• csalisbury
    Afterwards when I tell you
    It's as though it all only happened
    As siding of my story
  • csalisbury
    I beg you to listen
    You are already listening
  • csalisbury
    It has shut itself out
    And in doing so shut us accidentally in
  • csalisbury
    And meanwhile my story goes well
    The first chapter
  • csalisbury
    But the real story, the one
    They tell us we shall probably never know
    Drifts back in bits and pieces
    All of them, it turns out
  • csalisbury
    So lucky
    Now we really know
    It all happened by chance:
    A chance encounter
    The dwarf led you to to the end of a street
    And pointed flapping his arms in two directions
    You forgot to misprize him
    But after a series of interludes
    In furnished rooms (describe wallpaper)
    Transient hotels (mention sink and cockroaches)
    And spending the night with a beautiful married woman
    Whose husband was away in Centerville on business
    (Mention this wallpaper: the purest roses
    Though the creamiest and how
    Her smile lightens the ordeal
    Of the last 500 pages
    Though you never knew her last name
    Only her first: Dorothy)
    You got hold of the water of life
    Rescued your two wicked brothers Cash and Jethro
    Who promptly stole the water of life
    After which you got it back, got safely home,
    Saved the old man's life
    And inherited the kingdom.
  • csalisbury
    But this was a moment
    Under the most cheerful sun.
    In poorer lands
    No one touches the water of life.
  • csalisbury
    It has no taste
    and though it refreshes absolutely
    It is a cup that must also pass
  • csalisbury
    Until everybody
    Gets some advantage, big or little
    Some reason for having come
    So far
    Without dog or woman
    So far alone, unasked.
  • csalisbury
    [end of poem]
  • csalisbury
    New (& final) poem: Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror

    The stanzas are enormous, so I'll use a " ---" to indicate page breaks within stanzas. The poem takes its theme and title from this painting by the Italian late Renaissance artist Parmigianino dwfy0z3bx9b6kmt6.jpg
  • csalisbury
    As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
    Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
    And swerving easily away, as though to protect
    What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
    Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
    In a movement supporting the face, which swims
    Toward and away like the hand
    Except that it is in repose. It is what is
    Sequestered. Vasari says, "Francesco one day set himself
    To take his own portrait, looking at himself for that purpose
    In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers...
    He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
    By a turner, and having divided it in half and
    Brought it to the size of a mirror, he set himself
    With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass,"
    Chiefly his reflection once removed.
    The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
    Which was enough for his purpose : his image
    Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
    The time of day or the density of the light
    Adhering to the face keeps it
    Lively and intact in a recurring wave
    of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
    But how far can it swim out through the eyes
    And still return safely to its nest? The surface
    Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
    Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
    That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
    In suspension, unable to advance much farther
    Than your look as it intercepts the picture.
    Pope Clement and his court were "stupefied"
    By it, according to Vasari, and promised a commission
    That never materialized. The soul has to stay where it is,
    Even though restless, hearing raindrops at the pane,
    The sighing of autumn leaves thrashed by the wind,
    Longing to be free, outside, but it must stay
    Posing in this place. It must move
    As little as possible. That is what the portrait says.
    But there is in that gaze a combination
    Of tenderness, amusement and regret, so powerful
    In its restraint that one cannot look for long.
    The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts,
    Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul,
    Has no secret, is small, and it fits
    Its hollow perfectly: its room, our moment of attention.
    That is the tune but there are no words.
    The words are only speculation
    (From the Latin speculum, mirror):
    They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.
    We see only postures of the dream,
    Riders of the motion that swings the face
    Into view under evening skies, with no
    False disarray as proof of authenticity.
    But it is life englobed.
    One would like to stick one's hand
    Out of the globe, but its dimension,
    What carries it, will not allow it.
    No doubt it is this, not the reflex
    To hide something, which makes the hand loom large
    As it retreats slightly. There is no way
    To build it flat like a section of wall :
    IT must join the segment of a circle,
    Roving back to the body of which it seems
    So unlikely a part, to fence in and shore up the face
    On which the effort of this condition reads
    Like a pinpoint of a smile, a spark
    Or star one is not sure of having seen
    As darkness resumes. A perverse light whose
    Imperative of subtlety dooms in advance its
    Conceit to light up: unimportant but meant.
    Francesco, your hand is big enough
    To wreck the sphere, and too big,
    One would think, to weave delicate meshes
    That only argue its further detention.
    (Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale,
    Like a dozing whale on the sea bottom
    In relation to the tiny, self-important ship
    On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim
    That everything is surface. The surface is what's there
    And nothing can exist except what's there.
    There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves,
    And the window doesn't matter much, or that
    Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even
    As a gauge of the weather, which in French is
    Le temps, the word for time, and which
    Follows a course wherein changes are merely
    Features of the whole. The whole is stable within
    Instability, a globe like ours, resting
    On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball
    Secure on its jet of water.
    And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,
    No words to say what it really is, that it is not
    Superficial but a visible core, then there is
    No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.
    You will stay on, restive, serene in
    Your gesture which is neither embrace nor warning
    But which holds something of both in pure
    Affirmation that doesn't affirm anything.
  • csalisbury
    The balloon pops, the attention
    Turns dully away. Clouds
    In the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments.
    I think of the friends
    Who came to see me, of what yesterday
    Was like. A peculiar slant
    Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model
    In the silence of the studio as he considers
    Lifting the pencil to the self-portrait.
    How many people came and stayed a certain time,
    Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you
    Like light behind windblown fog and sand,
    filtered and influenced by it, until no part
    Remains that is surely you. Those voices in the dusk
    Have told you all and still the tale goes on
    In the form of memories deposited in irregular
    Clumps of crystals. Whose curved hand controls,
    Francesco, the turning seasons and the thoughts
    That peel off and fly away at breathless speeds
    Like the last stubborn leaves ripped
    From wet branches? I see in this only the chaos
    Of your round mirror which organizes everything
    Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty,
    Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing.
    I feel the carousel starting slowly
    And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
    Photographs of friends, the windows and the trees
    Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
    Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
    And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
    Why it should all boil down to one
    Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
    My guide in these matters is your self,
    Firm, oblique, accepting everything with the same
    Wraith of a smile, and as time speeds up so that it is soon
    Much later, I can know only the straight way out,
    The distance between us. Long ago
    The strewn evidence meant something,
    The small accidents and pleasures
    Of the day as it moved gracelessly on,
    A housewife doing chores. Impossible now
    To restore those properties in the silver blur that is
    The record of what you accomplished by sitting down
    "With great art to copy all that you saw in the glass"
    So as to perfect and rule out the extraneous
    Forever. In the circle of your intentions certain spars
    Remain that perpetuate the enchantment of self with self:
    Eyebeams, muslin, coral. It doesn't matter
    Because these are things as they are today
    Before one's shadow ever grew
    Out of the field into thoughts of tomorrow.
  • csalisbury
    Tomorrow is easy, but today is uncharted,
    Desolate, reluctant as any landscape
    To yield what are laws of perspective
    After all only to the painter's deep
    Mistrust, a weak instrument though
    Necessary. Of course some things
    Are possible, it knows, but it doesn't know
    Which ones. Some day we will try
    To do as many things as our possible
    And perhaps we shall succeed at a handful
    Of them, but this will not have anything
    To do with what is promised today, our
    Landscape sweeping out from us to disappear
    On the horizon. Today enough of a cover burnishes
    To keep the supposition of promises together
    In one piece of surface, letting one ramble
    Back home from them so that these
    Even stronger possibilities can remain
    Whole without being tested. Actually
    The skin of the bubble-chamber's as tough as
    Reptile eggs; everything gets "programmed" there
    In due course: more keeps getting included
    Without adding to the sum, and just as one
    Gets accustomed to a noise that
    Kept one awake but no longer does,
    So the room contains this flow like an hourglass
    Without varying in climate or quality
    (Except perhaps to brighten bleakly and almost
    Invisibly, in a focus sharpening toward death -more
    Of this later.) What should be the vacuum of a dream
    Becomes continually replete as the source of dreams
    Is being tapped so that this one dream
    May wax, flourish like a cabbage rose,
    Defying sumptuary law, leaving us
    To awake and try to begin living in what
    Has now become a slum. Sydney Freedberg in his
    Parmigianino says of it: "Realism in this portrait
    No longer produces an objective truth, but a bizarria....
    However its distortion does not create
    A feeling of disharmony....The forms retain
    A strong measure of ideal beauty," because
    Fed by our dreams, so inconsequential until one day
    We notice the hole they left. Now their importance
    If not their meaning is plain. They were to nourish
    A dream which includes them all, as they are
    Finally reversed in the accumulating mirror.
    They seemed strange because we couldn't actually see them.
    And we realize this only at a point where they lapse
    Like a wave breaking on a rock, giving up
    Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape.
    The forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty
    As they forage in secret on our idea of distortion.
    Why be unhappy with this arrangement, since
    Dreams prolong us as they are absorbed?
    Something like living occurs, a movement
    Out of the dream into its codification.
  • csalisbury
    As I start to forget it
    It presents its stereotype again
    But it is an unfamiliar stereotype, the face
    Riding at anchor, issued from hazards, soon
    To accost others, "rather angel than man" (Vasari).
    Perhaps an angel looks like everything
    We have forgotten, I mean forgotten
    Things that don't seem familiar when
    We meet them again, lost beyond telling,
    Which were ours once. This would be the point
    Of invading the privacy of this man who
    "Dabbled in alchemy, but whose wish
    Here was not to examine the subtleties of art
    In a detatched, scientific spirit: he wished through them
    To impart the sense of novelty and amazement to the spectator"
    (Freedberg). Later portraits such as the Uffizi
    "Gentlemen," the Borghese "Young Prelate" and
    The Naples "Antea" issue from Mannerist
    Tensions, but here, as Freedberg points out,
    The surprise, the tension are in the concept
    Rather than its realization.
    The consonance of the High Renaissance
    Is present, though distorted by the mirror.
    What is novel is the extreme care in rendering
    The velleities of the rounded reflecting surface
    (It is the first mirror portrait),
    So that you could be fooled for a moment
    Before you realize the reflection
    Isn't yours. You feel then like one of those
    Hoffman characters who have been deprived
    Of a reflection, except that the whole of me
    Is seen to be supplanted by the strict
    Otherness of the painter in his
    Other room. We have surprised him
    At work, but no, he has surprised us
    As he works. The picture is almost finished,
    The surprise almost over, as when one looks out,
    Startled by a snowfall which even now is
    Ending in specks and sparkles of snow.
    It happened when you were inside, asleep,
    And there is no reason why you should have
    Been awake for it, except that the day
    Is ending and it will be hard for you
    To get to sleep tonight, at least until late.
  • csalisbury
    The shadow of the city injects its own
    Urgency: Rome where Francesco
    Was at work during the Sack: his inventions
    Amazed the soldiers who burst in on him;
    They decided to spare his life, but he left soon after;
    Vienna where the painting is today, where
    I saw it with Pierre in the summer of 1959; New York
    Where I am now, which is a logarithm
    Of other cities. Our landscape
    Is alive with filiations, shuttlings;
    Business is carried on by look, gesture,
    Hearsay. It is another life to the city,
    The backing of the looking glass of the
    Unidentified but precisely sketched studio. It wants
    To siphon off the life of the studio, deflate
    Its mapped space to enactments, island it.
    That operation has been temporarily stalled
    But something new is on the way, a new preciosity
    In the wind. Can you stand it,
    Francesco? Are you strong enough for it?
    This wind brings what it knows not, is
    Self-propelled, blind, has no notion
    Of itself. It is inertia that once
    Acknowledged saps all activity, secret or public:
    Whispers of the words that can't be understood
    But can be felt, a chill, a blight
    Moving outward along the capes and peninsulas
    Of your nervures and so to the archipelagoes
    And to the bathed, aired secrecy of the open sea.
    This is its negative side. Its positive side is
    Making you notice life and the stresses
    That only seemed to go away, but now,
    As this new mode questions, are seen to be
    Hastening out of style. If they are to become classics
    They must decide which side they are on.
    Their reticence has undermined
    The urban scenery, made its ambiguities
    Look willful and tired, the games of an old man.
    What we need now is this unlikely
    Challenger pounding on the gates of an amazed
    Castle. Your argument, Francesco,
    Had begun to grow stale as no answer
    Or answers were forthcoming. If it dissolves now
    Into dust, that only means its time had come
    Some time ago, but look now, and listen:
    It may be that another life is stocked there
    In recesses no one knew of; that it,
    Not we, are the change; that we are in fact it
    If we could get back to it, relive some of the way
    It looked, tour our faces to the globe as it sets
    And still be coming out all right:
    Nerves normal, breath normal. Since it is a metaphor
    Made to include us, we are a part of it and
    Can live in it as in fact we have done,
    Only leaving our minds bare for questioning
    We now see will not take place at random
    But in an orderly way that means to menace
    Nobody --The normal way things are done,
    Like the concentric growing up of days
    Around a life: Correctly, if you think about it.
  • csalisbury
    A breeze like the turning of a page
    Brings back your face: the moment
    Takes such a big bite out of the haze
    Of pleasant intuition it comes after.
    The locking into place is "death itself,"
    As Berg said of a phrase in Mahler's Ninth;
    Or, to quote Imogen in Cymbeline, "There cannot
    Be a pinch in death more sharp than this," for,
    Though only an exercise or tactic, it carries
    The momentum of a conviction that had been building.
    Mere forgetfulness cannot remove it
    Nor wishing bring it back, as long as it remains
    The white precipitate of its dream
    In the climate of sighs flung across our world,
    A cloth over a birdcage. But it is certain that
    What is beautiful seems so only in relation to a specific
    Life, experienced or not, channeled into some form
    Steeped in the nostalgia of a collective past.
    The light sinks today with an enthusiasm
    I have known elsewhere, and known why
    It seemed meaningful, that others felt this way
    Years ago. I go on consulting
    This mirror that is no longer mine
    For as much vacancy as is to be
    My portion this time. And the vase is always full
    Because there is only just so much room
    And it accommodates everything. The sample
    One sees is not to be taken as
    Merely that, but as everything as it
    May be imagined outside time - not as a gesture
    But as all, in the refined assimilable state.
    But what is this universe the porch of
    As it veers in and out, back and forth,
    Refusing to surround us and still the only
    Thing we can see? Love once
    Tipped the scales but now is shadowed, invisible,
    Though mysteriously present, around somewhere.
    But we know it cannot be sandwiched
    Between two adjacent moments, that its windings
    Lead nowhere except to further tributaries
    And that these empty themselves in a vague
    Sense of something that can never be known
    Even though it seems likely that each of us
    Knows what it is and is capable of
    Communicating it two the other. But the look
    Some wear as a sign makes one want to
    Push forward ignoring the apparent
    Naïveté of the attempt, not caring
    That no one is listening, since the light
    Has been lit once and for all in their eyes
    And is present, unimpaired, a permanent anomaly,
    Awake and silent. On the surface of it
    There seems no special reason why that light
    Should be focused by love, or why
    The city falling with its beautiful suburbs
    Into space always less clear, less defined,
    Should read as the support of its progress,
    The easel upon which the drama unfolded
    To its own satisfaction and to the end
    Of our dreaming, as we had never imagined
    It would end, in worn daylight with the painted
    Promise showing through as a gage, a bond.
    This nondescript, never-to-be defined daytime is
    The secret of where it takes place
    And we can no longer return to the various
    Conflicting statements gathered, lapses of memory
    Of the principal witnesses. All we know
    Is that we are a little early, that
    Today has that special, lapidary
    Todayness that the sunlight reproduces
    Faithfully in casting twig-shadows on blithe
    Sidewalks. No previous day would have been like this.
    I used to think they were all alike,
    That the present always looked the same to everybody
    But this confusing drains away as one
    Is always cresting into one's present.
    Yet the "poetic," straw-colored space
    Of the long corridor that leads back to the painting,
    Its darkening opposite - is this
    Some figment of "art," not to be imagined
    As real, let alone special? Hasn't it too its lair
    In the present we are always escaping from
    And falling back into, as the waterwheel of days
    Pursues its uneventful, even serene course?
    I think it is trying to say it is today
    And we must get out of it even as the public
    Is pushing through to to the museum now so as to
    Be out by closing time. You can't live there.
    The gray glaze of the past attacks all know-how:
    Secrets of wash and finish that took a lifetime
    To learn and are reduced to the status of
    Black-and-white illustrations in a book where colorplates
    Are rare. That is, all time
    Reduces to no special time. No one
    Alludes to the change; to do so might
    Involve calling attention to oneself
    Which would augment the dread of not getting out
    Before having seen the whole collection
    (Except for the sculptures in the basement:
    They are where they belong).
    Our time gets to be veiled, compromised
    By the portrait's will to endure. It hints at
    Our own, which we were hoping to keep hidden.
    We don't need paintings or
    Doggerel written by mature poets when
    The explosion is so precise, so fine.
    Is there any point even in acknowledging
    The existence of all that? Does it
    Exist? Certain the leisure to
    Indulge stately pastimes doesn't,
    Any more. Today has no margins, the event arrives
    Flush with its edges, is of the same substance,
    Indistinguishable. "Play" is something else;
    It exists, in a society specifically
    Organized as a demonstration of itself.
    There is no other way, and those assholes
    Who would confuse everything with their mirror games
    Which seem to multiply stakes and possibilities, or
    At least confuse issues by means of an investing
    Aura that would corrode the architecture
    Of the whole in a haze of suppressed mockery,
    Are beside the point. They are out of the game,
    Which doesn't exist until they are out of it.
    It seems like a very hostile universe
    But as the principle of each individual thing is
    Hostile to, exists at the expense of all the others
    As philosophers have often pointed out, at least
    This thing, the mute, undivided present,
    Has the justification of logic, which
    In this instance isn't a bad thing
    Or wouldn't be, if the way of telling
    Didn't somehow intrude, twisting the end result
    Into a caricature of itself. This always
    Happens, as in the game where
    A whispered phrase passed around the room
    Ends up as something completely different.
    It is the principle that makes works of art so unlike
    What the artist intended. Often he finds
    He has omitted the thing he started out to say
    In the first place. Seduced by flowers,
    Explicit pleasures, he blames himself (though
    Secretly satisfied with the result), imagining
    He had a say in the matter and exercised
    An option of which he was hardly conscious,
    Unaware that necessity circumvents such resolutions
    So as to create something new
    For itself, that there is no other way,
    That the history of creation proceeds according to
    Stringent laws, and that things
    Do get done in this way, but never the things
    We set out to accomplish and wanted so desperately
    To see come into being. Parmigianino
    Must have realized this as he worked at his
    Life-obstructing task. One is forced to read
    The perfectly plausible accomplishment of a purpose
    Into the smooth, perhaps even bland (but so
    Enigmatic) finish. Is there anything
    To be serious about beyond this otherness
    That gets included in the most ordinary
    Forms of daily activity, changing everything
    Slightly and profoundly, and tearing the matter
    Of creation, any creation, not just artistic creation
    Out of our hands, to install it on some monstrous, near
    Peak, too close to ignore, too far
    For one to intervene? This otherness, this
    "Not-being-us" is all there is to look at
    In the mirror, though no one can say
    How it came to be this way. A ship
    Flying unknown colors has entered the harbor.
    You are allowing extraneous matters
    To break up your day, cloud the focus
    Of the crystal ball. Its scene drifts away
    Like vapor scattered on the wind. The fertile
    Thought-associations that until now came
    So easily, appear no more, or rarely. Their
    Colorings are less intense, washed out
    By autumn rains and winds, spoiled, muddied,
    Given back to you because they are worthless.
    Yet we are such creatures of habit that their
    Implications are still around en permanence, confusing
    Issues. To be serious about sex
    Is perhaps one way, but the sands are hissing
    As they approach the beginning of the big slide
    Into what happened. This past
    Is now here: the painter's
    Reflected face, in which we linger, receiving
    Dreams and inspirations on an unassigned
    Frequency, but the hues have turned metallic,
    The curves and edges are not so rich. Each person
    Has one big theory to explain the universe
    But it doesn't tell the whole story
    And in the end it is what is outside him
    That matters, to him and especially to us
    Who have been given no help whatever
    In decoding our own man-size quotient and must rely
    On second-hand knowledge. Yet I Know
    That no one else's taste is going to be
    Any help, and might well as well be ignored.
    Once it seemed so perfect - gloss on the fine
    Freckled skin, lips moistened as though about to part
    Releasing speech, and the familiar look
    Of clothes and furniture that one forgets.
    This could have been our paradise: exotic
    Refuge within an exhausted world, but that wasn't
    In the cards, because it couldn't have been
    The point. Aping naturalness may be the first step
    Toward achieving an inner calm
    But it is the first step only, and often
    Remains a frozen gesture of welcome etched
    On the air materializing behind it,
    A convention. And we have really
    No time for these, except to use them
    For kindling. The sooner they are burnt up
    The better for the roles we have to play.
    Therefore I beseech you, withdraw that hand,
    Offer it no longer as shield or greeting,
    The shield of a greeting, Francesco:
    There is room for one bullet in the chamber:
    Our looking through the wrong end
    Of the telescope as you fall back at a speed
    Faster than that of light to flatten ultimately
    Among the features of the room, an invitation
    Never mailed, the "it was all a dream"
    Syndrome, though the "all" tells tersely
    Enough how it wasn't. Its existence
    Was real, though troubled, and the ache
    Of this waking dream can never drown out
    The diagram still sketched on the wind,
    Chosen, meant for me and materialized
    In the disguising radiance of my room.
    We have seen the city; it is the gibbous
    Mirrored eye of an insect. All things happen
    On its balcony and are resumed within
    But the action is the cold, syrupy flow
    Of a pageant. One feels too confined,
    Sifting the April sunlight for clues,
    In the mere stillness of the ease of its
    Parameter. The hand holds no chalk
    And each part of the whole falls off
    And cannot know it knew, except
    Here and there, in cold pockets
    Of remembrance, whispers out of time.
  • csalisbury
    [end of poem, book, thread]
  • fdrake
    Thank you!
Add a Comment