Flying Over Language

I can’t write without knowing that each thing I define will be erased in time. There are no safe and secure places for language. The death of meaning is like the extinction of a species. But other meanings come forth to fill each ecological niche. The poet routinely wipes out entire taxonomic groups in order to make room for new forms of life. This culling is necessary; the poet who doesn’t do this is in peril. You must join with the fragility of sentience, recognize the elementary or undifferentiated consciousness where language originates. Writing poetry is like playing the piano with your hair. You don’t know exactly why it works, but somehow you’re able to make music. What I’m describing is intuition, the golden hunch behind all the explanations and theories, which allows you to take advantage of the fluidity of meaning. To intuit is to step outside language and view it from the air. What’s seen when you’re flying over language are the ruins of custom and interpretation, mighty edifeces meant to last milennia. But in fact, they’re made of straw, built on flowing water. No one who is seriously writing poetry can live in them for long.

Don Domanski

Sparrows Fall

From Prairie Fire:

In reading Don Domanski’s All Our Wonder Unavenged, the words ‘carpentry of the soul’ came to mind. “I put two final drops of oil in the mechanism / which is placing a word on either side of time,” he writes in “Disposing of a Broken Clock” (67) And so, with such precision of image, does Domanski create metaphor for the workings of time and the deliberate acts of the poet that effaces it–“I anoint . . ., I wipe . . . I remove . . .,” (67)

It is this precisely calibrated image from years of honed seeing that is rewarding to read in Domanski’s poems. He has somehow managed to make the art of seeing or making observations almost entirely anagogic–‘anagogic’ being ‘a mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.’ And yet, in spite of that, the state of mind Domanski aspires to in his seeing is the one of a ‘wonder unavenged.’ Why must we seek in pure wonder some aspect of the divine? What is it in us that compels us from wonder into religion? Why can we not simply have ‘wonder unavenged.?’ That is the question Domanski is asking in his book and the poem of the same title.
my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
all the underweights of silence to find His way
now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves
                                                                      unaltered by my belief (81)
Perhaps that is all there is after all, only the consciousness we can experience now in moments of meditative observation. And yet there is that fundamental yearning that Domanski expresses in “Slayer in a Told World” as loneliness “for whatever abides / in the calluses of ice on bark / and among roots thrown carelessly beneath trees’ (25). In the ‘told world’ we live in, he speaks of our longing for ‘falling snow’ and its ‘iconography’ where each flake “stand[s] for the myriad things / that live well beyond our language / silence of the animal mind descending” (25-26). Silence is not just golden in Domanski’s world–it is when the ‘animal mind’ descends and enters (or slays) our consciousness from its ‘wordful’ orientation, so to speak.

But it is not an easy path to be and see this way. That hankering for that other sure world of faith articulated in language seems always to get in the way. We cannot help but ‘detect allusions to heaven or the afterlife’ in our seeing even as we have only the blood-and-flesh of our perceptions to guide us. In the last poem “In the Dream of the Yellow Birches,” there are two telling turns in the last section, where the poet “frightened to accept” the “dungeon-work” of what I interpret to be as acts of contemplative prayer or meditation or as Domanski puts it “that inner life bound in darkness / by an intense grace” must yet plunge into such a life or such acts (120). Even knowing that there is “not much security in that not much camouflage” (120), the poet states:

yet I find myself in God’s sleep again and again
in the dream of the silver birches
                                        taking root in the soil (120)

This ‘yet’ however is followed quickly by a second ‘yet’: yet I find myself witless and godless constantly testing the air and water for any little absolute anxious on our behalf (120) The two ‘yets’ express that middling, muddling state of being the poet finds himself in. “Insecure and silent are the ways of the self (120)” he states. “I try to follow Meister Eckhart’s advice / Do exactly what you would do if you felt / most secure (121)” but the results are mixed: “sometimes it takes / sometimes it doesn’t.” (121)

Domanski’s poetic journey through consciousness is one part yearning and one part there; the middle ground he charts between “homecoming is an ever-receding will” in “Mere” (33) and the “third dove” the soul is “always seeking” (41) in “Walking Down to Acheron” is where his poetic genius finds its voice. What is inside the mind and outside the eye begin to coalesce into that vision I call anagogic. I see no difference between poetry and spiritual practice, Domanski has said. To read his work is to fully engage the worlds of both. 


Sally Ito is a Winnipeg writer.

All Our Wonder Unavenged by Don Domanski