063.1: Mark Irwin:: On the mountain once & Cuckooland & Self Portrait with Whiffle Ball & In the Year Of 063

Reading Mark Irwin's poetry requires encountering the bigness and overwhelmingness of the world within the boundedness of the world, "where one leaf becomes a galaxy" and where a tulip creates "a red greater than any word." The four poems below appear at first glance to be short, brief snapshots of images and moments of time, but what occurs through the reading of each poem is an unfolding into the same largeness that the images find, a movement toward Kant's mathematical sublime. This sublimity is not found in the obviously boundless but rather in the infinite contained within the intimately bound that is carefully considered. Irwin's sublime draws from a perspective similar to ancient Chinese poets such as Wang Wei and Li Po: this mathematical sublime opens up a tenderness toward the world as opposed to awe. We find ourselves with Irwin hoping "[t]o hear just one / unravel through earth from seed." Andrew Wessels

On the mountain once,

I held a body in spring, on the mountain
where one leaf becomes a galaxy, and the swift flesh
moves beneath trees. When will you? When will you? they say. To hear just one
unravel through earth from seed. We live on a mountain vaulting
green and snow, and sometimes we face into the glare
with eyes closed to feel the sun blowing us
home. The mountain’s a fat, slow arrow
of earth and stone where singing in the wind
we hang on.


The panther’s performance seems perfect, a piston surging
back and forth within the steel cage’s engine that pushes
nothing and goes nowhere as the trees bud, leafing, growing, filling
in the space beyond all the cages whose spaces do not change
as the green boy wanders beneath clouds in cuckooland
where he would like to open all the cages, destroying each space
the way a tulip, opening its mouth, turns a room into a moor,
having created from infancy a red greater than any word.

Self Portrait with Whiffle Ball

The air defines, deludes,
refines and musses us like words finding
wind from mouths, or moving across a page’s white
smudged like yours. Scribe that I am
I like pitching your slight, top-sided weight
that curves, dives, meaning to miss,
whizzing like the music of consonants and vowels beyond,
or the hollows of a body gone.

In the Year Of

In autumn we watch scarlet leaves open the horizon
then sometimes find chrysalides on the twigs of trees,
or the casings of bullets in the grass. We sit in our homes
covered with snow, waiting, half-sleeping through the dusk
where zero is a house or an egg blasted to nothing.
How to get back to the bigness of winter before the white
becomes sopping wet—or to find there, higher up on the far meadow
just after snowmelt a new water. Later that year in July, after touching
and breathing hard a long time, we walked outside to see a comet
that won’t return for a hundred years. Its phosphorescent
track like that of a snail still crawls.