indifference, like shells

Blue

O rare and clarifying day, 

    good day:

Your raiment of the moment washed in blue

Illumes a softened, sadder rumination

Among despairing men

Who watched each hair go grey.

 

Whichever course they plot they face the sun

In unimpeding drifted winter air

Lashes, squinting eyelids: unavailing

Against that ageless burst

Frigid, Promethean.

 

Out many miles from shore a sudden shower

A sodden shudder weeping on the sea

Mere meters wide

    a drenching isolation

A pure vertical rain

Repeating every hour

 

This shined and shattered shaft of splint’ring light

That draught of water from a cloudless sky

Alludes to sullen shoulders wracked with sobbing

A smudged and doubtful map

Disperses lines of flight

 

O rare and clarifying day,

    good day:

Your raiment of the moment washed in blue

Aloft a soft'ning shy manifestation

Engrained with faded care

Dispensing with dismay.

 

 

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


A Figure of Speech


A figure of speech4

1

The figure standing always on the beach

Even when there is no sand

Even when there is no sea

Even then there always is the beach

An even sheen of water without water

An even shine of sand    without sand

The line and the limit    always there the line and limit

The shifting line   the long withdrawing sigh    the boring advancing roar

This far no further no no no   no further no  no further

Futile     unavailing   still and all

And always still   so still   the figure stands

 

2

The figure standing always on the beach

Does not disturb a grain of the never present sand

Does not divert or shift a wave adventuring out of the never present sea

Does not assert a space on the ever present beach

No grain is moving nothing ever moves

No wave is breaking nothing ever breaks

The shift and the sheer  always suggested the shift and sheer

This slicing light   the spark and the kindling   the dim implicit flame

More light is need need needed   kneading light

Futile    unavailing   still and all

And always still  so still   the figure stands

3

The figure standing always on the beach

Informed by light takes nothing from the sand

Refined by shadow cares not for the shimmer of the sea

Above the beach the sky   the sky is a desert sky

Above the sky the clouds   the clouds are jungle clouds

Above the clouds the light     the light like words made light

A plane like paper     spread like parchment     clothing the limit

Sprinkling glints      brazen Klimtische gold    a span of flattened wrinkles

One sees these things by hearing them   by picturing pictures of words

Futile     unavailing   still and all

And always still   so still   the figure stands

 

And an absent unseen seer evocates

The figure standing always on the beach

 

~~~
[Photo (which is unconnected to the poem) by the blogger.]

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


Burred

Burred

 [she says]

 

Hollow my bones

Inject them with air

Marrow once out, atmosphere fill me

With latticework socketed pockets of sky

Laced amid faceted boxes of calcium

 

Each wall translucent

Veined and accented

                                        paper thin agate

Skylight beneath an encircling sheath

 

Calcified, drift-white

                                        bored out

                                        burred clean

hollowed out zones

                                        Emptied and filled

Essence ineffable rudely infused

A plenum a vacuum awash with a way

 

Envelope

Bonded to tendon to muscle to flesh and to

Skin under

Feathers and pinions

 

Clockwork and talons

Engaged or imagined

[she postulates rising]

                                        Rising is purpose

[she execrates falling]

                                        Falling is not possible

Each move beneath

directs itself up

to a still

             farther starting point

poised to plunge higher

 

~~~

 

[she says]

 

The earth and air were not made to be neighbors

Cast athwart one to the other smashed hastily

 

Lean into potent uncertain futurity

Push off on high on invisible potency

Riverine flow

Crystalline luxe

Cerulean   

                Void 

~~~

 

I spread I flap and I flail almost floating

A gasp then the chirping         

                                       songs and screams

A fall

aflutter

                                       fleet and fleeing

Fascinated plummeting   

                                       alive and leaving….     

 

                                                Casting off

                                                Casting off

That caged and perching life

That human beastly scuttle

For this

 

                                        fleet and fleeing

                                        alive and leaving

                                        arc and contour

 

I will fly and I will rise

                                        until the darts strike home


[more she says not]

 

~~~
[Photo (unconnected to the poem) by the blogger.]

© 2017 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


The Watcher Watched

Spotted a spy who spotted a bird
Who spotted the bird-spotting spy

The spotted bird espied a spot
Where the spy could not see the bird he sought
The spy could not spot where the bird was not

In a birdless and unburdened sky

 

 

© 2016 George M. Wallace; all rights reserved.


"Nebula of Angels"

Angels Flight and Ziggurat

If you had asked me six months ago when I would be making my debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall, I'd have chortled and wondered what in the name of the Muses you were on about.  But wait....

This weekend (Saturday July 19 at 8:00, Sunday July 20 at 3:00) it seems that I will be making my Disney Hall debut, as a piece for which I crafted up the text will be on offer as part of the massive 35th Anniversary Concert of the Gay Men's Chorus Los Angeles.

And you may ask myself: "Well, how did you get here?" And I may say to yourself: "Well, it was like this...."

In March, my previous collaborator/composer Garrett Shatzer dropped me a line with a potential referral to composer Dave Volpe. Dave, who is also a GMCLA member, had the opportunity to contribute a new and original piece for the 35th Anniversary and was in need of a text. A piece d'occasion was required, something evoking Los Angeles and 35 years' longevity and pride and aspiration and suchlike themes appropriate to the ensemble. The sort of assignment, in short, that lands more often on the desks of poets laureate than on the desk of a simple country lawyer in Pasadena. How could one, if one were this one, say no? One could not. Dave and I connected, chatted, more or less concurred on the scope of the thing, and I set to work.

There are two principal versions of the resulting text: the original "poem-poem" version and a version revised to be more workable, more settable and, above all, more memorizable, as the Men of the Chorus sing from memory without scores before them.

The underlying inspiration for me was visual, a sort of view that is particular to Los Angeles: a view across the basin at night, the lights below so bright that the light of the stars is subsumed and absorbed from beneath. Among others, I had in mind certain Julius Shulman photos, particularly the famous nighttime image of Case Study House #22.* Feeding in to that idea were variants on the notion of Los Angeles as the "City of Angels" and, because the idea of occluded stars was in it, memory dredged up an old slogan from the glory days of MGM.

The original version of the piece, with that studio slogan for its title, came out rather like this: 

Sky and line

More stars than there are in the heavens!

Two bowls inverted each on each

One bowl the earth
Another bowl the sky...

Amid the City’s blaze and burn,
Amid the City’s glare and hustle,
Amid the City’s noise and heat and roaring, stand!

Stand upon this earth
surrounded,
Stand upon this earth
All bathed in this great City’s lights

Stand and seek
And search a sky whose former lights for now are
    hidden.
 

Lift your eye to see and scan
An empty sky:
No stars above?
Standing on this earth, look up:
No stars above?

Step out,
step up,
climb up,
stand still,
look down:
Behold what’s spread before you, at your feet 

Step out,
step up,
climb up,
stand still,
look down:
From any hill behold a bowl of stars

A vast expansive basin full of stars
From mountains down the foothills to the sea 

And with each star, an angel
Light for light
And with each star, an angel
Life for life
And with each star, an angel
Love for Love 

More stars on earth              More angels
than as it were in heaven      More stars 

stars not fallen                    angels not fallen
stars and angels
RISING
RISING
RISING
to the ground and to the world 

For every eye a soul
For every soul a star
For every star an angel
in this city that’s a nebula of angels 

better angels
better natures
better living
better lives 

Rise up, step down, step out
Engage, expand, explode
and shine
 

~~~

There followed from this draft a quick bit of give and take in which the poem was compacted and reorganized along more verse-chorus-versical lines, and in which it gained a new name: Dave Volpe didn't much care for my loose baggy first title but expressed a liking for one of the phrases within the poem, so that phrase became the new and final title. While it is still a Los Angeles piece, it is now less explicitly so than when it started ... the sort of thing that the Chorus of Your Metropolis, Gay or Not, might perhaps embrace?

The piece is being set for orchestra and, I do believe, for both the main and youth choruses of GMCLA. I've not heard a note of it yet, as it has worked through the rehearsal process, and I am witless with anticipation. I had the chance to attend GMCLA's last major concert and I will attest these gentlemen can saaaainnggg. I'm pleased as can be to give them these words with which to work their magic, and extend to all at GMCLA my heartiest felicitations on the occasion of their 35th year.

This then, or something closely akin to it, is the version of the text that Dave has actually set and that will premiere on Saturday night (repeating Sunday). I canna' hardly wait. 

Sky and line noir

Nebula of Angels 

Step out, step up,
climb up, stand still,
look down:
Behold what’s spread before you, at your feet 

Amid the City’s blaze and burn,
Amid the City’s glare and hustle,
Amid the City’s noise and heat and roaring, stand!

Stand upon this earth
surrounded,
Stand upon this earth
All bathed in this great City’s lights 

Step out, step up,
climb up, stand still,
look up:
Behold what’s spread above you, in the heights 

Standing on this earth, look up:
No stars above?
These lights below so bright
Their shine outshines the skies.

From any hill behold a bowl of stars
From mountains down the foothills to the sea
A vast expansive basin full of stars
More stars on earth than once shone in the heavens 

Step out, step up,
climb up, stand still,
look round:
Behold what’s spread about you, on all sides 

And with each star, an angel
Light for light
And with each star, an angel
Life for life
And with each star, an angel
Love for Love

stars not fallen             angels not fallen
stars and angels RISING
to the ground and to the world 

For every eye a soul
For every soul a star
For every star an angel
in this city that’s a nebula of angels 

better angels
better natures
better living
better lives 

Rise up, step down, step out
Engage, expand, explode
and shine

Halle disney en bleu

~~~

* In a bit of happenstantial synchronicity, another fine example of the form appears as the cover image for Gabriel Kahane's The Ambassador. [See preceding post.] The Kahane photo was not released by his label until a week or two after my verses were essentially completed, but it is more or less exactly what I had been picturing as I wrote them.

"More Stars Than There Are in the Heavens!" and "Nebula of Angels" texts Copyright 2014 George M. Wallace.

Photos by the blogger.

~~~


The Map of the Clock

Street clock
Another opening, another show....

On Sunday, May 18, as part of the Spring program by the Sacramento Children's Chorus, one of the five choirs making up the Chorus will premiere "The Map of the Clock," a piece composed by Garrett Shatzer on a text by this blogger. In July, the Chorus will be taking "Map" along for performances in Eugene, Oregon, and "on the green" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. All of which is rather satisfying, as perhaps you can imagine.

The commission from the Children's Chorus came Garrett's way as he and I were collaborating on "Beset" and he kindly offered me the opportunity to craft up the words. Not having been so young as these singers in a very long while, I found myself thinking about Time and thinking in particular about how differently things appear when one has more future than past in one's life. That notion somehow conjoined in my mind with the idea that "the map is not the territory," a title emerged and, from that, a poem and, from that, a composition which I will hear for the first time on Sunday.

Here are the music-less words:

~~~

THE MAP OF THE CLOCK

 

The map of the road ahead

is not the road ahead

 

The clock on the wall knows

nothing at all of Time

 

This moment’s monument is not

the thing you said

this moment

 

It is not the thing you thought

or meant to say

 

The road alone knows where

the road is leading

 

And once each mile is past,

Time blocks return

 

Old trickster Time, you prankster,

with your secret plan

 

Will anyone here who hears me

hear me again

in time

 

The road the time

the moments that pass

the song the speech

the road the rhyme the time

And on and on and on

or on and off

an end

 

Copyright 2013 George M. Wallace

~~~

Photo: Streets Clock by Flickr user Individual Design, used under Creative Commons license.

Incidental: "A moment's monument" was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's description of the sonnet form. It appears here as a backhanded reference to my first, and most ambitious, collaboration with Garrett Shatzer: "The Kissed Mouth," an as-yet unrealized song cycle for tenor and soprano—more of a chamber opera, to my way of thinking—involving Rossetti and certain supernatural elements, of which I will say no more. Mayhap I will be able to announce its premiere here someday. In time, as it were.

~~~

UPDATE [August 5, 2014]: A recording of the premiere performance of "The Map of the Clock" has gone up on Garrett Shatzer's site. I could not have asked for better treatment of this text than Garrett gave it, and the youthful singers of the Sacramento Children's Chorus (the subchoir that performed here is Jr. High/High School Freshperson age) sang it gorgeously. Listen here.

~~~


Beset

 Master of Sir John Fastolf - Saint Francis

So then: here's a thing with which I am well pleased.

This upcoming Sunday morning, March 9, will see the premiere performances of "Beset", a choral piece composed by Garrett Shatzer at the behest of the Choir of Centerpoint Community Church in Roseville, California. The text was written by ... moi-même, this fool, me.

The piece was commissioned for performance at the Festival of Peace and Brotherhood which will take place in Rome, March 12 through 16. There was originally substantial cause to hope that the Choir would be performing the piece, with the composer at the organ, in St. Peter's itself. That prospect, sadly, has gone by the boards. Still, "Beset" will be performed several times during the Festival in historic churches roundabout Rome, so one can hardly complain. 

I was introduced to Garrett Shatzer through Dale Trumbore in connection with the New Lens Concert Series project, of which Garrett is co-creator. One idle comment led to another—I think I larkingly referred to my interest in becoming a "freelance librettist"—and here we find ourselves, Garrett and I, as collaborators. "Beset" is the first of our collaborations to see public performance, so I am as you might imagine a bit chuffed. We've another piece, for children's choir, premiering in May, of which I'll post as the day approaches. And there's a large project—the first to which we applied ourselves, a song cycle that morphed into something like a chamber opera featuring certain eminent Victorian and pre-Renaissance personages—that lies dormant for now, but of which I surely hope I will have more to report in due time. Trust me: it is the coolest thing.....

"Beset" is, I believe, the first and only overtly religous text to which I have set my hand. I cannot but confess that I suspect it is neither logically nor doctrinally sound on close reading. The opportunity to write it came up shortly after the then-new Pope had adopted Francis as his papal name. With the St. Peter's performance in mind, Garrett suggested that I consider incorporating some connection to the papal namesake, Francis of Assisi, into my text. Some puttering about led me to Francis's "Prayer to Obtain Divine Love", and that text resides sub rosa within my own. It surfaces overtly in the fourth stanza after a bout of imagery from other prayers of need and praise, such as the De Profundis and Ave Maris Stella. The spirit of John Donne, though none of his technique, is invoked. The canyon is a backhanded allusion to Messiaen. The piece is named "Beset" because "beset" is a fine old word.

At this writing, I've not yet heard a note of the finished piece. I am venturing north to hear it this Sunday and I hope, at some point, that I can supplement this post with a recording. For the nonce, here are the words without the benefit of the music that I trust will be the making of them:

 

BESET

Beset by fears and by uncertainty

Beset in dreams and when I wake beset

 

The way is hard

I cry for comfort

And comfort comes

 

One sparkling star still steers me onward

Across broad seas or over frowning peaks

Hail! O star of the sea,

O star of the desert and the canyon and the vail:

Guide me through the dark and recurring night.

 

Send me, O Lord, that sweet and fiery strength

And let your Love absorb my soul that I

May die

For love of your Love as your Love has done for me

 

Teach me, O Lord, to love all You have made:

All peoples, all this world, your holy Light,

That from the depths I may cry out and still be heard

And salvaged from this wreck

By holy Love

By holy Peace 

~~~ 

Source:

I beseech Thee, O Lord, that the fiery and sweet strength of Thy love may absorb my soul from all things that are under heaven, that I may die for love of Thy love as Thou didst deign to die for love of my love.

-- St. Francis of Assissi - Prayer to Obtain Divine Love

~~~

Illustration: Master of Sir John Fastolf, illuminator (French, active before about 1420 - about 1450), Saint Francis, about 1430 - 1440, Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment Leaf: 12.1 x 9.2 cm (4 3/4 x 3 5/8 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 5, fol. 44v


Epithalamium Redux Redux (Slight Return)

Bartolomeo Cesi - Two Men Kissing in Florence, 1600
~~~

Epithalamium

I

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Gay men and lesbians
Flock to the City Hall,
Follow their bliss,

Purchase their licenses,
Swear to their permanence,
Pose for the camera crews
Sharing a kiss.

II

Damned, sir?  They’re damned, you say?
Possibly, possibly:
Love has led millions to
Suffer a Fall.

That’s for the next world, sir;
Here with the living — well,
What was it Chaucer said?
“Love conquers all.”

III

Poets, sir. Love poets.
Some of the best have been
Gay, sir.  Consider this
List I’ve compiled:

Wystan Hugh Auden and
C.P. Cavafy and
Sappho. James Merrill, Thom
Gunn, Oscar Wilde.

IV

Legally, legally,
Should an impediment
Rise to the marriage of
Minds that are true?

Sure as there’s only one
Race, sir — the human race —
How would you feel if it
Happened to you?

V

Citizens, citizens,
Leave to your churches these
Questions of sanctity,
Tough and profound.

Secular governments
Ought to facilitate
Binding of lovers who
Yearn to be bound.

VI

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Cleave to the one who’s your
Heart’s true companion, the
Thou to your I.

Now, when the times are so
Fearsome we all must, as
Auden says, “love one a-
nother or die.”

~~~

In view of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions this morning on issues of same-sex marriage, including the apparent restoration of that institution here in California, I am republishing—for the fourth and likely final time—my 2004 double dactyl paean to same.

The full history of the poem was summarized on its third publication, last year.

~~~


Bottom Feeding

At the eminent What About Clients? blawg, Dan Hull and Holden Oliver have gone and done it, reposting Henry Fuseli's vision of Nick Bottom and Titania reine des fées shown below or, as they say in the trade, infra

"I consider it a challenge before, etc., etc., and I don't intend to lose," he said, Mercurially.

Hence, this revisitation of my own cobwebbed poetic tribute to Queen T and Nicky B: 

Titania and Bottom

~~~

When Bottom bore the donkey’s head and brayed,
Titania wreathed his upstart ears with flowers 
‘Til — disenchanted, open-eyed, dismayed —
She cast him from the comforts of her bowers. 
Botanical elixirs were the tools 
With which the weaver and his fellow rude 
Mechanicals, with other mortal fools, 
Were fuddled, led astray and misconstrued. 
Old Athens’ misty woods and fogbound lovers, 
Her naiads, pixies, fairies, sprites and elves 
Are gone; but surely Puck still grins and hovers 
As modern men make asses of themselves. 
No spell but self delusion clouds their sight, 
And leaves them pathless in the summer night.

~~~


Song: "I am the Wombat of D. G. Rossetti"

Rossetti's Wombat Seated in his Master's Lap
~~~

I AM THE WOMBAT OF D. G. ROSSETTI

~~~

In the Southern Hemisphere
They say that the creatures are terribly queer: 
Some of them poisonous, 
Some of them vicious. 
Furred, but with duck’s bills!
Or scaly, like fishes!
But I, sir —
You see me, sir —
Harmless and dreamy, sir —
Make my acquaintance: I’m pleased to be here.

Oh —

I am the wombat of D.G. Rossetti, 
  Imported to London from over the seas. 
When Maestro Rossetti was wanting a pet he
  Sent off a request to the antipodes.

There a bold sun-burnished strapping Australian
  Beat through the bush to see what he could see. 
Searching through forests eccentric and alien, 
  He found a burrow and there he found me.

Many months later I came to the jetty, 
  Was met by my master, Christina, and Jane. 
Now I am the wombat of D.G. Rossetti: 
  I live in Cheyne Walk and I walk on a chain.

Kangaroos relish their fisticuff combat
  Whilst I on the other hand flee from a fight. 
In London I am the preeminent wombat,
  The only one owned by a Pre-Raphaelite.

I have been called both a joy and a madness, 
  Delightful to all who my company keep. 
When some day I die of homesickness and sadness, 
  My master will fall to his knees and he’ll weep.

Fighting his tears he’ll erect a memorial, 
  Hon’ring the wombat what wuvved him so well, 
While my marsupial soul incorporeal
  Sighs from on high like some blest Damozel.

He taught me Italian and fed me spaghetti: 
  All chubby in Chelsea, I couldn’t stay long. 
I was the wombat of D.G. Rossetti: 
  Though mortal in life I’m immortal in song.

Yes I was the wombat of D.G. Rossetti —
  Though mortal in life I’m immortal in song!

Wmr wombat sketch
~~~

This waddling lyric is the result of a bit of free association on Twitter last week between soprano Jennifer Behnke, composer Garrett Shatzer, and myself. I am afraid 'twas I who inserted wombats in to an otherwise perfectly serious train of thought about poetry. At length, I decided to take a run at lyrics for a wombat song, and here we are.

I hear a tune for this in my head, a Victorian music hall waltz of sorts, but your own imagination may lead you in other directions.

~~~

Illustrations: "Rossetti's Wombat Seated in his Master's Lap," pencil drawing by William Bell Scott, on Rossetti's letterhead, from the holdings of the Tate. A sketch of the wombat by William Michael Rossetti, provenance unknown.

Additional visual inspirations:

Mrs._Morris_and_the_Wombat

"Mrs. Morris and the Wombat," pen drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, original in the holdings of the British Museum, image via The Rossetti Archive.

Rossetti mourning his wombat

"Rossetti lamenting the death of his wombat", pen drawing by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, from the holdings of the British Museum.

~~~