you are in the diode archives fall 2010



Visiting Dugan

c. 1981
Haze of chain-smoke & I’d come again to show you poems,
           which I understood the first time
was a dubious idea. The magnifying glass was necklaced to your chest.
           Your trembling hand let it
hover the page, syllables pulsing big as highway signs. Next month
           they’d laser out the cataracts,

but now you were lens against lens, horn-rims bulging thick as Waterford Crystal;
           the magnifier hydrofoiled
the turbulent page. Beyond, bright shining flakes of Truro snow
           & beside your desk,
the easel, paper poster-size, permitting you to draft your poems, every letter
           leaden-heavy, half slashed though

with marker, the rest unreadable. Comment on Poem the First:
           you used to write better than this.
Poem the Second: I think I’m getting tired of your parents.  Poem Three:
           Life is shit—always a credible subject—
though you remind me how hard it is to bring off.  I ask how your style
           had changed over the years,

between Poems & the latest, which at that time  would have been
           Poems 6. Writers don’t change;
the notion that they do… is a capitalist conspiracy. You leave for coffee & a piss,
           damning your fucking prostate,
an organ whose function I had thus far failed to comprehend.
           Cold in the studio,

& a draft is fluttering the easel sheets & the heaps of them
           Knee-high in the corner,
letters massive as the brags that Xerxes hewed into his mountainsides.
           Shyly I rifle them,
hoping to discern the process—one line all in caps per sheet, then thirty or more
           assembled to a draft

that Judy can type up for you. GOD HELP THE FINGERNAILS  
           THEY ARE CURSED 
BY APATHY   AND ARE NO LONGER CLAWS. How you terrified me.
           & the world, if it knew you
one iota better than it did, would have trembled as well—the factory bosses
           & the CEOS, the heads of PACs,

the radio hosts with their mouths oozing venom. O like the armies of Egypt
           before Alexander, they’d have lain
down their spears & bows to you, heads pressed to the dirt. You’re back
           with two mugs, the sheets
still a-flutter. I could only find instant; we’re drinking it black. Those were the days
           I sucked down attention like a long

stiff drink, wholly untutored in gratitude, in the trickeries, betrayals
           & cruelties of the body,
how its provinces rebelled, as Auden who you hated said of Yeats.
           Name a President, you ask,
who was worse than Reagan. Nixon, I say. Grant, you answer—
           but the asshole could write.

On the desk you lay open a fat biography. Dying Grant: the cancer that has
           strangled him prohibits speech,
his last words scrawled into a bedside notebook. The characters balloon
           beneath your glass, headline-large
against the failing light. I do not sleep, though sometimes I doze off a little.
           If I am up I am talked to

and my efforts cause pain. The fact is I am a verb and not
           a personal pronoun.
a verb is anything that signifies to be, to do, to suffer. I signify all three.
           You let the magnifier dangle.
Pinwheels of snow outside for me, movement occluded & stalled for you.
           Don’t worry too much

about the poems, you say, someday they’re bound to get better.


Letter to Eadweard Muybridge           

“. . . the subject of the pictures was not the images per se, but the change from one to another, the change that represented time and motion . . .”
—Rebecca Solnit  

Whiteout, Eadweard. Even the driveway snowblind & within the letters
           of the crawl beneath the screen we watch
the slithering cacophony you set in motion like a railroad baron’s thick
           gold watch—school closings first,
then the Buddha’s tooth  inside a chartered plane, en route to Sri Lanka,
           a camera shaking to more tremors

from Haiti. Car bomb, drone unleashing missile & the doctor who medicated
           the King of Pop to death
is free on bail awaiting trial; he has been enjoined from sedating patients.
           Studies in Motion & before me
the River James in February, bristle of ice-floes colliding against the always
           recrudescent Confederacy.

Sleet rides the backs of generals & their Monument stallions, nostrils a-flare.
           Jackson, Stuart, dead in battle,
 charging northward still. & Lee, heart stopped in his sleep,
           cantering forever South.
Duration, movement, history’s blizzard, to which you may be said to lay claim.
           Camera Oscura, Magic Lantern.

Visionary cuckold, lugging your behemoth glass plates to Yosemite
           in a Conestoga train.
You steady your tripod on an outcrop of El Capitan. You shoot
           your wife’s lover point blank,
a Colt revolver, the chamber clicking clockwise to permit a second shot.
           Phenakistoscope, Zoopraxiscope.

Occident trots astride your phalanx of cameras, to prove that all four hooves
           have left the ground at once.
Bearded, naked, you yourself stride the camera gauntlet, a guileless
           pilot in an NSA basement, steering a drone
eight thousand miles away. Kandahar below. Coordinates found.
           High-pitched whine as the aircraft hovers.

Then release. Visibility at zero & in a book that asks to be a stream of light,
           Ralph Waldo Emerson declares
he is part and parcel with God. The crawl flashes only numbers. I set the book down.
           Tell me of the crawl inside
the crawl, some low unpixelated shimmer to lay these eyes upon,
           like a glimpse of ivory keys.

Zootrope, Faraday Wheel.  We are staying tuned, we have 42 widescreens
           on a gym wall to light our way. 
The treadmill beside me nattered on his cell to an AA friend. You’re a stupid
           fucker if you think that, Frank.
Was she as fucked-up too? Thaumatrope, Choreutoscope. World as chattel,
           possessed of children

chewing khat & oiling submachine guns. We cannot step into
           the same crawl twice: 
tolls sans punctuation, the numbers stagger  & exeunt.
           Celebs become dead celebs,
talking on flammable nitrate stock about being alive. A web site
           arranges itself—the contents entire

of your Human Figure in Motion. Before us stands Robert Connolly,
           The Living Clock, his arms
for twenty-seven years compelled to mimic the minute hand,
           the hour hand. You show him
as eight o’clock, as nine ‘clock, as ten—O subtle minute hand
           of bone & tendon,

of vascular cat’s cradle, of helpless command sputtering
           evermore down the brainstem—
poor man, he “calibrates with uncanny accuracy.” Look: the time
           is 11:55, inching
toward 12—the Tai Chi pose of the hands does not
           distinguish noon from midnight.


For Willy Deville


To your tats that sprawled like continents, the cloud-compounded planet—
Cadmium, ultramarine—spied from 17,000 miles afar,
To the sax yelping likewise High Celestial, the chords & strings

& choruses you lifted from Spector, Piaf, Muddy, The Wolf
& Ben E. King, piano riffs Latino morphing Crescent City, influence
alchemized to dire conviction. & you with that voice

volume lurching croon to baritone to snarl, coyote howl
& aye-yah-yah & home most frequently your left inner arm,
dappled red. & now you’ve at last outlived yourself,

reduced to your dwindled cultic fans, to Big in Europe
& to my speakers on a winter morning, where your harp
caterwauls madly to “Just Your Friends,” the castanets & strings

conspiring to a mini-epic of obsessive love.
Fucked-up, fucked-up like us, though your gift survives us all.
Earth, receive your honored guest. Le Chat Bleu

is laid to rest. Dazzling Stranger, let the saxes keen
their long Big Easy funeral. This must be the niiiggghhht 
I can feel it in my FINger-tips. Maybe just around the CORner

someone’s waitin’ for me . . . You gave us more
than we deserved, which is one means to factor
the radiant necessity of art, a pale cadaverous junkie

strumming a battered Martin just redeemed from pawn.
You give me a night a quarter-century forgotten, some club
in Kentish Town or Camden where you wail

‘til morning—first to still the din of clinking  pints,
the Woodbine fog, then to inhabit the soul’s bitter essence—
a voice so pleading that the room was shamanized.

Christopher was there & Lynda alive & black-bereted.
You ate of our sins; you spit them out in a style of prayer.
Second encore: “Heaven Stood Still.”  You’ve peeled off

the black silk shirt, mike stand in your fingers but you’re
on your knees, the proper stance for a ballad so yearning,
the whispered  lyrics & your gold tooth shining forth.

The proper stance, Willy: your grave & supplicant moan unending  


David Wojahn is the author of seven collections of poetry: Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004 (2006); Spirit Cabinet (2002), The Falling Hour (1997), Late Empire (1994), Mystery Train (1990), and Glassworks (1987, winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award), all from the University of Pittsburgh; and Icehouse Lights (1982, winner of the Yale Younger Poets Award). He is also the author of Strange Good Fortune (University of Arkansas, 2001), a collection of essays on contemporary verse. He is the editor (with Jack Myers) of A Profile of Twentieth Century American Poetry (1991). He also edited The Only World (1995), a posthumous collection of Lynda Hull’s poetry. He has received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Illinois Arts Council, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as well as writing residencies from the Yaddo and McDowell colonies. Among his other awards and honors are the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship; the William Carlos Williams Award and the Celia B. Wagner Award from the Poetry Society of America; Vermont College’s Crowley/Weingarten Award for Excellence in Teaching; the George Kent Prize from Poetry magazine, and three Pushcart Prizes. His poetry, essays and reviews have appeared in many journals and anthologies, among them The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Best American Poetry series, The American Poetry Review, The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The Kenyon Review, New England Review, The Georgia Review, and TriQuarterly. Wojahn teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.