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,
w
hen 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 




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