Tony Brinkley

Primordia Rerum

The primordia rerum, of things the first
beginnings . . . swerve slightly at uncertain times and
places . . .and by swerving break through fate’s dictates. . . .
That the mind is not always compelled by necessity is due
to a slight swerve of things at undetermined intervals.



A half-life begins where you must have,
in the gap among others’ living—
here you are death dear, where
you began without consequence,
pressures unsure, mother and father
preoccupied, inevitably not as inevitably yet—
loss, the lost she-bird listening to the listener:

There to begin with, in between evil and goodness
like pleasantries of patch-work, perched, still a dybbuk,
the she-bird quietly listening from her unapproachable
remoteness, death premature, in itself of no more
significance though for me so proximate
that now, with each change, the chance
swallowed up I walked out with you in
to relive what to relieve again
over the unending hours, how
always by ending too soon will always
be starting up—not any walk in the fields—startling,
in this quietly blinding. Poor Angel-eyed, listen to time
slip by. Soon you’ll transform the obstacles into a method.


Like a monarch on the way to Mexico—across vast
circumstances of the unapproachable inland before
its long flight from winter—you ought to attempt

the maximum tempos, cast dawning west, dizzy with
successes, slight moon more mingled, the unscaled
questioned, whatever weather—half-thinking, I like

the way autumn larvaes, much closer than verbally,
visibly darker, deeper in the unexplored thought-folds,
near-death, yourself—you, the chrysalised word dear,

last budding, first erring—now that I need you dearly—
you love—your impulse you ran through my brain to
find out with—how I like the words: “love,” “friend,”

“my mind,” “my will”—the yellow from a blue time,
limitations virtuoso and no fearful evil, not a bad day.


How wonderfully these half-lives live,
swerve their freedoms as uncertainties

in things, and I could be as they are, as
their freedom is, if not for the mortalia,

the out-cries that come dressed unmended,
tears you swerved through as my substance,

as the lacrimae rerum you walked out with,
evidence you failed too but with no cross-

cover, no one to your rescue but to hold
you out until you stumbled over dizzily.


Feeling little more than preludes
for the other thing inclined to what
will still be next until it is. Here

as always recalls previous errors, ice-
flows with your shadow bridged above
them as they run from you. Imagine

somewhere next time if we climbed
through glaring sunlight to the housed
dark at the summit, entering into

firelight liquidities of flickering walls
and marble veins to find that stone
requires darkness to release its animals.

America, America . . . sweet
land of liberty . . . and
everywhere the she-bird
I think at times that lonely is much better
than my less articulate ways of wanting
you, here where only resonant sounds are

the wind-pieces that I can’t take hold of—
my mistake to try—whatever said does not
begin to say what you might if I knew

of whom I sing—know for unknow—
you alone I don’t think other than I do,
with trees blood-hung from fluting

too much cruelty my contralto drum-
rolled rapid-fire and in playing, night-
pieced by the ladies, your piano fingers

knotting and untying deeper, more
arrangements while the good boys, god-
sent, hell for nothing, tried out poplars.


Stories jazz, crushed break pours
into jasmine, scrubbing nowhere
deep enough when we transact like

this. Discussion—surprisingly painful
horns. How fineness crows, the spirit
dumps the bodies, dark glows damp,

if sexed still—you could just ask
deep enough to find the body
spiriting the way the stories jazz.

And now we’d like to play Ce Soir
en Tunis, “A night in Tunisia.”

—Charlie Parker, Live
from Massey Hall
May 15, 1953.
Night fathoms into orchestrated darker
where the closed shell without lightning
mothers the heat wave, unadulterated,

lacking the shoreline, nightshape you escaped
with very little—with cadenza, drum roll, and
forced marches that do night in fireworks—

there is no bridge for this—the good boys
will sit down and cry—how tired out it makes
them—all the cleaning up, the shell pried

open, cleansed, the silk slit up through while the
ladies cried. At night in Tunisia they still drum the
difference that America is beautiful with gooney birds.


Train horn
to a rail beat
might hurt,

though for now
it doesn’t—
but it could still,

be that strained
through restraining on
the edge of very painful

what is still as pleasing
in the way things
ooze, free swing

on the way down
for a slight turn,
endlessly delighting

in the lands of milked
anxiety, where you
fish out, grasp for—

just a thrush
that stays mute—
why not sing

that too?


Blued out of green, the yellow left-
over rose up and sunned for a day
and now in the dark I carry this

sun-rise inside me, the erring,
arisen with evening, each particular
minute my moment of realized

anxiety that you might be hiding,
unknown again—little glittered
particular being thrown into this mixed-

up to give it dazzle like peach-fissured
juices that moisten invisibly ways
sunlight feels to my fingers unearthed

in the dark—the cellar it darts
unpredictably through, lightning
bug, dear primordia, my half-lived

love who dybbuks in me like a spawn
of nothing at all so far I anticipate, like
seed-crystal knots you chrysalise round . . .


Milk run

easy timed as long
as it would fit

its ululation—
playing any

an, the

ease the pleasing
of my love’s misspelling

into silhouetted


And all the things I am and you are
also, lightning bug. The stars cast

shadows once, the milky way shone
bright enough to walk to in the dark
before the night was gradually cast over
by rejected thoughts that in between the stars
reached through with quiet, looking for a way
in while we looked out for a way out. Quick
adjustments, tacit switches mingle budding with
a maximum approach of dizziness for outside
in the park—and you were finding no way for

your feet to go because it’s that dark with rejected
thoughts—the milky way, remote for years, lost tempos
while I lay awake and wished your influence more
premonition now from earlier. Listen please, if
you could welcome this a little, I could be more
definite—more proximate than thought—much
more of something more alive, of things, of saying
something out of order with calamity, eternity’s
approximate, star gathering through rejected thoughts.


Listen—my piano—finger
in the cruelties—a little crazy,
maybe, though obviously

a little, my second person
intimates go solo from
ascending—while now—

here à l’article de la
—death sentences
are very close to love.


There is old time, new time, and
in between there isn’t. American

albatross, under a peach tree,
you read what I haven’t, a new

Phillipics, another Circe to swerve for
on the way through Georgia. Seconds

lapse, the severed murmur, a speed
up reaches the memory best, the bird

fluttering quiet from your massive
dose of gentleness, the toned canter

through a field of antonyms
whenever you go back to look.


Swallowtail nymphae
neuron tongues—

tenuous faces
skin deep
caravan tones

how well

we eat the jazz—
even impatient

narcolepsies out-
crop with our

                behind them.


And everywhere
the she-bird—

cut crop, hair
for nests, trees

for hanging out
and all of me for

you who keeps on,
dear estrangement,

drops from heaven,
aired in blossom,

angling clay-
moist fruit-fall

willed implicitly
in this you overheard.

Tony Brinkley teaches at the University of Maine (http://english.umaine.edu/faculty/tony-brinkley/). His poetry has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, Drunken Boat, Otoliths, Hungarian Reviewm and Poetry Salzburg Review. His translations from Russian, German, French, and Hungarian have appeared in Shofar, Beloit Poetry Journal, New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, MayDay, World Literature Today, and Hungarian Review. He is the author of Stalin’s Eyes (Puckerbrush Press) and the co-editor with Keith Hanley of Romantic Revisions (Cambridge University Press).
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