Tonight in the Quiet
House – stone and beam
chapel cenotaph for Mark
Dreier, killed in a Lake
Eden car – Cage sleeps,
Whitmanesque his suspiration,
obligato of catbird,
thrum of rot,
multiply. His beard
and nails grow. Sugars,
proteins metabolize. Above him
vaults the ridge. Through the fog
trickle droplets construing
the Catawba’s headwaters.
The hushed iambs
of his heart silence
the anechoic night.
Beneath the cot
he lay upon, between
When I first heard of Cage there was nothing
but silence. Ron Bayes loaned me Duberman.
I read the book in awe. I was writing
naked poems about my life: boomerangs
sailed swiftly back to me with rejection
letters. I didn’t get Cage, yet the clicks
in his voice, its soft nuanced inflection,
the entrancing eyes, like Saint Benedict’s,
convinced me of his scholasticism.
I listened like a monk for poems hatching
in the ether of monasticism.
I even took to throwing the I Ching.
Cage was holy. He heard something apart:
I covet his ear’s capacious heart.
Irwin Kremen Mesostic: A Chance Remark by John Cage
Grabowski: Cage and Cunningham at Duke
I met Helen Grabowski at Penland.
We talked the whole night about Black Mountain:
Cage sound, Cunningham choreography.
She’d seen them at Duke University.
In the swales below us formed a fountain
of hay laced with foxfire from which llamas
grazed, igniting as they chewed each gleaned hank
from the rick, as if themselves in homage
to chance – their vintage fur livery, pompous
flashing grins. John Cage cradled a pink
mammoth conch side to side before the mic:
hush and brogue of the Atlantic breaching
the shoals. About him sluiced waves of naked
women dancers, splashing the aisles, sacred.
Robert Creeley declared in his teaching:
“form is never more than an extension
of content.”I’d been drinking tea, writing
a sonnet about Mary’s Ascension.
Darkness had begun its slow declension.
Grabowski slipped into the abiding
scullery warmth, and sat across from me.
“The performance was the most organic
evocation of nature ever. See?”
Outside, rain had fallen forgetfully.
The streets of Durham shone tan and slick
as the audience departed the hall.
They hadn’t bothered opening umbrellas.
Tuxedoes and minks walked through the thrall
of gossamer water. Steam rose in a wall.
Not even a sound left to embellish.
Cage in John and Yoko’s Kitchen
The inaugural sound: sizzling,
then the legend: 27 sounds
manufactured in a kitchen.
The initial image: Yoko,
in a white shirt, standing
at a bank of cupboards
in the fateful Dakota.
She pings a brass pot
with a wooden spoon,
shakes a drawer of cutlery,
grinds a pepper mill, whisks
transparent soup, thwacks
on (or off – the cuts
overlap) a rubber glove,
screws a lid on a mason jar,
pries off a canister cap.
Cage – blue denim
jacket over blue shirt, shaggy
coffee-colored hair, the soft
soothing voice – narrates:
I follow the macrobiotic diet
now and I’m grateful to Yoko
Ono and John Lennon.
They have been for many years
following the macrobiotic diet.
What it is is a refusal of animal
fats, the use instead of vegetable
oils. He slices on a cutting
board kelp, washes asparagus,
measures a cup of brown rice,
dumps and stir-fries.
My wrists used to be this thick –
with his right hand describes
around his left (he wears
a wristwatch) the circumference
of a python. I couldn’t have lifted
this cup – a beautiful
flowered mug (Cage mugging
the while) – nine years ago.
And within one week
of the changed diet,
I had no further need
for aspirin. I had been taking
12 aspirins a day for 15 years
at the advice of – cannily pausing,
looks to his left, smiles wryly at John
and Yoko, one presumes, just beyond
the frame – fine doctors.
I spent two days, I would say,
in shock, at the notion of not eating
butter again. Shizuko used to say,
“Don’t take the diet too seriously.”
I said, “What do you mean
when you say don’t take the diet
too seriously?” And she said,
”Well, when you’re with friends,
you could have a potato.”
Cage snaps a wax bean
in half, turns to his invisible
hosts and cracks up.
Elegy Cage: Driving to Ma Peak’s for a Beer
Underfoot a league resounds the source
inaudible. Moles reckon it, surface
collared green in gyres of grass,
dear little appliances, precious
as fungi, precisely surreptitious.
The narrow bridge is nameless;
warped planks shudder, give
under a 1948 Dodge pick-
up – Cage at the wheel, that first summer
with Cunningham, Black Mountain,
Buncombe County, North Carolina –
then hammer back into formation across
the Swannanoa. Trout swim west
to the Great Smokeys, Tennessee
where Stevens’ Dominion
Wide Mouth Jar is buried.
Creek stones notch time by disintegrating.
Cage throttles the truck:
thrum and combustion.
Speed: a mass, projectile, object of density
and will (What does not change /
is the will to change) –sprinter,
dancer, truck – displacing
the troposphere – ignition,
blazing oxygen, Cage,
one-handed, straight-drive on the column,
barreling through the portal
of random, balling the jack,
detonating that big 8-
cylinder, so aged and rickety, yet eager as verse,
primed to blow,
toward Hwy 70 (an oddly organic silence hatching as well).
The overcast night sky (suggestion
of thunder) – buckeyes
tock off the macadam – ¾
moon behind it. Spooky,
gothic clouds race across its pocked brow,
prelude to a horror matinee,
a deliciously diabolically implicit composition:
silent violins, silent coyotes.
The bright marbled
light of Genesis (swooning melodrama): like (simile)
the distant caged rumble of lions demurring
from the LA Zoo when Johnny was a boy
(the sound he dreams about, but can never quite
approximate in composition).
So, apparently, light (annum’s final fireflies
in the meadow) influences sound.
Witness the ¼-shaved yellow moon –
what Cage might call a notation,
perhaps a transcription –
across which spills a piercing whistle:
freighter in the solemn vale?
catbird impersonating a cat?
Screech owl: some nights
a comedian, others
a Trinity of deer, sneezing alarm, sough of seduction –
alabaster in the Dodge lunar brights – through
hayed swales, threshed in windrows,
bales from early haying lording there
on summer’s last elegiac page.
Bullfrogs trumpet. Cows-bellow
(calving season, mothers birthing
out in fields behind barbed wire).
Coyotes whoop and war-cry. All of it,
every stitch, contrapuntal,
John never searched for sound.
There never was a search for a sound
beside the wood but one –
the search, of course,
for how to approximate it.
The sublime at work here:
the source, the moles, the
Tennessee, screech owl, catbird, Cage and his manx,
the highballing Asheville train,
deer, seahorses, question marks,
bullfrogs, cows and coyotes.
Mothers and fathers. The inadequate
language employed to approximate
what might have actually happened:
Simultaneity, Conflation. What
Dogma terms a miracle: rehearsed
in the random, foretold actually,
if the purest
can be said to be
tonal, orchestral –
to possess a sound,
a fetish all its own.