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Poesía, Issue 11 | December 2013

     

from American Dybbuk

Snake

for Anne

When we were children, we were
terribly punished for being children.

Tush, ye shall not die.

1

The things I hold in my
hand like a glove slip off
before I let go—so easy

in their absence, exquisite,
palpable, nomads who only
left yesterday—and no fore-

ground, back-drop, fissure
between colors refusing
to surface (everywhere

now incommensurate then
when covenant has shattered)
unless you are with me—

glass-slivers dazzle at your
feet my jeweled walk—my
no-longer-created world—

or like mica or road-pools
shining quietly too—vegetable
glitter—not terror—but my

terrain—moon-quiet, in
that way, lived in—your
shadow strutting crows feet.

2

Not to be who I am then—
and not to mistake the actor
for the hero—not in August

with sunrise slightly later, but
now noticing discrepancies in
between here and before—

while the actor—who thinks
he is the hero—is ripe
for deception—but not ready—

but I am not—very pleased
with my life for the moment.

3

With all my life: you are now
crossing an American boundary

—between page
and paper, one sentence

shorter—pleased to
be leaving, not

to be elsewhere—and
not to confuse the actor—

frequenting infrequently
the way the sound does.

4

Readiness for somewhere
other—terroir infirm out

of touch—I could not get
my hands on what my fingers

touch on—what do you do
when you know yourself

by heart? Clouds do not rain
yet but frequently, invariably—

as sequined, as performed
as perfume—on the way

down—in between a shiver,
lingers, quickly, not lashed

out of—blinking, eye out
after eye. Then isn’t.

America, America . . .

5

Listen—my piano—fingered in
the cruelties—rest notes with your
last breath—pleased with all my life—

a little crazy, maybe, but though
obviously a little, second person
intimates gone solo from ascending

—the law stutters—in my mouth
its stumble gives more time to
improvise along the lines I draw,

the borders between the and an,
where here—à l’article de la mort—
death sentences are very close to love.

6

American ellipsis—before quiet
my silence after—with readiness

listening for your absence—not
to I am—blank for a name on

the brink edged by ocean—
but a ghost palm etching

the perch in your hands I take
off from—however unsteady

my hearing—snake-slough from
fresh growth, crow-shriek I crown

from—American dybbuk—the
sun up before I have purchase.

7

Flood claps its hands—and din so
gasps—chars the trout-marrow,

attending within, the throat-keeper
wording the characters cross-wise.

It is time they knew.

From our hands the fall
eats its leaf-page.

8

A chance
readies for
anything—

a way
the errors
on a page

direct the reader’s
eye to “thou” in
“you are with me”—

then how “you"
swerves, shifts
the passage

crosswise
I walk all
my life

around you
for.

9

I did not know—
in the beginning
not ending—

sight’s noise-flicker
not yet filtered
as it offered mass

to vision—though
not wishful thinking—
but the effort

that in seeing is like
swimming—but I never
learned—to find one

momentary view
before it swerves
away with feeling—

not my own—I never
learned—like willfulness
in listening as it first appears

to hum, then gives sounds
mass, intransigence to mean—
not what I thought—but

like the shadow in the
evidence that strikes past
me—the snake in things

while Moses writes down
what the shadow says—
the excess in the image

I might also die from—
but not yet—not at this
moment—when your sun-

light turns its darkness into
pulses—which I look for
most in everywhere you look,

the and I missed—but now
recorded later—at this
interval—with no one left

to hate for—if you looked out
still for no one in particular and
found in an the image overflow—

not a catastrophe this morning—
but massing into metaphors like
water—in addition—as antecedents.

10

     Just today—
while putting my 
mare in her stable— 
I noticed a shadow, 
a black streak 
I took for a shadow 
(my eyes are 
not as good as 
they were) a 
black snake instead 
on closer inspection— 
a flickering—I wanted 
to tell you—that this time 
I experienced a shock, 
strong enough this time 
to feel my surprise, its shade 
in the evening quiet—that 
this time here was a snake, 
there even in spite of me, 
that even if I had anticipated, 
even had wanted to see it, 
would still, when I did, 
have compelled me to see it, 
however unready, and not 
before as I thought, but changing 
my mind—an an in things—like 
the dress I undress in then dress 
from—to see when you look 
how I seem, my eyes closing —
the braille whisper only 
your fingers have sight of. 
A snake came to my water- 
trough . . .

Notes

American Dybbuk—In Musical Variations on Jewish Thought, Olivier Revault d’Allones writes of “the dybbuk” that it “is the spirit of one who died ‘prematurely,’” who “takes possession of a living person in order to try, as it were, to conclude his role, to round out his existence. It is not a ghost seeking revenge or asserting its rights. It is a person making himself complete, fulfilling himself, wiping out the error or the horror of early death. . . . The dybbuk is good, it returns to do good; if the community wants to get rid of it, . . . that is because it disturbs the social order. . . . As long as there are assassins to cut human lives off at the roots, as long as the Messiah remains captive in the jails of tyrants or in inattentive hearts, there will be dybbuks. . . . The theme of the dybbuk is not, moreover, a gratuitous invention of the Jewish imagination; it is a very close description of what happens within . . . . [T]he good personage, the angel assassinated because it was love, returns furtively every day to remind us that it is necessary to say no to the social order. Oh, good dybbuk, resting in my innermost depths, give me the courage to become you” (New York: Brazillier, 1984. pp. 80-81).

When we were children, we were punished terribly for being children—Harold Bloom’s gloss of Genesis 3.  (The Shadow of a Great Rock. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. p. 33).

Tush ye shall not die—The Serpent to Eve in the Tyndale 1530 translation of Genesis 3:4.

Just today / while putting my / mare in her stable . . . —A variation on a passage from Charles Sanders Pierce: “Today, while I was putting my mare into her stable, in the dusk of the evening, I noticed a black streak upon the floor, which I at first took for a shadow. But upon closer inspection (for my eyes are not as good as they once were) I saw that it was a large black snake. I experienced a certain shock strong enough to enable me to perceive what that shock consisted in, namely, in a sense that the snake was there inspite of me. Now, even if I had anticipated seeing the snake, and even if, anticipating it, I had wished to see it, still, when I did come to see it, I should have experienced something of that same sense of being compelled to see it. Such a sense of compulsion, of a struggle between something within and something without, accompanies every experience whatever. How else can I distinguish between an experience and a play of fancy of extreme vividness, then by the sense of compulsion in the former case? And how can there be compulsion without resistance?” (Elements of Logic. In Collected Papers. Volume 2. Ed. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932. p. 12).

A Snake came to my water-/trough . . . — The opening line of D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Snake” (Birds, Beasts and Flowers. London: Martin Secker: 1923. pp. 113-16). Lawrence calls the snake, “one of the lords / Of life,” a phrase he borrows from the opening lines of the poem that serves Emerson’s essay “Experience” as an epigraph: “The lords of life, the lords of life,—/I saw them pass” (Essays: Second Series. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1855. p. 47).

from American Dybbuk