The Nacreous Oughts

30 April 2004


He could not fall so far,
Nor ever be so lost in a murmuration
Of dreams as not to lie
Still on the startled path of evocation.

Whose voice was it that scattered
The deep defence of sleep, that flattered
The dubious brain into escapade?

It was the frigid hour of resurrection
When he arose, and night drew back
From the body that slid from all correction,
Whose implacable face
Knew the blotted road and the empty appointed place."

J. R. Hervey

29 April 2004

A GLIMPSE OF HUMMINGBIRD POETICS. I was talking with Jack Ruby Hummingbird, whose poems I have sometimes featured here, and I told him I'd noticed he sometimes repeats words in different places. It turns out he has a whole theory about this. His poems, if you recall, invariably take the form of four lines of four words each. If a word appears in one place on a line, chances are it appears in a different place on any other line he uses it in. But according toJack, that's just the beginning. These repetitions are a special case of something he refers to as "moieties". A "moiety" is a repetition of any sort, whether complete or only of similars. "Rock" on one line, and "stone" on another, are the same moiety; "red" and "blue likewise. Well, his practice allows also for the occurence of the same moiety in the same position, with the following results. No matches, is like the clean feeling of a summer sunrise (this one he most prefers). Two matches--
0 0 X 0
X 0 0 0
0 0 X 0
0 X 0 0
--a double, because two occurences of an X are in the third column--is like maybe a far off cloud in the sky, but no weather approaching. Three is like massed clouds darkening. And four is a storm.

K. S.

28 April 2004

"The sea-shell

It may be, night, you don't need me;
Out of the world's abyss,
Like a shell without pearls,
I'm hurled on your shores.

You stir the waves indifferently
And incorrigibly sing;
But you shall loyally esteem
This equivocal, unnecessary thing.

You lie down on the sand close by,
Wrap your chasuble around,
And indissolubly bind to the shell
The colossal bell of the waves.

The walls of the brittle shell,
Like a heart where no one lives,
Your whispering spray shall fill
With wind and rain and mist."

Osip Mandelshtam (translated by James Greene) in The Eyesight of Wasps (1989)

27 April 2004

"How Old is My Heart?

How old is my heart, how old, how old is my heart?
and did I ever go forth with song when the morn was new?
I seem to have trod on many ways, I seem to have left
"I know not how many homes; and to leave each
was still to leave a portion of mine own heart,
of my old heart whose life I had spent to make that home.
So I sit and muse in this wayside harbour and wait
till I hear the gathering cry of the ancient winds and again
I must up and out and leave the embers of the hearth
to crumble silently into white ash and dust,
and see the road stretch bare and pale before me: again
my garment and my home shall be the enveloping winds
and my heart be filled wholly with their old pitiless cry."

Christopher Brennan

26 April 2004

"The Ecclesiast

'Worse than the sunflower,' she had said.
But the new dimension of truth had only recently
Burst in on us. Now it was to be condemned.
And in vagrant shadow her mothball truth is eaten.
In cool, like-it-or-not shadow the humdrum is consumed.
Tired housewives begat it some decades ago,
A small piece of truth that if it was honey to the lips
Was also millions of miles from filling theb place reserved for it.
You see how honey crumbles your universe
Which seems like an institution--how many walls?

Then everything, in her belief, was to be submerged
And soon. There was no life you could live out to its end
And no attitude which, in the end, would save you.
The monkish and the frivolous alike were to be trapped in death's capacious claw
But listen while I tell you about the wallpaper--
There was a key to everything in that oak forest
But a sad one. Ever since childhood there
Has been this special meaning to everything.
You smile at your friend's joke, but only later, through tears.

For the shoe pinches, even though it fits perfectly.
Apples were made to be gathered, also the whole host of the world's aiolments and troubles.
There is no time like the present for giving in to this temptation.
Tomorrow you'll weep--what of it? There is time enough
Once the harvest is in and the animals put away for the winter
To stand at the uncomprehending window cultivating the desert
With salt tears which will never do anyone any good.
My dearest I am as a galleon on salt billows.
Perfume my head with forgetting all about me.

For some day these projects will return.
The funereal voyage over ice-strewn seas is ended.
You wake up forgetting. Already
Daylight shakes you in the yard.
The hands remain empty. They are constructing an osier basket
Just now, and across the sunlight darkness is taking root anew
In intense activity. You shall never have seen it just this way
And that is to be your one reward.

Fine vapors escape from whatever is doing the living.
The night is cold and delicate and full of angels
Pounding down the living. The factories are all lit up,
The chime goes unheard.
We are together at lasdt, though far apart."

From Rivers and Mountains by johnAshbery.

24 April 2004

"Chapter VII The Hunting of the Snark.

Whoever shares innthe chase deserves the proize. Each wagon edges towards the clearing where thevfire has already been lighted by neighbors.

hese animals distinguish us by our smells. This one has a red smell, this a green, this a purple. They are all alive. They have no ambition to destroy us.

e sit around the campfire and sing songs of snark-hunting. One of us has been to Africa and knows the dangers of what we seek. Our clors and our smells glisten in the smoke toward the waiting flock.

What we have said or sung or tearfully remembered can disappear in the waiting fire. W are snark-hunters. Brave, as we disappear into the clkearing."

From The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether by Jack Spicer.

23 April 2004

Possum fur is good for you.

K. S.

PS I hate to say it, but I had to find out about this from Boing Boing. Who knew?
"Promised Land

Dispart the frost-white boughs, and lo!
The world of winter, mile on mile;
Wind-wavy seas of unplumbed snow,
Then endless peaks and one defile.

The high elect would fear to cross
Those wastes unconquerable, ideal:
There lies your path; count all as loss,
Cast armour by, lay down your steel;

For you shall walk the sheer gulf's brink,
Through glass-blue caves all brittle spars
And flaws. Thereafter you shall sink,
Snowblind in slush, beneath the stars."

Charles Spear

22 April 2004

"Return To Exile

She lay all night between the hot wind's hands.
In a sheen of moonlight once a sun burned
darkly in her thighs.

The wanderer home
rehearsed his loneliness in tales
of orchards and tall cliffs where flowers
grew like a disease, foaming on every rock.
And some found there the answer to their act
but he had drawn the beach and swung his keel
into a newer ocean. Still his sex
positive as a needle pointed on
till he returned from a facetious legend, came
a dark sun in the midnight of her memory
after what century of absence to the arms
he had escaped in seven separate oceans.
She was the danger in the sirens' cry
the agent desperate of his enemy
whose song the dip-wing terns brought
whose hands curled the threads of drag and breeze
and tightened home. He laboured. He found.
All night she lay between the hot wind's hands
voyaging through with a ghost grace, with
the grief of a whisper voyaging."



Alas, Jennifer...

K. S.

21 April 2004


Hid near a lily-spangled stream,
The wild duck smooths his satin breast;
A league back, shattered hauberks gleam;
The wall no longer guards the West.

The crystal willow boughs of spring
Shimmer above on pearl-shell skies,
And Balthasar sets signet-ring
To war-dispatches full of lies."

Charles Spear

20 April 2004

Long walks, down to the waterfront and back. The things I learn that way are so far from being comprehensible, they are like pebbles I thought I was picking up and when I get home turn out to be stars.

K. S.

19 April 2004

The things that are otherwise than they are, why should that make any difference, really? You just go through the motions like nothing has changed. Certainly no one could guess from your actions or your demeanor that certain of the traffic lights have turned into old fashioned gallows, each festooned with its corpse and feeding ravens.

K. S.

17 April 2004

This came to me on the Buffalo Poetics List: "The Silence of the Sasquatch". I believe it must be some sort of epic about the American Bunyip.

K. S.

16 April 2004


September was when it began.
Locusts dying in the fields; our dogs
Silent, moving like shadows on a wall;
And strange worms crawling; flies of a kind
We had never seen before; huge vineyard moths;
Badgers and snakes, abandoning
Their holes in the field; the fruit gone rotten;
Queer fungi sprouting; the fields and woods
Covered with spiderwebs; black vapours
Rising from the earth--all these,
And more, began that fall. Ravens flew round
The hospital in pairs. Where there was water,
We could hear the sound of beating clothes
All through the night. We could not count
All the miscarriages, the quarrels, the jealousies.
And one day in a field I saw
A swarm of frogs, swollen and hideous,
Hundreds upon hundreds, sitting on each other,
Huddled together, silent, ominous,
And heard the sound of rushing wind."
By Weldon Kees

15 April 2004

PROSEPOEM. The next thing I knew I was enveloped in a strange gray, weird holocaust. As though from a million miles away, separated by enormous leagues of time and space, I could hear what sounded like rifle fire and confused shouting. And then the hypnotic effect of the crystalline flooring seemed to overcome me completely, and I sank down with my face against those reflective, translucent angles, and was mirrored a thousand times in the depths of the strange cylinder. The grey mist got denser and denser, and I was aware of a strange thrumming, whirring noise in my ears; a noise as of a thousand dynamos puffing relentlessly on, as though I were enmeshed in the bowels of some machine, some superb technological masterpiece. And yet there was nothing to be seen but the grey opalescent light that rose and fell in intensity, and I in my semi-conscious state was filled with a feeling of complete and utter unreality. What was this weird cylinder? Where was I? There was a strange sensation of motion, and yet it was not motion as we understand it. It was rather the hallucinatory feeling that we get when sitting in a train at the station, waiting to pull out. We watch another train pull past us, and we get the feeling that it is us, and not the other train, that is moving. The greyness grew deeper, became tinged with purple, and the purple in turn gave way to the blackness of night. The blackness grew thicker and darker and deeper, until it became Stygian in its intensity, until it became almost as tangible as black velvet. I felt that it was crushing me, suffocating me, forcing itself into my lungs and my eyes. I felt like a man who is drowning in a barrel of darkness. It was thick, terrifyingly thick, and it was everywhere.

K. S.

14 April 2004

"The ocean is a desert with its life underground." That's from a band called America (unless the sorry reproduction of this pirate cassette's inside box lid cardboard has cut something of, and it's really just FROM--America).

K. S.

13 April 2004

I want to make sure no one misunderstands me: I did NOT get food poisoning at that lovely, affordable, Thai restaurant which remains one of my favorite havens (even though I mostly--well, invariably--dine alone). Not EVER.

K. S.

12 April 2004

Could SHARPNESS be something like, the Calm before the Storm? That tingling at the roots of your every hair, that signals either a thunderstorm, or a really profound insight? Yes?

Or is SHARPNESS like a paper cut, so thin it's invisible to the unaided eye, yet so agonizing you almost want to throw yourself in front of a lorry just to make it please stop?

Or is SHARPNESS a state of mind--a Sealy Posturepedic as a bed of nails, a blunt blank wall the brush of a thousand razory claws?

SHARPNESS is a certain colour of the sky, nameless, insatiable even after devouring a whole Sun.

K. S.

10 April 2004

"Song of Tinbum Kelly

The eagles in the middle air
Have built their strident nest,
But Old Jack Kelly's heart nowhere
Has found a moment's rest.

The fecund knowledge of the night
Dies again in day's light.

My first wife was a harlot,
We loved but could not agree.
My second wife is a Protestant,
We live in felo de se.

Between the sheets all flesh is news,
A goose's neck is a barnacle goose.

These hands have helped many a mare
To drop her long-legged foal;
Flanagan's too, before he died
Like a ferret in a hole.

It is my job to understand
The bar room clock that has no hands.

But holy love and hell's disgrace
Blaze from the bent sky
A man's face and woman's face
In the twinkling of an eye.

All the wisdom I have gained
I had more when I was weaned.

The mercy of God is a dum-dum bullet
With Old Jack Kelly's name upon it.

--James K. Baxter

09 April 2004

Maori TV.
Link from Parking lot.
Found a katipo in my shoe.

K. S.

08 April 2004

WRITER'S BLOCK. What is it, where does it come from, what can be done about it? I forgot the magic words, does that mean Magic itself is a lie? Apparently.

Sometimes it is only bashfulness before the enormity of what we are to be called to do next. Sometimes it's sheer stupefying lack of talent. Sometimes it's not having the right kind of ink pen and note paper to write with.

As Empson says, "The waste remains, the waste remains and kills."

K. S.

07 April 2004

Can anybody tell me: what is "AWP"--?

It sounds like some sort of post-avant WOODSTOCK...

K. S.
Jennifer really pulled it out of the hat. Could she be in the running again?

Only Time will tell.

K. S.
As I was emerging from the Thai restaurant on Dominion Road, I was struck by a very peculiar feeling. Suddenly everything seemed, well, WRONG. Like I was not really there, but somewhere else--oh, maybe 2 miles away! And this was not a simple case of food poisoning (God knows I've had plenty of that)--it was definitely an alteration in my relationship to the Real. As if some diabolical substitution had been made in my momentary absence. These cars, buildings, people, trees--were NOT what they appeared to be.

They had become something ELSE.

And stayed that way.

Troubling thoughts, on the eve of a great work.

K. S.

03 April 2004

"Incident at Matauri

Shags or, they say, occasional a white
heron print a waste of beach between tides.
Like catchcries fallen from that air bright
brown are surprising seaweeds. There's no wharf
either way, miles; thread foam trails sand
below day broken on rough grazing, or a land
clipped by sheep. There no calls descend
through speculations down. Only the shell,
weed, tussock, cutty grass, scrub and rub
of the wearing wind serpentines a minute
from what we mean by it, designing bay or bluff.
Space, largely, fills vision and prospect, and could
be bare except seas flow or those islands curl.

Look out then if you go that way by the east
holding your native sense to that nothing
complete in its now estates.

A morning took
two, thought them secure, by a small flurry,
(they left their cat sleeping out the fire)
with dawn a sail away from their fished channel.
Took two, with tackle ready, motor going.
Nothing rolled down the pebbles after them.
Space, suppose largely, was before them.

Print by print or at the lost step hemmed
a morning light surprised on those beaches
thread of foam and the motor's distant rocking.
Rocking and distant the islands slept."

Kendrick Smithyman

02 April 2004

Jolly good.

K. S.
I had just written this much of a new poem:

Raelian Roaring Forties, zemstvo
Of subjunctive Ruthenium, yes?
Hardly, but still.

--when I was interrupted by a person from Wanganui, who kept me for over an hour. By the time I could get back to writing, I had completely lost track of what I had been thinking of!

How terrible to lose a poem like that.

I guess the moral of this story is: NEVER INTERRUPT A POET.

K. S.

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