PRESENTING ABSENCE: New Work by Alex Caldiero

Alex recently gave me three new works:


The one with the black cover has no title. Inside the cover is a single sheet of paper, folded so there are four pages. Other than a note of copyright, there is only one page with text (the scan doesn’t reproduce the mottled whiteness of the paper or the beautiful fading from line to line):


It turns out that words empty of the physical world empty the physical world and empty us. It’s a brilliant sequence, I think. Words are physical. The flesh is made word. The good book has it backward.

Alex’s “METANYMS” are poems that begin with a word and then progress from synonym to synonym until they arrive at a word of quite a different color. “truth,” for instance, wanders from “fact” to “gospel” to “openness” to “reveal” [a Heideggerian thought] to “stretch” to “range” to “fluctuate” to “wander.” Truth is a mobile army of metaphors, Nietzsche argued. Alex performs that thought in an elegantly thin little book in which four metanyms are beautifully arrayed on long pages.

Wet Mouth.8, the longest of these three, has an epigraph from the Tao Teh Ching:

The hidden and the manifest / give birth to each other.

A “Post-Preface” tells readers that “this is the 8th version of Wet Mouth. Each version gave birth to a succeeding one. The spacing and the punctuations hanging in mid air refer to words and grammatical functions from previous versions.”

In other words, what has been excised from successive versions remains present as absence. The result—poems that fight for meaning, that investigate language, that perform what they say—is dreamlike:


     first, words were                         ways to keep

silent before images

          not unlike a life          a breath

          to give to the air

                                         my last as a

conscious being who could choose and decide

                                  as nothing else

could              or else be quiet which is best which is best


Perhaps, I think as I read Alex’s poems, all our texts are arrangements of words about which we have forgotten that meaning and meaningless are not opposites. Wakefulness may well be simple forgetfulness of the substance of our dreams. Pre-sence and ab-sence are both sence-ual.

Part v. of Wet Mouth.8 is two pages long. The two poems follow the title


v. Mute knowledge






[page break]



you wouldnt believe your hands.


Nor, I am tempted to say, do I believe this book. Rather: I wander through it, it opens me, I kiss it deeply, I devour it, I shit it out and read my excrement. My profound absence is made present. My presence is hidden. My mind is my body. I sing this book as a hymn to the night: Wet Mouth.9


About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at
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