Diane Wakoski: Six new poems from 'Lady of Light'

Following an older 'Light Poem' by Jackson Mac Low

Diane Wakoski (painting by Jack Richard Smith).

[The following poem is by the unique experimental poet and composer, Jackson Mac Low. It is reprinted from his Representative Works: 1938–1985, Roof Books, NYC.]


2nd Light Poem for Diane Wakoski — 10 June 1962


Old light & owl light

may be opal light

in the small


where old light

& the will-o-the-wisp

make no announcement of waning



but with direct directions

^ the winking light of the will-o-the-wisp’s accouterments

& lilac light

a delightful phenomenon

a delightful phenomenon of lucence & lucidity needing no


even of lilac light

my present activities may be seen in the old light of my accouterments

to project in owl-light




A bulky, space-suited figure

from the whole cloth of my present activities

with a taste for mythology in opal light

& such a manner


in the old light from some being outside


as if this being’s old light cd have brought such a manner

to a bulky, space-suited figure

from the whole world of my present activities

at this time

when my grief gives owl-light



not an opal light

& not a very cold light



old light nor owl-light

makes it have such a manner about it

the opal light & old light & marsh light & moonlight

& that of the whole world

to which the light of meteors in marsh light

all light it

no it’s

an emerald light

as the light from the eyes that are making it, whole from the whole


with no announcement this time.




What is extra light?

A delightful phenomenon.

A delightful phenomenon having no announcement?

No more than the emerald light has.

Is that the will-o-the-wisp?

No, it’s the waning light of my grief.

Is it a winking light?

No more than it is the will-o-the-wisp.

Is it old light?

The oldest in the whole world.

Why do you speak in such a manner?

I suppose, because of the owl-light.

Is it a kind of opal light?

No, I said it was old light.

Is it a cold light?

More like chemical light with the usual accouterments.

Like the carmine light produced by my present activities?

More of a cold light than that.

Like what might fall on a bulky, space-suited figure?

Well, it’s neither red light nor reflected light.

Are you making this up out of whole cloth?

No, I’m trying to give you direct directions.

For avoiding a bulky, space-suited figure?

No, for getting light from a rhodochrosite.




This time I’m going to talk about red light.


First of all, there’s still some of it in Pittsburgh.

It adds to the light from eyes an extra light.

That is also true of emerald light.

But red light better suits those with a taste for mythology.

As reflected light it is often paler than the light from a rhdochrosite.

Such a red light might fall on a bulky, space-suited figure.

In just such a manner might this being be illuminated during a time



Note: A rhodochrosite is a vitreous rose-red or variously colored gem-stone having a hardness of 4.5 and a density of 3.8 consisting of manganous carbonate (MnCO3) crystalized in the rhombohedral system.


[The following are excerpts from the long poem, “Spending Autumn Mornings with Daniel Barenboim 2016,” reprinted from Lady of Light, Anhinga Press, published June 2018.]


Of Time and The River


Trying to write a citizen’s-response letter

to George Washington. Also trying to compose a Berlin

letter to send to Matthew. I have become such a lazy

correspondent, or perhaps I’ve always been lazy

but found some passionate energy to override it.

So, of course, my morning choice to open this day is

“The Tempest,” which always gets my blood racing.

Terrible insomnia last night — perhaps for 2 hours between 4 and 6

a.m. Tried to use it to think of components of my letters.

Maybe one also to Barbara Drake,

my two Oregon friends, Barbara and Matthew.


It is hard to be the person another expects

one to be. It is hard not to expect

a more compassionate world.

There is no music that cannot be made passionate. I

just watched the deeply touching film, “Genius,”

which is about the Scribner’s editor, Maxwell

Perkins, and his complicated, his intense

relationship with Thomas Wolfe, while

editing the author’s two enormous books, Look
Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River,

Perkins a no-nonsense man,

who nevertheless responded to the poetry

of Wolfe’s work when no one else did,

is portrayed

as a completely formal gentleman. In fact,

he wears his hat

all through the film even at the dinner table.


trying to loosen him up,

takes him to a

black jazz dive, where Perkins

seems immune

to the music until

Wolfe challenges him.

“You must like some piece of music! Well, what is it?”

Perkins pauses a long time. Finally,

he admits, “Flow Softly, Sweet Afton.”


This comes as almost a punch line in the movie, none

of us thinking he’s serious. It must be a joke. But

Wolfe, unfazed and understanding Perkins very well,

goes up to the band and gives the trumpet player some money.

We realize he has requested “Flow Softly, Sweet Afton.” Out

of the chaos of club noise and the rowdy music and enthusiastic

audience, suddenly comes these piercing sweet

trumpet notes. The noise subsides, and the trumpet is

playing, completely straight, no embellishing, that

intimate old melody, so beautiful, so pure. The whole

song is played by the trumpet

in this simple way

until its parting elegiac

notes, when with a nod of the trumpet player’s head,

the whole band begins to riff on the song, turning it into rousing

classical jazz. Wolfe smiles triumphantly.

Perkins too is smiling, satisfied

he puts on his coat (he already

has on his hat/ he never takes it off, a fedora

I think) and exits the club.


Daniel has just finished the last notes of “The Tempest.”

Must go shower & dress.


Nov 22


Black Friday


A Danish physicist has been heading a team

working on the mathematics of a theory for several years

which, when complete, will

challenge our Newtonian knowledge

of gravity. The math of this theory

will prove that gravity is NOT a “force,”

but a “phenomena” (i.e. like weather).

This more fluid and changeable concept of gravity

will make it more possible to reconcile the math

with what we think we know

of the universe. For instance,

no need for the extravagant

imaginary invention of Black Holes.


Listening this morning again

to Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven’s 17th

sonata, “The Tempest.” How the physicality

of the immense black Steinway

on which he plays with the discretion

of each finger and the very physicality of the music comes like touch each

morning into my age-ravaged but very

physical body.





whether we are able

to describe and know it mathematically

at all. Sometimes

I feel the absurdity of trying to live

without numbers.

But what

really is absurd

is trying to live without



The third movement of “The Tempest”

is chasing itself around Daniel Barenboim’s fingers

now. And I am ever caught

in its web.


Nov 26



The Waldstein II


The third movement of the “Waldstein” sonata

is as much a lullaby as a lovesong. The delicate melody,

sometimes submerged in the sostenuto

linger of the pedal, then quickly

moves into a declaration of — what?

independence, I think. Then back

to the chime-like melody —

an echo.


This piece of music

is a perfect argument for love from

afar. Love best consummated

in music, Art, or poetry.

The code, like printed notes of music

is simple to read for the

holder of its secrets. What we hear

is neither message nor disguise — the music

becomes air we can breathe,

and like some smoky opiate, it comes

into our bodies and renders us

the beloved, the holders

of this code.


Daniel B. this morning seems to me

more than ever like

a faun

with his pointed ears.


Nov 29


Shades of Pink


This morning, when I stuck my nose out the

front door, it was grey and misty,

with wet pavement — just like early November.


Very seldom

do the DVD’s filmmakers show Daniel Barenboim

in a seemingly darkened room, but for

this sonata, we begin with

only his face lit — I see the faun’s ears —

a few glints on the ebony dark

Steinway. It really gives the sense that

Daniel B. is part of the piano. Occasionally

they move to a wider shot,

into a dimly lit alcove that shows its

rhodochrosite color. Daniel B. is playing

“The Pastoral” sonata. His face is serious

as if the darkness

means more

than dramatic lighting. The second

movement opens with a full view of the inner

workings of the piano, shining salmon pink with gold shadings,

hammers and strings look like the catwalk

over a theater stage.

Third movement and we have Daniel B’s cameo profile

with the lighted back drop

of his pink marble-walled chamber.


Flashes now. His white shirt, black tie, oh I see some silver

spots in it. Black suit. Now the light

fuller and showing the ornate but small

drawing room fireplace in back of him.

Now fully lighted room with chandeliers

over the piano’s amazing

salmon colored hammers and strings.


A day to appreciate Beethoven’s civilizing force.

Politicians should listen more often

to Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The

eight tone scale can harmonize



I love these wine-dark days.


(Dec 2)


33, for Robert Turney


“Why 32 parts in this Suite of poems?”

you asked. (That was what I originally planned)


“Because Beethoven wrote 32 sonatas in his lifetime.”


“33 is a prime number,” you replied. “Therefore, you must

write a 33rd poem.”


So, even though 33 is not a prime number,

and this is not actually the 33rd poem,

I will write this for you, Robert,

with thanks for the thought.


Sitting here in the artificial light of

Daniel Barenboim’s ornate rococo pastel

chateau drawing room, beginning this

morning seeing a crimson poinsettia on the pale

scrubbed wooden dining room table upstairs in our house,

wondering about the perversity

of painters depicting putti as sensuously

fat, naked children who witness

lovers. Perverted pagan imagery

of the god, Eros, who is

usually depicted as a naked child with

a bow and arrow. The original Cupid?

I have always thought that love,

sex, and romance should not

be connected with babies. That

is impossible, I suppose.

The grief you feel for yourself when after childbirth

you have lost your child, your belly

is defaced with red scars, vivid and never

fading, and ahead of you is not at all the life

of Romantic living

that you thought real love would



Prime numbers. No this is not about

prime numbers. It is about all the numbers like 33

that have prime numbers (3 and 11) as their factors. I feel so

lucky to have found you, Robert. Standing with you

for almost 40 years, my old grievings have been unnecessary.


Dec 3



Saying Goodbye


We have stories that we can’t tell. The

reason is not that they are secrets.

It is that we don’t recognize them as stories. They lie

hidden among the debris of our lives.

Daniel B. plays “The Tempest’s” first movement. It

is the rush and loud clanging of everyday life,

hurrying to make a statement, furrowing under all

the small details that make a story, so we have

the rush and clamor, and it doesn’t

seem like a story to me. Well,

in that sense, all stories come from secrets — to secrete something —

i.e what is hidden because speed and clanking

cover it up. Now is the

time when one thinks of regrets.

Daniel B’s fingers brilliantly, independently agile.

But mine once were too, except

for those weak 4th and 5th fingers on my left

hand. But if I had kept practicing every day —

what then? Oh, nothing. Nothing. Impossible. You know that

second chances don’t mean getting what you lost or

couldn’t achieve. A second chance is

what I gave myself when, age 21, I stopped practicing the piano

and put my young-Diane, passionate focus on

a second art, poetry. But my heart,

my heart is still

with the piano. with Beethoven and Bach.

What a glass that is. How it

shatters when I say it. My glass is neither

half empty nor half full. It is

broken. No measuring left. No

numbers. The pieces

of the glass do seem unusually shaped though,

like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.


Dec 23