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On Returning from a Trip to West Virginia The Father Brings his Daughter a Jar of White Lightning or Sicilian-American Tough Love
'... All I got was this lousy moonshine,' you say,
but something in that clear-standing liquefaction magnified by the curvature of its jar talked of intimacy as a mischief, an in-joke;
it was a nod to yes as much as nod to no,
a blessing to moody, monstrance to happy;
assent to you as son, as much to you as daughter.
Less than thirty days old, the moonshine dreaming the tank of some hillbilly bucket of rust jacked up on bricks with catchweed for blinds,
was as limpid as ether, forty percent pure;
it was as ominous as the devil's bathtub gin,
its depths of ions sparkled, its gases rose,
explained by spilt light. World, be pleased with what you throw. Amazonian tribesmen,
warily, wade the river to be offered gifts.
A trio of craters gaping a hundred meters wide surfaces, in North Siberia. And here is love in its plainest state, securing its vapours with a screw-thread, marked at eighty proof.
Cop Convo, Subtitles Only
This is my road, says the cop, this the next bend yawning.
This is my road that goes on and on.
I can swing around my long lazy Buick any time I choose and come after you. I can do what I want.
You act like you do what you choose, she says, like this is your road. This the immaculate camber from which you scrape the squashed skunk.
You sweep, you scrape. You need to keep it swept.
I pull you over, he says, you have on your fog-lamps and there is no fog. Those filaments hot with brilliance while all your other lights are off, though it is dark.
Most people keep on their lights in the dark.
Most people, she says, keep on all their lights.
I prepare always for an arcane weather.
The particles of darkness are another sort of fog. I probe another sort of dark. You do not know which sort.
This, he says, is my lamp's blue hysteria, encased in a bottle,
it is the light which beats harder the more I catch up.
Law, she says, is what burns the night blue,
our faces bluer. I wish your fog-lamps fog.
The World's First Photograph
Genesee River, 1890
Coax her out, said the men, from under that hat where her thoughts are embodied as forty-inch braids of which she will not yield to pride a single hair.
Offer rum, a jade ear-ring, to teach her the box-
for-stealing-light is not a portal to the next world.
Lead her from her threshold to the weathered albedo which is her prideful countenance.
Every word of praise a sliver of mirror laid flat to make a whole mirror. You are, they said,
the baggy-brimmed prophet of the Seneca and must not begrudge futurity its halo. They fed her
cube after cube of sugar, more rum, until she sat to stare out fear and have it look away throughout the century-long exposure, still as stone.
* * *
As if fear were a chemical, or fear and refusal in equal measure mixed with steams of bromine and acted as a soluble. As if the dark hangings and upholstery's warp yarn had risen through her or were struck upon another frequency.
As if fear, the chemical, mixed with the fumes of iodine and mercury and became one vapour and all that showed up on the plate was the ghost of a chair, bare of her barest trace.
As if the chair bore the shape of a vague presence sitting in it, but was as moonless as a moonless night. As if its carved claw-feet
gripped, gripped to hold in place only the spirit-image of her tiny feet a little off the ground.
American Rainstorm as Altarpiece
Emboldener of the bulb,
for this raw imminence, gratitude.
Storm, each phase of your sulk seems to have hijacked one of our three windows, light to left
and grey to right, black core at centre.
Glass had to be invented once these rivulets of rain were. All three of you crowd the centrepiece at last.
You are charcoal that smokes, that burns
however wet it is. The tall centre rolls up all your ardent darknesses –
it could be the light of Golgotha,
its creepy-crawly billow of soot like a clouding of insecticide
against the shallowing out of which you mutter softly to yourself.
First, a getting used to three. Then the hinges open on one.
Forgive us. We watch. We talk
with hushed, reverent voice behind one window. Soon, you'll be gone.
The engine of the world is reducing compression to tame you. Cyclone, cloud-crawler,
shoveller of the tall hotel and of everything in its path,
maker of new light, new air, new us,
above the brightening brake lights on the road climbing north.
Uncanoonuc Whose Cirrus of Light
I'd say the twelfth floor of twelve lost radio contact.
We were too high up, height-to-height with the mountain.
I would say the room belonged to the mountain in the fetch of which it looked. I'd say the room stood off,
gave room to the view, gave view to the mountain.
The roof-slope was made of window filled by sky,
such a cirrus of light which bulged and burned through glass all the way from Uncanoonuc, today free of mist.
There was a bed in the room which seemed a mile wide and we lay on the far side of its shore. There had been the darkening that had given us the shock of rain which when it ran its rivulets down the glass ran over us.
Then light poured back, and there was not only light but air enhancing its warmth to heat. Be calm,
be calm, said Uncanoonuc, first I give you dark and rain which makes you mysterious even to your own touch.
Then I give you light which inspects every crevice of room and draws from you this squint, this shrinking away.
Be calm, it said, be examined and be seen at length,
and be seen at height, be seen at breadth, be seen at depth.
To a Sliver of Sicilian-American Sky
You water a bramble on the State House lawn.
A punch, you say, is often tenderer than a kiss,
politesse the broken, look-down-its nose vase the day the green tea-makers run out of green tea.
An American highway's an alley choked with thorns,
you go in your pyjamas to breakfast at the café;
the bronze dog sheds its chains, and starts to growl.
The Men's Room kept for only men is as defunct as indoor rain that drums upon a ten-foot leaf.
You're sure when the convention comes to town and the lifts crowd with tattooed tattooists it's only you and I know how complexity breaks
the skin as a claw, in scarlets, greens and blues.
Who are tattooists, you ask, to speak of tattoos?
The Woman Among the Nerudas
I hunger for your sleek laugh
All the Nerudas muster, as if from nowhere,
like a flash-flood of doubles. There is not one of them who feels he does not own that lugubrious smile.
Each draws around him like an overcoat the air of I am the Neruda. Some great men, for security,
hire twenty men who look exactly like themselves.
Bonaparte's asylum-garden was crowded out with loonies in bicorns and tails. A similar purpose infuses the Nerudas: they blend and are safe.
This cloud of lookalikes seems to make it clear that your uncommon, very un-Chilean voice and umbrella which is firewalled and not grey down with the grey umbrella of caps might be the perfect Neruda, among the Nerudas, disguise.
What the Gulls Teach
This is the physical world, say the gulls, its reality is brusque,
its edges sharp and chaffing, its truths unnegotiable,
its gulls monsters of ego. They say the square and the air above it
is a vacuum sucking in gulls. They are drawn to its light,
how it shapes facades, has deep sides, and inclines all color towards the intensity of white. They say this is the light that has
their heads duck beneath their wings as if they are reptilian,
when they retch to get more voice. Their masks, they say,
are lit as they peer out of dark at the swamp of light
down into which they circle and yell, yell – do not be fooled by those that came before, those that come after. These are gulls that were and never will be such unholy mob ...
Most distant, most near, do you not hear these cries when they are so loud and when the show's for one night and when the square could be ocean the other side of which
you strain to listen, close your eyes? Did you know that gulls have been known to live for a hundred years,
that their ballyhoo dreams it is the rarest specimen
which extends twenty metres in each direction a leaf,
which separates out and opens over the square its petals,
which blooms in decibels, extends its many tongues?
Empath to the Punctured Kevlar Helmet
World is the head inside. The jump of the optic nerve.
Its Uzis are genteel. Its arbiters are deaf.
Add to it the lips that are less a grin than a grave.
Its guns hang like salamis. Though they are bereft of protein they somehow often seem to bleed.
They're tagged with the tenderloins. The new Pietà
is now only hands with no body to be lowered.
World is the otiose oils. It is the stigmata.
I am the lopsided and the flagrant heart pierced by all the needles the blowpipes blow.
World burns in my acids. It is too much fat,
too much glucose. I offer it a stomach that by now can only manage honeydew and cantaloupe;
I offer it hunched self, hair-fall. My baby tooth.
Ugly World to Empath
Your spinal reflex, coddling at its base the warmest ever spot,
so tiny, says: withdraw. It feeds your despair through the reed of the street-player's clarinet.
It is the mirror neuron, which looks at the war and finds a war more terrible looking back.
It is gene and cloned cell. Whatever littlest grief is a magnified self, which lowers, then cranes its neck.
Better, says the reflex, to feel nothing, if every cell in you is someone else's yell.
If the oily chain seems to make it hesitant the lift that heads down, heads up. It is full of black flowers. The narrow streets of existence are all tight corners and tall trucks.
They are both through-routes. And cul-de-sacs.
'... if you might be the one who'll find her,
she wore a red brooch on her coat,
it was an oval of stones with one stone missing,
she had a gap between her teeth;
her teeth looked big because her hair was short,
she had squeezed her plump toes into shoes which were at least a size too small
and as I let go, she let go of my hand,
and when I looked she was not there,
and counters were doors laid on their side and where she'd been there was just the store and the feet, the feet, so many feet making the floor creak like voices which were louder than any calling of my name
and the escalator, from the very top,
seemed to be empty of anyone at all where it plunged between floors,
went down through a darkness and appeared again and above the noise made the louder noise of its chains going round and round,
clacking on, clacking on, on and on.'
For the Vanishing Twin
Born of the same gene, though she died in the womb,
I imagine her, mother, as if she had lived so brittle of bone she was inclined to break twice each bone you never broke once,
to suffer migraines, panics and swoons,
to whistle a note before she slept and be seated, always, to the left of you,
and her whole demeanour, like yours,
be drawn to the gap between her teeth,
her trust of plainer clothes offset by your love of turquoise, yellows and pinks.
Every cold you did not catch she caught.
If you spoke abundantly for two she mimed to your words, hid in her hair,
as if disappearing she hid in her hair.
So robust, so calcium-rich, you fought to keep her with you for ninety years and to hold somehow inside your chosen name the names she never had which hung like strange chemises on the rail:
Esther, Emily, Emmeline.
Portrait in the Gaudi Mirror
As Gaudi had it, the curved line belongs to God and in his house no force can straighten it.
The man and woman, lost in its spaces, give the nod to the glass. The Gaudi house rolls in its shackles around them. It is less house than wave which buckles physics and seeing and seems to fill
itself with faces like these. Gingerly at first, they appear and smile into the length of the mirror.
They are strange but as they rise they certainly peer,
followed by torso and feet. They stand side by side,
her hair scooped the wrong way by the glass.
Then she stands alone, in space she has to wade,
one foot foreshortened. When she perches on the chair,
he turns his back and looks up.
They re-link as if at an altar. They disappear.
They reappear. They disappear. They reappear. They seem like a pleat in glass.
Old Arnolfini and his wife once posited a dream
of eternal wedding, tree at window, little dog.
That tree six hundred years later has barged into the room and filled it with a fog of blossom. It is his duck-tail, her hair tucked in her scarf,
you can just pick out in the mirror behind,
reflected tinily. This is their reliquary life.
Come, come, she says, tugging softly at his clothes,
we've manzanilla olives ... Shcwick!
goes his camera and the sepals of the shutter close to a peephole which as quickly springs back to rebuff all but the entirety of his face.
And the little dog, lost through the atoms, woofs.
The Chorus of the Fathers Addresses the Shuqualak Hermit
Give a cup of water, or die for someone.
Learn the minus-division, divide a foolhardy thirteen into a fretful one.
Speak or do not speak of thirteen men
who answered to the six men trapped in a crack of oxygen a thousand feet down,
which one end showed as much of their boots as the other showed of their heads.
Of the thirteen men who went down to save the six none came back up,
of the six trapped men, one crawled out.
In your solitude, your minus infinity,
you cannot do the mathematics of how a life of instinct chooses to serve the impossible decimal point of sacrifice.
A one hauls thirteen times its weight.
Divide thirteen into one. The outcome is less than one and starts with a zero.
You are the water-halt, the point at which the greater number is added or subtracted
and separates the living and the dead,
the zero into whom is divided these thirteen, these million ghosts.
Water reaches your royal taps, and power
your bulbs though almost all of them already have blown and only one burns enough light for you to dream you hear above the voices, the tap-tapping, in the pipes.
The Shuqualak Hermit Replies
'Of otherness I do not know how to talk in a roomful of talkative mouths among whom I sit without oars when a circle rotates a rowboat
when it spins the sky spins another hour of your life which spins another month and when whisky drinks them the voices rise up like a squall of fortitude
they will have to talk louder over waves of music which also talk I have been to the room before and felt a sentence run from lips and be lost
I thought how complex is this organism the most frightening in Creation which can make a hundred calculations while it raises a hand to its cheek
when it speaks, when it speaks pathways so many to the same place all at once sometimes eight of them hog a couch and my friend the hermit who has lived
alone in a shack was terrified I could tell by this state of being able to be seen as if it was a thing that was not him at all poor thing I think he thought he wished
to take it home again and let it rest he said the people and the room and talk were like a conference of bowling balls in a bag that could not keep its shape'
The Quince Tree is Finally Flowering
They all agreed I was sick. The one who was not theirs who knew bewilderment as a room with shelves.
Who knew the mother as the one who swapped looks with the father, who entered his look.
They crossed at too steep an angle, like sky that moved over too fast and brought with it clouds that darkened a whole field and then spilt light as if each change was a different day.
Should I run to the end of the garden which seemed to grow narrow and go on and on to where the father made an altar of my name as if his voice, his gravity, was not a priest's,
as if after he had spoken I would grow?
When I tried to live inside this boiling sound I felt the fit was perfect but that I could not be seen and laid out stones to prove that I was there.
The quince tree was, was not, in the garden.
It was there in green shadow. Was it there in its pale flames?
When I dreamt of it, every hair of every leaf spread a corona of alertness. But it was all green,
it was a lowliness of green. It was my life without a blossom's blind utensils. I loved to fondle the greenness of each leaf, soft in my fingers.
One night, the quince tree took me by surprise.
Excerpted from "Arcimboldo's Bulldog"
Copyright © 2018 Tim Liardet.
Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
On Returning from a Trip to West Virginia The Father Brings his Daughter a Jar of White Lightning or Sicilian-American Tough Love,
Cop Convo, Subtitles Only,
The World's First Photograph,
American Rainstorm as Altarpiece,
Uncanoonuc Whose Cirrus of Light,
To a Sliver of Sicilian-American Sky,
The Woman Among the Nerudas,
What the Gulls Teach,
Empath to the Punctured Kevlar Helmet,
Ugly World to Empath,
For the Vanishing Twin,
Portrait in the Gaudi Mirror,
The Chorus of the Fathers Addresses the Shuqualak Hermit,
The Shuqualak Hermit Replies,
The Quince Tree is Finally Flowering,
from Fellini Beach (1994),
A Spinster on the London Underground,
'Do Poor Tom Some Charity',
from Competing with the Piano Tuner (1998),
Mirror Angled at Sky,
Ways of Seeing with Heatstroke,
Lines to an Unemployed Actor,
Lapwing, Lark, Linnet ...,
The Tower of Pisa and the Mudflat Horses,
from To the God of Rain (2003),
A Futurist Looks at a Dog,
Laws of Probability,
Distiller's Unstable Daughter Explains her Absence from the Class,
The Deaf School,
To The God of Rain,
The Wasps' Nest,
Whisky Drinker Considers his Skirmish with Death,
In Italy (by Match-Light),
from The Blood Choir (2006),
For the Seven Hundred and Forty Ninth Species of Barbed Wire,
Spaniels in a Field of Kale,
The Blood Choir,
The Language School,
A Shithouse Reverie,
Why Dunwoody Smashed Every Pane of the Stained Glass Window,
At Dusk, You Can Hear the Men Calling,
from Priest Skear (2010),
Riding the Ghostly Velocipede,
The Living and the Drowned,
'... Sinking water, many many sinking water',
The Gap Between the Boards of the Pier,
from The Storm House (2011),
Like Slant Rain,
The Gorse Fires,
Versions of a Miserabilist,
The Law of Primogeniture,
Bucko in Love,
Deleted Scene (The Frog),
The Brothers Grimm,
A Portrait of My Grandfather in Drag,
'... Lay thee down',
from The Storm House,
from Madame Sasoo Goes Bathing (2011),
The Flame Trees of Trous Aux Biches,
Darwin in Maritius,
Madame Sasoo Goes Bathing,
from The World Before Snow (2015),
Self-Portrait as Drag-Field and Dark,
Self-Portrait as Shamdeo Talking to his Future Self,
Self-Portrait as Oxymoronic Love,
Self-Portrait with Hummingbird as Fingers and Tongue,
Self-Portrait as Old House Filling Itself with Furniture,
Self-Portrait with View of the Greater Chihuahuan Wilderness,
Self-Portrait with Flowershop Idyll and Nihilistic Love,
Self-Portrait with Goffstown Deep Black and Sun-Up Intensity,
Self-Portrait with Mary Ann Lamb's Akansas Toothpick,
Self-Portrait with Hiss and Rattle of Sleet,
Self-Portrait with Flames and Arapaho Bison,
Self-Portrait with Aquarium Octopus Flashing a Mirror,
About the Author,
Also by Tim Liardet,