… it’s a bit difficult to take an objective view of myself. But I’m aware that I do possess two things. One is that I’m quite violent, myself. I have violent feelings and… I feel quite strongly about things. On the other hand, however, I’m quite reticent. You have to look very carefully at your motives if you become a public figure. The danger is that you become an exhibitionist, self-important, pompous. Politicians fall into this all the time, of course. Before you know where you are you’re having make-up put on, your eyelashes are being tinted.—
Harold Pinter, ”A Play and its Politics”
[Interview with Nicholas Hern, Feb. 1985]
To come back like autumn
to the moss on the stones
after many seasons
to recur as a face
backlit on the surface
of a dark pool one day
after the year has turned
from the summer it saw
while the first yellow leaves
stare from their forgetting
and the branches grow spare
is to waken backward
down through the still water
knowing without touching
all that was ever there
and has been forgotten
and recognize without
name or understanding
without believing or
holding or direction
in the way that we see
at each moment the air— W.S. Merwin, “Under the Day”
Like countless others in the digital age, I seem
To have written a memoir on my new computer.
It had no memories—anyone’s would have done,
And mine, I hoped, were as good as anyone’s.
This playmate was programmed for my ‘personal’ needs
(A bit too intricately, it would transpire),
But all was advancing at the smooth pace of dream
Until that morning when a faint mechanical shriek
Took me aback. As I watched, the paragraph
Then under way deconstructed itself into
Mathematical symbols, musical notation—
Ophelia’s mad scene in a Czech production
Fifty years hence. The patient left on a gurney,
Returned with a new chip, the following week.
Another year or two, the memoir done
And in the publishers’ hands, the pressure’s off.
But when I next switch it on, whatever Descartes meant
By the ghost in the machine—oh damn!—gives itself up:
Experts declare BRAIN DEATH. (The contriver of my program
Having lately developed a multiple personality,
My calls for help kept reaching the wrong one.)
Had it caught some ‘computer virus’? For months now a post-
Partum depression holds me prisoner:
Days spent prone, staring at the ceiling,
Or with an arm flung over my eyes. Then sleepless nights
In which surely not my fingertips upon the mattress
Count out Bach, Offenbach, Sousa, trying to fit
Into groups of five or ten their metronomanic host.
Or was the poor thing taking upon itself a doom
Headed my way? Having by now a self of sorts,
Was it capable of a selfless act
As I might just still be, for someone I loved?
Not that a machine is capable of anything but
A selfless act… We faced each other wordlessly,
Two blank minds, two screens aglow with gloom.
Or perhaps this alter ego’d been under ‘contract’—Yep,
You know too much, wise guy… Feet in cement,
A sendoff choreographed by the Mob.
But who the Mob is, will I ever know?
—Short of the trillionfold synaptic flow
Surrounding, making every circumstance
Sparkle like mica with my every step
Into—can that be sunlight? Ah, it shines
On women in furs, or dreadlock heads on knees
(Hand-lettered placards: BROKE. ILL. HELP ME PLEASE),
This prisoner expelled to the Free World,
His dossier shredded. Now for new memories,
New needs. And while we’re at it a novice laptop
On which already he’s composed these lines.— James Merrill, “Scrapping the Computer”
Say life is the one-way trip, the one-way flight,
say this without hysterical undertones—
then you could say you stood in the cold light of science,
seeing as you are seen, espoused to fact.
Strange, life is both the fire and fuel; and we,
the animals and objects, must be here
without striking a spark of evidence
that anything that ever stopped living
ever falls back to living when life stops.
There’s a pale romance to the watchmaker God
of Descartes and Paley; He drafted and installed
us in the Apparatus. He loved to tinker;
but having perfected what He had to do,
stood off shrouded in his loneliness.— Robert Lowell, “Watchmaker God”
I am doing my best, and failing again, yet again. I don’t mind failing, it’s a pleasure, but I want to go silent. Not as just now, the better to listen, but peacefully, victorious, without ulterior object. Then it would be a life worth having, a life at last. My speech-parched voice at rest would fill with spittle, I’d let it flow over and over, happy at last, dribbling with life, my pensum ended, in the silence.— Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian façades—
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.— Louis MacNeice, from “Dublin”
Earth-time, the stones
in hollows of dust, the arable air
wanders far from home, barbed
wire and road
are erased. Spat
out by the burning
fever in our lungs, the Ur-seed
blooms from crystal, our vermilion breath
into many. We will not
ever know ourselves
again. Like the light
that moves between the bars
we sometimes called death,
we, too, will have flowered,
even with such
as these.— Paul Auster, “Prism”
There they are
drooping over the breakfast plates,
folding in their sad wing,
and only the night before
there they were
playing the banjo.
Once more the day’s light comes
with its immense sun,
its mother trucks,
its engines of amputation.
Whereas last night
the cock knew its way home,
as stiff as a hammer,
battering in with all
its awful power.
Today it is tender,
a small bird,
as soft as a baby’s hand.
She is the house.
He is the steeple.
When they fuck they are God.
When they break away they are God.
When they snore they are God.
In the morning they butter the toast.
They don’t say much.
They are still God.
All the cocks of the world are God,
blooming, blooming, blooming
into the sweet blood of woman.— Anne Sexton, “The Furies: The Fury of Cocks”
A squeal of brakes.
Or is it a birth cry?
And here we are, hung out over the dead drop
Uncle, pants factory Fatso, millionaire.
And you out cold beside me in your chair.
The wheels, two rubber grubs, bite their sweet tails.
Is that Spain down there?
Red and yellow, two passionate hot metals
Writhing and sighing, what sort of a scenery is it?
It isn’t England, it isn’t France, it isn’t Ireland.
It’s violent. We’re here on a visit,
With a goddam baby screaming off somewhere.
There’s always a bloody baby in the air.
I’d call it a sunset, but
Whoever heard a sunset yowl like that?
You are sunk in your seven chins, still as a ham.
Who do you think I am,
Sad Hamlet, with a knife?
Where do you stash your life?
Is it a penny, a pearl—
Your soul, your soul?
I’ll carry it off like a rich pretty girl,
Simply open the door and step out of the car
And live in Gibraltar on air, on air.— Sylvia Plath, “Stopped Dead”
Sunsets, incipient storms, the tableaus
of melancholy—maybe these are
the Saturday night-events
to take your best girl to. At least then
there might be moments of vanishing beauty
before the sky darkens,
and the expectation of happiness
would hardly exist
and therefore might be possible.
More and more you learn to live
with the unacceptable.
You sense the ever-hidden God
retreating even farther,
terrified or embarrassed.
You might as well be a clown,
big silly clothes, no evidence of desire.— Stephen Dunn, “Before the Sky Darkens”