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In his Zürau aphorisms Kafka noted that “[t]he German word sein signifies both ‘to be there’ and ‘to belong to Him.’” In the gap between simply being there and being possessed by a god, or theolepsy—a gap that reappears in the title “The Olepsy”—we find the poetry of Cyrus Console. Whether it takes the form of brief prose full of Kafkan paralytics (night auditors, clerks, blindfolded friends) or steeply enjambed sestets of thumping mock-pentameter, this is poetry concerned with getting nowhere fast. Like Beckett, another saint of petering out and shutting up, Console gives us texts that go on by routinely confessing they cannot, conveying the insufficiency of word to thing (at best, its typo or tattoo), citizen to war, art to damaged life. And yet in the midst of “a cycle of employment” or the desultory “motions of an education” this dilapidated and hapless speaker “shuffles out, directly into the path.” Or on “The wide ewer surface, moving road” he would actually like to go somewhere, would like to rejoice in the world by fleeing to it, as Kafka once put it. I’d argue that Console’s italicized ways are the brief, modest, clowning, semi-possible paths writing affords in the world that language both makes and prevents, writing as a motion that advances without stopping off in embodiment, that “bore a man / in livid ink across his fists,” that goes on “defining its words with its words.” Part Molloy circulating pebbles, part K. circulated through bureaucracy’s back rooms, Console shows up in his poems as a spirited inadequation to the world they record (the prose poems are mysteriously numbered, with large gaps in the sequence); he can’t decide genre, can’t tell quantity, but he can generously expose his elegant indecision. In the gap between the definite article and a discarded suffix that offers “neither travel or advancement,” Console’s stumbles and stutters are a form of flight to the world, a dispossession worth having.
—Geoffrey G. O’Brien
BRON TO LOSE. This motto bore a man
In livid ink across his fists. His name
It was Anthony drinking from footprints
Townsfolk forbidden to render him aid
Worthless spirits given him in worship
Having little given choice besides
Some very choice incense in the chest
In the garage where sometimes he gave names
Discrete to things continuous like civil
Twilight, which habit he could put aside
If and when he chose. They were the things
Rather that could not but go on calling
Anthony. We begged them not to stop
Calling Anthony who might think colors
Many times more beautiful because
Though we ourselves had pictured larger numbers
Nothing in our minds resembled more
More, more, more. What makes this passage
Remarkable is it’s recorded. So
Hic et ubique it isn’t music
We enjoy so much as what we might
Have for ourselves. With art let us remaster
Clandestine valleys where the wiry needle
Tracked his harrowed mate. Then will she strip
Her sleeve and show her scars and say “what strikes
Me as amazing about modern war
Is how we also leave the ground to travel
Our winged cabins wakelike linear clouds
Trailing formed of violence on the very
Material sustains them, the material
We breathe. But Anthony I have forgotten
These tales cannot divert you.” And the men
Sang Gobelet de Voyage. Let’s not confuse
Our blankets with the soft delicious warmth
Given us to feel between. Next number
Coming up is called Ship in the Clouds
Long with neither feeling nor distinction
Through the motions of an education
Though he went came nonetheless a time
To put this too behind him and set out
Interposing distance with the people
He stood to injure being so resolved
Continuing neither in one place of residence
Nor loving faithfully. When he became
A felon, wandering he would bestow
Figures like to child and woman, mute
Cattle gifted with wheels, globes escaping
Into thin air that bore them nobly upward
Thus. Quickened by his breath, bent
Beneath his hand, the dumb menagerie
Beheld a landfall, turning cheek and tail
Like coin crossing the damp palm of a well.
What unlettered dread and yawning bookends
Had this five-foot shelf of dirty weekends.
Helicopters threshed the East Meadow
Patterning with their lame cadence
The several rills. For it was just spring
Newfallen iridescent water sought
Everywhere after some declivity.
In glorious decline the canopy
Made a figure for all entropy
Wherein “autumn” spoke not of an age
But for all time, the very composition
Of data into sequence that was record
And instrument of its undoing. These
The florist let me have them for a song.
Though birds shook loose fists at his retinue
And dogs made circles of his resting place
He was my friend, the architect of war.
Whosoever would require his monument
Need only look around him. Be still.
Those letters. I know them from a song.
He saw crowded shades laundering
Perforated sheets, slack uniforms
Whose cheerless surface light did little for
Else whose bright colors marbled long ago
The wide ewer surface, moving road
That takes us whither we would like to go
He awoke in woods among whose prospects
Numbered neither travel nor advancement
The ash went mantled in her namesake scoring
With nail and potsherd all the lovers’ names
Into her low extremity. Shade trees
Puzzled over darksome shiftless fruit.
Wave, turn, desolated wight
Those are your friends arrived a dollar late
Standing on the bank as if to spite
A transient whose only source of light
Long embers were, breaking of their weight
Into their shadows on the turbid spate
He was trapped in a cycle of employment
Deep in the earth, fearful silhouette
Whose darkness as the jumbled hours
Moved unseen among their cohort, fell
Or seemed to fall singly over the lanterns.
He was the first person in earshot he meant everything
Tumblers of colorful water, private sectors
Flashlit streaking masterless through dorms
Known things disintegrating in their hands
Known things faking seizures in the padded
Darkness of their mouths, sirens winding
Back into the base metal coils
That had occasioned them. The bells swallowed
Their tongues and were still. Then someone said
We will return no more. They felt themselves
Swiftly taken up into ulterior
Consciousness, hollow without volume.
Typographers would call this space “air.”
from Brief under Water
I have in my possession a packet, you may as well know, of Double Happiness cigarettes, from the VII-XI, where the clerk turned me a conspiratorial eye. My brother died of mouth cancer, he said. Today. And the regulars played at Keno, that frailest of the gambler’s forms, and no one got it out, though they stayed late, paying the clerk no mind, who paid them no mind in return, steadying his little flask where he thought I could not see it, which so willingly gave in return for the woe of privation the woe of abundance. Though the store abounded in responsibilities, for a time he had nothing. And the matchheads hissed into particles numberless for multitude, the floor demolished the jar, the light was spent; the pocket dictionary sat on the toilet, defining its words with its words.
But every ochlocrat must meet his end on this boulevard. In his pockets: cards, cigarettes, a French letter, a glass pipe, a sharp knife, handle lovingly inlaid with nacre. In the cards, in all save the preliminary stages of undress, women. In the repository for the dead, the dead of night. And in the dead of night, the night auditor, stricken at the thought of some kind parent charged with disposition of these effects. After much deliberation, birds stir in the cedars. Placing these items in his pockets, he shuffles out, directly into the path.
When I first saw the need for a study of this kind we were the last family on our block without color. The city was full of good music back then. The stars were like tiny points of light in a great void that moved from us in all directions without ever getting farther away. I had two years to live. The manifold phenomena of light by which the steadily and uniformly illuminated area may be distinguished from others of identical size and shape. For example blue, light green, dark pink. For ‘brilliant’ read ‘light, strong’: the brilliant feather. For ‘deep’ read ‘dark, strong’: the deep whisky. For ‘pale’ read ‘light, grayish’: the pale cremains. For example Eddie Carmel, brilliant, pale, and deep, whom I can no longer resolve against the drapes, against the lamp, I have stared so long.
Brief under Water 11001, 11101, and 110100 originally appeared in NO: A Journal of the Arts. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Cyrus Console teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute and the University of Kansas. He lives in Topeka.
Geoffrey G. O’Brien is the author of four books of poems, most recently People on Sunday. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at UC Berkeley and also teaches for the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.
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