Wednesday, February 22

Works in Progress, 35

maneuvering around car-sized potholes
designing strategic legalities
speaking solely in terms of racial justice
examining burial pits and naked skulls

sticking to issues that directly affect them
bemoaning the cautiousness of today's athletes
co-opting the arguments of their opposition
tracking Latino immigrants at the border

supporting any effort to unionize
failing to generate meaningful responses
becoming one with the centipede in oneself
getting some good poems out of it

rewriting the country's labor laws
seeing a psychic map of our obsessions
building electoral coalitions that will win
emphasizing the overlapping interests of the affluent

slumbering until well after nightfall
setting this brain of mine afire
reaching irritably after fact & reason
shunning easy consolations

subsidizing extinction industries
helping women victimized by male violence
doubling the sign-up bonus for volunteers
supporting the troops while doubting the war

naming the dead
waiting for him to break silence
descending the steeps of the soughing twilight
assimilating foreign cultures

freeing the slaves
admonishing those who do evil
stamping out political brushfires
democratizing the US

getting in touch with the cable guys
swinging the birches
testing the waters
pushing radical music agendas

getting out the vote
fetching water from the well
educating the masses
confessing to our personal demons

clearing minefields from past wars
laying them for wars yet to come
staying executions, pardoning the innocent
blurring the boundaries, the borders

reading maps in the dark with the top light off
folding them all back up rightly
cramming them into the glove compartment
getting moving again in the right direction

cooling our heels
voting early and often
keeping our fingers crossed
paying full-price for our journey

assembling a glossary of oft-used phrases
keeping silent while the tea is poured
maintaining an inventory of our beliefs and belongings
finding time to clean up around the house

making the world safe for plutocracy
clearing the minefields and cow pastures
converting analog files to digital
rereading An Anatomy of Melancholy

fighting the high cost of prescription meditations
comparing the works of Proust, Gide, and Sartre
putting something aside for a rainy day
asking for another user's name and password

scanning the shelves for news
cleaning up after the latest tsunami
taking care of our parents
looking forward to end-of-life decisions

reassessing works already completed
exterminating the brutes
removing the snow from the car
rebuilding the old road from Fredrikstad to Skjeberg

getting more bang for the buck
setting something aside for that rainy day
worry about what to really worry about
getting back to the Bang, the Big One

teaching the Chinese how to speak English
learning about Putin, reading his soul
cashing in on Homeland Security
making that list of things to make lists of

deciding whether or not to escape to Canada
enhancing revenue without raising taxes
learning more about hematology
mapping talk-free zones in public parks

making the punishment fit the criminal
recovering our census
fitting the glove to the velvet hand
dialing for (four) dollars

laying mines at the Prose/Poetry border
celebrating the rebirth of death
transferring data from
counting the years from start to finish

unpacking after the last long/short journey
saying goodbye to the dead
finding trusty pocket tools for indoor use
pleasing others in letters

recouping ancient losses
moving data from there to over here
scanning the text as rapidly as possible
keeping Kandinsky in mind

replacing old maps with new ones
preparing the cat for summer camp
paying the bills in advance
brushing up on our Spanish

stealing stones from the temple
building a nearby church
stealing stones from the church
building a nearby bank

filling the sandbags
repairing the levee
spreading democracy around the world
counting and bagging the dead

cleaning up after Rita, Katrina
remembering we must pay our bills
washing windows of opportunity
trying to find the snows of yesteryear

covering up the latest cover-up
rereading all we've reread as of now
reviewing the plays of Pinter, their silences
uncovering the cover-up of the cover-up

comparing apples to orangutans
criminalizing conservative politics
finding new ways to profit from disasters
rescuing painting from the dead end of Pop Art

robbing St. Peter to pay J. Paul Bremer
waking up to a brand-new day
overcoming inertia and ignorance
forgetting that old Underwood we used to love

demilitarizing outer space
completing the application and mailing it back
reviewing our few remaining options
showing off poetry's "extreme generosity"

closing the books on the old year
balancing the checkbook (first time ever)
remembering to reshape my face (yet again)
changing course (as always)

securing the seaports
transfiguring the night of the prom
seeking an audience with the President
bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy


Wednesday, February 1

Poems from the Book of Nanoseconds, #37

oblivious to the cold
in the fervor
of his devotions
Moyra Davey on Random Reading

"So how are we to draw up those reading lists finally? I have been fascinated to note how many writers invoke chance and randomness as guiding principles in choosing their books. I am talking about Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who, citing 'the John Cage-ish principle that if randomness determines the universe it might as well determine my reading too,' spent a winter reading the Greek tragedies because she happened to find a discounted set in a mail order catalogue. I'm talking about the serendipitous findings of Virginia Woolf, the little pamphlet from a hundred years ago that she comes across in a second-hand bookshop that stops her in her tracks and rivets her to the spot. I am talking about the happenstance of Georges Perec, who, while engaged in the tedious task of arranging his bookshelves, comes upon a book he'd lost sight of and writes: 'putting off until tomorrow what you won't do today, you finally re-devour [it] lying face down on your bed.' He further speculates that in our pursuit of knowledge, 'order and disorder are in fact the same word, denoting pure chance.' And finally, I am talking about the passionate book collector uncrating his treasures after a two-year hiatus, as portrayed by Walter Benjamin in his autobiographical essay 'Unpacking My Library,' for whom 'chance and fate . . . are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these book.'

"Just as a bookcase full of read and unread books conjures up a portrait of the owner over time ('joggers of the memory' Perec calls them), so the books that arrest us in the present constitute a reflection of 'what we are, or what we are becoming or desire' (Schwartz). There is nothing random about that, or about any of these other seemingly random ways of coming to books, and it is from this notion that the oddly apt idea of books choosing us, rather than the other way around, seems to make sense. The idea of a book choosing the reader has to do with a permission granted. A book gives permission when it uncovers a want or a need, and in doing so asserts itself above all the hundreds of others jockeying to be read. In this way a book can become a sort of uncanny mirror held up to the reader, one that concretizes a desire in the process of becoming."

--Moyra Davey

fr. The Problem of Reading
A Documents Book, 2003