Sneath Lane

An exit sign by the airport freeway, the snatch of a laugh before the antsy terminal:
a secret name for some lair or hide, a snake’s sheath, a snail’s stealthy path of slime;

till one time high on arrival & reunion (skin & eye electric, your body within reach)
we succumb to a mile’s distraction & are quickly siphoned off eastwardly, wrongly,

on a ramrod avenue skirting a vast green, close-shaven deathscape, soldier’s Elysium,
stone sails sunk in scrolls of wet grass–Walt’s abundant hair of graves–still serried

The Infernal Visions of St. Max: On Rosanna Warren’s Biography of Max Jacob

Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters 
Rosanna Warren
(Norton, 2020, 720 pp., $45)

Halfway through Rosanna Warren’s magisterial life of the poet Max Jacob I found myself wondering what that life might have been like if the tormented Jacob had had available to him at any point the intellectual and emotional resources represented by the Anglo-Saxon biographical tradition: this serene spaciousness of detachment and nuanced judgment freed from political, religious, and even aesthetic partisanship. What possibilities might have opened up for a man at such fierce odds with his own family, class, religion, and sexuality (and arguably, his own talent), if he could have breathed even for a brief time the tolerant, musing air of Warren’s narration? The truth is, I suspect, that it might have obviated his need to write.

Claude Glass

Landscape with Flaying of Marsyas, Claude Lorrain

And when Enlightenment fails there’s a tool
small enough to fit in your inside pocket
on a tour of the Alps or the Outer Hebrides,
smooth as a lady’s compact, slightly curved,
filled with the mineral powder of darkness
that dims the excesses of subjectivity,
blots Romantic tears, contracts a view
into the palm of the hand, keeps you back
from the edge of the vertiginous ravine
the sublime opens up in your mind.
Turn away from the landscape, hold up
the glass, shield your face from the sun:

Salvage Veuve

for Adam Zagajewski

Swedish divers investigating a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea have found 30 bottles of champagne, produced in the 18th century. The divers believe that they have stumbled upon the remains of a cargo ship that carried the Russian Empress Catherine the Great gifts from the French King Louis XVI.

Voice of Russia, July 18, 2010

1

No matter how far we sailed,
French would be spoken there,
spreading like scarlet fever

or tendrils of morning glory:
a syrupy drawl in the tropics,
crisp in the Northern tundra;