A chirring fires up in the locust tree
as if a hand switched on a lamp of sound.
The tyrant resigns and flees.
The ancient square throbs
with exultant crowds. Reporters
for State TV recant the lies
they told all those years,
and are forgiven. Far away,
the tyrant has wrapped himself
in a cloak of rage and fear-sweat;
he smells like his subjects did
for three decades. But soon
the odor’s stifled by a thick
fragrance of rosewater and money.
Already he’s started scribbling
notes for his memoirs; his son
is already turning up on talk shows
in the West, discussing “my nation’s
future,” his Armani suit fresh
from the Bank of America’s closet.
But the crowds in the square
are drowning him out, drowning out
his father, and the chatter of pundits,
the machinations of foreign agents,
the fastidious parsings of diplomats—
all those condemned to the Real,
who don’t recall what freedom
looks and sounds like, who’ve lived
all their lives without feeling
exalted by the Possible.
“We all have to die a bit every now and then, and usually it’s so gradual that we end up more alive than ever. Infinitely old and infinitely alive.”
—Roberto Bolaño, The Skating Rink
high wind, scattered clouds—
sun seeming to come and go—
floating feather world
The book is slightly larger then normal for a collection of poems,
maybe six-and-a-half by ten, a quarter inch thick.
I bought it used two years ago but set it aside, but often took it down, but put it back each time:
the spine sun-bleached, a bit loose from having been bent back for reading by the previous owner, a small water stain at the bottom.
Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, by Bill Holm (nota: Bill, not William).
I put it off so long because I could tell it’s not poetry, but wisdom, and you have to wait for wisdom,
you can’t gobble it down like a wedge of birthday cake, you have to sneak up on it like a wild animal…—
but no, real wisdom is like the boxelder bugs Holm praises here: sturdy and mortal, deliberate and various in their sameness,
creatures of a season, untouched by individuality that insists on owning land, on marching into Poland or Tibet or Iraq, devouring everything in sight, even each other….
And yet this is not a peaceful book. It has ferocity, humor, slyness, exaggeration, even as it exalts humility.
A lonely book: the poet playing Bach and Beethoven long after midnight on a piano in a Minnesota farmhouse, a piano
infested with boxelder bugs, all of them black with a vein of red on their backs, like so many notes, so many words—
so many ideas that proliferate and persist or die and turn to husks, without ever losing their unkillable grace….
Based on my description, it should be no surprise that among my favorite passages is one not created by Holm, but quoted by him. It’s from a famous (though to me unknown) composer, pianist, and conductor named Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni, though Holm (mercifully) uses only his first and last names and doesn’t name the written source—although he does say that it “comes from an essay […] defending Liszt against charges of being a charlatan and a hack”:
The frequent opposition aroused by my transcription and the opposition which senseless criticism often evoked in me made me try to reach some clarity on this point.
My final opinion about it is this: that notation is itself the transcription of an abstract idea.
The moment that the pen takes possession of it, the thought loses its original form. The intention of writing down an idea necessitates already a choice of time and key. Even if much of the idea is original and indestructible and continues to exist, this will be pressed down from the moment of decision. The idea becomes a sonata or a concerto; this is already an arrangement of the original. From this first transcription to the second is a comparatively short and unimportant step. Yet, in general, people make a fuss only about the second. In doing so they overlook the fact that a transcription does not destroy the original; so there can be no question of loss arising from it. The performance of a work is also a transcription, and this too—however free the performance may be—can never do away with the original. For the musical work of art exists whole and intact before it has sounded and after the sound is finished.
It is, at the same time, in and outside of Time.
By extending this notion to poetry, we can understand why poets have a love-hate relationship with language and tradition.
A wonderful suggestion on ursprache: “I’m in favor federal legislation mandating an Ingredients Label on the back of all poetry books in lieu of blurbs. The most frequently used words could be listed, ‘Moon: 13; Cow: 11; Grass: 8; Light: 6; all others 5 or less instances’. And each text would be analyzed for content: ‘Poeticisms: 14%; Imagery: 11%; Tropes: 7%; Internal Rhyme: 2.7%; and other rhetorical or quasi-poetic matter and filler’.”