October 14, 2011
Midsummer Zero
By (University of Cambridge)

Blue shines all afternoon long and the long day’s dream burns slowly
down to its background, down to its canvas of dazzled
heat and of radiant brightnesses springing back up
from all whites and reflectors, from metals and mirrors
and walls and the beach and the micas in wavering tarmacs,
prone in their flat tracks pointing the cars and the cabs
through to the promenade, through to the palm-blistered strip.
There is not not anything true here; there is not no thought
whose single attention might burn as the day burns, holding
in flame and in fury to longing, or stuck to the nub
of some one refusal, some stubborn remainder of thought.
Only that all the surmises can lift and float off in this weather,
lift, float and drift to wherever I want them to go,
so that for I, I say you, or say she, when the distant
sail cuts the sealine and stitches the sea to the sky
or it twists and then vanishes, turns, and, inviting this idle
daydream or fancy, it glistens again in the blue.

Why should I ever endure to lie down on the beach?
Why must I fry myself here at the edge of the sea?
Some stand and undress; my face is the face of mere leisure,
looking at nothing, the pudding of nothing, jam of it, treat
earned, the deliciously vacant extent of a workless,
aliturgical, day, the perfection of finite privation.
It doesn’t get better than this. From the strip with the palm-trees
I look out to sea, to the wall of the numberless ocean.
I still cannot make myself see it, I cannot disperse
except into flights and surmises and works of unfreedom.
Still in the sky I am pinned to some cloud, to some figure;
still at the edge of the town I am staring at pictures and maps.
It is as though I believe that whatever I see
can never have meaning, but points to a meaning elsewhere.
It is as though these white jet trails and cloud arabesques
all in collective negation refuse their own patterns,
blanking me down to the bank of impassible blue.

Now on the strand as my gazing still falters and dips
there pass in a gaggle the ciphers of perfect desire.
Almost as though I am already frozen or snapped
each instant is empty of memory, love or cognition.
Almost as though I could never recall or recover
your face and your voice, this sounding and resonant world
shrinks to a dot, to a punctual signal of wishing,
shrinks to the total, the whole, which soon matches it, set
there like a filter or theory erasing the waters,
set like a number which drinks them and singes them up.
Nothing can shake or discolour that number, which rages
in superillumining purity through every part.
Hard is the colour of numbers: hard its unending identity
counting whatever beside it is known in the world.
So as you saunter before me indifferent your nudity
pins all attention, detains it or traps as it veils
every gesture, as though you were clothed by the sun.

Not every meaning is structured like signification.
Not every meaning is shaped; inaudible, trackless, invisible,
it holds to itself in its pain and desire and duration.
So when you think you have known and met truth in its nudity,
so when immediate feverish rightness would crown all your wishes,
clothing them, burning self-evidence into the shape of a word,
sun-clear reports to the one who is clothed with the sun,
nevertheless underneath this a mute refutation
bears and enables each false wish, as paper endures
silently every falsehood emblazoned upon it,
silently carries the inks of unfailing negations,
still uncomplaining awaits an intelligent lie.
If I turn round I can see the Avenses and Zephyrs
travel or idle across or along the extended
road by the promenade, seeking their car parks and then

come to a stop where the painted line stops and the tarmac
offers a vacancy, offers relief and a halt.
A car is too vast and expensive and brilliant even to think of.
Even to notice it shakes every part of the blood.
So at each instant I see it I murder my wonder
pretending that I had foreseen this, that all this is all
only some trick of the earth, that it cannot shake spirit.
How can these colours I want to call natureless shine
except they must outshine whatever may shine in my words?
How can I bear their perfection, their apparently deathless and nude
mass of invariant colour, their azure or bubblegum pink?
Envy & rage bind the colours away from my sight
till I surmise them as featureless everyday stuff,
just what is there every day when I walk down the street
holding my work of indifference in furious effort
into my chest and my face as I try not to see what there is.
I must get on with my holiday. I must not waste any time.

Still at the last I return to the shadowless screen.
Still I come back to the terminal screen, as if meaning
were like some reward at the end of a colourless rainbow
or like six units of alcohol waiting for me
when I have finished composing this poem. They are some sweet
injurious drink and appeasement to silence the talkative dead,
silence my talkative organs, my liver, my heart, and my brain.
When these sweet numbers walk through me, I stand into panic,
hearing those voices which my being classified sane
demands I declare to be fictions, demands that I state
always and everywhere not that I hear, but must seem to hear voices,
seem to hear voices which urge me to works of despair.
Yes, but I hear them: yes, but they do not despair.
I hear them demanding I help them to sound and to live.
Now the processional treads through my throat and my palate.
Now it has come from its stations and niches and graveyards
out to this spot in the sun, where I freeze as it exits my mouth.

They depart into nothing, disperse in the limitless air.
Soon it will be just as though they had never been heard.
Now in the calm I can hardly hear even a word
staining the air, can hardly hear even a tuneful
slide or end-glide of them coming across from the sea.
They shall depart into numberless mountain and ocean,
they shall disperse into sky, into rivers and sea.
Now the remembered impossible sound of their voices
gives me no sight of your face: I may not recover
compulsion of love from the feints and the trips and surmises
through to its silent and unpredeterminate name.
Get in the car. I can hear it: I hear its wrong engine
burning the earth, and the note of its fuels and metals.
I no longer deafen myself with their significations,
do not for now send these tones to somebody elsewhere,
even as driving along by the palm-blistered strip

I try once again not to use the wrong side of the road.

About the Author

Simon Jarvis is Gorley Putt Professor of Poetry and Poetics in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge. Recent publications include Wordsworth's Philosophic Song (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and his works in verse, Dionysus Crucified: Choral Lyric for Two Soloists and Messenger (Grasp Press, 2011), F Subscript Zero (Equipage, 2007), The Unconditional: A Lyric (Barque Press, 2005) and the pocket epics 'Erlkoenig' (Chicago Review 55.2) and 'Dinner' (Cambridge Literary Review 4). He lives and works in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.


Category: Issue #3, Poetry | RSS 2.0 Both comments and pings are currently closed. | | Print

nonsite.org is an online, open access, peer-reviewed quarterly journal of scholarship in the arts and humanities.
nonsite.org is affiliated with Emory College of Arts and Sciences.
© 2017 all rights reserved. ISSN 2164-1668