Blackbox Manifold

Issue 10: Duncan White

“Floatation Device”

for Pete Spence

let’s do this in the voice of Sylvia Sass!  it rings so true

as halfway through the play a strangeness is overtaking us and it’s heavy

all around.  the air fills with substance.  lichen. some unspoken loss

and the charged absence of a brief and busy period alone

meets us here in our separations gasping for breath.  it was that kind

of painting far from the geometrics of dawn always floating

just beyond our grasp.  it had more sound than colour and lived in you afterwards

rather than in a room somewhere.  how we hate things

that live in rooms! we like most things.

it’s the time of year. so scented!  after months

of bitterness it is good to take to the pollinated air and to breathe

at least for a time. like other people’s pain

it is there but you can’t feel it.

yet it may be what connects one picture with another.  the “you”

that is there all the time. but here I am

you pretending someone else

is speaking and it’s your face that’s moving all the same.  maybe we

rely too heavily on the visual.  maybe it’s because with our eyes

closed the world is such a confusing place to live in. 

I am always impressed by how difficult and yet how easy

it is to get from one moment to the next

in one’s life!  that must be life, or what we mean by it? 

a ballet you’re not really interested in

but you go to all the same.  but I know what you’re thinking:

yes Sylvia! whatever you say!

it was a different place back then.  you thought nuit blanche

was a kind of vegetable and the farmer’s wife had houses all over town

where you could rest your boots still wet from the rain and crumbs

of the outside world clung to the slowly drying adherence of these cumbersome

derangements.  What say we push it out into the current and watch Leonora

disappear forever?  You look at the rain and say you don’t

feel like it much.  but that’s precisely when you must do things!

When your mood is wrong and the weather is not right.  how do you think

I met your mother?  lifting hay bails out of the snow?  it’s the way you

describe the journey once you make it back indoors:  pathos most of the time

with some sort of liveliness in the middle. the continuity of its parts

meets you halfway out of the door calling you a bad name

as you merge with the embittered symbolism of the thing.  like driving

a tank through the village for a photograph shoot.  it wasn’t you.  except that

it was.  

winter 1983 at the funeral of our favourite voice coach leaning

over to say: love is not like this! the memory turning green

as each of the colours between now and then work into another

form of osmosis like “absorb” as “something leaches

into the soil” turning cold in your pack.  we work

with only one short break for refreshment (just say the word!)

awaiting the implication of your approach over the reddening marsh

disturbing the fieldstarts nesting at safe distances from how things begin.

but who is this walking into your picture a head taller than the sanctuary

offered by the pages of Paris Magazine? don’t let him see you

playing truant behind his back where we wander between best examples

hoping neither will be selected.  ownership means you cannot be

separated from whatever it is

completely.  your version of anything the variant

cutting the sky in two just above the trees. 

the first answer is the best. and it is the hardest

to understand.  it sets up the tone for what follows

and running into trouble along this scale of decibels

something always follows.  the final word is one

you have never seen before.  you don’t check

the dictionary but go instead to the fridge where good things

are waiting for you.  has anyone ever been this hungry? asks

the expressionist raising flags all over the camp.  you wonder

like a priest obsessed with how much things cost

if it’s that kind of poverty? the part of you that grew up

on a desert island with no other children around thinks

it is. you pick up the conversation

after the question about writing letters in the dark.

it’s too late.  you could only tell stories to yourself.   

it’s like I know you already! and maybe you do

sharing yourself with the cliff-dwellers who do know

how to congregate.  carefully

they speak into the air having thought

for the allocated time when daylight shows

what the possibilities are.  these get to work

opening the air at precisely the moment

your voice moves in.  there and not there.

unholy footholds invisible until dusk

picks out the angles of our treacherous route

back along the breaks in old songs.  hey Sylvia!

they call.  it’s Domingo and I want my turn.

Duncan White has recently published poems in ETZ and in issue 7 of Black Box Manifold. He curated WOW WOW WOW RECEIVER a book project that was produced live during the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair and included new work by Pam Brown, Kenneth Goldsmith and Laurence Upton. A review of his poems by Pam Brown can be found here: He is research fellow at Central Saint Martins. Thanks to Pete Spence for providing the title of this poem.