You turned the peel in bare hands Grimaced at The limonene sting The universe unfurling How it imperfectly fell As if knowing became naked The embryo inside Weak as stained glass skin Theses days they put on chicken wire To bulwark the shore For glass houses and negligently cast stones When glory was a thing Broken easily in derelictions As if that were prayer But half sideways The emetus with a life of its own Written when I thought I died The sea exhaling all around That estuarine scour Of brine and diesel on the page Screwed it up - threw it away Read the impressions As if ink was thin as life – a tide Below, between machine ruled lines A few, illegible gouged words Relentless in their parallelograms Living in some now alien hand Tore it out but Irregardless of how much I erase It is the welt you left Littoral in reprise
The milk tastes off in wartime Clammy on the tongue Even when you are so distant You can hardly hear the metal bend You make galaktoboureko So thick the shape returns Wondering why Easter Falls in archaic calendars Each year on new days As if martyrdom were inexact in its demands I imagine Medea’s tears In thick and sweet and distilled stains When she learned she ate her young Time Is a wolf, you say And in one deft hand Break another egg
The prisoners have butterflies for mouths Teeth bared like burnt-out buildings They say exactly what we want – without undue coercion Just the slightest quaver Of the jaw and throat Where stubble hides the muzzled bruises We lied, we are wrong We came to drink your blood These are eyes not camouflage In haloes on our wings Here the children have hands of bone Bandannas over nose and mouth In the stench they forgot somehow to sing The sun is bright in vain Inviolate on the mountainside The studio has that flicker scent Of blitzkrieg and cigars when you are almost halfway up Back arched in trapezoid envy The sky is less steady than it seems Icarine- the too harsh blue Of interrupted broadcasts Looking up, we make new stars Name them in bravado See the smithereens Cascade in new intaglios On the surface of the eye Blink the warmth of tears Gravity has an equivocal grip When you are almost halfway down Knuckles raw as dinosaurs Feet arched in Quetzalcoatl torsions Sending hubris, sending love We will solve this war Like a misheard refrain That thick comforting savour Of something on the stove Notes played and played and played again Til, despite what we have heard What we hear is right What we hear now has Eternally been right ——
After the thaw
We gave dogs for the recovery
To gnaw burnt bones
With that slathered drawl
That brooks no interference
With the jut and fragmentary remains
Until all such blasphemies were gone
The numb colour
Of this too thin desecration
We are in the onramp’s hull
You and me, me and him
Earth and concrete carbon black
Cars stretch like the evening sun
Speared across the dregs of tarns
Rumble and are gone
As if a metronome
In distorted syncopations
Brayed a catastrophe laugh
The smeared window
To another world
Broken when you fell in
Dragged up again
In piecemeal resurrection
A coin flips from thumb to hand
As if there was any other choice
Monoxide dreams like rain
Your eyes watch the curtailed dawn
For a distant star
In them the fishhook sun
Pulls you awake again
A poet has no nation – excepting this Glory is not your word The petal shape Of a child’s anxious brow The adumbrate pane of self Sun warm against your arm Leant in that strangely desert face Of the sill’s soft craquelure Lead white and with the dirt Thick in seam and corner A mica fleck where one day (The window left half open) Something small may grow Once we are The long strides of morning Leaving curbs and fences In a shadow’s flicker wake
I whistle in rough kin To a camaraderie of magpies They return trilled warnings in reply As if to say you are no one That we know, a thief of songs Pied and clumsy As any bastard’s fledge We dispute the global south With that stalagmite part of speech You say it depends On which way you uphold the map I say words Are the same in any language Pulling flames like petals from the edge One for love, two for hate, and on Til bare husks are left Black and hard as any rasp Cracked, with a little salt Makes a beggarly repast You say these things are Almost the same I say, halfway home Smoke coiled between my lips They are almost different
We are all hostages. Start with an image from critic/philosopher John Berger’s 1973 documentary, Ways Of Seeing, which examined the changing construction, consumption and ideologies of art and image. Faceless selves sit behind a suave and sate young man adhered to by two adoring women. This is desire, glamour, prowess. It could be an ad for anything; here it is the power of credit, the pheromone of wealth. It is enticement and also threat. You can be the young man engorged with the latent force of capital, conversely, you could be nameless, faceless, impotent, with no imago at all.
Flip a coin. Here is cult of personality in the fetishised object of desire. The rose and tannin and bergamot, the compelling trace of decay unconsciously activating the basal ganglia. That death stench of ambergris preserved in oils and aromatics. This Is a warning, a threat, an uncompromising invitation. No need to give the year. The design and intent have not changed in a century. Add to it a label; type written on an aged strip of embossed linen paper.
We are captives. This is a ransom note. What it demands is nothing more than complete subservience to the carefully constructed image of the self.
Tear the page. Here is British photographer Richard Avedon’s 1958 portrait of an ageing Gabrielle Chanel. Grown old disgracefully. In that same iconic paint and couture, become a kind of mockery, a clown. The image torn from its prior state of careful cultivation. Become ragged. The locus of sensuality inviting now only that too thick lavender stench. The ambergris rotten. The exposed throat and chin with that wasting and vulnerable aspect of a beached and capsized cetacean. The behemoth picked at by swarming gulls in joysome, childish laughter. One imagines the entire carcass, roped and dragged like Gulliver, craned and submerged, slowly dissolving in the steel vats of some vast industrial process. This is also a ransom note.
Splashed across the grimed walls and monoxide spewing orifices of urban mass transport systems, leaching euphoric aldehydes from glossy magazine pages, are Barbara Kruger’s slogans. The stratagems of advertising are marshalled to a kind of bland political didacticism, posing as art. What is she selling other than the conventions of a mediocre, bourgeois ideology in the grain and bold of disposable newsprint. Tear it up.
In Barbara Graham’s mugshot, we strike almost the same note. But something more. Here is desperation, and fury, and beauty pared back to a few brute strokes. This Is Barbara Kruger’s ransom note, and obscured by that imprisoning montage, torn from some stray poem, a stray, unwieldy, transformative word; This Barbara Graham’s love note. “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”
Now, a word from our author – breaking the fourth wall, let me declare; I am quite old. A recent ophthalmograph revealed that I am short-sighted in one eye, long-sighted in the other. Thus, living in the blur not only goes some way to describing my aesthetic, but also my reality. The middle ground is a haze, up close – personal – expect an unrepentant perspicacity; from a far distance, a heightened perspective. I suspect, in this double vision, a deeper aetiology.
Here we focus on our two disparate, concluding images; This Is Barbara Kruger’s Ransom Note, and In The Dawn I Warn Myself Against The Dangerous Moonlight. The first is, although layered in its didacticism, eminently knowable. We know the exact time, the exact place; the stark inhumane light and subjectifying reality of a police station; the woman’s story – one of brutality given and returned – plain as the bruises on her face.
The other is eminently unknowable; we are told it is dawn, but is it? There is an alien, artificial quality to the sourceless light. The streetscape, silhouetted trees and Victorian water-tower, in sharp relief, could be almost anywhere. Montage, as Druckery says, is either discursive or dialectical; “The dialectical mission is to fuse fragments as concentrated form; the discursive one is to create fissures or interruptions in the established order.” (p.4) Where one unmakes the world, the other remakes it.
A hazy figure, by its garb, out of time, follows, but is divorced from itself. In the doppelgänger, Freud finds the returned imago of the self, once a reassurance of immortality, also “becomes the ghastly harbinger of death” (1919, p.9), evoking a sense of terror, of the uncanny.
The uncanny is evoked when the familiar is returned to us not only in unfamiliar guise, but outside of our ability to easily fit what we see into a sensible and apprehensible way of knowing (1919, p.16).
There is indeed something, uncanny, unknowable, something that unhomes us, that unmakes our understanding, between the burgeoning pre-dawn and the disoriented and disorientating figure. Here we have the familiarity and displacement of the dream. Between these two, the crumpled, ransomed woman, a narrative of hard facts and unrelenting sensation, and the unknowable figure haunted by an ungraspable, ersatz satellite, between the known and the unknown, is the eye, the gaze of the viewer.
After John Berger, we may say in one we have the prurience of the real – she “is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.” (1973, p.50) Defiantly returning our gaze, there is nothing like bruises to reveal her in her nakedness – the nakedness the viewer demands. This is an image that serves. It serves the state, the police, it serves systems of measurement, of commerce, of categorisation, of judgement, of plain, calculating reason. The other does not serve. In a kind of unprivileged object oriented ontology, the tower, bold as Tarot, the satellite, both star and moon and emblem, disrupt readily apprehensible meaning. In stark relief, have their own nature, their own irreducible agency, distinct from but intertwined in the fragility of orbit; it is the human, the anthropocentric, that, although originating both, nevertheless is out of place.
The first image, despite fraught sensation and ineluctable consequence (or indeed, because of them), draws us in to an all too human narrative. The second projects a frozen eternity, as philosopher Graham Harman said, such objects define “unified realities – physical or otherwise – that can not be reduced either downwards to their pieces or upwards to their effects.” (2014)
We, with the figure, are trapped in its dream.
Can we really divorce realities from the systems that have made them – think Frankenstein’s creature escaping into the tabula rasa of the arctic wilderness, where the dreams of objects are haunted by the ephemerality of their human originators – or is this just an anthropomorphised projection, a quirk of the ontologies and systems by which we assume, via a self-satisfied and overweening knowledge, a cold and haughty distance?
In pursuit of the self, unless we adhere to those carefully constructed and continuously blazoned parameters propounded by unconscious ideologues and the images and ideas by which we are all held hostage, there is now only a shifting blur of doubt. There are no good people. We are prisoners. With a fishhook mouth, and impotent hands, crumple this up and pin it to the sky. There is no room left for any other conclusion.
Berger, J (1973) Ways of seeing, BBC and Penguin Books, London
Druckery, T (1994) From Dada to digital; montage in the twentieth century, Aperture, Aperture Foundation, New York, https://archive.aperture.org/article/1994/3/3/from- dada-to-digital
Freud, S (1919) The uncanny, Strachey, A, trans. https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/freud1.pdf
Harman, G (2014) Art without relations, ArtReview, https://artreview.com/September-2014-graham- harman-relations/
The tv spills a cold, invasive blue I have an impression Of you walking on my spine As if I were an arc and cable bridge And you a monster movie freak Grown so large and petulant that None could help but fall The sea below hard and pliable as new discoloured bruises Tear it down, you say Crush them all beneath your unbound feet As if the stillness Before and after earthquakes Were merely punctuation Wrath is love, you write on the sky The moon moves farther away each year I still abide, calling in that silent way That I have always had She shrugs Cloud shadow, listens
You have the wary crackle Of radio in war time Uncertain of whom listens, and Whom exactly speaks In formal pronunciations Desperate and resigned As slowly burning ships What do you recommend For half-life —neither exactly Celebration, nor lament Mostly, perhaps At resolve’s inordinate delay A smirk, exasperated With brown sugar and cinnamon Baby’s breath, aspidistra, nectarines Gone overripe —soft As waning summer— For the intoxicating scent Arranged in a chimera Of cellophane as nauseating as breaking glass Well, we all have something to sell The static hard dismay Just perhaps not quite Drunk as wilted flowers Pretty but The stain indelible
Still the day, all lantern faced my name is carnival in alien respiration throat coiled and translucent my hollow, ringing accordion machines, and grace when the heart in moments repeats one note beauty in its revocations returns and is still