Saturday, February 5, 2011


Reading Promethea, still immersed in Li-Young Lee, but I'm about finished with him now (few more interviews in Breaking the Alabaster Jar), listening to a mix of Say Hi and Nine Inch Nails, and just now I was electronically flipping through an ebook of James Tate's Selected. Guess that's as much a lead-in as any.

"To Have"
(after Lee)

So we're brains in vats. Meanwhile, Whorf was right--
the Hopi do have ideas to teach us--
tenses are only constructions of our minds
so that we may understand each other.
There is no past, present, or future,
but rather a simple accruement of surety
a complex limitation of possibility,
like a train passing us by.

We stand here on the tracks
wondering about the trivial:

whose bedroom will we be in tonight,
whose life will we destroy?
And choo-choo comes the train.
We feel its wind on our faces
as it bluthers on into the night
and register it as the soft death-kiss of another's misfortune.

(after "Weapon for Liberty," Promethea 5)

So what if we've got it wrong? What if evolution doesn't work that way and in reality the hierarchy is flipped. Consider the following: the mind, that insubstantial beast fleeing away from the predator that is the material. And suppose we are simply the prey that was not quick enough. Everyone else got away. Escaped. Went on and out and left us behind in the realm of their bodies. So out goes Adam, naming, and condemning, that vain first man. Suppose instinct is the next stage--the mutation that proliferates. Natural selection slowly cutting away the soul and leaving for it something more. Suppose what that does to the power structure. Suppose what that says about your chain of being. Your bearded white god.

EDIT: Original ending to paragraph: After "something more."
Suppose what we've been missing. Suppose what we've been given. It is the world. Now zero out the scales and weigh.

NOTE: Li-Young Lee discusses writing without having the right words and how this varies from the purer activity of knowing what you want to say and how you are going to say it. I had two overlapping ideas and have now written them out, but I did not truly have the words at this point. Potentially I might edit this draft, then, or I might even create a new post to show the editing process, as, for example, Anne Carson has various second and third drafts intersparsed throughout her Men in the Off Hours.

NOTE #2: The poem in this selection originates from the Lee poem I link to but even the least perceptive writer will be able to tell it's darker in tone. It's a lot easier to be darker in tone. I did not intend to write the poem I wrote, so potentially a drafting process would create a completely new poem keeping maybe the first sentence.

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