Writing The Hermetic Text
The ape wears a minute skullcap, lacks primate intelligence. Solo man. He still wears a crown of holy fire, a blaze of letters tangled with the redhead’s hair.
The horror finally of treating the brain as an object: how slowly and grotesquely the duck is carved, his parts littered in creation, the police left with a motiveless crime. There is no less meaning or richness at whatever size or speed, molecule or river, sea anemone; even an electron is a rough rough sun.
The genes are a raw and degenerate chain raised upon the interface. This is what I must eliminate at calypso, at cataleptic speed, to make the turn, to come face to face, sitting and laughing at me, in the center of myself, a cluster of red berries. Past all certainty of meaning, past all doubt.
They put you in the machine; they strap you tight. You wait. Everyone else waits. You alone are going, but they are equally tense. You close your eyes and seem to move away, to slink, like a bird with one wing flapping. You awake and are held rigidly in place.
As these minutes pass, you realize they are final. And it makes no difference.
They are not executioners or boss-men. They treat you with care and consideration. They love you, your very body, your perfect human body that prepares you for this flight in a way that no synthetic double or stuntman could. The generals love the soldiers they send into battle, love the possibility, in the lost watches of themselves, far beyond love—time running out, only the remotest chance still in their favor.
Where are you sending me this time? you ask. They answer as they can, but they don’t have the answer. If they did, you wouldn’t have to go.
You sleep for three weeks or three thousand years. The same.
They seal the height and the depth, the right and the left; they contemplate it above them, beneath them, before them, behind them, they put no limits on altitude; you can go as high as you want, infinity upon infinity, but you cannot change the single dimension height imposes on you. Space goes on, but the nature of space is sealed.
Your dreams are long and watery; shapes, dancing, shimmer. Lights wind mysteriously along semi-surfaces, creating, destroying. Beyond it all, fixed at the same distance from any direction of approach, a single star holds disparity to a point.
In the end none of it matters. You must trust them. Anyway, you have no choice. But to be born. And be born again. You honor them. You pray as best you can.
The body lies in the mirror; and what does the mirror lie in but its double, the deep receptive lake of its formation? The body is a gork; it withers. Cargo transfer on open seas. Psychic winds tear apart shape.
When I ask Robin where he comes from, he points to the last place he was, or says, “I dunno.”
When the man puts you to sleep, he is merciful; you go. The time between will be long; you awake at the controls.
You allow it to happen. The flight is eventless. You travel to the blind and brilliant land, fire and ice.
You say good-bye to the man at the gate; you trust him because he doesn’t have to go; he tells you the machinery will function perfectly; but even if it doesn’t, there is no way it can fail to get you there. You close your eyes. You wake up again.
The spider struggles desperately to get out of its web, to crawl an iota beyond the tensile cords. Smash one giant jug one billion times its size and watch the sparks fall for an eternity. Flow like fires from torch to torch through galaxies. One word alone is needed to start the world when the world ends. As fire ghostrag-leaps fire, civilization arises, a candle feeding off nothing.
The floods come from an unholy alliance to restore the American landscape. Not the classic revenge of Indian gods, but pre-Indian, pre-Wisconsin gods who dwell in coiled energies in a zero before time: Susquehanna, Chemung, Schuykill, Genesee, Monongohela, Passaic. It’s not that the river leaves its bed in a sense of violation or that its cresting defies the last measure of the state engineer, or that the Senator’s name is Flood—but this has an origin which itself melts into long etymological rains.
And though Richard Nixon may stare from helicopter at the inundated lands of the New Testament as New World—water as Indochina fire; holocaust, human and otherwise—this is the condition of America, amorphous and primeval, settled by generations of refugees, slaves, and criminals, consciousness spread dangerously thin, as money in the billions and billions of billions approaches equity, approaches a number very like zero.
Even the raging waters cannot make a tragedy really, for the tragedy precedes them, precedes the breaking of the dam or the fire in the old folks’ home, against which damaged objects stand as mere façades, so little having been given or committed.
In Wilkes-Barre and Elmira, what was wiped out? Any bookstore or ashram, any indigenous artform or center for enlightenment, any historic monument (except where Indians were murdered or white men fought white men), any library whose stock can’t be replaced by Book of the Month Club or Readers’ Digest in five minutes, any treasure not coming right off the assembly lines, its ransom passed on to the insurance companies—the government, weighed in cash, which is weighed in hours spent maintaining American luxury products, false economies, wars.
There is nothing in Wilkes-Barre above or below water but banks, businesses, and Boston stores, a few service stations, a Main Street, motels, branches of chainstores. The waters themselves are more interesting. Raw sewage and parts of arms and legs from the amputee shop and American Legion flags float together. The people climb higher and higher in their buildings, seeing how the land they take for granted, or call America with such easy right, or claim for Richard Nixon by their indignant righteousness, was made by a planetary energy far closer to God or justice, and is still being made.
Not to glorify tragedy and pain, but until they put something there that makes up for the devastation they too have caused, the river has more than the right.
The Take on Mount Desert, July 1972
Sun-jelly. Beautiful breathing sun-jelly. In the absolute present of the harbor. Clue and figment to the mystery of the deep. Its life as gentle as light on the harbor. Its radial propulsion. No strings. Attached.
Its perimeter tingles in spasms of orientation. Diving into colder waters, in the fullness of itself, as waves cross, stimuli flashing: something that is neither inside nor outside, as nothing is, living on, or off, the energy it has left.
The four nostrils quiver, are drawn in and out; it changes size and shape. So much disturbance, as with the rose or fetal bird, a coherence rushing across the outside to reach the inside, the glistening surfaces throwing off a rainbow to which their process, like the sleek sunning-seal body of the cosmos, white as albino, black as nothing, between the stars does not see its own shell, thousands of astronomers seek to explain as white or black, lit or empty, their own torsos hung exactly on the dividing line, or all that consciousness is, nothing in the distance, except the distance, against which any shape is proximal.
The umbrella turns, suspended in lunar tides; it is so thin and yet its attenuation does not refute the tuber thickness of life, in the single cell or vegetable gardens at the bottom.
Dog chases gulls down the wharf, down the gangplank, right up to the floating lobster shed, barking, while the birds fly to their posts far out in the harbor. Birch leaves tingle in the sky, high atmospheric charge.
Men walk across the wharf not noticing the sun-jelly, cigar ashes into the water, beer cans floating golden to the bottom, boats drifting at tether.
In their sheds these men repair traps pulverized by the glacierlike underbelly of the sea. The sun brilliant, the air mild—this would be a day of lobsterfishing another year, but the magnetosphere is disturbed, the sea bottom torn to hell by the angry gash of a plow that sows no seed. The cowboys who dragged that bottom now must pay the price for dealing with infinity, as if the sea were infinity, their consciousness blown out of proportion like the goat’s dumb eye.
They are subject to vultures, not the eating kind but who THINK more than they do, one whole radio band transmitting all over the harbor closed utterly to them.
The angry Odyseean sea belches back. Our modern times. Still trying to pay the midwife with the undertaker’s bill. As if inflation were the whole account of an expanding universe.
One boat is up on the beach, and a young fisherman sits painting it with the sometimes help of three boys, frisky adolescents throwing sand and pebbles at one another, slopping the paint over the sea. A rusty pail of beer floats in the water under the wharf, cooling, with which they are paid, so there is more drinking than painting, and the pebbles begin to fly, landing in the boat as combatants duck around and behind.
Their sponsor threatens to lay it to somebody if the painting doesn’t resume, so two of them head back to the shed for supplies.
As the tide goes out, sun-jellies are left on the rocks and sand. They lose their shape, becoming flat slime amid rocks. A boy wearing a sweatshirt that says POLLUTION IS A DIRTY WORD drops little bits of sand and stone into them lazily. It sticks like glue.
Up in the shed fatman and chubby son play out vaudeville stooge-bit. Father says to boy, “Let’s sweep up the shop”; throws broom at him, conks him in the head, knocking him from indolence to irate lethargy as he slumps further down in his chair.
Back and forth it goes about how “That really hurt!” and “That didn’t hurt so much.” Perhaps realizing that in insulting his son he is insulting his own shape and sloppy boyhood, he finally apologizes. Son gets up, begins sweeping at the door. Father tells him he’s on the wrong end, the wind’s blowing it back behind him. “What if I don’t care?” kid says. “You’ll just have to do twice as much work,” father sighs, collapsing into the son’s chair. He settles there, lounging in splendor, taking about how he once turned over a sailboat in Somes Sound—as if the kid cares.
“Can I have the afternoon off and go swimming in Echo Lake?” “Which would you rather do?” father asks, “go swimming or work?”
“Make some money,” kid replies, picking the broom up.
“Even at $2 a pound,” says a fisherman, walking right through the sweeping job, “you’re not making anything. They said you could never use up the sea. You could never do it. You could never catch all of them. They thought they’d never see the day.” He buys a day’s feed: Three Musketeeers, Planters, Milky Way, Mounds, pronouncing the name of each bar precisely to do it honor. “Man needs energy to live off,” he explains.
The traps are up; the cover the wharves; gulls perch on them and watch the sea for food, defending their hierarchies. The ropes holding down the wharf flex and groan in the waves, sinking underwater in their slack. Pulling all the energy bound into the cord, the weight, cell by cell of fiber.
Where the head of a nail has been exposed, the wood wears away, still holding to the structure beneath.
All the levels on different levels, there is still one level on which it heaps up and holds. And makes a landscape. Which the gulls respect, as they have squares thrown over their positions, binding them to the corners and displays of instinct. The radio too. Loud over the harbor: “How he makes me quiver,/How he makes me smile.”
The mailboat from Gotts Island pulls in, and the father goes down to “fill’er up” with fuel. “Eats too much candy, my boy,” he announces as he makes up the slip and pops a sour ball in his beak.
The painters come up from the boat to get more supplies, including “half a nine” to go on the side where the number’s broken off. They all laugh at that. The son tells them they can have all the nails that are on the floor if they’ll pick them up.
“Why there must be forty down them,” one of them says.
“At least twenty.” So they get down on their hands and knees and begin picking them out of the sweepings.
The son tosses the broom aside and grabs a handful of peanut-butter cups and polishes them off.
“Just don’t tell my father I let you do it,” he says, taking over the chair and relaxing, striking his father’s exact pontifical pose. He starts talking about how bad the fishing is. “She brushes the curls from my eyes,/she drops her robe on the floor.”
Gulls circle, mailboat pulls out…in this country where all regions and times intersect, giving a terrific tattered present energy across the surface of, little tourist outboards dashing in and out among fishing boats, other radios and transmitters blaring from the other side of the harbor, sun-jelly whirling a magnificent number of dimensions, beyond visibility, beyond the sun.
Lester drives up in the company’s truck, RE-ELECT OUR PRESIDENT STICKER on the bumper, as if Nixon were or were not bombing the dikes in Asia, as if that were a moot point, or the truth of this life were still salvagable from the debris everywhere in Holocene America.
“The lobster business is no worse than ever,” he tells me. “They’ve been waiting for it to collapse and predicting its collapse for twenty year,” he chuckles but without feeling, tired and worn out beyond caring.
“…and darkness is her pillow once more….”
The connections are no lest than banal, no more than the TIMING OF TIME, the realness of the moment in the gentle but all-consuming simultaneity of its substance in the manhood of America, as anything that can get to this level of creation, by hook or by crook, does.
“…with all this love I have to give her….”
The first boats come in with a barrel of lobsters per. The lobsters are dumped into the dealer’s cars; men sit around torpidly discussing boats, energy, power, naming their favorite engines and how the brand name changes when the engine doesn’t and vice versa—or what they know, what comes in from the world at large along one of its sleeves, as the sea does in its whole sweep, the fishermen doused and submerged in, along the harshness of the rope, touching without feeling the icy water, in the sweetness of experience.
ˆ”…guess I’m gonna stay with her awhile….”
Wendell describes how the bottom comes up in the drag-nets, fifteen feet of mud and all the creatures living around it—sculpins, horndogs, sea vegetables, scallops, crustacea, tiny worms—hanged by the neck until dead, packed per universal measure of life energy per planet per creation. From Eagle Island to Ship and Trumpet, Black and Opechee, turning up what, by the conditions of creation, has been curried there, in its own principle of growth.
“They think it’s the Russians who’s stealing our fish and, if it’s not them, then it’s someone else out there; it’s always someone else. You can go on looking forever and you won’t find it. They think they can bring it back. That’s like looking for God himself out there, or trying to get beyond the horizon. They won’t believe it’s the end of the fishing business as we’ve known it.”
The radio tells about George Wallace in Montgomery, how he rose in his wheelchair; then we hear his voice. The Chinese wipe out the Buddhist kingdom of Tibet, tear down holy monasteries in the exuberance of propaganda.
Francis Hutchings says that fishermen are now using fire-hoses to sweep the seeds off egg-bearing females. “And they’re proud of it; they’re not ashamed to admit it.”
A the reckless speed at which we approach the atomic event, the universe has proven to be of such great size that its contents no longer matter. The fire is ripped from the husk, to leave the burning skeleton quivering until it is to be raised again by the master magician before the next creation.
A generation ago the train from Burlington to St. Johnsbury passed through our yard, its ties now converted into stairs, its tracks replaced by thousands of tightly packed horsetails. At the end of the railroad bed we find a rotted car, a trunk of papers and letters crushed and covered with a mold that creeps seamlessly from upholstery to cardboard to handwritten documents. Amid multicolored rags and mildewed costumes, yellow and violet tie-dyes, is a collective dampness fecund enough to attract toads, some of them almost too fat to hold in one hand, whose piss leaves puddles that the cats sniff. (“Where are their mothers?” Robin asks, and I imagine a gigantic toad in the center of summer.)
This, by haunting irony, turns out to be the vehicle of Peggy’s brother (Peggy herself has disappeared into northern Mexico, hunting for shamans and clowns). Now we peel off the sheets and guiltily read her accounts of Santa Cruz before we met her there.
A high wind rustles in the maples, and armies of cumulus roll through, gathering for sunset. Motorcycles and rock music fill the night. A chirping of frogs connects mud-ponds like galaxies.
In petitioning and receiving data or dope from invisible cosmic operators, we prove in the end: an intelligence is equally the channel of its getting there as the message it brings. And in a universe where 99% of any integumenting is material, that means zombielike dolls and murmuring mediums where otherwise nothing would get through. If it choose to work by cheap porcelain statues of red-haired girls and surrealistc paintings on motel walls, then this is not a limitation as such, my friend comes to realize after a foe has jammed a white twig into his typewriter, showing it to him in a flash of subliminal appearance earlier in the day, at great distance from the binding, again when the intermediary involved turns out to have—yes, you win again, but how the hell do you do it, and why?—red hair. It is a sign of the direction from which the intelligence is groping, and the nature of the interference, the exact and literal racket between here and there. Otherwise the dead would return by chariot, letters of gold proclaiming their triumph, fire burning the stockades open; messages between us and them would be commonplace—i.e., we would all be alive.
It is possible that some parts of us never grow; they just go on living, playing out the same mechanics year after year, the impulse forgotten. I do not question I would be happier in Consciousness 3 this morning, but I am not there. I am sitting in the sun, drinking coffee after breakfast; there is frost on the window, Smokey Robinson on the record-player. I have some memories I am examining, some limitations I am exploring, lightly. I don’t need to be happy. It’s okay where I am. I’m not opposed to higher consciousness. I just don’t want to go anywhere.
We put on a children’s record we just bought, Burl Ives singing, “There’s a little white duck,/sitting on the water….”
It’s a song I had as a child, a yellow 78. I haven’t heard it since. “…a little white duck,/doing what he oughta….” It goes through me like a knife, the mantra of that tune.
“He took a bite of the lily-pad,/flapped his wings,/and said, ‘I’m glad….’”
What I am waiting for now is what I waited for as a child, unknowingly, and during the years that followed. The possibility is gone as novelty. In my early twenties I passed through a gate and things were revealed to me as never before. The actual message was brief as a flash of light from the windshield of a passing car, as condensed as a cricket chirp, but its manifestations have continued to play themselves out through almost a decade of my life in marriage, a child, teaching, writing, editing Io.
I have come to the end of that transmission and am waiting, with absolute patience and surety, for another.
I go to sleep late afternoon on the living room couch, awake suddenly in the dark—head spinning —an almost alien clarity of light out the window. Hungry, having to pee, I teeter-totter into the kitchen where Lindy meets me. “Who are you?” she sometimes asks in wonder—this shadow of a husband.
“Who am I?” I sometimes ask myself, this vague goblin of a figure who has ascribed to me a self.
Spaghetti dances madly in the pot. How and when did it happen? To whom did it happen that it is now me? Or to whom did I happen to become him?
It is but a body of flesh. She is a woman of flesh. And I have made a child of flesh, blindly and because it could not be helped. And none of us will not live forever.
Why should I know this now and fear it when it has always been true, a ghost propelled against impossibly strong winds, becoming someone against their every caution, making a home in what is best a comfortable abstraction, an illusion? And my child, even my beautiful child, is going to know he is going to die.
The head of Arts and Lectures was able to free a small amount of funds for a reading by Olson-related writers, so my old friend Chuck Stein and John Wieners, a poet from Boston, drove up together. The week before, one of my students unearthed a true relic, a tape—early ’60s—evidence of Olson’s rumored visit to Goddard. It had lain in the Audiovisual Center, untouched since the day it was recorded.
After the reading and the party we continued in our living room, discussing poetry, Gregorian chants in the background—then two a.m., Cassiopoeia over the hill—we put on the reel.
As a log spread its embers in the hearth, the tin roof a river of sound in the rain, the furnace flickering on and off regularly, we were astonished to hear lost poems, oracles Olson was not known to have spoken, so that later, after we were all in bed, Wieners sat in the guest room, writing how “the increase in electricity causes lights to flow…. What is poetry?/the flowing/rain upon the roof…./ Men or gods?/I’ll never know/or try to know/more than the doing.”
The trees are stripped daily by wind and rain—a few lingering leaves, nerves on a backbone. Now mist rises; sun comes, as from another time, and catches a gold mounting atop the church steeple.
Robin walks around the yard, gathering the debris of maples like coins in his pail.
The direction of the wind changes; heavy storm-clouds return. Sheets of rain pelt me as I run; they sop through my jacket like blood, hair stringing down my face.
Today, twenty-eight years ago, I was born.
In the beginning the New World came gushing out of the horn in rivers, dense and serial reverberations, the intermittent hoot of an owl or the ice groaning in bergschrund, archetypal until actual.
Vermont lies in silence now. The mountains having doused the fires, smothered them, a lapis sprang from the willow of their loins. Then the glaciers rode through, flush with clouds, scraping sky with their ram of ice, even as the ground was torn into rock flour and tarn, plowed by irregular moraines and busted into cirques. The plate of ice towered to where cumuli now float, firn giants splitting the air, sucking its moisture into their bellies and crushing it into the ground without snow or rain.
The present landscape still belongs to the gods—the victory of Zeus over the Titans leaving this terrain, a pure debris of creation, a weight whose measure shows in the twisted people who live here, migrants from the War, altered as if by its telepathic shock waves that still ring out in this valley with the echoes of the Cyclops and the gnomes that accompanied him, dwindling in the jeweler’s measure of a kame or esker, a kettle boiling in solar radiance of oblique northern arc.
The supergalaxy is a band of light, its glaciers an active stone at the end of human possibility, where the Titans still bind and turn away, a haunting archaeology in which fish are found stranded at the tops of mountains and the bodies of elephants and tropical elk litter the Poles. People in markets buy color televisions and snowmobiles whose parts are already broken, and then these rust back into the land, ceasing to fulfill either godly or human function—the sheer twisted cords that are left when those of Eros are broken. The Nereids in water and glands. Vulcan, Ceto, Iris, et al.
There is a drag to all this, which Dante placed at the center of the Earth, the old cosmological Earth. Bodies are taken apart and broken there, limb by limb, through layers of Memory and Karma, until they are once again free. The pain is more diagnostic than penal; the fires burn of their own molecules. The visitor takes off his shroud, his suit, his flesh, his cells, his memory, his genetic memory. There are no remains, for he must return, whole, to a world where he is no longer known.
More than spokes hold the hub to a wheel. There at Satan’s navel is the true knot against which all grace is flung back, holding the world to its body until it becomes an organ, a simultaneity of evil with geology, the center of gravity we ceaselessly feel, larger than ourselves or any argument we wage.
The Milky Way, against the erosion of time, is a naught or knot, moving toward and away from Galactic Center, the spiritual center, a mesmer which touches here, not only a heat that scorches us, at inertial distance, the newborn crying, the barges at sea, reinheriting the powers we feared the most.
The icicles lose their grip on the eaves, snap, and fall broken into the snow.
Winter flu swallows my mind, and I float in a world beyond space, beyond time—lying in a calm yellow light made by my feelings. The nihilism of war, violence, metals, fades through mocha, dwindling to inevitability, to what I am.
I let go the tightness and the obsessions. The loneliness of these years disappears as I go deeper and deeper, melts into a joy of eternal presence. I float in texture beyond harmony. I feel a lightness and submission that was always missing.
I fall upon the living-room couch into a realm between intense memory and memoryless sleep. Lindy puts on a Donovan’s children’s record for Robin, first time I have heard it in years—his voice merging nausea into gold coastlines. I see images that are not even in it: moiré wildmen, seaweed and starfish tangled in the night sky, talking flowers, eggs bursting into magenta clouds. The room fades into the intimacy and privacy of my body, as sick and not mine as it feels, and how I want it more than anything else, “…fill her sails….”
As I see flashes of blue and color, I go back, and each of the separate feelings and memories, whether sad or joyous or simply as they were, fills me, and being what I am reminds me of all the beings I have shed, worms and fish and small children, in becoming whole.
I am watching a bee in a flower; a bird more intense than life is eating cherries; I am swimming through straw to the yellow behind it. I am a child buying yellow-frosted cupcakes for my brother and sister, riding home from baseball practice on the subway, the verdant parkland whipping by, the last fleet buildings, into the tunnel, and the single light-bulbs on the decaying husk flipping past. “I, like you,/am lamenting/for my love….”
It’s all that was, what I thought then, and what I imagined I was doing, and would become. And it’s gone, not like silence, but into the mystery, as olden people come before me from then: Frank Haynes, Carson Eoyang, John Coffee.
I awake to a softness, Robin building a block city, Lindy bringing me a cup of lime jello, snow out the window and against the pane, a cold I rest my forehead on.
In his room Robin collects round stones, birds’ nests, pine cones and other treasures, all of which he keeps in separate boxes stuffed with cotton. One night at dinner, he announces to Lindy, with me sitting right there, “Isn’t Rich a better father than we thought he’d be?”
Rain on the ice. Cold droplets in the air. Hard wind. We have driven all day into the night to get this far—Belleville, Ontario. And the motel manager, his body bent for protection, makes his way across the parking lot to bring us a key that works, retrieve the key he gave us.
A Labatt’s beer bottle is blown along rain-slickened ice, crossing the entire courtyard—hollow and brittle—knocking and spinning as it goes.
Someday I will get to the bottom of this.
A rivulet flows through the branches that hang in it and, as they break its flow, patterns of ice form and stick around them, larger where the mass is more, finer against its tendrils. This pattern is a literal consequence of the stagnation against the branches—gravity, temperature, and the speed of current. It is an effect I surely would have forgotten to include had I created the same event from the beginning, even if I remembered to include everything else, either because I would have omitted the drooping trees in my interest with the water, or failed to have their branches hang low enough—or (more likely) because I would have forgotten the relation between motion and form. I would have forgotten as Mind what Nature cannot forget as Nature.
Off Toledo 475, children are playing on the ice, holding up sails of cloth for the wind to blow them, a slump of flooded lowlands merging into brown grass.
My child in bright green jacket pushes his blue Raggedy Anne bus along the grass of the January thaw, patches of snow under pine and philodendron. I lie on the hood of the car in the sun. He lays a piece of polished wood over the stairs and slides down it, his snowpants hitting with a thud at the bottom. He chuckles and does it again. And again. And again.
The big “population I” stars, ultra blue-whites in the spiral arms of the Galaxy, are being flung out as they are born. We are in them. A trillion pounds per square foot per unit of time, fueling a Supergalaxy with its own equator and pole, invisible for its engulfing size. Stars spin off the incandescent clouds of space, firing positrons back into the blanket that surrounds them. All this is so big and so final that I must question what it is, in it, we have come to.
The mirror hangs long and full in the bedroom, shows us ourselves—tall, naked, lovers, of each other, your curved paleness, my bumpy and curly arch. There are turbulent blazings in my head, I can hardly locate my body to put it back on.
And what am I? I wouldn’t give shit for my immortality. That’s not it. But why, in light of all the rest, should I even be here, with the thoughts I have, the desires I act out, the strength I have to act out those desires, to fill my times, their time, whoever’s time we’re on, with works, and desire that those works have meaning, that they survive in some form, even given their death; that I survive these memories and forgotten words, that they not be blown away like so much weight of the soul ashes of paper are after I am gone. With the Sun burning out (in time, in time, it will all happen). With the Supergalaxy to collapse in the blue withdrawal of time’s arrow, drawing its electric charges back together. What meaning then will meaning have, as it is zapped blotto? Comic-book violence that eradicates even the colors of the colored inks cannot touch the dada needed to clothe our spaceship to get through that metaphysical hole.
The tree above me has no leaves yet. There is moss growing along its trunk. Two birds, with bright yellow bodies, sit on the wood, singing. And the sky is the eternal Greek blue we know, despite etymology and the whole of Mediaeval philosophy unto a nominalist God.
The river flows past, from its greater waters in mountains and sky. I am learning Greek again, sitting outdoors in the sun with the textbook, as once outside Churchill House at Amherst, chanting verbs. The sky is bright with diffused light, and I squint over the characters. The first bugs are alive, and it is fully warm. I struggle with words and their endings, hoeing a rocky field, so many irregulars and broken constructions that only mnemonic tricks will hold. Yet whole temples have been built with this device and, when I translate, fragments of meaning arise from amidst hidden signs.
That Chronos is “time” and Ekeinos is “that,” Opisthen, “behind.” Robin is on his trike. Yellow and red starlets fill the field.
What is wrong in me will always be wrong. The most I can do is throw it down below, like the river, and see it cold and at a distance.
I lie outside the obstetrician’s office on a huge basalt boulder, reading the day’s Spring Training report in the Times.
That night I dream that Lindy has birthed in a rough, weedy field by a cottage familiar to me from other journeys. She asks me to watch her baby while she goes inside.
But where is it? I see only a little mouse. She has given me a mouse and I try to hold it, to take care of it, but it keeps getting smaller and smaller until it is a bug. Then I lose it in the weeds, lose even the sense of what it was. Anxiously I search the field, separating
blades with my fingers. I realize it is gone forever. So I pick up another bug to replace it.
We meet inside the cottage and I give her the substitute. She is unimpressed and goes outside to look for her child. I feel inconsolable remorse.
At twilight the children come to play. The band is practicing for Memorial Day. The action increasing at twilight, Robbie is delighted. Lindy has made chocolate cupcakes with maple butter frosting; she gives them to the children who come to our door. The sky darkens.
This day was as long as a lifetime, from the sour morning, teaching my class irritably, to trying to move a rock from the garden by strength, until that rock was the center of me. Making love mid-afternnoon and the sleep that followed, and the light of the leaves refracting on the yellow walls, the hummingbird in the curtains of the apple blossoms. The cats creeping through the sun. Breathing the rock clear.
The children play now beneath the maples on the bill. Star-dawn.
“You’re most happy,” Lindy says, “in that mixture of childhood nostalgia and our family, when you can have them both. I mean it’s pretty remarkable, but we hold together.”
Against blue sky, clouds visibly grow and break apart, and the cumuli hang in island-like clusters beneath distant bands of cirrostratus, an older, more fluid Earth.
Forget it, all those voices seem to say. It’s only your life. You’ve remembered it too well. It’s special only because it seems to have happened to you, and cannot be changed.
Dead as the bird the cats have caught and laid before their kittens, which was alive and on a branch earlier in this day visualizing the same blue world I was in, the body now like stuffing on the ground, to chew up and play with. The feathers, shafts of a plummage nature bursts in epidermal lacquers, are stuck on their mouths and noses.
What if the devil created this whole thing in which we delude ourselves, if we come face to face with his order, and he tells us: you are my playthings, and there is no hope for you?
Yet no matter how strongly he says this, he remains inside us, where he cannot be proved, dead or alive.
On an August morning I pick up Don Quixote, a book I have owned unread since high school. Expecting to do maybe ten pages I find myself 150 into it by sunset. It is not just the Mediaeval knight consigned to a profane world, or even the tales of lovers wronged, and wronged again, or the disappointment of dragons and crusading armies, but the intensity of
the narrative now that time has left it where it is and there is no possibility of its being altered. Its sheer finitude—as against my cosmic relativism—makes it an essential text.
In the swelter of mid-day we find the rumored site of Wilmer’s Pond, a small tarn of which there are hundreds in these hills. We are directed by Robbie, who has been there many times with Center School. As he points off Route 2, we turn onto a rocky, washed-out road. From there a footpath leads up through glacial topography to a fence torn down in spots.
We ascend to something simultaneously modern and ancient, those photographs of Woodstock in Life Magazine more dated than the naked qabbalistic bodies of perfect nature among boulders, bearded satyrs and bears, men and women paddling like the otters who once graced this cirque.
A young nubile woman emerges from the water, smiling, her eyes meeting mine as I come over the crest of the hill, the blush automatic, for something inside is more bare than bodies can ever be. The nude photograph, despite its devotees, is merely another genre, misleading as to what nakedness is.
Swimming on my back I see myself through amber water and feel the hot and spring-fed currents on my loins, the dark treelike and forested penis in my center, rippled through water, its immediate association with the wildness of the field as they climb beyond the pond into the woods, which perspective throws against the clouds. It is not the flag of bathing-suit color but fleshlight, refrangible—not the letters of the alphabet but the language of the alphabet’s realization.
I swim an amphibian’s strokes and feel myself a frog.
The road from town climbs swiftly into the hills. There in the omniscient sky, the ranges that parallel and encircle this one become visible. Rubber cable is laid in the furrow, and Chris and Ellen are pouring fine sand before a plow covers the rest. Months before, Chris was thinking about a windmill (air), proximity to a spring (water), an ondol (fire). “No umbilical cord,” he declared “We’ll live by the elements.” Now he seems satisfied just to bury his line.
The emerging house sits on the knoll, a spot Chris chose when he was able to sense—further out on the ledge in the superficially more attractive spot—how hard the wind blew, how this alternate position lay in the eye of the disturbance. So a fat outcropping of pegmatite quartz must be included indoors, rising from the basement into the space where the living room will be. Jewel of the mountain’s upheaval, laid bare by glaciers, it marks the Cambrian beach (and provides a coffee table).
The unseen rider draws the reins, the reins cross, and we draw in the reins, and so draw ourselves, because we breathe air and walk on earth, and because the snow falls against our even finer flesh, is recorded there by the fossil of thought.
In the garden dozens of tomatoes litter the ground, blood-red after last night’s frost. The cabbages are fat, but their hearts are frozen too. The sun will not linger long enough to thaw them. No matter: ice is the condition.
Pebbles and sand are fed into a mixer with Portland cement and the porridge is slurped into a plywood mold. Pot-maker Chris knows, between the sun’s furnace and the icicles that fall a hundred feet to their liberation, the point of slump. During construction he had but a single failure, one whole wall now littering the dirt with breccia, poured when the potter stood in sunlight and all the hills around him were in storm; smashed when the wind changed course and attacked his pot with giant hail.
He stands at 1500 feet, the man from my Moby Dick seminar who identified with Ahab, his lightning-struck shamanism, whose own private traumas drove him into these hills, a bear with his harmonica, hooting to keep away small-game hunters with their rifles.
“I want to be rooted in the Earth,” he pronounces melodramatically, clenching his fists, his domicile outlined on the mound as a twenty-two sided polygon, again and again losing “four” which comes twice in the removal of zero from the real numbers (not from the fourth dimension as he claims), “but I also want to be in the sky.” And god knows what will come out of such a northern sky in his lifetime.
Shapes like Chris’ geometric dome arise now to populate the Vermont landscape, supposedly in anticipation of apocalypse, but also foreshadowing a new worship of sacred number, lei lines of private generators and solar furnaces. Ellen calls the structure “Stonehenge,” hint of the purer energy conducted by shape alone, in monuments from Easter Island to Peru, of which Wilhelm Reich’s orgone conductors (across the hills in Maine) are a late and lonely rendition.
Here in the winter of war and oil famine, of scandal in government, of the Comet Kohoutek, we stand at the edge of Western history. Only a Mediaeval sun seems to touch us, descending through mens, seraphim, cerubim, potestates, archangeli, angeli, caelum stellatum, saturnus, jupiter, mars, sol, venus, mercuri, luna, ignis, aera, aquae terra, into naked light.
Bone-chilling wind suddenly parts the trees—a stand of forest that runs for fifteen miles into Groton. They sing harmonia mundi, a sound so high and harsh through evergreen needles that its pure spirit eludes us.
We hike to the spot at which the choir is loudest, the ground there fertile with pine needles, a glen named “The Cathedral” by Chris and Ellen. From a small medicinal spring, water is drained through a black hose surrounded by sacred ferns—a site they dubbed ‘Bloomingdale’s’ after the metropolis that is no more and the memory of the civilization that is dying. “If we don’t build our own cities,” Chris says, “we must inherit them—”
“…from the aliens who came before us,” I add, in acknowledgment of the Irish—or Maltese—ruins we visited in Newport, mystery hills and root cellars once protected by gabled roofs.
“—and pay their enormous debt,” he replies, thinking only of the capitalists.
Three deer turn suddenly and flee.
The images John Todd brings from his Sun City of the New Alchemists are a mixture of Egyptian tilapia, lost cabbages of the 1920s returned by heirloom seed, pigshit heating the furnace, windmills with Enyalion on their tails, watermills feeding solar houses. The fish piss into the garden to feed the sunflowers, to nourish the pigs, to alert the people, to feed the fish. Flashes of Pico and a geomantic city, but where? In Cape Breton from the wind, on Bartlett’s Island from miles of powerful tide, in Wood’s Hole where the Sea Museum rests, or on Martha’s Vineyard, land of mutual aid?
These propositions began in my cosmology with the lobsterfishermen of Mount Desert island, creative materialists and source figures whose actions I recorded and in whose life motions I discovered the depth of the working world. I carried their text back to Mesolithic log boats, humanity’s first watercraft—dugouts and canoes of pine, hazel frames covered with birch bark or animal skins. Stilt houses. Technologies of bloodstone, antler, and lime.
John takes me back again at the origin of raw technology: oars and rotors. No longer the qabalistic scribe, I look upon pure slag, clear domes over fishponds, culling the sun’s wafer, wind machines that pull astral power into homes. Literally “new alchemy,” these are our tarot cards now.
As the massive waste-towers of our civilization crumble, a hermetic landscape arises, a ghost technology Aldous Huxley and Gary Snyder foreshadowed: geodesic domes, Pelton wheels, alembic stoves running all week on a single log, food co-ops as diverse as Edgar Anderson’s garbage heaps of Mesoamerica.
What is despised shall return, the crone as magus, the pest as grain, the decentralized marketplace as the new forum of Pythagorean man.
The astral body of Kohoutek, dragging a spiritual mass the size of our debt, appears first in the vicinity of Jupiter—a major portent. Is it a mute pebble, twenty-five miles across, or a vast four-dimensional source? Does it come to Africa and India also, or only to the Western World synchronous with the dilation of the lens that bring it into focus long after its seeds have been sown in the loom like scraps of thread in the tapestry of an August sky, that allow us to see the end before the end comes? Measured by war in the Holy Land, the falls of heads of state, decapitated one by one; measured by conjunction of coma with Jupiter and Venus; measured by oil withdrawal, lines of hundreds of cars at gas stations, daily future shock; marked by the day Sun and Moon align and draw with the same arms, tides visit the Carolinas with the fury of the Spanish Adelantado, heir to the instability of the rock formations on which commercial centers now sit.
The wine and roses of the Renaissance have been drunk, and a stern Buddha visits these shores under the banner of an immaterial universe, the only one we have not squandered. The proposition comes down to this, evade it though we will: we can escape hardships and terrors; yet we prevent nothing, for what happens to us goes on happening until its circumstance is resolved. Forgetfulness absorbs our wounds into vacant fugues, where they are reinflicted painlessly.
The harshness of nature, like that of Buddhism, is neither vindictive nor tautological. We must yield to them and give them everything because we do not know where we are, we do not know how to defend ourselves, and our bodies are carrion, even in the best of times. They can do anything with us, and must—from necessity, from generosity—and we must allow them, however we feign to resist.
It does not end with death (why should it?; how could it?). It continues until we renounce what we have no claim to, thanking them for their persistence, the justice of their sentence.
Harsh? But how much more harsh the alternatives. Unresolved dreams may sustain a decade or a generation but could hardly be food for a god. Galaxies whose distances defy space and time do not defy us, and thus stretch our interests across an impossible chasm, where they crack, breaking our hearts.
I think, as all of us get older and change, that if death didn’t exist for men they would invent it or, if they were left to invent what they thought they needed, they would bring far worse into the world.
The comet fulfills its own cycle, as any seed. What it sows will arise among us a millionfold, apart from the orbit in which it continues its ancient journey, or why it choose the name Kohoutek as we trace its riddle back into the dawn of etymological time.
Who knows/surely we do not, what falls from background to background, warp to woof, in an aqeuous loom? The will is a piece of coal, that burns, that burns out, a nameless child floated upon a billion nameless stars, the graves of the most ancient philosophies littering the Earth like leaves.
Which Egypt? Which Atlantis? Which being who takes the name Seth? Whose comet is it, Nostradamus, four centuries ago? How much rain today, how wet the fields, how muddy the roads?
They are covered with a veil uninterpretable for its intimacy with cosmic metaphor, that cannot be read literally because its impressions go so much deeper, because they use our voice to speak, dogging us all the days of our life.
A small comet peering through a square of Sun and Moon puts its finger on this spot from 800,000 years ago. When it becomes visible, you will recognize it, the men with yellow raincoats, the lines of cars at fuel depots. A thousand creatures once, now a billion, all of whom lived before a destiny no puzzle can protect in the cradle of time. These are our black gold.
The winding and unwinding of tentacles form a windblown clock whose accuracy is such that it measures even its own gaps between seconds, spooling as a single filament into the fluid where the child hangs in Lindy, like a pear attached at its tip, breathing before it breathes, eating before it is given food, sensitive to colors before it knows the feel of objects, in a state of eternity before time.
Vermont passes through phases of blue into darkness, and the Moon becomes brighter and sharper until the daylight in its airless valleys and down its mountain slopes is the only sun we see, except for the planets that appear in the empyrean sky, and they are indistinguishable from stars—the “sun” on their deserts, clouds, snowfields, and oceans, a single tincture. We cannot make out a grain of matter where earlier every imperfection on the side of the barn was clear. Little consequence now that Jupiter lies out beyond us and Venus moves between us and the Sun. The night belongs to ancient history and its observatories, so 5 x 584 = 8 x 365, the key to a chart in which Venus entered the lands of men as a figure who could articulate the riddle of their existence as well as herself be a star.
The Moon sparkles, and the warm day in its mares preens, where no one has climbed with knapsack and picnic lunch and no one sits—history and prehistory suspended in each other forever. All the hoops on the barrel, seen through the cosmic window, are the single surface of a single lunar sphere.
We pull the sled once more up the hill and go flying down on the ice, between the trees, bumping over frozen footprints. One last look at it before we draw the curtains, the spindles of protoplasm continuing choppily to wind the thread that no longer connects planets and suns.
We pour an unknown liquid from goblet to goblet, and the essence seethes through the markings on their sides, hieroglyphs that form as if silver were alive with birthmarks and tattoos. So one series determines another: Where wetness ends, colors begin; where color ends, sound begins; where sound ends, light begins, fading behind the relativistic sky in which are distributed the sole objects of our cosmology. From where we pick up a sound, like that of a turtle shuffling across the night, both alien and familiar in the sheer multiplicity, the whiteness of its noise. It evades our attention, but it is the material of which attention is made.
We dislodge a hornet’s nest and bring it into the dining room. The inhabitants are dead; they fall out of the mouth and blow weightlessly across the porch. The nest is set on the bookcase, a whorled maché mask for a face without eyes.
A flashlight in the aperture reveals a hollow sphere of complicated surfaces inside another hollow sphere, dead creatures lying along its hallways, as if a planet wiped out by death rays. The nest is unsafe not because the hornets might come back to life (or their young arise from the nursery). It is unsafe because it is a whole cosmos, although it fits inside our house.
In February, Robin and I trek across town fields to a spot where the river runs below crumbling bluffs. Our adventure is to sail a boat he has assembled at Clockhouse: a number of blocks of different sizes and shapes hammered atop a flat board, flags and sails added and crayon coloring scrawled onto the wood.
At its forward nail we attach a string, then toss out. It bounds in gushers, tugging at its leash, wildly flipping underwater and resurfacing. As I slowly guide it back, the string itself picks up a coating of ice, which cracks as I draw it into my hands. Robin examines the scraps clear as goblets.
His turn next—he maneuvers the boat up and down the current until its tether snares a rock. No matter what angle he tugs at, it won’t come loose. We are about to consign it to the river when, with a last, unexpected lurch, he yanks it free; then he draws it back through the turbulence…a hero safe in his arms.
We walk home through the village, up across our hill, kicking frozen orange and grapefruit rinds along the mulch heap, coffee grounds on our boots. An edge of the Moon is hammered in the sky.
Lindy comes home on a snow-blown day, relatively mild for Vermont February. Large fluffy crystals are crushed in the windshield wipers, as the road is wet and musical. I go straight to Clockhouse, retrieve Robin, and bring him upstairs to peer at his sister. A lot to absorb.
It is like taking a mallet and smashing the glass between worlds: she sits there full as a flower in the covers of her basinette. Not only do we domesticate her, but she turns our triangle, unmercifully, into two triangles, setting us all on diagonals.
Lindy and I fall together in a passion recalled of everything, and of missing each other, and become ourselves in the fire in which it began, not just with conception, but the real beginning, when we let ourselves see who each other was, and so made the rest of this unavoidable.
Lindy is the river through me, surrounds me as her, in senses that are now own, and so much her, I heave to, her altered body alert to mine, a ginger moment, sore and open, but the moment beyond mind from which all the others flow.
Robin plays with his cars in the mud, driving them along roads he shapes with his hands, forcing them over ridges with engine noises. The driveway is irrigated by snowmelt and puddles, the ground shrinking and expanding, popping with holes, a surface so attractive he stays with it for hours, his cars scaling out miniature highway systems, roads, hills, elevated thruways, parking expanses. There is no blueprint: he works, face at eye level, sending different vehicles out into unexplored quadrants of the map, his attention never leaving the paths they follow, the grooves and clumps suggesting natural passages and obstacles he then enhances. He does not notice his boots filling with water as he stands in pools too deep for them, his gloves dripping with mud.
He had made a perfect image of the Earth as it is today, its glacial lakes and sierras, its monadnocks and roads, the heavily-traveled corridors of its civilization.
Larger rivers and rivulets flow past, bearing the waters of the hills. It is not just the Winooski anymore, or Great Brook. Most of this melt would show on no map. There is even a babbling stream alongside the driveway, a glistening eel cutting through the garden. They are driven into rills along the road, as billions of haystacks of atoms crumble to sustain the fact of creation.
Law rules. Freedom from law rules. Water follows a path. Water slops all over. Discursively. Nondiscursively. Each uncoiling sprout holds a golden rectangle, a series of parabolas that bend against one another in quadratic clasps. They evade the law. They return to the law.
Robin takes the larger trucks and washes them in puddles, observing how the ripples carry reflections of clouds and his own face, shattered and restored. The water is dirty, but the water on the metal makes it clean.
Each day the roads of Plainfield must be graded and regraded, as thaw and freeze alternate, until thaw finally wins. Today the heavy equipment is kept in its barn, while everything pours into everything else. Paint peels from under eaves, is carried with rivulets down onto the tin roof where it picks up glazing compound from the wndow replaced in January; now it is strewn on the slabs of granite before the front door. Drips off the upper roof pound away the snow to reveal the dumpings of cat litter from the early December.
A melody, recovered by archaeologists and linguists working together from Hurrian tablets, is played today in California, as once in the Mediterranean, on a duplicate instrument.
Robin finds a penny, wet on top, still stuck to the ice beneath. He pries it loose. Lindy leans over me from the upper step and we kiss, while I lie there watching Robin, almost warm enough. We continue kissing, the sun in our eyes.
He kneels by his highways, his shirt coming out, his cuffs dragging mud. He has a turtle’s deposit, for which we will use the porcelain tub, to wash the sediment away to some other meadow. The trees bare, the grass pale, the kiss lingering, the phenomenal world at war with the noumenal world, the noetic bearing fat birds, black birds, who grow of some other food, into the higher eastern sky.
Everything flows with a spiritual intimacy, like antimony or arsenic in their original forms, from the inside of the Earth, which was once a pot on the wheel, from which fires departed.
Yes, the Hurrian song. (And in the dream I was visited by a Nova Scotian whose body split in two, just at the moment I questioned his power; now I assume Aleister Crowley’s astral connection along the English-Mongolian railroad.)
A spider rushes through the pale grass onto the rotting wooden steps, is stopped by Robin’s shadow as he comes to visit me. Now it moves again, both my son and I watching its drama. It rests on a small crack in the wood: three legs pointing forward, three back. It begins to move again, swift silent paces that cease, then continue.
It is not a question of how little there is, or how bereft, but how much, how cut off from each other by cobalt towers and moats of nickel, currents whose electric glue also shoots an adhering object halfway across creation, until the engulfing figure is an astral galaxy, fires passing between dissipating sources, drawing single yarns into formations, from the central deepmost stars to the centrum of the spider, either a quiver or a nerve, while we sit on a planet at the edge, on the stone shelf, counting the pieces, as Mesozoic forests were once crushed into oilfields. Man might disappear entirely, his industrial towns burned out above a bin of Jules Verne coal—a game of checkers with burnt coins instead of characters, annihilating the protons on the bare edge of modern linguistic theory.
Spider, having crossed the staircase, now rests on a bleached pole, its shadow casting a sundial with shadows of sticks and grass.
Within charred wood lies charring oxygen, colored rust and broken bricks. Vanadium is a corpse of by-gone millennia, but ultimately its escort arrives and it is led down Creamery Street into the zone. The evening breezes begin to scout, and there is a touch of summery Mars in the air.
Scootchy sits outside the gray feedstore, building a dam to hold the water in a reservoir in which to sail his boat. When Robin and I arrive, he is frantically piling up mud, but the runoff is carrying most of it away. Robin brings small stones, and I wedge them into the earthwork, packing mud walls.
Chris comes with a shovel and begins slapping down patties of hard ground, diverting the current around its side, joking about what Freddie Fowler is going to say when his apartment building is floated away, then running a pipe through the center of the dam as a causeway to relieve pressure (though Scootchy doesn’t understand he doesn’t want all the water). Finally the boat is lifted and floats to the center. Secondary rivulets crawl off with the bias of gravity and continue sparkling down the street, golden evening mud carrying microscopic coins, all of them alive, our hands working dusky molecular substance, rich as the unplanted garden.
I feel a hint of The African Queen, shown Friday at the Co-op—the Ulonga once roaring, warm with life, now fetid and becalmed. Then a flash rain lifts their dreaming barge from its muck and carries it in a chorus of angels into the unconscious reservoir, clearing the myriad flies and leeches and crocodiles, bringing man and woman into the vast open sea, stormy with electricity and winds, almost darker and deeper than their psyches can bear. Hot and bottomless, without horizons, Olorgesaille restores their life even as it almost drowns them. They are rescued from the broken sticks of the Queen and taken aboard the German cruiser they will yet destroy, if not by their bodies, then by the spore they deliver into this tumult. Married on the gallows, they are saved before the rope is cut, a latent and millennial outcome repeated in 2001’s trip to Jupiter where the hero also casts his ship into a body too large for him to survive as soma, hence his body to survive as seed.
As I drive along Route 2 with Robin, the sun near the horizon hits the land at an archaic angle so that the fields below us appear as if a replica Earth, seas glistening and lands rippled—we are a space capsule. The puddles are as large as ponds now, surrounding trees and telephone poles. The ice beneath them yielding fluid, they course across the highway, farm implements and wagons sinking, abandoned sheds covered up to the windows.
Above the big turn in the road, the retaining wall trickles with mercurial flow, through which the color of the rock is filtered in the sun, all its silicate and granite variations, the melt squeezed down between its bricks. Watching the trickle in the wall, I feel something floating in me, the ale I drank settling on top of a memory of a fountain in a city park, the streets I grew up on. I am with Robin in his different childhood, the car throwing a nimbus of spray. There is another feeling rushing in my cells, unreceived till now, made of the wind blowing sheets of water across ice. A vast planet lies beneath the wall, with herbs and ground nuts, sweet needles of pine and grain , the last vestiges of a material universe. The sky darkens, throwing my vision into an eternity of seeds and motionless winds.
Out of the rotten log as it splits under the axe falls a cluster of dark purple ants, their curled bodies blown away in the wind. As the cork opens like butter, their stain is left in the pulp.
They are not alive. They were once alive. Their fossils can be burned with the log. They are not ants; they remain to show that ants have been there. A whole winter has passed since their death. Now they are exhaled like straw.
Awaking from a long nap in the car, Robin sees the city of Hartford around him: a golden dome, Lovecraft towers, motorized beetles and cranes. “That’s not a dream,” he says.
The Hare Krishna people, male and female, with their drums, tambourines, and single braids, turning on their different axes as if blown through the streets of Colorado, playing holy music and chanting, pedestrians variously attending and ignoring them. They are not old enough to be anything more than choir boys of the church that has set them loose in the mind of Denver, and America, to imprint an image from another city, outside of time. They struggle not to be pawns of myth or tossed into alleys, as Mexicans, Navahos, Arapahos, Eskimos, not to feel the pain, outside dingy bars, and thus also not to be like leaves in the wind. They submit themselves as an exercise, as they put their submission on display, a lesson in morality or humility before selected gods.
The planetary storm is Kali Yuga wild, and the pod that was Tibet, ripe with mountain fruit, has been burst by the Chinese sword, its conscious side Maoist and Marxist, its unconscious side, yin, now seeding the world, as hard pollen through the streets, taking root in backland heaps and abandoned seminaries.
The Hare Krishnas are different from the adopted children of Tibetan Buddhists, who wear business suits and take initiation from nameless masters.
“Do you mean I have to devote my whole life to this?” a young guy asks the lama.
“You got it!”
In the center of the city the high-rises are protected by locks within locks. The Denver country club is still kept, like an orchid, by those who pay its bill. But the rest is rye and buffalo and Comanches, as the city rises, puts on its robes, and speaks to the legions of men.
On the radio Frankie Laine sings “Moonlight Gambler,” and the hot spring nights of New York apartments come back to me: “You can gamble for matchsticks,/You can gamble for gold….”
Young couples stroll through the park, lie on porches of high-rises, cats on the lawns, children crawling in the morning light. Down the street a cocker spaniel is chasing and retrieving a white frisbee, competing for it with a tiny black dog whose yips fill the air. The spaniel brings it to a girl in a long blue velvet dress standing on her door stoop, and she tosses it back out in a wobby arc. A young guy in a blue shirt and shorts stands on the upper porch of a Victorian, hunched over a hibachi flame. Pigeons scoot along the roof, over the peaks, then fly up to the chimneys. Church bells are playing.
“…the stakes may be heavy or small….”
The exchanges are open, Sunday of the heart.
The sky dark, the air moist, the crickets chanting their din behind Wells Road—the Dipper rises over the Terriens’ house, where it sat, season by season, even while we were gone. Lights appear at the end of the field, by the ocean. And that they are mysterious is itself a mystery. I feel softness and passage, but I suspect that these paths must divide and fail totally before they are brought back together beyond false profundity.
We live, almost unaware, in vibrations so robot and deadening, in a city so glib and devoid of gods, most of our psychic life is forfeit or spent not feeling what goes on.
And I will be done writing when I have gone back over my American childhood, in direct memory and incidental light, and recovered my vulnerability—when I have destroyed in me the global heresy and find a clear pool among the dark sentries.
I sit in the backyard, site of Robin’s first playgroup, and shepherd Miranda, pulling her up and down, letting her grip and tear at stalks. I lie with my head beside hers and roll with her down a small hill.
Robin and the Terrien boys tunnel their cars through the unplanted garden. Bees wander from flower to flower. Sweet dew and fog are hastened along.
Suzi Terrien is melancholy. Her talk is of failed marriages, fatal diseases, how people she knows are splitting up or dying. She claims we are not living as long as we used to: “Maybe the poisons are getting to us.” Yet she speaks from a distance, as though considering an idea for the first time—but which idea: that she is no longer a child? that our situation is fragile? In truth we all sit around in marriages (or not) watching, hoping to pick up clues, praying we are doing it right, or not so wrong we won’t know what happened.
The yarns are twisted, and the feelings are not even as opaque as the bees gather honey, divesting their bodies unconsciously in the hive. For us it is uncertain, when the keeper returns, whose nectar it was, whose is the present flight of the shuttle. We are wind-pollinated spores of high-energy cones, our minds ordered by a non-intelligence that yet knows more than all the rest of us, our intentions the sap of unfinished designs.
I am not free to welcome the aeon, or even know what its therapy would relieve us of, tangled as we come, what marriages will replace marriage, or how the herbal tonics and solar pulleys will cure us from what still seems to be all we are.
This is the summer of the ecology revival meeting at Goddard, as we are visited by Wilson Clark, sounding doom, end of fossil fuels, monocrop hell, agriculture of famine followed by global plague. There is no way of knowing whether Wilson is as accurate as he is hot, but there is no disputing the ritual implication of his message or its connection with a growing necessity that hangs in the summer air. If he offers no solutions, it is because he believes there are no solutions. He doesn’t think that solar can pull us any better than nuclear—there is no free energy left. It is intolerable to go on taking manna without an instrument to measure its real planetary cost.
“All this,” says a student on speed, “assumes that we want the human race to survive. Which is just one more fucking achievement.”
The New Alchemists follow Wilson, John Todd playing Robert Fludd. They propose beginning the long task of healing nature, an exercise of humble sufficiency which, though futile against a general poisoning of the zone, seems the minimum clarity if we are to be human yet in our time.
“You’ve all heard Wilson Clark,” John begins, “and he’s probably taken ten years off your life.” There is nervous laughter. “I think he’s telling the truth. The bonds that hold things together are coming asunder.” He itemizes deranged birds, psychotic fish, seas driven mad. “If we can’t save it any longer, at least we can depart with some dignity.”
His blueprints are of fish ponds, aquaculture, small diverse farms with local species and pest records, wind rotors, solar heat, methane engines. His logos, though, lies among lay scientists in the tradition of the Mesolithic followers of the forerunner of Hermes who discovered wandering gardens and orchards, ziggurats in root hairs, proving, as we must again, that the inside is larger always than the outside, and man stands only as an ingot of the dark well of galactic and numeric unconsciousness, holds to it a stubborn flicker, his own being a bare chicken’s scratch from the abyss.
No point any longer in seeking the origins of tarot or the impossible conference of rabbis and mathematicians sufficient to devise a formula of significant connections. They must never have been. Those who bring occult orchards and sacred card games and chess boards into this world know nothing of the source or novelty of their kings and wands, coins and olive trees, if that’s what they even are. We receive these things as we receive consciousness and, though we can certainly stand on ceremony and refuse to yield, proof is not forthcoming.
Our power undiminished, we light the candle solely because we are able; nothing outside the system tells us how or why. Nature lies in chaos and irresolution on either side of her imaginary veil, and the gods that count owe more to Horus than Christ.
The old alchemists sought to perfect what nature had left imperfect in herself, but in so doing they worked by indigenous principles, the drama of the Stone, at the expense of immediate success. Because they tapped the riddle gently, their resource was a dark and ever-dividing wisdom, in touch with the ceaseless origins of energy, the flow of pagan forms upon the surface of a lumbering creation.
The new alchemists must be alchemists too. Though they cannot recover the landscape of Hermes or dismiss all materialist repairmen, they can find the rules as they fall to us now, the beautiful but uninterpretable Emerald Tablet. They must be monks, beyond reproach, charming, like Greek middle-voice verbs, the forces implicit, the trace minerals in stones, the bare heat of chemical conversion, open ever to the unkknown properties of matter, the possible consciousness of plants and even stones. This faces them prophetically and squarely; it is a true Sphynx.
They must write, or rewrite without reference, a lost Neolithic text, cataloging in their Alexandria the genetic identities of billions of weeds and insects, the passage of goats and genes through mountain passes, in a memory system no Babylonian computer can replace.
Know it or not (and in time they will have to), they petition a gnostic science whose messengers have been slaughtered or are asleep (or never were in the first place and so must be constituted from the beginning of possibility), whose gods have forgotten us, if they were gods at all. They petition with no more hope of returned communiqués than the senders of 43,000-year intergalactic messages. They must be hermeticists first and farmers second, if they are to be farmers at all. For the puzzle they submit to the whirlwind is truly insoluble, either as an abstraction or sheer numerical jackpot. They must plant their flowers along zigzag paths rather than rows, indicators of playful engagement, a petition for nature to heal itself. This is the only way the masters of pollen will hear them. Clearly the spirits will be suspicious, during our lifetimes at least, that anybody is trying to reach them and is not just after more of the goods, after the present run of treaty violations. Just one more medicinal herb must sound as heavy to them as just one more barrel of oil.
They will arrive on the set with American laboratory skills, but they will become students of feng-shui, the balance of hills and waters, trees and fields, an energy for which the word “energy” is a misnomer. They tip their dragon breaths to the graveyards, the garden mounds, standing in place of, by deed, the heaven-anointed king. They are calculating how many nines (each made of two integers in jointed crossover) are established by community lineages, even as they climb the golden staircase of Zosimos and lay the peach-flower stream of Tae Ch’ion. They seek the adzes and poles of the boat people, the pyramids the Pyramids of Egypt disguise, the rotten strawhouses the strawhouses of the Dogon stand as only reminders of, a replica body made of shell and stone through which nerves yet run—the Whole Earth Epilogue checklist.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good rock music or if the audience digs it. It doesn’t matter if the singer is Apollo or thinks he is. It has to hold up by itself, without recourse to some other system of inoculation that may or may not be around on the maiden voyage. It has to be direct use of the Sun in a sense that surely yet eludes us—and not these secondary and lethal suns we have been using and petition now, almost hysterically, to bail us out.
In a conversation with Werner Heisenberg, Neils Bohr suggests, very reasonably, that Darwinian theory was based on two independent assumptions. Only one of these requires nature’s testing of living forms and seeming choice of the most viable. The other makes the almost theological assumption that new forms arise only in chance dislocations of genetic continuity, including, of course, the accidental occurrence of modes of biological replication per se.
No doubt all this in Bass Harbor has been submitted to nature and, though it has been found wanting, it remains in compromise and, if it is yet to be found wanting, it will not survive. Though our imagination is boundless, we are not the kings of creation. On the other hand, nature cannot steal wrongfully from us what we can maintain, even in excess.
But have the habitants of this place, myself included, come about by chance alone, chance submitted to the prior victors of chance, and is that what my flight from gnostic vision has taken me to: a primal lottery, a pessimism beyond despair?
Or is that only what I must see to understand how breathtakingly precise the whole thing is, how rooted in an actual science of forms are these trees and traces and worts?
If it is to become as lovely again as it was, I must know how to plant the golden kingdom, the barley-alfalfa fields, from bare indigenous seed. No more drab sufficient labor or relic desire. It is a poison I must swallow, oblique to my condition always, obscurely as the different paths to different wharves scattered in the undergrowth of the harbor.
Obscurity of purpose but exactness of purpose.
Across both sides, and the water between, in the tide and the motion of clouds, yet invisibly, the letters come floating back into the world, to spell the world, washed as soft as glass is when the ocean delivers it to the shore.
White petals litter the field and stone. Up by the road are buttercups and clovers, wild and absolved. Grape ants crawl in among dandelion heads, sucking the orange out of them. Shadows blow with entries of light.
If it is hermetic it is so by a different version of its atomicity. Uncertainty principle does not mean my uncertainty; it proves only that in a set procedure, in a defined sequence of trials, it is possible, in fact necessary, to come to a point, an external and verifiable point, that does not enter into the world’s activities. The paradox is situational. The basic facts of matter must contradict themselves if we are to be men. They are not unknown, not unsolved; it is not that we are in need of more comprehensive procedures or better apparatuses. They are observed, and observation establishes uncertainty as a fact, a basis of substantiation, not an admission of ignorance or divine ambivalence.
There is a veil between here and there. at least as formidable as the one between life and death, never to be ripped from thence—never, with all that that implies.
Moon rocks and neutrinos, hydrangeas and fishing boats, are not the shadows of shadows by prior consent. They are objects that cast shadows, or shadows cast by the objects that most resemble them. Their metaphysics comes (historically) only after the disappointment, even as it so unexpectedly cultivates it.
Against the tide, against the lichen, against the dark behind the blue sky, the meteors traveling in their guise as stone, against the stone that burns and the fire within that stone, and within the fire within water too, against my own tracery, the blinding attention even inattention is, against the uncertainty and its moments of incredible joy, it seems that there is beauty, as there is vision left. Vast boulders of science, propelled through centuries, catch yet the glint of Heraclitan flame. The particles fly on past, for they are not even particles, no more than the riddles we pose seemingly of other riddles are riddles, or our bodies are bodies. The microscope is not the zazen, and the sound of the tide is not the crash of the engine. The planets tug upon their orbits as dark barges, heavier their gigantic blankness, more sparkly and flamelike than their binary dots, by the same properties of the same lenses, the same remoteness and wilderness, that roughen maria of viral molecules upon helical lattices, submerged in the same blessed obscurity of fact.
Axiomatically the grapevines hide their support.
I go back to the fisherman-priest who holds the torch, and I ask him which way I am to continue.
July 4th, Plainfield
The parade goes by our house, first in straggles, then the main body: kids on bikes with flags, cars and trucks from outlying farms and local businesses, families piled onto them. Teenagers in hot rods anxiously honk as traffic jams up at the corners. The day can hardly hold them, they want so much to bust out somewhere.
The streets rattle with hobo bands and firecrackers. The Atlantic migrations that placed these people here are pretty much over, but they swirl in pockets and sputter: Scythians, Saxons, Huns. An incomplete Green Revolution, an erratic counterculture spills onto an uprooted Eurasian church. The Massachusetts Bay Company laid the trail clear to Madison Avenue and big-time sports. And the water table cannot throw it off. Like Columbus’ discovery of something else, the Enlightenment was also lost, before we got out of the Seventeenth Century.
This year, for the first time, the town allows lefty Bread and Puppet Theater to participate. They provide a huge tyrannical Uncle Sam leading another figure on a chain, plus accompanying puppets: magnificent birds, eggs, ornate weirded Middle Americans, and finally a death’s head. What are these creatures doing among marching children and rancher station wagons and American flags? No one seems to know who they are or how they got here. An old resident turns to his crony: “They sure put in a lot of work this year.”
He agrees: “I think this is the best one we’ve ever had.”
Around the corner by the ballfield, a State policeman is directing traffic. Uncle Sam and his prisoner tower over him. “Hey, little fella down there,” he asks, “where do we go?”
The trooper grins and looks up. It’s three times his size, and it’s Sam, the ultimate American, whatever freak is inside. The crowd is pushing and Uncle S. is impatient. “Little fella, can you direct me please?”
The trooper strides back to get a better look. “Man,” he exclaims, “I don’t know what’s going on around here.”
We have lived under successive threats and the luxuriant decadence of our parents’ hopes and beliefs, who sent us to zones of supposed education and training while Hiroshima and Nagasaki left them more relieved than horrified. They staged a tournament, a competition among our contemporaries for honors without empirical base in self. We vied as if it were interplanetary war. We played our guts out in math class and Watermelon League while others elsewhere waited, in barren and impoverished lands.
We must start all over again, and this time without the advantage of being children, without their paranoia-less ability to learn, without the freedom to lie out vast under clouds, receiving energy. We have had taken away from us the one thing we were given for free, by those who pretended to be our guardians, our teachers, our friends.
We are sacrificial victims of a dying order whose lineage we were raised to carry on. This will mark us for the duration, however eloquent our voice and cosmic our scope. The garden is in need of tending, but its real tangle defies us. The water that supports it is only water, but what it carries in it now, of unconscious data and detritus, cannot be removed.
Free energy of carbon is over as a way of life, for it has left an undreamable and toxic residue in the microcosm, where no mogul can buy it out. We are the last heroes. There will be no heroes after us.
We can no longer do by force what we cannot do by care and craft. Healing is a necessity at last.
Nothing can free us from the responsibility of being human.
The Oriental military may stand against us, and they are not a football team or even an American army. At one time they were the figures on which the Martians of Flash Gordon were based, alien and evil; then we gained political awareness, and they became Third World guerrilla fighters—noble, pragmatic, and strong. But what if they are neither, if they refuse to relieve us of either our fear or our guilt?
Our national leaders can worry now about the amount of oil under Asia and the effect of that on our survival, but I will always believe they are in love with the Apocalypse that they pretend to protect us from, for we stand equally shorn before the herbal gardener and millet farms of Zhou China and the Mandate of Heaven, before the Taoist doctor of the jeweled path and the subtlety of chi.
Playing possum now is just the continuation of our oldest game. Because while they were learning to cultivate rice and fight the people’s enemy, we were made petty capitalists and varsity pawns. We have already lived half a lifetime under the threat of nuclear bombs, and it has reined in our possibilities as surely as iron bridles, though this trauma is hidden in the seeming burst of freedom that atomic fears and hopes have unleashed. And Barry McGuire sang “Eve of Destruction.”
Even when we snapped their bind on politics and found Reich at the temple door, urging cosmic energy in the face of radiation and murder, they replaced it with eco-doom, the same dreary apocalypse-monger landscape, the same wiped-out Earth.
The fallout shelters of the fifties are gone because they were hopeless, and we laugh, rightly so, at that kind of foolishness. The swords are still drawn, but the hiding is over. We can see what they are trying to do to us. The message is clear: If we are going to live these lives against the forces that hold them back—and they are as terrible as they seem—then we are going to have to go right through that storm, not at sea, amid poisoned currents and laser submarines, but as we are the sea. We are going to have to live because of what we are, not despite it. Then the trauma will become like the Sun and other big stars; it will no longer be our psychological history except as the horoscope of our having been at all. It will twist with the trees and blow with their branches in the wind. This is all, even if there is more.
It is in ourselves the sword hangs to split the rabbit’s throat; we alone can remove it by daring to strike. We alone can outlive and unlive the heroes against the anti-wind, when our last hope is gone. In us is the utter and primal force, not to waste in a primal scream, a holocaust of past and present, in hope of victory-like clarity or oblivion. By our consciounsess we suffer the riddle imposed in thought; we are the gods whom those in darkness have set against the darkness. And the agony they pose for us is not to stumble blankly back with nothing.
When we signal them from this bare turf under the cosmological sky, their answer is the obvious one: terror is a luxury too; behind the panic is a witch who will not seduce us no matter how we submit to her. But then we are all afraid of the same thing—that we will not be afraid in time.
There is no other life, not only to live but to refuse to live. Better to plunge into dark water, into ungauged currents, to risk being pulled up like a rat at the end of a cyanide pole.
Lightning bugs float in the night air. Their lives are short, a few weeks—but all lives, the great books tell us, are of the same length. In the successions of images that flash in their sensoria, they see everything. They know all there is to know. They are not alienated from creation, though we stand outside their zone and watch them as if a tragedy, disappearing and reappearing in broken arcs.
It is all held together on a thread, great suns as well, each one where it is, across our system as galaxies across a band of telescopic haze. The fierce edge of creation cuts the hierarchical arrangement of existences. Yes, messages are sent between incommensurate realities, but they are no different from the rest of what is happening.
We are no different from bioluminescent bugs brought into being; we lie in an eternity untouched. This is all the initiation we will have.
Robin and I climb the hills behind Plainfield, through the pine forest along the old stone fence. Wild growth reaches our knees, its constant drag leaving us exhausted. I carry him over the rusted barbed-wire boundary to the edge of the surgarbush. We rest on the dismantled wall. He discovers wild strawberries, each so tiny it is only a taste. When I pick him up, he smells like one.
The bountifulness and goodness of the world amazes me—its ceaseless imagery from whirlwinds out of whirlwinds—but so does its severity.
I look out at the vastness of forest and valleys, the mountains ringing those, clouds active across the planet’s sky. When I open myself all the way and let it in, it is more terrible than beautiful, but then beautiful again. I smell rusty grasses and bitter herbs, decay amidst fertility, fertility through suffusion, not perfume but the stench of unchecked mutation. Chamomile may grow sweet and tame in the dust of the driveway, a traditional tea, but here it is littered among hundreds of budding and unbudded plants—large sour leaves, indolent nightshades, vines crawling away from domestication, poisons that no doubt contain powerful medicines, if our wisdom were greater, if our fear of being reborn, of living this time, were not so great.
We lack, St. John’s wort, a true Christian ancestor on either side. Love is enough of an ambiguity but, compared to the alien sweep of most of this planet’s carbon and non-carbon chemistry atop metal and uncoded stone, it is a magnificent luxury.
My writing has run the course of its preferred vision and of the golden light in which I have steered. The songs have been incredible. I have loved them, but I have not listened to them. I have been the instrument, not the player. Now that I have a hint of the dumb celestial harp, I am tightening its imaginary strings. I am taking such a crazy risk I do not even know what it is.
I am turning the ship into the storm.
Those who lived in beehives are gone, and the wind of centuries blows dirt against their stone relics, the abandoned settlements of Greenlanders and others. Doll-like fragments of their incomplete designs remain: winding roads that evade the object. “After this life, there’s another,” Robin says decidedly. He has too much confidence to see the dismantling that goes on all around us, that destroys nothing, that parts no thread.
The nut we pretend to crack plants only further trees in the distances and, as the forest becomes deeper and orientation more vast, we wonder how it ever seemed simple, how we ever imagined this was a paradox we could tame.
When I call Morgan on the phone, the sound, he tells me, is like the Buddhist gong, calling him back mercifully into the world. The bats at twilight, irregular in flight, wear bats.
Rigel, Capella, Aldebaran. Faint Pleaides. There is no fresco dripping, there are no masks; the form seals even before the blue glaze reflects it, a circle pouring from a hidden wheel.
We live now between a supercivilization that sprays the cosmos with messages and prophecies, blueprints of a golden age, warnings of doom, and a Buddhist revision in which we renounce not only outer-space migration but our own Rosicrucian city. Despite an intergalactic beam that wheels through creation, dispersing seeds and notes translating into possibilities on any particular world, Atlantis cannot merge with Andromeda. If we stir to panpipes of Saturnian magi or put our faith in anything like Arthur Clarke’s overlord-guides of Childhood’s End, we will fail. Even if they have the machinery to build cities as large as the Sun, to accommodate our restlessness for eternity, they cannot pull us, when body and soul mean to divide, from the abyss. And they do not lie beyond it.
Their deep numerical music is everywhere, promising us life, tempting us to be who we think we are, to use our materials courageously despite our obvious incapacity before the task. Their spacecrafts, operating at the speed of archetypes, turn time into cream, and drink that cream as fuel. Through our cities, mapped and architected unconsciously by successive generations, they try to initiate us into the sphynx of their cosmic megapolis. Yet how’s that different, asks Gary Snyder, than the whole trip of America to the natives of Turtle Island?
Technology is not the real prize of the West. How could it be, with its stray energy droppings, its synthetic agricultures, its toxic medicines? Our vision of a coal furnace, our journey aboard combustion engines is a darkness most of creation will never know. The real prize is a methodology that we do not even begin to understand, a methodology that first must destroy to create, that makes the planet septic and unfit for life, yet draws more and more fantastic treasures from a divinely-sealed shell. We stand between the guardians of geodesic tetrahedra and new alchemical farmers and hunter-gatherers, unable to find our way.
The enigma of our age is that we cannot separate the parts that work from the parts that do not. We have built a wondrous and sacred factory in the midst of a machinery that cannot even hold itself together, and have given it nothing to process. Its fleets lie abandoned, ignored. So the soldiers of the industrialists fill the trucks not even with debris and waste but with each other, and drive them over cliffs into gullies where they unravel and are washed away. What they preserve, in their tinhorn pride, is a dime a dozen in this Galaxy, a cheap two-bit robot breeding tumors and wars.
We could do so much better with what we have. We don’t really know what we have. And even then, whispers another voice, does it matter? Do we really care, knowing how all this is going to end?
Yes, it is all going to disappear with a rapidity that will make us wonder who ever went through all the trouble in the first place.
There is no archetypal melody. It’s all built up, tune and association, from what’s here. But still, we are transferring the notes of a great code; we are helping the magi even if we are not building their windmills. We are bringing things into existence at the lowest denominator. So low no one could possibly recognize them, for centuries, maybe millennia, to come.
There are other things we don’t even know to know about. We can’t begin to want them. We can’t imagine where they might come from. The sky is their metaphor, accurate only in its astronomical and astrological boundaries. Their perspective sits at a point beyond Pluto, at a point, but it is not Pluto at all, which is just a name, marking the tide between the Solar System and the Kuiper Belt, between Dorothy’s Kansas and the Road to Centauri and Oz.
They spray the androgyne as fertilely as tassels dust wombs of corn, but it is not seeds, and it is not even DNA-based. If we don’t allow them to find us, if we don’t lay ourselves bare at every stage—letting even our mistakes, our evasions, connect the themes as they come to us in one long symphony—then speculation is for naught. Our discovery of their muffled drum is equivalent to their discovery of us.
We are writing alchemical instructions in our famous confusion of amulets, techniques, and texts. After all, the alchemists were not the only ones who mixed molecules, gods, psychic riddles, and nascent technologies. Our contribution to solving the riddles is the riddles, even as the Mediaeval attempts upon Neoplatonic riddles upon Egyptian riddles upon the Palaeolithic heritage rest upon the origin of language in call systems upon the mute planet of clouds upon suns and moons. What is lost is gone forever. What we preserve is the bare continuity of a present text, even whose attack upon hermeticism is a hermetic text.
A man comes in his truck with three children and asks if they can collect the leaves from our yard to take home and stuff a Halloween “person.” It seems a most touching poverty, in Vermont, not to have leaves. Yet he and his kids work with hilarity, and my eyes flush with unexpected tears, for both their joy and their dispossession.
As they are about to leave—the back of the truck plump with blanketsful from raking—I give them pumpkins and squashes they receive with delight and hold as treasures. It breaks my heart, blue vehicle turning out of the driveway. Were they even real, or are they the imaginary people of Yaqui sorcery, the leprechauns and Yetis of Vermont?
This summer went by at such an angle I can now see only the arc of its turning, the railroad bed beyond the washout, colored leaves on the ground.
Awake! someone tells me. Awake before it is too late.
Cold rainy Vermont morning. Going house to house in the station wagon, picking up the kids for New School. Creamery Street to Brook Road to Barre Hill Road to the Dailey Apartments to Main Street to Maple Hill. Faint steam on the river, single leaves blown through the visible, cover the pond surface. The wipers run, the motor runs. On the car radio, Eric Burden singing, so few years ago we rose like glow-worms, if not to the song, the idea: “…feel all right,/on a warm San Francisco night….” The kids, shiny in their slickers, one by one into the back of the car.
“See-saw, Majorie Daw,/Jackie will have a new master.”
It is not only Hamlet’s Mill. The sky is torn apart in a history that exceeds all but our best and most ancient books. I am tracking in back of history, through Vergil, Homer, along the 293+ stars of Eridanus, a meandering and faint stream from Orion in a southern Pacific sky. Hamal, Sharatan: the Ram. The stars of history that burned down the avenues of Mediaeval cities when those cities were fields, and merchants wandered between them, their coins blank, their parchment deeded in an Egypt long out of business, until Europe saw once again, off the horizon of Twelfth-Century Asia, its forgotten face. Value became wheat and wool. As Hesiod sought boundary, in one creation, of sea and sky.
I find my way through forgotten quadrants and kingdoms, Algol via Capella, downstream to Phecde and Dubhe, the Bear, his tail: Alioth, Mizar, Alkaid. And on the second March night, Arcturus breathes over Maple Hill.
How far we have come without coming any distance at all. Hoops on a barrel, you might say, as night turns within night, as Indian stars break apart, littering the sky with an eagle, a snake, and three deer; a jaguar and a pig to the south. Hoops on a barrel—but I know better. The images rush through nursery rhymes like trains, and their nonsense is the bare degree of shape left in constellations, as time itself, nonexistent, bears them away, through transits of known lives.
Who were those merchants from the East? No friends of mine, says Charlemagne, years too late. The Romans never knew. Their descendants live in Rome on this very day, unaware that the Dragon has fallen. Who were the Normans who visited the Plough? From whence came the Minoans, bearing the hieroglyph for emmer wheat (the seed also?), and a night-demon named Lyl, later Lylyt? And who dwelled there before them, in villages, to receive her into a sky already fat with kings and , an Earth sown with Mesolithic grain, Lilith? What owl flew thousands of years to appear on the coins of Athens as Athena? How did you become Annis, the blue hag, did the War of the Bulls find itself in the sky beside the sacred hangman, Queen Maeve, and Cuchulain?
The sun passes through the outer door, and a broken transmission is dropped on us, broken by those who would have us restore it. Through its kingdom pass the same beings who always passed, their roles changing, bent and driven down, Draco with Thuban, once the Pole Star, to which the Pyramids of Egypt pointed, I now see faintly against North American mountains. Falls into a Crocodile, into language. How did the letter “L” get to travel in a boat beside the Moon, Lamed and Lambda, and grow a rowan, a coll, an apple tree, two “C’s” give birth to “Q’ and quert and the eternal questions, quis, quod, quantum, quoties, quando—ku, ku, ku? The Dipper is broken and the Throne of the Five Emperors falls. The Welsh cuckoo bird becomes the Iranian dove. Crying “ku?” Where? Where have we lost the way?
We have lived too long, say those who are now dead.
Sirius, bearing Egyptian summer, in Vermont winter, trails Procyon and Gomeisa, Canis Minor, if conjunct with Mercury, person dies of dog bite, or is it some other bite entirely, H.D.?: the dogs the Romans sacrificed in 238 B.C. to keep mildew from their fields, now stars, long before the Saxon councils and fixed-star astrologers of the North.
As old man with a battered book: a druid, a rabbi, a dervish, a beggar: he says we pass through unbroken night. And I will lead you, he does not say. Not yet. Is still the origin. As history writes itself in fire, light alone measures decay, its choking rate, where only the nova fires fade from the flank of Cassiopeia, where Kochab measures through Thuban the line of the top of the world, from which astral and royal power, because the seal is eternal, pours down night and day, despite city-blown traceries of electrode cool.
The bite still lingers, believe in it or not; the stars turn and shift, history to the northern forested frontier of Rome, while Rome like a candle burns off the Orient, the wood-priest holding a broken plough. Stone for stone against the opening of another day.
Orion: radio disturbance. Around the bottom of night. the connotation, beyond intelligence, that this is something meant to be seen.
The Belt blossoms by night into the full hunter, armed, and if he is Set, Lepus the Hare is his boat. All that plus the constellations we don’t see, I await as you have awaited it, with surety and joy.
Mintaka. The jewels. Alnilam the brightest of them. Alnitak, the girdle. Betelguese. Bellatrix the Amazon star. The lion whose roar brings Rigel from the horizon.
What have I forgotten?
M-42, a bag of glowing gas, hung on the sword, counter the Belt. Saif al Jabbar.
Orion could be everything. It could come from nowhere and be winter. It could answer radio telescopes in their search for ourselves against darkness. But behind it is Canis Major, bearing not only Sirius, the hot one, but Wezen, the weight, a star that seems to rise with difficulty from the horizon. And Cassiopeia, bright W, hugging the Pole all night with Cepheus, while other figures fall.
What you say is true: when I look I see you smiling back at me. So I look.
How fast I awaken from the festivities of the dream.
From the torso of Virgo on Maple Hill to the three stars of Aries over Plainfield Village. Behind that streaming daylight creation is, the fountain of creation, we once wrote on a golden dome. Have we forgotten? Have we forgotten so much that we have forgotten it all?
A law Newton barely salvaged, off the surface of a broken disc. Eternal time submerged in daily time. However faint Cancer and Pisces.
So that planets must be found there, wandering in Leo and the Beehive (in China, the Exhalation of Piled-Up Corpses, 150 stars of 6th magnitude or less: the cloudy one in which their—they weren’t astronomers—observed Mercury passing, June 9, 118). The sun washing out the rest for the better part of a thousand years. And then Dante: “I woke to find myself in a dark wood,/Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.”
Spica, sparkle, March 15, on Maple Hill, at last. Ear of Wheat in the Virgin’s left hand. Now Chaucer’s Raven, the Roman Crow, its wings spread toward Barre, carrying Geihan and Algorab. Bootes hunting Ursa. And not only Arcturus, Keeper of the Heaven, Great Horn, but Muphrid, the Officer who accompanies the Emperor. In Asia. In the West he is The Solitary One.
Nekkar sits beyond this pair, head of the Hunter, a Female Wolf. A Crow forbidden to drink from her own cup. A prank she played, leaving her in the sky. From Hittite times.
The Bear chased toward the Pole by Hunting Dogs. Gone.
A flock of geese is suddenly overhead. Bright calls that seem to come from some other part of the sky, large in all directions. They are a single V, having joined at an earlier point because a procession was forming, and now they are in the middle of it, the embodiment of all that must happen, before it ends.
The limbs of the V break apart and become smaller V’s themselves, sharing always one side with the larger wedge. The pattern shuffles and re-forms so liquidly, there is no moment when it is stopped. They are a Y, then a W. An alphabet in search of vowels.
There is something about it, not the intelligence of instinct, or thegene-borne telepathy of the group, but what the scribe finds in Egypt, the moment he goes to his unenclosed syllabary, in search of language, because those alphabets we do not know are the only information left to gird the limits of A and Z, of Alpha and Zeta, Aleph and Zayin, where a wall is built in the Andes, a lunar mansion in Cambodia. The crane takes nine steps and then flies directly out of the labyrinth.
I look straight up and do not move until they are out of sight.
It is more than an omen or a vision. An aerial photograph would have nothing of the precision these geese maintain. They do not have to carry household gods. They do not have to follow the leader. It is not enough to say they are winds and biological compasses. They are floating islands, stars, Phoenicians, invaders of Ireland, proportions of pi, singing Whither my love? Whither my lost companions? And they are seen not in light or x-ray or infra-red or reconstructions of radio noise.
When the bird lies smashed on the rock is the palace of Kubla Khan. When all that is left is feathers and bones is the vagabond epistle who visits each town a day before Paracelsus, who makes the zombis out of hoodoo. When the sea is driven back into the vase, its creatures will be as large as the eagles whose bodies enclose and derive the stars. When the flight is over, they will let it fall, entirely and without decree.
Robin’s Christmas presents: the old hockey game I played the Senior lounge in high school and again on the Freshman dorm floor at Amherst, the flick pass from the wing to center; a gyroscope, achieving remarkable balance even as it loses momentum; a Superman puzzle with intensely bright yellow moon across which he flies, his ripples in the dark city water; two horror comic-record sets, so that we hear Dracula chasing Countess Van Helsing through the snows of the Transylvania Mountains, wanting to suck her blood; Thumbelina, book and record, some more Tinker Toy blocks to erect a larger city. “Thumbelina, dance,/Thumbelina, sing….”
There is a hole in my song. I picture a sheet of music, blown down Fifth Avenue, notes ripped out of it. I see the soft shadow of my hair on the page, a man laying a pen on sunny paper, writing these words. Solar wind, brushed raw of photons, does not remain on the page. The unlit breath of t’ai chi suggests an older damage. My unsteady hands hold the chainsaw, the log big and long, my splinters signs of unconsciousness and impatience.
And Olson says (via Herodotus) that Helen was only the last of the European girls to be kidnapped by Asiatics, proving that we are at the end of another history, beyond the broken ring, we who think we know so much, e.g. the surety with which Columbus mistook Cuba for the mainland, Veragua and Guatemala for Asia, stopping a craft of ancient Minoan-Mayan commerce, boarding and searching it but missing the point, that the indigenes carried the cosmology-globe he claimed to seek. Japan was not here, but Hebrew and Phoenician traders had visited the Rain Turtle long before the rise let alone the eastward-turning of Rome.
This is how far we are broken from the sunlight whole, and how when the stars reenact what creation is, a tabernacle is laid in unending currents and traceries, on the outer edge of which we fall short. We live and enter the bare theater. We see what they want us to see.
In my dream, there are jets in the sky, jets of every shape and description. The more I look the more there are, and they are of incredible figuration, hewing in clusters of seven or eight like Pleiades, single ones with flares and dumb-bell ones like quasars. They have supposedly come from war over Israel, and they are jets not nebulae, silver-gray jets in an undulating mauve sky. What makes me think of them as galactic is that there shouldn’t be this many so close together and in this clear a formation so far from an airport.
I am wanting to film them but cannot, for my camera has been changed into a Super-8 model I have often wished for but do not know how to operate. I keep opening its door by mistake, and the only thing that convinces me I have not exposed the film is my wish within the dream to have a picture of those jets (tantamount to my wish to keep dreaming), my dubious assertion to myself that it’s all okay.
When I want to turn over the film and shoot it other side, I find the chemical strip locked in a cartridge so seamless and unfamiliar I could never get into it.
I close the camera and shoot anyway, whether I am double-exposing, whether the film has run out, whether it is ruined, whether it is even film. I pan across a sky so unusual that it most be photographed. Now there are incredible clouds in it, formations of cirrus and altocirrus that have more than three dimensions to them, whatever that means. The sky’s color is a rich velvet violet, an amethyst blue I have never seen, dense and rolling and radiant, the way a gas planet might look if it were close to its sun-star, the heavens flowing like water toward twilight, toward another, deep uranological sky: the empyrean heavens. Banks of clouds twirl in long bands, some in spirals with etched ivory figures that look like the work of a Mesolithic bone-carving guild.
As I am filming these wonders, I realize that the numbers on the camera have gone far past where there is film, not only beyond twenty-five, but thirty, now at forty, forty-five feet. There could be no film left at this imaginary length, but I a determined to impose my will on the physics and chemistry of the dream and create a new kind of photoreceptive strip relevant to dream film-making.
A lenticular cloud hung over the sun during our fungos earlier on this spring-trout November Sunday. I gave all my energies to chasing the baseball, seizing it at full extension of my being. The volleyball players left the field, and the lenticular cloud sank the way Kohoutek was supposed to, a god stabbed across the calendar sky, dissolving into soft cuttings of cirrus friezework over the trees by the river, the river that had been ice in the morning, like the white glaze on picnic-table wood and grass. Ice twinkled in angular light, melting into the river, into the source of some other obscure energy, the baseball game to play out until the last inning. Into the weakness of the last swing, and running catch, getting in the car, driving home, lying on the couch with a beer, cold darkness of the house, in a dark cold hole. Even Robin was in a comic-book stupor. Then the dream.
On the other side of the moon I sit beneath an appletree in the last bitter drops of memory, getting ever more acrid with the light of the daytime moon. The sweetness of pain. The destruction of the hearth when the ceremony has ended. Behind the Soyal I knew, for years reading Hopi books, is a winter whose depth and barrenness make spring. I have always been a visitor to the ritual chamber here, but I have never been an initiate.
We dwell here, as priests awaiting guardians, hoping that the torch is eternal, not because we think it is but because the white flowering apple in moonlight rises to meet us as surely as the one whom we have named Cassiopeia, and whose whiteness, at the end of all chemistries alchemy has ever posited, is the same dust that blows across the astronauts’ boots and whose seeds are unborn fish, even before the Age of Fishes.
We come to the definitive act outside the system, taking the cue from the dark tunnel and its messengers, those binary ghosts who claim both existence and non. There’s still enough energy to work with, for a trickster to be blowing out Milky Ways. The Great Work isn’t finished, but it is welled up in a single ball in counter-motion its center, to be launched from gravity into astrology, specifying its fix in deeper time and space.
The signs click off ominously, flashed at me like cards in a remote parapsychology event, the aliens in their spaceship messing with our planet again, their hotshit intelligence rays locking the three-dimensional machinery in bodiless flesh. Do not cross. Do not pass.
It is just a moment in eternity, but then eternity is just a moment in whatever this is. How else could the sky which is black be so blue, could the stars be visible in both their and our history, naked enough for spectroscopes to map the nervous system of a giant beast?
I dive into the cold pond, stand naked in the mud, wearing goose bumps on my entire body from the breeze. Tadpoles dart about my thighs. The wind, Navaho blue, sparkles across the water, its sparkling drawn right up to, breaking over and past me, until it is everywhere, until it ceases and the pool breathes its oxygen molecules deep.
The mountains are points of power, this tarn their bounty shed with winter snow.
The crater is small, but it is much bigger than I am. Too many summers have wound around in a stock memory like railroad tracks, as lone as cars lost in fields where roads have ceased. The pinkness of Homer’s sun beyond, the Atlantic sun, which will be Homer’s sun as long as we are who we are—European invaders of a New World they don’t yet see.
In this moment of being full, I want to bring everything here, all the grief, all the arguments too, to be softened, because behind all the yeses and nos, I remain.
“Some other time you’ll come back,” she says kindly. “Some other time and I’ll be here,”
Fragile as a vase set in Pompeii. Will we meet again, Vesuvius?
Or in some Borges story, adios.
Miranda in her high chair waving irrelevantly, “Bye-bye.”
Summer sky now, the winter stars are lost. The signs fall where they have shifted and continue to shift, in unconsciousness, between moments of consciousness, a pattern that unfolds all day but is seen patchwork at night. Orion and Taurus have fled, but the darkness of where they were, and their memory, is a more powerful insignia than their loss. Cassiopeia and Cepheus have traveled beyond the village, and the Dipper is bent over our house. Leo, whose head barely cleared the roof-top for months of winter, is now stretched over the top of the sky. Virgo follows his roar, long and hooked, bearing Spica in her center, dividing the sky with upraised arms. Libra: Zuben’ubi. Hercules partitioning his realm, and Lyra, with green Vega, half a wing and body of Cygnus, playing a mute but penetrating tune. The head of the Scorpio uncoils from the brook, a snag in history itself, his bent axis of rebirth, Antares aloft by mid-evening, tattooed in his septum, resurrecting all the failed and forgotten moments, transforming despair—his main job, along with creating it in the first place. Above him, Serpens, a more powerful image than one would have thought, his straight signal a beacon of stars like hieroglyphs of some intelligence beyond. I saw him first, returning drunk from a party in the middle of the night—an alien presence, King Pincertop.
Ophiucus, big and shapeless as the heavens themselves, covers Maple Hill, warring to push the Scorpion from the ecliptic, which itself twists away from his sprawl across the sky. A satellite passes through Virgo, bright and swift in her body, then gone into its sunset.
Eventually winter will come again from Maple Hill. But the fact I will not be the same person means it will never come again. There is no break in continuity, Greeks and Asians in Palestine, Joshua wandering in trans-Jordan. Bootes, Aquilla. The Mayans visiting Florida, selling honey and gold. Leif Eiriksson on their tail, give or take five hundred years.
Spider dropping so slowly through green treelight. Butterfly moth.
Big wet frog.
The clouds hang down close to this mountain pool; I float on my back kicking, water splashing into my eyes: liquid sun sparkle.
Let my hollowness crack. Let me be full.
Plunging underwater, I see and feel blacker and darker and colder and even blacker, toward the source; it is unbearable.
Miranda coated with mud sits in a puddle of tadpoles Robin has made for her among his earthworks. He runs back and forth with buckets of water, filling the locks. She pours the water on her head for her pail.
Salamander pauses at the edge, body faintly receptive.
Chamomile tea in an earthen cup this morning.
A single ant, with his glint of being, carries a dead bug, red and bloodlike, across the largeness of life.
I lie in the sand with image of space itself torn like tissue paper, the Earth a gigantic map reduced to a speck by the brilliance of sun and clouds on this one world.
If there is life on Mars, nothing any longer runs on schedule. Dark nights follow dark days in rainy cities. The buses, slick with their coating of soot and skywater, grind through the blue smoky traffic between granite office mesas, the conductors buried in cement, their bones so far beneath the surface that even an earthquake would not dislodge them. No cinema. It’s boarded up. No Loch Ness. Broken his neck, Tyranno Rex. The deserts become straw yellow and yellower as the sun barely reaches them, this far from its source, building up silently in caverns and resistanceless air, the distances so great they cannot be measured, where Indians stood, Sioux down to the dry riverbed, in a nineteenth-century painting hanging in Elko, Nevada.
The machine barely operates in intense subzero code. The weather is warm in Pasadena, its hot kumquat origin. The metal is lifeless and sterilized. It does not bring life to Mars. It does not bring intelligence, only a simulacrum, controlled by signals crossing 23 million miles in twenty minutes. By then Mars has moved, continues to move, out of the Mediaeval gyroscope into the icy fires, the unending scar scrub fires of bad garbage management. A postcard landscape is unbroken by the possibility it will be anything else: a boulder-strewn plain, rocks taking on shapes and meanings like dots that seem to be letters and numbers, an automobile muffler, a sleeping cat, but are not.
The sea at the landing site is full of life. Starfish cling to rocks in small tidepools, their bodies holding the jelly of their fossilized tubercules. Sand is sorted for pebbles and grains, even rotten body of a deer, its carcass in a barn 2200 miles inland, lying in the dust in a shaft of insects rising from the straw, in a pigment left in the wood through the highest window. “Some old animal,” not without interest, but without interest.
They have no choice. The data comes from only one spot. The sand is funneled into machine, and the machinery wets it, nourishes it, measures its breathing. In the absence of life it finds an astonishing abundance of life beyond all measure. Mars which is dead is alive to the point of mocking even the experiment, indicating an above-normal psi-energy flow from one improbable subsystem to another. Things like that happen everyday, and we ignore them. Who’s to say whether any of it is life? We don’t have the same old priorities we used to, or the priorities are not the ones we had when we began.
The red sandy surface bathes in its own time-frame. If the sky cannot be blue, it must be pink. That discrepancy, stunning on Earth, is an illusion, a blue covers forever the Martian surface in a rainbow of quartz, pouring blue glaciermelt so absolute that it covers the sky, outside Cheyenne, a broken jug its only image, where no one lives, glowing to the point where it meets the sand and hovers like a jackrabbit, while disappearing, further and further into the sky as we approach it.
The day is filled with light sandstorms, creamy clouds, each one a duplicate of the next—from Cook Inlet to gray mud beaches outside Anchorage, melted ice releasing the broken rock of the highway and further, in the shambly towns, railroad tracks until the road ends, and then the glaciers waddle out of mountains. And where they dissolve in lukewarm inlets, they stand and pause and piss, angry bears in a moment that is not chemistry, despite those Ice Age spores they hold. Because on Mars it is summer, and there is no rain in the wind, no rain forecast for at least a century, if ever. And though it is frigid, it is summer. And though hail breaks the cornstalks, that is not hail, nor is it corn. It is solar wind and meteors on icicles, a vague premise of climatology, studied and revealed like humpback whales in armada. It is not cold on Mars for Martians, from a high of 55 degrees at Gila Bend to a subzero 300 at Arctic Station Eleven. Daytime range.
Long past proof, probability will remain, and it will be the probability for anything or nothing, as it always was, even in the pre-Cambrian, even when everything was prescient and pregnant, and yet hung in the balance of a spirit blowing over the Martian abyss, because life is so much more than algorithmic possibility. Because we are not so smart after all.
In the movie David Bowie as extraterrestrial rock-singer scans the New Mexico landscape, reddish haze, premature to his time-frame. On his limousine console, music is playing, “Try to remember the kind of September/ when….,” He sees his parched native planet, the scions of his own body moving slowly, dry and dying, a whole Cherokee-like nation, the spiders of Mars, just three of them straggling, without an alphabet.
If melody is sad, it is our sadness, our cue. There is still a whole planet beneath the Viking ship flotilla, the temple mounds and funerals, the unending Buddhist cave migration across lives.
Who’s to say teacher and student do not change roles in each incarnation? Who’s to deny that worms arise from forgotten experiments of antiseptic hospital medicine of orange-crate death, the bodies of microbial life in mafia garbage cans? How could the spacecraft tell that, that it is not death but murder, murder of information, murder of dream?
Its circuits are overloaded, and the world must change to adjust to its slight rearrangement of conditions, at its new distance, under Martian exigencies, but the world changes even more quickly than that as the train pulls out of the station and reenters the countryside out of which the city was once formed.
Language, the great pool in which I have bathed and my mind has bathed.
I tried to make you everything. You were love, you were grief, you were me thinking out loud.
It is not in words we happen.
Feelings dip inside words, move out like fog, slip from those spaces nothing could fill, and now I do, without words.
Words could never. Not what I have done.
All of them seem wrong. All returns to a silence or a singing like silence.
If I waver, that too must go on forever, without alleviation.
Words relieved it once—intense as rain, electric as lightning I generated when the earth was too hot. I drenched myself of them. Light filled my brain, words that filled histories, texts I wrote. Whatever it was, better not forget it.
Words are not permitted to enter now. That is my space at last. And it always was.
Ten years of writing proved that. Words were there as soon as feelings began, and they kept feelings at bay. Passion—describe it. Beauty—shameless cosmology. Terror, panic—find metaphors. I lived a day, at most, ahead of language—usually not even that. How dumb the finest articulation yet is.
The words just happened, formed each other out of my nerves and breathing along the skin and blood I shared with the world. Physically they were a distillation of all the possibilities of fluency in me. They were the rhythm of me, the metabolism rush, as dream is, flooding in when the curtains of consciousness fall. As long as I was articulate, I filled space. Explaining was more important than living. Anyway I would live. This other thing I would do, as defiance of an ordinary life. As the calling of a magical lineage, as one of its children.
These books are my past bodies. They are the bodies of me. How could I choose between them and a photograph of me then, or my rashes, flus, love-making, anxiety attacks, rages, gentleness, my nurturing the children, my teaching classes, my swimming in the glacial Atlantic. All of them are authentic reproductions. All of their waves carry into the present, as something or something else.
A photograph is embossed by light on chemicals responsive to light. The words likewise, in chains of phonemes and syntactic sequences, are as close to essence as the mind can get to glottochronology and the history of language, as the mind can comprehend.
The mind was not clear. But the light was not absolute either. Neither reveal the full impact of sensations passing into a body. Now a large flower blossoms, speechless but the same.
I wanted to write and think forever, the voice knowing nothing except what it’s willing to say. And yet there’s all the rest, creating havoc with our lives, with civilization, despite good intentions.
Past the wish to speak truth. Past the certainty we’re not going to fuck up where everyone else did. Past the public smiles and the private smile. Past promise and therapy and initiation.
My books as I re-read them are far from perfect, but they are pure. Whatever they don’t say, they still say. All their errors are permanently fixed to the folios. They are also my errors of food, of sleep, of impatience, of forcing initiation. Indistinguishable to anyone but me they contaminate the text, mixed with mistakes of the typesetter—failures of the operator to reproduce my exact text and the failure of both of us to catch dozens of errors.
They stand now, all those flaws together. And they are the same flaws. I cannot reproach the compositor any more than I can reproach my own mind. In frustration I want to. But it is the same frustration that led to the errors. To persist would relieve nothing. At least the writing relieved the sultry years of my life, the youth I took out of the fire, the childhood I was least able to live. Maybe now I’ll write and live both.
I look back and see the changeless starving words pursuing me. And they are in it for keeps. They are wonderful, but I have left no room for anyone else to live on this planet, so filled it is with words, visions, and wishes to claim everything that comes from my mind before someone else uses it—and I have failed to claim the thing: the inviolability anyway of my life. Whether I write or not. Whether I make a text. It is all text anyway, written by light, long before I came along to experience it in a vision. It has always been text: the fiery letters called atoms, the ceaseless spawning cells, the stars themselves. These things simply exist. What I share with them is that I exist too. My writing of them doesn’t bring me one iota closer. Why not I too, have the courage to live?
Lying on the hard floor of a strange apartment, I cannot get to sleep. I look up and only a half hour has passed since the last look, but during it I have been through my whole mind. I am exhausted by consciousness. If only it were dream it would fade into the tolls of imageless sleep. But it is like being awake without any of its grace or opportunity. It reminds me how just beneath the surface, how bad things can get.
I reconsider possibilities, ploys, exploits. I run through escapades, plans, grudges, schemes, mementos, romantic fantasies. I save the best of the old daydreams for last—but they merely get me hyped up for action, and there’s no action, only the stream of thought, which continues to flow unbroken. It is causing me have to get through everything just to get through time.
The night is totally silent and totally loud. Three A.M. I am getting worried I won’t make it. But what does that mean? Of course I will be there in the morning. I guess I’m afraid of getting restless and having to move around, and there is no place to go. But that’s just one more thought. Its exacerbated pitch doesn’t faze my condition.
How do I know what lies behind all this is unbearable? It might be lovely. It might even be sleep. But all I feel is myself in the way.
Halfway between three-fifteen and three-thirty. I stare into the quality of thought itself. This is adult life. Since I won’t let it go I might as well hang with not letting it go. It gets purer and purer, more and more tiresome. I do not like it at all. It doesn’t compel or interest me.
What else is there? What have I been avoiding, that I still avoid, like sleep?
Okay. Start again. Just let the mind go into an image and stay with it, no matter how unlikely, irrelevant, fake.
It begins with a shatter-zone of embarrassing baseball plays, jumping and running and throwing and rolling, the whole sequence lasting a few seconds. Then something like wind blows it all clear.
I see the Earth beneath me. I am in an airplane, second in a line of paratroopers. We are going to have to jump. The wind is cold and whining in my head. It is the same wind that is clearing the sky. I look up and see the sun above me in deep black space. Below are clouds floating on a blue rippled cloth, the sea hundreds of miles beneath.
This is no minor jump. But there is no other way out of the plane.
I must dive when my turn comes. No looking or considering. Jump—and law will take over. As into the spring mountain pool I plunge, the senses flooded with molecularly synapsed cold, wildly pounding through my body, gongs that go in deeper than I thought I went, certainly deeper than I was wishing to go as I lay there in the sun contemplating the exact clouds overhead, broken into masks in the water.
How good it would be just to float down through the sky. If my parachute works, I will go all the way to land. If it doesn’t, I will be smashed. The interminable waiting in seriousness and rationality is over. “I am” is inevitable.
Using an advanced student from another school, the t’ai chi master demonstrates the two-person form. She stands in preparation for push-hands. Before he even touches her she is flat on her back on the floor. Three times this happens. The first two she responds with baffled outrage: “But I didn’t move.”
“You moved,” he says.
The third time she says “It seems like even to be in the room is too heavy.”
“Now you begin to understand..”
I do a hundred and three moves, but I do not master intention. I do not do the moves. But there is no other choice. I do the moves. I watch my attention wander. I go on doing the moves.
I hear the frogs calling in total night, making sound as thick as stars unhindered by earthshine. I feel powerless and calm, a wetness, a splash against silence. I see, sunlit in my cells, frogs mating in a pond, floating, joined softly on water tension, a perfect constellation of Life on Earth. They embody inner detail; they are inattentive to all other static.
I don’t need man and woman anymore. As whatever I am, I get there.
A current gathers from every area of my skin, cascades into my groin, and pours out the jug I am, a mercury I carry secretly beneath common water. My legs become as soft as theirs, and prickles run across them, carrying my body up to my windy breath and hard against the tearing portals of my eyes.
In their sound I am nothing, nothing at all. Their singing fills every possibility of space-time. I bob there until thought returns. And then it comes, like a string of a thousand uncles, each in turn knocking on the door, until the room is filled with them.
For a while at least, I don’t care.
Those words are still my friends.
I awake from a nap brought on by a headache. I awake suddenly on the edge of being, the abruptness so much more certain than the pang. The headache in fact is gone, and I stare numbly at a forgotten beginning. Two rocks stand there, agency having passed, forever separated. Their gap is the abyss. Where thought begins.
If light moves through eternity unbidden, what impels it, particle by particle; what gets it there?
Life makes itself familiar; it insists on me. I am a child watching the street from a city window. I stand in a long hallway and, when my stepfather opens the door, I stand up and walk. There is a blue flower gleaming from a thousand such blues, going back forever, into the blueness of the sky. There are golden daisies in a space so radiant, so young, so splendid, that its sheer fabric wrapped in petals overwhelms philosophy.
I awake from my nap, the connection broken. Eating an orange now will not restore it. I have been here as long as I can remember. When I can no longer remember, I am one splash in a pond, which ends. And the entirety of summer twilight hangs over it, the mosquitoes, before me as after.
You say the only trouble with dying is you do it for such a long time. But it also takes an awful long time to get born. Mountains on either side. And the headache, having dissolved, sucks an orange. The giant crumbles into words, events.
You say death stalks me. Yes. By now there is no other explanation. But I do not know it as death. It is all the things I do which stalk me: breakfast, thoughts, notions, having to pee, peeing, talking as me to friends—the persistent light of the sun I see through these stones called eyes.
The thing I call death does not stalk me. It is something immeasurably larger, something that cannot be reduced to naming, something not only inside me but everywhere inside me and coming from places inside me I do not know. So that when I awake from the nap, something else is there, bigger than I am, like a wind that could lift me away. Even that is not quite death. The word “death” is a hedge, a fraud. My experience of eternity is my body itself, because every fiber courses with fluid, every sensation touches thought, every thought percolates through language and languageless to complete a circle. There is nothing bigger than this, but my congruence, reimposed, is as devastating as any annihilation. I am suspended, like Robert Fludd’s angel, between amber and midnight stars.
Death comes as a strange notion. All this, will not forever be. Forever. And the smell hangs there, the smell of anything, of meat cooking in another house. It alone marks the spot. You could dismantle reality image by image, and it would not break the connection. We live all our lives, knowing the connection will/will not be broken.
The astral body is terrifying, and the soul is terrifying. And they solve nothing, either for the occultist who believes in them or the scientist who takes his abnegation of them for granted. Belief is not the game we are asked to play. The body knows, and the mind’s wish to fuse body and belief in monogamy is a way not to live at all.
Nothing is true: the ocean takes care of that in its bed of sand.
If the soul does not exist, it is terrifying.
If it does exist, it is terrifying.
Either way, meaning is detoured. That I go on as something else, adds nothing to the equation. The spiritual does not interfere with the world it has created. And that alone makes it spiritual.
Wanting to live too much is the joke we play on ourselves. Pennywise, poundfoolish, we fritter away eternity; we stand determinedly on the side of life. A city in sunlight stands for us, there in our place. And we inhabit it. Sparsely but intimately. Its stones too are under edict, erosion by light and wind.
Certain other acts seem to us savage. Even to the most sympathetic anthropologist the North American vision-quest is brutal. He chronicles it, but he is grateful that he does not have to undergo it. He records it for study. We enter on his sde of the altar, with the illusion that this what they do, not what we do.
A young boy, with only minimum tools of survival, goes into the forest alone. He accepts that animal death and death by starvation are real possibilities; but he knows spirits also pursue him. He must seek not only food and drink but, even as he flees animals for whom he is supper, he must find supernatural beings identical to those animals, beings who may or may not exist.
Our savage mind is caught in a dilemma, which is also its living bond to our animal heart. Do I want to live? No: is the answer, these days always in our existential cities. Meanwhile the animals guard meaning in a kingdom all to itself, they alone. They want to live. And that is why he must wrest from them the secret, without harming them, without being harmed. And all the rest has that funny tenuous sense that blows away, us in the center—us, not the mind.
The first answer is always no. This is neither sentimental nor existential. The wish not to live is greater than the wish to live. The choice to live must be made then and there, consciously, as an animal choice, as the willingness to survive both the vision and the quest.
The bear comes out of the wilderness and out of the mist, fleshy and bloody and fibrous and, yes, even congruent, not as a symbol for something and something else. It connects the heart to the mind. That is its meaning. No more false success to buy off life. No more trinkets and record albums and dope. No more filling the void with desire for the maidens. All these things are dropped. Later, all these things come back.
We are not savages and we are not civilized. We fill the city with time that buys off our precious time, while sun fills the city too. We collectivize our suicide, placing first our birth in the false security of law, as if in the secularity of the hospital we came into this world fully formed, why then crying of a darker and bloodier place? We nurse out chemical deaths—head or body, body nonetheless. My brother did it in a mental hospital, drugged and mindfucked. Add it up, one way or another, it comes out to about ten or eleven years of his life. If we had been a civilized family, like those who lived here before our ancestors brought their broken rosicrucian dreams, he could have taken it into the star-clear night. He could have stalked, in the vastness of nebula formation, the traces of his own formation. It could have been a song.
We have reduced our effectuality. We make the decision to live again and again and again and again, and still have it to make. The angst of the West arises solely in this condition. We have access to no more profound tragedy or deity. The best of our modern novels take their beauty and longing from this arch. Glorious it is. Vaster and more devious than any Indian life. But it rests on a pebble. It is as though, being unable to complete the first step, we are now up somewhere in the hundred thousands plus. And have forgotten. Because only one is missing. That it is the first one. And awake at moments startled and clinging to a raft while winds of unusual velocity threaten to separate meaning from its coil.
That is the purpose of the vision-quest.
We are on a petroleum high, taken long and slow, and hard and deep, and not in the blood. Our paranoia is a petroleum downer. Nothing but these various vehicles or chariots could convey us through an unexperienced landscape at civilization’s speed. By now, this late in the game, everything got here, even the seeds of plants on the funeral pyre of those creatures who must be our ancestors, whatever the means, whatever the path. Because the fluid of life is unbroken. And it is not our life.
We admire the vision-quest, but it has no romanticism for them who preserve it. Even as we destroy, when we find, thousands of possible worlds around us we will never now inhabit, we contemplate the eternal beginning.
There is a law upon my writing now, like a quarantine. The books I have finished are its agency. Silence alone sustains their requiredness. A second before, it was too late to save them. Now they go on existing: fat, hungry sheep, breathing right up to the edge of their quarters (but no longer exceeding them).
When I began writing, it wasn’t writing at all but something that writing made possible. The silence of childhood lay behind me, forever. But my fluency was a critique of another intention. In twelve years, from the cessation of the original silence to the quarantine, I caught up, transcribing my chattering, yet omitting from the text another event that had no promise of articulation.
I transcribed what memories I still had, recollections brighter than sunlight. Through these came cosmic possibilities, tarot-card windows, both of memory and imagination: the origin of consciousness and matter, the birth of the stars, the emergence of cells and tiny worms, the migrations and settlements that leave this present world a code, thoroughly mysterious and thoroughly assimilated, of what darkness shed in making it, in coming to itself, a prophecy of some other, unknown thing.
I wrote books. That is, because there were too many pages to account for in any other way, books were invented to place them in. The unquestioned prerogative this culture gives to literacy (and literature) allowed me, even encouraged me, to file words in that way.
My books were gathered devotedly from the archives of the world, such as they are now. I was accused of making books out of other books, but what road wasn’t a trail out of the forest laid upon former trails, especially for new flesh made of ancient grunge, spun off a broken wheel—sometimes letters, sometimes numbers? If information reached me, I gathered it, strung it out in primary images and designs. It was almost cosmology. It was almost fiction. It was a mystery story with a plot but without characters; its suspense passed from book to book.
They were not novels; they were not poems; they were not journals. They were the volumes of a sourceless encyclopedia. Some things may have been left out, but nothing was missing.
They came from a place inside me, hidden and ineffable. It has become memory too—has softened and gone beyond me, like the purple clover once. I stand at the end of a period of my life that text cannot reach, because it is already text. In a sudden shift of boundaries, I am thrown clear of everything into the sunlight.
And now, not even two years into quarantine, interpretation is vanishing faster than I can carry my life into a mute world. I am unweaned. It was one thing to stop writing as an act of grandiosity and will. It proved my self-confidence. It was another thing to sustain silence as an act of principle. It called for an arrogance equal to the writing itself. Now it is the world, requiring a continuity of meaning, with my life on the line, just as it was when I began.
I look back at my books, six, or eleven, or fourteen of them, depending on how you count, and there is only only one book. The great breakthroughs and departures only seemed so at the time. The text is continuous. It is not under quarantine. It is one train in a famous forest, traveling only against its obscurity.
I stand now, the castle completed, having still the castle to build. I have not—as Robert Duncan predicted—“opened for us a new era.” But I also have not been defeated. I have barely begun. The doubt, which I ignored because it was not part of the text, can now be included. I look back, in truth, over an incredible occurrence, true and false both to its actual dilemma.
Long before I began writing, I thought, in daydreams, to succeed by a single act of bravery. That seemed possible once. And I was trained, at elitist Western schools, to think logically, to expect to solve problems in terms of the Enlightenment and subsequent humanistic gambits, an Enlightenment abandoned centuries ago by the brutes in power. Although they never said it, my teachers were paying it lip service only, too. Those were their jobs. And the way they maintained them, in proud, pompous alienation, proved that the lives they went home to were post-nihilist superstitions.
I never mastered their Shelley or Faulkner, their Hegel or Heisenberg, so I made my own, in blundering arrogance. When I tried to follow the mind they taught me I had, it deserted me, for it was, at best, a statistical solution to imagination. Only when I rode it to its natural conclusion did I find myself among visionaries and poets. Nonsense, they said, you’re just an undisciplined child. Then Duncan said otherwise. And I had no choice anyway. So I built the castle without once looking back.
I tricked myself as badly as my college teachers tricked themselves, but at least I served a deeper mischief. They had opinions. Well, I had opinions too. They were concerned with the liberal political tradition in America. I preferred the totems ceremonies of ancient peoples. They consigned alchemy and astrology to the errored past. I could find no such error or past. All along I suspected that my way wouldn’t work, but nobody could prove that in advance or tell me why. I had to figure out my own basis for relevance; meanwhile they were busy churning up false difficulties, making cults of academic fashions.
So I started over, at the beginning. I hid things in books; in fact, I made books in order to hide things there. My plants and animals and tribes are unproven fictions, hints of other dispersions and migrations—the depth of the sky and the stars in it, the peoples of lost continents and fragments of extinct languages and languages dreamed up by scientists to stand for dialects of cell division and matter fission. In fragile lapses of attention, I uttered their magical names. I supplied a glossary of mysteries, exotic shapes, labyrinths. But, according to the officialdom who ran the schools and the armies, I did not have the right.
I was a stubborn, persistent kid. My words adopted a bland optimism of image and transcendence, but my cosmic sadness gave them their melody. The cosmological proposals may have kept me going, but they were a dime a dozen without that song.
My books were the worksheets of this attention. At the time, I valued them more than the attention; I pampered and published them. The attention is what I have left.
You can see it happening a mile away, like a horse galloping across a field, present for an instant and then gone.
The diamonds lie stillborn in another substance, the stuffed gaps, the shams of connection. I would go on for days, unaware that I was unaware, compiling extraneous material and chinking it into the cracks.
An attempt to go back and undo the damage would have prevented or delayed the larger work. The writing felt good. It also felt bad. I shaped what felt bad as if another way of feeling good. Duplication on cheap chemicals by Western industry is hardly anything to crow about or place scruples or grief against. It was just the most available precedent, in my protected world, for a journey that allowed thought and feeling to engage each other, a practice that wasn’t taught in my schools.
The pure stuff came of my heart too bright yellow, too ancient—and it had no meaning. I didn’t want to buy it off in the systems and metaphors they had for sale, the compartments into which to force the visions, to tame them into stuff as ordinary as a dream is when re-told upon waking.
Other poets gave me the wonderful stuff of occult blue, the intimation of Atlantis and Hermes and the holy guardian angels that lure one from childhood terror into the calm beauty of the world. I hoped my piracies would be concelead, absorbed in the provocative and mature character of the priestess. But they are caught there like a pig in a picket fence, every time—tangible and ungraceful as that.
I come to those calques in re-reading and feel hot flushes. I read past them rapidly, hoping to convince readers to do the same. Of course, I am too late.
“So what,” my grammatological friends, with Derrida and Lacan on tap, tell me. “The same thing will happen to this text too. You are only promoting a transient clarity just as you promoted one back then. It too will vanish. There is no original to get back to, and there is no point at which the search for the original will end or become any more arcane or honest. You are writing yourself further away even as you are writing yourself closer.”
In the end, what choice have we? We write, and it happens. We don’t write, and it is written. Time consigns even the diagnosis to the disease. We are not given a way out. We feed, as anything feeds.
I live in the future only, and in the West. The imaginary future of industrial society. I go on writing past the finality of that, in absolute certainty now that we will live the lives we were given, those lives only.
There’s a sign over San Francisco, the brightest thing you come to out of the East Bay. It says, “Coca Cola, It’s The Real Thing.” That message sits in hundreds of sparkling light-bulbs; they fizz up like raindrops on a pond and then dissolve; fizz up, dissolve. It is so absolute and final. It blasts through my forehead and hangs there in meaningless space. I see the sign where it is, and I don’t hate it, and I don’t resist it. It is beautiful because it is true.
Conditions do not lie. They could mount the words of Jesus or Buddha up there, but they would be corny excesses. Our epoch will not allow light to carry really true messages. So we are left with what we are: “Coca Cola, It’s The Real Thing.” And there’s no better way to say that, no fuller act of self-condemnation, of cosmic reprisal, than the sign itself. The combined efforts of Coca Cola Central and local industrious advertisers have mounted the Lie on the Gate to San Francisco. They have placed a warning there, to remind us how far out of this Western city we must go to fine the real thing. And they have said it with all the succinct, garrish displacement their poor bodies can muster.
Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Plainfield, Vermont; and Oakland, California
December, 1971 – April, 1977