By Mark Scroggins.
The child an animal to be tamed,
made human, softened and planed, fitted
in the missing puzzle-piece space,
fine gradations and subtly lived conditions,
a green light to walk. The volatile spirit
of conversation or alcohol, fixed and channeled
into the axis a crystal form. Apart, the trance-
like life of plants. The cats’ indirections
and sleep, troubled by strange irritabilities.
Into speech, but this is not speech, couldn’t
be imagined spoken. Phantasmal sea-surge,
some nocturnal bird, wave-form of insects.
Meeting the anxious self, cruel task-master
superego—altogether unformulated, gazing
for years on end at his reflection in that pool.
A green light lingering in the west, after mauve
unmentioned. Penalties of self-abuse
laceration of the forehead and temples.
Three women, like Mary & co. before the tomb,
shine their phones at a frog on the walk.
Halcyon voices vernal hours already
on the wing. World before her a page
of fair ciphers, of doubtful import. Altogether
unformulated, reflective. Exquisite fittings,
in sumptuous fitting rooms, as if the sun
tied the island down in bands of pink
and orange, for the night of whipping rains.
A thin gray cloud, startled green of moss
and rarest mistletoe. Only by a more elastic
moral philosophy, more capacious mathematic
might it all add up and come out right.
If she was a lover of strange souls, fervent watcher
of cave-shadows and antique serials,
she was a lover nonetheless. Plaintive sussurus,
breeze soughing its pneumatic vocabulary—
building always a derivative sense
of lives and customs, comfortable
mythology where hamadryad, satyr,
elf and harlequin might consort
in lively narrative frieze. The virginal
Madonna of the Île de la Cité turns away
as the other ducks canal bridges.
Gondoliers and Columbines. Wraiths
and specters stalking Europa, stalking
the continents all. Steerpike in the kitchens,
mind’s eye turned upward to the turret room.
The best of this kind are but shadows,
emending the grammar of the sprawl,
meatspace, the hoi polloi. Broken pillar
and sneer of command—level sands, if
you can bear the rhyme. A red Solo
cup, Coca-Cola’s reflective slick
dimpled by a single sheltie hair.
Potato chips, Chips Ahoy, faint aroma
of dogshit. Sifts of books—classics,
history, archaeology, the occasional Playboy.
The breakers sound suspicious tonight, some bewildered
bird in the distance. Enculturated in words
and endless entangled stories, broken and almost
mended, she would have brought home
that kitten, gray in the light as in the dark.
77. Odysseus and the Sirens
The curves and angles
never fail to satisfy
the eye. Machined precision
or splattered blurred
spontaneity. Sidewalk heat
from six stories
below sun wan
glass. Billing error.
and interest accrued.
Whiff of ganja
in the hired car.
Little red bump
of an ingrown hair.
Fœtor of long-
atop the landfill stepped
pyramid of réfuse.
of the present
broken glass half-
eaten hot dogs.
Curves and angles
sketches and fully-
realized oils. Darkened
rooms for fragile
works on paper.
When the temperature
drops the streets smell
Two small leashed
dogs in paroxysms
as a cat darts
across their path.
around the rectum.
collectibles home furnishings
open all night all wares
available to all.
The wavelength some
the virus. Bare arms
masked faces. Scent
of soap and fæces
under the fingernails
red marks on the bum.
I’ll take your emotion
recollected in tranquility
and raise you a hard
gem-like flame. The red
square is fire the black
square our souls.
Separate the work
from the text the worker
from her hands’
products. Political signs
in every front
lawn a flag in every
lapel. The curves and
angles bear us a long
way charm us along.
78. Language Lab
How do I translate this word? Is it
ache, or pain, or throbbing, or insistent
sense of unbelonging abjection?
Broken letter of admittance, fine
receding prospect: a walled garden
viewed from hands and knees.
Shifts of scale, proportion, letter sent
from freckled shoulders to distant
knees. Under the thrums of helicopter
blades scent of new roses to chilly
disinfected corridors. That month
with only one set of shoes, and that
month among the flowers
and ornamental cacti. A lifetime ago—
two, three. Generations ranked
and gone to seed. The day’s datum
sprawls down, effaces attention.
Distraction a way of life, way
of thinking, or not. There cannot be too much
attention, too much hilaritas. Cheer,
not quite gaudium, but akin enough.
Worth working out, the sequence of dates
and places, counts down to a final
whoreson zed. Null set. Humphry Davy
in Xanadu, “Ozymandias” printed
on the wings of a new-hatched
butterfly, in blood no less. Points
to connect, connections pondered
or invented: two by two, in order
of cleanness. Stopgap steps:
holiness to wholeness, priest to poet,
paradise to political nowhere,
Original Sin to the nameless crime
of existing. Progress not to be
charted, only inferred, though
his prose’s formality is not at all
chilly or stiff. Stoic by nature
though nature might as well
have made him an aesthete. Conclusions
diametrically opposed, arrived at
from identical warrants. Festal
odors, whiskey enough to fill
the bathtub—but only when past
the age of drinking. “Love is Enough”
a sweatshirt motto. Be best
of all possible worlds, as if
alternatives existed. Akin enough.
Draw across, betray, bewray,
stitching new skins for old
spirits. How should I translate
this phase, this word? Paducah
on the broad Miskatonic,
to sorting files and charts
in Saltieri’s palace. Snow clear
to the balcony upstate, like
Siberia. Monterey surf dostoevskian
drumbeat. Conjugating verbs,
to trace precisely out those Greekish
letters; nouns unrecognized or declined.
How do I translate this broken
letter, this broken book? A “broken
arch,” a curve of missed
opportunities. Charts and files
shortwave transmissions across
the dial, Luzon to Meißner.
Voyna i mir, De Bello Paceque, Krieg
und Frieden, files and charts,
tests, assessments, CAT scans
and MRIs. A new year, new harvest
of leaves to rake and bag. How
do I translate we are not holpen?
MARK SCROGGINS is a poet, biographer, and literary critic. Four volumes of his poetry, along with uncollected work, are gathered as Damage: Poems 1988–2022 (Dos Madres, 2022). He is the author of Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (U of Alabama P, 1998) and The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007). He has edited Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky (U of Alabama P, 1997) and Our Lady of Pain: Poems of Eros and Perversion by Algernon Charles Swinburne (Shearsman, 2019). His poetry collection Zion Offramp 1–50 was published by MadHat Press in 2022. A second volume, Zion Offramp 51–100: Asemic Dub, is forthcoming by MadHat Press in 2024.
Image: Part of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS, 1490–1510. Punishment of sinners in a dark gloomy Hell. Fantastic demons and witches torture naked men and women for their sins.