Tony Towle


Selection of Poems from 1980–1989



                        for Ted Greenwald


I can't tell how high up I am
in these windows
through which boats and the lake
are graphically still —
nothing but water
resting like a cat; and myself?
Cutting up vegetables for dinner
I face quiescent canisters and condiments,
echoing the shapes and symbols
that make up the symbolic edges
a few feet away.

I always used to, Ted, or usually used to,
disdain these quiet little interiors
and now I am part of one
while the water, oddly, gets deeper as I watch
and the dazzling beach like a paper towel
blots up the excess
I have left among the innocent patterns
of the true things I orchestrate
but cannot move.

















First the milk was added, then the vegetables, eggs,
sugar — lots of sugar — beef, pork and lamb, ground
beef, salt and other spices, fruit from the trees,
and soon I was living, and have kept
for what seems to be a long time: the cup I have been drinking from
without knowing what's in it; and glancing at the stars
one can see from over here. The universe
looks so different tonight; what planet am I on? One
where they charge 30 cents for The New York Post,
and that used to charge for the Sun, the Mirror, and the World
with its Telegram, by means of which I was a Republican in 1948
through the cartoon dramas of donkeys and elephants; I guess
I preferred elephants by the time my father brought home the paper —
I still don't think very well in the afternoon, I let
The New York Post do it for me, leaving night's approaching footfalls
in a shoebox in a closet somewhere,
until Apollo finishes his stroll across the sky, in his sensible
shoes of gold, to the banana peel of the horizon
and takes a slow pratfall into the west. But the door is opening
so I pretend I'm working, finishing my essay: "Antwerp:
a Psychosomatic Overview," though it is just an idea, crossing
my mind, like all the others that left for greener pastures,
hoping they might actually get to nibble on something, something
real, the thought of which paralyzes me
into reading The New York Postover again, while pools
of future impressions form on my right, and on my left:
smoking dung from the past, but fortunately far to my left,
the distance to the horizon that always cuts me in two,
bringing more pictures of impressions of pictures: Matisse, Turner,
and the World Trade Center — from its foundation of financial bananas
taking a slow pratfall into the Hudson,
leaving just more blue, some pink, and garlic-purple
as a plane flies overhead taking the half in the distance.












Notes for Poems  (1981)


Going straight to the point
I tend to evoke the evocative,
for, while you were standing on your head,
someone shit in your hat,
although I don't think you actually brought a hat,
in fact I don't think you even own a hat
in the history of my impressions
that turn the wheels
to mash the colors
and correct them in their nests of spots,
rustling the shrubbery
of indefinite iambics
scampering across the palette,
which guides the pliant viewer
through the afternoon.

The spots disperse in their nests
like the little adventures on crutches
seen on crutches, you vaguely think,
trying to sit up straight
through the interruptions
and the constant weight of yourself
which struggles on up the ravine like soldiers
treading expertly on the wildflowers
with other travellers so amazingly conceived

until there is an accident.
"That is not a part of it,"
the reader may object, glancing at the images
that fill in the cracks and minutes
in this part of the city.
Again someone calls out,
and it is probably true,
having ventured out among the comparisons

and someone calls out once more,
in a verbal glint like a spider's web
through a tiny square in the screen,
though why the glint will not move
when I move my eye
I leave to the voluptuousness of speculation, or,

more idiosyncratically, in the consequent
wave of mutterings, leave buried
in a thick layer of pumice, with a topping
of olives and burnt pine cones, or
more eccentrically still,
as the mutterings grow louder,
olive leaves and pieces of burnt pine bark;

and the speculations twinkle like volcanoes,
part of the game
the same size as the players themselves,
and it is a curious thing
to be playing it so close to the world,
to sit so long in this odd shape.














Wild Assyrian armadillos
couldn't drag me from this place. Just stop it! Just
stop that kind of talk! The music builds,
and raises the lid, until it is off.
Jean's cousin is sleeping over tonight, which I mention
because I seem to be in a different literary tradition tonight,
sort of a "Write 'til you puke" school, though that would probably
take longer than it should; anyway, I continue: Jean is painting,
small canvases, and I am writing, small poems, and I have both a glass
of wine and a glass of rum — why limit yourself
if people think you're an alcoholic, in the important
decisions? Part of an incredibly complicated dream I had last night
was that Jean went out and bought cough drops, an incredibly ordinary
fact, considering that she has a cough. "Camels," I say, and point out
that when Frank, Frank O'Hara, gave up Camels for Marlboros back in '64
or was it '65 he lost most of his cough pretty quick but of course little
good that did him; I mean it wasn’t what did him in. Part
of Jean's dream last night, or so she told me and why
should she lie about it, was that I had invited Joe and Eunice Fearer
and Joe and Marjorie Singer to Jean's grandmother's
house in Chicago, with whom I don't get along, the grandmother not
the house and the city falling somewhere in between; I guess the reason
the Singers and the Fearers were there is that they recently bought
prints from us, though Jean knows them hardly at all but I've
known them for years; and in addition to this, in the dream, Jean
was introduced to someone who turned out to be someone else, who
then sat down next to her on the sofa and had it out, jerking off,
trying to come on her, and I was there too, apparently, and was being
absurdly nonchalant about it, which is maybe in the right direction but that
would be beyond even me; far beyond, like these iris vinyl place mats
I'm nowhere near ordering, though if you're interested, they're four-fifty each
and 18 by 12 — inches — metrics haven't really caught on yet, at least
with my particular poetic self: "And kilometers and kilometers to go
before I watch TV . . . " There are no doubt other reasons
why that one doesn't work, but there's no point in criticizing
my own materials, since someone else is almost sure to. At
Ted Greenwald's wedding not too long ago I opined, or, rather,
asked rhetorically (I thought), what would become of the New York
School of Poetry (having noticed a number of the other guests) if
somebody blew up the building (probably someone who hadn't been
invited) and a colleague within earshot said, or opined, that it would
be improved. Now, eliminating the building as a possibility for "it," "it"
occurred to me that my own work was included in this appraisal,
but on the other hand he was also including his own, which was both
self-effacing and, at the same time, again considering the guests, 
more eclectic than the implications of my original remark; but since
the building didn't blow up I am here thanking you for your patience and
cooperation. I would never let a mere appraisal stop me anyway (though
a small-caliber revolver would probably do the trick). The wine is beginning
to taste acidic, I'll stick to the rum, while Jean is still
painting and while her cousin, Martha by name, is presumably
asleep, and while the television carries on with its endless entertainment
and the music indicates that Fredric March's wife is dying.















The Last of the Lake


Night was scratching at my door;
I opened and struck out
and it gave a yelp.
It was a large black poodle,
for you see the night can be illustrated
with black curly hair.
I tried to pull my foot
from the primordial slime
and keep the precious stones
still caught between my toes
to finance my journey into finance,
where money gives way to more money
as the magic wand to the club; wait,
I'm getting a message; no
just a buzz.


















Then it is your balance,
thrown off by primroses, asters,
giant political interests
as you tumble from this earth in a fuzzy idea,
another key ingredient in the mix
for anyone gazing at the glimmering software of the brain
shining for the hopes
demanded by the times.
What do I care? I am not of the earth,
I don't know what all the little flashing
lights and symbols mean, any more
than they can translate the ironic hyperbole
with which I am well supplied.
Then I pause, and pause again,
for who can forget the excitement
of first leaving the earth?
passing through its girders and beams
and flakes of rust, the orange and turquoise sheets
billowing from its sides,
from the cosmic winds
the trip requires.
It was never the world that I knew,
unravelled in signs that fled the screen,
rendered without light from the other stars.














July 6th


The water edges up
on you and your thoughts
which disquiet the mind as the tops of trees
try to shake themselves free of birds.
And there is the soft thump of insects
on sandy skin, while I absorb the news,
two days after Ted Berrigan dies

and the sky seems to sag
and open up a space, the one in which
we didn't really know each other
though for twenty long years,
which are suddenly shorter.
At this point a painter
could reach down
for a little cerulean blue
to cover the hole in the sky
while I search out a caption for the scroll below.












Variations for Jean on Gnothic Neophancy


That? That’s just a leopard bite, taking its gnothic place
on the oscillating structure of neophantic events
amidst the luxuriant greenery of this corner of the world
that adds to the Salad of the Nation, and gets tossed
with the brown historical croutons of national earth.
Who is this meal for, I wonder vaguely, floating away gradually,
gnothically, in circles that have elsewhere been described as Baltic,
all the convenient materiality having dripped down the walls,
exposing silence and age.
But let’s leave all that for the moment
and let it simmer in the serrated backwaters of self-perusal,
because things have been simply humming with activity this week
here at Watercress Gardens; and speaking of neophancy, this
is my dog, Shabby, and my cat, Giblet. These are the flies
hovering above the specimens, and this
is the wind, dying down in the bluish-white atmosphere. The rest
is indescribable, but humming with activity all the same.

Yet, even so, by this time I am probably looking around
and humming to myself, a few aimless bars of something,
and tapping a finger on my John Keats paperweight. Maybe
I’ll run into James Watt, I think; I’ve got a great joke for him —
it takes place on shale: but, to make an endless
story shorter, Jim is a little old to be believing in Santa Claus
so the Polish guy shoots him. And now, though stunned
by my pointlessness, the audience might as well stay in their seats,
for it is that edifying time when Shabby, Giblet, and I like to enjoy
a beverage or two (and I think Giblet is already waiting for some more)
before sinking into our private evening humors
in which we battle potent emotions and bizarre imaginings,
as sulfur, nitrogen, and other fantastic substances assault our senses,
depending on whether we are being figurative or abstract.

By this time I am looking around yet again,
and discover that I am the only poet there,
a restless quavering of strings in search of a composition. Apropos,
while we’re waiting and speaking of gnothic, have you
ever struggled out of bed in the morning, ready for practically nothing,
and found a greasy floor, littered with walnuts?
That wasn’t poetic but it certainly wasn’t reality,
the way pondering the cold rose-gray mist on the water is,
or the earthquakes, war, and pestilence
that bring about minute changes in earthly color and form.
But when things are all relatively back to normal
it will still be the pressure of your lips
that will be needed to stir in her breast the metaphorical milk,
as she waits for your words in their colorless envelopes,
though first you have to decide how big your people are going to be.
I tend to leave them about a quarter of an inch high, myself,
far below in the sand, swirling in objective solitudes.













Typing Test  (2 minutes)


     By the time the thick brown box encloses the xenophobic fog
the two halves of the brain should be working together: the left,
with its nose to some rational grindstone, and the right,
which was probably off gathering wool somewhere. That is,
the reasonable letters of h, j, k, l, n, m, y, u, i, o, & p
will be interacting with the illusory, or “off-the-wall” letters
of a, s, d, f, g, b, v, c, x, z, q, w, e, r, & t. One’s own name,
for example, might start out with letters that are logical enough
and then get a bit screwy toward the end. But do you remember
when the human race had to write “by hand”? Certainly a great deal
of irrational nonsense was dashed off by right-brained left-handed
authors (Blake and Dostoyevsky, for two), before the typewriter
imposed the practice of having the two brains cooperate, thus
insuring the intelligent balance of the modern movement.

     To be sure, whether the writer was right- or left-handed,
there was always the issue of the unused digits in those far-off days.
They could help keep the parchment from moving for a while,
until the inevitable boredom would cause them to wander off,
most often to the writer’s lap, an unwholesome situation that released
a centuries-long torrent of superfluous erotic imagery,
infiltrating even the composition of religious disquisitions,
as in St. Augustine. John Donne had the good fortune to lose an arm
in mid-career — resulting in the abrupt elevation of his concerns;
Milton, of course, classical as always, went literally blind from
this phenomenon: "a sinister hand in the nether land," as he tellingly
mumbled on his deathbed, and took the precaution of having his daughters
take his dictation with both hands at once. Thomas Aquinas
strapped the left hands of his monkish scribes painfully behind
their backs and so forth, the two minutes by now being up.














Dropping Names


"Always make a sharp upward stroke
after the downward twisting jab. If you don't,
you'll never get anywhere in this business."
So spoke art critic Giorgio Vasari.
"You never revise, you just tinker."
That was Virgil Thomson.
For my part I herd my own silent thoughts
into the shallower of the two allegorical pools for the night
and toss in a few stones to hold them there,
except for the one that returned my gaze
from its black miniature depths and which I mention to you briefly now.

"Those who can, construct; those who can't,
deconstruct." — La Rochefoucauld.
And finally: I wish we could go to Florence.
It was Mark Twain who said that, but later,
in unintentional quotation,
so did I,
and later still, I sit
before some of the countless bricks of New York,
where Chris and his camera decided I should be,
and I wonder if the smoke
will appear in the rectangle
and who and how famous the passersby
think this person really is.












Possibilities (Winter)


Caffè delle Muse

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, talk, talk, talk, talk, I
know, a lot of it's mine. Sure, sure, sure, sure, easy
for you to say, you don't have to be there, scraping the lichens
off the cappuccino, getting ready to face the museless world outside,
and then bring all the conversation, mannerisms, bustling and merriment
back into scale with the size of the tip.


Walk the Other Way

amid the inchoate spiral interiors of dusk,
and separate its decoration from its parenthetical carcass,
its non-contextualized wings carrying us over the footprints
that lead into the porpoise-laden waters of verisimilitude . . . what?
the porpoise-laden what!? Never mind,
it's never bothered you before,
at the end of a simulated outing, to turn around
and walk the other way.


Dim the Lights

because I can't keep looking at all this contemporary crap,
these wildly postmodern elliptical woodgrain-and-aluminum gizmos
trying to get at me from off the walls,
agitating the monstrously inexpensive wine I keep drinking
that is relentlessly dissolving my liver, which observes:
It serves you right for showing up
on this godforsaken uncontrollably rained-on evening
and expecting anything else.


Nights in the Gardens of Spain

I think I see the rest of the flies over there, hovering
above the rest of the aging oranges and bananas over there,
just three of the colors covering Iberia, which, in turn,
covers what, exactly? I consider this while underprivileged
urchins insult me as I pass, in disturbingly colorful words,
into their language.


The Apotheosis of Canada

Boundaries enormous prolong the frozen geographical phrase
raised in a crystallized toast to some azure empyrean very like
your own, America. Quoi? But before there is formulated a réponse,
frosted coppery lines burst forth in all directions
as if an ersatz sun were there illuminating the snow.


Greed and Charity

Would it not be charitable, in this unbounded season of generosity,
to give just one more small and coated piece of your smitten mind
to help fill out posterity's faint and shimmering outline?
No, not if it is filled up so relentlessly with this overly graphic
1920's slum-against-skyscraper charcoal which flecks
into my eyes from freezing windswept corners of the past;
but seriously, welcome, come in, we're not going to stop here.


Two Concerts

The first is the danged farcical effort it takes
to confront one's jangling physiognomic deterioration in the mirror,
shave, and get the heck out of the house and show up; the second,
to keep sitting here with all these other losers, communal lack of air
reducing us to translucency, to our concerted timeless pittance.


The History of the World

Striped overalls, first of all; the playground in Rego Park:
basements and roofs in labyrinthine invitations; the bus to Elmhurst,
Maureen Roy and William Hahn, gum-chewing
and complaints to the principal, replacing Lila
Gardner, a ceramic elephant with lilac flowers, but
there is more, much more















This is about a man who goes to his favorite spot,
who says that things are changing constantly
but there will always be things to see,
such as beautiful mornings;
the author seems to be describing
what he sees while sitting under a tree —
he makes it appear as though
a tree were blowing in the wind next to the sea:
Towle says that twelve years go by,
which seems to relate to his life.

Twelve years of his life pass by,
then another twelve, until he dies
and ends the years of his lifetime.
His poem brings about a feeling of emptiness,
as if you've been missing something;
Towle is trying to say that time goes by anyway,
that every day is different
but there are still the same number of things to see and do.
He is maybe also remembering a quiet environment —
possibly he paints scenery and this is his favorite,
or he sits down under the tree and writes poems and stories.

The poet is letting us know that nature will always be there,
it'll just always be a little different,
and to see the difference takes a practiced eye — this guy Tony
is telling us about a special place where he gets his work done.
His world is about the changing yet constant world of nature;
he is an optimist because he refers to the future;
according to him the world cannot end.












Another Zone  (Prelude)


In the end you take off from your former world,
the rambunctious wings folded in for the day,
the smoky air settling down over the brushwork,
the whole treated to my casual but gregarious inaccuracies,
with imperfections for the entire family:
the reviewers and the reviewed,
the editors and the edited, all the wretched of the earth
at its flattest, the wretched page,
which has now ripened, ever so slightly,
into the details of time and place, land and sea,
brightly seductive, or somber, ill-lit, and grave
and looking for a few more good words
to fill out the diminishing weeks,
the weekly reversals of the Christian tradition:
coming alive on Friday and dying on Sunday
against a background of lawns and coffeepots, steaks and spaniels,
which was nothing like the original cartoon,
once you clean off the dirt with some turp,
which was of a moose chasing a kind of weasel with a two-by-four,
or something,
but anyway the merest sketch
when a thickly crowded panorama
pushing across the bridge of evolution
would have done just as well;
but I'm going back upstairs
and look out the window of America,
which I thought somebody was supposed to clean once in a while,
not that it would change the view:
pastel sunset landscapes sinking into the western foam,
where I would fly like a common bird
and get away from the Cask-of-Amontillado number
the buildings in architectural agglomerations
pull on you here in Downtown New York;
but no island is an island
if you duck your head far enough beneath the waves
and observe the microscopic connections
and listen to the complaints of the sunken travelers,
their obscured vocabulary standing out from the rest of the bullshit,
and we obtusely concentrate on the former
when the latter would do just as well.
I too saw this day a pretty street
and I scrape the clarion layers of paint from the walls
and find stationary shadows on the layers beneath;
it's one more scenario I've got to think up feelings for
at some point — but a snail with a limp could go faster than this,
and since I no longer have so much time
that's all for the prose. For poetry,
the dawn comes up and I make some more coffee,
and it awakens me to the whispering
of yet ten more turbulent years,
and I drink the coffee,
and wait for someone to believe me,
the rain not yet having reached the ground,
and I jump toward the sun
that still reaches to this moment,
the sun the same messenger, Guillaume Apollinaire,
it's all still the same, August 26, 1989.












Rhapsodic Reviews



At first one might have expected her current parameters
to be based on the discrete equivocations of reorientation,
that is, before we notice the equally arbitrary objectification
of her geographical locus, and of course after the inevitable
reassessments in light of her minimal directionality, vis-à-vis
the iconoclasm of her palette, or — how shall we put it —
before the wilting leaves of haptic justification
are lacquered yet again with the yellowing paradigms
of the more visualistic of our debasively modernist apperceptions ―

or, more accurately still, let us say that she has heterologicized
one of those disingenuously ontological peregrinations
along the poststructual cliffs, which rise ominously
from the choppy late-capitalist sea, and during which one is
buffeted by serializations of destabilizing yet culturally specific air,
since it has been her avowed programme to signify other stuff as well,
morphologies not found in the high, self-reflexive strategies
of overly individuated process,
including those that can be literally stumbled upon,
in variably undifferentiated but choreographable detritus,
piled in privatized mounds, and swept to the microcosmal center
of her rented studio floor. However it will be on the non-planar periphery
where we must examine the elliptical chromatic juxtapositions,
the pigments at first "curated" and then vivified
in a conscience-stricken frenzy of post-Neo-Marxist mark-making,
gesture-ridden obsessionality exploding in the solitude.




It has never been more apparent that this other artist
here under scrutiny — we'll just call him Jerry, to avoid
any needless obeisances to formalism — has been encoding his ongoing
conglobulations with brushstrokes employed neither as paint
nor as artistical behavior; he treats his canvases
neither as surface, nor as material; nor does he consider
his expensive paintbrushes either as personae,
or as overly elongated sticks with various lengths and textures
of fuzz on the ends of them; nor does he epitomize
his interactively commodified archetypes
as privileged and discursively non-specific conversationality;
nor does he regard his wife as feminist discourse made manifest;
nor his children as chronological counters
in yet one more economic ploy in the Western consumerist prospectus;
nor his family snapshots as gratuitous photographic appropriationism;
not does he consider his long years in art school
to have been a succession of coloristic sensations
now recontextualized in a futurity of societal confinement
and held in abeyance with the patriarchy’s bourgeois hierarchical
differentiations, picturesque though they may be. No,
our artist here under consideration relies on none of these tropes,
synechdoches, tactical minutiae, and the occasional zeugma,
merely in order to resubmit them to the methodological re-
deobjectification prevalent in referencing the systemic ravings
of the expressionistically besotted art-press media apparatus,
only to have them spatially revalorized in the externalization
of postmodernism's hommage to its entropically anachronistic self.



So just where does the rest of this loosely assemblaged school hang today,
that is, in relation to the targeted subtextual positionality
of our "Jerry," or, rather, our "post-Jerry," or "Gerald," now that he
seems to be back documentizing along a reconfigured formalist track?
Perhaps it is time to ask whether, stranded as we seem to be
on the tangential significations of our fin-de-siècle dogleg,
it is not appropriate to request that the too-rarely-seen Lacanian six iron
be pulled from the materialized bag of fetishistic ambiguities,
to get us beyond the sandy fulvous cipherings
of the non-utilitarian but site-specific traps
and leave us resting and expectant on the edge, i.e., the "context"
of the "green" of the common zeitgeist. But then who
will putt us into the cup on this par-infinity hole,
so that we may emblematize the biomorphisms of its signature style?
Perhaps it is also time to untie Professor Löschblott's formbundles [sic]
and privilege our newly authorized oculization [sic]
with a range of modulated vacancies that will be,
at least in the peculiarization of their phenomenological hegemony,
less neo-conceptually overdetermined.



Thus, as this writer has argued elsewhere — well, no, not argued,
exactly, merely offhandedly suggested, perhaps, though
in a hermeneutically agenda-cized way, and admittedly irreal amidst
this present writer's academically iconicized achievements, the
artifactual simulacra one must assess to avoid the vernacularized
path to the idiosyncratic monumentality that, by this time,
might just as well be disconstructed and laid out, in a more or less
semiotic agglutination, in what the neoclassicists of another day
might have archaically and simple-mindedly called "long lines,"
but which here, in point of fact, have been particularized,
one atop the other, as part of a "marginally faux-normative simulation,"
if I may be permitted to coin a phrase.
But could these coterminally murmuring signifiers and referents
be but echoings of the phallocratic dematerializations
that have been shorn of the dysfunctional reifying the disenfranchised
were made to hang on the subliminal washlines of Eurocentric society?
Or rather have such pseudological garments been reinhabited
and made more resistant to the ambient darts and architectonic
brambles of monochrome solipsisms
before being rehung in the museological closets of specificity?
It would seem as if the mediational landscapes of catenary praxis
have been shrouded in a language-based night, the ebonized fist that,
nonetheless, in an approach to a distantly surrogate “morning,”
may unclench a bit
and show the schematicized portrayal of its inhabitants, who turn
their male and female gazes to the glints of impending criteria,
hints and clues that highlight the barest opacity of a preliminary sketch,
beginning the spectation of the world in some newly translatable way.