Sunday, April 5, 2009


The Stoppages Tree (Julia Guerin)

This poem was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's concept of "Stoppages." A "stoppage" is like a measuring stick, only each stoppage is of a different length. Each section of the poem is a "stoppage," a different measurement of experience. My daughter, Julia, composed this painting based on language from the poem, and using images of "stoppages" from Duchamp's work.


I am seduced by the stoppage of time,
like Bruckner with his endless symphonies
pushing back the inevitable
silence of the unattended moment.
For the next ten seconds nobody dies.

Late afternoon—the maple goes darker,
cell by cell darker in the slant sunlight.
I can’t be sure the leaves were just as red
ten years ago, or that John Milton’s blood
wasn’t a fraction thicker than my own.


            I wield shears
                beneath honey locust—
                grown to ground—
            scissor and step back,
                watch the fluttering
            stem-bound leaves
                follow the branches down.

            I bundle new deadwood;
                three green needles,
            like fangs, guard each twig;
                black bark thorns,
            driven by the gathered droop
                of leaves being lifted,
            pierce through leather
                the flesh of my palms.

            My mind, cuspidate
                in my fingers, moves
            through the patterns of thorn
                proliferating pain.

            The sound of somebody
            dropping the doorknocker
            just once . . . I flee
            unremembered phantasms,
            hold eyes closed tightly—
            tongue like paper—reach
            for the glass of water, see
            the glass in the dark
            and dilate waking.  Setting
            the glass off the table
            edge, grope, settle it on
            the corner.  More sleep.
            Go to sleep.  Eyelids pinch
            a thread of sunlight spinning
            through the curtain dust.
            The radiator knocks . . .
            just once.  Vagueness spreads
            an exit through counted time
            past another me I meet
            fading, questioned in sodden
            stillness and crepuscule.
            Quick manufacture of deep
            inconsequence—someone not
            I overhears singing I have
            not composed, conversation
            rendered without regret,
            the voice of the homunculus
            at the core of the blood cell
            and metaphor.  I’m billiard-
            brained!  Blood and ivory balls
            percuss on clipped green
            and blue crystal; in each
            sphere a ray is loosed
            to sublimate the ricochet.
            The angel’s share offered
            and unattained (air breathed
            in sleep), a rarification
            of spirit I can’t sniff, taste,
            pour into existence, but
            think is a wonder of wines.


What interior thing sleeps with memory,
knows the certain locus of nothing
and the time of any new thing only
in the night-light of its circumscription?

What does this slumbering watcher feel
waking beside a lover of years past
who’s discovered herself under wild skies,
in a land contoured by the height of sand?

His eyes pinched, his ears stopped,
his dream-worn senses insinuate
the wonder of that endlessness
and expatiate like a ticking clock

on what he thinks he knows of his own death.
Seeking out the reality three
dimensions deep within himself, his mind,
that strict lump that can explain a bird,

that cagey bastard, calmly discourses
on phantom and fading gods, while his warming
beauty evaporates and mingles with his breath
ecstatically generating weather.


        It was perfectly smooth, the earth
        I woke to—featureless, without
        mountain, grass, sand, bird, lion—
        skin-tight, a bald head.
        Balloon on which plaster is packed,
        this world before a world; I stood
        in dark after moonless dusk, and
        said, nonetheless, this is my world.

        I recognized the horizon,
        the leavening of gravity,
        the proximity of sky.
        A fit of rain sprayed my face.
        The lazy Susan landscape threw me
        down.  My first sweetheart limped
        up on the brace of her polio.
        Naked, I rolled on my belly.

        I woke, the nixie gone, salt water
        on my lips.  The moon rose, pulling
        water back into a great wave,
        holding it back above my head.


            Johann Sebastian Bach is
                                    into this room.
            Buddha croaks
                        and Bach
                        walks into this room.
            Walk the road,
                        stop, cough,
                                    crack the bone
                        of sound—
            Bach is walking
                        into this room
                        a grager.
            Through stained glass,
                                    berry trees
                        and sun swizzle—
            Bach is waltzing
            Clap your eyes!
            Johann Sebastian
                        Bach is
            this room.

        A creaking ecstatically extended
        wakes me early in the night.
        Winter air binds board in stone (a
        hairline runs down the fa├žade,
        splitting bricks, parting mortar from its
        hold) one more fraction of an inch.
        Prone, I imagine the house shift
        off its load-bearing edge
        and topple into the basement.
        When will it stop, the house grind
        out its antagonism of stress and nail
        to silent, unlevel motionlessness?
        Or will I stop waking to this house?


            Water on the beach
            and the pebbled surf—
            the air is full
            of milk.  A hand
            touches me; there
            I hate, but not

            the hand.  Nature
            is the second
            displeasure, when

            the first tips
            the world and drinks.
            Round, hard, the pebble,

            and black.  Not
            much else.  Wet,
            it shines.  Dry,

            dull.  I keep it
            in a dish of green
            water.  The blunted
            shard of glass,
            the charred stick,
            the aluminum bent

            to a coin, the
            dimensionless dream
            of sand, calm

            if I look at them.
            As I age it is not
            that I like people

            less, but have less
            to do with them.
            I can say the one

            thing—about the pebble—
but the other comes
in white noise,
            water on the beach.

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