Anywhere where every
Sideslip of the beaming sea
Founders in the wear and tear
Off of drowning Waikiki,
Where those summery dream lips
Kiss the air in lisping tides,
The endless drifting tips of wave
And sun our goggles subdivide
Into bits of liquid light,
Into breaking pandemonium
Of sky the sunlit finite
Crush of mist and foam
Awakes, to ride the open dip
Between the rush of home
And the distant rolling landless rip.


This was my attempt to open up Bach’s Fugue in C Minor from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, to unleash it from its mathematical cord, from its Teutonic duties, into a freer island state where it might also show some emotion and splash around in the lagoon.

I inverted its main theme with a “turn,” or inverted mordant, or trill (specifically, the note itself, the note below it, and the note again), enlarging the ebb and flow of its small waves into the longer sets of a larger tide, rather than thrashing around in its chilly technique.

I subjected my theme to the same sort of manipulation as Bach uses with his shivering music, in the hopes that I might discover that low B-flat which black holes hum, that sea of Faith which Matthew Arnold and Sophocles and Godard heard on the Aegean.

I was also thinking of The Incredible Shrinking Man, who stares out into the infinite distance of his own tear, the vast, unreachable sea he has just created in his immense past for his dwindling, tiny future, and I was thinking how we dare to approach those distant islands, turning the small circles in which we swim into great circle routes, as Bach does. The water world of Oahu thus seemed to me commensurate with Bach’s fluid, oceanic puns.

(In rewatching the film, I cannot find that scene anywhere, so I may have invented it many years ago. Or it could have been cut from the film and lost.)

“Everywhere” is the theme, and “where every” reverses it, imitating Bach’s reversal of his notes, and “forever” “very,” and “airy” are variations on its versed and reversed reverie.

Secondary notes are echoed in the correlations between “air,” “airy,” “where,” and “very,” as well as between “lid,” “lip,” lapping, luminescent, into the depths of the distance.

The poem finally slides into “eye” and “night” rhymes, as well as “sees” and “seethes” and “sea” sounds in its descent into the depths of the distance.

This is one of my word fugues.

February 13th, 2002

November 29th, 2005

Rancho Santa Fe
December 21st and 22nd, 2005