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Poems from ‘Existence Phenomena’.


IS IT THAT you have gone back to your tower,
your precinct, the territory you value as your own
and in which I remain a stranger?

I’ve arrived in the faltering dialect
of my solitude. Listen, you may perhaps detect
the clank of what appear to represent
an idiosyncratic captivity of its own,

the miniature castle-keeps and prison courtyards
that I travel round within, but from which also I wave
on the battlements and make a display
of my soon-to-be depleted firework cache and long distance flares.

Some of these work,
but for the most part they produce little more than smoke.
This latter you will be welcome to inhale
in your own time. And the fumes have the capacity

to drift over walls and cross boundaries.
But they remain, as media, unsatisfactory,
and will usually offer the wrong impression.
Since it’s what I’ve got to offer, you may still want to ingest some.

THE AFTER LIFE had already taken place.
And this was to happen before the upper world phenomenon of death,
with its customary substitutions:
cedar branches and a syncopation of ravens
with some lachrymose singing.

The moment itself, in a distinguished way,
had been harbingered, albeit no one could be certain.
And doubts, once there, had been expunged
through a series of rituals.

ORPHEUS MADE A rash decision.
It was one that also tempted others,
and this was to make the journey downward.

In the first place this was a territory he believed in.
It must have lain underfoot as a topographic reality.
This is hard to imagine from the agnostic view point
but it was one that gnawed the ancients’ upper air experience,
and impossible to relegate,
invisibly yawning in subterranean darkness.

It was, in addition, silent, and therefore foreign to one
who was accustomed to circumambient noises,
if not, as in the case of the singer, to harmony.
No one claimed that Hades represented a geography of discord.

Even the clash of the unlike was an unknown quantity.
This, after all, was a realm of the deaf.
Dis himself could not have declared his passion for Persephone.
Nor could she do more than number the pomegranate seeds
that she shucked all winter.

are perhaps not only a means of seeming,
but also a message of transcendence,
thereby leaving lesser beings in the evidence, even confusion, of their simplicity.

A few of the elevated do remain
within the sphere of their exaltation. For the most part,
it represents mainly an escape from the humdrum,
since what is entirely ordinary is unlikely to go away entirely
and time continues as the equalizing medium.

HHE REFUSES TO lie down. Still less, to hold his tongue.
Old fellow that he’s become, he imagines there’s been a mistake.
Time itself has bent its course from others who had mattered little
and picked him up accidentally.

This was not supposed to have happened.
He fancied himself an egghead, no doubt,
and now his own skull’s been chopped into,
as though before breakfast, and exposed casually.
This, even as a joke, is not significant.

and that, in contrast to an able bodied previous sequence,
much of which was also ambiguous.
Now, however, there are physiological issues,
and looking back at the past, it is not difficult to acknowledge
that decay set in decades back already.

Serenity is the goal. And this requires acceptance.
And there is no reason for assuming that this bundle of selves
should be exempt from the natural process.

INSCRIBED, LIKE A cartouche, with hieroglyphics
which have been chiseled into stonework,
semi-legible to specialists, and to us amateurs, simply elegant,

the past, which contains too many images
for memory to reconsider,
has a trajectory we all travel round with,
tarred, for the time being, as a sailor’s pigtail,
but which remains dependent on consciousness of it.

Its nature, after all, is to be concise.
Nothing can be changed.
And yet nothing can be lost otherwise:
any sort of hair style being a temporary adjunct,
while the hieroglyphics erode in the dust
they’ve displaced for the time being.

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 Reviewas After the Snowbird Comes the Whale, beginning here. An archive of his Fortnightly work is here.

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