MUSEUM OF MODERN ART | JULY 1 – OCTOBER 1, 2012
Once a year this poem
will be temporarily transformed
from a self-descriptive exercise
written in the plainest language
into something altogether different:
an occasion of total illumination
a vehicle of pure revelation
a lever capable of propelling its
into a zone of ecstatic sensations.
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you when
this transformation will take place.
Very likely it will occur at a moment
when no one is reading these lines
since it is the fate of poems like this
as it is of most poems of any kind
to spend the balance of their existence not being read.
Yes, this is a grand claim,
one which it would be difficult to
(though also not easy to disprove).
In theory, a team of workers could be organized
who would read in relays, continuously
passing the poem off to each other
so that someone would be reading it
every moment of the entire year,
including the instant when,
for 11 incandescent seconds,
its visionary potential suddenly switches on,
just as the lightbulb is said to do
in Alighiero e Boetti’s Lampada Annuale (1966).
Such a system would guarantee
the presence of a witness at the event
on which this poem’s meaning depends,
yet there would still remain a more fundamental problem:
how to ascertain with any degree of accuracy
the nature of the reader’s inner experience,
the extent of correlation between the process
of working through a particular linguistic artifact
and the emotional state of the person doing that work.
Who is to say that someone undergoing
a mystical experience while reading a poem
in the pages of a free monthly review of politics and culture
or looking at a 46-year-old work of art
on the top floor of a 900-million-dollar museum
has gained access to this heightened state of being
because of something in the poem or the artwork?
We all know that revelation doesn’t depend
only on external stimuli. On the other hand,
enough evidence has been gathered
regarding the vicissitudes of the human soul
to be able to predict which sort of experiences
are more likely to induce such states,
and which sorts are not. A series of prosaic
statements like the kind that constitute
this poem obviously belong
to the latter rather than the former.
And yet my claim remains: once a year
a light will come on at the heart of this poem,
even if no one is there to see it.
Perhaps all we can do is to wait, remain alert,
never knowing if the very next minute
or even precisely now
will be the moment when
black and invisible words
swim into a lightburst
and my eyes pause, aglow.
11 West 53rd St. // NY, NY
Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.