“In what furnace is thy brain?” Zach Savich’s new book of prose, Events Film Cannot Withstand, takes Blake’s question to another interior, where one is in love with the world, beholding others there. This burning lyrical book, addressed to one who would be its intimate (and interspersed with photographs by Jeff Downey), is essential for those of us who care about art. And while not expressly about visual art, the double flame of art and writing (struck by Wang Wei, Twombly, Bishop, and others) catches here. —Elaine Bleakney
In a strange year in my life I found myself living in Holyoke, Massachusetts, the birthplace of volleyball flushed with defunct mills. Ladders lean out second-level windows, festive deflated inflatables serrate yards, a man shakes his hair dry. Tarp over a skylight. And so many fences I love that run along part of a house then simply stop, keeping nothing out. And fences made from boards merely leaning against wire.
A load of cabbage dumped in an alley on a torqued mattress.
My father said you can put canvas over barbed wire if you ever need to climb it but why would I and if I did would I have canvas or the time to think of it. But I love most his need to teach such. There was an elf in the raspberry bush with a time car.
I want to write you a beautiful book of prose, the kind you will love but find best for carrying, never reading. Yet can you please think of it as the book ever ripe for your bag or for sitting with as though this may be the time finally or you can use it to save a seat? Time and temperature the same on the bank clock. I watched John Wayne movies with the bartender, summer I went out at dusk to exercise my crutches.
We are bound by: wanting to assert, insist, continually prove that this world is enough, is everything we want, if we are willing to want it enough; and wanting to say we can transform it, incite ourselves, find the better ongoing or underlying momentarily hovering through. Yeast is a metaphor and also a fence’s paint that looks most like the color you want the instant it comes off the brush. But still how the boards absorb and absorb and the bucket.
I love of course the fences that to go over you may simply walk around.
As I love these lines around my eyes: I feel you could cut a key to match them and it would unlock a door I have been standing before unknowing, perhaps in a flash as a man “struck by lightning on the highway for an hour before somebody stopped to help.” In Holyoke I watched a man at the bar with a hand against his forehead I thought first holding his head up drunk but really he was holding a bandage on. The hardware man came in and the mailman. The guitar player asked everyone to move to the far end of the bar to hear.
I honestly once believed disaster was through all only sometimes unmanifest yet. You would be wrong to think I mean anything about substances. I named rock formations: this one is known as Leda of the Rocks. And sought to find them. What is the name of this forest? You know there is a river there by the trees there. You can just walk around each one to reach the river. The emergency exit is only painted on. And the room behind it full of old mattresses.
I spin a bit to find where I am.
What I have found across the country is commonalities of desire we have no name for. The professor asked me my thoughts about the free verse versus formalism debate so I stuttered, but then at dinner later I understood his actual curiosity and hope for everything under. I want you to read this but I want you to read this after you have read every other word I have written. The project is to project. A life projection. Such as insurance agents have been known to misplace and find they must rely instead on extant anecdotes or a very long “party sub.”
And while I know my friends will read me I have not fully considered the blunt audience of small children who older will find a shelf their parents collected and forgot for life. I remember when your only word was Degas, little Esme, like his reincarnation or one summoning it. We hunted dragonflies on the ebullient yard. Most of what your parents and I have said to each other we have forgotten or would now disagree with so please say. English is a second language. The man we met late the night before left three white fish on a post. Honey wine.
The way around may be through but the way through is then also around, I ventured, and that of course anything I say is actually an expression of a belief (desire) under it, so that when the professor said my work was too experimental and the professor said my work was too traditional each meant really something he or she loved that mine was not though they did not understand I too love what he or she loved—and of course would you trust an artist who did not think of herself as an experimenter traditionalist or did not say art is the reconcilation innovation of the imagination and time which continually expires among our illiteracy? But everything was better in the kitchen much later.
Plastic bags over our shoes to walk to the school bus left in a field. Meant there was snow. Her druggie brother sharpened the Thanksgiving knife wildly.
Another problem is that we do not learn chronologically, we know of Modernism before knowing what it reacted to and also do not understand what we are reading because we learn to understand anything because of the reading, thus the most influential parts of author x to me were features now that do not seem features of author x but of my life in one year I lived for.
And not to mention those who mistake technical effect for historical meaning.
And those who confuse technical expression and the sensibility homesteading there.
And those who don’t understand what I mean when I say I have only ever written from not sleeping or a sense that it could save my life, honestly, that I understand is not exactly sensible or true but that I trust and desire and try to be accountable to withstanding.
And the altitudes at which air itself becomes hued.
More than the fallacies of populism when we know what real need, desire, empathy, oppression, and censorship breed (the Ardent).
And shiver at those who can afford to say lighten up or act as though none of it matters, nonchalance is a taxidermied pike in the single remaining eye of the world, or who eliminate one or even two thirds of what we have for heart-brains because they lighten up. Where is the verve and the ought? Where is the cinnamon in the snake? Among the small targets many smally hit. While Hopkins called music “faith-heat.”
We find ourselves outside the stories. The loss of honor is the loss of pride. I feel myself a threshold. You and I, persistent cockfucks, have gained something we love through unconventional means now to preserve it I find myself wanting to summon conventions which run counter to all I love, much as any avant-garde enters a university’s humanist brick. To never become one who from excess of love of one thing does not recognize how that love is present, how that thing exists, in other furnaces, and I would like to be surprised.
You may have known me during the time I studied chronic pain and numbness, having experience of them and believing hewing to such states could render a closer honesty. And then the month I kept a pain notebook and a month later looked back and found it never mentioned pain. But described snow. Your inseam in words. Posthumous, terminal hour I preferred certain crosswalks at. To be connoisseur of nothing you can see. I love the moment of stutter most: speaking in the mosaic room, how I felt obliged to say beyond the limit of what I can easily say, the world’s oldest teenager, how the many square tiles come to a curve, your posture better in a field or the dark.
No—the stutter that goes on, not merely sound of fingers ethereal on strings or the breathing of the singer haunting the tape, we are not so weary and broken that merely any present voice will do, nor silence,but want the stutter and the going on with the aid of eyebrow or you can touch my neck, as clapping can keep time for a breaking voice, behold now the mosaic from a distance up to one mile. This cut will not heal without staples.
She said a perfect radio could find Moses in air. Then, as a match loosed down a well achieves its most telling sense by going dark, she closed her eyes.
The point of studying landscape is you then realize everything is landscape as the point of staring into eyes was to then see anything as it was looking back, much as when you realize you have been quoting something you’ve never read or someone indicates there’s a bit of lemon in the stew. I saw the lichens then everything in relation to. Blossomed where paintballs primed the bigbox stores.
The moment still life painting shifted to accommodate pouring wine, a spun coin, candle flame, the entire snowy field at dusk. Do you have the time?
More and more, I appreciate the stone tower’s clock that strikes once for half past and doesn’t bother with the hours. Even what doesn’t repeat is a pattern. You can recognize the horizon because you are standing there. Remember when we lived at the sea?
A Holyoke fence, then, is anything you believe obstructs until you find you are examining it from every angle to figure out how to get through it and see you have already gone around. I have been trying not to quote but find myself thinking of Roethke, since I have never not been in love:
What lover keeps his song
I sigh before I sing
I love because I am
A rapt thing with a name
You know I rely too much on memory so cannot tell you how the punctuation goes or if I have ever read those lines before. How about a little more life in your life? Could you go for some right now? Also: there is no Hell, only your body, and the pre-emptive necrophilia that true love is. Think of a tin can phone and you are the string between them.
Zach Savich is the author of three books of poetry, including The Firestorm.
“Holyoke Fences” is from Events Film Cannot Withstand (Rescue Press, 2011). Many thanks to the publishers for allowing At Length to post it here.
Rescue Press publishes work by activists, artists, list-makers, lyricists, philosophers, writers, and creative thinkers of all kinds. It is a library of chaotic and investigative work.