The howling of the August winds
Around your desert house begins
An eerie game of telephone
Where the adobe’s airy moan
Of whitewashed desert ghosts
Suggests slightly more pelagic coasts,
As the frontal lobe replaces
Banging outside sandy spaces
With corresponding islands
Ringing with a kindred violence,
The clanging outdoor grill hardware
A cognate of the ocean air,
Of the silent, shadowed tide
Where whisperings are magnified,
Of the heavy fog’s imposture
Of exaggerated surf on Gloucester,
The socked-in, sightless gap
Where connotations overlap,
So it’s eyes that hear the spray
On a postcard St.-Tropez,
Where the inner ear Raoul Dufy’s
Water colored seas,
Flying blocks and slapping dyes
On the rolling eggshell skies,
Auditory waves of heat
Reefing in a summer sheet,
Images whose lines are crossed
With dreams we never had, or lost,
Invented midbrain pedigrees
Drifting on the clanking breeze,
A borrowed son et lumière
Raging in the morning air,
Where those opposites, the ears and eyes,
And where the otherworldly noise
And the posing landscape wildly poise,
Balanced on the seesaw screen,
As the rustling similes we’ve seen
In allegoric Santa Fe
Paint insistently your distant bay.
I wrote this to the Holdsworths. They were in their house in Gloucester, and we were, for some reason, in their house in Santa Fe, which sounded, when you didn’t look, like the clattering rigging of Gloucester, the flapping flagpole sound I associate with Nantucket, Chatham, St.-Tropez, the scenes of my crimes. Youth is no doubt a crime. The goal is not to get caught.
The way a postcard of the sea evokes sounds of the surf must be some sort of psychosis, also illegal. Audition colorée is a well-known displacement of sounds with colors, or really the enhancement of colors with their own soundtrack, as film was first enlarged with sound, and then color. The Nabokovs were the most publicized of those endowed with its essential prisms.
Rather than colored hearing, this poem is about imaged hearing, or even connotative hearing, the way noises suggest places. When I was young, bus exhaust meant London. As I grew inured to the perks of public transportation, pollution stopped being site-specific, to my great dismay. Cleaner air also robbed cities of their olfactory identities, their redolence.
I was in any case amused that there was something of a psychic open line between us and the Holdsworths, or between their houses, a feature no doubt commonly available in Santa Fe, given its name. Such phenomena are creatures of wishful hearing, of course. The displacement of summer in Santa Fe has something in common with my long poem, “Découpage,” in Volume 10, which deals with the estrangement of summer in Paris. There is no replacement for the beaches of our summers. I don’t think Nantucket can be traded with Nantasket, or Cape May with Newport Beach, or the Vineyard with St.-Tropez. We want what we’ve had. I myself will settle for any approximation, but there is always that quality of nostalgia which is so hard to fix or even justify that I have been writing around it for decades, trying to chloroform and pin it.
Ancient prophets were generally blind. Eyes rob the ears. Thus, fog increases the volume of sound by cutting down eye’s demands.