back toJacket2

October 2004  |  Jacket 26  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |

John Latta

Two poems

To Robert Duncan

Sortilege is all, orphan, and nothing is trivial — thus by chance machinations, undeflect’d melodies of the unquiet watch, we sound the What Is, drifting the boundaried nautical blue,

sentinels to whatever errancy intention — that aimless ward of the imagination — derives of our erring. There we demur, lingering where the western song sparrow’s song is unheard of,

where its five struck notes, various, nameable, some musical, some buzzy, counsel certainty, a momentary loud sampling, a deft assemblage, welcome awe, and ease.

What’s available is the sentence, that mere story of loving in the ongoing decay of intensities, how it stills the flux of its own leafing out by leaving something out.

This is the law of the the, how a simple kind of death inheres in grammar, hermetic, inviolable, new. So we keep moving, we make passages, whole brotherhoods of lost hungers, of

small fires trick’d out of hiding, demure impermanences struck idle and ghostly in the voice-wash, the intercept’d hum of hand-breadth measuring the skittish colt of the page.

We mouth mysteries of music, sere inevitabilities, impure remedies of pastiche, yea-saying the lots of irrecoverable Time against that one vacant lot where God is He who imagines Himself.

Sentinel, we keep watch over what we cannot ward off by watching and we make ourselves of nothing and our names of nothing.

Here’s a story, orphan: there was a man I never knew who called himself an orphan, a man without a permanent home who in a late recklessness of years wrote a book

that worried the imagination, that, in the reading, seemed to be like taking pieces of a dissected map out of its box. He made that up himself. He called truth a divine ventriloquist.

In youth, he let the words pour out, mongrel, fecund, dear. He coined equally: pantisocracy, potenziate. Fearful of half-knowledge, that yipping, uncertain,

of dogs in the dark, he declined late into a notably abstract silence. What I mean, sentinel, is this: there is no vanity — that spigot, that spile that draws off sap —

no vanity in la veille de la vieillesse, watch of the late watch, no vanity, watcher, in mere writing, no vanity in what song is, or what it, song’d, unsings.

A Notebook of First Permission

                  a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
                                               — Robert Duncan

Unenviable weather, long rain breaking
The sweet interstices,
                                  the hidden geometries of snow
Against snow. What weather does

Weather undoes, approximating man. Think of Tristan
Tzara in Paris writing
                                   “to dissolve the hard cement
Of an apparently impregnable fortress: syntax.”

— — —

Out, yards off, a nuthatch, ungroomed, needling
The suet.
Enviable, needling.
                               Flits off to tree-
Trunk, marks, upside-down, a brief comma.
Slate-blue against the bark.
                                           I am happy enough
Making these few things
Into one thing,
A countenance,

A figure to figure the day against.

— — —

A sort (a chance throw) of energies:
Uncommon works making savvy the commonality of source,
That big disintegration,
                                     smeary ruthless unboundedness.

One sort (Webster’s) is “a piece of type,
A character
Not part of a regular font.”

                                           Six years a printer,
The thumping maw of the Chandler & Price,
                     blank sheets of paper in,
                     words out.

“When all the types in a box are used,
The box is out of sorts.”
                                        Printer’s terms: river of white,
Pigeonhole, staircase, dingbat, quoin, font.

Font: foundry. Foundry: pouring
                                                    a chaos of unsortable liquid
Metal into matrices, making many of one.

— — —

A noticeable absence in Paris:
                                                long lambencies of light
Playing over the American field.

The way it brushed up the timothy grasses,
The mullein spears, old
                                      stalks of yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace —
A static charge, the “lit within.”

What memory does undone by the grammatical what.

That “place of first permission”

Where desire augurs form
And form, unbridled,
                                  courses the field of its own making.

The there, where, just

Horsing around becomes the horse.

— — —

No nuthatch now.

No nuthatch now is a time signature,
A hieroglyph,
A blow of hammer to chisel glancing off

The rock of the page.
                                  No nuthatch now.

Two squirrels, upright
Kettles, two
Question marks, dull ewers, pewter

Vessels with all the inconsequentiality of decorum,

All the consequences of its loss.

Think of Meret Oppenheim taking form where she found it
(Cup and saucer)
And appropriating it
(Lining cup and saucer with fur).

Where form is found is where form founds form.
Tzara: et tant d’autres et tant d’autres.

— — —

Worrying the music, wringing it out:
A desperate alphabet tumbling down the long rain of the sky.
Uncanny proceedings: the way
                                                 words go finicky,
Undeliverable, uncountenanced in the unforgettable light.

A need to seize permission, to stop
To unstopper the uncontainable hum.
                                                           What works as frisson
Is frisson: the bell’d tones of Sacré-Coeur
Hanging over the rue Taitbout,
                                                 the bronze twitter of the swifts
Unfurling melody as banner.

Down off the little mountain of Montmartre,
Over the white night streets
Of Pigalle,

Over the two lost vineyards
Hunkering, dim, corduroy’d into

Sudden relief in the slanting light. . .

That place, unshakable, a syntax.

“To Robert Duncan,” first appeared in Sulfur, No. 41, (1997) and
“A Notebook of First Permission,” in Poetry International, No. 3 (1999). Both poems are also found in Breeze (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).

October 2004  |  Jacket 26  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |
about Jacket | style guide | bookstores | literary links | 400+ book reviews |

Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright.
It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be
stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © John Latta and Jacket magazine 2004
The Internet address of this page is