Stubborn endless poem !

We keep on, with Henry, through the stubborn endless poem nobody knows about.... we readers & re-readers...

Thinking of the idea of the beginning of things... a radical origin which includes ourselves, somehow... inclusive.  Dream Songe.

Berkeley, Blackstone, LaFarge, Henry James... all converging on this actual place called Paradise, for one reason or another.

I wrote this poem almost 20 years ago.  I can't even remember what it all means - somebody will have to look into it.

1968 in America.  The crumbling of a bond of generations.  Fathers against sons, & vice versa.  War creeps into the interstices of many a familial psycho-drama.  We were there.  Establishment corroded by acid.

Tell me 'bout your journey; I'll tell you about mine.

"The line" is the line of generations; of the Way; of meaning.  The ground of ordinary life, the foundation, surveyed, laid out.  What was understood.  The line was broken.  Children went looking for answers in all the.

"It must be abstract," writes Wallace Stevens.  In order to let the imagination play, let it go, let it be primal, let it have no prior coding.

"Masters of color" : maestro di color che sanno.  Aristotle, according to Dante.  "Master of those who know."  The philosophical experts on reality.  Berkeley, George.  Irish Bishop; dreamer-at-large.  The Universe is a spiritual encounter... something personal & creative.

Something personal & creative.  This is possibly the lesson of Paradise Valley.

It's a kind of crevasse, very salty, with horsegrass, near the Atlantic... something fundamental,  feminine.  Something aching underneath these endless battles of men & boys.

What's my line?  Good question.


A point.  Then a line to the end of the.
Peninsula (perpendicular).  Then think distance. 
Masters of color, doing flat time against a sentence. 
A close-knit family of synecologists, in kimoni.

What's your point?  The point is in the line now, 
Dino – forms frame for all the others.
The other colors.
De-materialize a bus ad.  I?  Material?  Huh?

Point of all that – brushpaint?  Graffiti pencil 
spray?  Sprigs of lilac, yam?  Quiet!
The laird is taking out his sketch kit! 
LaFarge draws rock on rock – tensile,

spare, tireless.  Emerging out of mica, coagulated 
puddingstone to papyrus to pencil –
doubleplay! – looks like a stencil
scraped against igneous fireclay (disintegrated)

– or skeleton of a cedar.  Shadow of Berkeley's hat
in figured birchbark.  Simple.  Fractalimbs am 
tapering – congregated, candelabra-wise, om-
nipotent aureole singing in the branches – art!

O awful Ark of Armenian cubits, cubed!
Tahiti of exiled tic-tap-toes!
Show us the mud-slides, Prez!
Before the humanoid hokey Cahokian potsherd is – unrubed!

LaFarge was married beforetimes, in New Orleans. 
Bartholdi berthed, booked Liberty in his own backyard. 
Complete Red Goddesses peep from every shard
(every word, almost).  The spinning clay lip leans – shines.

Square seed packages on their backs, they leap –
greenhorns – from almost nothing on!  She made me. . . 
Out of a doubleseedy notch (C dusky) see
synecdoche – a wavy Q – become one major creep!

Horsegrass in Paradise Valley (Newport)

Rise early

So, with the help of Ez Pound & others in mind, I try to zone in on John LaFarge & express the process of "seeing in paint".  To be in the paradise of an artist in Paradise.  The "lamb in a landscape" refers to a specific oil painting, "Paradise Valley" (1866-68) (see it here).  The poem opens ("His solitude" etc.) with a quote from Henry James, a friend of the painter who also visited Paradise with him.  There are some quotes also toward the end from Leonardo da Vinci (on the difficulties of "painting flesh").


His solitude was broken in November (mud-
brown earth-month, swirling toward shallow 
hollows of no-color, wavering in the deprived blue-
black depths of the bowl) by the chance arrival of

John LaFarge.  Half-known, insular, shady, 
indigenous, igneous, indirect sketch of trade-wind, 
somewhat Parisian, eccentric, kind, unkind,
a man of nuances, streams in the grass, heady

tempered instinct.  Shut your eyes and see.  Open 
your ineluctable, indelible nine-pin Santa
Marias, bowling toward a sudden infant – a
new content! Only... a lamb – alone, in a pale green

spring-cropped meadow – like a white upstart 
crowning a green map!  Paint, painfully, what you see. 
Painstaking, to capture the exact luminosity
of time of day – settled, gravitational, there, apart,

still. His four legs fanning, relaxed like a Pushkin 
on the rock-strewn sward of Paradise Valley, sloping 
so gradually (through medium transparency)
to the seablue with pendant cloudbank.  Begin

again, a new sheepfold.  Early, with birds, 
before sunrise: where the little navicella twirls 
solitary under shadows of Berkeley's
Seat.  Melancholy, gay, in the quiet: whispers

of cedars – motionless – high up – over salt hay. 
He sets up a little shack in the cleft cliffs
for storing his brushes, clay; goes off – stiffs 
the world each day for this.  Every day.

Every day his eyes hold it – the round whole,
the spiral – hold to it – bear down upon it, finger-
painting, until it comes back – figured – grounded 
in geometric shades – a squared bowl.

Paint what you see.  Seal it in clay, cuneiform,
a royal seal.  Seal it forever.  Dichten = condensare
Condensation in the air, the dense sea air =
rain, rain – precipitation – disinterred, disintegrated

storm of particulars – held in the hand until. 
Before your eyes with the tenderness of a scent. 
Vague blur, flight, pervading – lent
only a moment, gone.  Breath over soil,

the loam, fresh till.  Breath-wind of salt. 
Sealant for clay, mordant.
Everything pendant,
hovering.  Manifest, without fear – this colt

of cobalt Paradise.  Spotted with various stains 
or with a mixture of different kinds of stones,
you will be able to see in it a resemblance. . . 
adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains,

wide valleys and various groups of hills.
You will also be able to see divers combats
and figures in quick movement, and strange 
expressions of faces, and outlandish costumes. . .

What you see, meanwhile.  Brady figures
on a ground.  Bag of corpsegas sopping in foul brine.
LaFarge stiffs a world of stiffs – mine. 
Of the various colors

other than blue, that which at a great distance 
will resemble blue most closely will be that 
which is nearest black.  Out of his shovel hat, 
stovepipe.  Gun-gray metal.  Prince

of pain.  The shadow of flesh 
should be of burnt terra verde
By sea-bord, dog-merde. 
Fresh, invisible,

underfoot – breath of air, 
incongruous, ground of your shaping 
clay.  Composed compost, a ring 
unseen, hovering there, somewhere. . .

for indeed flesh is difficult to render;
this unctuous white, even without being pale 
or mat; this mixture of red and blue which 
imperceptibly perspires;. this is blood, and life,

which create the colorist's despair. . .
thousands of painters have died without knowing 
flesh; thousand others will die without feeling
it.  Pain is what you see.  Prepare your

clays.  Rise early, before sunrise
and civil wars.  LaFarge was there before, 
in Paradise.  Under Berkeley's Chair 
and the Hanging Rock – sophisticated, 

wise, scrupulous (for a while) 
and hungry.  And look – there lay 
the calm lamb, peaceful.  Eye 
perpendicular to the ray

of the painter's unselfconscious smile.
There, that particular day, only.
Once, in Paradise.  Gently
the horsegrass flickers in his hand (awhile).

Paradise Valley, near Newport, RI

Mixing blues

Shifty Henry zigzags now, from Blackstone in his lost lead crypt, to young John LaFarge, painting in Paradise (a vernal neighborhood on the outskirts of Newport).  It's all about practice, practice, practice... the ability to take a deep breath & keep going down, down...

Note the nod to that other deep-sea "poem-including-history" diver, Ezra Pound.  See the powerful whisper of his Notes for Canto CXX, near the very end.)  (Bit of Joyce's Ulysses in there too, just to top it off.)


Rose early, with the birds, and thought of Paradise. 
Went out into the Garden, in straw shoes
and a purple kimono, always mixing shades
and colors in his mind – white-spotted, Sonora blues,

Rita blue, Southern blue, Cataline, clouded, dotted, 
San Gorgonio Arrowhead blues.  Blurring
below early sunlight, a reddish yellow bells – billowing 
with a yell like a bull in the snotgreen, rusted

diaphane. Breathe deep. A winding blue 
trajectory – steep spiral–blue-writ with violets. 
That is Paradise.

Young John LaFarge

Perhaps good compost

Yesterday I drove up to Cumberland, one of the small towns huddled around Providence along the Blackstone River.  I wanted to see William Blackstone Memorial Park, a little brick diamond on the corner of Broad & Blackstone Sts., just across the way from the giant parking lot of the defunct Ann & Hope shopping center.

The memorial consisted of an old stone monument, erected by Blackstone's descendants; a brick patio, with a couple of tablets of historical information, and... a small apple tree, weighted down with green apples!

I tried one : it was tart but good.

Blackstone was an early New England orchardist, credited with cultivating the first apple variety in the region - the Yellow Sweeting (now also known as the Rhode Island Greening).

The encounter with Bluejay (see previous posts) filtered in a whole new tone to Stubborn Grew.  Something more serious, a little ominous maybe.  The atmospheric pressure seemed to build until Henry had to step back and feint to the left, back into colonial origins.

Bluejay will return again, at the end of this chapter : but for now the hobbling little Rhody-bard's squawking bends back for some kind of soma-drink at the sources of imagination.  We have people in the poem now, not just literary symbols ("Orpheus", "Hamlet").  & this was Bluejay's doing.  The next phase introduces three local avatars of poetry & the imagination : Blackstone, George Berkeley (the idealist philosopher who lived in Newport for a few years), and John LaFarge, a 19th-century artist who did a lot of painting in the "Paradise" neighborhood of Newport.

Blackstone is a very curious figure.  A pivotal character in Conrad Aiken's amazing long history-poem, The Kid.  Orchardist, Anglican reverend, scholar, exile.  Almost a sort of Moses figure.  For a while he owned the largest library in New England (at his "Study Hill").  It was burned to the ground days after he died.  Then his body (like Moses') disappeared - no one knows where he lies.

So we jump back into history & crypt & scripture.


Rain and wind, wind and the rain.  Lent. 
Drifting for days, cloudy, over New England. 
El Nino.  In my beginning is my end.
And Blackstone rode into exile without incident

out of Boston, into Rhode Island, astride a white bull. 
Anglican recluse.  Study Hill, in Cumberland.
His Study Hall was Alexandrian –
a nest of books; his morning orchard full

of Yellow Sweetings.  It was Eden before Eden, 
Ithaca before the Greek was translated, hidden Rome 
at the end of roaming, Ethiopian Negus kingdom 
nestled high beyond flood-tide. . . heaven

for meditation.  3 Bibles, 10s; 6 English books
in folios, L2. 3 Latin books, in folio, 15s;
3 do., large quarto, L2; 15 small quarto, L117s 
16d; 14 small do., 14s; 30 large octavo. . . £4. . .5s. . .

Inventory, May 28th (day of his burial).  Body
was hardly cold in the ground.  Band of King Philip's. 
Burned Study Hall and all its books.  The earth itself 
was all that remained. A few smoldering ashes. . . two

rough quartz grave markers.  Painfully regret the 
destruction. . . those "paper books".  (Probably ms.) 
Left England to get from under power of lord bishops, 
but in America I am fallen under lord brethren.

I looked to have dwelt with my orchards and my books, 
my young fawn and bull, in undisturbed solitude. 
Was there not room enough for all of ye?
Could ye not leave the hermit in his corner?

Study Hill became Ann & Hope (first American 
shopping center).  Blackstone went missing – bones
in a wooden box sealed in lead. . . heavy lead foil. 
Its corners were soldered. . . 12x12x6 inches in

size.  Ash, bones, clay – time past perhaps good compost.

Yellow Sweeting laden with apples at the Wm. Blackstone Memorial

Ann & Hope parking lot, where WB's bones were lost

In the shadow of the Arsenal

... so then the tattoo-spell passes.  Bluejay & Henry look up, note their surroundings.  We are back behind Shakespeare's Head, in old historic Providence.  The legacy of the past is pain & glory.  The shadow of the Armory (the shadow of War) remains.


The shadow of the huge gray Armory (an empty arsenal) 
looms over Shakespeare's Head and the faded garden. 
Climbing into uniform, polishing their cannon,
a remnant of the veterans still ropes a tight circle –

once a year – around the old town. Arms and medallions 
gleam in the dusky half-light; the ghost of drums 
comes back, hale and hollow fifth columns;
the monument breathes a brigade of African

Americans, marching to 19th-century major chords.
Gospel music, sculpted clay. . . and Henry hunts the phantom 
feline down dry garden paths.  And Bluejay, lonesome, 
bares one arm (hieroglyph – or sweetheart – without words). 

           2.24.98  Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)

Benefit Street Arsenal (Shakespeare's Head in lower right corner)

The old black-and-white

Deeper into the trumpeting tattoo.  The sullen weight of atmospheric pressure in these passages (from Once in Paradise) keeps gathering.  The foreboding marks racial, sexual, geo-political tensions.  "Henry Clay" is a nickname for the poem's protagonist, but also a figure out of American history, as storm-clouds gathered before the Civil War.


. . . heard himself muttering in the dark. 
Unaccountable black cone of jagged war 
– like a spiralling ashen djinn – wore 
through the skin, leaving an acid blood-mark.

The White House sketched a venereal river 
of chattering teeth squirming in a mask 
through immaterial Mardi Gras.  Ask
not what your country can, Sergeant. Shiver.

Until the vernal Jordan overflows.
White foam, tumbling over golden shoeblack 
into the microphones; a floating shack
out of Arkansas, to the gulf of hexagons, she goes,

a strong brown goo.  And the dust began to blow, 
the fertilizer.  Dried bowls by the Mississippi, 
iron harvesters plowing down the slippery
red Indian mounds – slow, slow.


Throw all the acorns into the black account, 
cried Henry Clay, last of the statesmen.
Time flowed through the blurred windowpane. 
Irreversible.  It seemed a blissful river, heaven

sent.  Or just a po wayfarin stranger. 
Depends on your outlook.
Hmmmmm. . . Hmmmmm.. . . rook
to queen's knight's eagle's castle.  Danger.

Shrubbery on the move there, Ahab; 
question for you, iron man. 
Shadow for sundown.
Take these samples to the lab,

cried Henry. The black lab.
And he glanced off through the trees
into surrounding dusk.  A breeze crawled. . . 
scrawled across gray beech bark.  Like a scab.


In the darkroom, the old black-and-white 
plays out in spools across a bloody field. 
Something missing. . . the last leg on the shield 
of Malcolm's hurtling emancipation. . . not quite

there yet.  In mordant clay
the old man seals his will and covenant–
Ahab's slave-ship now (a raving cormorant) 
dives after the white inscrutable. Say,

Bluejay, Queequeg, if you can – since 
Henry's finally lost his power of speech
where Pushkin gone?  The fatal touch 
of earthy lips – sealed up his coffin?

Or is there someone waltzing into view 
kings' concupiscence cannot comprehend? 
And missiles miss?  And Henry's hand 
skip over – like a monkey at the zoo?

2.16.98 (President's Day)

Deep tattooistics

Now this next passage of Once in Paradise is very mysterious.  Henry is sitting with Bluejay in the shadowy garden behind Shakespeare's Head, just below the Armory building (a hulking plaster-gray castle situated just up the hill adjacent to Sh's Head).  Bluejay doesn't say much - but the tattoos on his arm exert a magnetic effect...

Obscurities abound.  The poem was written in the late 1990s - after the First Gulf War, before 9/11 and all that followed.  Henry, with help of Bluejay, is delving into murky psychological waters.  There was a sense after the 1st Gulf War - bygone period already - of a style shift.  The alpha-macho military look became cool - the buzz-cuts, camo outfits, oversize jeeps & Hummers.  This was something new at the time.  It was a fashion ripple from U.S. entanglements in Iraq and the Middle East.

Seems to be something a bit prescient about this and adjacent sections of Stubborn Grew.  A foreboding of future strife.  But I was also looking - again, with help of Queequeg/Bluejay - into the repressed homoeroticism of warfare, warrior culture.  As in Melville (Moby-Dick et al.) this ambiguous dimension colors the atmosphere, adds some sort of irony to the cultural situation.  It's also a reflection of the outcast/scapegoat dynamics which are pervasive...

Some obscurities can be illuminated by a very hard-to-find and eccentric but brilliant book by Viola Sachs, titled The Game of Creation.  A study of Melville's coded gematria, his symbolic number-&-letter systems, at play in Moby-Dick.  I'm fiddling with some of the symbols & thematics Sachs draws out.


There was silence in the starlit backyard.
Far below the spine of the ridge, the bawling 
of worn-out Rovers, Jeep Harpooneers, trawling 
the iron highway.  The white noise of the herd.

The moon shed a parched light, through the beech 
trees and the maples, down onto Bluejay's arm. 
Henry squinted.  Images began to form
before his eyes or in the back of his head – each

indentation whorling, interlacing, a curlicue
of narrow formations, a lake of clay-coated 
muscle-shored black sailor's pearl-moted talki-
talkitalki cueduetlicueduetli dumbshowlodrumsolo

strung minarets.  The red tongue silent, 
the palms aswaying, the stars askew. 
Henry stared down tattoo avenue, until 
the whole of Shakespeare's backyard bent

into a dusty parallax (black, white, gray). 
Sudden – Olympian thunder rent the airwaves. 
A Missing Tailcat lunged into the grooves
of ice – Witch Country swells the day –

Dust Bowl football suddenly Game to Play! 
Smart missiles artificially enhanced
for endless penetration danced
toward Dad's golf bags – hip houris

scuttled for shelter (squired under the square 
air-raid shelters screwed shut by sultry sheiks) 
just in time before the pool cue speared the steaks –
and I ran (unfertile myself) into the queer

crescent, deserted by storm, rapped on the head 
by a load of unbending lustrous Grecian pillars 
ironed by a missing Nelson in Trafalgar's 
wasteland (protected by a titanium toolshed).

Epic of a black cat

So Henry responds to Bluejay's invitation (see previous).  He starts his tale.  This is another one of those tendrils of saga spun out of mundane fact.  Bluejay voodoo-man emerged from an actual bluejay in the backyard;  "Pushkin the lost cat" was actually just that.  Silky black Pushkin took off one afternoon and was gone for 3-4 days.  He later appeared, very weak, with a leg broken in two places, on the neighbor's doorstep.  Our theory was he had been abducted (he was a very attractive animal), had escaped, and had then been hit by a car.  This was what Pushkin told us, anyway.  It all happened just as Stubborn Grew was starting up - merging its cat-tail into the tale of a cat.

But there's more.  I noted how the style of Stubborn was modeled on some translations of Mandelstam (the Monas/Burago versions).  I was also taken with M's working lyrical method : the way he produced little sequences, "versions", repeated patterns which built up a kind of landscape.

Pushkin, of course, was the central sun of the Petersburg poets called Acmeists (Mandelstam, Gumilev, Akhmatova).  Pushkin, the Russian national poet, Russia's Shakespeare, was of African descent - was a "black man", at times an endangered outcast.  What's happening here, though, is that with "Pushkin the cat", the epic mock-epic Stubborn is snaking out invasive vines, binding Russian & American culture.


I'm looking for a lost cat – Pushkin
whispered Henry, in the whisper gallery 
of the grey-leaved garden.  Whitely
his teeth shone, a ghostly grin.

Disappeared one day, last Halloween; 
pirated away, no doubt, by a hateful crew 
abroad, aboard some Lovecraft canoe 
for no good – some unseen kerosene

kids' goatsblood adventure, some dim 
dullday's decadent grotesquerie – broiled 
Bruegel, missing his crossbred breath of old 
mastery. They've all forgotten him.

Left my home, left my family, left them all 
behind, for the sake of that gypsy feline;
a four-legged green-eyed sailorman – a 
Manx, with an extra leg for a stolen stool. . .

Henry peered into the willow branches 
weaving a blurred grey pattern overhead. 
His memory. . . a mountain range (gone dead). 
Bluejay smiled – a shadowy Sancho Panza.

RIP dear Pushkin

Neglected garden

With this 3rd chapter, Stubborn Grew takes a turn toward dramatic dialogue.  Not sketchy opening gambits, as in chapter 1, and not straightforward narrative, as in the London chapter 2, but rather an encounter.

Noted in earlier posts (here and here) the role played by an actual bluejay in the genesis of this ramble.  The Orpheus-pattern of Bluejay, the Northwest Coast legendary trickster-figure.

Orpheus lost his head to the Maenads, & his head went singing down the river.  Stubborn Grew begins with "Shakespeare's Head", and a journey to the headwaters of English poetry (London).  Now, in the garden behind Shakespeare's Head (the building in Providence), Henry is about to encounter his companion, his spirit-guide.  Like the friend of "Henry" in Berryman's Dream Songs, Bluejay is an imaginary alter ego, or conscience.  But he's more than that.  He's the Hermes to Henry's Orpheus; the psychopomp, tour-guide to the Underworld.  As Virgil is to Dante in the Divine Comedy, so Bluejay to Henry.  With his Queequeg-ish virtual-reality tattoos, his prehistoric "eye-in-hand", and his magic Lincoln penny, Bluejay exerts fantastic spirit-powers to break up Henry's little daylight world.

If Stubborn Grew ever got, or gets, a proper public hearing, it might very well raise hackles & draw criticism, just as did Berryman's appropriation of "black-talk" slang in the Dream Songs.  Bluejay is a ghost; he is also a Native American; he is also African-American.  His sexuality is ambiguous; he has the trickster attitudes of a "crazy guy".  He is an American outcast of the type who lurks in Hart Crane (the hoboes) and Melville.  He speaks of the trouble underlying all the surface order & niceness; but he also projects play, freedom, love, justice.  He is a pivotal fellow in this story - even if he (that is, I) might be criticized as just that : a cliche, a stereotype...

In another sense, Bluejay is an acknowledgement of Melville and Crane, in the way that the figure of Virgil, in the Divine Comedy, was an homage to the maker of the Aeneid.

Anyway, this passage from the chapter called Once in Paradise is where the bluejay yodeling in my backyard becomes personified, enters the tale.


Dusk was gathering in the neglected garden; 
one star in the turquoise. . . longing for another. 
Beneath the iconoclastic scimitar
of an early moon, within the slate pattern

of empty benches.  An evening watercolor 
tides through clay Henry, waiting there
for nothing.  Do not compare.
Eyes stare into the long frieze of stratosphere,

waiting, waiting.  Nothing comes from the air. 
But a rustling or crackling in the shrubbery 
the low blur of a shadow – it's Bluejay,
or his shadow.  Come sit down – here.

Tell me bout your journey – what you lookin for. 
I'll tell you bout mine.  The eyes
in the dark look straight ahead – release 
from sorrow and expectation – a dark shore,


Empty bench behind Shakespeare's Head