Jeff Clark's poems are, in Timothy Donnelly's words, those of "a real 'fin de millennium' decadent." The work frequently takes the form of a dramatic monologue, the utterance of an irrepressibly reprehensible sensualist. (One series, in which each poem is called "Demonologue," is delivered in the voice of a Mephistophelean master who both loves and torments his slave.) What saves these poems from mere affection or derivativeness-enervated emanations from a hundred years ago, or fashionable enactments of the po-mo master/slave motif-is Clark's inspired, infatuated way with words. It's language he loves and assaults, language he will not let rest.
In Clark's successive overlays of underling, one can discern a love of the very structures of submission, supercession. I take the carnal terms to be figures for rhetoric itself, with its intricate intelligences of subordination. In "The Ghost Has No Home," Clark writes: "I have no desire to theorize language . . . / I would rather waylay and molest / the beast who has imagined and pent me here." And where is the speaker pent? He's pent up ("high, like one . . . in a . . . ditch"). It's no accident the word "pent" is used, in the ranter's high house, nor that it brings the word "penned" to mind: this poet writes within what he is writing about. There, the imaginee tests and detests his imaginer, the made his maker. And what's a self-imaginer to do? He makes of his idiosynchrony a happy sadomasochism, a luxuriance of prurience. He makes of two-faced solitude "a Sentry's couplet I half-knew . . . "
Visiting Clarkish psycholinguistic territories, we're as liable to be terrified as lullabied. In "My Interior" (which originally appeared in Volt) we can't be sure at just what scarlet landscape we've arrived. It's a diabolical red-light district, visceral, with its own assembly lines (the inhalers on the conveyor belt tell us something of what hell might be, for inspiration). Hookered, hookah'd, hooked, the speaker dozes his way into his own daydream, where "my best records are all hiss and moan and tremolo" and where the sensual is a kind of cinema: "But then, from way off, with cranking / comes my night, and when it arrives / I go to it like a callboy to a c-note." Ex machina (a theremin, a pump, a Wurlitzer in back) the worshipped dark arrives, whereat a kind of genius seizes all these c's- making the many senses (of cranking and coming, currency and calling) all conspire. Jeff Clark is his own gendee, and that c-note, that means he answers to, is (an amusing, amazing) music.
One bordello, one hookshop in the buttock.
One two-bit nightery with Wurlitzer in the back.
A theremin, a pump, the rubble-heap of a palace.
Siamese traps, and little pink cocktail umbrellas
for the little blowsy ones who tramp the boulevards
and sepia byways of my interior, tapping the asphalt
with their parasol-tips, unfurling their wings
to daunt paramours, tipping their fedoras to show their horns.
All day they pull cottons from the inhalers that come down my conveyor.
But in my night, they bolt home and lock it tight, and move inward,
and begin to sniff by their armoires, and whimper
We feel his first libation now, his hands on the hookah.
We hear Opal, we feel the bloodpump slow,
we feel him slouch, and know his miserable vespers begin now.
We prick him with our horns, we piss in his marrow.
We fill his belly with a pall of hoary feathers.
Before dawn, debauched,
they try to stroke me to sleep in the bath . . .
High noontide in my interior: the red deer
wends out of my ravine when I wave, the little goat.
The shadows of my Frenchmen annihilate my little night-womps.
In my back-of-the-eyelid cinema: arabesques.
My best records are all hiss and moan and tremolo.
Your shadow annihilates my little day-womps.
Languor keeps my body from the desk.
Languor keeps the stocking on the leg.
Glare keeps the little ones at the conveyor
and out of the head. But then, from way off, with cranking
comes my night, and when it arrives
I go to it like a callboy to a c-note.
The Ghost Has No Home
This morning in an alleyway I was startled by a face
I seemed to recognize, in a dormer above a garage, and so slunk up
to him, who was ranting quietly,
mauling the mind of some imagined ear out the pane
as if maligned, or high, like one
moony and almost witless in a poppy ditch,
or one waking ill and supine
in a wet bed of opening mullein:
"I have no desire to theorize language-
I was raised poor and have sinned unspeakably.
I would rather waylay and destroy
whose voice molests me."
On his desk a thin book I knew, a tragedy
whose residue was a Sentry's couplet I half-knew
and began to recite-startling him who turning then was outwardly
unknown to me-, "'Does it hurt in your ears-'"
"Fuck Antigone-I detest language, I detest artifice . . .
I would rather waylay and molest
the beast who has imagined and pent me here."
This morning from his bed Sir
I led him to a little blue bird
That hovered like a wingless tin thing
He slapped it from above him to the dirt
Took it in hand and saw
It wasn't a bird but a big mosquito
With her face it was sick
He thought it must be thirsty
And then brought the thing to his breast
Sir I know incontinence of the body
But of the soul what giving more sorry
Than to the thing itself would suckle him
She Will Destroy You
It is alleged in my temples that mine
has arrived. In my neck it is alleged.
Your horrid book I adored this morning
alleges this minute mine has arrived,
stellar, with fog careening, frauds of moon.
In the crack and in the port: starry.
In the little slum of the legs it is alleged.
By abandoned prose, a nightlong tic,
either eye knows it has arrived, astrose, and loathed-
She smoked through pleas by the bougainvillea.
Something flashed in the campanile's purlieu.
Fiend so occurs to me, and cruel, and though
I'm allowed no line to surround it, Affrightment.
I had a bit part in Napoleonette. I wrapped some meat in newsprint and handed
it to a woman. The scene was shot in a moment. Since I am no B-movie
aficionado, I went home, and in the late afternoon the phone rang me from my
sleep. Putain was angry, he said, "All it was was the lady reaching over the
counter-for nothing!-you wasn't even there."
Sometimes a ghost entered my heart and I could feel, and sometimes a phrase
entered my mind and I could speak, with reason. But never was I able to stay a
man long enough to remain him.
If I Don't Return
If I don't return it's because on the way I was drawn from my sidewalk into a
pawn shop, or else becuase a morose young man pulled me by the lapels of my
coat into a doorway and demanded, "What is meant by this word?" But before I
could reply, someone stepped between us and said, "Say, for example, I gave
you a little lamp, and you rubbed a Genie out of it, who offered you a wish. We
would expect you to wish for something, but you would instead try to confuse
him, you might insist he change himself into a plastic bird, or you might say to
him, 'In my canoe I am pelted by leshies,' or, 'Il y a de temps en temps un con
qui me visite dans ma nuit et qui s'appele Monsieur D. Able-'"
That is when I shoved her aside and made a loud noise with my lips and cried,
"Listen, you ought to wish for nothing but fame and then throw the bottle
away!" I went on thus . . .
There is one whose tongue in the dawn
is dark from plonk,
who makes love to a certain hand, opens a cherished book,
wishes to approach the zone in which monodies-
Thus the maudlin albums,
worn though ever cherished,
the certain stang in the throat, slow intakes
and exhalations, scribbling . . .
In the day what remains
are rings on the pine, blemishes in the trouser-tops.
What vanishes is the image of a certain face,
is the image of a certain white breast,
are the white birds and notes from the throat of this certain
plainting phantom one has feared and imagined.