Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000

Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000

by Peter Dale Scott


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Minding the Darkness: A Poem for the Year 2000 by Peter Dale Scott

Minding the Darkness completes one of the most exciting trilogies of our time, which began with Coming to Jakarta (1989) and Listening to the Candle (1992). Minding the Darkness is the final volume of Peter Dale Scott's landmark trilogy, following Coming to Jakarta and Listening to the Candle. It brings to a stunning, triumphant conclusion a remarkable and sui generis poem. "There is nothing quite like these books," as the American Book Review remarked: "Scott's trilogy, only two-thirds completed as yet, is certain to be one of the most remarkable and challenging works of our time." The apogee of Scott's long hypnotic epic poem about the political and the personal, and their darkly powerful relationships, Minding the Darkness gathers extraordinary energy by way of its Poundian collage and tight three-line stanzas. With riveting images and eerie, accumulated juxtapositions, Minding the Darkness fully bears out James Laughlin's opinion that "Not since Robert Duncan's Groundwork and before that, William Carlos Williams' Paterson, has New Directions published a long poem as important as Peter Dale Scott's."

He can achieve the quiet authority of the best later Williams. (The Times Literary Supplement [London])

Real poetry, visionary and complex. (The Washington Post)

There's nothing quite like these books.... certain to be one of the most remarkable and challenging works of our time. (American Book Review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811214544
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 09/15/2000
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.69(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


"When Tao does not prevail in the world, war horses thrive in the suburbs"

                                                                —Tao Te Ching 46

"The Last Law is the time of the destruction of the teaching"

                                                       —Lotus Sutra, Chapter XIV

"When you see the blackness like this, then you will know this blackness is the
beginning of your work."

                                                           —Mirror of the Philosophers

"Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst/Das Rettendeauch" ("Yet where danger is,/Grows also
what saves")

                                      —Hölderlin '52 216-17; Heidegger '49 255-56


If you want to change your life
              burn down your house

         Before we left for the beach

Ronna took off her rings
              placing them on the basin
         to be safe like her other possessions

the hot offshore winds
              meant it was warm and cool
         as we waded on the wet sand

through the agitated air
              a day that was just right
         Ronna rehearsing her solemn

procession toward me
              one arm crooked up
         on her imaginary father's

the other with an imaginary bouquet
              surrounded by frisbees
         a day happy enough

to forgive one's karma
              forget that of others
         under a blue sky

which as we returned
              over the Devil's Slide
         was divided like a flag

half blue half ominous black
              the dense smoke a message
         to speed home

over the Bay Bridge
              to the miles-wide storm cloud
         increasing in darkness

fringed with dots of flame
              until it was almost night
         headlights the sudden emergency

warning our freeway was CLOSED
              towards the house where
         (we did not yet know this)

Cherry our unsuspecting
              house-mate from Taiwan
         had just narrowly escaped

through a burning rain
              of eucalyptus leaves
         with no more than her stuffed bear

and a few yards up the street
              eight people burned to death
         rivulets of metal

from their melted cars
              over the burned asphalt
         We were the last to make it through

we heard from one survivor
              who had jumped in the back
         of a stranger's pick-up

in the hushed exchanges
              as we waited for coffee
         next morning at the bed-and-breakfast

with nothing to do that day
              but to tell our tales
         (the woman two doors down

had loaded her car to the roof
              and now it was too late
         to go back inside

and find her car keys)
              tales that were fragments
         The fourth afternoon

we were taken there
              in an Oakland police car
         a wreath where our neighbor died

and the thick layer of ash
             (Could this be all our books?
         the stove? the refrigerator?

the two sets of china?)
              as unpossessed
         as the Huron potsherds

in the black corner of an autumn field
              the burnt tiles of that Roman villa—
         impossible to explain this

for a world not fully mindful
              that we all must die
         In a bravura gesture

of letting-go
              Ronna took out her key
         and threw it back to the Devas

we were taken away
              the three of us crying
         like ancient warriors

or pre-adolescents
              dry sobs that since
         have come back in therapy

divorce my mother's death
              choked us that week
         at each glimpse of the naked hillside

as labile as children
              who have not yet the illusion
         we are in control

dazzled and shattered in turn
              by the ominous beauty
         of say a sunset under rainclouds

from which it was a relief
              to go back to teaching
         Pound's tears at Pisa

watching the spider at work
              the tent-peg's moving shadow
         the moon through laundry

to the nine-through-fiveness
              of a twentieth century
         the unquestioned defense of a self

as if in one week
              we had lived two different ages
         two habits of living

the comfort of Culture
              more easily destroyed than preserved
         versus Dasein face to face

with its original nakedness
              the two irreconcilable
         except when caught off guard

my cheek unexpectedly wet
              from reading in the Chronicle
         of Tibetan prayer flags

from the remains of trees San Francisco Chronicle 11/29/91


They do not know me
        but swarm to the bread
   I toss out by the creekside

the brash ones supping at my feet
        even the shy one
   my heart goes out to

cocking his head at me
        from behind the elm-trunk
   Why is it so much harder

to gain the understanding
        of friends?
I wonder
   having once again escaped

to eat here alone
        from the crowded tables
   of Faculty Club colleagues

one of them (far more intelligent
        than most in his field)
   having just really hurt me

in the midst of my unaccustomed
   by calling my big speech

over twenty years ago
        in the Greek Theater
   for closing the university

in response to the Cambodian invasion
        (my swan song as it were
   to the collapsing Movement)

your eulogy of Pol Pot!
        What hope for human discourse?
   I can feel no loss

that my best political files
        have all burned
   if their message is too complex

even for close Harvard-educated
        friends with Ph.D.'s
   But in a world so ill-governed

one cannot as Socrates said
        think much of its teachers
   just as the birds' presence

here in front of my shoes
        does not make them disciples
   their calculated trust

not so commendable
        as I once believed
   For six months the Cousteaus

fed a sea-otter at Monterey
        and then when they had left
   it came up to someone else

who shot it
        We who live in cities
   like to talk of nature

and ecological balance
        of deeper patterns
   than what we see

miraculous stories
        usually from far off
   of a ferry going down in flames

a dolphin rescuing a survivor
        We want to believe them
   when we see the TV news

Serbs shelling Dubrovnik
        dozens of buildings destroyed
   scenes which one week ago

revived the survivors' guilt
        I have carried since World War II
   that humanity is the problem

that this century's disasters
        anticipated by Nietzsche
   a convulsion of earthquakes

wars the like of which
        have never been seen on earth
followed not from weakness of the will

but from its opposite willful
        disruption for sake of profit
   of small-scale ecosystems

we thought four years of drought
        last year's heavy frost
   the dead hillside eucalyptus

were all somehow unnatural
        that with a native cover
   of redwood and live oak

we might have been spared the fire
        the ash which has killed the fish
   in Lake Temescal

from my books my car
        from thirty-three hundred homes
   many more than Dubrovnik

barely a soupçon
        of what happens in modern wars
   and yet enough to give us

what most Americans have forgotten
        a taste of what it was like
   to endure the burning

of Washington or Atlanta
        or as ten years later
   my mind restored by distance

to its usual thinking
        secure in denial
   can read of the first millennium's

earthquakes followed by fires
        when London and Oxford burned
   Hamburg and Córdoba

in one hour laid waste
        inspiring a monk
   (Alas the great city!)

to warn of perilous times
        covetousness stalks abroad
   the whole human race

sliding into the gulf
        of primeval chaos

   having seen annihilation

can one believe again
        in Wordsworthian ministries?
   odd how much time there is

now my car has melted
        I have less control of my life
   and my life less over me

I don't keep up
        as much as I used to
   even these chickadees

are too nervous for me
        there is no answer here
   a quick flutter in the stream

and they are gone


I believe in enmindment
        the translation of light
   into awareness of the dark

and understanding of that fear
        we return to
   whenever we forget

Last autumn the brilliant
        sunsets of deep merlot red
   from Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines

sensuous in the distance
        if also ominous
   a reminder of how much

urbanization deludes us
        to think we control our lives
   peasants under a volcano

know perhaps better what they are doing
        as they plant their rice in furrows
   than Ronna and I who lived

among a lifetime of belongings
        we thought (wrongly)
   we could count our own

and then through the weeks
        I sifted the meager ashes
   vainly for her diamond ring

that lifetime complacency
        suddenly converted to
   the opposite much older nostalgia

we can control nothing
        a reminiscence of childhood's
   uncontrollable disasters

and finally a humbled insight
        about moments in time
   not being strung together

for you to rely on
        as did the Enlightenment
   inspired by science to engineer

new projects for humane
        and rational community
   whose failure now in Eastern Europe

has been followed so soon
        by the resurgence
   of old hatreds too long denied

churches destroying churches
        with that rage aroused uniquely
   by visions of peace

divine Leninist or pragmatic
        from the seminary the Sorbonne
   or the National War College

but humbled and liberated
        by the fluke of fire
   one has the perspective to see

that the Enlightenment
        was so much more constricted
   and unenlightened than we had thought

needing to define
        and then eradicate
   any available demon

church state or class
        to explain why the world was not
   what we intended it to be

the brightness of Voltaire
        who mocked Dante
   for having made Virgil say

his parents were Lombards
        (exactly the same as
   if Homer were to announce

he had been born a Turk)
        the Voltaire who was sure
   he knew better than they did

what was good for the Jews
        and who died cursing
   écrasez l'infame

behind the Soviet philanthropy
        which sought to eradicate faith
   by use of an Inquisition

and also that of the West
        and its priesthoods of social science
   who after decades of pressing

unwanted dams and military
        torturers on the Third World
   have helped liberate the Soviet Union

for a new world order
        of Schumpeterian destructiveness
   whose outcome is not yet

the zeals of the early
        and the late Christianity
   the early they died for

the late they killed for
        still driving Enlightenment's
   late crusades against infidels

in the name of revolution
        or (in our local dialect)
   economic development

Thus now to overlook
        the zeals of Enlightenment
   would contribute to its decay

just as to fault enlightenment
        for its lack of kinship with the dark
   is to think critically once again

I believe in enmindment
        and poetic politics
   the intuition of an agenda

not just from the past
        still less from some nihilistic
   assertion of pure possibility

but from the familiar silence
        of a source beyond self
   accessible to anyone

liberated from possession
        like Ronna and myself
   now my best files from two decades

are ashes on a hillside
        I can look to Dante
   who precisely because

he was a parte per se stesso
        exile and fugitive
   seeking a path between

the ordinata caritas of faith
        and the Kantian sapere aude
   (the heroic pursuit of knowledge

that led Odysseus to drowning)
can speak to us

Table of Contents

Afterword by the author245

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