White Clay

Anna Akhmatova, Amedeo Modigliani

“I shall neither change it nor explain it. / ‘What I have written – I have written.’”  (Anna Akhmatova, November, 1944)

Once drove up to see Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western movie set in the Desierto de Tabernas behind Almería to find it all there but completely empty

When Heinrich Heine (“Where they have burned books they will end up burning humans too”) visited France for the first time he induced people to bump into him in order to hear their apologies  

Uwe Johnson (Speculations about Jakob) lived quietly after New York, and mainly alone on the Isle of Sheppey by the Thames Estuary until his early death there in 1984, his body lay undiscovered in his house for weeks

Go to a person’s phone to find most of their existence, well if blandly illustrated

It’s a melding of existence and purpose, people look at their devices to see if they’re hungry  

Collonges-la-Rouge, a pleasant village of reddish stone and twenty-five towers, is only twenty-five kilometers from the Grotte de Lascaux as the wood pigeons fly

Lascaux, symbolically the beginning of it all

And there in the forests of southwestern France, still ice just to the north, forty thousand years ago, the Aurignacians, France’s earliest known modern humans  

That pensive and shadowy vastness of pre-literate reality

In its grandeval magnificence  

Now literate reality can be enigmatic block letter or silly cursive tattooed texts under-wrist and oxter of the self-identified solipsistics 

Choose well your aphorism, your credo, excuse, justification, or some cool statement of purpose, ink it in, and take it with you the rest of your way

Living as if with a sign hanging around your neck as you and your chosen slogan smudge into decipherability

“What hope did the atonal / Composers think they had? / I haven’t yet run out / Even of Bach cantatas”  (Clive James, The Rivers in the Sky)

String Theory on-the-head-of-a-pin

The common conflux of rivers in the southern Amazon is transcendent, viz. the Cristalino and the Teles Pires 

Upstream in a small outboard breasting the strong cross current swinging into the meld of the two, the Cristalino dark but clear to its name, the Teles Pres running white clay murky that month from upstream heavy rain 

Pleasing like having a red-legged seriema, South America’s version of Africa’s secretary bird, in your Pantanal dooryard to frighten snakes and keep the insects down 

As in Carrizo Plain National Monument, hot late afternoon gravity wind off the Temblor Range, flocks of migrating horned larks moving in the blowing dust, one ground lifting low flurry of them after the other

Headed to Paso Robles from driving off Soda Lake’s pans where for eleven miles the temblor-heaved asphalt road exactly follows the San Andreas Fault 

A continent, an ocean and all of France away from Soglio, a village at a thousand meters snug on a sunny terrace in the heights off two Swiss passes 

A tiny place like Elizabeth Bishop’s Ouro Prêto four hundred kilometers into Minas Girais north of Rio de Janeiro 

She thought it “colder and drier” than Rio

Her Brasilian Key West and with jeitinho, her Brasilian smarts 

In the mostly lost history of the Amazon, the Parana and the Andes, is embedded historical drama to the match of the eerie dominance of the mysterious Celts, the Han’s perpetual occupation of two gargantuan river valleys, the confusion and chaos spun from Europe’s cascade of religious sectarian wars 

The world is broad and mutable, often in its ceaseless and answerless inhumanity

Assurance in it tentative, we live with uncertainty, we’re walking out into the waves and next step may feel the seabed drop beneath us   

“It’s not that the world is so small, but that history is so short. Four or five very old men could join hands and take you right back to Shakespeare”  (Orson Wells)

The Brahms and the Franck A Major violin sonatas

Then her sleek performance of the second Bach Partita 

That paprika summer with her Austrian cousins 

The long-light Grüner Veltliner evenings and Steiermark nights, a weekend’s excursion to Venice, the old family high-ceilinged Vienna apartment off the Kärnterring

Those serene cultural assurances of meaning and continuity that we covet

As in the emphatically yellow cover of Elizabeth Bishop’s Prose (FSG), the color of mature ataulfos, those small yellow astringent mangos

“Until one comes to think of it, one hardly realizes how many important and pleasant things in life are yellow”  (Richard Le Gallienne) 

Few chromatic contrasts more pleasing than white against black brown earth 

Lower Volga, the Ukraine, chalk white stucco farms on smooth brown and green hills


Vivid as blue against leafy green 

“Sea-drizzle. Diesel. Damp, black hair.”  (Susan Howe)

When we elected Trump, we proved not to be what we profess to be

As of 2016 there were one hundred thirty-six US military bands ready to go, with more than sixty-five hundred professional band members on the pad

Of the empire 

The US military pulled out of Iceland’s Keflavik only in 2006

Things fall in opposition, as Obama to Trump

As Woodstock happened a week after the Manson murders

Diminishment reflects the context

“the long and brutal corridor / down which we sometimes shuffle, and sometimes run” (Gerald Stern, “The Expulsion”)    

And not only are we inured, we become bored 

Within thirteen hours on Saturday, August 3, 2019, there were two mass shootings by young white men each using an assault rifle, one massacre in a Walmart in El Paso, the other outside a bar in Dayton, over thirty people killed with a like number wounded

El Paso to Dayton already shaded to the enigmatic and forgotten

Repeat “talaq” three times to divorce your wife in Islamic India                                                                         

Carlos Cruz-Diez ( b. Caracas, 1923, d. July 27, 2019, Paris) made color move, “a reality which acts on the human being with the same intensity as cold, heat, sound…” 

Entering his chromosaturations and physichromies can feel dizzily as though gravity had been modified 

It was a fine Iberian winter on Punta de Callabura (Fuengirola), first independence of any institution, first novel written

On Mare nostrum

Not many foreigners then sixty years ago there opposite Morocco 

Fuengirola’s early 1960s earnest, sophomoric American and English writers, many coming from some teaching connection and ready to go for broke 

For the brass ring of finishing and selling a book 

The Cal State San Francisco writer proudly refining a plot hung on people from one floor overhearing people on another floor through air ducts, Downstairs at Ramsey’s, that’s not found on Amazon now 

The scarily jumpy Chicagoan writing a crime novel, who when hosed in hundred peseta limit dealer’s choice poker went berserk over his baby food money, fixing on one after the other of us as if out of Dostoyevsky before storming off into the night      

The sullen, serious Brooklynite cante jondo critic, always alone, always hard up

None were women except one serious painter, the women passive and seeming without claims to identity except for a Dutch “¡Digame una cosa!” girl friend

Earnest expats a generation past the day and out of sync playing at what they weren’t sure what, baby Hemingways and baby Bretts   

On those ancient streets where in the eleventh century Andalulz poetry was sung

Deep post-Civil War poverty there then 

Still numbed by the starvation edicts Franco had imposed on Rojo Málaga

Guardia Civil still in pairs with tricorne vinyl hats walking either side of the roads with long guns slung 

Dead hue of their green uniforms 

The Interrogators of the Spanish Inquisition had carried green candles as they entered the trial chambers

Epichoric falangist Franco’s Spain 

Haydn’s almost sinisterly frenetic “Gypsy” Trio in G major

How Spain has always insisted on itself  

All that endures sinks within place, stones descend, settle in 

Ancient buildings everywhere, ground level around them rising from the detritus of what comes afterward, from the litter of nature and whatever is next 

A principal of antiquarian burial 

And graves of course sink

The noble bronze and gold Nebra Sky Disk ~1800 BC, buried ~ 1600 BC on a mountain summit fifty kilometers north of Jena, unearthed 1999, may well have been interned there in offering 

Or its usefulness gone, with the star-mapping episodes having swung on and past

Twenty-first century Spain frantically does its best to unearth hidden savage evidence of the Civil War  

But what is done, whatever happens, is finish and clear, remembered or not, it has been 

The words go on however, as Akhmatova insists