Notes on Anuncio’s Last Love Song by Nate Mackey
When we last left Nate Mackey’s poetry with the book Nod House, our protagonist and his band were seeing brute sun outside the/ nod / house door. This is in the serial poem with two threads interweaving, one of which is Song of the Andoumboulou and this line from part 85. That line was preceded by Syllabic run was more alive than we / were, which goes to the notion of how those practicing the serial poem are interested in cooperating with language more so than using it, in Robert Duncan’s parlance.
The Song of the Andoumboulou is a funeral rite for beings striving to become fully human in the cosmology of the Dogon of West Africa. Mackey’s experience hearing the recording of the same name decades ago launched this quest to illuminate human experience and help him get a grip on how one might become fully human. His serial poem is a step-by-step quest of what the journey through purgatory and re-birth might feel like, replete with references to world music icons and allusions to the function of soul.
The latest chapbook from Mackey is Anuncio’s Last Love Song (Three Count Pour, Durham, North Carolina) and it continues the soul-building narrative. In the book there are four such songs, getting us to “mu” ninety-fifth part. Anuncio is a Spanish word meaning ad, announcement, notice or sign. Thinking of the theme of the ongoing serial poem, the notion that there is to be an announcement, as one does when there is a birth. This is one association that comes to mind. In the poem, Anuncio himself is recently back from Málaga, in Andalusia. Of course we think of Federíco Garcia Lorca when we think of Andalusia, we also think of the Moorish influence on that culture and the concept of duende is in play, though not overtly stated, but duende (Lorca said) is present when there is the possibility of death. The exact quote from Lorca is,
The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.
In the very next line we hear the deep strum of Maghrebi strings so we are again in the part of the world where Spanish and Moorish cultures engaged, intertwined and informed each other.
And of course Anuncio’s significant other is Anuncia and there is the smell of sex, the taste of guava and a name change. It is announced that Anuncio was calling himself Solito. Solito in Italian means usual, ordinary or customary. Nothing special here, we’re led to believe, alone / with Soul’s hum, Soul’s hesitancy, / alone / with the sound it made.
About the guava. The line is: hard guava he’d / bitten into a tooth had come out / in. This is another Mackey trope. It drives me crazy when I hear baseball announcers on the radio describe things in such an inverted way, as in the way of radio play-by-play announcer for the Chicago White Sox, Ed Farmer. He’ll be talking about the number of strikeouts credited to the Sox pitcher and say something like “now he has seven, does Chris Sale.” When Mackey does it, it adds to the juke present in the work, to the music. It’s a stutter step that keeps one on their toes and can lead to difficulty, I am sure, to the casual reader who is not willing to invest the time into acquiring an “in” to Mackey’s method. I’m with José Lezama Lima who said, “Only the difficult is stimulating.” I’ve found this quality in the poets whose work to which I am attracted. There is an effort required and that effort is rewarded by depth, whereas with work that is easily absorbed, I find it is often easily discarded. Mackey’s working at a very serious depth with life and death issues and the underlying theme of the effort to become more human and all the best things come after a struggle, eh?
But back to sex. In French la petite mort, the little death, the orgasm. Death again as sex and perhaps as distraction. Anuncio/Solito remembering the scents of sex, the pure animal desire, but knowing on some level it was a distraction, To have lain between / Anun- / cia’s rustic legs forfended nothing and yet the Recondite / air / thick with genital musk, a ghost minuet / put thru its paces played out. Coming to terms with the limits of desire. Soul again as something to be distinguished from Self, as in Soul / and / Self’s lyric digest – one of many appearances of this dance of distinction Mackey wants to make in this purgatorial play-by-play, focused: Only what was real concerned us. Which might be said of Mackey’s work and its appeal to me. Once one experiences something of this depth in writing, or music, it’s hard to come back to that which is less myriad-minded, or more pedestrian. Sure, there is the appeal of the occasional poem (that written for an occasion) and I’m not sure Mackey’s poetry works on that level, but the gravitas of the content here is undeniable, as is the music. It’s the combination, a matter which I’ll address before I’m done here.
But we pick up the thread again and find that Solito, the former Anuncio was, “oh to Anuncia’s ah.” We read that had he been Greek, Solito would have called her Hecate, or Goddess of the underworld, adding another layer to the plot. How do we (or how would he, Mackey) use this notion? Are we humans dealing with this in our lives (almost typed loves) in an effort to sublimate desire, come up the ladder of consciousness from animal to human and perhaps to noble human, or are we in the underworld being romanced by the allure of that which we’d find in a traditional Christian concept of hell? It must be a gnostic notion of Christianity, one in which reincarnation is possible, as this serial poem speaks to the notion of a struggle in “purgatory,” or in the state before which one reincarnates. Before the bowl of soup in Buddhist cosmology that removes all memories of one’s lifetime. The image from Western culture is one of Plato’s notion of the soul needing to venture through the hot desert before rebirth and we’re reminded that nod is not only the gesture to move ahead, the nod of one’s head suggesting yes, but also the biblical desert east of Eden to which Cain was exiled after murdering his brother Abel. And when we see the phrase at that point in the poem Proffered body, it reinforces the sense of an offer of incarnation, perhaps reincarnation being made. Amiss / but aroused pulling away Mackey writes and one gets the sense that sex is being transcended, or the allure of it anyway. Blake’s road of excess leading to that palace of wisdom, perhaps. All thought of love busted up, Mackey’d say.
And is it the desire that’s dying, a way of life? A reference to the old blues tune “Goin’ Down Slow” provides more context. The tune has been done by Ray Charles, Duane Allman and Howlin’ Wolf and are the reflections of a dying man:
I have had my fun, if I don’t get well no more
My health is failing me, and I’m going down slow
Please write my mother, tell her the shape I’m in
Tell her to pray for me, forgive me for my sin…
Yet another Mackey trope follows soon after. It’s a sophisticated version of repetition, insistence Gertrude Stein would call it. Seeing the two “takes” in this chapbook side by side makes the trope easy to notice and Mackey elaborated on previous uses of it in our August 2012 interview:
…certainly the idea of first, second, third, fourth takes applies, but again it’s back to what I said earlier, which is that it gives a sense or it accepts a sense of provisionality, that what you see on page sixty-two was not final, nor is what you see on page sixty-four final. These are two versions that are of something. There is so much that is the same in them that you can see that they are versions of some same thing. The idea that they could be varied, maybe endlessly I think, is there, but it also should shed a certain light or a certain way of looking on the rest of the work, the surrounding work that isn’t repeated in as obvious a form as that. That work too is not definitive in some kind of final way. It too is subject to further takes. In some ways, that’s what serial work is, take after take after take. I had a certain resistance to actually making that quality that obvious, but I did it. I had done it in Splay Anthem and I did it again. I guess what one would typically do would be to take the second version as a revision of the first and give it a certain authority and a certain finality, so that you could get rid of the first, as if to say, “This is it.” But I didn’t necessarily feel that way about the second version. I mean, it was a version. It wasn’t the “it” that was being striven for in some kind of ultimate way that would exclude all other possible versions. At the same time, I did find that I had a bit of resistance within myself to doing that, but I did do it. It’s kind of scary, because one could probably do that with every page. [Laughter]
In the instance used in this chapbook, there are nearly three stanzas repeated word-for-word leading to the alternate version, the second stab at it. Mackey’s attraction to the serial poem and this trope are coming from a similar source, discussed in that same interview. The lack of finality, the negative capability, the practice of taking a stab at getting the articulation of a sense or feeling right permeates this work and Mackey’s work in general. As is the serial poem itself, this is – if not in opposition to the practice of the well-oiled (tight) one page anthology poem – is beyond it. How work written from this way is myriad-minded, opposed to closure, or open to the process of, well, being open, is part of its appeal and likely part of what makes someone looking for the occasional poem, the well-wrought poem, crazy. Devoid of “irritable reaching.”
“No- / tice how it fades,” one would say. / “Tell it faint.” “Notice how it stays,” / one heard one’s echo jest… Is how Mackey puts it soon after the second restating of the Italy/dream scene, hinting at his process. Soon after there’s another echo of his work, the lineage into which he places himself. Like the musical references which give us the sense Mackey is after, a world poem in the vein of world music, there’s the allusion to Louis Zukovsky when Mackey writes, There they were where how-you-sound / met what-you-say, lower limit song / upper limit scream, voice extenuated / wafer- / thin…
I get a sense of ego death here at this segment of the poem. This is why old habits linger. The strength of the ego to fear (and oppose) the depths of being fully human and vulnerable. Our habits protect us from that state and eventually lead to death. As Rilke put it (translated by Robert Hunter) a habit which discovered us, / found us comfortable and moved in. How go beyond that, how the soul (or self) feels at the moment when the old skin’s shed? The soul’s peregrinations is how Mackey puts it at the end of the chapbook and he wondering if soul is something we / saw.
lower limit song / upper limit scream
The combination of song and content is at the core of the appeal of Mackey’s poetry, his writing in general. The music may pull you in, but the depth of the content is what lingers. You’re being called on some level to be fully human, to extinguish the bad habits, the limitations. Of course not all are called to this pursuit. Some are destined to live life after painful life in samsara, but the seekers among us, if given the time required, will find this quest compelling and perhaps more than an echo of their own quest. I would write “dying to find out how it ends” but you’d know better. Still, somehow, that applies in a weird kind of way.
2:16P – 5.15.13