019.1: Melissa Kwasny:: Lost Pictograph & Petroglyph: Bird with Speech Symbol 019

In writing a series of poems inspired by looking at the petroglyphs and pictographs in Montana and the West, Melissa Kwasny seeks what Ezra Pound called "a live tradition." In America, particularly in the West, tradition and history are not old buildings, the surviving remnants of the continued civilizing of nature. The tradition that Kwasny finds around her is nature itself: feather stems, "[w]eed scratching against weed", snow geese, willow limbs. The remnants of civilizations, these petroglyphs and pictographs that inspire the poems, are hidden within nature.

The object seen becomes a visual image. The visual image is transcribed in some sort of semi-permanent form: painting or engraving on a rock, pen on paper, photograph, published book, HTML code. What is that gap between internalization and production? We could sit and fret over questions of mimesis and difference. This is tempting as it seems to be what we are supposed to do. However, this is not the question that Kwasny asks. To ask these questions is to look at the past and to look away from the living world. Kwasny's attention is focused on the land: "Where there is land birds will come back with grasses."

A third poem from this series, "My Pictograph", is available as a letterpress broadside as part of Chapvelope One. Andrew Wessels

Lost Pictograph

after Michael Ondaatje

The light darkened, stained to the thin color of Chinese tea, then lost its muscle and unraveled. Dust covering the shine we lost on surfaces. We lost, too, some will, never our strong suit. Disturbing, the children who, once we have mentioned the word “grenade,” cannot think about anything else. We lost: our facility to stand in front of people, prepare ourselves for the event. While the others wound strips of deer hide round the feather stems. We lost: a comfort alone in our own house. On national shame: you don’t see it much here, but it’s bleak everywhere else. Weed scratching against weed on the dry plains. We lost two days to the snow geese, driving to them for hours, then watching their singular white drift. The way a flock becomes a line that turns cursive. Do we know what the winter is? Isolate, long, searching futilely for a nest for our blue eggs. Almost losing our memory that there are leaves.


Petroglyph: Bird with Speech Symbol

Gestures in the willow limbs: chimestones, plummets. Where there is land birds will come back with grasses. Speak to everything. What kind of echo chamber can you create? The fire still burning low in the basement. Or, as I did, spend an hour outside under the wide brim of sky which scientists—scientists, what an old-fashioned word!—say no artificial spectrum can match. We are entering a contest called “The Eskimo’s Names for Snow.” Flake by flake, we are building a ladder. Closer to the language on the ridgeline of gray pines, breathing out their colorless air. On the radio, a man is speaking of light, how it enters predominantly through the eye, but there have also been instances of it entering behind the knee and thus effecting its transformation of the cells. The house is closed. The walls opaque. And then the windows, the doors begin to glow. One sees them now, can go to them and open them. Scintilla: the least trace. To make light of matter. The tamer birds, their shadow-worts on the ground. Like seed-casks, like the after effect of laughter.