Thursday, March 14, 2013


Late At Night / Gail Mazur

Reading awful poems late at night,
each word scratchy as a hog’s bristles,
my eyes ache and blur in the dimming light.
I don’t find one good line, one image,
one single flower piercing the mud—
only ponderous “ideas,” heavy
as boulders clogging a clear stream.
Or worse, it’s like eating bony little fish—
or boiled crabs, and breaking out in hives!
Nothing I hear or see tonight
is comfort or anodyne, nothing
to lose myself in for part of an hour …
Our lives passed like a morning mist,
or a flame whose candle’s burned away.
Why strain listening for beautiful music
in the witless peeps of an insect,
when I can just put the book aside
and study your last woodcut—blue night,
rain pelting the riddling moonlight
on a blue-black bay—more wondrous
than words on a page. Better for me.

These are thoughts late at night, the connecting articles and conjunctions between ideas missing, in large part, two or three ideas merging into the same drowsy stream; things seen in a haze, coming into view, then gone, suggesting nothing so much as a pondering of an object of desire gone missing amid the late hours , after a meal and perhaps two glasses of wine. The mind cannot hold a thought for very long and is unable to isolate a notion on which to construct a reasoned opinion; it's not so much that what first entered the mind had been dissolved and was no more,but rather that it had either morphed into something else all together . The words on a page, the lines of awful poetry one is trying to parse, the memory that one is attempting to  reconcile several contradictory opinions of.  The words on a page, the lines of awful poetry one is trying to parse, the memory that one is attempting to reconcile several contradictory opinions of. Language in the late hours that turn into the early morning has taken leave --only real images resonate. Actual things are the literal that one can "wrap " your mind around, a shape to emulate, study, improvise associations with. Language is merely the notes of muffled songs until rest turns up the volume and one utters sentences that are the equal of John Coltrane solos. But until then, just a book and poems that offer little but vapor in the hours reserved for slumber and dream indexes of the day's events.

This has the makings of a John Ashbery epic, the central genius of American who likewise cannot hold a single thought in his poems but who enthralls us as the physical and the nearly metaphysical interact in ways that make meaning irrelevant; his is a poetry of associative length, the manufacturing of associations as a consciousness epically steps down from the realm of Perfect Forms , Wallace Steven's Supreme Fiction, and investigates a world populated by imperfect representations. His mind, though, is alert, curious, melancholic to a degree, yet amused by the endless variety of forms he can speak into being. Mazur is less alert with "Late at Night" and has, I think, given us a poem about falling asleep. There is a feeling in this poem that makes me think of a person's grip on an object--a book, a glass, a ball--loosening and falling away. This is the equivalent of a sleeper mumbling into a pillow, talk to who knows what in the cloud of faint dreams.

The poem is elliptical in the sense that Mazur's narrator is arguing with what she finds on the page--this seems a search through books for a phrase or full declaration of the vague emotions that are stirring about her conscious--and what she considers briefly, intently is dismissed as inadequate  and inspires only more speculation. Late night and the fighting against the on set of sleep--and I think fatigue is conspicuous in this poems diffuse approach to a loosely gathered subject--makes the object of desire, whether a lover, a youthful past, a love of art and nature, dissolves and there are only fading sensations of sound, color, shapes as the task of night takes over. Mazur is wise enough to resolve the problem of not finding an appropriate analog of the somnambulist musings and decides, before closing her eyes finally, that a fading recollection of a pleasant experience and state of being is better than trying to force a set of words or some other thing embody the spiritual essence of that notion. Better for her. Better for the reader.

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