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Monday, 26 March 2012

A Western


Canyon of the Colorado River near the mouth of the San Juan River in Arizona. Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan.U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian (Wheeler Survey, 1873 Expedition).

Canyon of the Colorado River near the mouth of the San Juan River in Arizona

The walls of stone shrinking a little more every living
night, and when voices then begin to murmur in the dark
once again, in broken tones, it's difficult to understand
the stage directions, if that's what they're meant to be,
through the background hallooing of the wind
around this large theatrical canyon, where the tall hats
tell a tale of five cowboys, positioned in a perfect line
against the eyepopping symmetry of the landform,
erect, stiff in the saddle, kabuki-like
in their frozen mechanical formality. The signs
which have been unclear up to now start to suggest
that this is no common dream; the hollow clip
clop of the hooves across the baked-earth canyon floor
beneath the escarpment makes you wonder if the stage
carrying the mail-order bride from the East might not
be running more than merely a little late, and whether the sage
for that matter might turn out to be not really purple after all
but dyed a strange ashen-ember hue; and whether, too,
these mechanical varmints costumed as ordinary people
are not trying to clamber into the picture
merely to let the audience know they are here, trying to be trying,
and if the stage never arrives, will she still remember you?

Canyon De Chelly in Arizona. Walls of the Grand Canyon are about 1200 feet high. Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan.U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian (Wheeler Survey, 1873 Expedition).

Canyon De Chelly in Arizona. Walls of the Grand Canyon are about 1200 feet high

Photos by Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840-1882), from U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian under Lieutenant George M. Wheeler, 1871 Expedition (U. S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)




Yes indeed.
. . . difficult to understand
the stage directions. if that's what they're meant to be. . .
. . . ordinary people
. . . trying to be trying,
and if the stage never arrives, will she still remember you?


light coming into sky above still black
ridge, invisible birds calling in field
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

aspect, “the metaphysics of
most ordinary objects”

that, elsewhere in this way,
persons being watched

line of blue sky in cloud above horizon,
tree-lined green of ridge above channel

TC said...

Steve, well, as you know, it's the off-stage action that counts.

Nin Andrews said...

But the real question I have is about the mail order bride from the East. And her memory . . . off or on stage, and her dreams, common or uncommon, and her language
and what about those 5 cowboys?

TC said...


I reckon the mail-order bride had already suffered a half dozen changes of heart between St. Louis and Dodge City, was probably relieved when the desperados (or maybe it was the indigenes) waylaid the stage, and had completely forgotten the hero of this poem by the time he attempted to evoke her in the last line.

Maybe she had joined a commune, or been abducted by the Symbionese Liberation Army. I'm not clear on that point.

The five tall cowboys would only be three if I had better eyesight. They have been turned to stone in the long exposure.

In an early draft they were lined up in such a perfect row that our hero could have put one bullet through all five of their Stetsons, had he a little better aim.

In that draft the scene of the action was Gethsemane, and the cowboys were hung up there in the wind like so many foolish... Americans, I think it was.

But as they never did say a word, they might have hailed from some valley hid deep in the remote slopes of the Balkans.

If they ever do speak to anyone, it will either be in perfect unison, or one at a time, depending.

Depending, that is, on the wishes, hopes and dreams of the mail-order bride.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Excellent poem with stage directions leading to……………exeunt.

Anonymous said...

Dreams are not in us

rather we are in them

TC said...

Sometimes I think so too, Dal, but then...

To speak personally (and how else can one really speak of this): I sleep rarely and then only in snatches (this an old problem, related to stroke/s), so dreams are quite infrequent, yet all the more, shall we say, to be neutral about it, of interest, for that.

Inevitably the conversion of dream imagery to verbal narrative is distorting and involves interventions and impositions. And as nothing in this area can ever be verified (or conversely proven "false", of course), the effort to turn dreams into words necessarily then becomes to large degree a subjective exercise.

When, in the poem, I describe the "kabuki-like" poses of the cowboys; or when, in the comment above, I suggest that the "original" "scene of the action was Gethsemane", of course I merely fumble to tag the inchoate motions of the brain with approximately rational or coherent equivalents.

This is always a dodgy game at best. There are so many underground tributaries that enter this river before it ever surfaces in the form of something that seems intelligible as narrative in "day world" terms.

It's also a scary game, I think. Today I managed -- the product of accumulated exhaustion -- two brief periods of sleep. A single dream bridged the two and suggested far more than it "told".

But if I was in those dreams, and they were not in me (as you have so intriguingly put it), then I have no idea how I escaped those dreams (in which I was dead, to put it simply and bluntly) to say these things.

Luck perhaps explains it. (Unsure whether that would be good or bad luck, however.)

Anonymous said...

Tom I was thinking of something R. Carver once wrote Dreams are what we wake up from ... (exact quote??) and was response to that view ... but also I suppose writing that incorporates dream elements you can't quite "get" I mean you don't grasp it it eludes is somehow bigger than the conscious brain can manage I seldom am aware of dreaming for most of my life now
This "fragment comes from a dream:


A vast topiary design mimicking the detail

of a great house A folly perhaps

in the grand manner one is obliged anyway

to get up at 2 a.m. to puzzle over Elaborate

Of indeterminate dimension viewed

as from outside and above and at some remove

A kind of maze inside the dream

(They are not synonymous)

This place called 'Mockingbird'

TC said...

Well, there's the lament, placed in the mouth of Stephen Dedalus by Joyce, that history is the nightmare from which one cannot awake. That grows truer.

But this awakening from the dream into the poem called Mockingbird reverses the dynamic by entering a notation of the real and impalpable into the palpable waking human log, that fragile endangered text.

That too grows truer. If perhaps not exactly happier. But then happiness was possibly never anything more than a happy face painted upon someone's dream.

(Topiary worlds are so strange!)

Anonymous said...

Yes Tom Taking what was in a dream and inserting it "out there" as it were into our waking world .... but only seldom is my dreaming remembered . . .

I still return to the issue of that waking world For myself I think "my" reality in that waking world is also imagined fictive invented .. often in large part the invention of others which we deal with reluctantly or embrace ...

I shall have to think more about this to present it in any coherent way though .... too tired from a long day's toil right now

Robb said...

Loved this, Tom.

TC said...

Happy you liked it, Robb.