54 Ice Crystals

Learn to accept a thing before it is named, they say, since the act of naming curtails the potential of process without end

It will neither dress me nor reveal me

If the sentence you’re on breaks in half

It’s just survival, but it can be more

How is one to journey in safety

Thrusting his life-force out of his body with every earth-clogged step

I blind myself to it

Polished floor

Back to the game of polishing

Emotions are never wrong/Reactions to them often are

If you’re too young

That much I’ve learned

Like a gear disengaged

My doppelgänger I am again

A whale

One black one white

Inner space is not infinite

They wave still

And you can do nothing for it

On a tumbling shore

To black memories of crow

For new detergents to try

And you don’t know me at all?

Felt, no, lived, by such bugs

In thought, in thinking, in swatting away

Until they are cast

That man also learned, as a boy

Paint the daisy chain that rushes the four borders much too fast for ordinary eyes

My knees

You could dare to add one more

Ah, ladies

Beyond the black edge of brow

Seeing him eye a Picasso, Rockefeller took the man’s hand and placed it on the impasto

His soul rolled over

Set my wheel to the clock of rain

In the void the opportunity

Your eye

Will surely shine

Sea foam sugar meringue

Take your vitamins, get your exercise

In your pursuit of wholeness

Tremors back and forth gently sawing

Run rough with a god-awful sound

Just like you

A multitude of familiar paths lead off in every direction

Every street in this city is known

The limits of matter

But home was on the Champs-Elysées

Like a color wheel in the hand


One half dangling by a vowel, use that

Form is unavoidable

Taste for waste

And staring out at the neighbor’s tree


No doubt this experiment will appear masturbatory. And perhaps it is. Can I really know the value of this or any other thing I have written? For whom does a mockingbird sing, if not himself and possibly a mate? Unfortunately my mate does not read poetry, so I send my songs out to a potential reader.

Yesterday I finished David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress. I wondered if Kate was mad. But then, if she were the last person on earth, what would madness mean? I read in the afterword that Markson sent the manuscript to 54 publishers before it was accepted.

Then last night I dreamed I wrote a play and wanted to affix its title to it with a piece of masking tape. In the process I said to myself: silly! you can’t tape an ice crystal to a piece of paper! Yet in the dream I saw it as valid to use an ice crystal to name a literary work.

If a work remains unpublished is the text locked in solipsism? Is it all just for me—never mind that poetry is my soul-saving means of responding/engaging on a deep level with the world?

This morning I took my own unpublished poetry manuscript and through a process of counting lines 1 to 54 (first line of first poem, second line of second poem, etc) constructed the above text.

Perhaps a reader will notice that one of the lines sounds like Wittgenstein. That is because one of the poems is the villanelle I constructed from phrases by Wittgenstein. The most surprising result of the experiment, for me, is the sequence:

A multitude of familiar paths lead off in every direction

Every street in this city is known

The limits of matter

But home was on the Champs-Elysées

“A multitude of familiar paths lead off in every direction” being, of course, a phrase of Wittgenstein’s. I’ve never been, by the way, on the Champs-Elysées. The line, however, comes from a poem I have in fact published. And so does one of the other lines. So maybe I’m not after all a complete wanker, as the English call it.

I understand why Kate burned every page of every book after she read it. Yet I know Markson was/is not Kate. And my title won’t melt.

At least not right away.

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7 Responses to 54 Ice Crystals

  1. hedgewitch says:

    I was very struck by this form, Mark, and would never in a million years have guessed how it was created~fascinatingly elliptical but never pointless–perhaps poetry is far more a series of disconnects connected than we ever realize.

    • As I recall there were only two instances when the line, taken out of its original context, couldn’t work. In those cases I took the liberty of including a word or two from its preceding or proceeding lines. I think this works, positively, because of the way I construct my lines: I try very hard to construct strong lines that can hold their own. But then perhaps it also works because my themes aren’t very broad.

      Thank you so much for taking the trouble to read this thing, especially because I suspect You don’t care so much for these types of experiments.

      By the way your comment reminds me of what my favorite living poet, Ashbery, has said about thinking of his own poetry as one long continuous process, and when he produces a single poem he is simply, “snipping off a length”.

  2. Susan Scheid says:

    You had me, actually, at the first two lines. I suppose because the closure caused by naming things has been (and is often) much on my mind–how it stops, rather than encourages, discussion, how it keeps us embedded in our assumptions, rather than, as we need to do, testing them. The whole poem is like that, for me (and of course I thought of Ashbery’s most “collagist” poems–how the friction between the lines sets off sparks). “Inner space is not infinite”: I could ponder that all day. “Form is unavoidable.” That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Or is it? Keep going, Mark, please do keep on snipping off lengths.

  3. Brendan says:

    Sorry to get by here late and rarely, hope you’ve been well — I read the poem straightforwardly as I’m sure you expected — the random-ish collation of line-entries approximated the painterly way I’ve read you previous work. The angst of process I read as similar to your embrace of difficult music — that dissonance of query subsumes into mellifluence of delivery. It’s a jazz, and Bill Evans was right that all we can do is take the next step and discover what’ there.

    (From “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans”: “It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and [knows] that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and that he has to enjoy the step-by-step learning procedure. They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general [that] they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.”)

    I tried to find a language for Charlie Parker recently in “Fling Wide the Bird of Summer,” but I’m a lousy discerner of spirits. Jilting Jesus for Jimmy Page all those years ago, turning “Since I Been Loving You” into Miss December. I’ll never make sufficient amends to the world.

    And that ice crystal for me was pure Frost (pun accidentally intended) if, as he sd., the poem must ride on its own melting. So many roads there, some of them fruitful.

    My other doesn’t read my work, either. It does drive you out looking for readers, but it also drives one underground. I’ve learned (I hope I have) to make that a sanctum of bats and saints and readers who are paler than ghosts.

    Best —

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I’d love to think my poetry is akin to jazz since improvisation is the mode I admire most (the mockingbird is my spirit animal, after all).

  4. Pingback: Of Ice Crystals and Flaming Hearts | The Mockingbird Sings

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