Friday, November 07, 2003

Dwellings

It's high autumn on the river walk -- everything tangled, browning, falling, thinning. There are some brilliant red berries, still, and the milkweed's fuzz is a pure, impeccable white; some things are green still -- pines, bushes, an odd stand of grass near the bank. It's compost time, things going to seed, disseminating. More sexual than spring. Again, the ducks and geese, spotting me on the footbridge, swam upstream toward me. I had nothing for them. Looking at the denuded bushes, I thought "All wick, and no flame."

I saw the riverside hut again, a domed tent patched with plastic, surrounded by debris and a lawnchair. I did reread Bachelard on the hermit's hut, prompted by a post on the Hermitary. It was very satisfying to read. The idea of a hut -- primal shelter against encroaching cold and dark -- has been an image that resonates deeply with me. I was looking at Isay and Abramson's fine, sad collection of photographs and interviews, "Flophouse" yesterday. The flophouse being among the most elementary and marginal of shelters for deeply lost and alienated men. It sits on my shelf right next to Margaret Morton's "Fragile Dwelling," again a wonderful, heartbreaking collection of photographs of makeshift urban shelters, some oddly and wildly beautiful. Next to these two sits "Joseph Cornell: Master Of Dreams" and I can't help linking his oneiric and fabulous boxes with little dwellings, huts, rooms. And next to all of them is Luc Sante's collection of police photos from the early 1900's, "Evidence," murdered bodies sprawled in tenement rooms.

The odd spiky pods I'd been wondering about are burcucumber, but what I have been calling "wild buckwheat" probably isn't. I still haven't identified the beautiful, delicate grass.

Walking, I felt odd, not-myself, lonely, stranded, strange, temporary, doomed, yet somehow at home in all that. As if all those sensations were simply part of the inner landscape, as much as the weeds and vines were a part of the outer.

I have a poem about dwellings. The "plow this shantytowns under" line is from reading Morton's book.



ABODE

Who has no house now will never build one.
-- Rainer Maria Rilke



The autumn’s past. This is the house I’ve built.
A roof, a floor, four walls, a door, that’s it,
sub code, badly measured, unvarnished, raw,
overly apophatic, you’ll complain,
but even a window would be luxury,
a campy tribute to an enthused age

when casements spilled their buttery, mullioned light
into the obscure forests of our selves,
or to last night, when fitful, needling rain
slashed accents graves upon the windowpane
where my face floated, backward, looking in.

Before you know it the bulldozers will come
to plough this shantytown under. Then you’ll see,
from freshly fertilized, newly enriched tracts,
glass spires beanstalking up toward eggy gold,
all window, panoptical, endlessly prospecting,
until the light off their fa├žades at sunset blinds you
and you fall to your knees, afraid, misreading GOD.

And then I’ll shelter under the startling call
of geese who cross the night-time winter sky
in ragged Vs, dark-of-moon dull, no more
than air wrinkling between the naked trees,
and, at the eye’s cold corner, sybilline,
a sudden blinking of the pleiades.

3.2.02

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