Jake Berry

Argüelles in Elysium

Fragments From A Gone World: Joe & I & Others
Ivan Argüelles
Luna Bisonte Prods
Also available from Small Press Distribution

In the latest of a series of splendid books by Ivan Argüelles published by Luna Bisonte we discover the poet in a mode he has never explored so empathetically before - the elegiac. The poems themselves frequently seem to disappear before the song is complete, reflecting the loved ones that have disappeared. Most notably here is the presence, absence and memory of the poet’s twin brother Joe, known to the world as José Argüelles, the author and sage. Another frequent presence, by dedication and influence, is Adelle Foley, poet, friend for much of his life, and wife of the poet Jack Foley. The following lines were written immediately after Adelle’s passing from an illness that was unfortunately not discovered until a few weeks before it took her life.
who can know what the soul is
either a swarm of bees
clustering in the meadow of a noon
light honey and green fragrance
or the place smoke goes when
sky fades at the end of day
try as one might to understand the body
what is it but an infirmity of mind
We take consolation in the eloquence of the poetry, a beauty that has been one of the enduring, though rare, pleasures in contemporary poetry, a lyricism clouded with brooding reflection. “Try as one might to understand the body / what is it but an infirmity of mind.”

It brings to mind Yeats’ “Under Ben Bulben”, a poem written as his own epitaph:
Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities…
Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscle strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.
The rumination is long and deep on mortality. The brevity of life can only mean that it is an illusion in the greater unbounded domain beyond the limits of our life-blinded eyes. The title of one of the poems in this collection covers the same nameless terrain, “THE DAY AFTER TIME IS THE SAME DAY AS THE ONE BEFORE TIME”. Or these lines from the opening poem in this volume:
just as you and I traversing the lawn
of eternity one fine summer hour
came to a dead-stop by the riverbank
where the clarity of day exposed
our faces in the water of negation
what was the other trying to become
if not the undefined One?
Argüelles has always written from intuition. Daily the words pour out of that unfathomable resource Jung called the collective unconscious. But these poems bring that mythopoeic revelry to light through the scrim of personal memory and more often than not memory of those who have passed. Joe, dead six years at the time of publication, “that other half of me” in the book’s dedication, resurfaces in moments the two shared together - as two halves of one whole. Their heritage in Mexico whose ancient terrain is particularly resonant, from memories of the brothers visiting Aztec and Mayan cities. In Mayan mythology the twins of the Popol Vuh figure prominently in creation. Creation, that bringing to life out of chaos, which Argüelles’ poetry accomplishes perhaps more purely than any other living poet, is summoned by the absence of a beloved other. The desire to return from that absence is palpable here. Is he bringing dark elements into the light or walking among them in some twilit Elysium and casting them back into the sun’s glare? Are these poems rumination or revelation? They are both and more.
we knew! we knew! the uninvited wheel of thought
the skies! the pluperfect skies of Teotihuacan
Aztec thunderheads rippling Mayan corn clouds
you were me I was you and together we were
a hundred billion constellations passing through
the life of a rain drop immense and nostalgic
The poet has lost nothing of the vitality and lyrical beauty of his earlier work, but he has gathered from death something that demands other voices for expression.

For example, the fragmentary lines of lists in “POETRY IS WHAT SWIFT KNIFE SO DARK” dedicated to Olchar E. Lindsann and no doubt inspired by his poetry:
tortured clock, the watch on the wall, ignomin
y, iridescent flues, of the sky, hidden engines,
the clouds perseverating, like aphasics, topless
dancer’s mimic, islands! without rain forty day-
s, scissors, cigarettes lonely as, ears unplugged,
float free in, the epic with Mary and Jesus, a,
Clearly, some of these are lines disjointed by commas, but some of it reads more like broken thoughts, voices overheard, or grabbed incomplete from the mind’s deep reservoirs. The music is Argüelles, but the cadence is shattered. There also poems written in dialog, poems that list memories and particular items unique to individual lives - themselves rendered as something other than individual by the passing of the individual and the semi-fictional mythologizing of memory.

One feels throughout the book for that we are getting glimpses of worlds that might have been if only death had not interrupted. And isn’t death always an interruption, regardless when, to whom, and at what age and circumstance it arrives? We forever imagine another day. But what if that day is otherwise? What if whatever the self is fails to appear tomorrow? It seems to me that the entire body of this poet’s work is a response to these questions, but never more so than in this poetry where he confronts our most conspicuous interruption so directly.

Yet, in the very undoing these fragments address, the intense vitality of Argüelles’ work remains. This is a voice that by nature cannot be driven into silence. Often the titles of the poem are several lines long and work quite well as poems on their own. When they are connected with the poems that follow we feel nothing but life and light even in the darkest shroud. Consider the title and opening lines of

the never of the poem is its cloud
the center is left of the vertebrae
three quarters more intense than
the descent into the abyss of meaning
the poem’s moon is a doorknob
shining vaporous absence of light
there isn’t flower enough in time
nor verse that doubles back the sky
We are all familiar with the found poem - those unexpectedly poetic discoveries that appear occasionally and function beyond their intended use - but what is an ‘unfound poem”? and how is it asleep? How does the poet become aware of it at all? Perhaps that is the mystery and the long division of a summer afternoon that never ends. Perhaps it arrives from the day after time or before time, from Yeats’ two eternities. We are indeed in the “never of the poem” - its enchanting cloud. And even though “there isn’t flower enough in time” what we have in this dark but vivifying collection is enough to remind us that whatever happens when an individual dies, the life, the poetry, and muse behind it all forever remains.

Jake Berry is a poet, musician and visual artist. The author of Brambu Drezi, Species of Abandoned Light, Drafts of the Sorcery, Genesis Suicide and numerous other books. He has been an active member of the global arts and literary community for more than 30 years. His poems, fiction, essays, reviews and other writings have been published widely in both print and electronic mediums. In 2010, Lavender Ink released a collaborative book, Cyclones in High Northern Latitudes, with poet Jeffrey Side and drawings by Rich Curtis; and Outside Voices: An Email Correspondence (with Jeffrey Side) was released by Otoliths also in that year. Phaneagrams, a collection of short poems, was published by Luna Bisonte in 2017. He regularly records and performs his compositions solo and with the groups Bare Knuckles, The Ascension Brothers and The Strindbergs. Mystery Songs, his tenth solo album, was released in 2016. Ongoing projects include books four and five of Brambu Drezi, a new book of collaborative poems with Jeffrey Side, and a wide range of musical projects.
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