Friday, November 13, 2009

Peter O’Leary’s Benedicite

Yellow Leaf’d Tree


Pantheistic roundabout shudders:
who’s that doctoring
up the breeze
with camphor and
ashes, or is
that spermaceti ointment
residue? Stench of
the godly miasma,
reminiscent prickles of
former attempt’d hallowings
ruttish, incontinent, smear’d
with bastardly quotidian
truths. How simple
if one allow’d
a sprung welcome
onslaught and release
to carry one
off into finick’d
divinity. Opting out
of the semi-
laudable fraught abeyance
(daily hint of
menthol, scent of
grease and queasiness)
for the fulgent
gangster slam of
full-scale Holy,
executable and unreprieved.
A fundament un-
jockey’d, explicit, fix’d.

That, rapidly writ, a kind of gut-level outburst / recompense for a fever-sweat of, oh, envy and admiration, result of opening a brand-new (and sumptuously beautiful) chapbook by Peter O’Leary: Benedicite: From The Phosphorescence of Thought, A Poem of One Thousand Three Hundred and Thirty-Six Lines on the Nature of Consciousness (Answer Tag Home Press, 2009). Envy of the unshakeable presence of a target and a duty: Father Hopkins’s imperative—“Praise him.” I must admit there’s probably something sacrilegious about envy for the way the properly laudatory solves what is (to me) a “merely” formal dilemma: I mean no disrespect. To be allow’d (and to follow) a calling to praise God and His works seems magnificent, a right uncanny measure of unity and diversity, the one and the many—both an act of no little bravery and something of a provocation in a secular age (or in a secular community, that of, loosely, “readers of contemporary American poetry”). The Benedicite (or Benedicite, omnia opera Domini) is a hymn to creation, lauding all the works of God. Here’s a swatch:
. . . make holy
you galactic internal dynamic, you spew of stars, you luminous intensities
you waters coursing over heaven and you dynamos generating their power
you slow-burning yellow star
you socket of life
you Sun and Moon
you same sized argentine luminaries drifting in the skies
you fungal spores into the sinuses huffed
you wicked lunar eclipse
you dais of cooling light years;
make holy this song by blessing, by building up with
you telescope of time, you notion of creation
you most antique ledge of energy it peers toward
you aeonic disdain, you horror torus
you flowing forms, you atmospheric womb, you cellular chemistries, you earthly life
you showers and dew, you souls
you tenderly dusted, glimmering mineral energy wound
you little animations of things
you prokaryotic cells, you knitters together . . .
And, too:
. . . you corpses, you spent energy, you unspooling tendrils of
mushroom protein
you anuses extruding that vitalizing hash
you necrophagous moonlight fruits
you eaters of your own dead and you living things
you caloric scavengers and you sex scroungers;
make holy this song . . .
Solved at a fell swoop: the aimless “modernist” gabble abstract, talk address’d to no one in particular. In some way, beyond cataloguer Whitman out of King James, the nighest “kin” to O’Leary’s Benedicite may be A. R. Ammons. Or is it simply the nitty-gritty particulars, lingo-registers out of Scientific American (“prokaryotic cells,” etc.) that points me there? Look what Ammons makes out of different particulars fetch’d forth:

I want something suited to my special needs
I want rotary mower housing
I want chrome hubcaps, pin-on attachments
      and year round use year after year
I want a workhorse with smooth uniform cut,
      dozer blade and snow blade & deluxe steering
I want something to mow, throw snow, tow
      and sow with
I want precision reel blades
I want a console-styled dashboard
I want an easy spintype recoil starter
I want combination bevel and spur gears, 14
      gauge stamped steel housing and
      washable foam element air cleaner
I want a pivoting front axle and extrawide
      turf tires
I want an inch of foam rubber inside a vinyl
and especially if it’s not too much, if I
      can deserve it, even I can’t pay for it
I want to mow while riding
Which is, of course, stretch’d out and pinned down by the tenterhooks of terminal irony in a way that O’Leary’s direct address never is.

Benedicite is print’d in an edition of one hundred and fifty number’d and sign’d copies. Covers print’d by Dexterity Press. The covers, pale yellow with the Latin antiphon Asperges me and accompanying doxology print’d in a slightly richer yellow, with the title in rich red over all—O’Leary’s name (appropriately) lacking. So one glimpses some of the words, broken, splay’d out under musical staff with its square-blocky notes: “-sperges me, Dómine, hyssópo et m” and “emper, et in saécu-la saecu-ló-rum. A-men.” It’s lovely. Eagerly await’d: The Phosphorescence of Thought.

Peter O’Leary
(Photograph by Eirik Steinhoff)