top of page
  • Writer's pictureRyan Nowlin

Notes from an Open Channel

Notes from an Open


I. The State of Being Lost

I could have stayed in

Central America, happily ensconced

within its leafy parenthesis,

even though the most one could

seize was some sliver of light

from that magnificent jungle edifice.

These are the gauchos roaming

the pampas and those are the Gauleiters

gliding through a series of Zoom meetings

like those Hollywood squares we loved

as kids with everyone glugging

down jeroboams of Pouilly-Fuissé.

Some early glimmers of fame;

a few islands of camaraderie.

The tempo of August is quiet, even monastic

To be able to communicate

by going through

the correct channels

The interesting coveys

of city poets, their speech acts

and interrogatives

bonds between kinsman or kinship,

mutual exile--momentarily acquiescing

the limits of choice--Wayfinding--

In 03 I hit rock bottom

then again, there was no bottom--

or as we say here, Fluffya,

13th and Locust, tops & bottles--

sudden bright eyes--

green otherwise so ordinary.

I was sleepwalking through life

until the act of a blind magician

stopped me in my tracks

Spring birds in flight

orient themselves and correct---

To drift by listening to a chorus

of peepers in a pond far below

and rock lobsters scuttling from

head to tail in tandem conga lines.

The state of being lost

is a kind of vertigo--Not all

who wander are lost.

Think of the enlarged

posterior hippocampus of taxi drivers

in NYC, the 24/7 lure of accessibility

tied to our gadgets as in a spell

Self awareness of distance and direction

like the genetic imprint of an ant--

A cloud mirrored in a painting

by John Constable without even a view

of the silt brown Bristol Channel between

England and Wales. The irrepressible

dialectic of history

( two steps forward and one step back)

is an illusion

despite the turnings of this

400 year gyre there’s little

evidence of an arc bending towards justice.

American democracy has

always reinvented itself.

The Wyoming frontier was once

stitched with Buffalo grass.

To reach the nearest city

just follow the rail line,

our permanent zone of transit--

a train, an ark--a fleeting vantage point,

slow to pass, yet still we rocked

in their wake as boats on the sea.

One wouldn’t be able to cope

without spending at least three consecutive

days in the city, the unintended

complication of having a home

in the suburbs to which one could return.

A sovereign surveyor abruptly

ends his term looming above

a mountain of contending theories

how our institutions came

to be inculcated in the dark

waters of white supremacy.

The polis at the bottom

of our existence, the bottom

of the sea masks all civility,

relieving idlers of all

their convictions. The scapegoat

is dead in their lifetime

of some public darkness.

He may be ugly, but he’s not

stupid. The moon now a tangent,

an opacity on someone else’s

distant horizon, yet one need

not travel to Niagara Falls

to feel the impact of falling water.

They say SCOTUS is the eye

of the storm, the branch of

government least swayed

by partisan politics---Gorsuch,

Kavanaugh, Garland---yet the obscenity

of President Trump belies all our

efforts to write or paint.

A push for a conservative

seat after R.B.G.‘s death as if

Roe v. Wade could be overturned

through some hydraulic pressure.

Already storm bands of rain

and churning wind tear loose from

the roving eye of the hurricane.

Skirts of rain unhook tiles from rooftops.

Lincoln’s hand is clasping

a fasces-a leather thong that

tightly binds all thirteen rods--

one for each of the original colonies--

but there is a twist--

a bald eagle head sits atop the axe,

an American touch,

“E Pluribus Unum”,

or Out of Many, One.

Part II. A Prayer for Judgement

That strangely productive power

of the imagination produces infinite

ways of seeing the world, yet at times

it’s as if we were living under the guise

of democracy----unintelligible object relations.

Friends will confirm that I’ve been

going on about Bernie Sanders

forever without realizing how long

it would take to vote Trump

out of office or that so much would happen

before we did, not to say that work

wasn’t involved or fun wasn’t had mocking

the President on Late Night television

for that matter. We were told that

“a rising tide lifts all boats”. Does it?

Seems like there are a few outsized yachts

& an armada of shopping carts--the days

beetle overhead with glacier-like slowness.

The world had not yet been saved from

itself, nor for that matter was Lumberton, NC,

but even a messianic teacher needed a day off,

if only to come back stronger the next day.

I saw homeless Native American men waiting

at the bus station with eyes like landscapes

that went far back into their heads, stretching

out fifty miles North East of Charleston, SC

where 350,000 acres of former rice plantations

bounded by the Ashepoo, Combhaee and Edisto

it was rumored that the Lumbees were the last

descendants of the lost Roanoke colony, their names

obscured by the mist swaddled cotton fields

of Robeson County. Later, while hitching a ride,

a Native American with long black hair and sandals

pulled over, his eyes rippling

with the same light as the street person’s.

But does he drink his liquor warm

or sip it straight from the morning sail?

And can you smell the wicker,

sleeping cool underneath his bitter nail?

Look how young his eyes once were

collecting shards of wind

drifting through rich days of lavender

Carcass of a dog glistens

breakfast for flies, White Horse Road,

a Prayer for Judgment. Town of Red Springs

Monday morning hits like an air bag in the face

Take the swing away from Swing Low Chariot

and what you have is a suicide note--

Roger Williams sought to make head or tails

of the language spoken by the Narganset,

a brief observation of the costumes, manners

and worship etc, a little key may open

a box wherein lies a bunch of keys

In the farmer’s market cherry tomatoes

are sold-out, but cobs of corn are sold

just before rotting. Half empty tour bus

passes by while I write the Great American

tour bus epic conjuring cities of farmers

markets with fresh bread and sassafras tea

At the metal railing of the bridge I vent

by throwing the peanut shells

on a passing tugboat, the memory

sticking like rough honey.

In duet:

hogsuck, Pigsuck

Swine Swine,


we understand not one another,


Is there a bridge?

III. Words Made Serviceable,

but at the Edge of Understanding

True hermetic Marxist solitude

meant taking a job on a roofing crew

in late summer of ’98 atop a Baptist church.

A wind hammer demolition job

of surf suit roofs and palms

imported from Florida queue up

Lumina Avenue on Wrightsville Beach

A voice in the hand is worth

two in the sand, said Feel Good Phil,

a voice of the proletariat

whose presence on the crew of roofers

stapled to present punctuality

the forever poised shift between

forced bondage and the stained foot-prints

left behind to mark their passage.

Am I taking the knee on the field?

Now the NFL has managed to create

a ghost-story out of Kaepernick

A chill digs in and thoughts harden

like science, as line backers hunch

over with earnest brutality.

The ref points at the wide receiver,

unbearable! Never this smug; your looped

neck, blunt pencil. Still the perfect

experience of watching the game depends

on the man sitting next to you at the lunch

counter, anonymous as anyone.

To speak of the man from Hope,

Arkansas or the man of hope is to

declare a record of history as Americans

asphalt bubbles black ooze under

the crumbling bridges of California

and the overflowing sewage drains

of Houston and the rusted railroad tracks

of the NE corridor, streets of the capital

lined with parking spaces, haystacks

and a slow opening of sycamores in Metuchen, NJ

toward the end of knot weed season

a red mirage followed by a blue wave

Opposite colors mingle from yellow

to purple like nebula where the welt

by the hot metal’s impact blooms

on the underbelly of America.

To wander was to discover

in the process a love for cappuccino

and Pellegrino water and Poinsettias

everywhere on tables at restaurants.

Everything I saw I drew toward and into myself.

The idea was to crowd out the ambiance,

confining it to Sunday morning,

so that the afternoon would proceed

as a juncture of collapsed routes.

We walked past the Trinità dei Monti

and passed the Spanish Steps, one of the infinite

number of tourist focal points

and then we continued through a deep tangle

of winding backstreets, stands of urban

lemon trees, narrow pedestrian ways

and small spigots from which quiet

streams of water falls into basins.

The whole time in Rome, I’m quaking

with holy awe at the very mention

of Shelley, ( who in the last section

of Adonais gave a trisyllabic trembling,

a shiver of slacks). As in confessionals

and theaters secrets emerged that belonged

to the graves of Shelley and Keats.

Church bells rang along w/ burglar shop alarm,

the fragrance of rain on the paving stones.

The seeds of my undoing had been planted

in my mind right from the beginning with words

made serviceable, but at the edge of understanding.

as if one could whittle a person down

by lingering in the fabric of one’s clothes.


10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Sonnet and Sonnet 8 1/2

Sonnet and Sonnet 8 1/2 Published on the Chicago Review Online Edition I owe the thematic material at the outset of this sonnet to the late critic Joan Acocella’s well known article "Blocked" in which

Notes from an Open Channel

Notes from an Open Channel Sonnet and Sonnet 8 1/2 — I owe the thematic material at the outset of this sonnet to Joan Accella’s well known article "Blocked" in which she references Paul Valéry’s famou

Some Notes on Versification

Some Notes on Versification ---Shakespeare’s sonnet 18 is deservedly the most famous of all the sonnets, sometimes so much so that one takes it for granted and/or one fails to see it afresh; to this e


bottom of page