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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Nathaniel Mackey's Song of the Andoumboulou 26 (Post 2)

(See below for the first post on this poem.)

This is a decidedly dramatic, narrative poem that nevertheless buries it's story. Before getting to some of the poem's myriad subtleties, it would help to identify some of the broad outlines of the narrative. I am taking some liberties here, but this is what I see as the basis of what is going on.

1. We begin with the narrator and at least one companion traveling. They come to a valley, but the closer they get to it the more it becomes clear that it is a precipice with exposed rock stratum.

2.One of the traveler's keeps uttering a pessimistic phrase, apparently having received a great, gaping psychic wound.

3. The first section ends with a sort of religious rite, with altars, horns, flutes, and drums. This seems to be the conclusion of that: "Edge be my birthright." The ritual reveals that we are all always already at the precipice, on the edge of time, on the edge of one culture relative to another, and in our decisions creating an ever changing culture.

4. The next stanza begins halfway down the next page and below a horizontal line, meaning that it has the status of both a stanza and a poem within a poem. Again, they are traveling. Apparently, on a rope bridge beyond a ledge and across a gorge. It creates vertigo. The word "home" becomes relative, and seems to be only the ledge at the other end of the bridge. Is there no "home" in this radical fluidity and dynamism?

5. Next, they are apparently traveling on the ocean and washed up on Lone Shore. Apparently, the coast was supposed to be the place of the utopic city Zar. Instead, it was the apparent site of a massacre: "stripped limbs / catching / late October / light." The stanza also repeats words such as "again" and "rebegan," emphasizing how often such actions occur.

6. The next section is quite difficult to get a hold of. A ta'wil is an explanation or interpretation of the Qar'an. Above the mention of this are the images — champagne, roses, grapes — associated with the image of the altar in section three. Somehow, this interpretation seems to leave the people in the poem bereft and "twinless," twins being important to the spiritual beliefs of the Dogon. It is important to note that in this place there is an image of a book with blank, watery pages.

7. We are back on Lone Coast and beginning to bid the senses goodbye. They hold a hollow head to his ear. Most of the rest of this stanza focuses on how listening through the shell connects him to nature but divides him from people, who for the first time he refers to as "they." They seem to climb a precipice to the land of low branches, which Mackey seems to figure a little more positively than the damp beach. Here, the "book is drawn in flammable ink," and it ends by emphasizing the book of undone. Nonetheless, the dry underbrush scratches the bare skin.

8. This is another poem-within-a-poem. First it says that they now go by "two new names, / Hummed Outer Meat" and "Hollowness." Then it describes a nasty tale rehearsed by the sea shell he is still listening to. It is a meeting described by a lot ob abusive-sounding verbs.

9. It ends with three people separating. Two people run toward Loquat Cove, and the narrator runs by himself away from it. Then an earthquake intervenes, and the "whistling / fissure" seems to cause everyone to stop their running.

My next post will be more interpretive

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