Nov 132016
 

background-el-saltoLeslie Ullman

 

Renderings of some Oblique Strategies (subtitled Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas) by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt.-

In 1975, the authors created the original pack of over 100 oblique strategies cards, a project born from their approaches to their work respectively as musician and artist. Each strategy is designed to help composers get “unstuck” by encouraging lateral thinking. 

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Ask people to work against their better judgment

Go ahead—fling yourself against it
As in: take away the net; thrum
with vertigo; surprise yourself in dark
glasses and brimmed hat pulled low,
so mysterious, you might ask yourself
for an autograph. As in: slip
from the conference room and not tell
yourself where you’re going—

out of the neighborhood and all
the dependable gridlocks. Into a fifth world
that simmers beneath the topography
of your thoughts. Beyond the language
that has served you like a slipper
and the careful walls that kept out
rains fragrant with dirt and damp leaves….
You may not see yourself again

but watch for someone
faintly familiar, still
in transit, fumbling
a new tongue into hand signals
and hybrid phrases, fingers
alight, alive, and something
about to be said perhaps
for the first time.

 

Consider different fading systems

Maybe they’ve moved
elsewhere, now seen by
other eyes—or what might pass
for eyes—as patterns of
sound-wave, molecular traces,
jet streams and planetary
wanderings still vivid where we
can’t follow. We’ll never know.
They leave in their wake threads of gravity and broken

chains, half-outlines
sketching themselves beyond
the mind’s canvas.
the mind must break out of itself
to paint something new
over itself—the vanished parts,
embellished. So, when a few notes
rise from the universe of half-sleep
and then start to fade, consider
the invitation.

 

A line has two sides

if you let your eyes soften and even
cross a little as you stare at that line.

Soon you find yourself seeing from a soft
third eye, one you didn’t know

was there, and the line’s two sides blur
to three. It’s like teasing apart

then reuniting voices of rain all night while drifting
in and out of sleep: bouts of wind

and soft drops that rustle the leaves
and then torrent-noise that fills the open window

as a gutter overflows, drowning out what started
so gently. But the three sounds

remain, rushing and subsiding
and inviting you to listen for the ones

you can’t hear, or didn’t hear at first. And you can
do this all night, through the one ear

not buried in the pillow
then both at once.

 

Are there sections? Consider transitions

Consider an absence—space
between dots, no-man’s land dividing
claimed turf, mundane event left
off the page, break in dialogue, intake

of breath, pause before decision—
as volte. A presence. Where something quiet
happens or holds up or is preparation

for the next demand. Not a completion.
Not the blank I drew when I first
learned to jump horses, so relieved
to have cleared the fence and stayed
aboard, I forgot for a moment

there was another one ahead.
I forgot to breathe. I stepped away
from myself and then

had to regroup, all monkey-mind
and indecision as we approached the next
place to leave the ground. The horse
flicked an ear, wondering if I was

still there. Hence the difference
between apprentice and master—
seeing the demand between demands.
Showing up inside it.

 

Destroy-nothing-the most important thing

This journey is not sanctioned

or trackable. Where it
leads cannot be

found on the map
wrought from spyglass
and ink, artifacts embalmed

in history, plumed pen
and the scent of parchment

anchored beneath a circle of quiet light.

Step into a
something, a nothing

or the slow burn that renders bone
to sand, to ash, loved body
returned to the elements

from which it arose. This

is a form of kneeling. Now
wait. Two legs may not be

enough to raise you
this time. You’ll need
wings. Eventually

you’ll have to grow them.

 

Do the washing up

and, since you’re in a tepid
state, sponge cat hair from the sofa,
water that desperate plant—the one
dropping leaves all over the tile—
gather the leaves and dump the trash—
there’s something to be said for

empirical progress. Run a substance like
baking soda only more complicated
through the coffeepot, returning it
to what’s said to be its pristine
brewing condition, which may not
be obvious right now, but will be
tomorrow morning when your brain
is tricked into the taste of coffee resurrected…

is it time for a cocktail? Do you really
want a cocktail? By now you like
the idea of cocktail, and this slight shift
of inner weather is encouraging —you
started to say “slightful.” Slothful. Sightful.
Still off your stride but warming, you
strip off the rubber gloves.

 

Cut a vital connection

Your childhood, by
all accounts, was much
better than average. You want
to age gratefully, you want
to honor those who ruled there, all
rectitude and good intentions,
and you want not to abandon
memory’s seat at the table

around which a viable family
gathered each night, circle
of feet facing each other
underneath as the faces did
over the four food groups,
everyone’s right to be there
unquestioned. In this sense
you were loved.

The albatross that returns
now and then, trailing something
broken from where you’ve tied
and tied it down, is how you,
what little you then knew of you,
remained in question: That’s all
in your imagination, said their
tunnel vision. You’re wrong, said

their notion of what it meant to have
their version of the world and you
be theirs. In this sense, you remained
half-known, a cipher bearing a weight
of fears they harbored where they
had no words and, until you yourself had
the words, you were cloaked in wrong   
and later learned to thrive below a surface

none of them could penetrate.
They did their best. You would
do anything for them now
but where to put the voices
that sometimes dig up that unproven
you, drag it into the light
and place what you’re slow to
recognize, even after all this time,

as a gloved hand across your throat?

—Leslie Ullman

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ullman-book-cover-image

Leslie Ullman is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Progress on the Subject of Immensity, published by University of New Mexico Press in 2013. Her third book, Slow Work Through Sand, won the 1998 Iowa Poetry Prize (University of Iowa Press), and her first collection, Natural Histories, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1979 (Yale University Press). Dreams by No One’s Daughter was published by University of Pittsburgh Press. Her hybrid book of craft essays, poems, and writing exercises, many of which began as lectures given at VCFA, is titled Library of Small Happiness is just out with A Taos Press. She also is the recipient of two NEA Fellowships.

Now Professor Emerita at the University of Texas-El Paso, where she taught for 27 years and established the Bilingual MFA Program, she has continued to teach on the faculty at Vermont College, which she joined in 1981. She also does freelance manuscript consultations and teaches skiing every winter at Taos Ski Valley in northern New Mexico.

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  One Response to “Renderings of Oblique Strategies: Poems — Leslie Ullman”

  1. Love these.

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