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, February 23, 2015

Michael Palmer: New Poems from “The Laughter of the Sphinx,” for Mac Low, Tcherepnin & Artaud

Light Moves 1

Mineral light and whale light,
light of memory, light of the eye,
memory’s eye, shaded amber light
coating the page, fretted
light of anarchy, flare of bent
time, firelight and first light,
lake light and forest light,
arcing harbor light,
spirit light and light of the blaze,
enveloping blaze,
century’s fading light,
light of cello, voice, drum,
figures billowing along
horizon, aligned, outlined.

Light Moves 2

Bright light of sleep, its
shortness of breath, its
thousand sexual suns, curved
and fretted light, lies of that light,
dark, inner light, its
whispered words:
Now beyond, now below,
this to left, this to right,
scarecrow in stubble field,
nighthawk on wire,
these to cleanse your sight.

Light Moves 3

Light through the Paper House
rippling across floors and walls,
across the words of the walls,
its paper tables, paper chairs,
its corners,
pale light by which it reads itself,
fills and empties itself,
and speaks.

Light Moves 4

Watcher on the cliff-head
in afternoon light, aqueous light,
watcher being watched
in the salt-silver light
amidst the darting of terns,
beach swallows and gulls,
between the snow of sand
and the transit of clouds,
keeper of thought or prisoner of thought,
watcher being watched,
snowman of sand,
anonymous man.

Light Moves 5

Night-sun and day-sun
twinned and intertwined,
light by a bedside,
cat’s eye by night,
owl light and crystal light,
endless motion of the light,
the rise and the fall,
the splintered flare,
churning northern lights,
phosphor, tip of iris,
gunmetal moon’s
far, reflected light,
oil sheen
on pelican’s wing.

Light Moves 6

And yet what have we done
where have we gone
sometimes in light sometimes not
we say the great world the small world
the fields
patched with yellow the sudden crows
the city’s streets
alone among others
the billowing streets
bodies crowding past
outlined by light.
What have we done
among the roads and fields
in the theater’s shadows and the theater’s light
so bright you cannot see
those watching beyond
in perfect rows in the dark.

(in homage to Jackson MacLow)

In Memory of Ivan Tcherepnin

So many sounds flower but they are not flowers.
They are mangled girders in a field,
a field of flowers, echo of hooves, 
heavy-metal of tanks,
music’s lost memory.

In the enveloping mist
our shoes squealing
upon the paving stones
while winding through
your Paris streets,
which one of us said,
The absolute
secret of art 
lies in the tongue
of a shoe?
Who said, The true
secret of art
resides in the gaze
of a cat,
and that’s that?
Which one of us asked,
Is this the buried sound
of the future-past?
Do electrons still sing
when no one is listening?
(A little stoned perhaps?)
We spoke of corpses
waving batons, hierophants
professing poems,
as the mist cloaked our words
and mid-summer night
measure by measure
finally arrived.

Ivan Alexandrovich,
is it only the fugitive things
that ravel the cells
and ring through the air,
le va et le vient as you put it,
the slow rise of a half-step,
followed by falling semi-tones,
in a day of one birth and one death?

So many sounds flower but they are not flowers.
They are street calls and cries
and the promises of bone,
and the bright sightless eye
at the flower’s brief heart.

At the Tomb of Artaud

At the tomb of Artaud
wherever it may be
we hear a howl, unmistakable,
the howl of a wounded wolf
gnawing at its foreleg
caught in the teeth

of a hunter’s steel trap
At the tomb of Artaud
wherever it may be
a sleeper and his double
throw dice made of bone
Should the dice fall

just so, they explain
it will snow
on the tomb of Artaud
Should they fall
the earth will be dry

A dancer and her double
make love
on the bright stones
the light bringers
by the tomb of Artaud
that has become a book

of stone
they care not to read
whatever it may mean
as the fitful
dragonflies alight

on the wet heat
of their bodies
Only later
will they piss on his grave
as a clock without hands

applauds in the dark

[NOTE> Michael Palmer is an internationally celebrated poet with numerous publications, translations into multiple languages, & active collaborations with dancers & artists over a span of more than forty years.  His latest book, The Laughter of the Sphinx, from which these poems are taken, is scheduled for publication by New Directions later this year.  The dedicatory nature of the poems shown here – to two poets & the French composer Ivan Tcherepnin –  indicates Palmer’s sense of presence within that company I always hear as I work, and for whom I write, and to whom I write.”  The lyric force of his later poetry is a turning that illuminates the power of the work that came before.

     n.b. “At the Tomb of Artaud” first appeared in an issue of The American Reader, volume 2, number 2, some months back, and the poem for Ivan Tcherepnin is scheduled for the next issue of Nathaniel Mackey’s magazine Hambone.]

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