Urgent Note for My Son Langston

A poem by Theresa Williams, one of the students in my recently done Intro to Creative Writing courses. Of all the many moving documents to come out of Ferguson and its crisis and the web of crises it belongs to this one’s moved me most. It’s so good it about annihilates the distinction between “personal” and “political.” And seems freeform but has an astonishingly clear ear — give a listen.


Urgent Note For My Son Langston

to be pinned to his collar upon age eleven

This is Langston.
He likes mutant turtles and the ghost grey
power ranger please
do not
shoot him he
is your new friend he
will jump in your arms
and ask
to be swung
in circles not
in news spin

please he
is scared of very loud
noises and he would not
respond to a shot he
might just fall in dirt
infra red and not move at

all like when we play ninjas and he is the blackest
because he say that’s the baddest

and I say no but
he say yes so
I’m the blackest

so how to make easy
topic better get meta
and none of this race shit really matters so
low I talk hawking but he waffles
and I don’t give a
fuck bout machines
stretched in time
I just need Langston man boy
demon home
in time please don’t

kill him he likes pancakes not waffles
like on Sundays when he asks for extra syrup
I pour on so much syrup
yes please
don’t fire we hymn strange hold
hands I put him on hips even
altars big
ger black
er and scary

arms scare
crow my neck brow clammy
while he mouths the words mom and god
round his tongue, spun like a fat marble.

And I know this note is a little long, but I just thought you should know that
this is Langston
and I love him he absorbs all the light
and so can you I mean yes
he’s not an angel stole once maybe twice
you learned his lesson well he

is or might be volatile please
return home safe so I can see the blue white
light from top peaks of his covers pulled tight
round his door bends blackbodies soft
sweet pulse a blue night

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Kung and Eleusis

Dear Don,

“Pound against abstraction” is too simple. “Pound on the right use of abstraction”? Money, exempli gratia, is an abstraction, a mark of work done or value added, and may be used aright, if securely anchored in nature’s abundance or in the works of men & women attuned to nature, read heaven & earth, read tao.

And so usura is a defilement of nature, money attached to acts of no worth, parasitism, sucking the life out of creative man, productive man (sympathies with Marx here are several), leaving in place of living culture a table chandeliered & girdled by dry husks, locust shells pretending to the status & stature of men.


Re/ my efforts to reconcile Pound’s fascist sympathies. War & loss hurt & pitched him into extremity. I do get that. And suppose, had there been no Hitler, we would not think quite so ill of Mussolini … the Jews, at least, were safer in Italy than in Vichy, viz. Primo Levi. Still though the hate in some of these chansons makes me sad. I know the hate is for practices, not for persons, but his poetic method leads him to embody practices in persons, and the bile does seem to me a stain.

Not to go too far into psycho-babel, but in my few but gathering years on earth, I’ve come to think, no one hates like that, but in hating something within & disowned. Usura, standing for sthg. weak or blurred in himself, is demonized, & stuffs the eighth circle with demons. (I guess it don’t take much to mint a fascist, dismay at what men & women do, a sense of what glories they might do, & a notion of, a program for, bridging the distance.)


You asked before about sustained vision & gathered fragments. And yes, I see the arc, from Modernist imperative — contain & master the material, the work as Work, magisterial opus — through the humbling of cage & tent & ant (a centaur in his dragon world: he does that, I realized yesterday, the ant does—stands square on four legs, rears up on two, to feed or to preen) in Pisa — to a postmodern surrender, work as simply working, a submission that says, the whole is uncontainable, containment diminishes it, & you, just mark a track through it, that suffices.


Of the species of postmodern, some seem to me blackly comic, nihilistic graveyard whistling, or intellectual gamesmanship, or just despair, thinly veiled, at the incommensurability of mind & world, the pretensions & ambitions, the benightedness, of one, and the mute implacable face of the other, blank & alien as a sheer canyon redrock wall. This is not that.

What’s here is a faith that the world is whole, no striving called for. Any step one takes, however contingent & inflected, is connected to, & reflects within it, every other possible step. (The light unsevered from its source though it touches on all things.) There is no such then as fragment. Whole is whatever the eye sees whole — sees as whole — sees wholly.

I’ll spare us both the self-evident pun. And I do not mean some new-aged mushy faith that all-is-one whereby we float nine inches off the ground & smile sweet & beatific. Rather the heart of the heart of the Heart Sutra —

Form is exactly emptiness,
Emptiness exactly form,

— from which my own work is trying (through fat tectonic plates of notion & control) to gush hotly forth.


I should add here that my reading of postmodern poetry has grown up some since I wrote this. And I see more obstacles to lining up Pound with the dharma than I did then.


By this the whole work comes home to a sweet orphaned song —

I have tried to write Paradise.

Do not move
        Let the wind speak
                    that is paradise

Let the Gods forgive what I
                    have made

Let those I love try to forgive
                    what I have made

Paradise is. The whole work, all its striving, every utterance, wonderfully needless. And, as transcript of its own arrival at this point, complete w/ atonement, a great gift to the tribe.

From mastery through humbling to freedom, the bits growing smaller & smaller, pounded & ground down in the mortar & pestle of one sensitive & impassioned mind, but the vision is singular, is a vision of its own activity & arc, of which Pound’s own concerns (“I am not a demigod, / I cannot make it cohere”) and confessions  (“That I lost my center / fighting the world”) are seamlessly part.


Cutting across that arc (for the method is, one thought cut slantwise through another) (the arc, I mean, from parts that try to make a whole, to parts that are wholes) is this axis: Confucius — Eleusis.

The work can’t be reduced to any one, or any several, polarities, there is much mixture & flux in it, so I don’t want to claim more for this one than is seemly, but here, just this. Confucius, his China, is a pole of quiet & contemplation, in which one steps outside of passion, into a reasoned ethics, attuned to a tao of change that does not itself change. Eleusis & related rites (Dionysus, Adonis, Tammuz, Osiris), are a pole of activity, passion, coitus, a flux in which one is fully immersed.

The Seven Lakes Canto, XLIX, though not re/ Kung-fu-tse, is Confucian in its quality of mind; is as Kenner says the still heart of the turning wheel. Canto XLVII, close at hand, is the force & fire that turn the wheel. Here then the Tammuz/Adonis rite in which the death of the vegetation god is mourned (“the red flame going seaward” his blood at midsummer) even as small potted plants thrust up shoots of wheat.

Odysseus into the cave fades into Tammuz gone underground. Odysseus ploughing (& heeding Hesiod’s dicta — harmony with natural orders) becomes the farmer drawing Tammuz back into life & air. And his going into the cave is at once entombment & impregnation:

Hast’ou a deeper planting, doth thy death year
Bring swifter shoot?
Hast thou entered more deeply the mountain?

The light has entered the cave. Io! Io!
The light has gone down into the cave,
Splendour on splendour!
By prong have I entered these hills:
That the grass grow from my body,
That I hear the roots speaking together,
The air is new on my leaf

These two cantos work as cathode & anode, set just a bit apart, activity & stillness. The energy that moves between them is the godlike “power over wild beasts” in which each canto comes to rest.


Finally. This thought & exemplum. My reading of Pound and my own writing have begun to draw together a little. Here’s a small recent effort to make use of his line and cadence:

UNION. SQUARE.

Slabs of a crumbling white cheese
baskets of onions, and small fragrant leeks
             wild purslane & gold purslane
white wine, brown eggs and willow cuttings

Gone one whose bones are ground down
             white flour, white wool
             black flour, & black wool
grey dust at sift through the scumbled earth
rain on the fruit-spur as light shakes the twig.
             Mind-ground, blossom-heart,
spring wind blowing madly, here, now, there . . .
—Well, they thought they had it all
                   but they didn’t have it all
—Oh once you have that you don’t get rid of it
             le grain, le blé, le sang
             les os qui la terre arée

pollen hangs on air under white pines.
—Monday she goes, an ontologist,
                         that’s the specialist
Hangs on the air, not pure or impure
gold fines the lord breaks in through
             Αδοναι                    Adonis
             gold that leavens the tree
all once wild, now a sweet sauce
                                    earth-tuft of herb
apples in a wood crate on a fold-out card table

It is disappointing in a dozen ways. I can already smell the dissatisfactions to come. 1. Imitative. 2. First stanza’s got no metafurs in it. 3. Furrin’ languages. 4. Nuttin’ happens. 5. Mind-ground, blossom-heart, was ist? 6. Nuttin’ happens again.

But here’s what I like in it, what hints at future openings & ventures. 7. The cadences emerge out of the material and are durational as well as accentual … are, to my ear anyway, musical phrasings. 8. Each line is its own completion. 9. No interstitial tissue, narrative, syntactical, or otherwise, it trusts the process. 10. It has twists and turns … arrives in the end where it started, but hasn’t followed a course you might have predicted. 11. Has the recursion & overlap to which I have for a long time been drawn, but uses them less forcefully, braids them into the thought more naturally. 12. Ain’t about control.

Re/ that last. Writing it was a strange experience. I kept wanting to impose shape on it, shapeliness, coherence, and then noticing that impulse & renouncing it … find instead I said the shape inside it. That feels like entering a new country — so what if the first steps are clumsy, tentative? A poem that says is instead of should be. What a relief.