from Revelator

By Ron Silliman b. 1946 Ron Silliman
Words torn, unseen, unseemly, scene
some far suburb’s mall lot
Summer’s theme: this year’s humid
—to sweat is to know—
pen squeezed too tight yields
ink as blood or pus
so the phrase scraped, removed
offending thine eye: “Outsource Bush”
Against which, insource what? Who
will do it? Most terrible
predicate—high above mountains snow-capped
even in August in-flight motion
picture Eternal Sunshine of the
Spotless Mind infuriates many No
action, no funny, plot too
dense to follow, unless (unless!)
mind’s eye gives attention First
blackbird signals many (synecdoche)
Bumble bee wonders am I
his flower? One hour shopping
& the vandal’s fled—him
we’ll know not, never confront
so recall the next day
that anger directed at complexity
as we deplaned in Seattle
old battle never won, never
gonna—sit now still beside
Dungeness River to spot quail
hopping about this untrimmed garden
as dog walkers circle back
jet trails in dawn sky
thread cloud wisps, shadows sharp
in the mountains

                    *     *     *

I pause two poems, three
pages before book’s end, first
growl of plane’s motor, sun
higher now contracts shadow, dandelion
froth blows over cut grass
spotted white tops of clover
something deep purple, bell-shaped, nameless
at least to me, iamb
what iamb, chewing endlessly until
I realize I’ll never swallow
whatever—jays bark: first fog
is deepest when trail ends
at first bend in the
river—“this in six weeks
will all be swollen, salmon
frantic in their competition,” men
also—on the wire-grid doorscreen
various bugs alight at dawn
drawn by the interior light,
something long with wings, something
no more than a speck
with legs, I scream, you
scream, we all scream for
that which is unnamable, unquenchable,
inconsolable (deep in one’s chest
surrounding the heart) art is
a mode of stalking, balk
at any configuration, at what’s
inescapably omitted, at Monticello I
very nearly wept, to imagine
just once the president as
the smartest, most questioning, most
rigorous of all, no, that’s
not it either—seeing (hand
shielding brow) the trail ahead
is empty, the man stops
to unleash his dogs, mist
rises from the river—bland
competency distributed equally among hundreds
begets only rebellion, what winnowing
from the first book to
the next, the nest, mountainside
garden fountain, yellowlegs & killdeer
searching the mud for tasties

                    *     *     *

Who here speaks English? Who
hear hark loud as grackle’s
incessant laugh battle after math’s
ironic sum—economy trumps all
history where now teens cluster
to mock tourism’s earnest gape
“It looks so small” because
it is—Trucks evacuating quarry
beep in reverse, diner’s posture
alert awaiting omelet, sausages, toast
behind whom the sun arises
white light o’er Morningside Heights
cook hollering to the cashier
in Spanish, then English, then
a third language I don’t
understand, cringe before that glare
until muted by cloud wisps
monastic NY hotel room deep
within shadows—What music mocks
its maker? The rope’s tug
as Dad shakes his beard
lost daughter found, then sold
into marriage—in walks Burt
again, crossing into language, subway’s
stairs become waterfalls under Ivan
until flooding halts commute, what
Milton sees the deaf hear
or knot, cashews, pretzels, honey—
roasted sesame sticks, the earth
below flat & checkered, not
yet autumn (dry desert heat)
Heart races art’s phases (hard
faces) heard in place in
pink marble plaza beyond which
red dirt surface of Mars
is not more barren—

                    *     *     *

                                . . . or                 .
you are being driven, along
an unfamiliar route, through streets
of your own former home,
whole neighborhoods tinged with emotion,
one still dreams of jets
sliding into houses, apartment complexes
gone, one millisecond of stillness
then the heat & burst
an orange ball of flame
explodes in the mind’s eye
anxious in your hotel room’s
great raft of a bed,
for days the networks discover
new amateur videos, waves far
greater than one can imagine,
on the beach bathers not
even thinking to run, buses
floating through streets of debris
Banda Aceh, this week’s geography
of the public imagination, Phuket’s
stream of tourists washed away,
bulldozers scooping corpses, our newscaster
alone in an empty village,
only the battered mosque remains,
where are the people, how
does this outer life, apocalypse
reported, penetrate my dreams, Three
men on the street walking
discussing who will reach 60
when, the way as teens
we spoke of 20, not
even seeing the homeless woman
asleep beneath the newspaper racks
at Mission & Fourth, fifth
of bourbon warms, warns, passed
between three beneath the bridge
day is done, day is
the ever-present challenge, wake
or not, the painter Jess
simply stays asleep, paint hardens
even cracks o’er decades, browns
grow muddy, greens mute, sky
goes pale, in the midst
of an abstract field blue
deep blue squiggles, Don Quixote
approaches, what is possible, seen,
heard, emotive prosody, heart because
it impacts one’s breathing, gasp
to grasp the truth of
what is not even visible
cannot be heard, red-haired
setter deaf to the world
lopes slowly, copes by smell
residual sight, my eyes shut

                    *     *     *

Dear Krishna, it’s 6:11 am
upstairs a faucet turns briefly
Lilly is grown now, Alan’s
hair thins at last, Melissa’s
perfect smile still shines but
no sign of Lulu, time
erodes what’s dear, what’s near
is past too soon to
grasp fully the consequence, dawn
threatens a new day constantly
sun as vicious as dusk
or rather simply uncaring, birds
disinterested in the infant’s corpse,
it’s language that introduces emotion
or the other way round,
my old street so narrow
two boys throwing a football
would find my world unimaginable
& I’m sure theirs likewise
will amaze them, how quaint
that first home network seems
already, Norma says of Barbara
she’s there and then not
mimicking consciousness more slowly now
so that others can see
you feel the heat’s lack
but not the wind, wind
up an old clock, airplane
I realize is now tracking
the traffic, the early commute
(first train, best train), still
no hint of sun but
now all the trees, houses
visible in silhouette, the dog
audible by its collar, paws
over hardwood, then a sigh,
across the street windows emerge,
porches, no longer just outlines,
details, a larger jet now
a few cars, then many,
my penmanship more ornate today
no sign of the trembles
an instant ago I sat
in Elliot’s kitchen, then taped
words cut from the paper
above the dog’s white bowl
“good dog”—the last I’d
ever live with I didn’t
know then, I dream you
floating, not plummeting, from high
off that bridge, birds finally
begin to twitter, color floods
emerging day, the sun still
behind the hills, face west
toward whichever future comes, mockingbird
mimics dog collar, another bird’s
three note peep, discern now
which jet is which, pinks
streak the high sky, I
rise, eyes blink shaking sleep
away, 757 angles in fog
bay at the runway’s rim
engines raring, waiting, ready, poised
then flaring, to race forward
up over the salt ponds
half hidden in the mist, silhouette
of the city piercing cloud
(but the bridges are hidden)
inner ear, particular trumpet, displays
pressure, cottony wisps soon scatter
valleys revealed green & gold
I hold the fluted glass
to cleanse the palette, mango
ice cream, or the sauce
hot & sweet, spicy, smoked
eggplant, rice absorbs the broth
breath, breadth, bread, a head
too big for hats, hands
likewise large grasp the ball
with ease, to please herself
she walks on her palms
then flips upright, smiling, sees
more than we know, teases
younger brother, mother, dad, bad
dogs? Never!

                    *     *     *

said to contain its own
sculpture thwarts choice—to voice
vowels languidly moist lips purse
their part—there’s an art
to it intuited before thought

                    *     *     *

paused at an intersection not
visible from here, the blue
of a perfect spring morning
unimaginable above this grey crush
of apartments, who here owns
the slightest yard, young man
alone in Chipotle, chewing thoughtfully
his large burrito, not talking
taking it all in, eyes
absorbing all, could have been
had this taqueria been there
then, myself in 1964, what
little I knew then but
could learn by doing, earn
just enough to eke by, barking
for the Café Wha? dime
for each new customer I
lacked the huckster’s flair lone
feather by a gravel road
all one needs by wch
to fabricate the tale, each
to each not beach exactly
but stones against the water
piled up to the dock
beyond which (or wch) mockingbird
hops to confront a robin
squirrel rears up to eat
some morsel in the clover,
each page would blow wild
but for the binding stitched
deep into the notebook’s spine

                    *     *     *

                                 . . . how
many words have I left,
use them wisely, sparingly, each
could outlast me, to what
purpose but this compulsive record
forward from the age of
a small midcentury lad, sitting
cross-legged on my bed, scribbling
anything to be free, anything
to make sense—peel cellophane
from a new tea carton
no indication where it’s grown
(Argentina!) no record no ___
sense of the map, Heywood
called his first book Cartographers
was there ever a second—
a sense now, over half
a century intricate puzzle
grandmother reduced to ash grandfather
no more silent than ever
just for being dead, sip
today’s first tea, the warmth
is the half of it
my throat first craves, table
narrow in the kitchen alcover
West Virginia a-frame cabin, clock
with a different bird song
for every hour, sans kids
what have you to etch
these words into time, applause
once we crossed the border
my 47th state, family myths
arc over generations, John Franklin
Tansley could not have known
telling any who would listen
that yes the explorer yes
his own grandfather yes but
the grandson Richard goes back
a century later, looks up
finds the marriage record yes
John Franklin yes married Jane
but instead a fishmonger
married a weaver’s daughter x
marks the signature, how soon
technology catches you out
these keys enact a surveillance
that will only sink deeper
over time, what you sink
’bout that, from comma to
coma to commerce to con
versus sub jugation the root
marks language’s route across form
surname in the family now
just four generations, but literacy
not more than six, so what
arrogance am I then enacting
weaving ink into paper, stains
of a history already blanching
in the light, up above
I hear you stirring, rising
at least to sit up
then slowly, quietly coming downstairs
to use the bathroom, dawn
just starts to be visible
through the blinds, soft glow
neither blue nor gray, sun
not yet visible, they’re distinct
sun & the dawn, one
recurs while the other stretches
fans swirl slowly high overhead
but the windchime is still

                    *     *     *

Why repair rotting kitchen now?
Why seek, read every book
if the flood won’t quit
even when you’ve left, Desire
Desire is the answer, hunger
never rests, geese each dawn
now for decades circling lake
until day’s form is found
all over again, I rise
to write, sun still hidden
behind hills, hummingbird upon branch
appears so still, breathe deep
to taste air, first bart,
first bark, squirrel’s tail twitches
causing whole branch to shake
train’s whistle deep & steady
three echoes distinct, great shushing
rush of traffic, white noise
forms morning music, outside window
spider quick on his thread
it’s all about scale, bicycle’s
brakes squeal long way down
Stands on her deck naked
to inspect the day, trumpet flower
pod yellow, almost purple tip
phallic before it explodes,
red, red-orange, bright yellow center
notebook’s pages dwindle, one project
I’ll not complete, that’s not
it’s point, but to stretch
even just a little, shape
& dimension, time & dominion,
day’s echoes ricochet up hill
canyon to canyon, every fold
marvelous instrument my declining ear
hears what I cannot see,
say, sheer ecstasy of breath
each one, no two alike
ever, audible in head’s bell
sinus sounds, own teeth grinding
until jaw’s muscles spasm, clench

                    *     *     *

                        Dear Los
Angeles Dodgers, my bête noir
not, you form the surrogate
we so desperately need, enemy
enema, it all comes out
in the wash, one road
south of Dogtown, garden fenced
to ward off deer, plums
their skin tart, their flesh
sweet & cool, I almost
don’t recognize the hummingbird, still
on the almond branch, farms
here feel vast, we missed
a single turn, Bob speaks
of how o becomes d
or vice versa, Steve talks
happily of new son, David
& I & ours eat
around a front yard table
just behind a small picket fence
the heat rare even here
you never see birds sleep
hummingbird’s red crown, white chest
a view of the bay
from the deck, audible neighbors
not really visible, someone’s alarm
reaches endless reiteration, arise, arise
your eyes must be clear
the sound of bart different
from day of my youth
thin haze but no fog
light spreads over San Francisco
clouds at first seem small
until one speck of plane
flies beneath, then a second
absolutely crosswise, big truck’s sticker
reads “Give War a Chance”
Look for the gun rack
boats sit still in bay
who works there in silence
only because I’m too far
to hear, notebook reaches limit
not unlike mind or heart
whole family singing Beatles songs
as we drive, first thought
not your own, let alone
best, phrases weave against lines
water comes to a boil
squirrels wrestle in the branches
one skitters across the slanted roof
Mount Tam silent as ever
only seems unchanging (human scale)
clouds above have moved on
leaving new sky, sun muted
still amid trees, I close
my eyes just to listen
laughing jay, distant train, feel
instead air over hair, back
of my hand, its taste
palpable in nostrils, eucalyptus, tea
hummingbird responds to jay, jets
echo heading east, sounds create
(first sprinkler, bottle on table)
sense of my own body
high in the Berkeley hills

Source: Poetry (June 2010).


This poem originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2010
 Ron  Silliman


An influential figure in contemporary poetics, Ron Silliman became associated with the West Coast literary movement known as “Language poetry” in the 1960s and ‘70s. He edited In the American Tree (1986), which remains the primary Language poetry anthology, as well as penned one of the movement’s defining critical texts, The New Sentence (1987). Silliman’s prolific publishing career includes over thirty books of poetry, critical . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, Trees & Flowers, Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets, Social Commentaries, Cities & Urban Life, Language & Linguistics

SCHOOL / PERIOD Language Poetry

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