Diane Wakoski: Six new poems from 'Lady of Light'
Following an older 'Light Poem' by Jackson Mac Low
[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
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,
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
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.
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
whether we are able
to describe and know it mathematically
at all. Sometimes
I feel the absurdity of trying to live
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.
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 —
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
with his pointed ears.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.