ADAM CORNFORD

TO SEE THE BLACK ANGEL


at the time of the assault on Gaza, 2008-9

To see the Black Angel
not descending from heaven
but risen still incandescent
out of the earth’s core
and the opening of Hell
swan-diving upward
a neural fire-arrow
through the sullen mantle
and ancient sea-bed
then the villages and stones
of Palestine Israel
leaving a hollow stem of glass
like lightning’s return stroke
a gush of terrene blood
in the shape of a woman

To see the Black Angel
cooling as she ascends
over scrub trees and low hills
scatters of wreckage
burnt-out trucks
eviscerated homes
fragments of char and bone
brass and depleted uranium
broken asphalt
then layers of night air
thermals upthrusting
into the Father’s cool vault
slow-motion drift of planets
freeze-frame of galaxies

To see the Black Angel
as her wings widen
feathered with overlaid night
glinting like Aztec blades
She soars over the cities of men
cooling to perfect black
black smooth as obsidian
agile as latex remorseless as iron
streamlined as orca
her hair long streamers of ink
her eyes fumaroles
her breasts like the spaces
around a star’s core
her sex a singularity
parting like a seed
into new physical laws
her lips in a terrible smile

To see the Black Angel
swinging a flail of sparks
as she swoops low over rooftops
Her flail reaches down
fine bright as medusa tendrils
through sleeping ceilings
of tenements and shelters
into beds into bodies
Women stir beside men
as the fire-knots brush them
From the midpoint of their spines
behind the solar plexus
news travels in all directions
up to the brain and its eyes
down to the womb
out to the callused feet
the meticulous fingers

To see the Black Angel
watching the women’s skulls
room by room street by street
hut by shack by torn tent
strung lanterns fluxing with glow
as cortical zones become active
designs for infernal machines
sketched in neon 3-D
as their vulvas flicker
into fuchsias of wet flame
their hips remember to be palaces
their hearts flex and stretch
immense paradoxical demons
winged with violet vessels

To see the Black Angel
passing over all sparing none
so the women dream
of smiles like dark birds
on their lips girl-full
mother-pursed or crone-fissured
They dream of men kneeling
begging forgiveness
of tears in men’s eyes like a tide
as the Angel passes over
of knives fallen like leaves
machine-pistols and RPGs
abandoned among the stones
by the Father’s armies

To see the Black Angel
with the terrible smile
her flail knotted with light
making the women dream
of filling the streets
immense flocks of birds
crowding over the rubble
over stain-maps of blood
past cars twisted scorched
the skulls of dogma
they dream of governments
and parties imploding
like bomb-struck buildings
blast waves in reverse
time’s arrow like the Angel
flung back from the Omega

To see the Black Angel
passing over moving on
as the women dream of power
and of waking to make it
they dream of all the lords
lords of oil and mirrors
of smoke and water
lords of light and money
of love and shadow
in Tel Aviv Washington
London Beijing Riyadh
of all these lords descended
by sighing elevators
from their armored heavens
shrunk into men trembling
in expensive rags
as all those they used for so long
dance with mouths open
drinking solar wine

To see the Black Angel
when Hell reclaims the world
as a forest of branching flame
a garden of unbound spirits
every leaf every root holy
under the oxygen eyes
of Gaia into whose body
the Angel has returned
black as abandoned veils
as the inside of touch
a drop of black ink
abruptly silvered
by a four-dimensional mirror
in the shape of a woman
a woman striding
taller than thought itself
whose face reflects the unbounded
in the faces of all
the living on earth


Adam Francis Cornford was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the son of Christopher Cornford and a lineal descendant of naturalist Charles Darwin. Cornford moved to California in 1969 after shifting his academic focus from biology to literature and art. He attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he studied with (and was first published by) kayak editor George Hitchcock; and San Francisco State University, where his mentor was the Greek surrealist Nanos Valaoritis. Among his books are three collections of poetry: Shooting Scripts (Black Stone Press, 1978); Animations (City Lights Books, 1988); and Decision Forest (Pantograph Press, 1997). He considers himself a neo-surrealist, and shares the surrealist view that the true goal of poetry is what the original group around André Breton called “the total liberation of the mind and of all that resembles it” (“Declaration of January 27, 1925”). He also has translated poetry by the surrealist Benjamin Perét and also the seminal account by Louis Aragon of the early days of the surrealist group, “A Wave of Dreams” (1925).

Cornford has published articles about labour movements and political and cultural analyses for Bad Subjects, The Progressive, The Dispatcher (the newspaper of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union) and the underground information workers’ magazine Processed World, of which he was a co-editor during 1981–1992 as well as a resident graphic artist and cartoonist. His two longest poems, “Lightning Rod to Storm” in Animations (1988) and “The Snarling Gift” in Terminal Velocities (1993) are both concerned with popular movements for social and environmental justice. The same is true of the two experimental radio theatre works he co-authored with Daniel Steven Crafts, Fundamentals (an early critical take on fundamentalist “televangelism”) and Ad Nauseam (a poetic examination of the deforming effects of commercial saturation on the imagination). There is a strong continuity between his poetic work and his activism, including his work as author and performer for the satirical antiwar street theatre troupe the John Wayne Peace Institute (1980–81) and his participation in Processed World. His work is discussed in this context in the essay by Andrew Joron, “Neo-Surrealism: Or, The Sun at Night”.

In collaboration with Emmy-award-winning composer Daniel Steven Crafts, he has written libretti and other musical texts, most recently the “Spider Woman” section for the orchestral song-cycle From a Distant Mesa.

From 1987 to 2008, Cornford was a faculty member at New College of California in San Francisco, where he taught the history and composition of poetry, drama, and interdisciplinary performance. Among his courses was a graduate writing seminar in Science and poetry, reflecting his lifelong interest in the sciences, especially evolutionary biology, physics, and cosmology.

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