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