A Lexeography of John High's The Sasha Poems
12.1 Apollo stuttered as the child slept & mother goose fluttered her
wings & surely it is only a matter of time before the grief & its face will
pass? Or so thought the slowest among us, the guardian of this tale. Apollo
here as the leader of the Muses, Apollo Musagetes. The stutter is his style.
Connected by rhyme to Mother Goose. As Pythian Apollo, the Delphic god of
divination, he is the guardian of this tale. Prophet as the slowest among
us. No distinction here between myth and fairy tale - and, by extension,
fable, here in this book of fables.
12.2 The path begins again & though more discreet with the child, our soul
charters the age of earth. Why is it so difficult for you to understand
this? For starters: the word charters, to hire or lease, to establish by a
written instrument given as evidence of agreement, transfer, or contract,
from charta, paper made from papyrus; its echo of charts, also from charta,
to map, diagram, or graph. Once again we are in the presence of the
remainder: the excess of meaning makes it difficult for us to understand
this. Or: the understanding of an excess of meaning as difficulty makes it
possible for us to read this. It becomes clear that the path offered here is
the path of multiplicity in and through language: it begins again everywhere
and always: with each poem, with each paragraph, with each sentence, each
word. The path leads in time to the letter, the origin of meaning, and the
site of its destabilization.
13.1 no sorrow except sorrow
13.2 The smell of skin the same as skin.
13.3 The three Angels feast at the table, disguised as angels.
13.4 As if we are hearing the dead.
Repetition also is a form of the remainder. Tautology is excess against
meaning. The failure of meaning, its silence. As close to the voice of the
dead as language gets. Appose to this J. Hillis Miller: There is no meaning
without repetition. Repetition invites misreading: tautology: taut, taught,
taunt, against ideology. Repetition provides a space for playful reading. A
deliberate perversity of misreading, of rewriting: no sorrow except
tomorrow; the smell of sin the same as skin; the three Angels feast at the
table, disguised as angles; as if we are hearing the read. Reading against
the grain towards what is possible to be read: the text brings with it an
enormous baggage of the unwritten. The plural text insists that a reading
include its unwritten elements.
14.1 The child's mouth turned downward as she reached for Orpheus' mouth.
As if she were seeing another of her kind. Orpheus dangling his legs from
the fence. These children of dictionary, like the eggs from a black hen, the
angel taunted. And when they are down, they are down, as the queen used to
say. Mouth and mouth, down and down, the exploration of repetition continues
in a different context. Jean-Jacques Lecercle: Meaning emerges through
dissemination, in semantic series. The text, like a dictionary (not the
well-ordered, ideal object of the linguist, but the concrete object in which
the language -lover delights in losing his way), is a rhizome. Who, what,
are the children of the dictionary? Words? Things? Thoughts? Meanings?
Poems? All of the above? Excess eventually opens to the comedic spirit, to a
ludic affirmation. Steven Wright: When I first read the dictionary I thought
it was a poem about everything.
14.2 Maggots & flies & worms revealing Orpheus' body. What's to say, it's
a message! the angel muttered, roaming alone among the bones on the other
side of the pasture now. Still, its words stuck there, on the posts, in the
vines, some floating into the blackberries the sojourners would later have
for lunch. Angel, from angelos, messenger, what's to say, it's a message!
the messenger muttered. Repetition begins to discover, to disclose, its
disguises (like the angels disguised as angels). Orpheus descended into the
underworld in a futile attempt to liberate, to resurrect Eurydice with his
music. The maggots and flies and worms reveal his failure in the body. This
is the message, the words of the angel; it forms a part of what we eat, our
14.3 An instinct, an intuition, an expression then. Stages, stations, of
bringing forth the message in the poem. Intention echoed in intuition.
Stations of attention.
15.1 Hued shadows in the crossing, shades of gold-at times as if the man
had imagined the journey, told it as a fiction, then edited the diary
whenever the child began to see into the future. The journey is not so much
imaginary as imaginal, factual in its fictive presence, each day as its own
diary edited into a future. Roberts Avens, writing on Emmanuel Swedenborg,
refers to "the imaginal realms" in which "only the like knows the like".
This sheds new light on the possibilities of repetition. The imaginal world,
writes Avens, is also called by Islamic authors the 'eighth clime'
(subsisting beyond the seven climates of the sensible world of space) or the
'climate of the Soul.' It is a concrete spiritual world of apparitional
forms, a country of nowhere that can be reached by going inward (ta'wil)
that is, from the external, literal, and exoteric to the hidden, inward and
esoteric. In the language of gnosis it is a movement from macrocosm to
microcosm (the infinitely small turns out to be a reflection of the
macrocosm, the infinitely great). The inner reality now envelops, surrounds,
and contains the outer and the visible reality. As a result of this
'internalization,' the spiritual reality itself is the place of all things,
meaning that it is not located anywhere in sensory space; in relation to the
latter, the 'where' of the imaginal reality, 'its ubi is an ubique,' a
'ubiquitous place.' We are moving into the space of the poem, or, in this
context, of the poem as fable. Nothing is what it seems to be; in other
words, everything is precisely what it appears to be. Avens: The mundus
imaginalis, or the 'eighth clime,' is a fully personified cosmos, a presence
in which the essence of a thing is fully manifested in its existence. As in
a painting or a poem, in these environs the content is inseparable from the
form; things mean exactly what they are, and are what they mean. The shades
of gold here begin to take on an alchemical aspect, as if we are in the
presence of an alchemy of the word, where word is transmuted to world, world
to word. Henry Corbin: Having reached the interior, one finds oneself
paradoxically on the outside. Yet, strange as it may seem, once the journey
is completed the reality which has hitherto been an inner and hidden one
turns out to envelop, surround, or contain that which at first was outer and
visible. Spiritual reality can therefore not be found 'in the where.' The
'where' is in it.
15.2 Are you blind too now, like the old elm? she teased....Quixote's
laughter from the river not his laughter alone. Our turtles scampering, the
panting of a poplar tree. As the man watched the child, and the man
witnessed the first flecks of dawn, he decided to lie about the blindness,
since there was no use in explanations. The decision to lie results in the
writing. These lies will be more useful than any explanation. To explain is
to clear away. In the lie one is allowed to do everything except clear away.
A quixotic laughter brings us to the particulars of the world, elms,
poplars, turtles, the first flecks of the dawn.
15.3 And had he not, after all, wasted another truth, just this morning? A
wasted truth, one which might have been used in lies, in falsity, in
writing, one which might have accompanied, as a compliment, the fables and
myths and fairy tales of the text. Niels Bohr: A great truth is a truth
whose opposite is also a great truth. A great myth, great story, great lie,
might be large enough, excessive enough, to contain both of these truths. An
excess of meaning is able to include even a wasted truth.
15.4 Her breath like the sound of millions of ants laughing & crying, then
crying & laughing, over & over. At the extreme limits of repetitive excess
an entire spectrum is embodied.
15.5 The heroine of our tale skipped toward the sound of clapping, yet no
figure was evident in the place she was going. That is why the father
decided to lie. So she might reveal the source of his own forgetting. The
sound of no hands clapping. One of the lies of the author is the invention
of his heroine. Forgetting as the fall into language, into the fictive
world. Writing as an attempted redemption, almost as tikkun. Paul Valery: To
write should mean to construct, as precisely and solidly as possible, a
machine of language in which the released energy of the mind is used in
overcoming real obstacles; hence the writer must be divided against
himself. That is the only respect in which, strictly speaking, the whole man
acts as author. Everything else is not his, but belongs to a part of him
that has escaped. Between the emotion or initial intention and its natural
ending, which is disorder, vagueness, and forgetting - the destiny of all
thinking - it is his task to introduce obstacles created by himself, so
that, being interposed, they may struggle with the purely transitory nature
of psychic phenomena to win a measure of renewable action, a share of
Heidegger: And yet, precisely when thinking plies its proper trade, which is
to rip away the fog that conceals beings as such, it must be concerned not
to cover up the rift. Hegel once expressed the point as follows, though only
in a purely metaphysical respect and dimension: 'Better a mended sock than a
torn one - not so with self-consciousness.' Sound common sense, bent on
utility, sides with the 'mended' sock. On the other hand, reflection on the
sphere in which particular beings are revealed - which is for philosophy the
sphere of subjectivity - is on the side of the torn condition - the torn
consciousness. Through the rift, torn consciousness is open to admit the
16.1 The world begs for quiet. Another plea for silence, for a negation or
refusal of the excess of meaning (as in But what does the hair mean? Please
do not say it.). Signs mustered in opposition to semiotics: writing which
resists its reading: writing which refuses its definitive rewriting.
17.1 In the old cottage the writers had gathered & though not embracing
us, the father had not disturbed their conversation. Window in the clouds,
willows in the morning. The writers gathered here are of two sorts, those of
history, and those contemporary with the author. The dedications, for the
most part, form a community of writers, a network, a web, a map, a context
in which the author situates himself. The author is one among many authors:
the text of The Sasha Poems is the site of this gathering of authors.
Why willows in the morning and not, for example, poplars, or elms? Window,
therefore willows. This is the evidence left by the gathered writers.
17.2 They were the great writers, the ones he had read since his own
childhood, and they were lamenting. For the Book. Their talk huddled in
corners & darkness. A sheet on the solitary cot, soiled & dusty. What words
had once been on these shelves? The writing situated not only in a community
of writers, but in a community of writings. The book is lamented as it dies
into another writing. The words, perhaps, as the sheet, are soiled and
dusty, used and in a condition of disuse; here they are revived and
returned. No text occurs outside of this context. A writing is the
remembrance and dismemberment of its prior writing.
17.3 Orchestrated light filtering from the window & a silent desire.
Orchestrated light filtered from the window and a silence resonated while
the other poets spoke a commentary on the quiet night and their own absence
of single lines in one miraculous book. As if all they had written could be
reduced to one line for one year in each of the centuries of their lives.
The second sentence begins as a rewriting of the first, filtering becomes
filtered, silent becomes silence, desire ends where resonated begins. The
poets of history are present here as a commentary on their absence, the
absence of even a single line which they can call their own. What is
miraculous about the book is its existence as itself. Made entirely of words
which are never entirely its own it is nevertheless in those words unique,
entirely itself. As if all that has been written could be reduced to the
time in which it was written, as if a text could be reduced to its context.
The miracle of the new text is that it disproves this claim, while
participating in the process which allows for the claim to be advanced.
17.4 The monks had at last heard him, but the man was frightened by the
names-Rilke & Mandelstam, Goethe & Dickinson, Lorca & all those who travel
with us. The author proposes an alternative canon, a list of precursors.
What is frightening is their priority. Harold Bloom: A poem is a poet's
melancholy at his lack of priority. The failure to have begotten oneself is
not the cause of the poem, for poems arise out of the illusion of freedom,
out of a sense of priority being possible. The alternative canon aligns the
author with a lineage:
Rainer Maria Rilke: Everywhere appearance and vision came, as it were,
together in the object, in every one of which a whole inner world was
exhibited, as though an angel, in whom space was included, were blind and
looking into himself. This world, regarded no longer from the human point
of view, but as it is within the angel, is perhaps my real task, one, at any
rate, in which all my previous attempts would converge.
Osip Mandlestam: Logic is the kingdom of the unexpected. To think logically
means to be continually amazed. We have come to love the music of proof.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Do not all the achievements of a poet's
predecessors and contemporaries rightfully belong to him? Why should he
shrink from picking flowers where he finds them? Only by making the riches
of the others our own do we bring anything great into being.
Emily Dickinson: If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire can
ever warm me, I know it is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my
head were taken off, I know this is poetry.
Frederico Garcia Lorca: The duende, then, is a power, not a work; it is a
struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say,
'The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the
soles of the feet.' Meaning this: it is not a question of ability, but of
true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous
To read this lineage is to locate the context of the present poet.
17.5 Because the ghost of shadows had entered him by way of a diary. His
daughter's diary. Diary has two definitions: 1. A daily record, especially a
personal record of events, experiences, and observations; a journal. 2. A
book for use in keeping a personal record, as of experiences. The Sasha
Poems is a book for keeping a personal record of experiences. We need not
imagine it as a daily record. As a genre, it is the writing of experience.
It is the writing of experience as articulated by Bataille: I wanted
experience to lead where it would, not to lead it to some end point given in
17.6 In this way we began again in search of the Book. Echoes of Jabes:
The book is the place in which the word evolves, but as we move on, it is
the word, the word in this void, in this space between one word and the
next, that makes it possible to read. Our reading takes place in the very
whiteness between the words, for this whiteness reminds us of the much
greater space in which the word evolves. And: What I try to do is to show
that behind each word other words are hiding. And each time you change a
word or make a word emerge from another word, you change the whole book.
When I say there are many books in the book, it is because there are many
words in the word.
18.1 The mountain without a name & purpose here. Nothing. We're on
slippery grass, everywhere we turn, the poet told her. Without a name means
without a purpose, means nothing, no thing. The slippery grass of the poet
is the excess of meaning in language, the many words in the word of which
18.2 What happened to my father that he should be so distracted by the
cries of God? This is the orphaned god (named as such in the end of the
world, #18, and again in fools in paradise, #19). We are reminded again of
the notion of tikkun. The god abandoned by man, not the reverse of this.
18.3 I do not need your divinity or lies. This is itself a lie. An irony
through which our language might bring itself before divinity. This sentence
rewrites the "Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani" of Jesus on the cross. The irony
in the agony of the abandonment.
18.4 and this is when the child saw him as a boy, her father squatting
barefoot in the snow, a deaf & dumb one, & on the flat plains of siberia,
watching the rustling & leaves & the smoke rising in his nose & in his arms
like the birch trees, this beginning, or burning, like the bone stones &
like the snows & the end of the world dancing & traipsing our mundane naming
of Time. The rhythmic prose of the Sasha poems transformed into song: rhymes
of snow, smoke, nose, bone, stones, and snows: the repetition of one in bone
and stones: beginning suggests burning: the final syllable of mundane
becomes the initial syllable of naming. Poetic artifice is foregrounded as
one of the themes of the poetry. We are invited to read meanings here, but
we are compelled to hear music.
19.1 A pelican, a crow, a goose, and a rainbow. Still, the child did not
find this language difficult. Though at times she wished for a clock, a way
to remember the things that didn't occur. The language of particularity is
not difficult in itself. We don't have a language for the invisible, the
impossible, the things which don't occur. The best we can do is a fictional
framework of time, memory as loss.
19.2 Once heard, the waves languished in sound. The child becoming a child
& if only she'd been granted a mediation of speech this morning. Once again,
tautology as an excess of meaning and as silence. The remainder of a
silenced meaning is sound. Speech is an exit from the silence of meaning, is
exile in the excess of meanings.
19.3 Randomly-our sea-& all of this water! Wear you a hat or wear you a
crown! Hermes cawed. Sea seeing sea seen. The monks breathing in the grass &
leaves & watermelons & searching beyond the graves. Why so many graves when
you marry a child? The path against the real. Be you a hat or a crown! Some
of our experiences are real. Our experiences in language, of language, are
real. Homophony, paronomasia, misspelling, foregroundings of the materiality
of the text, the experience of which is real. Homophony, as when see becomes
sea, is anything but random. Wordplay is particular, precise, a disciplined
20.1 The convincing parable is the unopened one, the dead one
observed-seeing the child's diary among the stones-and then she spoke
languidly of the lost sparrows masquerading in the guises of truth. The
sparrows disguised as truth are the angels disguised as angels. The child's
diary as a record of subjective experience, and yet an object, a book among
the stones. The convincing parable is the one which is experience as a
parable, not as a container of hidden meanings. The convincing parable is an
onion, text as text.
20.2 As if she were indeed a child and this was no parable! But this is
the unopened parable. The child is the kernel in the apricot.
20.3 Soon people will speak of silence as a fable. This book of fables
speaks of silence as a fable. To speak, to write, of this book, is to write
of silence as a fable, a book of silences, a fable of books, the silence of
20.4 Identity came in the night when no one was looking. Unconscious. But
constructed in the diary. Experience, and interpretation of experience,
slowly building an identity. Until identity is built of language. Identity
is structured like a language. The unconscious is structured like a language
(Jacques Lacan). Poetry subverts the structures of the language. This is the
exit from the prison house of identity.
21.1 ...blew across the highway. This then became an image of the
forgotten as she picked up the apples Sisdel left by the side of the path.
The child turned & stared as the pages from the diary mixed with the red
dust. Sweat stains along the hem of her skirt as she ran to retrieve them.
In this manner the guardians went out to abide her. The father held the
diary in his hands & faced us. A fairy tale, but these words too are among
our being....The grief passes into our body & into the earth. Begins as a
fragment. We want to read it as a continuation of the previous poem,
Identity came in the night when no one was looking ...blew across the
highway. The fact that we can do this is an indication of the style of
reading contained within this writing. There is no fit here, there is
radical disjunction, rupture and no suture - but, we have become accustomed
to this in our reading of this text. The style of reading included in this
writing allows discontinuity to function as connectivity. We are in the
realm of poetry, and nowhere else. The image of the forgotten, the pages of
the diary which mingle with the dust, this is the realm of fairy tale,
constructed of words which are our experience of it, are among our being.
The grief is the materiality of language penetrating our bodies, penetrating
the earth in its separateness from us.
21.2 A secret beginning in the book & still later she would read her name
there as a word & thing. The name, identity, has become a text, an object
which is read, an Other, there, included among the words and things.
21.3 Why have you written my name here, papa? The name inscribed in the
text becomes the sign of identity as loss. Identity is an object in the book
21.4 We bow to all things. Compare all praise falleth short...do not mourn
on the dead, from fables of hell, #20. Particularity, materiality, as
contrasted with so-called spirituality, a Zen approach to the objects of the
21.5 Timid at first, then dashing point to point about the broken beams of
the tower, she alas collected the pages her father had scattered in the
dust. What is language? she then asked.
Twice the father did not respond. He might have replied, with Paul de Man:
Instead of containing or reflecting experience, language constitutes it. Or,
with Jerome McGann: Philosophically speaking, one cannot 'comprehend'
language because there are no extralinguistic positions from which it can be
viewed. Or, with Patricia Cox Miller: God seems to dwell in the making and
unmaking of language. What is language? Only an oblique answer approaches
adequacy. To answer this "what is language' one must somehow circumvent the
language. Hugo Ball: A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the
filth that clings to language, to get rid of language itself. Poetry is not
the answer; poetry is how we answer.
21.6 Drinking wine by the leak of the water tower, she would not go to
him. Instead she wrote out her first troubled thought-A word, a mask, a tale
returned us? Thought, then, thought in writing, the written word as thought,
originates in an occlusion, a dissembling, the mask or and as identity, a
tale returned or of return, to its source in telling. An exit from this
exile appears in its disassembling.
21.7 She did not understand the act, the flight or the bird, the sun or
its shade. And so her identity began. Again in darkness, unconscious. As a
childhood unity with the world is lost identity is constructed. Loss is
structured like a language.