poetry is a temporal art
“to touch and at once be touched”
to touch and at once be touched
that’s what the poem does
reaches out w/ its long spindly arms its grandmother arms to hold you but you are the arms also in the act of reaching, enfolding in yourself all the primness and solidarity and creakiness of the grandparent as it holds you thru the reaches of time and you are time itself grandfather time grandparent time the grandiosity of time ticking away in its grandparent clock, the clock that haunted the halls of your grandparents and the further forebears that measure things not by clocks, but by the sun. as the dawn rang out, everything was ok, we—our forebears—noted where the light of the sun first fell on the earth at dawn, bitole the sun’s rays, these were holy holy and where they fell is where we placed our firepit, and around that pit laid four stones, and those stones were the four directions, and from them measured out four tipi poles at equal distance, and between these eight more fanning out, and atop it erected a tipi the home of the holy person, and atop the tipi a crown of evergreens and other plants, yaa da’a’ah, the tops of the poles unshorn of their leaves, blessings were conferred, songs happened in time, to the beat of the deerhoof rattle, not to a beat itself since a rattle’s noise is disparate, spread out, but to the idea or the sense of a beat nestled at the center of the shaking of the rattle and its small collection of sounds, thrill of the pulsatile universe unfolding across time, ‘across’ as if time were a length of thread, or a thing traversed in space songs, poetry happened across the pulse of time, they were not like a painting making its ‘same damn face whether the Louvre was open or closed,’ but like music happening in time, so that you couldn’t look at the whole thing all at once, you couldn’t look at its face headon you had to perceive it apace, at a pace it didn’t matter whether time was a thing you believed in or not, whether time was a thing that was real or not, whether it coalesced with space, the space you moved through with your foot on the real earth. you spoke to your lover on a thing called ‘facetime’ because you were far apart in space, hours apart in time, you could not hold each other but you could see each other’s face, you could see the face but not touch it, it was a face as represented by a screen, your faces appeared to each other on this screen and your voices too could be beheld, perceived, in and across time, and across space they could be beheld but not touched, face-to-face you could be, of a kind, but your cheeks could not touch like in the song where the lovers danced cheek-to-cheek, and your lover said they didn’t want to have a relationship through this thing through this ‘face’ and this ‘time’ and you agreed. a thing that everafter sterilized your concern into a thing seen but untouchable, like the painting in the museum, which could be looked and looked at only. ‘touch me only with thine eyes’ some prim poet probably once said. ‘look but don’t touch’ one of my parents said to the other, speaking of attractive people. that the gaze is said to touch, it is said to do violence. take that sunmote out of your eye when you look at me. take that beam out of your eye. i am a crap. i am a happenstance. i am holy holy. christ’s eyebeams pierced thomas too you know. a woman wore the feather of a flicker on the top of the red blanket she wore around her shoulders in the peyote meetings of the lipan, who kept the beat first by a bow they hit with a stick, a stick not an arrow and then by various drums of water. who tie up a drum in the flick of an eye. a flicker is so called because the undersides of its wings are yellow, you see them in a golden flash flashing across the forest. by you i mean me. my lover once held me creakily in grandparent arms before it became an insect and one calling all of the old ones of the desert to us, even embarrassed about the beat that it made because it was not native, it being the lover, still it was a holy thing, holy holy, díyín, díyínde, a holy person, singing a double beat, first to the earth and then to me, i am erthes i said, erthes, as two syllables, i felt the pricks the holy pricks of the lauered on the crown of my head and i felt them seeding, i felt them being seeded there, holy holy, there is no god there is only dííyi robert said, but what accounts for that thing we saw in the desert. i seed and then i saw it, i seed and saw it, a seesaw is a thing that you see and then you saw, it measures vision across time as the bodily movement of two children going up and going down, sawed in half the measure of my eye, the top of my head took clean off. looking is not the same as touching. there is a frog that looks with bifocular vision, the top half of its eye evolved a skill for looking above water, and the bottom half of its eye for looking below water. when isánáklesh came out of the water she danced on the shore but for a long time she stayed in the water with her face half-submerged. they didn’t know if it was a man or a woman. when she came out of the water the bottom half of her face was stained with the minerals of the primordial pond. the bottom half of her face looked white. now they paint the girl that way with klesh the white clay the earth on the bottom half of her face. but she is isánáklesh now she is not the girl anymore. poetry occurs in time, syllable by syllable. a trance-state occurs peripherally, serially, over and over and in that state you ‘passed’ time but you didn’t notice the passing of time. you were as it were beyond time, though occurring in time and primarily to the beat of the rattle and the rhythm of the singing. you can touch and be touched in a poem, though it come thru the ear, tho it come through the eye, it touches in the way a person is said to be touched, i’m touched you say when a thing touches you emotionally, and you touch your heart to indicate the heart, to say that that is where you are touched. the heart is understood to be the seat of love. a pulse is measured there, a cardiac pulse whose stoppage or whose arrest is death, the stopping or the stoppage of cardiac time. we saw a snake upon the trail, a smooth green snake undulated into curves, elegant s-like curves upon the moss, hello i said, can i touch you i said, and taking its calm aspect for an acquiescence gently stroked the back of its back and the snake straightened out, and faced its face toward me, i do not know what this means in snake language. perhaps i was touched to touch a snake, touched as in mad, mad as in crazy, feet not on the earth, not on the erthes as the creature itself was, and not its avatar, its whole body upon the earth. time can have a wrinkle in it, and wrinkles can be ironed out.
Copyright © 2020 by Julian Talamantez Brolaski. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 30, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Poetry is not often thought of as a time-based medium, but it is. My grandmother Inés Talamantez taught me that in Mescalero Apache cosmology there is no such thing as time, only space and travel through it. In a class I took on Renaissance poetry, Professor Stephen Booth once said, ‘poetry occurs in time, syllable by syllable.’ I think about both of these things every day, and wanted to use this poem to think about time, in time. Time in a linear sense as a line of poetry. And time in an Indigenous sense, as sacred, ceremonial, and cyclical. In this sacred framework poetry-as-song has the ability to collapse, speed up, and dissolve time entirely—that is where trance and transformation happens.”
—Julian Talamantez Brolaski