We Were Equipped - Poetry by Leslie Nutting (Xorys)

The Boy Selling the Blue Fish Never start with abstracts, start with the apple tree outside the window, the sadness of the boy selling the fat blue fish. Start with the closed circle of love that closes upon itself (like the fishes' mouths closed upon death, in a round O of surprise), closes upon its need to choose, to be caught, to be drawn out of the blue waves of enough. Oceans surround the world and all land is an island but it is only by choosing to drown in air that we learn the sadness of our continents. The mind seeks the map, it does not understand the feet's obsession, the injustice of doorways, the terrible questions that an alley asks, and answers when it is followed many times. We learn by the homes we make, and the ideas that we sacrifice to keep them. In the war, the signposts at the crossroads were turned to throw astray an army of invaders that never came, and when we walked as boys, they threw us still, on roads of no importance, to foolishly asking strangers where we were. The greatest happiness of the greatest number: what else can we say if asked? But each happiness is a blue fish, staring at a signpost, trying to find its way back to the sea.
Rain All the cities are on rivers or by the sea, or clung like flotsam to the polished shores of lakes. The small towns are marooned on highways, or lonely on railway lines. They are dry, becalmed, we pass the prison of their windows quickly, intersecting their lives, like a line intersecting a plane: they are warnings on our journeys, waterless markers of the cost of geography, its limitations. We are glad of larger places, the forces of tide and thaw, the sad wheels of water turning the mill of politic and law. The houses cling to the surface of the ocean and its strings in the heart of the land, walking away from its promises like trees. Open the window -- you can feel it, even now. All our lives we hear the water falling, falling, but we never see it rise.
The Kingdom of Trees The kingdom of trees is untranslatable. It fills his mind and cannot be shifted by language. This is the first lesson. The nature of illusion is not to provide answers. He sees the world and thinks he makes it. A little learning is a dangerous thing. So his relief from the crunch of days into his groin is a temporary postulate, a theory for mystics (a wooden leg for a blind giant.) Perhaps he was mistaken. He studies the abacus, wondering if it holds the numbers in its frame like a balloon in an aquarium. Perhaps he is only the intersection of two planes, the thinnest line through things created by the needs of history. He carries his lies with him, like a portable table to be set up in each room he rents. Finally time becomes too much, he learns a different lesson from his memory. Without wishing to he loved, and found that love has many consequences, that dreams are shaped by the axe of living, just as the game is lost by the first bad move. Where are they now? he asks himself, and finds that question more important. He pays for his feet. And his world is still full of trees, and he still cannot speak them. Perhaps he finds he has stopped trying.
What's Difficult What is easy is soon misprized or gaily swallowed, the dip and lark of our lives and the sated pleasure that becomes languorous, the arrogance of skills too freely given by the hour. What is impossible is harder, but still a boundary to be outgrown; the pain of the muscle breaking at its wall, the failure of the mind to come at mountains, only surprises us so often before we accept that all is not for all and cease to anticipate the unattempted splendour, become deaf to the bitter call. So it is what's difficult that masters us, increasingly, and holds our love in its bony hand, the hardness of things that we live for, and only the passage and the payment counts. Becoming larger by inches, we learn that the world begins at our own cold frontiers, and that the territory of sacrifice is the only empire of the mind.
Etude i Artificial Intelligence The hair senses this body as the hand enters the cantilever of the brain. He gluts on his inadequacies, disgorges silk and fireflies. The nerve knows its way in the plummy heart, is happy there, screaming of avocados and desire. Or perhaps desire is too historic for this nexus of the tongue in the mouth's cold plane. Caesar will never come here, nor his children. It is too singing, like the colours that their skin is night to -- cream, vermilion, boundaries of unsight, software that gropes out of the mire towards that union. And if it speaks what will it say, metal nightingale, lost in their lust's long weeping?
After Gita "All is clouded by desire, Arjun: as fire by smoke, as a mirror by dust." Desire clouds everything, said Krishna to Arjun on the battlefield, and you must act but act between it, like a swimmer poised between the ebb tide and the flood, moving neither in nor out. But what is this? Advice? A man with a loaf of bread, considering himself neither good nor bad, eats. Nothing is simple. The soldier sings of the war. Arjun is not those. He neither rants on the T.V. nor idles in the tavern. Nor works, and collects his pay, and damns the blacks. This is the tide he cannot be, divided in his questions. Nor is he strange and shark-like, deep within the dialectic sea. Nor pure like saints and madmen. He is alone on his chariot, the battle raged and gone, the fire burnt out, the mirror cracked and tarnished. He calls out to that mad, blue boy to come and answer him But none returns. The chariot is solitary on the plain over which the wind moves ceaselessly.
Jealousy You are in love with Truth and the rumours that you hear about her hurt you -- she is not like that, you tell yourself, precious in your knowledge of her in the white, clean heart of the night. When a drunk in a bar becomes too frank, you bust his jaw. But you must suspect it is all true. She is not your creature. And she won't resist for long the passion of a winning lie: however baseless are their births -- greed, vanity, a mask for power, stupidity -- their charm and strength can only grow with age, and she cannot deny them. They become her. She's young and innocent upon your arm, soft as you wake in darkness. But you only dream upon her lips. Im- mense, un- reachable and ancient, you cannot start to know all who have had her and the things she is.
On the map it On the map it did not look so far -- the weather was absent, the collusion of these hills. On the map there were no fields, no sunsets -- just the road running, sweet and simple, like a line of poetry across the page. We did not expect to find ourselves here, supposing, having mastered names, we were equipped, and do not understand how, in this country between things, we die, on our knees in the whispering grass.
The Chanted Forest The weather in that country was inseparable from sleep. What the tongue turned in the air would return in rain and gladioli. Our names would leave our mouths and, while we dreamed, fall in the night on the fat green leaves, seduce them into flowers of purple speech haranguing our morning caution. Our silences brought sun and sedulous winds threatening the trees with desiccation, crackling the hair upon our scalps. We were not able to move, trapped in the delicate cage of climate that betrayed our wishes in sweat and vegetation, light that inebriated the porous moon. But then time turned, the season of unthought receded, the whole chanted forest curled back into its tendrils like a tide, and the road to the coast opened, we took it unheeded, like two words printed upon a white page and unconnected otherwise.
Zazen Yes archery is a good example, for the system the bow makes with the target is not accessible to reason, or is accessible only outside itself. Zeno addressed this -- the arrow poised in mid flight being implicit neither in the fingers' crick nor in the target, quivering -- the degree to which a thing is between here and there is not reducible into the thing itself: which leads to the conclusion that the thing itself does not exist. Thus we forget all this, in this degree arrest the mind, becoming part of the thing which is not being, the arrow already in the bull before we draw the string. These things can be learnt, and we learn them and cross over their impossibility, suffering the irony of the words we use to teach them. But it is more difficult than this, for we do not spend our lives as arrows in the air (or only in one of the metaphors that speaks us) -- it is necessary that we recombine the facets of the possible in the acts we make: not just to stop the mind with the art of a lead foot on the brake, but to learn the delicate balance of heel and toe, the intangible patterns of acceleration. Or let us say, taking the other example, in the right hand we hold the sword of thought, in the left the sword of non-thought, and the two wield us, become us slicing the dancing bonds that make us whole.
Zen and the Art of the Spaghetti Western Munen Muso. When you remove the intention, you remove the decision to perform the deed. The resolution of dilemma by the perfection of technique. That is to say: you dissect the act into its necessary parts. First the body is taught the components of the move: The hand learns the way the gun leaps from the holster like a fish loving a river. Then, remember, this gun was single action, the trigger essentially irrelevant, the hammer drawn back each shot by the free palm fanning the spur, like the wing of a dove clawing for altitude. These things repeated, repeated in empty dust-bowls till the cans leapt from the distant dune because you allowed it, without the intervention of desire. Only you chose to be this beast and not another -- something else impelled the holes. Thus it is possible to speak of peace, to move slowly between the sun-baked walls. And when death intervenes there are no questions only the incidence of what waited to occur, geographic, blood punched into the air falling on sand. What you remember is chiefly the gun returning to its lair, the pain in your fingers.
Potters (After a postulate of Pier Giorgio Di Cicco) Rationality is obtained after knowledge occurs viscerally. Which is to say having found something we devise elaborate ways of searching for it. Just as the fat inspector gets his man without much reference to the Criminal Law, Aristotle, or the Rules of Evidence. And then stands up in court, licking his fingers and deliberately turning to the right page, as though he did the whole thing with a pencil. While, out in the city, violent truths proceed, sheerer than his jumps to their conclusions, more opaque than his mummery as a witness. This is the way it goes. We build the castle of reason to defend the rooms we wish to live in. And the better builders enter history, their manuals of instruction sailing free of their lives, like paper children, folded boats upon the ocean. But they are tricked, for they had thought they offered truths, had justified the Ways of God to Man, had built stout walls around the precepts that they needed. But it is all as air. It is their techniques with the bricks we care for, their knack for survival, and discard their furniture, their pride as a man digging by a lake comes upon a pot and tips away the rubbish it contains, taking the vessel to carry home his water.
Making a Start The progression of reality is geometrical, not arithmetic: one is infinitely more than none. Creation ex nihilo is insurmountable, requiring magic, the intervention of the mote (as a saturate solution requires one speck of dirt to shed into the valency of crystal). 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' -- but this metaphor is a trick: nothing we make but journeys is born as a line (and the line of a journey, too, is often illusion, its finished shape something quite different). Most needs exist in the empire of the mind as smooth and possible as crystal, and must be decomposed, fed through the narrow gap of time into the future where, completeness waits: the first step is the crack that the fingers blindly seek in the perfect face of dream.
The Captain The principle of design is simple and of itself is adequate. It shows how the parts will interlock, how each piece will support, interpret others in the dialogue of stress. And it is labelled with the gradings of material, dimensions, tolerances, all that is needed to make it real. Except time, and the change that creeps into the flesh of things as they continue to become. He knows the plan was sound, and understands its perfect sleep in the blue mind of the engineer (whose hand he shook, who is raising chickens, by a stand of cypresses) But much has occurred since then -- acres of industry wreaking this metal, millions of perturbations of the silicon soul, days that can only be measured by living as the gift of a piece of bread is measured by the mouth His iron wings are in the sky, his nerves are in the ocean. His hand is on the lever. He can only wait for the mechanism to fail.
Coral A kilo of red coral in Torre del Greco fetches thirty thousand U.S. -- more than gold. More beautiful and hard to get, it spurs the labour of each economic lust. Snow, also, is more beautiful than gold, but casual, and cannot be sold. Coral, like snow, is laid in banks, in tiny increments. But grows out, does not fall, hung beneath the waves, slower, more permanent; life establishing itself on death, each minute anthozooid adding its crystal skeleton to the frozen bloom of the dying, living reef. For centuries naked divers risked their eardrums in the blue dark, their blood on the coral's salty, razor edges, bringing back what they could carry and survive. Now men in oiled boots with tattoos sweat on metal decks. Others with hidden guns watch their backs (wealth in open waters flowering naturally into violence). Iron bars and chains drag underneath, shatter the brilliant fragments in the nets. Ten percent, maybe twenty, comes to the surface, the rest washes unseen in the broken beds. There is no Coral in Italian waters now. The Spanish have licensed their own strippers. Foreign exchange. Employment. The Mediterranean is still blue and dumb. Jewellery is fine in the hand. Work and war drive men from home. Ten percent is all you'd expect to get from a weapon in the sea. World is recalcitrant, responds to blows with haste, loss. Snow falls very rarely on Torre del Greco, melts in the morning; the red shadows linger a thousand years.
Bunk Yes, Henry -- history is bunk. It leaves the truth behind. Those who have seen their deeds slide into books can tell you this despair -- the desire of the corpse to speak at the funeral. Constructed out of odds and ends, the simplified detritus of what might possibly be called events, it legislates a method of remaining, as a snow-bank finds its own way to melt into something different. But still, its serves us, saves us from the terrible stupidity of now, the monomania of what is suffered or acquired. We build with history. It is our alien lumber, fictions of time and place, and tatters of remoter minds, to guard us from our neighbours, or the weather. Lies that insinuate imaginary keys into the locks of labour. Smaller we are by centuries and larger by inches, parsed in the fragmentary grammar of the dead. Without these tales the dark holds only gods, our kin, whose gifts come stained with blood.
Extractions The mortality of teeth is hard -- distinct from flesh, which humours with its soft decay. Bones in the skull that fail, you feel them, and their collapse cannot be tucked away. Milk teeth encourage infant grandeur, absolve ignorant diets with a second growth (as though, as childhood seems, chance after chance would bloom like starfish, allow us to sin again -- remission that is in vain: fiction and games begin at the beginning -- all else is always halfway gone, and shaped by its desires ). No one, of course, dies of the toothache. But still the manicured dentist is a surrogate mortician, white-coated, antiseptic angel, a mechanical of death. For these are words we cannot help but hear, small holes the tongue finds in life's calcinous armour, the nerve exposed that becomes another gap in the jaw. And adds to other holes that can't be filled, the endless absences we all become.
Headbirths Argument is neither an art nor a science ( -- not the strategies we disagree by, the weapons that we use, but the structures the mind translates levering its way to the children of its belief. From what language? No language. As the arm is translated from the white rock, the drawing from the blankness of the page. So this translation, that precedes translation, is the thought's flower (rose's reel) begetting its own belief out of belief, the same and yet unnamed, the sticky wing unfurling from the pupa, five unfurling from the fist where two and two slept. And whether a song or a molecule, a law, is an accident of birth: the mind is loved; its crystal offspring populate the world.
Could Do Better Could do better -- what teachers always write on report cards at the end of term They are taking no chances they know that walking home in the blizzard you could get lost That Shakespeare was never happy Beethoven, gnawing the floorboards at the end, in rage went deaf clawing after the silent notes: the perfect memory of errors the map in the mind that tells us how far we are from sure you carry the envelope in your pocket sealed as the snow covers you you remember how inadequate everytime everything less in the fact than it seemed it would be: just the notes just the words laying flat leading here like footprints in drifts what you did to them now you cannot alter the route that you took through the love that you meant and were guilty your feet falling into the smooth, white face the attempt always clumsier than the idea of a journey -- connections: you reach out your hand. But you know what is written in the neatly ruled boxes you carry against your heart: Could do better.
The Magician The curse of the magician is that he cannot believe in magic. He suspends the disbelief of others by an invisible thread, cuts it off, in the box, at the wrist, with a wicked looking blade of steel, collapses the black hat into which the rabbit benignly squatted. He knows the sharp intake of breath before they clap, is never taken by surprise. Wandering, without his cape, he is a lousy audience. The only truth he knows is in mechanics, improvement of the trick. And is constantly appalled by the shoddiness of love, the limited determination of music to impress. Everything could be a poem but on closer inspection isn't -- only a knack of being seen, one side of an apparatus separating a lonely figure from death. His fingers dream on the hidden levers he knows desire makes. Desolate for a lost perfection, with better and better illusions, he weeps through the applause.
From the Imperial Capital Things cannot be separated from the language that they speak. History cannot be separated from witnesses, remains. Fire cannot be separated from the colours green and blue, the pain. Life is glued together by being. Part the skin, the bones, the flesh and there is nothing left. Destroying things is one way to explore them; but the grammar predicates the tale: what is left is pieces, absence. Knowledge is the blood of dead things, the names that slew them, took their place. It has its price, it saves us from our dreams. But the knowledge of rain comes after every raindrop has vanished, it cannot master the dialect of falling. We only know what we have lost, and only learn by letting go, replacing. Building cities marvellous, but sad, beside the murmuring sea.
On the Line The pain coming from inside you and the cold coming from outside and the cigarette slashing at your lungs all compete as if somehow a point might come where they would cancel out each other like those mathematical things you learnt in school -- a jumble of letters and numbers all, magically, coming to nothing. And this proved something. It does not seem that circumstance does likewise, for life is not an equation (does not balance) and, stunned by the hurt of it, you cannot laugh or add (or judge the distance to the next rise in the ground , except in minutes, degrees of frost. or perhaps it is -- perhaps it is an equation, and you are a term in it: shunted between other operators, numb variables, the discord of the present, the discord of the past. The structure itself inexorably demonstrating something. But the steel slides beneath your fingers, you cannot feel its real shape for the cold. You were in it for the money, for the bits and pieces of someone's love, for fragments that added up to a man. Now it is too late. The knife enters the brain.
Rabbit The rabbit stands in the long grass awaiting death. It doesn't really have much choice. The mowing machine spirals down the lazy afternoon. Men with shotguns stand by the gate and chat, not looking at each other. Waiting for the rabbit (any rabbit) to decide. Rabbits' conversation is limited by these kinds of options. Their answer to history is largely -- breed. There are no rabbit heroes, is no rabbit science. Endlessly they munch in groups, gossip about different ways of dying. Pause periodically to scratch with raised hind-leg and sniff the air -- connoisseurs of trouble. The rabbit God is luck and has no face. Intends no future and no past. Each rabbit has four rabbits' feet -- which do them not a bit of good. The rabbit stands in the long grass, waits for death, vacates his place in the food chain. Stiffening brown fur mottled now with blood evokes no sympathy. We skin him, eat.

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