The Tilted Horizon and Other Pictures from a Very Long Poem
I demand of the future, later.
The future––whose discretion is perfect––
says nothing, but rolls another
apple loose from its grip.
A hopeful yellow jacket comes to hunt
the crack, the point of easy entry.
The Grammar that Begins It
a man is holding a small, misshapen book of the past, whose stories will ruin hours, ruin days––stories to be read only with hesitation, as though caught in fog or behind drizzle––and when he opens the book, a photograph falls from its pages: small, blurred with what seems like sadness, a link in a chain of pictures whose interiors threaten the fortunate world.
the air this morning, and the unsure place, settled and clear
not faith as against nothingness––even faith in impermanence, or its
as the picture gives it to us, the condemned trudge a tilted horizon, trudge as an aspect of having trudged it, still trudge it and do trudge it, remain trudging and remain to trudge later, pass continuingly along it even as they the picture stands in precisely for what cannot otherwise be seen.
the past that keeps dreaming of a different present––the past that chases us, whose chase we are––is a dead thing blown alive in a stopped wind.
history is shading into myth, and i fear i am an unwitting accomplice. i am watching the defining event of the twentieth century becoming a story––a story?––an unfabulated fable, a verified legend, an abstract tale of abstract evil that causes abstract sorrow. i am watching even the most earnest memorials covering over the blood––precisely what the dead plead against––and it is not clear to anyone what force of culture or conscience keeps grief appropriately inconclusive and urgent. i am watching the end of mourning.
the squeaking kingdom of the ancestors is gone, done, smashed, and its names are floating in a memory-cloud. if you plant the seed of the murdered jews of europe in yourself––casting your own aliveness into the field of the subtraction––eventually a season comes when god dims and the clocks moss over, and you look into your palms and think you can see the inhabitants strolling the length and breadth of the squares. neither consoled nor forsaken, they are simply getting along––prolonging the routines of greed and splendor, tending soup, counting the wanderbones, enduring. at the outskirts, you can detect glowworms playing among the trees, and riders kindling torches. from these lights, you can see the paper wings of the matriarchs and the patriarchs reaching for a sign. swords and rifles are almost rusting, and the blazing war is a canary scratch... when after a time you wake from the lost kingdom, the poet––your companion––nods that the planet is indeed covered in lonely footsteps. the poet reminds you what you already know: that a burden of history flattens fresh earth each day into eternity, and that hungry spirits and uninvented gods guard the roots, always dripping sour pulp.
i am not in the field to bury flowers, or to cut them.
Statement of Habit
i do not sit with my sorrows: i walk them around the city and show them new things.
to make pictures is to search out a method: to go from thorn to thorn, syllable to syllable, beating the wingstrokes between a stranger’s life and your own, courting excess and paring it down. each line of sight deserves a different name, but sentences are fragile, and it is difficult to say the elemental contradiction: that we are small and incomparably vain, that we live by visions of a better world, while the sun, the moon and the sources of life are bluntly indifferent. to make photographs requires warding off the dispute about images, without simplifying it: photographs are not lessons, sermons, recitations, or exorcisms. they are not reasons kept under glass or embalmments. they are not the face of death or the gaze of death or the etched moisture of death. codification of what death they are is a different art. to make pictures is to suspect that answers tend to dwell in mid-air streets where naked poems mature into blisters and colors and unrest, and fragments of time cling to fragments of space in an endless play of waiting, and the completeness of the human word extends through each variation of origin and ash.
it is better to be lost in the field of doubt than to be found in it, and better to walk it than to map it. it is better to dead-reckon its scale than to take measurements, and better to let memory become redundant as observation becomes fierce. the facts of the field of doubt are always contingent––they could have been different, and will be different later––and the task is to let wonder lead the recognition of their impermanence.
a good picture outwits the seeing that shapes it––almost successfully.
the answers to my questions only seem to reveal the questions more fully, and a pattern emerges with all the precision of a slender error.
three worlds––mine, yours, and theirs––meet in an awkward enclosure: there is no explaining how here presses there out of sight, how before disappears and after stays standing, how anger and longing and heat and coldness and grief and joy and other aspects of the well-ripened self mock obedience to things-as-they-are, how certain people seem to dedicate their lives to the problem of fusing transience and transformation, and how thoughts of epiphany are everywhere and still unseen.
happiness differing from unhappiness––the poet singing––in just the way a golden bucket differs from a tin bucket, both carrying the same water
Extended Phrasal Verb
to look unprepossessingly into the everyday life of friends and strangers with the images of the past burned into that looking, neither as a way of forcing the past onto the terms of the present nor forcing the present onto the terms of the past, rather as an attempt to hold the incompatible truths of one's own consciousness in a constellation whose shapes can be traced both by the gazers of the past and the gazers of the future
to hold still
to keep going
to my friend, richard gordon, z"l