It was not my intention to travel in time, watch him distribute dried fruit and sweet crackers to soldiers in hospital, small sums, writing their letters, this was back when you might take it to a cousin to be read under a cut glass lamp. Why do articles fall out over time, or get put back in, is that a good question for the poet if I meet him abroad, aboard one of several no longer extant ferries? I am an alien here with a residency, light alien to me, true hawks starting from the trees at my footfall on gravel, sun-burnt from reading Specimen Days on the small porch across the street from where another poet died or began dying. Some residents request it, others request not to be assigned it, I made no requests, but still end up traveling by tram across wartime Manhattan when the bridge was probably the tallest structure. No, it wouldn’t be completed until, wouldn’t have been completed yet, those are still my favorite tenses, moths around streetlights obscuring the casualty lists I’m trying to read aloud to citizens in formal dress, address, attempting to stay cool and extant. I don’t make any sense in the high desert, grip the yellow can with a toothed wheel, find, instead of coffee, ash, particulate, but brew it and walk over with a cup for him. Wake and reread the section about gifts: it might be worse to love both sides in a war, a general engagement in the woods, to speak of a wound’s “neighborhood” as they remove splinters of bone, worse to admire singing through candlelit gauze than to ignore a wedding party struck by unmanned drones: I know no one involved except everyone, let alone love. They are dead in different ways, these poets, but I visit them both because a residency affords me time, not sure where the money comes from, or what money is, how you could set it beside a soldier’s bed then walk out across the moonlit mall in love with the federal, wake up refreshed and bring tobacco to those who haven’t received wounds in the lung or the face. Tonight I listen to their recordings at once in separate windows, four lines from “America” might be recited by an actor, but the noise of the wax cylinder is real, sounds how I imagine engines of old boats would, while “The Door” incorporates distress into the voice, could be in the room. The former says he waits for me ahead, but I doubt I’ll arrive in time: even the phrase “evening papers” will need a gloss, like the notion presidents have features. Instead I project myself back before carbon arc and mercury vapor, invisible labor of men in the dimly lit caissons still a few years in the future, when the danger will be coming up too fast, nitrogen bubbles forming in the blood. I wanted to say I also pass through a series of airlocks en route to imperceptible work, even that a tower of a sort might be built upon it, but I’m more a supervisor ill from surfacing quickly, watching its progress through a telescope, sending messages to the bridge-site through my good wife, Emily. When completed, the celebration will surpass the one that marked the closing of the war, as if you could separate those things, as if those were things, cheap oak and iron deployed as inflation rages. My father studied briefly with Hegel, and there are other proper names we could summon: both Cranes, the one who lived in this apartment, drowned himself at my age, and the older one who died younger, having both seen and not seen war. But that’s just the game of features again,
when in fact the unwounded face is smooth. A thin crescent hangs over a Brooklyn where the rich still farm and I wait for your return from a war you love all sides of: come back to the future where I’m resident and the phrase evokes one of the crucial movies of my youth s et in 1955, the year nuclear power first lit up a town: Arco, Idaho, also home to the first meltdown (1961), although years are part of the game. In the movie they lack plutonium to power the time-traveling car, whereas in real life it seeps into the Fukushima soil, Back to the Future was ahead of its time, 1985, when I was six and the Royals took the series, in part because a ridiculous call forced game seven, Orta clearly out at first in replays. I can feel it getting away from me so I leave the house, use the back door to avoid the other residents, and watch the sun set through smoke from Arizona fires, “zero percent contained,” wave to a woman bent over a row of yellow flowers, but she can’t see me: I’ve faded from the photograph. We often say twilight but mean dusk, or check our watches without noting the time, two of the minor practices that make us enough of a people to believe that a raid on the compound can bring closure. Depends what you think is ending, the gentle face of terror, civilian nuclear power, are those two things? There are men at work on the roof when I return, too hot to do by day, wave and am seen, an awkward exchange in Spanish, who knows what I said, having confused the conditional with imperfect. Norteño from their radio fills the house I hope they know isn’t mine: I just write here. Walk back out with a Brita and three glasses, but of course they have their own water, can I offer you a cup of ashes, can I interest you? Soon they move on to the house I call his because Douglas, who manages the compound, rushed him from there to hospital in Midland or Odessa, the roofers’ purpose obscure to me, whose work is to chat with the dying or dead, to let them lay a pale hand on my knee if they still have hands, the practical nurses busy behind curtains, some of them singing popular hymns, often accompanied on melodeon, an accordion or small organ, strange to have either available among the cots and mosquito netting. It seems to be pleasurable for him when the moon makes radiant patches for a death-stricken boy to moan in, or a patch of the wood ignites, consuming soldiers too crippled to flee. “Patch” from the Latin, pedaeum, literally something measured, compare to the Medieval ped re: to measure in feet. That might be false, the point is he feels no need to contain his love for the material richness of their dying, federal body from which extremities secede, a pail beside the bed for that purpose, almost never mentions race, save to note there are plenty of black soldiers, clean black women would make wonderful nurses, while again and again I deliver money to boys with perforated organs: “unionism,” to die with shining hair beside fractional currency, part of writing the greatest poem. Or is the utopian moment loving the smell of shit and blood, brandy as it trickles through the wound, politics of pure sensation? When you die in the patent-office there’s a pun on expiration, you must enter one of the immense glass cases filled with scale models of machines, utensils, curios. Look, your president will be shot in a theater, actors will be presidents, the small sums will grow monstrous as they circulate, measure: I have come from the future to warn you. Tomorrow I’ll see the Donald Judd permanent installations in old hangars, but now it’s tomorrow and I didn’t go, set out hatless in the early afternoon, got lost and was soon seeing floaters and spots, so returned to the house, the interior sea green until my eyes adjusted, I lay down for a while and dreamt I saw it. Tonight I’ll shave, have two drinks with a friend of a friend, but that was last week and I cancelled, claimed altitude had sickened me a little, can we get back in touch when I’ve adjusted? Yesterday I saw the Donald Judd in a book they keep in the house, decided not to go until I finished a poem I’ve since abandoned but will eventually pick back up. What I need is a residency within the residency, then I could return refreshed to this one, take in Judd with friends of friends, watch the little spots of blood bloom on the neck, so I’ll know I’ve shaved in time, whereas now I’m as close to a beard as I’ve been, but not very close. Shaving is a way to start the workday by ritually not cutting your throat when you’ve the chance, “Washes and razors for foofoos— for me freckles and a bristling beard,” a big part of reading him is embarrassment. Woke up today having been shaved in a dream by a nurse who looked like Falconetti, my cot among the giant aluminum boxes I still plan to see, then actually shaved and felt that was work enough for one day, my back to the future. The foundation is closed Sundays and nights, of which the residency is exclusively composed, so plan your visit well in advance, or just circle the building where the Chamberlain sculptures are housed, painted and chromium plated-steel, best viewed through your reflection in the window: In Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc (1879) she reaches her left arm out, maybe for support in the swoon of being called, but instead of grasping branches or leaves, her hand, in what is for me the crucial passage, partially dissolves. It’s carefully positioned on the diagonal sightline of one of three hovering, translucent angels he was attacked for failing to reconcile with the future saint’s realism, a “failure” the hand presents as a breakdown of space, background beginning to swallow her fingers, reminding me of the photograph people fade from, the one “Marty” uses to measure the time remaining for the future in which we watched the movie, only here it’s the future’s presence, not absence that eats away at her hand: you can’t rise from the loom so quickly that you overturn the stool and rush toward the plane of the picture without startling the painter, hear voices the medium is powerless to depict without that registering somewhere on the body. But from our perspective, it’s precisely where the hand ceases to signify a hand and is paint, no longer appears to be warm or capable, that it reaches the material present, becomes realer than sculpture because tentative: she is surfacing too quickly. This is why her face is in my dream, not hers, but the beautiful actress that played her (1928), also because in the film she recants her false confession, achieves transcendence only after her head is shaved. I’m embarrassed because there are workers on the roof for whom this is the north, and no one calls from beyond the desert frame except a poet or two, the conflict between two systems of incompatible labor endures, and the third is the flickering border between them, the almost-work of taking everything personally until the person becomes a commons, a radical “loafing” that embraces the war because it also dissolves persons, a book that aspires to the condition of currency. Warhol wanted to make a movie of Specimen Days.
Some say the glowing spheres near Route 67 are paranormal, others dismiss them as atmospheric tricks: static, swamp gas, reflections of headlights and small fires, but why dismiss what misapprehension can establish, our own illumination returned to us as alien, as sign? They’ve built a concrete viewing platform lit by low red lights which must appear mysterious when seen from what it overlooks. Tonight I see no spheres, but project myself and then gaze back, an important trick because the goal is to be on both sides of the poem, shuttling between the you and I. But what is the mystery he claims his work both does and doesn’t contain, what does he promise, say we have silently accepted, cannot state, and how is it already accomplished as we read, and who is being addressed in the last stanza of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry?” Form is always the answer to the riddle it poses, though there isn’t much of one here, just a speaker emptied of history so he can ferry across it: tide, wake, barge, flag, foundry are things anyone could see, but no one in particular, less things than examples of things, which once meant a public meeting place, assembly. Words are the promise he can’t make in words without rendering them determinate and thereby breaking the promise because only when empty can we imagine assembling, not as ourselves, but as representatives of the selves he has asked us to dissolve: dumb ministers. These are the contradictory conditions of my residency in the poem, where Ari isn’t allowed to join me because she’s from the world, and what I miss most is the distortion, noise of the wax cylinder, the flaws in the medium that preserve what distance it closes, source of the glow I return to Creeley for. I wanted to include her daily reports on how the lavender held up throughout the heat wave, the dilated root where my aorta meets my heart, how I mistook two moths drawn to the flashlight for the eyeshine of some animal approaching in the dark, good to know that I can still feel an almost sexual terror on these meds. Then I had big plans for stinging ants as a figure of collectivity experienced as weird fact of the privileged residency, wasted a morning baiting them with apple, blushing hard when Douglas asked. Don’t ask: the place where the intern’s shoulder curves into her breast, the altitude induced nosebleed that I slept through, beard of blood in the bathroom mirror, terrible phrase stuck in my head for a week, the chances of distant recurrence somewhere in my mother, small rain on the skylight, having learned to distinguish begging calls of baby swallows from the chatter of adults. A friend in California believes he is breathing in hot particles from Fukushima, where a rabbit has been born without ears, should I include that here along with the other casualties, or will everything be leveled as soon as it appears in the catalog? My favorite part of the book: he’s in Topeka and is supposed to read a poem to twenty thousand people, instead decides to write a speech he fails to give because he’s having a great time at dinner, so he just puts the speech in the book where we can read it at our leisure, makes you wonder if he actually sent the letter he included written to a dead soldier’s mother. Whitman: poetry replaced by oratory addressed to the future, the sensorial commons abandoned for a private meal. If only there were more wandering away from the stage, less tallying, one of his favorite verbs, I could turn to him now, but the reflection of his head is haloed by spokes of light, “cross” is in the title, and there are other signs of a negative incarnation, paper heaven where the suffering is done by others. I’ve been worse than unfair, although he was asking for it, is still asking for it, I can hear him asking for it through me when I speak, despite myself, to a people that isn’t there, or think of art as leisure that is work in houses the undocumented build, repair. It’s among the greatest poems and fails because it wants to become real and can only become prose, founding mistake of the book from which we’ve been expelled. And yet: look out from the platform, see mysterious red lights move across the bridge in a Brooklyn I may or may not return to, phenomena no science can explain, wheeled vehicles rushing through the dark with their windows down, streaming music. –Marfa, June 2011