Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Art of Losing—Issue 58, October 2015)

Brandon Shimoda
White Martyr, White Dwarf

passages from an essay written—and ultimately abandoned—on the poet Craig Arnold’s disappearance and death on the island of Kuchinoerabujima, Japan, April 27, 2009, including from his (still living) blog, Volcano Pilgrim

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13)

You want to live honestly, and responsibly, and you do not want to be unhappy all the time, and you are trying to imagine a life in which all are possible. What you fear most is that you can or will not place anyone else before yourself, that you are simply not capable of love. This is the fear that more than anything brings you to despair. (Craig Arnold, Zojoji Temple, Tokyo, March 28, 2009)


On the earth fell only tears, dry, fiery tears, which seared everything green and called forth fires and other calamities. Over the growling volcano, clouds of stones were flying, like swarms of flies. These are, speaking figuratively, the bad gods who filled the earth with their noise. (Alexander Vannovsky, Volcanoes and the Sun)

A dead goddess and, at the same time, a goddess of death immured in the underworld and menacing living men, corresponds exactly to the state of a volcano. As we said before, the apparition of the goddess to the outside world would mean a tremendous eruption of volcanic activity, which would destroy everything previously created by her. So the creator god, trying to protect all creation, obstructs her way by Chibiki-iwa. (Alexander Vannovsky, Volcanoes and the Sun)

They summoned Eurydice and gave her to him, but upon one condition: that he would not look back at her as she followed him, until they had reached the upper world. So the two passed through the great doors of Hades to the path which would take them out of the darkness, climbing up and up. He knew that she must be just behind him, but he longed unutterably to give one glance to make sure. But now they were almost there, the blackness was turning gray; now he had stepped out joyfully into the daylight. Then he turned to her. It was too soon; she was still in the cavern. He saw her in the dim light, and he held out his arms to clasp her; but on the instant she was gone. She had slipped back into the darkness. All he heard was one faint word, Farewell. (Edith Hamilton, Mythology)


Climbing a mountain in the face of sudden fiery death has a certain romantic pathos to it, but slipping on ice and ending up in pieces at the bottom would just be embarrassing. (Craig Arnold, Asamayama, April 18, 2009)


5/6 12:38pm EST: The search team from 1SRG spent all day yesterday discovering and following Craig’s trail. They found some evidence that has given them increased confidence that it is definitively Craig whom they are tracking. Though they have not yet found Craig himself, they are working amazingly hard and have made significant progress and we are really grateful and really hopeful.

5/8 10:19am EST: We can confirm that the search group 1SRG reached the end of Craig’s trail at a steep cliff dropping off into a valley or ravine below. The space below was too technically challenging for the resources of this particular team. We are absolutely certain that Craig is between that point in the trail and the bottom of that valley/ravine. We now await a team with the necessary equipment and skill-set to descend into that space and bring Craig home. (Find The Poet, Facebook group, May 2009)

The sound of wind in the grass is not the same as the sound of wind tearing through pine needles. It is not the same as wind hissing across the lava-clinker, or strumming a telephone wire, or fluttering the knots of the paper prayers tied around the bars of the votive rack, or blowing across the opening of your ear. In each of these there is an exquisitely different note of desolation. (Craig Arnold, Onioshidashi, Asamayama, April 20, 2009)


A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a rough sketch of a calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos. Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the song itself is already a skip: it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment. (Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, 1837: Of the Refrain)


He is a devotee of solitude, even in the midst of a crowd, because he is faithful to a shadow. (Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves)

If my ongoing pilgrimage serves no other purpose, I at least hope to convey, however humbly, a sense of how cataclysm, natural and man-made, may color even our most intimate perceptions of the world. (Craig Arnold’s application for the Japan U.S. Friendship Commission/Creative Artists Program)

The distinction must be made between those who are drawn to the pilgrimage place by hopes of grasping that force, to make themselves over into the ideals it embodies, and those who merely seek to tap the force for instrumental or other effective ends. Those who would hear the inner voice of the pilgrimage place are journeying to encounter the abstract ideals it embodies; those who would use the power of the concentrated greatness are journeying in search of aid along their life’s way. (Alan Morinis, The Territory of the Anthropology of Pilgrimage)

A destination needs desire. To reach it requires will. The wanderer has will without desire, to move without getting anywhere, but to keep moving. The wanderer tells himself that his aimless errancy is better than the inverse, desire without will. That would be simply to yearn, boundlessly longing for what can never be reached. Perhaps he feels that to keep moving is more heroic, less worthy of pity. It is not. (Craig Arnold, Karuizawa to Tokyo, April 23, 2009)

Being thirsty,

I filled a cup with water,

And, behold! Fuji-yama lay upon the water

Like a dropped leaf! (Amy Lowell, One of the “Hundred Views of Fuji” by Hokusai)


Goya’s method of drawing remains an enigma. It is almost impossible to say how he drew: where he began a drawing, what method he had of analysing form, what system he worked out for using tone. His work offers no clues to answer these questions because he was only interested in what he drew. His gifts, technical and imaginative, were prodigious. His control of a brush is comparable to Hokusai’s. Despite this, Goya’s drawings are in a sense as impersonal, as automatic, as lacking in temperament as footprints—the whole interest of which lies not in the prints themselves but in what they reveal of the incident that caused them. (John Berger, The Honesty of Goya)


On two separate scraps of paper you write the characters hi and yama, and place them on the table a few feet apart. Your thought is to move them closer together, gradually, to see at what point precisely two characters make a new word between them. (Craig Arnold, Asamayama, April 21, 2009)

Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression, or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature, is a certain self-regulated motion, or change; and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptise her, but baptises herself; and this through the metamorphosis again. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Poet)

In the middle of words is the void through which they escape. (Edmond Jabès, The Book of Yukel/Return to the Book)

Why write. I want to write the world upside down. (Joanne Kyger, Japan Journal)


This imperfection, as has been noted, is not really imperfect: it is a voluntary act of leaving unfinished. Its true name is awareness of the fragility and precariousness of existence, an awareness of that which knows itself to be suspended between one abyss and another. Japanese art, in its most tense and transparent moments, reveals to us those instants—because each is only that, an instant—of perfect equilibrium between life and death. Vivacity: mortality. (Octavio Paz, The Tradition of the Haiku)

Even in the case of the all-too-famous Furu-ike ya, the sound of the water is not a consequence of the presence of a pond, and the jumping in of a frog; these are not even antecedent circumstances. The old pond is there; it exists in its own right, and has intrinsic value, as we see by the particle ya. The jumping in of the frog is grammatically adjectival, so that the sound of the water is not consequent, either in reason or in time, upon the jumping in of the frog. Both are coexistent, that is, coeternal. The old pond continues in time; the jumping in and the sound of the water are timeless. Or we may say, conversely, that the silence of the old pond continues timelessly, whereas the sound of the water is as a bubble upon the river of silence. This mystical and also mystifying atmosphere is due to the absence of thought, the transcendence of cause and effect, but a Japanese reader of haiku is far from aware of all this. He simply rejects intellectual components as “not haiku” instinctively. (R.H. Blyth, A History of Haiku)

In the beautiful spectacles of the mountain, field, ocean, and coast, I see the achievements of the Creation. Or I follow the trails left by those who, completely unattached, pursued the Way, or I try to fathom the truth expressed by those with poetic sensibility. (Matsuo Basho, Brief Epistle on the Travel Casket)

There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar. (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)


To the salt,

if there is any left

on this planet without life,

I give up my soul.

I give it without the body

to exude a vision

of life without a planet

What is left beyond that?

The morning

between the leaves.

Misery, love, generation,

all screwed up.

But stars look even brighter.

Love, morning, stars, slightly

blue now, in the

continuous lighting

  of the heavens,

earth, hell,

the bright star, and the universe

all alone. (Joseph Ceravolo, White Dwarf)


Now you are excited. How did get there, you want to ask. Where is the trail to the summit? Is it still open? Is it dangerous? Your Japanese limits you to two-word sentences—Asamayama, where? Trail is? A map is consulted, and the question put to Satoshi, the hostel owner. He smiles, laughs, and shakes his head, all at the same time. Desu zono, he says, crossing his hands in an X. Death zone. (Craig Arnold, Asamayama, April 16, 2009)


Your last day—you have to leave, or live

here forever—he gives you a souvenir:

a big scrolled shell in which is still wound

the mummy of a hermit crab, pink tips

of stiffened claws tentatively creep-

ing out on the bald white lip, something to keep

a pharaoh company in the boat-tomb

oaring him over into obscurity,

an emblem, if you like, of soul caught com-

ing out, stuck forever in the act

of being born, an ornament, a warning. (Craig Arnold, Snail Museum)


You say your goodbyes, and Keiko presents you with the most enormous apple. It is not a kind you especially like, but you take it with thanks, thinking that you might save it until you are hungry enough to really appreciate it. (Craig Arnold, Asamayama, April 21, 2009)

I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty. (Plato, Epigram VII)

Probably the first exiles on record were Adam and Eve. This is indisputable and it raises a few questions: can it be that we’re all exiles? Is it possible that all of us are wandering strange lands? (Roberto Bolaño, Exiles)

The lava was extinguished, the grass spread, the human couple came and rooted themselves in the meadows. (Nikos Kazantzakis, Japan/China)

So saying, he put the apple into her dress, between her breasts, for which she kissed him so tenderly that he had no regret of climbing so high for an apple more precious to him than if it were made of gold. (Longus, Daphnis and Chloe)

At the bottom of your shoulder bag you find the apple, Keiko’s parting gift to you, and as you make short work of it as you walk, enjoying the crunch and the sweet juice of it, pitching the core into the bushes without shame. (Craig Arnold, Miyakejima, April 21, 2009)

This brief scene excited me to the point of delirium. I was undoubtedly not able to explain it to myself fully and yet I was sure of it, that I had seized the moment when the day, having stumbled against a real event, would being hurrying to its end. Here it comes, I said to myself, the end is coming; something is happening, the end is beginning. I was seized by joy. (Maurice Blanchot, The Madness of the Day)


You feel like you are seeing everything now. Nothing was happening, and now everything is happening. Why does your sight seem now so sharp and clear? (Craig Arnold, Miyakejima, April 26, 2009)

Somewhere, a loudspeaker plays a carillon version of “My Darling Clementine,” and it is perhaps the best indicator of your current mood that you cannot marshal the curiosity to wonder why. (Craig Arnold, Onioshidashi, Asamayama, April 20, 2009)


An apple is given to a poet who is lost. It is night. The poet has been lost for hours. The poet is discovered in what he thinks is the midst of being lost, though it is the end, he has been found. The apple is a gift—for being lost. Roots descend forts and forts descend to where the apple meets its indigenous shape as a shifting womb-like cauldron of earth. The poet does not eat the apple right away. The first time an apple was given, it was eaten right away. It had only recently stopped growing—a few minutes after it was picked. It was carried, given away, then carried further. When a body decomposes, the mash is exposed. The poet eats the apple the day before he disappears. It is still in his body when he dies. Your move, apple, you are very good eat

I was not there, I talked to no one. I do not want to find the poet’s body. I am not sure I have avoided it—a silhouette on an illuminated screen, dancing, moving as dancing, trying to escape through something greater of its source. I take Volcano Pilgrim to be something he was aware of as an aesthetic artifact long before the final line—a world in which all of those things have been rinsed away—occupying a swath of positive space on its way to revealing the contours of the negative as poems. Cut open the body: you will find the process. Lava is the emergence of magma. Lava, that is, to wash.

Is everything we create one in an innumerable sequence of penultimate acts of self-destruction, leading to the ultimate, in which all energy will be introduced into a new form, a reconfiguring, however small, of the universe?

To be surrounded by the energy of poetry, within which we are the poem, the volcano is the poet. The volcano bears the idea, wields it, works its way through the span of itself. But the poet is short, has limits, which can be found in the person as in the volcano. A volcano can create immense stretches of land, can erect the highest mountain, but is quite incapable of creating the smallest star. There will always be that one elevation more. There will always be the smallest star, roaring in immense solitude, shedding light into this world. Herein stains the problem with a provisional ending: I want a sound to take over. Let it be dull and utterly practical, however incongruous against what we think is the sound of a volcano fuming perpetually, like the sound of a foot pressing into earth, or the sound of a leaf cleaving, the sound of a single exhalation in the wilderness: the sound—crunch and sweet juice—of an enormous apple, Keiko’s gift, as she laughs and bids you goodbye. It is not entirely certain that what Eve gave to Adam was an apple. It was a fruit, we seem to be sure, though some say it was a nut. The sound of satisfying some small part of hunger, which can take over and last a lifetime, depending on the life and the time there allotted—breaking the core back out of its birth, like re-bending a body already broken in half—without shame—and the sound then of where we go after. (Brandon Shimoda, White Martyr, White Dwarf)


My Darling Clementine