stephen ratcliffe

     from   HUMAN / NATURE


silver of sunlight rising above plane of ridge, white line
of jet trail moving across pale blue sky above it, golden-
crowned sparrow’s oh dear me in right foreground  
on radio asking about “the red zone,” Brigadier General
calling it “a line across which a decision may be made”

Secretary of Defense claiming the coalition is closing
on Baghdad, regime “under increasing pressure,” Iraqi
soldiers can still survive “if they do the right thing”  

white line of jet trail’s slanting across blue-white sky
overhead, cloud lowering across shoulder of ridge below it



upturned curve of still dark pine branch in upper right
foreground, sound of golden-crowned sparrow’s oh dear me,
silver of sun reflecting off body of jet passing overhead  

man on radio reporting Arab dead on Iraq TV called martyrs,
hospitals in Baghdad filled to overflowing  
                                            General Richard

Myers claiming we have dropped 750 Tomahawks and over 18,000
precision-guided munitions, Secretary of Defense noting “our
goal has been to not have a war”  

                                   plane of cloudless blue
sky tilting down behind circular green pine on the point,
oval green mouth of wave breaking into left foreground



plane of still dark ridge below blue-white sky in the window
opposite the unmade yellow and blue bed, tobacco plant leaf
in window on the left, golden-crowned sparrow’s oh dear me  

A-10 Warthog firing 1 ton of depleted uranium in 1 minute,
10 pound rod of solid uranium in each shot fired by tank  

Iraqi commander claiming “they’re going to die in their
tanks,” B-52 dropping bunker-busting bombs on building
in Baghdad, “moderately hopeful that Saddam was there”  

line of sun reflected in blue-white plane, sweptback
wingspan of jet against cloudless blue sky overhead



silhouette of sparrow perched on upturned curve of pine
branch in upper right foreground, blinding silver of sun
rising above ridge on left, sound of jet passing overhead

man on radio claiming “Rumsfeld pleaded agnosticism today,”
marine vet admitting “I take no joy in seeing people dead”

woman on phone noting it isn’t the Fool but Kent who says
“See better, Lear,” no champagne for the man on the right
who thought otherwise  

                        white line of wave breaking below
circular green pine on point in right foreground, white
line of jet trail against cloudless blue sky above it



pale blue oval opening in grey-white clouds above ridge
in left corner, upturned curve of still dark pine branch
in foreground below it, sound of a gull circling overhead  

man on left claiming “a portrait is a painting of a person
trying to pose,” viewer doesn’t materialize until it’s done

man at end of the table recalling seeing Othello five nights
in a row, noticing “every time Desdemona died and woke up
again, my mind had a moment of hope”  
                                       horizontal line
of grey-white clouds against blue sky in upper left
corner, green plane of tree-lined ridge below it


«±  ±»

author note:   H / N (all 1000 pages of it, written in 1000 consecutive days between 10.19.02 - 7.14.05) works as a kind of 'essay' on the relation between things seen/observed in the world and how such things might be made ('transcribed'/'transformed') as works of written (or visual) art-- the paintings Kandinsky takes up in Concerning the Spiritual in Art for example.  Every poem has ten lines in four stanzas, with the outer two stanzas recording things seen and/or heard in the world of 'nature' (the first stanza on each page 'looking' at things out the window here in Bolinas, the last stanza at things which I've seen out in the water when I go surfing), the two middle stanzas noting things seen or read/heard about in the human world (that is, things made out of language). Thus on every page, perceptions of actual 'real' things in the natural world 'frame' what might be thought or said or written or in fact made of things in that world -- e.g., as 'works of art' or 'transcriptions' of actual, 'real' things/events/actions in the world, which I've noted and 'written down' in exactly such shapes on the page; likewise in any series of pages, the two middle stanzas on any given page, which write down or 'transcribe' facts of activity in the human world, 'frame' theperception of actual 'real' things/actions/events in the natural world. As you can see, the poems in this selection make reference to the Iraq war, which was just getting started up at this point (April 03).
stephen ratcliffe's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in P-Queue, War & Peace, Jacket, Shampoo, The Brooklyn Rail, Green Integer Review, Carnet de Route, and the anthology American Hybrid. His  recent books of poetry include Portraits & Repetition (The Post-Apollo Press, 2002) and SOUND/(system) (Green Integer, 2002) and  Listening to Reading, a book of essays on contemporary experimental poetry, was published by SUNY Press (2000) He teaches at Mills College in Oakland.




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