Rosmarie Waldrop - Driven to Abstraction
I have it on good authority that Santa just had some elves order this book for me (or do they actually make them, like they make the toys? I've always been unclear on this.). It's one fo the things I've really been looking forward to, and it's finally winging my way. Coming soon: Rae Armantrout's Money Shot
(January 2011) and Michael Palmer's Thread
(Spring sometime?). What other books are coming in 2011?
Here's something from Driven to Abstraction
that was posted on Poetry Daily a couple weeks ago:
All Electrons Are (Not) Alike
A view of the sea is the beginning of the journey. An image of Columbus, starting out from the abyss, enters the left hemisphere. Profusion of languages out of the blue. Bluster, blur, blubber. My father was troubled by inklings of Babel and multiplication on his table. Afraid that an overload of simultaneous neural firings would result in an epileptic convulsion. The explorers' attention, like the foot of a snail, held on to the planks of their vessels, not communicating. Too intent on the physical fact, waves, whales, or poison arrows. Later, though, poured forth stories never dreamed of by the natives. As if languages were kidnapped as easily as green shady land profuse of flowers.
As Dante followed Virgil, so Columbus, Marco Polo. In those days spring came before summer, but the world was neither round nor infinite. Actual observations served to confirm what he already knew. True, clue, loop and thimbles, line up to the mast. If they did not, he rolled his eyeballs, duplicating the movement of the heavenly bodies. As if there were no transmission of impulse from cell to cell. Repair work is hard, of doubtful and intricate nature, as when a gap appears between two planks or the yarn breaks that was to haul you through the maze. What signifies? he asked. The temperature of the hand or that it held a scepter? Is it the nature of the mind to reach toward the future, to anticipate events about to happen? Stance, chance, all hands on deck. And though I do not understande their language yet I know their king offered me his island for mine own.
Triangulation: greed, religion, stunned surprise. Cabeza de Vaca "passed through many and dissimilar tongues. Our Lord granted us favor with the people who spoke them for they always understood us, and we them." All electrons are alike, a sunny surmise, surf, surface. Not raked by interpretation. With a flavor of asymmetry. Like the electric shock from a battery of Leyden jars administered to 700 Carthusian monks joined hand to hand. Later. Under Louis XV. No note of bruises, blunt instruments. Do we need to open and shut the window when it is transparent from the start? Or a special organ for what trickles through the hourglass? Enough to stretch your hand westward at the right moment and pull down the sun.
Pigafetta in the Philippines. Antonio, the exception. Amid sharks and shattered masts sharpened his pencil. For if a man has not learned a language can he have memories? Pointed at parts of the body and shaped a body of words: samput, paha, bassag bassag, buttock, thigh, shank, the "shameful" parts, utin and bilat, as well as ginger, garlic, cinnamon. The natives stared at the document. Unblinking. Trying, my father thought, to distinguish its parchment body from blemishes in ink rather than title, preamble, or appendices. Perhaps rather troubled with doubt. Scorching air may refute grammatical relationship as much as movement from Vicenza to Mactan, though the speed of nerve signals increases if the organism gets warm, and the creature becomes excited, perhaps delirious. Yet when an object has never been seen back home what good is a word? You have to bring the thing itself and empty your bag to make conversation.
Absence of meaning cracks the mirror. Yet every shard shows Columbus unfurling the royal standard on October 12, while the wind blows from the East by authority, custom and general consent. Curls, fur, furbelow, furious, further. Whereas my father was disturbed by Being and Time, it's in the face of uncovered nakedness Columbus issued the required proclamations. And was not contradicted. And named the islands. Was this the patter of administrative order with a gold standard? Or more self-interest than alternate fear and attention, wonder and universal grammar? Wonder is not registered in heart and blood, but occurs strictly in the brain. Hence it escapes moral categories, hatches heresies from the smell of lemons and fineness of metals. But does not leave a mark on the land, not even a patch cleared of plants not dwarfed by grafting or trained upon a trellis.
Take Diaz's memory congealed in time as in a chunk of amber, ambush. This city where the sun rolled over the water and through gold and silver that outshone it. Display delirious as the love-making of flowers. Up the 140 steps of the great pyramid. To meet you by the altar where blood is blood. The supply extravagant for all the brain's complexity. This splendor, says Diaz, of which no trace remains. Likewise closed ranks raked up to make a Spanish noche triste. Time does not cross precisely calibrated spaces. It flows across three months of siege. Irregularly like a river. Of blood. Noise noisome, nauseous, noxious to distant peripheries. Spears, arrows, stones, bullets, the clash of arms, the cries of warriors, war drums, conches, flutes, and cymbals. Then when the pile of dead is higher than the ruins of the temple, yet does not yield electric current, when Spaniards, walking over the dead bodies, take possession (from "seat" quasi positio). The replete sun. At the same fixed time. Amid dead silence.
Merchants of language travel with paper currency. Columbus's fleet had no priest, but had a recorder. Transactions with eternity less pressing than 'legality' secured by writing. The power to name. When I was ten I read Westerns by Karl May and with him crossed the border between Mexico and Canada. Columbus erased heathen names like Guanahani. Christened the islands to become king of the promised land. As Adam, who "called the animals by their true names," was thereby to command them. San Salvador. Salvation, salve, salvage, salvo. The power to name is power. Especially when backed by guns.
The history of discoveries is his story of traps, mishaps, constant hurt. Of loaded dice. Outcome like reflection of clouds on ice. And once he set foot back on the continent of the past tense, the kingdom of certainty: what had Columbus found? For Ferdinand and Isabella who hoped to travel to the Indies? A packet of islands off China, vulgar pebbles a dog might worry in hot weather. Though pearls for eyes that see his steering wheel environ a round earth turning on its axis like a wheel of fortune on which more than limbs are broken. The rhythm of the midriff so closely linked to vapors of the mind. Diaphragm, frenzy, frantic, phrenology (discredited), and schizophrenia. And on the next page, my father says, a wall is still a wall, but rivers and crocodiles enlarge the landscape.