Perhaps it also seems that the motion of memory in Lateness can be placed alongside another comment from Shapiro about Johns’ work in the aforementioned text. He suggests that, for him, Johns’ ecstatic scribbling (within or over his flags, targets, numbers, etc.) represents the struggles of the individual “caught against the impersonality of the public sign” (12). Certainly time, if anything, is a public symbol. As I am writing this, a murky white Fed Ex truck (purple Fed, green Ex) has stopped behind the bookstore in the parking lot across the street; the driver climbs down, collects the intended packages and runs them inside. Everything is moving forward in clockwork and, although the mind is under pressure to think of the world this way, it does not. It refracts, dissembling time in many directions. Many poems in Lateness appear to reveal this tension. Beginning with the notion that the speaker’s violin is playing by itself, “The Devil’s Trill Sonata” encapsulates the speaker’s sense of helplessness. Looking against time, poems in Lateness discover (and rediscover) great humility as they attempt to relocate what is lost. The “you” of “Music Written To Order” admits that they “would want Mother back.” Likewise, “The Devil’s Trill Sonata” locates longing for the nurturing maternal schema in “nipples on TV.” Other poems plead for more time — for someone to “Stay stay / stay stay” (“Stay Stay Stay Stay”).
Could it be that given to remember — to say God’s name — acknowledging the impossibility of accuracy — one must turn to the revision of rewriting and overwriting as a means of compensation, letting “the snow . . . plink at random targets” (“The Devil’s Trill Sonata”)? Crediting praise — or prayer — as Novalis’ origin of speech in Novalis: A Romantic’s Theory of Language and Poetry, Krisin Pfefferkorn accounts that for Novalis “the experience of nature awakens in the young savage an inspired or enthusiastic idea of a higher being, which he lacks only the words to express. Not having words, he bends his knees and shows all the feelings that crowd in around his heart with a mute gesture” (61). This notion of a divinity that awakens (and awes) seems to speak directly with Lateness’ desire to preserve; the need to praise drives the need to say — to remember — and in the absolute moment of one’s need for speech it fails, falling into the white noise of utterance.
By recognizing this tension and allowing their concerns to exist in and out of linear time — always calling time and the effects of time into question — the poems in Lateness attempt to fight back against the pressure (and forgetfulness) of forward motion. Many of the poems in Lateness use anaphora (and repetition) as a vehicle against time because it allows for sensual expressions of textures. In this way, struggling, many poems still fumble gracefully toward us with a joyful inclusiveness. There is a certain bravery in the poems of Lateness (that can also be found in Shapiro’s poems elsewhere). They often permit the secular and the sacred to interact as one inseparable entity; cartoons, lions, ice cream, ferns, The Divine Comedy, and the Supreme Being are allowed to exist equally as keys to our experiences and this feels very honest. Allowing for these interactions to take place outside of the arena of scrutiny or stiff high-mindedness is courageous and very striking; it allows one to imagine what is as what could be.
Every moment might not be as valuable as prayer, but it could be — a prayer that is pale or green, lovely, devastating or funny. And this prayer would certainly treat memory and the promise of its processes as they try to remember — to hold, to write towards the ones we love — as a bewildered kindness. Sitting reading, I tried to remember the way that Margaret and I had found ourselves standing together, kissing behind a green cake, holding hands, surrounded by family and friends — how had we found our way here? Only a week had passed and already, looking down, the sunlight scattered, opening holes in the lake’s surface; the maple was dissembling in slats against the spring, lilac-smell — so many small moments wanted to be carried.