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Messages of Bewilderment.

Words found on the floor of an A & E department.


NOT THAT YOU’D want a hammer to crack open my nut.
You learned the use of a more gentlemanly pressure.

So what did you discover?
Nothing you hadn’t warned me about:
a few outdated bits of cantankery and a rusted bike chain.
Empty otherwise and the air smelling of having been kept in there.
Some old, faded pictures we ripped up for the compost.

I’m nonetheless gratified that you made the gesture.
For as you may have noted, I have nothing to disclose.
And am happy for that process of dismemberment.

To whom is it of possible interest that I comprehend so little?
No, I am not transparent,
and if it happened that you could look through me,
would you in fact, perhaps, bother?

It is simple, after all, to stop noticing anything,
not least that you don’t notice my absence of notice.

You will seldom stop looking outward,
and scrutinizing what’s to be remarked.
And I should no doubt take pleasure
in the omnivorous quality of such extroversion.

And this, no doubt, makes it easy for the ego to laze next to
without having to construct a commission.

There’s enough already to remain blind against.
And there resides the escape makes hiding a fortune.

It’s as well, perhaps, to be circumscribed by some issue, was his assertion.
For there lay limited freedom in exercise of a complete OK-ness.
Besides, he opined quietly, albeit confident in the complicity of his interlocutor,

it must remain scarcely human
in the civilized environment we respect or acknowledge.

To confess no distance from an assumption of a fault:
that’s what unfortunately we must share. Innit?

But I’m pure and whole, aren’t I,
she submitted with childlike sincerity,
nor do I house material of any nature in my subconscious.

You can see it, no doubt, through the lens of your fault.
And that, in itself, vaunts, don’t it, the character of purism?

These are such wonderful clouds.
They communicate in magnificence the transient nature of the afternoon,
its unknowable alternations and their forgiveness of our unknowing.
So we allow, through the meteorology, our permissible indifference,
to the most ordinary signification of a change.

This, for the time being, representing a repeat
of what we designated as permanence.

What, for you, I suspect, represents perhaps just dropping in at the shops,
for me, and I too despise it, has transformed into an epic,
where there is as little certainty as hero,

but where I navigate, sans much purpose, except in that I travel slowly,
and where I too have become one of the obstacles.

These are surely instances.
For to call them events would entail the geometric symmetry
of that bisyllable: a definable and clipped identity
which trails not through the agnostic supposition
of an environment we may recognise,
but a space which had its posture among frames with an aesthetic history.

There we would arrange ourselves with the cognizance of a series:
a family without its relations.

I shall heave myself, shan’t I,
towards a semblance you might recognise in your generosity.
That I’m not wholly there may not matter to either.
If such constitutes a relevance.

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 Structure of Days Out is serialized in The Fortnightly Review, as After the Snowbird Comes the Whale, beginning here. An archive of his Fortnightly work is here.

Author’s note:

I started writing this series of short poems as I was finishing The Structure of Days Out, published by Shearsman [2021], a memoir about working, off and on, in an Alaskan Inupiaq village, 1973-1995. The Shearsman book is a prose memoir in which the alienation of the self is relatively explicit and painless. Return to home culture is sometimes more complicated since the home self finds itself more problematically relational. — TL


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