Oracles of Things Seen

Having been asked about important poetry benchmarks of 1971 by Rachel Levitsky, the first two things that popped into mind were the death of Paul Blackburn, and the publication of a book that, for me, was a major entrance  into the poetry and poetics of Robert Kelly, namely FLESH DREAM BOOK (Black Sparrow Press, o.p.). I pulled the book off the shelves to check the date and it was indeed published in 1971. I opened it randomly & came to the poem called “Oracles of Things Seen” — which immediately struck as I was sitting home in Brooklyn looking out over the Narrows as I started reading it. So here it is:

Oracles of Things Seen

man taste of city water                /mensk, what men do, are
                                                                                         :cultura humana
from the ground
          From the stroke of eight the well-rig
pounding away at the red clay hill,
Brooklyn down across water—

beech trees (fouteaux, fuck trees)
shielding the hill me
eye from the evening
pewter of the harbor

four times in five seconds
the drill slams down,
the Narrows bridge
                                    (“like the bowe new bent in heaven”

                                    but the folio has Theseus saying now
                                    bent in heaven,
                                    this bow of men against the spaces,
19th century romanza,
the  b r i d g e s /

                                    Now the water of New York comes far
                                    & rises freely in the rusting pipes
(or is it red clay of the hill,
or is it new that Shakespeare says,
                                                                this new bridge
joining unbearable suburbs
with the burning city,
                                         river of living silver
flow between man & woman
dying into their act
(Montaigne tells how his dumpy daughter
learned the syllables of the sacred name,
fouteaux, her reading-book says, ‘beech trees,’
would not have learned it faster deeper
than from the embarrassed nursemaid skipping
the word in the aching book
                                                       (book of water)

But Montaigne says it is the center, the target,
toward which each man lifts his arrow
                                                                       (or is the woman bow,
not target?
                     notched to the bowstring the arrow
                     conjugate with the curve of bow,
                     leaps from his shape and her energy
towards the inconceivable
Target this
                    well-rig pounds away all day at
in its turn
                   (Staten island, book of water, book of the
water of cities,
give the child into the keeping of language.


It is not well
who would dig
on the hilltop,
                           I looked for water & found
a pile-driver pounding steel into red clay
above the bay,
                           I should have known from the location,
I should have known from the cycle,
                                                                   well into bedrock?
no wells in the city,
                                    all the streams & rivers
buried under,

                            but I was dumb
                                          in the ways of water

& all the while the trees
                       carried each specific meaning of the earth
(Visited 88 times, 1 visits today)

You may also like...

1 Response

  1. Randall Horton says:

    Thanks for this Pierre. I need to check this out as I have been writing more and more about urban landscapes…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *