The Area of Sound Called the Subtone
Noah Eli Gordon
Winner of the 2004 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
This is a surprising and versatile collection of three extended poems that explore what lies underneath the surface of their own musically charged landscapes. From a re-working of the double crown of sonnets in the title poem through the expansive and strange prose-poetry of “Jaywalking the Is” and its eight dream sequences, which respond to the eight sections of Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams, Gordon’s book is by turns exploratory and exhaustive.
“Noah Eli Gordon is a master of the shift between an epigrammatic and aphoristic line. Each utterance is a glance that implodes rhetorical strategies so spectacularly that the spray of intelligence that lingers in this reader’s mind is not much different from a cooling shower from an illegally opened fire hydrant. Witty, vivid, and very, very vital, Gordon has entered a higher frequency.”—Claudia Rankine, judge of the 2004 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
i. gray matter migration zone
Look! a hand—the palm, blue. The back-lit
bones, shown through an x-ray. They're zero
ing in: cloning / cloning. There's a sheep in the shop,
a dust cloud in the film. Someone stood overlooking; someone
still against a tree. The rays, soft & dropping.
The choppers are chopping a raincoat—the
fabric where an elbow pokes through.
The socket drains & in the draining, the metallic-blue mercury
follows the spectrum to a flame's tip: fire burns,
that is the first law. Then the sound left—it gone.
& in far other scenes! say, the evacuation area.
Or, the hive: they're in hysterics—a scattering of ants.
Each lifts a larva as the alarm rings, spiraling down,
filling the passage way—the sound!
ii. a brief history of ash
sound. the passageway they're filling
with thunder grown from sheet metal's violent shake.
a bi-coastal broadcast: down with the ship, the war
with Eurasia & what the Shadow knows: static in the subtones
they scamper from under the sound as though from a stone overturned.
moving outward, they dissipate; move & declare: motion, void.
the declaration: an opening as ground or glass is broken.
a hole. a tear. the threadbare hopes of a complementary de
coder ring. decoding, a roomful of chimps types away.
microprocessors map the DNA of a black dot. scanning
the Song of Songs for what it actually says. the way sub
tones wear their architecture like an old coat,
an unraveled rope—its threads, undone,
so put up the scythe: they're splitting the atom.
Copyright © 2004 by Noah Eli Gordon
“Occultists know that somewhere between heaven and hell is the diaspora known as daily life. Others might call it purgatory, but that doesn't come close to describing the many-hued weather Gordon inhabits. Remember the toothless man who said that his teeth picked up radio broadcasts? He was Jack Spicer’s cousin. Impish and generous, Noah Eli Gordon is a more distant relative, his family tree a new hybrid. He has honed his own very special antennae. It's not that he picks up broadcasts from the living and the dead, and from objects and extraterrestrials, all of which he does, but that he channels the voices of the lost and forgotten, the dedicated gumshoe with a nervous twitch, the last Saxon, the dead civilian, the dirty clown, and the dweller in the dunk tank. Hey Reader, do you ever think about the stragglers, hagglers, wagerers and waggers that Walt Whitman was unable to embrace? Don’t despair; they are pilgrims wandering through Gordon’s dense, constantly shifting musical landscape. After depositing their bodies in the wax museum of the everyday, they have (with Gordon’s help) become what they always desired—beautifully disturbing music.”—John Yau