from UNDER
[a new section of The Alphabet}

for Krishna Evans


Ron Silliman

The word as ground, sounded and scratching, etching detail, retching in the throat, crosses a moat of air to where you are found, unfurling now into a separate banner, banter, colors I'd never recognize as my own. In my mind, I try to trace when I might have lost the notebook, the moment it must have slipped from my pocket, where it must have gone.

At times I think that if I'm with you long enough, paying attention, caring, studying you, I'll learn everything I need to know in life. Because the house was too small we needed to move, but, because we owned it, we thought to move it also, which we did by knowing just the right place in the foundation to pry open, apart, the whole house starting suddenly to slide, terrible deafening rumble, chairs inside toppling over, books flying out of the cases, chandeliers swinging, the whole structure sliding down a hill the distance of two city blocks, crashing into the cement walks of a vacant corner lot, where it stops suddenly, still intact, now miraculously big enough to live in, tho I'm concerned because we don't own the lot, the large cracks in the pavement outside lingering evidence, wondering how the pipes held up through all of this as we're picking up books, dishes (nothing's broken!), while out the window I can now tell that we live in the outer Richmond of San Francisco, a neighborhood where I've never wanted to live, perpetually in fog.

Melody of the windchimes' dance. The day after a large party, tables are still pulled together in the dining room, every straight-backed chair in the house is there. Undercurrent of sadness: we don't admit out loud how long it will be before we see one another again. The children gather round to see the ultrasound photos of forthcoming cousins. As I read aloud from Zukofsky, you say, "That sounds like Dr. Seuss."

Ream of Crete. When I tell my nephew I'm going to Tennessee tomorrow, he says, "That's where Davy Crockett was born." History as heroes narrows the story. The man who patented the polygraph also created Wonder Woman. Among the red-assed baboons, what distinguishes the dominant male is not simply the architecture of his anus, but the long grey mane, lion-like, though pacing the hill he walks more like a dog.

I can get it for you retail. Behind the state capitol is a rough neighborhood. Constant fan of hotel air conditioning. In the cafe, the headwaiter keeps trying to refill coffee into my cup of tea. Hazy humid morning over the Cumberland River.

Cafe music. Backlit display. I roll awake to a new day in a far town. All is cost.

Even in a green, spiked metal mask, like an Africanized hockey goalie, his singing voice is clear as the small boy in his lap holds first one book of poems, then another, then an old paperback novel, as he sings from each, simultaneously playing the small piano in a bluesy, neutral accompaniment, although it's unclear how many of the people in the little crowd around this softball backstop in a small park had anticipated such a performance.

After the rain, crickets, and above them, the cicadas. I'm crossing the lawn on the estate of the late Andrew Jackson, past the mansion, away from the circus tent under which a bar band sings, "Hang on, Sloopy, Sloopy, hang on." While she waits for them to place their order, the waitress shifts her weight from one foot to the next. After the lights are out, I lay awake, waiting for my body to settle, the mind to drift, no stars but the random squares of light from offices in the next highrise tower.

CNN pumped into the hotel lobby as though it were background music, too low to focus on, but a familiar, almost comforting prosody. When I talk into a large event, such as a vendor party, my eyes go into tracking mode, seeking out people to speak with, preparing to work the room. The display lifts the roof off Elvis' gold Cadillac, revealing not only the gold records mounted in the ceiling, but also the little black-and-white TV and the 45 rpm record player. T for tech support, T for Tennessee. Sheet lightning configures the night sky.

The schmoozer's guide to dawn. You got that right. Skycap with no hat. The sentence is a made thing, but words are as flowers in that they precede ourselves and are perpetually renewed. When the lightning cracks, bats jump from the old church tower, squealing into the sky.

In the dream I'm pushing a shopping cart, empty, across an institutional garden, a school perhaps, until unexpectedly the path ends, the cart begins to swerve, harden to control in the grass, then falls sideways, taking me with it, so that I'm now focusing on just how green and detailed everything is, even here at night in the dark, realizing that I'm on the forest floor -- the school is gone -- wondering what rustles in those bushes, branches, leaves. The woman in the next seat is returning from a conference of accounting students to her school in Provo, Utah, well-spoken, intelligent, quite beautiful, a long way from her home in Western Pennsylvania, but having also already served an 18-month Mormon mission in Calgary, an enthusiasm for the world and her career in tax accounting that is almost charming for its directness and simplicity, but which makes me wonder how this world will deal with her over the next 20, 40 years.

Curve of the spine. Sound of night rain leading into dawn. Broken ring, the plastic seal of a jam jar is discarded.

Curve of the mind, sound of a night train. In the dream an intense negotiation over an invisible object. I walk outdoors and the storm has given way to an unbearable heat, the sky a pale blue airless thing. In just one week, the shape of your face changes. The fundus among us.

Realm of words I've heard returns in a new order. The sound linoleum makes beneath your feet. A sneeze clouds my sinuses.

Of his own devices, as in "he woke of his own devices." Wake, walk, wok, woke, waken versus bake, balk, doesn't exist, doesn't exist, bacon. Sleep of the wicket, peaceful, childlike. One doesn't so much read the world as a text, one proofs it.

Writing poetry with a cat in my lap. At that point mid-life finally where I'm not the only one with a parent missing or dead. The line forms at the margin. Clouds enclose the sky. Hummingbird pauses on the tip of the branch.

FYI VLS & NYR: the conspicuous consumption of ideas is not a sufficient condition for an intelligentsia. The day passes, as gentle and insubstantial as a cloud. In his grave, the bones of Baudelaire are counting sentences. The right fielder hovers anxiously under a pop fly that will never drop. In Moscow, classical music on the radio accompanies a change of state.

In the dream you are perpetually circling through the streets of San Francisco in search of a place to park, gasoline dwindling, but waking provides no solace. The way cops mill at the edge of a crime event, just inside the yellow tape, as though it were a cocktail party serving donuts. Late in the day, the sun emerges for the first time through a crack in these clouds, illuminating the futon shop with a special but ambiguous symbolism. What I see in your sunglasses is only my own reflection, rounded by the curvature, and behind me the whole of the warehouse parking lot. Which of these paragraphs is a ruse?

Watching television obsessively, caught in that long historical moment between the obvious and the unknowable, filled, for no other reason than to relieve our anxiety, with file footage and experts. At night the dessert shop turns into a high school bohemian scene -- inside, boys wearing baseball caps backwards carry skateboards as if they were notebooks. The quick spicy sauce jumped over the lazy pasta. Pregnant women trade tips on nausea. On the television, pink and white flowers have been tossed atop a lake surrounded by thousands of people (my mind drifts over scenes and faces the Leningrad).

What will you tell the babies? It seems impossible to come across a canyon this deep, this rural, this green so close to the city -- alongside the road a singe line of track that appears to be well kept so must still be in use. Cemeteries side by side, one per denomination. That, in history, 1991 was a treacherous year. In what is now a neighborhood in Fremont they used to film westerns, before Hollywood and sound.

Crimea river by the old oak tree. Old Ba'hai banner on Valencia Street: "One World, Please." To sleep, perchance to cream.

This time the dream is different: there's a conference on campus, Barry's there, my first wife, some people from the computer industry curiously among the English department types, but instead of giving a talk myself for which I've forgotten to prepare -- the usual version -- I sit in the audience, ask one (slightly hostile) question of the first speaker, then drift out of the auditorium to look at the books on display, my real attraction this event, until I realize they're all remainders, that purgatory, and suddenly I'm very anxious to flee the place before the next speaker concludes and everybody emerges for the banquet lunch, dragging me back into it.

Garden in the fog. A house recently vacated seems not only empty, but a vacuum. In the distance, I hear an unseen basketball being dribbled on concrete. Lifting the seat to the toilet, I come face to face with a dogpadding rat. Out an open window, the radio broadcasts applause.

Porchlight. Bright pink flyers for a pizza shop under a windshield wiper of every car in the mall lot. My first rose, white atop the small bush.

Mourning becomes electric. In the park, two kites struggle to stay aloft in the blue air. When I come to Texas, I'll call. A variant of the game Keep Away is called Monkeys in the Middle. Touring the 'burbs, one yard sale at a time.

The dream breaks as the alarm hits. The membrane between the sacs forms almost a shelf across the uterus, with Twin A (Dweezle) below, head to your left, as Twin B (Noodle) sleeps parallel in the upper bunk. Having added water, the Soviet Union dissolves (Yetltsin walking up to Gorbachev at the podium, pointing to the minutes of the secret cabinet meeting and demanding Gorbachev read them aloud). Ticking clock echoes off the pantry wall. Now comes the hard part.

A light in the house next door foretells the arrival of new neighbors. Nurse taps taps taps the syringe to break up the bubbles inside. An edit, an edict. Call the game Fictionary. Do you know the muffler man?

A compulsive dream of perfect order, tho the tone and tempo suggest hysteria, the dream of panic filing. Sitting calf raise. The instant I wake, rising in the dark to an alarm, my mind goes through a process of triage -- day of the week, primary tasks, current hour, etc. -- so that by the time I reach the clock, which I've deliberately placed in another room, I already understand why I cannot go back to sleep. Why is this poetry? In the midst of a leg press (220 pounds, 20 reps), I pause to admire the articulation of my quads.

In the midst of a sentence, I pause to admire the gesticulation within grammar. A novel approach vs. a novella approach (using elephants and a band of circus clowns to move their furniture into their new home in the old church). That burning gut feeling when you have to shit. In the dream, the baby's no larger than my little finger, but it falls before I can catch it, head breaking off, as round and hollow and small as a raspberry. Packing for a long weekend is harder than moving because you have to decide what not to take.

Black smoke pours up over the delta, smearing south. By the roadside, what remains of a deer decays back to the bone. Sun shimmers through the green-and-white tangle of the birch. Jays and tanagers and crickets and of course the big slow logging trucks on the highway. Prism effect of the sun in my own eyelashes.

Prism house of anguish. Biker revs up in the middle of a redwood forest. High over the stand of poplars, four red-tail hawks swoop and flash in the sun. What kind of dreams did you have last night? A woman walking by with two small boys turns to the one who's fussing and whining, to say, "Now you're acting just like Eliot."

© 1994 Ron Silliman

from NON by Ron Silliman