Back to Archive

© 2005 - 2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas. 





The Division of Labor



It is not enough

for the fountain to fill with leaves.


A tree must fall upon it, rearranging the figures.


But not their meanings.

Their meanings stay unrearranged.


But how can that be?  A tree fell, everything

needs mending, meaning


has to have changed.


Those are the cries of literalists,

those who never understand


that meaning is always the same, always

up for grabs, even the meanings that hieroglyphs had


before they were figured out, and as for all the lies

that Napoleon told about his Egyptian campaign


ówhat they meant was always the same,

even after they were exposed as lies, just as Egypt


is always the same,

always mysterious, thanks these days to data,

the work of specialists, masters


not of the desert

but of the grains of sand, the powdery cloud of particulars

sufficiently rearranged to absorb the light wherein the all-embracing truth

was accustomed to drift.


What embraces us now?


Your question has no depth but it has width, and that makes it tough

for a mind as narrowly focused as mine.


You ask how I who was omniscient,

the way the day is omniscient, turned into such a specialist.


Again, your question is too wide, like the desert,

and too skinny, too.  Possibly bulimic,

so Iíll say this.


I specialized, I now think,

because of what I hopedóthat the division of labor

would become a labor of love for her.


I wanted her to junk those universalisms of hers, the silly props

of her early existence, glamorous but miserable and sort of stringy,

as if the hope of waking up to each new day were hopelessly entangled

with the fear of the bad hair day to end all bad hair days,


a fear of the all-embracing kind she did, eventually,

give the bumís rush, opening the door to a brand new certainty, as follows:


nobodyís perfect, not even she, or maybe she

is, now that the ditziest of absolutisms, the ones about youthful perfection,

have taken a powder, what does she know, all she knows now,


or so she tells me, is that a storm of particulars

is beating its minuscule fists against her window.


Painting is figurative and then skirts are short.

Developments at this scale are beyond the power

of the specialist to add much, or detract.


All I can do is slog on, dreaming of a newer specialization

or do I dream of an end to that dream, what do I know,


especially if, as appears to be the case, my star is my guiding star

for only so long as I canít quite see it, so what am I to do

with her visibility, her beauty,


which specializes in nothing, leaving her

as mysterious as the world, which is all that remains

to be deciphered and change everything


between us, meaning the world

is still impatient, still waiting to mean

what it always did, always the same, though

the seasons change, it is summer, the sky

is filling up with invisibility, the fragrant breath

of hieroglyphs.



The Weather



I am not complaining

that the weather lacked a point of view 

Iím not sure that it did.


And if it did,

the lack didnít matter,


either to the weather

or to those who turned out to be us. 


Iím saying only

that the weather was completely unencumbered

by any idea whatsoever


of the effect of its feckless buffeting

on what the latest findings have revealed

to be the ancestors of our moods.


The weather was like a revolution

with no notion of the future,

thus none of itself.


Utterly fickle, the weather could never

make a mistake, didnít know how, and so


there was no talking to the weather,

only through it, as through a window no longer extant

to a world that revolution has swept away.


If we live in that world,

how are we to know?


We know only our moods, which tilt

one way and then the other as we orbit the light,


which is hospitable to life but tells us nothing

about how to live, and daily goes away,


taking our moods along for the ride

and for our own good, leaving us

at the mercy of artificial light and the hope


that when they return, much changed,

our moods will hardly recognize us, hardly

be able to pick us out of the crowd

that is, after all, only us.





Two Poems by Carter Ratcliff