Sport 19: Lightworks
I've been driving at the edge of town,
losing myself on wild west streets,
the secondhand stores lit like Christmas.
Hard to say where the wrong turns started.
Takes me back to convoys traveling
town to town. Muscled, nuggety runaways
working the big top. I remember dusk
and those lined faces, stories
mumbled in circles of pipe-smoking men.
It's the stuff hardest to explain
brings me here once more. Sifting through
photo albums, boxes of family junk
in a store-your-own garage by the trailer park,
curiosity becomes obsession.
I start tracing over the years, personal history,
the accumulation of questions, doubt.
With day-to-day concerns in momentary stasis,
driving becomes the turnstile to the old world,
a start to documentary. I remember
an accordion playing the funeral march.
Through simple routines, the circus people
imbued broken down summers with magic,
made the uncertain world a better place.
Tonight I sit back, watch for them,
take a smoke. For one fine moment
I believe they're here, walking elephants
to a watering hole, where
I've been driving at the edge of town.
It is morning and it is night. You're driving fast
southbound on the Chrysler Freeway, below the city,
channeled, kept in line by huge concrete walls.
The sun is rising, you notice the darkness and
weird orange of the Detroit sky changing to blue.
Trains, trucks, and huge aircraft help define
the space around you, they roar above the
screaming jazz saxophone of Soul Coughing,
‘Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago.’
Obsessed with poetry, the need for triangulation,
for making sense and making sentences,
you wonder how cities differentiate themselves.
You're imagining a new poetics of Motor City.
One fine day, you want to build again ‘a small
(or large) machine,’ you want to rebuild
the urban landscape with words, you want to take back,
in all its glory, the Motor City of the 1920s.
You ‘want to use poetry as your weapon.’
You drive from site to site, you consult,
you drop off and pick up your suits and shirts.
You eat lunch at the Detroit Institute of Art,
you advise political entrepreneurs
of the feasibility of creative destruction.
These life fragments, these moments, betray
a ‘rage for order.’ You smirk at yourself
‘out of key with [the] time.’ The big planes fly off,
the trucks and trains are leaving for good.
It is morning and it is night. You're driving fast.
They are small and self-contained, like dreams,
but they suggest lines of possibility,
and they can give you that awkward,
The boxes stand now on glass shelves,
exhibits we cannot hold.
I read the texts and I think of Cornell
in his basement in Queens.
The boxes remind me of my father
working at his carpentry,
the smell of sawdust, of sweat, and glue.
And I think back to my childhood,
it, too, seems so remote,
a box to peer into, a place for memory.
Cornell's constructions ask us to note,
that a city is a history box,
we walk among the blocks, the houses,
we procrastinate and fall in love in cities.
And each day on earth is a kind of box.
If, as a metaphor of this particular day,
you were given a small wooden box,
what would you place inside?
Because it is high summer and I'm happy,
I'd place a piece of the sky, a poem,
a map of where I walked this morning.
And against forgetting, I'd include
one miniature correlate of love, and one of grief.
My Cornell box: small, self-contained, dream-like.
They've made rich, textured lives here,
imbuing this lonely place with thought and fancy.
They liken themselves to the desert monks,
miles from all that is profane,
praying diligently for a world gone crazy.
Weekdays, the librarians rise early,
read the latest acquisitions, take notes,
memorise lines to recite and laugh about
when, by chance, a reader stops by.
Since the New York City intellectuals
dispersed westward on buses and trains,
the contemplative librarians of Iowa
have lived in hope. They've kept an eye out.
Hey, you never know who'll walk through that door.
The contemplative librarians
are not disembodied. On weekends
you can see them riding their bicycles,
dressed in black, careful, bird-like.
Distinctive members of the local ecology,
they glide above the corn stalks,
they read the big sky.
Of course they know it's late in the day,
they've had time to absorb, time to surmise.
And, biking, they've spied far off,
at the end of each desultory farm lane,
the threshers gathering.
Hey, you never know who'll walk through that door.
In Iowa, the contemplative librarians know.
When you've escaped, there's a quietness,
and possibility, even, of the first person.
Slowly the way unwinds, comes then
the sunrise and a private appointment.
I've returned to the lake for a long stay,
my attempt at the monastic life,
renting an old farmhouse among trees.
In the attic lie five abandoned typewriters.
They remind me this is a kind of station,
the site where others have achieved closure,
the end of a thesis, a novel, a memoir.
What does it mean to escape? Each morning,
you walk to the pier, you take the longest way,
fighting yourself, wearing holes in your shoes.
Closure, of course, is elusive.
You walk to the pier and back, you climb the stairs,
you think of all those books in the library,
the solitude that produced each one,
everywhere people along going almost crazy.
And all we ever want is to enter the conversation.
A flock of Canada geese pass overhead,
they are so low you hear the rustle of wings,
such enormous birds, flight should be impossible.
The trick is to become oblivious, blind,
to cast off the world, rise above the trees,
let writing become habit, a thing unexamined.
You return to the quietness, the attic.
Escaping yourself, you take flight.