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Jacket 16 — March 2002   |   # 16  Contents   |   Homepage   |    

Excerpt from

Edward Dorn: A World of Difference by Tom Clark (North Atlantic Books, Northern Spring 2002)

Epilogue: The Last Range (1997–1999)

Wherever I went in California I was surrounded by a small crowd, like Christ going to Golgotha.

— Dorn, after a reading trip to Los Angeles and Berkeley, November 4, 1997

Hector still possesses a free ego, the kind of circuit which stays in the human breast in the form of beauty (even such a thing as behavior was once beauty), but the ego, as well as beauty, and things abstract, are pagan. Whereas Christ was quickly utilized out of existence, Hector remained, precisely because he wasn’t chosen. The chosen is the blackest fate of all, and that’s why my heart still yearns over Christ.

— “What I See in the Maximus Poems,” 1959–1960

It’s either the Vatican or the Pagans. I’m with the Pagans.

— after a trip to Rome, January 22, 1999

This piece is 8,700 words or about twenty printed pages long.

Photo of Ed Dorn On May 28, 1997, surgeons at Colorado University Hospital in Denver determined that poet Ed Dorn (photo, left) was suffering from a nonresectable (inoperable) adenosarcoma of the pancreas, stage II/III (locally advanced).
      Dorn had once written that he preferred the warrior figure Hector to the victim figure Christ: “Hector is not resurrectable. He lives in the manor of the mind and stands for unalienated beauty.”
      In his last thirty months, challenged with the most imposing of his many forced migrations, the hard trek into the mapless realm of the dead, the poet fought defiantly, a warrior like Hector, or like the great dissenters and heretics he admired, exercising all the stubborn resistance of his will in a protracted rebellious refusal of this ultimate imperial authority.
      Out of the extended encounter came his poems of his remarkable last book, the “documentary” cancer journal Chemo Sábe. This chilling sequence, much of it composed in notebooks in the “cancer ward” even as the course of treatment takes place, scrutinizes the darkness and terror of the unfolding medical nightmare with an unflinching detachment honed through five decades of practice in the poet’s craft.
      A complementary, more personal account of the harrowing struggle emerges in the letters I received from him in these final years. As well as showing the graciousness and generosity which never failed him, these letters reveal something of the courage — and grim humor — with which he approached the final confrontation. What follows is an attempt to reconstruct, largely from these sources, a kind of battle log or warrior’s diary.
      At once painfully concrete in reference and, thanks to those passages where the expression glows with compressed metaphorical intensity, shimmering with more “abstract” implication, Dorn’s last writing offers us a catalogue of the runes grasped before the door of death’s hall by a poet whose visionary clarity — an image to outlast the all-too-human doubts and trials he inventories — recalls the proud, “unalienable beauty” of Hector dying in Homeric battle and the uncanny gallows wit of the Norse hero Ragnar approaching Odin’s dwelling: “I shall not enter this hall with words of fear upon my lips. The days of my life are ended. I laugh as I die.”

“Entrapment is this society’s / Sole activity, I whispered / and Only laughter / can blow it to rags....”

Gunslinger, Book III.

Chemo Sabe, cover

Holy War

Actually I’ve finally had to admit I haven’t been well since returning from England in mid-November... lots of pain & can’t eat i.e. the thought of food really repugnant yet with constant hunger... if I survive I’ll let you know.

— March 10, 1997

The sense has been grim around here and I feel even worse for the psychological burden brought to bear on Jenny. The uncertainty is the most awful.

      — May 11, 1997

We leave for Taos tomorrow, Maya & Jenny driving. I’ll read on Friday eve... have booked a room in La Vida by the Spanish Peaks. On Monday I’ll have another digital scan and on Tuesday begin taking either Gemcitabine or Marimastat... 1 to 4 choices chosen by a throw of the dice by a computer in Baltimore (U. Colorado Med. Center the main place for all this), so it’s all new and experimental and I think the point is it attacks the protein that is the Cause of Pancreatic C. Nothing to lose —

— June 11, 1997

Taos went OK. Reading useful to sort out where to go w/ current work and have got good concentration — had CT scan on Monday & started MARIMASTAT on Tuesday.... I feel lucky to have been randomized on the pill instead of the injection. Go in for scan on 8 Aug[ust] to check effect on tumor. So that’s the deal so far.

    — June 25, 1997

It seemed so amazing, he kept surviving. But it was a war. It was an incredible struggle, all through the chemo. There was one fellow sufferer we met at the cancer clinic who said, “We’re living with it” — that was Ed’s attitude, that it was something you were living with, not dying of.... It was only his determination to fight that got us those extra years.

            — Jenny Dorn, February 13, 2000

There is a certain amount of mail unconsciously addressing me in the past tense.... I find that kind of morbid attention annoying.

        — June 20, 1997

The we’re-scared-so-shitless-we-assume-you’re-dead people... gossip... but I’m not paying any attention to that anymore and I’m not dying — when I die I’ll be dead but until then I’m living. Hope is beside the point and that’s not what I believe in — I believe in my pill and my doctor and I’m going to Montana not on some “last trip” but because I can. I haven’t been working with my present concentration and energy in 20 years. Went to the doc today — all is steady ahead.

            — July 1, 1997

In [Yellowstone] Park our attempt to sitesee Olde Faithful was thwarted by being unable to find a place to park. That was cool with me, I can’t take much sulphur.

— September 18, 1997

The scan of the 8th of October was not good — slight growth of tumor, but more seriously a slightly less than one centimeter spot appears on the liver. The growth is certainly slow for Pancreatic C. but it is in the wrong direction. Therefore I’ll be put on the other form of the chemo gemcitabine — a half hour injection once a week.

                — October 14, 1997

My blood was back up today so I got an infusion 11 am... it is an attack on the cells & I can feel it.

              — November 17, 1997

The attack is relentless.

        — Dorn, 30 October 1997, in conversation, on cancer pain

Having passed through my “free” week, I began the next set of 3 gemcitabine infusions that past Monday. During that time I seemed to have solved the chronic diarrhea problem for the first time since this hideous misadventure began — this is mainly the result of grinding up some of the [pig-pancreas] enzymes in a mortar & pestle. And the oncologist prescribed a kind of time release, 12 hour codeine tablet which has reduced the pain problem a lot, altho not altogether.... You said at one point that I seemed to be stoic in my suffering of this ordeal, but in fact there are times of moaning and screaming and involuntary weeping at my awful condition (obviously I try to keep that as private as possible). But the effects, aside from my own personal problems, are pretty strenuous  for Jenny and all that I very much regret. I have not given up hope and I don’t foresee giving up the struggle. I still have a lot of energy if not so much strength — but I don’t have to tell you of all people that there are moments so bleak that everything is an unanswerable question.

        — March 1, 1998

I went to university hospital this morning for a “procedure” — putting a “stent” in my urethra. That’s about a foot long (or more) perforated plastic tube which goes from my right kidney to my bladder. The channel was being pinched — the oncologist says by the tumor, the urologist says it’s got nothing to do with it.... I’m peeing blood (cherry red to tea brown) and the pain from urination is a 10 on the scale — truly burning and sharp deep... where does it end or does it. If this is the preview of Hades, I’ll take heaven, no matter how boring. I start back with the chemo, a different mixture, on Friday.

      — May 26, 1998

I’ve booked us into the Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs — the hotel I “think” Doc Holliday stayed at when he went to take the waters and kick the bucket — I’ll try to avoid the latter.

— June 9, 1998

Back from Glenwood Springs.... The Colorado Hotel has very wide corridors and some nice stairs with Venus-on-the-half-shell copies and stuff like that on the landings. The pool had a little too much sulphur for my taste.... Did my infusion/injections today — feeling wiped out. This new stuff (5 FU) is definitely strong medicine.

— June 15, 1998

At the cancer ward, 11:30 am... conference with the oncologist, Dr. Cohn.... Beautiful autumn weather — can almost be called Injun  Summer, I reckon.... I can’t tell you how great a relief getting your letter... was. I worried about you and supposed you were going through a rough patch — as we were — last week was awful and I entertained serious doubts that I’d be able to make it through to Dec. 11th (last class — I’m teaching “Poetry as a Difficult Labor”!). But I somehow got past the pain with some calculated adjustments & guesses. I don’t want to simply take more pills, oxycodone (20 mgs) being the heaviest beyond percocet I’m allowed at the moment. The really heavy stuff they restrict to the Hospital. But now I’m levelling off again and feel much better. I’ve stopped taking that fucking Zoloft for starters, and feel a lotbetter already. That has to be something invented by some New Age Torquemada, mindless nasty stuff. It is said, and I believe it, that the whole English dept. at CU is “on” it, and that theorists in general everywhere can’t function without it. No wonder they detest the past in which it didn’t exist. So then: I’ve made it through the 1st 30 days [of term].... I hang out in my office with my French doors opened on the [letter ends in mid-sentence].

— September 30, 1998

The habit of considering personal expression or “lyric” as something that strives for compassion with all of the artifices which make up a poem, is in many ways a loathsome instrumentation that leads you into dishonesties and lies and pretenses that are damaging. It is damaging to the ability to absorb reality. In order to write a poem of any interest whatsoever, it should be beyond how one feels, which is largely a condition so freighted with lack of interest on anybody [else]’s part. You really have to educate yourself and the poem at the same time. That’s where it’s work, it’s labor.

— from last lectures, on “Poetry as a Difficult Labor,” November 1998

I was sothankful to get your letter... it is just impossible to say. When the timing slips everything recedes with it. During that interval I was drifting deeper & deeper into the awful shades of 5FU — a drug so terrible I’ll have to save even trying to tell you what a living death it was. Finally the CT scan came &, who knows, ? in the main tumor of the Pancreas. I notice there is a novel or anyway something which heads the best-seller list titled the Seat of the Soul — which is what surgeons call the pancreas. About a year ago I wrote that as the title or subtitle for the journal I’ve kept on the [cancer] drugs — but then on reflection I saw the metaphor wouldn’t be right for me.

— November 5, 1998

There are 3 or 4 “letters” to you, unsent, consisting of 2 or 3 paragraphs wandering into fragmentation... meanwhile, because I don’t want my silence to be misinterpreted, this is a note to say I’m OK (+ or -) on a new chemo (taxol), but the side effects from 5FU which were verynasty are still lingering.... I’m feeling that slowly I’m emerging from the greatest nightmare of my life — But whatever that is, I’m alsowinding up the “semester” I owed for the year’s sick leave — come Dec. 11th I won’t owe anybody an hour’s worth of anything. Free at last. Free, free at last. Well, I hope so.... On the 30th November I go in for “pre-op”... on the 1st stent replacement.... Every three fucking months — I’ve been pissing blood off & on for about 2 weeks. Still I crawl toward 11th Dec. Free at last? Well, not from the stent!

— November 19, 1998

We’re going to Rome — “Roma non Futata in un giorno!!!”

— November 19, 1998

My bleeding fingers could certainly use the tropics. London/Rome is not going to do anything for that aspect — travelling 20° north a week & a half before the solstice is my contribution to madness.

— November 20, 1998

Finally walked along the river (very filthy) — in fact this is the dirtiest city in the world as well as the most beautiful. The two things so far I’ve got: you have to stand under the cyclopean hole of the Pantheon (which I did by shoving the Catholic Chairs out of the way — after that many tourists followed suit) and you have to be inside the colossal emptiness of St. Peter’s to get it.

— December 18, 1998

The Pantheon is not just a great building — It’s also a great gesture, since Hadrian’s total reconstruction of it leaves Agrippa’s name on the pediment above the colonnade. The theorists could take a page from that supreme lesson — reconstruction is infinitely nobler than deconstruction.

— December 22, 1998

I now have the means to see. I have stood under the cycloptic eye of the Pantheon, and that’s what I needed to do. And I have stood in the great, vast, profoundly empty space of the Basilica and I also needed to do that. Oh, and I’ve also gone to the Protestant Cemetery too, which is where they leave the heretics when they’ve finished with them. Not a bad situation actually... looks pretty good. Expensively maintained. Absolutely... well maintained.

— comments at a reading, London, December 21, 1998

It’s either the Vatican or the Pagans....

— January 22, 1999

Then there’s still the weekly taxol infusions. The thing there is it turns you into a pine cone.

— January 28, 1999

The saline drip, / bridging the chasm to Taxus*, Latin for the yew / bridges the chasm of my senses. The conductor / to the ionic connexion, which produces / the violent interface at the holy war / of the short haired puritans with / the screamers and shouters / and yellers and scoffers and pushers....

*Pactitaxel, the brand name of the chemical derived from the yew tree bark [Dorn’s note]

— “Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron,” from Chemo Sábe the drip is connected to the pump I see W. J. Clinton... / I see him in the Taxol pooling over my brow / move his arky hand from the arm rest / to the Iraqi button... / an experimental / missile vibrates and flames and then launches / from the carrier, and Oh Good Lord, minutes later, / as the nurse strips away the Medusan tubes of my oncology, / American dumb missile arrives with punity /in the southern suburbs of Baghdad, ruined Cradle of Civilization, / just north of the Garden of Eden... / And Lo now the Taxol infusion clears the atmosphere / where I see the Superbowl completely superseded / by the superblow, O yes, praise the Tree Lord, / now it is time to go.

— “Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron”

This [“Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron”] is the best result yet of my attempt to render my chemo experience in my documentary poem form.

— February 2, 1999

On the 3rd of June I undergo my procedure re. the regular replacement of stent, but this time I’m facing the music & letting them install a medi-port, under the skin. My veins (and the pain) have persuaded me. Still & all it is one more thingand I’ve come to see more clearly that my existence is no longer living, it’s not dying. I’m not unique in that — maybe I’ve at last joined the majority, the refugees.

— May 25, 1999

Certain people try to make my cancer grow, / They seek to feed it... / I have / A list of them in my mind and when / I exercise my blasting power / Against my tumor which was environmentally / Induced and politically generated, I blast them also, / Their portraits and vitas, their genomes. / These are the megadonts, they want to chew on me. / I can draw them in their molecular pointillism, / Their shadows Seurat ghosts, / Under their molecular umbrellas... / I will blast them with the beam / of my centrifugal silence / In the flow of the taxodiaceae.

— “Enhancement,” from Chemo Sábe (after July 12, 1999 scan)

Talk with oncologist resulted in his taking my suggestion that the dosage of taxol be increased 10% until mid October.... This from not great scan results before we left for London 28 July.

— August 25, 1999

Coming back here to my chemo roost is no choice. I’ve got to go the Western rationalist/materialist route or not and I decided to fight it and that’s only possible here.... I went right back to chemo on Wednesday after a month off & feeling a lot better for missing it — plus I’m on a 10% increase in dosage on the theory that it has (taxol, i.e.) a certain arresting effect so we’ll see — next scan in Oct....

— August 27, 1999

“What is freedom but choice?” he had asked; but the literal meaning of the word heresy ischoice.

— Christopher Hill, Milton and the Revolution

Returned Monday following Kidd’s wedding in Dover New Hampshire — at the ceremony in the “Catholic” church in Dover Jenny & I read “Dover Beach” — I read the first stanza, she read the philosophical/moral section beginning with Sophocles and we read the final, ignorant armies by night stanza together — it was pretty right on and well done, if I do say so.

— August 27, 1999

Immediate future rather bleak — I have “dental surgery” come Friday — the teeth under my 20 + year old bridge which came out recently (due to chemo). I have teeth in front like a skeleton, or certain skeletons I imagine. I just had a stent change — deep anesthesia which messed w/ my mouth, nose, throat and lungs. The dental surgery will use intravenous — like lethal injection I suppose. Then following that I have to get Bone scan then regular scan after that. For the bone scan I have to be injected 4 hours ahead of time — woe is me. The only thing I’m looking forward to in that mess is I get to be off the Taxol for a while. Taxol is a rough chemo indeed — it just dehydrates the shit out of my already desiccated system.

— September 26, 1999

Judgment Day: Trial by Fire (The Scans)

Next scan, 3 October (Judgment Day, as I heard it called by a fellow sufferer).

— September 18, 1997

I had my scan this morning. 2 or three pints of barium was my elementary breakfast. Then, dropt off by Jenny, I entered the realm of the halt & the lame attended by African Americans in green shifts. At the CT-scan in the basement I was introduced to a new machine — still General Electric medical systems but the new mod, “much faster” and which takes twice the time. Iodine suffusion in I. V. Heat in the genitals & sphincter. Then the trip under the laser, one millimetre at a time.

— October 3, 1997

Upon our return from Eastern Washington, I had a scan. I knew something was up immediately because the technician started further up, just under my chin.... But obviously oncologist wants to check out my lymphs — no scan since late October. So when I start to take the Iodine feed it’s not just my anus & genitals this time but whole body &Brain — I thought my head was going to flame out — the worst heat I’ve ever felt — scary — beyond pain. As I was sitting up, resting on the pad when I’d finished the scan the tech started to set up [for] the next victim — a kind of hard-hat-looking casing where my feet had been — a brain-scan setup — I shuddered to think of the iodine for an actual brain scan — oh praise the Lord, may I not repeat that incendiary heat.

— March 29, 1999

The power walkway to heaven / fed by the farming of heretics / roasted by fire, hell brought back / into the here and then now, / the only place and the only time.

— “Albi, a Day Trip,” from Languedoc Variorum:
A Defense of Heresy and Heretics

Throat ripping / Ball torching / Fire balling / Gut trenching, war — / the Iodine drift / In the trenches / The blasting of the seat / of the soul, loading / Iodine fire, barbed / Wire snaking through the veins.

— “Iodine Fire,” from Chemo Sábe

The Seat of the Soul — which is what surgeons call the pancreas....

— November 5, 1998

Infusion Day : The Lance

The bloodworker was in a bad mood / unreasonable as it would be / to imagine she enjoys her work / if she enjoys hurting you as / an aspect of not enjoying her work... / I suppose I made a smart remark / as usual, my tongue has been / my genius and my downfall. / The nurse began to collect the specimen / with ever increasing pressure on the split flesh / I nearly fainted, but not a tear / fell from my lid, and not a throb shook my throat / until I’d left the collecting station / and then I shook and wept, and jesus, / I’m sorry to say I hated that / bloodworker even despite the fact / that I knew she couldn’t help / what she had a great irresistible / need to do, to hurt me deeply / because I was a bearer of cancer.

— “The Cocktail Party of March 1, 1999,” from Chemo Sábe

On Infusion Day / every thing comes back... / the voices of the unburied dead / and the satisfied symphony / of the truly dead, / along with the secret lurking / of the pure internal marks, / the passage of the pure week — / life turned into a seminar. / The periodic bruise, / the exiting of the blood to work, / the cell count, the inventory / of the shelf life, meaning / the life of the shelf, the tear count / the involuntary drip account / the measure of the mystery of what / remains of the life and times / of the victim, condemned but not delivered, / just the keeper of the count, slowly / joining the counter.

— “Infusion Day,” from Chemo Sábe

...getting a medi-port because I can’t stand the pain of getting stuck no mo....

— May 23, 1999

...facing the music & letting them install a medi-port under the skin. My veins (and the pain) have persuaded me.

— May 25, 1999

Relief from Generalized Pain (The Warrior’s Shield)

I’ve been on drugs for the last two years. But not street drugs, and so it’s been a rather interesting, also unpleasant experience. And I’ve been writing about the experience. It’s notabout how the government pushes a really, when it comes down to it, pretty inferior quality product. There are, what, twenty-eight alkaloids of opium on the market.... The DEA dangles it out there just to see who in fact might be that unwise. So all these oxys which occur in this piece — this is about some of those alkaloids.

— London, December 1998, on the poem “Denver Dawn: With Ceiling Fan”

Oxycontin could put the dead to sleep — / But Oxycontin can wake the living / Just as well, Oxycontin can do anything, / Oxycontin can make you feel Nothing / And there are times Nothingis exactly / What you most desire to feel.

— “Denver Dawn: With Ceiling Fan,” from Chemo Sábe

Tylox can put you out there for a while — / relief from generalized pain. / Vicodin seeks the street, a pilfered bottle / here or there, which is a poor comment / on the cold forlorn rue, paved / by the engineering state.

— “The Drugs Are Over-rated,” from Chemo Sábe

My ceiling fan whirls inside / The wind twirls in / The aeolian Colorado dust / The hand with the Ativan, / The keeper of the exit....

— “Denver Dawn: With Ceiling Fan”

And then, / there’s Ativan, Shelley Winters says / makes her life wonderful, which is O.K. / but way low on Wonder. If it is wonder / ye seek, knock on the door of a wizard / not the hollow counter / of the pharmacist at Rite Aid.

— “The Drugs Are Over-rated”

The Alien

“ Adenovirus Mutant that replicates selectively in P-53 deficient Human tumor cells” — my kind of tumor....

— June 25, 1997

...she’s like your own private third world / she arrives and breeds like guinea pigs, / evermore progeny and evermore food / and the priest cells / demand evermore progeny and then / they all demand independence and this / is in Your territory.

— “The Decadron, Tagamit, Benadryl and Taxol
Cocktail Party of 1 March 1999,” from Chemo Sábe

I’ll have to interview the alien / on that one. Sometimes I imagine it yawns. / Life for an alien is not any better / than it is for the subject.

— “The Cocktail Party of March 1, 1999,” from Chemo Sábe

My tumor is watching all this. /My tumor is hearing all this. My tumor / is interested in what interests me, and / she detests who and what I detest. / My tumor is not interested in what / or who I love, / my tumor is not interested in love, / no neoplasm is — the blind cells thereof / are not interested in love or affection, / she sends out little colonies, chipped genes / mark their crossing by the river, they are / without variation, they keep time with terror.

— “The Decadron, Tagamit, Benadryl and Taxol Cocktail Party of 1 March 1999”

Telling the truth will greatly amuse your alien, if you got one.

— “The Cocktail Party of March 1, 1999”

They came in space ships / the size (i.e. dimension) / doesn’t matter / smaller than matter / no matter — submatter —

— “The Invasion of the 2nd Lumbar Region,” from Chemo Sábe

[The] reading was a valedictory for Dorn’s 70th birthday.... Dressed in cool white on a very hot night, Dorn looked a little like Dennis Hopper gradually morphing into Buster Keaton, and his reading veered appropriately from angry railing against the evils of war to tragic accounts of treatment for cancer. “The poems are absolutely self-explanatory and rhetorically uncomplicated,” Dorn began, and true to his word, nearly every word printed itself upon the mind.... The poems on cancer and its treatment were shockingly matter-of-fact and unsentimental.... “My tumor is watching all this,” went one line, with a David Cronenberg-like concern to see the disease’s point of view.... At the end I... asked... whether the cancer experiences were indeed his own. “Yes,” he said. “The fright comes through, doesn’t it?”

— Phil Johnson, The Independent, London, 4 August, 1999,
reviewing a Dorn reading at Bristol

When I read my own work [in public] now, it’s like I’m readingmy own work. It’s like I didn’t write it. And that’s a great relief. I don’t want to take any responsibility for it. I mean I don’t even want to claim it, in a sense. It’s just a great, great relief. It’s purely empirical. Reading it, it’s the eye talking, E-Y-E, rather than the tongue, or some other organ of perception.

— comments at a reading, Denver, September 14, 1998

What happened to Ishe asked / his eyes don’t seem right. / I is dead, the poet said... / We never knew anything much /about him did we. I /was the name he answered to, /and that was what he had /wanderin around inside him /askin so many questions /his eyes had already answered....

Gunslinger, Book II

In the Raven’s Wood

The butterfly needle. The nurse patting the vein, / searching for a wall to carry the load of Decadron. / Decadron sharpens the senses / around the optic nerve and the neocortex, / enabling one to see through walls and into / the present — there goes the Pope, mobile as ever....

— “Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron”

And soon my vision tightened with decadron / the first of the drips instilling you / with the fortitude to take the onslaught / of the now looming taxol....

— “The Cocktail Party of March 1, 1999”

The optic nerve / visual disturbance [scintillating scotomata] is a Taxol side effect — first you get the counteractive ophthalmic stimulation by the corticosteroid Decadron — that’s the first drip, then the Taxol. These ocular perceptions are an “experimental” manipulation of your senses — or should I say (do I need to tell you) “my”?

— February 2, 1999

Charles Olson needs to be conceded / any incursions into human territory / he saw opening — his ocular / perceptions could not flourish / under the restricted (constricted) / “experimental” manipulation of modern science — the opposites / of carrying a lighter and lighter / light load — our eyes at / night. The direct call of communication / in the Raven’s wood....

— “Notes on Olson, 14 October, 1999”

The vast light from the / green bay tree / now high yellow / increases the chances of perception / I’m reading Canto LXXXII / and that’s what they were never / going to tolerate on these shores / any such increase, for long....

— “Notes on Olson, 14 October, 1999”

But that a man should live in that further terror, and live / the loneliness of death came upon me (at 3 p. m., for an instant) / dakruon (weeping)....

— Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXII

Interlude: Strangely Free

Just returned from the Bob Marley Shrine & Mausoleum, only about 30 miles into the mountains south from the beach here but a longtrip on these tortuous narrow & sunken, English style roads. We wisely hired a car and driver — no renting a car on this island or at least that would seem a stupid idea. In general the Jamaicans make it clear that it’s cooler to let them be in charge in all all-important matters like getting from one place to another without a conductor. But other things are rented out — what a clean civilized country.... One love, no color really is playing everywhere, and the smiles are really real, as far as I can tell. We wish you were here. Kidd has his micro boom box set up on the balcony playin “Exodus” and “Natty Dread” CDs in the face of the surf. Great street parties — Xmas eve treated a bit like Mardi Gras, steel drum bands &c. contortionists, dancers.... At present we’re laughing at having escaped the bitter cold of Denver.... More about the Shrine and Mausoleum when we get back — the pilgrimage was important for me — I’m still puzzling that one out....

— December 23-24, 1998, from Ocho Rios, Cutlass Bay, Jamaica

Christmas morning — The Flags on the Pier are waving in the cool yet humid tropical breeze — there’s an arabic one — can’t identify, Mahn, but one love, one spirit, no color, no mention, Bill [Clinton] should come down here for lessons before he presumes to go to Philly! Strangely free — 1st 25th of my entire life there has been no tedious opening of trash package[s] — One spirit mahn, one love, no package, life is the present mahn!
      — December 25, 1998, from Ocho Rios

“To Separate Himself from His Body” (Dorn, Keats and ABBA ABBA)

Is this thing made / with the end built-in / the component of death hidden only / in the youthful machine... / ah news from the Great Manufacturer....

— “Wait by the Door Awhile Death, There Are Others,” from The North Atlantic Turbine(1967)

We dwell outside the city wall this winter / stone cold in the feeble sun... off the Via Appia and come and go on the Metro / touching base at via Alba and casa Keats / rooms haunted still by his everlasting spirit / and the awful memory of the Roman / seizure and torching of his effects in public view... / the secret pleasure / in the destruction of the great poet’s very materials.

— “Rome,” from Languedoc Variorum: A Defense of Heresy and Heretics

The Spanish Steps are quite magnificent and Keats’s room is elegant if still smelling of the very essence of death — the Oil of death — and the other act which so characterizes the Italian penchant for nastiness, the burning of all the contents.

— December 22, 1998

I took some pretty good notes at the Spanish Steps and the Keats house. Keats’s room is very haunting and deeply touching and I could weirdly relate to the struggle for & against Death.

— January 4, 1999

Thanks for bringing the Anthony Burgess ABBA ABBAto my attention... one of the strangest texts I’ve ever beheld.... But I understand the preoccupation — the Spanish Steps became a center for me.... I thought [Rome] was cold as anything — tho Jenny reminds me the days were sunny, I remember gloom & dank ghost ground.

— January 22, 1999

    Language itself was perhaps only a ghost of the things in the outer world to which it adhered....
      St. Valentine’s Day came, and with it Valentino Llanos to announce he would go to England soon. Then a week passed and two more days, and John knew his dying day had come, yet to achieve death might be a hard day’s labour. Severn held him, as if he were carrying him to the gate, but he could not bear Severn’s laboured breathing, for it struck like ice. To put off the world outside — the children’s cries, snatches of song, a cheeping sparrow, the walls and the wall paper and the chairs that thought they would outlast him but would not, the sunlight streaking through the door — was not over-difficult. A bigger problem was to separate himself from his body — the hand worn to nothing, the lock of hair that fell into his eye, even the brain that scurried with thoughts and words and images. It took long hours to die....
     The afternoon wore on into evening and his brain was fuddled and he groped for the essence he had called I. It fell through his fingers.

— Anthony Burgess, ABBA ABBA

Clearing up came across your card of Jan 8th telling me of the Anthony Burgess ABBAand re-read, for which I thank you again. The book is so difficult & even annoying, but sobeautifully touching on the struggle to die — there’s a paragraph beginning “St. Valentine’s Day came and with it Valentino Llanos to announce he would go to England soon....” It’s truly haunting and brings tears to my eyes. I have a photo at the Steps Jenny took of me, one in front of the window to the room.... No lungs left, none. Otherwise the weather’s pretty good and I’m finishing my book on the Droegs I’m on, CHEMO SABE, a play obviously on the Lone Ranger & Tonto’s exchange....

— January 28, 1999

I opted for isolation — / a temporary suspension of my Mass Observation duties / and the chance to look over my recent notes / from Rome and to brood on the pallor / of the Spanish Steps and the moist brow / of Keats’s struggle to die, still palpable, almost / visible through the window of his somber room. / “...a week passed and twomore days, and John / knew his dying day had come, yet to achieve death / might be a day’s hard labour. Severn held him / as if carrying him to the gate... To put off the world / outside — the children’s cries, snatches of song, / a cheeping sparrow... the sun streaking through the door... / a bigger problem was to separate / himself from his body — ...”/The butterfly needle. The nurse patting the vein....

— “Chemo du Jour: The Impeachment on Decadron”

Thanks again for putting me on to [ABBA ABBA] because, no doubt as a fragment of allied text, I certainly mull it, a lot.

— October 23, 1999

After Ed got cancer, he changed as a person. He was made incredibly sensitive. Part of it was physical — the pills, the pain. But part of it was spiritual too, this growing sensitivity he was feeling toward everything, especially toward the end... he was already heading to the other side.... The very first time he cried was after his surgery in ‘97. Later on, more and more.... There was one time when Maya was here — in the last year, when she was living in the neighborhood, and one night she was staying over. He liked reading to her, he knew she would be a good audience. He read that passage from ABBA ABBAabout Keats dying — read it aloud — and started crying. He wanted to talk about death; he wanted to tell her there was something beautiful about it. “Those who die suddenly or in sleep are so lucky,” he said... tears streaming down his face.

— Jenny Dorn, February 13, 2000

Life and Death are attributes of the Soul / not of things... / Yet the sad fact is I is / part of the thing and can never leave it. / This alone constitutes / the reality of ghosts....

Gunslinger, Book II

Still Alive (Late Letters)

I’ve been down but now I’m getting up — if you stumble after 70 yrs. They pick you up, prop you, stick you up, screaming, stay up! in your face — all Medicare, Kaide, Aide whatever.... Just returned from the Bracemaker to my immediate relief. I now move like a wind-up guy, only at the joints. I have a fur hat on and red paste circles on my cheeks and a tin drum in my wildly flaying arms — But from 2 weekends ago I’m still alive after the radiation and the infection throughout my body. The energy has returned. The fentanyl/transdermal is working. The big oaf next door has nearly finished with our new Bath (started in July)... all is right with the world....

— “Little Book Letter for Tom and Angelica,” October 21, 1999

Bright morning — it’s been the most stretched out autumn. Positively Hawaiian. Aside from bouts of Absolute terror re: my weird fate, and mulling over the notes for some kind of preliminary statement for your re-issue of Olson [Charles Olson: The Allegory of a Poet’s Life]... I’m looking over the Turners’s book on the cannibals of the Southwestern invasion [Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwestby Christy G. Turner and Jacqueline A. Turner] — a kind of re-thinking of Gran Apachería.

— October 22, 1999, from “Little Book Letter”

The stones rained down and they / were the bearers of the new suns — / were the news suns which coalesced / and when they had finished their / repast by shitting in / the open cooling firepits / they took out their long-stem stone pipes / and burned the ceremonial / smoke of revolutionary / authority, that is, conquering / and control by the consumption / of the flesh of the enemy subject / so why did they consummate / why did they relegate — ? / because they could / because they had assumed / the mantle of the host.

— “Notes on Olson, October 14, 1999”

I got some kind of basic Ideologized in the early part of the summer — in June-July. First — from Dobro Dick, in which he reported a conversation w/ a Jehovah’s Witness up the road. The Witness in his eternal Quest for souls was trying to sell Dick the New Testament. Dick’s insistence = Nothing New!!!!! Reiterated over & over, nothing new, look around you, nothing new — you won’t see anything new — old guitars, old picks, old banjos, old organs, pianos, old Dobros, old Hawaiians, old old Plains Harps, old Jews harps, old pioneer cupboards with tin flour bins, old measuring cups, old crocks, old ladles, old labels, old ads, old old old, nothing new, nothing, no New Testament! And then sitting in the kitchen in front of this open fireplace in Devon cottage J. H. P[rynne] rocks back & says to Jenny, No Images. No Images. No Images. = Two Ideologies.... I’ve got to say so long now with love to you both.

— October 23, 1999

The Invasion

I nearly what? / within days, / let the tumor / get past the 2nd / lumbar disk / to my spinal cord....

— “Linear Acceleration,” from Chemo Sábe

I’ve been under deep infection for about a week — all revolving around a kidney stent — failure to have follow-up checks after stent change — on steroids & anti Biotics — I thought I was going to buy it a couple of times. I can still see this side of the wall though. Also, to reduce the swelling compression on my spinal column — 2nd lumbar, I had 5 “treatments” of Radiation in Hans Bethe’s linear accelerator — a devastation I couldn’t have imagined.

— October 11, 1999

FinallyI knew I wasn’t Bulletproof / when I had my first true hit of a / Harold Urey way out / linear accelerator....

— “Therapy Bombardiers,” from Chemo Sábe

The linear accelerator radiation treatment took place in the basement of the University of Colorado hospital in Denver. It made him feel better at first, it relieved the inflammation and pain in the lumbar region. In early autumn he’d developed terrible back pain.... It got so bad we went into the emergency ward at CU hospital. They did a scan, and that showed the invasion of the tumor into the lumbar region.... From the time of that scan and the radiation treatment, we knew that we were really going to have to face the fact of his death at last.

— Jenny Dorn, January 28, 2000

...radiologists are / at least Wellsian / pragmatists — / their venues / are at least art deco / and make you feel / immediately better — / for some reason / I’ll never fathom, / when I was taking / the first 39-second hit, / expecting to smell / smoke, all I could / think of was Hans Bethe / and cream enamel / deep lacquered / in fifties June / jacket — the airvent / louvers, casting / now fifties noir / over the recent war....

— “Linear Acceleration”

...the modernismo art set of Sao Paolo. The tone is gay & trendy fascism, all black lacquer & cream....

— Dorn, 1988, at the Havana Film Festival, reviewing the Norma Bengell film Eternamente Pagu, about the Brazilian poet of the Twenties and Thirties, Patricia Galvao

He was very impressed by the “creamy,” striking art deco sets in that film — the almost fascist architecture of Brazil, in that period, too — which I guess he was “seeing” in that radiology room.

— Jenny Dorn, January 28, 2000

Staring up, / one’s thoughts / alone on the cold hard bed / the memoried map of... / Los Alamos, with today’s / new ridges....

— “Linear Acceleration”

And sitting here on my porch, one can see so far across / the supporting hills to Los Alamos, a quietness almost too deep / to hear, but one which gives its sound, visually, in the rising / smoke of its various technical plantations of death / A slow and unrevealing line about myself curls up from an Alamos / chimney and my understanding darts like a borzoi away / such a thing as humanity seems very relative, the final / abjuring of any vision. Again to know: / What factor becomes like an arrow to locate us?

— “The Pronouncement,” from Hands Up! (1964)

A lone crow / on the high wire / flies north / crossing the first / skylight north / and then arc’d low / crosses the 2nd / flight now / skimming the bottom / edge of the frame / of time, the reminder / Torn loose from / the human fabric, / adrift in the human breeze

— “The Invasion of the 2nd Lumbar Region”

...remember we passed the Trinity site, / where 15 years ago we were led by the top gang / of all marching with their eye protectors imagine / they covered their eyes thus those idiot eyes / were not burned out by what they saw of their own / creation. Only a man / will play god and refuse to look on his own creation.

— “The Biggest Killing,” from The Newly Fallen(1961)

O ye sick and frail remnants / of the advanced life forms / who built this thing

— “Linear Acceleration”


I wept my way through WHITE THOUGHT.... “Earthshine” must be one of the loveliest poems ever written. “Surrender,” the inventory of your parental existence through the objects upon which their lives rubbed off then expands into a social history of the time & place — but since I’m from that same alluvial fan I might feel it more than some down river types. Anyway Thanatopsis, the whole mode has been renewed.

— February 8, 1998

Some last thing to be remembered by some sign / (I was here) at all cost not to surrender / That last claim on life don’t forget us they cry / From that other world of grey light and shadow....

— “Surrender,” from Tom Clark, White Thought(1997)

Old moon yearning in the new moon’s arms / Every loose thread left dangling / At dusk Saturn rises out of the ocean / Heavenly waters so tired of waiting... / Venus ascends four a. m. with the tide / White day opening not that far behind it / Swallows tossed wide around a calm sky.

— “Earthshine,” from White Thought

The Garden Wall

Around Thanksgiving of 1999 we received by mail a small, rather faint and wavery but quite lovely gouache Ed had done. It was painted, he told us, in response to the latest in a series of postcards we’d been sending him for some years. The cards were a collection that had been assembled during her travels by my wife Angelica’s late mother, Louise Heinegg. In Ed’s last weeks the large collection had run out. The last cards we’d sent had represented churches, altarpieces and paintings of the Dutch and German Reformation.

Tom — your p. c. — the Jewel of Angelica’s Mum’s collection so knocked me out I gave up and did my own — the verso is titled “The New Wall,” i.e. the wall between newly finished bathroom and my study.

— October 28, 1999

Attached with the small parcel was his last note. He was now very ill; it had taken him three weeks to get his painting into the mail.

Tom — this has been a long time leaving the premises — in case you won’t recognize it and why would you — straight ahead shot water color of my new study wall — beyond which our new de Lux bathroom w/ imported Italian floor tile and bath tile top to bottom & months in the making.

— November 17, 1999

Modeled on The Garden Wall, a John Singer Sargent water color Ed had admired in an exhibition in London that summer — he’d sent me a postcard reproduction — his 5” x 4 “ water color shows the view out through the door of his study to the pink marble tile wall of the “new” bathroom beyond. Whereas Singer Sargent’s garden wall opens into the defined receding perspective of the enclosed garden proper, however, Dorn’s “New Wall” seems to look out into a watery salmon-colored empty space that goes on forever. The books lining the doorway-framing study shelves seem no longer part of the ghost world of language but the substantial props of the poet’s waiting room of the beyond. Within a few weeks, the new wall would open out into all those distances Dorn loved.

The Garden

Our garden is very lush and quiet after a cool spring with more rain than usual.

— June 25, 1997

The garden out back is lovely — I spend some time there reading &c.

— May 24, 1998

A few minutes before crossing South Platte to take my infusion — Daffs are out and the primroses.

— April 20, 1998

Lots of rain, garden is beautiful... settled into not dying as substitute for living.

— May 23, 1999

It makes me sad /to see I go, he was /I mean I was so perplexed /I’s obsessions were almost real /me and I had an understanding /I don’t like to see I die.

Gunslinger, Book II

We’ll be into April — on the 2nd of course I’ll be 70 — I can remember, as a child, as soon as I could count, thinking, wondering, if I’d live to see the year 2000... now, it’s all up in the air still or again.

— March 29, 1999

What’s your name? / i I answered. / That’s a simple name / Is it an initial? No, it is a single... / Nevertheless, / it is dangerous to be named / and it makes you mortal.

Gunslinger, Book I

When I die don’t weep over my death. / I’ll leave my body for you....

— Patricia Galvao, Album de Pagu (1929, age 19)
— trans. Dorn & Brotherston, The Sun Unwound (1999)

Rome was a big experience for me. I’ve shot my mouth about Rome a lot, but Rome’s not like other places. If it’s true that there’s only one God, let’s thank singularity for that. Otherwise our feet would be gone from those cobblestones.

— London, December 21, 1998

Lord, your mercy is stretched so thin / to accommodate the need / of the trembling earth — / How can I solicit even / a particle of it / for the relief of my singularity / the single White Rose / across the garden will / return next year / identical to your faith — / the White Rose, whose / house is light against the / threatening darkness.

— “The Garden of the White Rose,” from Chemo Sábe

The lights are going out all over the neighborhood.

— Robert Creeley, December 11,1999, upon hearing of Dorn’s death

When Maya called with the sad news (Friday, December 10, 8 p. m.), the image that came into my nonideological mind was of an extreme brightness: a memory of cresting the Wind River Range with Ed on a long ago midwinter day in an ambient flash of the brightest luminosity I’ve ever experienced. I’d marveled, dazzled, seeing nothing, while Ed’s craggy thousand-yard squint was fixed straight ahead out over the wheel into that overwhelming unspeakable light.

We went up into the mountains, Maya and Kidd and I, to scatter Ed’s ashes....

— Jenny Dorn, December 17, 1999

Thus this poor individual / like all the singulars of his race / came in forward and goes out sternward / and some distant starre flashes even him / an indiscriminate salute.

Gunslinger, Book II

You can read Tom Clark’s obituary notice for Ed Dorn in Jacket 9, and three poems by Tom Clark with a detailed bio note in the same issue.

Photo credits: photo of Ed Dorn scanned from the back cover of Edward Dorn: Selected Poems photo copyright © Lynne Domash

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