Read Under the Sign Online

Authors: Ann Lauterbach

Tags: #Poetry, #American, #General

Under the Sign (5 page)

BOOK: Under the Sign
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Thought experiment: imagine what a person might want to read in one hundred years.

Not about the new clarity of an evening light unless that light illumines something. Memory overvalued?

What troubadours?       Blasted outward

toward the sink

        get in line     travesty of the incomplete

          toward utility

                  its stench.

Sun on its way under but what? Horizon vanished.

The sea, the sea:
that life itself is
, will hold you up!

South African artist William Kentridge: protest as quickly shifting morphological abundance: lucidity, wit, and motion; intelligence as an inquiry that informs, or reveals, value.

This, then—form—how information finds its potential to mean. Has new technology been mistaken for form?


I get up, make coffee, and begin to reread Baudelaire's
Paris Spleen
. Acuity of his rage, consciousness in relation to rage, perhaps the acuity of the fact of consciousness as the site of persistent rage—
: the City the site of a disjunction between the world as observed—things, persons, creatures—and the world as or in thought.

Something there: an unraveling of the seam/seem that stitched world to word. Is this in part what moved and animated Walter Benjamin?


Get better at it!
Scold, out of energy, ambition, music. It was not a good idea to look out. It was a worse idea to look inward, where just that morning an object not recognizable as among the living but nevertheless alive had removed another tooth from her mouth and performed some other unseemly acts before she had had my first cup of coffee. Where then? To the side, an open page sizzling with merit and glee. Under the desk, a lame match barely visible on the sand carpet. Up at the cornice where an intricate tracery of shadow hovered and writhed, depending on the speed of wind. If one could look at sound, if one could leave the door to the dream slightly ajar, if one could, for once, refuse another nut. But the thin, empty boat of shell, pristine as only a shell can be, not far from the single oatmeal grain, with a slit up its center, a whole continent away from the other, larger shell, the one from the sea, wretched with black ash whose stench bears no resemblance to that of the roiling waters from which it had come, a ruffled scallop, its wide mouth hinged to its twin, innards intact; the tiny shell was proof that the nut, the pistachio, had been consumed. In the unblistered snowy landscape she could almost hear the waves crash, see the waters recess while at the same time sinking, rendering the sand a thick paste where footprints had, only moments before, been perfectly visible. She could also hear, over her right shoulder, male voices and the occasional crack of the fire and the train reassembling the air into a loud rustle that seemed to merge with the wind.

Calamity has forsaken vocabulary and is going on ahead, without our utterance to keep it company. From the back, it looks innocent enough, certainly not dangerous, like a slightly hunched, slightly

rotund cow that is beginning to sprout something that looks from a distance like purple thorns. Unique enough to cause the casual tourist to stop to snap or take or capture a picture; these days, the exact verb for this action is pretty much up for grabs. Something like snatch, or snag? Snag a picture. No, still too abrupt and noisy. It needs stealth. Swipe a picture, just like at the checkout counter.

Stop the car, Honey, I want to swipe a picture of that cow!

Anyway, the cow is lumbering on just at the edge of the tide and seems to be heading for the dunes, and then on into the mountains. Hard to say what, if anything, she is after.

At some point it will be dark just as at some point the cow will return. This is one of the facts that doesn't have to come with a money-back promise. That is why, she told me, she had to return the engagement ring. We were in a taxi after the recordings warning you to buckle your seat belt had been curtailed, heading uptown to an opening of a show by that guy, you know, the one who seals himself in an enormous Coke bottle filled with Coke and then tries to drink his way out of it? Just as we were headed into the curving tunnel over Grand Central, she explained about the ring. The one I had, an emerald, simply slipped down the drain.


The dark is not an allusion to anything untoward. That primordial analogy has the characteristics of an absolute. Light:
. Dark:
But when you think about it, the reverse is often the case. I suppose, before electricity, the dark might have been construed as ominous. Even now, with the storm approaching, we make sure to have candles and such on hand, just in case. Just in case the flat, barren vista opens before you as you turn to kiss him on the mouth and feel the slight tug stirring below on a cloudy night without a single star to help you find your way home to the

mercantile ravishment of new linens. Ah, Joni Mitchell:
“I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne.”

The emerald was cracked. It had had another life before it came to me, and who knows, maybe others before that, time without end. Surrounded by small diamonds, it sat up in a high, ornate gold setting, its cracked green eye staring out, the diamonds wincing. Others have probably noted the word
sitting inside of
. The original artifact was made of cloth, and large enough to place across the mouth of the beloved. The smile gag, it was called, a soft crescent scarf tied at the back, its tissue tails falling provocatively under her long tresses. Sometime toward the end of the century before last androgynous energies were unleashed, especially in the West, and so the smile gag found itself used by thieves to cover their faces during criminal acts; sported by cowboys around their necks at hoedowns. In the 1950s, teen girls once again took them up as “neckerchiefs.” Or,
comme il faut
, “neckies.”

She plucked the fine hairs under the chin. Her sufferance of fools did not exist, and under the heading “fool” she included all forms of destitution. She turned her back on the immigrant woman who wanted, in the midst of another opening for another show, to unburden herself of her trials on her journey from Kraków to America, losing everything in its wake. She ignored the fellow always seated under the canopy of the Korean deli's assorted flora, who addressed her with a dull familiarity:
How're you doin' today?
She kept her eyes forward, uptown. She stored these human impositions for a later moment when they emerged from her beautiful mouth as cunning, comic bile.


The spark we do not see when we put the key into the ignition. Or when we turn up the heat, and the floor trembles as the furnace

is called upon to heat the room. Life heat. Death cold. What to do? Another hot war, heat the planet up with fire, burn everything, the temples of course, and the fences—so what if they once made good neighbors? The hell with that; we need fire to heat our freedoms to boiling point, and then make some nice green tea. I like mine with honey and soy milk. The ice caps melting is outside of our current policy. It confuses the issue.


“Pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt.”
“I believe in peace, perhaps even peace at any price.”


The sky is good company. It refuses to accumulate, which makes it always first; the sky and music. These should be the elected guides for the new world order. The sky cannot repeat: most precious, most desirable. This particular light, that cloud, these colors, have they ever been before? I conclude they have not, although there is virtually no way to know; no proof.
Swipe, swipe.

Emerson called his journals
Savings Bank
Blotting Book
, and
Wide World.

February 1820:

These pages are intended at their commencement to contain a record of new thoughts (when they occur); for a receptacle of all the old ideas that partial but peculiar peepings at antiquity can furnish or furbish; for tablet to save the wear and tear of weak Memory, and, in short, for all the various purposes and utility, real or imaginary, which are usually comprehended under that comprehensive title
Common Place book

In another entry, from March of the same year, he imagines himself in a library, “costly, splendid and magnificent,” where he

would “let my soul sail away delighted into . . . wildest phantasies.” Emerson is interested in the possibility of furthering motions of the mind: “imaginations of enchantment.” He hunts around for figures whose writing can help him find how to inscribe thought; he assesses the early journal: “It has prevented the
of many an idle moment and has perhaps enriched my stock of language for future exertions.”

As if there were in fact
first place
always in wait, like the sky. This desire for an initial encounter; it spins out of the actual reality—this stuff, these years—like a moth from its cocoon.
As if one could shed everything: a sense of panic and excitement, anticipatory, exactly against the stasis of calm and yet anchored by recessed attachment.
as always the crucial element.

There are patches of blue; the clouds are thick and white with dark gray underbellies; the river, a dull pewter. The inadequacy is obvious: “blue,” etc.


Barges are plying the Hudson.

I don't like looking up and out and ferreting for the possible occasion of the poem. O poem, where are you? Years ago I wrote a poem called “East River Barge,” written after a taxi ride up the East River Drive, but the Hudson does not want to offer a sequel, maybe because I am
as it moves. Poems as iterations of interactive motion.

What we retrieve hallucinates uneasily into morning.

Julian Barnes, in
The Sense of an Ending
, barely mentions the weather, or anything phenomenological; the book is scant on visual description, nearly void of sensuous detail. The protagonist

doesn't seem to register these elements. This makes the writing both clear and arid.


Last night looking out the south windows into the darkness, a huge light in the sky;
I wondered.
Huge and bright. At its side, the familiar three stars of Orion's scabbard. But the big light moved, it came closer, it had tiny red sidelights, it passed over, humming to itself. Am thinking this morning about restoration, about how the Occupy Wall Street became a holding place, marking the disquiet and unhappiness brooding across the country, the countries. You see it mentioned often in stories that are not about it; it points, the name seems so far to escape the ideological impasse that has immobilized the political landscape.

Malfeasance, indifference, cruelty, hidden under the tarp of self-interest and greed.

Awake in the night, trying to formulate something about Gertrude Stein's relation to description, wanting to come up with a phrase for what she does with the physical, material, visual world; her resistance to normative forms or linguistic structure which has fascinated into the postmodern poetic imagination. There is a way in which she proposes a
radical interiority
. (You see this in Picasso's portrait of her: the static monumentality, the obsidian eyes.) She seems to have experienced the world and all its objects as a vast interior structure that her writings somehow externalized:
exact resemblance to exact resemblance
, but not mimesis. Something about her dissolution of syntactical relation, subject-predicate, that haunts us. The myth of the pure
materiality of language


Emerson, age seventeen, 25 October 1820:

I find myself often idle, vagrant, stupid and hollow. This is somewhat appalling and, if I do not discipline myself with diligent care, I shall suffer severely from remorse and the sense of inferiority hereafter. All around me are industrious and will be great, I am indolent and shall be insignificant. Avert it, heaven! avert it, virtue! I need excitement.

Wind sound: as if the dark were in motion, an inky processional bloom.

Is there any way to measure or articulate the difference between writing or reading on or from a page and writing or reading a screen? What is the nature of this difference; does it matter? The question will soon be moot. Ah, books,
the handwriting is on the wall.


Milky morning light. Squirrel headed up the maple with a mouthful of leaves. Nesting. River gentian blue. Squirrel back down for more leaves. Deep hole in the tree.

The word
hangs in the air; remnant bit of conversation. The eyes stay a few seconds longer than they ought, or might. The twilight god is up to no good. The core spot is activated as a form of transport; the chip that harbors all the reticent energy awaiting release. Phantasm arc, zipper across the world;
it. Let mind embrace matter, let language subside into shared assent.

David Graeber (

In the world posited by Medieval psychology, desires really could be satisfied for the very reason that they were really directed at phantasms: imagination

was the zone in which subject and object, lover and beloved, really could genuinely meet and partake of one another.


Old question: is there such a thing as
love? Love without either the desire to possess or the expedience of use: ultimate good inscribed in religious texts and figured in the democratic civic ideal: to choose the many over the one. In our new world order, this choice seems difficult to access, remote, blocked by stunted ideologies, a staging of self-interest that stymies the possibility of responsive thought attached to deeds
on behalf of
, for, the greater good; so much myopic friction, belligerence, animosity. Pious rhetoric of shared interest, sacrifice.

BOOK: Under the Sign
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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