Metapoetics, Instructions, Litany



A poem about poetry is like an echo of an echo,

in whose receding reaches understanding may flower,

or sudden angst.  Paintings about color, novels about novels…

These self-aware structures point in two directions at once:

Outwards, towards the bank of art they’re discussing, and

Inwards, towards themselves, their own idiosyncratic dynamics.

Welcome, therefore, to this poem about poetry –

Please leave your coats at the door.  Take off your loafers,

They are exquisitely large, and place them on the pink scruffy carpet by the door. 

Yes, the one that says WELCOME in large yellow letters.

Good.  Now is the moment when I dim the lights. 


Here is a poet in his twenties, looking down at something out of reach. 

She does not look necessarily like a person inventing a new rhetoric.  Click   

Here is the ghost of Walt Whitman on a street, bearded, looking straight at the camera.

His stance is casual, shirt open, lazily tucked into jeans.

It is as though he has just finished working on something

Hideously challenging, and is now taking a break. 

The street behind and around him thrums with life,

cars racing to places where they need to go.

Amidst it all the poet stands in the black and white landscape,

the center of the context, the context of the city and the context of our poem.  Click

Here is a Rube Goldberg sculpture,

whose parts lock together

in a feat of engineering.  Click

Here is Erik Satie, Gnossienne number nine.  Click

And here is this poem, striving to attain some semblance of a tone.

But where to go now?  Where to travel? 

How to explain transition?  For in every poem, (or most of them),

The trick is how to follow their transitions, how to make sense of the next thought

That does not feel contiguous or adjacent so much as half a world away. 

We might be reading about a mouse, and then be introduced

to a new voice, with a new tone,

speaking about something entirely different.  Look, we have forgotten the poor mouse,

languishing in a corner somewhere, like a cat that no one plays with.


(Meanwhile truth in the poem happens like rainfall

slapping beginning-to-shine cement,

collecting in jars in the garden, darkening hair. 

Every metaphor a koan and conundrum, trifoliate and ambivalent.) 




Open this poem, the way you open a book. 

Notice the way the spine of the poem-book

creaks, and the pages,             milk-white, without words,

rustle like corn in the afternoon light. 


Turn each page.  Allow yourself to be surprised,

like cold snow mixing with November light,

through which you make out some strange wise saying

plastered on a faded billboard. 


If you are confused, use this gold key. 

I found it like a pressed leaf, between the sleeves of my father’s picture-album,

(circa 1982).  The key should be inserted into the appropriate key-hole. 

Then turn.   Watch the poem unlock.


Once the poem is cracked open, you’ll find many things:

for example, a mother in a rocking chair, looking out the window,

then standing up to walk down the stairs

into the kitchen and cut open a watermelon. 


Also: Rube Goldberg dreaming. 

You’ll smell promise and regret, like the feeling

of early March, in the process of coming true,          

but never in the way you’d hoped for,

and never fully true,

but wonderfully,  sadly, “partially incomplete.”




Today, the poet says, I will try on the garments of light.

Today I will assemble all the scattered fragments into a structure of immateriality.

Today I will find laughter in a tree.

Today I will look forward to something I’ve never seen.

Today I will let the rain pierce my ears.

Today I will allow myself to sink like an eight-ball into the pockets of loneliness.

Today I will don and doff the hat of wisdom.

Today I will “hold the mustard.”

Today I will make a hierophany of silliness.

Today I will sit in the lazy-boy of possibility.

Today I will sacrifice comprehension for fluidity.

Today has no precedent.

Today I will pluck the fruit from cliche.

Today I will hyphenate two semi-related words. “Apple-heart.”

Today the angels will weep histrionically.

Today I will sniff the scent of fragrant peaches.

Today I will probably say something stupid.

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