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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Robert Kelly, from I TAROCCHI NUOVI or, Major Arcana of the Sacred Ordinary

photo by Jennifer May


I presume to offer a glimpse of a new Tarot. The major arcana of the deck are ordinary things of this world, and the suits are not four but infinite, for there is no end to the counting numbers, and no end to the things they can count. This deck is prefigured in a story published half a century ago called “The Infinite Tarot,” where there was talk of the Ace of Sewing Machines and such like. There are no such racy conjectures in the present pack, of which after research and deliberation I offer to the world only the Major Arcana, the Trumps. Of course there are many ordinary things in this sacred world, but these seem to have special cogency, special power to alert the mind to the sacredness of ordinary things. I use the Italian title to honor the great primal images of Mantegna’s Tarocchi.
January 2014

preliminary advice:
to the querent
who seeks an answer from the cards

But what are you looking for
in all these pictures?
They’re all dead people by now,
the Husband, the Child,
the Nun, the Prophet lying
drunk beneath his tree,
the Tree, the Cellar Door,
the Dog. Dead or fallen
ruinous and sad. Are you sad?
Do you come to the cards
the way you’d drink some wine
or call a friend you haven’t seen
in years? Did you ever know him
anyhow? The images don’t lie
because the images don’t die.
Did you know I’d be here
when you came in, a sly voice
no louder than a silken
dress on a thigh, a whisper
of light in the dingy trees
around your yard? Why
can’t you take care of anything?
Do you want to wind up
like me, a voice yearning,
yearning for ears, doesn’t
really matter, even yours?

But I can tell you everything.
You whisper to the cards,
they whisper to me, I whisper
to you. A lot of susurrus
to go round, mice in the pantry,
tiny endless appetites questing
like you for anything. Like me.

Because I began out there like you
then got trapped in it. I asked
and it answered, I leaned close
to hear every detail, and before
I knew it or could flee, the voice
became my own. And I’ve
been talking ever since. Now
what was it you wanted to know?

the tailor

crosslegged on his table
in strong sunlight
finding old stitches
in an older coat.

He will unpiece it
and take each scrap
and make a new coat
for a naked man.

Meantime he squints
at the fraying thread
praying to the God
of seams and sewers,
Hera’s aunt,
the Spider Queen
of Anatolia
who taught us
to connect.
And why not?

Magic lives between
the skin and the cloth,
silk or hide
makes no matter.

Magic is all.
He unstitches
and stitches afresh
in fine red thread—
under the table
wind is blowing
scraps of linen
here and there.

You and I are
just a week from being born.

the glass of water

A man holds it
in front of his chest
but his eyes are not on it,
they look out at you,
viewer, querent,
whatever you are.

Unknown to him
or at least unnoticed
there is a woman in the class
small, perfectly formed,
eyes open, rather beautiful
she is, and she’s looking
right at you too.

This is Melusina,
the elemental
daughter of water and air,
you need her to live.

When the man has drunk his water,
all of it or only some
she will still be there,
adrift before his eyes

and yours,
out from the image
into your world
or whatever you call it,
this thing around you.
And then he gives it to you.

the husband 

He holds a hammer in his hand.
He holds a wounded sparrow in his hand.
He holds a yardstick in his hand.
He holds a letter in his hand he hasn’t finished reading.
And never will.
            He holds a key in his hand.
He holds an antique ormolu clock on his hand.
It tells old time.
He holds a book in his hand, it’s open, pages riffled by wind.
He holds a kitten curled up on his palm.
He holds a photo of a lost love in his hand.
He has forgotten her name.
He holds a mirror in his hand but does not look at it.
Who knows what he would see?
He holds an ear of corn half-eaten in his hand.
He holds a bottle perhaps of water in his hand.
He is sustained by the simplest things.
He holds a rifle in his hand.
Does he know how to use it? Not sure.
He holds a butterfly net in his hand.
He feels ridiculous but he loves things.
He holds his hand out and a dragonfly lands on it.
He holds his father’s cane in his hand.
He holds a map of China all open and dangling.
He holds a silk stocking draped across his wrist.
He holds a branch of holly in his hand.
He holds a wad of paper money in his hand.
He holds a pair of scissors in his hand.
He holds a bell in his hand.
He holds a dog-leash in his hand but no dog is in it.
He holds a wooden flute in his hand.
He holds a red ball in his hand.
He holds a kitchen strainer in his hand.
He holds a stone in his hand.
He holds nothing in his hand.

[note. The preceding excerpt is from a remarkable new series of on-line poetry works, Metambesen, edited by Charlotte Mandell & Robert Kelly & freely available on the internet.  In the words of the editors: “As citizens in the commonwealth of language, we are anxious to make new work freely and easily available, using the swift herald of the internet to bring readers chapbooks and other texts they can read and download without cost.”  Beyond that noble & notable plan, my showing it here is a further tribute to Kelly himself, who was a poet essential to my own formative years as a poet, a time of transformations now a half century in the past.  With him there was a brief time in which we struggled together with the dimensions of ‘deep image’ as a strategy of composition developed by us along with a cohort of contemporaries in New York & elsewhere.  In my own case this was the forerunner to that ethnopoetics to which I came on my own by the end of the 1960s, but looking back now I feel sure that it was Robert who was an early one & possibly the first to point me in that direction.  Rounding out his seventh decade now, he represents for me & for many others a poet of the greatest powers & with a devotion to our art & to the shared life from which it springs second to none in my memory.” (J.R.)]