Dream of a Poetry of Defense (audio only)

- 1969-

 

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More by Timothy Donnelly

The Night Ship

Roll back the stone from the sepulchre's mouth!
I sense disturbance deep within, as if some sorcery

had shocked the occupant's hand alive again, back
to compose a document in calligraphy so dragonish

that a single misstep made it necessary to stop
right then and there and tear the botched draft up,

begin again and stop, tear up again and scatter
a squall of paper lozenges atop the architecture

that the mind designs around it, assembling a city
somewhat resembling the seaport of your birth,

that blinking arrangement of towers and signage
you now wander underneath, drawn forward by the spell

of the sea's one scent, by the bell of the night ship
that cleaves through the mist on its path to the pier.

Surrender to that vision and the labor apprehensible
as you take to the streets from the refuge of a chair

so emphatically comfortable even Lazarus himself
would have chosen to remain unrisen from its velvet,

baffling the messiah, His many onlookers muttering
awkwardly to themselves, downcast till a sudden

dust devil spirals in from the dunes—a perfect excuse 
to duck back indoors. (The sand spangles their eyes,

the little airborne stones impinge upon such faces
as only Sorrow's pencil would ever dare to sketch,

and even then, it wouldn't be a cakewalk, you realize.
A dust devil at sea would be called a waterspout.)

You fear that you have been demanded into being
only to be dropped on the wintry streets of this 

imagination rashly, left easy prey for the dockside
phantoms, unwatched and unawaited, and I know 

what you mean, almost exactly. This cardboard city
collapses around us; another beautiful document

disassembles into anguish—a cymbal-clap—and we can't
prevent it. At one the wind rises, and the night ship

trembles, drowsing back into its silver cloud. At two it embarks
upon a fiercer derangement. We are in this together.

And we will find protection only on the night ship.

The Driver of the Car Is Unconscious

Driver, please. Let's slow things down. I can't endure 
the speed you favor, here where the air's electric 
hands keep charging everything, a blur of matter fogs the window 
and my mind to rub it. Don't look now, but the vast
majority of chimpanzees on the road's soft shoulder can't 
determine: Which fascinates more, the thing per se 
or the decoration on its leaking package? How like us, they--

(The hand mistook me that arranged my being 
bound here, buckled. I have been mistaken, ripped 
from a wave of in-flight radio: wakened brutally 
is brutally awakened, plucked from the grip of 
"asleep on the slope of an open poppy." One has meant this 
torture for another, clearly. Do we welt the same, 
make similar whimper? Did he take my name? I'll take another.)

it is the decoration. By which I mean, we have a lot 
between us. You're European, and I have been to Venice
where the waters pave and they can't play tennis. 
Fair gondolier, it is my pleasure to confess: nor will you ever 
catch me in athletic dress, hunched waiting at the net 
for a ball knocked fast in my direction, hot with fervor
to knock it back to the opposing player. It just won't do. 

Driver, please. I have shared with you. I have become
a person. That's supposed to make it hard to hurt me. 
The future rises, bellows, wrinkles. I can't keep living 
in a cramped sedan, I won't keep living in a cramped sedan--
though you hold the road, I'll give you that. There are 
instances of smoke and mirror, instances of shouting fire. 
Though you hold the road, I'll give you that, there are
 
instances of "sticking to it" that I can't admire, and ours 
isn't an adhesion I ever expect to look back on 
wistfully. But that's for time to decide, not me.
"Just around the corner, there's a rainbow in the sky."--
Haven't you ever just had to believe it? Look, if it's a cup of coffee
you're after, I bet there's someplace brilliant up ahead. 
I bet there's someplace right around the bend. Ash in the eye 

and the nose and the mouth, shit in the pants 
and the mouth and the hand. Hound on the back 
of the hand and the lap, slap on the face of the hound and the ass. 
Ash in the eye and the nose and the mouth, mouth 
on the nose on the face in the pants. Hound on the back 
of the hand in the lap, slap on the face of the hound 
in the ass. Ash in the eye and the nose and the mouth and

the mouth won't stop, it comforts itself, it comforts me. 
Funny I keep on looking out the window, identifying
even as you do this. The orchids cry that yesterday were pollen 
ground in the fuzz of dead-drunk bees. I will not submit 
to being ferried that way. Driver, please. Where to now, 
Tierra del Fuego? There is no travel but the travel that concludes 
in shrieking with abandon, is there? --No. What you need 

is to remember what it felt like beforehand, that emptiness. 
Call up pictures, melodies, etc., but part of you will resist
that assistance, divide from it. Drag the edge of that memory--
yes, it's more like forgetting--across that divide, until 
something like a rabbit-hole opens inside you. Vanish into the hole.
Vanish, it is your only opportunity. It will stun you 
for another minute, but when the stunning passes, you will again

be nowhere, nothing, and even more at peace with it.

By Night with Torch and Spear

That fire at the mouth of the flare stack rising
     more than three-hundred feet above the refinery
contorts as it feeds on the invisible current
      of methane produced by the oil's distillation

process like a monster, the nonstop spasm of it
     lumbering upwards into the dark Newark
night like a sack made of orange parachute fabric
     an awkward number of gorillas get it on in.

I would worship it. The motion, the heat, the unapologetic
     knack of the element to yank the appliance
plug from its outlet, filling the big blue business-
     suite of my head with nothing but its own

wordlessness and light. Not now, not knowing
     what I can't unknow, but back on the grasslands
before we ever came to harness it I would bow
     down among the seething life of that primitive

interior and worship the fire taking one bright
     liberty after another. Done listening to fellow
passengers tweaking the fine points. Done rubbing
     the dead end of thinking like a spent torch

against the cave's painted walls to make it burn
     better. As the train slows down as the track
curves around the body of water the fire reflects in,
     it is a form of worship. What is it in me that

hasn't yet been killed with reason, habit, through
     long atrophy or copied so beyond its master
it parses like the last will and testament of a moth-
     eaten cardigan? It dumps its nice adrenaline

into my system nights I hear the crisp steps of deer
     on fallen leaves and stop or when looking up
beneath baroque snow or when I lean over the
     banister along the border of a strong waterfall. 

All good and well. But the endless hyperactive
     plumage exploding from this toxic aviary, this sun
of industry descended from the lightning strike,
     obscures its diabolism with a Vegas brightness

so that what there is to fear in it instead excites
     me up a biochemical peak from the far side of which
my own voice, grizzled with a wisdom unknown
     to me in waking life, reminds me of the conjuror

who grew distraught because he sensed the forces
     he had stirred up with his art would not be
mastered by it. It rattles tomorrow's paperwork
     where it hangs from the branches of the ancient

timber trees. It messes with my reception, whereas
     I do not wish my reception to be messed with.      
It tells me to be careful with my worship—that if this,
     too, is a resource, then they have ways to tap it.