Pain Quotient

by Charles North

for David Watson

 

1.

 

How to explain tragedy to a deer. This is the assignment. —Well, it isn’t the assignment it’s in the general category of things assigned, like growing to a mature height of four inches if you happen to be a certain strain of ornamental cactus, or being shamed back to life by any means possible. I like the idea that hope springs eternal, especially as the adjective, not adverb suggests that spring is a verb of being rather than action, it doesn’t have to be imagined or looked forward to, or yearned for, or original in any sense of the word. The present which is always with us, regardless. Take the piano music of objects, the black-and-white, the mystical harmonics, bipolarities, etc.

 

 

2.

 

The afternoon smells like rosemary, whereas the morning was on the visual side, jutting among the albums. Someone David knew, an actress, referred to the café Pain Quotidien as Pain Quotient, apparently with a straight face. The Daily Pain (which I seem to remember my father bringing home from work). Or if you happen to be in show business, the pan. Take the extremist willows.

 

 

3.

 

5:30 p.m. The soul goes out for its walk—just be sure you’re back in time for supper. The colors look pasted on, washy blue like a robin’s egg seen through a landlord shade, then just washed away. Where is conceptual art when you need it. Everyone knows that Janus Weathercock and Cornelius Van Vinckboons are too good not to be true, but very few know of their connection to the poet John Clare. Or that “they” were in fact the same person, who not only worked for London Magazine in the early part of the 19th century but was, according to Clare’s biographer Jonathan Bate, “the Oscar Wilde of his day.” I say metaphors have it easy! Brahms surging, receding, churning the already churned foam of Being

whereas Rachmaninov is like a fist to the heart.

 

 

4.

 

Suppose everyone were a lot less talkative. Or were prohibited from talking to anyone who spoke the same language, not only people but houseplants, raccoons, self-service elevators, winged salesmen from the future, etc. A gem-like solid framed by a ribbon of aluminum light. Begins in speech but is diverted primarily by all the mistakes from the remembered past. Another episode has a word whirling around its phonemes which are also whirling. We were talking about shaming someone back into life, the blood verities. Hanging in the air “like a memory lost” but recapturable if you don’t mind the mix of truth and sprawl, fragments of all that can be thought without accompaniment or fixation. Or whatness. The star drawer helps with the street noise. Lines, half-lines, whorls, turquoise, i.e., green mixed with blue, highlights. Characters get dragged in kicking and screaming from the wings and forget their resonant ties to objects. To be calmer than a rug, a particle from the 1940s, dizzying, I’ll take it. But you can have the stifling dream states, like a perpetual air-raid. Why so many notions settling in the middle of the forehead like a tableau vivant—so much more cause than affect. The summer retired early; was forced out, actually, like the recorder family from mainstream music. Mixed-use but heartfelt skyline.

 

—Charles North’s most recent book, What It Is Like: New and Selected Poems, headed NPR’s list of Best Poetry Books of 2011 (chosen by David Orr). More info at charlesnorth.net.

BOMB 125
Fall 2013
The cover of BOMB 125
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