Francis Raven‘s books include the volumes of poetry, Architectonic Conjectures (Silenced Press, 2010), Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007) and Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox, 2005) as well as the novel, Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). His poems have been published in Bath House, Chain, Big Bridge, Bird Dog, Mudlark, Caffeine Destiny, and Spindrift among others. His critical work can be found in Jacket, Logos, Clamor, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The Electronic Book Review, The Emergency Almanac, The Morning News, The Brooklyn Rail, 5 Trope, In These Times, The Fulcrum Annual, Rain Taxi, and Flak.
I wanted to narrate you through,
but there were really just too many images,
and then there were too many words along the way.
That is, there were too many other docents
directing the unwitting paths of strangers through the museum.
The first one was saying something about a mirror that belonged to
Rutherford, which he lugged
as he sacked countless Cherokee villages
which are now full of cutely named stores
ready to sell back that same mirror
brushed by the rush of snow, in slight tornados
conflicting with silent cars.
What I meant to say was that I meant to narrate, but didn’t.
I left you there.
I meant to tell you where to go, where to buy that necessary oil, but didn’t.
And there you were waiting for a guide where there was none.
The confusing thing is how to narrate the present
(which is primarily just feeling) interpretation of the past
like a branch thrashing in a storm:
the lower the limb
the more apparent the wobble, the oscillation between preference and spontaneity,
the simple way you meet people.
First, you are introduced to an activity, then to the character who does that activity.
You are fishing and then you meet the fisherman.
And thus there was a growing: from routine to man
in a circle of nets, through which only particles could flow,
but without the wind
snow just falls
like time on today, but we’re always sweeping it all away.
We always feel new enough, at least new enough to continue.
I wanted to guide you, but I didn’t know where I was going.
It was dark. I couldn’t sleep.
That is no excuse for not knowing what is going on:
the peace of ignorance won’t last. I guess what really gets me
is when the guides stay where they are
and you’re supposed to move between them.
I always feel like I’m contributing to insanity by paying my entrance fee,
but I also really want to know
where that chair is from
how they faked their wood
with those tacky colors they loved.
That is, I want to know how life is better now
but I’m not entirely sure, and can never be, if it’s me or life
that has really changed. I say that neo-hippies have faded,
that no one trips acid anymore, that raves exist in shoe stores
as much as anywhere else
but maybe I have just bought into the idea
that culture changed; hence, my inability to effectively narrate the present.
And soon there will be piles of it; it will blow until it gathers.
It will melt a little and then stick.
It will stick and then turn sooty, taking in all we have given, all we could.
We will be forced to drive through it.
We will need directions for that. Someone will offer a voice.
First, make a left, then a right onto Highway 19: that’s the most direct way
honey since the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for the season
(don’t frown, it’s for your own safety honey). You’ll reach a junction
and there will be signs, plenty of signs.
You’ll reach your hotel before nightfall, I guarantee
(her boiled peanuts steaming in the freezing wind, mushing in a tourist’s vacant mouth).
And sure enough, her accent had us pure
though there is a truth to psychological malady,
truth that just can’t be solved
and so the fact is that I can’t do certain things
because I am an alcoholic; there is a certain way I need to stick to my routines
and this is a fact, a way I have been guided by slogans that sound stupid
until you need them.
You need things that are better than you.
Other information is better than yours, on occasion, occasionally
seeking out the perfect item from all that is sold
and many things are always sold, many things that must be explained:
explained away, that is, explaining why you shouldn’t want this
or why that was just such a con or why it was just setting you up to be disappointed,
but they wouldn’t let you feel that would they?
They just wanted you to listen to them talk, little dictators,
fascists addicted to what you might or might not do
when all I wanted was motion:
the cool wind between pages.
I wanted to flip through a variety of things until I found the right thing
and then I actually, really, just wanted that thing;
it’s like picking flavors of ice cream;
everyone (including myself) always tells you
that you should try their favorite flavor
but what you really want is just your favorite flavor.
You are you, after all
and whatever story is told
whatever piece of art is sold
must still be passed in front of your eyes
for its value to be authenticated by your experience.
I still don’t really understand if any of this serves as a guide.
We’re in a new era now, she was saying, and the three things
that are going to define it are the rise of women, a certain interconnectivity of patterns,
and chaos. At least I think that’s what she said. It’s not like she said
we’re going to eat more pork and love the color orange;
it was a little more abstract than that
and thus a little more difficult to remember. You have to give the docents
something to hang onto: they’re not geniuses you know
they’re just old people
looking to give something back
to the youth.
It’s usually for the youth.
It’s usually to make sure that they haven’t wasted their lives.
And to know that they have to pass something on: they have to lecture somebody.
You have to say: this is how you grill; you want the coals like this in a pile
and when they look like this
but not before
you can add your meat
and now the tricky part is when to flip the fucker
but you’ll get that
it just takes time. Needless, to say
I don’t grill. I can’t really read directions.
People don’t believe me when I say that.
But it’s part of the reason that I’m so drawn to poetry.
I get caught in the middle of a half-made chair. It turns out it’s genetic,
but I think I have put it to good use.