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Sean Singer Three Poems


In the 19th Century, most of the whaling industry was centered around Nantucket Island, whose population were pacifists. Men would leave home for whale hunts for a year or more while women would run the island. In the sperm whale populations they were hunting, male whales hunt alone several miles deep, while the females remain in large groups, and run their society.

The light is oceanic green and makes hexagonal
light on the platform with claws and gewgaws of light.

Each side of the monolith forms a point,
and when the moon shines coldly

from the cowl of space (a bell, liquid, as sound expands
and gets thicker in the sea).

Now a sea song
[Amazing Grace, traditional]:

Descending like a cork on her waves
Floating on her water wall...

Although the darkness made us slaves
To the moon’s arresting call.

I could not break from its cold grasp
So bound our paths would be

Each drifting sound her liquid bell
Made us the whale-dense sea.

Each bottle fell to the sailors’ bones;
A house on the oceans’ floor

And inside her bricks which opened there
I saw a rising velvet door.

A grove of spikes: When the Quaker hunter
espoused nonviolence and stuffed his musket,

sharpened his hook, with its long sisal
and hemp rope, into a puffing heart

bigger than an oat-fed baby, he turned
in the dewlight like a battering ram.

True intoxication gurgled up in a thermos
of adventure. They’d go out for years from Massachusetts.

They were looking,
but their prey were listening.

A sperm whale’s ear, bigger
than a fist, hears twofold noises:

the telescopic part hears squawks.
The enlarging cathedral part

hears echolocation—
Squawk—related to the whortleberry.

Correction...a hoarse squall, never from a horse.
Sometimes known as night heron, with a creak,

a screech, a ghost eating caviar.
Utter like a public-address system,

like a bimaculated duck, with windup gears.
Next to the inflatable balloons, there’s the echolocation.

(See under: bat versus manmade devices)
Radio signals sent and reflected back,

from the altimeter to the moth. (See under:
torpedo guidance, silent films, Buster Keaton doing marimba).

Concealed in space: male spermaceti whales
dive 3,936 feet. Females dive to at least 3,280 feet.

They dive for over an hour. Squid beaks are inside
the stomachs. Picture a gray rose bigger

than a transcendentalist’s room up in the eaves, like a matrix
echoing its math-maze of osmotics.

Dr. Johnson, in the 1755 Dictionary:
A network is any thing reticulated or decussated,

at equal distances, with interstices
between the intersections

That’s why the image of wooden networks
banging a reggae less a private ventricle

than sound immemorial to the order of air
is a membrane gliding like soapstone

to bodies minced which has sixty times’ air’s
intensity! All underwater: a blue ghost

sucking the fieldfare of smoke: Blueaproned, bluetrampled, bluemantled,
and blueglimmering home.

Jaw bones in an arch: When the whales eat,
they eat in a herd’s harem. A solitary bull

joins a school of 10-40 adult females
plus their calves, the length of a breeding season.

But the big squid are smoothed red
lengthwise-jettisoned like a jet,

which, wholly isolated in dark, has pink saucers
and terraqueous chitin, but don’t bite

the minute semitransparent threshing of flesh
mounting the portico of its mouth inside her mouth.

Sperm whale uses his head’s oily buoyancy
with his bloodflow, turning the oil to wax

convulsing dried blurred ink
to a snowy chamber, extracting air between globules.

When I die I want to feel like jumping
through the keyhole in your door—

nitrogen narcosis—and be sent in a single infatuation
to the sea. Because I have my own “transidiomatic affinities.”

The female leads herself into dark
realities of whale moments, intermitting between

her occupation of calf-care, in the Sargasso’s alcove,
fastening her hearing

to the echoes’ vault. The male hears it
and resurfaces,

saturated with squid-ink, refusing the evidence
of tiny holy eyes,

melting clerical burnished flames,
at the rim of each echo.

Savage disorder when we enter nature:
The gate creaks among the weeds,

we forget why we’ve come to begin with
and with a downward glance the muscles

in our necks tighten as if a blood-red ribbon
has been tied to the oaken door.

It is a door which restricts entry—
interior predetermination—and eyes

the mass of the next room,
where the speechless, unspeakable

echoes rest, in the vast, interspaced code.
[Reprise. Amazing Grace coda]:

The sonic waves from a mother whale
Travel through the oceans’ space.

Each darkening sound of metallic hail
Receives amazing grace.

Light: skin’s desert fragment torn
where there’s a fist

where skin is a whisper, whenever
the moon makes its dim

sink in the lake’s basin: a train’s
stiff haul in the night.

Light: lemon pinwheel, when the rind
waxes a flittery forced timesheet

that’s torn then punched, making a cannon
filled with iron pill.

When it’s swallowed they fly
like a yellow eel and smoke rings it.

Soap: removing its surface from itself,
with bubbles like a cauldron,

the air moves away from it
in spheres composed of a shine

driven in fabric swirling like a window
approaches to a jump, and bursts.

Soap: not a filth magnet, to get through,
like a cupboard’s color,

reversing its convulsive prefabricated texture,
this brick closes around its pores

with its wire stairs and brushes.
Perfume: even though we live in an amber-solid whorl,

we breathe that floating mechanism
by which amber unlocks its petals

and fauna, dancing as a tinge
upon the resin in its document.

Perfume: a coloratura askew like a cascade
within a spotlight makes impending change when she is rubbed:

notably electric, along the Baltic shores,
entombed in aloe-wood.

All its life a river mimics the sea,
the one with the upturned moonrise,

and is an instrument calling washable smells,
and light, and clean bricks pouring velvet

incapable of trembling.
Head: beyond the blanket scaffolding

is the massive pulpy anvil. Etched in barnacles
is the steam engine script from an ancient language,

Macrocephalus of the Long Words,
which is its name.

Used for light, soap, and perfume,
its oil moves like foam.

Head: a cathedral, I have said, and a pulpy ghost,
white as a stiletto, and within its coils

are energies which harden, and glitter and palpitate.
In lampshade lace and photographic liquid,

its group song
pleats tiger trim, swell satin, pink ash,

feathery chenille surround, and felt velvet
and it eases as the water table tilts, dimensional.

“Humped herds of buffalo by tens of thousands:”
Whales are the humans banished to the sea.

They emit their undersea and trans-watery signals
with their thoughts

larger than a bus, which is like communicating
through telepathy.

Evil walking at midnight: a low, harboring call
meaning to get away from a ship.

Bell shines like: a hull painted green...well,
don’t hang around. Don’t want you hanging around.

Ice sled sinking: I take the waves by the reins
and am an accident waiting to happen when my weight follows.

Scooping the clam: our troubles are over
when dry land tempts with its crow call.

Introspective strum: Whales
move in darkness,

and in its blanket of cold
their head wax hardens and liquefies

like the manufacture of pianos, with 18 rock-hard
inner and outer maple rims pressed and wrestled

with amplified soundboard into a shapely dome.
There is sound in the open sea.

The complex motions of whale wax
within the globules in the whale head

transmit and surround the front and back
as a soundboard in space and move through water

like a grave carved from the graphite drums
registered within our ears of pillbox size or smaller.

Whale ear, ensconced in bony
auditory bulla and connected with tissue-drawn

sound to the jawbone and its cavalcade to the brain
is vaster than everyone we love.

Its curling organ is the drum itself—
massive tympanic bone, cradling the instructive twofold

inner ossicles called malleus and incus.
Like the instrumentalist’s revolving vane,

their involucrum opens with vibrato, with its spinning
motor ascending from f like a yarn-wound yawn,

it is sustained and heard. A boat in front of this sound
will crack, disperse, and become an only orphan in the dark.

It is not well known how boat-barnacle-stripping chemicals
cause deafness in whales: when they do not receive

echoes, as in the blue-black caverns of their planet,
they beach themselves. When the enormous fatty structure

washed onto Chilean sands, it was an unknown organ,
though its skin no longer covered the tympani

and drumrolls of that oratorio many miles down.
Like a man whose hands are handcuffed to his steering wheel,

disruptions of their elastic ligament and synostosis,
make them deaf hulls: the air-filled rotational axis

is unplugged, the stage goes blank, the cellulose
in the film bubbles and burns.

Music encoded in perforations:
In the lacquered, electroplated positives

known as the mother of early grooved masters
there are limited numbers of discs that can be made.

The stamper wears out. The pressing breaks
into a shard.

What is beneath the normal levels which subside and surface
over moving ridges and troughs, between one

and the next as undulation, livelier than breath?
Where should we go on the convex of land,

between the hollows, where the rounded snow
of water reduces itself from the wind’s action,

and we’re alone beside the leviathan, as phenomenon?
Under the cyma or ogee molding of the great arch,

not of whalebone or cathedral carving,
but the universal, zigzag ornament of waves?

These are the rhythmic alternations of disturbance
and recovery, like sound, like light, like perfume,

with particles transmitted like messages in the air.
Along the nerve we move restlessly.

Apotheosis of Sonny Clark

First, tar’s vinegar warmth, euphoria & nodding off.
Followed by Automat cheeseburgers and vanilla milkshake.

The only black kid in the school picture,
Faraway swim look in the thread of his eye.

Japanese love Cool Struttin’
White legs, black A-line, Fifth Avenue.

As demons douse metallic nodules
A stylus pins Cole Porter in a Pullman quarter.

What seems like a right hand with blue tabulae
Is actually Sonny Clark waking up from his vomit

When he sees what he’s leaving behind
Only the right chord is perfect labor

Everything with Sonny Clark is weakness.
He’s a city and a forest infolded quill

Tranquilized with black lung and tar black,
The most aristocratic color of all.

Treatise on Hank Mobley

Mobley talked about revolution.
Asterisk, palladium, forever unjaded.

He talked about two lives—the one we learn with
and the one we live after that.

Mobley slowly moped,
as if he was impersonating himself

in order to annihilate it.
Mobley referred explicitly to everyday life,

“I put my heavy form on them, then I can
do everything I want to do.”

Think of Leeuwenhoek,
smaller and upside-down

through his own lens,
to capture the place as a sound,

yet in making that sound,
tightened the grasp on the material

that supported his question.
Mobley talked about what is subversive about love.

When the door to a room closes,
the light, orange as a feather, under.

Mobley was positive about the refusal of constraints.
Strung out, his rung in the ladder broke, as

anyone who can swing can get a message across—
People who talk about revolutions

and not these things
have corpses in their mouths.

Sean Singer is the author of Discography (Yale University Press, 2002), winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, and the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America and a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; and Honey & Smoke (Eyewear Publishing, 2015).
The poem ‘Apotheosis of Sonny Clark’ originally appeared in the journal Worcester Review, ‘Treatise on Hank Mobley’ in Guernica, ‘Whale’ in Memorious.
This issue was guest-edited by Heller Levinson.
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