Henry Gould

Eleni Sikelianos
from Blue Guide

Poetry New York, 1999, 36 pp. [Order from SPD]

These are mysterious poems, by turns modest, graceful, and spacey. Sikelianos’ Blue Guide is not the traveler’s Blue Guide to Denmark or France. It’s a guide to light on earth, but the journey is a via negativa setting out from the opening epigraph (Leonardo da Vinci):

Let the eye
which sees all
the simulacra
of the sun on
the water waves be a
b, the
diameter of which is defined by the eyes
placed at the antipodes over the circle that divides
day from night on the surface
of the earth

What is negated on this path? Adult logic, discourse, “enlightenment”, argument, finish, consistency, simple pattern, the obvious. Sikelianos composes brief hymns to light (seen through a kaleidoscope picked up off the street by an orphan). Their charm involves a fusion of the childishly arbitrary with an insistent realism. (By realism I mean a representation by connotation and tone of voice: a pointing-toward, not merely a fabrication). A fractured, kaleidoscopic realism, seen through dreams and glass. Behind the Vincian, pseudo-scientific dereglement looms a body of relations or beings in relation: behind the blindness of the sleepers stands a web (or Seine). The sequence moves gradually and erratically toward affirmations of light and light-on-earth. Here is one of the interspersed prose poems:

Here we are on the Place St. Sulpice again  looking onto the stone lions who
are looking onto the water again. Light plays. I am sitting in the front café
and I can’t see myself in the glass except when people pass. When people pass
they block the light (light plays). I wait for myself to appear. People must pass,
and they do with heavy hands and shoes. Your mother says she is never herself
in dreams, she only sees herself, but I believe I am never more myself. A dreamer
is only an angle of herself in a sliver or a drape. There is a boy throwing a blue
cylinder into the air which he catches spinning on a string tied between two
sticks. Your mother says the lions don’t look majestic, they just look like themselves.
Your mother is sitting next to me even so I write her a postcard on the back of
St. Chapelle with a red ceiling which she says is blue, and stars, experience is a
hoax, all the people we speak of, a life moving through the subway or a world, seeing
the girl with blond hair on the stair, another boy with his hamster, or TV animals.
A dreamer is willing to reflect our most jewel-like and distorted fashions, a sudden
walking of the real earth circumstance, that is, over it unto death The peripter-
al rows of obsidian pillars around the whole funny jungle This cir-
cumference would not be the animals’ shadow but real: real

This poem deftly becomes the dream described; at the same time it reflects prior poems (from “The Speed of C”):

Who was
authoring rain
from the other extreme

of the dome? Where it rounds itself out
into a knot of blue? The sky is a heavy
mass which flows

between blue and absence
of blue. The atoms
which went into the snoring

towers – the buildings with wings in their cages.
Will the suspended bridges continue
directing themselves over the quays? Between the blue

lines and the red was
the incredible Achilles tendon . . .

There is a subterranean emphasis on medieval matters of grace and sacrifice, in the allusions to Thomas More (mulberries, Milk Street, Cheapside), childhood, old French names and churches – yet this via negativa has its own trajectory of dark speech, epitomized in this short poem:

Campo Santo

     Non ai, mere, non ai, non!

I learned to say no in the old language
studying at the Night-school

of Electricity on Rocket Street
Before I got my eye put out

on a teeth of forests – No

to the angels, no to electricity

No to pretending to read when the ear is open

the Pearl

of venery, this vertical blanking
about ten lines outside the TV’s frame

No, no, for what is not No
hid by umber and alcove

The pamphlet ends with two poems that shine with gentle affirmation:

                    a skunk
                    fox
we hit
        none of them and think
all that’s living here

                    “on earth’s
                    soft coat.” All
        we thought
                    dead, not.

(“Under the Tremoring Table (eighteen stitches)”)

and

Inflamer


soft hammer


Light

(“The palace of thunder (coda)”)

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