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Scott Hightower reads from Self-evident

Scott Hightower’s Self-evident, published in 2012 by Barrow Street Press, is a book of fifty poems in three sections: Infant Gods, Brújula (Rose of Exile, and Self-evident, which are often departures from a point in time through the medium of a painting, or a song, or a person in the span of the last few centuries, from the Age of Reason up to now. These poems are often from history, from Texas where Scott Hightower was born to Europe where he often travels and lives. When poets—Ed Sanders and the artist, Basil King, come to mind—use poetry to write history, it is often more striking and specific than the expected prose

The three poems the poet reads in the Vimeo below are from the first section of the book, Infant Gods, and focus not on the queen or king at the front of the tumbrel, but on a lesser subject somewhere in the back, who we come to realize is even more interesting and important than the king is, which means by the logical progression of a thought that so are we; without a reader no book exists.

There is a poem, Platée, which is from the first section as well, but isn’t read that I’m going to type out now, the third part of the poem, because it is beautiful and gives a feeling for the book as a whole.

3.

In the darkness ancient human
motives effervesce apart…
and then stubbornly begin coalescing again.

Yet everywhere the abundance
of the fascinating temporal: lightning
cracking through the crown of a violet sky;
fire, fireworks, rainbows, and rivers;
the aurora, the moon and stars; courage
and vision; an eagle, a fish, a polar bear,
a porpoise, a blue bird, a doe-eyed dog,
a set of baby ducks, a set of baby tigers;
ocean waves; grasshoppers; clouds;
cherry blossoms; clean water; silly
human affections; noble human
affections; salamanders;

measured and unmeasured time.




THAT WHICH IS COMMITTED TO THY TRUST

Previously, radiant displays and their reflections
had played off surfaces with a marvelous
lightness. Only rarely in the less amusing chemistry
and terror ahead: a blackballing
and the subsequent reprisal,
someone pouring boiling water
on someone else’s best roses,
Marat’s bath.

Madame Lavoisier knows how scientific knowledge
eats at the table. How freedom of inquiry
sleeps. How in times of permissiveness
it drinks and dances. How it grows a different garden,
mixes a new drink, dispatches a new remedy,
recharges its own tongue by listening
to how idioms give themselves up
in other languages’ humorous translations.

Madame Lavoisier can draw. She can
foresee new inquiries, the classification
of new elements. What she cannot do
is protect her father or her
husband from the game afoot,
a malicious line of reasoning
that ends only at “the scaffold” of justice.

But, even in homes where knowledge dreams,
any warrant of the state is an absolute in a turbulent time.

Patriotic clubs and new masses of power elites
are not always a friend to inquiry… are not always
a friend to the motives of liberty and reason…

are not always decent or fair to those who have opened up
a different kind of space in their lives for knowledge.

Later, she will silently study the suspended,
palms, the tender neck and breasts,
the unstockinged extended leg
of one of Jacques-Louis’s Sabine women.


NOBLE CHART, A RADIANCE — 1794

(“Monsieur Lavoisier and his Wife,” Jacques-Louis David,
1788; The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

It is the morning of May eighth;
Madame Lavoisier has just been
orphaned. Within a few more minutes
she, likewise, will be widowed;

the guillotine, oddly taking the name
of a man who did not invent it.

May eighth, thus invests itself,
not in the talent of one
of Jacques-Louis David’s
death warrants,
but in one set of his details,
which, today, beyond heroic,
feels meaningful and human:

a full white dress, a soft, luminous mass,
a cascade of curls, the elegant pale blue
bow and sash, and the oddly
prophetic red velvet table cloth.
The felicity of the shoe buckle and—
like a fine glass instrument in
a laboratory––the black silk stocking
covering Lavoisier’s extended leg
take on a luster from hues around them.

With a quill scratch,
Aristotle’s essences give way
to the emerging periodic table.

An example of what to do
with knowledge
if, indeed, it is the stuff
that actually makes us human.

In the next five years, the orderly
radiance will dissimulate
into the cruel fragrance of ideals!

The noble privilege of cataloging observations
will succumb to the emerging urgency
of the next elemental question,
“Who bears witness to the shimmering
unreason of this most deplorable single casualty?”

“Never forget; never forgive,“ the dark
precision of the glinting tooth of class
and counter-class spell bounds.
The familiar weapon once used
for attack drops. “There
is no defense.”

Where is the beauty that hallowed
Death has erased so quickly
with the tip of his wing?


AT MALMAISON

She could consider the cedar,
a celebration of one of his imperial

victories, every day from her window.
It has outlived them, the decorum

of their love, some of their
promises and dreams. Today

a ways down the lane before
the caliche and the guard gate,

one can find a sustaining lunch
at “The Pavilion Josephine.” Clumsy

and concealing, the Malmaison
site attendants are English caricatures

of French rudeness; and the parterres
of roses –– once reported

as amazing — “dazzling in their array” ––
are modest and have gone to weed.

Imagine the gravel crunching
beneath Napoleon’s tread

after Marengo. Rose resting,
enlivened, considering some nuance

of the slate roof, the transplanted
cedar from her half-opened

window, some notion of
shelter, some notion of home.


For the last forty years, Scott Hightower and his partner José Fernandez have lived in a penthouse that overlooks Chelsea in three directions from west to north to east so the area has been a catalyst for poems that include the gays bars that, over the years, have come and gone. One poem, about the fairly recent Splash, is below. Enjoy.


SPLASH

(206 W. 17 St., NYC. 1991-2013)

You’ve paid to get in; and finally,
there it is before you…. the abyss
looking blissfully back into you.

Its side bar opens visually
onto the sleek central shower
stage: the cavernous realm
of performative gestures
and the eyes of survivors
are no holds barred.

The space is designed to designate,
and accommodates more than
one hunky dripping subject
and multiple voyeurs at a time.

Bartender, I’ll have a very dry
vodka martini. Very dry. No,
I don’t want dirty. Not a lemon
twist. Yes, olives will be fine.

The entire club is one vast,
robust, pulsing tribal dance
party. Colored lights flash
and the pre-recorded music
is spirited, inviting, and loud.


By the way, “Splash” just appeared in the “Direct Action / Stonewall 50” summer issue of RFD. You can check it out here:

https://issuu.com/rfdmag/docs/rfd_178_online


Self-evident is published by Barrow Street Press. You can check them out here:

http://barrowstreet.org/press/


Lunch at The Shed in Santa Fe, New Mexico with José Fernandez.


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