• Spell

    A New Poem by Ann Lauterbach

    We know, again from the experts, that Jovellanos, when Goya painted his portrait, had just been appointed the king’s “minister of grace and justice.” This was as much of a liberal, Enlightenment moment—a few months in late 1797 and early 1798—as Spain ever had.

                                                                                                                           –T.J. Clark


    So, then, where is our

    Minister of Grace and Justice,              

    our minister 

    for the end of ignorance under the law?

    The law’s vulgate. Zap zap                                

    you’re dead. Zap for good measure.

    Goya’s interior spreads

    cartoon stain, red

    into the black garb of sabotage.                           

                                            And there, in that city, light                     

    shatters into

    debris — glass, coin,   

    shoe, book. Book?

    Look! Look! Can you see the book?

    The pages are wet. Can you turn them?

    Place your thumb in oil. Blot the spiral out.



    History’s horizon

    blurs into running crowds,

    pitched waves, mobile boundaries

    not sanctioned by law. History’s


    contracts into small boats

    traversing rough waters.                                                    

    Scan the sky’s evening,

    golds and greens

    more brilliant than a reliquary chalice,

    a saint’s crescent.  Paint that. Scan

    the turbulence for cinders,

    white hot dots.                     Matrix

                         of illusion, spurred on by desire and

                                                 reason’s catastrophic carrier

                                                     pregnant with a god. Sappho’s moon      

                                 crossed by the wing of an owl.  Dear gray-eyed

                                       Athena, please allow


    safely across the waters. Film that.



    Trapped by a ghost, many ghosts, a host

    of ghosts. They

    do not sing

    but stare into a shade

    lowered over coins

    that mimic sun.

    The young man

    on the screen is timeless.

    He speaks into the unknown

    from a blackened room.  We cannot

    see his interlocutors nor hear their exhaled

    breath.  Meanwhile, in the stadium, thousands

    stand to sing in unison

    an anthem.

                                                        o say can you see by the dawn’s             


    bombs bursting air.  Record that.



    The agenda has a requiem —

    brass, percussion, solo baritone

    rising over the choral bloom.

    Look up and up, the cascade rises!

    But the leaves are fallen

    and the familial roost divided:

    the plural of I is not we.                                   

                     And in the not we, we


                 into the hedge while the machines

         routine their killer noise. 

    Let’s improvise a story. Let’s begin

    with a journey out

    onto paths, into meadows, glades,

    forests, brackish ponds, scented

    lilies on ponds, bees.

    Let’s end with a prayer for the bees. 



    Or these words: Cyber, black,

    blessings to spell forth

    gifts. Good luck with that and with picking

    shards from the pavement oil.

    Pilgrim or migrant or

    exile traversing the calendar’s stage

    with spidery precision. Speak

    into the megaphone: cyber, black.                     

    Now join the ensemble as it

    wanders  from what it was taught

    by a preacher, a cop, saved                                    

    from the whispering echo:   

    I want, I want.



    How to quantify a rupture? Sit in its midst

    like a bad child in mud. Discipline                                                         

    and punish.   Good luck with that.

    The global ruse is insupportable

    by the local client, she

    wants the garden stone

    lowered so her child can reach 

    parsley, sage, rosemary

    and thyme,  lyrics

    from  the melting pot. Let’s poll the pot                                                                                                 

    and see how it intends to vote. 

    Zap. Let’s take a bite from the apple.

    Whim over the doorframe, tears in the sink.



    Lady natters on about intimacy. She’s a bore

    but she’s cornered the market

    on intimacy.

    She tells us we

    need to speak face to face, into

    the ensemble of relations that faces are. She

    warns against the mirror at our fingertips.

    Are you tired of these homilies, these

    warnings, these studies that say

    we have lost touch? We

    know we have lost touch. We

    know we are the remnant organs of a bodiless hum.



    So an unnamed subject bequeaths

    golds, greens, all its auras

    into our show. Don’t look now.

    Turn away as the hero

    walks across a bridge with his              

    murderer mistress. He walks

    with a side to side motion, his great shoulders

    tipping. The water below carries his coat

    on sorrow’s bloodied current.

    It’s an affecting image of the unendurable

    endurance of duration, phenomenal

    and cruel. The thing disintegrates, or melts,

    like paper in a flood, becoming illegible

    as it falls over the embankment.

    The hero Luther is named for the hero Luther.



    Pick a card, any card.

    What did you get? A nine? A queen?

    Which? One with black spades or

    one with red hearts?  Place your bets.

    Let’s get a slice of pizza.

    Let’s pick up some eggs, some chard.

    Let’s go down to the river

    and watch the sun set.

    Let’s hope for the best.

                                                   The clock is imaginative,

    it has time or we imagine it has time.

    I’m not sure how to measure

    this gift, sanctioned by the stars. They

    stay constant although they are dead.

    They send what came before what

    came last: light, aftermath.    

    Poet and essayist Ann Lauterbach is the author of nine books of poetry, most recently Under the Sign (Penguin, 2013) and three books of essays, including The Night Sky and The Given & The Chosen; her 2009 poetry collection Or to Begin Again was nominated for a National Book Award. Her tenth collection, Spell, is forthcoming from Penguin in fall 2018. A native of New York City, she lives in Germantown, New York.

    Ann Lauterbach
    Ann Lauterbach
    Ann Lauterbach was born and grew up in New York City. She has been since 1992 co-chair of writing in the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, where she is also Ruth and David Schwab II Professor of Languages and Literature. Among the recognitions of her work are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1986) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1993). She is the author of nine previous collections of poetry, as well as three collections of prose, including The Night Sky: Writings on the Poetics of Experience. She lives in Germantown, New York.

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