WORD/ FOR WORD: Volume One

Jon Thompson


Full Fathom Five

The apocalypse jumps out
a mad swirl
at the end of figuration
a seething mass

of black and white synapses
firing off and on
in epileptic rage
Everything melted-down

burnt-out stoked-up
in a white-hot witch's brew
of anger
& vertiginous joy

Westward ho...

In the anarchy of the lines
a palimpsest of history--
memory death-marching
itself into oblivion--

Who will remember them
the cities without name,

cities in which the air caught fire

the marvel, the elements
the bright elements, shining

fear transfiguring all that dread

Burning burning burning
Thou pluckest me out burning

Names for that which never existed
Place-holders for that which we do not know to know



The Sense of Ending

What is it that comes to an end
                                              that makes ending
Or the thought of it

Closed-up in the blackness of a night sky, white cloud-scraps scud across--
A phantom moon's silver shimmers
Aimless as any lost soul,
Apocryphal to the end...

Here lies fear, palpable as a heart beat. Never to be undone. Never to die.
Shall it outlive this body?

What makes it hard? Is it the end of ambition, the realization
That the aspiration will never be met, that it was fantasy,
A self-sustaining, life-sustaining delusion?

"Brother sun, sister moon."

The sun of hope, the sum of all possibilities
                                                                open in an open sky.
                                                                                               What would it be like
To believe in the immense intimacy of everything,
                                                                         a world in which being in-between
Was impossible?

Is it missing what you will never miss,
The ache of knowing that
                                         the simplest acts belong to another life,
Another time?

Or is it the recognition that the end never comes,
                                                                         that it is always there,
Here, not something postponed but something lived, lived-in, felt,
A presence that makes us what we are,
                                                             inescapable as time and as untrue?



Old Theologies

November chill, fog-shrouded and rain-sodden:
Again the old question,
                                       who counts and why?
The ancients had their arithmetic, divided body and soul, parsed
Rope-burns to philosophical nicety.
                                                                              Our old fractions fade-out,
Re-emerge, ghostly remnants of old fables...

Columns of faint numbers that don't add up.
Old ledgers, old sleights-of-hand, old flim-flams dressed-up in high rhetoric.
The long division of the republic re-running on an endless loop...

Numbers invented to arrive at a theology of substance.
O when shall it suffice?

Enumerators count each soul-ballot lifting each
                                                                              to the light, the wispy winter light
Winnowing out the marks and signs of someone's will.

Each parchment ballot, soul-thin, translucent, ephemeral,
Wedded to an ineluctable
Desire of union, ready to take flight.

We need a new calculus, a new algorithm, a non-theology theology...



Plantations as Museums

The long straight driveway to a large, white-pillared plantation house. Tall trees on either side like sentries in the thick sultry heat. Stock-still, as in a dream. Blindingly white. Not even the susurrus of the wind sighing through the trees, bending them back. Silence, like the heat, everywhere. Crunch of gravel as you look around. Then the long high-pitched whining of the cicadas in the hot moist air. Then nothing. The long fluted pillars of the large front porch. Doric. Grecian idyll of the Old South. Idle. From the front porch, broad fields as far as the eye can see. Black hands picking fluffy cotton balls. In the back, the weather-beaten ramshackle slave quarters falling down. Tin roofs rusted through. They're outside the exhibit. Everywhere the remnants of what beauty did. Does. Fallow fields eulogizing generations gone to ground. No mirage of the past, just the past. And the present. And the old silence, thickly-layered, everywhere. The startling clarity of a broad old oak tree, alone in the fields, its long limbs outreaching an unrepentant sky



After Reading Jefferson, James, and Pound

                                                                   And what shall regenerate us?

The trees are only black, bare boughs
                                                         offering up their prayers
To a wind-chastened sky,
                                        that place-holder for emptiness,
                                                                                           as if
They'd find there some consolation...

E pluribus unum.

If there was oneness, what would it be like? What would it be like to feel
A part of the whole? What
Would it be like to walk out the front door
                                                                 and not be in a foreign land?

If there is likeness, it is the likeness of difference. We have made
Each of us a country,
                                 bordered, sacred, impassable--

A ragout of dreams, madness and fear.

Underneath the strip malls, the tacky sprawl, the monolithic discount stores
You can sense the wilderness
If only in their self-evident emptiness, their yawning, undisguised self-disappointment.

Elsewhere, the fields open up to one another, endlessly.
                                                                                      A V-shaped wing in the sky
Veers south, one giant letter in the sky,
                                                              one being in motion yet motionless.

It is as if we do not believe in what we invented.

Quietness, quietness, our unendurable quietness...

[contributors' notes]
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