Matter / 6
Matter / 7


After more than thirty years in sleep below the Blue Mountains, Matter Magazine wakes to take up where it left off -- offering quick glimpses of new work from those investigating the world by word.

This issue is dated October 2003.


In this issue:

Wilhelm von Humboldt
Jerome Rothenberg
Cid Corman
Clayton Eshleman
Geoffrey O'Brien
Birgit Kempker
Tom Raworth
Jennifer Cazenave
Robert Kelly
Thomas Meyer
Michael Ives
Robyn Carliss
Charles Stein
David Gruber


The mutual interdependence of thought and word illuminates clearly the truth that languages are not really means for representing already known truths, but are rather instruments for discovering previously unrecognized ones.

-- Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1820 (tr. Cowan)

after Goya


A woman in a mask
is like a queen.
She gives a hand to those
who give her theirs,
the monkey faces
& the faces
of old tarts.
She trembles
& the crowd
below the stage
applauds her.
It is late.
A woman leaning on a stick
tells time. Her hands
are sensible.
Before the night
is halfway done
a stranger will assault
her bed.
This ravishment
is all that stands between
her fate & yours.
This waiting game.


A child besieged. A child
in terror sits
before her. Mothers
watching who arrive in
full length gowns,
a cloth that covers all.
My mother is my daughter,
& the other face,
the one behind,
is half a boy disguised
& frightened unto death
of something
that has never been
but now
may change to something
a final circumstance
that only


What man, his lips
heavy with hair,
assumes a young girl's look?
What moustache trembles
on that mousy face?
Why does his finger push
so deep into
his mouth a tooth
comes loose
his moist tongue curled
to cough it up?
Who sets the table
that his elbows rest on?
& who is it who
waits behind him,
back bent,
like a beggar,
bathing at a trough?


The mask still there
-- like shades
over her eyes --
just when the sky goes grey,
the man beside her
turns into a shadow of
himself of all the others
who are also shadows.
Nobody speaks, except the crones
behind them, seated
on a rocky ledge,
are smiling, pointing
a sharp finger
at the lady with the fan,
the mask,
the hollow sky,
the man whose coat has come undone,
revealing air.


Hats the men wear
-- striped --
atop their heads
so ugly & so cruel
the murky air
won't hide them.
One averts
his eyes, the other
stares at you
with hatred
fierce enough to freeze
your blood.
A third one sits,
a lump down on the ground,
his good eye riveted
on empty space
or on the rump of someone
bending over
-- man or girl --
with hat pulled tightly
over ears,
in deference to
the woman in the mask,
her gown adorned
with spanish laces.
Nadie se conoce,
Goya writes,
but all are gay
the world a masquerade
for those like you
who run from it for those
like me who stay.


You feel all at once
because of nothing

you really are a-
live - it gets to you.

When you are present
you finally realize
how gifted you are.

We are the
only ones

All the rest
remain all.

Could it be
after all

this this is
all there is?


I lost you
and now find

out this is
where we are.


Wearing my reconstruction mask
I rest, a 90,000 year old skull.
Having been tumbled by Olson, Pound, Williams and Homer,
my age is ridiculous. You can't begin to grasp me,
even my youth. In the Border Cave I have to tell you
hyenas and porcupines worked over my skeleton.
Only my cranium remains, thus the epic and the long poem,
thus the attempt to write into paradise.
On the frontier between South Africa and Swaziland
I ponder tectonic shift,
and darling I must tell you I also wonder about
the Panama Isthmus which Steven Stanley claims led to
my presence among, I mean its lifting to seal
the Atlantic from the Pacific some 2.5 million years ago,
eliminating woods where I clambered and climbed
as Australopithecus, meaning I had to evolve or die,
and most of me died, my life was and is
at the hands, nay at the uterus of the planet.
I had to come down, be terrestrial and deal with
sabertooth, a horror unknown until the 20th century.
The gist is I converted, invented a baby sling,
made use of my foetal-surge brain,
learned to bond, and to shape rock.
I am much more successful than you who read me,
I speak, as a kind of gay son of rock,
or the pore of one origin,
frozen, immensely disadvantaged, but an acute
failure the poets have had to transform.
All long poems lead back to me,
not heroics, or the tragic eclipse of love,
dryness, darling, meant I went on,
I and my columbines, my radiant nicked progeny,
thus I also speak as the gay daughter of rock,
for as a 90,000 year old, no one can locate my voice box,
my crinkum-crankum, or dingus. I disappeared into you, or
into the prototype of you
my mask is calcium white and I did not ask for it,
I would have preferred to confront you as
Atlementheneira, one of my names in the now-called
Dordogne, only 30,000 years ago.
But neither the visionary nor the personal
can account for the planetary omega of my skull
nor the 20th century white mask
lending it the dagger-chin of so-called humanity.
What gets me about the Panama Isthmus ascending
and via conveyor belt winds
creating the Ice Ages
is that the oldest myths I know
involve a cosmic dive of animals or shamans
bringing up earth from the depth of primal seas.
Is there a dream that old?
Can it be found? Or must I muse here in a drawer
That the oldest dream or vision has
under it that rising Isthmus?
Absolutely fantastic! Unbelievable!
As am I, perched, as a photo, in a book,
a Homo link, a homunculink,
my skull a rise, no more,
something lifting into view,
land bridge, the creation of human kind
masked by white that is surely the void.


Consider how much it resembles
something you might hold in your hand,
the fantastic miniature theater

whose hand-carved ferries and barges
move whimsically from island to island,
whose bridges go in and out of sight

as the mist shifts, and in whose windows
and along whose serpentine walkways
the residents describe patterns

only slightly more predictable
than the exquisite maneuvers of the water craft--
the scene held as snugly in the eye

as a cloud formation in a drop of dew--
and then consider that it is you
who are the thing held in the hand,

a painted toy capable
for a moment of providing delight
before being dropped on the rug

as a more alluring brightness or rumble
beckons from the room beyond
to what immense distracted child?


(Vorsicht, attention "Und jetzt zu den Steinen" ist noch im Projekt, singbar notiert, wird nie ein Gedicht sein und vielleicht nie, larded with english words, to melt the stone, instead of milking the mother, the nothing.)

Zu den Müttern muss ich durch die Steine, hart/ ist es, die Mutter, die ich meine, muss ich füttern, ich, die Mutter mit den Steinen/ die sie, mir, wie besser lieber niemals/ nicht mal Schweinen, Hades/ Schwanenhals hat es, kein Schloss/ hartes Brot mit Schimmel damals durch den Hals gab sie mir fette Steine/ jetzt bin ich ungefüttert mit Kiesel im Mund von dir/ du Beckett, Ponge/ ich Lust/ am ganzen
Körper Lust/ the german angst/ verpasst/ bleiben Aprikose, Seife

durch die Brüche geht die Brücke durch den Steinbruch/ durch Augen, Rosen durch Orange/ den Pass/ die Nelken, die Beine, die ich meine, fallen Steine, durch das Stück/ durch Hosen, lotrecht/ die Beine welken/ ich fall ein through blood and mud to the green feelings/ beyond/ death is gain/ the german passage again/ und alle Pferde rasen zu dir/ iss niemals Orangen bei Vollmond: Saburo Teshigawara:
ich tanze die Seele meines Nachbarn

die Erde tost, stottert/ Spalt öffnet sich und die Mutter/ irgendwie Gischt/ will übersetzen/ hat Hunger/ versteht kein englisch/ deshalb sag ich

I am in some cosmic operation/ some translation/ some somnambul station/ some sweet cooperation/ mit Geistern/ with ghosts/ von gestern/ so fresh/ dead bones/ Gestotter/ stutter/ he looks like almost beeing born, eyes closed, forehead closed, mouth wet and laughing/in dark despair, filled with pills/ filled with all the young murders, the slaughted mothers, my new forensik friend from Southend

wenn ich weine, singt im Radio eine/ stones in my bed, stones in my eyes/ are these extraterrestrial spys/ was ich weiss ist was sie sang, als sie mich bekam/ I am your mother and you are the stone/ I am not happy and you will be born/ evil go home

du Mutterkorn, du Mutterkornkrankes sackheiliges Feuer/ du Orden der Mutterkornkranken/ du Antoniter/ etwas geschieht da wieder/ wie sprengen, schneiden, spalten, schlägen, sägen/ Stein ist gegen Wasser klein, dass er ein See ist/ ein sehr flüssige Ding, der Berg, selbst/ ich seh dich/ grün, wie deine Ziegentrance/ in der bin ich zuhause

die Stute eilt unter der Erde/ sie ist ihr Himmel, der Satz ist nicht aus den Fugen, er ist in Ordnung, mein ganzer Stein schrie erlöst, wer ist das, der sich so verliest

Grün sehen, Steine klopfen, Zeit ansetzen, Zündschnur zünden, vergehen, rennen, um das Leben rennen, welches, wer um welches, das keiner auf dem anderen bleibt, das stell dir vor, wie keiner auf dem anderen bleibt, nie, auch nicht, wenn Liebe, Karma, die Süsse, die komatöse, die überfliesst wie alle Lust vergeht und schrie und Ewigkeit sich mit dir Zwerg Zeit vertreibt, du musst dich auf den Stab konzentrieren, sagt er, nicht auf das Ei, das fliegt ab, Indianer, Jungen, Pfeile in Hosentaschen wollen Mädchenkaninchenjagenvernaschen, Krachen, Knochen, ich habs vergeigt, ich Ei, ich gross, pulsierend, von leuchtendem Grün, ehe es da ist, löst sich die Blume im Stein.


tiny through
particular meaning

can depopulate
blades adapted
quiet movement

plastic half-light
increase production
oil and water

victories opened deep
operating light values

partisan widespread belief
speculate in sound waves

mostly a string
glowed in the half dark

lesser branches
captured grow suspicious

fashions in eating
based on shape
one two three four five

there's only one of you
mere sight of kind nomadic

cue there goes god
set them shone
meaning few in their suites

fire of thought
why work for afraid
rather than angry

human decoration
resisted in every way

not the general good
round deaths up or down
to tidy

the best for each other
next year in jerusalem

don't mind us
go on with your war
we're for lost city

odd mint sun
you towing harrow
rectify root slew

what intuition
writes in language


Language does not stop for us, a doctor, thin fingers pinching a white blouse, a chart, a space, noting neither organ or self, inscribing in whom does it begin?

Leaning over every angle of the earth, all I see of your body are the vertebrae, estuaries that conceal your respiration (uninterrupted streams of visions), indefinite space in which unspoken language directs the self to memory (page is also paidion, child, the one for whom every word is an entity he must summon).

What is geography of the self?
Your eyes carry from the page to your insides the silent weaving of the text.

Écriture simplifiée des êtres. Coeurs démotiques. Morphologie de tout, de tous.

Tu quittes la maison, myope, muops, les yeux fermés, ta mère crie "Aveugle," le silence de tes livres est une maladie.

Oui, aveugle dans un grand espace, tâtonnant les murs de l'avenue, parce que la vérité reste pour toujours à mi-chemin entre le mystère et la cécité.


If the name of the drum
is exaggeration, she said,
and Gosnold's men
wintered only once
on that isle of moors and larches
before returning to the Theatrum
Britannicum across the ocean
to articulate their narratives
(an example lies before us
in the log of the Concord, 1602,
speaking with amazement of the girth
of the strange black and white serpents
Judith Archer was frightened by
four hundred years later
on the neighbor island)
before admiring amateurs
in the dingy but exciting upstairs chambers
where alchemies of various orations
were going forward
no less in the Queen's mind than in the queenly
minds of her subtle scientists
of whom of course he was one and,
unknown to his sovereign by necessity,
his friend W.S. another,
to whom he communicated the shallow
grassy cliffs and snarling noreasters
fell quick out of nimblest sunshine
over easy growing maize and climbing beans,
drenching but not killing the wretched poison ivy
no one had seen the like of before
he turned into Caliban, a plant that talks
and comes home with you and whispers
painful secrets to your daring fingers,
but who was the other one, the airy one,
the laughing Lion of God, what strange
roaring in that name for one so yes nimble
again it must be said, fleet as thought
and perhaps no more consequential,
here now and gone and there then and not long
and maybe all beasts are of that transiency
and God no longer, could he
fleeing from that harsh winter
have come back to the city with a story made
of islandry alone, sheer location, bluff
and rock surf full of striped bass
as if fish knew more than lions did
and hid their knowledge in the never pausing sea?


[Three Petitions]

-- Thank you, Katha. Thank you for everything.

[Katha is a neighborhood deity whose feminine manifestation is more usual. She appears as an old woman in bright orange sari with green edges. No taller than a girl, her visage a fleeting glimpse, turning the corner at the grocer's, sinking out of sight into a seat several aisles away in a theater or a plane. She lives in Bombay, but her family comes from the Gugarat. For her, the petitioner takes the shape of a handsome young man. He is blind and begs on the Colaba promontory. She is eager to hear all that the beggar 'sees,' which are the tales he tells. Katha's replies are quick and patient to simple questions: astrology, cooking, appropriate offerings. She also has a less common masculine form, that of the beggar himself. But assuming this shape the deity is much less receptive to entreaty, although much more vatic.]

-- Thank you Gnesha for every obstacle you put in my path.

[Gnesha, the elephant-faced deity. He is quixotic, though extremely curious. Best to express gratitude for his placement of things in the way. Direct requests for the removal of blockages rarely alert him to individual need. He should be called upon only after all else fails, then he is particularly quick to intervene. Domestic problems are his metier, electronic foul-ups particularly -- computers, sound systems, and any automobile wiring snafus. He is a household god.]

-- Thank you dear Lord Shiva for taking our world apart. In order for our world to be taken apart it must be worked out. And in order for it to be worked out, our world must be put together. And in order for it to be put together it must be taken apart. Thank you dear Lord Shiva.

[Here through the intercession, and intervention of the previous two, the supreme deity is addressed. First as the destroyer (taking our world apart), then as its preserver, Vishnu (working it out, maintaining potential), and finally its creator, Brahma (putting things together). The order here is dynamic and bears much consideration.]


as his mother -- a perfect question mark in white smoke -- was fond of saying: he had but to stride into the enemy village, surely that lay within his competence, and on no pretext whatsoever, would convince them that he -- not his physical presence so much, nor especially his "spirit," but more the idea of him (appealing, as one might expect, to their understandable provincialism, given their remarkable isolation, the lack of astronomy, of a sky, for that matter) -- was such as could, merely by entering a village, turn things about so, who could march right in, "just like that," as his mother -- a lamp-lit region bordered on either side by cypress boughs -- was frequently heard to say, and present himself with such force of character as to allow them to divine for themselves, for themselves mind you! the letter that would complete their alphabet, and to bring this immortality onto himself not by argumentation, that would have sullied the majesty of the deed -- syllogisms, hugger-mugger premises slipped in by the cryptoporticus, no indeed -- but just by his pure, unstudied saunter into their village, and that almost feminine insolence in the curl of his mouth, as if by an over-developed philtrum the upper lip pulled toward the nose and thereby plumped at its hunkers, which upon phonation, would give at one and the same moment shape and sound to their missing -- here, do you have a napkin, I'll draw it for you, it's a perfect match for his profile, from the good side, that is -- the capstone to their alphabet that they'd sought nigh since "the teethings of Methusaleh," a phrase his mother -- that thought experiment left out in the rain to rust -- claims to have coined, that he was the very sign for which their oracles would keep watch, why, the sign of a sign, and yes, his mother -- a contrivance laid aside by the age of miracles -- would soon assure me, of course a lip has hunkers, every element of the physiology represents a miniature of the whole, the ear has its eyes and the eyes a belly... that never fills, be sure of that -- as she once remarked -- and thus would her son read the annals of his own birth, triumph, and heroic death in a single letter of his own unintended fashioning, and who could claim a like achievement, since the enemy would never reveal the inspiration, would adduce some Cadmus or Thoth, as if the names of letters really were once the names for things, uh-huh, wink-wink, oh yes, an aleph is an ox, I'm sure, and my son is a zed, or something of the sort his mother -- the lost father who, recovered from a block of ice, resumed his life among the living as a woman -- told me after her son's funeral, who had never left the house and died, as she said under her breath, from a fall in the shower.


Some days it was so cold it was the early part of the century; it was 1925 if it was a year. On the way home from the Blue Iota we were completing the fifth leg of the serum transport to our diphtheric apartment building, a 30-minute window outside from warm blood's brook to amputation candidacy. The night's glacial siege made sails of anything loose. The danger was burgeoning and good: the yeast of the loaf covered with a hand towel. The dogs from downstairs, the one named after a disease with a French ending, the raw, burst star eyes of the other, led the team, both mimicking the Doppler keens of the ambulance. The sidewalks were as pocked as Iditarod, as a Dutch slur. At 2nd St., I slaughtered one of the dogs for meat. The patrolling officer looked the other way. We soon passed the man on the corner, all-purpose wool coat beaded with ice, assembling his card towers and destroying them, on the half-hour, with a slice of his left hand, honing his flourishes. There was a caloric safety in this. In this and in the waiter, inside and across the street, tucking a scarf into one sleeve of a coat.


What if even shadows
had chakras?

Great black bouquets
in the hollows of bellies and bones?

What if motionless shadows
were pinned to the world?

And a frocked
black rock
on a pointy neck

had effected a spillage of dots
the shadow birds peck at?

Align your shadows on shadows.

no ways
to get there.


Revisited the scene of worst defeat --
a tiny brick station poised to fall into the Hudson,
where we made our own accidents, willed

a General Blücher where there should
have been a de Grouchy,
skill of some kind that could
have massaged the mistakes back
into the general narrative
that included hotels, trains,
arrivals and departures but not this
foolish dishing around the bar,
disguising passion with a thin cotton dress.

Instead, the sad vista in which
each revolution lays new tracks that stretch out
out past what we dare to describe
as discovered; these decisions seem
to have no terminus, to run on and on

to a pitiless way of speaking
that traces every misstep back
to the day that yielded up her hand,
to the day you took it.

From the enemy camp the motion
of our armies on the field has a choreographic air,
the graceful lying down upon the grass
or hurtling between earth and heaven.
I know that my advancement
is a mark of having lived precisely the wrong life,
that to make this investigation
just the way to end as
a charred corpse huddled in a gully
along the side of the road.

"Quite often I reflect on it,
but writing has not yet helped me to see what it means"
(Joan Didion)

The carnage remains a single multiplying image.


MATTER is concerned with the poetics of information, how what can be told spills into language, how language controls what can be told. Poetry has been for the last century the typical experimental method for investigating the relationship between languages and language, mind and world.

Matter is edited by Robert Kelly and Charlotte Mandell.

All copyrights revert to the authors upon posting.