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, April 6, 2010

Bob Perelman: for Emma Bernstein


They say
the mind can keep sense alive
for about seven seconds

and that we can register at most
seven things, coins, pebbles, apples,
or six, five

almost nothing.


Maybe that's why
we invented the present
as a place to live, to keep the things we do know,

know so exactly, keep them exactly, keep
all of them, keep what we know

near, at hand, alive in our minds:


It's hard to remember what,
exactly what, the light looked like
all that time ago, what it was saying in such detail, so instantly, hard
to count
all the blackbirds in that pie, the extra-special one, four and
twenty they said it was, but we only see the
released flock, single flying mass
of bodies, each one the only one, the first and only birth.


Such a small set of seconds
to set everything down in,

especially since not everything is here that we love,
which makes it impossible not to want the small set to be utterly
the flock to have swooped right instead of left then up and back,
to have landed in any other tree

than that one.


Not the look of the light, which is clear and vertical,
or soft and childlike, or whatever else our seven seconds dictate, here,
wherever that is,
but how fast it shows us how to read it
and to know in an instant
that it's showing us exactly what is here, and what is not,
that's what makes the seven seconds
so endlessly hard.


Still we see our light, are in it so instantly
that seeing won't let us remember
what it looked like, before

sight turned hard as stone
which barely remembers
its own birth
let alone any of ours.


It is our privilege alone
to disappear,
to never forget that we do,
never forget to set down what must be set down
so that it not be forgotten,
not be lost in all this time:

NOTE. Bob Perelman of course is one of the major poets to have emerged as part of the Language Poetry movement of the 1970s. His over 15 volumes of poetry include Ten to One: Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1999) & more recently Iflife (Roof Books, 2006) & Playing Bodies, in collaboration with painter Francie Shaw (Granary Books, 2004); & his key critical works are The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (Princeton University Press, 1996) & The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky (California UP, 1994). He has also edited Writing/Talks (Southern Illinois University Press), a collection of talks by poets.

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