Who Troubles the Waters?

I do not know a way to characterize David Abel’s work so that I do it justice, and I mean that as a very high compliment. I have seen works by him that look like musical or performance scores (and indeed may be approached as such); I have seen works by him that look like poems on the page; I have seen works by him in which each page is a screen or curtain over another and another, and the wonders keep revealing themselves as one turns pages. In other words, David Abel hails from Basho through John Clare through Marcel Duchamp through Jackson Mac Low. He pays attention to earth and sky, yet he looks at them as though there are wonders yet to be discovered, by skewing the lens, or combining Q with Y, or simply by paying attention for a little bit longer. He does pay attention for great lengths of time, and such time he deserves from his audience as well, as we will be rewarded.

In the current work, we begin “in” states of extremity “intolerable” and “ineradicable.” Yet we turn to see ourselves and remember “How I used to laugh at the mirror!” (104) In other words, we live in the world, as humans in time, and it is only in time that we can understand the extremes and also become one with them, “in the fold.” Change, the day to day, the counting of breaths, the notice of shadows, the rupture of living, constitutes the being of these poems. But while some other poet might make a high drama of such moments, Abel’s great triumph is to lead us, with language, to understand something fairly Buddhist about the progress of our days. I say “with language” because even a sound can take us toward understanding. Here, the sound is that made by “ure” in

            a fissure
            is a rupture
            that is part rapture,
            part scripture

            a facture
            that captures
            the azure
            in a texture


We may live in folds and fissures, but we also live in our utterances, and Abel’s work is a reminder of the pleasures of uttering a word such as “gusset.” (147)

This may sound like a catalogue of simple pleasures and attentions, but a trip through the work will belie such a notion, because “behind” and “beneath” take us not only into our own underworlds, but into “the pain of others” and places where there are “ghosts” and a growing “cyclone” that may engulf us, songbirds and all. (225)

I had thought I might try to write a real introduction to the work, as a whole, of David Abel. But to invoke one of his favorite poets, Robert Creeley (who can also be found within this work), in writing of another poet, “Not even a sunrise could quite manage that.” Yet the sun itself, shining over and around objects, creates shadows, and “The shadow is a placeholder / for the double.” My double, your double, we all have others, we all have shadows. You will find many of them here, in the words and between the words, “out of the corner of the eye.” (259)

One could live with these poems every day, again and again.

                                        --Charles Alexander
                                          16 July 2014






          Intolerable joy, ineradicable pain
          living in the fold,
          as time turns on its contours

          How I used to laugh at the mirror!


          red coupe behind black
          beside the house
          familiar tree:

          is it changed
          by eyes, ears, feet, feelers?

          manipulated ground
          “weeds happen”

          leaf-blowers, lawn-mowers,
          rakes, weed-eaters, edgers,
          ladders, trash barrels, tree doctors

          the whole world green
          with envy


          lightly roasted green tea
          sewn into a flower

          at bottom

          sewn to pages
          (pages sewn to leaves)

          Parque Xicotencatl

          has a number —
          you count your paces
          or I count my breaths,
          and the campesinos with their brooms
          sweep the paths of the calendar


          the shadows
          of true gaps


          the book as a machine for exaggerating threshold

          spooky shoes


          for T.F.

          a fissure
          is a rupture
          that is part rapture,
          part scripture

          a facture
          that captures
          the azure
          in a texture





          Mini Essay
          for Joe Brainard

          “Gusset” is a word that makes me happy just to know it.


          it’s the odds —    or the gods —




          We are haunted by our real-life.


          the shade of our error          

          the horse that isn’t a horse until we name it


          The Generations of Electricity


          Not “Her” veil —
          for which all literal veils are metaphors

          another sense precedes
          my metaphysics —

          we make things,
          that’s what we do


          She likes the expression: life is densely filled, and she loves the densely filled life 
          that is hers and the pleasure she takes in it, she loves people who share this 
          pleasure with her, without affectation or gloom.


          The Actual Teaching Practice of the School of Agility

                      It is significant that Zacconi speaks of the ornament of 
                      the repeated attack on the same note as the true door 
                      for entering into the art of passages . . .

          The chain of events which results in the publication of certain books is often
          wrought from links of coincidence. One of the most interesting phases of
          American history embraces the removal of 60,000 Indians from the southern
          states and their adaptation to a new home within what is now the State of
          Oklahoma. If The Other Fifties were to realize its intent, few Americans would be
          able to think of the 1950s as either simple, innocent, happy, unanimously
          supportive of a broad spectrum of beliefs, or radically separated from the 1960s
          by a culture of complacence. A new book by Richard Foreman is an event, but I
          think that this book will astonish. When early writers told of the West and
          Southwest, they were, with few exceptions, writing of a region east of the
          Mississippi River. In relation to his true stature, Arnold Bax is now far and away
          the most neglected British composer who flourished in the first half of the century.
          Before reading this book, you should know a few facts about me. When an event
          in history leaves behind a priceless piece of itself—a journal page, a map, a
          leather shoe, a ship’s wooden skeleton—it is something worth noting. For the
          past three summers, bystanders on the waterfront of the Egyptian city of
          Alexandria have been treated to an unusual sight. “What? Alexander dead?
          Impossible! The world would reek of his corpse!”


          the behind or beneath
          of mutually exclusive desires

          “true” aspiration

          if I believed in writing, dreaming,
          assured of having everything in time

          if I believed the pain of others
          did not indict me

          From the Polish

          They were already ghosts, those two.
          Years later, in another country,
          name trimmed and oiled back,

          From Another Tongue

          The unfamiliar words wrapped around your ears
          like the newspaper clutching the feet of less
          fortunate girls on the high street,

          To the Yiddish

          Do songbirds tell me more
          than the idling engine?
          Out in the warm waters, a cyclone matures.


          The view was, who knows, probably pretty.


          The destruction of the body —
          last prepositions.

          About face.

          Coffee —
          Salami and eggs —
          A fishing knot —
          A figure of speech —

          Will you testify to my intentions?
          My testicles intestate.
          Terrified on your best day.
          My respite from abstention.
          Will you transliterate my confessions?
          My unspoken word.

          My literal father is dead.
          My literal mind a dead end.
          Hunger will always hover behind every taste.
          The hard labor of the other always goes unnaturalized.
          Endlessly disposing we have displaced the world we so briefly, so blissfully were
               alien to.
          Only the buses left to remind our ears of the sea.

          Fare well, Nature.          
          Fare well, Nature.


          I bought a Talking Love Stamp Parrot
          for my Smelling Nose Dog

          Kitchen magnets
          for cancer survivors

          Support our stockbrokers


          “the die is cast”

          an exhibit of dies


          She can’t sleep
          The chimes surround the loft, sirens at open windows and doors, the bed aloft an
                island a raft she can’t stay strapped to its missing/insistent mast
          Sirens also speed through her incomprehension
          Wind itself — before it borrows bodies of metal, wood, water — rouses her from
                feverish dreams
          Dreams she refuses, again and again, each refusal taking root in another quarter
                of her body, signal fires lighting the night —
          Until she opens her eyes and cries out no one’s name

          A socket in a ceiling
          A cord between table and heaven, bringing the outside-in outside again
          Doors and windows open to suddenly cool night air in the regressed café
          The chessplayers: gendered, tattooed thought

          The season’s first scarf
          How many holes can culture make in a wall (before the wall is repaired)
          We only know partitions, here in the lab

          Larger and smaller than a clock
          The science of credence unprized
          Septic wonders of the world

          She traced the edges of her lips with her fingertips as a necessary corollary of
                speech subsumed

          New ladies seen ailing here
          None dies in line
          New diet sins straight

          The jacket again (black, leather, lining torn)
          The stain (suede, defiled)

          All scheduled light a work against the unnameable
          (whose lungs burn so that this hand can cast its moving shadow?)
          Whose sleeping child’s meal is warmed by the stabbing pain that tears through
                your side?
          The alternative energy of death


          No day without a limit


          Most of the talking goes on in North America.
          Diarrhea — second to heart disease.
          Let’s not talk about it (for 23 years).
          Chris D. started a commie blog.
          I want to re-embrace deeper pleasures,
          but I’m lazy (or am I just afraid?).
          I thought about telling all my secrets
          (including the unremarkable ones) —
          if I lecture you on a subject of serious importance,
          you will cease to exist. Then I’ll see you?
          800 million heartbeats — is that enough?
          The corpse flower, titan arum, lives just one day.
          (But not any particular day.)


          Perhaps I will find my dark silence now.

          It is midnight
          and your birthday arrives unannounced
          six feet six, without knocking

          I’m washing dishes
          I’m washing the cracked bowl
          it is always midnight, here
          in your birthday, the dark side
          of the moon of your bright death

          it has already been midnight
          everywhere else, you were born
          and you died everywhere but here
          until this moment, here, in the space
          between all the languages you wore
          like a giant

          Does she wait for you,
          bajo la luna
          you see her
          with your voice
          your delirious darkness
          lit by a Cuban cigar


          Meek School Garden Club Box


          1882: US Navy destroys the Tlingit village of Angoon


          Nietzsche: the nerves of Shelley, the stomach of Carlyle, and the soul of a young lady.

          a ghost
          at the rehearsals
          of a life that was
          not to be


          This island is no bigger
          than your broad back —

          you wear it
          like a summer shirt,
          the names tatooed across
          your chest and shoulders —
          Barceloneta . . . Cordova . . .
          stuffed with thousands

          because inevitable

          lost in time

          It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who
          undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but
          tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearthside from which we set
          out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest
          walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to
          send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.


          the train runs beside my life —
          lines that don’t meet
          except in the ear,
          words to a song
          from my parents’ childhood


          The shadow is a placeholder
          for the double

          sustaining energy
          the dark side of the moon
          out of the corner of the eye

          who dances, who upsets, who troubles the waters, who tells the story, who sings,
          who watches in silence, who carries the news, who feeds the children, who sees
          double, who gets lost, who finds the next safe haven by getting lost, who never
          begins, who takes the reins, who calculates the equinox, who heals the sick, who
          dies, who dies to die, who lives to die, who lives to live to die to die


Author's Note on

I embarked on this open-ended sequence nearly ten years ago. A collage of poetry, prose, and quotation, it is in equal parts journal, poem-sequence, and commonplace book; essentially, everything that I write that doesn't insist on its own autonomy is fair game to be incorporated into the ongoing drafts. Earlier sections appeared in Hubbub and are forthcoming in the second issue of pallaksch, pallaksch. The sections reproduced here include borrowings (in italics) from Marguerite Duras, Endi Hartigan, Christa Wolf, Czeslaw Milosz, Salvatore Sciarrino, Witold Gombrowicz, and Henry David Thoreau.


David Abel is the author of Float, a collection of collage texts spanning twenty-five years (Chax Press); Tether, a chapbook of poems (Barebone books); and Carrier, a hypergraphic visual sequence (c.L. Books), as well as numerous artist's books and chapbooks, most recently Elysian Ellipses and Shawarma Tractor. With Sam Lohmann, he publishes the Airfoil chapbook series. He is a founding member of the Spare Room reading series, now in its thirteenth year. An inaugural Research Fellow of the Center for Art + Environment of the Nevada Museum of Art, he curated the exhibitions Chax Press: Publishing Poetics for the Pacific NW College of Art and Object Poems for 23 Sandy Gallery. He lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works as an editor and is the proprietor of Passages Bookshop.

Charles Alexander is a poet, publisher, and book artist. He is the director and editor-in-chief of Chax Press, one of the only independent presses which specializes in innovative poetry and the book arts.