It has been determined by certain experts that there is ghost at work in this new work—in the poems or in the commentary? W.H. Auden’s poem “Family Ghosts” ends with the lines “and all emotions to expression come,/ Recovering the archaic imagery:/ This longing for assurance takes the form// Of a hawk’s verticle stooping from the sky.”[i] In each movement to recover the work to come, to imagine the recovery of it, one who is on the ground might feel a gravitational pull from elsewhere arriving at, or emitting from, the writing body. A text may likewise be haunted.[ii] Such moments turn us again to the origin of these poems and when they work as either lacking agency in time and space, or as multiple in their agencies. Nevertheless, some attendance to or cultivation of the text might better invite the ghosts to, felicitously, further compromise the agencies of these texts that are already not mine.[iii] There must be a work of conjuring, some ritual (and yet one proper to the writing of poems and commentaries and not to religions!). Thus, Auden would later write of Iceland: “Europe is absent: this is an island and should be a refuge, where the affections of its dead can be bought/ by those whose dreams accuse them of being spitefully alive.”[iv] So ‘friends’ arrive to work on a book from various times. We hide nothing from each other. We un-hide each other. We resolve to write a series of warnings. This poem, which begins all 500 breastplates, is a riddle caught up in the work of spectral un-hidings.
all 500 breastplates
off-kilter and combat
distillery run amock
no help my netizen,
a passbook of
no levers left anymore.
The various fragments appear to consist of at least five different utterances, perhaps from difference speakers. Or, there is no need to construct a narrative or a speaker, and the words are not spoken, but just jumble themselves on the page or the screen. The poem is in four stanzas. Consider this the best way to divide the utterances, or don’t.
breastplates: the radiant armor of a minor hope when all of the bloodlines are cut and a language is dulled by an infusion of combat readiness. Such was the trouble of a young Perceval in Chrétien de Troye’s poem by the same name. The young boy mistakes Chevaliers for God, Demons, and Angels.[v] distillery: see Samuel Beckett on Dante: “His conclusion is that the corruption common to all the dialects makes it impossible to select one rather than another as an adequate literary form, and that he who would write in the vulgar must assemble the purest elements from each dialect and construct a synthetic language that would at least possess more than a circumscribed local interest.”[vi] But is a distillation necessary to get to the message of a missive as the solution to the riddle? or, if it is “distillery run amock,” then is the problem of distillation one which cannot help eliminate the need for breastplates? Such distillery would need to occur in a transparent caldron, of a flame pleasurably bright. The help for the netizen (see next comment) in language must burn just as brightly as the radiant screens on which we plot drone attacks on Afghanis from Nevada, and yet we still find ourselves in terms of purgatorial distillation is that peculiar modern condition which Beckett found in Joyce: “neither prize nor penalty, simply a series of stimulants to enable the kitten to catch its tail. And the partially purgatorial agent? The partially purged.”[vii] Distillation as purgative in the modern world, as refining and purifying heat, is thus akin to the failed attempts of alchemy. And even there, so often the search for the stone is more important than the transmutation it would produce. netizen: this word advertised on the back of the dusk-jacket of the Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary 10th Edition, in 1999, along with netiquette, spammer, face time, echinacea, fusion cuisine, feng sui, and velociraptor.[viii] Thus the word registers as among a group which, when taken together, collect the bright hive of the internet as the radiantly new along with—among others—a notably ancient reptile so that what is caught in between are the mundane practices of human communication and food as their own luminousities. This is important to study of the work of this poem if one is to present the proper passbook and take her place among the shinning radiant breastplates of the first stanza. These breastplates are hanging from the sprouting antlers of this poem and most of the others in this work. free greetings: Do not mistake greetings for transparent communication. The greeting of this poem is only the entrance into its commentary, which, though ‘below’ the poem as you now read it, might be just as well taking place into the unhinging between the paratactic syntax of free greetings with all its plenitude and the assertion(?). no levers left anymore: with is announcement of privation. This is the roomy dwelling space for our friendship in this poem—the space in which you or a literary ghost my be invited to take up an abode, such as a speechmaking Beowulf beginning to send a missive to his own friend, Hrothgar, in wearing perhaps not a breastplate but a byrne (mail-coat) such that it is well-displayed as a smith’s work.[ix] Such a space, like Beowulf’s missive, is in the this riddle itself and the room bounded off by its syntactic turns and gaps , radiant as the armor of its speaker, fearful or courageous. no levers: here the lever is not a phallus, nor is it to be related to the phallic elevator lever about which the elevator operator has to complain in The Great Gatsby to Mr. McKee to “keep your hands off the lever”—to which McKee replies, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”[x] We lament, with the rise of the digital, the loss of the mechanical in our dwelling spaces, and would attempt to re-insert the mechanical into the secret of a poem’s radiance so as to not lose its memory. Without a level to pull, how can we unlock the mechanics of any riddle? Even if a digital inscription on the passbook of free greetings implores you say what I am called.
[i] W.H. Auden, “Family Ghosts,” in Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 41.