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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 3, September 2012

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Charles Tarlton
Oakland, California, USA


Ten Digressions on Wallace Stevens

1. Of a Kind

It is not to be seen beneath the appearances
That tell of it. The steeple at Farmington
Stands glistening and Haddam shines and sways.

                                                 —Wallace Stevens

Professor Titus led the seminar on teaching. He covered all the important things—like dressing to look older, you know, tweedy jackets and ties, learning to walk around the front of the room, but never getting so far from your notes that you couldn’t just stroll by them to pick up the thread, and, finally, this: “Find an earlier book on the subject of your course, take it out of the library and keep it out. Base all your lectures on it.”

peas in a pod
remember when you slipped me
the handshake
we stood in a room full
of Sultans, none the wiser

we had agreed
never to talk politics
so we could fight
about such virtues as Scotch
how dry’s a dry Martini

Americans
on a narrow stone back street
somewhere in Spain—
we laughed about baseball
your hat said “Los Angeles”

2. As the Nose on Your Face

None of them are strange,
With socks of lace
And beaded ceintures.

             —Wallace Stevens

I was wondering about all the kinds of things they make us all dress up the same for . . . being on a team, football, say, all the guys in identical pants and jerseys. What about the military? At the Coast Guard Academy it always caught me by surprise—all of us dressed up in white jumpers. Did you ever see the first Allied photos of the prisoners at Dachau, their striped uniform jackets and pants, everyone’s head shaved?

plainest people
coming slowly into view
wear common cloth
coarse featured amniotic skulls
hair tied with fish heads

someone’s mother
now she’s crowding to the front
waving papers
trying to catch the eye
where, propitiously, a judge

making friction
between invisibly rocky
abraded edges
making the same, the same
it’s taking forever

3. Sheik of Araby

Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance
.

    —Wallace Stevens

It was in Granada in 1967, at a Gypsy Flamenco carnival on the outskirts of town. There was a long makeshift street with temporary cantinas in tents on both sides; as we walked through, the music of one barely died down before the next would rise up and wash over us. A woman in a red dress, her shoes pounding on the temporary floor like little hammers, the guitar strummed roughly as if being punished, and the cheering. We stood with our little glasses of wine, amazed.

on the sublime
wrist of Yvonne De Carlo
whose hot eyes
on a shimmering desert
young men with parched throats

breathéd morae
counting fives and sevens
music to dance
the high spiraling flute
quick and repetitious drum

rich carpets thrown
on the sand, draped on stakes
make a castle
in the Sahara. Listen
the tinkling of tossed coins

4. And Biscuits

The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being

                         —Wallace Stevens

San Bernardino High School was playing Colton in football at the Orange Bowl Stadium. The two schools were long time rivals. Colton was easily winning, and the frustration level was high on the other side. As the game was ending, a crowd of students from the San Bernardino side poured out onto the field; the Colton crowd answered and both sides approached each other like 18th century lines of infantry. They collided in the center of the field, a pure metaphor.

open ended
on an aging arc across
someone’s long life
denying aches in slow knees
wrinkles under the eyes

split it in two
the starkness of a single
unpicked apple
I can’t bear so close a look
my mind seeks compromise

bring hyacinths
the poet said, syntheses
with no rough edges
the poem always bestraddling
one thing and its other

5. Eucalypt

The sky is a blue gum streaked with rose. The trees are black.
The grackles crack their throats of bone in the smooth air.

                                                 —Wallace Stevens

The arc of my life had angled upwards to a Canadian bay, across the sky to France and Spain, ricocheted along the rapids where the Mohawk meets the Hudson, down and low once more, across the sky to San Francisco Bay, and ended up in the mouth of a Nuttall’s Magpie high up in a Blue Gum tree.

in their searches
none had ever found one
Eucalyptus
among the tangled Oaks
blue Spruces mingling

l’eau du camphre
configuring miracle
cures, the body
luxuriates in odors
flavors straight from Allah

after salt waves
the taste later on the skin
your hands and lips
in memory of surging
tides, the sun red at the edge

6. The Dancers Turn to Dance

In Oklahoma,
Bonnie and Josie,
Dressed in calico,
Danced around a stump.


—Wallace Stevens

From where they stood, reaching upwards as high as they could, rotating laterally in all directions, marking the place. The Spanish wedding dancers circled in a ring the stoneware crock with ten-gallons of sangria, dipping their cups low as they rushed by. Hear the music of guitars, tambourines, and castanets! The birds, and Love was in the air.

eyes blank as coins
worn from greedy handling
feel the dancers
as the air stirs, the swishing
of the California twirl

slipped illusions
run under singing rhythms
acts of genius—
each last sudden steradian
of sunlight under the clouds

the thing resists its
own motion. The line a moving
limb delineates
makes a song of sweep and wind
for the gods to look in and see

7. In Remembrance

Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather.


—Wallace Stevens

It was Christmas Eve, and I was about ten. My brother and I had been dropped off at the shoestore where my father was working. It was near the end of the day, and I went to the corner to buy my father’s newspaper. This was in Long Beach, California, and the evening paper then was The Long Beach Press-Telegram. As I was coming back, I dropped the paper on the sidewalk and it fell open to the Sports section which was published on green newsprint. The sight of that green newspaper is with me still—thick like the smell of spice you get standing under a pepper tree in the rain.

truth of blue sky
silhouettes of pines that are green
miraculously
when first the sun light hits them
standing out so cool and clear

Johnny Olszewski
averaged ten yards per carry
for St. Anthony’s
of Long Beach. My father talked
about him endlessly

on the booster seat
in the hotel barber shop
looking again down
endless mirrored images
my blond curls falling like leaves

8. Changes

So bluish clouds
Occurred above the empty house and the leaves
Of the rhododendrons rattled their gold,
As if someone lived there.


—Wallace Stevens

On the southern Spanish coast a tourist town now lies plastered over what was once a quaint fishing village with a small, white hotel on the beach. High-rise apartments have grown there, each with a separate pine-frond lanai, umbrellas and lounge chairs for the guests. Back then, a room was $3.00 a night with breakfast, and we carried blankets from the hotel and a wicker demijohn of vino tinto down onto the shingle.

in an abandoned
nest, the curled hairs, pieces of straw
dried saliva
holding tiny feathers tight
the bottom cold now, lifeless

on the dark street
I waited in my dark car
watching her house
it was all dark, her room dark
and I dreamed there, in darkness

my dreams fell into
a flower, an open flower
Rafflesia, scent of rotting
flesh for scavengers, the trick
was pollinate and survive

9. Hjulstrom’s Curves

There is no sound there
Except of moving water
Of deep and sliding water
And of restless air

—Wallace Stevens

In a dream of cold, the smell of canvas under the tent, and the darkness of a mountain night. My brother and I spent the day hiking and fishing with our Dad; we stuck bright orange salmon eggs on little hooks and tossed them into the quick water of the creek, mad from the steepness of the hill, fast and chattering over the smooth boulders. Later, the trout in a black iron pan on a camp fire, and chocolate milk kept cold in the icy waters. Then the darkness, the cold darkness of the air, all night, and the smell of canvas, and the sounds a mountain stream makes rushing over the rocks, until you fall asleep.

unsounds as when
a hidden closed fist listens
uncolored darkness
when it strains its non-eyes to see
senseless under the water

rock’s buoyancy
propels it downward in the well
displacing weight
volume. A thin red maple leaf
pushes away a whisper

dew collecting, runs
down the skin of a brilliant
orange orange
as temperatures amalgamate
perfectly the air’s moisture

10. Romancing Trees

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,
For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion . . .

                                                 —Wallace Stevens

High on the cliff tops near Muir Beach north of San Francisco, we came through a hillside of Eucalyptus trees and the sea appeared, spreading out to the north and south, rising up out of itself, as if buoyed by the heavy invisible cloud of cineole. I was carried to another place in an earlier time, lying under the tall windbreak where the crows cawed in the tops, and we were drunk on the smells of Blue-Gum acorns and orange blossoms.

experience
making a mixture of moments
his thought shuffles
now hard in its present, then
softer when the past folds in

a frequent dream
houses perched above the sea
mélanges of times
where past and present folded
make the pictures on a fan

calculated mood
swings, an emotional plan
to fabricate
a most desirous and delightful
world, light through a hole in the clouds

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