Peter Cole Notes on Bewilderment

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Translation aspires, clearly, beyond its words,
beyond what it renders, beyond even—if through—
sense, yielding, or wielding, blunders and wonder,
erasing our notion of a sacred uniqueness
(the original), as incarnation of what it heard.

Losing one’s sense of just where one is one,
and gaining all that in a sense was lost;
confusion’s limbo lingers, echoing that
single aspect pinning us down, until
the elusive many is (almost) won.

Verse returns us, although it’s fair to ask (it?)—
to what? The cresting wave of recurrence itself?
Essential enfolding? Or just the artifice of
a controlling author? One partakes of infinity;
the other is shut within perfection’s casket.

And how in fact is that return embodied?
Only by means of convention’s employment?
Some insist it’s through a serial sprawl.
Though one’s as fraudulent as the other.
Be careful, then, before deploying your need.

Love is caught in this revolving door
as well, or maybe that should read: “evolving.”
Eros draws us back into its swirl,
and somehow we’re propelled further into
the world by its spell, which we’d been waiting for.

I doubt it, he said, the words drawing them down,
into an abyss of … And that’s just it,
the endlessness (as in the eternity, dark
as it, in this particular case, may be)
sharing a lot with a divine pronoun.

Perhaps personal. But who’s keeping track?
A woman suggests her Asian discipline implies
it’s no one. Not, at any rate, an individual.
Just the wafting of something or other eternal.
Which I believe in, despite my aching back.

In the cheap seats. And the executive suite.
Which is to say, my own slug-like conscience,
moving along by, it seems, contracting
against itself. The slime and motion inching me
toward the sublime, through confusion, like wheat.

Where are you, calls the Lord, from beyond
language, to those who might well answer him,
and thus be said to be alone with God,
as opposed to one who’s deaf to the question,
which then becomes: Where were you? As everyone’s bond.

The flaming sword at Eden’s entrance turns
round, every which way, Scripture announces
barring Adam from that garden: Ambivalence,
notes the Rabbi, is the propeller driving us
into the longing no one ever unlearns.

Any resemblance to actual people or scenes
depicted here is entirely coincidental,
says the disclaimer in the poetry magazine.
The Gazan room, for instance, in which the sleeping
family is crushed by Israelis, beneath their dreams.

Or, memory’s horror: into the rush
of Jews, the bomb’s extending toward the opening
doors to the bus—the flash and thunder erasing
skinny Anna, who’d given peace and poetry
the best of her seemingly never-ending lust.

It is possible, the language itself insists,
or seems to: the poetry can come through, though only
by means of indirection. Bad translation
is like drawing a bucket from a moonlit
well—and losing the silvery shine on its surface.

It was a golden time, said Rothko,
for then we had nothing to lose, and a vision
to gain
. Thinking of his youthful loneness,
he wished the graduating class, not success,
but pockets of silence in which to root and grow.

Their lines like prongs, raking the shore inside
oneself to coax out what might be of worth
in a world beyond that self. To other
selves and selflessness. There is a power
rinsing spirit with detritus, like a tide.

The obsession, with what it means to be a Jew
at heart, the bull’s eye with which I began
my thinking, away from and then toward what I am—
may have occluded, although I doubt it,
much of living I’ve also known was true.

That, for instance, what one lovingly does
is passed over with little understanding,
or worse—rewarded with betrayal’s hearse,
surely’s taken (somewhere) up by Scripture,
reminding us that will be of course means was.

Always, wrote Machado, seek in the mirror
the one who’s walking beside you, the other

though what he meant by that mirror I’ve never
been sure. Clearly he meant it more than literally,
given his feel for the flowing river.

The song, another poet sang, has gone
out of me
, glossing—theatrically—his loss
of innocence. I, innocent, thought it
the height of profundity. Now I think his
notion of song itself may have done him in.

The dream of the poem, he told the closest angel
of poetry, asked how he’d titled his book.
The dream of the poem, the warm angel echoed,
adding, bemused: It’s a little weird
(which it was) summoning fate, like peril.

Singing again of his lady he’d slip
into a vision of the beloved beyond
form, and his fear, and soon he was in His
thrall, forever, a man whose love of the Lord
lay between belief and his knowledge’s lip.

He wanted to know how love was rewarded:
True Love. That’s easy, the lover replied,
the prize for that great desire comprises
the absence of any distinction between
the pain and pleasure one is accorded.

“Terrific,” said the reader, his eyebrows
arching, the words’ light passing beneath them,
“another phantasticus—just what we need,”
although the ideal to be pursued was real
as the world that pursuit itself endows.

It isn’t done with tracing paper. Things
signaled by words charged in a row begin
to converge, just as hope a single one
or pair might be rendered fades. So we enter
the sacred order from which translation springs.

The bereaved speakers droned on and on about
“humanity,” entitled by their grief.
Not having to suspend anything in
the way of disbelief, I sat listening
but left with the faint hope I’d brought in doubt.

I don’t really get Spinoza, he said,
having, again, tried to enter the Ethics.
Ax. Descartes detests the senses’ indenture.
Schol. The geometric method’s torture.
Cor. The book went back to the shelf unread.

The heart flutters, flitting about between
the past and future notion of things, wavering.
Who would catch it and calm it down, that it
in time might grow still, and, by degrees,
grasp the glory that lasts but is rarely seen?

Augustine. In the eternal moment,
he wrote, nothing passes away; the whole
is present, though no time is wholly so.
Both future and past are formed and issue
from that
(that what?) which is always present.

Next to the Zohar, that mostly obscure
glossary of light, aglow with pleasure
implicating eternity, the normal
mysticism of clear words in a row
moves me more, I confess, and also cures.

(In its way. Which is to say, its manner.
which is to say what one means to say,
in as much as that’s ever possible,
while not ignoring style’s tensile ladder—
though now we’re circling back again toward Splendor.)

In an extension of the mind, nearing its
limits—deltas of twisting branches forking
finely towards a pewter sky, shifting as
roots of those trees descend through silt, to sewage
and clay. There, Solomon said, are spirits.

Ethical practice, apart from any quirk
of personal fate, such as, say, religion,
with faith at its core, needs no temple or shrine.
But theology, too, lines that axis,
often as response to what doesn’t work.

What, the lover was asked by his friends, does
happiness mean?
He, here, seems to stand for
the writer himself, or maybe the reader
in a dream, or on an off day. It means,
he said, unhappiness borne for what one loves.

The postcard from Theresienstadt bore a stamp
of serious interest to the boy, whose
grandmother’s message read: I am in good
health; everything is fine
. “It must,” he thought,
“be a nice place for vacation, or a camp.”

The dervishes turn on axes as old
as earth’s, but pointing toward their own tombstones.
Within their shroud-like cloaks and skirts they spin.
I’d gone thinking I’d see a hackneyed thing,
then watched my heart’s arms like their dance unfold.

Albers’ late homages squared no circle.
He pushed green (with orange?) so it seemed red.
He placed a teal form within a gray one.
Or was that over? In his Bauhaus head
the absolute was, always, relational.

What good is thinking that one keeps within?
What value does it have, until it finds
expression, until it bodies forth as
action, events informing work and feeling—
as wisdom is joined to pleasure once again?

As in their action selves in relation
are changed, and identities shifted or lost,
so the world is reconfigured, though not,
of course, sensationally. The adjustments
are small, like stills combined in animation.

Well-housed, salaried, insured, and bourgeois,
like his peers, in a respectable fashion,
Professor X is making, well, a living
around the world for himself with his teaching
the quiet ecstasies of kabblablah.

All the rivers—it’s getting somehow truer
and truer—run into the sea which is
never full, said Kohelet, the preacher,
combining, in lines as close to a sigh
as any might be, pointlessness and splendor.

Listen, happiness is a reflection, he said.
It doesn’t arise through self-contemplation,
except as that withdrawal deflects one’s
recall, like clouds in a skyscraper’s glass.
It’s a seam, along which the heart is fed.

Seeking truth, seek definition and place
your words with care, unless you’d find yourself
ensnared, as a songbird faces twigs smeared
with lime in its own nest. The more it resists them,
the more they stick to it, negating its grace.

Thus the call for clarity. The lovers’ creed.
Things heard as though within one. But suddenly
freed by others’ words. Nothing’s original.
Not even sin. The mild wind now blowing
may be wisdom, bringing someone what he needs.

Bringing him back to the perpetual lie
of freedom in beginning, which is only
freedom to begin. Again. “Art,” the poet
said, “it cures affliction,” with deception,
even as death endures. Still, we try.

If not like Daedalus building those wings
for his son to fly away with, then like
someone telling their story, and killing time,
in a manner of speaking, within that myth’s
labyrinth one is always escaping.

Lord, goes the prayer, increase my bewilderment,
which really means allow me to question
everything, but not be lost within that
stance to the small flowers of common sense
in season. Increase, Lord, my discontent.

But keep me from resentment. Reason as well
has its season, although we don’t believe it,
or put too much faith in it. It’s true that
one and one, on occasion, is three or more.
And the middle way is often mystical.

Lord, goes the prayer, keep me from delusion.
Which really means allow my mind to open
to all that comes my way, without bringing
ruin upon me—through fusion of things that are
distinct at heart. Keep me from conclusion.

While the case is being made. And the world
is all that is the case. Keep me from too much
seclusion. Increase my confusion with
Thee, it says. But is that in fact another
matter, I wondered, as the dervishes whirled?

And may my love and language lead me into
that perplexity, and that simplicity,
altering what I might otherwise be.
But let it happen through speech’s clarity—
as normal magic, which certain words renew.

This material is © Peter Cole
www.alligatorzine.be | © alligator 2008