To Charles Ives: A Fantasy

Jesse Glass

“...But each individual form escapes this common measure and is, to a certain degree, a monster.”

–Georges Bataille

“...get up and use your ears like a man!”

–Charles Ives

1. (Exhibit A)*

A veritable hemisphere of Death--the lower

mandible missing! Here between the middle

upper teeth you see the evidence of prehistoric

surgery: scars pinched & ridged

about that gap. Now slide the wedge of wolf’s jaw

into the rupture--your graft has made

new symbol of this seed: a potent priest or warrior’s

emblem freed from the complications of a face.

Sockets full of summer weather,

it curves upon itself

enigmatic as a moebius strip

self-sufficient as a Klein bottle,

a baroque pilaster made of weathered thorns

supporting a far-flung, Star-Spangled house.


Now press fresh fingers along

the saggital, coronal, &

lambdoid sutures & follow those

dry estuaries across the white horizon

through the gulches & valleys

past the sinkholes & upthrustings of bone.

You feel no heat where

the ancient sufferings moved &

no cold where the primal fears stiffened.

Strike the assemblage with felted hammers

& hear no pleasing sound. Cunning coaxes

sea noise from it

& a beast’s shadow.


(Exhibit B: Beginning of the Lyric)

Must you prance before us

like a gawky kid,

to teach us culture?

Or ride to Heaven on a wrecking ball

so God rains manna on a marching band?–

Or stick your tongue out–out

to lick the moony beads of melody

while thumping washtub rhythms

on your staves?

& Who says Americans cannot participate

in the divine?–

not Emerson in his house of straw

mice in the empty pantry of his head;

not Thoreau in his house of wood

devouring water cress sans finger bowl & napkin;

not Whitman in his house of brick

hands sprawled like wings across a greasy breast bone;

none of these will gainsay you,


Tear off that Macy’s collar

Master of Cacophony

& cradle groans

& trills of conquest

larded with the goo of the Elect....

Drag up the serpent twisted wand

from the basement of your “Museums Americana,”

plain-speaking, prodigious psychopomp!

& tap out the needed progressions

on the pavement we’ve laid–with great civic pride–

over your muddy brow

& the hollows where your eyes had once

rolled in fine frenzy

at bird song & Sousaphone.


(More of the Same)


Art the frontal lobe

leaking electricity so the light

has false meaning: misfired

neurons shifting

the artist’s hand in

hothouse quickenings.

Art the nerve-inspired jiggle of a leg’s

oscillation tempered in the gray

capsule of the brain. Art

aphasia, stroke-talk, womb-

tongue twaddle. Genius of

the dim mind/Genius of the moon-occluded

eye slower than the mountebank’s

cunning fingers thrust in a hot bag,

the Beautiful (yes!)

a surprising new Product

like the ax head grafted

to the sapling

like the fist broken

repeatedly until the knuckles

fuse into a solid mass of bone

like the bomb wired

to the woman’s leg

set to go off when she assumes

the expected attitude of servility

like a new insurance scheme

destined to make a million

or a steam tractor shuttling forth

beneath a banner of shot silk

that says, “Up & At ‘Em!”


(Exhibit C: His Master’s Voice)

Wax spins

around the void it defines

& horns ram space with fine ancestral grit

Plastic & flowing–

in that gap

knocked from the bitter mask

rough rhythm becomes

volute, four-square


Music generous as a handshake

from P.T.Barnum

a lazy snapping of fingers

for servants to tumble

into the room

with flowers & choice gifts–

Then a good Old Fashioned

Currier & Ives

admired thrown into the fire

admired raked from the fire

& wept over

“As one recalls a love from long ago”

Fox Trot

Cake Walk

& Rag

Lord Jesus!

Give me what can’t be given: a gem

that domes a bygone day: a seat inside a circus tent

where Voices & Angels are: I press my tonics

on you like a rusted key–your ear

the glittering lock on a door

battered & pissed against,

your hand wrenched open

like a broken flower

as you sing to no one on the alms house steps.


(Exhibit A: Reprise and Finish)

I place this artifact before you, Ives,

bleached & brittle as a camp tune broadside,

& the rat-tat-tat of your musical muscle,

the tumta-tumta-tum of your clean New England motor skills

holds this grotesquerie together

binds the bony fontanelles

of this rough statement

plucked from the ploughed fields

And as a symphony

fades into gossip of Presidents, so

this multiplicity of tensions relaxes into mineral austerities

worthy of Broadway struts & swaddling

of limbs. It remains an ur-type for the Fallen Angels

& for the fashioning hands that move among things as they are

to impose the subjunctive mode on finitude–as you, Ives

would see if you could turn my song analytically before you

exploded view against exploded view

for once you raise the lintels

every door may open

on a Star-Spangled guest

& the small hand opens not to touch, but to amplify,

the small hand opens like an ear

to gather it all in.


The breaking of the front teeth and the insertion of a wolf’s palate for Shamanic purposes is suggested by artifacts found in Wright and Ayers Mounds in Kentucky. At one site the skeleton was encased in the remains of a leather shirt indicating that the subject met his end by a kind of ritual sacrifice that involved the stitching of a wet leather garment upon his body. When the garment dried in the sun it shrank to smother the wearer. Whether these “wolf-men” were widely found in Adena societies is not known.