Noah Eli Gordon on “The Next Year: did you drop this word”

On "The Next Year: did you drop this word"

This poem is the postscript to the 70-page title piece from my book The Year of the Rooster, which I spent most of a year or two writing, wrestling with the artifice of character. I was trying to figure out who this Roo was and why s/he kept bothering me, cutting a furrow at the outer-most edge of my thoughts by pacing back and forth there, exactly along the newly-forged neural pathway from too much thinking about Alice Notley's wonderfully vitriolic, fearless, mammoth, and terrific Disobedience. What was going on with that Hardwood/Mitch-ham character? Hell, what's going on with Dante's Virgil, right? To grapple with my own ambivalence, I wrote into it. Come 2006 or 2007, I thought I was done; I thought it was just going to be a matter of making tiny edits here and there, but this damn guide kept tapping me on the shoulder, snidely pointing out the scenery until I couldn't trust my own senses.

Eventually, I'd had enough. The Next Year: did you drop this word is pretty much an unmasking and an ars poetica in one. It started simply. I was writing while some people at my house were arguing downstairs. From what I could tell someone found a word on the floor. How this could happen was beyond me. The word was anque ("although" in Spanish). From upstairs, the question Did you drop this word? had such an absurd ring to it that I had to write it down. Aren't we poets always asking ourselves this in one form or another? What was going on? Talk about the materiality of language! Here I was trying to work on a poem while some people in my house were arguing over an apparently slippery Spanish word. Later, I saw that it was just a piece from a refrigerator magnet set, but that didn't take away the magic of the question unmoored from its context.

Picking up from a form I used in my first book The Frequencies, the poem moves down the page in wavy lines then pools into prose chunks, the first of which was originally just an email I wrote to Elizabeth Reddin after reading her book The Hot Garment of Love is Insecure. I don't know her at all really, but I loved that book and wanted to both respond to and argue with it. The summation of my argument—that art is work not play—felt in line with where the poem was headed, so I left it in, adding finally the last prose chunk, which takes a decidedly Stevens-esque turn toward rhetorical flourish. I wanted there to be some pressure from these abrupt, stylistic shifts; there's the aunque—the although. As a poet, I'm mainly interested in trying to lose my voice. That it's then there for someone else to pick up from the floor is all I can ask for.   



The Next Year: did you drop this word

 

I found a word
  on the floor (aunque)
     Did you drop it?
         Was it something else
      I said expecting full
   acknowledgment?
A truck disappears
  over the transom
     Another fly's
        confusion leaking
     into the light fixture
  Is that an answer?
     Did you drop it
        to augment
     the daring validity
  you were after
     when thank you
        & goodnight's
           the oral tradition
        an argument can't tell?
     Telephone takes
  participants.
There's an animal
  on each end of
     the leash & the most
        complex knots
           are only adornment
        from which one
           might assemble
              the transitory awe
                 it takes to justify
              calling anything
           without a frame
              picturesque
           An awful image
        trailing its imagination
     around like a mute
        child asks if
     I'm holding something
  besides my own hand
     Poor architect
        pitiful inventor
           you can be god
        of your very own
     library, call reference
        a sham, shake a huge
           finger at interlocutors
              interrupters, intangible
                 elisions & ineffable
                    abstract evasive
                 comportment, can
              even be a grove
                 of trees if you
                    carve out ground
                 enough to plant them
              So what! Me too!
           Would that a pile
              of leaves were
           an excuse for stomping
        so thoroughly through
     rhythmic decay's mess
        of the day. Trumpet.
           Kick drum. Snare.
              Trumpet. That's a
           directive not ambiguous
        aversion. In an hour
     I'll move my car
        forward ten feet
           All hail self-congratulatory
              autonomy! If I had
                 claws. If I had paws
              If I spend a month
           sculpting the soft folds
        of a flower's perfect
     representation
        then we know beauty
           wants us to make
        more of it, which is
     not art, newspapers
  or exchange, but
     the role an indifferent
        actor has in performative
           grace. Adjectives mucking
              up expression, mauling
                 the flower with its own
              thorns. Vibrancy spills
           over the view from
        my apartment because
     I want it to
        A dog answers
           to the intonation
        not the name
     I don't mean this
  as an aphorism
where narrative
  sunrise gives narrative
     seasons the tune
        whistled to chop
           a quarter-hour
              off of narrativity's
           chokehold. A poem
        is not a song. It's not
     a pastime. It's not
  a person pretending
     culpability is excused
        by plucking a few
           heartstrings or
              fantasizing radical
                 critique as the new chic
                    I love the moon
                 but that's not it either
              For one gloriously
           troublesome moment
              an ant's forgotten why
                 it's hauling a breadcrumb
                    It's the moment after this
                 one's getting warmer
              How did I hurt your ear?
                 You sang in it
                    Attention citizens
                       I'm not plural
                    Modern alienation
                 that isn't indifference
              but abundance asks
           how many decent poems
        do you know
     about renting DVDs?
  How many original ideas
can you come up with
  as another example
     of urgency's inability
        to mount to the wall
     anything worth a look?
  Are you against observation
     outside removing yourself
        so far nothing
           remains save degrees
              Dear snowfall
           around a streetlamp
        how radiant am
     I collapsing without
  a thruway to make
     headway in the
        way home is
           a fictitious kill switch
              wired to all the adieus
           of actually having
        somewhere to go?
     Is it better to
        build a machine
           than to see one
        dissolve gracefully?
     The most substantial
  thing I've done is
     eating. A cop says
        "What are you doing
     on this corner?" I say
  "Changing my life!"
     Attention Citizens
        I'm not plural
     (you've said that already)
  A poem runs the risk
of being meaningfully
  a little case study
     illustrating what
        one can fit inside
           Is it ambition blinds
              our bird not wanting
           a worldly thing to do
        with it but better
     (bitter) poems, trading
  a post in the kingdom
of narcissistic vanity
  for some horse feed?    
     Mental action's menial
        task, too many removes
           too much mask. Would
              that Joan of Arc stood
           in awe at water trickling
        its tiny-cog-in-the-big-
     machine reminder down
        the shower drain. Would
     that baby in the bathwater's
  a fast acting epiphany
for anyone willing to
  pull the plug on cliché
     It's not that I don't
        have the patience
           for an image; it's that
              I can't imagine one
                 without a jolt into
              the actual world
           which is who knows
        how far from where
     we've wound up—here
  staring at ink stains
     to elicit whatever it was
        the window wouldn't
           A century of alienation
              assaulting drainage
                 systems. The real
                    history of the lyric's
                 what we do with our
              runoff until a garbage
           truck rumbling by
              wakes our bird too early
                 with the thought
              a city's everything
           outside a citizen
        An objective correlative
     for the ethical obligation
  to account for one's time
     or the Latinate slurry
        of a mind in a hurry?
           Our cab driver calls it
        corruption with flowers
     refuses another poem
  about them & refusal
blossoms into haywire
  tightrope mystique
     meeting best first thought
  under revision's house arrest
rejecting fashionably
  our hypotactic mess
      Thus the explainer's
        containment & container
           I point out the window
        or at the window
     I point out the window
        or at the window
           Balmy architecture
              in place of abstraction
           placing us permanently
        on the periphery
     of the present or
  presently in the
impermanence of talk
  filling the hallway
     as though the tentative
        aggression of a hand
           testing each knob
              turns on its head
                 the metonym that's
                    otherwise & always
                 blah, blah, the body's
              literary device for
           the production of money
        where the people
     march in your poem
        (good for you, let them)
           The people march
        in your poem, enamored
     by the fat police
  grown thin. The people
march in your poem
  enamored by the fat
     police grown thin
  as the prostitutes therein
Good for you
  praise the day, every
     act in your poem's
  a consensual exchange
Good for you
  praise the day, rub
     the cocks & cunts
        of your poem all
           over the polis, all
        over the police, all
     over the marching people
Is there ever a point in cultivating nostalgia? It's not something you water & watch grow. It just happens, hits like a thought. No, that's something you build. I guess I mean it's void of fulfillment, though even that's dubious ground & who'd want to stand outside waiting for the day's instructions? You don't cater to them by letting them prance around full of self-absorption. Statues know they're statues & there's no dignity in that. One might go on & on to a fault & still feel there's a bit of the circle one's forgotten to fill in. It's the geometry to planning out a life & then remembering it was math that held you back in the first place. The addition of a blanket drying on a clothesline in the sun. A porch umbrella locked to a banister. They're not exactly the images of thinking, but they're here in front of me, saying, Look, can't you see the shape of your own head without staring at yourself. Reflections. I'm through with reflections. It starts to amount to something, some kind of big oak door in the way of where you think you need to be & then you're back at home, in bed, regretful for never having tried the handle, if there even was one. Self-conscious as a mockingbird. That's the human point of view for you, always ascribing worth to whatever fits into its own agenda. So what if the weather tears a big hole into your expectations. Is it wrong to wait under an awning until the world gets interesting again? Is it wrong to make a list so you can have the momentary pleasure of crossing things off? Isn't pleasure, like rain, always momentary? I wonder if this is a route to getting beyond one's understanding. The worst dichotomies become the most ubiquitous affirmations. You unfold a thing to feel it I suppose, & then you might cringe or lunge under a table. The mouse probably thinks you're the abrasive one. So why don't we let more things happen instead of treating all of it like a puppet with our hand stuffed into its guts? Is this what glamorous really means? The right light revealing every stitch, that it's all an aborted attempt to try & tailor the way the background looks. I mean you're not even supposed to notice what goes on to the left or the right. It's the center that matters & there's never anything meaningful in that. Someone on the bus has his knee pressed against your own, & you know he's cognizant of it, almost saying worship me, I'm my very best emperor. I used to see the same man several times a week press himself against teenage boys on the train in Boston. Once, I saw him do it to someone in line at the grocery store. It's sad when desire is revolting. I'm better suited to smaller things, but then I'm outside the subject again. There's the immediate oddity of discovering a plaque on a pedestal in the park on a path you'd never taken before, & trying to figure out why someone had chosen this particular spot, but is it different if I'd said finding instead of discovering? My friend Marcus loves to point out moments in film when the boom mic appears at the top of the frame. I guess artifice is exciting if you don't expect it. Fireworks on an off day, which is not a metaphor. Language can be efficacious if you let it wilt a little. That's the better part of desire, to wear your own house like a turtle. Forgive neighbors. Forgive strangers. Forgive bank tellers forced into small talk. There's no significance in forming the dots into an image of your own eye, but we sure waste a lot of time in doing it. Lately, it feels like trying on what you'd never wear or planning a trip you're not going to take. Adventure is overrated. That's why I'm obliged to think art is work.
I take this
obligation
seriously
& then set
it down
with the
same care
given a
porcelain
statue one
needs move
before wiping
the table
& placing
an apple there
Call it the long afternoon made longer when one's attempt to eke from it some modicum of joy, however intangible, gives way to the internal pressure of having to produce a monument to the same effort. This is to say it's only good enough to enjoy eating that apple if the enjoyment is recorded, played back, and tinkered with so endlessly the act becomes a self-consumption, wherein one feels as though led by one's own consciousness toward the weakly-fortified core at the exact center of the self, and forced all the while to carry aloft a banner that reads: Experience eats alive our desire to drive it toward meaning. All day the winds rise & fall, rise & fall, & all day the words flap above you, a cruel taunting gesture, as though you, yourself, were nothing more than text beneath a poem's title, a poor elaboration of a poor adage made poorer still by want of reaching its conceit. And once there, once windows have been shuttered, doors locked, every light dimmed, once the now deserted streets at the center of this place seem in their desolation to be baring the collective teeth from each absent face in your general direction, & the banner, now beaten threadbare, trails like the softest of shackles behind you, who is to say if it was worth it, if such crossings & counter-crossings, so much chiasmic flurry, all the little fits & starts that sent you off only to call you in again at the height of pleasure, who is to say if all this babble, all these finely tuned phrases, all the words trued with a watchmaker's temperament, if all of it were worth trading for the act from which it sprang, if you wouldn't have been better off biting into the apple without the burden of accounting for how you'd later abandon the core.

 

 

 
 

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