Madness is tragedy deprived of time
was originally published on Meandering home
Madness is tragedy deprived of time
was originally published on Meandering home
yesterday the street I live in
became new to me
I saw blushing windows in its bend
and wound-up cars following the curvature
the signs on the rooftops read names I had
not noticed before behind a rusty gate
the glimpse of an overgrown trellis
the scent of blossom rushing in
from another season
in doorways weak smiles assemble as
always, how’s everything
the 24-hour bus service,
diagonal zebra crossings
the cracked asphalt
breathed empathy, elated me
I pray and the pale
sky promises me devices:
metaphors, commas, gene splicers
and molten licorice words
that you use to redeem themselves
I never was much of a proselytizer
who would go door to door in a suit,
keeping them open with his foot, but
such aggrandizing scene obliged –
Can you not see it? This changes everything!
We can dance on the eyelids of history,
waltz in the heat of her mementos, excite
their stranger relatives, who were never
buried in manly narrations. If only
if only you listen, Justice can be borne
of such a street whose name
(is not to be mentioned in the poem for reasons of privacy)
So I told an old man about aforementioned epiphany
He said I don’t have much time don’t you see
I’m repurposing a machine to write poetry,
and I can tell you boy it does so well,
it can turn your house into a doggerel and your street into a hell
of a villanelle.
So I step out of his shadow and ask him again
The old man says the machine is broken.
I nod and offer him my help,
which he accepts generously by sending me
on an errand to the beginning of time.
I am not given a dress code, and
rather harshly pushed out on the street.
At 8:54 this morning I begin walking
backwards, my hands in my pockets,
I think a certain nonchalance
would befit the circumstance.
I retract into narrower streets
until a streetlight waxes from a dark alleyway
and I was taken in, like a lunatic
beriddled by my task I walk on the cobblestones
trying to remember good music and putting on an overall
I pass telegraph poles, water mills, pig sties,
fortifications, Roman roads, temples, pyramids.
History is so soothing in reverse
Going back, I strangely have a sense of purpose:
I am going after something that must be done.
A warm haze consumes me. I am
retracing the steps taken by nameless ancestors
in a frivolous bid for supreme justice that is what it is.
I decide I am not dressed for the occasion and don
a multisex suit with a neutralizing tie, ungendered
I continue several light years towards my
the air is clearing, I see homo sapiens devolve
and everything becomes almost nameless. I begin
to take notes as I trip over details:
carved stones, graves, bones
I lurch further back, silence takes away
my good mood and I feel daft in my formal suit.
I enter childhoods, analyze everything,
the children always want to become my best friend
and later would leave me disgruntled.
So I analyze the mother of the mother and so on and so on
back to the primates where loss of language
is promising at first,
but the monkeys show me their food and show me their teeth
and I conclude that I must go further
back to some fish with bright angled eyes on each side,
where movement becomes a derivative of the stream
1 fish looks at me
I see the promise of infinite possibilities, or
a play of vectors all equally unlikely
then the fish says “excuse me”,
and crawls ashore.
I put on a sweater and hum Beethoven
because hard silence (<20 dB) makes you mad
and as a child I dreamed of turning his music
into the cosmic background noise
the good vibrations of my arrival
at the phenomenology of the cosmic soup,
where the chef is slime
and later at the speck of dust that engendered everything.
I am no longer sure if I should study philosophy
but I still want to reach the beginning of time
to help the old man and his machine
I flip-flop ever simpler molecules, measure picojoules
rearrange Higgs bosons and quarks
until everything is phase and frequency,
and then just dark,
from which follows everything
I write it down in my notebook:
I am trespassing a dark fluid
and again, I’m overdressed
knee-deep in its viscous inevitability
all aspects are lacking and seem to be –
I get my stutter back
Sick with wisdom I return to the old man,
and tell him what I have seen. He nods and
turns a knob. The machine begins to rattle
semicolons, hyphens, commas, ampersands,
parentheses, periods, virgules, apostrophes:
a score of silence
The old man and I are reciting poetry
that is hopelessly, revoltingly right.
The chubby boy points his toy gun at another boy
His great grandfather fought in the war.
This is not a guess. I am sure.
His great grandmother was maybe a comfort lady to the invaders.
But his gun is only made of plastic. He will be forgotten.
I look at the boys.
I see an army of deserters, an anarchist army.
They charge at the playground castle
that is always taken and held at the same time.
I pressed her baby toes against my lips
it was the same time as the ultrasound
is the time that I can’t tie her hair
before she goes to kindergarten
is the time I climb a mountain
with her and teach her how to swim
is the time a woman will smile at me
after I tell her to take care
I love my best of you
through the vestiges of your spring
make me, who has
the wind still in his wrinkles,
sing of how we love the silk softness
of our whiten hair,
chance with me the rite of our fingers through it,
entomb us in that raging, mad,
that sacred dance
Philip Schultz (b. 1945) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with a collection called ‘Failure’. To him, that failure referred to the relative failure of his alter ego the novelist, who finally gave in to the poet, under one condition: the subtitle of the book is ‘a novel in verse’. Here is a poem called Afterward from the Wherewithal (2014):
everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.
it’s evening and the lights up and
down the street appear hopeful,
swollen as they are with ancient grievances
and souring schemes. The sky,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering.
Speaking of suffering,
the houses—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.
upon which so many laws are based,
continues to consume everything.
regardless of what the gods say,
the present remains uninhabitable,
the past unforgiving of the harm it’s seen,
the future remains translucent
in its desire to elude us.
It’s a powerful description of that feeling. I can relate (can you?) We look around us with these complicit eyes and want to hold on to everything because we know we can’t make any new things spring into being. Yet the lights appear hopeful at night. Perhaps the stoic feeling of afterwards was purging the world and now it is time for the New? The sky couldn’t care less about our suffering, and the dreams in our houses are dull and heavy.
So we are left with loneliness, on which so many laws are based. What does that mean? I think loneliness is a crucial element of our appetite for justice, so all the laws regulating the tiniest details of our public and private lives are often not about preventing misbehaviour or redistributing the (financial) pain, but about feeding the Leviathan called ‘justice’ that looms over society and allows us to engage in shared outrage to escape from loneliness.
Okay, we can’t live in the present and the past was too harmful. Yet the future desires to elude us, because every day the world feels like a fait accompli. So the status quo remains the same and time is the uninhabitable present looking back at the unforgiving injustices of the past and forward to the future that is being consumed by our loneliness.
Dale Houstman is an extraordinary poet from America and I am his friend on the Internet. Today, I want to read a poem from his collection ‘A dangerous vacation’. There is a lot of extraordinary stuff but I stick to a not so long poem that has an enigmatic metaphor as a title:
A motel in the hotel of time
The highway reflects its sea
as the rain analyzes its bottle
(a white lamp
in the chaperoned lust of shapes
in a motel in the hotel of time
) There are many sentimental cakes
in the hands of childish warlords
pumping for a grander purpose (
You are noises
leaving noises behind
(A motel in the hotel of time.
A compact and powerful poem. The opening and closing brackets are real and denote hand gestures of the poet to accompany the poetic flow (at least in my interpretation). We are thrown on a David Lynch-like highway scene and don’t quite understand what is analyzed and reflected. Everything seems to be awake and aware, a panopticum of gaze. The lust of shapes is chaperoned, a triangle and an ellipse can’t make out on their own, mind you. They are carefully observed in the white light.
The whole purpose thing is childish and sentimental. What do you want to accomplish? In the end, you are only noises / leaving noises behind. The hotel of time: you can check out but you can never leave. It has full board, and its guests are bored, so bored they build a motel inside the hotel, a noisy motel where little children cry out for a grander purpose.
In a poem, not far away from this one, there is the line “Every name / garments in its day.” Is a motel in the hotel of time the same as the garment of a name, donned to evade the naked and anonymous flow of time?
Reading: A motel in the hotel of time by Dale Houstman was originally published on Meandering home