Oh, we talk about allusion, but we don’t mean it. Much of the time it seems that our jabs at externality are casual (take that, externality!), sort of heartless. A snatch at, say, a movie in this mode is a snatch at nothing, a name. It’s like “jazz poets” who namedrop Coltrane / Miles / Dizzy / Satchmo / Duke / Billie / Bix etc. but never make their poems jazz.
I first grasped the sense of the range of allusive power around 1978 in a workshop with John Logan in Buffalo. Gail Fischer was in it, too, though I suspect she belonged there about as much as Willie Mays at a picnic pickup softball game. She showed us a poem one night that contained, if that’s the right word, the reference to Bertolucci’s The Conformist that you can see below in “Monticello.” I flatter myself: I think I was the only other person there who’d seen The Conformist, and something just twisted in me. Suddenly the image of Dominique Sanda’s character dying—cruelly, helplessly, needlessly, horribly—in the alpine woods leapt off the page back onto a screen in my head, and Gail’s poem assumed the energy of that image. This wasn’t an “allusion,” it was an invocation.
Good word, “invocation,” to talk about what happens when media have interspecies intercourse. There’s both the sense of “becoming vocal” (or verbal; but also the merely verbal becoming vocal) and the sense of a summoning-forth, a calling-out to the invisible. What isn’t there and can’t (reasonably) be there is made to appear, like a djinn from its improbable dimension. “The voice as summons for belief,” in Walter Ong’s words, is intermediary. Not “propositions” or “concepts,” or even “associations,” and certainly not the strangulated reduction of "interpellation" (or "hailing") spoken of by Louis Althusser, but worlds intermingle in the most powerful invocation; as such, the power of invocation is the power of dream—a tantalizing hint, I think, about where mediation resides in and around us.
I think this comes from the realization that simile can’t speak to mediation, only metaphor, or, better, image can. In fact, similitude always fails precisely at the point of intermediation, where one world is said to be “like” another. Gail’s poems like to torment language’s logic—not deny it, but make it squeal—and to “draw on” everything from spectacular parade to Renaissance painting to the local news—don’t think “Grinning a sarin smile” comes from some Encyclopedia of Terrorist Threats: it comes bubbling out of one medium into another, dragging its horrible world behind it. Again, this kind of invocation is something the other media should probably leave to poets. (JM)
—In memory of Clifford McCarg
Therefore suddenly she said, "You see?! It's all
La Tour!" panning the hills of monuments lit
with eight-hundred-thousand pale candles
lifted to a face, the light returned to the huge reflecting pools
of evening and stars. Who couldn't Georges
de La Tour expose nocturnally and radiant?—
gamblers, fortune tellers, thieves (their dupes
in alpha states), eventually repentant Magdalenes
and saints—like Caravaggio himself, run out
of Rome for portraying The Virgin so you
could look up her nostrils—bold, then
starving on the beach for months.
As if this
despondent and millennial event was not
the drama of carnage and concealment, every
panel the gaudy, contrite, and bloated quilting
of a grave.
But before twilight the other woman, whispering,
had said, "This should be staged like The Day
of the Dead, everybody masked and wearing black
attire, our torches black, music a dirge,
a single drum," as they marched to The Mission,
Ennio Morricone's movie score, her lover
lost to all this gaiety, his names
erased, the outcast even of an underworld—
these dark crowds rippling with fire.
The 1996 National AIDS Candlelight March
from The Mob of the 21st Century
His mouth run out of coins, dismissed.
Storming, the unit head splits a sanguine klatch
of keyboard specialists (the sycophants and sluts)
whose whispering moans to this onrush of corporeal
Doppler effect, distorts a turbulent clot of ignoramuses
(foetid!) still fanning that administrator's
fondest praise. Hired is wired. A silent theatre
of backs of heads, hooded and tranquilized
under incandescent hoops of light pooled down
on plastic terminals, defaces the machinery
that molds and presses out and stamps
a product ghost. For seven hours they sit
and tan—stare directly into ersatz daylight—the more
lustrous the more deeply bronzed, depending
on the pecking order of how many megabytes;
or, in the polished fenders of the big hardware
acquire real neon. Passcodes are dangled, and encrypt,
and they log on (and take their hits, at:
to anything, and to be culled and counted no one
needs to speak, is what the deal is—this virtual
venality. Agree with anyone, to put a signature
to paycheck, with their Lascaux script.
He will also sit and worship at the altar of technology—
he'll make her scaperodent, scaperabbit, scapechick—
banks at his office opening, and lands.
Grinning a sarin smile, he glares into the cave fire
casting shadows on itself, and warms his fingers
with the alphabet (this inquisition will be C-SPANish, and
epithets will splash the network's mean dim suites, the chips
will hit the fan!) and, gazing beyond a field of icons
to blue sky and overlapping cumuli, he presses "send"—
his message soars and flies (I think, therefore I scam).
" ... and Goethe whistling on the winding path ..."
I suggest being shot here
over Tenderleaf tea. I leave
the cottage cold, cooling off,
go miles up a coiled forest road.
The trail is mounded like a burial plot
piled with florist's spoils;
I pass piles of sky-blue litter.
At once, a blonde-haired woman
walks beneath the ground
against a humus-blackened bank,
her greened face soft as a doe's,
breadlike, like an abandoned
blue car frame that opens on a valley
with its windows razored and expulsed.
Passing upward, stands of pine are
petrified in vapor, aged and aging.
I inhale with bracket fungi, healing,
pulling orange spores from moss beds.
Sucking on the symbiotic corpse plant
I tongue on its greenlessness
and speak three times aloud:
"On January 20th Lenz crossed the mountains"
inflecting, and pan in Lenz turned mad
at the fountain, shouting. Lenz.
I zero in the riddled eyes
of white tail deer, wander upward and
follow a wood thrush. Brushed
faces caught in a centrifuge fly
from my head and disperse
through the woods, woundedly.
A geyser surfaces up hot. She breaks
onto the carcass rocks, ravined inside a forest—
Dominique Sanda!—a boney spore
headed gold, green, the sky's scrape
at her feral breathing breaks,
stumbling, her blood waterhammers, she's
pursued until her spine and arms arch
bullets, crazed, disheveled, dying
in the Alps' Italian woods like an . . .
it was the chase scene from The Conformist,
a death for reasons.
from this, the wood thrush sparkling,
verbal. Viscously I scale the rock pile
where he photographed me yesterday
throwing boulders at him over the head,
hedging his camera for effect, growling
orange-eyed, and pursued. And I wanted to
kill him his
eyebrows thick, and risen up like horns.
I get back, protected from the heat,
kept cool in ozone. At the pool
he's drinking orange juice from the carton
with his mother's lover, wrecked
from tennis and alarmed
at my Medusan head
of hairline-dampened hair,
vine-snarled brow, burdocks and
He's composed against his car like power.
Staring at the ceiling outlet stamped
in patterned twos of hoof print, nostrils
rooting up the wall, pounding
inside from the sleeping porch and
onto the bed next to mine, breathing in ropes
of air, unnerved, last night I heard him,
off, into his vulvate blanket violent
enough, to murder me.
Los Niños Abandonados
—after the film by Danny Lyon
What's this taste? The warm
dark affluence of hair and that
smelling like a pelt. I crane
my neck and elbow it away,
furrow my brows, licking at my mouth.
No blanket, so the sun's already bleeding
through my skin. I feel it and sleep.
Flies. Now the bells
of the cathedral, grumbling
stomachs on the street, the noise
from women's and men's voices.
We rub our eyes and swat each other
off the sidewalk, yanking at rag mats
in a little theft.
I piss a rainbow, bend its dripping
arc onto the marble tiles
between the public trees.
Whose was I? The teenaged one sings
ballads of lost love, his gestures'
arms compress the ample hips of air.
While we sit around the sewer drain
inventing games, stirring the mud,
the tunnel of a giant pipe echoes
the bridge above. Eyes drifting up,
he widens his palms as he sings,
but we strip and swim, and
scream a little in the stream.
Where could we go tonight? Before sunset
we pick tin cans to hold a bellyful,
rinse them at a back door faucet, and
walk in a restaurant. Poor men—
with women—looking like the rich to us
scrape half their plates off into
our metal dinner cans.
Whose did I used to be? Outside
my fingertips taste good.
Then, thieving there, the camera
catches us awake; it says,
"You children, come inside here—"
all running under its chrome roof,
we suddenly collapse. It coaxes,
"Come in from the rain and find hundreds
of mothers and fathers who want only
to look at you." And every time
they let you leave again, abandoned,
they'll see your spacious lives
Gail Fischer was born north of Buffalo, NY and grew up in Niagara County near Lake Ontario. She earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Humanities degrees at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she studied poetry with Mac Hammond, John Logan, and Irving Feldman. She shared a special issue of Audit/Poetry with Thomas Frosch, and other work by her appeared in various little magazines. Her first full-length volume, Red Ball Jets, was published by the Outriders Poetry Project in October 2011. Ms. Fischer lives on 97 acres of reforested land dedicated to the protection of song and woodland birds and other kinds of wild life.