The First Experiment
Pick a word or phrase at random* ― or try.
Can it be done? Can you do it?
If everything means something
― since meaning is ubiquitous, unstoppable,
profuse, prolific, virulent ―
all ostensibly senseless acts
are really ciphers, keys unlocking declarations,
stories, cries, befuddled rants,
the whole storehouse and factory
of language’s obscure and labyrinthine mind.
No sooner do lips part
than words no one can hope to master,
behind your back, despite your wishes,
construct the miracle of selfhood.
You are the music signifiers make,
sounded like crashing thunder
or whispering grass.
Dreaming of some tabula rasa,
an empty plain on which to build your city of sense,
changes nothing. You are simply what
the play of words and styles has made you,
their first experiment and last,
your end and appellation leaking
like rumours from a stranger’s mouth, and no one’s.
* From the first of Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments
At the start line we are bright and shiny,
new paintwork, dazzling yellows and reds,
chrome flashing like a million light bulbs,
that brand new smell of unused interiors,
engines that growl like caged animals.
We feel it when we take our first hit,
the loss of innocence, how the merest blemish
spoils for good our showroom perfection.
By the second and third, we forget
to grieve, concentrate on steering, aim
for the weakest points, judging forces,
Soon we are no longer novices, know exactly
how to cause damage and how to take it,
what face to wear when the crunch comes,
scowling like warriors or smiling
like beauty queens. We spin sometimes
and learn to hold our nerve, let friction
stop us, then step on the gas,
become a moving target – the best way
to stay in the game.
More and more drop out
and we are left to weave between the hulks,
chasing each other round obstacles left
by history. We do not pause
to think of those no longer driving, immobile,
stuck, staring out or scurrying off
through traffic. We don’t have time
for regrets. All our efforts are bent
over the wheel, peering out
through mud-spattered windscreens,
hoping to catch that moment’s hesitation, the slip
that will give us our chance.
When it comes, we will plant our feet down
like pulling a trigger, claim our kills
as any hunter would, giving in to the heady
satisfaction of still being alive, the thrill
that any death not yours can bring you.
Though all around us buckles and bends
we stay firm, rigid, steeled to our task,
our goal to be around when all this ends,
to stand atop our wreck and wave our arms
in salute – triumphant, undefeated,
filthy, battered, exhausted and alive.
We believe in this moment with all our faith,
as certain of it as torque and traction. You cannot drive
and doubt at the same time. When it’s over
there might be a time for questions. Now
there is only this, hands gripping the wheel,
feet pumping gas and brakes, eyes searching
forward and behind, brain ticking like a motor,
tyres biting dirt, constant motion, heat and speed,
power, will, destruction.
This engine drives you like lust or hunger.
It will not halt at obstacles, ploughs on
through weather and terrain, searching madly
for a place to call its destination, a ditch
to hunker down in. Like all of us,
it finds, in the end, a terminus,
plunging into icy darkness, disappearing
like a tortoise into its shell.
Only a little tragedy, in years when victims
Those props and crutches
you wear beneath your skin
crack and splinter,
twist when twisting seems impossible.
The shock of it! The unanticipated horror!
In the welling night, you remember cycles
you once were at home in, how every day
day dawned, and every night you suffered
the same loss anew. Having been dissolute
you will now dissolve, leaving only traces
of an unexpected pose, atypical,
definitive, a final outline to show
what you have given up.
Richer than the gift of sight
is the power to dream,
and when dreams vanish everything is lost.
Before you can think it
the time will come
for creatures with feathery tongues to visit,
playing their rasping tunes
on your whispery skin.
Philosophy Goes To The Beach
Time’s abstract passage iterates moments
otherwise indistinguishable, like grains of sand
that trickle between my toes and disappear
into a golden oneness. In the same way, calendars know nothing
unless we fill them in, red pens
ringing dates to tell us
who we are and where we are destined to be.
Today I am here, where other people’s doubts
can’t reach me. A spray of fresh water
washes off the sea, leaving me to bake unseasoned.
Winter doesn’t belong here. Laughter, lust, discovery,
but never death, which, under the perfect sun
is always senseless.
Is it the water or the waves, the sunlight
splashing on peaks and ridges? Is it Brighton
or Algiers, buckets and spades
or flashing knives and absurdity?
My mother is not dead, and when she dies
I will cry rivers, but today
no sorrow can touch me, no hatefulness
can penetrate my skin. A perfect whiteness,
hard as diamond, seals me in
and leaves no room for shadows.
All motion is relative. If I lie still
the moon parades across the sky;
if I shift, she sticks to her quadrant
like a beacon. Below, the lake balances
the night sky in its upturned palm,
the clash of elements– fire and water – giving birth
to precious jewels, shivering in the deep.
Not knowing my limits, I command the Earth
to stop revolving, reach up to pin the heavens in place.
The Milky Way is a maiden
whose hem hangs down to kiss my cheek.
Cold beauty, she will not yield.
Though nothing but gravity keeps me here,
it is enough, so weak am I, so small.
© Jeff Klooger
Jeff Klooger lives in Melbourne Australia, where he works as an academic, teaching sociology and writing articles in the fields of philosophy and social theory. His poetry has been published in Australia, the UK, US, New Zealand and Mexico, in journals including Meanjin, Overland, Island, Cordite, Magma (UK), Page Seventeen, Eureka Street, fourW, Otoliths, Text, dotdotdash, Famous Reporter, The Argoist Online and Retort Magazine.