An Apparatus

By Keith Waldrop b. 1932 Keith Waldrop
From where I sit, I can see other
things: a silver porcupine, pins
standing upright. It is a vanished tale of a
vanished forest at the shore of a vanished ocean.

I call the dead as often as I can. In the
vaults, among mummies—this is pure
memorial. I am the girl in whose
eyes the name is written.

I feel as if veiled, as if soon I
shall get to know something. These are people
with encephalitis who cannot go
forward, but can go backward, and can dance.

In this rough draft of my memoirs, my brother
comes toward me—frightened, skeletal—longing
for marvels. I cannot describe it better than by
comparing it to other figures, intoxication.

Mere reflexes, as for instance breathing, can become
conscious. One of two rivals has his
ornamental tail bit off. In dying sounds, barely
reaching our ears, a melody continues.

No end to it—an infinite progression. All this
love of a bygone age. Watch the track
of a concentrated sunbeam through our lake ice:
part of the beam is stopped, part goes through.

Now the upper surface buckles, phantasmagoria of
unchained passion—under which the land
quakes, the ocean swells, and a myriad-years-
old forest snaps and cracks.

Surpassing all forms of experience, the wide, deep,
freshwater lake—on which the city
is built—rises before us. Here a modern idea
interposes, a new body made from the elements.

Then everything is forgotten. Sometimes thoughts
are cut off and sometimes they are the
blade which cuts. At the present gravel pit, electric
lights in the evening cast their magic blue sheen.

There’s the sun, a crack above those
hills, breaking the day. If the door open, who
comes in? If it close, what will interrupt
my train?

The staircase effect supplies strong evidence
for a subjective map. Downhill, the sun
trickles, unperturbed. Here trots a mammoth with
red wool, through the black yew forest.

The tendency of elements to linger on: You say
I dream of what I want, but what I
want now is to dream. The cold rind
broken, the same wind blows.

Through a lens of ice, the dark
heat of the sun burns wood, fires gunpowder, melts
lead. Perhaps a cloud of musk rises, such as
issues from a crocodile in passion.

Unless light falls properly upon these
flowers, you cannot see them. All associations at
this level rain down from above. We
talk of word-pictures.

We observe vertigo. We reach the cleft
by a steep gully or couloir—very dangerous, the
path from the heights, the glory of
the prospect, the insight gained.

What I mean is a disturbance in
all the senses at once. You will not find
the flower confused. Facing a certain
wind, there is always danger.

Keith Waldrop, “An Apparatus” from Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy. Copyright © 2009 by the Regents of the University of California. Reprinted by permission of University of California Press.

Source: Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy (University of California Press, 2009)

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Poet Keith Waldrop b. 1932

Subjects Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

Biography

Keith Waldrop, who was awarded the 2009 National Book Award for poetry for Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy, has been a prominent voice in American poetry for over forty years.  He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, prose, and translations. With Rosmarie Waldrop he co-edits Burning Deck Press.

Waldrop was born in Emporia, Kansas in 1932. He enrolled in the pre-med program at Kansas State Teacher’s College, but his . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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