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One theory goes like this: visual space became the dominant mode of Western consciousness following the Italian Renaissance, which not only provided a powerful new representational mode of organizing the visual field, but also engendered a specific kind of subjectivity. Techniques of perspective in painting came together with print technologies and the properties of the printed book to form a new self, a point of view that we still currently inhabit. Farnoosh Fathi is here to take back our ancient acoustic space and reopen its multidimensional, resonant field of relations. Her style is a revolving door between an ancient past and the audacious future—what “led us here and back again, / and back to let us hear again.” By making lyricism into acoustic experiment, Fathi’s “unzipped silences” feel instantly, physically apprehended, like a vaccine (given through the ear) against the banal. Her work bristles with sonic color and motion; it answers to a teasing, intense music as apt to “[provoke] the Alps to rage” as to “melt upon realization.” Her language is an “unresting thing,” it is prehensile and irreversible, though it does frequently rebound. Specializing in moments of linguistic collision, Fathi, in just a few deft syllables, can trigger a riot of associations and sonic improvisations that extend beyond the ironic, beyond belletristic distractions, into the nuanced tonal inflections of a self and culture auscultated. These poems are utopian liberatory dimensions that draw us in by cadence, the construal of felt sound across time that sings forms of attachment and attention. When we think of singing we know that it’s not just air passing over the vocal cords that makes sonorous sounds, but rather it’s how the singer draws air through the cavities of the head and chest—the mind and heart—that creates resonances. You’ll want to read Fathi’s work aloud, to embody its array of oral and aural channels, reawakening their values as media for (cognitive, rhetorical, political, aesthetic, alchemical) experience.
Approaching a Moon-Eyed Novice
How did you come to such a fierce trembling,
to a knotted head? Your eye will
thread tears no more, and clouds are tall
even to the angelic. Where’s your spool,
Where is your illumined bouffant?
(. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .)
The wrecked earth sums up
as poorly, after—
You have listened too deeply,
sunk your dewclaw too deep
in the loose pyramid of lost belonging.
You learned where the eye turns too slowly
on its glossy axis,
it is impossible to take your face
into your own hands
without it crumbling. To your heart’s content
you’ve devoted yourself by a thread
to what’s so nearly beyond.
When did your pure
intent become ruinous?
(. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .)
Approaching a Gnat-Eyed Novice
If in jugular dark you were treading
flooded patches of melon and cauliflower,
groping for a knuckled banister,
or you were listening
through deafening curtains of a waterfall
to only your failings,
as if there were no choice,
no other opera,
then one gnat will be a threat,
one gnat—and its politics, full-blown
but encapsulated, looming yet inconspicuous
as roses within roses.
It will be dark spittle of a rant
(flown over redheads of roses) you can’t follow
or muster; over
the patted soil of goodbyes,
never touching down, never gaping,
Look down—it’s futuresque, the patted soil
It flies, a speck of you once
recklessness, a seed fighting the wind
in the flowerbeds of your headroom.
In winter when the music waned and only the fly unzipped silences
briefly in their ears, the conductor spoke,
like a white crow emerged from a snowed-in head: These sad stones we skip
make infinite notes across the lake, and we are bound
to sound of what we throw so far, for no one’ sake.
Seizureless, among compact mirrors and black violets,
night rearranges the universe in her hair. The waves
pull the self-denying land
out from under one man’s sleeping feet. He only
lets his feet dream. I am that man and these are my robes
that melt upon realization.
A vision must turn on itself and wander,
in order to reckon a new earth, while hearts may still be heard octagonally, among cattails dreaming of birds dropping white violets like ions loosed from outskirts. As the earth may be our best listener, parting the grass of waking dreams, that led us here and back again, and back to let us hear again. It is there now: a white noise it makes like a fat cat in narrow peace.
We don’t need proof—the storm that took the snail’s roof is meaning enough to ache—and we feel, if our thinking is too late, born for an earth turning away— But an almost unnaturally suspended chord waits in between the wings of corners; any weight it has with us comes to be played, suddenly, out of the common blue woodwork. It befalls one like a feather asleep, having nothing won we can’t release to wind. And wheeling through likely lies with such force are oldest birds who will still shed feathers in flight while dreaming, though later cold.
As though the atmosphere had been pinched,
chirp in the midst,
like an unexpected gust in a harmonium
enough, to break all that high horse talk
in half—Centaurs, here’s your hurdle,
one epitaph, coming right up.
‘Twas clawed darkly in a feeling’s flock.
‘Twas named by a lisping wind: did you not catch it?
It is enough to want love’s inflection
(the ocean sprays), it is enough to note just what was said
that provoked the Alps to rage.
Is your one eye severe enough to stand
the world winding off trees of tops?
Just one as yours could be enough, one for
six moons that surround the mind’s waterbirth
while a flotilla of lilies, bloated, lapses.
Sparrow—here again! Many are appointed,
puffy consuls to a top, but one in the eye
tower is enough, sized to the compulsive heart:
To the one note that repeats itself and is all.
To the note one repeats to one’s self and all.
To the one line splitting the heart into flight.
Metaphor is elsewhere,
a jewel resulting in the snout of a pig.
Sparrow, here—nearly unresting thing
which always seems suddenly to never have left
my mind. Because you will so easily disappear,
I think of you as infinitely near.
Conversation between Moth and Flame
Out of all I scoped for most
was the surface of night,
to eke one out of two, twin infinities.
Night’s lapel-blown lava-colored clue
made me come to—
(from where a fragrance rose,
a reasoning just under the nose)
I said to the flame, with intrigue
at its stationary flight, The other moths
don’t stay the conversation, jarring off
like staples in a materializing
whistle. In flowers as in indices,
demanding to be buried with
their answers. But I lose myself
in what I admire. Do I look to you
to be correcting an approach
to love? Fear is an obsession too.
And what did you say then
while I believed the secret had
been waxing like moon moss between us,
in a voice fresh as baptismal splash—
The ample-bodied pause was not
what singed, but just the way
things are here, then flown, then up in arms
then wings, then flames. Down
with the centuries of ash in our fleeing fetal grips—
You said, “If I could tell you
I would not be so warm”—
You said, “It was that I did not catch”
Christine Hume is the author of The Saturation Project (Solid Objects, 2019), a lyric memoir in the form of three interlinked essays, as well as three books of poetry and many chapbooks, most recently a collaboration with Jeff Clark, Question Like a Face (Image Text Ithaca), a Brooklyn Rail Best Nonfiction Book of 2017, and Red: A Different Shade for Each Person Reading the Story (PANK Books, 2020). She is a Professor of English at Eastern Michigan University.
Farnoosh Fathi is the author of Great Guns (Canarium, 2013), editor of Joan Murray: Drafts, Fragments, and Poems (NYRB Poets, 2018) and founder of the Young Artists Language and Devotion Alliance (YALDA). She lives and teaches in New York City, most recently at Stanford Online High School, Poets House, Columbia University, and the Poetry Project.
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