Special Feature Issue: ROBERT KELLY

                             Introduction by RON SILLIMAN

"Robert Kelly" by Phong Bui

About Peep/Show #5

There is a mind    
beyond my mind 
     and all I do is shape 
what it comes      

        through me to become

This is a fascinating, curious project, in that one of our finest poets this past half-century responds to a text that, for all purposes, is not present for us to examine. Eidetic to the invisible, an Other that stands as a third term or node in the communication between poet & reader. This of course is always the case whether we recognize it or not, admit it or not. But seldom if ever have I seen/heard/read it invoked so fully. This is a dance not with absence – as all the old posties might have it – but with immanence unseen but palpable. For which our evidence is precisely these texts.

    It is not possible to “have a thought” simply because the routes through the brain, from synapse to synapse, are not fixed. The same sequence of words can reach their destination in a vast – potentially infinite – number of ways. What then is mind? And, as Kelly asks (the quotation marks are his), “What is syntax?”

      Whatever your answer, this dance between apprehension & comprehension makes for a powerful music, one that we hear only in the arc carved by the dancer.

                                                                                               Ron Silliman



      Lattices Inspired
      & other sequences


      Author's Note:  This serial poem arose as marginalia to Mariya Mitkova’s thesis, Squares on Lattices: an Investigation Inspired by the Square Peg Problem, 2012.  The procedure in the present text was as follows:  I read the text, following its argument as well as I could.  Then I read without such ambition, and wrote down whatever the text brought to mind.  A text shares with its reader responsibility for whatever reading the former brings to the latter’s mind.  We live in a cognitive world of shared responsibility.  Or as Bernhard says, man ist selbst schuld.

                          We do not know

                          know how to touch.

                          A simple planar curve
                          closes us out

                          What we conceive
                          never encloses us
                          anything but us

                          we are excluded by what we think
                          from what we are.


                          So all this while I was searching
                          for the flesh of number—wrong
                          looking, wrong touching—when maybe
                          number has no flesh or
                          no number has or is flesh

                          but flesh is pure relationship
                          between— numbers
                          are excited vertices
                          of a mysterious figure—
                                                              immense polyptope—

                          flesh is relation.


                          Lattice version of the problem: 
                          touch is marriage.

                          And there can be
                          a measure that
                          does not measure

                          non-finite distance
                          between an event and itself.


                          Read until something happens

                          This is the song of Creation,
                          that old bible tune
                          for all nations and all alphabets,

                          the mind the mind the silver mind
                          turns gold in listening—

                          keep reading till something happens.


                          I intersect myself
                          some part of me is always
                          isolate from the rest

                          I derive from myself

                          How do I reach the closed
                          domains brought in by
                          self-intersection?  This is
                          Plato’s secret quest.
                          Porphyry’s, Proclus’s.
                          Mathematics of the soul.


                          Trivial means exemplary,
                          foreplay, fake unities:
                          look at me, I am obvious,
                          I am the size of myself.


                          The plane suddenly begins to quiver, the sky alters:
                          Down here, men and women pour out of the cathedral
                          and fill up the market square—this is called ‘shrinking’.
                          There are cheese sellers and peddlers of oatstraw brooms,
                          we hear them singing in the slender spaces
                          left between the church bells’ bellowing.


                          Art needs to prove
                          only what is not the case.

                          Proof of what is not
                          yet the case.  Control
                          the future.  The uncanny
                          feels around your heart.

                          Stalin on the Black Sea coast
                          stared south through mist
                          remembering homeland music.
                          A tear in his eye.  Seagull cry.


                          Could I  not be part of me.

                          Which part?
                          Sing a line from end to end
                          call it song:  The Intersections 
                          (so self may sleep.)


                          So easily it says
                          ‘increase the number of’
                          things, things
                          hover over our voice
                          a little while
                          then vanish.

                          Who is a woman?
                          Who is a man?
                          Do they differ only
                          in the number of their vertices?

                          And then we heard far off
                          Wisdom crying from the Desert
                          I fall through the lattice
                          I am divided!


                          The base case of the trivial square
                          adores me—I am its little god
                          it dreams of me on its rigid pillow—
                          it sleeps in daytime—it sighs
                          for my vertices,  but I am far
                          away, I am intersected.


                          If a square is a door
                          the sea comes in.
                          Wet-ankled mathematics,
                          pale students of the moon.

                          But if the square is a window
                          or a mother or a willow
                          wind howls and things
                          ease up outside, things
                          soon enough turn into trees.
                          Again. An even number of trees.


                          I have a song
                          so in my song
                          the words are notes
                          they have no meaning
                          outside of it,

                          thus middle D (say) can take its place in most any music, sturdy, aggressive,

                          never meaning
                          more than itself

                          (just like a man
                          she’ll say)
                          more than its pitch
                          that sudden marriage
                          between spine and soul.


                          Some vertices always
                          left out?  A little
                          boy crying in a Paris
                          park because his
                          nanny’s busy
                          flirting with Americans,

                          and so in grief and loss
                          languages are learned.

                                                                                      (Strauss’s rising ninths—
                                                                                      a wind in the heart)


                          Wind up the desert
                          and let it run—
                          will it not all too soon
                          be full of alphabets?

                          A book is a battle
                          in the endless campaign
                          to exhaust the alphabet.

                          A square is something
                          that remembers.


                          Partial to quinces
                          grandmother discovered
                          that boiling them four hours
                          yielded a deep red vinous fruit
                          hitherto unknown to her
                          and sweeter than anybody knew,

                          just as cooking green cabbage
                          hour after hour finally extracts
                          the great elixir:  the Oil of Water.


                          On a square plate
                          an egg has been cracked
                          and now pools out
                          “the way they do”

                          we stand close each other
                          by the kitchen counter
                          admiring the egg—
                          the curves, the slow expanse,
                          the golden dome
                          above the quivering plain!
                          Later that night
                          we dreamt each other’s face.


                          If I have counted correctly
                          I’m the only one here.

                          Or are you here too
                          reading this poor line?


                          A multiplicity of squares
                          inhabiting a lattice
                          generates a tangle.

                          The square is circled.
                          Alchemy is undone.

                          In The Dream, Puck
                          snickers, sweeps
                          the mess behind the door.


                          The lover cries out, Let a simple closed lattice
                          curve with no vertices that we suppose.
                          and both are cold.  Nothing is in us but us.


                          Then I knew the stars had come
                          take up their places on the grid
                          53rd St and Fifth Avenue, Sixth
                          Avenue and 8th Street, Bleecker
                          and Macdougal, Lenox and One
                          hundred twenty fifth, we know
                          the places where they shone
                          when there was still nighttime
                          in the old city.  The meek angels
                          stood among us and taught us
                          to reason and to rhythm and to sing,
                          every number was a friend then
                          and every friend was full of honey
                          and everybody loved us, every
                          body told us what we had to do.


                          Break a seven reverently
                          break it like a stick
                          undistracted and understand:
                          wind in the woods
                          a woman’s running
                          for her life, no one’s chasing.
                          Nothing follows.  She
                          runs because running is.


                          And in each triangle
                          we find a particular
                          Deity—eyes and mouth
                          and arms—to guide us.
                          All the triangles fit
                          together, some by
                          adjacency to the central
                          Trine, others by
                          therein or thereon.
                          When all the triangles
                          have come to rest
                          the completed figure
                          pronounces a verb
                          in Old Canaanite.
                          The light is let.
                          The world is made.
                          This is the first card of the Tarot.


                          Add one card to the next
                          until the word is spelled.
                          You are not disappointed
                          even though you have heard
                          the word spoken once before.
                          I whispered it in your dream
                          the counting numbers one to ten
                          and I was not even me.


      Suppose we are identical mirror images of each other.  Suppose the sun comes  up and has something to say because we do.  Out of sleep we come up from the bottom by ones.  If we slept forever there would be no world. This is the Null-Darwin lemma.

      Where is the hidden triangle that interlaces with the visible?  Where is the triangle that interlaces with what is not me, but makes me me? 

      The Temple was destroyed seven decades after Christ was born.  We have been dispersed through all the world, all the names, all the religions, operas, symphonies, hypotheses, theorems, formulas, legislations.  Anti-semitism arises from our dimly-intuited realization that we all are Jews, always were, always will be.  And how can we live with ourselves?


      Four:  in fourth grade I voted for the little girl with yellow hair, Zelda was her name.  She became class president.  My whole life I have voted for color every time.  Never for number. Yet color is only the shimmering numbers of light. And in the ångstroms of desire I have counted out my peace.


      The colors of human hair are mapped to the counting numbers 0 – 9.  When the key is known, every drunken party becomes a sonorous equation, every city an uneasy sorites of code.


                          Rectangles make me think about other things—
                          the filled-in rectangle has no room in it
                          for us to think.  And to think is to be.


                         There is a fountain where it still says this.
                          Romans built the stone of it on water they uncovered.
                          Byzantines extracted salts from its steady flow
                          and from those halogens came alchemy by Araby.
                          The Russians set the salts to music and Third Rome sang—
                          and now of words we build Fourth Rome in the air.


                          Everything is strange.
                          A rectangle is triangles in holy intercourse.


                          Counting from the top this time, a lamb will lead them.
                          This is the religion of those who have forgotten how to kill
                          but have learned a strange new thing along the way.


                          The outside can be expressed as that which is always waiting.


      I drove through Rorschach once, a sober darkling sort of town, I liked it.  The lake beside it told me almost everything I know.  They call it the Foundation, the water at the bottom of the world.  A little south of here, in some clement cave among the gently rising foothills the human race began.  If you dip a cup in the water of that inland sea you see that water’s made of crystalline letters and numbers, separate but equipollent, swimming amongst each other, shiningly signifying, uncountable numbers, uncountable words, whispering yet trying to count each other in every sip.  It cools your thirst like no other water.  The Romans called this region Constancy.


      The logician clad in filmy veils of number will not respect me for making so little of so much she’s made clear about the shapes in which we live.  Try as I may to cleave to a straight line (that luminous result of Pappus’ Theorem), every vertex sends me arrowing off into some other director.  A square is terrible because it says everything at once, and at equal volume, equal moral force.


                          A ratio (a little bird told me,
                          a dead bluebird between me
                          and an artist, we were being
                          filmed by some English
                          enterprise, I spoke of her work
                          and the bird lay there, blue,
                          inert, but made us both remember
                          what such a thing was like
                          when it possessed the air, made me
                          know all at once the wrongness
                          that sometimes haunts me
                          or that I haunt, hoping, measuring),
                          a ratio is a bad thing, a one-night stand
                          among strangers, strange numbers.
                          It connects but it doesn’t mean,
                          it joins but does not marry. 
                          It is the sad shadow of thinking.
                          At last you know (the bird said)
                          what the mind thinks
                          is not what thinks the mind.


                                                                          to Nous
                          Let them love me
                          for what you make me say.
                          For I was Orpheus
                          and you are.

                          There is a mind
                          beyond my mind
                          and all I do is shape
                          what it comes

                          through me to become.
                          Or I became.

                          The Greeks said autos,
                          allos, self and other—
                          I am (you make me be)
                          the opposite of autistic,

                          I am allistic,
                          your voice in my mouth.

                          all I care for
                          is what  you feel
                          (you make me  feel).


                                                                             to Doubt

                          Maybe.  Room for doubt
                          out there but not in me.

                          Let me believe
                          in my heart
                          the words in my mouth

                          till they all come out
                          but maybe no longer.

                          Sing this to the tune
                          of squealing brakes or better
                          sportcars laying rubber

                          as they accelerate.
                          Fast red car soon out of human sight.


                                                                                    to Mnemosyne

                          The unicursal pentagram
                          remembers my father.
                          The bus comes by
                          remembering Brooklyn.

                          Wind tosses new-leaf’d branches,
                          the old sticks move again,
                          the wind can find me now,
                          move me.  The road

                          is empty, remembering the back of my mind.


                                                                                  to Hekate

                          The cry of faeces from the dark of the gut
                          like bats rushing at dawn into that cave in Yucatan
                          not their voices sound but the sound of their wings
                          the leather multiplicities by which it moves.
                          Wind makes the body dark inside, all the light
                          sucked out by the world that passes.
                          Therefore to the dark goddess the insides pray
                           because they are invisible like Her.
                          All that stuff inside waiting to come out.
                          All the emptiness on both sides of the skin.
                          Nobody knows us.  The gods themselves
                          don’t know what to make of us, aren’t sure
                          if they created us or not.  Or if we just were.
                          Just are.  But She knows.  Therefore we pray
                          to Her who wraps us in Her long sweet unknowing.



                                                                         to Borea

                          To the North and what’s beyond
                          from which all serviceable thoughts arise
                          and sweep down to us on greeny shimmer
                          of aurora—now you see it now you don’t
                          on summer nights sometimes at Blithewood,
                          or on the high meadow courting suddenly
                          you see the seams of the sky come open,
                          we see the sky beyond the sky and know.
                          They tell us the far north is mostly white,
                          I would not know, but I have seen
                          Baffinland and Labrador alive
                          with green and blue ice that seemed
                          to me no different from the northern lights
                          but they hold still, as if those high
                          electric hues had come to visit us and stayed.
                          I say all color is from the North
                          and from color all human thought is made,
                          I swear to god we think the way we see.



                          merchandise mind
                          middleman personality

                          a door and then again
                          “What is syntax?”

                          the way words fit breath
                          in moist necessity

                          so go to church
                          once in a while

                          humans structure-shy
                          addicted to architecture

                          addicted to air
                          this strange planet

                          every word has another
                          meaning in the dark
                          simplest sentence a cryptogram
                          a message from your mother

                          always died yesterday
                          every orphan morning

                          child hears clock talk
                          man accumulates

                          Homo collector
                          in the museum of money

                          land on your feet
                          as if you were here

                          sly touch of sunlight
                          don’t tell too much

                          nutritious the secret
                          the arcane sustains you

                          how silent sun!
                          isn’t dark a kind of noise

                          watched intently
                          till nothing left to see

                          that was you
                          chasubled in glance

                          go with the thought
                          to be another country

                          to be gone
                          into strange seeming

                          how can there  be
                          a place that  is not here.

                                                                  Ishtar, Alcestis, Orpheus

                          What could we or dare.
                          The rock admits us
                          to the afterlight.
                          The chained dog barks.
                          The wife has come
                          to woo her husband home,
                          offer herself instead
                          for that interminable
                          conversation of being dead.
                          The gods of such matters
                          listen.  The dog
                          stops barking, correct
                          behavior on both sides.
                          The gods decide.
                          And that is how we live,
                          in the everlasting moment
                          of their deciding.  Is she
                          dead already, is he alive
                          again.  Are we living.
                          We have come into halls
                          confused with shadows,
                          ill-equipped to judge
                          (like Rilke’s angels)
                          the living from the dead.
                          The girl has given
                          the man receives.
                          Whose life am I living?
                          And this body too
                          seems to belong to another.
                          No images in hell,
                          only propositions.
                          Syntax feeding on itself.
                          We stumble in midair.


                          Fenceposts in the  rain
                          and it was not, is not,

                          raining.  All the trees in leaf
                          now and the pregnant moon

                          uneasy with my staring.
                          Diplopia.  A disease

                          of novelists, fiction
                          ages you, aged infants,

                          I could keep you up all night
                          complaining.  Explaining

                          all the  waters of Babylon
                          fill this glass.

                          Trimming grass by the fence
                          for no good reason—

                          lament with me
                          the broken harp

                          the hare-lip flute
                          its fipple frail,

                          its whistle
                          nowhere.  Listen,

                          you keep me up all night
                          in dubious mindfulness,

                          build my pyramid
                          at least and give a name

                          to what is only me,
                          you make me mean.

                          You are the map
                          but where is the territory?

                          Men remember what they’re told
                          women what they surmise

                          a tree is honesty
                          the sun is courtesy

                          beauty distracts me from the truth
                          to be orthodox

                          you stand in heaven
                          hour after hour on Sundays,

                          a naked woman serves me soup
                          I eat it gladly, I am not me

                          but all the while the priests
                          are busy at their drone

                          a god that is language
                          issues from their furry lips

                          o god you are these words
                          hummed in my head

                          can I ever believe what I hear
                          are we all not the same

                          the cross-less crucified
                          in mid-air pierced

                          by gamma-particles
                          every moment wounds

                          the last one kills
                          we stand beneath

                          in gold mosaic
                          a dome frowns down

                          now you are another dream
                          around me in sleep

                          my lover’s fingertips
                          touch my arm

                          waking is a form
                          of speaking, in strange

                          happiness fall
                          asleep again

                          so the dawn of the philosophers
                          amounts to us

                          assuming there is no one
                          else, assuming brightness

                          is natural whatever
                          that sad old word actually means

                          something (I guess)
                          that isn’t (entirely) me.

      * * *
      (These three sequences were composed in April & May 2012 in Annandale, NY).


      Robert Kelly: “I'm working this summer on several projects:  fine tuning the long poem (possibly called The Hexagon). third part to the trilogy of Fire Exit and Uncertainties.  Editing a collection of recent shorter poems.  Editing a collection of my essays, reviews, and manifestos.  Writing a series of responses to paintings by Nathlie Provosty, and a series of responses to the photographs of Susan Quasha.”

      More here: