DISSENTSPRING — New Poems by Eliot Cardinaux

by Eliot Cardinaux


Artwork by Jeffrey Lipsky

“Demon of Thieves”

Mixed media on 3 x 3 ft. canvas





Thanks to Pierre Joris for his encouragement, especially in elucidating and making Celan’s influence more explicit.

Thanks to Jeffrey Lipsky for allowing me to use his piece, and for his generosity, always, in sharing his work with others.

Thanks to Sean Ali, whose own paintings have cleared the gap between me and my work so effectively that you — and I, and we — can better inhabit it.

Thanks to Mary Fairbanks for her active participation in the continuing struggle that forced these words into perceptible form.

And to Jade Wollin, for an unwavering foundation of love, which finally allowed these poems to exist.



My last poetic endeavor, The Scaffold in the Rain, a collaboration with Sean Ali, used his paintings as a structure around which to hang my words. Watching them, reading, decay around his images — words that became the scaffold under which the work itself is felt to rise up — brought to mind the gothic steeple Osip Mandelstam described — in his manifesto “The Morning of Acmeism” — as stabbing the sky in outrage, because it is empty.

As Notre Dame burned this year in a Western uproar, a parallel silence was made clear in the face of otherness and its — by apparent comparison — seemingly quaint variety of suffering: the image of a Palestinian woman grieving, embracing and guarding an olive tree, whom settlers intended to uproot; or the astonishing number of species — not untold, but overwhelmingly unnoticed — gone extinct due to human consumption, waste, and neglect in the past half-century.

The speechless interruption of the existence of these — allowed-to-go-unspoken-for indifferently by human — beings — in contrast to the outcry afforded the Western cultural symbol of Christianity that is Notre Dame — was called to mind to me by Jerome Rothenberg’s poetic account of his visit to Treblinka — which he documented in his 1987 masterpiece Khurbn — an empty field with a few picnickers, in which the stones were rowed — in its own stark contrast to his experience of the tourists flooding Auschwitz during his visit there. It spoke of all that goes unspoken, unnoticed, and forgotten in dailyness.

To Paul Celan, poetry existed solely in relation to the time when it was written, rather than in general relation to a feeling of Time. This todayness — its Meridian, its dated-ness — Celan spoke of alongside another aspect of poetry: its essential darkness.

Mandelstam — whom Celan thought of as a brother, even though they never met — called for a greater love of the existence of a thing over the thing itself. It was the survival of the word toward which he sacrificed his own life; the continued existence of his poetry.

These poems do not attempt to recreate the poetic sentiments of these two great masters; rather, they pay homage to those interconnected poetics, by virtue of their todayness, situated as events.

These are my events, for better or worse. If a poem withstands the voice, I have succeeded. If one can pick up the flayed branch and examine it, after the way has been cleared by machete, then the poem has an afterlife. If there is a poise with which these words unfold, it is toward the unknowable: breakable, brittle, bare.

Eliot Cardinaux





1. Goya

2. After Celan I

3. After Celan II

4. After Celan III

5. After Celan IV

6. After Celan V

7. For Osip Mandelstam

8. Lightdeserted

9. Existence

10. Helenic

11. Unworlded



New Poems by Eliot Cardinaux



The ladder sinks rung by rung

into thunder’s echo.

Flutes bite the silence.

The fang and the flower



falling off

the bone.


All animals

and their human souls

break into captivity.


The sun slowly covers the mask.







those knifecords —


a knot in the blood

overblown with margins

at that


enclosure —




wisteria blowing



into matter

and deeper.





the lymph node swells

in the bark,


beneath it;

your translucent


it sleeps through the keyhole.


What the way,



the throat can give,

maybe weighs: this





Take these trimmings —


of whose shadow,

to whom

I belong,


round as a month

or a lunar


mouth’s-word —

at mouth’s-worth.



or Time-lent



do they

flutter and bray?





those soft

misty evenings

of decay


your stole

a new scenting;



Paler than violets,

iris, the yolk-

stained hunger;


grounds in the morning



Does the round-empty day

not empty, also

the fading circus?


Who will inform,








the torpor-outridden —

the more-than-



of its other,

my unaware,






Bloodsucking second


of the pleat-enfolding

matterstopped tongue,

begun to rewind;

its thoughts,




Lightlid, you tenderly shed

what soft and flaring

black sunbeams

bled to become.


The Jessamine’s

five suns faded

translucent as wax,


or the pale noon sun

of elsewhere

embraced by brambles.


Those witness, the mourners

and those

who attended the vigil


unsafe in the light of candles

even the acme of a twisted smile

longs to embrace, but can’t unmake.


And the red glare of sacrifice

finally forever

begins to silence


those parched singers;

never in my life

have I heard such music.




Forsythia, you first

danced winter in.


Now, they blow inactively

and fall, squabble through random



Room for you

to martyr them,


flop like a hatchling

in toward city lights to die.


Though we are bidden to you:

may your light flair blue.




Tulip, those far-fetched eyes

reach out like a world in flame,

lip-tonguing your sorrowful

stems as an iris, under lids

begins to swell: the heart.


In you, the nightingale quivers

a fresh set of lines.


Like fish-pools barring

the procession of measurements,

tips of the clock-hands

multiply, inchworms on your silken



When you draw your first arrow

will you finally rule

the aorta forever?




May a horse who flares in on darkness


object to the stain

on your border with increase,

the sea that gave birth to your name


suggest your impossible





Poppy, you hung from colors

the breath of language.


Pale string, pale thread,

such linen precursors;

your spider’s-doom.


My dream is always,

each rung for real.


And the finally satisfied tick

drinks the blood of its maker,

ever-mercied, ever-said.




Paul Celan, Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan, transl. Pierre Joris

Paul Celan, The Meridian: Final Version—Drafts—Materials, transl. Pierre Joris

Paul Celan, Microliths, transl. Pierre Joris

Pierre Joris, A Nomad Poetics

Pierre Joris, The Irritation Ditch

Pierre Joris, Poasis: Selected Poems 1986-1999

Osip Mandelstam, Tristia, transl. Bruce McClelland

Osip Mandelstam, Complete Poetry of Osip Mandelstam, transl. Burton Raffel and Alla Burago.

Osip Mandelstam, The Complete Critical Prose and Letters, transl. Jane Gary Harris and Constance Link.

Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope

Clarence Brown, Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam, Selected Poetry, transl. W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown

Jerome Rothenberg, Khurbn & Other Poems

Walter Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” Reflections, Hannah Arendt, editor

Edward Burtynsky, Manufactured Landscapes

Francisco Goya, Black Paintings

Miles Davis/Gil Evans, Sketches of Spain

Federico Garcia Lorca, Selected Poetry, transl. W.S. Merwin

John Berger, About Looking


All poetry by Eliot Cardinaux

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© 2019