Saturday, April 05, 2008

Glass City

Just finished the first draft of this sequence inspired by Hesse's Glass Bead Game. The sonnetinas form a necklace of voices: 1-4 from Amsterdam, 5-10 from Singapore, 11-14 from New York City. The key to the speakers is given at the end of the sequence.

Glass City

Among the canals there is one canal
that leaps, over bridges, to the sky.
I’m waiting for a glass-topped boat,
a bilingual guide, and a glass city.

Deep in the red-light district of this city,
out of the waters of a green canal,
the Oude Kerk is moored like a boat,
its steeple steered towards the sky.

The rain is falling out of the sky.
The bicyclists are crossing the city.
The green water is bearing the boats.
The bridges are limping over canals.

Where is the canal? What is the sky?
When is the boat? Why the glass city?


When is the boat? Why the glass city?
the chambers echo in the heart,
the hiding place in the storehouse,
the give-away twitch in the temple.

On the glass wall Shirley Temple
giggles from a faraway city.
The strawberries in the house
are strawberries of the heart.

Listen! Someone is at the heart,
someone has broken into the temple,
someone is removing from their house
all the strawberries of the city.

I’m told there is a City of the Heart,
where lives a House in a Temple.


Where lives a house? In a temple
called One Hundred Masterpieces,
or The Golden Age Of The Dutch,
or How We Pulled Ourselves Up

By Our Bootstraps, lighted up
like the Kadoshim of the Temple,
burned the desires of the Dutch,
before the empire went to pieces.

I prophesized the fiery pieces—
after the victorious heady build-up,
the vicious decline of the Dutch
burned spices and Muslim temples.

In this temple, lament is of a piece
with Dutch gents and ladies all laced up.


Dutch gents and ladies, all laced up
with ten thousand long-stemmed tulips,
Apricot Parrots, Coronas, Black Ties,
all categories of floral encasing,

I stand in this garish window casing,
and, with a flair for hamming it up,
pull at a loose green stem, and untie
the long timeline of growing tulips

from growing tulips from growing tulips,
rolling slowly the long green casing
round my right hand untying the ties
unloosening and tightening up

up my arm, my shoulder, the tulips
retying the entire floral encasing.


Retying the entire floral encasing,
the bird lands where it started,
in its steel beak an olive branch
for all that is hostile to bird.

This city has no love for birds
that dip out of its glass encasing,
that disdain its golden branch,
that deny the egg where they started,

or deign, This is just where I started,
the egg that comes before the bird,
the necessary staging branch
for flight out of the wooden case. Sing,

sing against the city where one started
till the bird becomes the olive branch.


Till the bird becomes the olive branch,
or, better still, the pure white flag,
I will devote my life to the bomb,
be the bomb in God's right hand.

Everywhere I see the devil's hand.
This city is a party branch,
carrying his well-keeled bomb,
supporting his troops, flying his flag.

Some nights, heavy with rain, a flag
hangs like a rag from heaven's hand.
Then every streetlight glitters like a bomb,
every street splits into a branch

and a branch, every flat becomes a flag,
and the bomb goes silent in my hand.


And the bomb goes silent in my hand.
In my chest the lungs are losing air.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the little breathing machine cough.

The machine coughs and the cough
sounds muffled behind some huge hand.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the music of lungs losing air.

How meek is the music of losing air.
It's courteous as a muffled cough
the spider orchids freeze to hear.
Some air is held in a cup of hands,

in vice-like hands you hold no air.
When bombs explode you hear no cough.


When bombs explode you hear no cough
but the boots of coordinated action.
The hardhats flash in the falling dust.
The shovels ring when striking rock.

Far from the scene, deep in a rock,
the telephone waits for the next cough
to decide where the falling dust
resettles, and the public reaction:

Disaster averted by swift action
United, we are solid as a rock
Beware of breathing in falling dust
Look how we shake when the world coughs.

The phone coughs: No further action.
The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken.


The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken
face has been defaced into faces,
various and beautiful
instead of being one and true.

If anything is true, this is true:
we love all that are not unbroken,
for they bore the brunt of beautiful
blows, reflected in our scarred faces.

The city, from this hill, has many faces
in its glass, neither good nor true,
but multitudinously beautiful,
quickening, twinkling in the broken

light falling like hail, broken faces
so beautiful and so untrue.


So beautiful and so untrue
is the idea of leaving home,
its beauty a ship with white sails,
its untruth a sea of wonder.

Afloat on aquamarine wonder,
I am searching if it's true
that a pair of rectangular white sails
could find a country to call home.

Every country looks like home
until I spot the lion wonder.
Every morning the blank white sails
beckon the heart with what's untrue.

So the untrue becomes a blue home
the beautiful white sails wander into.


The beautiful white sails wander into
the whirlpool of the kitchen sink,
clotted cheese, carrot bits, green
gum swirled down the city’s throat.

Some nights something at the throat
catches, the restaurant turns into
a tank, then I see in the dark green
water the plates and silver sink,

and after them the divers sink
down the comfortable throat,
their small lights algaed green,
their small bodies curling into

shrimps, into worms, sinking,
and turning, down the dark green throat.


Turning down the dark green throat
of my cricket man, instead he picks
my painting of the man peacock
to join his famous April show.

This blue is good, he says, for the show,
the brilliant up-thrust of the throat
as the man is turned into peacock.
It will go well with my other picks.

I look again at the one he picks,
imagining myself at the show,
the portrait of the man peacock,
the heavy brushstrokes at the throat.

Of all the throats I painted, he picks
the peacock for his April show.


The Peacock, for his April show,
The Greatest Magic Show On Earth,
will make the Building disappear
in front of twenty million eyes.

The hand is quicker than the eye.
The mind suspects the glass of show.
The night is cold, and so appears
the form of loss, the form of earth.

Broadcast round the round of earth,
electronically to our eyes,
the beveled Building reappears
to end the reassuring show.

The show on earth gives us two words,
one for the ears, one for the eyes.


One for the ears, one for the eyes,
with these street maps I walk the city,
to get to know, to love, this one,
its bridges, temples, kitchens, canals,

know it not for a casing, but a canal,
always a waterway for the eyes,
and for the ears a music won,
but never removed, from the city.

No, I am not a founder of cities,
I can’t raze houses to build canals,
I won’t be waiting for the phone
to cough to put out someone’s eyes,

but hear amidst the city, and eye
among the canals, there is one canal.

1. Tourist
2. Anne Frank
3. Jeremiah (in Rembrandt's painting)
4. Sex Worker
5. Returning Immigrant
6. Terrorist
7. Lung Patient
8. Bureaucrat
9. Weatherman
10. Parameswara
11. Waiter
12. Artist
13. Magician's Assistant
14. Walker-Lover


Eshuneutics said...

Thank you.
Not a form I knew. I guessed it resembled a sestina (in Provencal and Italian poetry). Is it a derivation, as the sonnet is a shortened-form of longer compositions?
Sestinas are very hard to use, unless you are Dante, or Daniel!

Jee Leong Koh said...

I will continue to think I made up the form until someone proves me wrong.

Rui said...

*eyes crinkling up in friendly amusement*

kudos for refraining from naming it after yourself, then. ;P trust you to come up with something so fiendishly complicated.