Poet's Sampler: Dan Chelotti
January 3, 2006
Jan 3, 2006
12 Min read time
Among the many gifts poetry offers us is the one involving a broadband in which grief can be exercised and celebrated, in which grief becomes a catalyst for recording some things we can, if we are prepared to, or if someone or something prepares us to, write but are otherwise unable to say. Speechlessness translated by means of a new logic.
There are so many occasions for absolute silence, complete amnesia, few words, aphasia. We are made speechless (again) by bliss or in grief. In extremes, in shocks, in sudden irreversible steps; in deep love and devotion; in sudden presentations of beauty, in steady attention to fire, say, or water. The thresholds by necessity vary.
I love how Dan Chelotti's "The Eights" is in the business of discovering several replacements for silence. A filler, a fill in, a stand in, an immensely significant remarking. One is awed by twists and turns and chances taken. One feels stretched to the limit as the work winds up and reaches some undiscovered peaks of immensely felt thought. I don't want to say anything more, fearful of being noisy and unnecessarily garrulous, of breaking this fine poetry's spell.
— Dara Wier
1. Learning to Ignore the Dead
It is not enough to have an idea
The idea runs rampant, turns black,
Leans against the columns of San Lorenzo,
Asks for advice in love, shrivels
Like the letters of a book just now closed.
I can't shake the smell of jasmine
As you scrub the sink with vinegar,
I tell you the bridges are sad and you don't hear,
You are busy with the tile,
The sagging clothesline.
I wish I could say I am alone,
Say it doesn't matter
The city has emptied the canals.
I am finding to say it is not enough
Is to say some perished pattern,
Unwashed, murmurs when the bells sound,
Sounds when the boys drag the trashcans,
Wails when I pretend to be the beggar
So you can pretend to spit at his hand.
As if I could board a train without forgetting my hat,
My lantern, my will to breathe and forget the smoke
You cupped in your hands,
That you found when you said
Houses hold no secrets.
I guess you were aware
I saw three swans and couldn't find the fourth.
I wiped the tar from the windshield,
Asked: have you ever seen virga.
You said nobody plays this harp but the dead,
They sit down and pretend to be masters.
They hope they find you momentarily forgetting
The place you were born
Was a room with copper walls.
I held you like a twin.
The waves kept shaping, losing form, falling back
For a moment reflecting the casino light
We left on the shore.
You asked me questions I never dared:
What's your favorite chesspiece?
Why the rusty cross that stings your neck when you smile?
Before I was born the world was a dead place
And I was trying to show you
The hedging of the lilacs,
The horse-carriage wallpaper.
Trapped, the shower visitors come and go,
They leave gifts: before living I was dead.
Now living, I answer the living.
You were an ear that never heard echoes
Of anything over the echoes of yourself,
Live only because this moon needs you.
I say, moon, interlocutor mine,
Many people I know aren't any more,
Will you hold my flag
While I wade through their fountains?
Be done with it. Be done with it.
Look for clouds and see clouds.
Huzzah! I'm spent.
How many lives must I invent
Before I invent my own?
The gardeners continue to hedge
Until I confirm. They must:
It's their only job for me.
Could I ever deny them
The right to open only one book
To the same page every time
I think of them? I release them
To their wives and their children,
But not to their will, to mine.
They can't hear me. They never will.
They smile and turn back to their work.
You turn back to yours.
I turn and beg you to forgive me.
I want to see what you're hiding in your left hand.
I want to see if you can guess your
Name if I don't tell you
Exactly what it is I'm ignoring.
I'll tell you: it's easier this way
Because people die and I hate that.
Because people pretend to love death
And even the sparrows laugh at them.
I hate them more than I hate the dead.
I will never capitalize their names.
Never. Sing Three Grey Thursdays
And spit in a bucket of rain.
Ask the kind professor what it is to be living
And he'll tell you, wait long enough and
Even a stone bird will lose its will to fly.
To hold your breath all day is a sin.
And if I'm to castle my King instead
Of ceding my knight, I'll leave my Queen
Exposed. You, I mean you, the one
I spent so long carving with straw and mud.
My lover, my indefatigable believer
In all things silent: it is always more complicated;
It is always more complicated than I
Could ever explain. I have an idea
And it dies whenever I say it.
I have you. You live even when I'm quiet.
Tell me, must I cross your street again?
2. This is the Dream for the Smaller Flowers
Like a game of charades where I must resemble charades
If I close my eyes and think of snow it is easier.
And now I do it all the time:
Repair fences the stones built so the cherry blossoms could lament in peace.
In the end I will be virga, I will.
Not one, but many.
I hope to surround the abandoned house,
Complicate the horizon and make it my bedtime prayer -
For Sundays are so hard to sleep on.
I am the only idea that ever gets in my way.
I speak to one ear - stare at one eye:
It never listens, always looks,
I am the tinker
Whose laughter never reaches my ears.
I am the woman whose God is also my God.
We share this one thing:
There are many shadows; the world
Is not clean and I don't want to clean it.
The hospital is better left contagious.
The seasons don't need to wear masks.
I just want them to be more like me:
Stranded and unlikely to scale the quarter moon
To see if light weighs more than dark.
How will I ever touch you now I've forced you away?
You who never existed and picked flowers
Just to tell me their names.
3. A Requiem in Favor of Quiet
Spring wraps us in a cotton gauze
I balance your eyes on my shoulder
I choke on a dandelion
I lift the chalice because the chalice needs to be lifted
I felt the exhaling heather
As you passed on the skin of my leg
The skin of my eyes
Take them back
I grow old as the goats grow tired of chewing
And in a burning bush I see headlights
In my mask your face
In your face my dictionary molds
I want to hold more than your skin
I want to build the fire which scarred our fingers
Is there a temple where the bricks are prayer enough
I will take you there and
Like a farmer's shadow falling in the shade of the combines
Raze your lips from my hand
4. Intermezzo with Hinges
If the light must squeeze
Through the closed door
The rusty hinges
Then the rust must equal the day
Its weight the wait the letter C precedes
You stare long enough
And so this word dissolves
This other death
This open window
Is not the source of small wind on my neck
It is this integer that follows one
That hurts me
It is the other star
That knew my name
When I said someone died
And felt a calm fall over my left hand
When I said someone died
A child named a sparrow
When I said someone died
The antique road sign
Painted When Amber Flashing
Fell off the barnwall
And squashed the delphinium
I said someone died
And now breath is just a stone now
The light will never run like a knife
Through my arm
If heaven exists it is a place
To which I will return
Not because I've been
But I've seen a man
Stare into rain without blinking
I've seen a woman in shadows
My fingers played on the wall
When in mouse hours
I waited for headlights
And put my body between
The eyes on the road
And the eyes on my wall
You were easy to find
And for you I make no excuses
I wouldn't sell you though I've said I would
For you I am never alone
For you I lick the rainwater from the porch screens
As my toes curl on green carpet
Littered with the browning petals
Of the one shadow I have no right to claim
5. From the Guilt of Flies
I was almost through when the eights appeared
I was churning compost in my backyard
They were silent and unwilling to confess
If they were thinking or still
I cloistered them in the skin of my left arm
Hoping to someday find my arm again
In this pile of broken eggshells
The light never bothers to reflect
I asked myself,
Is there hope we will someday return
From this dust-ridden bowl of oranges?
Is there truly a new world where the sparrows
Will be happy set in stone?
I looked at the umber destroying the mountain,
I called to my cat,
I asked myself, can you describe this,
And a smile slowly emerged from the stone
6. When Signing My Name
The wolves will occasionally walk
Into the city, not that they are hungry
But that they are sick of circling
The same horizon for days.
Dig me two graves, I tell them -
I walk into the opera and stare at the mirror
Where the curtain should be;
I long for a door to kick
But there is no door,
Only rain-soaked ushers
To hush and whisper:
Hurry now, hurry.
Is that what is under this red rock?
I have waited and I am waiting
For some barbarian or other
To come in the form of a leather shoe,
No laces, leaning against the radiator
That will melt its rubber.
This is all: the secret to catching falling leaves,
The small girl running in the park
Because she found a stick, elated:
A stick, the ace of swords -
Hurry now, hurry,
Yes, those people, a kind of solution -
A kind of tunnel where I say "they are dead,"
And a cheer goes up in purgatory.
I have destroyed everything west of the Carpathian mountains
I had an idea and it was not enough to save us
I dug a tunnel
I refused the world its right to be flat
I tried to sing the litany and was ordered to say it slowly
I asked for Sunday and was given Saturday instead
I am not sorry
I will have to wait for my room to be the same old room
It will come again
This shard of mirror will again reflect
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
I must follow the eights for the eights want me to follow
I must sit on this hydrant and watch the fire walk off to the land of Nod
To live, I suppose, is nothing new
But to die, I know, is nothing newer.
8. The Eights
A woman will call from Paris;
I won't know who she is
Or if she'll fall in love.
Even the phone could vanish
And destroy the world.
From a bridge, a hand reaches out
And sweeps the letters away.
It's easy: the eights.
From here I could make it matter.
From here the only light by which I read is reflected.
To say I am in the mirror
Saying Sunday is another way of becoming smaller,
Folding: a given:
My eighth, my double, my shriven and malcontent:
The wolves have returned to circling the city,
The unnamed bells ring incessantly:
At hand, the earth, my friends, was never flat.
The rain has begun its lament over the penny orchards
You say happiness is hardly endurable
I don't know who or what to believe
I am trying so hard to be honest
I will persistently carry myself into a red red room
Where from the window
The makeshift smile of two headlights and a bumper
A rabbit caught in the subtext of these leaves
A mason jar filled with the whisper of burning salt
A geranium a colophon and the tie I slipped over your grave
I could call upon a religious figure;
I could name the unnamed bells.
I won't feel better for it or suddenly call you mother.
It is the eights on the corner of Commonwealth and Babcock,
It is the eights calling the water to rain up out of the sewers,
It is the eights and my name the only name they ever let me know,
It is the eights, my lantern, my lodestone, my abandoned aubade.
When I appeared I was counting my fingers,
As I leave, I'll never leave.
There is a commotion in front of the penny arcade:
Forty men in top hats watch a man fall to his death.
The scene is so patient and absurd
I want to measure it with a ruler to make sure it exists.
It happens. There is no cure. I've read it.
As I say the eights the eights peel away,
And behind this world there is another
Where forty men stand and wait at this very moment
For a phone call from Paris.
I've plunged my hand in water
Expecting my hand to return unchanged
I never explained
The tree must grow around the wires
The eights must stay in the water
I never left the tunnel
It is my face the sparrows slowly erase
The eights: the name I've given you.
The eights: the rocking of the faithful.
The eights and the tide moves slowly over the soldiers
The eights and the mask begins its descent down the tree
The eights and the wind whistling through the notches of a tinker's cleavers.
The eights. The eights.
The words I've spun to ignore the dying.
The flat stone I press as the phone rings once
And gives way to a weeping train.
It was raining in Massachusetts
When the wind picked up.
On the road to Carthage,
A weed crushed by a cartwheel.
You never left and here I am thinking
The last thing you said was Moscow -
Rien n'est mort que ce qui existe pas encore
Rien n'est mort que ce qui existe pas encore
Even a shriven wolf will circle our fire,
Even a dead father is made of father.
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January 03, 2006
12 Min read time