Turn Left in Order to Go Right

Norman Fischer

1989 • 104 pp. • $10.00
ISBN: 9781882022007

Out of Print

“Norman Fischer’s new book is like one of those Baccarat Crystal paperweights, a smooth clear ball of glass containing intricate designs in many brilliant colors. Each design element is individual and isolated, set exactly in place and yet clearly related to the rest, in total silence.”
— Philip Whalen

“Incandescently tranquil, the poems of Norman Fischer neither confront nor confirm, preferring to give company along the way.”
— Charles Bernstein


Norman Fischer is a Zen priest and abbot who lives in Muir Beach, California. Active in San Francisco Bay Area poetry circles since the 1970s, he has been publishing prose and poetry ever since. He is executor of the Philip Whalen literary estate.


I would rather done anything than to have it happen
Empty out the mind it sticks like a sliding door
But I hardly knew where it was or anything about it
And I stood for a minute–camera-ready–absolutely miserable
This novel should be banned its lessons detached
We shook hands, she and I, and started talking
Some friendly people poked their heads from around a corner
As fast as possible, then he went back to Elizabeth
I found he was coming toward me too I ducked and the telephone rang
It was Elaine Dodge the hairdresser so I set off
And had not got three yards from the door when
The thought dawned on me that the super was not going to find
The key–only think!–and there I was!–and it began to rain
Slowly you know, as it does at this hour of morning
The drops barely making it to the ground
But I know more now than I did then
And will not be fooled into thinking any sort of nonsense
Trying to be friendly and polite but white as the gown she had on
There is no limit to my praise of her and her dancing
That we opened our house to the whole family I thought it
Would have been the death of me, the draft somewhere because
We’d used the passageway for dancing despite the fact that
In the novel the passageway is not used but the novel
Was repeated later on in real life or at the very best
Here in this time breathless couples glided
Back and forth across the passageway their cheeks flushed heels lifted
Although in the novel in fact the dance never
Took place at all but was merely discussed
The confusion comes in because of the tacit assumption that if this
Then that, if here then there, if thus then so, and so forth
And I stood there as if he did not know quite what to do next
He looked at me, I at him, across the pages of the novel
And by the time the woodpile was shrunken to a fraction of its former size
Allowing for the gap between literature and reality
Or even taking into account the gulf between reality and this
Present writing according to calculations too complex to reproduce here
He would have had to manage without the motor in the rain
And said it did not rain, and I must go
And nearly floated there in this rain
So much so that I was obliged to stop where I was and think

My problems don’t mean much
But neither is the century perfect
The lawn needs seeding and my hair
Is falling out. Another day to live
Intention’s fruit or pour
Want over more disgust so
I must mention the rigorous night?
Take pleasure in the things around us
Fight to make them last in line

A compendium of words was stored here
Just underneath the chimney
I’d like to see it that way
Fortune won’t stand still for that
And pressure of the air flattens paper
I’d like to see it that way
One comes into the room groomed, a pleasure
There’s a patch of glitter in the glamor
I’d like to see it that way
Each moment opens up sudden as an umbrella
On a day storms gather like wool
A way I’d really like to see it
So you can’t assume a face again
Before the non-face puts in its appearance
Nor can you push at the door expecting satisfaction on the other side
I’d like to see it that way
Many’s the time and time for reflection
Truer than truth the subject’s interconnections
I’d like to see it that way
I was born on a day absolutely unique in world history
Birds grasp their path in air
I’d like to see it that way
It’s standard to pack half a dozen at a clip
Imagine the red thing yours alone at last
I’d like to see it that way
The image almost takes shape superimposed
As a mist on top of ordinary daily objects
I’d like to see it that way
Life goes on forever like a dusty road
Down which we peer as we drink a glass of water
I’d like to see it that way
We return again and again born into wombs
The shape of inverted ice cream cones
I’d like to see it that way
So I could relax, put on my enormous suit
And ring your doorbell holding my breath and flowers
I’d like to see it that way
In order to be able to end war but
Would war ever end or would my wanting
To end it ever end if nothing ever ended
I’d like to see it that way
Everything is standing up and falling down again
Constantly like hair in wind
I’d like to see it that way
For the good of the nation behind bars
For my own good bundled up into piles
I’d like to see it that way
I blow continuously on this thing the landscape
Crumples around me like a felt hat
I’d like to see it that way
But the problem is I put out my hand
And only clutch air wanting to understand
I’d like to see it some way
Any way so long as I could know it was there
And could pull back the covers at will
To reveal my heart’s desire and measure it
I’d like to see it that way


The interior burns a part of the funnel away. The tree gives off a shape and cool. Hinges rusty so door opens slow. Lock has no key, have to call locksmith. He pops it out with long cylinder-shaped gizmo. In now, deep breath. She says to pay the 90 cents later. The sense of a very large shape, well ordered. This is just what you already said. Reaches for more writing, elsewhere. So it makes its own criterion, it zips up. Noticing a gob of that, a job like that. Smacks of a taste of that. That is why it is what it is. Therefore or thus begins each sentence. Sensate or insensate: the waves come up. A car is running, waiting for you. Like eating, these words.

You could begin again, you could begin again. Gull dips into drink, then howls, no, squawks. Sparkles, speckles, dots on the water, points of light. The burden of that is your attention. Unifying force, not just bits and pieces like digital watches where each minute is isolate, not part of an hour or a day. Split second, split atom, split level, as a ranch, half a floor, like a sunken tub. Pen has a bump on it. That would unify it, that the syntax had a grammar we all agreed on, it made sense we could count on, one, two, three. Wind ruffles water more, still more, then more. Clouds cover sun air gets grey. Submarine periscope pops up. If someone is watching it all begins to add up. It all begins to make perfect sense. It all fits together. It all adds up. It is finally clear. It dawns on us.

But we don’t know, can’t tell. So the message gets re-coded. End of the pier goes nowhere. White foam at the bow pushing out ahead. No shore visible. New shirt or dirigible. Rhyme time not surefire or alarmed. No fine surface paddled into the funnel. Seconds, minutes, hours tick by. This is no goddamned game! The trumpet notes trail off like the airplane flyway. Tree persists standing on its ear. Cleverly avoid a character that way. My story, your story, just there. Log jam in the air, traffic jam in here. She keeps coming back to that. She knows she knows, but she just sidles into it. She keeps coming back to that. Picked up a bit later on and put down, she’s put down. She keeps coming back to that. Ceiling paint goes on easily. Tug’s comfy. Refrigerator comes next. She keeps coming back to that. We think equally.

Sky’s chock full of cloud. Clouds slowly stately menacing. Water’s choppy, winds blow. Moment by moment it is of immense interest. Digestion riddles the baby. It’ also cold in here. Allays your fear, she gets up, opens a beer. Piercing birdsong, trills, open notes, notes held, elongated, shaped, swallowed, pushed. Speedboat zips by. Gulls hover, slowly flapping wings. She is wearing a green shirt but it’s not that simple. Like a wave breaks over then whacks the pier. More ground than you could ever hope to walk on. This kind of sentence is eaten in a certain frame of mind. The shapes it makes as the connections that hold it together. She experiences it as if it were all on paper. When she talks that way. But does she do any different. Does she see another way now.

The baby’s eyes misfocus. Rather than seeing. The person she sees a splotch as a patch. It’s just a response to that. Wind makes noise slapping obstacles. Ears are one. Two gulls cross each other but miss just above the water. Moment by moment all of them can’t be just right. What sentence is supposed to follow. As if dictated. The system set up so there isn’t a question of choice. Rotting piers, green and rust colored. Clouds low and blue underneath. That is the hanging man. He is scrambled among the stones. A block of time is removed, not seconds passing by. A present that connects to a past and skips all the intervening minutes. Jack has George’s dream. She was picking tomatoes and speaking Spanish. Wind was pouring down. Little black tips of waves.

More noise from the wind. Right through the spaces between the buttons on the shirt. Trees swish. Birds don’t want to fly. Why is not an element of time. Time matters, is matter. Is organized like a lark, on a lark. You pray and pay. All the water jams closer together. Furious pulse. This is just this, not this. This this this. And so forth, and back. Flips through subject matter index. He came in and said, “Nothing.” The wind blew it all clean and cool. She put down her bag and begged. You and I don’t know but we are in it. Frost on top of snow. Light added to light. Deep green trees in background, foreground. We remember how the water is green straight down. I couldn’t forget how what I was doing was a step removed. The sun shone delightfully as I walked. Wind steps up pace, knocks over pliant weed stalks. Pages blow. Body chills.

This hour of night arrives
I telephoned much later
It appeared as if the street were wet
But there was no sandwich
Her hat was outrageous
The man tasted the bechamel sauce
Why is the umbrella hung that way
Hurtling toward a conclusion
A bruised tomato
We insisted on being right
Now and then I chop down a tree
Hit him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper
Whatever it was it was caused by something
Actuality causes this
Tap three times with your cane
A simple neat repair job
If this were literature you would be a professor
Something about a revolver
A painted shape on the wall
I know the rules very well
Sit down to write and can’t think of anything
That was past, this is now
Our new table is far away
Install a faucet
There’s a chance to make real money
Time is the limit always
More cars are wedge shaped
Prematurely grey
Look into your heart for the answer
Find something new for your cold
Worked him over but good
There’s a hell of a spin to it
The lovers were discreet
Shit, an old word
Copy your original
This goddamn thing always splits
Someone ripped out the last page
I had a red truck when I was a kid
There’s mass appeal in this
It’s been foggy constantly
A squirrel was barking at us
She went the other way
It must have been the meat