Author: Tom Clark

Tom Clark's Light & Shade: Selected Poems appeared from Coffee House in 2006. He has three new books: Problems of Thought: Paradoxical Essays (Skanky/Effing), The New World (Libellum), and Trans/Versions (Libellum).  He has a poetry blog and also serves as resident blogger at Vanitas Magazine.

Problems of Thought & Vistas of Limbo & White Monkey & Suicide with Squirtgun in Happy Valley

Problems of Thought

Often has it been remarked that no one ever did something and regretted it later without also having to admit there had been a point of return, perceptible had only one been paying attention.  Responsive as a small dog loyal to any passing whimsical attraction, however, one was too busy to take any notice.  One could have stopped.  Thought could have been summoned.   Rescue could have been effected.   But such are the powers of distraction in this world that though one might easily have turned back in time to save oneself from disaster, this never happened.   Thus things came to be as they stand at present.

Vistas of Limbo

Physical science has helpfully informed us that not only are bodies scattered so few and far between through the universe–the most meagre bits being lost in a thin indiscriminate gruel-like stuff one might liken to a nineteenth-century workhouse child’s dinner–as to amount to mere brief accidents of matter struggling unsuccessfully to exist more than a moment or two within the dense, necessary, prevailing and ever-increasing immaterium;  but even the most apparently gross, tangible or corporeal of these same accidental bodies, should all its matter be crowded by force down into a perfect solidity, might be contained in a small, hard chunk no larger than an ice cube.  In much the same sense, when one ponders the subject but a little, it might well appear that if all the truly productive employment of a lifetime were suddenly compressed, for the sake of experiment, into the time the mind actually took to devise it, then the maximum period required to contain it all would perhaps be days, more likely hours, even seconds or fractions of seconds.

The mind has been largely idle then; yet no one has ever been able to stop it from thinking, even for a little while.  And of course this is dangerous. If one doesn’t regulate one’s thoughts they can easily be yanked by the ear and tugged off in practically any direction; particularly if there’s any wishing involved.  Maybe it’s with this in mind that some thoughtless judges have thought it a crime to think, and declared it so.  The nature of the thinking animal however being as it is, it will think anyway, and no matter what punishment be contrived for it in consequence.  Vide the French Revolution, and the head of Charlotte Corday, which as those present remarked, retained a thoughtful expression even as it lay before the public, disconnected from its body.

Everybody understands that the business of everyday life calls for very little actual brainwork.  So poorly matched are our physical to our mental capacities that one may quite easily come up in mere seconds with full-blown conceptions that may then take years or even longer to carry into action.  Fresh thinking is very seldom needed.  We’re limited in prospect by the narrow routines of our bodies, our surroundings, our lives.  We go along in a kind of continuous holding pattern.  Changes are rare.  Nothing’s ever truly new.  Yet though all this time one never actually needed to think, in fact one was never not thinking.  The truth is that for a good part of our lives the only thing we can do is think.  Our hands and feet may venture on as they will without our conscious consent, with the mind standing by a mere spectator unable to affect the execution it knows to be coming, if not already underway.

White Monkey

Every day there are moments that do not seem to lead directly into the next moment. It must be those isolated moments, laid end to end, in which Zeno’s arrow tries to cross the sky.

Since Zeno’s arrow exists only inside his paradox, it can never land, and since, in those isolated moments, we too begin to take on the immateriality of a logical demonstration, there is no use in further discussion of that arrow.

A silence falls over the room.

All this is happening in a dream, or perhaps as if in a dream.

This is not the loud logical silence of a glacier but the muffled baffling silence of a dream. In the dream there is a forest, and in the forest there are monkeys whose bodies give off light.

We’ll never visit the forest.

It makes more sense at the moment to think of a white monkey slowly fading back over a period of many long years into and gradually being absorbed by the surface–linen, paper, copper, wood–on which it is painted.

Or, perhaps, to think of the final note in a piece of music. The ripples of sound ebb away and finally there is no hint of reverberation left anywhere, silence fills the room.

This is not the cold silence of a paradox but the warm silence of a terrarium kept continually alive and in motion as in a dream without the isolation of sleep. As this silence takes hold of us it appears we’re meant to experience life on a dying planet by becoming aware of other life. But this will not be easy.

If a lion could talk, we would not understand him.

Whether or not the white monkey also has such dreams we shall never know.

Suicide with Squirtgun in Happy Valley

Like the departure of the calved sections of a glacier into the surrounding ice, a sound disengages itself from the others, and the music stops. Day is done for Daffy Duck and Beethoven. The Kreutzer Sonata echoes through the Germanic trees of suburban Appalachia. Out come the Super Soakers. Works of art collude with the apparition of evening. Laocoon and an opossum glide upon pools of reflected light that gather upon the face of the ponds that in six moons will commingle to form the Happy Valley Ice Rink.

While apparition is the instant of illumination and of being touched by something, recording and preserving it is another trick entirely: turning this timeless moment into an aesthetic instant, which is something that has duration. This is no easy task, like trying to keep a firefly’s glow in a bottle without the firefly. Through the long sleeping summer nights Happy Valley is ablaze with submerged dreams of such substitutive creations.

The transcending element in works of art is something momentary. Their entrance into time is always a tight squeeze requiring the shoehorn of an “art experience,” which fits them into such and such temporal dimensions. To escape these confines they flee in dreams far beyond the boundary dolmen of Happy Valley.

Works of art flower into images, which create instants out of mere moments. Then again, art is like a soft explosion, as when the hero in the Happy Valley Community Summer Theatrical kills himself with a squirtgun while standing under some tremendously dark and emotive trees, as the sadness of the river landscape in the backdrop announces the arrival of dusk in the valley.

The bodies of the low dense trees cease to stand out from the darkening forest beyond, and once again the world disappears behind its false veil of transcendence. A river flows through the forest to where the land opens out into a delta of green and copper sand.

The long day of Happy Valley closes. There is a sigh from inside nature, as all the durations that have unfurled suddenly begin to fold themselves up, like huge petals closing, almost without making any noise. Yet the forest creatures remain alert.