Monday, January 10, 2011

Yellow Sand, White Wind

End of the long road. Some friends they were.
An owl on the edge of a window, screech and gone.
Flies on the half-dried blood, the circle of red blood
and the eagle feather. The eagle feather and the long road.
The stronghold in walled hills, box canyon rivulets. Red deer
at dusk, on the low tables by the roadside, eyes aglint.
A tree leafless in freezing fog, rind of white ice at sunfall.
You can wait a lifetime to have a vision.
Then in the road winding through the tables, through purple
mounds shot with dusty gold, round folded hills. Then you're
there. Coyote pack growling among sand castles.
Wire fences and wind-chimes, neither can cage the wind.
White river tears down what the cliffs rose to flag.
Run through the haystacks, pattern of sand road dirt farm
and prairie grass. Mapped from angels high, bright land.
And the long river, a curve turned among hard edges.
Blue of after-dusk circle of clouds low on plains horizon,
low echo of far-off thunder. Stopped at the crossroads,
waiting for a sign, which way to go. Although the road beyond
goes on and on and on, charcoal ribbon under heat-haze.
Back in that saddle, friends with wind-dogs and deer-runs.
Jump-start a one-eyed pickup, wind in broken windows.
Blue as sky, blue as rust, scaling off in dust contrail.
The sand under boot yellow as dried paint, except for the circle
of half-dried blood, the eagle feather, striped, fluttering.
Hillsides where there's always a wind. Still fireglow on deadwood.
Yellow smoke, in your eye, the wind turning around the compass.
You're always downwind, always getting seared. Fire on skin
the paint of ash charcoal ember falling. Family ties as radiant dim
as sundown. You can wait all your life to have a vision,
never seeing beyond your dreams into larger echoes.
A long train to the west, rumble and whistle and clatter.
Running the riverbank, dancers merging into circled stone stacks.
Gifts of the long blue dusk, haze of sight lost in clabbered shadow.
Click of yellow gravel underfoot. Far off, thunder's heart.
Not long before dawn, a dream of deer. In the morning you find
an antler at your doorstep.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

As I scanned this before reading it properly my first thought was: road trip and I suppose that’s what it is from the perspective of looking back on the trip. It’s a bit too much of a list for me – it feels like one of those you-really-needed-to-be-there pieces – and I can’t say I got a lot out of it. Have you used the image of the “antler at your doorstep” before – it sounds familiar?

5:26 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

More like yearning for a roadtrip. (Which due to current circumstances now may or may not happen, but which is greatly desired.) Yearning and memory. I want to be out West in those mountains, in the Badlands, so that's where a lot of this imagery came from.

The antler on the doorstep is an image that's cropped up before, yes, because it actually happened to me, and was a very numinous, liminal experience. A powerful image provided not by my imagination but by life itself. The shaman-poet pays attention to those moments, and finds power in them.

I have no problem, as I've said before, with recycling in art, or with trying to write a new poem on the same experience/image, to get it right. You keep trying until you can't do any better. Linking poems via their images also connects them in spirit, a sort of stylistic sympathetic magic, if you will. Or maybe makes a series. I'm fine with all of that.

It's also one of those cinematic poems, that's all showing and no telling, the images sequentially making up a quasi-narrative. When filmmakers show sequential images that seem to be related, that are connected because they're set side by side, but with no usual dialogue or narration, people call those films "poetic." When a poem does the same thing with images set side by side, I have no better term than to call such a poem "cinematic."

You don't really need to have been there if you let the images evoke whatever they evoke, and make up your own inner movie from it. I suppose that someone who's been to the same places on the planet might find it more evocative, because of shared experiences. But there's no place in a poem like this for didactic generalities, for telling the reader what's going on. I actually would prefer to be all show and no tell sometimes. Shared experience might be good for reading the poem, certainly, but even if a poem is "too local to be universal" somebody's going to read it and get it. And I'm fine with that happening, or not, as it does.

I don't feel the need to control which reader "gets it" and which doesn't. Nor do I feel a need to make sure that ALL readers "get it." You can never do that anyway.

People really seem to believe (this is a general observation, not directed at you, Jim) that I care a great deal more than I actually do about what my poems mean, or that I want to direct the reader's experience somehow down pre-determined channels. This leaves out mystery entirely. I really don't want to do any of those things. Once the poem is set loose in the world, I have no control over how it's received, and I don't really want any control over that. In a poem like this, I want the reader to find whatever they find, and if it's all a bit mysterious, well, then so is life.

John Cage once said, late in life, and I find this to be a real touchstone for this mode of writing:

"I want people to be mystified by what's happening. The reality of our life is mystery."

Cage made a lot of his creative work with the intent to evoke that mystery, to just let unpredictable things happen, to give up control, and also to provoke the audience, not soothe or reassure them. The Zen goal is to wake up, not be put to sleep.

When I write a poem like this, I'm interested in reflecting life, not in pacifying it. I have no desire to impose order upon chaos—which it seems a lot of writers want to do, perhaps unconsciously, when they write. I get a lot of negative remarks about this kind of poem from fellow writers, precisely because it's not unmysterious enough for them. They want to find the key to the puzzle-box, but there isn't one.

12:44 PM  

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