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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Jackson Mac Low: “27th Light Poem, for Jerry (Jerome) Rothenberg (An Essay in Poetics) 10-11 October 1969, 19 May 1970, & 20 January-25 February 1975” [A Re-Posting & Celebration]

[note.  Looking at the 27th Light Poem in retrospect it’s now evident that its composition went over a period of some five or six years, nor can I recall at what stage in the writing Jackson first passed it along to me.  Whenever it was I must have had a copy of some sort & must have misplaced or buried it along with other manuscripts & notes accumulated in the intervening years.  I don’t recall anyway that it was ever published, and it has only come back to me recently through the kind offices of Anne Tardos & Michael O’Driscoll during their compilation of Mac Low’s Complete Light Poems, published for the start of 2015 by Charles Alexander’s Chax Press.  So it’s in celebration of that major & long awaited work (& of Jackson’s work & presence over all) that I’m announcing the book & (re)posting the 27th Light Poem here.  Its relevance to Poems and Poetics goes almost without saying.  (J.R.)]
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 11 12 13 14 15
P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z
16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
J-10, E-5, R-18, Y-25 = “EE” – 2 + 5 = E-7;
R-18, O-15, T-20, = K-20, H-8 = S-8, E-5, N-14, B-2, E-5,
R-18, G-7
j-10   = jack-o’-lantern light
e-5     = earthlight
r-18  = refracted light
r-18  = refracted light
Y-25  = e-7 = ether-lamp light
r-18  = refracted light
o-15  = amazonstone light
t-20 = k-20 = kindly light
h-8   = s-8 = shaded light
e-5    = earthlight
n-14 = noonday
b-2    = m-2 = moonlight
e-5    = earthlight
r-18  = refracted light
g-7    = j-7 = jalousie light
Is it Jack-o-lantern light
or earthlight –
this light that’s refracted over here
        to where I imagine I am –
or is it refracted light
or an ether lamp?
j-10   = jack-o’-lantern light
e-5    = earthlight
r-18  = refracted light
o-15  = amazonstone light
m-13 = moonshine
e-5    = earthlight
Not Jack-o’-lantern light,
& probably not earthlight,
but light refracted thru
an amazonstone,
bright green amazonstone light,
possibly moon shining thru stone
(possibly earthlight).
How wd we know
whether or not
light refracted
by an amazonstone
is kindly light
                                                            [a long silence]
Here I have a shaded light,
or noonday
or moonlight,
but even if it be earthlight,
it is a refracted light
that filters thru imagined jalousies.
                                                            (10-11 Oct. 69/ 20-21 Jan. 75)
                                                                  (19 May 70/ 21 Jan. 75)
Imagined jalousies
can only refract
imaginary light –
imaginary earthlight
or imaginary moonlight
or the imagined light of an imagined noonday
– but can imaginary earthlight
ever be imagined as a shaded light?
& what can make an imagined light
be imagined as kindly,
& who can imagine light
refracted by an amazonstone
who’s never seen one?
Can one who’s never been far from the earth
ever imagine earthlight
as one can imagine moonshine
or even imagine light
refracted by an amazonstone
once one knows it’s green?
Can one ever imagine earthlight
as one can imagine the flickering yellow light
(or maybe merely remember it)
of a grinning orange pumpkin jack-o’-lantern?
I can only imagine ether-lamp light
as a kind of bluish movie light,
a horrible light,
since all I know of it
is from Shattuck’s Banquet Years
I quoted it in the 11th Light Poem
for poor dear dead Dick Maxfield,
whose light escaped or leaped
before this poem began.
– Let me sing your requiem,
dear Richard, dear friend,
you are a great composer,
& your murderous doctors were wrong,
just as you must have known they were,
except at moments like the one that took you away:
peace. –
In 1897 in a charity bazaar in Paris
“in a rambling wood-and-canvas structure off the Champs
they “set aside a room for a showing
of Louis and Auguste Lumière’s
recently perfected cinématographie. . . .
“The film program attracted many children,
and a turnstile was installed to keep them orderly.
“An ether lamp provided light for projection. . . .”
& the whole place burned up.
Tho I’ve never seen it,
I can imagine the light of an ether lamp
refracted thru water,
but I who’ve never seen,
directly or reflected or refracted,
true earthlight
can hardly imagine it
as easily as well-remembered Jack-o’-lantern light.
Why talk about Jack-o’-lantern light or earthlight,
refracted or reflected,
& why mention the light, reflected or refracted,
of an ether lamp
when the dog is barking crazily in the yard?
I can remember Jack-o’-lantern light
as easily as I can hear the dog
barking & crying crazily in the yard,
but the crazy sound of her barking in the yard where she’s
     been chained
& stands in the dark in the rain
blots out the possibility
of my imagining earthlight,
refracted or reflected or direct,
or amazonstone light,
direct or reflected or refracted,
for I can barely imagine moonshine
this dark & rainy night
when I hear poor Josie,
whom the landlady owns, not we,
& who’s been chained in the yard with the silent new male
barking & crying crazily in the yard
in the dark
in the rain,
& nothing in me wants to make the effort
to imagine earthlight.
I cannot imagine light
refracted by an amazonstone
while Josie’s crazily barking,
& never can I imagine
any light that’s kindly
as she’s barking, barking crazily in the yard.
I can only imagine
letting Josie loose
in the shaded light of streetlights
that falls on her on the driveway in the yard beside the house;
& rather than half-illusory earthlight,
I can barely imagine
ordinary noonday light or moonlight
as Josie barks & barks in the rainy dark;
& any earthlight imaginable
is sure to be refracted
not by jalousies
but by Josie’s crazy barking.
Even the lamp’s electric bulbs
are giving a kind of darkness
as Josie barks in the yard
& I hope against hope
that those in the house next door
will let her loose before I’m forced to do so.
Altho when I open the window
I find the rain has stopped
& the moon & a star or planet
are shining,
I know I’ll soon be forced to let her loose
& risk a fight with Rev. Williamson
if Jose keeps on barking crazily
& crying on her chain in the yard in the dark
as the unchanging light of streetlights
barely makes her visible in the yard.
A full orange Jack-o’-lantern moon
is rising toward the zenith
as Josie sits in the yard
quietly whimpering
–so quietly you often cannot hear her with the windows closed–
but sometimes barking loudly,
usually when people pass by,
walking their own dogs.
A full orange Jack-o’-lantern moon,
shining in the cloudy sky,
nearly at the zenith,
is all that’s left of the lights from Jerry’s name.
The lamplight of my double-headed aluminum-colored
     gooseneck lamp
& the greenish reflected streetlights
& rarely passing headlights
are all the light that’s there
besides the orange Jack-o’-lantern moon.
But an airplane flashes green & white & yellow light
as Josie starts her barking once again
after “the Rev” and her handyman come in.
I wait to see what “Christian love” will do,
confronted by the crazy
barking & the crying
of Josie in the Jack-o’-lantern moonlight
& the shaded light of streetlights.
What has stopped her barking now?
I can hardly bring myself to look
down from my upper window & across the yard
to see into the shadows
where Josie now seems silent.
The streetlights & the headlights barely glimmer
as I sit in the yellowish lamplight
writing the poem’s ending
& wondering if it’s whimpering I hear
below the city’s roar
& that of passing jets.
Is the high-pitched sound I hear
whimpering or birds
or “merely” in my ears?
Raising the window, I hear her softly crying,
but when she hears the window rise
or sees me looking out,
she begins to bark once more
as crazily as ever.
I should have left
bad enough
My cowardice because I have no money left to move now
makes me end this poem in disgust,
with aching legs & head & sore throat,
just before I push the clink switch
to darken the double gooseneck’s bulbs.

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