A friend of ours once, for a laugh,
Took a frozen photograph
Of the breezy, balmy truth,
A thin facsimile of our youth
(No facts or similes can explain
A star reflected in a windowpane),
The half-life of girls in a jalopy
Contained inside its carbon copy,
Predating as it did
Faces where our futures hid,
An artificial modern icon
From a knockoff of a Nikon,
Our photogenic freshman souls
Filed away in cubbyholes
For the cryptic later ends
Of a shifty camera lens,
Hardly up to the demands
Of our grainy waving hands,
Or, above the foaming pier,
The adolescent hemisphere.
When finally the winter bleaches
Such mementos of our beaches
And the souvenirs we take
Are more desperate than fake,
When the island’s distant light
Has faded into sea-washed white
And none of us today recall
That summer or its lavish fall—
When the worlds around us wane,
May that snapshot sky remain:
When its visions are invisible,
May the photos of our eyes be full.
The very concept of publishing is to me ethically suspect. Like the photograph in the poem (redone from Volume 1), the artifacts of our narcissism validate us for a day, but can always be reworked to great effect. By freezing a life in passing, we certify its reality. That is, by creating something that reduces life to a second, we give it immortality.
To me, a novel is a lie. The truth of its phrases changes as they are written, but it is too long-winded to redo, and, in any case, the redoing itself would be false before it was finished. Every time the eye blinks it is reborn. We layer lives like leaves onto each vision. At some point, one vision, if we keep at it, is accurate, or mature, or at least not blinded by life and its nebulous suns.
Novels, poems, photos, films that are entertainments must present a well-made whole. But art is not a whole, but a hole. It is forever a work in progress. It is only the ego of having something to shove at someone that importunes us to “finish” something.
I realize this is a very impractical attitude and has gotten me nowhere. Zen poetry by definition can never be written. A river or an ocean is real because its content constantly changes. A pond is an unsuccessful river, static, stagnant, limited, confining, claustrophobic, mute. Of course it has dragonflies, fireflies, frogs, fish, things which transfigure it. But in human terms, a pond is what we prefer. It is knowable, ownable, measurable. We overlook its algae, or even value it for its antiquity. It is a metaphor for society, which dotes on things that can be touched, measured, ranked, priced. Everything that is the enemy of love, feeling, trust. Everything that is the enemy of poetry.
I offer as proof this improved version of the formerly also-improved version of the presciently named “Encore,” published in Volume 1.
So why try to fix anything, which, of course, is what writing does by definition? As an offering to the mysterious forces that maintain the flow, to Bach for transcribing the endless, perfect, clandestinely symmetrical universe in sound (so genius escapes at last the confines of transcription, contradicting everything I have just written ), to Nabokov for catching the dark light in white Russia at the last possible moment, to xerox those mornings in Nantucket, those fogs and clearings; and as a warning to the young. Youth is a wormhole, not a goal.
Rue de Varenne
September 7th, 1997
March 25th and 28th, 2005