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   n i g h t s    i n    a    t i m e    o f    w a r

--- L Y N   H E J I N I A N

Ideas cross empty spaces in a game

We fill

As chickens fit

And thickets too

Or crickets on the banks across

The ice to eventuality, lamination, chrysanthemums, or size

Of cloud and grain

That’s blown and something falls

Down the axis of ourselves, ideally upright, checking

The horizon but actually leaning

To see just what that is over there—some kind of flotsam

Though it might have been a head

Under worse circumstances

Into which we’ve installed

Our thought—an idea

Spontaneously repeating itself

With others without which we wouldn’t be

Ourselves cutting loose

The ideology as it bobs, bends, and says nothing that our willfulness couldn’t interpret rightly


Mounted on a sorrel rocking horse

Whose reins are made of braided hair

And whose saddle is slipping like a continental plate

Around a diamond

Because the girth is loose and we’re bound

On a crash course so we’re sure to meet and then

The rider will be thrown

Through no choice of her own into life as it will be

When it fails to accord with her ideas of what a county fair should be


With barrel-racing for the cowgirls just outside

The barn in which the biggest sows suckle their pinkest piglets

Drawing crowds as large as those

Assembled for the judging of the chocolate fudge

Cakes, pickled peapods, needlepoint, loganberry jam, collective

Guilt and friendship quilts

For which there are neither synonyms nor antonyms

But there’s cotton candy all around, I swear, Scout’s honor

And no shit, I’ll watch with utmost calm keeping

Camera up

And to my eye as the world shakes because it’s interesting—the sadness

That is

The intensity of curiosity that flows, falters, follows

August with September, 11 with 12, salt

With pepper or salt

With sugar logically enough melting

In catastrophe and milk

To which a woman’s crooning


The aisle behind her cart mimics

A baby’s squall

Or scrawl

Each squiggle re-interpretable and always adding

Up to what

We might term

A marvelous offset


A mismatch becoming a rematch

Separating pugilists, then drawing

Them close, the one in blue

Shorts, the other flinging

A pashmina over her drawers

Showing her legs

Wearing green shoes

Over her toes tucked into socks

And the socking begins, one goes to the nose, one to the throat

Of a guy in the front row

With a digital camera that will never shoot

Thanks to the guy in the second row with the digital camera set

To receive and thereby gain


Of a mummy! what sort of individual is that?


one evening

at the door

he called

so the philosopher opened

the thinnest man has come over

I thought as much!

my freedom

my neck

it’s genuine

do I owe you anything?

is tenacious

the street outside strewn with smashed apples

in the hallway

my name again! he cried


Let’s speak of the unconscious and do so consciously

We’ve all got our nocturnal strictures, our fears

Wheels of green like radiant gravestones lean on my field of vision

Those fears want to be intelligible

Those wheels are seeking names

They imagine things

There are sheets of water no deeper than a shadow, beetles in a jug of milk, a clotted spider web, a mountain approaching by boat

Everything I think is wheeled by my thinking it

I watch the wobbling horizon from my unpremeditated circle

Words are a way to keep and to keep rolling

The purple night, the building clouds, the point of time

How should I interrupt “the building clouds”

Dreams are surrounding intelligibility

The will digresses, it maintains its stupendous solitude, its cumulative inaction


It’s dark and the clouds have blown

And so

To meet their views we take a night

Forbid the approach of any hostile footsteps

Pass the night

It is during these hours of deep solitude that more than one head turns

The head comes at murky thick and autumn august calm awake

We head

They head

One after another wet to the left and steady

They’ve one slow imitative name

The clammy reality “human” and the boisterous concept “woman”

Tonight is no better than a spiritual intermediary between a smoothing of the legs to influence the milieu and a gathering of transparent, symbolic window panes

The dark is the perfect modification


there—so it is—there—just that—in time I’ve loved

—there—no other but one, an other—no other—there—

better by day by night that too carrying the body, the flamboyance—brain

there a falling equestrian dressed in silk and sailing since—this

there when declared near—just that—in a moment

dear—there—no further but an extra—nothing new—rare—

recovered once by dark that hauls—again—there air, ropes, cups

there a dwindling likeness sent and bared, seafaring since—this

at the merest hint taken racing ahead to a figure aboard—an annoying foible—

there—as if to distribute pink or red equally black—to the rescue

at a rock’s pace—there—for a figure moving lips—the wrong way?

weight tipping, impending, the whole meditation—waiting—there


Life must learn history quickly

Reproached and asked

How could we have loved, talked, written, lived

Without the lips that will quickly turn

Gray through which we mumble that

I argue that

I loved quickly and I write that

I wrote almost daily just

As the waves ring against the sand

Like quickly sinking sacks

All identical and each alone

At sea

Never coming in

The same, with one wheel warped and another

Deflated or bigger than its brother

Or sister aboard braids

Flying, locks flopping over

The waggish wheels as they roll quickly

Off the curb that stops nothing

But the stallion blue and gray which is the spirit of the system

Which is still necessary but must quickly make the best connection possible

Between getting up and frying an egg

As if work were all about keeping extraordinary bodies busy

And revolution no more than a practical joke

Whose cruelty is meant

To humiliate us in our dreams and wake

Us in a sweat because it’s true we sweat in revolution as revolutionaries though we’re revolted

By ourselves, each

Other, bother to brother

Signal to sister (“Bring meat!”)

But a person is not a sausage as some would have it

Endowed with reason but rather a passion[1]

Though it can still be bitten—even thieves have teeth

Which once extracted can be thrown to the wind

At hand to head around mind so we can see

That there’s no truth

To the myth that removal of the upper teeth affects one’s view

Of Malta, area 122 sq mi, population (as estimated in August 2005) 398

534; life

Expectancy 78.9

On whose shores Hannibal was born and Paul shipwrecked and Napoleon reigned and NATO berths

Its ships in aching notches left or made

Which cannot be relieved by placing aspirin in the mouth

Of Sid, the young marine


I watch — I don’t have to be careful — the spy stays behind my eye

I look into the shoes

I place them under the window

They have to point somewhere — why not toward the sea?

The room is placid, the shaft of sunlight between window and wall is clear

Is the dog panting?

Its tongue is wagging at both sides, its tail is between its legs

Have the birds reversed?

Are the birds revived and in the air?

I jammed the roses into the sand

Freud would understand this immediately

Soon the many human waking naughty souls will walk out of isolation.

At first the man in the chair — isn’t he hideous?

The chair is a still bulk — plagued by penguins — they are shuffling forward into my ear

Along comes a peripheral figure — trying to evade the spy — the car in silhouette — a paralyzing shimmer

Rain is falling — just an inch and a half of milk

It’s true what the guy says says the guy whom they say is not to be trusted

I get into an angle of shadow

The measures of the night require no space

You think that hadn’t yet been revealed to me in those days?

Black grooves, the bare floor

Back up — you too want to communicate?


Innumerable and infinite little ants —

tawny, sharp-snouted, dog-toothed, ubiquitous, goose-necked, long-winded

and eared

like rats ***

Once there was a girl and she went for a walk by herself and came upon a hole in the ground no bigger than her finger. She sat down beside it to wait and watch so that she might see what went into it or came out.

Overhead large white clouds floated in the blue but they never obscured the sun and a spider crawled over her ankle. The clouds changed shape but didn’t depart though a breeze was blowing, it carried a round brown leaf past the hole, then brought it back, and dropped it.

Why is that a round brown leaf instead of a brown round one, the girl wondered, just as she had wondered earlier why the large white clouds weren’t white large ones.

Dissatisfaction with how one shapes one’s thoughts is not the same as dissatisfaction with the shape of things, she said aloud and irritably, yanking at the nearest stalks of grass and pulling them out of the ground. Sulkily tossing them into the breeze, feeling sorry for herself but also thinking herself grandly or at least subtly intelligent, she failed to notice the shifting of the leaf over the hole and the …

But whether it was a return or a departure, and of what, will be something we’ll learn only tomorrow night, or some night not long after it.

First you must learn where the spider went.


The fallen grass in winter sprawls

Its spring

Withdraws, condenses, tensing

For spring its green in spring

Through the grasses

Along the path leading to the Musée Unless

On display there

Is a fallen nest


Of an egg

Once belonging to a bird, species unknown, that sang, not man

And the skin of a bobcat pinned

Out of reach

Of the dog

A Danish or Spanish one

With fleas

Notorious as the sea ….

No …

At sea

Without alternatives except alternatives

Now left behind

Though they may be reached again—

They may be

Just around the bend (to spend, tend, rend, etc.

The word

Is clever

With life more clever

Than the life we lead (yours with guitar and pit bull, yours

With laptop and bike, and yours

With stethoscope and cattle)

Over the mountain separating city from sea with a daughter)

That sends us a few degrees in black sneakers around

To the left of a slow pedestrian then back so we can pass to the right

Of a girl in tights with huge thighs hanging

Onto the arm of a tiny man on skates

With sharp and bloody blades


I could instruct the children to tree

trunk planking, I could instruct them to screw up

their eyes and pencil their routes illegibly. Go.

Be almost indistinguishable, cross diameters, be

unwiped and stringy and political on pathways. Now

turn the page. Make it appear completely.


There in your hand is an emerald hoe. You have gone to the basement, you have come to the window, you have forgotten our names. Everyone but you is seasick, and you aren’t because you don’t lock your knees as you stand on the deck, you ride the waves, you flow.

There in your hand is a mixing stick, and you live in the land of our mothers and incarnations, and you see things turning: flowers into fate, pebbles into water, ripe berries into people who begin immediately to hunt and copulate and prepare food and quarrel.

There in your hand is a viola bow. You are more than seventy years old now, or maybe half of that, or perhaps a thousand. You are a stranger now, or someone who is yet to appear but of whom we have a premonition, and the children know your name.

There in your hand is a mirror reflecting a cloud. You are moving slowly and also quickly, you live in a barn with legs. You refuse to be bossed around and you spill the ink, word goes out to pigeons or maybe they are penguins who are carrying the message.

There in your hand is a message we can’t read. You are as quiet and complete as an egg and when it breaks there in your hand is a tile and on it are our names.


[1] See Joakim Garff, Kierkegaard, p 320: “ man is not (in Grundtvig’s words) a “sausage endowed with reason” but rather (in Kierkegaard’s words) “passion”

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published in association with the |
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