This is where a poem enters.
After the introduction, before the conclusion. It does not need to tell the whole story, just as it can tell as much of its tale in the space where the line leaves off, empty cavities anticipating pause. This was going to be a meditation on the relationship between art and poetry, and the value of the ekphrasis, a poem that evokes the momentum and meaning of a work of art. Could a piece of text, both literally and visually, really reflect the rhythm of the image that it claims? It’s a dead form, an artist said to me, it died the day it was born.
That same afternoon, I found myself with an artist who showed me an image of Tatlin’s Tower, the Russian constructivist structure made of iron, glass and steel, spiraling inside and around itself. Meant to dwarf the Eiffel Tower; a symbol of the solidity of a nation in its ability to absorb shock and its willingness to rust with time. Perhaps it was also meant to symbolize the rigid freedom (were the columns and radials holding something in or preventing something external from entering?) of existence itself.
Except, Tatlin’s Tower was never made.
Only the image remains. I try, like a failed architect, to make a blueprint, revealing, in the overarching structure, the process of writing poetry with reference to an image. Two coffins buried side-by-side. Just as the Tower never formed, neither did this poem find a finish. Instead, the words spill, spiral, build and tumble into each other, until they can see no further from themselves. A structure with no perspective. For how does one eulogize something that never existed? So here is a note to ‘it’, The Tower and The Poem.
To preserve something that does not exist is the archivist’s last job. After this, sleep.
It can be seen even when it is only heard, it can be understood even when its language is not known |It tells the middle, it tells us about the time it breathed. It hides between bookshelves plotting where to go next and stays like a film of white on a duck pâté or a bubble in white wine| It does not know when its heart skips a beat and it still lives, it walks streets at night and doesn't get lost| It picks up what it finds on the way, and takes it home and makes it something else| It is a musician and it makes music| It is happy even when it is sad| It always travels with a rope for all purposes, and when it runs out, it pulls more out of the word purposes| It lives beside its own afterlife| It is arbitrary in parts, with a single spine| Even as it attempts the cosmic, the stone peels, and it measures the earthly| It celebrates astronomy, botany, mnemonics, mathematics, art| It is a manifesto| It commemorates nothing| It wishes for so many things but wish sounds like whish, and just like that, with a mere sound, whatever it desires eludes it.
The tower turns inside out or outside in, a cyclone or a labyrinth, chasing its own tail, reaching towards its source, like a deluded river that can see no further than its breadth and the lines grow and elongate as they travel both upward and downward, always reaching for the point that will put a stop to this infinite aspiration that finds no life and therefore no death but an empty mortuary of mirrors and meaninglessness, symbols without their of, the artifice of it all, the air, there’s too much air being let in, flippant form losing potential and yawning for more.
Who was Tatlin? If the poem is dead, what did the poet stand for?
Tomorrow, they’ll bring in somebody else, pack this one away in a box. Naive habit. How was the archivist to discern the difference between one corpse and the other? Belly and bone wanting weight. Is he hungry? The rapidly decaying nose did not tell the whole story and has lost its place in semiotics. Was he a milk and sugar kind of guy, or scotch on the rocks? Did he mind the static on his stereo? What did he refuse, the archivist wondered, that his short life had no dust? At least the contents of his pockets, and models he had made, were maps. A posteriori. What if what we can’t see has nothing to do with infinity? What if everything is just always spiraling inward or outward, at right angles with everything else? Over and over again. First the strong post of the I, then fragile bend of the t.
The archivist gathers the surface, the air and leaves the door ajar.
(Image on top: Model, Tatlin's Tower, 1919; Wikimedia Commons)