The Magic Record

By Peter Halstead

               This is an attempt to explain why I need to explain. Why what I mean to say is not what I say but what I mean. As someone said of Schnabel, music was just the start of it.
               I had as a child a magic record where a different story was told each time the disc was played. Even lifting the needle and putting it down in exactly the same spot embroiled you in the middle of a totally different story than the one that seemed the angular possessor of those steep grooves, like a time machine landing in the same town just a split second too late to meet the mayor.
               Any record, as Schopenhauer said of music, contains more than it presents. Lured in my youth by my disc’s aleatory stories, its random emotional surprises, I became in the end enamored of its movement alone, the jump of the needle, knowing that the real story was not the emotion, but the motion, the magic of the skip. The past, like poetry, lives in its leaps, the triumphs of the implied over the remembered.
               Ultimate meaning is hidden in the folds of such spiraling subterfuge. Magic is the path to it, but also the wall in front of it, the moat, the high wall, the suit of armor in the long foyer leading to the hall of mirrors. In the center of this recondite, forgotten architecture is, according to William James, an old glove. The explanation.
               To invoke fellow fakirs, here, wearing a Hallowe’en hat, is Archibald MacLeish, talking about an approaching thunderstorm:

That sky could tell you there must be magic
Waiting as well as working to have miracles...
               Magic is the veranda of miracles. So explanations are the porches of poems, the landfill over which the cantilevered monstrosity tilts. In Mozart’s Magic Flute, truth is attained only by running the gamut of magical decoys, approximations of religion, illusions of spirit. Myth, after all, is fact that has become fiction. And, at the end, as the Schubert song goes, lies love, beyond all magic. Über allen Zauber, Liebe.
               Like my magic record, a Möbius strip (a surface twisted once before it is taped end-to-end) has two stories, two sides at any given point, but if a pencil is drawn along its surface, only one continuous line is found, covering both sides: the motion suffices. The jump between lives is the point of multiple dimensions. The line between the dots. What is it about space that allows a twist to eliminate an entire dimension? Or to add a dimension? And where exactly does the leap of the pencil and its down-to-earth point occur? Where is the gap between pages, between flutes, the simile that defies symmetry and yet produces it?
               So, thanks to some rogue record maker, I have always been drawn to the chasm between lines, the swaying bridge across the gorge, that magic moment when you realize that you are yourself the record producer, in search of that lost link or invisible ink which will finally result in a happy dog in front of the disappearing Victrola.
               Basing my poetry on what is missing makes it easy to miss the poetry. Intuiting is hard work for the lone gunman facing a village of rational clerks. Trolls block the last bridge to logic. The only people leaping about faithfully are a scruffy gang of outdated hermits, Zoroastrians at the zoo. Reading myself, I sometimes feel that I am left behind at the cliff’s edge, while the writer (a former self) and his friends, the smart readers, have jumped across.
               I used to cut trails in the woods abutting our house in Bedford. I believed I knew every tree, every twist of the path, every bush. These were my people.
               One day I came across someone else’s trail and my illusions were shattered. I was not alone. I was not unique. These were not my woods. My beautiful exclusivity was ruined. After a few minutes, the world reassembled itself and I realized I had broken through into my own trail. I had gone, by definition, in a Möbius circle. I had met my own line even while passing into another dimension of disbelief. I was a dupe. But at least I was the only dupe. I was my own dupe. The philosopher king returned, accompanied, however, by his fool.
               I notice I usually forget, decades later, why I have written a poem. What I was thinking at the time is often an entirely different matter than the poem itself, and I find it useful to preserve this labyrinth of inspirations. As Peter Van Etten said to me, the explanations are sometimes better than the poems.