Photo : Audrey Mandelbaum
Light, Earth, and Blue
after Mark Rothko
We were multiple,
like the edge of water breaking
into currents, each waterway
forming a channel, all
concurrent under the bridge.
There was no center to our city
but a series of connections,
sidewalks that meet each other
as time around them flowed.
We stayed awhile. Looked out
beyond belief. Possibilities
rose through the foundation.
We felt the shade warm as minutes
departed in waves, racing
between lane markers, their sure,
dark ascriptions of what has been.
Despite never being able to get
all of time lived into time told,
it was important to tell the story.
We consumed the moment
in which we drove, pushing
close to the present’s edge.
It bore our grief as we shifted
into another night on the town,
another lost star blinking out
over the shimmering river.
There may be a way to tell
what happened, but never
the whole way, the whole
life sliding across the polish
of what was. In the gap
between what we knew
and now, we hold an inch
of what we saw, yet are
each one more than one
can bear. Change unfolds
in the medium. In a dream,
we gaze through kitchen curtains
at the horizon. Somewhere
out there, out beyond the age,
dark matter, nothing
then something. Someone sighs.
A leaf turns golden in the sun.
Crash of the ocean. So full of jasmine
are the days we have only to
breathe to know we are here,
our compounding light shining
more and more as we come close
to where we touch the ground.
White and Greens in Blue
after Mark Rothko
A time to be
in time. Being
placed in time.
to maintain features
so as to hold time near
so as to hold the salient features
near to time. So as to be in a place
or remember there was a place.
So as to stay at the center
where one is most
nearly a self.
So as to be near
the blue-green horizon,
the wandering white cloud.
Orange and Brown
after Mark Rothko
To say there is a start is to say
at one point none of this existed.
But a point includes itself
and that which bore it out, each
extending backward and forward
so much so there is no point
that is the common anchor.
There is what happens one time,
what is said that was never said before,
whoever is wondering around the saying,
as the palms open a little, revealing
vast charters of gulls in the troposphere.
A curve in their ascent points to a world
that is somehow beyond what we thought
we could say or what we know,
who I thought I’d never meet
but found my heart in. The reason
cannot be retained. It matters
but not in the way road signs forewarned.
The way the canoe changed as it entered
the sunlight, how it implicated the body.
Everything could slide into the next
and find more alive there. The risk was that
we’d run amok and find our travels
good only where the sunlight hit
just right on a dark outgrowth of branches.
In the soundless noise of human laughter
I hear the could-be-great hopefulness
surround me, then slip away again
several steps at a time into the understory.
There is nettle and descending night.
The river drifts by with people who insist
on saying hello. Floating beer cans
rotate and bump into the margin.
In good times these points are re-mined
for whatever flickering sediments can be
knocked loose, often years later when
when they happened has been forgotten
and there is only a collection of moments
sandwiched together like particleboard.
Beer pong, looking back,
wasn’t the end of civilization.
Nor were ants glistening in the potato salad,
dying in a sugary gloss, their little
wiggling arms and final speeches
much like our own. The path to redemption
depends on house rules, those notions
that espouse surety but emit confusion,
then disaffection. Things come back
in the rhythm, consoling and refreshing
as the water level lowering and lifting
life vests under a tree. Those sureties
that rotate and depart from the shoreline,
lifelines floating away from us,
bright orange on dark sienna, toward the sea.
It was there you could walk a long while
under the celestial canopy laughing, enjoying the erosion
of ideals, like the pliant, small round reeds unbuckling
from a rattan frame, the bewhiskered points of disjuncture
no longer subject to repair. You could hear the arcing music
in atriums, the elegant leaves of Paradise Palms
opening into shadows of the interior.
What would they think of next, now that all ratios
of Sweet Alyssum and other groundcover to bare earth
had been tried? Same thing with all the concrete slabs.
The surface is paved or not. There is so much left of Earth
or so much gone. So much sense or so much not sense.
The order was spurious, but the people were calm,
untangling their legs from holes in trampolines,
as the mockingbird could stand no longer to be itself,
midway up the air, electrified. There is a famous saying
that encapsulates all or most of this. Happily,
I cannot remember what it is.
Derby in Polymer
Martha was there, Bertha was there, Helen was there,
Tina was there, Sam was there, and so was Steven,
but where were they? Each reassurance sign
duplicated one before it on the roadside
between banks and churches, or high up
on cantilevered gantries. Other indications
were less clear on stretches of America
wept by, three at a time, with bolts
of fabric unwound and truckloads of people
hauled off to institutions of higher earning.
The blues could be heard in branched polymers.
Due the abundance of wrong-way concurrencies,
we could be traveling in nine directions at once,
as the stars reveal their plasma, and our own,
that which appears in the night sky as lightening.
One had to make a decision in life—yet there was time
for worrying in small doses. The distance between Earth
and its destination was closing and would probably
reach the node by May. Getting along had been
suggested and there gathered a faint memory
about why, but it was no brighter than the smallest
indivisible quanta of light. It had to be trapped in a funnel
then photographed to be seen and was too much bother.
While it would be wise for all players to defect at once,
signs so clearly indicated what the world offered each of us,
were we only to see what is possible, what is still
the best way to unwind. It is this distinction between
clean outlines of arrows in retro-reflective sheeting
and sheer confusion that has us jetting ever faster
toward the end, throwing paper bags full of French fries
out the window, singing country love songs,
songs about ski areas and commercial parking spaces
that can be used for a maximum of five minutes
and which are missing wheel chocks.
Songs of food packets jammed
into a jagged crevasse. Fruit jelly portion control cups,
rails of condiment dispensers. Dark cups
of BBQ sauce that go with chicken fingers.
Two grapes still connected in the window
of a Lunchable. Ripping open the packet to find
there’s nothing there, just folded plastic pressed
into contours of air.
Where the curlews are screaming
and the antelope groans, we press ever harder, heaving
and pushing, trying to fill up the universe.
Traveling at such speeds as bends our faces back
it’s hard to see the exit quickly, and many times
with all good intention we find ourselves perplexed,
looking for pills in the glove box, stopped in the roadside
shadows of interchanges.
the place we meant, the clouds jitter along their rails.
Lovers spin in the circling doors of closeout sales.
Your hair is like an explicit flow of information
which takes a while to parse. The Cartesian method
will not do, and the next parking lot’s in Denton.
In your purse I find a pair of special passes
with directions to a telethon. The map
is ripped and there’s an empty Cola in your lap.
Maybe this is exactly what we wanted all along
but lacked the ability to accept; the final sale
of an item to zero inventory. Let’s crank back
the bucket seat and let our fingers do the racing
even though it’s the lines around our smarts they’re tracing.
So far the air is flowing like it was the real world
and we just got back.
In rest areas,
we flick mountains of peelable catsup packets
at passersby, hoping for help, hoping for a good time,
but there is no satisfactory place to put the dispensed,
darkened goo. It bleeds through napkins and is hard to see
where you are going. The road goes this way not that
so even when you’re on a non-directional ramp, trust me,
you’re heading for the Super Bowl. It’s spring there
and someone’s playing—what’s your favorite song?
A Desperate Situation
A shadow crossed the football game
and took all the cheerleaders. “Shit…
wanna get some weed?” But it was
too late. Skirts were whirling in the air,
cameras rising on their cranes,
the field snowed with information.
Like a rug infested with fleas, you could see
news jumping up your legs. Not as funny
as the ultimate outcome, though. That,
they said, was going to flatten Kansas,
the part where Betty and Ingrid live, they
and their so many cousins. Two were lost
and it was night three times hence before
anyone arrived. There in a pasture
of autumn where you’d rather find love,
things are lost that cannot be retrieved.
The door closes and each of us becomes
what someone cares for and cannot find.
“Light, Earth, and Blue” is the title poem of a collection I’ve been working on for some time, which is a series of interactions with Mark Rothko paintings, but this particular poem is roughly about human connection as well as the way in which we exceed both ourselves and the stories we carry about ourselves. “American Proverb” comes from a series of poems called Bikini Factory (which may end up being a section of another MS) and this poem along with “Derby in Polymer” are more about calling out disconnection in American life and concerns I have about the effects of capitalism and media in contemporary American culture. They are perhaps arch, but hopefully speak to the deep feelings of frustration and resistance I have about some aspects of American culture with a sense of humor.
Caley O’Dwyer is poet, visual artist, and teacher living in Los Angeles. He teaches creative writing and psychology at Antioch University Los Angeles and was previously an Associate Professor at the University of Southern California. His poems appear in Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Warwick Review, Curator Magazine, Ekphrasis, Washington Square, and others venues, including the Tate Modern Museum in London. He is a winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize, a three-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, and a recipient of a Helene Wurlitzer grant for poetry. His first book, Full Nova, was published by Orchises Press, and his second, in progress collection, Light, Earth and Blue, features poems written in response to the abstract expressionist paintings of Mark Rothko. He is also working on a novel called The Hollywood Kid. Alongside his teaching and writing, Caley produces visual art at the Brewery Art Complex in downtown Los Angeles, where he also provides postmodern, strength-based psychotherapy as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He can be reached via caleyodwyer.com or caleymft.com.