top of page
  • Writer's pictureRyan Nowlin

Notes from an Open Channel, Sections 1-15

Notes from an Open



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

I may be able to communicate

by going through the correct channels

or communities of practice.

The interesting coveys of city poets,

their speech acts and interrogatives

into the nature of existence

bonds between kinsman or kinship,

mutual exile--momentarily acquiescing

the limits of choice--Wayfinding--

I hit rock bottom in Philly in 03,

then again, there was no bottom--

or as we say here, Fluffya,

13th and Locust, tops & bottles--

sudden bright eyes--

green otherwise so ordinary.


Teacher’s son. Read Kerouac.1 Dream deferred--

you must change your life. rinse, repeat.

Attended grad school in Philly. Should have stayed.

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

for drift by listening to a chorus

of peepers in a pond far below

and rock lobsters scuttle from

head to tail in tandem conga lines.

The state of being lost

is a kind of vertigo--Not all

who wander are lost.

I think of the enlarged

posterior hippocampus of taxi drivers--

in NYC the 24/7 lure of accessibility

ties us to our gadgets as in a spell

of an addiction. 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 what actually is the silt

brown Bristol Channel between England

and Wales. Why can’t I explain

the irrepressible dialectic of history

( two steps forward and one step back)


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.

That one wouldn’t be able to cope

without spending at least three consecutive

days in the city was the unintended

complication of having a home

in the suburbs to which one could return.

A sovereign surveyor abruptly

ended his term looming above

a mountain of contending theories

about how our institutions

came to be inculcated in the dark

expressive 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 is not

stupid. The moon is 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

impressions fading into

the background, 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.

Lampposts sputter out and trees bow

back and forth like converts

to the winds. An armada of shopping

carts file back towards the edge of the parking lot

Yet the next day the color of the sky

was exactly like the tints of glass shards

from a broken jukebox.

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


Fifty miles North East

of Charleston, SC where

350,000 acres of former

rice plantations were bounded

by the Ashepoo, Combhaee and Edisto

rivers 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.

Take the swing away from

Swing Low Sweet Chariot

and what you have is a suicide

note--the slave’s supplication

to the Lord for deliverance

For white audiences

it was hard to spell

or swallow “Oedipal” (as a tucked-in grief)

by reactivating its meaning

like a structure of buried

racism in the past. The table of contents

of African-American history is a

fusillade of facts:

(The Sugar Route sagged

under its own weight,

The Fugitive Slave Act,

The Tuskegee experiment,

the Birmingham church bombing

& black creativity Phillis

Wheatly, The Sugar Hill Gang,

Jesse Jackson, James Baldwin

reading from F.D.R’s Four Essential

Freedoms, never have I heard

such musical talking, a waltz

really )but despite

the turnings of this

400 year gyre there’s little

evidence of an arc bending towards justice.


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. 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


My Aunt Frieda and Uncle Charlie

fled a war-torn Europe the way

a fly escaped the swatter.

All their problems were sent

back to the old country like weary orphans

who must buy back all their toys

for a nickel each. They settled

in the Lower East Side on Avenue C

now overgrown with the ghosts of gardens

where other American boys congregated

and smoked cigarettes in hard times of yore.

Wasn’t there an easier way to live

in the city where long standing grudges

got in the way of the sky?

As a child I conceived

of the city as something

behind a border, somewhere

abroad. Whenever someone

in my family drove on

the Autobahn to the city

I would imagine crossing

the border to a place made

famous by Rabelais4 who in 1523 wrote

“You shall have the rest

of the story at the next Frankfurt

Book Fair”

At first glance the city

seemed to without its secrets.

It was a tension in breadth

and height, nothing else.

In the evenings, walking the streets

or sitting at my desk

working by lamplight, I write and dream

I will reappear within the city

of my own making.


Everything in the fall of 1987

re-converged on this still point

of the turning world where at

the age of 15 I chanced upon meeting

a Parisian/English girl named Katie Follain

My roommate Peter Matheos and I

went with Katie and her friend Oria

to an Indian restaurant, where once

we were all settled in and had gotten

acquainted with one another, a strong feeling

overcame me: the faint crackling of feathers

under finger-tips & opium tea.

While we were walking in the rain near

the ugliest landmark in Paris with its

one pyramid eye casting a street lamp onto someone’s

head I asked Katie Follain what she thought of me.

There was a droning sound of a blimp above the cars

that streaked past as pressure built up

in my forehead.

-Well, I’ll tell you very honestly,

she said: I felt like taking you by the arm

and talk and talk with you for ages and

for the first time I felt grounded

like when Newton took the moon from the domain

of the poets and lassoed it to the earth.

Then you channeled Robert Smith: How Beautiful You Are

by The Cure I nearly melted! Maybe I really

shouldn’t really tell you this because

you will start thinking things,

but on that day I was very happy


The DSM or book of woe

has proved inexhaustible

as if the bloody circumstances

of my life had been shrink-wrapped

until the words were colorless oxymorons

like “affordable housing”,

the evanescence of vapor, hard water,

beauty of drifting trash,

spare cigarette lit

against the wind behind cupped hands

How can you map yourself

in the gaze which does not

judge but falls asleep

on you from time to time

as Roger Lehman did during therapy--

I walked down Holzhausen Strasse

where we used to meet

Once during a re-consultation

Roger said, “he hated that office”.

Roger that strangely productive power

of the imagination produces infinite

ways of seeing the world, yet at times

it is as if we were living under the guise

of democracy--unintelligible though that may be--

Friends will confirm that I’ve been

going on about Bernie Sanders

forever without realizing how long

it would take to get out of Dodge

or that so much would happen before we did:

counting down the days until the end

of President Trumps presidency,

not to say that work wasn’t involved

or fun wasn’t had for that matter

under the left wing darkness of the 80’s

Autostadt, with its two immense towers of cars


Some fish in a pond or reflections

of the countryside in the opposite window

of the train--grand old houses hidden

by a thick cross-hatch of leaves

and dappled by sunlight, yet today

despite a preference for things one

can’t quite see, I find myself circling

back to the promenade painting

with Friedrich Hölderlin’s face

in the clouds, which my parents bought

at an art Bazaar in Frankfurt, Germany,

circa 1985, here-to-fore kept

secret and thus far developed in

the theme of a crumbling tower.

Rather than wanting to see beneath

the surface, I wanted clarity

instead of things suggesting

something else. Admit it, the Gods

aren’t dead, wrote Hölderlin.

There are people who enter into one’s life,

but for a fleeting instant then are lost.

They seem to provide what is needed

in that moment and then like clouds

they pass or recede into the background.

I don’t like the day’s ending so early.

The sky going pale, then dark.

I look up to find the moon’s brilliance

set in the lighted clouds lurking behind

water towers and through trees and I am

reminded, even here, of the promenade

where I am and where I need to be.


If somehow I was like the boy

who cried wolf and survived, what then?

Wouldn’t I stick out like a sore thumb,

or a fallen angel, not majestic like Satan,

but as some angry environmentalists

know, the end justifies the means.

No shit. The wolf was real

and nobody came to help as a result

of his checkered past with a merciless

hoosegow of villagers. Maybe it

was an act of self-preservation.

Couldn’t the boy just cry out mulligan

like they do in golf? Lately he goes

by camel light or the grey old lady.

Herd immunity no closer to just

around the corner than prosperity

was in 1930. Now nearly fifty,

the illusionless 50’s, the girls

are so pretty, and I was no closer

to being the boy I was than to

the man I thought I’d be.


Should I 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, the famous submerged cathedral

Carib Islands defined by the warm water.

Words too surround a thing.

An upside-down squeegee

wedged up against the roof

of a tropical aquarium.

Coral reef sharks orbit the tank

as though it were a parking garage

with many levels.

To hold a golf club very loosely

was like holding wounded birds.

On one of these islands lived wild pigs.

Let it be known that old age

is a kind of Circe and nothing could

revise her sentence even by a day.


The two reflecting pools glitter

like jewels at the bottom of a cave

where the North and South Towers once stood.

The eye extends rapidly and in a straight

line to the plane opposite the Oculus-

a wedge of light tightly bound like the

finest white feathers of a bird in flight.

Then gradually the eyes do adjust

as if stepping from a dark theater

into the bright afternoon and you see

a vast plaza amid the dense tangle of streets

and light reflected off the Hudson

vaulting into the site, soaking up space

with a watery glow. My art teacher

once asked me to draw what it was like

to be at the theater-I drew a dark square before

the show began. That same month,

during the summer of 2007,

we lost two great directors in one

fell swoop, Bergman & Antonini,

two birds with one stone.


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 simply lingering

in the fabric of their clothes.


Paul Valéry published sparingly

then quit writing poetry altogether

for twenty years to study how the mind works

also he spent time explaining the difference

between Pushkin and Lermontov

In Russia Pushkin is the sun,

but Lermontov felt nearer to the moon

Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a meteor

that fell into mid-19th century Europe.

I prefer to sleep rather than to read.

If I wiggle my toe an entire foot crescendos

In the room where women come and go

Chagall chat chat just autumn and endangered

Candles Cher Queer snow

4 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