Archive for August, 2009

The power plant. A georgic. (draft as of 8.15.09)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15, 2009 by rdunder

The power plant. Or. The lightning.

A georgic.

Begun

Inauguration Day, 2009.

Fort Collins, Colorado.

Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Boulder, Colorado.

The epigraph.

“Maybe fire is the opposite principle to light, and comes to the use of those who do not go the way of light. Fire has to consume to give all its light. But light gets its knowledge—and has its intelligence and its being—by going over things without the necessity of eating the substance of things in the process of purchasing their truth. Maybe this is the difference, the different base of not just these two poets, Bill and E.P., but something more, two contrary conceptions of love.”—Charles Olson, “GrandPa, Goodbye”

Or.

“We shall build a tower that will reach to the stars!” Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many – BABEL! BABEL! BABEL! – Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.”–Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang, Metropolis

Or.

The epigram.

Sometimes all I want is a little more power.

Invocation………………………..(1)

“(There is a myth that Prometheus did more than steal fire from the sun and bring it down to man: it is said that Prometheus fathered man.)”

There was a stadium.

My father hurled the bolt like a javelin.

The stadium became a brain

where electric branches dart from synapses

and this poem billows up like thunderheads.

I am made of lightning.

My father sat in the cave. Black hair covered him. It was as invisible as his long teeth and simian jaw, but flashes from the storm outside briefly silhouetted his body.

Our troop roiled in the murk, bodies swapping blows. An antelope stank somewhere close. I crouched on a rock watching for my father’s fleeting profile.

Sudden light invaded the cave.

L’á venir.

A tree outside caught fire.

My father stood.

He picked up a stick.

He marched toward the flames.

He carried back the power plant.

Our troop howled with fear and shied away from the shadows that shivered on the cave walls. My father had to coax each one of them to the stack of branches that he set alight and kept burning. Some tried to touch the flame and cried in pain at being burned.

I drew my father on the floor with my finger.

Stick figure lifting his torch.

My father gave me light to draw by.

I gave him my first drawing.

By morning my careful lines had been replaced by a panicked dance of footprints.

Electricity is brevity

and power at once.

In Frankenstein or: A Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley omits any detail of the chemical process by which the creature is brought to life. Victor Frankenstein, the narrator, claims to be redacting the information from the careless disposal of other scientists. In fact, Shelley’s imagination had outstripped reality’s permission.

A silent adaptation made by the Edison Electric Company in 1910 condenses the creature in a cauldron of chemicals, flesh scraps hanging themselves on a palsied frame. In the end the creature confronts himself in a mirror and vanishes, becoming only his reflection. Victor rushes in and finds the creature’s image taking his place in the glass, stealing his selfhood, until that semblance disappears to reveal Victor’s. The implications of the scene are complex, but the title card just reads

“THE CREATION OF AN EVIL MIND

IS OVERCOME BY LOVE

AND DISAPEARS.”

James Whale’s 1931 film version has the creature lifted up toward the storming sky on a mechanized gurney. A strike on a sphere-topped lightning rod powers the machinery that animates the creature. It was after Whale’s version that the creature became known as “Frankenstein” as though he had taken on his creators’ name. As a son.

The creature could not speak. In the first full sound cinema production of the story.

When my mother was in her twenties and her grandmother Hazel was in her eighties they worked together to write a history of Hazel’s life in Leadville as a daughter of Cornish miners, her move from the mountains to the plains to become a teacher, her marriage, her family, a living-history.

My mother compiled the scattered notes her grandmother would send in the mail, crafting random flakes of memory into orderly rows of chronology. She typed up two copies, one for her own family, and one for her uncle’s family in Sterling. Hazel asked that the copies be kept within the families, the family.

Against her wishes

I can’t help but leave a fragment from this history

on the floor of the power plant. Anyway

my mother sent me this quote

and gave me permission to use it.

“For light we had candles and kerosene lamps. Then the big day came when Leadville got electricity in homes. I ran all the way home from school to see the lights. Each room except the parlor had a drop cord that hung from the ceiling–one bulb. The parlor had a chandelier. What a joy to turn on a light. We had no wall outlets.”

The Martin Drake………………………..(2)

My father works for the Martin Drake power plant in Colorado Springs. Other men make radiators or poems. He makes lightning and puts his sun in your house.

I made up the name Martin Drake.

Martin. Bird wings electric current quick.

Drake. Snake breathing fire

and for draconian.

The power plant is a martin drake.

My father is a martin drake.

But the power plant is not named Martin Drake.

The power plant doesn’t know its real name.

It’s dressed up in blue metal.

Trace my wires back to their beginnings.

You’ll find the power plant.

Martin Drake was a man the power plant is named for.

I didn’t make up the name.

I never said the wires aren’t tangled.

Go to the power plant. Find the classroom. Pull down the canvas roll wedged between the back wall and the ceiling. Printed on the roll is a schematic, a map of the process. Colored lines delineate the machine’s parts: the coal loader emptying to the oceanic fire in the burners that boil steam pressurized through pipes to blast against pinwheel turbines, sparking bolts day and night. Grey scribbles are the clouds hot enough to sublimate my father’s bones in an instant. Finger sized bushes of orange stand in for the fire that could cook his eyes into gas.

If I followed this schematic into the power plant it would lead me nowhere.

It could even lead into the fire.

Dedalus invented a building that was a tangle without end, built it to hide the martin drake that lurked inside. Then King Minos imprisoned Dedalus and his son, Icarus, in a tall tower so that the secret of the labyrinth could never escape. When the men tried to flee on wings made of feathers and wax, the son flew too close to the light and was destroyed for his transgression.

When my cousin was a boy he thought the power plant was a cloud factory.

I thought the clouds it made were ashes from the coal fires.

My father made Vesuvius.

While I was writing this poem, Craig Arnold, a poet I’d seen read a year earlier, went missing on the island of Kuchinoerabu in Japan. He was researching a poem on volcanoes. A search party tracked his footprints to the edge of a cliff but his body could not be found.

A factory for obscuring clouds.

Actually.

Cooling towers temper the steam used to spin the turbines, allowing the condensed water to re-circulate. On cool and humid days the rising vapor saturates the damp air and makes a white fog. The clouds are often mistaken for the smoke from a fire.

Pliny’s vaporous pine disintegrates.

The power plant makes clouds

only as bi-product.

The power plant doesn’t have time to be a cloud factory

because the power plant is an explosion on schedule.

This storm with quotas can’t admire

its wispy clouds.

It doesn’t care for its floating hair.

Floating on air.

But despite the power plant’s relentless logic

and all my enlightenment

when I stare into the cooling ponds

I see the blue steel feathers of the martin drake

chasing its two eyes made of glowing coal.

For forty hours a week my father left our house for the power plant. In the first years he was there he worked eight hour shifts, either day, night, or swing. Later he switched to twelve hour long shifts, all day or all night. He called nightshifts “working graveyards”.

When my father said he was working swing shifts I imagined a line of grown men on a swing set.

When my father said he was working  graveyards I imagined bleached skeletons darting between headstones, trying not to be seen.

Today my Father is a Shift Supervisor. He leads crews of men and women working as Control Room Operators, Boiler Turbine Operators, and Plant Systems Operators. He also acts as an interface with the Maintenance, Engineering, Site Security and Management divisions of the Martin Drake Power Plant itself and the larger Colorado Springs Utilities Organization.

“his crew, a ‘people,’ Clootz and Tom Paine’s people, all races and colors functioning together, a forecastle reality of Americans not yet a dream accomplished by society”

Crew of the Pequod.

My father as an Ahab

leading humans

to fight nature

for the right to burn its fuel

into light.

Martin Drake. Moby Dick.

A metal whale or a blue steel ship

steaming in place

in the shadow of mountains

like breaking waves of rock.

….

The power plant is a location.

Martin Drake Power Plant at

700 Conejos street.

Locus. Imago mundi.

A crossroads inscribed on a circle

with 700 rabbits in a cage

at exact center.

While my father was at work he did one of two things.

He laid down in the coal burners while the martin drake tore him to pieces

made him spinning steam then sparks

shot him into every line cable wire

bulb battery capacitor transistor

diode tube and screen

all of him burned away

nothing made back into coal

and somehow he returned to us

to eat dinner again.

The other thing he did was stare

into a burning bush

that had not yet been consumed.

I’m not sure which one of these two things he did at work.

Once my father dislocated his shoulder climbing a ladder in the power plant.

He told me that he reached for a rung and his arm leaped free of its cuff. But I think the martin drake grabbed his arm and wreanched it out of place, like Beowulf to Grendel.

I saw him in sunlit hospital hallway. Wind through open windows lifted white curtains toward our meeting. He embraced me with one arm, the other in a sling.

The power plant is a worker’s arm

that gets free from its shoulder.

A center of power that sends it power everywhere

across the western power grid.

Our city’s eccentric center.

A dislocus.

I won’t find my way though this place

where no paths meet

and fog haunts out of the ground.

I am a writer lost on a volcano.

My father decided to hike Barr Trail up Pikes Peak. He made it up to the top, did not meet God and found the train back down closed. He hiked down in darkness.

A few weeks later I was born. The day after that was his birthday.

Child, father of man.

When Moses came down from the mountain the radiance of God was on him . As he spoke the commandments of God he was so bright that no one could look at his body. After he finished speaking he covered himself in a veil to obscure this aura. He would only lift it when he went into the tabernacle to speak with God.

Cells eat like coal burners.

Earth is a small metal ball.

Conductor for currents crossing

a universe that spends itself for fuel.

The present burns the past

to charge the future.

The power plant is a small or large machine made of everything.

Try negative theology. A negative charge.  La via negativa.

What is not the power plant?

Sacrifice………………………..(3)

“A first bowl of the victim’s blood, drained from the wound, was offered to the sun by the priests. A second bowl was collected by the sacrificer. The latter would go before the images of the gods and wet their lips with the warm blood. The body of the sacrificed was his by right; he would carry it home, setting aside the head, and the rest would be eaten at a banquet, cooked without salt or spices—but eaten by the invited guests, not by the sacrificer, who regarded his victim as a son, a second self.”

My father’s favorite singer is Johnny Cash

who sang “Love

is a burning thing

and it makes

a fiery ring.”

A statue. Marble.

Two sexless human forms. One is named Love and the other named Labor. Both of the bodies wear Greek masks with the words “Love” and “Labor” imprinted on the foreheads. It is not clear whether the masks are correctly assigned to the names.

The body with the Love mask is stretched chest up on an altar. The body with the Labor mask form holds a knife overhead, pointed at the other’s liver.

It is not clear whether or not the masks are assigned to their proper forms. Or if the forms are even human.

A statue. Or is it statues.

Career day. My father brought a miniature power line and a small gas generator to my second grade class. He carried a frilly dressed baby doll in a thrift store sack. He turned the machine on and his own electric hum turned the air into glass.

My father pulled insulated gloves all the way to his elbows while explaining the danger of downed power lines. He pulled the plastic child from its plastic womb and tossed it against the wires.

An electric shock feels like many things.

A bone cracking shiver.

A reptile snap of jaws.

A phosphorous camera flash.

A flame that burns itself.

The doll caught fire, cradled in the wires. It pitched from its electrified hammock and fell to the floor. A smell like rotting tires rose from the victim. Polyester clothes melted to pink plastic, dripping on the floor, a new fluid of this tortured body.

My father has a power I do not.

It makes him have Abraham

hands with each hair

upright like a lightning rod.

The power plant cares for its children like Medea.

Which is quite a lot. However.

People made of lightning should not touch their babies.

They will become lightning.

But my father has two children.

Two growing bodies his labor has fed.

He has attended both our cries.

One lets fire lick its guts.

One has coal stained skin.

Both have lightning in their heads.

One is a neuter. One is a son.

Which one? Me

or the power plant.

Twelve years after I saw the baby doll burned on electric wires my father told me that he doused the plastic child with hairspray in the parking lot before he came in. Without a starter the doll never would’ve burned so quickly.

Andrea Brown at the Colorado Springs Gazette interviewed me for a story on this poem. The paper sent a cameraman, Christian Murdock, to tape me reading in front of the power plant at night. He set up his gear like robots in front of me. I read from my copy of the poem and wondered if I should look up more. I only glanced into the lens once. By the park there was a stucco church with a cross on its roof.

After the taping, the Murdock talked to my mother and I about an accident he’d been sent to photograph the day before. A nineteen year old woman had been burned to death when she was trapped against a burning gas pump by her own van. She was five minutes away from home, just leaving on a vacation in the mountains. A driver lost control and crashed into the 7-11

Murdock was sent to cover the story. He took his pictures, trying to avoid any close shots of the gas pump itself. He returned to the Gazette office and turned in his photos, one of which immediately ran with a story on the paper’s website. Later that day Murdock and his colleagues looked at the photo again after digitally lightening it.  They found a dark form hidden in the shadows around the pump. They pulled the photograph from the website, and managed to catch it before it went to press.

I’m not sure if I should’ve told this story.

I’m not sure what the cameramen saw

in that digitally brightened murk

but when I look there I see

a smiling 19 year old woman

cradling a burned baby doll

cradling a camera man

cradling a camera

that tapes two white towers

paired like smokestacks

turning into smoke

as they implode.

A month later I watched the video of my reading. It followed a commercial for the oil and natural gas lobby. My prefacing comments were shot in normal color, but when I started reading the video switched to a negative filter. A negative charge.

Hair and skin turned blue.

Poem luminescent in my hands.

Glowing veil across my face.

The martin drake coiled around my torso

its mouth leeching on my liver.

I read the book so nothing can hurt them.

But something will still hurt them.

The power plant was hidden in the haze of night turned light, but when the negative switched off the building was still there, burning its bubs like eye-lobes.

700 Easter rabbits

skinned for pelts and burned.

I’m tired of squinting

in a room of bare light bulbs

because the only lampshades at the import store

are made of human skin.

When I blink the power plant looks like a death camp

which is only an illusion

a play of light on conning towers

and astigmatic lenses.

Although I admit I have exploited this illusion for poetic effect.

My father works at the Martin Drake power plant in Colorado Springs.

He is not Abraham. He never set a dagger

nor a hand on me.

He’s not a “panzer-man”. A “black shoe”. Or a “vampire”.

He didn’t even burn a doll in my second grade class.

It was another man doing a safety demonstration. Not career day.

The power plant is not Moloch. Despite what Fritz Lang says.

Despite what Allen Ginsberg says.

My father dislikes “Daddy”

by Sylvia Plath

because of her hyperbole.

I’ve argued with him

saying that poetry is spectacle

and spectacle need sacrifices.

Saying a poem must be doused in hairspray

so that it will burn when a current passes through it.

But today I’m not sure of that. I think a sacrifice might be a dumb show

a sheer display of bloody power.

Teaching……………………………(4)

“And fire has proved for men a teacher in every art, their grand resource.”

My father is the best teacher I’ve ever had because he taught me about electric light twice.

Once by going to work at the power plant for forty hours a week.

Twice by telling me that he was like Prometheus, because he gives the world a gift of electric light.

My father taught me how to use the simile, the metaphor, the symbol.

Which means he taught me

how to use the power plant

the electric light

the switch on the wall

or the drop cord on the General Electric bulb

of poetry.

But the most important lesson he taught me is that

to build fire you need

heat

air

and fuel.

Some people have jobs that aren’t their real jobs.

My father got his BA in English lit. He often said that he wished he’d gotten his teaching degree, and taught Shakespeare to high school kids.

When I was in  fourth grade he came to my class and organized us in a abridged production of Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I didn’t play a role. Instead I introduced the two plays in the character of Shakespeare himself, doing a Rip van Winkle routine, waking up in an elementary school gym, speaking not his words, but my own speech.

My father wanted to be a writer and a teacher but instead he worked in the power plant.

I say to the children at school

My father stole a flashlight from God’s cabinet.

Then he taught everyone to build flashlights.

That’s how come we have flashlights.

When they question me I point to florescent lights

saying

He made those too. They taught you to read.

Then I tutored my classmates

in a miscellany of his eclectic pedagogy.

His electric pedagogy.

My friend David works in the library at Colorado State University. One day he brought home an empty folder that once held a series of pamphlets on products from the Edison Lamp Works in Harrison, New Jersey.

All that’s left is an index on the inside of the front cover, listing my father’s daily labors.

“no. 103. Lighting of show windows and show cases”

“no. 104. Artificial daylight for merchandising and industry”

no. 106. Illumination and production”

“no. 108. Lighting office buildings and drafting rooms”

“no. 110. Lighting of textile mills”

“no. 111. Lighting of piers and warehouses”

“no. 125. Lighting of printing plants”

“no. 127. Lighting of  Ship Lighting”

“no. 131. Electric sign, poster panel, and bulletin lighting”

“no. 132. Lighting of large dry good and department stores”

“no. 133. Lighting of the clothing and shoe industries”

“no. 139. Lighting of small stores”

“no. 142. Lighting of woodworking plants”

“no. 150. Lighting of steel mills and foundries”

“no. 151. Lighting for hotels and resturaunts”

“no. 154. Adequate and efficient motor bus lighting”

…..

Filaments teach letters

for hands to inscribe

and filaments teach the eyes

letters.

Light glows on the page where I read.

Light is the screen where I wrote this line.

Once my father wrote

“lighght” and “eyeye”.

And now I’ve written the same.

But he’s the one who lights these words

like rooms or fires.

He lights. You light.  It lights. We light. She lights. You all light. They light.

I light. I, light. Eyelight.

My father plugged in his Telecaster

at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.

He sang “I don’t wanna work on Maggie’s farm no more.”

He taught us to dance electrically.

Pete Seeger tried to cut the power cable with an axe.

In D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back

my father lands on England

carrying a light bulb big as a grapefruit.

When a reporter asks my father who gave him the light bulb

he says “A very affectionate friend.”

When a reporter asks my father what his “real message” is

he says “Keep a good head

and always carry a light bulb.”

My father is both of the robot men from Daft Punk.

He played at Red Rocks on the eve of Colorado Day in 2007.

Both of his silver heads bobbed beneath a light show pyramid

thirty feet tall. It was the power plant in discothèque and our city danced to it.

It was Melville’s birthday.

My father dedicated the set to him.

The Opera Garnier in Paris is covered with images of salamanders, who, according to the Talmud and Pliny, could pass through fire without being hurt. The architect included them because the large halls of the Opera were originally lit with gas, causing the fear that the whole building might burn.

The Opera also holds four statues representing the history of lighting. The first is a woman with candles in her hair, with her eyes closed. Then a woman with a garland of olives around her neck and an oil lamp in her hair, with her eyes are closed as well. The third is crowned in a gas lamp and adorned with gas lines and closed eyes. The final figure has light bulbs in her hair, a necklace of wires and wide opened eyes.

I wrote this description from the account of Hannah, who traveled to Paris to study art. I wrote only from her words because the batteries in her camera ran out before she could take the picture.

400 stainless steel javelins stab into New Mexico

desert air.

My father arraigned them in a 1 mile

by 1 kilometer grid

and called his work Lightning Field.

Despite the name

lightning strikes on the rods are rare.

The installation’s artistry

comes from the play of light on and shadow from

the poles over the course of the day.

Christopher D. Campbell wrote an essay arguing that the epilogue to Blood Meridian is a depiction of the construction of Lightning Field.

“In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and the enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there.”

My father ran the wires

from the power plant to a movie theatre

lighting a marquee reading

FRITZ LANG’S METROPOLIS.

A charge runs into the projector

illuminating steel hallucination

onto a canvas sheet.

Three pistons. The outer pair thrust down

when the inner piston thrusts up.

An eccentric disc.

Eros in cogs and whirr.
`
The machine dance becomes a clock

then becomes a dance of workers.

Two lines of men pass in opposite directions through a pair of gates.

The men going out move twice as a slow as the men going in.

The lines are each six abreast and extend across the shot.

Although he co-wrote the script with Thea von Harbou, Lang later insisted that at least fifty percent of it was his. As though they were the script’s parents, genetic parts synthesizing.

As though they had given consciousness to inanimate matter, like two Frankensteins.

A crazed inventor named Rotwang fashions a machine to look like his dead lover. In a twist of fate, the machine woman is identical to Maria, the Madonna of the workers and the picture’s heroine.

At the center of the film is Freder, son of the Plutarch of the city, Joh Fredersen. Freder, who unites the riven dualisms of the  plot. Between Maria and the machine woman. Between technology and humanity. Between his father and the leader of the workers. Between the hands of labor and the head of capital, to be the heart of love.

But were I given the role of Freder

I’m not sure I would take it.

“Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a mediator

and this must be the heart.”

But the heart is a thoughtless fist. A dumb pump.

A burning gas pump.

The heart is more like the power plant than it is like love.

The head must let its mirrors fall

to see through the fingertips.

The hands must reach inside the skull

and fill their palms with sparks. Besides.

I have a head and hands both. So does my father.

The power plant burns allegory into ash

that collects on rails and corrodes paint.

A man in the theatre has a heart attack and is rushed to the nearest hospital. Defibrillators try to teach his heart to beat again.

A modern hospital needs good wiring to keep its patients alive. This is why “pulling the plug” has become a euphemism for euthanasia and why the squeal of a flatlined electrocardiogram or electroencephalogram is death’s own tone.

Ringing next to the man’s eardrum, which vibrates without hearing.

In another room, a woman notices a light bulb just before the anesthesia takes her under.
In the lobby her husband calls their daughter on a cell phone, to teach her about liver surgery.

I can call the multitudes

and tutor them one by one

if they will listen.

I’ll tell them

it was my father who hung the wires

between the telegraph lines

the phone cables

and the millions of tin cans

that I’m calling you with.

I can read the words of a teacher

in Paris

or Athens

on a page made of electromagnetically excited particles

and it was my father who delivered the document.

If ever anyone enjoyed electric lights on their Christmas tree, or drove around town to see the lights on the houses, they have my father to thank.

But then I did those things too. So do I deserve the guiding star

my father lifted up and lit

only because I am his son? Do I deserve the gift

of the power plant unwrappable

and too big to fit under any tree?

The child sits on the floor, eyes on the television. His father quit the house long ago, given to drink. In another state, he has become a teacher.

The child sits and gets up to change the channel like he’s stoking a fire and he sits back down and he looks at the television.

One night, watching The Hellfighters for the second time. John Wayne as Chance Buckman stops mid-line, walks forward, crouches and passes through the screen.

Wayne stands upright before the child, flickering, a body made of electric color. He gives the child a baby boy in swaddling and a picture of the baby’s mother. John Wayne tells the child to find the baby’s mother and marry her and then go to work for them both in the power plant and never leave either of them ever.

The set flicks off leaving the child singing to a burned baby doll in a black room.

My father says that John Wayne taught him to be a man.

Coal………………………..(5)

“And pray when I’m dead and my ages shall roll/That my body would blacken and turn into coal/Then I’ll look from the door of my heavenly home/ and pity the miner digging my bones.”

My father sang “Dark as a Dungeon”, from Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison album, as a lullaby. The song is about coal miners, lamenting the perils of the profession. He sang softly and off key.

The coal for the Martin Drake power plant comes from two different mines.

In the Twetnymile mine outside of Steamboat Springs a longwall shearer mows a 60 foot slice of coal from a 2 mile long panel every shift, producing a total of 7.9 million tons of coal per year. The shearer spins like a serrated turbine, cutting a path through the detritus of the Cretaceous, a path unmistakably human in its relentless straightness.

The Powder River basin is a

I strike the coal seam

with my pickaxe. I strike at history

compressed by geology.

I break off a morsel of stone.

I throw it in my cart

with thousands of others.

When the cart is full

I’ll drag it to the surface.

An ox in the mine.

Tesla………………………….(6)

“The day when we shall know exactly what ‘electricity’ is, will chronicle an event probably greater, more important, than any other recorded in the history of the human race. The time will come when the comfort, the very existence, perhaps, of man will depend upon that wonderful agent.”

In 1899, still riding his fame from lighting the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, the Croatian born scientist Nikola Tesla opened a lab in Colorado Springs.

Two discharges array in the shape of butterfly wings thirty feet across.

Coil’s invisible roots manifest as light.

The white hair of a mad scientist.

Between the discharges a man

sits in a folding chair.

He is reading a book. A bolt strikes inches away. He doesn’t move.

The man is a lightning rod no lightning touches.

He reads the book. Nothing can hurt him.

Because the man won’t be there when the bolt strikes.

The photograph is a double exposure.

I can unite station to station without the aid of wires.

I can make a charge flow through air.

But still I don’t have a power plant.

“My project was retarded by laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.”

Which is to say

I can’t make it cohere either

but I’ve kept the blueprints

and when I die you may order them.

Nikola Tesla was close to death. He was delirious, and tried to dispatch a messenger with a letter for Mark Twain. It was January 1943. Twain had died in 1910.

When the messenger returned saying that Twain was dead, Tesla reportedly replied

“Don’t you dare tell me Mark Twain is dead. He was in my room, here last night. He sat in that chair and talked to me for an hour. He is having financial difficulties and needs my help. So you go right back and deliver that envelope—and don’t come back until you have done so.”

By January 7th Tesla was dead.

A schoolboy in Croatia, Tesla was struck with a series of illnesses. The doctors all but gave up on him. To pass the time he was given a few volumes of Twain’s work. The books absorbed him. Tesla’s spirits were bolstered and he made a sudden recovery.

Some scholars have questioned whether any of Twain’s books could’ve been available in Croatia at the time.

He reads the book but he

will still have to die someday.

Power/Politics………………………….(7)

“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.”

Michel Foucault was a man who knew about power.

“Full lighting and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately
protected. Visibility is a trap.”

Without the power plant

the panopticon is a dark room

an unlit Lascaux chamber.

I hear turbines howl

when security cameras focus on my skin.

Streetlights let us observe

each other

passing at night.

Eyes keeping safe from hands.

Whose hands hold the other ends of the streetlight wires?

Power is not a force, a practice or a technology.

It is a Proteus of usages.

Where has the power been planted?

I mean to dig it up and show you the roots.

Turn up fields thick with buried light bulbs.

My father served in the United States Navy between 1973 and 1977. He sailed around the Pacific to San Diego to Hawaii to Japan to Taiwan to Vietnam to Thailand to Indonesia to Colorado Springs.  His ship was a destroyer escort called the Meyerkord, USS.

A modern destroyer is run on turbines little different than those in the power plant. My father was a machinist’s mate, working on these turbines and the systems that powered the destroyer. He burned a diesel fuel called JP-5 to fire the boilers.

Certain people work one job their whole lives.

A naval vessel is a mobile power generator.

As NVA troops advanced into South Vietnam, my father’s ship was ordered to assist with the evacuation.

It takes power to deliver a charge

to a prisoner’s body.

To excite particles in a mouth

into answering every question.

It takes power

to illuminate and measure

the locked rooms

where the pain was inflicted.

Measure the space hollowed by torture.

Illuminate the space. The pain can be light. Yet

with these lines

I’ve powered another panopticon.

Another circular cavern lit only for observation.

Al Qur’an, Surah 2.20, my translation.

First lightning almost blinds me.

Only when it flashes can I see

and then I move.

In dark I am blind.

I stand still.

If the lightning had pleased

it would’ve taken my hearing

and my sight.

It has power over anything.

Please forgive my sin of metonymy.

A friend of mine traveled to the Trinity Site in New Mexico with his father. They each took a piece of the green glass residue that cakes the blast area. The substance is called Trinitite, and is present only on this one place, a unique formulation of human power and geology.

Punishment/Power outage………………………….(8)

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

One night my father’s boss told him to burn all the coal in the world.

My father went into the forest and wrung the necks of a million cardinals, plucking their bodies clean, and filling two pillowcases with feathers. He took one bag to the power plant. He pasted the feathers onto the coals so they looked like they were burning.

He took the other bag of feathers to the people of our city. My father gave the feathers to the people, but they didn’t know it. He crept down their chimneys, and put the feathers in their fire places. The people were tricked, and warmed themselves and read books by the color all night. They went to bed and had to set their second blankets aside.

The sun rose on heaps of unburned coal covered in red feathers. My father’s boss was angry and filed a complaint with Human Relations.

So they wire him to the side of Pikes Peak.

Graft cables to his arteries.

Solder the cables to rocks.

Trapped in a circuit.

Every day the martin drake descends

with coal and blood on its steel scaled feathers

to eat his liver.

And every day a kilowatt surge

brings his liver back to life.

Power outage

Because my father told people to burn the bones and fat instead of the meat.

Because my father stole the fire that was taken away.

Zeus cursed us twice

with Pandora’s strewn keepsakes.

Disease, snakes, darkness and apples.

Flood waters

without subsidence.

The power plant vents the chemicals that unfurl in the atmosphere like a thermal bed sheet, or a shroud. In producing this cloud  my father stands as both flooder and flooded, punisher and punished, killer and killed. The power plant as both cause of light and the darkness from the box that snuffs it.

You forget to notice the power is on

until it goes out.

In inheriting light

my boon is eventual darkness

sunrise and sunset given at once.

The punishment for taking the fire

for being given the fire

and the light that comes with it

is suffering the fire’s removal

or rather

the moment of its removal.

There is no heaven or hell

nor purgatory, Dante.

Only a power outage that has lasted forever.

The lights haven’t come back on

for anyone.

My words have no power to light this cavern.

But neither does my father’s lightning.

These words when they are unread.

What work is lurking there? Here?

What chance of light for this cat in a box?

For a cat in this box?

I read the book

because someday I wont be able to.

In laboring light

to put in his son’s eyes

my father had to turn

from irises widening

right at him.

His light was so intense

that I could not see through it

so I had to turn away

and weave a veil of words to cover it with.

His city at night

shines with more colors

than my poem’s pages could ever reflect back.

Offered is all my father’s labor

that my poem cannot justify. Cannot inherit.

Offered are the fossil fuels, fruit, flesh, grain and dollar bills burned to make me

and this poem.

My inheritance is my father’s burned offerings.

My poem keeps them burning without being consumed.

“How, from this consuming descruction without limit, can there remain something that primes the dialectical process and opens history? Conversely, if the process begins, how would it reduce this pure differential consuming, this pure destruction that can proceed only from fire? How would the solar outlay produce a remain(s)—something that stays or that overdraws itself? How would the purest pure, the worst worst, the panic blaze of the all burning, put forth some monument, even where it a crematory? Some stable, geometric, solid form, for example, a pyramis that guards the trace of death.”

What residue

remains like trinitite

to mark the mass graves

flower plants?

The Labor of Love/The Love of Labor………………………….(9)

The heart has powers of which power knows nothing.

Deucalion was son of Prometheus. Zeus determined to flood the world and it was Prometheus who warned his son to build a boat and take his wife on board and ride out the floodwaters.

My father taught me about solar power.

The power plant runs backward.

Steam sucked away from turbine

cooled into water

while ashes become coal

back down the loaders

piled up to wait

until the trains arrive

to gather.

I make the coal trains run backward.

They demonstrate their history

pulled back to their origin like fishing lures.

Trains unload the coal

onto trucks that drive in reverse

to elevators and conveyor belts

that carry the coal back underground

where a man runs a longwall machine

slathering on a layer of reformed coal

like icing on a black cake.

Day and night he closes up the mine

until he can’t work there anymore.

In 1616 Ben Jonson became the first English writer to publish a collection under the title Works.

Andre Breton wrote in the Surrealist Manifesto

“They say that not long ago, just before he went to sleep, Saint-Pol-Roux placed a placard on the door of his manor at Camaret which read: THE POET WORKS.”

Which means nothing to me

but a bad joke.

Breton popularized automatic writing

which saw conscious thought as the barrier to true poetry.

Automatic writing is like sitting

in a dark room

pen in hand on page

to wait for the writing to happen.

Both my father and I have reason to deplore this practice.

The muse is not dead

because she was never born.

Does that mean she will never die?

In Thebes there were two brothers named Amphion and Zethus. They raised an army and killed the king of Thebes, becoming kings themselves. Zethus learned about hunting and herding and cattle husbandry. Amphion got a golden lyre from Hermes and learned to sing.

The brothers decided to build a wall around the city’s citadel. Zethus dug out the heavy stones and struggled to carry and pile them. Amphion played his lyre and sang and the stones lifted out of the earth and arranged themselves in a neat circle.

This is how Amphion tells the story.

Zethus puts on a Marx mask and says it differently

“The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

I begun work out what these twins mean for the power plant

which digs stones from the earth

to move the world

with an invisible charm of wires like

lyre strings.

But what do these twins mean for this poem

which is also called the power plant?

My mother made a garden

out of beads.

Cored out morsels

embroidered on a cloth background

strung on thread to form flowers

coiled stems in artfully laid tangle

looking like wires that are not wires.

The smallest beads are called seed beads.

There are plants that are not power plants.

Some things are not because of the power plant.

When the water had subsided

I asked Hannah to decorate the dream house

in her mind. She filled nothing

with rust brown, hardwood floors

and three foggy curtains of different colors.

I filled this poem with coal.

A burner for her.

A power plant to light the buildings

in her mind. A well lit house on the hill

A lighthouse to bring her home from France

in time for Independence day.

My father took a wife

and gave her a lit city as dowry.

This is my work of poetry

to pay for

to power

bulbs and color

the well-decorated

invisible houses

that make working possible.

Courbet/Rivera/Kahlo

There is a myth that Hercules freed Prometheus from his bonds. There is another myth that it was Prometheus’s son, Deucalion, who set his father free.

This fragment is the only log of the son’s work.

Epilogue: Three Visions………………………..(10)

I climb to the top of Pikes Peak.

I find my father’s chained body

leaking bile out his pecked side.

I plunge my fingers

static sparks jumping between their tips

into his lacerated liver.

He sits up and looks down the mountain.

See a plain fruited with electrons.

I built a new power plant for my father.

It’s made of neat wires and photovoltaic cells.

There are no pipes. No turbines.

No steam. No coal.

No fire but the sun’s.

I made these visions. In labor.

Silicon lakes washing over rooftops.

Aimed up from every sunward pointed surface.

Offering of sapphires.

Ripe harvest of blueberries.

My father strides in the sun’s true lamp.

Walking in the open as between tilled rows.

Reflections from solar panels cast panes on his jaw.

Windows through which I can almost see him

and that let in enough light to write by.

He reads the book. Nothing can hurt him.

My father and I walk the alabaster city

following the crowds

to a fairgrounds swelling with a dome of light.

Light bulbs in thick bunches

blooming on building sides.

A careful spider’s nest of wires.

We approach a red striped tent.

Long lines of hands clutching bibles

lead to an inside that flickers.

A signboard outside plastered with

“the World’s Columbian Exposition presents”

an astonishing gift from distant lands

a candle for our wonder cabinet

“the light not of the sun”

like a wick covered in Moby Dick’s wax

“the great acorn of light”

Dante’s vision crackling sparks inside

electricity, flame and light at once

“a lamp to lift beside our golden doors”

“The Power”

People take off their hats when they enter.

But as soon as we see it

we both know that though the power gives light

it is not light.

Does not burn

but the whole world burns to fuel it.

Has no charge

but attracts and repulses at once.

An explosion

crystallizing.

Power is not a name for the power.

The power isn’t even singular.

Leaving off mystery

for labor

we fill lanterns with this thing itself.

We quit the fair and take to the continent.

We build a city of lesser stars.

We spin turbines with our breath.

Filaments bristle on our arms.

Sparks drip from our fingernails. Seeds.

We plant power in this “hell of wide land”

true gleaming living power

that can even be turned off

so that

the stars might themselves emerge again.

We find a boat in the shadows of white towers.

We row out to the woman in the harbor.

Arm in arm my father and I

climb the spiral stairs through her leg

her womb her stomach her breast

her arm into the hand and finally the torch.

A rack of shovels

a burner and a pile of coal.

We race first

old machine against new machine.

As we stagger and slump

our rhythms match.

We labor together to light this eastern sun

this lighthouse guiding

her ship

and her Olympic torch

back to Athens.

In the stadium

we watch the woman run

robes gone

last bearer in a gold medal relay.

She passes the finish line

but she doesn’t stop running.

She passes the finish line.

She rounds the loop again.

She runs for centuries.

She might stop running.

But she hasn’t yet.