love’s photograph (or father and son)

Detected little things: a peach-pit
basket watch-chain charm, an ivory
cross wound with ivory ivy, a natural
cross. The Tatoosh Mountains, opaque
crater lakes, a knickerbockered boy
who, drowned, smiles for a seeming ever
on ice skates on ice-skate-scratched
ice, an enlarged scratched snapshot.
Taken, taken. Mad charges corrupt to
madness their sane nurses. Virginia
creeper, Loose Tooth tanned black snake-
skins, shot crows for crow wings for
a black servant’s hat, lapped hot milk,
flung mud in a Bible reader’s crotch:
“You shouldn’t read the Bible nekkid!”
Family opals, selfishness changes hands.
Tatoosh Mountains, opaque crater lakes,
find me the fish skeleton enclosed in
a fish skeleton (fish ate fish) he had.

(James Schuyler)

the printer’s error

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer’s Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers’ errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer’s trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.

Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers’ protest,
and errors by
God’s touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.

(Aaron Fogel. Via Tom Christensen’s rightreading.)

the book of lies

I’d like to have a word
with you. Could we be alone
for a minute? I have been lying
until now. Do you believe

I believe myself? Do you believe
yourself when you believe me? Lying
is natural. Forgive me. Could we be alone
forever? Forgive us all. The word

is my enemy. I have never been alone;
bribes, betrayals. I am lying
even now. Can you believe
that? I give you my word.

(James Tate, from The Lost Pilot.)

from “the tomb of stuart merrill”

Let’s get on with it
But what about the past

Because it only builds up out of fragments
Each evening we walk out to see
How they are coming along with the temple
There is an interest in watching how
One piece is added to another.
At least it isn’t horrible like
Being inside a hospital and really finding out
What it’s like in there.
So one is tempted not to include this page
In the fragment of our lives
Just as its meaning is about to coagulate
In the air around us:

“Father!” “Son!” “Father I thought we’d lost you
In the blue and buff planes of the Aegean:
Now it seems you’re really back.”
Only for a while, son, only for a while.”
We can go inside now.

(John Ashbery, from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Wikipedia on Stuart Merrill.)

xxxix. the mystery of things, where is it

The mystery of things, where is it?
Where is that which never appears
To show us, at least, it’s a mystery?
What’s the river know about it and what, the tree?
And I, being no more than they, what do I know about it?
Whenever I look at things and think what men think of them,
I laugh like a brook freshly sounding off a rock.

Because the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning at all.
This is stranger than all the strangenesses,
And the dreams of all the poets,
And the thoughts of all the philosophers—
That things really are what they appear to be
And that there is nothing to understand.

Yes, here’s what my senses learned all by themselves:
Things have no meaning – they have existence.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things.

(Fernando Pessoa, writing as Alberto Caeiro, p. 97 in Edwin Honig & Susan M. Brown’s edition of The Keeper of Sheep.)


America is a fun country. Still, there are aspects of it which I would prefer not to think about. I am sure, for instance, that the large “chain” stores with their big friendly ads and so-called “discount” prices actually charge higher prices so as to force smaller competitors out of business. This sort of thing has been going on for at least 200 years and is one of the cornerstones on which our mercantile American society is constructed, like it or not. What with all our pious expostulations and public declarations of concern for the poor and the elderly, this is a lot of bunk and our own president plays it right into the lap of big business and uses every opportunity he can to fuck the consumer and the little guy. We might as well face up to the fact that this is and always has been a part of our so-called American way of life.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people here who are sincerely in love with life and think they are on to something, and they may well be right. Even the dogs seem to know about it – you can tell by the way they stick their noses out of the car windows sometimes to whiff the air as it goes by. Old ladies know about and like it too. In fact, the older an American citizen gets the more he or she seems to get a kick out of life. Look at all the retirement communities and people who mow their own lawns and play gold. They surely have more pep than their counterparts in Asia or Europe, and one mustn’t be in too much of a hurry to make fun of such pursuits. They stand for something broader and darker than at first seems to be the case. The silver-painted flagpole in its concrete base surrounded by portulacas, the flag itself straining in the incredibly strong breeze, are signposts toward an infinity of wavering susceptible variables, if one but knew how to read them aright. The horny grocery boy may be the god Pan in disguise. Even a television antenna may be something else. Example: bearded young driver of pickup truck notes vinyl swimming pool cover is coming undone and stops to ask owner if he can be of assistance. Second example: groups of business people stranded in stalled elevator sing Cole Porter songs to keep their spirits up, helping each other recall the lyrics. Third example: a nursing home director convicted of a major swindle goes to the federal penitentiary for a period of not less than five years. Fourth example: you are looking down into a bottomless well or some kind of deep pool that is very dark with the reflected light so far in the distance it seems like a distant planet, and you see only your own face.

(John Ashbery, from The Vermont Notebook, pp. 381–3 in Collected Poems 1956–1987.)

morandi ii

Brushstroke and buringouge, cups
                                                         huddled together, black and white,
Still life and landscape, perspective and architecture,
Giorgio Morandi stayed home
And kept his distance and measure. And kept his silence.
No word for anything but his work.

Example: yellow and tan,
                                          rectangle, circle, square.
Example: cylinder, black and brown,
Table-line like a horizon one might approach from.
Example: angle and plane,
Scratches like an abyss,
                                       a Mondrian-absence one might descend to.

Corners of buildings, bottles, hillsides, shade trees and fields,
Color and form, light and space,
                                                      the losses we get strange gain from.

(Charles Wright, from Chickamauga.)

with simic and marinetti at the giubbe rosse

Where Dino Campana once tried to sell his sad poems
Among the tables,
Where Montale settled into his silence and hid,
Disguised as himself for twenty years,
The ghosts of Papini and Prezzolini sit tight
With Carlo Emilio Gadda
                                            somewhere behind our backs.

Let’s murder the moonlight, let’s go down
On all fours and mewl like the animals and make it mean what it means
Not even a stir
Not even a breath across the plates of gnocchi and roast veal.
Like everything else in Florence, that’s part of the past,
The wind working away away kneading the sea so muscles . . .

Those who don’t remember the Futurists are condemned to repeat them.
We order a grappa. We order a mineral water.
Little by little, the lucid, warm smile of the moon
Overflowed from the torn clouds.
                                                        Some ran.
A cry was heard in the solitude of the high plains.
Simic e Wright sulla tracchia. La luna ammazzata.

(Charles Wright, from Chickamauga.)

down by the station, early in the morning

It all wears out. I keep telling myself this, but
I can never believe me, though others do. Even things do.
And the things they do. Like the rasp of silk, or a certain
Glottal stop in your voice as you are telling me how you
Didn’t have time to brush your teeth but gargled with Listerine
Instead. Each is a base one might wish to touch once more

Before dying. There’s the moment years ago in the station in Venice,
The dark rainy afternoon in fourth grade, and the shoes then,
Made of a dull crinkled brown leather that no longer exists.
And nothing does, until you name it, remembering, and even then
It may not have existed, or existed only as a result
Of the perceptual dysfunction you’ve been carrying around for years.
The result is magic, then terror, then pity at the emptiness,
Then air gradually bathing and filling the emptiness as it leaks,
Emoting all over something that is probably mere reportage
But nevertheless likes being emoted on. And so each day
Culminates in merriment as well as a deep shock like an electric one,

As the wrecking ball bursts through the wall with the bookshelves
Scattering the works of famous authors as well as those
Of more obscure ones, and books with no author, letting in
Space, and an extraneous babble from the street
Confirming the new value the hollow core has again, the light
From the lighthouse that protects as it pushes us away.

(John Ashbery, from A Wave.)

drunken americans

I saw the reflection in the mirror
And it doesn’t count, or not enough
To make a difference, fabricating itself
Out of the old, average light of a college town,

And afterwards, when the bus trip
Had depleted my pocket of its few pennies
He was seen arguing behind steamed glass,
With an invisible proprietor. What if you can’t own

This one either? For it seems that all
Moments are like this: thin, unsatisfactory
As gruel, worn away more each time you return to them.
Until one day you rip the canvas from its frame

And take it home with you. You think the god-given
Assertiveness in you has triumphed
Over the stingy scenario: these objects are real as meat,
As tears. We are all soiled with this desire, at the last moment, the last.

(John Ashbery, from Shadow Train.)