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To the muses.

Five Poems



O MUSE, WHEN I put my cuff to the sugar bowl
and you come up smiling, how I love to play hide and seek with you,
for aren’t we equally untrustworthy?

And when you pretend sometimes to let me win,
how charming but unsafe it feels to maintain, at the most, an insecure
for the span of an utterance.

And once you have deserted me,
what pleasure I pretend to derive from my indifference.

Whip me. I wouldn’t blame you for my incompetence
and the lame texture of my poetry.
The muse is beyond reach and she is in no way responsible.

It is chutzpah to transgress,
compulsively as I behave with my pencil.
And while I couch my apologies within a sacred formula,
these represent perhaps the sincerity I’ve been left with.

To the Muses — 2

I have courted you, despite your rebarbative reserve,
the chastity of your distancing.
I have run after you naively, while laughingly
you turned away from my misapprehension,
founded as it must have been on ego
and the narcissism of the inconspicuous in search of self-promotion.

And fleetingly you have revealed yourselves at a distance,
in a bow stroke or some theatrical felicity,
as if to reassure me with your graceful mockery,
of my separation from your precinct.

But are you not, more subtly than I comprehended,
interchangeable or perhaps interrelated, mutually collaborative,
each singularity of your perspective an aspect of an idiomatic identity,
that I mistook for an absolute – for you are seldom alone,
and your touch, only apparently in the singular, must be harmonic.

To the Muses – 3

This, then, is what lies beyond our reach.
And if your nine figures remain dancingly beyond embrace,
we may appreciate how a single generative womb source
might for our benefit have allowed bending
in the light of our particularity and been subdivided.


Is this one of the common and assumed experiences of aging,
that the past becomes, more perhaps than in the past,
a layering or even a recollection, an alive or at the least, a re-lived
bestowing upon the present,
with its uncertainties and uninterpretable elements,
a phantasmagoric character, an additional duality,
impinging upon and at the least informing each quotidian

That which I recollect has of course gone with the
finality of yesterday,
and yet it lives albeit privately and no doubt transiently
in what is also the disappearing, disappointing, flux of present

Neither, in my experience can be apprehended
in both categories of that word’s suggestion.
Still, the past has been stopped and its movement arrested –
thus rendering it the more stable of the media we live in.

A photograph owns parallel stasis and this is something
on which we can lean, for it appears easier to believe in,
rely on that moment of reflection,
a variety of truth rendering the world explicable.

Still, and this suggests a human limitation,
it is both suffering and a search for help and information
that lives in us most vividly.
Short bursts of ecstatic achievement do certainly come back to us,
but are more frequently shadowed
by vast and ineradicable stains of regret and folly.
Innumerable Doppelgängers stride along with our present aging –
as perhaps they did previously, though we had not known them.

Tom Lowenstein was born near London in 1941 and educated at Cambridge. He has worked since the mid-1960s as a teacher. Between 1973 and 1989 he recorded materials deriving from intermittent residence in an Inupiaq (north Alaskan Eskimo) village. Previous publications include three books of poetry: Filibustering in Samsara (The Many Press), Ancestors and Species: New and Selected Ethnographic Poetry (Shearsman Books), and Conversation with Murasaki (Shearsman Books). His three studies of Point Hope are The Things that Were Said of Them (University of California Press 1990), Ancient Land: Sacred Whale (Bloomsbury, Farrar Strauss and Harvill, 1993-2001) and Ultimate Americans: Point Hope, Alaska 1826-1909 (University of Alaska Press, 2009). The Fortnightly Review published his memoir After the Snowbird Comes the Whale in parts as our 2018 serial. An archive of his Fortnightly work is here.

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