“No Man’s Land”
“Scale of Magnitude”
“No Man’s Land”
“Scale of Magnitude”
“Take a walk”
—Yoko Ono, WALK PIECE
and look out
as the broken world
drawn to bits (I am)
deranged iota jot
flakes of fixed
to broach when and where
to find or feel
a finite set with infinite
limitations as when
feast, fetish, or metonymic
gesture connects a personal
system with reference
to civic locality as
versions of themselves,
when what is heard
is seen, gleaned,
recollected, and erected,
defined, becomes us,
bent into position feeling to find
beads balls brass steel
scaled up run out
arrange and play
as we (rapt)
are carried off,
untroubled by resemblance,
guiding principle, or epistemic
framework, though having those,
while making these directed
acts of storage strutted,
glutted, taken up, as I/we
to owned devices,
feel free, imaginary,
and tactile as the shudder
of daily acquisition,
vexed by practitioners,
is thrown up and out
as the poison
presence of each entrance
of nonlife into life
twists loops moves
circles spits and splits
compromised by things
aging in place
as matter hardened to its
constituents is what
we find when we amass and
detach the past of an object
from its fate creating
an elegy for each fact,
used or not, whose provenance,
always one of loss,
rejection, and subsequent
stooping to find (oneself) with
items grounded by chance, labor
or the erasure of same
becomes stuff subject
to words like reality
to what we want:
an engine of past time,
creation, and abstraction
reflects the precision of
collapsed threading through
of everything as everything
found or findable
resolves into action
the maid real
“Old Woman, your eye searches the field like a scythe!”
—Robert Duncan, “The Structure of Rime VI”
like a sigh, permitted or not,
these visits to Mira Vista
Field fair farm (or look see
place) which with
the better to incantate as
phrase after praise betrays
the visible day to the visible
night today singing what can you say,
moment by movement, or see
worried, wise, amazed—
heard, herded, heralded, crazed
by this old epithet, rule, and designation
of hags for which read old
women whose presence
absent to some,
purely physical to others, despite being where
and what they/I, are required to be, go, say,
and know noting how
dreamed of mental meeting
protocols in the form of songs and knowledge
combine the known with the read, said,
intoned, and suggested,
along with the berries there, also
red, thorns with which to be bled,
leave one stepping out attired
with gown, crown, and scythe
clearing what has died into
what is born by the poem of the mind
including words not me but mine
while I, menaced by remembered threats,
summon my ways and those of my actual
mother, Mae Belle Reynolds,
to push in and back out while
hatted, masked, cloaked, fraught
being with her (withered) wrought
where belief relief
knowing & going are brought
along with these steps at the feet of which lay
we, reconfigured into us, who
write what is read, said, and
displayed, resolving the “made place”
into the made real day
problem of reversible time
“. . . which am I?”
—Rumi, The Essential Rumi
portends to redeem
exigencies of a woman
and man in a van when
our names meant light, knight, air, and ones who fly (are flown) when you,
Sufi, carpenter, botanist, and me, writer, waitress, artist of cards and
fortunes, later lose our clothes on the way to losing our minds and hearts
(mine) in a known place where written as played
a woman much withered, a maid
a maiden with a wand a handsome
maid, a white wand with a peacock of
solid gold on its tip
to the reversible fortunes
of muscle memory and the
illusive person in the poem
including types of knowing as when
The Land That Time Forgot
or trip into symbolic space
whose trace discloses
beauty at intervals as (not)
of mind remain blind to the
transformation of attitude,
and altitude calculable only from
the surface or search image
of a specific person
whose comparative anatomy
comes into play when the algorithm
leads us farther into the past—
but if this is the solution
please explain the bones
in the ghost story of the other
lover or the card games there.
Bring in Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale
and other extinction events.
It was crazy for anyone to try
to cross the Sierras in October.
What happens next as we
decohere among the hominins (despite
the abstraction, attraction, and object lessons)
is anybody’s guess.
what and who
A dark day finds
heart’s head hatted
and masked with crime
being read into its head
as descent into the local hell
means taking in the ashy
remains of everything with
each breath a reckoning, each step
the mistake of not sheltering in place
while elsewhere breath
the same head with fresh despair
of the deadly situation where seconds
become minutes then
centuries where the dead lay
with vast fires closing in
but not here or not yet as
trying for a semblance
of thought as active leveraged
expression of fair
talk while reassembling the same
everything in head’s heart
of later air clear for now
though nothing is better
except if it is when
kinds of crime rhyme
what is wrong (but present)
with what (and who) are gone
Are there two lines because there are two feet, hands, eyes? Maybe. This walking and making is a process, a procession. When she called an earlier book Symmetry she meant to dismantle this concept with each gesture. Is this that? she wonders, but suspects it is not—as, falling endlessly forward, she moves through space like a sound or a bird. A need for trust occurs. Balance. Emptiness. You can’t think about every step, but you should, she worries. Situational awareness. A military term. A thing is exact. Or exactly not. Intentional. Intended. Once her project was something like courtly love but now she feels betrothed to her work.
The woman stares at herself in the mirror. She makes self-portraits less because of an interest in self than because she is her only model. She enjoys drawing her wrinkles because they add texture. Me and not me, she is simply a thoughtful arrangement of phrases, lines, and planes—scribbled hair.
—from Which Walks
SCARLET began as a digital visual/poetic meditation on the fractured state of psyche induced by extended social isolation under COVID-19 lockdown. The project has since evolved to document the social disruption of the pandemic as we move through its various mutations and surges.
The digital/visual poems are created through erasure of the novel The Scarlet Plague collaged with glitched imagery from everyday life during the pandemic. The titles of poems in the series are then derived from objects contained in each glitched still life.
Glitching is a technique that introduces errors into the code of a digital file or stream that distorts its presentation. The error-induced fracturing of images in SCARLET is intended to defamiliarize everyday objects and surroundings to reflect the psyche under the constant stress of the pandemic.
The Scarlet Plague is a post-apocalyptic novel by Jack London, published in 1912, set in California during the year 2073, after the world’s population is decimated by an uncontrollable pandemic.
SELECTED NOTES ON MAKE
While the preceding poetic territory relies on the insistent enigma of the writing process as a source of music, I offer these notes to readers interested in delving further into the minutiae of the text. Generally excluded are identifications of historical figures, place names, and other entities that might be located via obvious Internet keyword searches unless there is a detail to add not readily available to the public and which I deem of importance to understanding what is happening.
SPREAD 17 (LEARN TO LIVE WITH…)
FEAR OF VIOLENCE
A terror that has disrupted my relationship with America—and my family—since I was a child listening to a mother tell bedtime stories based on details of famous mass murders she had learned about from paperbacks carried in her huge purse.
For me, always, the tide is the gray-green current off Montauk, Long Island.
art that puts hair on my chest
Ref. to tiny snippets of paper found on my shirt during the composing of this poem.
COME BACK AFRICA
Ref. to the black-and-white film Come Back, Africa (1959) directed by Lionel Rogosin (1924-2000) and starring the mesmerizing Mariam Makeba (1932-2008); notable for its frank depiction of the Apartheid Era in South Africa.
have a good obey
Ref. to the once ubiquitous t-shirt (created by the artist Shephard Fairey: 1970-) featuring OBEY above an image of French wrestler Andre the Giant (1946-1993).
Emotion lacking full emotional content—a feeling preempted by inner obstacles.
SPREAD 18 (FORGET THE MELODY…)
gallows rope, good wood ruined, peeling sill paint, roach brother ETCStray details of the house I grew up in.
When a yard in an energetic city resembles an abandoned rural property.
THE TIMES GUT
Ref. to my father’s habit of tossing aside sections of the Sunday newspaper that collected around his recliner like the inky offal of a disemboweled continuum.
Homage to the curious joy I always experience when reading the name Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), one of the founders of the art movement known as Vorticism.
SPREAD 19 (THE DECAF COFFEE…)
w b web
Ref. to prophetic lines spun by poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939).
My great grandfather, Frank Miller, an immigrant from Scotland and a mechanic for the Milwaukee Road rail line, built a cottage on this Wisconsin lake. The place was magic to me. It made me want to run outside instead of hide from a difficult world: cool sandy soil, wildflowers, green lake smell, the whip-poor-will calling from pines.
Ref. to the courtly next door neighbor Mr. Hickey who always let pre-teen me in when I knocked on his door upset about events at home or on the playground.
Tree-climbing 18-year-old red-haired son of the Baptist minister who moved in across the street when I was ten and taught me how to tie a fisherman’s knot.
Ref. to the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, a summer event sponsored by the state’s largest newspaper that I participated in after I sold my comic book collection to raise funds to purchase a 10-speed Fuji bicycle.
The pink-hat-wearing writer I met in September of 1986 at 19 University Place in New York City, and married on December 9, 1989, in downtown Brooklyn.
Big Nick Nicholas
Saxophone player George Walker Nicholas (1922-1997)—nickname “Deedle dum”—was famous for hosting after hours jams in the 1950s at Harlem’s Paradise Club. I heard him play at St . Peter’s church in Manhattan in the 1990s.
bologna cut in squares and fried
Childhood meal staple I irrationally found more palatable if cut into different shapes before being fried in margarine.
sister dead at 44
For decades my talented sister Marianna Rose Miller (1967-2011) struggled with alcoholism and the effects of sexual abuse that occurred when she was a child.
michael dead at 31
Michael Current (1961-1992), high school classmate and visionary political activist whose work was responsible for the introduction of a gay rights bill in the Iowa Legislature in the late 1980s; he died of a diabetic crisis in Des Moines, the capital.
jack dead at 19
Jack Seier (1964-1983), president of my high school class and songwriter I supplied with lyrics; he drowned in the Mississippi River.
GUTHRIE HOOKER TATUM
Ref. to three musicians who taught me more about history than any book: Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), John Lee Hooker (1917-2001), Art Tatum (1909-1956).
duck creek, mississippi river…
Bodies of water—Iowa to Paris—that have lectured to me on many subjects.
Ref. to my parents, attorneys presiding over a home where no laws existed.
SPREAD 20 (STATUE HONORING THE STANZA…)
The 22nd draft not cooperating either.
Thanks expressed in a questioning tone to a lovely image that interrupts a text.
When one embarks on a harmless lark that ends up preying on them like a hawk.
don’t forget hair
As with the hair of a corpse, I find that a draft filed deep in a cabinet still continues to grow in a fashion, new lines occurring to me at odd intervals.
Initials of the pianist and composer Leon Russell (1942-2016) whose 1971 album Stranger in a Strange Land is on my Top Ten Supernal Albums list.
“The history that resides within me speaks not only of actions that have happened once, in the distant past, it speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure. The history that resides within me speaks of trees, rivers, wounds, hands.”
This erasure project (provisionally collected as ECO ling) unfolded in late spring of 2021 — begun on the day I underlined the above passage in Christina Tudor-Sideri’s extraordinary meditation, Under the Sign of the Labyrinth (Sublunary Editions).
The history that resides within me speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure.
Over the past several years, I had begun to realize that the unease I’d felt in the U.S. had a familiar feel to it — a particular rhyming of history. For many white South Africans of my generation who left home during the height of Apartheid, the story —privileged, definitely; naive, probably — is usually a story of leaving that terrible form of erasure behind, for something better. But the unease, violence, division, erasure, and political manipulation of the Trump Age made the old suspicions clear, once and for all. I’d left nothing behind.
In that mindset, early 2021, I began questioning directions in my poetic work. By which forensic process could I free voices (“speaking of trees, rivers, wounds, hands”) from the closed texts of my childhood, from the colonial, post-colonial, and Apartheid-era language and history of my country of birth? I followed various paths to new questions, if not answers.
At the same time, my wife — a designer — had been reading about the cyanotype photograms of English photographer and botanist Anna Atkins while using Northern California sunlight to create her own cyanotype record, on fabric, of the plants and flowers growing in our garden, and collected on our hikes on Mount Tamalpais.
I wanted in on the printmaking action. Especially one focused on recording absence in presence.
At that point, poet and translator Norma Cole and I were more than a year into a meandering, glorious, easy conversation that transpired day after day, almost entirely via texts between us. In counterpoint to the isolation and dread pervading that time, our daily conversation created a world in which we found shelter, and from which came a series of collaborative poems (Briefings) which I then printed in cyanotype.
One day, while waiting for a set of Briefings to dry, I grabbed a copy of Rudyard Kipling stories that I hadn’t opened in years — tales of empire — and tore a page from one story whose title had always troubled me. A Second Rate Woman. I saw ECO in the title and LING in the name — and began a process of erasure using pencil and the chemical paints that, once exposed to sunlight, would turn sky blue.
My work on the remaining erasures occurred daily against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of May, 2021, and in the larger collection of ECO lings, about two dozen pieces all told, I feel that echo among all the other threads and concerns described above.
Kipling was a regular visitor to Cape Town (later, my childhood home), guest of another champion of empire, Cecil Rhodes, in a residence that is now part of the University of Cape Town.
In 2015, a memorial to Rhodes was removed from the UCT campus after protests by student activists. I do not know what sits in its place.