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Jacket 19 — October 2002   |   # 19  Contents   |   Homepage   |  Catalog   |
This issue of Jacket is a collaboration with Verse magazine

Timothy Donnelly

Anything to Fill in the Long Silences

after Juliao Sarmento: mixed media on canvas, 1998


You have collapsed onto the table
I hold the table up. If I had a mouth
to speak it would be quieted (a felt gag).
An admired head of hair by now
it would be caught in the machinery.
Or any head at all there would be
hell to pay. Darling I have had
the most  sumptuous idea it has
sustained me. A short fiction
I believe a myth I am not certain.
They have taken all my certainty.
Taken it and brought my Darling
to collapse. To have lived through such as that
has left one riddled in suspense.
That is to say, suspicion. Is it any wonder I refuse
to speak of them more generously?
An August blue is a blue of assumption.

       Together but distant,
       Together but distant;
       You’re tied to the roof
       And I’m locked in the basement.

Heave to! An architect is chosen
from a pool of architects. Do you remember
the feel of being chosen Darling?
With sleepless designs he excites a house
and the house is built, tap-tap —
miraculous! Do you remember the feel?
I am filling you in: my one true love.
The blueprints lie in a vault under lock
in time they will resurface. If the house
is simple it is also spacious I trust you follow?
The house is sturdy it will long endure.
This is the myth that has sustained me Darling.
A family is chosen from a pool of families.
The family lives in the house undisturbed.

       Together but distant,
       Together but distant;
       You’re tied to the roof. . .

The house is the locus of no exception
no exceptional event. It assumes a history
of no ‘dark valleys’ no ‘dizzying peaks.’
The family is spared the hound of anxiety.
A tremendous blessing of course they
fail to acknowledge it. True it could — excuse me —
indeed it should be said that a streak
like this itself amounts — touché — to a blazing
exception. What I mean to say is nothing
such as that which happened to us here
could ever come to pass. No, not in this house
and not to this family. Fasten the cloud
for another century. I took the fire for my mouth.
They themselves must never imagine
so much as the ghost of the possibility.
I took the fire for my mouth, the blue-
tongued shudder as They slept, and it can’t be given back.


The architect is shot in the back of the head.
A precautionary measure the family
must never know. The builders too
a dozen identical shots to the head
each tragic but necessary. You are
familiar of course with that category Darling.
You have collapsed onto the table
I hold the table up. The myth continues
to sustain me. — And all the empty
lustrums flush so unapologetically, a single
wink of an enormous eye. You are
familiar of course with that organ Darling.
— And as the vault’s locked door
springs suddenly open, the blueprints
spill to the cracked linoleum; and as cornets
strain from a hidden speaker, the divine
felucca cleaves the swell of a sun-flecked sea. . .

— All melts under our feet, I know it does.
           Or else, the feeling that is does has cracked
Its ice-blue lily open, trumpet of innuendoes.
           I wonder what weird gardener would infect
The border’s broadcast air with that aroma,
           It isn’t — there, one hint of it out-dazzles the sweet-peas!
— Darling, I connect this to our drama.
           All right, I know. I make too much of chance, and always

Overdo my figments: I’m a reckless sleuth
         On a hopeless case, reading a strange flower
Marooned among the prose as some big clue to our mystery
           When there is no mystery, or when the truth
Behind it isn’t an answer, or when the answer
        Itself cracks open, a shark-maw — but can it hurt to try?


Heave to! Another identical house is built
but now in the evergreen thick of nowhere.
Note: Each of the builders of the second
— excuse me — I was about to insist
that each of the builders of the second descend
directly from the men shot dead
a century before, but I no longer feel the necessity!
How passionately I felt about that
detail a heartbeat ago how utterly
propelled by the beauty of it once.
You see that she is still capable of changing
anything to fill in the long silences.

Manitoba! Do you imagine it Darling
as I have always imagined it?          Hush.
‘An untouched labyrinth of countless. . .
an expansive ice-lit theater of. . .’         Hush.
The second of the houses belongs there
to be certain. I knew you would follow
my divine felucca. — A hundred years after
the first construction, an August blue,
the blue of assumption, and beneath it
the family’s youngest, Tommy, hasn’t ‘reported’
to the breakfast table. That isn’t like him!
They call his name repeatedly over bowls
of breakfast flakes, or from the stairs’ worn foot. . .
A flash of panic fixing in a mother’s eyes
is most arresting — to repeat, to be certain
you have the next-longest résumé in panic Darling
I would be depriving you of everything
you have left if ever I failed to acknowledge that.

           But who are those small — no, make that
Scarcely discernible — figures which float —
        Though I hesitate to say it — in elegant fashion
Circling the lips of our brutal misfortune —
           Our circumstance, Darling, if that’s what you call it?

           In elegant fashion, with classical rhythm,
They ogle the aching we’d soothe but we can’t,
           Circling the cracks of our drastic misfortune —
Our circumstance, right — in a dance formation,
        Flaunting their diadem, their cold ring of peeks.

           Muttering faintly — I can’t call it chanting —
They measure the aching but never reduce it —
           I don’t think they can. They never attempt to,
But I think they might. You have collapsed onto the table
           I hold the table up. And in elegant fashion

those scarcely discernable figures keep dancing.
Heave to! We persist in doing what we do
and what have they to do with our drama?
They are not They. I would know it if they were.


Meanwhile, Tommy will never answer.
He has been administered a smart narcotic
and taken away. He is just now waking
up in Manitoba in the house mistakable
in every detail for the sturdy home from which
he is now — and ever shall be — missing.
Imagine, Darling! Just like home, only
none of the people, every frantic look
out every window lost in an expansive
theater and drowned. We’ll witness all
on camera, Darling. For I have always wanted
to watch someone else try desperately
to handle it. It might teach a person
about oneself and what it looked like happening.

       How long I have longed             To get that off my chest?
            How deep is the relief
       One gets from the voice?

The battological moan of Canadian wind
cannot be stopped upon its lonesome
flight it can only alter as it hazards through
the various but limited configurations
of the aspen branches which the wind itself plays
a most remarkable role in determining.
The myth ends here. The remaining family
handles the loss until its edges smooth down
to the calm of a small commemorative stone.


Tommy persists in Manitoba for as long
— excuse me — I was tempted to say
for as long as reasonable, but reason
has little if anything to do with it, we of all people!

What’s that now? Yes it’s violent,
radically in fact. I remember a power
boat trip once, back in the misty
pong of my youth, high in a jostling
salt-spray boom, my throat relinquished
into the hands of an inward mariner —
or a skipper, Darling, if that’s what you call it.
His anchor sank about a mile offshore
from a plum volcano the locals adore
from their shaken atoll an hour or four
from whatever the mainland happened to be.
Out on the ocean, there you can see
the violence embedded in the mere geography.
It works itself into the composition.
And I saw albatrosses glide about their business.

But whose are the hands — the arms, the thews —
           that lift the architect from that pool
in satisfaction of the myth’s sad plan;
        whose execute him when his work is done,
whose hire the builders, hold the gun
           to their sunburned heads obediently
or with small compunction; whose discover
           the blueprints sprung from the vault
when a century’s passed, whose build anew
           in cold Manitoba, pierce the needle
into the skin of the resigning child,
           whose carry it out, whose see things through?
— The impulse which activates must
not be reduced to a rational form!
That is, they are the hands that do.
They are less themselves in the act of doing
than in the fact of having done.

But why the passage of time?
The European starling, introduced
to the puzzle of North America
scarcely more than a century ago, now
ranks among the most abundant
of the birds of the continent, yes,
but a century is more than necessary, much,
to lift our architect from that pool
and execute him when his work is done,
to pierce the needle and all the rest.
Though female starlings favor mates
who sing most often and sing the longest songs,
a myth can happen in a thunderclap.
Of course I agree. But Darling you see,
that is my point exactly, why the passage of time?

— As happiness is measured out in freedom,
as freedom is expressed in terms of motion,
as motion is made manifest in time, yes — in time alone
will we, no — we will never be happy, unless —

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