Wilkes University, Pennsylvania, 2020
A poem and a small reflection (recorded)
From The Elsewhere: Poems & Poetics
Compose the Simulacrum
Spinning counterclockwise into the womb,
Spirochetes hooking bits of membrane,
Flensing out of nothing density,
Flesh clotting everywhere to I.
Numbing the prime. Naming the blued swoll.
Bloody rags of thingness and damp soul.
Swards engorged from the original
Certify one exile from full null.
Every name ensorcelled in the book—
The Subway Mole, Creedmore, Vedette,
Sir Roger, Aunt Mary, the Murderess,
The Lady Prof, the Selkie, and Fearless,
The signature page aching to be born,
And every line bending to slant rhyme,
Compose the simulacrum of that spin
Figuring in counterclockwise mind
An ouroboros compassing eye and tongue—
Mortal utterance to phantom sign.
In the book, the poem’s neither I nor no one.
Or, what if somehow maybe otherwise?
Drifting through the coreless universe
What if mere seed of earth and firmament
Engenders compound minds and sex organs,
Attuned to diverse rondures?
Innumerate unrecorded whispers
Slur around the counterclockwise spin
Realigning text with mortal time.
Monto, Spake, Moon, Flip, Mame,
Names absent from the book but underscoring
Every instant of six-plus decades ticking
By for you fellow traveler in hours.
A couch nap or coffee break. A browse.
And me? Beneath the orchestrated thrum
I am as you are human and I am
Each verb tiding a new is, and yet,
The tide’s less real than any graven s.
The way I know I’m flesh is being word.
Between antinomies spins the clockwise world:
Time lived and reconceived as told.
They squiggle like an asymptotic sign.
A third’s new scribed. It reckons
Its own time. Its aegis is complex
Prosody and Latinate-Hochdeutsch-Greek-
And non-linear structure and cryptic tropes
Never conversed and unsuccessfully sung
And only painfully apprehended.
Myriad exegeses have incited
Holy wars and scholarly knife fights
And endless interpolations and edits.
This unsynced time’s divorced from
(But dying to return to) the source
Within language, now outsourced.
Time, counterclockwise time distorts.
It immerses and divides maker and text,
But of the matter in the bound codex,
Ineluctable between hand and eye,
Indefatigable reader, I,
The original composer, recall
Nothing. Nada. Sweet fuckall.
The butcher paper and the rolltop desk,
The Royal typewriter and Sinsemilla smoke,
The calico cat in Berkeley and geckos
In Lubumbashi and the mice in Schull,
These, I stipulate. Doodles and porn,
White-Out and chalk dust and the aqua screen
And thirty blankety years in Youngstown—
Inquisitor, mea culpa. But these lines?
The kelson of the published book?
Memory’s gone up with the pot smoke.
Maybe unlike Penelope I restitched
A different scheme each night,
And lost the thread over and over again.
Maybe I’m haunted by the orphans
Disappeared in the linguistic maze
Spinning blindfold counterclockwise.
Silenced, they utter with my mouth,
As if conceived and spoken in one breath.
But Oh It Must Be Burnt
Kim Phûc Phan Thi is the author of Fire Road
In Flushing Queens from Camelot until
The night a napalmed girl ran screaming through
The tube to immolate the supper trays,
A boy intoned Pig-Latin Black Mass,
And slurred non-integers in algebra,
And broadcast Mets games from the toilet seat.
Afternoons on hands and knees he rocked
In front of a cabinet hi fi,
As if he could spin out from Flushing Queens,
To touch down in some phantasmagorical Erin.
Drifting to sleep, he tuned to the elsewhere,
Self-caressing, cowled in spooky aura.
In the book a simulacrum of the boy
Rocks back and forth beneath the text,
And cantillates to hex the alphabet.
Before the book there had been no before.
Every plunge backward percussed song
On bone, keying ululation.
Heels measured and the boy had learned
To quell time’s surge with oceanic rhythm.
In counterclockwise omni-present tense
The codex binds heartbeat in syntax.
Colophon and sown spine and joint groove
And acid-free half-recycled leaves
And diverse narratives entrance
Eye and mind to spell all utterance.
Now the book tenses my veined hand,
Or yours, phantom reader. We are elsewhere.
Counterclockwise spins the simulacrum toward
Endless drafts blinking save as save as,
Past doodling through tinnitus to a place
Where there is no boy or reader only I.
And I can only channel the Hi Fi.
So when Kim Phûc Phan Thi
Whispers into my flight helmet, I burn,
America spins out of Flushing Queens
Redacting earth’s aura to vapor
And decomposing human flesh to paper.
Forgive, she teaches, but I fear
Rocking elsewhere has consumed the world.
When counterclockwise hexes clockwise time
In leaves or flesh or in the simulacrum
Rocking beneath desiccated skin,
Utterance indites, words are spelled again,
Riddling augury or subversion.
Like quarks charming spacy distances,
Hex spins lust of silences,
Tense of unfired synapse, freak magnet
Between bars of the asymptotic.
Hex causes and precedes. Sans hex
Words denote. They always mean the same.
Sans hex, no leading measuring lines
Yawns dizzy to the bloody gutters,
And letters don’t transmogrify to ciphers.
Hexed, every poem is a draft
Unreconciled with Nothing until passed
Deep into the phantasmagorical,
Thrumming wombward into all,
Glistening with pre-cum of the revenant.
Spinning counterclockwise hexed the boy,
Being here and elsewhere unreborn.
With billions of years and stars beyond the skein,
And billions of beings gestating inside,
I slip between to tipple, smoke, space out.
Unauthorized, the book inhales and vivifies,
Reproduces, eats, transmogrifies,
Long after I am fossilized.
Thus hexed, the meter’s voiced and signed—
A mobius strip helixing an X
Chimeral with permanence. Epics
Conceived by Blank fester in a box
That unlocks only counterclockwise.
Meanwhile, corkscrewed reader, the book attests
To all that might have been sung once.
In Flushing Queens it signified constraint:
Angle, gon, gram, x, teuch.
It spelled chastity, titration, suicide drill:
Foul line, half court, far line, full court hell.
It was five boroughs I could not flee.
Five cornices of altar boy liturgy.
Five degrees of cloister. Schoolboy scansion.
Keats, Wordsworth, Milton, Tennyson.
Da DA, da DA, da DA, da DA, Da DUM.
The day I overstepped from Flushing Queens
And set foot out onto the windy plains,
By thumb and Yamaha and Green Tortoise,
I first encountered sky, hashish, and Protestants,
And specimens who claimed to be poets.
How so, I asked, when they were not deceased.
Some were addled. Two saw God.
One wandered lonely as a cloud.
With the barflies and Buddhists I enrolled
In the U of D Eng Dept Graduate School,
To worship the Parnassians hired with
Spillover from DuPont napalm dash.
They’d abandoned meter—the new guard.
They evangelized shebeens and seminars.
Some absented. One tried Jesuitics.
A few guzzled themselves paralytic.
Yet all had once been pent. De Snodgrass’s
Whiskers de-pented—carefully because
Of the Pulitzer ticking around his neck.
The Ohio Football Laureate had begun
“My name is James A. Wright and I was born,”
But now his lines were breaking into blossom.
The Bear pawed seminar bookshelves.
We cubs shivered under the marble busts:
Keats, Wordsworth, Milton, Tennyson.
The Bear snarled at Auden and cuffed Eliot.
We waited our turn to stand on hind legs.
We cocked our heads. We shuffled. We prayed
That this week’s seminar cub would auto-de-fe
Or shit their bony ass and go feck off.
Striding over desks The Bear huffed
Pentameter was poetry’s baying hound.
It baited. It was the warmonger’s Johnson.
Whale Song, Turtle Mind, Prime Utterance.
Congress between Consciousness and Fur,
These, he bellowed, were the source.
Then The Bear sat, chewing a cub’s ear.
Meanwhile off campus my Lady Greek Professor,
Moonlighting as a Sea Nymph, offered
In her water bed one foot, naked,
To my lips. Hexameter, she’d scrawled
That morning on the Aula Max blackboard,
(Bloused and skirted and in wingéd Versaces)
Sets foot upon the omphalos of the sea.
Noble and expressive, the pointer toe
I kissed under gossamer sheets daunted the hallux,
The heel waxed moony on my tongue.
The sole refracted veins of bluish light.
Homer is the first and last, she’d taught,
To gestate the sea’s utterance since he is
Sole but innumerably conceived, just as
The sea froths and plumbs. In every six-
Footed line swells a wave, cresting
Over again to tongue the infinite,
Each breaking from conflict to climax.
(My ears burned with the embedded hex).
When meter lost a foot the sea recoiled,
My Sea Nymph masked as Greek Professor said,
Uncoupling word from utterance,
Leaving behind at the ocean’s edge
The detritus of an asymptotic sign,
Harbinger of chirographs to come.
She twerked from podium to blackboard
And chalked a coda I could not cipher:
A perfect globe above cascading curve.
Her sea-borne breasts perked as she turned to face
The pimpled Argives in their fleet of desks.
Scanning the Aula Max, her gaze fixed
Me in the back row rapt in copying.
She peered right through as if I were a boy
Who could not rock or kiss flesh into song.
And never again from that day did I glimpse
The Greek Professor morph into Sea Nymph.
But now, as clockwise I approach the end
(But counterclockwise spinning to the womb)
That drop of ocean hovering above
The simulacrum of the ebbtide curve
Is kelson of all that I have been.
Leaping and in step; free and dependent;
It is fleetness and repose. It is the salt
wet print of the Sea Nymph’s absent foot.
; is not just sign but simulacrum.
It steps and excavates, sprints and turns
ball and heel, bridge and arch and toes.
Full revelation comes only with repose.
; is the wobble and the sole.
Something there is that doesn’t love ;
Soundless; uncoupled; or else rhyming with all;
Cunning are its myriad tributaries;
Its condition speaks to injustice;
Women suffer binding, stilettoes.
When I finally stretched too tall to kiss my toes,
The flex, the curl, the spread, the sweat, the elegance,
Could not be rendered justly at distance.
I could no longer know myself, or you
Swift-footed reader, but by ;’s
Phantom nerves and tendons
Suspending ball and heel, rhyme-aslant,
Tense as air before a tropic storm,
Or buried upright terra cotta warriors.
; does not injure without cause
The lineaments of measure. No fractured
Syntax bleeds into the margin.
Conjoined otherness, unauthored and unborn
; warns and beckons simultaneous,
Totemic as an unpent ouroboros,
Livid as a tattoo on a scar.
The liminal white that binds the lunar
Necropolis to oceanic cradle is
The vortext which the perishing would cross—
But like Odysseus and Anticlea
And Jesus and his ghost personae
We cannot. Clockwise
And counter in stillness spins the vortext,
Past and present gestating the hex
In blood revenant coursing toward our nexus.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
“Easter, 1916” W.B. Yeats
In the time of the Sea Nymph, I sat at the foot.
Yeats’s eyes were gay, but his sock was rent,
The hole redressed with a dab of chimney soot.
Because I had rocked on hands and knees for years
I knew the Sidhe and Fergus and Conchobar
And who hadn’t eaten Parnell’s heart.
But this was a land of cubicles and tweed.
The women were unadorned. The men, doe-eyed.
Of gyres or Noh or Kenner I knew nought.
I did not know why rhyme displeased. I did not
Know how to master the thing most prized:
Meaning. What does it mean? asked
No one ever, because everyone knew
And could explicate. I did not know who
Hunched around the table would hex, nor how
The epic with the Sea Nymph would resolve.
The Bear at the head of the oak slab seldom spoke;
With every postulation or riposte
His fur riffled and he’d grunt or sigh.
The night came when his huge paw swiped at me.
It was Monday evening, Easter 1916.
Long ago in front of the hi fi
I had rocked it with the sonorous Tom Clancy.
I knew utterance but not sign. I did not know
That ; measures stride from song to poem.
The Bear, human reader, is a simulacrum
Trundling through Galway Kinnell’s poem.
Bear tracks enjamb my paperback Body Rags,
Criss-crossing to break meter and syntax.
Ravenous, The Bear’s maw swallowed ;
It ulcerates the belly at both ends.
Between, the liminal white fractures,
Dividing dream from consequence.
Nevertheless I set off that Easter
Under the hirsuite aegis of The Bear.
To ground myself I held in thought
the Sea Nymph’s divine sole against my cock.
I have met them at close of day, I rocked.
At eighteenth century houses my lips pursed
Trying to tamp the Clancy in my throat.
My tongue fluted pahsed to Queens pæst.
The fiddle rose and hovered on beauty is born.
The circle of cubs sniffed. Their ears burned.
Read straight, their eyebrows said. Don’t fake a brogue.
The Bear’s eyes went rheumy and he purred.
Then came two stanzas Clancy had left out.
In Queens English now, I explicated:
Padraic Pearse rode our winged horse.
Thomas MacDonagh was coming into his force,
And Major John MacBride had done bitter wrong
To Yeats’s Sea Nymph the beautiful Maude Gonne.
Yeats and Homer were subjects in a book.
Pearse and Achilles were real and also not.
And true, I saw in the book what I had not heard.
The rhymes unschemed—cloud and road;
Stream, brim; horse, rider and birds
Exhaled from Being as sound-laden words.
The boy had sung and rocked as the fiddle soared
And Clancy’s hi fi treble swelled to swear
Allegiance to the dream because it is
Enough to know the heroes dreamed and died.
But in that seminar air the verse was mute.
We know their dream; the Norton textbook read,
Enough/ To know they dreamed and are dead.
The table tensed. All cubs turned to The Bear.
To die, is it enough to know they dreamed?
Or does the dream cleave living from the dead?
His eyes rolled back to fur and his muzzle flared
And his forepaw swiped hard and his claw stabbed
;. The strong caesura held. Yeats trembled
No more than a stone in the living stream.
Had The Bear pierced only the toe, the dream dies.
We know their dream, only enough to know.
Had he grazed the heel, dream drowns the world.
We know their dream. And it’s enough to know.
Was ; the gyre between song and verse?
Through ; could I join Bear and busts and Yeats,
And Greek Professor and Sea Nymph,
And remain the boy rocking clean of birth,
Forward into days charted by lines;
Backward like a wave or a half-rhyme;
And forward again into Easter long ago,
when my gaze first bent to read the world?
If I lost that night forever Easter’s voice,
Counterclockwise I entered the vortext.
Philip Brady is a poet, essayist and editor. His new book is The Elsewhere: New & Selected Poems (Broadstone, 2020). His latest book of essays is Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City (University of Tennessee Press, 2019).