Sep 012013

Robert Vivian

Robert Vivian, novelist, essayist, dramatist & multiple contributor to NC herewith invents a new form, the dervish essay, which, yes, whirls with energy, mesmerizes with rhythmic repetition, and spins toward the edge of sense in a remarkable display of linguistic panache and wildness.


Here are a couple of dervish essays, a new (or new to me) form that keeps beckoning for some reason. What are dervish essays? I’m still discovering them for myself, but here are some elements I think are emerging to the light of consciousness:

  • They often whirl and spin by anaphora and other forms of repetition;
  • They seem impatient with subjects per se as they assume a oneness with everything they touch upon;
  • The prose energy is ramped up to poetry energy and they are breathless to communicate an essence;
  • They court nonsensicality and are driven by a deep inward music;
  • I don’t know what they’re about, really, or why I am writing them other than a deep contact with Rumi in Turkey;
  • And finally, they seem to want to embrace everything at once and are almost frantic to do so. They’re also quite brief.

—Robert Vivian


Crow Ceremony

Crow ceremony in the raw, renewable resources of ongoing dread and decay shining deep into the night in sharp sliver of bone harp the full moon grazes under crow’s feet clutched in fierce possession as morning becomes electric so cousin to fear and wonder, cousin to transformation and holy rays and raven-haired beauty married to awe and crow ceremony the spanning bridge between this life and the next in crow secret, crow kabala no crow shall ever divulge in honor of all earthy rituals made of entrails and visions, shattered glass crow must navigate, step over, give voice to, screech about, deliver in raucous cry washed in sacrifice then parted beak in soundless astonishment on the brink of revelation, and crow ceremony stark custodian of road kill and other leftovers always watching and waiting on wind-blasted highway in deep kinship with desolation’s bone shop and gut cart quaking over medieval streets paved with cobblestones, blood weary, spat upon for ages, crow waiting then hopping then waiting again within ten feet of high-speed traffic centuries hence but coeval to every century that was or will be and crow not subject to the dominion time for after the first death there is no other as I drive north in Michigan and crow ceremony the world over even now in stark re-enactment that does not end and myself and every dream crow meat for devouring and the gristle of someone else’s morrow and there’s something tender to sing about even in these that might brush us with a blue-black feather lighter than a dandelion spore, legendary birds of mythical attention to detail and ravenous for what we discard or run over as we become their foremost fulfillment and each of us their mostly clueless pupils, slow, reluctant learners of great denial they have to instruct again and again and again. And crow ceremony around the corner, on rooftops, power lines, blacktops, and parking lots and crumbling churches, late night radio announcers and their sad monologues over mystical air waves, crow ritual, crow practice in primordial agency, singing the body beyond corporeality as crow tears it asunder in most necessary department, crow swooping down over the eaves of every life and in this rank beauty some strange thing waiting to be born, and were my body any other frailer arc it would sink to the bottom of a gutter to be set upon by rats but rats don’t have wings and thus crow angels, crow watchers with no other claim to hegemony though they do not seek fame or recognition, and my life another crow ceremony and no one to ask about it, no one to consult, no medicine man or guru and crow with me every mile into middle age and something like remorse, faint waft of tragedy growing therein but also tenderness (here again breathing under the soft corners and bleak crowbars on murderers’ row) and also gladness, also fondness and sighing for the things of this world, and some day I shall become the property of crows in transitional space and so crows watching, crows waiting, hard brothers that prey over me with no haste and no waste, no need to even follow for they know where to find me and to find everyone, the whys and wherefores already accomplished in the book of the dead and sonic dimensions of inner speech teetering over into prayer as prey becomes prayer, becomes lament, shadows that protect as if with wings and what they shape and give outline to for there is no delicate option and then I was that thing I thought I would never be, an open wound like a cicatrix on the back of a slave earmarked for affliction, an almost nothing crow ceremony salvaged for me and the whiteness of this page a crow ceremony, the blackness of these typed letters, all the loosed flamingos of the heart that must go down in flames, the grottoes of old buildings, the rickshaws of old sentiments, the black stubble on a homeless man’s beard and the salt and pepper shakers from a diner called Heartbreak. And crow ceremony the piling up of phone books, cinder blocks, rooms where people go to die alone under a ceiling fan that whirls like a broken clock counting demonic time, crow the lines around my tired eyes and crow the bar that gives the thief his most essential tool for stealing, I have traveled to strange places and myself a stranger and I have never understood the mystery called yearning, called great epic desire and ceaseless wanting, and in this same pull toward the holy strange and holy broken there has always been a crow on the periphery just above waiting for it to play out, and if crow carries night in his wings he also carries stars, and if she carries stars then she also carries light, and if he carries light he also carries song, and if she carries song than she also carries wind and breath and the taste of clear water and obsidian stone so there is crow cycle, crow magnetism in the notes of all music, black bird, black bird, black wand of passing magic and terrific fate where the truth must lie hidden in another blade of grass crow will take over many mountains and all the variegated fields and the hearts that set themselves on wanting what they want so much, always beyond their power to name or to have, winged crow in lofty ceremony, carrying every last grain home to an even greater mystery hidden in another night and another day a sore, swollen throat away in siren song that does not end.




Stumbled upon the great fire and the great midnight and great column of sunlight shining through a lofty window whose brightness no hand can touch or hold—and stumbled upon all the other elements not listed in the book of the dead, other sere and sweeping contributors to the ever changing beauty of the world, water, wind, dust and root rot, and no time to put them into song or poem so they must be included here in primary utterance given over to gaga mouth, and stumbled upon the great mountains, lakes and rivers, warning song of the redwing blackbird and thistles lamenting their separation from the reed bed in brushing sighs waving beneath the sky, waking in the morning to singing birds also a gentle stumbling and rousing from sleep whose point of departure is listening and dew-eyed wonder, innocence almost, something no one could ever imagine vis-à-vis the astonishing fact of morning whose opposites are doubt and anguish like little knives whittling sticks deep into the night that slowly become strange talismans in the shape of vengeful deities, and stumbling upon I saw a sunset that spoke the name of God in panoramic splendor splashed marveling across the sky, and Father Nebraska, Mother Michigan, the two landscapes I have been given to stumble upon over and over again and the bumble bee stumbling upon the petal of the flower trembling beneath it like a spent lover and we drunks stumbling all the time upon every source of woe and laughter and the caress that sends us home to pillow cases wet with tears and the little girl stumbling on the playground scraping her knee to an audience of blacktop and sand traps though she’s determined not to cry in stoic preparation for lifelong pains to follow, which also cannot be imagined or endured though they must be and they will be somehow some way and this a shotgun blast of tiny miracles jagged as scattered bits of bright pebbles, and stumbling upon a great suitcase with decal stickers from various ports of call and dense and teeming notebooks within tumbling out expressing great desire and yearning, more wonder, more heartache in the form of questions and headlong declarations, “Let me be a window for you, let me be a way to filter light, I want to sing in a bar in gypsy sorrow and whatever has been given me to praise I will again and again in ever renewing vectors of worship, I promise, dear one, dear lover, the one I am going to cherish and adore”—and P.S. Androgyny, P.S. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, P.S. The last time you wrote home it was August and the cicadas were invading the nightshade,” and stumbled upon the single word or gesture that will deliver you to the gates of holiness which are everywhere around opening on rusty hinges so stumbling a way for translucent scales to fall from your eyes like withered corn, and stumbling to trip or miss one’s footing, to stammer caused by great emotion be it tenderness or outrage or to be struck dumb and silent in the face of a great mystery yet another act of stumbling, sudden surcease and roundup, sudden heart-wall collapsing (Can you bless the night by dying? Yes, you can bless the night by dying) and salt to throw on every wound to ramp it up to trumpet strength blaring out all pain, and stumbling upon I had a vision of heaven that included the neon sign of a liquor store and streets strewn with flattened bubble gum like pastel amoebas swimming fecklessly against the tide of late night traffic, the rest of the streets refraining from song until everyone is down in their knees in the gutters, and stumbling in and out of love, stumbling forward, stumbling backward, tripping on a curb and stumbling onto an airplane to Turkey and stumbling when I disembark into the waiting arms of Rumi and stumbling the great mercy and the great forgiveness and the great recognition that weaves sorrow and joy into a hair shirt of incomparable fineness and stumbling I walk through the middle years of my life holding a broken lily not knowing where I’m going and stumbling I dream of a church whose vestibule is shaped like a horse-shoe where all the spirits wait in giddiness before commencing to moan and sing like Keith Jarret at the keyboard and stumbling I see the vast capacity for love in the hearts of the downtrodden, the holy broken and careworn, isolated and alone then I stumble in the doorway of a halfway house upon the great virtue waiting there for me to shroud me in spider webs, which can only be called tenderness though it partakes of gentleness and forbearance in equal amounts, and stumbling I stand with a poet on a dark hill in Vermont as we watch a fox trot by and the poet says to keep going no matter what even if it seems hopeless, and stumbling I see the four horses of the apocalypse grazing in a pasture and they are not fiery-eyed and braying, not blowing smoke from their nostrils like fired canons but switching their tails back and forth with their graceful necks bent to the earth searching for sweet grass to chew on, and stumbling I found I could go over to them and pat those same long necks shaped like peninsulas and all of us, the grass, the breeze and sky, the four horses of the apocalypse and even the earth takes this peaceful hiatus as benediction and meeting place, and an opportunity to look for garlands before we stumble on the rest of the way.

—Robert Vivian


ROBERT VIVIAN’s first book, Cold Snap As Yearning, won the Society of Midland Authors Award in Nonfiction and the Nebraska Center for the Book in 2002. His first novel, The Mover Of Bones, was published in 2006 and is Part I of The Tall Grass Trilogy. The second part of the trilogy was the novel Lamb Bright Saviors; and Part III, Another Burning Kingdom, was published in 2011. His collection of essays, The Least Cricket Of Evening, was also published in 2011. Vivian’s most recent novel, Water And Abandon, appeared in 2012; and he’s just completed another novel, The Long Fall To Dirt Heaven. He also writes plays, over twenty of which have been produced in NYC. Many of his monologues have been published in Best Men’s Stage Monologues and Best Women’s Stage Monologues. His most recent foray into playwriting was an adaptation of Ibsen’s Ghosts that premiered at Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo in 2006. His stories, poems, and essays have been published in Harper’s, Georgia Review, Ecotone, Numéro Cinq, Creative Non!fiction, Glimmer Train, and dozens of others. He is Associate Professor of English at Alma College in Michigan and a member of the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

You can also read Robert Vivian’s earlier contributions to NC, two essays on essays: “Thoughts on the Meditative Essay” and “The Essay as an Open Field” and his play A Little Mysterious Bleeding.



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