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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

In Memoriam Jackson Mac Low

When the expiration hath ceased, the vital-force will have sunk into the nerve-centre of Wisdom & the Knower will be experiencing the Clear Light of the natural condition. Then the vital force, being thrown backwards & flying downwards through the right & left nerves the Intermediate State (Bardo) momentarily dawns.


How will I take the final words of your Night Walk, now that you’re dead, & work them
into my poem?
I had promised it at your birthday, the last or the next to the last, so hard to tell the years
so leave myself no choice but to continue, get it down & try to speak your presence with
the words you give me.

Once again I think of you as someone wearing many coats or bundled up against the
night, my own delight to sit beside you,
to see your nose & eyebrows glowing in that light, revealing you to us,
revealing secret bodies from your night walks, meanings written on their foreheads,
two o’clock when happiness arrives to free our tongues,
when coats are shed & foreheads show what’s real inside us, feeling, hearing, walking
with delight,
a man at night whose being flows out from his teeth, who steps on twigs & breaks the
learning how to draw attention in that halflight, feigning sweetness.

Clasping your coats around you, hairsmells heavy in the night, dark clouds & kisses
when the evening’s dark & cold, I hold the clouds in memory, a dimness
black as three o’clock, so touching when the cold rests on your eyebrows, otherwise
revealing what we all try finding,
clothing darker than the sky, desiring & feeling, telling your old stories, standing rooted
like a tree.

Desiring what else I couldn’t say but know that when the light grows dark, as when our
fingers close around it,
a streamsound breaks the silence, that’s when wondering makes way for learning,
pointing out the stars at night, wrapped in your many sweaters, when our beings feel
you wait there, listening in that dimness, hearing little, knowing less, of what the night’s
bodies black & cold are sliding past you, clasping you around as you might grasp at
bundled in your clothing, looking outward where the night grows white & quiet.

There’s a halflight that survives you. Now we’re warming ourselves in it, resting,
hugging, hearing streamsounds,
loving peace as you did, finding that our eyes, turned to the sky, observe a man there,
hearing what we hear, whose kisses promise sweetness, being who he is, but turn to ice
before us,
talking through the night while wearing many coats against its dimness, friends together,
filming trees & raising eyebrows, hearing, hugging, kissing, melting ice against our
out in the night air, trading coats.

A dimness with no resting, seeking warmth from kisses, needing what a man has always
touching lips to eyelids, talking to each other through the night, a memory of three
no longer a delight for eyes & tongues, with never warmth enough to suit your liking,
bodies poor & old, their pockets long since emptied, naked beings who still freeze
like naked beings,
some dispensing meanings, others begging for attention, listening while walking, slipping
backwards in the night,
its grey trees masking feeling.

Will trees still bring delight, the way old stories made our cheeks turn red or hairsmells
filled our noses?
Will we be clasping something, feeling it slide past us, eyes & teeth revealing what
the night can’t hide?
Where will our clothing be at three o’clock, our pockets empty, trees like fallen friends
around us,
& no telling if there’s starlight, if the night still brings us wonders, trees that once again
are only trees,
each one of us a fallen being, hairsmells heavy in the darkness, noses swollen,
clasping what we can & listening, for what?
Another nightwalk, half forgotten,
where the light turns black.

finished 17.i.05
* * *
A NOTE TO THE PRECEDING. I met Jackson Mac Low in 1960 or 1961, through the intervention, as I recall it, of Diane Wakoski. She had come to New York with LaMonte Young & there was clearly a connection between Jackson & LaMonte through an avant-garde that was centered on John Cage’s presence in New York & the international connections delineated by Fluxus. My first response to Jackson’s aleatory/chance experiments was a degree of puzzlement but a sense beneath that that something real & important was taking place. I fell for him first at a reading in which he introduced the first several of his Light Poems, impressed enough by those so that whatever else he did entered at once into the realm of my possibilities. And this was enhanced still more when he drew me into performing with him (as he did with many others) or, conversely, when he gave himself willingly to my own early attempts (circa 1969 or 70) at fusing poetry with performance. I often performed with him in his Gathas, & he was one of my performers (along with David Antin & Rochelle Owens) in a staged & recorded presentation of “primitive & archaic poetry” (circa 1967) that was the direct forerunner to Technicians of the Sacred.
Our friendship lasted from then until 2004, when he died at the age of 82. By then he was one of my essential compadres, & I like to think that I played the same role for him & that whatever it was between us, it worked to our mutual advantage as individuals & poets. After I left New York for good – in 1976 – there was hardly a return trip in which Jackson (& later Jackson &Anne Tardos) wasn’t there as a dear companion & confederate.
In 1997 Jackson celebrated his 75th birthday in New York, or rather it was celebrated for him by a number of friends & admirers. I was in Paris at the time but prepared a poem in three parts, a suite of “night poems” as a kind of rhyming response (in title & theme) to Jackson’s “light poems.” Five years later I added a fourth part, a series of variations off a lexicon of words provided by Jackson’s early Night Walk (1960). I read these for him at his 80th birthday celebration in St Mark’s Church, with the promise that I would continue to do these for every subsequent fifth-year celebration. After his death in 2004 I compacted the final variations on his Night Walk into a poem “in memoriam” – not an elegy so much as a poem in commemoration of his works & of our lives together.
A year or two after the writing Charlie Morrow & I brought the several poems for Jackson into a single musical work, In Memoriam Jackson Mac Low, & produced it privately as a commemorative CD. The performance can now be heard along with Charlie Morrow’s An Awakening for Jackson Mac Low on Penn Sound (, & copies of the CD are obtainable through New Wilderness Audiographics at Mac Low’s own performances can be heard on many internet sites – an introduciton to the possibilities of performance & of poetry not to be missed.

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