Friday, November 11, 2011

Epistemology: Cosmic Buffet

Epistemology: Cosmic Buffet

At dawn, shuttered
eyes blow open 
when I think of you
I think of every impossible thing
and its sweetness, of vision, of occlusion
the scent of earth’s full cauldron
boiling with herbs, cooled 
with lemon and quicklime
its bay and rosemary steam

drapes in mist the
supplicant body of night, an
odalisque black as all Nubia against
velvet cushions of infinity
leaned back lolling in a thong of skysilk
feline with her secret smile
and white sandals of stars.

I clerk your nightly office,
moon of dreams, and sigh
when you pass, trailing a memory
smile of what could never be.
Then, the butcher’s day returns
and the unspeakable lowing
sounds of life passing
through the bandages.

I think of the blind wrinkled
tortoise of each day dragging 
it's shell toward night, the jolting rocket
voyages to the center of the psyche
unremitting in their toll, 
of bell sounds of foreign
lovesongs in the street

bronzing over the cenotaphs
of what will never be recovered
folly’s coin that will never be remitted
in full; lack, that will never be acquitted
yet salvation creamed on toast
is served here 
at this time

November 2011

For the   Meeting the Bar:Prose to Poetry   prompt hosted by zsa at dVerse:

The poem above was inspired in part by this passage below by Lawrence Durrell, who was a big favorite of mine when I was young. It’s taken unaltered except by the enjambment of spacing and a few ellipses, from Justine, the first book of his four volume hymn to love, sex, sorrow and the eponymous Egyptian city known as the Alexandria Quartet. You could pick almost any page for this exercise, as the whole thing is shot through with poetic prose. This is from the beginning chapters:

Six o' clock...This
is the hour least easy to bear,
when from my balcony
I catch an unexpected glimpse of her
walking idly toward the town in
her white sandals,
still half asleep.

The city unwrinkles
like an old tortoise and peers about it.
For a moment it relinquishes
the torn rags of the flesh
while from some alley by the slaughter-house
above the moans and screams of the cattle
comes the nasal chipping of
a Damascus love song;
shrill quartertones,
like a sinus
being ground to powder.

Now tired men throw back
the shutters of their balconies
and step blinking into the pale hot light
etiolated flowers of
afternoons spent in anguish, tossing
upon ugly beds,
bandaged by dreams.
I have become one
of these poor clerks of
the conscience…
~Lawrence Durrell,  Justine


  1. Those are some beautiful words. Your arrangement is nice. It's wonderful when we can find poetry in non-poetic-standard places.

  2. This Lawrence Durrell excerpt is quite poetic.

    Enjoy how you take this, and take us to a different world -- one more personal (thoughts, feelings, viewpoint) than the original -- with vibrant and original language ("I clerk your nightly office", "salvation creamed on toast") A real poetic adventure! Thanks for providing such intellectual nourishment!

    P.S. great to see the Wallace Stevens' quote!

  3. love it what you did with the sandals line..and the bandages..(only to mention a few) kept going back and forth to see how you turned it around and made it a damn strong piece of poetry..

  4. I love that wonderful image of the tortoise!
    A stunning passage of prose there, expertly wrought into poetry.

  5. I have no comment on the exercise, but I do love that final stanza. Imagine salvation reduced to a light snack, and a routine one besides!

  6. A strange challenge, isn't it? And here to take a precursor poem (not a work of prose) and, like a hermit crab, take new occupation of it, so that the striations of the tropes are similar, but the being within is wholly new (Instead of roundhousing the polarities, here infighting with sames.) At first I thought the speaker in your poem was a tandem of Durrell's, the girl walking through the street at dawn, shining back all that the Durrell speaker casts toward her, but no, I see this very much as your work, carrying on as you usually do, only this time showing how we write on the skulls of our influences, building something faintly similar yet of a whole separate being. The words are shared, but the sentiment comes from a different planet. A different cooking-pot, at least. I'm not intimate with the Durrell poem, haven't made it part of my breath the way you have, so I'm probably reading off-center. What do we keep from our influencers? Cadences, maybe a word here or there, or the facility to trope with such bluster and blister (Durrell's "shrill quartertones,/like a sinus/being ground to powder" somehow rootballs the Hedgewitchean mandrake of "bronzing over the cenotaphs/of what will never be recovered." Your own work thrives because of its inheritance, rather than being shadowed by it. - Brendan

  7. Great job Hedge. Just the flow in yours alone is amazing, but the language you chose is outstanding, highlighted for me by the last stanzas. Great job, thanks

  8. Many thanks all, Just back home after errands, will be around to see what everyone else has done shortly.

    Note: The Durrell excerpt is a prose piece, taken straight from the book and just re-arranged and presented as poetry--which was what I thought the exercise was. Sorry if I didn't make that clear.

  9. I too was fond of The Alexandria Quartet when younger; haven't revisited it for a while. An amazing work!

    I love what you did with this, making it your own, yet staying true to the exotic flavour of Durrell's vision and language.

  10. I don't think I've read any of these. I'm beginning to wonder just what I have read. Thank you for sharing them. I'll add them to a growing list of shoulds.

  11. Wow, I prefer your version to Durrell' a thong of The image of the "blind wrinkled tortoise of the day dragging its shell toward night" is amazing. I FEEL lik that tortoise most days:) Fantastic writing, kiddo. Sublime.

  12. Salvation creamed on toast . . . that is just freaking brilliant!

    Gotta ask: Skyrim?

  13. @MZ: Haven't got it yet, but I'm thinking about it. Does it come with salvation?

  14. So sorry, thought I commented, and not sure it took.

    What I said--"salvation creamed on toast?" Amazing--can I get some.

    Also, although Durrell super poetic, you've made it your inimitable own. K.

  15. nice...just getting in myself from the show tonight..playing a little catchup before it...the stanzas on clerking the night desk and the wrinkled tortouise in particular...

  16. Good heavens Joy, I love it; it entered my consciousness like one of your inner paramour pieces and rattled the cages. One of my favorites of yours and a marvelous peek into your glorious mind.

    An aside: Skyrim is arriving here next week, a birthday present from Adrian, should be epic.

  17. Thanks, bri and MDD--glad you enjoyed.

    @Anna: I've heard a lot of good things about it. It may force me to buy it, and finally give that new computer some use. Thanks for reading.

  18. Lawrence Durrell is unjustly underrated for sure. Both pieces you have shared here are exquisite, but have to say I like yours better for its density and excellent word choice and combos.

  19. oh, your title makes me feel hungry, and your poem is superb.

    admire your ability to go far and deep, showcase a wide range of topics and more.


  20. Jeez louise, Hedge. You are on a roll. This is stunning. The first three lines knocked me out, but I revived myself for the rest, which did not disappoint. That thong of skysilk!! And so many other sweet lines: I clerk your nightly office . . . your salvation creamed on toast . . . just stellar language and movement. I really love the tensions you create in your masterful use of language and craft.

  21. Thanks all, and sorry for not visiting as much this week--its been a hectic one.

    @Ruth: Glad you enjoyed it. This fragment was a bit different before Durrell and the exercise got a hold of it, but I think the prompt actually made it a more varied and interesting piece, though I feel a bit plagiaristic in some of the passages. Thanks for stopping by, as always.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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