The new collections by America's greatest experimental poet.
- New Directions Publishing Corporation
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COMPANY OF MOTHS
By MICHAEL PALMER
A New Directions BookCopyright © 2005 Michael Palmer
All right reserved.
The ship-what was her name, its name? Was it The Moth? Or The Moth that Electrifies Night? Or The Moth
that Divides the Night in Half in its Passage toward the Fire? The fire of forgetting, that is,
as we remember it, while in the scatter song of dailiness as it eddies out
near turns to far, beeches, red cedars and oaks dating to the revolution, and a few long before, suddenly in unison are seen to fall,
for so somewhere it is writ. And your project abandoned in fragments there beneath the elements,
the snow of the season enfolding it, the flames of the season consuming it, improving it: Hashish, the tales it
tells, the scented oils and modern festivals, the sphinx-like heads and the shining ornaments for ankle, waist, neck and wrist,
dioramas, cosmoramas, pleoramas (from pleo, "I sail," "I go by water"), the hierophant in wax, the iron and glass,
the artificial rain and winds, mosaic thresholds, all of this bathed from above in diffuse light.
We share the invisible nature of these things, our bodies and theirs. And the moon did not appear that night.
to the memory of a suicide
Of this photograph no one has taken
Eyes both a veil and sexual organ The play as they alwayssay
of light against shadow first light then shadow then the shadow-play
Is it in color or black and white?
Yes it is in color or black and white
There are leaves drifting down, a tiny skiff prepared to embark
across the waters of a painter's studio toward a tower of clouds beyond the glass
The scatter of things
the room choking on pages and the torn remnants of pages
No one to answer the telephone's ring (Dearest Reader are there still phones still rings?)
They are afloat the two of them in a sea of something
or perhaps they are drowning or waiting for the wind to gather them up
into a palinode, a canticle, a stanza
If she has a question will it go unasked?
(Are there still questions and questions unasked Dearest Reader from the future-past?)
Berries brilliant orange on the hawthorn this Wednesday late November
Blurred wing at the edge of the frame
Eyes unfocussed lost in her thoughts as they always say
Eyes at once fixed and in motion
gilded aleph emerging from her mouth mouth emerging from her mouth
So, it's claimed, an age begins
This photograph no one has seen offers itself in evidence
We breathe in, we do not think of it. We walk and we speak
beneath the blue-flowering trees and do not think. We breathe.
We cross the stone bridge above a fisherman in a skiff.
We pass the blind man, the legless man and the woman who sings of a coming storm.
We sit by the river in the rising wind, we raise the crazed cup to our lips
and do not think, here where the light does not differ from dark,
here where pages tumble to the floor, here in the lake of ink, the stain of ink
where we fashion a calendar from a wall. Invisible lake, unreachable shore.
Exhale and do not think. Close their eyes a final time close our eyes.
to Faraj Bayrakdar
What of that wolfhound at full stride? What of the woman in technical dress and the amber eye that serves as feral guide
and witness to the snowy hive? What of the singer robed in red
and frozen at mid-song and the stone, its brokenness, or the voice off-scene that says,
Note the dragonfly by the iris but ask no questions of flight, no questions of iridescence?
All of this and the faint promise of a sleeve, the shuttle's course, the weave.
What of these? What of that century, did you see it pass? What of that wolfhound at your back?
Untitled (February 2000)
The naked woman at the window her back to you, bowing the violin
behind the lace curtain directly above the street
is not a fiction as the partita is not a fiction
its theme and variations ornaments and fills
not a fiction as the one-way street still
wet from all this rain is no fiction
and nakedness not a fiction. It reads us like a book
as we listen to its music through milky eyes wide shut.
And what does this fiction think of us? The rain, the notes, both softly fall.
Slight errors of intonation do not matter in the faded green
notebooks where we record these things, and conceal other things.
What's the name of that tree, anyway, with yellow flowers, small silver leaves,
planted in the concrete-I used to know.
As for today, Leap Year Day, the window was empty.
Untitled (July 2000)
The painter with no memory paints the very thing
before him, this corner and its web, this clock with its hands
frozen at five, neither day nor night. Singing wordlessly
he paints the red and the green, the shape, the sharpness of the thing,
the clear line of the lover's chin, the one who will betray him.
He thinks: to pass through needle's eye. Spiraling juniper, threaded, illegible
sky, arbutus past flower, groundsel, wild columbine. And at the turn
of the breath it is so, and so: It peers blindly through the eye,
it is white, not quite white and is heard through the eye.
And the blossoming of dust, phosphorescence of bones,
transfigured flight of geese. The painter with no memory
paints the single thing she sees, this ballast of stones,
ladder of mottled glass, oval face, ashen-eyed, the dance
of the thing and its name, lost limb and its shadow,
small paintings all of these, each one the same.
The Turn (December 2000)
So it is the lift, the shifting of earth, the turn So it is the pleasure of green, so simply,
we think, and the singing of stones So it is the same mountain, yet otherwise-
yet not entirely otherwise, slant logic of the half-torn, final leaf,
twig across a sickle moon wobbling in the nightbreeze,
and your moment of wild speech, while dying So the closing of eyes,
then the coining of eyes What color were the eyes
So it is the same house of wood and pitted tile,
ringing of keys, yet otherwise It is the pleasure of things,
disappearance of things, odd feel of those things
turned in the hand this way and that,
remembered by the hand, the winding of the steps,
turning of the page, the book and setting the book to one side
and adjusting the light, fiddling with the light,
setting of the book aside It is a kind of memory of the book,
a blank book, edges cuffed, book lying open and shut
Company of Moths
We thought it could all be found in The Book of Poor Text, the shadow the boat casts, angled mast, fretted wake, indigo eye.
Windows of the blind text, keening, parabolic nights.
And the rolling sun, sun tumbling into then under, company of moths.
Can you hear what I'm thinking, from there, even as you sleep? Streets of the Poor Text, where a child's gaze falls
on the corpse of a horse beside a cart, whimpering dog, woman's mute mouth agape
as if to say, We must move on, we must not stop, we must not watch.
For after all, do the dead watch us? To memorize precisely the tint of a plum,
curve of a body at rest (sun again), the words to each popular song,
surely that would be enough. For are you not familiar with these crows by the shore?
Did you not call them sea crows once? Did we not discuss the meaning of "as the crow flies"
one day in that square-station of exile-under the reddest of suns? And then, almost as one, we said, It's time.
And a plate shattered, a spoon fell to the floor, towels in a heap by the door.
Drifts of cloud over steeples from the west.
Faith in the Poor Text. Outline of stuff left behind.
"The rats outnumber the roses in our garden. That's why we've named it The Rat Garden."
A discussion of the sublime ensued. Aunt Klara served her ginger-peach tea. At ninety-six, many of her parts still worked. "It is life that should inspire fear, not death," she would say, quoting the Dietrich once again.
It was the first May Day of the new millennium, though no one could recall what that day meant. "Perhaps it is the day when the rat lies down with the rose," tiny Perdita remarked. All were aghast, as these were the first words she had ever uttered.
The skywriters were active that near windless day, their most frequent message, in cursive, "Rats Rule!" Slowly the letters would thicken and belly out toward the east, then dissolve into illegible smoke.
The sun declined; the mayflies made their entrance, and the sedulous bats.
Then the great evening feast was placed before us: pea soup with pork knuckle; the little elver, baby eels, almost transparent, quickly boiled and served with mashed turnip; and of course the goose, stuffed with Nuremberg sausage, chestnuts, onion, chopped carrot and cream; and finally a Black Forest cake, that baroque confection of chocolate, whipped cream, sweetened cherries and kirsch.
It was over coffee and brandy, as the evening drew to a close, that Uncle Johann suddenly blurted out, "I'm sorry, I know I'm a terrible poet." At that moment Perdita formed the second sentence of her inchoate life, "All poets know they are terrible."
Figures, what do they know in those old books, asleep
in those brittle books? What do they dream on the locked shelves, in The Book of Signs
and The Book of Delights, Queen Dido's book, and the book we sought but couldn't find?
Bright archive, sad merriment, those waters that once we bathed in,
spine against spine, their banks lined with the smallest of flowers, pale blue.
Did you see them, darting beneath the eaves? Hear them, right before night?
Should we share a breath or maybe two with the ghost of the future, the slant rain,
the brindled rose, the keeper of the code? What do they know
with their sealed lips, scattered limbs, of the books that they rewrite?
Therefore the choir, underneath Therefore our work books, our waste books
and the dazzle of the streets, the rigged lotteries and the too bright, speech-cancelling hours
Therefore the hand's thought, throat's thought of promises and passages
singing ourselves away (Can you hear the changes, can you,
first words, earliest, almost empty names, tuned thread Adriana spins
up there at the dusty edge?) And our bass player's from Montana
or Milwaukee, or some kinda smack And so the tolling, the teeming shore
and the woman lying naked, curled within the belly of an owl
We'd monitor her dreams if we could across the starry night,
Good Ship Vertigo sliding through shadow, blossoms of phosphor in its wake
Today, they claim, light has been brought to a stop and stored, then sent upon its way
Therefore the bell bird, the clockwork carousel, and the breath's turn-which way?
for Rosmarie and Keith
A wind had cleared things out, stolen things. Had swept down the stairwell, it was that dark and late, dark field with swirling dots. Mass of summer stars, window shattered, all pages gone, all pens, all amulets, lists, all machines but one. How will you now read in the dark? asked the pyrographer. Where will you place your hands, how hold your arms? How hobble, how step from wall to wall? How gather in images forthwith? How focus the eyes, draw a comb through your hair, fix your gaze on the missing thing? How listen, where dwell? Once more, once more, said Khlebnikov. And that was all. Things were years. Idea of light, of flesh, of thought. Stolen things.
Excerpted from COMPANY OF MOTHS by MICHAEL PALMER Copyright © 2005 by Michael Palmer. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Michael Palmer (1942-2013) was a physician and bestselling writer of medical thrillers. One of his best-known books, Extreme Measures (1991), was turned into a movie starring Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Gene Hackman. He is alleged to have decided to try to write a book after reading a medical thriller by a fellow Wesleyan graduate, and thinking "If he could do it, why couldn’t I?" His books have been translated into more than 30 languages.
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