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Albert Goldbarth
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The Craft Lecture to the Creative Writers
of the Low-residency Program at Yadda Yadda University,
with a Late Assist from Wallace Stevens,
Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin, Sir Thomas Browne, and
Allusion to the Title of an Early Book of Jorie Graham’s


Neoglyphea neocaledonica—nicknamed the “Jurassic shrimp”—
was known only from 50-million-year-old fossils until a living
specimen turned up in [2006].

New Scientist

The Earth was writing: the Earth had penmanship.
That was my dream. I remember so little of it. I know
that hyenas and, after, pincer-beetles
had made a great clean whiteness, made a bone frond
ten feet long or more, of a giraffe’s neck—and by this
I could see that the Earth was practicing cursives.
But the rest of it? . . . a fizzle, another adventure
gathering think-dust on a back shelf
at the lost & found. I tell you,
keep a dream journal. Read, of course: read wide
and deep. Revise. Be open. And keep
a dream journal, and keep it
handy, and keep it a continent of vacant clay
that requires your staked-out cities. It was dawn,
or almost-dawn, it was the hind tit of night.
My father was telling me . . . what? A stick of wisdom
from his pocket package of gum? a joke? a picture of what
it’s like to be the new guy at the daily meeting of dead men
and to have to admit you’re still addicted
to living? . . . he was telling me . . . but then it was moss,
and then it was a molecular architectural sketch of moss,
and then it was nothing. Keep a dream journal.
Keep it a vast and empty snow
that requires your skitter of tracks: your alphabet. Be rapid
and accurate. Audubon needed to work his birds
immediately onto a page, if the color were going to be true
to the throbbing picante of life, for if he waited . . . the viridian,
the flame-blue, all of the telegraphed dabs of ruby among the saffron tufts
or even the definition under coal-fleck gray,
would drain away with the blood,
the now; so keep a dream journal. Keep it adhesive,
awaiting the touch of a flange of the dream,
a fin, a nylon, a bee of the dream
to innocently nuzzle against the stickiness
and be fastened. Otherwise every new awaking
is an alzheimer’s of the preceding eight hours,
their civilizations’ temples and faro palaces get buried
under jungle vine and tundra grass
and the vortex of worry and passion that constitute ongoing life;
and the nightly hundred roanokes,
the thousand amelia earharts . . . only crumbs
a fresh day brushes off into oblivion. This is my shtick
and my stump-speech exhortation to you, delivered in spittle
and neural knotways: keep a dream journal.
Research. Hobnob [“network”] [“shmooze around”].
And keep a dream journal, and keep it
open expectantly at your bedside, in the battle against ephemerality.
Lordy what did these notes once suggest as a promise—Pizza to Priesthood,
another, Kowtowing in Cowtown. Now they may as well be the nodes
and the squirms and the toadstool caps of Easter Island script,
they may as well be the impossible fogbound news
that once—but really, it couldn’t be, could it?—
we walked on the moon. It was the ink of night,
the ebony ceiling of night, and my mother was saying
we can witness the internal undoing
of sixteenth-century oil paintings sometimes on an annual basis
—sometimes even daily, as a face is increasingly veiled
in an ever-finer mesh of subtle chemical degrading; for example,
the face of the infant Christ becomes a bag, a net bag
with a rosebud pout of a closure, that dangles from Mary’s arm as she
sits surrounded by shepherds. . . . My mother
said that? Well, no. She said that she was dead,
somewhere inside my head, but speaking with the soft eyes
and the wry tilt of a parakeet (from my childhood? that one?)
lecturing on the passing of all things earthly, and she told me
to tell you to keep a dream journal, to keep it
for her, so she would have a place to land
after flying all night until sunrise. Save the mothers:
keep a dream journal. Save the ancient sky observatories
from sinking under carpets of creeper and kudzu.
A few of them rise up on their own and wink
in the sun for a moment—Atlantis of course is frequently
coquettish that way—but cities and even dynasties
are no more stable than gleam in an eye; and, as we know,
our own childhoods can’t be fully dredged to the surface light
by the derring-do of the surest divers, so even if it’s the nearest
wad of bar receipts or burger-blearied napkins, I adjure you
to note there mightily (and accurately), oh I adjure you
to keep a dream journal, I claim you as duly deputized
into that order. And when the curator lifted the jar with the thing
inside that looked like a shrunken, salted
catcher’s-mitt-with-a-rat-tail-wrapped-as-elegantly-as-one-
of-Cleopatra’s-silver-armlets-around-it . . . that
was a save, a dream journal, so was the jar
with the thing that looked like a star from a child’s picture book
(only fallen to earth, so dwindled in size of course, but glorified
in falling, the way that Icarus was, or Satan). These
have been lost: Etruscan; Borneo’s Kelabit megalith writing;
and a thousand of others of what were “living tongues”
and had the living day on their muscular, moist, exploratory tips
—their braggadocio: gone, their adulatory paeans to their gods,
and their most sniveling whinings: ditto, their chanties
and lullabyes and war cries and whatever was their oh-oh-oh
of flesh-on-flesh and sexual dew: all, gone.
How many species gone?—a footprint of some dinosaurs could serve
as a hotel wading pool, while others could fit in a plover’s egg,
and all of them: gone. A spatula and a glove
are lost, were dropped by the space shuttle crew, and now
the one is almost grabbing hold of the other, forever, up there
in some mystery orbit. “Prosopagnosia”: tragic
inability to recognize faces: after a virus
caused an inflammation in her temporal lobe, one mother of four
“can’t recognize the faces of her children, her husband,
or even herself.” And what I said in 1975 to make Sylvia
weep so?—gone. All of my past lives—gone, the one
in which I slew the enemy host,
the one in which I wore a porkpie hat
and mooched off relatives—gone, the pogroms of time
have made a thinning silt of these. And your innocence?—lost.
(I think I saw it looking like the star in a children’s picture book,
but cinders now.) And any reclamation of these
would be a marvel worthy of a dream journal. There are blazons
to be notched on the trail going back. If you see my mother or father
in your dreams, write them down—be gentle, as they would be
with you—and then check the identification bands I’ve cinched
in one of my dreams around their wrists, and give me a call
to tell me how far they’ve traveled. These have been found:
The earliest dental work from the Americas,
4,500 years old—these teeth the color by now
of supermarket curry, that were ground down so
that they could be mounted with panther or wolf teeth.
Water on Mars. Rivets from the Titanic. A face
that was drawn in a cave on calcite 27,000 years ago.
Numerous pieces of chicken from the uterus
of a fifty-year-old woman in Finland (she believed that
“they would grow into a baby”). DNA, farmed from the tooth
of a Neanderthal child discovered in a Belgian cave.
Your high school yearbook. Something under the bed
that doesn’t require detailing here, except to point out
water on Mars was far more likely. All of these
instances of conservancy score an oh wow on the aura-meter.
Reclaim the forsaken. Work, of course, on your resumé,
on keepin’ up, on gettin’ down—and think of Viktor Sarianidi:
“No one believed that anyone lived here until I came!”;
(here being the harsh steppe-desert land of what today
is Turkmenistan) and yes, in fact “Most scholars had thought
that such sophisticated settlements hadn’t taken root
in the region until 1,000 years later or more” than Sarianidi proved;
but he had a dream; and he spent thirty years at digs where sometimes
plagues of locusts “filled the trenches faster
than they could be shoveled”; still, he shoveled; in heat
that shovel-whacked straight back at him, and under the threat
of occupying military forces, he chiseled determinedly; and now
indeed we have this further feather in the cap
of our human accomplishments, and from its smallest
artifacts—a silver clothing pin in the shape of a camel
(the point ascending from one of its humps), a three-inch sturgeon
shaped of bronze (with a comical face that could pass
for a parrot’s)—we can move up to the scale
of the central citadel and its towers, here in the town of Gonur
from 4,000 years in our past, its orchard canals
with glacier-fed water, its gold and ivory trade routes,
and its elaborate graves complete with wheeled carts
to roll in service along the avenues of the afterlife,
and from these we can move to a world implied beyond
the physical evidence: of theology and metallurgical expertise,
and the agri-lore for lentil and barley, and gender roles,
and the philosophical bullshit-swapping late into the night:
as amazing as water on Mars: another, earlier Earth
inside the earth: another planet really, only
cognate with ours: and the everyday carnelian brooches
and lapis lazuli figures of somebody’s version of Irving
and Fannie Goldbarth is entered now in this registry that keeps
it all from going up with the kindling: hoe,
I tell you, the rows of your dream journal. Just the other day I heard
someone say “hooliganism,” someone said “prie dieu,” they
grabbed these words by the collar just as they were about to fall
off the edge of the map of the recognizable universe. Keep
your own preserve, and keep it pluripotent. Husband
its brawn. What did it mean when I dreamed
of a sexy new cop for a TV show, named Rachel Profiling?
—Keep a dream journal. Obviously Proust did
in between the lecture circuit and the interviews: a folio-dimensioned,
moleskin-bound affair with gilt-and-deckled edges.
Dickinson’s: straight, square, satin black; when she was done
for the day with her letters to public relations agencies,
she would add to its pages by the light of a single candle
as alabaster and gently numinous as an Easter lily. Famously,
Bukowski’s was a bright pink, with a rainbow appliqué
on top and a teensie heart-shaped lock to keep it private.
Keep it. Daily attend to it. We are as butter
under the summer sun. The only emperor is
the emperor of ice cream. Tempus fugit. The woods
are lovely, dark and deep. I tell you all of our residency
is low residency. Our ground time here will be brief.
We start with “eros,” but add a single final “ion” and
we’re crumbling away at the continental rim. I tell you
nothing is more dust than a mountain, no matter
its seemingly imperturbable bulk. Therefore
it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness,
and have our light in ashes. Hail, rust. Hello
to the waves of video blahblahblah erasing history.
When my colleague Don the Shakespeare expert retires
he will not be replaced. Shakespeare: not replaced. Now
he will wither at the petal, he will feel the ravening worm
in the very kernel. Last night my childhood knocked
for attention against the inside of my cranium,
a ten-year-old boy and a hazy duo behind him looking
as if he could never grow up to fail or disappoint,
I heard them say that memory is holy, and nothing
—not the son or the Son or the sun overhead itself—is eternal.
Keep a dream journal.

 

© 2010 Beloit Poetry Journal       Design by Jim Parmenter