Contributors were asked for
poems that engage the visual arts.
poems have appeared in a wide array of magazines as well as Best American
John Keene is the author of Annotations (New Directions, 1995). He is currently
a New York Times Fellow at New York University.
Susan Lasher's poems and poetry reviews have appeared in Parnassus,
Partisan Review, and Southwest Review.
Tan Lin teaches literature and writing at the University of Virginia. His
poems have appeared in many magazines. Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe is forthcoming
from Sun & Moon Press.
THE MARSHALL OF LIMITS
walk, or maybe a waltz,
will lead you into the heart of the romance,
she explained to me.A pleasure obtained
through currency unlimited. Beyond the timber line,
this thin air holds an alternative spreading
below the painted ledge. Longing for a change of attitude,
I pulled down the red-leather bound volume again.
Along the coast, these works barely reveal their relevance
in the harsh light of day. Only evening lifts
the shades obscuring vision and allows clear insight
into the nature of the country, this interior
landscaped from original sources prompting allegory
from tales told to the site original,
as the work ambled on.
erosion threatened for years.
We erected fences, built sea walls, watched the border
evict the shore. Booking a room for the night,
I caught sight of two slipping off in concert,
cohorts to a romance wed only later recognize
as ourselves running ahead of the story. Already unravelling
too fast for either you or I to say
what the wallpaper revealed in its pale geometry,
a prescient opacity taking prospect
over the garden below. The call closer to the edge
resists this story-telling broken down into constituent parts,
each piece enclosed briefly in her heart
where the story had been written before,
where the story had fallen into this long digression
we've already fallen into, become a part of, inventoried our hearts
with a fabulous collection
of remaindered dreams, scenarios set aside for further exploration
or appraisal, easily understood as symptomatic
of easier concern, uneven footing and the prospect of a green season,
the concert hall brought out the aspirant spirit among us,
petty violations of Marshal's rule.
For those of the region, The Book of Nouns sufficed.
states of mind governed by local authorities
patrolling the boarder, indifferent, huge,
and decorated with meritorious distinction,
were no longer the rule. Dreams long dissolved
bloomed wild with bewilderment at the artificial constraint
imposed by the border, the property marked
by the Marshal of Limits. But still, the violation
was a marvel of engineering brought to bear on this village
now springing up rapidly around us.
A phase unknown before the audience came to marvel
at this museum storing artifacts deep below the sidewalks level
catacombs waiting for another generation
to map and polish the artifacts, make object labels for guided tours,
or index references for a summer ahead.
The gathering crowd believed with certainty,
as nothing would in all directions, a single note released
into an audience of stars. Squealing bats in rafters,
howls let loose from the heart, complicated the process
until the full moon was rather brightened
by quarrelsome lovers traveling back to the earliest pulse.
It was a landing strip, an endless stretch of promise
reflecting everything that is the case, leading toward the ocean
as quickly as we touched the earth. A trick
many believed would scare us away.
To come upon unexpectedly; discover
by chance. To learn or become aware by experience. To recover
(something lost). To arrive at, reach, attain:
The audio-tour found its audience. Instructions, maybe.
Stubbornness and refusal to obey the reason
had parted the ways, had cleanly broken the heart of the matter
in to the chambers of solitude, galleries filled with pictures
throwing beams in the moon light announcing
our severed journey. The monument's a ruin,
the tower has emptied its ragged congregation bereft of faith.
beauty, such that the only sensible reaction
I could imagine was whooshed
through a multi-censored channel to erase all evidence of origin,
A performance begun at eight,
something said to erase her anxiety as I touched her arm,
each small pleasure took us deeper into the romance.
But options continued to break against the barrier, swimming
through the reef beyond the sandbar.
amusement invades the gallery,
each picture pulling us deeper into the romance,
where the galas were danced in the west wing.
The hour chimed the darkened, muted, program note.
I needed a bike, an express vehicle through this formal
structure of doubt, or what had become a memory of doubt
directing traffic through this intersection.
there are commuters in heaven, perhaps
they commute through the fine print. As the day pleads
its case against the coda we left behind,
throws all nets across the crowded square, heat strokes
the evening with affection. All else flew
east to evade another issue before the storm.
She saw me coming and turned away, slipped through the gate
without detection. At the airport, strangers turned
to look beyond this border we've come to respect too much.
Merely a device to define our location at any given moment,
never intended to last beyond a day.
This monumental reverence no longer serves.
once, what function this structure represents.
A muddle of indiscrection hangs above the departing crowd,
exhaustions fringed canopy flapping in the wind.
How quickly these galleries give way to thought.
Or single-minded determination.
an instrument for moving the bolt
or tumblers of a lock. Anything serving to disclose,
open, or solve. Something that opens or prepares
a way: the key to the museum.
All morning long, I looked for that key.
And then I remembered your promise
that it wouldnt be where I expected. I sat down to wonder
the problem through, consider what was ahead
before giving up the search.
A gloss, table, or group of notes interpreting certain symbols,
ciphers, problems, etc. Level of intensity of expression,
feeling, or artistic execution. To complete an arc
by adding a keystone. As I walked through rented air,
a severed atmosphere promised rain, release.
I began to understand that there wasnt really a key to find.
But I kept looking ahead for the answer, anyway.
Id made this promise to myself.
a mechanical closing or fastening device,
having a bolt or a combination of bolts
secured or released by a key, dial, etc., and used to prevent
unauthorized entry, access, or operation. Any part or device
that fastens, secures, or holds something firmly in place.
To become firmly joined, linked, or interlocked.
Now, I look ahead and see the past emerging again.
This wasnt what I expected, or wanted.
Id made a promise to myself that this wouldnt happen.
No more search for the impossible, for the key
that would answer everything.
In time, of course, Flight lands to survey her own grounded affairs,
these squabbling children sent to their rooms
as ample reminder of how they scared away the diligent moon.
Night quickens as one more arrow takes aim.
from the original collection,
these masks were catalogued as generous gifts
from an anonymous patron. Both of us monitored
the construction of this plan unfolding,
as we pressed each stone into coherence, the argument into shape.
Now, I wonder if, in fact, I hid that key,
anxious to get ahead of this maze inside the museum,
where the key to my confusion isnt where the guide book said.
The Museum of the Lock: the bedroom, the heart,
the mind, admission into and a barrier to keep out,
taking unexpected teasing and beautiful forms.
Consider the beauty of the constructed riddle from lover to lover
this you must figure to enter, this you must unlock
with skill, intelligence and studied attention to detail.
This you must unlock to get into the museum
better way, this, to witness just how fatal love
can be in that first turn of the path,
where proper plans havent been sufficiently laid, contingencies
considered for proper accord. So much depends on a respite.
Nonsense rooms with agood restaurant offer lovely diversion,
a menu to peruse. A glass of wine. Below the exhibition,
books and records collecting dust I the library
brood the sub-structure of the world.
alternative: A gift, left with no hint of the giver.
Purely ocean views, I was willing to forego for a time.
I realized only later, I had to go back to the scene of origin,
those first years played out in orderly fashion.
The next paradigm would be perfomed on the piano.
I had my doubts these keys were admissible for evidence,
would unlock the case argued in court, or hidden in the closet.
But the ocean views returned.
wallpaper and vitrines stuffed with accessories
to the crime, the deliberate acknowledgement of subversion
ferrying the passengers deeper into the heart of the conversation.
This was the place reserved for a willful houseguest
staking claim for the season.
A clear, cool day brimming with transparent solution,
hand held out to keep from falling
poised at the brink of a bottomless pool,
the moons silver-fingered light wakes you with a start.
Your sack of follies and illusions slung over your shoulder,
sewn from their own tattered conclusions.
It all becomes clear.
You wipe the clouded glass and spy upon the self
in vestments of its own disguise, vaguely blurred, faintly foiled.
to see where all this had taken us.
a kind of love
characterized by high ideals of purity and devotion,
strong ardor etc. A ruler and compass might measure the way,
construct the missing link.
But say you have undressed the need, tossed the cloak
across the bed and left the room chasing figures
you've designed on yourself.
Whispers, fits and starts remain
the surest form of address when alls reversed to fathom itself,
or otherwise repossess messages echoing at random.
of breath slowed our journey.
The scene was delightfully deserted, emptied
solely for our admission. In the rite and ritual of congress,
an assembly gathered on the outskirts of town.
References that mattered less as time passed,
volumes of notes we no longer needed cluttered the hall.
Engravings mounted in memory of earlier excursions
lined the foyer. Small animals guarded the gate.
You designed the map, while I wrote some mindless novel
extolling the length of time it takes to enter the region,
the cities of the interior where the circle is drawn to include
what was reserved for the occasion.
very transience of the experience
preserved the texture of another passion faded into vellum.
The scent of newly mowed lawn accross the yard.
A concert hall in summer opened the air of possibilty.
You recorded their classification, history, and culture.
I grew samples for cutting and formal arrangements
in the dining room. Too much to see, too much to record
in the lapsed record of the evening. An evening so vast and complex
it would both reveal and revise the rules of the game,
the neatly laid plan underscoring the maps graphically colored
expanse of trails to consider as editions for the library.
through minimally connected
with the shores pink sand and the museums west wing.
spoke through a portrayal of animals,
ancient designs, and any heard were allowed into the museum
of retreating trains. Here is a series
coming off the chase: ambush, elephant, ideology, obey, unborn.
The unborn will never know the failed ideology
ambushing those elephants that obey.
Unborn elephants will never obey, knowing
any ideology is an ambush. You saw one day,
during an interview, the suprise of a coastline,
the passengers retreating into trains.
An island in stages, passing through the narrow rails.
And later in the cloudy afternoon,
clear streams and reflecting pools spoke through you,
saying, here is a species spared humiliation.
The instruments played all night. The animals prayed.
finished each nights journey with darkness to spare.
Thought deep into the light where all this led.
Our itinerary was still at odds with border patrol's agenda.
Still, divergent countries. Sometimes, we explored
what promised to be tamer routes gently rounding off the day.
Each night, the region offered yet another country.
carbon tests date the age no less present than our own, no less.
ago, we might have known
slippery hold on foreknowledge liquid
as the pool we dipped into or guessed at something in those evenings
we undressed ourselves, what model of the heavens
would be calculated from these star positions.
Geometry of fish, you said,
seen beneath a glass-bottomed boat,
was what swam above us in its school of thought.
But here, in this part of the country,
where early August showers pamper azalea leaves
outside my bedroom window, and robins sing,
it's not so much the heat as the humility.
code tells me where your letter's from.
Leaves folded inward. Nothing speculates the notes enclosure
better than a perfumed scent
lingering in the wings. Your letters flight
the impulse to unravel or address
some new message committed to memory.
Bound fast in engraved relief. Bedtime brings the answer
into the night tables light. These same stories
unfold around the favored parts, crinkled cotton
sheets of dialogue. Time to address the point,
or read myself asleep.
THE DAME FROM HARLEM
Palmer Hayden, c.1930
The harmon and Harriet Kelly Collection of African American Art
William Carlos Museum, Emory University, Summer 1994
the languor of those eyes
all that blazes:: with-
holds behind that Empresss gaze
so cool it could forestall
any crisis of confidence, finance,
still the masses stirring on 135th and 7th
whatever rages now in dreamy rapture
as when chill October passed: beyond the frame
of this portrait the living
beckons: call it Harlem, home
your scene,your tone, tone poem
as you please your Jazz the way
you pay no mind to times
insolence, reign with the grace of one who will not
be pressed through the screen of this
moment: tonights events await your
this hour is your throneyour anthem blues
blue silks blue vases baring
incandescent chrysanthemums sparing no blue
notes woven in plaitive plaits
from the parting lips of the Lafayette
in the soon-evening blie and waxing
like the storefront churcheswails, beguiling:
beyond the veil the pleasure and pain
the men are other womens blues as the blue-
veined matrons who sneer at you
across the pews at Abyssinian Baptist
you shift and depth surges towards you:
what brews in the sun-burst of that tea setting?
what seethes in the heart
of your white terrier, reposing? White
terror of your pearl necklace gleaming
serene as the crimsonarmor of those nails
parting violet drapes to let the sun rain
in the streets music praise, harmonnize against
the peach sail of wall raised beind you
the response and call of the cherry wood piano
upright and primas proper does: you
rise to greet the gallery of faces
who will swell this spacespeak easy
laugh and glide with the grace of those who know
Sugar Hills charms, what goes downtown
down south and all around, sharing a smoke
some scotch no sip from the jigger
of potliquor lacing the uptown air like the fragrance
of cornbread collard greens sweet
potato pie and pigfeet while you jam
to the Savoys evening chorus
conducted by your brown and moonstoned hand
plain draped andready, rewriting
the poetry of yesterdays stroy tomorrows
foreverin these rough deft strokes
the annals of a people:
a city: an era: one womans common
and singularly regal history
after Vija Celmins
the quartz pebble
I keep on a shelf
the quartz pebble
I keep in my mind
I spent all day collecting rocks.
At the end of the day
I had a thousand rocks,
each more beautiful than the others.
Inside the cave, stalactites,
I was the rock I saw
I saw the rock I was
Each memory is a little stone
in your shoe.
there it is.
(PULP)FICTION VS. DOCUMENTARY
"And here, somewhere,
we have an eye capable of any imagining. And then we have the camera eye . . . ."
1. Not drowned by the heart in which a condition unlike breath was called snow. An apple tree is chain-sawed in fourparts. In one of these parts there is a kind of whipping motion, in one a toreador’s feint, in another a mother loads a commercial washing machine. Thus, in the lower hemisphere the eyelashes are carefully lit with love letters or the woman resembles a triangle, an oncoming train, a mailing label, a zebra. In between these numbers, a flamingo rebounds at cuff. Love Tar a wig. A bathtub suds in a foreign language. Into the answering machine, the lens continues to rattle snow like pornography.
2. When he thinks she no longer loves him, he cuts out his left eye with a hand as shapely as the body of a dragonfly. He peels away the cornea, places the eyeball in a half-full mayonnaise jar, and fills the rest of the jar with the dried bodies of a hundred houseflies. The few tears remaining are released and make their way into the wings of the houseflies. It is unclear whether either the hand or eye is alive in summer. The jar is rotated and snow begins to fall in what is summer. The hands touch the lovers backwards. A melody erupts like a lengthening cigarette. Like wind, something in the ear, a car door, stubborness, a spoof, a comb will recite the evidence. Imagine a bar visible. For the hand it was winter and weeps. For you, in the winter the hand touches its torso to the lens. For the eye, it is summer, night is a doll in a skin tight silk dress. I am kisses you. A century passes into the eylids of a geisha. Across the room, a nightingale is ground up by the hand with a screwdriver and recycled as intimacy In the east, kissing the cone comes later. In the west, a woman shaves. In the west, a diamond shoves into a cut-up garden hose. A second piece of pie is chain-sawed apart. A star shines brightly like a bodybuilder. Everything belongs in the jar. A red roof is place over it. The dragonfly clears its throat. The scenes buzz. Rotate and link imagined Rhapsody. Easter blue billed.
The plates hang
Like the sexual musculature of the squid, the Orient is glued to the television screen. The characters continue to revolve like a floor of pulp fiction.
As the geisha unloaded the plush carrots of time, he thwapped the head on her holly. High heels squeel away. Apuncture wound draws itself backward from the starting gate.
way it goes.
Lapwing Muzak Confucius
Delicious, she checks her face. In vegeance there’s wind in the bathroom. In retrospect, he takes the Clavin Klein perfume ad and rubs it on his neck. They are his sister and his fiance. “Like necks, thet appear to be fucking in designer clothing.” The bride’s name is Quentin.
In the coffee shop he takes a photograph of her that has the gesture of compass points or laughter on panty-hose.
The suitcase is empty. “He feels emasculated.” The glass of vodka is empty. “She feels emasculated.” The lines to the movie are empty. Charlie Chan appears to recite his name backwards N I T Q
For two years afterwards the photo appears to hail taxicabs, types warning letters to sequined gloves of a shoplifter, looks at the stars that wallpaper the eyelids at dusk. By morning, the hand unwinds the suture from the bride’s face. A Woman is a Woman. A woman is plagiarized by a boy. The boy calls himself goddess. This is known as documentary. The dead ear fools around when it hears his name, it picks up some gold earings in Honk Konk.
Flameking wok kick
For a month or two afterwards, the photo appears on the lunch counter, crosses a traffic light with a deer strapped to a station wagon. The shadows grow like moss or puberty as she sits on his desk. He types four words and places them in envelopes that will be mailed to the phone company, the subscription department at Time, a collegeprofessor in the midwest.The fourth envelope is woven fromwhite tea leaves sent by apainter who has since been in a car accident and lost her eyesight. He begins to write letters to his seventeen aunts. The fourth letter he deliberately forgets, as he might a knee or an elbow of a lover.
Thus, emotions such as love, nostalgia, anger,and fear as distances in a cornfield or dew between a hand putting down a hearing aid on a table in the morning and candlesticks on the table where he was smoking. In between these taupe colored chairs, he takes his hand from his head, as if to say “I have a headache.”
It is nearly Halloween.
He removes any
and all buttons.
He garners a prize
totem pole which he waxes himself.
In April he hears
a rustling around in the trailer.
His eyes appear to be placed next to a crumpled ball of film. He attaches a match that could be burning. Oriental Ink appears to trace love letters across the celluloid. Thus and henceforwards, grass or a face appears like a code (birds, typewriter keys,retreads) where the elbow was expected,an arm appears where hair used to belong in a car window, repentance or reportage emerges like a swan from a typewriter ribbon. This is kiss
The scuba diver
or thew geisha says.
Here we go again.
In retrospect or
in vengeance the various sections are named and numbered.
Out of three plots
or headstones, in this way, the directors hands become goats.
Out of three folds in the plots the usual desires are made into things that are considered oblong or belonging in a frame: vinyl gutters, empaneled jurors, the beak of a finch, a summer shish-kebab, the varnished edge of a mirror, certain forms of topiary, the flooding pattern of a lit cigarette seen from across the street.
Once upon a time
there is a lake
trailing off into
the ink on a fan.
Once there was
a time upon a lake
in it lightly and
a mockingbird singing
its flight into
the dry cleaning van.
The black and white portions of the lake correspond to the portions of the photograph that suggest ‘caption’ and ‘object captured.’ In the center of the photgraph the face is overexposed like a power outage. Someone in the audience stands up and says she is in love with the man sitting next to her and that it is time for her to go home and have sex.
When she first
meets him they are trying to talk to each other like hamburger buns.
When they first
kiss, she pretends to be a pickle.
In anyfairy tale,
the adults will be asked to show themselves to their rooms witha flashlight.
Of all the ways
a sunflower has of loving light, regret is the most beautiful shadow on
the sundial. On a painting, crossbones, cross-word puzles, chop-suey,
filaments, Year of the Bronze Duck, volumes of ignorance and opium. This
fish is born from a thorn, the monkey from a walnut. The shadow of Christopher
columbus tuns on Tierra del Fuego: it is more difficult than the egg.
From within this
song of water in the birds mouth...
From without this
vertigo on hte face of a woman asleep...
The ocen liner
varnishes its departures into the palm trees. The colors I dig enter the
eyes of the sleeping courtesan. This is how water gets calligraphic in
the way of suffocation. This is how the sign for a hand is shaken out
to the idea of early editorial advsntage. A diamond: the film makes and
takes this as Say Farewell. The jade people are sitting in the bus stop
and looking at two versions of the same audience waving ggodbye. And fucking
them in them.
3. To them for them. Soft-focus is a signof a dull wattage in an institutional setting. A broken bar blender makes the sound of birch leaves or the shudder of acupuncturists on the map. A schedule unwinds. The frame hatches where the man changes a baby. The delays are considered objective. The Chinese transit cop appears three days late attaches a tune to the various segments fingers holes in woodwork masquerades as drag queen repudiates coke usage pinches section of curtain smells loopholes pronounces lollapalooza with foreign (Chinese) accent hits dance floor in Gold-Toe socks. The various smells constitute a pattern of slanting eyes. He touches the corpse with chopsticks (whatever handy dandy). From each part of the body he removes an imagined noise: sound of dead skin falling off a sunburned nose; Adrienne's red hat, mushroom sweat, book with a paisley cover and 144 blank pages, an unidentified human whistle that is supposed to come from a mail jeep, the funky breathing sounds made by that machine in the hall.
He types the phrases out and places each of them in a glassine envelope: "trash bag," "greeting card," "unweathered shale," "speeding ticket," "mascara flakes on a compact mirror." In this way certain emotions imitate candles, flying ravens or disco infernos. In a mirror, certain letters are transcribed to be indescribably delicious. Stoned calligraphy replaces the alphabet.
Where the raven
goes the letters reappear, and so soes the opium den and the hip hop lubecakes.
It is Halloween.
He takes the buttond
off his mouth. The audience applauds vigorously like a school of submarines.
4. He begins his personal anomaly. He sketches with his eyebrows raised on the side of a house. He perms his cheecks. He says nigger into chink seven times to the camera because no anywhere else he could dump like shim
The following items
are catalogued into film:
a pubescent nomination,
a can of yellow face, a trash bag, a glossy dumbwaiter contructed of celluloid