Sunday, August 31, 2014

"it would seem my daughter does not listen" and "another girl"

my daughter does not listen to me. i was to work the long shift late into night. left instructions in notebook. if bake, do dishes. if breathe, clean messes. went to work. came home a muffled version of myself. to cookie dough souring in bowl on living room table. larger mess left, albeit concealed in sink, still cleverly unattended. sit at island in kitchen to eat day old shriveled sausage. talk with husband in late night's hushed tones. she comes in with friend, faces mooning over i-pods and cellphones. i'll talk later to the mess. i'm tired. they giggle and plink at screen, ask - where cookie dough, once in living room. small explanation with demands follow. then more hushed adult talking. over there still giggling. two rooms, two worlds. bbq sauce? mention funeral on tuesday. open refrigerator.

then she asks:

mom, who died?

marissa, girl i worked with.

stillness. volumes of space reordering through darkness.

like a full, soft grey pillow she says, that's sad.


she was never much bigger than a bug, an elf, a sprite, a small flower with mind. illuminated, she was illuminated. essentially non-violent, gently concerned with the world, a girl who never quite got to be a woman. to imagine that she is not somewhere in the world being her particular self is absurd. her voice! her voice still speaks in my head! is death really possible?

what is left behind becomes soil. i take her death like a seed, deceivingly small like her, and plant it. i want it to open inside me, real, and speak of her profound presence, and now, the profound absence of her from the world.

that she will never speak again is impossible. and yet is.

as she..., epitasis

the father: mudflats, seeded barbed wire
at least: dim lit, at most: dull glow

the girl: soil black raven heart, ruby in her crop
fine bone hips like a vase, bud within calyx

the mother, smile reigned in, flicking window latch, remembering
the unfettered: unfolding, unfolding, unfolding ... 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

within the body of the aux sables

the rock in the river shoulders the water and casts off in a languid lasso-let-go loop a torso of water. and while the river moves, new water always creating the shape, the shape is yet held. come down the river quickens a gold leaf blown from a still complete maple. who knew - ever - that this leaf would adorn the body of water, the girl within the woman created by the casting-off of the rock, the rock's penumbra, and that the leaf would pass over her voluptuous blackness like an ember held in her hand out toward the dark world to illuminate its plains and fissures?

not rock, not body, not leaf, not light, nor water, not one, not even darkness, asked to be here, yet they are.

Friday, August 29, 2014

august 29, 2014 in two parts

early afternoon:

my son pulls a perch, and then another perch, out of the lake. around us in the bushes the blackberries husk, mature, ripen, almost fall. yet reluctant, my son passes each fish toward me on his line and i pass my hand down and along their spiked spines, palming their rapturous bodies, a gentle kind of torture, work the arc of the hook to release them, and then fling them back to the dark water.

while he practices patience again and again i roam off in widening circles, filling my hands with the sweet stain of fall, blackberry thorns plucking at my legs with authority.

later i will pass the blackberries to his hands which would have a moment before pressed the shit core right out of a worm. he'll eat, smile, then cast again. the welts along my legs will deepen from stain to something more serious.

late afternoon:

as fire-red mushrooms push through the pine bed i run in the rain trying to keep below the black cloud of my last back injury which had me unable to walk well yesterday. the red mushrooms call to mind the bellies of the perch my son pulled from the lake this morning. i begin to dream of him fishing with his grandfather. this is how he goes, i think,  finally, clutching his chest. like this, i tell my son in my mind, he went like this, to fish and his favorite grandson, no better end imaginable.

across the trail in front of me is a newly fallen birch tree cut into by the beaver at five intervals, like music. i stop and bend down into my body's pain, touch the perfect marks, first with fingertips and then with lips. like this, i say aloud, to no one, but to everything.

making honey

To tie ribbons in her hair.
To mark his mouth with wet kisses.
To inject flour with yeast and moonlight.
To give words to things.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

sitting by the window, searching

no. not right. not yet. not enough.

if the tall fall grass is blown by the wind,
or even if the snow comes and devours every last thing,
then still, not yet the bare window.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

whereupon i try not to be Thucydides' dreg

one thinks (intelligently) that failure is built in,
a part of the system, like how the flower wilts,
or how food grows, is, and then becomes rotten,
thereby offering itself again,
but one thinks (intelligently) that mathematics underlies the system,
like if one exerts X work one can move the boulder from a to b,
b being, of course, the better place, one would think,
but there is an invisible repository with failure, or gap,
which might, if given (unintelligently) power, swallow hope.

Monday, August 25, 2014

the dance

if night skies flow like soup through your limbs, dance.
if your bloody heart hangs rag-tag from rafters in your mind, write.
if you're best at making pickles and it pleases your soul,
then smell seductively of garlic.

the critics say it's bullshit to live your bliss.
so be it.
then live that bullshit wildly;
do it so blissfully you cause others to blush.

but know it first.
don't be fool to think it's leisure.
don't adopt other people's precepts.
empty yourself vulgarly
and then note what vulgarly fills you.

come awake inside your new order,
which is really your passion moving 
in conjunction with chaos.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


because i love the unkempt chicken and the voluptuous egg
i love pexa et hirsuta

because i love pexa et hirsuta
i love the way twilight's raven hair fringes her golden face

because i love the twilight girl
i love how night takes her unbidden

and because each night the girl is devoured wholly
i have taken holy vows at the stark white altar

exchanging names in the black mouth
ovum and sperm

Friday, August 22, 2014


the way time works the hinges of a house,
the way earwigs find their way into the kitchen,
the way hearing weakens, elbows pucker and cowboy boots crease,
the way nostalgia falls like dust all over tables,
   silent like time-honoured inextricable arguments,
the way the lilies blaze for just a moment
               - fire takes the curtains.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

spirit bone, breath bone

There is a lesson fastened into the nine pound plumed package
of mandible, breast bone, breath bone, skull, bound by meat,
in the extension of the long combed neck and retraction of ladder legs to phalanges,
its kernel of a brain tucked snug in its skull an ember in a lantern,
skyward the sandhill crane works itself from the farm fields, lowly but ecstatic,
honking its prayer, its praise, "me, me, sky god, pick me," each one chosen -

that we, for now earthbound, low and squat browed creatures, 
have not, after all, been forsaken,
that we too, one day, will hurtle forth from these meaty throes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

tuesday august 19th, 2014

we are driving the farm roads. my husband is wearing a blue sweater. twenty? thirty? sandhill cranes, bodies with wings, are suddenly birthed from the soil. my husband stops the car abruptly and jumps out. stands amazed staring at the horizon littered with feathered bodies. i am yet in the car, staring at what fills my horizon, my husband's blue sweater, his head tilted back somewhere between supplication and ecstasy. (need there be a difference?)

his blue sweater, he.

his mouth, too, is open.


Driving through rain

violins opening
like soft petaled wounds
and then the piano dabbing
lightly like aloe

the rain with its god clouds pressing down in the distance
adam's apples and dark tongues

always i prefer the violins

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

where, it

i thought desire resided within the full lips
but now with our lips together i see
the point of creation/destruction (therefore: unity)
lies just a little bit off in some direction

the rose petal, first from rose, then from sidewalk
pressed to my nose, then lips,
then squeezed between my finger's tips,
a dust like moth's wings, will never fly again

the moth itself calicoing over chicory
bumbling over tall grasses, flower caps
an infant thrown into the wind
traces our story, teasingly, away from us

Monday, August 18, 2014


It's not love
(but is - as we've agreed to call it this)
but rather how nouns like sound
and how verbs like light and shadow.
Oh, it sounds like even less described like this
(less than the thing itself, "love", not sounding enough)
but is more,

like a scream,
   like a scream in the throat and in the eyes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

runes of self, over coffee

my sister and i say words trying to explain ourselves to one another.
let's call this a discussion, or conversation. we use pieces of the world to illustrate.

i throw onto the floor between us such suspicious things as bat wings and small chicken bones. i'm surprised by my hands.

she accidentally throws a squid, which makes a liquid mess. she has already grabbed paper towels to clean it.

i leave knowing i've said the wrong things.
she probably feels the same.

except i feel i somewhat know her.
again, she probably feels the same.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

the room

(after john ashbery's "This Room" and  rusty morrison's "Necessities")

i look around the room for a tool to use
which i've not already used up entirely.
i began with the mirror.
it's only flecks and specks any more.
the books have been shredded.
i've used the bed well up past my nipples.
and the dust on the floor i used after the light burned out.
then i tried to recycle it - but nothing.
the window, oh, the window,
the window i have used each time
i've used any other thing.
and this body retired a goodly time ago.
my mind now dims.
so much for words.

what's left? - the room,
or what the room is
with no walls.

Friday, August 15, 2014

the lazy man leans on his elbows (sub specie aeternitatis #3)

ok, let's look at this god's mouth:
is it only the source of words
(desire's inverse: naming to completion),
or does it itself desire?
does it have teeth?
does it yearn to swallow?
does it secretly knit teeth into each article
to gnash its way through this world
into its own throat?

where is outside of this god's mouth?



on the pretty table, in the light, sits a ball of yellow yarn.


post-genesis, always post-genesis (sub specie aeternitatis #2)

must things always bear the weight of their initial pronouncement?
must the phrase sub specie aeternitatis bear each of spinoza's good and bad moods?
must blue always bear boats and birds? must it be chilly?
what about us, our children, are we not separate from our parents?

is not each thing the shape of god's mouth left behind to become itself?

why this vibratation (sub specie aeternitatis #1)

this desire
is not for a body
but is for a body
is not for a word
but is for a word
is not for the light
but is for the light
and is certainly not for the darkness
although we buck toward it

this fire in us
wants to burn everything up
and find what is essential

we could burn all the bodies
but this would not be enough
we could burn all the words
but this would not be enough
we could try to burn the light
but it would only snicker for darkness
and we could try to burn the darkness
but it would only snicker for light

between the poles we surge
(we cry out!)
between the poles we surge
(we laugh hysterically)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

beyond tree and sea

my eyes begin to weaken and that which i knew was there before is gone to me now, gone from the incarnation of this body, gone from its poke and wiggle. the sea on the surface of my eyes now grows dim, no longer a mirror, no longer a light itself or a reflective light which to shine on the world.

and so what then of the mystery that lurks and has lurked all my lifetime beyond the treeline, my time of course being only a flake of chafe along the skin of the horizon. what then of that mystery? how then see what i couldn't see with the best of eyes?

eyes are the channel to the mind and mind the channel to the world, or so we wrongly think because of proximity, axioms built upon the silt of an uncertain shoreline. so if not the eyes or even the mind, then what, where in this body do i turn to discern that which is beyond me, that which came from beyond to here, to this location, to comprise this self?

noam chomsky reminds us to stop thinking with the obvious. no revolution ever happens by noting that a ball goes down. we must step away from the ball and even from the earth, the place which seems downward. destroy everything. begin again.

my failing sight strengthens in its failing.

closing my eyes and flying out beyond my body, giving up on proximity, out past the tinkling aspens, much beyond the dense beast-like caw of the crows, and hurtling myself beyond, i hope, that which is my mind, there is - only what i can describe to you as light, but is, of course, not light, but the place where the light goes out - in and out, in and out, in and out, like the sea itself that burbles in the veins and aqueous fluids even to, and within, the unborn child.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

notes from a walk, august 13, 2014

gone from the path is the thick pine that fell one winter that a man hacked through and pulled aside with what must have been great effort to allow two sets of snowshoes to pass through, one smaller than the other (a man and a woman?),

and gone now too, the slender birch that had lain over the trail, a delicate arch, for one or two years.

does my loving them preserve their lives, their presence?

each time i cross the path i note their absence, which is similar, but different, to touching their bodies.

the timelessness of things

considering some photographs of us
considering the things we touch
the shirt, the collar, the boat, the grass
considering the fire with ash

these things are not things, not common things
not thing things, but life, lungs, plants

might the stove my grandmother sat beside be dead?
might the boat that killed my father still lie in long grass?
might the small white collar i folded last
be folded somewhere 

(after reading seamus heaney's "Clearances" and spending a morning close to ...)

fingerprints in sand

not liking crowds or people or heat
i take a blanket and lie next to all the people on the beach
we are hot and sweating, they boisterous, me quiet

i try to see myself by looking through all the legs

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

ana (two poems)

(a mother considers anamnesis, anatheism, hopkins' aftering, and ana herself)

was there only that brief window for me to bring you to joy?
must you enter these decades of malaise, lack of miracle?
must you assemble the mirror of acedia? is this some requirement?
some inversion? so that you might later bring yourself to joy?
can't i secretly stroke your hair while you're sleeping?
can't your twitch, your lust for movement, carry you eagerly into this day?
what i wouldn't give to feel your smile as thunder to your lightening legs.

my dearest, once you ran like a pony.


displacement (and aftering)

as soon as i open my mouth
i have altered the body of the forest

a rock tossed casually into the shallows 
sends the tadpoles shrugging recklessly about

14 years ago i carved a place in the air
and poured into it my daughter

all of this possibility, ecstasy and sorrow
will she ever sort it out?

will the tadpoles ever grow their legs?
will the shallows withdraw to reveal the rock?
will my echo finally leave the forest so that my daughter has room to roam?

Monday, August 11, 2014

notes from a run, august 11, 2014

so today was the day - finally - that it happened. while running and thinking of the overabundance of blueberries and raspberries, thinking on anatheism and anamnesis, i blew a shoe. 6 years in (?) i am the antithetical advertisement for nike. bought the cheapest cross-runners years ago. still don't need new ones. i stood in one shoe and tore the sole off the other, stuffing it into the bear spray/poetry sac i wear around my waist, and then ran on. all was relatively fine. just a charlie horse in my left foot and a being present with the thinning sole on my right.

as i ran toward fall i noted how discomfort burns our place in the now. i was happy, am happy.

a strange love poem

the lake and the lake's shore are pristine but for the scraggly bushes.
the rich man succinctly slices his boat into the blue diamond waters, 
lowers his motor, and rides off over water, his feet never getting wet,
fending waves beneath his wise and buckling knees,
while my husband and i scavenge for delicious berries in the bushes.
this is the lake's cunt, i marvel, stumbling through bracken, briars pulling
upon our clothes and our bodies. one ruby jewel of blood swells upon my calf, 
deer flies net our hair. we laugh and feed one another berries.
the rich man wanted me once. there is always a rich man to wager.
a solitary smear of raspberry blood oxidizes upon my husband's lips.
he smiles and my cunt and breasts ache, but i mean to say, my spirit.

days later, alone, i encounter a dead snake on the road to that lake, 
magnificently simple, curled into a crescent, dead but iridescent. 
i would tell you the colour but the point is that i can not say it. 
but when i come upon it, the creature foiled and shining like a beacon, 
understated, therefore important, flattened but ripe with sorrow,
a vital parable, i think of christ's blood. now, i am no christian, 
but what of the unyielding sacrifice of such a man inside his difficult existence?
but it is the snake i mean to venture for one moment, its colour a voice
enunciating passion, surrender, not cyan nor cerulean, 
nor blue celeste or viridian, a distant cousin to zaffre, perhaps (but no),
and most definitely not indigo, although perhaps slightly suffused with it,
and as with any enduring blue a little egyptian, but as i touch it
(the snake, not the colour, never able to touch the colour), i know 
there is no naming it, try as i might i will never be able to say it,
this colour i see only this once in my lifetime, not belonging to any substrata
family of creatures but to the one particular snake mashed profoundly 
but without ceremony upon the well traveled gravel road.

jesus was a poor rich man, wasn't he? i love him regardless historical evidence
or mythological posturing, any creation of credence, truth or fiction.
forgive me lord, but to me my husband is like this, a poor rich man
who toils in and through his flesh as though through bracken
and raises his eyes toward the rapture of breasts, beasts, and/or berries
(let's call these embodiments you, "God," for the moment),
this particular man, like the one particular blue snake,
poor, lowly and holy, beautiful, whom i love religiously.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

two X chromosones, a brief exploration of body and space, play, and seriousness


double X

let's be firm (well, bodilicious), stand with hands on hips, i am woman, simply delicious. hear me roar - briefly, so tune your ear - completely. papper of eggs, mâché maker, and hieroglyphic lactator. someone loved me, slipped into a knot. post love, the line resought. drawer of fishes in the sand, eternity. and drawer of arrows that pierce the heart, mortality. (with an after smile during descension for all the aforementioned tension.) ruffle of feathers in dirt.
                                           and loam.


such celestial space
between the facial plates
the small pebbles of the eyeballs
and the caliginous musculature of the ligaments

is space, as they suggest, empty?

but what nuggets of thought
upon the plains of ni 
lording like ideas!




Saturday, August 9, 2014

because, just because

lusting for things like snow falling at 3am
through an upstairs hallway window

or like leaving my first marriage
or dreaming in my childhood bed 

of potatoes! a colour yet undiscovered 
(and not simple light divided through the prism!)

is the same as a river pushing against an embankment
wanting to cut toward the horizon where it doesn't flow

and flume! but it never will

but that is not to say the river should not push
nor is it to say that the embankment should not try to hold it

for outside someone's window snow is falling
like soft music over fields of ruddy potatoes

and yet my ears 
while they can not and will not hear it

they strain to.

Friday, August 8, 2014

she was just beginning

it buzzed
up and over her skin,
every inch of it,
including up and over
the expansive
of her nipples.
her thoughts whined.

she was not done with it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

the betrayal

it was then i understood 
coming down the stairs
my ex-lover committed to the couch
that life was no angelic choir
nor was Satan condemned to the underworld
but rather that flesh was deigned to rise
rise and rise and rise
demand, yield
and rise again

abjectly slaughtered by circumstance
dreams eviscerated
and spirit throttled
he laid clothed on the couch
clutched in a fit of sleep
his cock released from his zipper
his erection stroked blindly
by his sleeping hands
while he cried and cried

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

a bike ride, notes, august 6th, 2014

how it happened is how it will always happen, outside of expectation.

not feeling well, i couldn't run, but needing the world, i took to my bike. small green plants stood in the ditches shining like little girls holding their dress hems saying, look at my pretty dress, except these were saying, i am green, i am green, i am green. and they were! splendidly shining. corn, as tall or taller than me, swayed making that almost-autumn swooshing sound. a small chestnut coloured dog sniffed at something in the dirt in a lumpy horse field, not noticing me. i stood on my bike and pumped hard like a young boy crossing the highway back onto the dirt road and there insects cracked their legs in tall grasses, snapping like god's knuckles, near the railroad crossing. my body was becoming well in the motion and my mind was working through things that make me well, poetry, story, the green world, love. anticipating the raspberry briars up ahead i let my mind wander more fully, making fun of myself. here i was on my bicycle on a country road. two young girls were lost two nights ago in the woods, all night, and no animal harmed them. the native man we buy sweetgrass from at the store today told me when i asked him, that he saw no bears this year. not while picking sweetgrass. not while picking berries. how foolish i must be to always look with anticipation and reserve for these awesome but unpredictable animals.

and then as ordinary as my elbow a bear walked out of the deep grass on one side of the road up in front of me, nosed about, and then crossed into the dense woods on the other. i sped up to his place of entry, my legs disobeying my mind which said, be cautious. i could hear him move through the woods. but was he coming back out toward me? perhaps. it sounded very possible. and so i got onto my bike and biked quickly away from him, all the while looking back excited and happy. and still, what luck, there were raspberry briars just up ahead! i could eat a few berries and be close to all this in my excitement.

except that again i was not expecting what was to happen. as i pulled my bike near the briars a second bear swiveled from the berries and lunged into the woods, running, it seemed, parallel to the road, in the same direction that i was now quickly pedaling in. but perhaps it was only for the couple seconds i watched the green bush thrash, for he must have broke further off into the woods, or i simply put more distance between us in a quick burst of muscle than i thought possible.

and yes, it is because i was close to two bears that i am excited. but more so, i am excited because i do not yet have enough experience to know what a bear is. you have a healthy fear of bears for a year and then one walks across the road as though you salt a carrot for flavor. so what? another crashes through the forest nearly unseen and you find yourself measuring the sound of his body, the buoyancy of the plants, to try to understand what the animal is up against them.  it is like trying to measure a body by its shadow. but a shadow is not the truth. (is the body? or is the body itself a shadow?)

and there is no anticipating the intersection, not with the real bear.

and certainly there is no control.

how then name it? how then know it?

how then name or know anything?

autobiography in one word


(of course we are all coarse, such is the intersection of our being,
but i am especially coarse.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

mr. malloy and his passions

in high school, in the shellacked classrooms with dust bunnies no matter how many times the high-gloss floors were swept, the thin man like a lizard in his grey pants and proficient belt, taught us how to type on our typewriters.

in another quarter, he taught us law.

i ached against his brittle and passionless existence.

was there somewhere in him where blood, not - pumped, not - followed arteries, but - poured or coursed with vigor?

mr. malloy... i began my merciful attack on him.

when mr. malloy walked past us in the hallways, a wiry bramble with high-sheen shoes, i began to call him sexy. hey sexy, i murmured, but loud enough to be heard and truly smiling.

some hot spot in him like violets pressing faces in the springtime through snow shot purple through his chest. he stopped in front of me. two-footed. anxious and delighted.

he played my game.


mr. malloy comes into the store now where i work. we still play together, not in the old way but in another quick-tongue-at-the-world way.

people, i believe, long to be called to living.


a young girl, surrounded by young muscular boys, is cashing out today behind mr. malloy. she is bright and supple. mr. malloy makes her laugh. (and she makes him laugh by doing nothing.) something has broken permanently open inside mr. malloy.

when he leaves i ask her if she knows him from high school.

he taught at high school? she asks, bowled over.

yes, of course! but if not from there, then from where do you know him?

from church, she answers somewhat befuddled.

she and the boys that bespeckle her, all charming, leave together.

i am left realizing i know nothing of when or how purple courses bloody and vital through others.

Monday, August 4, 2014

vallejo, lorca, whitman... man words of my woman's body

if it's not a cut, i don't want it.
not one pretty lady swooning in the shade.
ascots - to hell with them, unless for manhandling.
gloves, only for the slapping.
only for the taking off.
only for the marring.
nouns, get your rumps in order! cattle to the cattle cart!
white skin? be damned! black? be damned too! red? even so!
skin - be damned! and in your damning
shake lit like a tadpole to the center of your pain!
grief? it's all grief.
spread it along the salted side of your cracker.
scream, the pretty children.
scream, the seagulls.
scream, even the worm eviscerated.
you think your asshole's tragic? it is. pucker up.
the glory of god evades us
even when it's starved and stripped and cut from ass to throat,
even as it lounges like a victorian lady supine, a wilted flower,
strung over the settee   like a skein 
         draping your lovely ulnaris tendons!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

charred girl beneath the bridge in reisterdam, beside the river, near the oak tree, beneath the sky

the town's people thought her peculiar, how she walked about and set herself down like a piece of coal, drawing her arms tight toward her core and burning hot and hard, a private inferno.

they were all so nice. they were all so reasonable, plotting, plotted, negotiated and neat. they tried to help her out.

they pinched her off with their soft efficient dentist-like fingers from the flames. they doused her. set her on a white blanket. but within her remained the intensity and assuredness of rock through time. within her remained the unflinching point of ignition, the strike zone: her body against her spirit.

but why, they wondered, why do this to yourself and why lick the world with your black flames?

they thought perhaps finally she was ashamed enough -

but beneath her downcast eyes, like maggots to (and from) rotting meat, like energy to (and from) the cell, she was again assembling ... to ...


something strange happens in the world, the great conjunction, hand in hand with the trembling and powerful impending explosion.  (so it is with creation and existence, isn't it, the conjunction and then explosion and then conjunction and then explosion?) yesterday morning i wrote this bit about reisterdam and then came upon Lorca's address. and then witnessed with greater clarity those deeply affected with duende, and those who might, like a human to a dog whistle, never be able to even hear the word.

 Theory and Play of The Duende by García Lorca

    (translated by A. S. Kline)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Between 1918 when I entered the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, and 1928 when I left, having completed my study of Philosophy and Letters, I listened to around a thousand lectures, in that elegant salon where the old Spanish aristocracy went to do penance for its frivolity on French beaches.

          Longing for air and sunlight, I was so bored I used to feel as though I was covered in fine ash, on the point of changing into peppery sneezes.

          So, no, I don’t want that terrible blowfly of boredom to enter this room, threading all your heads together on the slender necklace of sleep, and setting a tiny cluster of sharp needles in your, my listeners’, eyes.

          In a simple way, in the register that, in my poetic voice, holds neither the gleams of wood, nor the angles of hemlock, nor those sheep that suddenly become knives of irony, I want to see if I can give you a simple lesson on the buried spirit of saddened Spain. 
          Whoever travels the bull’s hide that stretches between the Júcar, Guadalfeo, Sil and Pisuerga rivers (not to mention the tributaries that meet those waves, the colour of a lion’s mane, that stir the Plata) frequently hears people say: ‘This has much duende’. Manuel Torre, great artist of the Andalusian people, said to someone who sang for him: ‘You have a voice, you understand style, but you’ll never ever succeed because you have no duende.’ 
          All through Andalusia, from the rock of Jaén to the snail’s-shell of Cadiz, people constantly talk about the duende and recognise it wherever it appears with a fine instinct. That wonderful singer El Lebrijano, creator of the Debla, said: ‘On days when I sing with duende no one can touch me.’: the old Gypsy dancer La Malena once heard Brailowsky play a fragment of Bach, and exclaimed: ‘Olé! That has duende!’ but was bored by Gluck, Brahms and Milhaud. And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.

          Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’

          So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

          This ‘mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained’ is, in sum, the spirit of the earth, the same duende that scorched Nietzche’s heart as he searched for its outer form on the Rialto Bridge and in Bizet’s music, without finding it, and without seeing that the duende he pursued had leapt from the Greek mysteries to the dancers of Cadiz and the headless Dionysiac scream of Silverio’s siguiriya.

          So, then, I don’t want anyone to confuse the duende with the theological demon of doubt at whom Luther, with Bacchic feeling, hurled a pot of ink in Eisenach, nor the Catholic devil, destructive and of low intelligence, who disguised himself as a bitch to enter convents, nor the talking monkey carried by Cervantes’ Malgesi in his comedy of jealousies in the Andalusian woods. 
          No. The duende I mean, secret and shuddering, is descended from that blithe daemon, all marble and salt, of Socrates, whom it scratched at indignantly on the day when he drank the hemlock, and that other melancholy demon of Descartes, diminutive as a green almond, that, tired of lines and circles, fled along the canals to listen to the singing of drunken sailors. 
          For every man, every artist called Nietzsche or Cézanne, every step that he climbs in the tower of his perfection is at the expense of the struggle that he undergoes with his duende, not with an angel, as is often said, nor with his Muse. This is a precise and fundamental distinction at the root of their work. 
          The angel guides and grants, like St. Raphael: defends and spares, like St. Michael: proclaims and forewarns, like St. Gabriel. 
The angel dazzles, but flies over a man’s head, high above, shedding its grace, and the man realises his work, or his charm, or his dance effortlessly. The angel on the road to Damascus, and that which entered through the cracks in the little balcony at Assisi, or the one that followed in Heinrich Suso’s footsteps, create order, and there is no way to oppose their light, since they beat their wings of steel in an atmosphere of predestination. 
The Muse dictates, and occasionally prompts. She can do relatively little since she’s distant and so tired (I’ve seen her twice) that you’d think her heart half marble. Muse poets hear voices and don’t know where they’re from, but they’re from the Muse who inspires them and sometimes makes her meal of them, as in the case of Apollinaire, a great poet destroyed by the terrifying Muse, next to whom the divine angelic Rousseau once painted him. 
The Muse stirs the intellect, bringing a landscape of columns and an illusory taste of laurel, and intellect is often poetry’s enemy, since it limits too much, since it lifts the poet into the bondage of aristocratic fineness, where he forgets that he might be eaten, suddenly, by ants, or that a huge arsenical lobster might fall on his head – things against which the Muses who inhabit monocles, or the roses of lukewarm lacquer in a tiny salon, have no power. 
Angel and Muse come from outside us: the angel brings light, the Muse form (Hesiod learnt from her). Golden bread or fold of tunic, it is her norm that the poet receives in his laurel grove. While the duende has to be roused from the furthest habitations of the blood. 
Reject the angel, and give the Muse a kick, and forget our fear of the scent of violets that eighteenth century poetry breathes out, and of the great telescope in whose lenses the Muse, made ill by limitation, sleeps.

The true struggle is with the duende.

The roads where one searches for God are known, whether by the barbaric way of the hermit or the subtle one of the mystic: with a tower, like St. Teresa, or by the three paths of St. John of the Cross. And though we may have to cry out, in Isaiah’s voice: Truly you are a hidden God,’ finally, in the end, God sends his primal thorns of fire to those who seek Him. 
Seeking the duende, there is neither map nor discipline. We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of the greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art, paint with his knees and fists in terrible bitumen blacks, or strips Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer stark naked in the cold of the Pyrenees, or sends Jorge Manrique to wait for death in the wastes of Ocaña, or clothes Rimbaud’s delicate body in a saltimbanque’s costume, or gives the Comte de Lautréamont the eyes of a dead fish, at dawn, on the boulevard.

The great artists of Southern Spain, Gypsy or flamenco, singers dancers, musicians, know that emotion is impossible without the arrival of the duende. They might deceive people into thinking they can communicate the sense of duende without possessing it, as authors, painters, and literary fashion-makers deceive us every day, without possessing duende: but we only have to attend a little, and not be full of indifference, to discover the fraud, and chase off that clumsy artifice.

Once, the Andalusian ‘Flamenco singer’ Pastora Pavon, La Niña de Los Peines, sombre Spanish genius, equal in power of fancy to Goya or Rafael el Gallo, was singing in a little tavern in Cadiz. She played with her voice of shadows, with her voice of beaten tin, with her mossy voice, she tangled it in her hair, or soaked it in manzanilla or abandoned it to dark distant briars. But, there was nothing there: it was useless. The audience remained silent.

In the room was Ignacio Espeleta, handsome as a Roman tortoise, who was once asked: ‘Why don’t you work?’ and who replied with a smile worthy of Argantonius: ‘How should I work, if I’m from Cadiz?’

In the room was Elvira, fiery aristocrat, whore from Seville, descended in line from Soledad Vargos, who in ’30 didn’t wish to marry with a Rothschild, because he wasn’t her equal in blood. In the room were the Floridas, whom people think are butchers, but who in reality are millennial priests who still sacrifice bulls to Geryon, and in the corner was that formidable breeder of bulls, Don Pablo Murube, with the look of a Cretan mask. Pastora Pavon finished her song in silence. Only, a little man, one of those dancing midgets who leap up suddenly from behind brandy bottles, sarcastically, in a very soft voice, said: ‘Viva, Paris!’ as if to say: ‘Here ability is not important, nor technique, nor skill. What matters here is something other.’

Then La Niña de Los Peines got up like a madwoman, trembling like a medieval mourner, and drank, in one gulp, a huge glass of fiery spirits, and began to sing with a scorched throat, without voice, breath, colour, but…with duende. She managed to tear down the scaffolding of the song, but allow through a furious, burning duende, friend to those winds heavy with sand, that make listeners tear at their clothes with the same rhythm as the Negroes of the Antilles in their rite, huddled before the statue of Santa Bárbara.

La Niña de Los Peines had to tear apart her voice, because she knew experts were listening, who demanded not form but the marrow of form, pure music with a body lean enough to float on air. She had to rob herself of skill and safety: that is to say, banish her Muse, and be helpless, so her duende might come, and deign to struggle with her at close quarters. And how she sang! Her voice no longer at play, her voice a jet of blood, worthy of her pain and her sincerity, opened like a ten-fingered hand as in the feet, nailed there but storm-filled, of a Christ by Juan de Juni.

The arrival of the duende presupposes a radical change to all the old kinds of form, brings totally unknown and fresh sensations, with the qualities of a newly created rose, miraculous, generating an almost religious enthusiasm. 
In all Arab music, dance, song or elegy, the arrival of duende is greeted with vigorous cries of ‘Allah! Allah!’ so close to the ‘Olé!’ of the bullfight, and who knows whether they are not the same? And in all the songs of Southern Spain, the appearance of the duende is followed by sincere cries of: ‘Viva Dios!’ deep, human, tender cries of communication with God through the five senses, thanks to the duende that shakes the voice and body of the dancer, a real, poetic escape from this world, as pure as that achieved by that rarest poet of the seventeenth century Pedro Soto de Rojas with his seven gardens, or John Climacus with his trembling ladder of tears.

Naturally when this escape is perfected, everyone feels the effect: the initiate in seeing style defeat inadequate content, and the novice in sensing authentic emotion. Years ago, an eighty year old woman came first in a dance contest in Jerez de la Frontera, against lovely women and girls with liquid waists, merely by raising her arms, throwing back her head, and stamping with her foot on the floor: but in that crowd of Muses and angels with lovely forms and smiles, who could earn the prize but her moribund duende sweeping the earth with its wings made of rusty knives.

All the arts are capable of duende, but where it naturally creates most space, as in music, dance and spoken poetry, the living flesh is needed to interpret them, since they have forms that are born and die, perpetually, and raise their contours above the precise present.

Often the composer’s duende fills the performers, and at other times, when a poet or composer is no such thing, the performer’s duende, interestingly, creates a new wonder that has the appearance of, but is not, primitive form. This was the case with the duende-haunted Eleonara Duse, who searched out failed plays to make triumphs of them through her inventiveness, and the case with Paganini, explained by Goethe, who made one hear profound melody in vulgar trifles, and the case of a delightful young girl in Port St. Marys, whom I saw singing and dancing that terrible Italian song ‘O Mari!’ with such rhythm, pauses and intensity that she turned Italian dross into a brave serpent of gold. What happened was that each effectively found something new that no one had seen before, that could give life and knowledge to bodies devoid of expression.

Every art and every country is capable of duende, angel and Muse: and just as Germany owns to the Muse, with a few exceptions, and Italy the perennial angel, Spain is, at all times, stirred by the duende, country of ancient music and dance, where the duende squeezes out those lemons of dawn, a country of death, a country open to death.

In every other country death is an ending. It appears and they close the curtains. Not in Spain. In Spain they open them. Many Spaniards live indoors till the day they die and are carried into the sun. A dead man in Spain is more alive when dead than anywhere else on earth: his profile cuts like the edge of a barber’s razor. Tales of death and the silent contemplation of it are familiar to Spaniards. From Quevedo’s dream of skulls, to Valdés Leal’s putrefying archbishop, and from Marbella in the seventeenth century, dying in childbirth, in the middle of the road, who says:

The blood of my womb
Covers the stallion.
The stallion’s hooves
Throw off sparks of black pitch…

to the youth of Salamanca, recently killed by a bull, who cried out:

Friends, I am dying:
Friends I am done for.
I’ve three scarves inside me,
And this one makes four…

stretches a rail of saltpetre flowers, where a nation goes to contemplate death, with on the side that’s more bitter, the verses of Jeremiah, and on the more lyrical side with fragrant cypress: but a country where what is most important of all finds its ultimate metallic value in death.

          The hut, the wheel of a cart, the razor, and the prickly beards of shepherds, the barren moon, the flies, the damp cupboards, the rubble, the lace-covered saints, the wounding lines of eaves and balconies, in Spain grow tiny weeds of death, allusions and voices, perceptible to an alert spirit, that fill the memory with the stale air of our own passing. It’s no accident that all Spanish art is rooted in our soil, full of thistles and sharp stones: it’s no isolated example that lamentation of Pleberio’s, or the dances of that maestro Josef María de Valdivielso: it isn’t chance that among all the ballads of Europe this Spanish one stands out:

If you’re my pretty lover,
why don’t you gaze at me?

The eyes I gazed at you with
I’ve given to the dark.

If you’re my pretty lover
why aren’t you kissing me?

The lips I kissed you with
I’ve given to earth below.

If you’re my pretty lover,
why aren’t you hugging me?

The arms I hugged you with
Are covered with worms, you see.

Nor is it strange that this song is heard at the dawn of our lyrical tradition:

In the garden
I shall die,
in the rose-tree
they will kill me,
Mother I went
to gather roses,
looking for death
within the garden.
Mother I went
cutting roses,
looking for death
within the rose-tree.
In the garden
I shall die.
In the rose-tree
they’ll kill me.

Those moon-frozen heads that Zurbarán painted, the yellows of butter and lightning in El Greco, Father Sigüenza’s prose, the whole of Goya’s work, the apse of the Escorial church, all polychrome sculpture, the crypt in the Duke of Osuna’s house, the ‘death with a guitar’ in the Chapel of the Benaventes in Medina de Rioseco, equate culturally to the processions of San Andrés de Teixido, in which the dead take their places: to the dirges that the women of Asturias sing, with their flame-bright torches, in the November night: to the dance and chanting of the Sibyl in the cathedrals of Mallorca and Toledo: to the dark In recort of Tortosa: and to the endless Good Friday rituals which with the highly refined festival of the bulls, form the popular ‘triumph’ of death in Spain. In all the world only Mexico can grasp my country’s hand.

          When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled. 
          When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

          The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation. 
          With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work. 
          The magic power of a poem consists in it always being filled with duende, in its baptising all who gaze at it with dark water, since with duende it is easier to love, to understand, and be certain of being loved, and being understood, and this struggle for expression and the communication of that expression in poetry sometimes acquires a fatal character.

          Remember the example of the flamenca, duende-filled St. Teresa. Flamenca not for entangling an angry bull, and passing it magnificently three times, which she did: not because she thought herself pretty before Brother Juan de la Miseria: nor for slapping His Holiness’s Nuncio: but because she was one of those few creatures whose duende (not angel, for the angel never attacks anyone) pierced her with an arrow and wanted to kill her for having stolen his ultimate secret, the subtle link that joins the five senses to what is core to the living flesh, the living cloud, the living ocean of love liberated from time.

          Most valiant vanquisher of the duende and the counter-example to Philip of Austria, who sought anxiously in Theology for Muse and angel, and was imprisoned by a duende of icy ardour in the Escorial Palace, where geometry borders on dream, and where the duende wears the mask of the Muse for the eternal punishment of that great king.

          We have said that the duende loves the edge, the wound, and draws close to places where forms fuse in a yearning beyond visible expression.

          In Spain (as among Oriental races, where the dance is religious expression) the duende has a limitless hold over the bodies of the dancers of Cadiz, praised by Martial, the breasts of those who sing, praised by Juvenal, and over all the liturgies of the bullring, an authentic religious drama, where in the same manner as in the Mass, a God is sacrificed to, and adored.

          It seems as if all the duende of the Classical world is concentrated in this perfect festival, expounding the culture and the great sensibility of a nation that reveals the finest anger, bile and tears of mankind. Neither in Spanish dance nor in the bullfight does anyone enjoy himself: the duende charges itself with creating suffering by means of a drama of living forms, and clears the way for an escape from the reality that surrounds us.

          The duende works on the dancer’s body like wind on sand. It changes a girl, by magic power, into a lunar paralytic, or covers the cheeks of a broken old man, begging for alms in the wine-shops, with adolescent blushes: gives a woman’s hair the odour of a midnight sea-port: and at every instant works the arms with gestures that are the mothers of the dances of all the ages.

          But it’s impossible for it ever to repeat itself, and it’s important to underscore this. The duende never repeats itself, any more than the waves of the sea do in a storm.

          Its most impressive effects appear in the bullring, since it must struggle on the one hand with death, which can destroy it, and on the other with geometry, measure, the fundamental basis of the festival.

          The bull has its own orbit: the toreador his, and between orbit and orbit lies the point of danger, where the vertex of terrible play exists.

          You can own to the Muse with the muleta, and to the angel with the banderillas, and pass for a good bullfighter, but in the work with the cape, while the bull is still free of wounds, and at the moment of the kill, the aid of the duende is required to drive home the nail of artistic truth.

          The bullfighter who terrifies the public with his bravery in the ring is not fighting bulls, but has lowered himself to a ridiculous level, to doing what anyone can do, by playing with his life: but the toreador who is bitten by the duende gives a lesson in Pythagorean music and makes us forget that his is constantly throwing his heart at the horns. 
          Lagartijo, with his Roman duende, Joselito with his Jewish duende, Belmonte with his Baroque duende, and Cagancho with his Gypsy duende, showed, from the twilight of the bullring, poets, painters and composers the four great highways of Spanish tradition. 
          Spain is unique, a country where death is a national spectacle, where death sounds great bugle blasts on the arrival of Spring, and its art is always ruled by a shrewd duende which creates its different and inventive quality.

          The duende who, for the first time in sculpture, stains with blood the cheeks of the saints of that master, Mateo de Compostela, is the same one who made St. John of the Cross groan, or burns naked nymphs in Lope’s religious sonnets.
          The duende that raises the towers of Sahagún or bakes hot bricks in Calatayud, or Teruel, is the same as he who tears apart El Greco’s clouds, and kicks out at Quevedo’s bailiffs, and Goya’s chimeras, and drives them away.

          When he rains he brings duende-haunted Velasquez, secretly, from behind his monarchic greys. When he snows he makes Herrera appear naked to show that cold does not kill: when he burns he pushes Berruguete into the flames and makes him invent new dimensions for sculpture.

          Gongora’s Muse and Garcilaso’s angel must loose their laurel wreaths when St. John of the Cross’s duende passes by, when:

The wounded stag
appears, over the hill.

Gonzalo de Berceo’s Muse and the Archpriest of Hita’s angel must depart to give way to Jorge Manrique, wounded to death at the door of the castle of Belmonte. Gregorio Hernández’ Muse, and José de Mora’s angel must bow to the passage of de Mena’s duende weeping tears of blood, and Martínez Montañéz’ duende with the head of an Assyrian bull, just as the melancholic Muse of Catalonia, and the damp angel of Galicia, gaze in loving wonder at the duende of Castile, so far from their warm bread and gentle grazing cattle, with its norms of sweeping sky and dry sierra.

Quevedo’s duende and Cervantes’, the one with green anemones of phosphorus, the other with flowers of Ruidera gypsum, crown the altarpiece of Spain’s duende.

Each art, as is natural, has a distinct mode and form of duende, but their roots unite at the point from which flow the dark sounds of Manuel Torre, the ultimate matter, and uncontrollable mutual depth and extremity of wood, sound, canvas, word.

Dark sounds, behind which in tender intimacy exist volcanoes, ants, zephyrs, and the vast night pressing its waist against the Milky Way.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have raised three arches and with clumsy hands placed within them the Muse, the angel and the duende.

The Muse remains motionless: she can have a finely pleated tunic or cow eyes like those which gaze out in Pompeii, at the four-sided nose her great friend Picasso has painted her with. The angel can disturb Antonello da Messina’s heads of hair, Lippi’s tunics, or the violins of Masolino or Rousseau.

The duende….Where is the duende? Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.