Domestic Politics - Poetry by Leslie Nutting (Xorys)

The Farmer and his Wife He is normally a placid man, or not one, in any case, to take pride in his anger preferring to explain his moods, to rationalise his failings or rant occasionally sullenly at his luck. She goads him, pins him, wishing him different, taunts him in his corner to paroxysms of a violent rage for which, however, he does not feel guilty, seeing them as her products not his own. He does not understand the crooking of her hunger, the torment of her dumbness that lashes him for love. He is powerless in his power and reasons houses. She is choked by his bread, starved by his speechless earth wanting much more than peace, she courts his murderous gut.
Love in the Afternoon This is his triumph, the efflorescence of his lips. How could he question it or speak of her? She draws him into the room, lockless, momentary with only the whim of their attention keeping the household elsewhere, behind other doors, down stairs. The curve of her back is exquisite and risible, like an imaginary bird, dove brown and sensate in the interstices of her silk white shift. She blesses him with silence, nakedness. Though he wants her and others she forgives him. She envelopes his mouth with fluids, eyes, seconds of hidden moisture. Only in this gracious guilt is his innocence perfected.
Tulip Fields Any attractive female takes his eye, he is not discriminating. He overflows continually into vagrant desires, surprising himself with the palate of his lust, his lack of limitation. The privacies he's folded in his lips explode upon his kissing, his confession. They adore, adorn, but they do not restrain him. He always meant the look, the love. His wedding vow is silent as a rose, but in a world of flowers he is bemused by the acres of sun, the unappointable colours of the blossoms.
The Third The triangle is the symbol of love -- for there are always two lovers and a third (as a matter of fact there are thousands of lovers, all lucid in their passions. As a matter of fact the world is composed of lovers, or would-be lovers, all grandiose. But it is the measure of love's success, its still geometry, that temporarily there are two, and a third is sufficient to complete the universe.) Some say the third is love itself, or in depictions of a certain school a fat imp cupid twisting his curled pink bow. Some say it is Unity, born of the lovers, a simple one and one makes three. Others God, the mover that they know, being so moved. And there is a rumour it is Death, hovering with silent wings over the enclosure of their coupling, brushing their tongues with flesh.
The Immigrants You have the memories, the distances between places you imagine separated only by the miles, forgetting time's treachery. The newspaper jungles are your only contact with that stretch, and they are full of numbers of the dead, unidentifiable cadavers that you can't absorb into that soil. You were afraid, certainly, and fled to a separate peace from the shouts that flapped in the warm wet night, but now the house reproaches you, it is so far away and so intact, it spurns this gossiped slaughter. And your heart leans back so simply like a hand put out to stay a fall. But there is no way to this reconciliation, the ships that sail south will not take you home, the airports mill with baggage bound away. Each journey is different. And you wake to a world of immigrants, dreaming of childhoods each in that fabled land.
In Suspect Terrain (North Alberta Badlands) The history of the earth is written in stone by magma and glacial ice, its sheered geology masks under a footfall. Hills are like bones, they lie and lie again about what is buried in them. In the surreal strata of the badlands, this language is frozen in space, it is opened for us like a surgeon opening a chest. Stone balanced upon stone in a crazy pirouette and land hollowed like a avocado with a spoon. On the floor of these valleys a man can only stay so long, even with a jeep, a Coleman stove and a two-way radio. He searches for the bones of dinosaurs, for the memories of men who searched before him. To come here at all you have to search for something. And when he drives back up the highway to the first gas-station, the first place that sells coffee in a cup, he talks about the weather not the landscape, belying the statement of the rock, seeking a geography of animals, a history of trivia on the surface of the vast erosions of the heart.
The Ocean and The Map The nature of the appetite prevents its satisfaction. Freud meant sex but was right about all things. Even the fish's thirst for water is never slaked. And the explorer's next mountain is never his last. He pushes on into the oblivion of horizons, strange flowers. Strange beds, yes. The illusion of the bird of paradise. The illusion of the kissing of the flesh. Lovers we dream of knowing. The landscape of our skin's regret, the honey of its giving that screams in the blood. The shark lays along its teeth like one long muscle, it moves in an effortless flick of the tongue. The word it speaks is anything -- say love, say death. Like salt, that penetrates the polar desperations of its sea.
The Lovers They dream of being together, of a country where their veins are wound into one net, a single geography under the scrutiny of birds. They dream of birds, and of flowers, for flowers are the delicate genitals of plants. And in that jungle they think to open into one another's images. But the blood is obstinate and hunts in its own river. Each reaches the estuary of orgasm alone, into the ebb of the sea. And though they hear each other's cries, they come to worlds of snow. The penguin and the arctic bear. Identical landscapes, different poles.
Scar Tissue I wear your scars, real things, solid cicatrices on my wrists, where you clawed me, an aching pad on my shoulder where your teeth are caught. They are hard like roots projecting from the earth, like bits of something other than my skin, which purses in little stitches round their edges as it lives. Others see them but, too polite, won't ask what past, what accident. They do not know how, like a jaguar you hated me, pawed at the razor night. Blood was your finest hour, though we got bored. And the wounds are all that lasts.
The Diver He spends so much of his time thinking. He is always in the air. -- The surface of the water is like hammered brass. Behind and above him, he leaves ships, boards, cliffs, small perfect clouds. He presents the minimum surface calculable to the tilting waves, folding his hands into an arrowhead, tucking his shoulders like a wingless bird. This is his life -- controlling the way he falls, striking into the silence like the sun.
Post Mortem He was killed by a small blade that ex- plored its way to the heart, -- like a worm or a wire burrowing into the earth The awful impacts that he suffered, the massive contusions, were largely irrelevant -- of course he was thrown into walls and it broke bits of him, jolted his system out of joint and hurt but the one that really mattered snuck in like a spy beneath his ribs, and he did not understand it till it touched the pump, and freed him with its point.
Letter from Abroad I love you. And with the splendid logic of a lover I travel three and a half thousand miles to get away from you. It does not get me anywhere. I still remember your feet. The illogic of my attraction flaws the alien city. Listen. Your voice pricks like a bird at my sleeping hair.
The Case against the Giant The giant is tired. He is tired of his steel teeth, of the vegetable screams of love. He puts his finger on the problem, crushes it. Everything is too afraid of him. The air he breathes is thick and tastes of blood. He is pinioned in a tiny house that crackles when he sighs. Bad. He is tired of being bad. He dreams of a place beyond the moon, where his steps extend, where the trees can stand his lean. He dreams of a giantess, of walking in her long cool limbs, of a kiss where lips meet innocent of damage to repair.
Connection The first time I saw you I was more correct -- for I assumed no connection. You lived in my view as a figure in a photograph, bisected by the focal plane, sliced by an instant that cannot reach forward or back, is impotent in its image, coincidence of black and white that the subject passed through hardly noticing. Because it is not time, the picture dreams of time, the camera grasps for the river that human geometries become. And you were a glimpse like this, a history I knew was arriving beyond that intersection another self in different corridors of light. Now I err -- I reach through the moment when the shutter clicked, reach through the wall of paper truths fighting the process, I seek for your heart in the iodide upon the page, your blood in the film's hollows.
The Lie of the Land Look at this landscape. How do I begin to describe it? Do I begin with the footsteps in the snow, because they appear to lead into something? Do I begin with something you will not understand and lead into the unintelligible syllables of the hills, the facts of dwelling which irresistibly and invisibly alter all this, like a slow thaw coming from inside? We are the snow, you cannot know us. We do not know ourselves. This is not wilful obscurity -- sometimes the mind must hold from saying things to let a more elusive version out, orders that underpin its ramblings, like geology tolerating fences, the scattered life of farms. And the family -- the family is not an object by which we measure the ground, nor even a narrative, but a sequence of accidents connecting individuals, disparate crazinesses, fumbled moments in the dark, years of endurance, the fret of convention, the stranger who happens in from filthy weather, half casually touches a daughter's hand, -- or a foot that catches by the side of a gully, an arm too careless with a saw. Intelligence imposes an order on the savage events which they do not possess, makes history out of spoiled buildings, nasty little crimes. Look at this landscape. If you wait long enough you will see a man emerging out of it, but I shall not tell you the meaning of his journey, the houses that he learns to leave behind.
Alauddin I am losing things these days, becoming absent-minded; mislaying pieces of my past, or what I thought was still my present -- as though the part of me that plays at God were losing its grip on its universe of well-fingered objects: a pipe left on a train, a favourite glove slipped through the cracks of another day. As we live with things they become particular, and though we know there is a history that sweeps these sentiments aside, makes all junk equal in the market-place of time, still we resist the cry of the peddler calling 'new lamps for old! new lamps for old!' suspecting he is playing us some monstrous trick. And ultimately, we are right: for though there are no treasure caves or genies in our trinkets, and though we must allow that in the scales of war, or justice, all hearts are equal and all knives are measured by how well they cut, still in this flat world it is our possession that endears us, and even though we fail we attach again and again, knowing that only that belief in magic heals us.
Icon for my daughter The sun is round and yellow, or at least, approximately round. It sits, like the madonna's face in the thick blue sky, where the clouds graze, like fat sheep. The house is a red box, perched on the horizon, like a hat. Under the lollipop trees the grass is hard and flat, absolute as only the consequences of decisions about love can be. This is a country for gods, whose needs are merciless as colour, and as proud as lines. You have drawn me with a great black body and a tiny, empty head, walking, or floating, upward, away. And I wish to say yes, yes to that stick-man in this empty world, but to tell you no, no, everything is fainter, further off, and art is the mastery of confusions, the least lies set on the frozen page.
My Father Sleeping After the magnificence of fathers their emptiness, the deadly end of all their stubborn silence and their thick-fingered rage; stumbling eighty years into a blind city, where the factories of their youth close up their gates and they have nothing to show but hard hands and a reputation (outside the family) for courtesy. What then was all the brouhaha but a terrible patience that frayed? And after the emptiness a kind of forest that grows out of the disaster of their days, and our relearning of them in another country, another tongue. Till perhaps they are larger, after all, containing something in the unspoken word, the unachieved objective, like a tough land, that makes no promises, but is itself a promise, obstinate in its seasons.
Apologia Pro Vita Sua I reached for you as a drowning man might reach for a cloud -- the reaching an isolation, not meant to be wise. Of course such a grasp implies defective sight or madness -- a startling innocence of distance. But even so the hand goes up as the mouth goes down for the third time.
Amigo You pass through friends like cities in your years, each one growing into your atlas, absorbing part of your mirror, so that the country of your heart has more streets and less secrets. Each alley is opened by a wound or a game, habits that make it passable, the lifelong need for a voice to match your own. And each house is closed up, left, its time of casual clutter gone, the affections packed and bound for another home. We can never turn back, sift proximity from sympathy, love from the small necessities of sharing, the words in the letters that fall flatter and flatter. All our snapshots are edged with guilt, old maps become unfamiliar. We sit and eye each others' wives, make empty offers, knowing that, in the history each of us has made, we stand accused, but not yet why.
Etude v We see all dreams as consequent upon desire, the taxonomy of the possible, parsing sleep into verbs. -- Desire, and fear: the two poles of our loves, just as we dance between gratitude and anger. But, if these are our dreams, we wake over and over in the middle ground where no thought is entirely whole and the consequence of failure in despair is stayed ever in mid-gesture, all our departures stayed too, paused forever in the doors of our lives. And as we grow older the middle-ground enters our dreams, they, too, linger on thresholds, search for the compromise lost in the cluttered draw. The baggage becomes the destination. And what we desired and what we feared become the things we had and never recognised when they turned their terrible faces upon us, and dreamt of clutched in the blind, brief night.
Etude ix I crumpled a mouth like a swallow which as -- was it Browning? -- mentioned, are imperceptibly replaced by bats as evening steals over the water. -- Something like that. :The mind is divided upon itself -- not a thread but a mob of harried factions stumbling and weaving in the dark. As always it is language that deceives us, the words of the treaty creating the history of the war. And in the villages of the ego children are born, travellers robbed and murdered. Nothing is as we read it. Our mouths are traitors, front men for that civil power seeking their own loot and grandeur, crumpling in ambiguous kisses which no one can describe; just as it is neither a swallow nor a bat that moves over the dark lake of the heart.
Etude xi The bells own the snowballs which these lilies uncover. Do not believe anything they tell you about the past -- they are in love with their own voices which run through the landscape like invisible water. Squat in their towers, they dream with tongues and are themselves unlovely, iron daffodils. The snow is half a truth. At least it will not bend to men's convenience, obstinately clogging us with its cold embrace, more tangible than history, less lost than childhood. And the lilies? The lilies are grace or artifice, take your pick, and also the bald compulsion of the plant to reproduce, the show of it. We come with our own children as we came as children and scarcely better understand the price of things or them than we did ourselves, only our tongues become more cunning, less diffuse as we stand together watching them run through the afternoon like bells, tumble like lilies printing angels in the snow.
Photograph of Home Listen -- there is no sound. Or only small sounds, the water in the pipes, someone moving in a further room, the wood of the house settling. At rest the heartbeat hardly audible. Places in which we live. The climate in the valleys of time, favourable to books and children. But world is frugal, nothing is ever created whole, nothing is lost; each is an equal displacement of its opposite. So the light is the shadow of the darkness, the heat of cold, these valleys are the spaces of the mountains and this silence of the noise of battle, trucks screaming in gear through the pass. This house, these books, the message that the river mutters, our lives together folded in the palm. Beyond them, their negative, the weapon hovers.
Political Philosophy of the Bear The bear believes in his dark brain that this country is a country of bears. This is how he must understand it. And he must understand it. He is eclipsed, stumbling like a hand stuttering in a heavy glove but he must come through hunger, come from trees, learn the fish out of the white sliding, impulsion and pain make him. He must understand in his own clubbed way. Another bear is possible, a nation of bears, limping their way through the blinking woods, hibernation opening and closing like a fist. He must. And in this landscape guesses what he can do, is often wrong, not sure what circumscribes his awkward freedoms. He knows no reasons, forgetting those he sees. Cranberry, cowberry, broken bark and leaf, the smell of cars, smoke in the lifting wind, wars behind hills unuttered as a hunter's tent, the obstinate, opaque whistle of human speech. There are no laws he knows, nor can he make them, their windows, their insidious doors grasping perfection like the wing of a wounded bird grasping the air at the soft ground. And if he ends shabby, his fur in lumps, returning to habits of garbage, a psychopath, slashing with dumb claws into green plastic, and rifles dismiss him, his thick blood imploded, like rotting food he is knotted, he is not of the nation of bears, and justice absorbs him an orphan, an empire, an ownerless structure And there is no map, no constitution, just more and more bears, the millions of snuffling paths through the night.
Politics The initial proposition of politics is two people (one person is not politics: one person is survival, dreams, the imagination of two people) and their freedoms interlock like pieces of a jig-saw. It is relatively neat (though constantly beyond their understanding). Beyond this, beyond the number you can count (and some tribes of hunters count only to two -- one, two, a lot) it becomes harder to distil. All laws are made by men. In the territory of the household we patrol the compromise we live, learning as trees learn from the weather, finding a shape, branches of each other. But justice implies things we can never know, the getting of deserts: and what's deserved varies with time, locality, the deceptive landscape of the tongue. Justice is rarely what concerns a man, more what he loves, or does not not love. Time is not just. Time merely mimics justice, loving nothing, producing consequences perfectly from hats, despite our doubts. We did not expect this place, to live like this. And what we still expect mocks our negotiations, just as law pretends to order history and fails. Is it surprising then that we are lost for words, or talk about the past, like fingers touching other fingers like guitars? For this is what we learn, or what we know although we do not learn it. The consequences of politics become history. The tree in which we spin our laws, our dreams.
Visiting It is hard to tell if you are there or not -- nodding off, with your teeth clenched firmly in your jaw. Or, when you snap awake, who is the she you suddenly accuse of theft and worse -- the fat, patient nurse who brings your pills and always answers the same questions with the same empty answers, or someone else long dead and far away. Your hand reaches out and searches, shaking, but I do not know for what, and you yourself do not look, as though the hand remembered, but it does not remember and it cannot find whatever it is searching for. I speak, and wait for my words to travel the long distance to you, and cannot tell, often as not, if they've arrived or as what tokens in the country you inhabit. Do you remember me, I wonder (for certainly you do not recognize me now, calling me days brother, days husband, days, resentfully, stranger). Do you remember me? And if you do, what age am I in that amber you unearth and finger in the dark? This much we have in common, neither believes in the present of the other figure sitting in the room. The sunlight comes in through the blind. Well, we will not quarrel anymore, for neither of the two who paid those years of blame accrued and love defrayed and long, silent letters is here today. My past crumbles from me as surely, though less precipitously, as yours has in the landslip of this discontented place. How fragile the slender illusion that we are whole and continue to be, as though there were anything we could grasp in the airiness of our lives that advance like a flame through a field of grass carrying our name.
The Spoken Word The things that are explicit in the words and those that are hidden (turned in the small holes of the periods, berthed in the tails of commas ) coexist, as the city subverts the map but acquiesces in its order, the placid virtue of results, routes that lead us home despite their inadequacy as truths. Of the women the word they do not use is 'fear'. Possibly they do not know they are afraid. But they are, negotiating a hierarchy of fear between the spilt pools of light which they interpret as islands and the dark spaces they do not wish to learn even if they cross them by afternoons. Men who they know. Men who they do not know. Men identified by symbols. The men play upon their fears like a harpist upon puzzling strings but do not understand that it is fear they play on, misinterpret the movements in the throat, the sounds they make. They do not know what they should do, made stupid by desire and words that break the things they tell like thickened fingers. The women make long journeys, learning the etiquette of trains, the training of fear like a bridled voice. In strange cities they eat alphabets, wonder at their hunger.
Bad News The measure of what we lack is not the truth -- what actually became no more significant than all that equally might have been, the valency of the probable. We can hardly tell the difference, remember the detailed disposition of the lottery of fact, after a little time. There is no truth, no lie, only the stories that we make of them, which can be judged by our intentions only, the ends we tell them for. Death, too, is just another fact, and not original, nothing that can astonish us again. We had known all these tales before, and wept when we first heard them. Now, when the telephone brings news, we cannot cry, get out the car and drive to the airport, dry-eyed, watching the April sun breaking the grip of ice upon the fields.
Innocence We were never innocent, we know: pressed in the tiny, gemlike fossils of our seeding days, the black soil where we trace the roots of memory into oblivion, there is no hint of grace, only a groping for the light, a stumbling over things we should have known into the traps of property and love; and these things never change, only grow heavier as the silt of time presses them into their tombs. And yet when we see the features of our child, sleeping or sly, regretful, turned to a thing beyond her reach, we know her innocence is in our keep, and all our merciless debt to it. So then this innocence is a thing that falls between the root and the flower, between the observer and the observed, like magic, the ominous panoply of silks that blooms from the conjuror's open hand, though you are sure that it was empty when he made the fist.
A Prayer for my Daughter Innocence does not subsist in the absence of guilt, in freedom from the pain of others; for these we never have, not in our faintest dreams. Nor in the failure of intention, the lack of private ways -- only the smallest infant wants for these, counting the difficult fingers on the boundaries of the self. At seven you are poised; you have already entered your lonely kingdom. Nor is it ignorance, for nothing anyone could tell you would free you from this gift. Innocence is the country that you live in, the colour of the air you breath, the taste of water in your mouth. And what parts you from it is invisible, unmeasurable by the years, a soft migration of the heart, that shuts you out with borders grown of nothing from a place you never knew you dwelt.
The Machine When you buy the machine you know, already, it will fail. Accustomed to miracles, you accept their limitations (write them off, perhaps, year by year, against your income tax -- though not all losses are deductible, can be insured against: accounting is ultimately a comfortable lie -- lives do not balance in the least, and death is more sure than taxes). The first time you turn it on, you are always a bit afraid -- did you understand the instructions? did they test it in the shop? You have been through this before -- the sickening crunch and the nasty smell, smoke rising from the back. Gradually it wins your confidence, you come to trust in it, hitting the button in the morning, when you're thick with sleep, without a waiting thought, until the day it acts a little different and you remember when it was you bought it -- Jenny was five, or was it six, you had just planted the laburnum, put the blue curtains in the kitchen. What do you expect? Mortality is not a nice clean 'bang, you're dead.' It begins at the beginning (the first scar, the first tooth grown crooked) and only waits for us to notice it. All confidence is borrowed, not misplaced. So you treat it with a little circumspection, fewer assumptions, look at the latest model in the catalogue. Perhaps you will get it. It will not be the same.
Afternoon, Turk's Lake The round waves of shock spread on the surface of the lake from where the bird disappeared: patterns of interference, regular chop and wash, decaying to striate shuffle that moves always towards us but never closer. And, in the illusion of silence created by this eclipse, we hear the innumerable insects hovering in the air, seek them out with our furtive focal plane, grasping at distance without perspective, straining the eyes' assumptions. The bird surfaces with a pop like a cork in a bath, shakes the sun from its head which is round and clean as a ball-peen hammer. Back in the woods a chain-saw starts. This is not home, and the distance cannot be measured in miles. Home cannot be constructed out of the atoms of this afternoon. The way back eludes us. Or what we always thought was the way back seems irrelevant in face of the sun upon the water, the stuttering, trackless echoes. The things that make home of this landscape -- fragments of fences, a rotting dock, bones of boundaries among the scrub -- are not ours, and we observe their life, their death, dispassionately, sensing them flicker, like the ripples that disturb the surface, or are made by the surface. And history is much the same, it grows back, out of the pieces, less perfect, even, than memory, a myth that tells us when, and why as if when could ever be decided or why ever counted (the number of reasons irrational, pi, endlessly unrepeating.) The order intelligence imposes is not the order of the world. Narrative is a result of events -- or an axe, to shape them to a purpose. Which they consistently defy, with the force of a multitude -- the myriad populations rising beneath the colours of our maps.
Historical Buildings i Privacy is what counts to a man, what he counts on the days of his own making, adds on his fingers, speaks, and means only for the one he say it to, and only at the time he says it. What law can only violate. All words spoken by witnesses are lies. Seeking to separate truth from falsehood, the sword of justice, clutched in the mechanical hand, divides the child in two. We see this in photographs, late news: caught in the arbitrary frame, the man, or woman retreats behind the eyes into the moment, the camera decapitates their love, their pain. Hunger for facts is never kind. And we see, too, what the lack of this (meaning the lack of a private world, not the lack of solitude) does to a man, what it takes from him. The man who lives by confessions dies of starvation. The man who has nothing to confess is worse than dead. All tyrannies of poverty and accusation slay like this -- by questions or the lack of them. The house of memory invaded, its occupants left for dead. But still the private world hangs on, is tougher than it looks, growing the structures of meaning and affection, like lichen, on anything -- ruins, arctic rocks, burnt soil, bones. ii History is like this, a holograph, radical superimposition of the public and the private worlds. And we visit this house because of history, what's said has happened here. But what is commemorated and set down is all that was lethal and great, smashing through lives like a clumsy hand through spider webs. Demolitions. A bulldozer disregarding the walls of rooms, leaving a jagged patch of wallpaper, dusty ornaments upon a shelf incongruous against the sky. Violence is memorable, creates events large enough to disfigure the landscape, to be seen from a plane circling above, high and distant as the future. The grammar of disasters articulates the tidal wave of years, misses what is learnt walking over the ground, why all this matters. iii We climb the dusty wooden stairs, turn to look out of a window, remember a phrase read in a letter, or a book. -- No, we cannot touch them, their private world is permanently private now, or private as it ever was. But we allow for them breathing in these places, containing their wants in this wooden frame of facts. History is a heap of names, winds that blow, like armies, across maps, bring us, gawking tourists, to look at what is left. But it is the unrecorded, the private thought of the man pausing on the stair, between one thing and another, that we sense, the habitation of the space. And this, and ultimately only this, is what we harvest, what we preserve each other for.
Venezuela Perception is a simplification, understanding another, memory a third. What we draw out of the world and set against each other is a geometry of lust. Christ in the garden, olives softening upon the trees, swords shaped like crucifixes (, like plus signs). The distance across the ocean is itself a lacuna, a missing word in the manuscript of (love). ii Spain, Eldorado, America triangulate the country where we live, eliminate alternatives, but fail to locate it. Rain falls on the rooftops of the city, which gasps like a language about to be translated. Gold hides in the earth, the sap of trees, waiting for men to find a reason for it, economic miracles, geography, a war. These things could be measured, but we rely upon our memories, approximations, substitutions where what matters is what shapes the universe. iii This is how you and I live together in this green room looking on the harbour. We are both at a point on a line drawn between some A and B. In versions these points are identical, in others very far apart. Perception is a simplification, understanding another, memory a third. Out of the open mouth of history, which is about to speak a word, we make a space in which to live. Barely notice the sound that emerges around us.
Present Trapped in the present and damned by the literal, the word is suffocated by the voice that speaks it. His axe travels down a chain of minutes to split each log, knows nothing of deviation to the right or left, just as he knows of no opinion but his own, and he has no opinion. His daughter is rooted in the soil, and as she grows she inclines to right or left. He corrects her with pruning, staves, counts her as shade, fruit, an extension of his house. From horizon to horizon is a straight line, all the variance he tells, land that requires tilling, a God that requires hands. * * * History intrudes into his idyll, pries loose the limpets of his love. It is all lies and damn lies, insidious little books, strangers in funny clothes. How big is a globe in a one room schoolhouse? His daughter becomes like weather, her eyes wandering on the wind, her heels kicking. Her voice is a loose tile, comparing him to dead soldiers; he cannot mend her. The roof leaks. She leaves for another time, another country, her leaves coming like letters, her lovers coming, and melting, like snow. He cannot talk to them. His tongue cleaves to the ash handle of the word. He burns his memories. They are the only capital he has.
Leaving We are always leaving or threatening to leave (or thinking of leaving, with one of our voices, even if we hold our peace.) This is how things happen. The Spring comes, and we remember the taste of those who appear to have left like hard candy dissolved upon the tongue. There are plenty of absences and somebody must have left them. And the Spring comes and we are thinking of leaving again -- the same place, or a different one. Bags and destinations, the expendable we won't carry -- its tension gone, like strings unwound from a guitar, curling back into themselves, the past denied a future. But, of course, the more we leave, or think of leaving, the more we find that we are only left, never, ourselves, in fact, depart. The Spring comes and still we are thinking of leaving. The same places remain to be left. But never the same steps. We thought we could leave, or not leave, and that was what mattered, what made us what we were. And found instead that leaving itself was a language we learnt and could not help but speak.
Adultery Love, itself, is mostly a betrayal -- an excess, or a falling off. Foolishly, we vowed to love, and not to love, and cannot manage it, cannot be that tidy or that loyal. We stutter, our attempts at grace as though the words we speak were others', plead ventriloquy. Leaves fall, and fruit we didn't harvest, on the trees, unpicked, except by birds, turns brown and soft. Heavy overcoats hang in hallways giving off damp smells. Adulterous overcoats, roosting like furtive birds in the entries of illicit afternoon; they are the emblems of our disarray, our failure to predict. Betrayal. Temporary, where they don't belong, the bulky, woollen syllables resist translation, innocence -- such obvious haste. Unhideable. The awkward heart that won't stay home and cannot stay away.
The Liberation There is war and there is truth: do not mistake the one for the other. In the war I am on your side; in truth I am not. The war is about one set of facts, results, things that must be altered. Justice and crops. The use of one kind of violence or another to make a place where things can grow. In this interlude I handle your ammunition, share your bread, mean almost the same things by 'victory' and 'defeat'. History shifts like a wind, and I know who drowns when the river overflows its banks, who starves when the wheat burns. But don't suppose that those who starve and drown are any more magnanimous or sure than those who hold the towns. And if there comes a time to sow again, I'll turn on you, for in the boundaries of your creed I cannot sleep. Your paper dreams are nations in the seed, that, if they flower, will slay us. I see them blooming from your hands, at night. War is only one line of which we share a side. There is a whole geometry within waiting for us to struggle.
Memory The heart is, finally, empty after all. Always we thought, or tacitly assumed (which is to say, acted as if) something was there -- something not utterly obscure, that if we managed reasonable expectations, would lie, eventually, visible, in the hand. But there is not. The heart is, finally, one of those wooden, puzzle boxes that come apart intricately, and contain nothing -- only its pieces, waiting for reassembly. If there was something we missed it on the way. Like children at a party treasure hunt finding the adults, feebler than we thought, only beguiled us with deceit. We finger the wooden fragments, slot them back in place. Hide the box again. Keep quiet. Leave others to follow the same clues, finish with the same container.
Choosing to Fight There are those who think war is a language, and that crouched in the jungle with a gun, or hidden with bombs in the bloodstream, strapped in the eye of a plummeting machine they speak it: vocables of history, excelling the immediate ellipsis. Devotion. Possibly. The sentence can be read from a different country, a different century. Translated as a disjoint poetry of death. But this is not their fealty -- what they dreamed on the lip they made, or became, what their officers made them promise. Narrative is illusion, revolution, nations, cities -- even the dictionary that divides the armies into noun and verb. Combat is individual words and their result: destruction or escape, the relocation of pain. A soldier's meaning limited to what he kills and whether he survives: the targets that we choose. Not what we say we fight for.
Lines on a Couplet by Ghalib Jab tak dahaan-e-zakhm na paida kare koi Mushkil, ki tujhse rah-e-sukhan waa kare koi You and I travelling in a train across Europe ( -- understand that this is in the past, has changed as things change, cannot be handled with the casual brilliance of today, or dismissed so lightly, having stuck so long, become something different, like a seed in a crevice). Then I believed, I think, that what I said was wrong, made matters worse, thought that silence would heal the rift between us, grow into understanding. And we travelled through Trieste, Belgrade, as I did not say the things I meant, waited for you to hear them. (A cigarette sticks to dry lips and tears away the skin.) We look out of the compartment window, see the blocks of workers' flats standing in line across the city like concrete sentinels in the rubble. I come back again (now, not then) to the inadequacy of evil, its utter inability to account for anything, to access either the victim or the hand behind the pain. And later, in another year, at dinner in Kentucky, you (or was it someone else, that you agreed with?) rebuked me for telling my mother truth, refusing to let my sister bear her mute, baseless guilt. An old woman, you said, sometimes kindness matters more than honesty, than being right. (The rattle of silverware, waiters wondering if something should be done.) The cost of a lifetime of fiction, spaces falling between us, forever unfilled. But let us not dance around all these strange cities, let us not pretend we have visited them together, as if merely reciting their names, a catechism, explained them, laid them to rest. Prayer is no substitute for thought, and speech and truth are irreducibly superior to silence and evasion. -- Until the mouth is opened like a wound the road between us will remain untravelled.
The Poet's Wife You sit alone in your room every night, working at truth as though it were a nut you could crack by endlessly tapping. Or is it a kind of Civil Defence, building a stock of careful, bunkered phrases for when the sky comes flaming, helpless, down upon your head? You will not speak to those who would listen to you. You turn your back and write, while they wait silently further and further off. Nothing emerges from the door but the scratch of your pen. No one can love that forever. When finally you raise your voice, the house will be empty, the hinges rusted, the rafters rotted in. You chose this obsession with the language that things speak, this shuttered tongue, these hands that forget the presence of what they touch. Love, day to day, is speaking in the silence you caress. Small, necessary hopeful words that you will only notice when they cease.
Planetary Motion Some pass, the enormity of space convincing them, winking like beacons in each others' skies: is it inhabited? what alien trajectory brings it this close, makes it this geometric point in our void, always receding, light leaving it, arriving after it has gone? And some collide, the deadly accuracy of their attraction pulling them into the pummelling broil. Energy fierce as suns surrounds their meeting, announces the fusion to the humming waste; after the blinding implosion, drifts, a puff of gas, a cloud of heat. A very few miss by the right amount, feel the yaw and yen of each others' presence, slip into permanent orbit. They never touch -- the desire to escape always equalling the need to stay. On their respective faces, sundered nations grow, oceans move, mirroring each others' lonely, singing tides.
October In the end of October there is a kind of latent smokiness in the air, even on a bright, crisp morning like this, knowledge of the season physical, like the absence of words, silence that the ear hears, the reason we are walking together which is missing, something we do not say. The lake is flat-iron grey. A seagull stalls in the air like a hand thrown up. Trees are reduced to diagrams by the wind on the shore. The sky like an immense open blue eye absorbs us, what we do not have to say. Going over the same ground. What is this togetherness, this compulsion not to be alone? As though by this shared silence we could hold each other, discover some truth about our lives? We look for answers in each other and find none, misled by the rhetoric of hearts. As though a man could discover the secret of gardens by staring at a spade. The answer is not in the tool but in the using of it, not in the love but in the living out. So it emerges that when we look it turns November, the sorcerer's hands are empty. But only after, when we've forgotten what we asked, the reason we walked together, is there a partial truth, an invisible happiness underneath our story.
We You come in from the rain, slam the door and lean against it. Outside, through the city, your footsteps dry, ravelling back into you like a trail of blood you have left -- or have not left: memories learnt, thoughts piercing through things: roots through the foundations of a house. I know the words on the tip of your tongue, the fear in your eyes, the conclusions it represents. You shake off your coat, put your umbrella in the stand with a metallic click, hold your back rigid against the suggestion of my approach. You are learning a new way to interpret men, a new politic to translate the body-language of the street, landmarks seen in the corner of an alley, places where women suffered; and new terms for half the human race: Juden, Schwartz, class enemy, 'them'. You are afraid of my presence by your side, my body here, in your living room, reading, drinking wine. Doubt the correctness of the things we share. How can a they like me sleep in the truth your mouth is becoming -- its need to scream, to insist on the purity of its dialect of dreams? You go to your room and I hear you typing, hear you willing me back to my chair, to silence. But I am not they but us. And it is not they but us, the threat is inside, here, with us, the threat is inside us. We are the creatures who prowl in the dark street, grab the stranger, in the shadows, by the throat. We cannot shut it out with a door, or a world of doors, nor learn to love until we learn the words, until we learn that what we hate's ourselves.
The Man in the Moon The boundaries between things are often more remarkable than the things themselves, or at least, more remarked -- November snow, falling while the oblique sun shines, glittering like mica, shorelines, fascinating always more than land, the featureless expanse of water, Canada Geese, bound south, huddled in a clump, their necks undulating like worms, on the grass-banks by the sewage works. This is what it consists of -- noticing where one thing begins, another ends; the study of contrasts. Detecting things by the possibility of their absence. Knowledge depends upon edges, change, the pain that comes from not. The certainty of the shifts from dark to light that builds the image in a photograph. The ratio of the signal to the ground. Believing that we understand the geography of what happens, that someday we might, or that we have already crossed its borders. These things are all the same -- politics, epistemology, the human heart. The laws of ignorance that govern our impression of learning. Shifts of grey. The face we see in the moon, because we are predisposed to see faces. The chill in the air that signals the fall below zero. Winter, sudden as alcohol cutting the startled throat.
The Apple Tree I don't know why I should write about the goddam apple-tree. I got better things to write about. Got better things to think about even as I drive the truck into town and back, fitting the gears into place as the road goes up and down, trying to fit my mind into place on things. It was a scrawny little tree, in any case. I didn't ask for it. I didn't plant it. Came with the property. And never did me a blind bit of good. Out on the road side of the house, the neighbour boys picked all the fruit or knocked them off before they ripened, green and sallow -- big, but hard and bitter to the taste, not worth eating and a mess of the yard they made as well, breaking off twigs, smashing rotten fallings, at least one time a window too. And as it got bigger it shut the light from the alcove where we ate. Hardly a thing of beauty. After the first snow and the November rain limp leaves hanging on it like black dish-rags on a filthy bail of wire. So we had it down. It's gone now. Only a memory. Even its puny stump grubbed out of the grass. And why am I stuck still with this image: two leftover red apples nestling on the ground, round and rosy, shiny on a dark, wet morning as the best you'd buy -- on top, but surely if you bent and picked them up, rotten, putrid. The last of the thing this barefaced fraud. As if I had rejected some gift, not understood anything at all.
Geography Lesson The name of the country does not matter, its principal cities, the rivers that water it, wash away its pain where it is located -- north or south of the equator. The name of the country does not matter. It is shaped like the heart. Where it is located you could tell me. You read every day. You hear in your dreams. The politics of suffering conducted in another language. But it is not. The politics of suffering is conducted in a man's hands, the fibres of his eyelids. What is happening in this country happens first in the human heart. The blood in the buckets, the electrodes on the testicles, the woman, screaming, in the dark necessarily come after. The will to inflict suffering is the root of power. To understand this country you must understand the relationship between the torturer and the tortured. Not hatred, but a kind of love, or indifference. Or hatred, yes, hatred. But the hatred is one thing, the power another. It is not hatred that has turned this country sour. The jacarandas bloom in the city gardens. The crops ripen in the shadow of the mountains. The pleasure that comes from inflicting pain roosts like a fat bird in the cage of the ribs and we cannot drive it out. Terrible freedoms set our teeth on edge. Shadows of wings pass over us in the night. And the fat policeman sits at his table, in the bar, clutching his drink, and laughs, and laughs.
The Weaver Circle, break, pause, lift. Circle, break, pause, lift. -- this is the rhythm of his work: a delicate monotony, neither the strength within it nor the skill apparent to the casual eye. But look: how has he learnt this? to balance the weight of his attention in the tendons so that it slides back and forth like a bead on a string, never betraying the fingers' almost accidental thrust, the dead weight of his body, his desire. He suspends all calculation of beauty, the idea of pleasure, labours as he has taught himself to labour, the twin measures of effort and control eating at his time like a held breath, releasing him a little older, a little nearer the grave. In the nighttime his children play by the fire, his wife croons a wordless song -- or a song with few words, that repeat. He plays the drums: rocking back and forth; his fingers snap on the taut skins. His eyes are not focussed. Like a bead on a string the music slides: the shape of the space he forms with his hands.

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