Pierre Joris: From 'The Gulf (Between You & Me)'

[NOTE. These texts, originally published in Barzakh: Poems 2000-2012 (2014), were commissioned after the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion & oil spill by Donald Nally & the Crossing Choir to be set to music by Gene Coleman, Chris Jonas & Gabriel Jackson.  The work premiered in Philadelphia in 2014, and had its first European staging in Luxembourg in October 2015.

— The first two sections of the work are partial writing-through’s of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem A Throw of the Dice, using both Daisy Alden’s & my own translations. That poem, despite being usually called the first “abstract” poem of the modern avant-garde, does tell a story: that of a shipwreck & the drowning of its captain.

— A number of the spoken phrases in the second section are taken from interviews with Sheri Revette by Antonia Juhasz in the latter’s book Black Tide (Wiley, 2011), talking of her husband, Dewey Revette, a driller killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 2010.  Sheri tells the story of their love and life together and the moments after Sherri's discovery of her husband's death. (P.J.)]




            what do we know, what can we know?

                        OF THE DICE

            of science, of love?

                                    only the facts, that is to say

                                                only effects


            can this happen

NEVER even if, can this happen

                        in science, in love

                                    EVEN WHEN CAST

            Indra’s net of love,   


                        money’s net of stone

what do we know, what can we know?

            What has caused this gulf

between water & oil, you & me

                                    IN ETERNAL CIRCUMSTANCES

            (no circumstances are eternal,


                        of this rigwreck

What will we know?

            We know only effects / have to choose

the causes

            A SHIPWRECK at the heart that the

gulf widens

            between water & oil, you & me

                        fish & water, me & you

                                    that the


            between water & water, you & you

                        me & me, oil & fish

widened then whitened

                                    there is slack growing

                        raging underwater in the heart

                                                underheart in the water

            on the brain

what we know is oil & water don’t mix

what we know is fish & oil don’t mix


            what we know is you & I have to mix

            what we know is you & I have to live


                                    under an incline

                        clinamen of a warming clime

            an angle not an angel tells us

                                                me & you want to live

                                    even if despair desperately soars

                        & gets an angry rise

form the phantom pain of its own planet’s sore

                                                            broken wing

            a second-hand angel singing Ecce Homo,

                                    Ecce Homo, though not so Sapiens,

conscious liar,

            beforehand relapsed, liar, liar, not released from wrongly steering

                                    the flight of this planetary love affair

                                                no use repressing the outbursts

                                                            of this lethal love affair

                                                                        cleaving the bounds

            of this oily love affair

                        at the root of greed

                                    set the rig afloat

                                                a ship finally a ship

                                                            the impossible change

            for deep inside weighs the admission of impending disaster

the shadow hidden in the depth

                        by this by this arrogance this arrogance

            at the root of greed this arrogance

                                    at the root of arrogance

                                                this love this love for more

                                                            a more always spelled out in money

blows the rig up this morning

will blow the world up tomorrow

            there is no alternate sail

                        ship earth in space / space ship earth

                                    the only raft for dumb sapiens

who has to learn to love

this imperfect raft

there is no alternate sail


dumb sapiens has to learn love

            has to learn to adjust

                        has to learn to look    to the spread

the spreading of disaster

            has to learn to jump

                        its yawning depth

as great as any abyss

                                                between you & me

            the hull of a rig

                        the hull of a ship

careening from side to side

            turns over & is for a moment cathedral

                        burning church of the worship of money

brightly floating death flaunting love

                                    rigwreck rigwreck

a catastrophe here now,

                        the circumstances local & global

            not eternal only this now

cannot grasp the hawser

                                    opens a gulf

                                                between life & death

a millimeter uncrossable

            a BP centipede monster

at the heart of this rigwreck

                        abolish                        abolish

abolished responsibility

                        Moloch, Moloch

Moloch —

                        rules, Moloch


all rules broken when Moloch rules.





                        THE MASTER is no master

            the master is a corp   a corpse a corporation

                        beyond outworn calculations

where Moloch where Moloch arisen

                                    is a manoeuvre with age-

less scorn for you & me

            scorn for love  /  love forgotten

                        the master is absent

now present here only Dewey

                                    could have gripped the helm once

upon a time & called his mates

            now locked into the assistant driller’s shack’s C chair

 can his love hear him


SOLO  (Deweys voice):

            Thirty years offshore

                                    & I can smell a rat

            leaving a rig, I can, I do right now —

I’m toolpusher, not master,

            should sleep but follow

                        inauspicious orders

tomorrow’s another day, night’s growing darker

            something’s wrong here, something’s off

                        shouldn’t follow inauspicious orders

            It is night / the only light

                        is tomorrow is Sheri

Sheri my love a gulf between us

            my message reaches across a gulf

                        awaits you listen listen

                                     left it this morning at first light

O why am I not ashore I knew

            the bosses would lie would cut

                                    corners until from this conflagration...



                        at his feet mud overflows the rig floor

                                    shoots through the derrick

            the blowout preventer’s does not act

the well’s blown out

            Dewey dead now in this conflagration

on the no way unanimous horizon

                                    end of the horizon

                                                of the deepwater horizon

a Gulf prepares itself

                        the fist would grip it

            will swallow the tossed & burning rig

as one threatens destiny and the winds, the elements all

                        eleven die

            the one Number which can be no other

                                    eleven die

                                                their Spirit hurled

                                                                        into tempestuous fire gas explosions

                        nothing can seal the gap nothing can go proudly

            eleven die

love left ashore a Gulf

                                                between their loves & their corpses

                        eleven die

                                    eleven die.


SOLO (Female Voice/ Sheri): 

                        Dewey got pretty hot

                                    Dewey never—ever—ever

                                                loses his temper — never, ever, ever.

            If he really believed this could have happened,

                        he’d never, never let them do it.

Calls at 9 a.m. each morning

            missed his call that morning,

                        phone didn’t ring, he left

                                    a message I deleted as

            I knew he was coming home

                        knew he was coming home.



            Don’t hesitate

                        cut off from the secret they withhold

                                    cadavers that will not wash ashore

caught rather than dressed

                        now in shrouds of lethal

            oil & dispersant pearls

old madmen play the game on behalf of the waves

                        one surges over the chief toolpusher

            a directly shipwrecked

all-American love story flows over:

                        of the man no submissive graybeard

                                     who just liked being home,

            ancestrally huntin’, fishin’, playin’ on his tractor

                        not to unclench his hand

She’ without a ship

            a small place in Ohio, no matter where vainly there was:

                                    Kmart in walking distance,

                                                                        mall twenty minutes by car.

They met when he drove up to the local Kerr

                                    gas station where Sheri worked.


SOLO (Female Voice /Sheri): 

            It was love at first sight

                        We had the old time Coca-Cola coolers.

                                    He reached in for one he was sittin’ there

                                                we were talkin’ that was it…

                                                            He had this smile. It would make you melt.

                                                                        Love at first sight.



            Contracted before & above the worthless wellhead showed

She was 18 & he was 21 when they got married

                        an all-American love story

                                    the legacy of his disappearance

            yet back then no gulf between them

                        to some unknown the ulterior immemorial demon.


SOLO (Female Voice): 

            It was love at first sight.

                        When we got married so young

                                    everyone was looking for a baby.

                                                There wasn’t one.

                                                            We were just in love.



From dead & narrow lands

            induced / seduced

                        by an old man toward this supreme lethal

                                    conjunction with probability

this morning she expected him home

            sister called at 5 a.m. said turn on the t.v.

                        she knew right away that he’d be dead.

                                    Even his boyish shadow

caressed & polished, drained & washed

            not to return wave-softened

                        unyielding bones stripped off

                                    lost among the debris