Tuesday, January 31, 2017



(Dos Madres Press, Loveland, OH, 2015)

re-Membering the Mix of Time’s Pulsing

I’ve just come from a long dip in enriched waters authored by Paul Pines, a pretty recent collection of poetry by him, MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST (Dos Madres Press, 2015).  Of great curious good moment throughout this volume is the matter of Memory, a mystery of august breadth and promise that is taken by the poet through a host of changes.  For Pines, memory is a dynamic, a cauldron, a witching lure, a weeping and a singing.  It is a final/final promise of being, becoming itself.  He has written this book of poetry to celebrate that.

Not that this book is made up of poetry exclusively.  There are prose pieces scattered as guidelines throughout, and these prose pieces are crucial to shedding insight into the matter of the book’s central tension : Memory, the poet warns us, in an opening prose salvo, is not a “retrieval bin” of lost moments, but the womb of creation.  He quotes Socrates’ last words :  “Please don’t forget to pay the debt.” 

Pines’ poetry speaks of the “sound // a wall of silence / makes when it falls” . . . this is the beginning of poetry for the estimable Mr Pines, an inscrutable locale “to hold / what can’t be // contained by / memories ” . . . right there, at the very start of this book’s journey, a new dispensation for what poetry can achieve – conflated with memory not as container but as cauldron,  the poem implies creation :

“a stranger //  to myself / anchored // and adrift / on folded wings // an angel bound / by the desire // to summon / what is // beyond / recall ”

“go back to bed / try to sleep // then wake / to eavesdrop // On a perpetual / conversation // in my head / That speaks // me into life / again ”

Those lines above, fragmented via my crude quotations, are but threads that weave in and out of a 6-part poem entitled “ANDREW WYETH ENTERS HEAVEN,” a poem that finds the poet abed beside his Lady, restless as the dark witching lure of sleeplessness begs him forth, both numb and alert, again and again.

Why the painter Andrew Wyeth, you might well ask, only to be pulled into the light by the very next poem, “ANDREW WYETH ENTERS HEAVEN, II’:

“the created world / as light-catcher // let light call forth /
the dead // as stones / in our orchards // breakers /
along our shore // as waves / breaking against //
our nakedness / on a summer day // as what commands /
light because // it wounds us / with its brilliance ”

That the light might “call forth” is the weeping alarum made flesh by the poem; that light’s brilliance not only alarms but that it also wounds with brilliance . . . what’s
being recollected by the poem actively threatens any sense of containment, yes?  We are somewhere else when we are in the throes of this kind of Memory  . . .

Having encountered the above, we are yet a bit more than a third into the book when we come to the poem entitled A MESSAGE FROM THE MEMOIRIST, no doubt the source of the book’s title.  This is a scary poem, and a first pivot point for the collection as a whole :

“the Genius / who begins to whisper /
in our ear as soon as our lips / touch Lethe //
and we drop / screaming / into the / world”

That so-called Genius might well be the Great Real World itself, as Pines then proceeds to skip about, from Brooklyn’s Carl Furillo/Jackie Robinson-era Ebbets Field of his youth, on to the death by gunshot, in Detroit, of Eddie Jefferson, most beloved be-bop hoofer-cum-vocalese innovator from Pines’ time as the Bowery jazz club owner/operator of the now-legendary Tin Palace:

“recording / in the breakdown / of radiated atoms /
a new understanding / of the relationship / between matter /
and energy // the unpredictable / dance //
of particle / and wave ”

Talk about contained memories, eh?  And what an oh-so fine tribute to the late jazz great.  Or take this, a 10-couplet poem, reprinted whole :

- Again, for Douglas

Holding on to something
past but still alive inside

one forgets and then
when one remembers

it seems so important
not to forget again

I want to say that
forgetting is a merciful act

but when what is recalled
feels essential to being

who one is in the present
I am not so sure

it isn’t more like
finding Chinatown

has spilled over
on to East Broadway

and there are ducks
in the window

of what used to be
Moishe’s diner

The poet’s faith is tested by Time’s ruination, and who’s to say that memory does not add to that misery? Onward the poet Paul roams, everywhere from CATCHER IN THE RYE to Chance the Gardener, T.S. Eliot, Robert Redford, and Pines’ own maestro-bellwether, Carl Jung :

“Jung / didn’t / have to // read Jung / to become / Jung”

By which time the poet has become old, as becalmed as an ancient jalopy, marooned in comfy Glens Falls with shelves of precious learning and a need to round thru a series of toasts, before the book’s finale.  These toasts are warm-hearted but inscrutable, each one dedicated, as were the book’s earlier poems, to first-name-only companeros from the poet’s past :

“re/minds me / to listen for // what follows / instead of //
a thud / a graced note // a touch / unanswered”

The toasts are themselves grace notes, farewells of a sort, part of the book’s final section, A C(L)OCK FOR ASKLEPIOS . . . note how the poet has inserted that parenthetical “L” – it is a deliberate visual cue meant to infuse the ancient proscription
contained in the complete death scene last words of Socrates, quoted in full at the book’s start : 

“Crito, we owe a cock to Asklepios.  Please don’t
forget to pay the debt.”  (from Phaedo)

The “L” that the poet has inserted makes of the ancient injunction a new figure, and one that is reprinted as a diagrammatic painting depicting The World Clock of Wolfgang Pauli, as rendered by W. Beyers-Brown, at the end of the book.  Paul Pines thus concludes his poetic celebration of Memory with a most provocative representation of Time . . . the painting makes of Time three distinct circulating pulses, the middle pulse of which is anchored by four discrete, hooded figures in black, each figure hefting a pendulum.  The World Cock of the painting is supported upon a black bird in flight.

‘Tis the poet’s own fugit, layered and spiraling, a gyre in his Mind’s Eye, and this, his book of pulses. 


Ralph La Charity’s first book of poetry was MONKEY OPERA, published jointly in 1979 by San Francisco’s Bench Press and Kent, Ohio’s Shelly’s Press.  His most recent flat spine book was FAREWELLIA a la Aralee, published in 2014 by Dos Madres Press of Loveland, Ohio, from which his most recent collection, litanies said handedly, will be forthcoming shortly.  He can be contacted at https://www.facebook.com/ralph.lacharity.

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