To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, January 16, 2012

Charles Stein: A Poem and a Note from "From Mimir's Head"

The Hat Rack Tree
Your old hat
on the hat
rack tree
as the plumes
of the tree
grow dry
and wind unravels them.

"No wind
is the King's wind."

Now you go to buy some new
hat. Should it be
just like it?

A new hat sits like a plume
on the hat rack tree.

There is a bird
on that lady's hat.
Pluck its felt?
Or shred the brittle veil
that hangs from the brim?

It is a crow
(not my crow).
Something not alive
on the hat rack tree.

What can I do with this?
What can I sell?
Come all comers
to the hat rack tree
and see the lady's hat with black stuffed crow.

Odd--but the crow's eye lives
with terrible rays
and the feathers shine
with a glint of green--

Wind  in the branches
wind in the plumes
strong enough to knock your
hat off. Knock your hats off.

If you were a King
and owned a tree
would you become a crow
with its terrible shining
and charm the wind
into your hat
and wear it
to see the world?

A lady's veil
conveys her shining.
She is nervous.
Nor does she glean
the thing on her hat.


The thinking that goes into a poem or that can be awakened as its “further life” — like the fuzzy temporal location of particles in quantum reality — exists more like a cloud than a thing. Do these thoughts precede or succeed their poems? But the poems themselves do not have unique temporal onset: they link on to each other and to the texts and thoughts that environ them, in the problematic temporal topology of textuality itself, appearing after the fact yet in the guise of that which uncovers “meanings” in, of, and from them.

These notes, then, are the “further life,” in my own thinking, of the poems themselves. I certainly could not have produced the thought in the poems before I produced the poems—but the notes show the poems to be the “further life” of texts and thoughts that, in a literally “cymatic” sense, have “influenced” them—i.e., flowed in them, or flowed them in.

 [There follows his note on the poem, above, with a further addendum: “In our collaborative ‘dialogical’ writings, George Quasha and I frequently use the phrase ‘the future life of the work’ to characterize discourse, art, work, conversation, or any vital experience arising from some work that ‘furthers’ its creative impulse(s).”]

The Hat Rack Tree

My father kept a grand hydrangea bush. It had magnificent floreate plumes in summer, but a scraggly hierarchy of clipped and naked branches out of season. Good for nothing but a rack to hang your hat on, he called the naked bush his “hat rack tree.” Like the skeleton of a way of thought, I thought; a (kabbalistic) tree of life that, seeming to assert nothing, serves as a cognitive scaffold, a schema to hang your images on.

Donnings and doffings of often headless hats haunt the forest. Hats suffer the fates of the identities they betoken and effectuate. A short poem in The Hat Rack Tree reads:

My hat had vanished.
When that cat that
sat up looked straight at it,

that hat had had it.

The cat’s intensity vanquishes the identity that is the target of its massive concentration. I found the following item among forest notes from the early ’80s too late for inclusion in The Hat Rack Tree volume:

The forms
fall off
the hat rack

The hats
go back
to the sky.

As the poem strikes me now, there is celebration here of a liberative moment, when the fixities of appearance fall away, and the icons of identity levitate, or the principle of structure, imparted by the tree to that which hangs upon it, exchanges secrets with the indeterminate.

The closing and title poem of The Hat Rack Tree turned out to be the first in a series of poems. I repeat its publication here to be true to the sense of that series.

“No wind is the King’s Wind” (page…)

A refrain from Confucius (is it?) in Pound’s Canto whatever, primes for me an open inquiry into contingency, randomicity, spontaneity, and the forces of morphogenesis and order.

The demagogue and technologist would put the wind under his hat; while the magus or the Taoist would ride the wind.

[Posted here in celebration of the recent publication by StationHill Press (Barrytown, New York)  of Stein’s FromMimir’s Head.  Like all of Stein’s major gatherings of poems this forms part of an ongoing work called the forestforthetrees.]


Nobodyville Street said...

beautiful! i feel the same way (figuratively speaking) about the jack-fruit tree that we used to have in the garden when I was an infant...

although the tree top was evergreen... the foliage below was mnostly naked branches... and i would hang my kites and catapult on those coz that is the only purpose they could serve... but the purpose itself has a greater depth...

your portrayal of a similar experience and then the unwillingness (my interpretation) to attach a mundane iconoclasm to it was powerful! make what you will of the hat is what i say. :)

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