About Muscle by Marylen Grigas*

FCA-64-sea-squirt-Clavelina-sp.

If there’s no need for movement, then no need for a brain, I’ve learned, 

a fact demonstrated by the sea squirt, a small creature that swims

freely in its youth until it settles on a rock. Then it devours its own brain. 

And spinal cord. It simply doesn’t require them any longer. 

(God, don’t let me settle.) Need for movement leads to need for muscle. 

The brain evolves in order to plan and execute reaching, grasping, 

turning, according to the expert on Charlie Rose, which I watch

on my iPad while walking on the treadmill to rebuild my strength. 

Plenty of species thrive without brains, he says. It could be different. 

on another planet, I suppose, but here evolution of the brain is about muscle. 

Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger or an evolutionary biologist. 

Yet the brainless sea squirt still gets upset, still squirts. 

Maybe it’s innate, like a horse’s hide shuddering to dislodge a fly. 

Maybe that’s why I started moving and arranging boulders last fall. 

I thought I was making a terrace. But afterward it looked more like a grave. 

 

*Published in the September 1, 2014 issue of The New Yorker

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Before by Sean O’Brien*

pansy-flower

Make over the alleys and gardens to birdsong,
The hour of not-for-an-hour. Lie still.
Leave the socks you forgot on the clothesline.
Leave slugs to make free with the pansies.
The jets will give Gatwick a miss
And from here you could feel the springs
Wake by the doorstep and under the precinct
Where now there is nobody frozenly waiting.
This is free time, in the sense that a handbill
Goes cartwheeling over the crossroads
Past stoplights rehearsing in private
And has neither witness nor outcome.
This is before the first bus has been late
Or the knickers sought under the bed
Or the first cigarette undertaken,
Before the first flush and cross word.
Viaducts, tunnels and motorways: still.
The mines and the Japanese sunrise: still.
The high bridges lean out in the wind
On the curve of their pinkening lights,
And the coast is inert as a model.
The wavebands are empty, the mail unimagined
And bacon still wrapped in the freezer
Like evidence aimed to intrigue our successors.
The island is dreamless, its slack-jawed insomniacs
Stunned by the final long shot of the movie,
Its murderers innocent, elsewhere.
The policemen have slipped from their helmets
And money forgets how to count.
In the bowels of Wapping the telephones
Shamelessly rest in their cradles.
The bomb in the conference centre’s
A harmless confection of elements
Strapped to a duct like an art installation.
The Première sleeps in her fashion,
Her majesty, all the princesses, tucked up
With the Bishops, the glueys, the DHSS,
In the people’s Republic of Zeds.
And you sleep at my shoulder, the cat at your feet,
And deserve to be spared the irruption
Of if, but and ought, which is why
I declare this an hour of general safety
When even the personal monster-
Example the Kraken-is dead to the world
Like the deaf submarines with their crewmen
Spark out at their fathomless consoles.
For we do not exist, and I promise
I shall not wake anyone yet.

*Published in Emergency Kit, Edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney, Published in 2004 by Faber and Faber

The Ever-Enigmatic Ezra Pound: From Foreign Languages to Fascism

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Does anyone know how hard it is to get a hold of Ezra Pound’s Cantos? I mean, they don’t even have the damn thing on eBook and they have everything on eBook these days. Since I have boycotted Amazon for their unacceptable treatment of Hachette, the less popular titles I’m after have started to seem less attainable. (While Amazon is a nasty monopoly who is literally squeezing money out of the fragile publishing industry, they have an unparalleled selection.) But as a principled book buyer, I went to Strand, talked to a human, ordered the book, waited two days (agony), and picked it up. I sort of felt like Ezra Pound was playing hard to get.

I liked Ezra Pound ever since I read this quote: “Use either no ornament or good ornament.” I’m entirely guilty of the occasional mediocre ornament, but this simple, straightforward statement on writing made me feel an immediate kinship with him. Then I started reading his biography…

Ezra Pound was a fascist. He supported Hitler and Mussolini, wrote for fascist publications, and was prosecuted as a traitor of the United States of America. How could I possibly like a poet like that!?

But that raises the question, do you have approve of the artist to like the art?

The recent Wood Allen Controversy has made many avid fans answer this question. After his stepdaughter, Dylan Farrow came forward with an open letter accusing Allen of sexual abuse, fans and colleagues had to decide if this mattered. Are Allen’s films now ruined because he’s a bad person? People don’t argue if Allen’s films are good. Everyone knows they are. But does his personal life change the way we feel about them?

I decided I could live with Ezra Pound’s political past, separate the poems from the poet. The poems are good. Undeniably good, but they’re also pretentious and alienating. Pound alludes to obscure figures in classical mythology and switches without warning into Italian and Greek. The reader gets the feeling that he’s got something to prove. I wish my hard-to-get copy was footnoted, but even without fully understanding the content of Pound’s poems I am still drawn to them. I sit in my room, reading the poems aloud, feeling delight at the lines that are just perfect. Below is my favorite Canto thus far.

 

Canto V

Great bulk, huge mass, thesaurus;

Ecbatan, the clock ticks and fades out

The bride awaiting the god’s tough; Ecbatan

City of patterned streets; again the vision:

Down in the viae stradae, toga’d the crowd, and arme’d,

Rushing on the populous business,

And from parapet looked down

And North was Egypt

The celestial Nile, blue deep

Cutting low barren land,

Old men and camels

Working the water-wheels;

Iamblichus’ light,

The souls ascending

Sparks like a partridge covey,

Like the “ciocco”, brand struck in the game.

“Et omniformis”: Air, fire, the pale soft light.

Topaz I manage, and three sorts of blue;

But on the barb of time.

The fire? Always, and the vision always,

Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision, flitting

And fading at will.     Weaving with points of gold,

Gold-yellow, saffron…     The roman shoe, Aurunculeia’s

And come shuffling feet, and cries “Da nuces!

“Nuces!” praise, and Hymenaeus “brings the girl to her man”

Or “here Suxtus had seen her.”

Titter of sound about me, always

And from “Hesperus…”

Hush of the older song: “Fades light from sea-crest,

“And in Lydia walks with pair’d women

“Peerless among the pairs, that ones in Sardis

“In satieties…

Fades the light from the sea, and many things

“Are set abroad and brought to mind of thee”

And the vinestocks lie untended, new leaves come one the shoots,

North wind nips on the bough, and seas in heart

Toss up chill crests,

And the vine stocks lie untended

And many things are set abroad and brought to mind

Of thee, Atthis, unfruitful.

The talks ran long into the night.

And from Mauleon, fresh with a new earned grade,

In maze of approaching rain-steps, Poicebot—

The air was full of women,

And Savairic Mauleon

Gave him his land and knight’s fee, and he wed the woman.

Came lust of travel on him, of romerya;

And out of England a knight with slow-lifting eyelids

Lei fassa furar a del, put glamour upon her…

And left her an eight months gone

“Came lust of women upon him,”

Poicebot, now on north road from Spain

(Sea-change, a grey in the water)

And in small house by town’s edge

Found a woman, changed and familiar face;

Hard night, and parting at morning.

 

And Pieire won the singing, Pieire de Maensac,

Song or land on the throw, and was dreitz hom

And had De Tierci’s wife and with the war they made:

Troy in Auvergnat

While Menelaus piled up the curch at port

He kept Tyndarida.   Dauphin stood with de Maensac.

 

John Borgia is bathed at last.           (Clock-tick pierces the vision)

Tiber, dark with the cloak, wet cat gleaming in patches.

Click of the hooves, through garbage,

Clutching the greasy stone. “And the clock floated.”

Slander is up betimes.

But Varchi of Florence,

Steeped in a different year, and pondering Brutus,

Then Σιγα μαλ ανΘις σεντεραν!

“Dog-eye!!”” (to Alessandro)

“Whether for love of Florence,” Varchi leaves it,

Saying  “I saw the man, came up with him at Venice,

“I, one wanting the facts,

“And no means labor… Or for a privy spite?”

Our Benedetto leaves it,

O empia? For Lorenzaccio had thought of stroke in the open

But uncertain (for the Duke went never unguarded)

“And would have thrown him from the wall

“Yet feared this might not end him,” or lest Alessandro

Know not by whom death came, O se credesse

“If when the foot slipped, when death came upon him,

“Lest cousin Duke Alessandro think he had fallen alone,

“No friend to aid him falling.”

Caina attende.

The lake of ice there below me.

And all of this, runs Varchi, dreamed out beforehand

In Perugia, caught in the star-maze by Del Carmine,

Cast on a natal paper, set with an exegesis, told,

All told to Alessandro, told thrice over,

Who held his death for a doom.

In abuleia.      But Don Lorenzino

Whether for love of Florence…but

“O se morisse, credesse caduto da sé”

Σιγα σιγα

Schiavoni, caught on the wood-barge,

Gives out the afterbirth, Giovanni Borgia,

Trails out no more at nights, where Barabello

Prods the Pope’s elephant, and gets no crown, where Mozarello

Takes the Calabrian roadway, and for ending

Is smothered beneath a mule,

a poet’s ending,

Down a stale well-hole, oh a poet’s ending.           “Sanazarro

“Alone out of all the court was faithful to him”

For the gossip of Naples’ trouble drifts to North,

Fracastor (lightning was midwife) Cotta, and Ser D’Alviano,

Al poco giorno ed al gran cerchio d’ombra,

Talk the talks out with Navighero,

Burner of yearly Martials

(The slavelet is nourned in vain)

And the next comer says “Were nine wounds,

“Four men, white hourse. Held on the saddle before him…”

Hooves clink and slick on the cobbles.

Schiavoni…cloak… “Sink the damn thing!”

Splash wakes that chap on the wood-barge.

Tiber catching the nap, the moonlit velvet,

A wet cat gleaming in patches.

“Se pia,” Varchi,

“O empia, ma risoluto

“E terribile deliberazione.”

Both sayings rule in the wine,

Ma se morisse!

Apricots by Jennifer Grotz*

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I judged them very carefully, as though

I’d been given the charge to determine

which are good or bad, and they were all good,

even the slightly overripe ones with bruises,

had a better ferment that only brightened

the scent. And the too young ones, firm

and slightly sour, not yet softened by the sun.

And the ripe ones, which felt like hiring into

my own flesh, slightly carnivorous.

 

They had been elegant in the tree, tiny coquettes

blushing more and more until I picked them,

then they were minimalist and matte-colored

in wooden bowls, so barely furred one couldn’t

help but clothe them, enclose them with your hand,

caress each one thoroughly before taking a bite,

exploring the handsome freckles left

from some minor blight.

 

Now I stand under the tree and

pluck them one after the other.

Each one tastes different, like a mind having

erratic thoughts. Going into the trance

halfway between eating and thinking,

the thought of an apricot, the apricot of a thought,

whose goodness occurs over time, so that

some had been better earlier, others soon

would become correct, I mean ripe.

 

*Published in the January 13th, 2014 issue of The New Yorker