagnosed plague, lodged in the American subconscious. This truth is now the lie veneer of our dailiness. There is a knotted veil in our eyes building rancor where there could be revelation.


Two: Since I have been writing, translating, & editing for over 50 years, I have to deplore the degree writing programs that are in the process of substituting creative writing for the art of poetry. In 1994 I wrote: “Quotational Reality is the new Purgatory making each desire artificial.” My comment appears to identify Kenneth Goldsmith’s aestheticized plagiarism.

   The first poets, facing the incomprehensible division between what would become culture & wilderness, taught themselves how to span it & thus in such caves as Chauvet & Lascaux respond to their “wound interrogation”. Our key distinction may become that of being the first generation to have written at a time in which the origins & the end of poetry became discernable.




The poem is a fire burning alone out of contact with

the brushwood of my body. 

I study it as Heraclitus studied fat raccoon clouds become weeping Hathors.

Sky stigmata. Archaic smile of the brave.


An image is fire

around which language appears to be

tightly-packed ash.


James Hillman: “I and soul are alien to each other because of soul’s domination by

powers, daimones and gods”  Soul is molten protocol.


Life is the blessing. Death the “less” in blessing:

Count Gaga spread-eagled & gagged in everyone’s smoking gate.

Humankind is timed, as if with a timer, by & for

the apocalypse of immortality.


Know thyself = know thyself to be mortal.


To think of the tethered mandala of the hand,

the radial glory of the fist unhooked from its fury.

Vallejo: “Our brave little finger will be big, worthy,

an infinite finger among the fingers.”

Vodun thumb-post attended by 4 hexed dwarves.

Palm pressed to the Matta wound, to the Gargas wall:

new human negative: the I am not    that is.


I dream because I first had hands.

And in dream tonight I held my fire in my hands,

my fire with Caryl’s eyes!