Introduction by CHARLES ALEXANDER
Who Troubles the Waters?
I do not know a way to characterize David Abel’s work so that I do it justice, and I mean that as a very high compliment. I have seen works by him that look like musical or performance scores (and indeed may be approached as such); I have seen works by him that look like poems on the page; I have seen works by him in which each page is a screen or curtain over another and another, and the wonders keep revealing themselves as one turns pages. In other words, David Abel hails from Basho through John Clare through Marcel Duchamp through Jackson Mac Low. He pays attention to earth and sky, yet he looks at them as though there are wonders yet to be discovered, by skewing the lens, or combining Q with Y, or simply by paying attention for a little bit longer. He does pay attention for great lengths of time, and such time he deserves from his audience as well, as we will be rewarded.
In the current work, we begin “in” states of extremity “intolerable” and “ineradicable.” Yet we turn to see ourselves and remember “How I used to laugh at the mirror!” (104) In other words, we live in the world, as humans in time, and it is only in time that we can understand the extremes and also become one with them, “in the fold.” Change, the day to day, the counting of breaths, the notice of shadows, the rupture of living, constitutes the being of these poems. But while some other poet might make a high drama of such moments, Abel’s great triumph is to lead us, with language, to understand something fairly Buddhist about the progress of our days. I say “with language” because even a sound can take us toward understanding. Here, the sound is that made by “ure” in
is a rupture
that is part rapture,
in a texture
We may live in folds and fissures, but we also live in our utterances, and Abel’s work is a reminder of the pleasures of uttering a word such as “gusset.” (147)
This may sound like a catalogue of simple pleasures and attentions, but a trip through the work will belie such a notion, because “behind” and “beneath” take us not only into our own underworlds, but into “the pain of others” and places where there are “ghosts” and a growing “cyclone” that may engulf us, songbirds and all. (225)
I had thought I might try to write a real introduction to the work, as a whole, of David Abel. But to invoke one of his favorite poets, Robert Creeley (who can also be found within this work), in writing of another poet, “Not even a sunrise could quite manage that.” Yet the sun itself, shining over and around objects, creates shadows, and “The shadow is a placeholder / for the double.” My double, your double, we all have others, we all have shadows. You will find many of them here, in the words and between the words, “out of the corner of the eye.” (259)
One could live with these poems every day, again and again.
16 July 2014
Intolerable joy, ineradicable pain
living in the fold,
as time turns on its contours
How I used to laugh at the mirror!
red coupe behind black
beside the house
is it changed
by eyes, ears, feet, feelers?
rakes, weed-eaters, edgers,
ladders, trash barrels, tree doctors
the whole world green
lightly roasted green tea
sewn into a flower
sewn to pages
(pages sewn to leaves)
has a number —
you count your paces
or I count my breaths,
and the campesinos with their brooms
sweep the paths of the calendar
of true gaps
the book as a machine for exaggerating threshold
is a rupture
that is part rapture,
in a texture
for Joe Brainard
“Gusset” is a word that makes me happy just to know it.
it’s the odds — or the gods —
DO NOT POUR THE BOILING WATER INTO THE MERCHANDISE
We are haunted by our real-life.
the shade of our error
the horse that isn’t a horse until we name it
The Generations of Electricity
Not “Her” veil —
for which all literal veils are metaphors
another sense precedes
my metaphysics —
we make things,
that’s what we do
She likes the expression: life is densely filled, and she loves the densely filled life
that is hers and the pleasure she takes in it, she loves people who share this
pleasure with her, without affectation or gloom.
The Actual Teaching Practice of the School of Agility
It is significant that Zacconi speaks of the ornament of
the repeated attack on the same note as the true door
for entering into the art of passages . . .
The chain of events which results in the publication of certain books is often
wrought from links of coincidence. One of the most interesting phases of
American history embraces the removal of 60,000 Indians from the southern
states and their adaptation to a new home within what is now the State of
Oklahoma. If The Other Fifties were to realize its intent, few Americans would be
able to think of the 1950s as either simple, innocent, happy, unanimously
supportive of a broad spectrum of beliefs, or radically separated from the 1960s
by a culture of complacence. A new book by Richard Foreman is an event, but I
think that this book will astonish. When early writers told of the West and
Southwest, they were, with few exceptions, writing of a region east of the
Mississippi River. In relation to his true stature, Arnold Bax is now far and away
the most neglected British composer who flourished in the first half of the century.
Before reading this book, you should know a few facts about me. When an event
in history leaves behind a priceless piece of itself—a journal page, a map, a
leather shoe, a ship’s wooden skeleton—it is something worth noting. For the
past three summers, bystanders on the waterfront of the Egyptian city of
Alexandria have been treated to an unusual sight. “What? Alexander dead?
Impossible! The world would reek of his corpse!”
the behind or beneath
of mutually exclusive desires
if I believed in writing, dreaming,
assured of having everything in time
if I believed the pain of others
did not indict me
From the Polish
They were already ghosts, those two.
Years later, in another country,
name trimmed and oiled back,
From Another Tongue
The unfamiliar words wrapped around your ears
like the newspaper clutching the feet of less
fortunate girls on the high street,
To the Yiddish
Do songbirds tell me more
than the idling engine?
Out in the warm waters, a cyclone matures.
The view was, who knows, probably pretty.
The destruction of the body —
Salami and eggs —
A fishing knot —
A figure of speech —
Will you testify to my intentions?
My testicles intestate.
Terrified on your best day.
My respite from abstention.
Will you transliterate my confessions?
My unspoken word.
My literal father is dead.
My literal mind a dead end.
Hunger will always hover behind every taste.
The hard labor of the other always goes unnaturalized.
Endlessly disposing we have displaced the world we so briefly, so blissfully were
Only the buses left to remind our ears of the sea.
Fare well, Nature.
Fare well, Nature.
I bought a Talking Love Stamp Parrot
for my Smelling Nose Dog
for cancer survivors
Support our stockbrokers
“the die is cast”
an exhibit of dies
She can’t sleep
The chimes surround the loft, sirens at open windows and doors, the bed aloft an
island a raft she can’t stay strapped to its missing/insistent mast
Sirens also speed through her incomprehension
Wind itself — before it borrows bodies of metal, wood, water — rouses her from
Dreams she refuses, again and again, each refusal taking root in another quarter
of her body, signal fires lighting the night —
Until she opens her eyes and cries out no one’s name
A socket in a ceiling
A cord between table and heaven, bringing the outside-in outside again
Doors and windows open to suddenly cool night air in the regressed café
The chessplayers: gendered, tattooed thought
The season’s first scarf
How many holes can culture make in a wall (before the wall is repaired)
We only know partitions, here in the lab
Larger and smaller than a clock
The science of credence unprized
Septic wonders of the world
She traced the edges of her lips with her fingertips as a necessary corollary of
New ladies seen ailing here
None dies in line
New diet sins straight
The jacket again (black, leather, lining torn)
The stain (suede, defiled)
All scheduled light a work against the unnameable
(whose lungs burn so that this hand can cast its moving shadow?)
Whose sleeping child’s meal is warmed by the stabbing pain that tears through
The alternative energy of death
No day without a limit
Most of the talking goes on in North America.
Diarrhea — second to heart disease.
Let’s not talk about it (for 23 years).
Chris D. started a commie blog.
I want to re-embrace deeper pleasures,
but I’m lazy (or am I just afraid?).
I thought about telling all my secrets
(including the unremarkable ones) —
if I lecture you on a subject of serious importance,
you will cease to exist. Then I’ll see you?
800 million heartbeats — is that enough?
The corpse flower, titan arum, lives just one day.
(But not any particular day.)
Perhaps I will find my dark silence now.
It is midnight
and your birthday arrives unannounced
six feet six, without knocking
I’m washing dishes
I’m washing the cracked bowl
it is always midnight, here
in your birthday, the dark side
of the moon of your bright death
it has already been midnight
everywhere else, you were born
and you died everywhere but here
until this moment, here, in the space
between all the languages you wore
like a giant
Does she wait for you,
bajo la luna —
you see her
with your voice
your delirious darkness
lit by a Cuban cigar
Meek School Garden Club Box
1882: US Navy destroys the Tlingit village of Angoon
Nietzsche: the nerves of Shelley, the stomach of Carlyle, and the soul of a young lady.
at the rehearsals
of a life that was
not to be
This island is no bigger
than your broad back —
you wear it
like a summer shirt,
the names tatooed across
your chest and shoulders —
Barceloneta . . . Cordova . . .
stuffed with thousands
lost in time
It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who
undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but
tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside from which we set
out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest
walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to
send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.
the train runs beside my life —
lines that don’t meet
except in the ear,
words to a song
from my parents’ childhood
The shadow is a placeholder
for the double
the dark side of the moon
out of the corner of the eye
who dances, who upsets, who troubles the waters, who tells the story, who sings,
who watches in silence, who carries the news, who feeds the children, who sees
double, who gets lost, who finds the next safe haven by getting lost, who never
begins, who takes the reins, who calculates the equinox, who heals the sick, who
dies, who dies to die, who lives to die, who lives to live to die to die
Author's Note on SWEEP:
I embarked on this open-ended sequence nearly ten years ago. A collage of poetry, prose, and quotation, it is in equal parts journal, poem-sequence, and commonplace book; essentially, everything that I write that doesn't insist on its own autonomy is fair game to be incorporated into the ongoing drafts. Earlier sections appeared in Hubbub and are forthcoming in the second issue of pallaksch, pallaksch. The sections reproduced here include borrowings (in italics) from Marguerite Duras, Endi Hartigan, Christa Wolf, Czeslaw Milosz, Salvatore Sciarrino, Witold Gombrowicz, and Henry David Thoreau.
David Abel is the author of Float, a collection of collage texts spanning twenty-five years (Chax Press); Tether, a chapbook of poems (Barebone books); and Carrier, a hypergraphic visual sequence (c.L. Books), as well as numerous artist's books and chapbooks, most recently Elysian Ellipses and Shawarma Tractor. With Sam Lohmann, he publishes the Airfoil chapbook series. He is a founding member of the Spare Room reading series, now in its thirteenth year. An inaugural Research Fellow of the Center for Art + Environment of the Nevada Museum of Art, he curated the exhibitions Chax Press: Publishing Poetics for the Pacific NW College of Art and Object Poems for 23 Sandy Gallery. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works as an editor and is the proprietor of Passages Bookshop.
Charles Alexander is a poet, publisher, and book artist. He is the director and editor-in-chief of Chax Press, one of the only independent presses which specializes in innovative poetry and the book arts.