63 Cantos


“the clocks spell time nonstop”
Jean Arp, 1938


Sanguine taint of time, despite the bright
Tempo, brevity remains the order of each day.
Go bless the blander corridors. Hang the pennant
Firm, despite the flapping, broken cup of wind.
So much can be said for this dose of dank ink.

During the days, weeks, and months we walk.
Often seen thieving, seems an eternity ago—
When the vizierial, the milieu venereal, time
Funereal, how it sprints past dismissive!
Noggin sozzled. Large yellow skull a labratory.

Today’s oilgopsony is a raw tobacco appeal scheme.
As we dig we bury. Our pencils are old. The paper ever
Older. One feels the blood boiling underneath, like as
A lover under crumples, abed. There’s always some
Things to whisper about, if you listen soft enough.

That lump that rests beneath your heart—there
Is where the timepiece dies every day. Where the sleep
Stops every other broken breath. Tactus, minim
Crotchet, nonce, evaporation around a bunch of quavers.
So the crowded stroll on a pattern of narrow pavers.

Old time cracks the path, and such is the cosmic engine
Idling all alone and hulking in the frozen street.
Cams on the automata, buried by snow each night.
Seeds are bones. Bones are broken near-Eastern dreams
Of taking stock of stars to know how old we’ll be tomorrow.

Sexagesimal dictates be damned. One eye on the calendar
And also a foot on the calendar and an empty string
Around each finger to aid in recalling what repdigit
Means if all you’ve ever known is the bijective base
Which balances your statue on one marble foot.

The corner holds a spacious bone room full of no patterns
Just red and blue and (randomly) the blue turns into
Green and the next time the green one goes, it’s white.
Such is the staccatissimo this afternoon.
My earliest memories will remain forever uncorroborated.

So data becomes time as light becomes time
As time wavers never and that’s a good no call
As the Quarterback Poets always say of a Sunday.
A blind spot echo dot, every day a carvery—
We slice and we layer, stroke upon stroke, like butchers.

Do more than sleep. If bones are dust and dust
Is glass, then what of flesh? Like when yours
Were naked nostrils, no dark, brown hair, no crisp
And brittle snips. But what then of bones if this is mere
Sleep without the outer crust of time as flesh. None.

As we dig, we balance, densely imbricated, because more.
Otherwise, always, somatoform, this mnemosyne atlas
This catastrophe in the rectangular rain, contrapuntal
Cloud pump, bedside, born in five different places. Not
Including Rome, where this luckiest spolia was born.

As if the building’s brick’s a skin, what is the heart? Toilet.
Take the “i” from “toilet” and you’ve a flat to rent.
And if time was flat, we would be broken, methodical animals.
And if rent was time, mine would be a palace at 4AM.
And if time was a palace, the decor would be angular and abrupt.

As such this train is time, a hurtling forth reflective
Of nothing so little as progress. The route is frayed
From to and fro and dithering hither and yon. Train
Is time, the table, the arrow—charts and chugging.
The surplus of words, too, needs a man and a wheelbarrow.

Contrapuntal Cloud Pump! Once (ago) one called
And bottles, cans and smokes appeared with sandwiches
From a small boy in a cotton apron down around his roll
Of ankles. His nickels for Archie. His dimes for The Bird.
Once (ago) we took the neighborhood for granted.

When smattered, time is pyroclastic, runic ribbons
And beam tactics of imbalance—the eldest duo clock—
With tortoises for slow days and sparrows for fast—
And over the slobber job of lunch the carver eyes
Your corpulent neck, slicing it into second helpings.

Pay with each moment’s penny, every nickel
Is a minute, the hour’s a dime, the day’s a dollar—
You do the math, which never adds up, no merit
For the agglomeration of dollar models for if time’s a film
The week’s pass—just smash cut upon smash cut.

And say heat was such as time, you’d be the coal
Man’s wobbly wheelbarrow. If heat was time
Last Wednesday was a match-stick-head in the rain
And you would be the runny rivulets in a just
Above frozen gutter, played as it layeth.

The staves make the man—same tinted in hints
Of pink, chartreuse, lapis and their equally soft uncle’s
Bent out belts and padded layers. Softness
As the president said above his tenor where
The city manhandles the cloud pump, flooding flatlands.

So time, too, like the ladder as the higher you climb
The harder it gets. If rungs are staves then your boots
Are cellos. Death is for dinner. Break off a slab
Of the bread ring, but leave some ham for the little ones—
Their loaded map unlucky, one street sickly, a one siecle sickle.

Did you water the stone this morning? That way the news
Fuses with the concrete. That way the sage sand collects
In evaporation, the water disappearing like a siren, solemn
And sibilant, a loudness turning to a loneliness, cindering
The family shoes, the family wine, the family blanket.

We require no action, no drama, not ever any dancing
And certainly no spinning, only to walk a straight line
To the honest core of whatever matter remains to hand
And if matter was time, so the globe could be ours.
A declaration of intent, half slag-heap, half sylvan asylum.

Verdant and good as green as the path of a chimney
Sweep to start the morning is good luck or so
Says good Goop Joe thumbing through the almond
Almanac, soiled only by his dusty thumbs
Known best by his frosty, unfrisky forebears, blessed.

So time’s a gulp of fuel. So time’s an Archipenko.
The clock’s a goblin; the goblin’s your great uncle
And Archipenko will always remember when you
Captured the flag. Watch the numbers glimmer.
Watch them flicker for a minute in the crepuscular mist.

Remember it, probably the last of this bitterest
Winter. Watch the face of the angel, split by a fist.
Sad little laughing wet nurse of wine, see it weep as well.
Witness to the greatest grimace—who in hell can make
This cohere? Time is not a memory game.

Digression from the platform does a body good.
The clock’s a gorgon. She’ll eat your face off. Fly
Off the rails for her. Both arms are dangerous.
Consider nothing too reprehensible. Time’s a raging
Nerve ending and remains, as ever, never ending.

The dainty bloat of time—fat twins, conceptually
Concurrent. The slim slob, turbulent and trim, fit
Into a corner, a trouble of mud, another ham in the ether.
Another crumb of erasure. Time’s a heartless concierge
Giving nill with an eloquence of starry cloudiness.

All abud is the banter about burials.
Of the binds and the butterflies, the watermelon
In Easter hay, the very old book cellar called Ye Olde
Cheese Factory. With a similitude within you, leap forth.
Radio telegram your gusto code, your gusto cadence.

And would that time was the side of a truck, painted
Dark blue first, white second, light blue third, white again
And each time with differing lettering and logo
And baked a decade in the bitter city sun and blasting
Sands and thus skinned alive by nature daily.

This impulse is imperial, the laboratory empirical.
If time was a bridge, each brick would twitch willy-nilly.
Marchers traversing would do a shimmy in between quadrilles.
It’s a game that requires the hourglass to kneel
And just as the old nut pronounced, the breakers set to keel.

And so below—time’s a dray-horse clomping cobbles—
Smidge of snow, pavers smoothed in endlessness.
Sonny on the bridge in the snow all alone. The trance
Of river air, precious gibberish, quivering tides.
Ask the box of god who retells the tale in zenith and nadir.

The faster smoke advances in a blue shirt, staveless.
Distraction knit a sweater with two pencils, weaves now
Of warmth, the shape of heat to come, yarn that swings
Writ large on a body made largely of vapor. Weightless
As the wind what propels it forth with gusty ankles.

Hemorrhage in the wrinkle, fissure in the lacunae, glut
In the clefty folds that spin away centripetal. The dervish
Crouches in whiskers and silk and says make this sound
Like it’s floating as the wind makes the wood work while
The thickest string quavers like a feather not yet frozen.

Time is a slipped constrictor knot, tied by an anti-salt
With boards for fingers, mostly callous, harsh as hail.
One never sets sail with this mooring the keel
To port, not with this implausible hitch. And so
One never strays, but treads the moment, silent, vibrant.

How much for the flugelhorn? It might voice this outrage
Nicely without niceties. Time is a naked sneak thief
In the pawn shop window, jingling nickels, old as the drum
Beat night, buffalo smooth grit in every groove, dread
In the clink of tintinnabulation, such stinging musics.

If only time was an incomplete open cube avail
On Tuesday! If only dark broadness, surrounded
By women and a grey cur growling under hunger.
All dogs are preludes to the next dog’s day.
Dogs sleep, humming along with the thermometer.

Elsewhere, time’s a feisty list of necessities.
Bright list tells us how to tackle the canzone, the tenson
Or the triolet with our fist of thumbs and just a nub
Of Dixon soft between them. So, smudged, we go, so
Let’s to prayer as follows—with rancor and sorrow.

So we are sixty in a sequence of glistening sixties.
Some days the whole damn things dances left and fro
Right and untoward, like Monday the unguent, Tuesday
The slurp, Wednesday land-lubbing, Thursday a stitch
Friday an itch, Saturdays don’t exist, Sunday smothered.

Winter is a snitch, the game’s gone, but was a box-set
Complete—an earwig of pianoforte parabola torque.
Great changes afoot in the world of war! Rise!
And shine and praise the yellow Rhine from your distance—
Through salt and sugar, brine and dill and vinegar.

Over hill and lane, dell and dale, formerly eager
Ever after amid the gillyflowers, pot of glue, lot au feu
The cartoon tuba, the complete etudes, Newport
News to Perth Amboy, there is no ice in Italy—
All melted quickly by Greenwich Mean.

As any lucubration on the matter’s adherence to the form
Of time must surely delve quickly for to capture even
Its subject, much less any essence soever, so slather the mother
Of this, your bath, so cold in of doors, imagine
The out! Such a mincing jibber from the banderlog!

Towards a middle road, so says the oldster on your shoulder
With a snicker and ham-fisted finesse like a top-heavy
Boxer with fancy footwork as early 20th century
Eastern European folk music pours from an open window
Of an afternoon in New York City, late winter.

How many horses need we beat? Keep our thoughts
In our shoulders, hug our loupe with balance and tact.
Such the web, such the snare, such the traps
Of time, what whirrs, and dings, what slurs and sings—
Such hurtling ‘mongst the pennant and bunting.

The cluster of nerves, a knot, besotted. Announcer skis
With a gun, racing toward seventh place. Some bitter
Solace for a love of snow. Truck trails lace the medium
Backdrop, a skein of blinking, lambent and persistent.
Your weapon is but a spoon, sharped on a cell wall.

It is not absorbed, not this reflection, but stills
Upon the skin and lips and fingertips, such is
The hiccup, a standpipe, out front of an otherwise
Flawless mid century façade. So time is a list
Of torpedoes, a dragnet for aficionados.

How quickly does the frost melt in slalom
Down the window, avid window, averse to sweetly
Heated family-scapes, pencils brisk, tapers blazing
In vapor quenched, but time is thick ice regardless—
With a bright, melodic music drenching the trick.

Braces on a billow-shirted brickman in sturdy bootwork
Is the clock and the clock is a man of the world
Despite his collar’s middling browning among the black
Shoes he’s still but a medium stain, like a dance
Darkened carpet, well sun trod, well wine trod.

We slide and they slide and he never uses
Her eraser, sooner his shears or a quick blade—
Time skates a short track, nearly sideways.
Time is a brown-skinned middleman, foxed like paper
Under light and moisture, scripophily under a microscope.

Humongous switch double rodeo Japan, all caterpillars
Are lavender. All brads are hammered. Such is the dark
Night full of crumbs from the tooth of a drill what bores
Through pulpy knots of old growth turned sturdy into tables.
Turned tougher into rough-housing chairs under children.

Harrowing prayers, metal plated, who sleeps on a rock
Under a sharp burlap sack is a visionary instead
Of a technician. Hands off Des Moines! US out of Iowa!
The signs read over bones melting in an unforgivable siesta
Sun, deep as a mouth, gillyflowers in grisaille, they smoke
Like jalopies—a run with the bulls has its perils.

Old anew through hoarse basso, the new meets mythos
As avuncular legerdemain and legend alone
Without so much as a slurp of doubt, riding
An unknown river to a lesser known port
And always warmly welcome.

Terrify your way to the task past the cemetery
Where every day is a pile of fertile dirt
Full of lower orders who chew through
Solid rock like silt. So the globe won’t tilt.
They believe the wind can be hurt.

Mirth in helmets, mirth in an extra twenty minutes
Subtracted from the animal of your afternoon.
If time is a planet, be it Pluto—
Hurtling fast and tiny. New muscle, new memory—
Clanking like a hinge-flap on a sacred codex.

If time were space and heat, we are standing in swift
Back-draft, full immolation, utter despond.
All might and main to reach the golden Greenwich Mean—
Pig cheese and jollity of spirits. If architecture was time
You had a damn good run on the parlor floor.

So the eldest ring rides off kilter, wracking the axis’ brain
Glitter in a puddle, wreaking havoc nigh unto paroxysm.
Fish in the folds of the flag saw death’s last crust
Of sandwich, last huff of turtle soup. As hangs a darkness
On the mill-wind, so does this heartless grace, good as a girl.

Her bottled foot, her skirt flights. Her bellows.
Her smoky soot, her drab grab, a splash and a soak—
Faster scat than the lamp ever hangs.
If time’s a singer, her blue is old and slow, bitter
And low—a country window full of smoked meat.

The verge escapement, lso crown wheel, the gear train
Dark as Trubshaw, and clock is also watch, same
As fob is chain, is canonical as the sun, that time itself
Be hands and hangers, gaskets, washers, hex nuts, cap nuts.
Wrist and pocket, glass and face, sprint and pace, excelsior.

As the egg drips and, so, dries on sleeker marble
The same skein as the milk in man, white
Flake, only warm a moment, no more, and done in—
By air, tired iron or the endlessness of death, what happens
All the time—and if it were an egg, time would never.

Because he was dust, there could be no flesh, there remains no
Film in heart or air, no acetate of his brittle voice’s echo.
There is no dowsing ace of twigs discovering a small trove
Of objects he was known to handle, both because such ephemera
Was built to be buried and no one’s memory sealed this hole.

An exacting standard in the sun dries out such juice
As the nonce of inspiration—covered, now, in large, wet snow.
And cold, again, for the trillionth time, consolatio, so
Apropos as to add the chills to an overwhelming
Coolth, so the wild oil dries into a photogravure—astute.

Propelled, by force of place, by spondee swerve—
Hand over foot, head over hind leg, spring and hurdle—
Medallion and memento, sinewy mnemonics—
Spontaneity and pageantry in vocabulary. The haggle
Is with the arms and hands of time, not the feet of verse.

Because the gods are men and women, always have been.
So the type case is empty, save the short
Sibilant chorus of wrinkled leaves what dance randy walls
As the pugilist eats the turnbuckle, with a difficulty
Known in some more strident circles as impossible.

For who stands by still while ticking the chits?
To be sure, the trickster hangs nine whole days
On the globe’s over-arching tree? A cement mixer
Gets the drift—you swirl around proudly—
The mimicry of amelioration.

We grind in the round, humid room.
So time is a termite with a belly full of knotty pine.
Time is a sorrow of smoke, the remnant of ash.
The silly crook, the sillier cant, we spruce up
The façade in the deliberate breeze of time’s waving arms.

Because behind even the most mediocre of men
Stands a phalanx of women urging his betterment.
As he dries his eyes on the bloody wipe, his final arms
Around the shining of this hard won gift
From an unseasonably cloudless sky.











Scott Zieher is a poet, artist and co-owner of the contemporary art gallery ZieherSmith. His 5th book of poetry was published in 2016 to coincide with a solo exhibition of collages at Ampersand Gallery in Portland, Oregon. He lives and works in New York City with his wife and three children. With AMERICAN CHEESE & HAM, (A DRAFT OF 63 CANTOS), New Theory continues the serial publication of the sixth of Zieher’s proposed 13 volume, book-length poem project, TRISKADEKALOG. The work herein consists of lines composed in an original 1892 “Condensed, Comparative Record For Five Years” printed by Samuel Ward’s Company in Boston, and bound in maroon cloth. The volume consists of five lined entries, and a prefatory note urges “suppose, out of the multitude of matters that crowd each day, you jot down in a line or two those most worthy of remembrance.” These are 63 such daily efforts, un-retouched.