Richard Powers after Louis Zukofsky: A Prospectus of the Sky

Joe Amato


In what follows, I compare the work of a (very much alive) novelist with that of a (very much dead) poet. Specifically, I compare a recent (long) novel to a not-so-recent (long) poem. In doing so, I read what some will call "content" across two distinct literary genres. My reason for reading Richard Powers's The Gold Bug Variations over and against Louis Zukofsky's "A" is to help bring into clearer focus why we might do well to turn more of our critical and creative attention to perhaps the most neglected literary form of this century in North America–the long poem (and I am not the first to make this observation). At the same time, I hope to give some indication of why we might do well to continue to turn our critical and creative attention to the ways in which the literary constitutes a valuable site through which to understand our works and days.

Richard Powers is an accomplished novelist whose five (soon to be six) novels plumb the controversies, latent and teeming, inherent to our highly technological milieu. I daresay that, for most of my readers, Louis Zukofsky, though an equally accomplished poet, will be a somewhat less recognizable, and more inaccessible, figure. I hope to show why both authors warrant continued scrutiny, why the work of literature, and of reviewing literature as I propose, may be vital to sustaining our social ecologies. I have veered away from the biographical per se. Readers are advised to consult the Terrell anthology cited at essay's end for a fine account of "man and poet," as well as the more recent anthology of essays superbly edited by Scroggins. With regard to Powers's novels, I would simply observe (happily) that more and more critical essays exploring same are making their way into print (e.g., see Labinger). Which raises the issue of enabling technologies. One reason this piece is not in print (so to speak) is because there really are relatively few print journals that seem to entertain less orthodox notions of what a review can be. Simply by virtue of not having–not yet anyway–acquiesced entirely to past publishing strictures, on-line spaces can be made to reflect a somewhat different writing occasion, a somewhat different response to textuality, to networks of readers and writers. Something to strive for, as I see it.

Which is, after all, the point.

A Prospectus of the Sky
What can then be seen as happening, in each transition, is a historical development of social language itself: finding new means, new forms and then new definitions of a changing practical consciousness. Many of the active values of 'literature' have then to be seen, not as tied to the concept, which came to limit as well as to summarize them, but as elements of a continuing and changing practice which already substantially, and now at the level of theoretical redefinition, is moving beyond its old forms.

Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature

One hopes for a renewable literature.

This assertion–a pronominal, even reflexive declaration of a wish, hence almost a wish–does not measure itself against the cultural redundancies we–many of us–are experiencing. Not against a "golden age," not out of a desperately felt surplus or decline. Rather, a measure simply, perhaps too succinctly, of renewal, a summary impulse, a "when all is said and done." It implies a revaluation of the place of the alphabet on the contemporary scene. It presumes nothing so much as a sense that ideologies of the marketplace, of the public domain, have compromised the status and reception of art in general, of literary arts in particular. And it intimates a signifying practice that gives good reason, and ample opportunity, to come back to. But to renew against– against the impulse of the Same? Against the products of renewal itself?

There are, as there must ever be, precedents.

I have in front of me Richard Powers's The Gold Bug Variations–a book steeped in so many ways in traditions, high modernist in its high regard for and literal recycling of the past, a book grown classic even as I put it down, bewildered by its thematic reach. Its reach extends both backward–through aesthetic innovation, through art history, through science, through the genetic mechanism itself–and forward–forward, I would hazard, in cosmic terms, by way of promise. The novel promises a future of novel variations. Variations, that is to say, on the new.

That is to say, as I read it, this novel presupposes that which can be renewed. It renews our attention to what is at stake in an understanding of ourselves. It projects, against the technological, postmodern, urban devastation lurking at its margins, nothing less than a global reconstruction project. It forecasts, with stubborn and literate persistence, the coming of a social consciousness rooted in a cosmopolitan ecology, the requisite replication of ancient substance and moral imperative amid a renewed understanding of the cultural and genetic ferment.

Nothing formulaic here, and something that resists the inevitable reduction to metaphor. As Charles Olson reminds us, "There are laws, that is to say, the human universe is as discoverable as that other. And as definable." And again: "The difficulty of discovery (in the close world which the human is because it is ourselves and nothing outside us, like the other) is, that definition is as much a part of the act as is sensation itself, in this sense, that life is preoccupation with itself, that conjecture about it is as much of it as its coming at us, its going on. In other words, we are ourselves both the instrument of discovery and the instrument of definition (Olson 53)."

This is what I take to be the source of a sobering, even somber anxiety underwriting Powers's novel from start to finish: the recognition that what the human organism can know of itself is at once but a lived and living exemplification of what that organism is in the process of becoming.

And if, from the standpoint of evolutionary biology, genetics, chemistry and so forth, the human species has not changed all that much over the past millennia–well, human knowledge, however institutionally codified, must therefore proceed within a fixed and biologically-prejudiced determinism. Epistemology hence short-circuited by the proven, if presumed, positivities of life, the spiral loop, as it were, closed genetically, yet open to endless trial-runs of the dictum: We are defined by what we cannot know. All knowledge resides within phenotypical boundaries, subjectivity itself subject to the sample mean, no more mutable than mutation. Henceforth, human being as falsifiable premise, variation on a grander theme. A theme grander, that is, than its various subjects, defined in such terms.

The consequences of such insight for a literature, literatures–for any human practice–are profound. Or, perhaps more realistically, could be.

But for literature–as I use this latter, a transforming institutional site, or better, an event unfolding against prevailing orthodoxies, an instance of writing, of the alphabetic technologies as these are themselves creolizing, digitally, within a media mix, morphing the very substance of endeavor, and obligation . . .

And if the way we pose our questions cannot effect a differential and linguistic drift, are in fact affects of same, what of the social factor, the recombinant communal soup, or for that matter, the human-qua-social science? Is the sociobiological impulse the implied corollary? Are we to situate our knowledges–of ourselves, of others–as first and foremost derivative of our genetic makeup, or does the sheer presence of other living beings somehow compromise the solitary organismic truth? Are "we" defined by our knowledge of "us," or by our self-knowledge?

One: What is the social narrative–which is to predicate a confluence of a specific literary sensibility (i.e., narrative as opposed to, say, lyric) with "the social"–that permits fragments (episodes?) of a particularly human history, however fictional, to be interwoven throughout this cosmic metanarrative? Two, as to Gold Bug per se: what is the significance of Bach in prefiguring the literary-philosophical undertow of the novel?

Regarding this latter, I wish at once to yield the floor to those possessing the musicological expertise requisite to disentangling the formal symmetries and correspondences Powers develops throughout Gold Bug (narratively, thematically) in codifying his various "messages." My question turns, rather, on the pertinence of Bach's (fugual) oeuvre to a philosophy of art, of life.


(I must assume for my purposes a basic familiarity with (or at least access to) Zukofsky's text. Part I of my prospectus offers a critical glimpse of Zukofsky (who died in 1978) via his long poem "A", in 24 sections (as Robert Creeley notes in a back-cover blurb, "the human measure of day"), begun in 1928, the poet age 24, final entries penned in 1974.)
"A"-1 begins

A    Round of fiddles playing Bach.

and proceeds to detail, as Don Byrd explains, "the aftermath of a concert ("Shape" 180)." "The incidents which attract Zukofsky's interest seem almost inconsequential, " continues Byrd, "He is struck by the contrast between the audience of which he is a part and Bach's original audience, for which Bach was as remarkable as the father of twenty-two children as for his music." Byrd's point is that Bach's audience, unlike the "modern audience," was a community; further, that this sense of artistic isolation, even alienation, is an unlikely experiential opening to an eight-hundred page poem. "The reader might reasonably expect," Byrd notes, "to be instructed in these lines how to read the poem," yet "If anything we seem to be given miscues (180)."

Elsewhere, Byrd has written, by way of prefacing a reader's entry into the Zukofsky corpus, and by way of arguing that what is needed to restore meaningfulness to "the category of the person" is recognition of its "opacity at the center of knowledge, a contingency" in "an actual, finite and therefore knowable world" (211-12; and I excerpt rather haphazardly from The Poetics of the Common Knowledge):

The whole of "A" is an investigation into the inadequacies and limitations of the single vision and the single voice ....I sometimes think "A" is a self-interpreting poem. Most lines that need glossing are glossed somewhere in the poem itself .... Some mathematical formulations, in themselves tautologies, have applications in science and engineering. Zukofsky is brother to the practical mathematician; the performer is the engineer. The meaning of "A," like that of other poetry, is revealed in its use, in its gestures becoming accessible .... "A" is possibly a fugue. Like some other long twentieth-century poems, it is possibly an analogue to the Commedia. As a domestic poem in twenty-four books, it is possibly an analogue to the Odyssey. There are also suggestions of less expressive forms .... We necessarily begin to believe that whatever unity life or language may exhibit, it is not neatly round. (243 ff.)

This final observation strikes at the heart of the matter, for if Zukofsky is "brother" to the mathematician, he is nonetheless engaged in an art that requires that we who read, much as he who has written, "fill the space where word[s] have their full-bodied and disruptive existence and where the moving human body finds itsproper sphere" ( Poetics). If Byrd is correct (and I think he is), though the poetic epic/saga-analogue opens with a "round of fiddles," one nonetheless anticipates a movement that is far from "neatly round," that echoes and enacts the indefiniteness of its titular provocation, its lifelong unraveling. As Hugh Kenner explains, citing Zukofsky himself (and again, haphazard excerpts):

This is a game of alertness to possibilities, single words floating loose to attach themselves to simultaneous contexts. We're forced to follow them ... if we want to see how the poet makes his transitions. It's a game that commences at the top of the first page ... where "A" is the title of the poem, and its first word (as of the alphabet), and the indefinite article, and the note musicians tune by .... 'A case can be made out for the poet giving some of his life to the use of the words the and a: both of which are weighted with as much epos and historical destiny as one man can perhaps resolve,' wrote Zukofsky in the 1946 essay that is unfortunately missing from this reprint. 'Those who do not believe this are too sure that the little words mean nothing among so many other words.' (Kenner 190-91)
Two stanzas from "A"- 1:
The lights dim, and the brain when the flesh dims.

Hats picked up from under seats.

Galleries darkening.

"Not that exit, Sir!"

Ecdysis:  the serpent coming out, molting,

As tho blood stained the floor as the foot stepped,

Bleeding chamfer for shoulder:

"Not that exit!"

"Devil!  Which?"–

Blood and desire to graft what you desire,

But no heart left for boys' voices.

Desire longing for perfection.     (Zukofsky 2)

. . . .

It was also Passover. The blood's tide like the music. A round of fiddles playing Without effort– As into the fields and forgetting to die. The streets smoothed over as fields, Not even the friction of wheels, Feet off ground: As beyond effort– Music leaving no traces, Not dying, and leaving no traces.
Not boiling to put pen to paper Perhaps a few things to remember– (Zukofsky 3-4)

Here is indication that mortal circumstance–the "darkening" of earthly night that brings about an end to "dim" flesh (and consciousness)–follows close upon desire–but desire to what end? "Desire longing for perfection" may "graft" the occasion to memory, to the page, much as blood marks the passage "stained" of one's departure, but this yields "no heart left for boys' voices," for the singularly innocent play of youth (whose value is left unclear at this point, save for reference to Bach's children). Hence "A round of fiddles playing/Without effort" becomes a pure form, a form that, "Not dying," "forgetting to die," is, like an abstraction of life itself, a perpetually unfolding present "leaving no traces," moving frictionlessly forward. And it is out of this occasion, with the remarked but unremarkable fact of Passover lingering as a mythological backdrop–passed over, as it were–it is out of this ad hoc actuality of event that the author–for remembrance' sake?–has chosen "to put pen to paper."

Note my graft, my choice of the (above) two stanzas, and my (now electronic) gloss. This suggests, is meant to suggest, the self-critical apparatus to which Byrd refers. "A" anticipates its aftermath (recall "the aftermath of a concert"); in effect, it comments on, provides a basis for, ensuing commentary.

Back to Bach:

The beginning and one stanza from "A"-12 (written midcentury, the midpoint of the poem's twenty-four sections):

Out of deep need Four trombones and the organ in the nave A torch surged– Timed the theme Bach's name, Dark, larch and ridge, night: From my body to other bodies Angels and bastards interchangeably Who had better sing and tell stories Before all will be abstracted. So goes: first, shape The creation– A mist from the earth, The whole face of the ground; Then rhythm– And breathed breath of life; Then style– That from the eye its function takes– "Taste" we say–a living soul. First, glyph; then syllabary, Then letters. Ratio after Eyes, tale in sound. First, dance. Then Voice. First body–to be seen and to pulse Happening together. Before the void there was neither Being nor non-being; Desire, came warmth, Or which, first? Until the sages looked in their hearts For the kinship of what is in what is not. Or in the heart or in the head? Quire after over three millennia.

. . . .

Who tells time on all fours, yet moves Shape, love–
sense and openhandedness
Blest Ardent Celia, speak simply, rarely scarce, seldom– Happy, immeasurable love heart or head's greater part unhurt and happy, things that bear harmony certain in concord with reason.
From the spring of Art of Fugue: The parts of a fugue should behave like reasonable men in an orderly discussion From the source of A Midsummer-Night's Dream: How comes this gentle concord in the world?

The order that rules music, the same controls the placing of the stars and the feathers in a bird's wing. In the middle of harmony Most heavenly music For the universe is true enough.

Four horses like four notes. (Zukofsky 126-28)

{Shape, rhythm, style} to {glyph, syllabary, letters} to {dance, voice}, to {body}, ultimately to, whether "in the heart or in the head," {love}. But this, too, must "bear harmony/certain in concord with reason." Each iteration must attend, that is, to the demands of form, the "order that rules music," the source of "harmony"and "concord" both in nature and in humankind ("reasonable men"). Here is Hugh Kenner again on "A":
Such hidden laws, presenting a different face to the poet and to us, not only prevent him from dashing things off without thought, they also suspend the whole poem on some plane other than the plane of unresisted discourse, much as musical laws, though we may not know what they are, yield effects we do not confuse with random sonority. For Zukofsky's fondness for mathematical form parallels Bach's, who is often invoked in "A" as the active presiding spirit. (189)

And on “A"-12 in particular:

Bach played on the notes B, A, C, H for no Olympian reason; "A"-12, correspondingly, on the words:





also for no reason except that the formal problem, as for Bach, is a pretty one, and the domestic feeling of Louis for Celia, an encompassing and compelling one. (194)

And again on "A"-12, Burton Hatlen as to the significance of fours (a persistent numerological theme in Gold Bug as well):

To structure "A"-12 around a pattern of four elements is a characteristically modernist gesture, as is Zukofsky's very decision to seek a formal model in a specific baroque composition. Such decisions presuppose the closure, the completion that is so integral to the ideology of modernism, from the poetics of the self-contained Imagist observation to the doctrine of poetic "objectification" (and even to the New Critical notion of the well-wrought urn). In contrast, Zukofsky's transition from modernism to postmodernism, from a teleological poetics of completion to a more open-ended poetics of contingency, discovery, and play, is signaled by his disruption of these patterns, his decision to leave his own work, like The Art of the Fugue, incomplete, unfinished. (228)

Eric Mottram on the Zukofsky corpus:

Zukofsky requires a kind of naturalist classicism–Bach is natural and society should be another instance; but there is little to suggest the degrading aristocratic conditions within which Bach toiled. All we get is 'He who creates/Is a mode of these inertial systems.' (Bartok understood the relationship of leaf-structure to his music, and maintained a social conscience.) Zukofsky's eye is rather on perfection–and this persistence is most celebratedly given in lines quoted in section 3 of "An Objective" (1930-1):

An objective–rays of the object brought to focus.

An objective–nature as creator–desire

      for what is objectively perfect.

Inextricably the direction of history and contemporary


(qtd. in Terrell 423)

And Mottram again:

Love is exemplified by the honour of music made by his family [his wife Celia, a composer, and son Paul, a child-prodigy on violin] for him–a form of paradise which organizes the play between natural (the leaf structure again) and man-made (music), itself the core of the previous sections of "A." So that "A"-12 can begin again with Bach–'out of deep need' in 1950-1–the measure of perfection, and proceed to become the first major fulfillment of Zukofsky's career, a work to put with the best of Paterson, the Cantos, and Maximus. (qtd. in Terrell 425)

Love as "honour of music": Mottram reads "[d]esire longing for perfection" perhaps a bit too insistently, but he is surely correct in pointing to the associated "Objectivist school" premise (of which Zukofsky was a primary exponent). Worth noting here is that a motioning toward perfection is in no way to be confused with perfection's realization, or even the dream of same.

But the "naturalist classicism" to which Mottram refers–Bach as underscoring the naturalness of social form–can, in contemporary terms, be understood as precursor to the sociobiological; hence, to turn to the arts and sciences of language practice, auguring the much-speculated linguistic-genetic correspondence–grammatical structure as taking its lead from biological substrate–one of the controversial critical sites underwriting the tropic recursions and ruminations of Gold Bug . For Zukofsky, the sheer reach of social forms, such as language, the impulse to celestial transcendence, is to be found at the intersection of human cognition and e(x)ternal nature, an empirical conjunction of inside and outside less endless phenomenological oscillation. From "A"-22 (1970-73):

Summers looking across marches to

mountains an old mind sees

more, thinking of  a thought

not his thought, older complexities:

the fractional state of the

annals, a bird's merrythought graving

of quill and down, apposed

human cranium's dendritical crystallizations offer

no sure estimate of antiquity

only archaic time unchanged unchangeable:

aeolian loess, glacier carrying  graywether–

chipped and rubbed contorted drift–

concentric bed blue clay–white,

yellow sand, striped loam–blue

laminated.    (Zukofsky 512)

"[L]aminated," that is, temporally, both of age, "an old mind," and of the geological ages–to follow one possible pun, the glacial "drift." And here is where Zukofsky's lifelong endeavor begins to open to the moral-ecological obligations of which Powers's text serves as an extended meditation (both works are, finally, so much more). A final, enigmatic excerpt, from "A" -23 (1973-74), just prior to the Handel masque of "A" -24:

A living calendar, names inwreath'd

Bach's innocence longing Handel's untouched.

Cue in new-old quantities–'Don't

bother me'–Bach quieted bothered;

since Eden gardens labor, For

series distributes harmonies, attraction Governs

destinies.  Histories dye the streets:

intimate whispers magnanimity flourishes:  doubts'

passionate Judgment, passion the task.    (Zukofsky 563) 
Building from Bach, the poet returns some forty-five years later to Bach "bothered"–Bach (still) dead, his presence yet dy(e)ing. Read as
since [the time of] Eden gardens labor,

For series distributes harmonies,

attraction Governs destinies.
because Eden gardens labor,

For series distributes harmonies,

attraction Governs destinies.

For since Eden gardens labor

attraction Governs series, distributes harmonies, destinies.

Zukofsky's five-word lines intimate the lyrical variations wrought of "intimate" historical "whispers," whispering "new-old" passion (as, again, love), the "passionate Judgment" of the "living calendar." The possible variation in meaning itself is considerable, provokes all sorts of slippage. Should we understand "series" colloquially, as a succession of events or things, or should we hear it instead as a homophone for Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture? Or should we treat "series" in mathematical terms, as the sum of an infinite sequence of numbers? Should we be thinking here of musical notes, perhaps a harmonic series–in which a given tone dominates, but softer notes are nonetheless sounded? Is the historical thus a function of a new-old resonating recursively (so to speak) with an old-new? And might we even read here (admittedly a bit of a stretch) soil series? Does the Earth "labor" to produce (whether little or much), to bring forth the labor of its line-ages, its life forms? Does finding our way thus "back to the garden" (CSNY) suggest something about production and reproduction, the distribution through generations of species variances, recombinations, human destiny a function of love, procreation, attraction? What could be more complex? Or, as in the opening "Aria"-poem of Gold Bug ("The Perpetual Calendar"), "What could be simpler?"


The following from Gold Bug: from Jan's wish list, subjunctive revelations come late in the novel, addressed silently to Todd:

I would tell him everything I have found. I would lay my notebooks open to him. How the helix is not a description at all, but just the infolded germ of a scaffolding organism whose function is to promote and preserve the art treasure that erects it. How the four-base language is both more and less than a plan. How it comprises secret writing in the fullest sense, possessing all the infinite, extendable, constricting possibilities lying hidden in the parts of speech. How there is always ago-between, a sign between signature and nature. (Powers 515)

Note the reflexive quality of the text, in effect proffering itself as "go-between," a contemporary version of the medieval world's "book of nature"–or, if you prefer, an extrapolation/example of the Emersonian doctrine of word/nature compliance, or an updated Dickensian version/sample of inheritance, cultural transmission-preservation, or ...–that codes itself as nature-sign, sign-nature. Again, Jan deliberating:

If I have read the texts correctly–and who knows how wide of the mark my grasp of the blurry words is–then the grand synthesis that ten years ago pulled all biology into a single tenet is this: a living thing is a postulate about where it finds itself. But that living thing postulates, deep in its cells, in a language that is itself also just a rough guess, a running, reversible analogy. The intermediary of language alone makes it possible to run trials, load experiment. Only by splitting the name from the thing it stands for can tinkering take place. Language, however faulty a direct describer, can get to the place, even change it, by strange ability to simulate, to suppose, to say something else than what is. (517)

That "a living thing is a postulate about where it finds itself": location, location, and location of that which is in-definite– a living thing, a postulate. We are, organismically, axioms of our particular places in time, the temporal here measured in evolutionary terms. "Evolution, the first arrangement of living things," Jan ruminates, "that doesn't commit the post hoc fallacy, lays it out: invention mothers necessity." That is, the causal necessities of life come after the actuality of "arrangement," of differential (genetic) order. "The feasibility of each inherited variation–theme elaborated by mutation–breeds out until there is no more single epic but four million variant variorum editions, each matched to the shelf where it finds itself (518-19)." And again, Gold Bug, too, will takes its place upon the generic shelf.

From Chapter XXVII, "The Goldberg Variations":

But the severe mathematics of recursive architecture are lost in the first ornament of aria. By the time the potential of the original sequence emerges, no ear can trace any but the faintest line of that all-embracing ground plan. No; Ressler was not listening to inversions and midpoint symmetries and numerologies and the closing of the diatonic circle. He was following the death of his friends, listening to how love fled, anticipating the dissonance of Jimmy's crippling, detecting and replaying his own departure from science: hearing, in the descent of four notes from Do, the script of life's particulars, brute specifics that too often became too much, too full, too awful to bear, too unendurably, transiently beautiful. (583)

And perhaps, to use prior terms, too "round." The descent is both from Do and do, from that which is to be enacted in its particulars. The measure is of a "transient" beauty, beauty that, in order to be lived (and to gloss Keats) must of invention (hence necessity) die. Moreover:

To play the piece–to buzz the length of the keyboard for an hour, to barrage, to cross over, careen dangerously–requires only a feat of digital dexterity. Just hit the right notes at the right time, and the thing virtually plays itself. To compose it, Bach insisted, required only that one work as hard as he did. To hear in the organizing software the unique, unspecifiable odds against any metaphor ever arising on this earth out of nothing, out of mere notes, requires something more. It needs the conviction, in a third favorite phrase of the provincial choirmaster, that all things must be possible, sayable, particular, real. (586)
The particular is the real, is the possible, is the sayable. But to "hear" the variations (the novel?) in such terms one must have the "conviction" that such hearing follows from (a la Zukofsky) "new-old" pattern, musical-musicological laws, and not vice-versa. "The world's pattern was not assembled for the mind's comprehension;" elaborates Powers/Jan?/Ressler?, "rather the other way around (586)." The performance, one might say, depends on "digital dexterity" for sheer saying, but what is said takes on particular meaning only in accord with a prior shaping (socially, culturally, within biological limits) of hearer to what is heard.

One might say that, in Gold Bug, all told, as in "A," the margins demarcate a preemptive, life-formed world of natural orders, rendered through correlative social orders, practices, symbolic forms–language.

So: to an amalgam, naturally.


Too tidy, such blood
What could be simpler
than, seeking, an accidental positivist... ?
                                          This c/should all have been all over
                                                                  [he writes, in print]
                                                             there, electronic, there
                                                           would have been a time
                                                                                for such a
                                ga      [clipper chlipped loss.hmmmmmm...

Cy hype r lin ink ed: something tells US
that this mode node mediu whatev
is defunct by default, by what we didn't act
on, that whatever
is renewable
strictly put is contemporary?

Still, I remain com(per)plexed
much as Paul G-o-o-d-m-a-n    (quicksilverrecollectionevidence
uprooted – > download (look him up,
if needs to a bit of a conservative, "neolithic"
anarchist, unwilling
to dispense
with the prototools, cols–phenotype, community
entirely–that is, nor to pass over, simply because there
a past, but through and through to come, sexed, traversing filaments–

"all those things
that don't change
come what may"

[Neil Young; see a future WWW, lobally databased (wink)]


soft focus, close-up
of the obligation, the promise
chief compromise of the night, binding
end to end, a beginning
the codon, simpler still

is made
at night
a Romantic gleaning

(think Borzage Boyer Arthur, circa '35–more trivia)

You, we just don't know

what you're capable, made
of. To community

"The idea/Is not/In the mind/That can cut off/Our bodies."

                                [Z's "A" 234–these institutions are murder]

No death to history, ideology anymore
than form: the formless know
the surefire value of form, know
when to say so.                  Only histories die, history

resolved, metaphysical
is made at night.

I was born in 1955, Gould
on my brother's birthday, years
prior, and a desire to explore, years
later, toward
"arithmetical correspondence between theme
and variation" (cf. cd liner notes)
the variations, that is, objectives, xyz's
leading back
to the recording studio.

A (through P) to Z:      "Louie, i.e., Lou, O lieu, lieu I.
Z (through A) to P:      "We are things, say, like a quantum of action
                                 De produof enerfin edgy an tict me, nowd
                                 Iords which rnth whymew how sone nog's exasection
                                 Fos absercion turnact framtot requoted
                                 Vales o labur powvet dape haroximate."
P (through A) to Z:         "lour half veveled Afar fortram rhome
                                 hed, tinho wanhe tynured itneosm het,
                                 en thrace of regrence wofes wor't cokme
                                 to cure the persistent call of tonic."

Talk show, film, music
video, zapping the channels, evenings
hybrida abreastwork
to sustain a measure of cognitive
or kultural dissonance
gracias Word's drag
coefficient, like most tekhne
interviewing, intervening the dead
is not unreasonable
things are saved
orthogonal, snowed in
spaces, luminescent ...

It is not unreasonable to assume      There is no parting from your own shadow.
the occasional and arbitrary beauty of for(u)m       To experience this faith
whose origin nor in subject nor self      is to know
that in being ourselves we are

but in a hereafter, a posthereafter       more thanourselves: to know that our
experi ence, dim and fragmentary asi t is,
henceforth a past of such yet soun ds the utmost depths ofreality:
to know that detached details merely in order to be themselves demand
that they should find themselves
posts, now
in a system of things: to know that this system      He certainly did amuse some
includes the harmony of logical rationality,and       and he certainly did interest some

the harmony of aesthetic achievement:      and he certainly did not disappoint some
and he certainly did go on
being living to know that, while the harmony of logic lies
and certainly he did quit e clearly understand upon theuniverse as an iron
necessity, the aesthetic harmony stands before it being a young one
in being a young one and he certainly did very nearly completelyclearly and
quite often explain this thing to some who were and to some whowere then
not themselves then young as a living ideal moulding the general flux in its broken
progress towards
finer, subtler issues         now:

if laws there be, of a universe, of a sense ununiversalized
                 [or "onioniversalized"–P (through Internet) to A]

if beauty is form from things given
over, these spaces as well

a flux incarnate, worked or reworked
by what is worked, of land, sea and

of flesh spiraled of pleasure
and principle

if there is justice yet to be sought
in a cloud:

history is made
of loss
the day
of night
a, of, in solitary act
the time timing
the times


Joe Amato's most recent book is Bookend: Anatomies of a Virtual Self, published by the State University of New York Press; like everyone else in NorthAmerica, he's hard at work on a memoir, No Outlet: Making it back from the wrong side of the tracks.

Works Cited

Copyright 1997 ebrand the author. All rights reserved.