Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Carbondale by Cliff Fell

Consider the glue 
that holds all this together,
be it the cold light 
of the diamond in the mine, 
the gold in its seam 
below the forest
or the shale oil reserves 
of the Arctic Circle—
each in its way a party hat
that pays homage 
to DJ culture
or signals the slow 
corruption of thought. 
But right from the start 
let it be said 
that to our knowledge 
the art of the oil slick 
has not yet been 
seen in the highest places.
But it is spring, 
or it will be tomorrow, 
so this will go viral 
on totally nothing. 
Get out among the birds,
behind the weather 
and collaborate.
It’s what you must do.
Let me know. 
At least we might try 
to advance your case, 
however tight things are 
with juice or money. 
Jump on the bandwagon,
get the company 
involved again, 
their logo on the solar 
panels. After all,
you’re only asking 
for five thousand bucks. That’s how 
you have to think—
on the backs of everyone.
Text me a promise. 
Text me the text 
to be read in your presence. 
Text me the radiance 
of the white light 
as you set out on its storyline, 
the plot that says 
you almost became 
a miner again  
as you sang the ‘Days of ’49’. 
If only you’d known 
you were mining yourself. 
Unlucky, not to recognise
the mind’s own form.
Now you will wander 
among the hungry ghosts
or in the lower realm 
of the animals. 
You will feel sad
as the fog descends, 
as the world becomes 
indistinct and you move on
in your ceaseless 
roaming the streets 
like a latter-day saint,
or a Prospero 
with his gang 
of Ariels and Calibans.
Well, if I had to, sir,
most surely I would do it all again.
I’d go down among 
the lower animals
on that Saturday night floor,
I’d go with them crazy
from bar to bar
dressed to kill in a hoodie
or off-the-shoulder 
down and dirty 
in the sweat and lights.
Well, are you not of a piece, sir?
Wouldn’t you want to move
to whatever it takes—
an old calypso tune,
the insistent riff
of power chords,
or the pluck of her Venus hyper tines,
and all of it cranked up 
into full reverb
and touching us
with a tempo
that feeds the skull
this thump of drum and bass.

Author's note:

‘In Carbondale’ was first published earlier this year in Phantom Billstickers Café Reader Vol. 5 but unfortunately, due to a proofing error for which I take full responsibility, it was missing three lines. While that probably did little harm to the poem, I appreciate having the opportunity to publish the full version it in its entirety.

The title of the poem references a line from Bob Dylan’s 2012 song, ‘Duquesne Whistle’. Within the poem, there is a further reference to a poem, ‘The Days of ’49’ by the 19th century Californian poet Joaquin Miller, which is now more familiar as a folk-song. Dylan recorded it for his 1969 album, Self Portrait. As for the rest of my poem, much of the first half was derived from notes scribbled down as I listened to various speakers holding forth during a rather tedious official meeting. The second half draws on images from The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

There's a kind of poetry I love which I think of as speculative or errant. The poem takes me on a walk with an idea. It goes off—like a dog pulling the reader on a lead as it follows scents in the language. These poems are full of possibilities, chance encounters, echoes of the familiar and they tend to be longer than short lyrical poems as their adventure is not concerned with a singular experience or memory. 'In Carbondale' is such a poem. It begins with a confident 'consider this' which promises a flash of insight, but we soon find that we’re offered advice on how to speak the only real jargon that carries currency in today's New Zealand: the slick language of business and self-marketing. There’s a swagger in the voice advising us on how to speak the lingua franca of the funding proposal or job application. But then could this voice be mocking our own proposals?

We can read the title of the poem as not just functioning as a proper noun referring to the town of Carbondale, Illinois, but as an kind of epithet for all life on Earth. Like all life we're all primarily in Carbondale—our bodies, our world—but in the second half of the poem we find ourselves to be a post-Carbondale ghost. In the Tibetan Bardo Thodol the voice of the shaman hopes to steer the disoriented spirit of the newly dead past the perils posed by the recently deceased’s unleased unconscious fears which manifest as demons. Now the adventure begins as the voice becomes a shamanic guide steering through all the nightmare hallucinations and projections—the angels and demons of late petro-capitalism which are so neatly captured by those long gone Saturday night-Sunday morning dancefloors we once loved. And who would not want to go back again to those heady days and leave fresh wine-stained carbon footprints on the sticky floor? But that revenant hunger is both trap and desperation, the destroyer of worlds, dressed to kill and drill in a hoodie. In other words that hunger is nothing other than us. There’s no promise of liberation; no easy tips on reaching enlightenment or favourable rebirth. But there is a chance of a choice in the poem’s final question and the lives to come depend on our answer. Wonderful.

Cliff Fell is the author of three books of poems, the latest of which, The Good Husbandwoman's Alphabet, was published by Last Leaf Press in 2014.

This week's editor, Harvey Molloy, is a writer and teacher who lives in Wellington. His first book of poems, Moonshot, was published by Steele Roberts in 2008. His poetry has appeared in many New Zealand publications including Best New Zealand Poems, Blackmail Press, Brief, JAAM, Landfall, NZ Listener, Poetry New Zealand, Snorkel and Takahe. He was the poetry editor for JAAM 31.

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1 comment:

Helen Lowe said...

There's a lot to this poem--a stream-of-consciousness to our modern condition, perhaps? Thanks for posting, Harvey.