—Photos by Katy Brown, Davis, CA
The latest thing, if serious trends are things,
is taking stock of our white privilege.
So YouTube tells us, if we care to dredge,
this residue, this stubborn substance, clings
to our words: Long time no see is pidgin talk,
one tic drawn from the stereotype-stacked deck
of cartoon, cardboard Asians. Racist dreck
sinks deep roots: how to uproot the conquest stalk?
I see my pale midriff swell with the Bulge,
marbling me telltale white—quite different than
the malnutrition bulge distending Tran’s
or Yasmin’s tiny bellies: we can indulge.
What change comes of our knowing? What can be done?
I do blush, reflecting, “Free, white, and twenty-one.”
SAMUEL JOHNSON, DICTIONARY MAKER,
REGARDS HIS PATRON LORD CHESTERFIELD
And I may hope, my Lord, [to be] considered as exercising a
kind of vicarious jurisdiction…as the delegate of your Lordship.
—Johnson, from The Plan of a Dictionary (1747)
… I hereby declare that I make a total surrender of all my rights
and privileges in the English language, as a free-born British
subject, to the said Mr. Johnson, during the term of his dictatorship.
—Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield,
puffing Johnson’s forthcoming Dictionary in The World
I write the letter I now write, spurning your help,
my Lord, to demonstrate that no raw-boned whelp
of letters, albeit a word-defining drudge,
sends words that can sting; I will not humbly trudge
nor truckle to great ones, conscious of Degree
(yours) versus degree (mine). I came soon to see
what you imply: you figuratively submit
to my Dictatorship over the flutter and flit
of meanings. Quickly you must have read my Plan,
tendered to you so long ago. The least scan
should divulge my wish to be understood as only
a deputy to your Lordship in the lonely
toil of registering language clear and strong,
far less aberrant, and fitter to linger long.
Style me Arbiter over a lexical Inquisition,
and you lodge me in a basely false position.
If you speak in jest, I appear so much more the drudge;
if in truth, my impudence is my blot, my smudge.
Read clearly and well the missive I hereby send.
Soon we shall see who has most, and first, to mend.
IT ALL FITS!
The poetry of [Californian] Nora May French [1883-1907]
possesses its own kind of cosmic consciousness… her work
does partake of the general imaginative flair that exists in
much popular art and literature before World War I.
Young Arnold Bax was always under some spell;
he would have run away to Ireland forever,
but “the exigencies of one’s own life” do tell.
For only in Ireland could Bax find the Never
made River and Realm. And, speaking of Ireland, Ireland
—John, fellow composer—proved equally devoted
to mysticisms, odd entities of Desireland,
uncharted since Magick’s music cannot be noted.
John Ireland befriended Arthur Machen,
the writer of tales of Otherworld, the Weird,
acquainted also with “AE” Russell and Yeats,
like Bax. And Machen reviewed, as one endeared,
Clark Ashton Smith’s fantastic outer-space krakens.
From Smith, reach back to Sterling, Coolbrith, Bierce
and Nora May French, whose poem “The Outer Gate”
stamps her as doomed; her life-denying, fierce
brand of affirmation, starved all her young life
for Nature under the tantalizing stars,
brought from CAS a grief-poem, scars
carved in their school’s literature by psychic knife:
She, tingeing their artistry with her suicide,
bound tighter that California conclave: unified
by flesh-and-ghost-commitment to one Spirit,
connecting their sense of the illusory Real
to that more durable, more mystic grace
that stretches beyond our skins, that Unreal space
insinuating with tugs, faint taps, and strains
of music eerily drumming on windowpanes
what it most hesitantly aims to reveal,
that fingertip sense of realms between conceal
and feel: with tingling vibrations, every shiver
receiving a breeze to substantiate a Giver.
We know this caress administered without hands
whenever music imposes its demands
to register desires no one alive can desire,
nor any two skins lit up with telepathy-fire
deny. It all fits! Realms upon realms, no border,
just artists communing with not one connecting wire,
owning no gold like metal gold held by the hoarder.
From Wales to Dublin to Carmel to Auburn* nearby,
Great Ones long since dissolved to spectral status
will sing, murmur amongst themselves yet straight at us;
compose—no inkstained pages, farewells or lies—
inscriptions on twilight, or inside veined lids, shut eyes…
*Clark Ashton Smith lived almost his whole life in the
outskirts of Auburn, and Ambrose Bierce resided in
downtown Auburn for a few years.
JOHN IRELAND, PIANO CONCERTO
IN E FLAT, MOVEMENT TWO
Your reverie starts with a motif shaped like a sigh,
faint breath from an ancient rhapsody drawn out
silken as from the worm that knows to ply
one thread unfathomably supple, soft, stout:
long melody through-composed, much like Ravel
in his Concerto’s slow movement: the difference this,
Ravel’s melancholy confers no such intimate kiss
as yours, Ireland, unfurls in soft reveal:
just now, love’s pleasance turns agonized, awestruck; here
block chords turn bliss to pain-wracked discord thunder;
such dreading ecstasy connotes love’s fear:
subside, fear, once more to sighs reconciling with wonder.
Clairvoyant ghosts: flute first, then violin, partners piano:
sing, telepathy. Steal in, tympani, nightshade-slow…
BAX’S OTHER IRELAND
Hearing your E-Flat Major Piano Concerto,
John Ireland, I trace emotional links to Bax:
Bax dedicated his Symphony One to you.
Yet in at-first-warm friendships, ties grow lax.
The affair he led with your Gweneth. What to do
but grimace with grinding teeth the while one racks
one’s malice for any good strategy short of, Sue.
Do only Debussy’s filles have hair of flax?
Your Helen Perkin performed with fire and strength
this opus you gifted her: languor, wit, ecstasy
equal to Arnold’s; the work soared, then even She
despaired of your love’s demands and left at length…
(Fleur Adcock relates in verse the at-first-sweet facts).
Surely you must have reconciled with Bax.
I learn your concerto was played by Rubinstein:
Ah spice that mulled Chopin, stirred into this ruby wine!
SLOW RIDE IN A FAST MACHINE*
I bought myself a car a while ago, something I had never
dreamed of before …I wish I could take you for a ride—
I like speedy-looking cars, to drive slowly, however.
—Elizabeth Bishop, letter of 12/8/53 to Marianne Moore
She takes her time, the “famous eye,” rides and inspects
where quick-alternating patches, light, shadow, light, shadow
play across broad-bladed leaves, odd underglow
sheening underneath: ’53 MG sedately swerving
heights San Francisco-giddy; though this is Brazil.
Basket-wove spokes on each wheel, car waxy clean
insect-black. Strange look, low-slung, the machine
Wehrmacht staff-car or cacao-colonel uptight,
yet innocent gaiety surmounts these redolences: light
bounces off her car as the car itself bounces the jolts.
Her eye might ride in an early Gemini spaceship, still-
seeming; below, hundreds of miles a second curving;
she spies her Gemini partner-ship, the one thing
she’s trained her eye precisely to light on, at speed.
Oh, she sees much, indeed;
records, and all the while slow past Ipe-roxo,
vast stands of eucalyptus, camphor, cedar, Pernambuco,
each thing eye-inventoried; her sports car runs look-and-go.
The criss-cross banana thatches, the various verdures, forest green
or verdigris, watermelon-skin or chartreuse,
all patchwork-leavened with near-black or with sheen
pupil-striking with glints, sun-copper or shocking blue bolts
whose one startling use
is to blind, and then submerge,
retracted periscope startle; the eye self-heals.
On, the revolve of wheels. Past the Santos-Dumont house.
From her small car
to actual touch of these broad sleek leaves must seem quite far;
yet she rides rolling quite near. She drives,
as the life all around her to her quick eye unhives.
Dizzy the elevator ups and downs,
the MG sashays and sambas a slo-mo careen,
Samambaia, Mangalarga, Alcobacinha, no telling where to.
Things tripwire, sights invert: shadow glares while sunlight gowns
plants uncharted dark-nimbused in mystery.
This is much of her history,
as the underhood fanbelt swirls like a river ocean
around flywheels greased with ancient grease,
car dancing to the momentum of slow reveal.
She drives and observes without cease.
Her sports car, swerving slow, runs look and go.
*Apologies to John Adams, composer of Short Ride
in a Fast Machine
Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.
—Medusa, with our thanks to Tom Goff and Katy Brown for today’s fine poetry and pix!
—Photo by Katy Brown
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