Mudlark No. 18 (2001)

Weather and Repetition

Poems by James Brook

James Brook is a poet, translator, and editor. A veteran of the recent antidisplacement battles in San Francisco, he is an editor for City Lights Books, where he concentrates on political nonfiction and world literature. He is the principal editor of RESISTING THE VIRTUAL LIFE and RECLAIMING SAN FRANCISCO. He has translated works by Guy Debord, Henri Michaux, Gellu Naum, Benjamin Péret, Alberto Savinio, and Sebastian Reichmann. His poems and essays have appeared in EXQUISITE CORPSE, CITY LIGHTS REVIEW, GARE DU NORD, SCIENCE AS CULTURE, and elsewhere.

Author's Note

My early poetry was classically Surrealist in inspiration; that is, it was based in automatic writing, "the inner voice" that revealed itself to the author as ink flowed or typewriter ribbon was struck or characters were displayed on a cathode-ray tube. The past decade or so has seen the source of inspiration shift to the external world—and, above all, to language as the external world of the work. Almost all the poems in this collection are assembled on the collage principle, in one way or another. Some of the poems are constructed of bits of text taken directly from printed sources; for example, "Weather and Repetition" is a rearrangement of phrases lifted from the weather reports of LE MONDE and THE NEW YORK TIMES. Other poems combine appropriated text with subjective improvisations on the found language. But language remembered and language dreamed and language overheard and language translated and language invented are also "found"—or discovered. My relationship to language is thus only more consciously technical, distanced, material in an effort to make petrified conditions dance to their own tune, always a scissors-and-paste job.

— James Brook
San Francisco, July 28, 2001


Weather and Repetition

Stanzas on the Death of Guy Debord

Tune of Wreckage

Invisible One

17 Passive Restraints

Weather and Repetition

      The storms of youth precede brilliant days.
                  —Lautréamont, Poésies

The depression centered over the British Isles blows from the southwest, sending masses of relatively humid air our way. From an often cloudy sky rain will fall again; expect storms in some locales.


A cluster of heavy thunderstorms churned
Clusters of showers and thunderstorms
A strong cool front
The stage is set
Boiling up on the High Plains


Surroundings can change in an unusually cold pocket of air.


As the sun heats the ground the leading edge presses ever westward
—a key event for a cool alternating night


lines down


like breathing through a straw a kind of tradition
tree fallen onto car in heavy thunderstorm


Ample sunshine is for us. Embrace a sticky air mass.
Ignition is certain for the late afternoon, blistering
your isolated mountains and even your drier valleys.

It is this disturbance, this shift toward the currents of the interior,
this surge in readings, this shroud, this heaviest and most uncomfortable
of cities native and foreign that slices our direction, now.


Clearing will balance degrees below normal.
Water has a slow response time in California,
Like a whistling fat man on an exercise bike.

There's a song in the air about no talent for pleasure...
Few will be spared and little will improve
Against the broad span of sunny holes.

Ever more rare, day and day and day,
Is this the southern invasion of the bleak sky
Clearing to rapid deterioration of its good looks.

The gauges encourage a relapse into greater timidity:
It just isn't that hot out yet—
It is clearing


Spain is severed as soon as it is morning
Feeble rage provides the cruddy mist
It is morning and we think it's Berlin

Dim against chaotic there's another surge
A music against panes of cracked glass
Some gray light dancing in the thermometer

We are allowed to remember it as more luminous
The back wall is a kind of monument to east and west
Spread evenly across our twin continents of Odi & Amo


Sultry air grips the south
A hunter covers one batch of several nights
from early in the week

Clockwork gives way to clusters to one batch
It's like a weekend it's also like needed damage
No it's more like the nation's breadbasket

An example of aircraft is scheduled
for a summer of wonder moist serious cross confined
But more like when the island your island prevailed


nothing will change
and it's not just you
with origins in profound depression

behold the stagnant days to come
they will menace
they will abound

they will be unworthy of our part of July
what is called duty will see to evacuation
here the reduced sun lies down with the upper hand


The election volcano brings ten years' absence.
This is our country and no mean perturbation, despite the graph of a lightning bolt.
You can take the hallway onto other regions, not that each is mediocre.


The narrow potent line erupts,
and persistence brings the interior farther north.
The greatest threat of destructive storms

embeds Texas Oklahoma and Arkansas;
thus the way is paved for a traveler's return,
should something like return occur,

cataract cool impossibility dampened zone!


The elements adequately stabilize the atmosphere
A pool of winds is thrown aloft
In a display of bitter inland-pressing time
A wedge suppressed
A surface of the sloping terrain
Inciting an impenetrable lid
Sponsored ingredients are arriving
As though to arrive were to thwart
And no one's to bake in the morning hours


What was is getting better in a sort of slough of inactivity. Basically, it's numerable—meaning there's an end to it, all alone. Night falls near the risky frontier. There's a routine to dissipation, and, fine, a torn sky reveals strands of short apparitions. All alone in the average valley of the Rhone, unsheltered, in the window-cleaner's airport, a supplement to depression....


suppress the rising currents
but more closely bunched in the sea than in the air
a flare-up (you ascend)
an aftermath (you are less volatile)
under the auspices of aphelion
for the next 11,000 years (you bring spotty relief)


the sky you see is a facade
with summer blowing our way

I see you nervous with the threat on the border
I see you as present as ever
I see the same clouds you do


a turncoat band of showers will stream north
adding fuel and spawning a concrete wall
in advance of the front in tandem like Mexico

all protection was blown down yesterday and the week before
as the events moved sluggishly across the deserts
mimicking a sea breeze that incites disaster

tepid potent escort to the routine of failed vacation
bubbling up near children scattered about the terrain


It begins in Minneapolis, high today 75, thunderstorms; yesterday in Embarrass the temperature dipped to freezing—like your love, my love, are these separated storms. Or in New York. Or in San Francisco. It begins as you tell me everything as I take my stand on the southern flank, while others less fortunate call for evacuation of the pressured front sweeping across this entire continent. How could you say yes to one, maybe to another, and zip to me? Sweeping! Clouds of this kind shift the beginning of day. With invasion the sun is imposed on the valley, and Mercury approaches pencil in hand to enhance stray mountains with suggestions for other seasons. There's nothing for it—blame that bluesy feeling you showed me on the altitude of those self-same mountains: sweeping vista.

[mid-June—mid-July 1997]

Portions of "Weather and Repetition" were first published in Pharos (Spring 1998).

Stanzas on the Death of Guy Debord

      cómo se passa la vida,
      cómo se viene la muerte
      tan callando;
         cúan presto se va el plazer....

             —Jorge Manrique,
                Coplas por la muerte de su padre


wages murder the first caress
resplendent in the portal
salt on my cheek
dry timber set ablaze
each night robbed of all that I love


the photograph in evidence
as many Hitlers as wanted
the lamp the piano the lecture
having replaced the map
wine breast written down


the diagram of the village
constrains one to anguish
the bird flits into the dance
under a Western-movie sky
there's that echo for every shout


we had the dream of water
we didn't come up for air
we could see clearly
you said strip me
you said pull me close


a bitter draft from a broken cup
O countrymen washed tall
naked in sunlight in innocence
reclaimed to the warm embrace
genocidal recurrent thanksgiving


"C'est un homme
ou une pierre
ou un arbre
qui va commencer
le quatrième chant."


from the rubble of information
from the bottom of the raised glass
came this one man speaking
"la belle langue de mon siècle" no more


Guy Debord (1931-1994), filmmaker, writer, and revolutionary, was one of the founders of the Situationist International. He is best known as the author of THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (1967); his other books include COMMENTS ON THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE (1988) and PANEGYRIC I (1989). Debord made the first French translation of Jorge Manrique's COPLAS POR LA MUERTE DE SU PADRE.

The text of the sixth stanza is taken verbatim from the fourth canto of LES CHANTS DE MALDOROR by Lautréamont, a favorite writer of Debord's.

The penultimate line of the seventh stanza is from Debord's MÉMOIRES (1958), the last line of which reads: "Je voulais parler la belle langue de mon siècle." In his collage text, this was the only line that Debord himself authored.

"Stanzas on the Death of Guy Debord" originally appeared in RealPoetik (1996).

James Brook  |  Tune of Wreckage


Malady of the Engineers | Fatigue of Metals

In the Yard | Dreamville | x, y | Circles of Fear

Urban Vigil | Heroes of Labor | Some Assembly Required

Entitled | Crosswalk and Circulation | Nor hands...

The Bridge | The Bridge in History | Dans un café

Malady of the Engineers

It's a harsh wind that blows across the acreage of that summer, misspent youth. There is the harsh angle of attack. A willow shades the stranger in the tomb. The departing guest laughs one more time and, again, a little too loudly, because he's given to overplaying sincerity. The sordid town sports a factory plume: the empty streets could be laid out to "bring to life" a famous painting of desolate places. Imagine, then, a virgin alone on the travel-poster beach. The camera evaluates her body fat, and a machine recommends a change of diet. She is beautiful, not hopelessly stupid; she is the listless feeling that descends upon the plain and leaves a plaque to commemorate your conception. A vibration shakes the bones as the train picks up speed and worlds rush past the dirty window.

Fatigue of Metals

The rising curve on the chart is plotted upon a smattering of tissue.
Debris performs new tricks by the roadside.
Rapid oscillations.
Repeated blows, concussions, jerks.
Strain, torsion, tension.
You pay for your ticket, you crystallize, you break.
The numbered dead yawn and die as quickly as possible, faster than anyone imagined.
The manuscript was a sort of packet, easily retrievable from the wreckage,
and the author was soon to inscribe an industrial goodbye to the apparatus of wood.
Fingers on the switches, he charts a dream of overwork.
A false theory needs to be debated.
A boiler needs to explode.
An uncomposed symphony of screeches destroys all material, particularly the wheels and axles.

In the Yard

Identical boredom of the several streets, boy and man with nowhere to go
of an evening.
Hedged in.
How can temp-it-makes matter? Matter?
A strong world is ours, steeled. Underground there's the tune of wreckage.
The lead of wit infacted on two continents. Demo of hombre, what worth,
and a jargon, what for. A portrait, after all.
A strong surge of signals dash to dot. Or flag, on a hilltop.


The coffee I'll never drink, the morning that will never come.
Défilé of undefiled filles from just about out of nowhere.
Lights change, and looks go both ways.
There's a face beside the handset.
A discouraged crowd imagines money; all smile and shift
under the sharp focus of the satellite passing overhead.

x, y

ice on the trestle dim refugee my news
coordinates establish one plume

horizon slap-happy armored columns
horizon whirring seizure of imaginary names

the container of fidelities marking time
the panoramic equivalent of one sob

Circles of Fear

Flame designs the new hotel
Hunger a twist in the wind

Finger on a caloric wisp
This thin light to halo a young breast
Shantytown the fog alchemical dump

Sweet sweet electronica as cop raises club
Registering nostalgia at closed factory gates

Urban Vigil

Haze of a forest under siege. Mine shafts stand on their heads for the pretty passersby whose thoughts are effluvia or echoes in the key of metalla. The ambitious of every continent try their luck. Roaring great beast in the flashing lights. A stranger lies dead or alive in a doorway. That click you hear is the phonic trace of the autobiographical: I was there like another. The moon hangs like a surveillance camera beside the tower. One sees the tower in photographs. Mist turns the scene clown-romantic. Irritation at the least stimulus at the end of a long day. Broken glass on the staircase, murderous lyrics scrawled on concrete stinking of piss. Inevitable or habitual, like translation, please. All the flesh is younger and frail in the imagination that is left to us, a poor thing, stuffed with merchandise. "The merchant dies," and so saying the robber did not put down the knife. Apprehension has its own special effects when sight is confused by the dancing air above the long-buried stream. The white man stands by the white gate; he smiles in natural response to n'importe quoi because the birds have gone from the trees that have gone. The roadways emit signals of pleasure to those who sit on the porches to be lulled by waves rolling in.

Caliber and rate of fire interrupt the song again. Half-hidden by the cooling ashes, a brand-name product survives. Wind does not erase the financial canyon, and this sought-after page-turner is a triumphal arch, you shit. No one is there to remark the rattle of blinds so that you can take a bow and play dead.

Heroes of Labor

o hypoteneuse of the hot tears to come
the pleasure boat is at anchor
an inked-in rhythm is metered by the oracle

the terror of a small moment
in the dark landscape that runs off
lies unforgotten at the table where silence reigns

the lamp throbs above the headlines
your little song stutters intent
the human eye on the scene pays an advance on remorse

remote as a voice giving unasked-for advice

Some Assembly Required

the road of our life's journey
runs straight as the stars go black
in the destitute lens


Moonrise through thin cloud behind Coit Tower; a curtain is drawn. In the industrial gyre a telephone drops from the hand. One stood naked as the rain washed over his body. Quaver light. Luggage solitary on the platform. Nothing sleeps. There is foliage on this rock, a word to be spoken. Granted the tenderness of flint and steel, the nightsweats in the knell of stuffy rooms, rough sketch of the history of flight in a face in the tight circle of the bedside lamp. No, the flowers are slow to unfold.

Crosswalk and Circulation

event that is la madrugada

one circle of the wild plants near the chemical swirl

when reinforced concrete when fire

mains interdites et orbitales

astonishment in the towers in the rain

face to the face to face to wind

Nor hands...

nor hands time's veils below the sun
furrow fountain flush to the cheek
backbeat of ebb and flow and dash and dash
a clearing that none can hear

to step in and stay print hands print words
when what we live is blood the air
the vertical and horizontal elements
the rumor of forest felled at the shore

The Bridge

and what should I do to reach you
water a catastrophe aluminum glint of despair
a hand in English grasps at espair the pair the air the error

of joined misdirection on this sea azure seizure of possibility
one heart one heart one heart one heart
expert wind of our signal espoir circules us, together

December 22, 1999 (Solstice, full moon)

The Bridge in History

a structural solution to a specific problem
fast water rises below
where half the city they say has drowned

the arch is stabilized by the last brick
the roadway supports the fête and routine deliveries
o protracted desires

there was a time you cried and I consoled

Dans une café

the impression of glass architecture
of an evanescence or an inner photography

the conversation of the period
characterized us against the baleful division

railroad at the end railroad at the beginning
of all that talk-and-talk

one example of a coy city-dweller
lounging in the reflected light of class struggle

question of velocity and dinner
candlelight vibrating to the music of the machine

James Brook | Invisible One

[from Invisible One, an hors commerce chapbook, 1994]


Commodity Gothic | Dirty Picture | Dirty Picture

Dirty Picture | Dirty Picture | Dirty Picture

Stormy Weather | History Loves a Story | Chinese Classics

Commodity Gothic

gloomy numbers attract new criticism
the aviation future is closed to both parties
two drugs used to dissolve clots

in traditional computers and television sets
compare fatalities and rub off voluntary recall
noting the absence lifeblood of commerce

May Day, 1993

Dirty Picture

in this crime the intimate parade
drags you down to the roar of traffic
in the spray of public sweat

whose source is breast buttock back
where a nervous hand traces the unutterable name
and cancels the vowel that intends a scream

thus is earth shoveled onto the fixed cold eye

Dirty Picture

dawn comes hard to young love
motors the stink the news
the job commands our attention
it's time to be cheerful

it's correct to be glad
but the memory of our pleasure
turns a sullen face to the cathode ray tube
and the ugly prose that spent the night there

Dirty Picture

the science of sleep enters the digital age
shuffling mumbling dancing singing

whirlwind eruptions come as a relief in several fantasies

in direct proportion to physical changes
a string of murders in San Francisco

a man wielding a nine-inch boning knife hints at a recipe

hands busy up and down the dress
and the seams are straight from thigh to heel

Dirty Picture

in strict emulation of the marketing collateral
you bind my hands and feet
you tie blindfold and gag
turn me over spread my legs

Dirty Picture

I have nothing for you in the way of fall fashions
one nipple exposed to light reflected off a perfume bottle
everyone cannot afford any of it
one nipple pinched harder your features fix
in a still frame then fast-forward tremble and release

Stormy Weather

I won't reenact you
wind flattens the one tree

a thin sheet of plastic is home to pink flesh
from the current was configured the culture

it was clear where the wires had to go
the rise and fall of your breasts

History Loves a Story

It's okay to be Vesuvius—what does friendship matter to you?
I was always better, and the pile of correspondence proves it.
Flirt at parties and keep track of the bad luck, the way men are.

The translation desk was open way past midnight for the gala,
with suspenders. Not a trace of comfort anywhere, not even
when the attractive guests got down to their skivvies.

Each time he picks up the cellular phone another crack addict
slams through the nearly deserted subway car, leaving a caption
of fear, disgust, shit, poverty, plus iambic American tunes.

I want to help you spread luxury like peanut butter on saltines.
I want to send you the chance on a prize fighter or marketable gadget.
I want to laud failure, fanfare defeat, launch one thousand more ships.

The memory a single drop of water a memory—

Chinese Classics

un soupçon de Bach

the cost of
is too
to be ignored

window against window
wind against that smile

one full gallon of sleek contempt
say goodbye to your landlord

applause comestibles jade
and white steed of the master
resound this mountain
flash exterior fiery object

17 Passive Restraints


He told me and told me a normal boring story full of gizmos.

The sub-high roller hits the high beams-how that ragtop hugs the blacktop!

Please complete and mail this registration card. We mean it, citizen.

Like an accident, going to the movies slaps crisis with brand names.

Another nighthawk—here's some laughter—blows on her coffee. Lipstick. Pursed.

Seventeen passive restraints on the bitter trail of pleasure wipe tears.

You reach the circle of fifths: the sudden wall—faces shine from the past.

Their business machines narrow provisions, meeting us late at night.

Intimacies of the hand the ass the cock the cunt. Eyes to eye. "Stop."

Where then does the scant costume end, sirrah, and the little man begin?

Let's conquer realms of fresh capital, vast estates of designer briefs!

It's first rain at first light, and the tarmac a high-security zone.

Clouds pass over incisor. Peeling bumpersticker. Big ol' sunset.

"Lonely sax" cliché jump cut mirror makeup cigarette telephone.

DWF, 40, seeks solvent mensch for long walks, swift justice.

Our journey complete, we three pull into Full Serve and reload both clips.

Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. J. N. Brook.

[first published in Exquisite Corpse, 1991]

William Slaughter, Editor
Department of English & Foreign Languages
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, Florida 32224-2645


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Contents | Mudlark No. 18