1997-1998 Readings and Talks
Mark Rudman and Leslie Scalapino
October 17, 1997
Only the Night Before
(The Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque)
Sound. Sound. The motor has to kick up of its own accord.
The sound of all those trucks starting throughout Albuquerque.
The screen doors banging against the door jambs as the kids run
toward the heavenly fiesta. The anticipation that is its own contagion,
and imbues even the passengers on the plane with a joyful presence
they can hardly contain. A primitive ritual in modern dress
and without the blood and ancient decapitations.
I thought back to earlier in the day at Kennedy when I hazarded
I’d stepped onto a chartered plane by mistake as it filled
with handsome middle-aged passengers dressed western;
boots, silver buckles, turquoise bracelets, snap-button shirts,
flared petroglyphic skirts. It was everyone’s destination but my own.
No wonder everyone ran to where the balloons were tethered.
The people were high and not one balloon had been released into the sky.
Just dark; remnants of day, cobalt, on the horizon sweeping upwards;
the perfect enclosure for the gas jets in their baskets; a field of pulsing blue
No one would get above the turbulence or equivalent conflicts on the
but for the duration everyone would be released from the burden of self,
men, women, children, piling out of trucks and gathering
with such dizzying velocity even those forms of separateness
would be stilled; because you had to move fast; faster than thought;
and the only thought you had to keep was keep each other somewhere in
Here we are on earth, I’m driving my red pickup, and heaven is near.
Nothing can bring me closer. Not in the present which for once
remains itself while everything continues in time.
The blue flames burn underneath the balloons like inspiration.
There is nothing that isn’t happening now.
It’s a current in the air that binds.
I was in school; the bus driver seeing a girl crossing the street hadn’t stopped—she’d been hit—so the other students—the boys—would hit the side of the bus everyday
when we went around that corner—our understanding the driver—and clairvoyant
red to me
Jay Parini and Charles Wright
November 13, 1997
Swimming After Thoughts
In Memoriam: Robert Penn Warren
Across the blackened pond and back again,
he’s swimming in an ether all his own;
lap after lap, he finds the groove
no champion of motion would approve
since time and distance hardly cross his mind
except as something someone else might find
of interest. He swims and turns, making
his way through frogspawn, lily pads, and
reeds, a slow and lofty lolling stroke
that cunningly preserves what’s left to stoke
his engines further, like a steamwheel plunging
through its loop of light. He knows that lunging
only breaks the arc of his full reach.
He pulls the long, slow oar of speech,
addressing camber-backed and copper fish;
the minnows darken like ungathered wishes
flash and fade—ideas in a haze of hopes
ungathered into syntax, sounding tropes.
The waterbugs pluck circles round his ears
while, overhead, a black hawk veers
to reappraise his slithering neck and frogs
take sides on what or who he is: a log
Clear night, thumb-top of a moon, a back-lit sky.
Moon-fingers lay down their same routine
On the side deck and the threshold, the white keys and the black keys.
Bird hush and bird song. A cassia flower falls.
I want to be bruised by God.
I want to be strung up in a strong light and singled out.
I want to be stretched, like music wrung from a dropped seed.
I want to be entered and picked clean.
And the wind says “What?” to me.
And the castor beans, with their little earrings of death, say “What?” to me.
And the stars start out on their cold slide through the dark.
And the gears notch and the engines wheel.