Pulling out of the old scarred skin (old rough thing I don't need now I strip off slip out of leave behind) I slough off deadscales flick skinflakes to the ground Shedding toughness peeling layers down to vulnerable stuff And I'm blinking off old eyelids for a new way of seeing By the rock I rub against I'm going to be tender again
I Named Her--Annette Notebook
about two years ago elly and i decided we needed a new mattress or maybe elly decided it because i didnt pay much attention to the problem we had an old mattress wed had it for years and the salesman wed bought it from had assured us it would last us a lifetime and it was getting older and lumpy or lumpy in some places and hollowed out in others and i just assumed it was part of a normal process of aging it was getting older we were getting older and wed get used to it but eleanor has a bad back and she was getting desperate to get rid of this mattress that had lived with us for such a long time and so lotally that i thought i knew all its high points and low points its eminences and pitfalls and i was sure that at night my body worked its way carefully around the lumps dodging the precipices and moving to solider ground whenever it could but maybe eleanor sleeps more heavily than i do i have a feeling that i spent much of my life at night avoiding the pitfalls of this mattress that i was used to and it was a skill id acquired over the ten or fifteen years of this mattress’ life so I felt there was no reason to get rid of this mattress that had been promised to us by a salesman who said it would last the rest of our lives i figured we were going to live long lives i didnt think we were anywhere close to dying so neither was the mattress but eleanor kept waking up with backaches still i figured it was a good mattress and that elly just didnt have enough skill at avoiding the lumps it never occurred to me that the mattress was at fault so i didnt do anything and elly didnt do anything because shes not into consumer products and hates to go shopping but by the end of a year elly convinced me because she has a sensitive back and i dont that she had a more accurate understanding of this business than i did so I said sure eleanor lets get a new mattress were rebuilding the house as long as were going to have a new house we may as well have a new mattress but eleanor said how will i know its a good one i dont want to get another mattress that gets hollowed and lumpy and gives me backaches when i wake up how will i know how to get a good one i said well open the yellow pages and well look up mattresses and therell be several places that sell them and ill close my eyes and point a finger at one of these places and it will be a place that has lots of mattresses where we can make a choice as to what constitutes a good one by lying on them
I Admitted to the hospital again. The second bout of pneumocystis back In January almost killed him; then, He'd sworn to us he'd die at home. He baked Us cookies, which the student wouldn't eat, Before he left--the kitchen on 5A Is small, but serviceable and neat. He told me stories: Richard Gere was gay And sleeping with a friend if his, and AIDS Was an elaborate conspiracy Effected by the government. He stayed Four months. He lost his sight to CMV. II One day, I drew his blood, and while I did He laughed, and said I was his girlfriend now, His blood-brother. "Vampire-slut," he cried, "You'll make me live forever!" Wrinkled brows Were all I managed in reply. I know I'm drowning in his blood, his purple blood. I filled my seven tubes; the warmth was slow To leave them, pressed inside my palm. I'm sad Because he doesn't see my face. Because I can't identify with him. I hate The fact that he's my age, and that across My skin he's there, my blood-brother, my mate. III He said I was too nice, and after all If Jodie Foster was a lesbian, Then doctors could be queer. Residual Guilts tingled down my spine. "OK, I'm done," I said as I withdrew the needle from His back, and pressed. The CSF was clear; I never answered him. That spot was framed In sterile, paper drapes. He was so near Death, telling him seemed pointless. Then, he died. Unrecognizable to anyone But me, he left my needles deep inside His joking heart. An autopsy was done. IV I'd read to him at night. His horoscope, The New York Times, The Advocate; Some lines by Richard Howard gave us hope. A quiet hospital is infinite, The polished, ice-white floors, the darkened halls That lead to almost anywhere, to death Or ghostly, lighted Coke machines. I call To him one night, at home, asleep. His breath, I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips Had touched. I felt as though I'd touched a shrine. Not disrespectfully, but in some lapse Of concentration. In a mirror shines The distant moon.
Of all the ways of forgetting not turning the pilot on is not the worst The house is intact you are floating in time buckets of it streaming through the windows youth turned it up I think or on & fell asleep Remembering to do. You are too intact the dappled sunlight on the lawn or pots of darkness like salt instead of depths Still once I turned it up the popping commenced like applause for the present tense the site of my sway Larry's new car is wide & safe a woman's voice conducts us left & right she's crazy he laughs again & again my shrink said buy it now about the car I told him about my phenomenal streak of winning & when the stakes rose I began to bid low & not at all I could have won; you choked he said. Woof. To not choke is I suppose to experience to hold it in & go forth though you need the heat The sun had not done more suddenly for a while it's like we took off our skin and said it is hot. It's like we sold our skin & said where did everyone go? when the weather's too hot for comfort & we can't have ice-cream cones it ain't no sin to take off your skin & dance around in your bones
and i was thinking about this while i was flying toward iowa and thinking about how everyone was going to be trying to locate the avant-garde and about how almost everyone was going to agree that it would involve either shocking or making it new and and that i was supposed to be talking about this too and i realized i was going to be confused because practically every role classically attributed to the avant-garde has been preempted by something else and i reflected that i myself have never really had a clear image of what it was to be avant-garde though ive been thrust into the role often enough to know what it feels like to be avant-garde a friend of mine had written a book marjorie perloff had written a book dealing with american poetry as a kind of french connection as opposed to the english connection which is conventionally supposed for it in the schools now i personally think there are many roots to contemporary american poetry certainly my poetry and the poetry i admire but i also know what writing a book means in a book you have to organize your ideas pretty much one thing at a time if its an important thing and you want to really get it done and this is a book designed to challenge what i have always thought of as the anglophiliac model of american poetry that is so dominant in those literary strongholds east of the mississippi or the connecticut river north of the monongahela that are so strongly devoted to an anglican passion that they give the impression of some kind of outpost in a novel by huxley or evelyn waugh where the people are sitting around on a veranda sipping their gin slings in the shade of the local textile factory or integrated circuit fabricating plant dreaming of playing polo or cricket or rugby in the greener older playing fields at eton or harrow which they may never have seen being often second generation eastern european jews from brooklyn or queens or lithuanians from indiana or lutherans from wisconsin and somehow there they are gathered on the veranda in new haven or manhattan in memory of the british empire of which they are among the last supports and several columns of which this book is probably intended to take away or maybe more precisely this books is only bringing the news to these outposts that the british empire has long since passed away and that the messages from england would no longer be coming and had not been coming for a long time and that there was a french connection as there is a russian connection and a spanish connection and for many a chinese connection or japanese connection there are lots of connections in this world but in a book you have to do one thing at a time the world may not happen one thing at a time but in a book you have to tell one thing at a time and my friend was invited to washington to be part of a discourse with some of these english emigres and refugees among whom were numbered harold bloom and john hollander and richard howard who are certainly distinguished members of the refugee community now marjorie was giving a talk based on the last chapter of her most recent book the poetics of indeterminacy the last chapter of which happens to deal with john cage and with me and whatever differences there may be between cage and me and these are considerable we were both obliterated by the righteous wrath of harold bloom who had hardly heard more than our names when he denounced the proceedings as ridiculous and us as nonpoets and stormed off the stage i was told about this performance of blooms and though it was wonderful and forgot about it but it was not long afterward that i was invited out to the very same place to do a talk performance on the folger librarys little shakespearean stage and it happened that when i came to do the performance i had something serious in mind because a friend of mine had died two or three days before after a sudden and unexpected hospitalization from which we had all hoped she would come out alive and i wanted to make my piece a kind of homage a mediation and speculation on the nature of her life and death so in the course of things i told her story or what i knew of it and i tried to consider the nature of the fit between the life we lead and the death we get and what i wanted to think about was whether there was such a fit and if there was what kind it was and i did the best i could under the circumstances of being there then which is my image of what an artist does and is somebody who does the best he can under the circumstances without worrying about making it new or shocking because the best you can do depends upon what you have to do and where and if you have to invent something new to do the work at hand you will but not if you have a ready-made that will work and is close at hand and you want to get on with the rest of the business then youll pick up the tool thats there a tool that somebody else has made that will work and youll lean on it and feel grateful when its good to you for somebody elses work and youll think of him as a friend who wold borrow as freely from you if he thought of it or needed to because there is a community of artists who dont recognize copyrights and patents or shouldnt except under unusual circumstances who send each other tools in the mail or exchange them in conversation in a bar though i had a couple of friends from whom i got a lot of things in the mail who got very nervous about exchanging things with each other because they had ileana sonnabend looking over their shoulders and one of them got so distressed because he had ileana looking over his shoulder forbidding him to collaborate with the other friend that when he wrote the text for the others installation performance he never put his name on it but this is an unusual situation and i only mention it because of that
At the fence line, I was about to call him in when, at two-thirds profile, head down and away from me, he fell first to his left front knee and then the right, and he was down, dead before he hit the... My father saw him drop, too, and a neighbor, who walked over. He was a good horse, old, foundered, eating grass during the day and his oats and hay at night. He didn't mind or try to boss the cows with which he shared these acres. My father said: "Happens." Our neighbor walked back to his place and was soon grinding towards us with his new backhoe, of which he was proud but so far only used to dig two sump holes. It was the knacker we'd usually call to haul away a cow. A horse, a good horse, you buried where he, or she, fell. Our neighbor cut a trench beside the horse and we pushed him in. I'd already said goodbye before I closed his eyes. Our neighbor returned the dirt. In it, there were stones, stones never, never seen before by a human's, nor even a worm's, eye. Malcolm, our neighbor's name, returned the dirt from where it came and, with the back of a shovel, we tamped it down as best we could. One dumb cow stood by. It was a Friday, I remember, for supper we ate hot dogs, with beans on buttered white bread, every Friday, hot dogs and beans.
How much grit do you think you've got? Can you quit a thing that you like a lot? You may talk of pluck; it's an easy word, And where'er you go it is often heard; But can you tell to a jot or guess Just how much courage you now possess? You may stand to trouble and keep your grin, But have you tackled self-discipline? Have you ever issued commands to you To quit the things that you like to do, And then, when tempted and sorely swayed, Those rigid orders have you obeyed? Don't boast of your grit till you've tried it out, Nor prate to men of your courage stout, For it's easy enough to retain a grin In the face of a fight there's a chance to win, But the sort of grit that is good to own Is the stuff you need when you're all alone. How much grit do you think you've got? Can you turn from joys that you like a lot? Have you ever tested yourself to know How far with yourself your will can go? If you want to know if you have grit, Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit. It's bully sport and it's open fight; It will keep you busy both day and night; For the toughest kind of a game you'll find Is to make your body obey your mind. And you never will know what is meant by grit Unless there's something you've tried to quit.
You do not do, you do not do Any more, black shoe In which I have lived like a foot For thirty years, poor and white, Barely daring to breathe or Achoo. Daddy, I have had to kill you. You died before I had time-- Marble-heavy, a bag full of God, Ghastly statue with one gray toe Big as a Frisco seal And a head in the freakish Atlantic Where it pours bean green over blue In the waters off beautiful Nauset. I used to pray to recover you. Ach, du. In the German tongue, in the Polish town Scraped flat by the roller Of wars, wars, wars. But the name of the town is common. My Polack friend Says there are a dozen or two. So I never could tell where you Put your foot, your root, I never could talk to you. The tongue stuck in my jaw. It stuck in a barb wire snare. Ich, ich, ich, ich, I could hardly speak. I thought every German was you. And the language obscene An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew. The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna Are not very pure or true. With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack I may be a bit of a Jew. I have always been scared of you, With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo. And your neat mustache And your Aryan eye, bright blue. Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-- Not God but a swastika So black no sky could squeak through. Every woman adores a Fascist, The boot in the face, the brute Brute heart of a brute like you. You stand at the blackboard, daddy, In the picture I have of you, A cleft in your chin instead of your foot But no less a devil for that, no not Any less the black man who Bit my pretty red heart in two. I was ten when they buried you. At twenty I tried to die And get back, back, back to you. I thought even the bones would do. But they pulled me out of the sack, And they stuck me together with glue. And then I knew what to do. I made a model of you, A man in black with a Meinkampf look And a love of the rack and the screw. And I said I do, I do. So daddy, I'm finally through. The black telephone's off at the root, The voices just can't worm through. If I've killed one man, I've killed two-- The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year, Seven years, if you want to know. Daddy, you can lie back now. There's a stake in your fat black heart And the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you. They always knew it was you. Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
12 October 1962
Very quick. Very intense, like a wolf
at a live heart, the sun breaks down.
What is important is to avoid
the time allotted for disavowels
as the livid wound
leaves a trace leaves an abscess
takes its contraction for those clouds
that dip thunder & vanish
like rose leaves in closed jars.
Age approaches, slowly. But it cannot
crystal bone into thin air.
The small hours open their wounds for me.
This is a woman's confession:
I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me.
Sources: [Anne Sexton, Dylan Thomas, Larry Levis, Ingeborg Bachmann, Octavio Paz, Henri Michaux, Agnes Nemes Nagy, Joyce Mansour, William Burroughs, Meret Oppenheim, Mary Low, Adrienne Rich, Carl Sandburg]
Light the first light of evening, as in a room In which we rest and, for small reason, think The world imagined is the ultimate good. This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. It is in that thought that we collect ourselves, Out of all the indifferences, into one thing: Within a single thing, a single shawl Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth, A light, a power, the miraculous influence. Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves. We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole, A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous. Within its vital boundary, in the mind. We say God and the imagination are one... How high that highest candle lights the dark. Out of this same light, out of the central mind, We make a dwelling in the evening air, In which being there together is enough.
Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame. Take the moral law and make a nave of it And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus, The conscience is converted into palms, Like windy citherns hankering for hymns. We agree in principle. That's clear. But take The opposing law and make a peristyle, And from the peristyle project a masque Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness, Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last, Is equally converted into palms, Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm, Madame, we are where we began. Allow, Therefore, that in the planetary scene Your disaffected flagellants, well-stuffed, Smacking their muzzy bellies in parade, Proud of such novelties of the sublime, Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk, May, merely may, madame, whip from themselves A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres. This will make widows wince. But fictive things Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince.
BLACK breathing BLACK at the window Simultaneous The interior eye Opposite watching's touch In what is black white Is by accident The eye detaches As it slips from itself What is black Like sky In its scream Glassed Spins In a straight line Draws along In a spiral Explodes Isn't it your dream to be visible? A luster spins Atop another Grows In buds Pierces The change of season comes In clarities Lifts Airborne High and low Like the light In our touch Angelizes Burnished The dark light that skies in whites And in prayer the refrain repeats Between nude walls Hangs Window against the emanation: Open