A Movement of Air

 

 

 

 

Southeaster season, and the wind is again whirling through our back yard. Here’s a sonnet cycle that I wrote ten years ago. The rules of the sonnet cycle are that there are fifteen sonnets – each sonnet begins with the last line of the previous one, and the final sonnet consists of the first lines of the fourteen preceding. An early example of a fractal form.

 

swirl

A Movement of Air

A Sonnet Cycle
For Inger Christensen
November 14, 2003

I

The air that breathes the house from the south-east
Comes from the deep Atlantic. It has blown
Free as a curving gull, free as bright mist,
Free as air, as salt, free of its own,

Free to be drawn on by the rules of chance.
The air is moist with sea, is harsh with salt.
It bends and burns the palms in its advance,
It pulls and tumbles them and does not halt.

The house’s solid wall turns it around
In a tumbling arc of turbulence
And doubled speed. The aeolian sound
Rattles leaves and leaps across the fence –

Stretched out and spun into a wheel of force –
Encounters contradiction in its course.

II

Encounters, contradictions in its course –
The flying fish, the breaching dolphin’s flight
Through momentary lightness, the seashore’s
Sudden upwelling, the foam blown white

Below and the cloud blown white above –
Under or over are not ever found,
Or death or sighing, right or left, or love
Or hate, in the empty language of the wind.

Encounters without difference, without speech
Where nobody at all meets empty mind,
Where waves of sea and air scour out the beach,
There’s movement but there is not ever wind

That blows all day from the south-east –
Flowing as air moves, following the least.

III

Flowing as air moves – following the least
And lowest path, seeking the slew, the tides,
The trough, going in the way of greatest ease
With whatever force the way provides,

Fuelled by the sun and by the world
Turning and turning, by the measured dance
Of stars and spheres, by the single furled
And unfurled pattern forged in law and chance

That we call life, that breathes the impetus
Of molecule on molecule in long
Slow cycles, follows the circuitous
Routes of the world it breathes, its song

Coursing round and meeting in its course
Resistance, whence the air derives its force.

IV

Resistance, whence the air derives its force,
Is empty too. The rock, the wave, the moon
Tugging at its nets, the full forecourse
Of the straining ship, the rising dune

That writhes slow snake from up behind the bay
Are changing forms. They have no other soul
Behind them to instruct them in the way
To be themselves. They have no other goal

Than change. This house seeks permanence,
Resists the wind and makes it show its kind,
Its force, its hand, its changing immanence,
Its movement of the air without the wind

Manifesting as one thing – laid bare
In thudding circles – all the waves of air.

V

In thudding circles all the waves of air
Tumble through the yard, blast stinging sand,
Blow leaves, shake water, fumble tousle hair,
Whip the object from the careless hand,

Water from eyes, the air out of the mouth,
Thought out of mind. The tugging bamboo-plant
Against the fence in the feral hands of the south
East wind beats the air. The sighing chant

Through leaves is hollow as the vacant stem
And means itself. It is the empty voice
Of leaf and air colliding, and in them
There is no judgement, meaning, thought or choice.

Air-surge and hard wall meet, rotate, embrace,
Crash turbulently down the house’s face.

VI

Crash turbulently down the house’s face,
Blow backwards through the yard and up again!
How unpredictably the air’s embrace
Changes in smooth response, mind without brain,

To the rigid and supple world, the world
Of which it is a part, which itself is
Moving air, wild leafy branches, hurled
Paper, sand, the hard high house, all this

And this and this! Only this thinking mind
Without brain or thought, or thought which is
Itself sand, paper, hard high house and wind
Which is only air that moves. All this

Sensibility, tumultuous flair –
Air feeling, moving, waving everywhere.

VII

Air feeling, moving, waving everywhere
About the yard. The flowers stoop and bow,
Stand up again, bend down as if in prayer –
A fricative of rustling words bent low

And offered to the earth. There is an arc
But no plant which bends. There is a prayer
But only in the bow. There is no mark
Indicating difference anywhere

But in the mind, which this airy yard
Enacts in tumbling flight. There is no wind
But movement of the air. The house is hard
The air is soft. Their meeting is the mind.

The air’s movement and the world embrace
But of the wind itself there is no trace.

VIII

But of the wind itself there is no trace.
What can we make of this? The missing wind
Howls here, the papers fly, the face
In the keen cold movement feels the sand

Nip at the cheek. There is a roaring sound,
A paper flurry and a gritty sting
On skin, there is a turning round and round
Of air. We call it wind. It is no thing.

It has no meaning in it. It is we
Who place it there, our knowing eye informs
The air with wind. We seek the flickering free
Flow of difference and the solid forms

That stand out from a ground, or move or whirl –
Two butterflies come slewing in a swirl!

IX

Two butterflies come slewing in a swirl,
Two butterflies! A matched and mirrored pair
Set in an aerial jazz! They turn and twirl,
They tumble with the movement of the air.

They are more fragile than the air, their wings
Are dust and tissue-paper, silky-fine
They glow against the green. Their coming brings
Swooping geometry, two curving lines

That move through time and shine against the dark
Fence palings. They make the shape the air
Assumes. They are the air. It’s them. They mark
Its tumbling path. They follow everywhere

It moves, they trace its churning labyrinth,
Their distance locked apart a forearm’s length.

X

Their distance locked apart a forearm’s length –
This is their constant. All the air that moves
With all its contradictions, all its strength
Does not change this. Each can see. Each sees

The other, changes in a smooth response,
Brain without thought, to movement of the air
Wild about it, stays within the dance,
The supple rigid bondage of desire

Keeps them one forearm’s length apart. They dance
In and for the other. How they spin
And flutter as the rules and chance
Swoop with them. Each desire’s twin

Bearing the ardent seed that must unfurl.
How fiercely they tumble, how they whirl!

XI

How fiercely they tumble, how they whirl
Through the air! And yet they never move.
They are a doubled unity, they twirl
About each other only, bound by love,

One forearm apart. There is no love
There is only the bond, there is desire
Which ties them to each other as they move
As the air moves, or as the spark in fire.

There is no death in them. They are as old
As wanting is itself, they are desire.
In the air the powder wings unfold
And shut on love’s dark thread, do not aspire

But to soar through depth and breadth and length
In the air’s great waves – what graceful strength!

XII

In the air’s great waves, what graceful strength
Infuses their paper fragility?
How do they keep the empty forearm’s length
Constant between them? What ability

Anticipates the turbulence of air,
Incorporating it into the flight
By simply and completely being there
Among the moving air, the leaves, the light?

Is it the eyes which lock onto the eyes,
The facets glittering with difference?
Is it the wings which, feeling air, are wise,
Take other flashing wings for reference,

Or just the wisdom of the empty dance
Fixing their measure in the swooping chance?

XIII

Fixing their measure in the swooping chance
A forearm from each other, in the shift
Of air, sand, paper, turbulence, they dance
Indifferent to the death which is their shrift

But which they cannot know. The wind
Which is absent is their lover and they know
Only this love, this desire, to wind
the other in the otherless, to and fro

Across the yard as air moves rolling in
From the deep Atlantic, breaks like wave
On the hard house, scatters pollen thin
With dust in the wild air. They are not brave,

They simply are, forged out of choice and chance –
For air and seed and empty love, they dance.

XIV

For air and seed and empty love, they dance.
They do not dance for memory, they are
Renewed without thought in the shining glance
Which is no gaze, but is the wing’s lodestar.

They die because they live. They are alive
Because they died. Their continuity
Is in their present flight – they swoop and dive
Mindful of their mindless potency,

Probing for comfort, following the way
Downwards to equipoise, to bright desire
One forearm’s length apart. The shining day
Alive as tumbling geometric fire

In the movement of air, seeking the least –
The air that breathes the house from the south-east.

XV

The air that breathes the house from the south-east
Encounters contradiction in its course –
Flowing as air moves, following the least
Resistance, whence the air derives its force.

In thudding circles all the waves of air
Crash turbulently down the house’s face –
Air feeling, moving, waving everywhere
But of the wind itself there is no trace.

Two butterflies come slewing in a swirl,
Their distance locked apart a forearm’s length –
How fiercely they tumble, how they whirl
In the air’s great waves – what graceful strength

Fixing their measure in the swooping chance?
For air and seed and empty love, they dance.

long cloud

Copyright © Michael Cope, 2003

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