After N.A.S.A.-Chandra, ‘A Cosmic Exclamation Point’ (11.8.11).
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
302 in Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies
is UGC-9618, 450 million
light years away in Boötes constellation,
plunging shard VV340 North
piercing spiral eye VV340 South,
its million years of shrieking and shock
expressed as infrared exclamation mark,
in a night sky light-years-full of cosmic
punctu-radi-ation: stars asterisks,
Saturn in paranthesis, comets dashes,
binaries colons or semi-colons
depending on relative masses,
Horsehead Nebula a question,
black holes full-stops in gravitation,
Arp’s gallery of galaxies
ampersands, dittos, obeli, ellipses—
and a typo-cosmographist might deciper
the universe as a Word under erasure,
a daring act
of apocalyptic swearing.
This day is a victory: it wavers already, it flees, the Spirit of Gravity, my old arch-enemy.
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
The film ends in an upside-down monastery,
Montserrat, the Abbey of Santa Maria,
dropped camera die-dreaming beyond gravity,
4055 feet underneath Catalonia.
The Benedictines are inverted pyramids
on serrated floor of Miranda de les Agulles,
Sant Jeroni, Montgrós, and, according to legends,
always out of shot, a levitating Holy Grail.
Those I know, just before the film burns out,
I see standing on heads; only their mumbled words
defy reverse gravity, so they can’t be made out,
falling into the sun, like goodbyes unheard.
On Hearing Glenn Gould Play the First Nine Bars of J. S. Bach’s Praeludium 8, BWV 853/1, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Part I
20th March 2003. For Sam.
And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war …
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Kubla Khan”)
E-flat minor, 3/2 signature, sarabande-ish rhythm,
three tonic chords, strum-staccatoed minims,
with cantabile treble soaring away from the beat,
simple soprano threnody soon shape-shifting
to arabesques of grief: B-flat, dotted-crotchet rest,
quaver B-flat, dotted-crotchet E-flat, quaver G-flat
to bar two, A-flat minor minims, second inversion,
treble in sequence: C, quavers E, A, C, all flats,
then first shock, as tonic is wormed with accidentals—
Bach showing what new temperaments could do
not just for compromised consonances but
dissonances too, now right-wrong, not wrong-right:
E-flat minim descending to D-natural, F, A-flat,
treble D-natural, resolved next bar on E-flat minor,
but not for long, never for long, as treble leaps up
to G-flat atop broken tonic chord, destabilised
in first inversion, baritone lamenting downards,
to B-flat, with G-flat major chord piled above,
but the major collapses as soon as it is stated
with flattened F in the treble, descending again
to C-flat major, flip-side of B, well-tempered keys
shaky, enharmonically quantum-wavering,
just as the major of next bar’s brittle E-flat
crumbles to dust at one touch, and treble slips
first into A-flat minor, then F-minor diminished,
high C-flat casting a shadow down to bass D—
as early as this, tempered tonality losing footing
among diminished chords, tritones grinding
rocks into chromaticisms, each modulation
a slip-sliding towards modernity’s scree,
a mudslide restrained only by old sarabande steps,
insistent even at fortissimo, holding dodecaphony
back for two centuries yet.
Or not: for suddenly
bursting in my room is a small Person of Porlock
and News: a tritone above, his trebles of laughter,
wrong-right minims below, a diminished-chord future.
Photograph by nickrphotography.com