g-point almanac: passyunk lost by Kevin Varrone


I've never felt a sadder spring, then a spring in Philadelphia.  Or at least that's the way I feel today on this unexpectedly slowly falling day here in Houston.

Let's meditate on snow falling, try to remember the bits of light sloughing out of the empty expanse of sky and grayness.  The gray of the snowstorm.  But wait.

snow is not sky falling, pollo
poco, it's sky
sloughing bits
of wissahickon mica
schist 'til
heft is on us,
high brought
low, fly weight, exfoliation.

And suddenly I can remember the snow, the weigh it sloughs, its heavy weightlessness, its heft.  These are careful words, weighty Middle-English words (not that I looked them up to check, they just feel that way, have that feel of long f sounds).  I also have not googled "wissahickon mica" but just from spending time with this book (g-point almanac: passyunk lost  by Kevin Varrone) I have a feeling that this is a particular kind of geological sediment.  And I am guessing this geological sediment is around Philadelphia.  And I have not googled "passyunk" either, but I'm guessing it is a street in the city of brotherly love.  Brotherly.

This book feels like a series of wintry experiments,  a continuation of a quest to keep on writing through the dismal grays of the long, barren snowfalling.  Many of the pieces are titled what look like dates, beginning with "1.7" and getting progressively more February, then more March.  The first poems in January are in a section called "a fortnight for st. distaff."  It is made of slippery square boxes of text, justified mostly and yet sometimes a line pushes out the side and sometimes a line doesn't reach the justified line.  As if the lines themselves were resisting the Word justification strategies, pushing or pulling their way out of the text block:


 One with more well-behaved lines:


I was reading here with the light filtering through the blinds and through the one missing blind and thinking about the sentences in the photo, how light falls, quickly, headlong.  Light's tail.

What does light do?  What does light make?  What are words about light or the world able to do, to make?

I realized that if I were a strophe
or an imp or an ooze--a great stroke
                                                     on canvas--
I could not make a building
make a building great
make anything.

Repeat.  Make.  Repeat.  Make.  What is the difference between poetry and architecture?  Painting and architecture?  What is a building?  Do we make anything lasting in the process of our art?  Does a building last longer?

History pervades and invades:

passyunk avenue was a footpath

several (from the anglo-french several,
"existing apart").

I've been thinking and writing around rivers, through rivers, through others words about rivers for some time now.  Often it feels rather hopeless or at least strange and repetitive (like crossing rivers).  Boring or lost.  And then sometimes when I feel most at a loss about why I've been obsessed with these rivers and I can't take it anymore, I pick up a book, like I picked up this one (recommended and lent by a friend).  And inevitably, I stumble on a line like this one that makes me realize it's okay to be lost among the rivers:

perhaps the city has risen
not from ashes
but from the foam of its rivers,

Yes, we can write whole books about so little. Yes, a day can be full with so little.  Or so little full of itself.  When I finished this book, one line kept re-occuring in my mind.  Spring has never seemed so sad as a spring in Philadelphia.  And in the background of this sentence, Jack London's old dictum that "The coldest winter I ever knew was a summer in San Francisco."  I haven't googled anything yet, so if I fractured the quotes, forgive me.  I wanted to rely on memory though, because this book lingers in memory, its deceitfulness, its perpetual habit of getting lost.  It lingers on winter days after the equinox, the days ever-so-slowly lengthening.

The end (and the whole) is winsome and full of ennui (a word that comes up numerous times).  There are tiny poem-letters to "e," a lost lover or loved one of some kind.  The end:

dear e, the traces
                       don't stay

as they pass (save as
a million flecks of mica
in the sky).

day keeps putting on

its cloak and darkness

keeps putting things away




Endnote: Wikipedia confirmed my feeling: "Passyunk Township is a defunct township that was located in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. The township ceased to exist and was incorporated into the City of Philadelphia following the passage of the Act of Consolidation, 1854. Passyunk, spelled in old deeds and records Perslajingh, Passayunk, Passyonck, Passajon, Passajungh, Passaming and Paisajungh, the name of a Native American village. It formed a tract of land computed at 1,000 acres (4 kmĀ²), originally granted by Queen Christina, August 20, 1653, to Lt. Swen Schute in consideration of important services rendered to the Swedish colony of New Sweden by the said gallant lieutenant."