After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
Each year an illness demands something more
for me to exchange from my heart’s ribbed cage.
Like Rilke’s panther pacing out his grave,
I stare at a blank barred infinity.
In old age each year is a fractaled age,
a curled wavelet hanging from the wave,
as the great wave itself hangs from the sea,
both dependent on the moon’s gravity.
As wave and wavelet hit a fractaled shore,
the coast also shows self similarity,
as do mountain waves like snow-topped Fuji.
These iterating patterns include me.
So I give up one thing and another,
drawing to that point heart will uncover.
After Heart Surgery
The two note call of the loon sounds
across the cardiac lake.
I walk the corridor alone.
It is neither night nor dawn.
I find my name
inscribed on monitors
fixed to the wall.
A wave passes through
echoing the call
of the other loon on the fog-lifted shore.
The Trinity and my English Club Chair
In the Newgrange triple spiral–
given a spin by Saint Patrick
into the Christian green shamrock–
pagan mysteries are turned out
and the Triple Goddess erased,
replaced with a bland meaningless
pigeon, war god Jahveh, a son
who was obedient and meek
and awfully good at dying.
Christians could not escape the facts
of life and the Goddess sprang back
as Mary, enduring female
who holds the dead male in her arms
in the new form of Mother Church,
as you see in the Vatican,
polished up by Buonarroti.
A prehistoric mystery
is embodied here, one you can
find in icons and rituals
of the neolithic Near East–
Gobekli Tepe’s phallic head,
and the spread-legged Goddess showing
her lunar wound that heals itself–
the One producing difference
with life and the death of the male.
These Ice Age mysteries of time
of the great enduring female
and the short-lived vanishing son
continue to Chatalhuyuk’s
wall paintings of vultures and heads:
great female space and brief male time.
Listening to the Ninth Quartet
as an adolescent I felt
the opening of the third eye,
the spinal rush upward of light
that dissolved the room into space
with infinite stars and two eyes,
beautiful and terrifying,
behind the canopy of space
that looked through me as I, shaken
by the joy of return, screamed Yes!
to everything, cancer and All.
I took this vision to be Christ–
the Cosmic Christ not just Jesus
who lived in him for the three years
from the Jordan baptism by John
to the Crucifixion when he
cried out at his abandonment.
It came in the year I was not
in school or at work in the course
of life, but apart, turning
my cancer into liminal
states suspended between two worlds.
Fifty years later in Cambridge,
in meditation in a chair,
I floated out of my body,
or became aware that I had
a body above the club chair
as I drifted down into form.
For an instant between two worlds,
I floated in the space of stars,
hearing the music of the spheres–
each existent being sounding
out its melodic signature
in a state of cognitive bliss.
I knew this to be God as All–
Great Mother and Matrix in one.
Here too I was outside the course
of life and recovering from
open heart surgery– out of
the world in a liminal state.
First came the cancer, then the heart.
God the Father appeared at last
four years later, again in a
condition of kidney collapse,
dehydration, high altitude,
and too many antacids of
calcium carbonate that brought
me into hypercalcemic
delirium right as I was
meditating all through the night
in practice of yoga nidra.
I was two minds, dream and waking,
so I cannot prove my visions
that visionary night were not
failed kidneys and toxic dreams.
It seemed I surfed the edge of dreams,
delirium and waking mind,
using illness shamanicly,
the way shamans will use their pain,
or lack of water, lack of sleep,
knowing as I traveled I was
still sitting in my grey club chair.
I flew above an island reef
at the edge of a sphere of light.
The angelic beings danced in
mudras of six wings and not limbs,
for they were rooted to the spot
like aspen trees to a clear stream.
I landed and saw the dawn rise.
This sun became a hypersphere,
and I was granted permission
by the Seraphim to go in.
I entered and felt exalted
in joy and bliss beyond belief.
When I came out I was flying
back to a great ringed waterfall.
David Spangler appeared by me,
remarking: “Now that was something!
As if for a Daimon this was
no common mystical vision.
I looked down the high waterfall
and realized it led straight down
into the lower hardened worlds
of brute matter and burning time.
Then we jumped like Butch Cassidy
and the Sundance Kid. The Daimon
disappeared and I made my way
alone through all the places I
had lived, ending in awareness
of the comfort of my club chair
in a Zen cabin in Crestone
that could no longer be my home.
Illness now lay claim to my life
and I would be transported to
Alamosa and Santa Fe,
and finally to Portland, Maine
and another bout of open heart
surgery with metallic valve.
I do not know why I am here,
since twenty books are quite enough,
and I no longer feel the need
to be smart in public and make
my books a commercial product.
So I sit, meditate, and wait
in my soft gray English club chair.
Editor’s Note: On July 2, 2010, Poet and Cultural Philospher William Irwin Thompson had open heart surgery for the second time to replace a calcified mitral valve with a Titanium valve and also remove a blood clot. He wrote Hokusai’s Great Wave before his surgery, After Heart Surgery in the hospital, and The Trinity and my English Club Chair from his home in Portland, Maine.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad