Thursday, July 24, 2014

John McPhee

John McPhee [Ned Stuckey-French]

from John McPhee's "Cooling the Lava" in The Control of Nature:

Hearing a sound like a chain saw's, I looked down to see a motorcycle climbing the new volcano. The rider wiped out as he approached the crater rim. The motorcycle, pinwheeling, spun downhill in a sputtering swirl of tephra. Ash over teakettle, the rider tumbled, too. At last arresting his fall, he got up, ran after his loose machine, trapped it, then resumed the steep climb. Reaching the top, he zipped around the narrow rim. He stopped for a moment, contemplating. Then he plunged hundreds of feet down the dark-red slope inside the crater all they way to the bottom, under control. Motorcycles seem to have more prestige in Iceland than in, say, Greenwich, Connecticut, or Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. All over the new volcano, white-painted automobile tires mark the established tracks and competitive routes of what were described to me as "the largest, most powerful, most beautiful motorcycles in Iceland."

Where the lava went eastward into the sea, some of the new cliffs are a hundred feet high. Waves occasionally break over them. After a Belgian trawler crashed there in 1981, waves threw pieces of the trawler up on top of the cliffs. Rocks weighing half a ton have been tossed up there, too. It was at the base of one such cliff that Gudlaugur Fridthorsson first landed on the night of his long swim. In two places, bays with rocks beaches have indented this new coastline. One is called Baetur the Beach of the Insurance Claim. The other is Vidlagafjara the Beach of the Catastrophe Fund. The rocks, whether they are the size of potatoes, grapefruit, watermelons, water beds, or motor buses, are all rounded. Most are so cavitated by former gas bubbles that they suggest black coral, or models of the human brain. It was discovered on Surtsey and confirmed on Heimaey that such boulders do not require thousands of years to assume their shape but can be rounded by a single storm. During the eruption, a lighthouse on the eastern shore went below the lava. A new lighthouse stands above the Beach of the Insurance Claim.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Carla Harryman

Carla Harryman [The Volta]

from Carla Harryman's Adorno's Noise:

It Is Difficult to Write Satire


The president was on top of me it's not what you think he was trying to hurt me he didn't know that I had a vest on too that he would have to try harder to get through he was pounding I was scared but unreasonably and so my giggling mingled with fear incredulity and true amusement the president wow was trying to pow me this made him madder he was plowing in with a low ball cut across the chest I'm teaching you a lesson his jaw was relaxing that bewildered set in stone look of determination he used for cameras relaxing a new expression was eeking through showing another self more free less fake by a long shot glowing but bitter "you'll never win you'll never beat me I'm stronger than you" this was obvious whenever he let go his grip on my shoulder even slightly I'd try to slide away from him he wanted to see me cry he pinned me, whispered this in my ear, not knock me out "the smug smile I'm gonna wipe it off your face" that's what he was going for and for me to declare with sincerity I give up you are going to be on top forever I've learned my lesson just move off and I promise you'll never need your fists again when you have completed your term I'll work in your library file your papers escort researchers to the drawers where your secret documents will be kept several decades hence and in the meantime we can keep your wife's favorite poetry books in them along with all the kind notes full of gratitude people have sent you and the personal notes from leaders thanking you for your hospitality and supporting your views on everything from — well you know — staying the course we'll keep the notes in those files until the keepers of state secrets let your truths slip out of their vaults into your drawers full of dignity and proper views and victory I'll call you whenever you like on a special line and report on the most recent display of fan letters one floor down in the presidential museum grand gallery — those tomes you had missed out on reading when you were busy doing your duty being obedient to the higher powers who had bestowed upon you the protective armor we now both share.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cherry Pickman

Cherry Pickman [Marina Kaganova]

Cherry Pickman from Jai-Alai Magazine:



If this were a movie and it is
the day would be       protracted but the season
short       after so many miles one tends to forget
tomorrow was never       promised I jumped
              from a boat and stopped       breathing
mostly there is no one else there     there is
              blue of prohibitive depth
there is a hull like home    that is
              rocking        not shaking
there is      a light the camera can't catch


If this were a story       I would be held
              accountable        I would string sense
from distinct beginnings        we do nothing
but grow old      watching a horse sleep
is like watching the ocean      the world
              exists more below you than above       waves
are anchored      to a set if you are not
              fettered by fear you are not home


If I were a poet I wouldn't be
              so beautiful I could stand outside
myself       for only a short time
           like holding one's breath
the more fear       the more love
the deep wood in the trees reaches
           simultaneously in opposite
directions        I am by no means the first person
condemned        to freedom the wave's
              velocity is predetermined it dragged its blue
from the middle of somewhere

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Paul Blackburn

Paul Blackburn [jacket 12]

from Paul Blackburn's Selected Poems:

Hot Afternoons Have Been in West 15th Street

Here, in late spring, the summer is on us already
                                                Clouds and sun,
                a haze over the city.        Outside my
window the ailanthus nods sleepily under
                                                a hot wind, under
                wetness in the air, the brightness
of day even with overcast.        The chair on the next roof
                sits by itself and waits
for someone to come stretch his length in it.        Suddenly

thunder cracks to the south over the ocean, one can
                                                shuteye see
the waves' grey wife, the storm, implacably stride
rain nipplings on the surface of the sea, the waves
                powerfully starting to rise, raise their
                                                powers before the hot wind
The endless stretchout to Europe disappears, the
rainsweep moving toward the city rising caught in the haze-hot
                                                island atmosphere
                Hate anger powers whip toward the towers rising
from the hum of slugbedded traffic clogging avenues, the trees
                of heaven gracing their backyards crazily
                waving under the strengthening wind

                                                sun brighter
                                                more thunder
                                                rises shrilly announcing
the storm in advance in encroach in abstruse syllables of pure
                SOUND    .    SONG    .    SOMEONE
comes to the porched roof to cover the chair from the thunderfilled
                wet atmosphere,        there is
nothing clearly defined wrong I can see except
I must go uptown and see what other storms there
                                be, there

And paint the inside of my wife's white filing cabinet red
that all things may be resolved        correct        and dead    .

Friday, July 4, 2014


Lupinus nootkatensis, Alaskan lupine

the ornamental word
the figure, the accessory form
or colour or reference
is rarely content to die to thought
precisely at the right moment
but will inevitably linger
stirring a long brain-wave behind it
of quite alien associations
                                          — Walter Pater

I spun the mildewed pillow to the least gruesome corner, slept there

the meditative poet, sheltering self
from the agitations of the outward world
is in reality only clearing the scene
for the great exhibitions of emotion
                                                       — Ibid.

miles of lupine in lava
of dandelion
damp rock draped with pale brown moss
green moss
runners of cream flower
tufts of easter pink
rock sculpture
more cairns than a traveler needs
an Arctic Kona

Taraxacum offinale, dandelion

The more you see the country
the more you do not wonder why they shut the door.
                                                                               — Gertrude Stein

windows by Mondrian
quadrangled glass in thick, extruded frames
houses white with bright roofs
or houses bright
sheathed in corrugated iron
or concrete mixed with gray sand

I have often noticed how easy it is to have cement around because everywhere there are rocks & so everywhere if you have the necessary building & equipment you have cement. And in the country, it looks strange, it makes it look like dryness or like snow, like Russia or like sand, like a ruin or like a fog, oh dear some people like to live & look at it & some must, or dear, stop when they see it, oh dear.
                               — Ibid.

life is brutish
& short
improvement is illusory
though grand
love is unforeseen
& unattainable
                      & real

fishes engraved on coins