New Work by Halvard Johnson
New Work by Halvard Johnson
swirl editions 2015
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Canzona "The music ended anyway." --John Ashbery As I was saying, or as I think I was saying, the music wasn't much. The night shone brightly without it. Centripetal motion always requires more force than straight line motion. Don't tell me you don't know that. Tell me instead what moves you to move as you do, away from the trees and the barking dogs, in the direction of your away from home home.
That Which Doesn't Kill You Leaves you breathless, gasping for air, crossing the flooded streets in ankle-deep water, chilled to the shinbone, wanting but not wanting to get home to the kids, to the wife, to the dog, so old now its breathing wakes you in the night, keeps you awake until morning, when the telephone sings its morning alarm, song of the debt collectors. A little Ligeti starts the day off with a smile, until reports from the Turkey-Syria border start to flood in. Canadians on the march once again, getting Iraqis back on their feet after so many deaths and amputations. Brisk nostrums, back to back with bromides and apothegms shaken free of all sense, preferably not aired more than seven times per ten minutes of air time.
Abendfantasie After some years of humble whaling, we came ashore and, after the blubber had been rendered and barrelled, sat down at the inn, our landbound repast--meat that was freshly hunted, slaughtered and trimmed, bread baked that very morning. "Spear me another," I hollered at Queequeg, whose harpoon had yet to be retired. Whale oil candles showed us up to bed, man smell all about. Our little silver Volkswagen parked out at the curb, we dreamt salt dreams, returned to sea before dawn.
Time Passed On the right, even more slowly than I had imagined it would, slipping easily into the blind spot that even I could not see from my perch on high.
Among My Books All day long, they sit there on the dusty shelves, unless they are one of the few to be pulled down, opened, and perused, if only for a while. They keep to themselves, pages closed down, words--black ink invisible in the darkness between the dark pages. The words on their spines only whisper of what's inside. Then, at night, when we're all asleep, the words shake themselves free of their pages and squeeze themselves out, filling the room with the delicate flutter of flutterbys, as in one of those rooms in the zoological or botanical gardens where pilgrims slip in among those thousands of colorful beating wings. In the darkness near the bookcases, if you were awake enough to wander about, you might find them beating gently against your hair and face, hoping to find something of interest there, something to think about, some bit of wisdom to lift up and carry away with them to share with words from other books. They argue, at times, about this or that, but never in a way that is less than polite. Angry words tone themselves down for my benefit. When I object to the way they fling themselves about in that room, showing no concern for the intentions of those who placed them in an orderly fashion on those pages in my books, they (well, some of them) say, "Listen up, it makes little difference what order you find us or hear us or read us in. Some of you people now know that, but it seems that you're one of those who do not." I remind them that in the beginning was The Word, and then dare to ask, "Who amongst you is the last word?" "I am," says Omega. "No, it's me," says Zyzzyva. And another says, "Amen."
Downchain Noir Starting somewhere near Omaha and flying, roughly, south southwest. Night or two of r&r, then back. First trip down, only the big guy and me, but then the next time down four other guys to fix what had to be fixed. Doesn't take much to make things right if you're not averse to snapping some necks in the process. Spoke to me of her broken heart. Heart's not a neck, said I. The light fell on her face like a Klieg light aimed through venetian blinds. Eyes glistened.
Unbridled Bride The long long love I harbor in my heart camps out in my face. She who teaches me to love and suffer demands that my lust and trust be reasonable, rational, full of shame, runs off to the forest and hides.
Whole Cloth Strangers on trains rarely nod to each other. Grackles on rooftop finials racketing, long tails dipping in breeze. Established religions vie with unestablished for tax breaks. Rolling stock awakens sleepers from their long nap. Stealthy as ever, something comes over us. We know not what. Trees of life take root among us, grasping at straws. Dark melodrama our forte, not overworked symbols. Is he in love with her, or merely seeking a haircut?
Problems of Ethics The stem of nature has ascended, rested upon the great diversity of apodictic certainty, pushed from behind to prevent backsliding. If we touch our noses to the ground, the tiger pounces on the dog. Unconsciously delicious.
A Certain Chimera Look, look back at yourself, gawking at others and pandering . . . well, to everyone. A new-born child, seeking the breast of its mother not the most incredible thing in the world. Your parentsâ€™ peculations handed down to your siblings and you. Pressing forward down one blind alley after another. Micrological instigations, one and all.
Laptop Long adventures propel themselves over pavement left after people take off, probably leaving a peppermint taste. Or possibly licorice. Annual perturbations top our predilections.
Reaching the Limits All of Russia stood up to cheer the securities listing ban recently announced. Only the bare essentials, he wanted to say, and still there's much to admire about him, his headlong rush to find his own true self, his true calling. Even things that do not change cannot remain the same, he often reminded us furtively. Having no stomach for English, he kept his promises--a simple, whole-hearted man, his subsequent commitment to a mental institution notwithstanding. Headlights of cars sweep the streets, and, for the first time in years, we are abandoned, left in darkness. Having chosen to worship here, near this clump of trees in the human rubble lit by the sunsets of the far South, the star bleeds in vain, all of us left, in some sense, changed forever, among our most cherished motives.
Blue Run Deep Age, even when adjusted for inflation, hardly mattered. Flexibility counted more or less the same. Countless predations turned themselves into hunting expeditions. Speculations ran amok. Empathetic souls cry out fervently for some just endeavor, pro or conscience.
Works in Progress 1. getting in touch with the cable guys swinging the birches testing the waters pushing radical music agendas 2. rewriting the country's labor laws seeing a psychic map of our obsessions building electoral coalitions that will win emphasizing the overlapping interests of the affluent 3. cleaning up after Gustav, Hanna, Ike cleaning up after Bush, after Cheney rewriting the history of consciousness blurring the possibilities 4. supporting any effort to reunionize failing to generate meaningful responses becoming one with the centipede in oneself getting some good poems out of it 5. slumbering well until after nightfall setting this brain of mine afire reaching irritably after fact & reason shunning easy consolations
6. subsidizing extraction industries helping women victimized by male violence doubling the sign-up bonus for volunteers supporting the troops while doubting the war 7. counting the dead waiting for them to break silence descending the steeps of the soughing twilight assimilating foreign cultures 8. demilitarizing outer space completing the application and mailing it back reviewing our few remaining options showing off poetry's "extreme generosity" 9. maneuvering pothole-sized cars around designing more effective marketing campaigns speaking solely in terms of racial justice examining burial pits and naked skulls 10. getting out the vote fetching water from the well educating the masses confessing to our personal demons
11. clearing minefields from past wars laying them for wars yet to come staying executions, pardoning the innocent blurring the boundaries, the borders 12. reading maps in the dark with the top light off folding them all back up rightly cramming them into the glove compartment getting moving again in the right direction 13. cooling our wardheelers voting early and often keeping our fingers crossed paying full-price for our journey 14. assembling a glossary of oft-used phrases keeping silent while the tea is poured maintaining an inventory of our beliefs and unbeliefs finding time to clean up around the house 15. making the world safe for gerontocracy clearing the minefields and cow pastures converting analog files to digital rereading An Anatomy of Melancholy
16. fighting the high cost of prescription meditations comparing the works of Proust, Gide, and Sartre putting something aside for a rainy day asking for another user's name and password 17. scanning the shelves for news cleaning up after the latest tsunami trying not to think about elephants looking forward to end-of-life decisions 18. reassessing works already completed exterminating the brutes chipping ice from the windshield of the car rebuilding the old road from Fredrikstad to Skjeberg 19. getting more bang for the buck setting something aside for that rainy day worry about what to really worry about getting back to the Bang, the Big One 20. teaching the Chinese how to speak English learning about Putin, reading his soul cashing in on Homeland Security making that list of things to make lists of
21. deciding whether or not to escape to Canada enhancing revenue without raising taxes learning more about hematology--its life, its times mapping talk-free zones in public parks 22. making the punishment fit the criminal recovering our census-takers fitting the glove to the velvet hand dialing for (four) dollars 23. laying mines at the Prose/Poetry border celebrating the rebirth of death transferring funds to overshore accounts counting the years from start to finish 24. unpacking after the last long/short journey saying goodbye to the undead finding trusty pocket tools for indoor use pleasing others in letters 25. recouping ancient losses moving data from there to over here scanning the text as rapidly as possible keeping Kandinsky in mind
26. replacing old maps with new ones preparing the cat for summer camp paying the bills in advance brushing up on our Spanish 27. stealing stones from the temple building a nearby church stealing stones from the church building a nearby bank 28. filling the sandbags repairing the levee spreading plutocracy around the world counting and bagging the dead 29. cleaning up after Rita, Katrina remembering we must pay our bills washing windows of opportunity trying to find the snows of yesteryear 30. covering up the latest cover-up rereading all we've reread as of now reviewing the plays of Pinter, their silences uncovering the cover-up of the cover-up
31. comparing apples to orangutans criminalizing conservative politics finding new ways to profit from disasters rescuing painting from the dead end of Pop Art 32. robbing Peter and Paul to pay Mark and Luke waking up to a brand-new day forgetting that old Underwood we once loved overcoming inertia and ignorance 33. freeing the slaves admonishing those who do evil stamping out political brushfires democratizing the US 34. closing the books on the old year balancing the checkbook (first time ever) remembering to reshape my face (yet again) changing course (as always) 35. securing the seaports transfiguring the night of the prom seeking an audience with His Holiness, the President bombing the Middle East into freedom and democracy
36. telling civil war from your garden-variety insurgency recognizing our deepest needs, wants, and wishes finally getting that poodle to the groomer learning to live on self-serve island 37. keeping an eye on the military-industrial complex reseeding the lawn for the nth and final time staking out claims on the future moving the party toward a more radical center 38. restoring the Gulf to its pre-US condition administering flu shots to every chicken in every pot studying studies on the results of previous studies reducing the pulse of alien shadows 39. reducing light pollution in our major cities rescuing the castaways creating unwanted database gaps accommodating carbon dating to Biblical truth 40. bombing our way to an "endurable" peace retelling the tales of bygone wars seeing what might be learned there measuring the manatee
41. returning that defective broadband router speaking kindly of those we no longer respect giving up keeping up as a modus vivendi putting our thoughts into action 42. sticking to issues that directly affect us bemoaning the cautiousness of today's athletes co-opting the arguments of their opposition welcoming Latino immigrants at the border 43. throwing our hats in the ring translating our actions into thought seeing that Anna Nicole Smith achieves sainthood rehanging Saddam and getting it right 44. paying off our debts, incurring new ones getting the MS of the new book out into the mail preparing ourselves for our press conference seeking an end to cross-pollination 45. hammering out justice, all over this land disturbing the neighbors by night, by day enjoying privacy at our place in the country transmuting dross into gold
46. pronouncing the names of the dead bringing Elian back to his Miami relatives rejuvenating all those pre-aged youngsters out there throwing our hats in the ring 47. finding our way to the next whiskey bar extending that fence to both east and west coasts revising our previously revised revisions building the ark to end arks 48. preventing its dividing itself up realizing our potential potential spending more time with the family waking up to unreality 49. finding the photos of the old house rowing the boat ashore thinking things through again keeping the guard up 50. parsing the genome flinging sweets down the staircase exhaling only when necessary tearing myself away
51. reparsing the genome fleshing out the diagram refilling the lungs, yet again reacquainting ourselves 52. getting the genie back refreshing the screen barking the dog crying over spilled beans 53. making up our minds testing the waters arousing the base exchanging dollars 54. stealing rain from the clouds reexamining the x recounting the votes again building a foetus from scratch 55. expunging voters from the rolls bringing up father and mother rereading the maps of time ceasing and fulminating
56. Connecting the dots. Multiplying the multiverses. Remapping the sea beds. Napping away the afternoon. 57.
Poem Made from Words Found Lurking in Finnegans Wake Ingled vecurls ferring into legian dylogs attered feract reshpros. The oxeruse off whatl. Unten den lichtedly amings, intstand fath gomers, tremit vanessed harmengers. Boccoo! Dicants from Cammock skance impes rampton us.
Table of Contents Canzona That Which Doesn't Kill You Abendfantasie Time Passed Among My Books Unbridled Bride Whole Cloth Problems of Ethics A Certain Chimera Laptop Reaching the Limits Blue Run Deep Works in Progress Poem Made with Words Found Lurking in Finnegans Wake