Everyone loves being a poet. Being a poet means ghosting on a code. Ghosts are all around us, and thus “relatable”—it calms us down to imitate their behaviors. But once you’re calm you have to ask yourself: what do ghosts mean?
No, you don’t have to ask that. Still, I decided to try my hand at Henry James.
The windows facing the street were covered in green paper. But was it in fact true that this room looked down to the street? She realized that she couldn’t recall. Maybe the windows overlooked a garden or a wall. She heard a carriage go by as a shadow passed over the paper. Yes, she thought, the street. “Such cryogenic situations in which people situate themselves,” she muttered, picking up her bags. It was morning. That afternoon she sailed to America.
Interceptor, forgive this capsized tongue. It was top-heavy, o’er-brimmed with precious metals, whose engine runs on a fume derived from its own ignition. What I mean is it bears a perilous resemblance to my own throat.
My throat a thorn in the story it told itself about the surface it cut open.
Since then I have found my voice much altered.
The low idling of the thicket stuck about him, his blood rumbling lightly among weaponized flowers.
I came to a point at which I could only be persuaded that the most ornately phrased facts were true.
“Oh, so it’s twin language,” my therapist said of poetry.
In fact, this is the only thing I’ve ever written down of what she’s said—and the only thing she’s said to me that explicitly constitutes a poetics. Fuming in an overstuffed chair, listening to a baby crying in the other room and construction workers chanting their reasonable demands outside, I rolled up my sleeves. But I couldn’t think of anything to say. She noted that I had rolled up my sleeves, then said I seemed angry and asked me to explain why.
It occurred to me in this moment that poetry would not save my life as I had depended, in the end, it would.
But what if I were to put it in a novel?
In certain Henry James novels people send their effects out in front of their bodies to probe the environment: she is not wearing a hat upon exiting the house and surveying the great lawn, indicating that she must be staying for a spell; and so too the young man’s blood relation must be staying, as he has accompanied her from Schenectady; and yet she knows nothing of the illness that’s befallen his father; so in the absence of her hat we see that her interlocutor is of two minds about her—his ballistic dog runs up to her in supine eagerness as he unfixes his gaze from the blades of grass in the middle distance and settles in to try to see her face, this time for the first time.
A slate nostalgia spilled forth a green flash, followed seconds later by a light veil of snow.
On the contrary, I saw that something called “poetry,” loosely defined, might in fact at some distant date play a hand in killing me.
I answered, not meaning to sound cold, “I wouldn’t put it that way.”
You become someone else when you read him; when you imitate him you become yourself.
But a book is meant to be read in silence, not among these pyrotechnics.
Can you say more about that?
No fiction absorbed the shrillness of the apartment, the subway, the office so well as the sense that his life was running over his own rails, as if he were a thick moss growing over them, choking the luxurious steel, and humming under his head he felt something large and heavy gliding closer.
I believe in the reality of absent things—if I see that something isn’t there I assume it must be somewhere else.
Trains, fish, and streaming services are examples of things that are inevitably near, even if we can’t see them.
I dreamt my intelligence was a character from a streaming service, I don’t remember which one, who passed me on a dusty road.
“Because you take satisfaction in your friend’s misfortunes. Because you console yourself with the thought that this satisfaction is by no means pleasure. Because to experience pleasure in this case would augur your own misfortune, but satisfaction would not, you little father, I say you are perched on heaven’s wall,” he added.
His voice was an indentation in the air, inaudible but oppressive, like a pile of wheels through which the honeysuckle sings its listening.
A blossom cutting through the fissured rock of luck.
A flower is succinct in its intentions: this persistence, a streaming service of the Sunday to which we retreat on Monday for good measure, lets our wares rest a spell and catch their breath in the poplar’s shade to formulate a delicate translation of whose mind we are on.
A flower allows us to inhale this earthy perfume and pant in counterpoint to his sweat’s march down his solar plexus. It was so episodic. But flowers, like people, are another matter: a loose cohesion of angles around which the person bearing them allows their personality to splash out.
Stationed in a vase by a window overlooking the veranda, flowers ask the leisure-drunk: do we wake, or read; across what meadow has my crown been picked; may we angle your bedside lamp towards the wall to distribute more light to the ceiling? No?
A waiting room with tufts of white noise blooming from the carpet. Behind the doors, voices dig in the dirt.
His flesh sprinted after them through the wedding’s prolix grasses, but his voice remained in the veranda.
How would the meadow describe this scene of its erasure? “Hi?” It waves.
The poplar’s shade records this greeting. Rewind the shade’s recording and play it again.
A poem is a title this shade gives itself.
The shade was pleased to see itself as it entered the scene by the willow hanging just above the canal; silence was pleased to see its sister syntax, breeze.
But, one might interject, a meadow’s contagion is not music’s problem.
A bewitched reel, my sorrow rolled beside me as I laughed into the canal; swans clapped along the dactylic reflection of the willows. Laws, in a word, through which he could dimly perceive his counterfeit face floating behind the coach’s glass.
I entered the office.
I want to say that the surface of a page is itself a kind of speech. I rolled up my sleeves and assumed its labor, gathering currency from the undead daffodils.
A swift breeze descended, swept them away from the office, scattering a few loose petals. Sitting across from her in her office, too far into her face, I could only see whitecaps.
She looked up from her book and scanned the horizon. A menacing electricity was gathering before her over the sea in a green cloud drifting west. “Can you say more about that?” she asked, gathering her notes.
His footsteps clapped through the valley.
[Dan’s first book is The Police (Omnidawn)]