Friday, September 7, 2007

W. Scott Howard's "The Danger (Here)"/9/11 and the Crisis of Language

W. Scott Howard's long poem, "Shaping Time," is his response to September 11th. In sections such as "Unfinished Separations," Howard, in his words, reconfigures the linguistic terrain shared by Milton's twin poems, "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," attempting to trace what may be heard and seen through the Moebius-like towers in each text. In "The Danger (Here)," Howard interrogates language's commensurability with such a national trauma.


Of words, the imminent danger
at work in this is precisely that

we might convince ourselves into
believing language is all the evidence

needed—a mere substance visible
of an immanence eluding our highest

windows—some terrible beauty glimpsed
if only through translation. “The north

tower stood for one hundred and two
minutes before crumpling to the ground

in eight seconds.” Such a thing
syntactically aligned belies a boundless

inner-scape. Phrases break
upon their transports where life and death

converge, reconfiguring what may not
or may be impossible. A structure of élan

and enormity, a mountain of sand vitrified,
iron & carbon alloyed—or, as they say,

gratte-ciel—can a sky or cloud scraper
crumple as notebook paper misshapen

from a child’s hand, butterfly wing,
up-side-down tumble? “Crippled

to a greater degree, the south tower
remained for fifty-six minutes,” then

in seconds ten: plunged headlong
from the autumnal skie, flaming,

hurling, hideous combustion and ruin
down & down, over & over—bottomless

tumbling, all into all—as we raged, wept
in luxurious captivity, neither able nor

not wanting to look away. From a stairwell,
many voices: “I started hearing them

coming down individually, the sheer
pounding of one going into the next,

in pancake fashion, louder and louder,
worse and worse. And I’m waiting there

for the one noise to come and end it,
for the something that never happens.”

Another said: the deep roaring was
of the Devil’s throat; the foul wind,

a breath of creation. In fire and ash
for all things an exchange? In the midst

of change, a divine stubbornness perhaps
misdirecting the course? Somewhere

in the vortex dwells an “Appell of Golde
representynge the shape of the worlde”—

Koenig’s Sphere transfigured—everything
into something else, nothing again ever

undone thereby. Near the beginning of
this particular origin of fear, unhinged

by the interruption of pass-times,
dumbfounded by the absence

of jet trails, we brooded over disaster,
raised arms in the Name of names,

twisted shock into awe, exported terror
for the same return. WMDs: HOAXes.

Intelligence reports: oxymora perverse.
Once lost, twice found? Where’s meaning

in this truth-is-where-truth-where-is?
“The towers all fall down—

Daddy crying, why down, all fall down?”
My children look up to their capricious

accomplishments—stacked, strange,
noble efforts of imagination—precarious

and colorful as their rites of possession
and passage. Then, from those heights

of whimsy, the inevitable slow crash—
a scattering of plastics, the ardent search

and rescue. Will they ask about this?
Will they desire explanations, fictions,

or testimonies inadmissible? In matters
as such as these, a story spoken splits

nerves, wrings a winding sheet, raises
flags for burning, hauls buckets,

dispatches a life. “Why shouldest thou
take no knowledge of me, seeing I am

a stranger?” Language in a darkness
blurs, descending in an absence, coils,
tightens, or grows slack. For some

a single word rising limns the world
habitable. Others give their voices

to the wanting ground.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is extremely interesting for me to read that post. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.