from The Warlord Patroclus Addresses His Slave Girl Iphys

Lawrence Giffin

Spoil, you languish in the official residence,
your beauty the product of your desire to return
to a place whose allure is a function 
of your subtraction from it, 
so you remain to preserve it as such,
and only thus can you enjoy it,
gazing in its direction through 
the facets of a bright crystal,
which alienate your wistfulness,
refracting and reflecting it 
into a vision of home fulfilled.

It’s the meaning of such a place I was after, 
the spirit of it, when I first set out to claim it,
but even before then, it had to be put into a book,
which meant that those were not my deeds 
recorded, so their meaning was always 
that of my powerlessness to retrieve them.

A sediment of manners rolling across the seasons,
an overgrown footpath the graveyard spilled into,
these were just two things you could not bring with you.
The rest you refuse to name, or if you do, I do not understand.
It’s possible the ineffable is what remains 
ordinary enough to escape mention.

In its place, innumerable crystals
scattering the light. So many crystals.  
The children bring you flowers 
and trinkets that open and close, saying,
“Love’s mysteries in souls do grow
But yet the body is his book.”

These foreign elements that coincide with, 
only insofar as they displace, the lost thing
(which is like a crystal in that it is as much as it is 
such that it is part of no whole) become 
another dumb book of poems wanting not to meet 
the bookstore browser’s gaze 
but to organize the deluge around its alien spire, 
to be irrefutable in its ridiculousness or if ignorable 
to remain mildly irritating.

Every encounter leaves a mark,
(and the mark it makes is indelible, 
even if its derivation is erased, or if 
it signifies nothing but a struggle 
or skittish escape—breath on glass contracting, 
the blue-green halo of a bruise)
because the fact of it all at once serves 
as an index with no whence, 
conducting one by force toward 
an intention inferred in place of an 
illegible abstinence anticipated in what 
just seems to present itself as ordered rubble—
furtive motif—some refuse to remember. As luck
would have it, to be does not mean to have to be 
forever, only to have to have been at all, which means 
to be seated on one’s own ass in the void.

Memory, categorical or curricular, finally 
separates the memento from what meant more,
the accident from the cadaver, Adam’s apple 
from Fig Newton. Things leave one’s hands, 
even loved things, but they only ever fall into another’s,
minused just from one’s own small world,
and so it falls to what or who remains 
to maintain, even against will, a ruin of memory 
that threatens to disappear, forever collapsing in on itself, 
over time becoming a lightless and ineradicable crumb 
of a lightless and ineradicable crumb 
that, adjacent to impressions, remains a crystal facet 
so thin as to recommend a revised geometry 
(or rather, a better geometer), the proofs of which are 
worked out in a life lived as much out there as in here. 

The mark of every new memory is added to this 
ad-hoc ensemble—this this, which just is
the collective acknowledgement of its 
withdrawn donation: clamorous propinquity 
composed around a share—always just now 
recognized—in a singular improvisation of time and place 
that takes on the shape of the shape it happens to make.
It’s name is a ceremony that prescribes 
its own tradition, that is, it is a reenactment of 
the prior surrender and the orchestration of its lament.
Each new recital the same and yet sounding 
as if for the first time with whatever at all 
having come before being recast as still one more form 
in a chorus, a lossy cumulative number 
like a hole at the bottom of the sea or
a crowd for its members to get lost in.

Of what’s gone before remains this,
which never ceases dying, a wrenching
conservation. The fullness of its loss
is compensated by callous or gall.

Of what’s left this has been overtaken—
the siren’s alarm, the lone horse’s crop-anxiety,
nicks in the walls of the abandoned city
where no one has lived for years.

Its chafing grit long gone, 
the persistence of the mark seems to imply 
a wish for its return, so much so 
that some look for it everywhere, 

wanting to know again what one 
has never known as if for the first time. 
That way, this can all have been
foretold in a book, the pure voice 

of its ancient warning proving that this 
is but an unrecognized repetition. Its purity 
lets its meaning to become plastic,
irrefutable in the oblivion of its origin.

A sound inanity, an old standard, a classic—
what absorbs this remainder 
in the universality that issues from 
its meaninglessness, from the purity of its abstention?

The book closes just as easily as it opens,
buries as well as it divulges, and carved up
even with indices and paragraphs,
resists any use to which it is put. And so,

in its insistence, its initial silence 
is met with the indifferent and thus 
more patient and prehistoric silence 
of its moss-like illegibility. Each word 

remanded to the silence of none left 
to recite it. Its meaning remaining 
what meaning’s left there. Oftener
a doorstop than telecom tech.

A slim volume seeks to account 
for a discrepancy in the historical record,
and at first glance, it seems to have 
accomplished its task. Now it remains 

for someone to read it again, this time 
more closely. And again. And closer still. 
Until its surfaces begin to separate 
in the air like loose leaves that come to rest 

on boxwoods or in that little space 
between the curb and the wheels 
of traveling cars where everything ends up 
eventually, taking on snow and meaning.

But if the book remained closed, the promise 
would remain still, guiding equally 
the weak and the strong, each yet-read page 
another facet on the crystal of the book. 

This book, stuck into your hands by choice or 
by chance, it doesn’t matter which, they all 
look the same in the end, if only because
everyone’s left or no one’s left. 

Whether it all exists to end up in a book
or its ending up thus only makes it seem so
doesn’t matter. What’s left, what’s passed over,
is read as always having been since it’s now all.

But now, for the time being, the book is read, 
and read again for the first time in every reading. 
Each is a chance or a choice not to be 
again the reading that it was before. 

And yet for each chance the book must 
exist as that which is never finished, 
only set down, in other words, 
time is never exhausted, we are.

Your face, refracted by memory, appears 
far from the one I want to see facing me. 
And so in turning toward me 
you seem only to look away. 

And so I revolve within this crystal 
palace, packed with those little baubles 
that I couldn’t toss out without also
finding myself alongside them on the curb. 

And so turning, maybe I’ll come 
to recognize the crystal that I am, 
the facet that lights another just so. 

And if I were to shatter, I would be no more 
or less myself. The moment would not arrive, 
approaching as it does its unbelievable thinness.

The crystal’s absolute limpidity 
is constructed of an infinite number 
of scintillating refractions.

At each moment another cut 
is added to the crystal’s form 
already crowded with facets—
each cut a moment of time 
in space without depth.

The smallest cut that can be seen 
is somewhere between the smallest cut 
physically possible and the one unslit and uncut facet 
that the figure of the universe
cuts in the minds of those fucking with it.

But the lapidary misery 
choking on the diamond dust of collapsed facets 
remains beyond both,

approaches the smoothness of a sphere
with the knowledge that an unvarying smoothness 
is death or is at least the moment that would be,
if one could follow, immediately after death.
A microphotograph of a crystal 

the billionth of a second before it is 
obliterated by the violent light that illuminates it
becomes itself just one refraction 
of a theoretical crystal across whose imperceptible facets
it passes unnoticed.

Shattering, it makes a kind of music. Shuddering, 
the crystal’s music is pure refrain,
the shape of its order the law of its shape.

The book is just a set of coherent, 
because incomplete, readings that 
at each iteration add up to a 
provisional entirety, which totalizes because

what the fuck else would it be so unruled,
each page a cryo-section protesting 
denied access to the whole that takes 
its time as a leaked inevitability.

Thus each reading assumes 
the paranoid deflections of the last one,
must archive it shamefully
as the reading it couldn’t become.

Not only to capitulate 
but to give up entirely 
on the morality that might 
have justified one’s resentment.

What’s left is just 
the operation of minusing plus 
whatever residue written 
to the register remains.

What collapses is that immediacy
of sense, how the meaning of this or that
mark cut here or there is cradled,
conducted with such anxiety,
by the accidents that happened to have been
there then and that without grumbling
took on the burden of being themselves
unfinished and so grounded 
on unstudied meaning but not in the sense 
of debt, which happens to be 
the gift of speech for those of us ensconced 

now in our gratuitous dealings, or worse, 
in the sense of the conservation of energy 
as the law of cosmic indenture, 
but in the sense of a debased ideal 
that flattens difference only to find 
it regrouping behind it, which positions
an infinite concern for anything at all 
against the war of all against all 
and its ethics of atomic differentiation.
Ever shrinking, each facet yet expands 
this cruelly nonfatal exhaustion.

All that’s left is for the book to be
closed, it’s reading a failure that ceases
to be nothing, that persists in niggling
irritation, which can only be alleviated
by the system that transcribes it to
another register, higher though no less
out of order. 
It is all one insofar as it is alone. And all one, 
independent and self-reliant, it is incapable 
of being with you, to the point that this 
incapacity takes on the quality of weakness
and forlorn will capitulate and abandon 
its position, or (O! how the armor pinches) 
it will mobilize to annex what ails it.

The soldier on his horse sees in the peasant 
village only a generous inevitability, 
exotic as limes and harried by 
a lack of information, or rather a lack 
of certainty about that on which this 
ignorance alights—a vincible thing.

Nothing ever really breaks down. The surfaceless glint off
anything keeps dying. I turned to look, but it was gone.
I put my hands together, but there was no sound.
I wanted to see myself between two mirrors
duplicated to infinity, but my head was always
in the way, and like you, I look with my head.

What kills you does not then die. What shuns you 
affirms its undying devotion to you. Were you left 
indefinitely to persist, it would counterfeit an analog 
that could not have been.

The book of so many pages exact as it is not 
a word out of place, itself never finds its place,
its time, always ahead or behind, and so

contents itself by tagging any passing mode
that takes up its title with the seal of its censure, 
the literal obliteration in a typeface vectorized.

          The book knows what gives up hides best
          and so remains only to be closed and replaced 

          on one of those little metal shelves that organize 
          loss and keep forgetting from being all at once.