and then at the rainbow’s end

no weeds the sea gave birth to a featherbed of air the sentinel on the hill seized the frying-pan with which otters are made in the cavern beneath his feet the glowing flowers of cinnamon and ice emitted a high C-sharp there were none to hear their naked corpses strung from a lamp of snow

the blue horses of morning meet the elbows of afternoon

here where the days melt into a puddle of scented oil no beetles skim the offal of an unforgotten song our hair is braided with anthracite and jewels and our mothers smile at the lewdness of our bones why do we mutter the words that our children will drown we have no faces we have no time to be young and the clouds that cover our skin crawl over the ground

the quaint policemen clamber from our brains

over and over again a million times no-one came there were too many yew trees for that and then again when the lightning speaks the leaves of the thunder grow dumb and in my hand a blade and a chrysalis

take these several lines and knit a shroud a canister for those who bend their limbs in an alphabet of wings that fall from the sky that the jellyfish of night will be pelted with stones

my bladder is a luminescent pearl

a penultimate thunderstorm

the clamshells your mother hangs from the garden gate are never as numerous as when the plumber calls the plumber with his mustachios of tar with his muscles of brass and tubular left arm and the hooks with which he pins her to the ground caressing her thighs and making her nightingales sing his beret and his antique blunderbuss and his crystal lens that is stowed in the back of the van where the stopcocks sing for only the brave deserve to embrace the dead

on the other side of the molten sugar tower the masks and husks and centipedes and cocoons swing from a thread and the naked human blade carves its wheels on the name of the virgin tree

the plumber lifts his mighty hairy tool and fells the timorous antelopes of dawn your mother drawn by the scent  of his open wound pours oil and vinegar into his shallow head and lying down where all the world can see she begins to unbutton her face and then

the plumber presses his wrench to your mother’s side and weighing down with all the force of his spine he bends her waist and opens her granular legs drawing his watch to the hole where the tadpoles go your mother gasps and from her gaping mouth 

frogs appear and swarm across the land

personnages devant la lune

eyes are nested tendrils of stars and they stroll along the promenade each eye bearing a lamp and birds come down to lay their eggs in the nests and each egg is bigger than the world and the worlds are strung on a thread of horsehair and each world is a metronome and the metronomes swell and burst to the the rhythm of a heart and the heart is poised over the horizon and the horizon runs and pools like a flood of paint and the elderly gentlemen who sit by the promenade open their sou’westers and drink copious draughts of ink because Tuesday is so many nails below the garden where lizards are born

it’s as if it were raining sardines

a sun rose and then another sun and the first wore a wig and the second a paperclip and the cushion was rainy and sad

the woman with the hands of porcelain and wire adjusted her cape as the first stallion of evening laid its wings on the ground before her feet for the love of women draws earthworms out of the soil and spreads nutella on the faces of those who weep

elephants can be made of wicker or glass but those that are made of wicker strangle boys while those that are made of glass eat liquorice and the eternal dripping of the slow pomade wears holes in the hardest of brains

this is my message this is what I want to say to you the three yellow hairs that sprout from my chin the garden astrolabe the wheelbarrow and the ubiquitous threshing machine stand at the gateway to my dreams and in my dreams the carpets that were hung on the walls of Compiègne seem no larger than a pin

the liquid pavilions

over the hill
the mechanical shovels gather in vast reservoirs of wine
planting flags in the cranium of a child
the child has fingers of plasticine and wire
and a crest of feathers ruffled by the wind
sewing needles and streamers of coloured silk
dangle from its hands
the child has hidden its gearbox under the floor
and whenever it counts to five an egg appears
and in the egg is a paperweight and a watch
and the watch gives birth to various coloured winds
that strip the flesh from the living and waken the dead
and the dead outnumber the living and steal their shoes
and set up their tents in the long-deserted streets
the dead have faces of heroin and ice
and lie in wait for the unsuspecting rain
and when it falls they turn their eyes to the wall
and so the story begins

confessions of a reasonable man

the evening buttons its gloves in the house of the smoking gun
its mother weaves unsteadily through the sky
leaving an odour of iodine and gin
j’ai hâte de te retrouver dans le jardin de notre désir
o my love with nightingales pinned to your spine
with glass ears and a pig’s bladder tied to a string
here in a season of alpacas
when our fingers stifle their moans like our shadows stifle the stars
take my hand festooned with slices of ham
and nail my hat to the floor

the age of romance

of course I love you
even though your stars are the fever of night
even though
they come and go like flies on a side of beef
even though
they sit on a washing-machine
and your spikes draw me from my bath to spit at the moon
and the moon is never there
and whenever you speak you fall off the edge of your chair
the green-eyed idol melting in the rain
whose central cleft can open the door of the world
and you are both sides of the door
one hand holding an egg and the other a spoon
as the third thrusts down the zipper of your jeans
you congeal into your plate like a toad on a stone
and your lips are the colour of air

a conversation with my wife

your mum’s a drawing in magic marker
carbonated serum
her hand under the highest plum on the tree
chugging alongside the train
her face a basket of tentacles you forgot when the sun went down
three coins in the fountain he-goat mounting her thighs
oh so pretty in the faint aroma of years
pass me another revolver this one’s soft
balcony balcony
chuck her over the side and let’s go for a beer

another life

when you take the path that leads deeper into the well
you wake each morning with your jaw wired to a pentagram of stars
to the dynamo enshrined in the living room
under a shroud of tobacco and dragonflies
with its pendulous udders tuned to the rising wind
you reach for it with hands that grow into feet
and measure each stance as it follows the curve of the world
to emerge in sunlit regions of paper and wine
where it casts off its necklace of teeth and its cigarette ends
and is swallowed up by the ground

a thousand children have fallen from cliffs like these
clutching a wooden box or a teddy bear
their lives set out like the knots on a rope of years
that tremble before the storm

the nostalgic bathing-machine

the trees have ears
like hands joined at the bottom of a lake
or a poem scrawled on a yellowed paper fan
in the pause that precedes the single ray of dawn

weathered and only occasionally gasping for air
the last bus that ran before the wind
gathered its legs to its chin and coughed on the hills
scattering diamonds of blue paper
to the hot earth and the somewhat cooler sun

for some men live for umbrellas while others die
in a far country haunted by lidless eyes
and the scent of magnolia wafts from their open graves

we spent a year in counting the shrivelled heads
that we found each morning under our counterpane
their favourite water is air and their favourite shirt
an embarrassing shade of pink

time hangs in loops from the telephone wires
and tangles its wings and its matches in our hair

There isn’t any toilet paper. What about the dinosaurs?

There are computers. I think – generally speaking – we can all agree on that. But what about “There are dinosaurs”? Most people would probably say “Ah no, you can only say that there were dinosaurs”. However, from a philosophical point of view this would seem to imply a presupposition about the nature – and scope – of quantification. The presupposition is that existential quantification only ranges over “the present and the things of the present” (whether the same could be said of universal quantification is a moot point). But is there any a priori reason to hold that existential quantification is implicitly tensed and bound to the time of utterance, or does such a view depend on having adopted some metaphysical stance regarding the nature of time?

The view that only the present and the things of the present are real is called “presentism” in recent philosophy of time, and many of its proponents argue that it reflects our intuition about the nature of time. However, it’s not the only view, and to hold that existential quantification only ranges over what is presently the case is thus an implicit petitio principii. While presentism does indeed hold that only the present and the things of the present exist, the view variously known as “four-dimensionalism” or “eternalism” holds that the universe is a structured block of spacetime and that other times are rather ‘elsewhere’ than not yet or no longer real (we could perhaps employ the neologism “elsewhen” to characterise real events occurring at some other time than simultaneously with the time of utterance). On four-dimensionalism, there is no a priori reason to distinguish between “there are computers’ and “there are dinosaurs”. But, on four-dimensionalism, is there any way to render explicit the differentiation between the two that is implicit in the presentist view?

In order to make such a differentiation, we need to examine two distinct characteristics of the temporal scope of existential quantification that, in the supposedly intuitive presentist view, are not separated out. One is that an existentially quantified sentence is true at a time, and the other is that such a sentence is true of a time. Quite understandably, the implicit presentist view treats these two as coextensive: as all existential statements of the kind ∃x [x is a computer] only range over the time of utterance, they are automatically true at the time of utterance and of the time of utterance. But on the four-dimensionalist view, these characteristics are clearly distinct. The statement ∃x [x is a dinosaur] is true at the time of utterance, as the quantifier ranges over all of spacetime. However, it is not true of the time of utterance – dinosaurs are not contemporary with the utterance.

The distinction between the two is not hard to grasp. Even presentists allow for spatial discontinuity – in everyday use, the statement “there is toilet paper” can be true at its place of utterance, but not necessarily true of its place of utterance. When my wife says “there isn’t any toilet paper”, I don’t take her utterance as implying that toilet paper doesn’t exist – I take it as being true of the place of utterance and pragmatically discount whether or not it is true as a general existential statement. So, presentists and four-dimensionalists alike have no difficulty accepting that, pragmatically, her statement has in this case a merely local scope, and that while the unlimited quantification ∃x [x is toilet paper] remains true at its place of utterance, it is not true of its place of utterance.

The question we’re considering here is whether it is actually the case that our everyday use of language intuitively militates for a presentist understanding of time. My view is rather that presentism adopts certain pragmatic uses of language and elevates them to the rank of a metaphysical doctrine. A statement such as “there are no dinosaurs” might, in everyday use, comport an implicit pragmatic localisation in just the same way as “there isn’t any toilet paper”. If my son comes home and tells me he saw a live stegosaur in the park I might well answer “there aren’t any dinosaurs”. But my answer doesn’t imply that dinosaurs are not among the things that exist – I’m merely stating that “there are dinosaurs” isn’t true of the time of utterance. Indeed, the statement “there are no dinosaurs” taken as a standalone would seem to imply a denial of the evidence given by the fossil record.

Here, we could remark that mention of the fossil record allows for a presentist use of the statement “there are dinosaurs” that is true both at and of the time of utterance: there is present (fossil) evidence for dinosaurs, even though living dinosaurs do not (presently) exist. Indeed, it’s unlikely that even a four-dimensionalist would feel comfortable saying “there are living dinosaurs”. In this case, the pragmatic use intuitively takes preference. But this is perhaps no different from my wife saying “there isn’t any toilet paper” – I take it that her statement implies that there is no toilet paper spatially coincident with the immediate locality of her utterance, not that toilet paper is not among the things in the world in general. We could just as well say that “there aren’t any living dinosaurs” implies that there are no living dinosaurs temporally coincident with the immediate (temporal) locality of our utterance, but passes over the question of whether “there are living dinosaurs” is true of the world in general. Everything depends on context, and on what we understand by “the world in general”.

In everyday exchange, the pragmatic element trumps other considerations. When faced with a statement, we instinctively revert to its immediate pragmatic value for the exchange in which it’s employed. Thus, my wife saying “there isn’t any toilet paper” can have different implications according to its immediate context of use. It could imply “so put it on the shopping list”, or it could imply “so take a pack of Kleenex when you go to the toilet”. One would have to be a particularly dogmatic ontologist to derive the implication that she’s stating that toilet paper is not among the things in the world in general. If, however, she were to make the same statement in a philosophy class, we’d more likely ask ourselves whether she holds to the view that there are only fundamental particles and everything else is just a figure of speech to allow for our macroscopic view of the world, or whether she allows for the existence of a certain kind of paper but holds that designating it as “toilet paper” is merely a matter of the use to which it is put (as in the distinction between a long, narrow coffee table and a bench). Likewise, and unless the speaker is Professor Challenger, in most cases any utterance of “there are living dinosaurs” would be taken as a falsehood (as, in universe, it was taken by those who first heard Challenger utter it). But, once again, if the statement “there are living dinosaurs” were to be made in a philosophy class, we could just as well understand that the speaker holds the view that the existential operator ranges over the entirety of spacetime and is using a rather dramatic (and somewhat flowery) way of introducing that view.

Generally speaking, when faced with existential statements in everyday language we tend to interpret them as holding both at and of their circumstances of utterance. Hence, the statement “there isn’t any toilet paper” holds at and of the immediate (spatial) locality of its utterance and “there aren’t any living dinosaurs” holds at and of the immediate (temporal) locality of its utterance. But there is no such limitation on technical uses of quantification. From the technical point of view “there is no toilet paper” is quite simply false, unless we’ve specified that it applies to a (spatially) limited universe of discourse. Similarly, we could argue that in technical use “there are no living dinosaurs” is false unless we’ve specified that it applies to a (temporally) limited universe of discourse. On the four-dimensionalist view, “there are living dinosaurs” is technically true at any time of utterance while not being true of any time of utterance (pace Professor Challenger). But then of course on the presentist view it is false both of and at any time of utterance. Everything depends on the speaker’s background assumptions.

Presentists assume that, while it is spatially unbounded, the existential quantifier is temporally bounded, and point to our everyday experience of time in defence of their view. But their view is founded on a certain understanding of our everyday experience of time – that what is real is determined by it being locally present. But, while this is perhaps true of our immediate experience, there is no a priori reason to hold that this is true of spacetime in general. Certain statements – such as “there are no living dinosaurs” – would seem to contradict setting the widest possible spatiotemporal range, but I believe we can argue that such statements are pragmatically limited, not ontologically limited. A dinosaur is an animal, and as such, a living being. The incidence of “living” in the statement “there are no living dinosaurs” indicates an implicit limitation of the universe of discourse to an immediate temporal localisation, just as my wife saying “there’s no toilet paper” at home indicates an implicit limitation to an immediate spatial localisation.

To the presentist, any existential statement of the kind ∃x [x is Φ] comports an implicit temporal function t such that t(x)=now. But this limits the scope of the existential quantifier to a universe that doesn’t necessarily correspond to the universe of, say, relativistic physics, thus limiting the quantifier to the world of our immediate experience. There’s no reason not to realise such a limitation – after all, the world of our immediate experience is where we happen to live – but there’s also no reason, from the metaphysical point of view, to accept it as an a priori limitation. Ontologically, we can distinguish between statements that are true at a time and those that are true of a time. Whether we choose to do so depends on our prior metaphysical stance – it isn’t inherent in existential quantification itself.