Leonardo da Vinci, “Drawing of a Flood,” c. 1500
Exactitude the flood.
—Ronald Johnson, out of “BEAM 2” (ARK, 1996)
By the way its every
event is local and exact,
and by the reluctance of water
to rise and the way it climbs
its reluctance, so shall you know
flood, and by the way it compiles
the erasure of its parts
and takes to itself the local . . .
—William Matthews, out of “Flood” (Flood, 1982)
The wild warblers are warbling in the jungle
Of life and spring and of the lustrous inundations,
Flood on flood, of our retuming sun.
—Wallace Stevens, out of “Meditation Celestial & Terrestrial”
(The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954)
opal to slop jar. Fill my feather pillow with skunk cabbage.
unfinished manuscripts, the burnt skillet, the burthen of my passing.
I bequeath fellatios to scarlet tanagers, fanfaronade
to my silent partner; in the flood plain, signs of the cross.
To my funeral bring spikenard. Place four scabs
on the first saltlick. A fait accompli in standard time.
—Forrest Gander, out of “Librettos for Eros” (‘A Table Laid with Horrors’)”
(Deeds of Utmost Kindness, 1994)
You cannot put a Fire out—
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan—
Opon the slowest night—
You cannot fold a Flood—
And put it in a Drawer—
Because the Winds would find it out—
And tell your Cedar Floor—
—Emily Dickinson, “583” (The Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1999)
O my floating life
Do not save love
to the flood
by the flood
Leave the new unbought—
all one in the end—
—Lorine Niedecker, out of “Paean to Place” (Collected Works, 2004)
For the most dissonant night charms us, even after death. This, after all, may
be happiness: tuba notes awash on the great flood, ruptures of xylophone,
violins, limpets, grace-notes, the musical instrument called serpent, viola
da gambas, aeolian harps, clavicles, pinball machines, electric drills, que
—John Ashbery, out of “The Skaters” (Rivers and Mountains, 1966)
But from its bracket how can the tongue tell
When systematic morn shall sometime flood
The pillow—how desperate is the light
That shall not rouse, how faint the crow’s cavil
As, when stunned in that antarctic blaze,
Your head, unrocking to a pulse, already
Hollowed by air, posts a white paraphrase
Among bruised roses on the papered wall.
—Hart Crane, out of “Paraphrase” (White Buildings, 1926)
we’ll move the deeper part
as darling compromise whose mutual dart
from deep within unneutral heart
throws a felon’s courage
among our folded limbs
to wake our rage and skim our laps
and guy the riggish night with simile
Like: gemmed engine, flood of eloquence, a pearl’s
pearl for minion; cedar, lantern, mirror, companion
of material’s sweet hour and spring (I mean
your curiosity’s work)—
—Lisa Robertson, out of “Virgil’s Bastard Daughter’s Sing” (Debbie: An Epic, 1997)
. . . a dumb eager little botch: I aim
absolutes at it so blasting, recoil and strike unnerve my
stability: (from so small a thing, what distant orbits I’ve
taken into residence) but it’s not now form against that form:
it’s motion: the renunciation of boxes, magicless: I’ll
put the speck in soak, dissolve it, or pump fluids in so dense
flooding will work it out . . .
—A. R. Ammons, out of Sphere: The Form of a Motion (1974)
The ballad is so mutinous without a known author. Fatherless in the same sentence what syllables will flood utterance. Warbling, warbling. Leaving no verb in their eyes
our predestinated depths who fathoms. Strond strund stronde strand. The margin submerges phonic substance. A mother’s thread or line is ringed about with silence so poems are
—Susan Howe, out of “Submarginalia”
(The Birth-mark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, 1993)
but even that extended a little further,
out into the desert, where
no flash tested, no flashed!
oops! and no nail polish, yak
yak, yak, Lieut.
no flesh to taste no flash to tusk
no flood to flee no fleed to dlown flom the iceth loot
—Frank O’Hara, out of “Biotherm (For Bill Berkson)”
(The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, 1971)
Driving to the Old Orchard Inn, a flash flood. “Why would a bank,”
my brother asked, “be crazy enough to finance a
House on the flat by a creek where the cellar is bound to ﬂood
whenever it rains?” Why, indeed? Crossing
Cazenovia Creek the smoothly racing water was almost up to the
bridge, silent, smooth and creased, a tossed-
Out length of coffee-colored satin. Sadistically, I hoped to
see a drowned Holstein floating by, a ship of
Furry flesh, its udder like a motor . . .
—James Schuyler, out of “The Morning of the Poem”
(The Morning of the Poem, 1980)
Mock not the flood of stars, the thing’s to be.
O Love, come now, this land turns evil slowly.
The waves bore in, soon will they bear away.
—Ezra Pound, out of “The Needle” (Ripostes, 1912)
Soon, soon, through the dykes of our content
The crumpling flood will force a rent
And, taller than a tree,
Hold sudden death before our eyes
Whose river dreams long hid the size
And vigours of the sea.
—W. H. Auden, out of “A Summer Night” (Collected Poems, 1976)
How is it we can’t accept this, that all trees were holy once,
That all light is altar light,
And floods us, day by day, and bids us, the air sheet lightning around us,
To sit still and say nothing,
here under the latches of Paradise?
—Charles Wright, out of Littlefoot (2007)
O Paradiso! The stream
grows leaden within him, his lilies drag. So
be it. Texts mount and complicate them-
selves, lead to further texts and those
to synopses, digests and emendations. So be it.
Until the words break loose or—sadly
hold, unshaken. Unshaken! So be it. For
the made-arch holds, the water piles up debris
against it but it is unshaken. They gather
upon the bridge and look down, unshaken.
So be it. So be it. So be it.
The sullen, leaden flood, the silken flood
—to the teeth
to the very eyes
—William Carlos Williams, out of Paterson (1963)
Heaven is near, but not to the objects we see
It is hardly whole
The sky is in the sun which floods society
It is not sexually innocent—its spittle forms a heaven
Life goes—by sex for shadow
The mouth is frost
It opens to recognize—too brief a loss
—Lyn Hejinian, out of Oxota: A Short Russian Novel (1991)
Tuck up tawdry attraction for the follow broken air
to separate yield and distort along the floor,
moving flood in a pure scheme they have but them
selves alone flutter drain orphans in ultra wrong
unit time set . . .
—J. H. Prynne, out of For the Monogram (1997)
Hello, floating objects. The light of the sun will give you time.
In back of every thing is a barrier. We need to flood
it all, really ram those photons.
I unhinged the
light case from my sample packs. Original orange rouge,
limitless replacement policy. A winner of the Sound Polls.
—Clark Coolidge, out of “Combed Through the Ballardian Perspex”
(Odes of Roba, 1991)
A point is fixed at the
intersection between the
personal and the rest
of the cosmos, and that
nexus is the source
of the flood of speech
the desperate polyphony
of conflicting meanings
empties continually into,
all signs condensed into
a single line leading
out from this dust mote size
fraction of the history of
a very tiny star into the
silence everywhere around it
—Tom Clark, “A point is fixed . . .”
(Sleepwalker’s Fate: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1991, 1992)
are fragrant and I follow their scent.
I am their hunting hound,
predator of the marvelous.
I try the qualities of the line,
muttering to sound it,
divine the ratios, render
the actual progress of syllables,
in the sequence of vowels
l’arc-en-ciel marin of the covenant
As if from a flower,
releasing the music that I sense
a fragrance a color in mind
into a moving pivot of the flood
that comes to me and promising
—Robert Duncan, out of “Dante Études (‘To Speak My Mind’)”
(Ground Work: Before the War, In the Dark, 2006)
Caul Gate, Farewell, that hath me bound
And with an ointment laved my teethe
Until mine own voice tired, the sound
A quiet wasting summer’s breath
Babylon his flood is stilled
Babel her tower doeth tie my tongue
In the willow path there it hath swilled
My spirit, His case, and young.
—Louis Zukofsky, out of “Michtam (‘Lese-Wiat, from Caul Gate’)”
(Anew: Complete Shorter Poetry, 1991)