Radio

On the radio
in the car
road noise
mix of blur
a shout
in the street
turn it up
turn it down
turn it off.

Try to wait
what’s up?
what’s down?
what’s goin’ round?
in the groove
groovy.

Caught inside
rough ride
in the tube
let it play
on the radio.

Live at 5
Small Wave Riders
on the radio
in the curl
watch that fin
at the drive-in
on the inside
looking out
of the radio.

Spring Sweep

Cherry blossom suds fizzle
across the street in the past
tense as the maple samaras
loosen their grab and let go
tiny purple red flowers –
Susan sweeps & I hold the shovel.

The scents immense
a pentatonic hair gel sneeze
like a rim shot on a snare
then the squiggly rinse
of liquorice bush fills
the air as at the summer fair.

But what is still future tense
figgily (like a fig fallen ripe)
on a fawn lawn afternoon
for now needs no articles
not a the or a a stammer
waves of breezy sizzle.


This Train

This train leaving the state
carries no saints.

No matter which way you face
all headed the same way.

The porter walks backwards
to the caboose, and as the train

slows to round a curve,
jumps.

She’ll take her chances improvising
in a real river.

No Word

It might have been said,
were there one to say it,
she was the last human,
but then she would not
have been the last one.

She’d been told to keep
by the river, the fresh fish
would grow and multiply.
The weather returned,
the goats and chickens.

She talked to the animals,
but she found life easier
if she kept silent, forgot
words, let go lingo and,
in the end, was no word.

A Flight of Birds

~          ~
  ~       ~
    ~   ~
      ~

“A poem should be wordless   
As the flight of birds.”

Ars Poetica
BY ARCHIBALD MACLEISH

On the Whole of Things

having cut it out [it, all its]
pleasure now without article
embellishment whole
some questions

consider blue hydrangea
yesterday transplanted
from pot to ground
root, stem, leaf, bud

in which will we find
whole plantness
cup without coffee
gives us to mark time

a day without hours
hours without minutes
minutes without seconds
where will we find time

for whole things
words opening
seeds, bulbs
into whole language

grown in pots
root-bound can
but describe
like mathematics
can not be


The Drowning Pool

He jumped in to join the pool
to savor his father’s tastes
simple mints and salty beer
nuts, pickled pig knuckles.

After the pool emptied
he reflected sentimentally
on hairs caught in the trap
they pulled up with the snake.

At the Centinela

We squiggled and danced around
and the radio and the romance
until all the songs blew fuses
and the whole night crashed down.

We could hear that dark fall coming
down in the valley and up on the hill
whistles and the steel rail humming
buttered popcorn and bubble water.

At the Centinela drive-in theatre
in my ’56 Chevy hoping it would start
up again when the twiddle ended
under surveillance during the draft.


A ^ for D

To envision a V
perceive to verify
unfold in flight

and to survive
a disquisition
(without dropping out)
think grapheme

& other reifications
the keyboard caret
for exemplification

when shifting six
has exponential
potential

for turning things
upsidedown
& pointing out

something needs
to be inserted
at this point

D for dan buoy cork
with flag to mark
man overboard.

2 + 2 = 5

That two plus two equals four
used to be true, but no more,
not necessarily, and out the door
our core of being washed ashore.

Dostoevsky came close to avoid
the obvious and said to make five
you need at least four things,
the fifth the wit of leadership.

For the true leader takes 2 fish
and 2 loaves of bread and convinces
the constituency they’ve been fed
the truth, the whole truth, nothing but,

for what is right might be wrong,
we hear from the physicists,
who wander far afield from logic,
language, and Mother Earth.

So, if you happen to have two
apples and two hammers, you
are missing six of something.
You are a long ways from home.

“I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but, if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing, too.”

“Notes from Underground,” Dostoevsky, 1864.

About Nora

Most of us carry about a particular picture of ourselves, seldom the same picture others have of us. Some carry a portfolio of pictures about, anxious to show all they meet all about themselves – their family, schools, jobs, homes, accomplishments, disappointments, hobbies, books read, movies liked, places visited, lived, abandoned. Friends. Others don’t like having their picture taken, the only photo about them on their driver’s license, and that they don’t like either. Acquaintances may be more interested in your market value than in your face value.

Taken at face value, that is, legal value, net worth at birth, which may or may not bear any resemblance to one’s market value at the end of a life of living, of struggle, of getting by, of adapting to, or avoiding where possible, the more absurd cultural mores, steering as clear of the wildly ridiculous ones met on the street as one possibly can, Nora Barnacle’s life story is nominal, average, without great distinction. Most of us share a similar story. But, as the lifelong partner of the famous writer James Joyce, Nora’s life story far exceeds its salvage value – it’s a life worth a ticket-scalping.

But how should Nora’s story be told? Nora never read her husband James’s books, though he often read aloud to her from them, and she put no stock in literary values other than as a means to put food on the table, and which, as a means to make a living, for most of their lives proved woefully inadequate. They were never, until later in life and only then to satisfy the legal issues of the passing on of debts and assets and to protect their children, married, though they remained devoted to one another, having two children they were almost never separated from, living literally on top of one another in a seemingly endless succession of rented rooms, flats, shared spaces, hotel stays, sustained by gifts from sacrificing siblings and wealthy benefactors, until at long last Joyce’s reputation and writings began to produce earned royalties, distinction, and then the trappings of fame.

Joyce was always, and in all ways, a difficult man to live with. He was impractical, stubborn, inattentive, wasteful, and drank to excess. They fight and argue, Nora threatens to take the kids and leave, but of course she’s nowhere to go, but more importantly nowhere she wants to go – she wants her life with Jim to settle in with the peace and love of its original promise, which was to take her away from a life and family and place of destitution, beggary, and abuse. At the same time, they love and celebrate – their family, birthdays and holidays, their marginal achievements and successes, their apartments, the air and freedom of life away from dreary and unfair Ireland. They celebrate food and drink, family and friends, music and poetry, dance and lovemaking. Meantime, they’ve the bad luck of having to live through two World Wars and the Great Depression.

But how is the life just described, at face value, any different than most? Why do we want to know Nora’s story, particularly when, as we probably already know, she’s destroyed Jim’s letters to her and requested him to destroy her letters to him to keep private their private lives? They both remain victims, or feel victimized, to attempts to shame to control – attempts by the state, the church, society, friends and acquaintances, critics. Their attempt to live an existential life, defined by free choice, true to one another and to Jim’s belief in himself and his ability to make a difference with his writing (a difference to art, literature, and to all of the above), is a messy affair.

Readers familiar with the James Joyce story, whether fan or foe of his writing, may feel differently about the Nora Joyce story. In Nuala O’Connor’s “Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce,” we experience the James Joyce story through the eyes and ears – the sentiments and temperament – of Nora, who tells the story in her own voice. And we get the Nora Joyce story. Nuala’s book is neither straight biography nor straight fiction. Readers may choose to focus on one or the other, but the blend is a perfect mix, and you can’t have the one without the other. The Nora here is Nuala’s Nora, not Joyce’s Nora nor even Nora’s own selfie. But you come to see that you can’t have James Joyce without Nora Joyce, nor can we have Nora without James. What a glorious and perfect union.

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce, by Nuala O’Connor, 2021, Harper Perennial.