Leslie Scalapino & Rick London, Editors
2003 • 160 pp. • $16.00
Poetry, Prose, Anthology
The editors began to assemble this anthology following 9/11 at the start of the U.S. war on Afghanistan. It is a collection of poets whose writings are interactive with the current time, writing as its matter and syntax not separate from oppressive conditions and war. In Enough, U.S. poets, British, Palestinian, Iraqi, Israeli, speak back and forth to each other only in the medium of their art. Most of the poems were written for this collection; the poets were taking on being in that moment/event (of an exchange unknown until it is a book, as well as being in those real-time events). The editorial basis of enough is that these poets’ art is not separate from their being in the world — and that: Seeing what’s happening is a form of change.
—Editor Leslie Scalapino
A radical purpose of poetry in critical times is to disrupt the language of consensus, taking possible thought into a more intimate relation to life as anybody lives it, contradicting the fanfare of established power. And inventing new ways of making art reflects the rejection of hegemonic forces in the world. Engaged art perceives that when the wounded speak they use the language of the wound. The work gathered in this collection opens and extends these radical practices.
— Editor Rick London
Book Review by Laura Hinton
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper….
– W.W. Auden, “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”
One of poetry culture’s continuing debates is whether or not Auden was right – whether or not poetry can be a political act. The Bush administration’s war against Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of September 11, 2003, resurfaced this debate over the last two years, in internet and small-press productions that raised the verse clamor of anti-war protest. While Donald Rumsfeld and the military-industrial-corporate complex has been striking up the gleaming hardware of the U.S. war machine, the post-September 11th work of conflict resolution and peace has been left (abandoned) to the “soft” industry of poetry. And maybe that’s the kind of irony that rings true in Auden lines that many of us have missed.
Most well-publicized in this current anti-war poetry voice, was Sam Hamill’s internet site and book, Poets Against the War, which emerged initially as his RSVP refusal to First Lady Laura Bush’s invitation to attend a White House symposium on American poetry on the eve of Gulf War II. (The event was later cancelled). Taking off as a web site that soon grew to more than13,000 poems, the Poets Against the War print version came out in April, published by Nation Books. Meanwhile, other poetry collections were simultaneously emerging – perhaps with not as much mainstream media attention – filled with poems by some of America’s, and the world’s, most pre-eminent poets. These publications include Poets Against the War, edited by Todd Swift and published in England by Salt; Faber & Faber’s 101 Poems Against the War, widely available in United Kingdom and Irish bookstores; the Canadian anthology, A Common Sky; and Irish Poets Against the War. Such collections have either been stimulated by or have resulted in poetry readings of protest, from San Francisco to the steps of New York City’s public library to London.
enough!, edited by Rick London and Leslie Scalapino and published by Scalapino’s Oakland-based O Press, flooded out amidst the wave of poetry volumes last spring. But it has tried to do something different than be just another anti-war volume. It is, of course, that, too – an anti-war volume. But, inspired long before Gulf War II became a public reality when America went to war against Afghanistan following September 11th, enough! focuses not only the thematic “war is bad,” but also on the problem of the language we use to describe that thematic. It attempts to explore language’s complicity with war, in a process that observes the act of “seeing” as a more honest form of resistence, and investigates the problem of “seeing” in a language too often co-opted by other institutions. London’s and Scalapino’s stated goal in the book is to suggest a way that poetry might function as dissent — but only by acknowledging, in Scalapino’s words, that “writing as its matter and syntax [are] not separate from oppressive conditions and war.”
Thus, one finds many of the poems in enough! reflective of different points of view, not static or rigid political and/or aesthetic stances. The poems collected here are not necessarily stating anti-war sentiments in a polarized rhetoric of good versus evil, or merely in images that disclose wartime horrors (although some poems do that, too). Collectively they “see what’s occurring,” in Scalapino’s suggestive expression, into the deeper drama of “the glazed reflecting in destroyed language,” which Scalapino reminds us is “propaganda.” One need not be a scholar of Julia Kristeva, and the notion of a “destroyed” language versus the well-spring of the semiotic, for readers of enough! to understand its critique of institutional language. And institutional language can also include contemporary poetry itself. London’s and Scalapino’s work in the volume has been to try to evade that institutional language as much as possible – and without arrogance or posturing. The collective works presented here attempt to revive a language that is not coercive, and not without self-consciousness but not participating in the glaze/gaze of traditional rhetoric and reporting.
It’s a beautifully arranged and produced volume, beginning with Abigail Child’s stunning cover art, “Tower of Babel,” which conflates a Tower of Babel image with the image of the World Trade Tower wreckage. And the selection of mostly vanguard poets represented here reflect the original approach and diversity of this volume to what is the contemporary vanguard:: from a couple legendary representatives of the “Beats”; to English translations of Arab, French, and Spanish poetry by Palestinian, Iraqi, and other Arab and Latin American writers; to British, Israeli, New York School and “Lang-Po” writers. Most of the poems were explicity written (and/or translated) for this collection – which in itself makes the collection a major contribution to modern poetry. One imagines many of the pieces written just after September 11 – throughout are images of things and bodies “coming down,” as in Charles Bernstein’s “Let’s Just Say”: “Let’s just say that every time you fall you never hit the ground….” The pull of heights, of towers, fill such poems (“Let’s just say that the top of a tower is not a good place to hide”), as in Nathaniel Mackey’s “Son of the Andoumbouloo: 58,” which conflates “the sky … oddly fed,” with “Debris bumped our heads, rubble/hurt our feet,” a collective image of desolation, rubble and the body in pieces, in a language playfully rendering a new Lord’s Prayer: Fingerless, if not
Without hands, drew back from
Nub the new kingdom come….
And other images invoke the fallen Trade Center as icon of meltdown, like Ed Robeson’s “Memorium”: “The cole marble/to marble behaved/as if it were liquid” – a language of “marble” wrought hard and yet blisteringly fragile in another context, in Diane Di Prima’s “Notes Towards a Poem of Revolution” that reads, perhaps, as one of the most directly damning (and controversial) critiques of the policies that lead to September 11, in lines:
The long fingers of
Touches us all & nobody
Can hog the marbles & expect
The others to play
Then there are the more displaced critiques of American global policies, such as in Brazilian expatriate poet Murilo Mendes’s “Christmas 1961″, a witty revision of the nativity story posing as modern-day tale of a “bureaucratic operation – the census,” which dislocates “the Virgin and the carpenter” as they “approach Bethlehem” to face soldiers of Harod who “hand out radioactive food to all boys under the age of two….” (Mendes, who died in 1975, wrote his native Portuguese, as well as French and Italian, while living in France.) The inclusion of this poem is one of several example of poetry that crisscrosses modernity’s cultures and nationalist/linguistic boundaries, and which remind us that the issue raised by September 11 and the American wars against Afghanistan and Iraq are not just local to our time and space. And a poem like Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Extasis” crisscrosses through the use of a word itself the language used to make a cultural critique. Traditional if stunning images of light and dark pervade this seemingly simple, dynamic poem: “When we stand dumbstruck/before the late sun slanting … last light/pouring over us.” But the title word that this short piece a cascading series of linguistic frames that ring with more irony than the dark/light images could hope to construct. “Extasis” is Ferlinghetti’s a portmanteau word, suggestive of “extant” – to be visible, to exist (thus ironic when cast in the shadow of the World Trade Center rubble and the two wars it fermented;) and suggestive also of “stasis” – to remain standing, yet as a “stoppage of flow” (multiple ironies in that single word-image). Then there’s the homonymic if not etymological echo of “ecstatic” in “Extasis” as title term: that experience marked by ecstacy, or one that is subject to ecstasies (again, a brilliantly ironic stance, given the poem’s imagery and subject matter).
Other brilliant pieces published in enough! by Alice Notley, Lyn Hejinian, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Lisa Jarnot, Michael McClure, Scalapino and London themselves – there are too many strong artists here to all name – leave me ironically “ecstatic” with praise and yet strangely “mute” (in a state of “extasis”?), trying to summarize the effects of enough! The subject matter itself is often too troubling to even contemplate in this shimmering and yet deeply strange language used to “see” and “perceive” our tragic, historic events as they are unfolding before us, leaving the reader without conclusive thoughts or judgement or the feeling of “positive” political knowledge or the “right” action to take. It’s as if the problem Auden was raising is given tragic flesh and bones here in enough!. Poetry may generate words of protest in a semantic field of meaning. But words ironically survive “In the valley of its saying” – only. No matter how forceful or impassioned the sentiments expressed, words are words and remain in this tamed valley, unless used against themselves, used as a critique against language and the poetic traditions of narrative, imagery, verse form — and the invention of words themselves.
Rusty Morrison, To Say “Enough”
Reading Adam Liptak’s NY Times exposé of the Treasury Department’s intention to make criminal the act of editing for publication the work of any writer, in any discipline, from any nation whose government is in US disfavor, I hear in my mind “enough!” Not only as response to this idea-embargo’s further encroachment upon our freedoms, but because the word enough (in lower case and sans my own exasperation expressed in punctuation) is title to a collection of writings that would most likely bring on the ire of the Treasury, as it allows for the open trade of ideas among writers from nations favored and disfavored, appropriately complicating many lines of political entrenchment.
In 2003, when the dangers of the Patriot Act were becoming blatantly apparent, I wrote about enough for the web site of Small Press Traffic, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Literary Arts Center at California College of Arts, which is itself a forum where controversial and diverse ideas are encouraged to flourish in physical and virtual conversation. Given the Treasury’s latest erosion of our freedom of speech, freedom of publication, I am grateful to Small Press Traffic and to Slope for allowing me to reiterate enough’s relevance.
Edited by Leslie Scalapino and Rick London, and published by O Books in 2003, it reads in 2004 as a prescient and myriad response to what seems an unabashed attempt by the Treasury to create an information vacuum. It is fertile with the kind of idea-variety and -variation that our government obviously considers varmint and would liken to fleas set loose upon those attempting to sleep under the Treasury Department’s blanket of repression.
On the back cover of enough, Scalapino explains that she and London began collecting this work “following 9/11 at the start of the US war on Afghanistan.” Her choice of the word “following,” which suggests chronology rather than cause, is aptly expressive of a project that intends neither a unified response to a single act nor acceptance of any proscriptive position. In fact, the only position the editors take is to propose that this anthology’s “writings are interactive with the current time.” Scalapino explains that what these contributors¾from Britain, the US, Palestine, Iraq, Israel¾share is the willingness to “tak[e] on being in that moment/event (of an exchange unknown until it is a book, as well as being in those real-time events).” And, as Rick London suggests, these writers also share a willingness to “contradict the fanfare of established power,” though they do so without denying the complexity of competing values that such a position can unearth. With respect to individual pieces and to the aggregate of those pieces, enough might be described as a collection that questions with juxtaposition rather than answers with amalgamation. In reading through this collection a reader will find many illuminating, surprising connections. But the editors of enough have created an order which allows the various writings to rub hard against each other, sharpening the exposed edginess of experiences that will not coalesce into an easily summarized whole.
Contributions range in subject, scope, and referentiality, and include:
direct reportage of atrocity:
“the resulting vaccum sucking the building down and turning it into a buried graveyard. ”
metaphoric reflection, here, upon the inevitable insularities of subjectivity:
“a drop flees the ocean, becomes ocean” (El Janabi 75);
discursive analysis of event:
So this act was impossible to understand from any coherent point of view. It can only be
understood as a religious act, an act that strikes to the heart of religion’s essence – the
sacrifice of like, the hurling it into the abyss of timelessness, toward God.” (Fischer 111);
critical study, here exposing the insurmountable impediments to objectively expressing event:
“Karmel walks doubt into a furnace of gestural and physical details and leaves it there”
as well as many other means of expressing personal and political, as well as mimetic and non-mimetic forms of witness.
Despite this enormous diversity, this text constellates as text, perhaps because each of these pieces is held to the others by the gravity of their authors’ similarly courageous and irrepressible need to speak, to be heard in and among others. But their places in such a constellation are not fixed, and a reader will, in her active engagement with these writings, feel the constantly shifting movement as meanings re-order in relation to each next work read. The potential created by such diversity cannot be limited, and neither can a simple, comforting purpose be assigned to it.
As contributor Judith Goldman writes in her poem “The Real Devotion of Events”: “no help whatever,/ which you take in hand to them/ you cannot be and are.// we are broken of the winged forms/ from which you have been gone/……the traps laid betray the traps you lay./ if we dreamed in the company/ of others and our dreams happen/ to agree. small// change. you/ can exceed it” (81-85).
The formal and contextual means used by these writers to address the present offer none of the comfort of uniformity. Instead, the reader is given a constantly reconstituting apprehension of event and an appreciation for the possibility that when “our dreams happen/ to agree. small// change. you/ can exceed it.” Rather than comfort, one can take heart in the implicit suggestion that future isn’t necessarily what we perceive from our limited vantage, but is more what Wittgenstein, in Culture and Value describes as: “a curve, constantly changing direction.” Or, to quote Lyn Hejinian’s “The Fatalist” from the pages of this collection, “The presences that constitute life do so by entering life/ and they do so infinitely” (55).
Of course, for some readers, such a view of future may be more frightening than heartening. Certainly, much was said in the popular media, immediately following 9/11, about the need for writing that would salve our dismay and unite us in our present experience and future purpose. Unfortunately, we have seen how difficult it is to cherish unity without demanding uniformity. And as the Treasury Department’s latest dictate demonstrates, uniformity is too easily predicated upon censorship.
Ed Friedman suggested in a talk given in ’94 at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, later published in Paradise & Method¾which is also a collection of essays united primarily by respect for difference and disruption¾that we must stay attentive to the ways we are drawn into compliant accord with currently accepted views. He emphasizes the point that everything we read can act upon us in this way: “We’re supposed to be pulled in by literature, just like we’re supposed to be absorbed in the social status quo… magnetism trains you. A worshipful, forgetful, unwitting magnetizing… we’re up against a glamorizing of the already.”
By bringing together these contributors’ various, even contradictory means of addressing and disrupting the “already,” the editors of enough not only demonstrate the aliveness of such alternative, but also offer readers ample opportunity to consider how many different “already”s may be present in the various literatures of writers writing today. Attention to such difference allows us to become sensitive to the ways that we each frame our relationship to these works, and our relationship to the “real-time” events that the authors of these works have witnessed. To use Friedman’s terms, such awareness is essential in that it allows us to continually re-assess where we have unwittingly become magnetized, worshipful.
Yet it is very difficult to make such re-assessments. If we take the latest Treasury Department decisions as example, I have no doubt that we will find apathetic consensus among many US citizens who believe that there could be no real danger in any of the current policies. Since our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are foundational elements of democracy, which our officials are elected to protect, no government decision could be approved that might put these in jeopardy. Certainly many of the materials we find to read will corroborate this kind of mesmerizing forgetfulness, if I might borrow Friedman’s terms.
As George Lakoff, explains it, we can only make sense of our experiences by creating frames, holistic structures that we use to hold, and to hold together, all of our experience. Of course, many of these framing devices come from our sense of kinship with the communities, cultures, political systems in which we have become invested. It is an apt definition of ‘crisis’ to say that we suffer it when our most intimately accepted frames are disrupted¾be they the frames with which we shape our environment, our social group, our ideologies, our constitution of self. With every crisis comes the fearful necessity to admit to ourselves that we are indeed experiencing these disruptions. It can be a very painful experience to heighten our sensitivity to, and awareness of, these frames that we operate within¾questioning which ones remain useful and which must be discarded because events, experiences, realizations have made them uninhabitable.
Thus, it is exactly in periods of crisis that we need texts like enough, which not only ranges in content and context and formal approach across wide social, political, and geographic expanses, but also exposes to its readers the complex often contradictory ways that people frame similar experiences.
London and Scalapino’s enough offers active, even uncomfortable awareness to its readers¾different, but distinctly related, to the active awareness that the contributors have brought to the act of writing. As Scalapino tells us “the editorial basis of enough is that these poets’ art is not separate from their being in the world¾and that: Seeing what’s happening is a form of change.” Implicit in this statement is a respect for the changes that such seeing can bring about within a reader, as she attends to what is happening in and among the works in this collection, and an appreciation that this will impact her own changing relationship to our changing world.
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Leslie Scalapino (1944 – 2010) is the author of thirty books of poetry, prose inter-genre-fiction, plays, and essays. Granary Book just published a collaborative book by artist Kiki Smith and Leslie Scalapino, titled The Animal is in the World like Water in Water. Scalapino’s It’s go in horizontal/Selected Poems, 1974-2006 was published by University of California Press at Berkeley in 2008. Other books of Scalapino’s poetry include Day Ocean State of Stars’ Night (Green Integer), a collection of eight years; Zither & Autobiography (Wesleyan University Press), The Tango (Granary Press), Orchid Jetsam (Tuumba), Dahlia’s Iris—Secret Autobiography and Fiction (FC2 Publishers); a reprint of the prose work Defoe (Green Integer); and It’s Go In Quiet Illumined Grass Land (The Post-Apollo Press).
Rick London is from San Francisco, CA.
Diane Di Prima
Abdul Kader El Janabi
Jackson Mac Low
DEEPLY IMMORAL ARROGANT AND IGNORANT
For this you get a degree in the government
of My World My Rules
Here’s some of the buzz words –
Foolhardy and Inexplicable
The current president has been called
‘a craven coward’
by the female senator from California
and it’s only May 2001!
And now still
almost a Constant Sense of Outrage
Corporate capitalist oligarchies own the war
Feel Terrified? The ‘war’
Can go where it wants, when it wants
with bizarre expansions
Endless war fear hysterias. Great
There is NEVER an end to profit. There is NEVER enough
There are no ‘acceptable losses’ when it means more ‘money’
There is no end to profit There is NEVER enough
That said again, do we enumerate the stunningly horrible
‘My Way or No Way’ direction of the Bushies
in the world
and start gnashing teeth and going ga-ga
But there’s the voice of the ‘people’ isn’t there?
I hear articulate political observation
that hasn’t collapsed into goofy anxious patriotism
that informs and lifts the veil of secrecy
‘The state of the union is none of your business’
says the Vice
Evil Terrorism or Live Rebellion?
always just out of reach except for the kid from Marin
Terrorist weather yesterday heavy frost and snow
collateral damage to the lemons
and baby Bok Choy
But what about all the hot air produced?
At least I enumerate with outrage
At least I must articulate
At least I know what’s wrong
Read the Tao
February 27, 2002
Swamp Formalism for Donald Rumsfeld
As if they were not men,
amphibious, gill-like, with
wings, as if they were
sunning on the rocks, in a
new day, with their flickered
lizard tongues, as if they were
tiny and biting and black,
as if I was a hero or they were,
as if the they and these us that
arrived, out of the same blue
ground bogs, as if from my
bog that I saw the sun and
swam up to the surface, as if
the surface was shining, like a
lizard to embrace, as if the
random pain of lizard heads
on sticks were prettier to eat,
as if I didn’t kill the plants, the
water, and the air, as if the
fruit and the sheep were all
diamond shaped and melted,
allowing in the sun, underground,
crowned, in shadows, in the
main dust, from the self same
main dust spring.
My Terrorist Notebook
This is the beginning of my terrorist notebook all terrorism
all the time. I would have had to blow up the World Trade Center
to get anyone’s attention when I was a kid. I’m tired of being nice.
Nice is out. I want to live in a cave with Osama and sleep on the floor
of the cave by myself. I want to poke people’s eyes out with their
cell phone antennas. Maybe I would feel better if I exercised more.
Pretty soon I will run out of money and that will be the end of my
terrorist activities. We have a situation here, we terrorists, in our caves,
blowing up the rest of the many muddy mouses, swinging by their
mousie tails over the heads of the mousie moms under the muddy
mousie moon, don¹t move, and watch the mousie moon, you mom of
mouse, now watch the mousie moon.
The United States of America
I’m going to ask you to transition into a new theme about
the war. The thing that comes to mind now is the war:
the big war, the little war, the war that’s in my head,
the war around the edges of my ears, the war to kill
the troops, the war to kill the cows, the transitional war,
the bloody war, the not-bloody war, the semi-bloody war,
the figure of the neighborhood with war, running toward
the herds of cattle in the war, not good at war, awash in war,
the war-to-mores, the more and more to war.
THE CUPS WE DRINK FROM ARE THE SKULLS OF ARABS
AND THIS SILK IS THE SKIN OF BABIES.
THE FROTHING ON OUR CHINS
IS NOT RABIES NOR ARE OUR FINGERNAILS
WE’RE NORMAL HUMAN ANIMALS
AND WE ITCH LIKE SCABIES
FOR THE RAPE OF THINGS.
It is ordinary and beautiful
to have the duty
to twist and tease
the lovely glimmering light
we see in things.
Then one day we look about
and hope to put it back
where once was fresh foam or moss.
But we’ve made a cross
of wings of birds and butterflies
and it cannot lift off the ground
or push into the soil.
-Where there was a perfume smell
now there’s the stink of oil
turned inside out,
and finger prints of brightness
SOULS for Ernesto Cardenal
SOULS HAVE NO VALUE THEY ARE FOX FURS
THAT WE DRAPE OVER WELL-FED ARMS AND SHOULDERS
BUT STILL THEY ARE HARD EARNED AND LONG SOUGHT
BY THOSE WITH THE LUXURY AND ENERGY
TO TORMENT AND TO LOVE THEM INTO BEING!!
WE ARE WARM STONES
and we smell ourselves
in the screeching
Of cluster bombs on Iraq.
SOULD HAVE NO WORTH
except red splatters on walls and gobbets
of meat and fox furs.
YO, NOT ME!
says the lithe cherub on his skateboard
tearing open a high protein bar.
says the sweaty chicken
as her beak is snipped off at the factory farm.
says the antibiotic heaved into the pig feed
with sheep carcasses and blood-clotted paper
from the slaughter house floors.
WHAT ARE SOULS WHEN
IN THE BEDROOM,
THEIR STARVING FACES AND BIG-SOULED EYES
SLIDE AT THE EDGES OF TELEVISION.
WHAT MIRACLES OF FIREARMS AND MACHETES
ALLOW CHILDREN TO MORPH
INTO VEIN-BURSTING, BULGE-CHESTED HEROES
PUTTING DARK FEET
ON LAND MINES?
A fat woman,
the Secretary of Deceit,
cuddles a child amputee
to her breasts and croons
of the need
for democracy to flourish.
I AM AWED
by her demon face
at it leans out,
and falls from the glass-fronted
and crashes with a squeak
on the floor
spreading in a scarlet pool.
Ramallah – January, 2202
from: A State of Siege
Here, where the hills slope before the sunset and the chasm of time
near gardens whose shades have been cast aside
we do what prisoners do
we do what the jobless do
we sow hope
In a land where the dawn sears
we have become more doltish
and we stare at the moments of victory
there is no starry night in our nights of explosions
our enemies stay up late, they switch on the lights
in the intense darkness of this tunnel
Here after the poems of Job, we wait no more
This siege will persist until we teach our enemies
models of our finest poetry
the sky is leaden during the day
and a fiery orange at night… but our hearts
are as neutral as the flowery emblems on a shield
here, not “I”
Here, Adam remembers the clay of which he was born
He says, on the verge of death, he says,
“I have no more earth to lose”
Free am I, close to my ultimate freedom, I hold my fortune in my own hands
In a few moments, I will begin my life
born free of father and mother
I will chose letters of sky blue for my name
Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance
of the first moment, and forgetfulness of the last
here, under the mountains of smoke, on the threshold of my home,
time has no measure
We do what those who give up the ghost do…
we forget our pain
Pain is when the housewife forsakes hanging up the clothes to dry and is content
that this flag of Palestine should be without stain
The soldiers measure the space between being and nothingness
with field-glasses behind a tank’s armoury
We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets
with our sixth sense alone
You there, by the threshold of our door
Come in, and sip with us our Arabic coffee
[you may even feel that you are human, just as we are]
you there, by the threshold of our door
take your rockets away from our mornings
we may then feel secure
[and almost human]
I wrack my head, but uselessly.
What can someone like me think of, there,
on the tip of the hillside, for the past 3 thousand years,
and in this passing moment?
My thoughts slay me
my memory awakens me
A satirical writer said to me:
If I knew the end of the story at the very beginning
there would be nothing to laugh about!
[To a killer:] If you reflected upon the face
of the victim you slew, you would have remembered your mother in the room
full of gas. You would have freed yourself
of the bullet’s wisdom,
and changed your mind: ‘I will never find myself thus.’
The siege is lying in wait.
It is lying in wait on a tilted stairway
in the midst of a storm.
We are alone. We are alone to the point
of drunkenness with our own aloneness,
with the occasional rainbow visiting.
We have brothers and sisters overseas..
kind sisters, who love us..
who look our way and weep.
And secretly they say
“I wish that siege was here, so that I could…”
But they cannot finish the sentence.
Do not leave us alone. No.
Do not leave us alone.
Our losses are between two and eight a day.
And ten are wounded.
Twenty homes are gone.
Forty olive groves destroyed,
in addition to the structural damage
afflicting the veins of the poem, the play,
and the unfinished painting.
In the alleyway, lit by an exiled lantern,
I see a refugee camp at the crossroads of the winds.
The south rebels against the wind.
The east is a west turned religious.
The west is a murderous truce minting the coinage of peace.
As for the north, the distant north,
it is not a place or a geographical vicinity.
It is the conference of heavenly divinity.
A woman said to a cloud: cover my dear one,
for my clothes are wet with his blood.
If you are not rain, o dear one,
then be a tree,
fertile and verdant. Be a tree.
And if not a tree, o dear one
be a stone
laden with dew. Be a stone.
And if not a stone, o dear one,
be the moon itself
in the dreams of she who loves you. Be the moon itself.
[thus a woman said
to her son, in his funeral]
A little of the infinite blue
to reduce the burden of our times
and cleanse the mud from this place right now
He asks her, “What kind of flower is your favorite?”
She says, “The carnation. The black carnation.”
He asks her, “And where will you take me, with those black carnations?”
She says, “To the abyss of life within me.”
She says, “Further, further, further.”
This siege will endure until the besiegers feel, like
is an emotion like any other.
“I don’t love you. I don’t hate you,”
The prisoner said to the interrogator. “My heart is full
of that which is of no concern to you. My heart is full of the aroma of sage.
My heart is innocent, radiant, brimming.
There is no time in the heart for tests. No.
I do not love you. Who are you that I may give my love to you?
Are you part of my being? Are you a coffee rendezvous?
Are you the wind of the flute, and a song, that I may love you?
I hate imprisonment. But I do not hate you.”
Thus a prisoner said to the investigator. “My feelings are not your concern.
My emotions are my own private night…
my night which moves from bed to bed free of rhyme
and of double meanings!
We sat far from our destinies, like birds
which build their nests in cracks in statues
or in chimneys, or in tents
erected on the prince’s path at the time of the hunt
Under siege, time becomes a location
Under siege, place becomes a time
abandoned by past and future
The dead besiege me with every new day
and ask me, “Where were you? Give back
to the lexicon all the words
you offered me
and let the sleepers sleep without phantoms in their dreams!
The dead besiege me. “I have only changed my place of abode and my furnishings.
The deer now walk on my bedroom’s roof
and the moon warms the ceiling from the pain
thus putting an end to my pain
to put an end to my wailing.”
in the remains of the dawn I walk outside of my own body
in the remains of the night I hear the footsteps of my own being
The siege is transforming me from a singer
to a sixth string on a five string violin
Quiet, quiet, for the soldiers need
at this hour to listen to the songs
which the dead resisters had listened to, and have remained
like the smell of coffee, in their blood, fresh
Writing is a small ant which bites extinction.
Writing is a bloodless wound.
Our cups of coffee, and the birds, and the green trees
with the blue shade, and the sun leaping from wall
to wall like a doe
and the waters in the skies of infinite shapes, in what is left to us
of sky…and other matters the memory of which has been put on hold
prove that this morning is strong and beautiful
and that we are guests of evermore
Translated by Ramsis Amun
Selected passages excerpted by Rick London
(from: Memory For Forgetfulness – August, Beirut, 1982, Edited and translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, copyright c. 1995, The Regents of The University of California.)
This rumble – we’ve heard it before. Low, distant, deep, and secret, as if it had come from the belly of the earth, like the awesome sound of the Day of Judgment. All of us feel – and we have now become experts in the science of killer sounds – that something out of the ordinary, in this extraordinary war, is taking place. And that a new weapon is being tried out. When will this long day end? When will it end so we can find out if we’re alive or dead?
The one carrying the meat says, “What shall we do with this leg?” We all ignore his greedy question. But he stupidly goes on asking it while we’re busy looking for something that may help us gather our severed parts. He goes on until I say, “take this meat to the nearest shelter, put a hole in it, make love to it, and let’s have done with it and you!”
But that distant rumble stirs is us an ancient fear – the fear inspired by deep and primitive jungles. Z. and I walk on, led by our fear. The scene near Sanaya Gardens is like a sight from Judgment Day. Hundreds of terrified people around an immense stone coffin. An apprehensive silence carrying the weight of metal under a sun veiled by all the colors of ash. We slip in among the crowd, looking for a place to peek over closely packed shoulders, a human fence held together by fear and anger. And we see – a building gulped by the earth: seized by the hands of the cosmic monster lying in ambush for a world that human beings create on an earth commanding no view except of a moon and a sun and an abyss, pushing humanity into a bottomless pit in peering over whose edge we realize we didn’t learn to walk, read, or use our hands except to reach
an end that we forget, only to carry on our search for something that can justify this comedy and cut the thread connecting the beginning to the end, letting us imagine we are an exception to the only truth.
What is the name of this thing?
A vacuum bomb. It creates an immense emptiness that annihilates the base under the target, the resulting vacuum sucking the building down and turning it into a buried graveyard. No more, no less. And there, below, in the new realm, the form keeps its shape. The residents of the building keep their previous shapes and the varied forms of their final, choking, gestures. There, below, under what a moment ago was under them, they turn into statues made of flesh with not enough life for a farewell. Thus he who was asleep is still sleeping. He who was carrying a coffee tray is still carrying it. He who was opening a window is still opening it. He who was sucking at his mother’s breast is still suckling. And he who was on top of his wife is still on top of her. But he who happened to be standing on the roof of the building can now shake the dust off his clothes and walk into the street without using the elevator, for the building is now level with the ground. For that reason the birds have remained alive, perched in their cages on the roof.
And why did they do this? The commander in chief had been there and had just left. But did he really leave? Our anxious question turned him from a father figure into a son. We didn’t even have time to question the question. He’d been there. So what? Does that give them the right to exterminate a hundred people?
When the cold-blooded are proved right –
judgment secure – case complete
we will first see a tangle
of close-ups – gourd and gold
and apples still rotten
rugosa roses down to three petals only
and each holocaust will be an ant-heap
All the little wrongs will come into focus
But who will be glad about this?
. . .
Even the bigamists
who thought they were splitting
each lie into fragments
too small to be located
might find their trail is following them
And the short-sighted whose faces
are a blur of glee
may begin to establish shapes
around pockets of light and air
in the thicket they are part of
but they won’t sense the force
that gathers those shapes
into actual consequence
until they themselves can’t go forward
And neither will the hesitant
experience their weakness
as an ability
until it gathers into a body
of uncertainties that has influence
When the one big cruelty comes down on us
out of a seeming emptiness
it will be a helium packed with the force
of freely given evasions
so if some still believe
that the cold-blooded alone are responsible
for this power
how will they show that it came from elsewhere
Nothing has increased
i entered their space in appearance. now i need another device (takes one from wall.) i won’t have to remember it. today is, in the almanac of sorrows and angers, the record of greed and ignorance, domination and the prevalent assent to it, and the oh so righteous war of the last several thousand years or more, the 18th day of November 2001. i don’t know what name i am as character or author. use your name it’s not my name forest of invest-ments. their names my name a forest of investments.
i went to their country and came back, what did i find Alma? you found out what you already know, that in the subterranean caves of the world they have walled up, sealed up, an entire room, for your own good. it contains a bus stop, that is trans-port is found there. that must be stopped. change, freedom, flight. what else is found there. identical bodies of women in long white dresses short sleeves white stockings long dark hair identical faces: the dead women. looking somewhat like me. that men will never allow us. because there will always be the war, and it is always the same war, dead little girl. dead girlchild, too, walled up in the cement basement room; i was asked to poison her Alma wasn’t i. you were asked to poison her soul i. i’m afraid she lies there poisoned dead. never get up because the chain of the night. or because the secretary of cruelty, as it is evinced in his face (their faces!) authorizes only fascist country. in the almanac a fascist country at this moment. defending its vast puissance as if it were a victim. a man as if he were a woman.
i who am i feel that men are trying to find me. because i saw the bodies of the dead women. i have taken refuge in an office cubicle, behind its wall and an outer glass wall, but the glass is shattered and the men outside are about to blow the room up. they want me deader than i am. no they know that i am smuggling guns. am i smuggling guns Alma? yes you are dan-gerous. Not really, Alma, being one, and only a sayer or singer. yes you are danger-ous. because. you don’t care if you die. because you’re dead and speak from death, which is the freedom they lie about. when you’re in prison you mistake it for asylum, don’t you, wake up. when you’re in prison you’re an asylum, crazy, wake up! but i have guns i have asylum i am not in prison. i have the guns.
i am retreating into the formerly walled-up room. it is beyond the range of their dynamite, down. songs to wake up and remember. fire drips from my head again. i can be back from appearance. it was so psychically cold there. where war is abstract to say goodbye to strangers you authorize the deaths of to protect you having been attacked while trying to remake the world into your image and to your profit, but i am only a twice-widowed unbrothered dead woman what can i know, they say, of this subject. i know that i will not allow them to win. for whatever they win i curse. in negative space among the dead. Alma am i you. you are a soul, remember. who is speaking. lightly scratched an ancient mark and beneath the mark through it. oh the dead women and their ashy souls, my familiars, where no formal flesh is judged.
if the money’s between your legs can you be a dead woman? she’s got me there in the dead woman jungle in her 70s hair and with man because they’re pointing eek to my closed tight thighs where all the money lies this is dreadful, i don’t want it to be there any more, we’re at war, the bores with their clusterbombs and no we won’t
really use them mininukes, but i only know that in the daytime in the nighttime nighttime i replay the money thighs dead women plot, the war has not penetrated my unconsciousness which is not uncon-scious at all. now the unconsciousness of an er master of war is something else. dead woman? the young one’s covered with butterfly bandages, but wait for that part. where’s Alma? i can’t find her yet
something about heart rate and blood pressure, where’s Carmen i haven’t heard song for days the pure illiterate mastery of new creation without a plot a cemetery plot in the universitay soul-stealing pole luted night — can’t steal me! cries Alma so she is back back back.
the money was between my legs but they were gonna get it. was it just more sex Alma? it was sex and money, it was also your dig nitay, she whoops, then calms — which is something the ability to keep your little money and sex where you wish and if they want it because they’re society the major faucet of issue, destroy them. in some sense. Alma means it. you mean it don’t you. a woman gets shaved now in the face. in the face. a volunteer from the audience shaves her thin face smooth. why? just in case she has a man beard you can tell it belongs to the get it anyway men the crowd of girl hugs pillow. i’d never thought of Hitchcock’s movies she swoons with their cocks and their hitches stream-ing up to the sky of fainting movie. are we still dead? stay away from me with your plots to make wood what do you want that makes you, woman, nail your own arm to the wall? shows her arm with nail in it. save. it keeps getting nailed in the night mine. the most mined country in the world. if they mininuke a bunker and he’s in it, you have a story, so they can be great. everyone says there’s no security but when was there? Alma laughs and laughs, the hole in her forehead is large enough to give birth to a universe through, but we couldn’t handle another one with our brainless years gone by to come in the deserts and floods where the erotic wars burn. because this erotic war with its
faceless inhabitants like us camerado our tall towers burnt and our wives so sad. right in the goolies. nail them.
i am none of those other dead women am i but we all look alike, dead in the walled-up room in the basement of suppressions hard to break through into a NEW expression of hatred. it’s all about valiums in long strings in colors like caps. i wanted them all instead. oh the composite landscapes can’t remember what we do in them, worry about who’s unfaithful, i am unfaithful near the mortuary as usual to wait in a hotel is a complex like burning up a bad hat erotic or sensuous legs or supposed to be funny, and if it isn’t or sad or nothing but words too and if it isn’t it is. destroy their mindless guts that is give them a song Carmen:
when you’re back
and i can’t hear it
or, when you’re back
and i can’t bear it
when you’re back
back when you were
when you’re back and
ah yes when you were ours. Alma? there is no ours. i am instead. you are. ours is supposed to be a reading of erotic or sensuous work but everything “we” think of is so bad. theirs turn out to be books about pain instead a man turns his wife’s skin into zippers into that funny Hitchcock laughs anyone the wife of the young beat guy who wasn’t famous and she was less wrote once about what it felt like in real skin, what was her bonny name? waiting at the gate was her name the hippy splendid, and Mara what, Mara, Mira, lost country changed name look at me. why? i’m giving up everything but writing so i.
Alma Alma where are you are you changing i can’t yell you much longer though you’re still shooting up into your forehead but your mien is changing into mine. of course. a lot of messages about the laundry. and he and she are there dead or alive and she has some butterfly band-ages on her young body because she is dead books about pain the pain of our love, and she is a soul a butterfly bandage we’re going to the reading together all of us grownups and kids, for we are a little society of the dead and the living. the pain of loving in the body. and it gets too old to burn but that’s not true it gets too old for a you you. because you’re all a perverted old moviemaker with a bad minded wish for stasis in the subject that is she. the shaved she. the smooth she. they take off their burqas and there it is. aren’t you happy? they took off their burqas the shaved she is there aren’t you glad.
am i going to kill them those men in some sense Alma? it is quite possible my love. you are a body who must find its own way and how do that if they’re there to take away your money your between your legs your final going to the counter? you de-stroy them in your mind is what you do. it can be very effective. that is what the dead women will do. we are all here now in-cluding the butterfly-bandaged wounded soul one and we can. fix your bandages? can you be different from who i know you are? i am myself. Or myself. i’ll call you myself it’s less painful. how can the band-ages be so ugly and have such a lovely meaning the image so painful and the words and their spirit so other for me, you are beautiful, these are not zippers they are wings for we are the winged lot we move. i can understand death somewhat but not what they’ve done to us women. us dead women. i can’t understand that cruelty, and how cruelty prevails upon the battered Alma earth as if there were nothing that mattered to each man bombing except his own house, the mental space of these ones is so tiny, that’s how they are easy to kill I don’t mean kill i mean destroy with a countering blow to the psyche their weak
weak butterfly, because they have never tended to its wings. depressed, yes she’s depressed, she’s doing everything. and she’s doing everything also. and she. and she. who else is doing anything? and after death still doing it oh. Alma? become a song a wing.
HOW THE DEAD WOMEN MAY OPERATE FROM NEGATIVE SPACE
how the dead women destroy them in their minds, from negative space
your foot changed, you monitor, dynamite. paper wakes the owl night then. i bring you i take it — your cross changes to X.
because dead women accompany me, happen to in basement feeling. and the sadness of plunging into mornings with-out, i try not to recall him but it comes down she is a person of no discretion for what is that here. why ill and because Alma can only avenge us. she will be ill as with war, allowing our vision of destruc-tion of their ego’s entrenched dreams, their war calls to ever, it wants you as if it were the god it was once said to be. a great great tristesse a black gas of it must be vented now form, is it me, i’ll pertain to no fellow alive. you growing vaccuum. red always a red here a place for irrational song, and the irrational narration of our trials, have they ever made sense oh yes say the vicious live men. are you glutted yet, no there are other countries to vomit bombs out on, the sec of defense that is the every moment of cruelty, has a gleeful face, carnage at carthage who knows the new wind, there isn’t enough oil so. prediction of wars for resources and deliberate environmental ravagings, viz the equadorian dead, from contemptuously poisoned forests, and i thought i but never know completely, how much i am and die, a dead woman says.
each page a further curse on them and lead us not, don’t lead us, we won’t leave this. light is my own. Luz propound, that there is no god but Alma, and that nothing is her prophet; that the dead women are blessed, and will inherit negative space; that we deny whatever is said commonly, or by any sect, or by any school, or by any nation or tribe. that we are ourselves and that our leaders in space-time do not in fact exist; that there is sufficient peace in each of our deaths to maintain a universe of light; but we retain a compartment of loathing in each as a weapon; that we would as soon kill a leader as follow one; that to kill means to negate you before us, to void your identity so it is like ours, though less rich (your great ignorance) if you interfere at all with our lives, now passed in voluntary negation; that we also retain certain ancient shamanic or visionary powers, which allow the projection of images in public arenas, that is mind space, for the purposes of haunting, cursing, omenizing, and terrorizing those who would harm us or innocent others. this is not a fiction as document: it is proposed as vision to be deployed for instruction, weapon, solace, or nothing at all. we want you mindful that we see you, in all the ways previously ascribed to omnipotent deity. i will continue to present the range of our power our syntax our marks our reflections and conversations, as scribe, as names, as light, as seer and as creature owl. you will do as you wish but may yet be affected, for you are not in control of all of matter, and we are forceful and capable of changing the particles, for example, of thought and ideation. you may not be able to bear it; we hope you cannot