Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Alison Watkins

The First Language

Conversation with Walt Whitman and Robert Kelly

I Have Forgotten Everything

The Small Bells of the Wind

The Unremembered Fastness of the World

The First Language

No use arguing over
how it began. We can say
what we want and it doesn't
change anything. We may
as well compare it to the rain.
It comes out of nowhere and
drops upon us. And when
the leaves bend down to
shed, it feels like a fountain
with silken patternings arching
into moist woods and the face
of the earth listens. Rain. We
surrender to it. That is language.
To be yielding, pliable, rhythmic,
pour down and make wet for all
to be immersed in. Hence cloud
seeding. Not rain-making but
rain. Hence the squall line itself
where all the ligaments of tongue
loosen in unison and yield to
the One Rain. Rain tells us true.
To come down is to moisten. To arch
into and ripen. One's point of origin
unfastened from the sky. To signal
the start of a new speaking. Each
day its own language to speak.

Conversation with Walt Whitman and Robert Kelly

What a history is folded, folded inward
and inward again, in the single word I.

There is nothing sinister in this, no conspiracy
of the laudatores temporis acti.

Words are wanted to supply the copious trains of
facts and flanges, of facts, feelings. Phrenology.

Creeping across the savannahs or what are they,
these endless grasslands my mind teems with-

The words of the Body! The words of Parentage!
The words of Offspring! The word Mother!

In all likelihood ephemeral, too often it is dull.
Men like pretty things; what cat's averse to fish?

Those eluding, fluid, beautiful, fleshless realities,
Water, Earth, Me, This, Soul, Tongue, House, Fire.

I know there is some substance we must find
introduce into our lives so that it will be like seeds

from the chest-robust, brawny, acrid, harsh, rugged,
severe, pluck, bracing, rude, rough, alive and sinewy

with awful slowness-at least the possibility means
the wood of our world that grows spells itself out.

I see that the time is nigh when voices, passions, love,
hate, ennui, madness, desperation of men in the elegant

qabbalah of a peopled eternity speak of nothing but tipsy
girls and giggling outside-that cosmological sound!-

like the final fiber and charm of a voice following the chaste
drench of love, all whose work leads to the free loud calling

of a thing, as a thing would be, like a print tacked up on a wall
to hide the wall, and there it stands, still, behind chairs, silent,

obedient, with backs that can bend and must often bend. What
beauty there is! What lurking charm.

I Have Forgotten Everything

I have forgotten everything, language & time
              everything, anvil & specter

I have forgotten radiance & dust, the Serpent
               of precious gold

I have forgotten Los hammering out Golgonooza,
               the changeless metal of Byzantium

I have forgotten definition and deferred delight, light
               that leads the god dances into the vernacular

I have forgotten stone, this stone
                               (even our soul is stone, Love

I have forgotten even this morning on the curve of the
               road hewn stone, quarried from our first land

I have forgotten that a stone in the desert of spirit keeps
               the Secret spreading in the matter rift--

I have forgotten that morning is a person and only
               as ourselves do we god into day

I have forgotten everything
                               & found it again in a single stone

The Small Bells of the Wind

"Image is psyche," the Greeks inform us,
yet I walk past the phrase with only a sandwich
dripping lettuce through my fingers, with only a
cup wetting my lips, part of me wanting to consume
the idea, to drink down the weight of these words
while negotiating the moment, and part of me
needing to open into an imagined field where even
the words become as falling stars, extinguishing
themselves in the humid breath of a south Florida
evening. It is here that any reminder of death
makes me want to speak, and in speaking makes
me want to want. Without the speaking you do not
exist; I do not desire. Without words there is only
a garden but no gate, Mozart but no Magic Flute,
without words there are flocks but no Pan, Golgotha
but no Jesus. So now the evening with its gray cumulus
and blue rooftops descends with images of stillness,
with images subdued by the need of words to edge
into the world, and by the recognition of how very
few things there are for which the heart actually

The Unremembered Fastness of the World

in the garden on a cloudless night I revel not
in the cool but in the moon's ascendancy
golden flowers forgiving sharp thorns
the things I feel become my body

if I am a wall, you build on me a silver turret,
but if I am a door, you close me up with planks
of old, so at once I understand what I am
by touching you, for what you say about

us is true, I bear witness to myself & I am
witnessed, we witness us & in our middle
voice assert at times a paradigm of history,
interlacing story through which is seen

intricate movements, & when I align myself
with that clear knowing, even the whole world
could not hold if it were written, from the cave
wall a witness, from the fire a witness, in the pith

of a carved stick a witness, in the hand raised
a witness, in the hand falling a witness, as long as
we speak we witness, what does not talk is atheist,
all Jesus did was talk (Christ, he could talk the dead
back to life!)