Wednesday, May 21, 2008

C. D. Wright’s Rising, Falling, Hovering

A Wall (Hinge and Brick)

C. D. Wright’s Rising, Falling, Hovering (Copper Canyon, 2008) announces its tenor immediately in a short opening piece, “Re: Happiness, in pursuit thereof”: a polis norteamericano in crisis, a citizen unmoor’d, a calling out (in two senses—for aid, to accuse). It begins:
                  It is 2005, just before landfall.
Here I am, a labyrinth, and I am a mess.
I am located at the corner of Waterway
and Bluff. I need your help. You will find me
to the left of the graveyard, where the trees
grow especially talkative at night
where fog and alcohol rub off the edge.
And it ends a mere dozen or so lines later with the sure fired-by-anger commands, “Be nails. Be teeth. / Be lightning.” In the intervening lines: “Aztec time,” “mercurochrome,” “chamomile,” “spandex,” “breath”—an extraordinary gamut representing a kind of emotional scale. The topsy-turvy (the term is too comfortable, too kid’s book innocent for the taut strings of wound-up rage and sudden giddy-loosed propulsions) ’thousands of the U.S. imperium’s asinine wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Landfall”: oddly pre-Columbian, as if one’d like to begin again with the “discovery” and try not —here in the Aztec “fifth and final cycle”—to fuck up so totally.

The center of the book is largely split between the terrific title poem and its “Cont.,” its continuation. Essentially a fractured (and gut-wrenching, and maddening) narrative of the immoral and illegal preemptive “excursion” into Iraq, it is itself punctuated by “to be cont.,” by contradictory reversals (“Not so; instead”), by doubts as to the efficacy of writing, period (“Nary a death arrested nor a hair of a harm averted / by any scrawny farrago of letters” and “This is no time for poetry”). The “story” is that of living in (against) an amnesia of war, the “new media-borne war” (like a contagion, like something one switches on / off, a simulacrum of war to the doped citizenry). One vacillates between pure rage against one’s improvidence (voices “dematerialize,” writing is “illegible”) and “all American forgettery” and “the national feelinglessness” (“We must not get used to this”). One registers responses—civic and personal—with the sense it all ends in the “memory hole.” One grim running refrain reports the mounting numbers of dead: “according to the Associated Press         2,066 / of our members         will remain Forever Young.” Another recurrence seemingly points to a history of imperial belligerence (and internal repression):
Who has been silenced cannot be unsilenced.

The number of their dead to remain unknown.

Him with the scar         do not think him healed
One is traveling in Mexico through some of the piece, so that one’s attention is always split, rage at one’s own government, shame at one’s complicity, one’s attending to the world done through a mess of scrims:
Hunting one legitimate spot to watch the world         crawl or limp along
                                                                                or cloud her air with no muffler
. . .
Wanting to be unsentimental about the mutt tethered to a leafless trunk without enough
                                                                                        paid out to turn around
. . .
The bus barreling down service roads to the hotels

Ashamed of her solace in being here         to be ashamed is to be American

                        The boy leaving his merchandise in his seat

Two scorpions doing the merengue         the boy using his choplogic on her

Her hail of words directed against his tympana         fixes the attention of an anole
                                                                                                on the ornamental iron
Against the details of Mexico is put the blunter rage of “home,” the secure (barely containable) domestic “front”:
I have been to Pilates         I found my old coat

I took my will to the notary         I found my good glasses

I have filled my tank         I am going to the market

then I think I’ll cut my hair off with a broken bottle
The movement between “Rising, Falling, Hovering” and “Rising, Falling, Hovering, / cont.” is one of refusing surcease, increased concern, anger unabated and rising. (Indeed, one fully expects the poem to continue forever with purer and purer distill’d rage, dogging the “endless war” scenario of the criminal U.S. policy-makers.) If the “cont.” story worries about a son traveling unaccompany’d in Mexico and about tending to a friend’s “bad diagnosis” and apparent cancer treatment in Mexico City (juxtaposed against—on the flight down: “The monitor from the overhead / begins its infotainment         Not shown: white phosphorous         falling / on the city of minarets”), thus seeming to focus in, off the high civic stakes of its beginnings—too, it ends by braying out a magnificent curse (immediately succeeding a blackly humor’d “As of Wednesday morning 2,845 of our members completed the Circle of Life / Epidemiologists from here and there estimate 600,000 civilian dead” and the dry conclusion / admission “Rage could be my issue”:
                                        And so I have come to want them—
them being, those people, the current occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania,
I can’t even bear to say their [expletive] monosyllabic surnames
for dread of it calling up their bland [expletive] faces; yet I have come
to want them, almost obsessively come to want them, to exist in this dread:
for the nondescript car to pull up and disgorge the uniformed men
with their generic words tapped out of their well-drilled heads;
for the blunted bodies of this couple to be riveted to this dread,
for their blunted minds to stick on this expectation as if driven into
their bones of the natural order upended—that their twins are dead. No,
that their twins are blessed to give of themselves so selflessly in this struggle
for our way of life as it is so correctly, so vulgarly called; though I do not want
them to actually receive this news to actually have the twins be dead,
nor for their eyes to be blacked out, nor their earthly functions
be stopped, nor their blood to quit flowing to their temporal lobes,
but I sincerely do want this couple this very couple, the current occupants,
to exist solely, wholly in this dread. Because we do.
An [expletive] lovely and fastidious apery of the lingual buncombe of war and its masters, the “current occupants.” Wright assuming the debased lingo of el otro lado (“the other side,” another recurring phrase) in an attempt to “get through”—though recognizing, too, that any addressee’ll see in “current occupants” a sign of junk mail, and likely toss it.

No doubt “Rising, Falling, Hovering” is the most ambitious U.S. anti-war poem of the blooming idiotic twenty-first century. It warns forcefully against what’s become a national policy / trait of denial (“The true number of Iraqi dead to remain officially unknown / at the policy level no such estimates exist // The mind braying at the mind // A prescription for revulsion life in a taxi”), skeptical inquiry and righteous excoriation of the criminal replaced by vagary, imprecison, euphemism, the empty categorical (“The momentum of lives shifts into the absence of thought / The first task is to recover the true words for being”). The indomitable Chicago Review first publish’d the poem: the first part is available here. The other poems in Rising, Falling, Hovering never move far off the pressing concerns of the title poem (one begins with a telling epigraph by Duo Duo: “We have degenerated into people.”) In one, “Like the Ghost of a Carrier Pigeon” (some lovely long titles beginning with “Like”—a sort of series—“Like Hearing Your Name Called in a Language You Don’t Understand,” “Like Things That Might Go On in Infinite Dimensions,” “Like Something Flying Backwards”), one reads: “So much has been spent constructing a plausible life / she did not hear the engines of dissent run down.” One’d maintain that here, in these poems, Wright revs the engines precisely against that possibility.

Addendum to my note yesterday regarding a possible Joan Retallack heteronym in “Dita Fröller.” Turns out a tiny slew of individuals got books lined up at Pre-Post-Eros Editions, according to the bibliographical listings in The Poethical Wager. (One, there, too, is “frothcoming.”) So, one reads of the anagram-obsess’d “K. Callater,” author of Reports from Teerts Egdir: The Other Book, of S. M. Quant’s Manuel for Desperate Times, and (my fave, and very likely a friend of Jonas Berry, that renown’d translator of Noel Vexin’s 1960 Murder in Montmartre) Genre Tallique, author of GLANCES: An Unwritten Book. Each quoted, some lengthily, by Retallack. (Club’d with a slew of imprevaricable heteronyms one reels in imponderable delight only momentarily before the inevitable bee-buzz begins in the brainbox: Am I the last upright man to note it? Am I an ass of the obvious?)

C. D. Wright