This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Lyn Hejinian.



I am not a bra, nor a thriving coastal pine tree, nor a voyage; I am still ambivalent. One can’t mete out wholeness; children don’t do so and the old shouldn’t either. Wholeness is loose and temporary ———— a kind of fog. Still I’m capable of serious appreciation ———— but that could also be said of a chump or insecure fool as well as of an advocate or empiricist. Perhaps it’s cowardly to appreciate. Montaigne says that sadness is characteristic of cowardice; he also calls it (in “Of Sadness”) “a stupid and monstrous ornament.” Nonetheless, it is an unavoidable part of anything on which ornamentation might appear. The Christmas tree, for example, or the tagged walls of warehouses and loft spaces along Oakland’s waterfront. Crews of graffiti-removers paint the ornamentation out, effacing sadness. Bone! F that. Going about her daily life on a side street west of College Avenue, Ellie North Roth is thinking these days about night life daily and daily life every night, as old age weaves them together, into something thicker and thicker, worn thinner and thinner. There are food chains, queen bees, trauma centers, sidecars, tangos, a white and orange longhaired cat, several days at last of melodious winter rain. These, accumulating, diverging ———— they contribute to subjectivity, strengthen a person’s individuation. In the quest for heterogeneity, for everything myriad, multiple, and different, one has to look outside of oneself, counter-introspectively. Even a writer of so-called lyric poetry should be disputing the validity of long-standing models of literary writing as introspective or retrospective. For reasons not exclusively his own, Askari Nate Martin rarely states what he loves, nor that he loves. Everyone is waiting, he says. Some fight while they wait, some share in the waiting. Pertinence, relevance ———— a constellating magnetic force of attraction ———— may intrude at any point and from any place, sourceless as time (though not otherwise resembling time). “No chain is homogeneous: all of them resemble, rather, a succession of characters from different alphabets in which an ideogram, a pictogram, a tiny image of an elephant passing by, or a rising sun may suddenly make its appearance.” Misanthropes and philanthropists alike wait for a green light. An old woman fumbles with her coin purse at a supermarket checkout counter. Two students, sheltered from the rain by the overhanging awning of a shoe shop, interact intently with whatever’s appearing on their cell phone screens while they wait for the bus. Art is capable of holding together assemblages very different from the ones that we think are credible, or probable, or that we think we can know. Coming in from the rain, Willem takes off his cycling gloves, Bill removes his shoes. Episodes of turbulence erupt out of the pull of everyday life, even out of the pull of domesticity ———— the call to breakfast, to the phone, to the kitchen for an English muffin spread with goat cheese or marmalade or for scrambled eggs and a Kellogg’s Pop Tart®, to bed, and perhaps to sex. To politicize people’s responses to such calls we could begin by asking how freely they answer. Don’t want to mistake free fall for free flow. One doesn’t make progress in the living of everyday life (facing repetition), except insofar as growing up, aging, declining, and dying can be construed as progress. Can it? Hardly. Every city emits its peculiar spatiality as an expression of its conditions. Dude! Rosario Basho Clark nods. It’s chill, he says. Yeah? says Flip. He’s momentarily frozen in fascination at the fact that swirling and vibrating and spinning atoms are the true reality of a table or bedroom wall. Everything that’s holding together may cease to do so. Flip raises his right arm. That’s it! It’s all percussion! Things don’t go into memory they emerge out of it. The friend they called Commando was once very much somewhere and then suddenly everywhere. Ellie North Roth lingers and awaits experience in the seemingly negative space of a rainy late afternoon of the holidays. To engage emptily in this way, in the art of abeyance, should bring one close to the non-particular, the unidentifiable, to all that is withheld because it is changing, she thinks. She attempts to let go of her place at the window; the changing makes her slightly afraid. She can refuse epiphany but she won’t refuse weeping. Memory’s inability to assemble wholes is one of its greatest virtues, Ellie North Roth says to Albert Sing Roth. I suppose, he says. Albert Sing Roth is a strong man, somewhat opinionated, but he’s neither a bully, nor an ideologue, nor a martinet, nor a narcissist. If memory thinks it can foresee the future, it is generally deluded, he says. Along with the creation of the private worlds that aesthetic work draws us into, certainly art, or some of it at least, should create public worlds, as it used to, in much earlier times. It’s possible that these public worlds might be as obsession-fraught or as dream-woven as private ones, or even that they would be unimaginable ———— bereft of images. In her introduction to Becomings, Elizabeth Grosz, writing on the threshold of a new millennium, speculates as to the character of possible futures and ends by wondering “whether this time of the future is the noble time of the lost cause, the time of an impossible future, in which one must struggle for, and achieve, a beyond in the most apparently hopeless and oppressed of positions.” A few pages later she continues: “The politics of the hopeless cause, the cause ennobled precisely because it is hopeless, improbable, unlikely to succeed, introduces another [order of] time, another dimension, into the concept of what politics and struggle are. To struggle not to win so much as to make a mark, to mark a time and a place as particular, is to imbue time (and space) with a hope that is beyond the hope of actual outcomes.” An inventive young poet wants to project into his forthcoming book some images from a large sheet of film, a 10 by 22 inch sheet of orange acetate with a “tongue” at one of the narrow sides just like the tongue used to thread a roll of 35mm film into a pre-digital camera. His girlfriend suggests that he make a cardboard mat with a round hole in it: the poet could slide the sheet so that the desired image would appear in the hole, backlit and thus projected. I say something like “that’s a great idea”; it’s a ridiculous thing to say. The poet’s orange acetate sheet of film is creased and breaking apart. He says he is going to make a new one, but I don’t trust the poet’s sincerity. In a notebook I sketch an empty rectangle and write under it a caption: a three alley dream whose interpretation requires a sword-swallower’s practicality and an office on location so she or he can speak French to the money guys who have expectations that will remain forever unforgiven. Unsatisfied, I try again, under a second empty rectangle: At the scene of his true crime a killer checks his pockets, searching for his notes about weak feelings that will allow him to wade indifferently away from the gore at the sight of which passersby with enthusiasm will narcissistically express their own feelings, always their true object of fascination. This is better, but for the fun of it I dream up another. I draw a third empty rectangle and below it carefully write From between two dark high-rises a car, so blindingly white as to constitute a speeding site of pure negativity, comes into view and further accelerates, bearing down on a sunny round yellow car which it smashes, catapulting it into the side of a rose red car in Kirk Wong’s ‘Crime Story,’ which we can take to mean that betterment will be as it always has been: littered with broken machines. I have no idea what might go into the empty rectangles. An epic is a long story about the difficulties that impede someone’s attempt to return home. The hero’s persistence is the real substance of his or her heroism. The kids at the Oakland MAP are searching for a proper place for themselves, a world with a horizon. They have predators: dealers, gang-bangers, bacteria, guns, cars, viruses, cops, idiots ———— general malignity. For humans alive in any given age, various ideas dominate as to the value of life, or the value of what’s available (or not) to the living, and each age has its accompanying array of hobbies, culinary preferences, and child-rearing practices. Some ages ———— perhaps most ———— lose their canonical status; what they in their time thought constituted the value of life loses credibility, or even reality. Other ages accumulate value, becoming valuable in their own right. The ages, here given in alphabetical order, include:

                         The Avian Age
                         The Age of Ends
                         The Age of Facades
                         The Feline Age
                         The Age of Games
                         The Age of Herpetology
                         The Age of Immediacy
                         The Age of Justification
                         The Martial Age (aka the Age of War)
                         The Martian Age (also known as the Age of Origins)
                         The Age of Meteorology (sometimes confused with the Avian Age; see above)
                         The Musical Age (with a period of harsh timbres and unmelodious atonality
                                                  following a long period of harmony and preceding a period of
                                                  rampant percussion)
                         The Ocular Age
                         The Age of Representation (aka the Age of Return)
                         The Age of Time (sometimes called the Age of Now)

“During the day I was sustained and inspirited by the hope of night: for in sleep I saw my friends, my wife, my beloved country….” Feverishly, Victor Frankenstein races across immense stretches of territory as he madly pursues his experiment and its destruction. His vast experiment was always driven by a particular form of homesickness. “Often […] I persuaded myself that I was dreaming until night should come, and that I should then enjoy reality in the arms of my dearest friends.” It is to reality that we turn when looking for the source, the cause, the realm of existence of those things that we think we can properly know. Such a reality ———— so-called “objective reality” ———— exists “over there,” while we, the knowing (or not-knowing), move about restlessly over here, in exile. But now the very word itself is beginning to lose reality. So quickly we are already some days into winter and the strange aspirations that come with the rain. Much of the activism has moved indoors. The great accomplishment that coherence achieves, as in a painting by Bonnard, are its murky verges.



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).