[ by Charles Cameron — on the supposed world-shape — real, imagin’d, or foggy with scattered insights ]
Two to my mind great poets of the language on the world-shape.
The first, John Donne, brilliantly stands astride the ancient metaphysical and modern scientific understandings of world-shape with his stunning, succinct corners of the round earth — he’s familiar to the point of ownership with both traditions, at a time when the ancient was ceding way to the modern..
The second, Bob Dylan, shuffles anonymously among us at a no less fraught time of anguish as to realities, sings unsure of what’s what or which — a coin toss, a twist of fate..
In August, Glosser published an essay in Politico magazine chiding his nephew by sharing the family’s own immigration story as Jews who fled the shtetls of Eastern Europe. “I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew,” Glosser wrote, “an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.”
Is House of Cards a poem, then?
Doug Stamper is the dog.
In the opening moments of Netflix’s House of Cards premiere episode from 2013, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) hunched over a dog that’d been injured by a car. “There are two kinds of pain,” he said into the camera. “The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain, the sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things. Moments like this require someone who will act, who will do the unpleasant thing, the necessary thing.”
He then broke the dog’s neck. “There,” he said. “No more pain.”
In the final moments of the final episode of House of Cards—which occurs in a truncated season made after Spacey left the show due to allegations of sexual misconduct—the president, Claire Hale Underwood (Robin Wright), cradles her dead husband’s henchman, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), in her lap. She has just stabbed him in the belly with a letter opener after he nearly slit her throat with it. Underwood puts her hand over his mouth and nose and tells him that everything’s going to be okay. His eyes close. “There, no more pain,” she says. Her eyes flick toward the camera. The credits roll.
Some sort of rhyming is going on here, clearly, but does the poem mean anything?
That “rhyme” is a DoubleQuote, really — a thought-rhyme if you like, and on a technical film-making sense a clever twist to end on. Not so much a synchronicity or coincidence, more a twist of authorial fate.
Twists of fate, eh? And tangled up in blue? Here are two recent Dylan pieces to note:
[ by Charles Cameron — Halloween greetings, and a pre-midterm reminder of what demagoguery brings ]
The box is a box of Halloween humor, a slight thing and entirely innocent, designed to delight with a nostaligic frisson on Halloweens past.. Spooky Halloween Feel Boxes for Adults: Put your hand in — preferably with eyes averted or blindfold — and feel, as in touchy-feel..
Among the sensations you are invited to feel.. cold spaghetti.. worms in a fishing box.. you get the idea.
My first association, when I saw a pointer to this article was the Gom Jabbar in Dune — a box containing pain, increasing pain. Should the candidate withdraw his hand from the box, he dies by cyanide needle, and the only means of survival is the ability to overcome instinct, which Paul Atreides manages by recitation of the Litany against Fear:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Here’s the movie version:
The very idea of boxes filled with feelings is, to my mind, a fine one to explore, in humor, as in the New Yorker piece, or in deadly earnest, as in Frank Herbert‘s masterpiece, Dune.
But then, reading Colin Stokes and Ellis Rosen‘s NYorker humor piece, I came inevitably to this image:
I said inevitably, perhaps unavoidably would have been keener to the point. I couldn’t avoid my second association.
On reading her poem itself again after so many years, after reading it aloud to audiences on various occasions, after one miraculous night in the early eighties when I heard her read in LA, after reading her American Poetry Review piece about the experiences inn Al Salvador that lead to this particular poem and others — The Memory of Elena with its unforgettable paella among them — that second and more powerful association was to:
What you have heard is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
Humor has darkened to tragedy — tragedy does not suffice to speak of this horror — the box of touchy-feelies has become the Colonel’s grocery sack spilled on the floor, dried apricots are dried peach halves — despite the differences, the associative leap was, for me, inevitable.
And far too All Hallows Eve appropriate for comfort..
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.