Read Under the Sign Online

Authors: Ann Lauterbach

Tags: #Poetry, #American, #General

Under the Sign (6 page)

BOOK: Under the Sign
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If I love a painting by, say, Philip Guston or Joe Brainard or Amy Sillman, is that love animated in part by a desire to own it? But then I want to say—with John Dewey—that an experience
a form of possession, something one
. I experience love for something or someone, and that love is what I possess; not the object of it. This is the side of Pragmatism often overshadowed by an emphasis on practicality and cool legal utility, outcomes or consequences uninformed by affects. The rational is pernicious if stripped of affect; reason

The experience of art shows us how to attach feeling to critical thinking, and so might inform, temper, how we act toward each other.
Without this experience, we are set adrift in received, rigid ideas of the good. Art marks, demonstrates, the passage from the good to the just through the agency of care. To make something is to care for it. The
of care. Etymology finds

The need to consider, to teach, human efforts and practices that do not immediately convert into practical utility or commerce.

Can the Internet be said to give us an experience, in this sense of fully
something? There's something at stake here I cannot quite name, having to do with the relation of mental activities to material or physical presence: the embodied, the performed, the real or actual near. Anxiety that our sense of each other will be denuded of the spontaneous ensemble of minute readings—facial expressions, hand gestures, vocal inflection, smells—which until now have informed how we distinguish, for example, those we come to love or admire from those we fear or detest.

This is almost too basic but touches on an elision, a potential devaluating, of our creaturely beings.

Noema, when we doe signify some thing so privily that the hearers must be fayne to seeke out the meaning by long consideration.


Surplus ubiquity of imposed critique and rampant opinion; nothing can be near under these forms of distantiation; embarrassed at the very site of our attachment to work: productivity, satisfaction, use, beauty, the Other. So
as a kind of virtual nomad, wandering in the desert of permanent techno-reification.

“Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift.”


In any case the ghosts are awake, and fearful. They seem to believe that they are about to disappear forever from our thoughts like mere clouds passing on the horizon, skipping autumn leaves. Although they are now distinct from each other, they fear they will soon be only a remnant archaic category, itself replaced by a new

generation that wafts around like so much decomposing smoke, detached from even the memory of the fire from which it rose. It will require a new name. This is what I am thinking while simultaneously aware of the fact that I do not believe in ghosts, nor do I know what the difference is between a ghost and a soul: two wayward nouns without objects. The new, renovated ghosts will be soulless and indistinct, mere zeros and ones for whom neither the peace of heaven nor the torture of hell makes any difference. These improved ghosts will have come from the old species as it set out to refine itself in the new age. Refine, and so be equipped to forget the treacherous complexities that made life before death nothing if not a vibrant passage of quixotic, mostly irresolute questions. The species will have tinkered among the twisted strands of the genome, pulling out unwanted threads, as it were, and replacing them with others, so that what was once a tapestry of variegated colors and textures will be as smooth and monochromatic as a pool of melted ice. The new nameless ghosts will float upon this pool.


There was a leak in the kitchen ceiling from which water dripped into a red pail from time to time, making a slight splashing sound, rounded at the edges, so you could almost hear the indentation in the surface of the water as the drops fell. Some of the drops did not fall into the red pail at all, but fell instead onto the newspaper I placed on the counter under a second hole in the tin roof of the ceiling. The sound of this second leak, more infrequent than the first, was muted and flat.


Dear instructor, how to

clarify this momentum from its

singularity among thieves.

The tide was pink this evening.

I saw three deer, a rabbit, and a fox.

A visitor came, we spoke, he

gave me

amazing tomatoes

grown by the sun.

These mild occurences

and others insinuate

the forgotten as the retrieved and

the impossibility of any recovery

as such. I know, you are lost.

I am lost as well. We need

a table. We need

objects on the table. Say a spoon.

to Peter Sweeny


Dear instructor:

Pound said

There is no provision

for them

and made none.

Seek below

the inscrutable flood

a node broken from care.

Not the sensuous

not the damn dream gouged

not the backward angel.

Not yet ice.

Rake up air

discern the altered start

tether it

word by word

to go on or beyond


Attach reception.



Dear instructor,

no one is faithful. This is not auto-

biography. There's a clumsy note

on your doorstep

beyond orange bags at the roadside and

and this

apology for wanting to

to have spoken to you sooner.

We're sutured now.

A calm of sorts has taken hold and

and yet

technology is fevered.

Thought wishes everything were

were everything French

as in the living dead of the sad least genre.

The poem greets its bouquet.

I am thinking of floral wreaths.

They seem to have a story.

The story is not heartland pure.

The story yields a structure and

and the structure seems infinite.

The floral occasion is a circle.

This would be a trope for

everlasting or undead love

but the boy is gone. He stepped out over

over a crest of ocean into our own

perdition while we slept. In sleep, the lover

comes back. At first the lover is

is a cruel and indecipherable metonymy.

Then, or after, he seems

seems released from the triangular hood

hood worn as protection against infidelity.

Try not to think about numbers.

Numbers are a form of punishment.


All that left aside left awkwardly on that side done away with

in immediate neighborhoods of chivalry. Wait. Under the

cleft sign to read will be continuance, a kept event because there was a

delivery of sorts. Because it had come to pass near?

Wait. Old ting-a-ling sat down sweaty

thought the portrait was of Mick, thought she had long hair

then, then stopped. Wait. And wanted these not to die

not to pass on.    Wait.

The lad's charm   charmed by the lad    his demeanor
thank you
so young

among the crowded     the high bed   lifted charmed

while the gaze     without therapy       without the car.

Wait.   She has this   she has the left hand a paper

she has the kiss   long afterward   they had passed

had kissed in the smallest room  had found the ring of fear

and still things happened, kept happening, went on

although the mode shifted in degree and measure.   Wait.

Had these come withered now under such guise as the planet's remembered

cycles, their friction carried out against clouds, anxieties, waste, then what

was planted or planned would approach through the center of conviction—

—butressed into abstraction, possibly scented with lemony

highlights in our visual age. Okay, I too have had it, the tale, the tremors, the

incidents so enjambed that only the edgy molecule catches on, breathes its

miniscule agenda onto skin like that of a peel.

The peel of evening across high bricks.

The peel of an orchid's deadly grip on perfection.



Usually biographical spill     never mind or con-

like a snowball in hell


against operations

of the sour physician

      her lesions or lessons, her

      blank-rimmed scan

       across the universal cup

—smashed dialectic of the entire.


Usually biographical spill      never mind the oil

having opened the signature of all things

and peered into method

seeing there


a paradigm is only an example


and the empire of the rule

hovering over the example

like a snowball in hell

smashed dialectic of the entire

the laws of form

whereof Paracelsus speaks

our alphabet

strewn across

herbs, seeds, stones, and roots

or then


merciless recurrence of our nakedness

unmarked until remarked.


The irrational disorder      usually

biographical spill

unintelligible quotient of the real

abstracted through love

and such invitations taken to mean

the con-



humilities of virtue

revealed while awaiting execution

in the eyes of the law:



Winged creature stranded in oiled starlight.

A shadow's weight filmed

without sound

unfurls toward its catastrophic bloom,

orifice of the ancient cave


cealed secrets deposited

borne flashing

into an astonished fount:

toxic flames pillage the air.


Usually biographical spill        never mind

cold arcade

It is not that what is past

casts its light on what is present, or

what is present its light on what is past; rather,

image is that wherein what has been

comes together in a flash

with the now

to form a



Deft market beckons toward a shelter, icon by icon.


the dying creature staggers across the path of
art's path

dragging omniscient sorrow.


Zero is in love with A.

These accidents happen; they are signs of


to come. Ask anyone

ask the ghost

in the machine that speaks the code's

new emblems—

ask the crippled incubus

       limping up the hill

          ask the last of the evolutionists.

The child of Zero and A

is unable to

point at the thing that is

outside itself

say that      star

moves in swarms

over the shadowless desert


to the arc


under and over

and the radar of sound


not spirit

we are embarrassed by spirit, the grid attests to this


informing the cluster of being

digital mime digital mime digital mime mime.


Cast the small occasions of research

into a cup of

steady words—

forgive me

I am jumping with


cast the apparition of time

into the play of integers

and their daughter N-7

forgive me I am

jumping with the unspent

as if it were a pardon.


Perhaps we should put all circles together

and then all squares. And let's

sequester blue from its neighbor

then ask it to perform in the biggest atrium.

In the greatest episode of an ordinary life

there is tenderness

but this is not recalled on an ordinary day.

The sequence, on an ordinary day, is mute.

It steals and flaunts, it has the animating

iteration of an impostor. Perhaps

we should put everything in a shelter.

The lament is recursive:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem



Rescind the error margin gap

adumbrated by the machine

mentioned with colored dots

during the wish for a separation

between sensation and trace

when we came close

a kiss

   to suggest

      the indelible

to be free from


   song of the thrush

to move

into the ungathered.


The diction of the road

fails its intention.

We're on some other path

along sight lines

unpermitted to land.

Dear instructor,

is fate shaped by an idea

withheld from daily force

and from the thing I

thought I saw

on the grave of the unknown?

The iris is the color of a bruise.

The world is uneven in its orbit.


Having not read the signs,

having missed the cues—


A bowl.


BOOK: Under the Sign
13.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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