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The History of Television, by Michael Joyce


Writes: “I am not unhappy, ” the light
reversed, a mirror trick, setting sun
a circle upon the east face of the cedar
fence along the west border of the yard
spent brown frond in the field below
magically limned gold. And if so, then
what, the logic escaping through the gate
marked Tirez and Poussez affectation
and affection interlaced. Overly dramatic?
Over life? The shadowy questions of twilight
bird voices, cicadas and the thrum of a tug
along the river. Shall we gather. Rose. Buds.
A vocalist crooning Volare down below
the yacht club filled with waltzing would-be
sailors at someone’s silver anniversary party
low key festivity. Wonders should he
count it a success to have escaped at least
one set of illusions if ending in this? “I never
imagined it could be so.” Empty. So. So then
the next step, obviously, should be holiness
were one a saint and mystic, Spanish nun
feverish with the incessant thrust of her savior,
desert birds, “desiccated curiosities” a useless
music, “Cantare, oh oh,” funereal accordion
as the crooner again approaches the microphone
pewter rooster tail of a lone motorboat
heading upriver without running lights
unending polka followed by polite applause
and a reprise by way of encore, i.e., “still or
again,” the television lonely without us.



Writes (painter to the philosopher, dated Paris
le 16 Fevrier): “the flu, the weariness of fever
upon me, neutered me [neutralized? a loose
translation] shoves me ashore, indifferent,
outcast, flattened, null.” Still, he says, these
letters between us, all he had in mind before
this illness pours out unceasingly against
the millstone, he means his consciousness
delirious metaphor for what one wants
to retain through this aimless suffering,
why now are we ill we wonder and then
recovered, lose track of it for awhile.

“Television,” says the filmmaker in his memoir
“makes it seem possible to see things through
to their ends, our feeble (febrile? viz., loose,
etc., supra) narratives not withstanding.”
What if this ends (writes) in something
of use, nil-nil at the half, gone into
extra time, running up and down the pitch
(dark) without reason, with no reason but
movement itself, duty playing (out, upon)
one’s position, the action taking place elsewhere
and yet in the context of your subjunctive
existence (what might have been otherwise
what you give us by your constancy) serving
as a reminder of what, breathless, you can’t say.



What we mean by illusion simple, See. Here.
Writes (the finger of Khayyam’s chessman
“moves and mates and slays”) these cannons
of light, RGB, do not mean anything in themselves
children playing among waves in the last light
of a summer’s day, unilluminated yawn of the
screen in the corner grey yet somehow aglow
with a random potentiality, as if to say, as if
nothing but light can soothe us now, the river
long since darkening, the young woman’s smooth
thigh earlier this afternoon a faultless memory
one cannot replay, not even she, or who she will
be, magnetic tape, her consort said particularly
prone to degradation over time, the colors
not lossless, electrons, too, fading, as the sun
that reddened her cheek, or the unusual coleus
etched green (dark) upon green (light) among its
blasted, gaudier cousins in the terra cotta planter.
Blue? Where you will, beyond for instance
the canopy of black walnut trees above, or water
in the cut crystal tumbler sweating on the table,
i.e., the eye you cannot see you see through:
see and sea homonyms seesawing in your brain
the part where these differentiations are entertained
and entertain us. Come in, please, sit down, shall I
bring you a drink of some kind, we’ve water and woe
although one of them is not properly considered so.



Night outlawed where this story begins, in the end
of the late Christian era, a general turning against
the quotidian and the debris of stars. Writes: “Napoleon
shivering on his sleigh heading home under bearskin
merely a foreshadowing of how we can now both
get what we want and lose in doing so.” Eloquence
no answer for the smear of light across the horizon,
the grinding pain within his bones notwithstanding,
he limps away from the beckoning brightness
dragging his leg toward the amorphous cave
glyphic figures dancing neon where he’s pressed
his thumbs against his eyelids, lime stag and citron
elk indistinguishable, lurid red bison, dizzying
streetscape in Chinatown, pornographic vegetables.
To dream of—in—darkness! The now of constant
nothingness wherein the x-ray creature floats serene
within the sonogram animation, tiny heart pulsing
like Sputnik, which when he mentions it, few
of the young there know the name of and none
account how it was to see it there above the park
the meadow still sweet with new mown grass
and the public pool shimmering behind chainlink.


From Light in its Common Place (forthcoming from Broadstone Books, September 2020)


  • Michael Joyce's fourteen books and several digital works—most recently Remedia: A Picaresque and A Hagiography of Heaven and Vicinity—span a career as novelist, poet, critic, theorist, digital literature pioneer, and multimedia artist. His poems have appeared in Agni, Beloit Poetry Journal, Fence, The Common, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere. With Gabriella Frykhamn, he's published translations of the Swedish modernist poet Karin Boye in Spoon River Poetry Review, Metamorphoses, and Notre Dame Review. He's also the author of two book-length sequences of poems, Paris Views and Biennial. He lives along the Hudson River, near Poughkeepsie, where he's Professor Emeritus of English and Media Studies at Vassar College.

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