TARN : a tribute
Robert Kelly





A tarn is a lake

is a deep low place in a high place

is a secret name

for someone

who is always someone else


we stand behind our product


we stand behind our names

and move them around


a name is a mirror



but a mirror is a name

you know yourself by, who,

a mirror is a question and a name always seems to be an answer,


is it, the glorious peach trees oozing darkest amber gum

whether or not there are peaches on the tree





a lake in the mountains


a boat on the lake


a man in the boat.



the lake is in China


the boat is on the lake


the man is not Chinese



who knows what a man is


he comes and he goes


something about him is always far




A man in a boat is no age at all.



So say a poem is a poor man’s open-heart surgery

or no 

A poem is the archeology we are taught by stones


no 

A poem is the blood from the stone 

a poem is mountain milk.


So one writes poems the way one studies a lake,

that is, with half an eye on those pine trees over there

where there might or might not be an otter working on a freshwater herring

the kind called alewife

that have no husband


but most of the time just waiting for the sight of the water

to calm the surface of the mind

enough to shut up the clamor of palaver


or a poem is something said by someone with nothing to say


someone who is always someone else




Why can’t a poem just be a naked woman?


Because no one is.



It is written:  the nakedness of woman is the deception of God,


for the body is built around its Secret,

which is the Secret of God,

and it cannot be shown

however hard you look




but when you look very hard at a poem

you see what is not there


or only a little bit there



like a named woman

of whom you have heard

or a named man

you  met on the elevator

but don’t remember


only the name.




The name is a lake in which its person drowns.



But “to remember something is to make it somehow a part of the present and thus unreal,” says Borges (or Norman Thomas di Giovanni says he says).  Since the real is all that has been said, spoken into place and forgotten, forgotten into being.


No lake, no mountain, just a name.






Nomen numen.


The name is a deity, the Romans said.  The play on words, which is a play in words, is more than a play.  The name is the god, but the god is also the name.  To call a god by name is to invoke the god’s numen, power, the godness that soaks the world with that sudden quality of places and persons we call ‘numinous.’  The numen is there, the nomen has been spoken.  The old linguists tell us that our word ‘god’ itself comes from some archaic verb for crying out or calling, so that god means:  what we call out in fear or praise.  Lord, hear our prayer.  Or Joyce said, perhaps more literally than he knew:  God is a cry in the street.


But Tarn is also a département in France, where Albi of the martyrs sleeps, whose Gnostic beauties persist in NT’s work.


For Tarn has that rarest of sensibilities:  an austere sensuality.  So views the object of desire with the yearning detachment of a geologist catching sight of a syncline across the valley.  


Or a tarn barely glimmering in the twilight.


And he, in this respect most like the French poets who are his secret kinsmen – Claudel, Segalen, Cendrars, Auxeméry – is most at home in traveling.  He is someone who has had to go there, stand on desert or mesa and understand the place by being there.  


(Not he a Hölderlin, who found his Hellas only in his soul’s swaggering rhythms of ode.  Or me, for that matter, for whom all geography is in my own body.  Or in hers.)

Tarn goes there, has to know what it is to be there.  Our own word ‘be’ is two words in many a language (neighbor Spanish for one), an essentialist meaning (as, to be Irish) and a stative one (as, to be hungry, or to be in Philadelphia).  Tarn like a good Mediterranean intuits that to be is to be somewhere.


The earth shares her identity with him, and so we are.


December 2008







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