Thursday, September 21

Works in Progress, 41

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

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

supporting any effort to reunionize
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 well until after nightfall
setting this brain of mine afire
reaching irritably after fact & reason
shunning easy consolations

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

counting the dead
waiting for them to break silence
descending the steeps of the soughing twilight
assimilating foreign cultures

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

maneuvering pothole-sized cars around
designing more effective marketing campaigns
speaking solely in terms of racial justice
examining burial pits and naked skulls

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 wardheelers
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 unbeliefs
finding time to clean up around the house

making the world safe for gerontocracy
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
trying not to think about elephants
looking forward to end-of-life decisions

reassessing works already completed
exterminating the brutes
chipping ice from the windshield of 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--its life, its times
mapping talk-free zones in public parks

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

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

unpacking after the last long/short journey
saying goodbye to the undead
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 plutocracy 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 Peter and Paul to pay Mark and Luke
waking up to a brand-new day
forgetting that old Underwood we once loved
overcoming inertia and ignorance

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

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 His Holiness, the President
bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy

telling civil war from your garden-variety insurgency
recognizing our deepest needs, wants, and wishes
finally getting that poodle to the groomer
learning to live on self-serve island

keeping an eye on the military-industrial complex
reseeding the lawn for the nth and final time
staking out claims on the future
moving the party toward a more radical center

restoring the Gulf to its pre-US condition
adminstering flu shots to every chicken in every pot
studying studies on the results of previous studies
reducing the pulse of alien shadows

reducing light pollution in our major cities
rescuing the castaways
creating unwanted database gaps
accommodating carbon dating to Biblical truth

bombing our way to an "endurable" peace
retelling the tales of bygone wars
seeing what might be learned there
measuring the manatee

returning that defective broadband router
speaking kindly of those we no longer respect
giving up keeping up as a modus vivendi
putting our thoughts into action


Tuesday, September 19

From My Life


John Ashbery came over to interview me for Life Magazine yesterday. Walked over, in fact, even though walking nowadays is something of a chore for him. We met at my car, which was parked on the north side of Bank Street between Washington and West Streets. It was raining, and I had been trying, as always, and without success, not to see the raindrops as thousands and thousands of little tears sliding down the windshield as we spoke. I was a bit tired from the photo shoot Philippe Halsman had just put me through. He had me jumping up and down for hours--well, maybe not hours, but you know what I mean. When John asked his first question it had almost stopped raining.

Sunday, September 10

The last paragraph I read last night, on the eve of our
anniversary (Lynda's and mine--our fifteenth, as near as
we can recollect) and the beginning of another new year
for me, my seventy-first, was found by chance in John
Ashbery's Three Poems, written back when he was in his
late thirties and seeming today something like a little
prayer for all of us.

"We were ideally happy. we had reached that stage in our
perennial evolution where holy thoughts no longer exist
and one can speak one's mind freely, and the night shot
back an answering fragrance: too far to the stars, but it
was here in its intimacy that wraps you in permissiveness,
leaving you free as it wanes to learn more about your special
thoughts or any ideas you might have. It is never too late
to mend. When one is in one's late thirties, ordinary things
--like a pebble or a glass of water--take on an expressive
sheen. One wants to know more about them, and one in
turn lived by them. Young people might not envy this
kind of situation, perhaps rightly so, yet there is now
interleaving the pages of suffering and indifference to
suffering a prismatic space that cannot be seen, merely
felt through the mists of helpless acceptance of everything
else projected in our miserable, dank span of days. One
is aware of it as an open field of narrative possibilities.
Not in the edifying sense of the tales of the past that we
are still (however) chained to, but as stories that tell only
of themselves, so that one realizes one's self has dwindled
and now at last vanished in the diamond light of
speculation. Collar up, you are lighter than air. The only
slightly damaged bundle of receptive nerves is humming
again, receiving the colorless emanation from outer space
and dispatching dense, precisely worded messages. There
is room to move around in it, which is all that matters.
The pain that drained the blood from your cheeks when
you were young and turned you into a whitened specter
before your time is converted back into a source of energy
that peoples this new world of perceived phenomena with
wonder. You wish you could shake hands with your
lovers and enemies, forgive and love them, but they too
are occupied as you are, though they greet you with
friendly, half-distracted smiles and nods. The Hermit
has passed on, slowly and haltingly, the light streaming
from under his cloak, and in his place the Hanged Man
points his toe at the stars, at ease at last in comfortably
assuming that age-old attitude of sacrifice; the gold
coins slither out of his pockets and fall to earth which
they fertilize with many ideas, some harebrained, others
daringly original. In the sky a note of fashionable
melancholy has begun to prevail: it is the quick-witted
devotion of Sagittarius, the healer, caustic but kind,
sweeping away the cobwebs of intuitive realism that
still lingered there in pockets of darkness. The Archer
takes careful aim, his arrow flies to the nearest card,
the Five of Cups: 'Trouble from a loved one. Trouble
introduced into the midst of an already realized state.
Amorous dangers. Perils through a woman.' And also
rectitude, for the aim was just. From the tiny trickle
of blood from the wounded card a green stain grows;
some leaves shoot up and then tiny white odorless
flowers, the promise of what still remains to be
fulfilled. But of course since that was no shot in the
dark it is an already realized state in its potential.
The note is struck, the development of its resonances
ready to snap into place. For the moment we know
nothing more than this."

--John Ashbery

fr. Three Poems

[New York: Viking Press, 1972]

Friday, September 8

Poems from the Book of Nanoseconds, #40

the layer of white make-up
a shade of snow-covered plum blossom
whiskey urged her on

Thursday, September 7

"My renunciation has yet another name: don't descend to the existing order. The existing order in our case? To read Your book, to thank You for it with empty words, to see You again from time to time 'smiling, to conceal Your smile,' to pretend that You'd written nothing and I, read nothing: as if nothing had happened."

--Marina Tsvetaeva

fr. "Letter to the Amazon"

tr. Edwina J. Cruise

in Artes: An International Reader of Literature Art and Music 1996