18 November 2013
I’m working my way back up to the mornings.
I was looking for something to say this morning, when I stumbled upon this quotation:
I think there is a general misconception that you write poems because you ‘have something to say’. I think, actually, that you write poems because you have something echoing around in the bone-dome of your skull that you cannot say. Poetry allows us to hold many related tangential notions in the very close orbit around each other at the same time. The ‘unsayable’ thing at the center of the poem becomes visible to the poet and reader in the same way that dark matter becomes visible to the astrophysicist. You can’t see it, but by measure of its effect on the visible, it can become so precise a silhouette you can almost know it.
– Rebecca Lindenberg.
Thank god for Tumblr. Without it, I never would have found this interview where the quote came from. I never would have found the quotation itself. I never would have worked out that Rebecca is an amazingly gifted writer, and that her first book was born out of loss at the disappearance of her partner Craig Arnold, who vanished in Japan while researching volcanoes.
McSWEENEY’S: Love, an Index can be read, in one sense, as an extended elegy. But it’s also a deeply affirmative book. Can you say something about the relationship between the two—elegy and affirmation?
LINDENBERG: You grieve someone because you love them. Grief sharpens the edge of that love to something excruciating. Love amplifies that grief to something deafening.
I think it is also important to remember that elegy is a story of change—elegy, true elegy, culminates in some kind of coming-to-terms. It can hold onto the affirmation without requiring the grief. Elegy takes our attachment and desire and longing and sublimates it into song.
In my life, flight has been measured in terms of what I’ve abandoned. My shoes have had wings, and the wings don’t get air miles because I don’t like to be tracked and I can’t juggle too many accounts that require checking-in often. Flight has been the next-best option to a sticking around for a fight. Flight can take form in the simple act of I am not listening anymore. A checking-out, a moving on. Flight is checking-in and checking-out.
Roots have always been the aspiration, but never the foundation. I’ve dug up plants just to get to where they started. I’ve been afraid of replanting because I don’t want to cut things off from their life source. I forget that nourishment doesn’t need immediate contact. I’ve always been fascinated by the roots of things until I got stuck, perpetually circling the moment just before things start, so that nothing gets started, and there is always too much choice.
In my life now, flight is freedom, and becoming, and exploration instead of escape. Roots are home, and ideas, and spreading.
I want to say something more about my own life, but I’m pretty captivated by Rebecca today. I’d actually just like to dive back in.
“Craig did not, I think, imagine he could ever live up to his own aspirations, but he lived by them nonetheless. And in his audacity, I have found permission—to take risks, to make attempts at truths, to trust my instincts, to listen for the language of things, to take on the mysteries that seem too unwieldy, too unmanageable, too impossible to ever hope to language, knowing you’ll never do it, believing that those vast, unlanguage-able things are still worth trying to write about—love, grief, death, gods, loss, the perplexity of trying to language love or grief (or Tuesday), and perhaps above all, the material transcendence of living in the world. And Craig, in all his audacity, always found these immense things in the most startling minutae—artichokes, grapefruits, moths. And he found mystery in a hidden bird, in a train ride, in a phone number. It was—and in his poems, it will always remain—a very powerful kind of magic. I’ll close with a poem in which, I believe, that magic is wholly evident. It is an unpublished poem, from the last collection Craig was working on when he disappeared in 2009—a collection he conceived after D.H. Lawrence’s tremendous Birds, Beasts, and Flowers—a book we both loved. – Rebecca Lindenberg, Poets on Poets
Very Large Moth
by Craig Arnold
Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
clatter about the kitchen is a bat
the clear part of your mind considers rabies the other part
does not consider knows only to startle
and cower away from the slap of its wings though it is soon
clearly not a bat but a moth and harmless
still you are shy of it it clings to the hood of the stove
not black but brown its orange eyes sparkle
like televisions its leg-joints are large enough to count
how could you kill it where would you hide the body
a creature so solid must have room for a soul
and if this is so why not in a creature
half its size or half its size again and so on
down to the ants clearly it must be saved
caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
afraid to crush it feeling the plastic rattle
loosened into the night air it batters the porch light
throwing fitful shadows around the landing
That was a really big moth is all you can say to the doorman
who has watched your whole performance with a smile
the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
we want not to hurt and prefer not to touch
I have to get ahold of these books.
Catalogue of Ephemera
You give me flowers resembling Chinese lanterns.
You give me hale, for yellow. You give me vex.
You give me lemons softened in brine and you give me cuttlefish ink.
You give me all 463 stairs of Brunelleschi’s dome.
You give me seduction and you let me give it back to you.
You give me you.
You give me an apartment full of morning smells—toasted bagel and
coffee and the freckled lilies in the vase on the windowsill.
You give me 24-across.
You give me flowers resembling moths’ wings.
You give me the first bird of morning alighting on a wire.
You give me the sidewalk café with plastic furniture and the boys
with their feet on the chairs.
You give me the swoop of homemade kites in the park on Sunday.
You give me afternoon-colored beer with lemons in it.
You give me D.H. Lawrence,
and he gives me pomegranates and sorb-apples.
You give me the loose tooth of California, the broken jaw of New York
You give me the blue sky of Wyoming, and the blue wind through it.
You give me an ancient city where the language is a secret
everyone is keeping.
You give me a t-shirt that says all you gave me was this t-shirt.
You give me pictures with yourself cut out.
You give me lime blossoms, but not for what they symbolize.
You give me yes. You give me no.
You give me midnight apples in a car with the windows down.
You give me the flashbulbs of an electrical storm.
You give me thunder and the suddenly green underbellies of clouds.
You give me the careening of trains.
You give me the scent of bruised mint.
You give me the smell of black hair, of blond hair.
You give me Apollo and Daphne, Pan and Syrinx.
You give me Echo.
You give me hyacinths and narcissus. You give me foxgloves
and soft fists of peony.
You give me the filthy carpet of an East Village apartment.
You give me seeming not to notice.
You give me an unfinished argument, begun on the Manhattan-bound F train.
You give me paintings of women with their eyes closed.
You give me grief, and how to grieve.