Thinking Fishing

today the man’s mind follows
the cormorant, liquid quick
silver black slick as fish
it jabs after under
water, twists after glimmers
bubbles slipstream slimmer
bodies blurring deeper down

eddies whirling deeper down
sound dimmer in the river’s
hardly traveled darker ways

in the under current
two things insistent
tug at thought: one
from a long way off,
echoes of a distant voice
volume of a giant
vast unfathomed bell
ringing in the gloom
a summons to a further room

the other nearer
murkier, more perilous
affluent with sediment
world-weary, rot-rich, reaching,
beseeching all things to stop and rest
as it sinks exhausted
to a blind and fevered bed.


Grappling with Agape

The swetnesse of mannes welefulnesse is spraynd with many bitternesses.



I wonder if Bartholomaeus,
as a teen in 1220
worn out by studying,
all of summer, say,
(having finished winter
and spring)

just at the cusp of fall
ever found himself down
at the field outside the wall
under stars instead of home

head awhirl with a girl
who lived on the Rue St. Victor,

lying alone and looking up
at Charlemagne’s Wayne
and Watling Street

imagining the music
as Marcianus told it,
watching the world’s clock
working and not
understanding why

there were no easy answers
for Boethius, whom he’d read
died seven hundred years before
in prison for serving his countrymen,
(to the tune of these same spheres)

wondering whether consolation
is in philosophy after all
love is no sure venture

and left the long thought,
strung out, run-on,
wrung out in the grass
abandoned again to its Answer.

note: Bartholomaeus Anglicus was a Franciscan scholar born in the early 1200s who compiled an encyclopedia entitled De Proprietatibus Rerum, or On the Properties of Things. He taught in Paris and probably also at Oxford. Marcianus Capella and Boethius are two authors whom Bartholomaeus cited in his enyclopedia. Marcianus is cited frequently in Book 8, which is about celestial bodies, including ‘Cherlemaynes Wayne,’ (Charlemagne’s Chariot, or Ursa Major) and ‘Watling Street’. Boethius wrote Consolation of Philosophy while he was in prison. It was later translated by Chaucer into Middle English. The opening quote for this poem is from Chaucer’s translation.

 Wiser Words

“And Septentriones, þat is comounliche iclepid in englische ‘Cherlemaynes Wayne’, gooþ nouȝt downe, for þilke seuene sterris ben ful nyȝe to þe pole, þat is þe hiest sterre.”  —Bartholomaeus Anglicus 

” But whateuer philosophris telliþ herof, we schal holde certeinliche þat it longiþ not tovs to ȝif dome. For þe laste ende schal come, and whanne it schal be, onliche he knowiþ þat is maker of tymes and conteyneþ in his power and myȝt momentis and tymes.” —Bartholomaeus Anglicus

“Also Marcianus seiþ þat sterres passiþ in hir cerclis wiþ armonye, for al tones and acord of musik ben ifounde among sterres.” —Bartholomaeus Anglicus

“Yif thow wolt gadere vyolettes, ne go thow nat to the pupre wode whan the feeld, chirkynge, agryseth of cold by the felnesse of the wynd that hyghte Aquilon.” —Boethius

“Know, I was like you. And the sun came down and the dust blew around over me.” — from “Go to Me,” Jordan Klassen

Debris Romanticized to Excess

There are times when it is fruitless to consider pine cones. Much depends on perspective. After a while one grows tired of exploring the excesses of hyle, of matter, the matter of trees, of the too-small differences between details, and in the moment it becomes obvious that the familiar is inescapable, one thinks rather grimly, nothing is lavish when everything is. Even the high style of botanical naming loses its charm: Strobilus, non-serotinous, Araucariaceae, galbulus, bract, ovuliferous… let the pine cones and their allies be what they are. Just pine cones.

Happily this is not one of those times. Larch, loblolly, lodgepole, lebanese cedar. Baroque in the best sense. Spruce, cypress, sequoia, Sciadopityaceae. Names pile up with the details that mark the categories they distinguish. Detail in the language of pine cones is a kind of conceptual debris not unlike the physical debris that pine cones find themselves a part of. It is amazing the way heaps and piles obscure their contents – how the brain elides visual details, perhaps for the sake of a portable whole. This morning I looked closely at a small mess of needles and cones and discovered that my idea of a cone was impossibly vague, and even now after trying to memorize the features of a cone, I can not draw one accurately without reference to the real thing. The real thing is an artwork.

The excess stuff of trees and waves is very often of remarkable quality. The jetsam of forests turns out to be precious; a forest can be combed as well as a beach. Bioluminescent fungi. Fissured barks.  A wealth of fallen leaves. And on the best days when some unseen magician is pulling breeze after breeze from his sleeves and throwing great handfuls outwards like silk – well! Or contra the magician, wind is just abundant libations. Let the spirits flow! Wind is alcohol! Or wind is perhaps a thing like the forests of fairy tales, which knights invariably got lost in, and which dwarfed lumberjacks, who hacked away and never had to wonder if the woods would grow back. Or wind is something still incomprehensible after much study – incomprehensible with slight and mesmerizing variation, like the torrent of my friend Jan’s German (we are sitting in the Biblio at UVic; he’s skyping as I’m typing): a rush of syllables bubbling with fricatives.

When you are attuned to a fine level of detail – when you are ready to seriously consider pine cones – you are in a position to appreciate muchness.

The Incomplete Encyclopedia: A Matter of Place

In the following we shall speak touching the vexing matter of place; what it is, how cosmographers, geosophists and poets treat of it, and some examples thereof.

Inasmuch as place is passing difficult to define shortly and with clarity, in this part I will treat of what place may be. For some of the things a place may be may not be the whole of the place always.

I.  A place may be part of another place. Efnisian says, “Before I went to sea, the Rush was only the part of the river near my home. But when I left, the whole river became the Rush. And a city may be a part of a province, and a province a part of a kingdom. Is it the kingdom or the city that is the true place? Wise poets give many and diverse answers.” To which I add but one exception, the world, because all places belong to the world, which cannot belong to another greater place or it would not be itself.

II. The borders of a place may be understood by means of mountains, rivers and forests. The Thith is its own place because it is the space in between the Rush and the Knarry, and in the direction of the sea it is bounded by Föhrewood, and in its border to the north and west it is bounded by mountains. And not only by encompassing mountains, rivers and forests can a place be known, but by walls and doors, and by the nature of the things that are enclosed within them.

III. A place may appear or disappear, and that in so short a time as a twinkling. For men say that in ancient times there was a great fortress in the mountain pass at Wirral, but it collapsed in an earth-shaking and was lost, for the slopes there are very steep. And places may grow and wither, and fences be torn up, and lakes be dried up, to be absorbed by the bigger places they once belonged to, or else by the neighboring places. From this observation the geosophists deduce the rule of conservation of place: the amount of place in the world remains constant over time, though the number of places changes often.

IV. A place may be a unit of space. But cosmographers reject it as a unit because they say the world is the only true place, it being so big that it is of little use for measurement, and geosophists reject it because they measure in regions – in example the part of the Rush across from wise Efnisian’s home cannot be a region, but it is manifestly a place – and poets reject it because they care for different quiddities. So in this matter I am soundly overruled.