- George Oppen
"The late and cynical feeling of the times is that of the trip and of mundane everyday life, stretched between irritable realism and incredulous daydreams, present and absent, cool or meditative, down to earth or far out, depending entirely on the mood. Some are ambitious, and others just hang…
Above, the city is silver pipes,
which look like noise: underbuckling,
the tin of our bright body,
our many. Crowds
of nuts and bolts
who look like men
and shake like instruments.
Persist, electrify, they say.
upright as antennae, this
is how they stripe
the streets: I know
now, so far
from it. So far
where I was
swerved to wetness. As within
the gravity of unknowledged
is where I’ve set my heel,
if you could see it. I can hear
what has not happened—
Seascape: Needle’s Eye
There are other things I could be writing about, but I’ll wait for the orbit to settle. No one likes a schizophrenic essayist, and besides, there is so little cogency in this world as it is…
I might begin with Oppen. I might begin and end with Oppen, whose book I had in my hands just a moment ago, the one after his Pulitzer-winning volume, the one called Seascape: Needle’s Eye. When I opened it in the stacks I’d mistakenly thought it to be an earlier work of his, by virtue of its airiness, but I’d forgotten the tendency that all good poets have, to grow in airiness. Of course, many young poets scrambling about today are very full of air, but one could argue that they haven’t even begun…
Well, a few scattered, young-airy thoughts/a trying to begin:
- The book is signed in the back, something I wish I hadn’t noticed until I finished it. Now I’ll have to read the entire book knowing this. It’s signed and lettered, and apparently there are only 25 other hard-copies in the world like this, signed and lettered. Where are the others? Are they still being read?
- The last library stamp on this book is from 2002. More than a decade of hurricanes and secret wars, and no one wanted to read Oppen? I’ve begun to suspect that we don’t have the patience for Objectivists anymore, but I also think they could cure us of something.
- For nearly thirty years, between 1934 and 1962, he didn’t put out a single book. When I met Spencer Short in New York, he hadn’t written for a decade—he had gone off to be an attorney, after shimmying his way into the Yale Series on what he called an “exercise.” All of a sudden he was writing again, in a dingy history-stuffed inn above a bar, and there he was thought-streaming into the mic, something about OKCupid.
- Has the writing stopped because the words are not there, or because I’m not digging deep enough? Because I’m not knocking, as Rumi extolls us all, on the door of Happiness, who might one day wake up and find me, let me in? But in from what? And into what?
Strictly Concerning the Academy
Soon the risky cultures of the soul
will become evident, like sugars
in a cooling mug. O brother of ten
thousand minutes! How to watch
you, over there, face-mimicked,
stranger-laned before our mutual
Professor. Minutes ago
we walked atop the sun-hopped
state and made for something
sweet, hungrily bearily, no decent
thought between us, if indeed
a thought arose. Between
the smacked-out rib of countryside
and gun-popped scrimmage, this our Campus
springing out, the Bay with its burnt
cheek, it watched us sleeping,
so I watch you now, my brother
stripped of grass-like erudition,
quick-impeded speech, the grammar
of a love we went without.
How lush the world is,
how full of things that don’t belong to me.
The great zinc glove of paint sets off the walled-in strident with its bells.
'On the Soule, if it Occurs'
Is there a finite number
of lives we could have lived?
in the low room of the soul,
Counterbalance, root and hurry.
The tail wagging
just before the machine’s
And man is nearly so nearly
And we are nearly so nearly
In the park, Susanna turns
to take my wrist
Between her lips. Watching
kites in Central Park,
We wait for ground to break.
'It will be like waking
to find your life stolen
and you, culled like a fancy nut
from the midst of it—’
It is not too late
for such adjustments. Bureaucratic
as the future comes,
All dressed in frippery,
we look for it
Between the low, black stoops.
The feeling worse than sea
And worse than nearly sea
Laughing, the decent
taxis parade back and forth
along the Hudson. Ministers
and monks are rattling
As when the Gates of Heaven open
and the most
Begins to gather
In the face of nothing—’
I could tell her one more story,
Take her just one more
Time by surprise