When Pressed

Louis Armand

Three Poems

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CIRCUS DAYS

for Hugh Clarence Ultan

1.

It’s morning and we’re on our way—the park
and leaves hanging in autumn sunlight like analgesic.
Hands travel in all directions at once—
astride the giant green shoulders, juggled up into
another day’s sinewy disjuncts. Hello, are you happy?
Funnelled through the mysterious ordination of events:
Kleomenes at Thermopylae, mantis-eyed, staring into
darkest comedy. Sat in the cold under the Big Top—
the elephant at the door, the monkey running around
in circles doing tricks. Scenes of hope and despair.
But we are becoming the future, not knowing
when to stop. Backwardly, navigating insipient
weather—butterflies, stamps, old shoes, those
little painted lips that send us, kneeling, into sleep.

2.

At the bottom of the box my mother is there
who is not in her right mind. The moon with its
puppet strings showing, frictionless knots
slipping and unslipping. Nor is this the light at the end.
Dear, it is always late, you will lose count thinking
of it. Also, one of its themes is time. Collecting the
left-overs in soup tureens—remits of La Place Blanche,
staring Pépé le Moko-like at the departing logos.
What will we do tomorrow if it doesn’t return?
A constant activity would be a surface without grips,
unsizing us. Night grows ugly, all nerves and sex,
looking and not looking. A violet-blue window seems
to be inside the room and at the same time outside it.
Or a stranger is mounting the stairs, pointing towards us.

3.

Why not describe everything backwards? Scenes of
scotch-taped celluloid, navigating the gross weather.
Headlines stand out in bas relief, thrusts of form
between interludes of grisaille. Improvise something
on this theme. Sifting the left-overs, Pasternak’s
“territory of conscience.” Humanity finds the myth of
personal freedom intolerable, unlike a work of fiction.
Waiting for that girl with the eyes of a trapeze artist
on the corner of West 57th street. Thoughts travel in
many directions at once, electronics, science fiction,
footprints on the moon. What I’ve been painting is
a life’s work index of first lines, whoever reads them?
Standing outside the École des Beaux-Arts like a
character in a novel hopelessly excluded from its plot.

4.

Grew up in a time of last ideas and normalisation,
thick-necked, under cuntish weather. Street preacher
shouting if God’s self-sufficient what are we doing
here? Sitting opposite a table for company, one litre
of red wine after another. Signals writ large all through
the air—a last minute blunt cutting out of sky, its
variations, before the venom sets in. Parts of a face,
a man’s or a woman’s, perfume. But already it’s late.
Anatomised an hour, moving straight ahead sideways
out the door. Outside the window a green sky cuts out
giant writing in hard autumn schist. Oh, my nerves
are bad tonight. Why blame the sins of a permissive
mother? History is what happened at other times
among strange people, unashamed of letting us watch.

5.

All through the air signals flash out of margins,
saturating it. It even gains a type of solidity. It sits there
in the world like a brain, naked and useless.
Spreading out from North American winters—dead
leaves mulching into excrement. Dollars stir the rain
into an autism, a giant lozenge pressing through
windows and ventilation ducts. We stood there
watching it, designed to self-destruct into dreariness
and forbearance. A whole year of mouths ending only
in paraphrase, rumours, plagiarisms of nature.
The scapegoat artist hangs in sunlight, complicating
our grey brown scenery. In it for the dollars? You must be
crazy. Kleomenes at Thermopylae. A private joke in a
parallel room. The windows unaccountably fogging up.

6.

Something about the weather. Figures against a black
ground moving in all directions at once. Pigeons
flocking under the circus tent of Manhattan skyline.
Momentary, headlong, physical insurrections that end
underground riding the subway to afternoon teas,
sex and privacy. Evenings of paraphrase turn emaciated
or womanly—out-waiting the rain, it is perhaps
a symptom after all. A barbershop quartet stands out
in bas relief on the opposite side, hurrying you
to self-doubt and secrecy—coupled to a surmise that
it, the day, ought to be seized and usually wasn’t.
But did we promise ourselves happiness? Looking and
not looking for the key under the door, to get to wherever
time comes from, or to relent, or to be taken “all in all.”

7.

Am I talking to myself again? Waiting for catharsis
to unfold, the way things happen in restored old
subtitled films. Hello, are you happy? Those little
painted lips behind store windows among the window-
dressing. The story begins with intimacy and evolves
into a threat. A zone of silence where we stand and
scrutinise the naked body, in vague penance. It is
difficult not to run out of the room, stupidly looking
for the departed years. And still the light in the trees.
The lowering sky and waning light—a sky you want to
get out from under. The danger is in conclusions.
Again words point an abstract finger to exert will, put
things in order—names, images, objects cancelled out.
The kid says “You die!” But already it’s too late.

8.

Things seek attachment: behind the door, a room
on the second floor, light through the trees.
In sleep you stretch forward to touch the scenery.
Soon enough time to perform the last act—
counting down these dry years, looking under the table
for the joke that got away. Our cruelty makes us
stupid—pratfalls and false hilarity. We’re still
getting there, the long road out to the deserted lot
and ruined chimney stacks teetering. When it comes,
I’ll go on bargaining to the last breath, Kleomenes
at Thermopylae, under the Big Top, arraigned
before the horses and sequined women, the strong
man, the dancing bears. What was our reason for
coming here? What false assurance did we accept?