Poem of the week: Charles North
CADENZA by Charles North
The longer the life
the roomier the harbor.
Well, not exactly…
Partly though. The sails
continuous with the furled and expectant moments
making their sum bad writing (when they write at all).
Yesterday about 10 a.m. Hopkins stopped by. He seemed absorbed.
This morning: gray, rainy, somewhat anxious, eager for the landscape
to proceed… you go first; no you. Suppose
I hold the door for you.
Thank you; but no.
This is a hunch, but I’ll bet
even the Medusa, grim as she was, took a shower
at least once in a while,
tossing her “hair” around until it dried
if not exactly shone—not that anyone could live to tell the tale
or for that matter distinguish between things suddenly petrified
and rock-strewn Greece.
Lately, for some reason,
I’ve grown quite interested in small start-up businesses.
Particularly the choice of locations.
The fact that so many start-ups fail
(whether due to vagaries of economic climate, misreading of neighborhoods
—which I personally believe isn’t given sufficient
credit as an explanation—or just plain mismanagement)
doesn’t seem to diminish their number
let alone the poignancy inherent in ribbon-cutting.
A recent example: one seemingly choice location
almost directly across the street
went begging for an entire year. Finally,
an espresso bar opened—only to close within six months;
followed by a branch of an outfit specializing
in low-cost back massage; and now (already there are signs of imminent failure)
a branch of a discount shoe store chain.
In response to your recent enclosure; let me say, initially,
that it’s o.k., you don’t have to change anything—though I would
at least think about “continuous” preceding “as the stars that shine.”
It’s not that the analogy isn’t evocative; but is that really what starlight
looks like to the naked eye? (Continual? Contiguous? which
would have to be in the extremely rare temporal sense
bringing risks of its own, which I’m not sure you want to risk
since when all is said and done the last thing you want to do is “stop”
your reader). I’m
not, by the way, hinting that everything has to be absolutely clear
or reasonable, visually or in any other way. Have you thought
about trying it as a pantoum, or sestina?
It must be true, mustn’t it
that the more ideas you have
and are able to express in some intelligible form to others
the fuller life is for all concerned—notwithstanding the perfectly natural fear
that the ideas you do have,
for all the fireworks of the night before,
can and frequently do appear wan and even sheepish
in morning sunlight.
“Thinking on paper”
is one aspect. Another is
the ghostly traces of mind that hover
over whatever is in the process of being constructed,
whether lyric poem or midtown office building.
“Ghostly” because the connections
between mind and world are impossible to make out
not to speak of the “rewriting aspect” seemingly built
into the nature of things.
One of the more disturbing ideas, at least in my view,
is that all thinking entails something like
“triage” among competing ideas,
such that the contents of mind
at any given moment aren’t
and can’t be an accurate representation
of the mental processes involved—moreover,
that they mask equally significant mental activity
which hasn’t (for reasons
that are plainly unavailable)
been selected, but which could equally have been so,
given even minuscule variation in our complex mental life.
But this is the point at which the portable typewriter (I
still use one of the old manual ones)
went on the fritz, inconveniently or not;
and I didn’t feel like paying
more to have it repaired than I paid for it originally!
Plus the reconditioning fee I always seem
to get talked into. The Frank Gehry buildings really did move;
but the reality in that case was the dream.
Still, the dream involved ideas.
as former Red Sox slugger Ted Williams
once began a response to a TV interviewer,
it’s as though the outfield fences have been moved in,
leaving less room to maneuver
but a fortiori more opportunity for transcendence.
Nonetheless, the gaps (late afternoon shadows in clumps) remain poignant,
like those “queasy ‘being’ emotions which,”
according to the philosopher Roger Scruton
whom some are inclined to write off as a conservative (and worse),
“lead to drink and metaphysics.”
The shadows twist the argument “like you did last summer.”
How about stopping with the syllepses—or Whitman!
Clearly, I don’t seem to be able to… at least it’s taking a lot more time
than I expected.
As for the day as a whole, it came and went
I think it’s fair to say
minus any notable losses, notwithstanding
the fragment of cornice that broke off
the roof of a pre-war apartment building, grazing a dark green Subaru wagon
but fortunately no passers-by. What Thoreau,
the Thoreau, was doing poking around the construction site
for the new neighborhood Arts Theater
I haven’t a clue, any more than I know
what was in the brown paper bag his mother (it certainly appeared to be)
brought him at approximately noon. Sky earlier not quite angry
as in an “angry throat,” but definitely annoyed.
The city trees, the sycamores, acacias, Callery pears, lindens and gingkoes,
were all waving their arms, clearly delighted to be doing so,
but it is the ginkgoes whose humanity continues to be born anew.
Speaking of which, some believe that as a result
of the current recycling craze
which it certainly is, the very notion of new
is acquiring a negative connotation such as plastic once had
and retains in those areas
where traditional materials such as metal and wood
have demonstrated themselves to be elegant as well as durable,
e.g., certain high-end SLR cameras and the few extant
makes of manual portable typewriters still in production
(though here too, it must be said that quality is more and more being
sacrificed on the altar of brand name gods).
A few light drops have begun falling
close to where the twenty-foot-long, late 50s
mauve Cadillac with the For Sale sticker
was parked seemingly forever, without,
amazingly, being towed or stripped for parts
or otherwise interfered with. At one point light appeared to
shoot out from its fins in reddish squalls
reminiscent of some of Philip Guston’s abstract paintings from the 50s.
And the evening, already fully loaded, drops into
its pumice sea.
North to Reznikoff. The storm
struck as forecast, tearing big branches loose from their moorings,
leaving mature evergreens maimed, bloodied,
in advanced stages of syphilis, diabetes, and osteoporosis,
leaving (for some few minutes afterwards)
a thin wash of blue sky
like the melody that breaks in fleetingly
in the second movement of Chopin’s Second Sonata.
Has there been a literary critical backlash
beginning at the basketball pole
and continuing all the way to the Catskills?
Then I am at the bottom
of an extremely tall, vaguely cylindrical
(something about it reminds me of a freeform glass candy bowl)
swimming pool which has the water painted up the sides
and no clear point of exit or entry.
Far off, near what must be the top, is what looks like
a porthole where, if the pool were in fact filled,
a swimmer could theoretically exit—although
if this were as well the point at which
the water entered, exiting would be problematic to say the least.
The water is painted in a pleasing
—actually dry-looking—powder blue,
more the look and feel of sky than water,
neither realistic nor stylized (in the manner,
say, of a Hokusai) but somewhere between the two.
The English painter David Hockney, who has in fact
painted swimming pools, comes to mind.
All viewpoints coexist, if
not at precisely the same moment, then
within the same spatial/temporal frame,
the tragic, so-called, barely pulled back down
onto its stone bench and efforts to disentangle tragic from comic outlooks
doomed to wrong-headedness if not out-and-out failure.
Like, I have to say, the widow of the English poet and courtier
Sir Walter Raleigh, who kept her dead husband’s head
for weeks beside her bed in a red leather bag. As John Sloan said,
“It makes living, living. It makes starving,
living.” Numerous persons, many out of focus,
rush in and out of a rural train station carrying all their belongings,
stowing them above and underneath their seats,
taking them out again and staggering down platform steps
before doing an about-face while a Sousa march,
“The Thunderer,” blares from the station’s multiple loudspeakers.
It’s not that we say (or ever would),
“It’s a red leather day,” but that
Screwball Tragedy, so-called,
is never far off the mark. Take the names. Take Ajax
and Jocasta and Medea.
I fall upon the books of life, I read.
—Me too. But I find it useful,
at least some of the time, to think in a focused manner
about the writing process,
the “ghost” directing the machine. One
thing I’ve found that doesn’t help
is the word-processing programs that think
they know what it is you’re about to write
before you do and fill in the blanks,
and frequently if not invariably get it wrong
and think you’re writing a report to shareholders
when you’re smack in the middle of your film script or Spenserian sonnet.
Then someone stirs
in the next room and it is as though the roof fell in,
as far as the writing is concerned.
(Then it’s simply too dark to write without a flashlight,
which I don’t have—although, truth to tell, this was the point when the only pencil I had with me broke and, dumb me! I had
completely forgotten to bring along a sharpener
let alone a backup. Eventually finding a local shopkeeper,
a butcher who happened to be open late for business,
I inquired whether he had anything sharp
I could borrow just for a moment. In response,
he sang a few bars of “How High the Moon”
and proved himself prophetic. “Not that sharp!”
we all chimed in, good-naturedly. But I had to miss parts of a late
“down” afternoon, plus early evening, of recording.)
Athena’s famously gray eyes further
signify human limitation, even fundamental lack,
as in our modern notion of “gray areas,”
the limitations built in if often (fortunately) obscured?
The following are congratulated for obtaining their degrees
and instructed to return caps and gowns
(as well as overdue library books) to avoid fines: James Anthony Pinto,
Marilhou Aubry, Philip Kwan, Margarita Komarovsky,
Simonne Pollini, Igor Oytser, Soraya Hazrat Sayeed,
Melissa C. Schouls, Sean S. Samad, Christiana Sciaudone,
Charles Alexander Mujahes, Shirley I. Robinson,
Anna Lisa Bella, Darline Lalanne, Marcia P. Turk,
Motoko Miyama, Joseph C. Scorcia, Rose-Elizabeth DePasquale,
John D. Drinkman, Jr., Amanda Jill Bernstein,
Christopher Edward Quirk, Candida Lynn Tapia, Brian Elmer Taylor,
Richard Edward Heater, Melisa Ng, Ronnie Cummings, with
apologies to any whose names have been misspelled or
unintentionally omitted. Naturally, those who own
their caps and gowns (or who have received written extensions
from the library) are excluded. Be sure the writing is legible.
In a crowded off-Broadway theater,
a heckler refuses to sit down despite mounting threats
from the relatively large audience. Several of the costumed and in some cases
(they are doing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in traditional dress)
though visibly distracted, climb down from the stage
and form a protective ring around him. Bottom
appears to be the ringleader.