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  Tom Lowenstein
Tom Lowenstein’s books include Filibustering in Samsara (1987), The Things that were Said of Them (1992), Ancient Land:Sacred Whale (1993) and Ancestors and Species (2005). Ultimate Americans (Point Hope, Alaska, 1826-1909) is published by the University of Alaska Press, March 2009. Conversation with Murasaki (new poems) will appear in autumn 2009.



Secondary Presences


It is the world composes.
A writer
its amanuensis merely.


Nothing to pencil beyond
some ritualised behaviour on
this anthropocene prairie.


Pencil re-engages with the surface
it researches. An archaic conversation.
As cranes’ feet trampled the Euphrates delta.


Which is it matters: these problematic
assonantal choices or the trees themselves
dictating their syllabic instigation?


(But then how do the two eventually
converge on this triangle of graphite
that presses the hand forward?)


No enchantment in the
syllable beyond what it
acquires by interrelation.


Every syllable a risk; a trespass.
Crude integument of pencil that briefly
surrounds that tentative initial embryo.


Movement back to this 14th century apple.
Grafted by Chaucer. Shakespeare ate it.

Browne and Marvell contemplated and enclosed it.
Milton incubated and then hatched the maggot.


(Keats identified
the apple and
divined its centre.)


Flies take off and the dog runs by.
Most knowledge is pretending.
Expressing it, metonymy.


The wind got up on the library terrace and dark cloud
fell over red St Pancras. Where will this blow us now
there’s so much to complete and the world has finished?


Obscurity and anonymity – these were the coordinates.
The wind comes across and the sky grows dark.
People are killing for some verses they believe in.


Development of epic. Sea water; loyalties; netherworld
hallucinations. And a cheerful resolution where the
shambles of the voyage echoes, germinating recapitulation.


Falcon chased off by a couple of crows whose
chutzpah was engendered in a DNA that Pleistocene
hunters encrypted in their jokes and stories.


An old black poplar where Little
Owls have nested. Decades of east
London tattooed into their elocution.


An irritatingly gobbling chirrup from
a starling on the TV aerial. But
at least it’s not trying to be a celebrity.


I knew that old monk. He rendered
flowers of English verse into classical Sanskrit.
At ninety he took an occasional siesta.


The best gardens were kept by a rakshasah:
a night stalker whose practice it was to fly
through the branches of her mango orchard.

Further verses concerned bones that she left
standing upright. A psychological narrative.


Blake’s burial at Bunhill Fields.
Head stones harvested in 1950
to create a broad, square green: rendered gold

in the autumn by plane tree leaf-fall
fed by old corpses and the edge of where
in summer children’s games echo.


He tried to become that old book he never finished:
catalogued in the usual way
but mis-shelved for the time being.


Sehnsucht and displacement. But look here,
on the subject of that deprivation:
this was perfect good fortune for us minor poets.


‘Is he writing about his loved one, his doe?
Does he weep on her account, and sigh
for her high breasts and indifferent glances?’

‘No, Shulamit, he’s nearer seventy than sixty
and is simply transcribing the wind blowing
through the orchard.’ ‘Is that all then? OK, forget it.’


These secondary presences, spirit
siblings, half unborn simulacra, don’t
exist, then they do, as nouns stagger

down the pencil from some
unvoiced suspension: and yet nothing
from those old back staples is depleted,
and these vehicles are harmless, carry
nothing and are nothing, have no origin,
no body, travel nowhere, denote nothing

but some ritualised join or re-configuration.
Breath, too, works elsewhere: most especially
never on this sterile one-dimensioned

plain with its flotsam of parched,
black hieroglyphic flora.
Phonological time passes unvoiced over metal.


Ratiocination hence! Avaunt encapsulation,
reference, involution and this
busy-bodying of the hyper-expressive.

Sehnsucht – yearning
rakshasah – Sanskrit: a bad spirit

© Tom Lowenstein 2009