Mustering trust in “wild, whole-page insertions” to read-between-the-lines of
Lie there, my art. — Prospero
1 Ho-ho! From out his party grave, up-popped The skeletal self that Tenor'd tamed. Dewy longings drift half-wet, in ziggurats, Down the dirty sticks of his dry fact, Lending a silver-inlay to his polar bones. Desire sniffs for roses through groutless nose-holes And musty wines slalom a gorgeless gob. Nothing of the lover, of the brother Lingers here. I stick four mournful fingers Through his clackers for a tongue, wagging Idiot digits in mime Shakespearean. No Yossarian voice, Horatio, ensued. No Ophelian sonnets rained in daisy-chains. Lipless ivories inferred infernal grins. Tongueless Tenor Semblance, disinterred, Master-man and mirror-me, was DEAD! And I? 2 I am no Poet-Frankenstein, evoking souls From wounded earth. For me, a hole is a hole Is a hole. Love caressed, love cupped, love cuffed Suckles living teats, not this bony xylophone. Still, I loiter here half-longingly and toe Pale parabolas of a pelvis furred with mold. I, too, shall one day come undone, un- Buttoned before the mawkish gawkers in the wood, Dining on no niceties but dusty praise. And you, and you. Bluets brush my boots, Sans author in penless processional. Tallied Tenor here, pure loss, is less and less,-- A condensate escaped in Gobi air. What last farewell, or goodbye cry, can I Cachinnate for such luckless kin? Feral fate! The day, the hour, is late. 3 Though crass and cursed and cloistered In a hole, my man of clay, who I made, Unmade me. Iffy gift! Solitude still knows: To live our lithest days in sackcloth is a sin. My vampire mirror blings, bingeing on blanks. I miss the mischievous elf I myself had minted, Wry coinage of a brain love-benumbed. Impresario of puppets, piccolo fish Waving in a world wigged with sideways seagrass, I command my scarecrow scalawag, Tenor (Whom I marched off to death, alas) a last Resurrection reappearance imagineer. Coffin-lid, crack! Earth erupt and burp-up Voodoo me, vanished voice and vair ermine. Pffft! And see, through misty mazy day, In his water-wings and goggle-gear. . . . 4 "Irksome apparition! Clavicle and skull But prank the picked-out polychromes of life More sullied dull. Pink is less pricked than pinky. How can twanged canaries out-crow sepulchres? Muddy mausoleums high-rise our tipping tropes. No quip out-kids a skeleton's ghastly grin." So I solemnized in my preacher's best. But cut-rate Tenor in his rotted tux Retailed another fable, made gritty By eternal Time's half-sandy clasp. "Birds of paradise in their jungle mung Whistle fluent waltzes more queer than square. When kisses come twitting between the stars, Their ache is more than mausoleums are. The softest-rose of live lips out-quips Clown-corpse midgets and their brazen cars. The curds Of life are sacred, but only as we sip." 5 So I sat in puzzlement complete. Head-hanging, feet-dangling, I weeped. I kicked Spic hobnails against the grave's gouged walls. I did not want to hum, or ham, the mournful measure A mealy mouth had found. Must I have more to say? To do, to be? Was wishing up to me? Argent star and pentecostal ghost! It was. The prolog past was mere evaporate because. I zipped upon the slipping ice, slouch-hatted, As I myself alone, floe to floe. Tenor was my made-up man, my solo ghost; Of his fragile form, I was holy host. Vital tailor! Sledding immortality but slips Us in our heart-stitched skins again. Thus we see, beyond Death's batty beam, Is is brighter than the vim of seems. 6 How, in all this claustric Ought, ought I To utter and confess my consummate "Ow to Joy"? Life is pain, and fidgets As it sings. Dr. Formaldehyde in his lab-coat, Peering in, thumbs an icy stethoscope to quiz All coughs, all crimes. What Rabelaisian Parable am I in? What sly reply does this Inquisitive pin in my inflated thigh Giggle to confide? None, none. All my splendid spillages funnel down to One: "Paradise is simple as the simple dew. Blond Life, raw, unadorned, Is apple enough when we feel adored. --Settle quick the pipping kettle, Kate, And kiss the kittens twice.--Unintended Heaven whistles wettest, when we forget Ourselves." Gregg Glory 2010
The Vim of Seems
When academy was a euphemism for ‘brothel,’ those who worked there were called academicians.~~Euphemania
I doubt indeed if the crude circumstance of the world, which seems to create all our emotions, does more than reflect, as in multiplying mirrors, the emotions that have come to solitary men in moments of poetical contemplation.~~W.B. Yeats
The title, “Dissembling Semblance,” begins with a pun on dis-assembling, taking apart into its component parts–a touch of an audial shadow of dismissing–and the regular meaning of dissemble (to disguise or conceal a feeling or intention). Such puns are the first of many disguises in this follow-on poem. This poem follows “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead,” which is a poem full of evasions about identity; it even raises the doubt if the protagonist of the poem, the eponymous Tenor Semblance–to who’s wake the reader is summoned–is either alive or dead! Equally, the “Semblance” of the title both names the returning hero and denies that that is who we are talking about since this is a dissemblance, and not a likeness. The greasepaint on the putative corpse of the potentially dead-and-alive-at-once Schrodingnarian Tenor Semblance is thick–perhaps even an inch thick, my fellow vaudevillian thespians. You see, the poem is already assembling some the tropes of the theater, where one dissembles in order to better resemble the chosen, created character invoked by the playwright. But, in this scenario, who wields this mightier-than-death, swordier-than-a-sword pen? Who is the poet behind the curtain? Let’s investigate…. Follow the sleuth with his slouch hat and wacky magnifying glass which shows only his own enlarged and swimming eyeball!
Lie there, my art.–Prospero
This epigraph is from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, where the speaker, Prospero, is a magician-wizard who has been shipwrecked and is the sole master of a forlorn isle, whose only other human inhabitant is his daughter, Miranda. Prospero is talking with Miranda, and lays aside his mastery and his magic cloak to come clean with her.
PROSPERO 'Tis time I should inform thee farther. Lend thy hand And pluck my magic garment from me. [Miranda helps Prospero remove his cloak.] Lie there, my art.--Wipe thou thine eyes. Have comfort.
So, perhaps the author of “Tenor Semblance” is finally going to come clean with us and tell us the truth of his creation, his self-son, and we can wipe the webs of glamour from our story-woven eyes. Despite the terror and trauma of Death, there’s really no need to cry. Our powerful and trustworthy author is going to give us the straight dope at last. The hidden context of our lives will be lovingly revealed from on high; our past will be made sensible, and our present comforting. The author, like Prospero, is going to set aside his bag of tricks–Felix the Cat will become just a putty-tat in need of a lap once more. He must be tired of the footlights; he must need some simple, human ear to which to confess after his endless years of manic prestidigitations. Then again, in The Tempest, the scene where Prospero lays aside his cloak momentarily is Act 1, Scene 2, and a shipwreck full of sailors from his hometown have just crash-landed into his hand-crafted Fantasy Island.
The number one. Om, er, or perhaps “um” in this case. The stanzas are numbered, like scenes or acts, creating an extra level of proscenium-like distance between the vignettes enacted, or the tableaux vivants tidily presented.
What is the point of poetry anyway? Does this multiform monster have a singular purpose? And, given that its form is relentlessly verbal, can mere verbiage give expression to that purpose? Can an eye examine its own process of sight? Can an ear hear its essence? Is there a divergence between essence and purpose? Is purpose imposed, while essence has more of the character of helpless self-expression, a fountain mooting through its range of motion without a chance for meaningful choice? Are poets born or made? “Ho-ho!” Welcome to the funhouse of life, death, and everything. Evidently the comedy club that had been built in Tenor’s grave is still in operation in this first verbal volley–less of a word and more of an essential upwelling, an expression without syntactical content. A something… surprising.
From out his party grave, up-popped The skeletal self that Tenor'd tamed.
We have the “party grave” of the first poem’s epigram incorporated here into the first line of the follow-up poem: the “dirty jokes” include the rude humor of the weedy burial place as well. There can be no doubt that we are at the same graveside, discussing the same Tenor Semblance as before. This time, Tenor isn’t content to lie within his “four occasion walls” (the four dimensions of x, y, z, and time). The “skeletal self,” the dead man, the ghost, of Tenor pops up, perhaps like one of those toy coin boxes with the glowing bone hand that snatches coins into the coffin-like bank vault from which it emerges. Is this poem turning into B-movie zombie-flick fare? Never fear, Tenor’s here! Indeed, this is no ordinary skeleton, but the one that “Tenor’d tamed.” Even the tough double-T, double-D sounds, which may indicate how tough the taming struggle had been, also show the completeness of the mastery over death. Like the phrase “locked tight,” there can be little doubt of eternal containment here, can there?
Although dead, and indeed no more than a skeleton now, the imagery suggests an on-going tie with life. “Dewy longings,” “musty wines,” all cling to the “dry fact” of Tenor’s skeleton. Although dead, “desire sniffs.” The boundary, the barrier between life and death is muddy at the edge of this man-made portal-hole to the beyond. The connection between living desire and the constructive impulse toward civilization is alluded to in the description of the dew-drops on Tenor’s bones tracing a “ziggurat” shape–one of the oldest kinds of monumental architecture ever constructed; many mausoleums, holy sites, temples, and other buildings are ziggurats–the fore-runner of the Egyptian pyramid.
Nothing of the lover, of the brother Lingers here. I stick four mournful fingers Through his clackers for a tongue, wagging Idiot digits in mime Shakespearean.
The poet, visiting Tenor’s grave, plays with the skeleton as Hamlet did with Yorick’s skull. In the case of Tenor Semblance and his “dirty jokes,” turn-about seems fair play. Robert Frost claimed poetry was a kind of “fooling with words,” and here we see just such a jest-fest going on. The poet makes Tenor talk by waggling his fingers where Tenor’s tongue used to be. No affectionate kissing as Hamlet did with Yorick, no childhood sentimentality–just jokes and the hard facts of demise. The “idiot digits” of the poet’s fingers write no love sonnets, give no voice to any supposed creation of Tenor or the poet; at best, the poet can only “mime” a lame imitation of Shakespeare. “O O O, that Shakespearean rag,” as T.S. Eliot might say. This poet is kind of an inept schlep. Do we trust him, as Dante trusted Virgil, to guide us into the mysteries beyond the grave?
This would all be gallows humor, but our fellow Tenor is beyond the gallows now. The superstitious caution to “speak no ill of the dead” is blithely ignored. The poet is juggling torches in a matchstick factory. Will there be a price to pay for his flippancy?
No Yossarian voice, Horatio, ensued. No Ophelian sonnets rained in daisy-chains. Lipless ivories inferred infernal grins.
Evidently not. Horatio is conjured to hear the poet’s Horation oration, but Tenor himself remains mute. Not so much as the jokey voice of that modern Yorick from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 pipes up. In Catch-22, you had to be crazy to get dismissed from the Army; but applying for dismissal on grounds of insanity showed that you were sane; this was the catch-22 of the title. Doubtless some of this circular logic applies to poet and Semblance in this graveyard comedy. The main character in the novel, Yossarian, is basically a coward who scrambles with paranoid frenzy to stay alive in wartime. This same cowardice is often assigned to Hamlet, and there’s a nice talk that Robert Frost gave wherein he distinguishes between “escape” and “pursuit” in terms of discerning motivations and their, as I’d put it, inherent nobility or lack thereof. For my money, Hamlet transitions from escape (from reality, responsibility and death) through most of the play until he embraces his tragic chance and begins to actively pursue death–finally winning through to the fatal showdown that immortalizes him as an exemplar of his timeless human dilemma. Frost says, in justifying his preference for pursuit over escape, that “I’ve got to have something that’s a little aggressive, and that’s so with a poem, too.” I’ve always thought the gravedigger scene in Hamlet more aggressive than hilarious: the humor digs at the characters and won’t let them look away from life’s fatal outcome. It hones Hamlet’s conscience. That’s the use of the unrelenting humor in “Dissembling Semblance” too, I’d say; it’s aggressive, pushy. Certainly, the high drama and romance of Ophelia’s burial scene where Hamlet out-does Laertes’ love for his own sister is out of the question. Instead, all we get is the answerless “grin” of Tenor’s skull.
The very basic question left unanswered in “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead” is answered in an all-caps affirmative in “Dissembling Semblance.” Tenor is, like the Wicked Witch of the East, not only “merely dead… but really most sincerely DEAD,” although no Munchkin coroner is on hand to issue an ornate death certificate. Indeed, there’s no Horatio, no Ophelia, no battling Laertes, not even a goofy grave-digger to witness the unnamed poet’s exploration of death and identity–his contemplation of his deceased “mirror-me.”
2 I am no Poet-Frankenstein, evoking souls From wounded earth.
The poet disclaims his powers of creation, even the morose, mangled powers of a Halloweenesque Dr. Frankenstein. He’s no stitcher of zombies, no fanatic trying to dissolve the border between life and death. Indeed, such human hubris would “wound earth.” I’d take that claim with a grain of salt, though, as the poet plays on Tenor’s “bony xylophone” of a skeleton. If not a Dr. Frankenstein, perhaps he is at least some sort of dusty archeologist seeking to imaginatively recreate the creature he had so elaborately eulogized. But, the poet claims to be interested in life and love, the “living teats” of being vibrantly alive.
Still, I loiter here half-longingly and toe Pale parabolas of a pelvis furred with mold.
The poet then questions his own pro-life claims. He finds himself fascinated by the borderlands and loiters at the graveside “half-longingly.” This echoes Keats’ “half in love with easeful death” from his “Ode to a Nightingale.” The poet is winking at Mr. Weeks’ criticism. The pelvis, locus of the generative organs procreation, are “furred with mold” rather than the short-and-curlies live lovers commingle.
Even while examining the bones of Semblance, the poet doubts which reality is the more supreme–the bald, dread facts of “tallied Tenor,” reduced to death and thus “pure loss,” or Tenor’s fading story told in “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead,” through which we were first introduced to Tenor. This current poem, after all, is an act of human speech as well, and is dissipating its vaporous cry. Tenor’s story seems to be not much more than an evaporating “condensate in Gobi air”–a temporary puff of syllables that cannot last. Every thing that is becomes a was, another exemplar of “pure loss” and “less.”
What last farewell, or goodbye cry, can I Cachinnate for such luckless kin?
What eulogy can be said over the bones of a story? Do we weep for those who have gone, for their actual departure, or do we cry because the memories of them still remain with us? Is grief really a selfish self-memorial? Tenor seems dead in reality and in story, and our memories are not to be trusted as objective because they are self-involved. We cannot say goodbye, for there is nothing of the actual Tenor left to address–nothing, that is, but our own memories. Indeed, such utter annihilation seems a “luckless” lot.
Feral fate! The day, the hour, is late.
As with Shakespeare, although there is death and shaped language aplenty, there is a definite lack of religion, of appeal to outer (or upper) authority to untangle the buried umbilical that had led to Tenor’s once-upon-a-time putative birth. Surely his death, his skeleton, is poof enough that he was once alive. The poet, in his decided lack of religious reference, wants to take on the eternal troubles the bible blabs about for himself, on his own, with only his own ugly imaginings for revelation and guide. There will be no angels to wrestle with in this grudge-match to discern ultimate meaning. To hide or not to hide, that is the question. And an altar, let alone an outsized Oz-God, would be too tempting a curtain to quiver behind for the slender identity of the poet to resist. Thus, for all the graveyard stage-props of this poem, it remains a mostly pagan meditation. (It is interesting to note in this connection, however, that the poet, Gregg Glory, had read aloud the third stanza of “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead” at his mother’s memorial service. Even then, a pagan pastor.)
The numeral three (3). Sacred in many traditions, a magic number that encompasses the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost. Is there an implication that a third member of the grave “party” will make an appearance? We have two members already: the poet and Tenor’s skeleton (the memory of Tenor living, if he was ever more than imaginary–although if “imponderably” imaginary, that’s as good as any reality). Who shall be the third that walks behind?
Even though Tenor Semblance is no more than a dead body and a (perhaps fictive) memory, still he has a hold on the poet, and indeed so parlously has plumbed the poet’s depths of identity that Tenor has “unmade” the poet, changed and perhaps even dismembered how the poet understands himself as a self. An “iffy gift” indeed. Still, the poet holds onto the sensations of life, and states his intention to not live that life staring eternally into a grave. This poet doesn’t want to lie atop Tenor’s make-believe tomb chanting “Annabelle Lee” to the full moon until his social security checks start to kick in. He does not want to share in Hamlet’s dim guilt at being alive whilest his father moulders, living his “lithest days” in “sackcloth” like a penitent sinner.
My vampire mirror blings, bingeing on blanks. I miss the mischievous elf I myself had minted, Wry coinage of a brain love-benumbed.
The idea of the speaker of the poem being the poet in persona propere is played with here. Having been critiqued as being too-much the Joycean composer trimming his fingernails from a cloudbank as he looks down on his characters strolling and unrolling their lines, the speaker-poet checks for his existence in a mirror (recall that Tenor Semblance is his “mirror-me”) and finds that–like the mythical vampire–he has no reflection. Perhaps the poet doesn’t exist here in his created world! He needs to interact with his character Tenor in order to see himself. It is this creative exploration of reality, identity and harassing character that lets us see who we are–not only in interior intention, but in imaginative fact. Tenor, the “mischievous elf,” is described as the creation of a loving and lonely brain–perhaps a reference to the disordered romanticism of Keats’ dreamland.
The speaker as poet is an “impresario of puppets” in that he creates characters and voices for his poems. “Impresario” is a claim to be a master at such creation, and this lavish claim is followed up by an extravagant example of the kind of outrageous metaphors in which the poet deals. Like “piccolo fish” that blend in with the seagrass, the poet’s creations seem very real; this reality is then metamorphosed further into a “wig” (perhaps a British judge’s wig). No transformation is too zany for the impresario’s imagination to encompass or create.
The poet then goes on to invoke the “resurrection” of Tenor, his “scarecrow scalawag.” This is described as a Disneyfied act of “imagineering,” which is some Hollywood-style mix of engineering and imagination. Perhaps there’s more of Dr. Frankenstein in our poet than he understands, or is willing to admit. To be resurrected, one must have lived before and indeed have been truly dead, as the first stanza of the poem established. Of course, resurrection is famously a matter of faith rather than science, so, as in “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead,” we can’t be one hundred percent certain that any Tenor who can be resurrected was duly and truly dead. There is an ambiguity introduced that only our own inner exploration of our own identities via our own hand-made “voodoo” dolls can resolve to our personal satisfaction. Knowing the author rather well, I would hazard to guess that he might even think of this as an on-going process inaccessible to any final resolution. There’s always another layer of the onion to peel away, more mist to fan to clarity in the fens of self, more mazes to zigzag through, more past to uncover tomorrow than we can remember today.
In the fourth stanza, the poet directly addresses the dead man–with a tinge of fear, much as Hamlet upon the battlements of Elsinore, where both the guard Marcellus and his school pal Horatio refer to the ghostly king (as the poet here calls his reanimated dead one) as an “apparition.” In this case, the “ghost” is referred to sarcastically as an “irksome apparition”–which includes a premonition of all the “icks” in the line “Pink is less pricked than pinky.” The poet makes his argument for the relatedness of death and the imagination; how the ultimate character of death “out-crows” the more limited living “canaries” like the poet (a singer himself, like the canaries). Death spices and raises-up the limited reach of imagination’s “tropes.” Imagination proposes, and Death disposes. Death is the final arbiter of the meaning the imagination creates: “no quip out-kids a skeleton’s ghastly grin.” The language is still that of the aggressive gallows humor that has saturated the poem thus far.
By this stanza, Tenor’s resurrection has been effected, at least in part. Is he as “rotted” as his burial tux? Or has he been fully restored like the leprosy-lousy Lazarus? The boundary of death has been breached; Tenor is emphatically not the poet as they hold this somewhat contentious wit-battle.
"Birds of paradise in their jungle mung Whistle fluent waltzes more queer than square. When kisses come twitting between the stars, Their ache is more than mausoleums are. The softest-rose of live lips out-quips Clown-corpse midgets and their brazen cars. The curds Of life are sacred, but only as we sip."
Here we have Tenor Semblance, the artificial spokesman for the eternal twin realities of Death and the Imagination piping up for the partial, obscure, incomplete “jungle mung” of life. Tenor, a rogue representative from beyond the bounds of martality stands up and insists that life, “more queer than square,” is “more than mausoleums are.” Life requires no imaginative or abstract justification. It is itself, and it is enough, whether we accept that truth or not. Tenor is significantly different from Hamlet’s father’s ghost, who returns demanding revenge and more death for his wrongful poisoning. Tenor demands that the poet give up his “brazen cars,”–an image out of Yeats’ “Who Goes with Fergus?” that has the main character spend his life looking for Faeryland. Life, made of Wallace Stevens’ fragile “concupiscent curds,” only maintains its sanctity while we actively engage in it, taste it to its fullest, sip by sip.
So I sat in puzzlement complete. Head-hanging, feet-dangling, I weeped. I kicked Spic hobnails against the grave's gouged walls.
Confused beyond endurance, the poet has been dismantled by his “mirror-me.” Undoubtedly, this is an unexpected result. Wasn’t this graveside visit supposed to settle Tenor’s hash? And yet, it is the poet who is recreated by Tenor’s resurrection. Perhaps there’s more of give-and-take between ourselves and our creations than is commonly supposed. This is a paradigm of ‘constant surprises’ that any parent would be familiar with from dealing with their kids!
Must I have more to say? To do, to be? Was wishing up to me?
Tenor’s words seem to have struck home with the poet, who now reconsiders his entire take on what makes meaning meaningful.
Argent star and pentecostal ghost! It was. The prolog past was mere evaporate because.
The poet embraces his ultimate responsibility to create his own future (and thus, from his past, his present). The ghost of Hamlet’s father has lost none of his potency to motivate and help create the living man’s understanding of his life and what he must do within that life.
The “sledding immortality” recalls Tenor’s “slalom breast” from “For Tenor Semblance, Who’s Dead.” The whole movement of “slipping us” back into “our … skins again” recalls Yeats’ famous lines about “gravedigger’s toil… but thrusts their buried men/ Back into the human mind again.” Here, the mind is not the foundation of reality it is in Yeats–here it is the more tender, temporary, living “skin” that contains our meaning. Like God, the Mind (with Platonic indifference to the body) has been exiled from this poet’s contemplations. He is either more modest or more hopeless than most spiritual writers. In this case, I’d say that the more the poet claims to have created Tenor (his “solo ghost”), the more the poet is created by his creation, made real, manifesting in life as an imaginative creator. The poet is Tenor’s heaven (“holy host”), and Tenor is the poet’s manifestation in imagination and in death. They complement each other’s incompleteness, as Jesus completed the project of God’s instantiation.
Thus we see, beyond Death's batty beam, Is is brighter than the vim of seems.
Again, a reminder from the first poem (“beyond Death’s cut division or misty ending”), and an affirmation that life (“is”) is the supreme place of meaning, above “the vim of seems.” This parley-playing poet has some skin in the game now!
6 How, in all this claustric Ought, ought I To utter and confess my consummate "Ow to Joy"? Life is pain, and fidgets As it sings.
The “claustric Ought” recalls the confinement of the coffin, where Tenor in the first poem made his confession and shared “dirty jokes” only with himself. This time, he has had the poet as an active audience. Has Tenor made an impact on his hearer? The poet appears to be determined now to celebrate life, while fearing the pain of that life. Instead of Beethoven’s hymnotic, rapturous “Ode to Joy” about the brotherhood of all mankind, the best that this ironic, modern, diminished, self- and death-obsessed poet can manage is a wincing “Ow to Joy.”
The poet is not Dr. Frankenstein, but there is an authority figure who desires to make his way into the poem–and it’s not God. “Dr. Formaldehyde in his lab-coat” is more like one of the kooky characters that populate Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. Dr. Formaldehyde is equipped with Dr. Berhens’ “icy stethoscope” from Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, where inner illness and morbid fascination with death from rotten lungs is transformed into a “talent.” The good doctor will leave nothing beyond the scope of his inquirey, and is determined to “quiz/All coughs, all crimes.” With echoes of the Last Judgment, the real crime, it seems to me, is to be hanging around a graveyard when you should be living life sans sackcloth.
The poet sees that the tables have turned. Now it is he, the poet, who has been consigned to the status of a storybook figure–he has been swallowed up into a “Rabelesian parable.” If he is all story now, to what degree is he still a part of life? The “inquisitive pin” of his procreational organ is still giggling! But, the poet can’t figure out what that means; its “reply” is a null “none, none,” reminiscent of Hemingway’s “nada” at the end of his short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”
"Paradise is simple as the simple dew. Blond Life, raw, unadorned, Is apple enough when we feel adored."
The “splendid spillages,” coming so soon after the thigh-pin, take on the suggestion of seminal fluid. So many ghostly lovers crowd this memorial chat with the poet’s shadowy self buried here! It seems that determining identity may be less imperative twenty years on from the first Tenor Semblance poem; who we are is what we do. It is the doing, and the being done to, after all, that grants its additive beauty to our mortal circumstance. When we are alive and connected, when we “feel adored,” that’s all we need to know, even about such grand subjects as Good and Evil (as the presence of the apple implies). So, if the penultimate activity of life is to kiss and be kissed (before the ultimate act if dying and frying, or dying and flying) — as discussed at the gnarly graveside in stanza numeral four–where is the girl? Enter Kate, stage left….
--Settle quick the pipping kettle, Kate, And kiss the kittens twice.
The poet is fully distracted from his death meditations and is jolted back into action and into considerations of mundane life. He is taken almost completely out of the poem proper, and we get to overhear him in his real life, in his proper person. All the acts, all the curtains, all the images, are dropped; the show is over. And with the tea kettle and the kittens, could it get any more cozy?
--Unintended Heaven whistles wettest, when we forget Ourselves."
“Whistles wettest” is a nice echo of the tea kettle. What we attempt and intend to do is secondary to manifest experience itself. Experience is what happens while we pursue our intended heaven: the goal, the pursuit we desire. Life is a place for our exploration, and gives us all we can get, and more than we can understand. Whoever we are, or think we are, or pretend to be, while all of that life is going on around us matters less than the fact that life is going on. This death-obsessed poem ends on an affirmative, if inconclusive, note.
Like Hamlet, the soliloquist in “Dissembling Semblance” has been undergoing a longish regime of “reality therapy.” He is gradually reconciling his life of imagination and desire (symbolized by the non-spiritual–but still non-living–stand-in character Tenor Semblance) with the mundane entrapments of negotiating the limitedness of a human life. But what, you ask, what could ever induce the plangent, punning poet’s inner-Prospero to lay aside his magnificent cloak and be content to live within the precincts of life’s “four occasional walls”? In the crib, the most fascinating object for a puling babe is not some spinning and glittering mobile of stylized stars, but a leaning-down human face–greasy nose and all. Prospero has his love of Miranda to help him “drown his book” and diminish into his humanity. The verbally profuse Hamlet is eventually reconciled to a reality where “the rest is silence,” and takes his exit from the stage in peace. But what incentive to life and littleness does our poet her possess? Ah, yes, his peeping Kate and her “pipping kettle” (a kettle at once piping hot and growing with life-possibilities like a “chicken when it’s pippin’/that has no bones” as the folk song sings). Not to mention those kissable kittens….
The name Kate calls to mind the Katherine of Taming of the Shrew–so we can rest assured that the poet’s reality will not be a bland one after the sign-off of the final stanza. And another Kate is there too, the cutie Frenchie at the end of Henry V, whom the king informs that she and he will be “the makers of custom”–and so imagination, we can feel assured, will not be completely exiled from the poet’s onward life. Indeed, the entire arc of the two poems–an extended reality vs. imagination world-wide wrestling smackdown–could be encapsulated by Yeats’ formulation:
The abstract joy, The half-real wisdom of daemonic images Suffice the aging man as once the growing boy.
The one difference of emphasis I’d point out here, though, is the decisive wish for less abstraction and more common reality that our poet settles on. The device that serves the poet best in this pursuit is his “forgetting” of himself–either as a man or as a boy. Indeed, there’s a sense in which his adopted “mirror-me” persona of Tenor Semblance is itself a form of this forgetting-therapy. The more the poet pursued himself into his creation Tenor–the less himself he was–the more of himself he could actually manage to manifest.
Well, well, is this mere paradox–or, perhaps, magic?
These notes are on the order of an author’s bare-knuckled canoodling with the muse–or his fidgety graffiti on the hind paw of the Sphinx. Here are no graven words brought down the mountain by a lighting-limbed Moses, or the knowing code-nodes that might unlock one of Thomas Pynchon’s illuminati modules. No nodal knowledge here. So, as any bartender might recommend after last call: “Take care. Beware.” Do drive your brain safely–or as safely as you can manage at dead midnight in an overloaded produce truck stuck in second as it creaks across the cracks of a lonely, frozen lake (in whose depths skeletal sailors toss their tittering bones in unspoken prophecy).
Unlike Mr. Weeks’ essay “Paddling Toward Byzantium” that followed the first of this battling pair of brotherly poems (and which of this Castor and Pollux spars more divinely, who can say?), these notes retain an air of utter incompleteness (Notes Toward a Supreme Friction, mayhaps) and deserve to be spanked–er, I mean, to be superseded— by a less authoritative, but more monarchically benign, interpretation of their intentions and achievements. Mr. Weeks, I believe, is in the next-at-bat position for this devilish task. So, Mr. Weeks, step up to the plate, the batter’s box awaits. Knock those cleats clean and aim for the bleachers, kid!
 “Pink is less pricked than pinky.” This line has several layers of puns. Here’s a sampling: “Pink,” as a color, is an embodied abstraction. Tailors also use “pinking shears” to trim loosely woven cloth (like the tapestry of our reality) and minimize fraying. As an abstraction, pink will feel the painful pricks of life less than a pinky finger will feel it. But, as an abstraction, “pink” also has a less lusty engagement with life (less “pricked” in love-making) than I have in my little pinky, as the taunt goes. In context, we see that the poet at this point in the poem, contra Tenor, feels that this “pinkness beyond the pinkness of things” is a virtue–at least of sorts. The poet may cry out, like Hamlet: “Oh, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt.”