The city, especially an ancient city like Zürich, is a hypertext. It is not simply because the historical plaques in the streets say that Joyce or Lenin lived there, but the fact that, while walking, your pedestrian line of personal history stops and the cube of your location in time and space become an unfolded tesseract of multiple presences; it is as if you clicked on a link in the world wide web that takes you to another time, another narrative of presence. The axial revolution of the wire torus in the window of the “Aha” mathematical toy store in Lenin’s House on the Spiegelgasse of Zürich recalls the very idea of revolution and the fact that the surface of the Soviet Union has turned outside in and become Russia once again. Strolling in the Paradeplatz and hearing all the languages on the street — or listening to them inside the tram — you can understand why Joyce chose polysemic words and the architecture of the tesseract for “Finnegans Wake”.
If I walk across Brooklyn Bridge, I cannot help but think of Hart Crane, or Whitman taking the ferry before the bridge existed, but Zürich, being so much smaller than New York, makes these literary presences seem so much closer — as when I stood next to Elias Canetti, carrying his shopping bags of groceries back from the Migros at Kreuzplatz, as he stepped off the tram at Römerhof. As I stood under the linden trees on top the Lindenhof — that old Roman site of Turicum — I did not think of battlements and defense but of Walther von der Vogelweide’s most famous poem. Living in a six hundred year old house in the same flat where Robert Walser once had taken a room, how could I not feel the story of literature to be a double track supporting the train of thought we call Western Civilization?
To chose to become a writer is like choosing to become married; it is an association with another. You are moved to write because another has touched you through writing. A poem is a solitary act that still seeks connection with the noble dead and the living great. The city, especially a literary city like Zürich, Paris, or New York, holds out a larger and invisibly dimensioned life; it is an angelic embrace, a visionary envelopment in an Other that enhances our capacity to be. Even when rural poets choose to stay in the country, they are completely dependent on what great poets accomplished before them in great cities.
Wendell Berry once said, quite movingly at a reading at Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, that “What I stand for/ I stand on.” But what soil was to an agricultural society, information is now to us; it is the new ground of our being. Even if we choose to ignore the virtual worlds of cyberpsace, we all live in a world civilization in which information is the nanosphere we breathe and the economy upon which we depend for the arrival of our daily bread or the delivery of our daily medicine. The life of my American neighbors across the street may be as distant as the space across seas or centuries, but the interior presence of literary Europe may truly be my helpful neighbor. The evolutionary news of the biosphere may concern me more than the daily fluctuations of the stock market; and I may fear the patriotic American end of the Enlightenment and the Age of Democratic Revolutions as much as the latest Islamicist attack.
When information is the ground of our being, then the lyric poem no longer simply situates the self by placing it in a landscape; rather, it situates the self by placing it alongside Sappho, Ovid and Po-Chü-I in an extensive thoughtscape in which the land is merely one faceted horizon in a crystal of reflections. Wissenskunst is the art of our informational era that traces in lines along the edge of poetry and prose the tracks of our civilization’s multicellular evolution of mind and machine — meschine, an Old French word or serving girl and not an infernal engine of dread.
Zürich, New York, and Cambridge, 1999-2005
I. IMAGES OF HISTORY
Under the low, enclosing, continuous,
canned tin grey clouds of a quiet winter,
in an afternoon like any other
in practical unecstatic Zürich,
I walk, carrying my groceries back
from St. Annahof to the Oberdorf.
As I start to cross the Münster-Brücke,
a suddenness of unexpected light
stops me like a signal changing to red.
Just above my line of vision, the crown
of Charlemagne in his cathedral niche
shines out gold in the low afternoon sun.
I turn to track the breaking of the sky,
and see below the clouds, above the alps,
the sword of light that touches the King’s crown
and the golden hilt of the sword he holds
in rest and readiness across his knees.
He doesn’t look to the Paradeplatz
to note the battles of the Jews and banks;
he doesn’t glare East to cheer on the Serbs,
hallucinating battles with the Turks;
he looks intently to the South and West,
precisely to the place where the sun sets,
this Undergoing of the Evening Lands.
What can be out there but the furthest West
where Christendom ends and West becomes East
as the ocean falls off into the space
between the Earth and the boot-trampled moon?
I grew up there, driving along the edge,
watching the sun set, waiting for the earth
to crack and drop L.A. into the sea.
There history is no cathedral but
an edifying day in Disneyland.
Hollywood would improve on Charlemagne:
in an epic film or TV Special
they’d show him getting laid by the mistress
of the Pope on the night before hen’s crowned.
Well, Old King, Christendom survived long
enough to experience its decline
and have its alotted two thousand years
cashed out in untragic banality.
Caught by the random recoronation
of the king, I begin to wonder what
the icons all around me really mean.
For the first time I go into the church,
the Grossmünster, I’ve passed every day
without feeling a calling to go in.
The Münster is not Chartres or Durham,
where one feels the invisible’s alive;
rather it’s a Reformation stripped-down
structure that’s meant to keep you solidly
in place, grounded, hard at work, confident
enough to skip mystical transcendence.
In the Middle Ages, the pointed spires
went reaching up toward the celestial spheres,
but when the guilds and trade mastered the town,
they decided to split the difference
between God and Man and settle for less —
something Swiss, halfway between heaven and earth —
so the spires were stubbed and rounded off
in exchange for a life of pious wealth.
Readings replaced magic and ministers
became bookkeepers holding the accounts.
The Great Book, at the crossing, under glass
is on display but I can hardly read
its unilluminated Gothic script,
so I turn and descend into the crypt.
There a weather-gouged and worn-out statue
of Charlemagne shows me the other is
a copy of a copy of the king.
Perhaps as propaganda, Disneyland
and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln are
not so far off the money as I thought.
whether America or Vaterland.
I tour the crypt like any tourist,
then walk back up and quickly out the church.
When I talk about the day’s walk that night
at dinner, my wife tells me when the kids
in her kindergarten had an outing
to the Münster, they sat down in the crypt
to hear the old legend of Charlemagne
and the snake and were completely enthralled.
She tells me the story, over the last
of the dinner’s wine, in the candlelight,
above the emptied plates, I understand
what my searching eyes had been hungry for.
One autumn day the Great King Charlemagne
was hunting in the woods of Germany
when he came upon a great stag whose rack
of antlers would grace an Emperor’s hall.
The Great King gave pursuit but the great stag
led the chase, in sight, but never in range.
Through the woods and over streams, the great stag
led the king and his party on for days.
At last they crossed the Limmat, the stag leaped
high and ran up the hill, then turned to watch
King, and when it had the Great King’s eye,
the stag turned white and as it settled down,
its antlers flashed with an amazing light.
The King gave up the hunt but searched instead
for folk who knew the story of the place.
But all who lived there knew it was the spot
where the cruel and ignorant Romans
unknowingly annointed the earth
with the sacred blood of the severed heads
of the saints, bright Felix, deep Regula
and counseling Exuperantius,
And so the King decreed a church be built
upon the place the stag had come to rest.
In spring the work began and the king came
himself from time to time to oversee
the work and give out judgments for the folk.
To insure that justice would be heeded,
the Great King set up a column and bell
on the very spot of the martyrdom
and decreed that whoever in his realm
was in need of justice should ring the bell
and the King’s Righteousness would be summoned.
One day when the King sat down to his meal,
the bell began to ring, the tired king
went on with his meal but sent a servant
to see who at day’s end would ring the bell.
The servant returned and said that no one
was standing by the column and the bell;
but then again the bell began to sound,
so the King advised the servant to wait
and watch to see who came to pull the rope.
As the servant waited and watched unseen,
he saw to his astonishment a snake
come and rising up the column, grasp
the rope and pull to sound the bell on top.
He returned and reported what he’d seen,
whereupon the Great King Charlemagne rose
and went at once with his servants and knights.
As it saw the King approach, the serpent
bowed, made obeisance, and beckoned the King
to follow as it moved toward the bushes
at the river’s edge where it had its nest.
There at the bank of the Limmat, the snake
showed the King’s its nest with its three eggs;
but upon its nest a poison toad had come
to brood upon the offspring of the snake.
And then the Great King understood it all
and judged that the toad be condemned to death.
The decree was carried out, the King went
back with his party to Das Haus zum Loch.
Three days later, when the King was dining
with his retinue, the glad serpent crept
into the hall, bowed before the knowing King
and startled gathering, then wound itself
around the table’s leg and crept to the place
of Charlemagne, there the serpent rose up
and dropped a golden and bejeweled ring
into the cup of the wise Charlemagne.
The serpent bowed and glided silently
away under each one’s astonished gaze.
In these times of blinding occupations,
legends seem unreal, a dream or astral
experience projected onto life.
And yet the innocence of old legends
takes hold and literally re-minds us.
Myth becomes lost science, legend, lost
history, and poetry lingering
as traces left over from the previous
universe when sound and not stocks and bonds
was counted in pulsar exchange of stars.
Of course, there’s no going back, prose remains
our natural rhythm of daily speech
and no mere cadence these days could ever
set us into a deep enchanted trance.
What remains to haunt and unsettle us
for a moment is the stronger image.
As children raised on movies and TV,
the image takes hold of us, not in trance,
but in something more like a memory
of another life, hopelessly erased.
For instance, take the White Stag with antlers
of radiant light. It makes the story,
doesn’t it? But you cannot tell me why.
That has now become the work of poets:
they’re not to enchant or fall into trance
like bards but serve as art historians
of images that can help producers make
better movies to amuse the public
and preserve the State of Entertainment.
The Great White Stag with its antlers of light,
is the very same one you see engraved
on the old Celtic Gundestrup Cauldron,
where Cernunnos, Lord of the Animals,
sits with eyes closed in meditative trance
and holds the serpent in his good left hand,
the magical silver torque in his right.
The white stag is drawn, smiling to the torque.
The resonating racks of man and deer
exchange knowledge as waves of sound ringing
in the silver torque and the encircled snake.
Understand by this that King Charlemagne
is more shaman than a politician.
Both the stag and the snake appear, you see,
in the ancient legend, and both grant him
knowledge of time and the deep foundation
of kingdoms, temples, and the times to come.
Do you know that if you stand in Nara
and ask why the deer are allowed to graze
in great numbers within the temple walls,
the Shinto priests say it is to honor
the White Deer upon which the ancient gods
first descended from heaven to Japan?
Do you know that the Mexican Huichol
in peyote trance see this same great stag
and in pictures they make with colored yarn,
show shaman and stag in conversation?
I could go on to speak of Hittite stags,
Mesopotamian cylinder seals,
but won’t, since that would be academic.
But it was this very same Great White Stag
with radiant antlers of astral light
that led Hildegard and Berta away
from their high castle to the holy place
where the Fraumünster cloister stands today.
If you cross the Münster-Brücke and stand
by the statue of Waldman with his axe,
you will see, between the Stadthaus and church,
an iron gate leading to a cloister.
Cross the street and go into the cloister,
and there you will find Bodmer’s paintings
of the White Stag and the serpent that came
to test the judgment of King Charlemagne.
But there is more to this old story
than what you see so realistically
expressed in Heimat religious paintings.
And all that has to do with the nature
of time and the kairos of religions,
for each is bound to a season of time
in which its worship derives its power.
The serpent is an image you can track
all the way back to Old Stone Age Europe
and forward to the art of William Blake.
It is known in many iconic forms:
from the staff of Osiris, the snake
Moses set upon a rod in Sinai,
the Caduceus of Greek medicine,
the plumed serpent of Quetzalcoatl,
the kundalini of Vedic yogis,
the dance of crane and snake in Tai Chi Chuan,
or bird and snake on inverted anchor
as emblem of the Chemycal Wedding
for Rosicrucian texts in Germany.
No matter in which culture it appears,
it remains the emblem of the three brains
spinal, limbic, and cortical, and their
esoteric transformation in light.
For the Old Europe Gimbutas dug up,
the snake is the mystery religion,
the closed teachings of initiation
that are not taught in churches and schools
but only go from sage to hidden sage.
The eggs of the serpent, like Yeats’s crop
of mummy wheat express the old passing
its lineage on to another age,
a new kairos in which new stars will pulse,
changing the hidden dark environment
for which the planets are merely dishes
that pass on the energy of the stars.
The poison toad that broods upon the eggs
means the old mysteries have been taken
over and grown toxic, turned by false
parentage to a life kept down in mud,
and never to turn from snake into bird.
This also is an emblem of the race
of Man and how we came out of starlight
but were captured by the local spirits
of the elemental Earth and had our
parentage erased and reconscripted.
So here the old mystery religion
can no longer serve the time, the serpent
knows it is the kairos of Christendom,
its Platonic Month of two thousand years
that must parent the children of the snake.
Charlemagne as Celtic shaman is wise,
and in the lineage of Cernunnos,
he mediates between the snake and stag.
Passing the test of the serpent, the king
insures the life of three eggs, three empires
to come, Aachen, London, and Washington
(and with each an esoteric teaching,
Celtic, Rosicrucian, and Masonic).
The wine cup placed before King Charlemagne
comes from Melchizedeck and was passed on
to become the Seint Graal of Jesus Christ;
the ring of the snake is the zodiac,
the jewel, that twelfth part alloted to
Christendom’s kairos of two thousand years.
But that time has passed and now new stars
nova with another environment.
The three old religions of Abraham
in seizures of fundamentalist zeal
have been adopted by the poison toad.
As I write this the bells of the Münster
begin to ring, and I who at sixty,
from a life of apocalyptic dread
driving along the San Andreas Fault,
have been brought back here to old Celtic tracks
of legends and images of lost time,
know that my life will not see one event
of history give more confirmation
than the sunlight upon a sculptured crown,
or these bells, these iron age symbols
of invisible worlds of stellar sound.
II. TORUS AND HYPERSPHERE
The toroidal mathematical toy
spinning in the store window of the house
on 14 Spiegel-Gasse in Zürich,
where Lenin once lived, stops me in the street.
The wings of Fra Angelico’s angel
when set in motion create this torus —
the curved wings’ arc outside the cube of space
are anchored to his spine on either side
of his heart where the axial turning
turns inside out as the two spheres rotate
into the dimension of the hypersphere.
“At the still point of the turning world
there the dance is” T. S. Eliot said.
There at the still point where the angel’s wings
are attached to the center of his heart
is eternity’s entry into time
where Mary reads prophecies and wonders.
Topologies of the stilled instant hold,
like snowfall stopped into crystals and space,
the states of mind as temporal facets:
waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep soaking
imageless as a sea anemone
undreaming in chemical tendrilled touch.
We think we can see how we think and see,
in the train of thoughts we begin to track,
but the mind is the land and sky above,
and even more odd dimensions than that —
an instant opening without percept,
an axial torus that turns out in
an n-dimensional topology,
resolving facets in torus and sphere,
historical events and emanations,
which if you know them come from out of time,
a one in All — no, not heaven,
or the Holy Land, Buddhist Emptiness,
Christian and Islamic praying minds
caught in language and trying to get out,
while still holding to a parental God
unstable in his love for punishment,
but time-faceted encircling instants
in a turning toroidal hypersphere.
In the gap between each thought light seeps up,
or down if you prefer a Christian spin
of the Solar Logos into Jesus
at the instant of the baptism by John.
A Nestorian tale that — one that tells
of the stellar mind of our entire
planetary system walking inside
Jesus for three full years. Jesus himself
through Goddess Mary and fond Magdalen
sublimed the old mystery of the quiff,
first as womb then as red wet open wound —
the labial slash exposed to Thomas,
finger-fucking Resurrection to free Man
from the psychic trance of the dreaming mind.
I like to think he did it first for us,
because the other disciples were weak
followers who spun the Solar Logos round
into a little cult Peter could take
because John was too fey to manage it.
The Christian religion is the one true
crucifixion that nailed Christ to the Church.
The Holy Ghost is neither spook nor pigeon;
she is the Great Mother, the universe.
To be truly born again we must go
down again — God’s anointing facing sex.
It’s none of the above when we go down
to ascend, uninstanting tiny nows
alert to fractal reflected drops of quim
catching the full moon in the open field.
III. UNTER DEN LINDEN
God, will I ever get good at German?
Although I try each morning to ascend
the hard granitic Geist of High German,
making myself read Deutsche Gedichte
over three strong Italian espressos,
I keep slipping Syssyphean back down,
fumbling with dictionaries and Dudens,
spilling coffee and smearing toast and jam
over prefixes and protruding roots.
Still I kind of like all the animism
of Indo-European roots open
to the eye like the roots of Banyan trees —
English keeps them under wraps in Latin —
but Christ it’s so much easier to take
the music of Ronsard or Baudelaire
than sentimental Trinklieds and churchy
sermons on death and pietistic hymns.
Walther von der Vogelweide is good;
he has that Austrian sensate lightness,
the kind of lover who is more taken
by the woman’s ecstasy dissolved
in odours of Linden and flattened grass
held within the song of the Nightingale:
Under the linden
in the meadow,
there you may find
flattened grass and flowers
where we together
made our double bed.
Before the forest,
in a valley,
beautifully sang the nightingale.
I had come
into the pasture,
a gracious girl,
that blessed will I always be!
Did he kiss me?
Well a thousand times!
See how reddened are my lips.
So splendidly did he make
a bed from blossoms
that we still smile
when anyone comes
along the self-same way
he with roses made so well.
Look where his head lay by mine.
That he lay with me
no one knows
(now God be willing!)
Oh would I be shamed
if anyone would know
what he did with me!
No one, no one
should ever discover
what he and I
and a tiny little bird —
Well may that remain uncovered!
I wonder if now in the Lindenhof
the trees are blossoming; better to leaf
through trees than dictionaries and grammars,
to soak in Linden with thoughts of Walther,
the traces of old words exchanged for scents
of inner flowers and opening times.
But the tiny green buds of the linden
are hanging down, unwhite and unopened,
infant testicles without seed or scent.
I am too soon and too late, with only
memories of a past as my future.
The buds like empty files with only labels
have no odour and for the life of me
I cannot bring to mind the actual
overwhelming odour that brings me here.
Odours are not images, you cannot
forget them or recall them sensually.
When I say the words red or breast, I see
the soft pale rose areolas of my wife.
Objects come immediately to mind,
but linden, jasmine, acacia and rose
bring up only labels of memories,
hungry ghosts, lusting for sensual tastes.
Am I already dying, is this just
how I will be in death, the old presence
that has been absent during life returns —
an Aha! of spirit’s inhalation
with the final hollowed exhalation?
The Daimon has projected down in time
a body for the vividness of sense,
a field of love the monadic Daimon
is denied in its consciousness without
an object, its unphased and haughty light.
Suffering intrigues it as much as joy;
even more the spiked, pitched oscillation
between joy and grief can give it the range
of humanity it needs to report
back home; we’re all unearthly aliens
abducting ourselves every night in sleep,
and Enlightenment’s just a waste of time
since love, not escape, is what it’s after.
I want to smell the linden now but can’t.
On this park bench in Zürich now I can
only haunt my body, remembering
linden and acacia in Berne, jasmine
and orange blossoms in California,
honeysuckle in New York, and the air
in Hawaii on getting off the plane
rich and syruppy with the dense odours
of unknown unnamed tropical flowers.
And, yes, Walther, with each distinct odour
I try to recall comes to mind the scent
of a woman’s outrageous flowering.
Muse, daughter of memory and Zeus,
no Homeric catalogue of the ships
that set sail to Troy is needed to fill
the mind with uplifting answering wind.
I shall not catalogue, label, or name
her of the dark hair caught in the air of
night blooming jasmine, her of the orange
blossoms and full moon, her of the white lei
under blond hair and over sun-tanned skin,
her of the honeysuckle entangled
with constellations that came in her eyes.
They pass through me in vivid images
the dead must see as they review their lives.
It’s the odour of linden I’m after,
and linden and accacia are my wife
and the cause of my being here and not
breathing in the odours of other lands.
Two loud American tourists approach,
spraying the air with English to keep
the local foreigners from bugging them.
They notice I’m writing in a journal.
They sit down on the wall in front of me,
turn to admire the recommended view,
perhaps considering me as exotic
as an old man with worry beads, sitting
to the side in a Cretan taverna.
After a quick glance at the guidebook view,
she tells her companion she needs a nap
and sits down at the far end of my bench.
There is room enough for her to stretch out,
and her pushed breasts obligingly spill out
in my direction. Take that, Walther, I’m
under den Linden, too late and early.
The two women move on, I take their place
on the low stone wall with a better view.
In the Fšhn cleared sky, the still snow-clad alps
seem so much closer than they really are.
A thin stratus filament extends from
the Dolder spire to the Munster towers.
It is a good day for the Lindenhof
The city as text of memory marks
itself in stone: the Roman steps I climbed
to come to this old defended hilltop,
the line of the Limmat, the Romanesque
cloister and cathedral, the guild houses,
the rock solid Reformation towers,
the nineteenth century’s academic
flourishing of industrial science
with ETH and UniZuri set
above the Munster, grand Hotels, and banks.
But up there at the top of it all is
the tombstone of James Augustine Joyce.
Recently, Elias Canetti moved
in, around the corner from Joyce’s grave.
I used to watch him with his Migros bags
get off the tram at Ršmerhof; once I
stood next to him, thinking of his frank words
to Kathleen Raine, that Maxwell did not love
her and never could because he was gay.
I wanted to talk to him but did not
since I hadn’t read any of his books.
The city continues to write itself,
from Gottfried Keller, now to Adolf Mushg
who’s turned an unused observatory
into a salon for underused stars.
A sparrow comes to me looking for crumbs,
but I didn’t come for lunch, just for the trees.
I wonder how long I still have to wait.
A fly lands on my leg; I brush him off.
Not yet. I turn and go back home to pack.
IV. THE LATIN HINGE
Under the green scrub oak leaves of summer,
along the shores of Great Peconic Bay,
within her green-walled cabin on Fishcove,
in her colorful Guatemalan dress
whose slender spaghetti-straps barely held
the top over her overflowing breasts,
she looked up at me and a single pearl —
corroborating the truth of Vermeer —
remained full on the fullness of her lip:
the frozen dew on the red Findhorn rose,
Virgil’s lacrimae rerum holding time.
Why can I only experience life
truly for the first time in memory?
The Rig Veda and the Upanishads
speak of the two birds on the self-same tree,
one tasting the fruit, the other watching.
This slow articulation of the self,
atman to ego, over centuries, catches me
in my own age-bound reflections.
The Latin hinge swings away
from psyche to the duty-bound awakened ego.
Pius Aeneas abandons Dido
and sails off to found imperial Rome
in the conscious mind of the sunlit West.
Now four red-bricked centuries of Harvard
construct themselves in the blocks around me,
though I can only see two
composed in the closed rectangular glass
of the window of my Civil War flat.
Another business-like office goes up
for the Government Department next door.
A new American generation of managers
must be trained how to rule
a mad unruly Islamicist world.
Under the air conditioner’s murmur
I stretch out in the hum job of summer
and fall into an artificial sleep,
a catnap half-alert
for the alarm of an attack to go off
with events that will be filmed and replayed on TV
in the faked canonized take of history.
In tearful letters to his wife in Rome,
or pleading arguments to Augustus,
in epistolary poems to his friends,
or cursing Ibis with erudition,
Ovid only knew himself through others.
He saw uncultured nature as a prop
to arguments for pardon and return.
Had he heard the wind at the world’s end,
seen in brooding rocks, melancholic clouds,
the stirrings of landscape,
the mind mirrored
in images of Danube and Black Sea,
the literate world need not have waited
for Li Po and Po-Chü-i
to discover the self dissolving into selflessness —
“bird tracks left behind in the empty sky” —
as they listened to the wind in the pines
or snow cracking bamboos in the cold night.
Why it took so long to promote the self
(Augustine used ipse and animus)
from reflexive pronoun to noun alone
in a landscape without mental chatter
moves me above this pond reflective screen
to think of Petrarch on top Mount Ventoux,
seeing the land and reading Augustine,
and Wordsworth alone at night on Snowden
listening to moonlight stream into the sea,
and Caspar David Friedrich’s Sea of Fog.
Ovid could have stopped to hear out the wind
centuries before the summer Li Po
took off his top knot to feel the pine winds
release his hair from the sight of others.
He still could have recalled Augustan Rome
long before suffering asthmatic Proust,
exiled from dinner parties in his room,
recalled the lost Belle Epoque in Paris.
And long before Augustine’s Confessions,
he could have explored memory and time:
“non ergo tempus corporis motus.”
But Ovid needed bright society —
the baths, the dinners with Falernian wine.
Up to his ears in others,
he never heard the wind in its own voice
speak for the sea,
or waited for the Pleiades
to rise high above his hard solitary bed.
Alien elemental minds he could only personify
as human gods in a shallow, vain, Olympian court.
If Ovid in exile had understood
the mirrored landscape of the exiled self,
he might have been the first to see
evil as the next level of order
announced in the midst of religion’s damaged goods.
3. APULEIUS AND AUGUSTINE
Voltaire said the best is the enemy of the good.
I’d say it’s the other way round:
the good is the enemy of the better.
The Church is the enemy of the mystic,
unless packaged and controlled
in the form of a saint for sale piecemeal in relics.
Dead saints are best;
living saints are dangerous.
Meister Eckhart springs to mind.
How evil spins around, yin yang,
exchanging places with good.
The shepherd curses the city.
Amos rants against Zion.
The cattleman curses the farmer’s fences,
just as now farmer poet Wendell Berry
curses all things high tech and electronic.
I told Wendell that evil
is the annunciation
of the next level of order.
The Defense Department’s NARPA
becomes the new community
of the world wide web —
swords into ploughshares.
Farming became the new religion of Zoroaster,
but shepherd and Aryan cattleman
turned raider, then warrior
in the new business of attacking settlements.
Ploughshares into swords.
In Tudor England,
privateers and pirates
founded England’s maritime power.
Early capitalism is always crime:
in England or Renaissance Italy,
Al Capone’s Chicago,
or now in the Neocon’s Iraq.
But the lie proves that the mind
is the true borderless ground
of our being in unshadowed light
we find under the unswept carpet
of our interwoven thoughts.
Hell, the lie goes back
to the canopy of trees
and the mind of the chimp
who can deceive and kill for sport.
Moralists think the old is good,
the new is bad,
but the bad is about to become the new good
when the moralist fails to stop time.
In the slow articulation of the Christian self,
the self is discovered through sin.
Sin is the frontier,
the frightening and wild landscape
in which appetite asserts identity.
The lineamnets of the self
are known through sin:
the infant finding and fondling his penis;
he would gladly suck it
if only he could reach that far
and so makes do with his thumb
while he fondles his dick.
Small wonder that for St. Augustine
the infant is freighted down with sin —
the sin of Adam,
the sin of the coupling parents
that brought the soul into time.
The scene of the pear tree
with its sexual fruit
expresses the delight of the child
in stealing for its own sake —
for stealing the soul away
from God’s flat eternity
into a world of heightened time.
The sweet fruit surrounds the seed.
Perhaps the sin of Eve
was from tasting the fruit
and discovering the delights of sex
for its own sake, uncoupled
from any original design
for Eden or post-edenic reproduction.
For Augustine, God is a forbidding parent,
intent like Monica
on denying water to thirsty children
lest they grow up to like drinking
and become drunkards.
Augustine, that perverse Talibanic saint,
has got life all twisted back
and might as well be Muslim
in his hatred of infidels:
“How hateful to me
are the enemies of your Scripture!
How I wish that you would slay them
with your two-edged sword,
so that there should be none
to oppose your word!”
The saint is psychopath,
the kind of pervert
that abused my Catholic childhood.
Apuleius understood the journey
better than Augustine —
a matter not of evil
but of the curiosity of the soul
finding itself in time.
Apuleius is full of life, of stories
and a wonder-filled sense of humor.
Too bad the West did not follow the artist
instead of the the Father of the Church.
Why did we have to wait a thousand years
until Cervantes picked up
where Apuleius left it
on the road not taken by the West?
Why the humorless path
that led to the Church,
the Alibengensian Crusade, the Inquisition,
and the day by day
meticulously detailed destruction
of billions of lives?
Apuleius would have led to laughter
and reflections along the road
from error to enlightenment.
He understood the self as story and not sin —
the play of time.
Lucius’ aunt Byrhenna
is an epiphany of the Holy Spirit,
the true Hagia Sophia
who offers to take him to his real home
and rescue him
from his curiosity with magic,
from the detours into error
and attachment to appetite.
She is Isis in disguise,
at the beginning of the story,
to let us as readers see
that she had been there all along.
Lucius could have skipped
the whole journey
jump-starting himself into Enlightenment,
but like Joseph stolen away into Egypt,
or kidnapped Pinocchio,
the story itself is what life is all about.
The story of a shared body
— the ass and I —
is the story of the body we all share.
For those of us who bother
to take time
for stories, art
is the unhomicidal religion
in which we look back and laugh,
initiates in the mysteries of Isis —
which, in plain English,
is is repeated:
once for life,
and once for the art of memory.
V. GHAZAL FOR
THE ECSTATIC SELF
God-mad Hallaj danced in his chains up to the chopping block,
and then thanked his torturers politely with severed stumps.
Worried that he might look too pale, he rouged his cheeks with blood,
and concerned he seemed unsightly he rearranged his trunk.
Hallaj believed red martyrdom was God’s pure bridal frock,
and death the soul’s lovingly deflowered stained bridal bed.
Nightingale and rose, cypress, slim Turk, and drunk beggar’s smock:
if left an instant only, Hafez cried to God in code.
These God-addicted block their God’s Creation, turning back
to Godhead, narcissisticly spurning our godhood’s end.
From Godhead to godhood, evolution is not the wrack.
Sufis nurse directly, priests from religion’s sugar tit.
The soul’s Dark Night, San Juan, is your old flame’s “Get over it!”,
to a junky, given tough lovingly, God’s cold turkey.
Only new age daddies carry toddlers in a snugli;
Hafez, God may feel those dangling unused legs are ugly!
VI. STONEHENGE AND
THE GRAIL CASTLE
“And there is also on the island both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape. Furthermore, a city is there which is sacred to this god, and the majority of its inhabitants are players on the cithara; and these continually play on this instrument in the temple and sing, glorifying his deeds, hymns of praise to the god…
At the time of this appearance of the god he both plays on the cithara and dances continuously the night through from the vernal equinox until the rising of the Pleiades, expressing in this manner his delight and his successes. And the kings of this city are called Boreadae, since they are the descendants of Boreas, and the succession to these positions is always kept in their family.”
Diodorus Siculus, Book II, 47. I-5,
trans. C. H. Oldfather
(Loeb Classics, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA: 1929)
You lean against one of the standing stones,
and in your goatskin Afghan coat you look
more Russian than wild Druid or neat Swiss.
The photograph is now thirty years old.
Obedient to a sudden impulse,
I felt we had to get out of London.
Our courtship had to be prehistoric,
and needed a complex faceted time.
At Stonehenge and on Glastonbury Tor,
we could make a fugue of time, walking on
multiple lines of overlapping worlds.
Was it a bird-like dance in which other
dimensions were epigamic display,
for you seemed to me to need more than three?
According to Lionel Sim’s study,
in the ring of lintels and standing stones,
two windows one on top the other framed
the setting sun and the rising full moon
in the short days of the winter solstice
when the dark branches were barren of leaves.
The long streak of the setting sun would strike
the center with a blood orange red light,
and then the full moon would rise, window framed
flooding the ring with a pale silver gleam.
Stonehenge holds a pagan prehistory,
nearby Glastonbury and Chalice Well
a Christian time of legends of the Grail.
But read Chrétien de Troyes description
in his Perceval ou le conte du graal
and you’ll see in the Christian ritual
that Stonehenge is the Castle of the Grail,
so three religions overlap in one scene:
Hyperborean, Celtic, and Christian.
First comes the bleeding lance, then two valets
with candlesticks precede the silver dish
the dameisele holds between her two hands.
In the Welsh sources, the lance was at first
the red shaft of light of the sun god Lugh.
The two valets are probably two stars
or constellations on the marked horizon
that appeared before the full moon’s rising.
that bathed the stone ring in a silver light.
The wasteland is the land in wintertime,
and the Fisher King the sign of Pisces
in the precession of the equinox
for the prophesied new Christian era.
His father who is sustained by the Host
is the second fish in the zodiac,
the icon of the era that receives
the incarnation of the Cosmic Christ,
the solar logos, dancing Apollo,
a god of many names and religions,
but always the sun’s mind in human flesh.
The maimed condition of the Fisher King,
pierced as he is between the thighs, means
he is the female man, the androgyne,
the shaman as wounded healer whose wound
is the menstrual vulva that heals itself
in timing with the phases of the moon.
When Jesus exposes his labial slash
to doubting Thomas he shows that he has
the power of the wound that heals itself.
If one puts the bleeding lance together
with the pubic delta, one has the sign
of the icon of the goddess from caves
inscribed and ochre daubed in Ice Age times:
The goddess of Laussel holding the horn,
the cornucoepia and crescent moon —
li cors, the sacred Celtic drinking horn
and not yet li cors as body of Christ,
as Roger Loomis understood the grail.
Perceval, val percé, means pierced valley —
the pubic triangle pierced by the lance —
and shows that Perceval is the double
of the maimed Fisher King, a reflection
in which ego confronts its own Daimon,
or historical time confronts the stars.
Between ego and Daimon is the soul,
the maiden who bears the moon’s silver dish,
but Perceval does not ask the question,
“Whom does the Grail serve?” Time is not opened
to the cycles beyond our history
and wars become the only world we know.
You see now why I had to get us out
of London and take us back to Stonehenge.
The Celtic line from Wales to Brittany
could bardicly inspire Chrétien de Troyes
to receive and write what he could not know.
Stonehenge was the last of the stone circles,
for the Cretan volcanic explosion
filled the skies with ash and for eighteen years
there was neither spring nor summer, nor light
of sun, moon, and stars to be seen above.
The land was truly a dark wasteland then.
Diodorus Siculus lived within
the closed sea inside the classical script
of capture, the alphabetical mind
Phoenician traders brought to ancient Greece.
The listeners to the aged Homer
wrote him down unknowing they were shifting
the mind from ear to eye, from resonant
sound to objects in separating space.
The Hyperborean sage Abaris,
is said to have flown once on an arrow
to ancient Greece to see Pythagoras
and pass on his knowledge before it sank
below the closed horizons of the world.
Across Scotland his Platonic Solids
are carved into hand-held rocks, images
for initiates of hyperspace crystals
and clear blue toroidal spheres that turning
in friction with 3-space can generate
angelic knowledge through words in human time —
polyphonic words turned to hyperspheres.
Joyce in his final work, Finnegans Wake,
and Dylan Thomas in his “Altar-wise
by owlight” sonnets tried to be in words
the time-faceted rocks of Skara Brae.
These Celtic bards, drunk or mad, were the last
of literature as the wizard’s art.
VII. A TESSERACT OF ADULTEROUS NARRATIVES
A petite brunette with dark sephardic eyes,
a demiurge might try to plagiarize,
for neither light nor dark could simply lock
her spirit in matter when she sang Bach.
Her mystic intensity was all her own;
in her Leftist home God was left alone.
As a child she noted the added breath
when she asked about God or what was death.
She could tell they thought they were not yet safe
which made her feel a war-adopted waif.
She sensed it was dangerous to be smart,
and kept her cutting mind sheathed in her heart.
If I disarmed her it was because I
had Irish answers for her every why.
In place of post-holocaust theologies,
appeared my weird occult cosmologies.
In an energy of imperfections,
she was not American nice or pretty,
but like Cleopatra or Nefretiti
beautifully askew and equally Egyptian
in the gaze of her bitter almond eyes.
You could turn prophecies out of her lips,
and sibyline she would allow her words
to tender your delusions at her feet.
When you were with her, you really were not
anywhere near her, Fata Morgana,
an incestuous fucking of yourself.
She finished off in her own reflection
in your self-deluded bewildered eyes.
Some women are beautiful comets;
they appear to you out of empty space,
flame across the sky with tails that seem fire
but actually are ice. Only when they strike
in close do they turn to hot destruction.
Other women are less spectacular
but more enduring in their celestial
presence in your domesticated sky.
Like planets, they move in solar orbit
around you and from occult fields of force
maintain a balance in your molten core
and stop you pitching catastrophically
into the rock debris of broken space.
These are the women you wisely marry
and then betray because their loyalty
is a problem when your great need is for
someone who first can hotly attract you
and then stripped nakedly cold reject you.
Your rebirth requires another real birth.
In the Kuiper Belt divorced husbands turn,
fragments of the families of planets.
Still in the last months of her teens, she had
a young girl’s breasts, large full areolas
that seemed larger because her breasts were small:
the curved underside of a rose petal,
a full plum to an older woman’s prune.
The nipple did not stick out but centered
those perfect rose circles on her white breasts,
her nubile, pale, Preraphaelite breasts.
Why was I obsessed? No other woman,
not wife nor tantric shakti bore this sign,
this obsession unlocking secret code.
Her nude body was my Rossetta Stone
in which I finally could decipher
memories orally received before
language’s visually bleached inscriptions.
The pheromonal odor of her quim
was mind turned inside out in sensual trance,
the Beatific Vision turned to scent
found in adulterous adoration.
Out of her flowed a fountain of the Song
of Songs, annointing my true face in birth.
When she with folded hands in prayer
held me like a trance medium,
phallic worship was undoctrinaire,
yet she came purely from my come.
Nursed on sex itself, she would hum
as fellatio alone would raise
her eyelids in ecstatic sum,
as two became one, stunned in praise.
Our sin stopped no Paraclete’s touch,
or broke soteric acts of grace;
she sucked and came for sex as such
showed the Shekhinah in her face.
Sheer physicality of sex —
not Mozart’s pee-pee, shit, and snot —
but the odors’ fluid complex
recalls a sea reason cannot.
Did I walk in from a dead star?
My translucent vacuity
is scratched because sex leaves a scar
in odors’ blind complicity.
Now that I’m about to go back,
I do not seek Enlightenment,
but try to take a portside tack,
feeling the exile’s banishment.
6. ANCESTRAL LINES AND LATTICES
In the pagan Ulster Cycle,
you can see in the Pillow Talk
of King Ailill and his queen Maeve
that she’s the archaic figure
of a lost matriarchal world.
I mark how two prehistoric
cultures there claim authority —
wild Kurgan and settled village —
swirled together like the two doughs
baked into Jewish marble rye.
The open sexuality
of the still powerful women,
contends with the loud, crude displays
of bragging men in wickered halls
who try to contain them but can’t,
and so seek to trade them around
like little boys with baseball cards.
In Diarmuid and Grainne’s Pursuit
in the Irish Fenian Cycle,
and in “How Culhwch Won Olwen”
in the Welsh Mabinogion,
you can make out the Celtic myth
in the folktale of the old king,
the beautiful wife or daughter,
and the daring, upstart lover,
the sun’s archetypal contest
of spirits and inhuman time
in old winter and green young spring.
From Diarmuid and Grainne, the bards
moved on to Tristan and Iseut,
where the cuckolded old king Mark
comes straight out of an Irish myth
into this new age medium
of the written page and story.
In Gottfried’s von Strassburg’s version
for a non-Celtic audience
on the other side of the Rhine,
it’s the feudal bond between men
that really matters to him most.
Young Tristan is the perfect knight,
slayer of dragons, evil kings,
and hideous hairy giants.
The sin here’s not adultery,
but breaking the feudal bond
between a vassal and his lord.
For so perfect a Christian knight
as Tristan with his sword and harp
— and he takes up most the story —
the broken oath does not make sense,
and takes an outside mechanism —
the magically elixired flask
that contains the Irish potion,
the “Minnetrank” that can dissolve
the whole feudal system of men
for the love of just one woman.
Through the Mother’s green lore of plants —
prehistoric Irish witchcraft
from the very edge of the world —
the ancient powers of women
recall a time when kings and sons
were not what life was all about
in the Great Goddess villages.
Only a woman’s witchery
with paleolithic magic
and neolithic herbs and plants
could make so great a Christian knight
betray his uncle and his king.
Like the Vedic Ramayana,
this is not a story of love,
but of men and manly values.
In this new art of narrative,
traded across Western Europe
from Ireland to Germany,
time itself now begins to tell
a story of free human souls.
In 1150, Béroul,
requires a magic love potion
to explain the lost couple’s fate.
The chemistry of tragic love
is women’s secret trickery.
Whether Fata or Fortuna,
fate is an uncaring woman,
indifferent or in contempt
of a knight’s’ acts of bravery
or a scholar’s sense of justice.
But three generations later,
La Morte le Roi Artu needs no
magic love potion to explain
Lancelot’s adulterous love
for King Arthur’s queen Guinevere.
After the Crusaders return,
having heard Arab songs and heard
of Persian tales sung over udes —
Wis and Ramin, Layla and Majnun —
Morrocan udes become remade
into new lutes for troubadours.
Out of a war a love breaks out
of the warriors’ old control.
New cults and heretic visions —
inspired by Islamic Sufis,
Cathars, and Balkan Bogomils —
turn prehistoric Celtic sex
and churchly Christian marriage
into medieval courtly love.
From the blue, flute-playing Krishna
and the jasmine-bosomed Radha,
to harp-playing Tristan and Yseut,
poetry across Eurasia
carries songs of forbidden love.
in personal lives of desire
rediscover what Sappho knew,
an age before Saint Augustine,
in sunlit blue Aegean Greece.
Behind the aged Cornish king
is the Celtic god of winter;
behind the Persian King Maubad
lurks a Manichean era
of pre-Islamic Gnostic lore.
Light and dark, the two brothers are
Gnostic Archons from ancient myth.
Maubad is an echoed image,
an Ahrimanic Demiurge
who traps the soul’s light in matter.
It is the king who still holds down
the female soul in the dark time
of a patriarchal marriage.
Just as the king is an Archon
in the Persian Wis and Ramin,
so in Tolstoy’s Russian story,
Karenin is to Count Vronsky.
When the soul begins to recall
its Last Year in Marienbad,
then Orpheus becomes much more
than the statue in the garden
that gives Resnais’s cult film away.
Here the husband is an Archon
who tries to keep the woman trapped
in a ring of definitions
and the deceptions of the world.
Madame Bovary may have been
bored numb with her dullard husband,
and unable to stop herself,
but Dr. Zhivago’s women
express the doubled life of soul.
With agapé he loves his wife,
but with Eros he finds the soul
he had before his life began.
Then history gets in the way.
In the Russian Revolution
the folk soul becomes collective
as it was once in Ice Age times.
The Lion-Man of Vogelherd
and the Sorcerer of Trois-Fréres
reveal a time of shaman souls
entranced in small group minds and states
of half-animal possession.
Caught between her two men, Anna
crossed herself on two railway tracks.
And that is a geometry
of parallel unmeeting lines
where lovers meet infinity.
In dreams each night the freed soul roams
out of the physical body.
It can cheat on its spouse while both
are squarely in the container
of the home and conjugal bed.
Soul has its own morality
and can thoughtlessly discover
the true consequences of thought,
as it will once again in death.
There is no solution to this
old conflict of body and soul.
If you still the volatile soul
in some pure Buddhist Nirvana,
you give up all that life’s about;
small wonder Buddha had no use
for women or his wife and child,
or that Catholic priests and nuns
find sex gets in their way to God.
The root in Latin for the word
adultery is ad alterum,
and means to add on another.
Add a point to another point
and you can generate a line.
Displace one line from another,
and you can generate a square.
Pull a second square from the first
in open separating space
and you can generate a cube.
Shock the cube orthogonally
into the unseen fourth dimension,
and you create the tesseract.
In my case, I still see in frames
of my remorse four real women
shift in the unstable cubes
of memory’s slant narrative
tesseract of reflection.
VIII. ROBERT WALSER
ON THE TRITTLIGASSE
What would you now make of these tours
that come to our doorstep to read
passages from your well-known books?
Is this a new found sense of guilt,
or the Swiss Heimattumelei
you mocked with ambiguity?
We’re on the first floor where you are
said to have lived in one small room,
thankful for the garden in back.
But you moved constantly about,
and were only here for four months
in the year of 1904.
I’ve read you always lived alone,
restricted to bed-sitting rooms
until you were committed, first
to the Bern Heilanstalt Waldau,
then Herisau for your life’s term.
Like a quick handed little boy,
catching a fly in his closed fist,
teasingly buzzing back at it,
and laughingly letting it go,
you caught the smug collective voice
of the Swiss and self-satisfied
whose minds were filled with schoolboy cant:
the pastor, shopkeeper, banker,
Sunday journalist, bünzli clerk,
and all the scolding old ladies
who uphold how things should be done.
Drolly you played them back at them
in little works of Kasperspiel
in voices you hand pupetered.
As you walked on the Wanderweg,
you carried all those Swiss voices
in your head, so, of course, they said
you had to be schizophrenic.
Were you really mad like Wölfli
or just mad at the world and tired
of renting dreary little rooms?
At Herisau you could survive
your time as a published writer
and be forgotten for decades.
When you walked out into the snow
that Christmas Day in fifty-six,
I too was living in one room
in a small apartment hotel,
writing poetry in L.A.,
still a highschool kid proud to be
dying of cancer of the throat
and thinking of myself as Keats.
Surviving, I surprised myself —
though operations were to come —
and kept on going, changing rooms
that never really were real homes,
but moving with expectation,
as I organized all my books,
that the latest place could become
what people meant by talk of home.
Here on these steps where our tracks cross,
in old age, I identify
with you and your obscurity —
the bittersweet, part Taoist fate
of surviving past one’s own time,
lingering like a ghost haunting
its own body, not having learned
the final lesson of love’s release,
needing still some ritual last rite
in the form of recognition.
But you walked alone among crowds,
remarking their decorated
villages in acid-etched works
filled with irony and longing:
sehen, Sehnsucht, and aussetzen.
You are a horizon to me
because I wish to get beyond
living after my books’ brief time.
I need to walk on as you did,
to take to the Swiss Wanderweg.
You came back from Berlin to Biel,
and I thought about living Swiss,
but it is too hard in old age
to meet again the Swiss demands
for probity and bank accounts
and more medical insurance,
so like you I will keep moving
on Trittligasse’s little steps.
IX. THE END OF THE LINE
First you take the number 5 tram
at Pfauenplatz, where Joyce would go
to Café-Restaurant Pfauen
more often than the Odeon —
the Kunsthaus is across the street —
then from Pfauenplatz to Fluntern
you change to the 6 for the Zoo.
Go on to the end of the line,
you can’t miss the cemetary,
it’s the first thing as you get out.
The way to Joyce’s grave is marked.
You’ll see him sitting by his grave.
Because his statue looks just like
my father, I kept coming back,
once pouring out Irish whiskey
onto the grave for June 16 —
uiskebaugh, the water of life,
into the dirt’s Strange Attractor.
So after you’ve paid your respects
to himself with John Jameson —
be sure it’s not orange Old Bushmills —
start with the dust of shattered stars,
that riverrun beyond Adam,
their shock wave currents rippling out
from hypernovas and black holes’
faint Hawking cold radiation,
then let the dust settle in space,
a droning bass of branes and strings
below a massless spatial warmth;
wait till gravity strikes a match
with mass as the gases thicken
and set the cluttered dust on fire
turning a star into our sun.
I’m told there was War in Heaven,
the turning spokes of solar light
hardening in tightened orbits
to crashing planets and hurled moons.
Theia knocked out a third of Earth
that became our shielding moon —
a rib for Eve after Lilith
scared the pants off foreskinned Adam.
That’s a story from godless tribes
too dumb for Isis or Gaia.
Our blue-eyed great goddess women —
Maeve, Grainne, Sc‡thach, and Emer —
terrified the ordered Romans
and turned them into braying priests.
Where was I? Oh yes, near the end
of the Holocene with my Scotch.
From the supernova back home
to the unstable crust down here,
dying is what goes after life
when gods fade out from too much light.
Compassion does not come easy
to a sphere without a facet.
It takes a crack to catch the light
in turbulent dark refraction.
That’s why we keep on coming back,
the smooth laminar flow of gods
stopped, folding into human time,
as we willingly are pulled down
into the painful bright delights
of a thought exhausting body.
Catastrophic eras attract
souls looking for a chance to be
embodied in dark tragedies,
for absent-minded landlord gods
have forgotten love’s sweet sorrow
that Joyce sang to his Molly Bloom.
The vividness of smell and taste
in the act of mammalian sex
redounds with Molly’s dirty words
in Joyce and Nora’s coupled mind.
And then there’s death, like husking corn,
pulling the flesh violently
away from the soul’s entanglement.
Once we’re in, why is it so hard
to let go and be gods again?
We pay for the fond delights of sex
with the stink of old age and death.
But sometimes we die together
in a great event you can see
from above is the mind-body
of some single archangelic
being embracing it as art.
The Permian and Cretaceous
are now about to be followed
by the Holocene extinction.
This planet has long suffered life.
From galactic catastrophe
to planetary extinctions,
life seeds itself from forest fires
and holds the dark in thermal vents.
But arias of love and death
become tragically all the same.
Purcell, Verdi, and Puccini —
is it love or just time and sex?
For me it seems a bit too much.
I could vote for a universe
more comfortable and Swiss,
not this American TV.
I guess there is this other plane,
two or three levels higher up,
where One irons out differences
and violence is constructive.
After your grave meditation,
walk to the Zuriberg Hotel
and have a drink with the whole view
of Zürich, the lake, and the Alps.
There’s nothing like it in Dublin,
not even the famed Wicklow Gap.
Lots of fun at Finnegans Wake.
It too is the end of the line.
Alle austeigen aus dem Zug
als die Endzeit ist Gott entzugt.
Chimerical comic epic
with the Irish voice of a poem
and shape of an English novel,
this work of Zürich and Paris
tracks the individual’s end;
Hesiodic and Homeric,
it Finnishes literature.
Bat blind Homer and purblind Joyce
start with Troy and end the story
of civilization in a pub.
All the voices are of the dead
passing ghosts through the dreamer’s mind
in a dark bed undercurrent
where English is the liquid stream
of all the languages it is,
sung in a Dublin Irish brogue —
not in pitched hexameters
or Anglo-Saxon stressed blank verse
but the ultimate poetic
run-on line, running on, river
to living and dead full filled sea.
River and sea, person and place
flow into one vast biosphere.
Joyce foreshadowed ecology,
in his skilled accompaniment
to Vernadsky’s Gaian science.
River and sea, person and place —
the individual mind melts
into a bacterial film.
First came myth and stories of gods,
then folklore’s songs for lightening work.
But then art got on its high horse,
and the warrior’s epic boasted
of men and arms and noble blood.
Next came trade and more middling men
with stories of sex and money —
the Miller’s Tale to Molly Bloom.
Now novels are mechanically
reproduced by famous authors —
TV scripts without the pictures.
riverine and riverrun,
the age of civilizations
to 2011 A.D. —
the ancient Mayan calendar
marking the wave of human time,
the pulse of civilization
with its punctuating dark age.
The elementals who live on
this hot planet ignored by us
now come into their space in time,
and the sidemen volcanoes say:
the last one out puts out the light.
I was born in the Depression,
and can remember FDR,
and looking for Hiroshima,
on my knees before a large map
spread out on the living room floor
in our flat in hot Chicago.
I guess I could read at seven.
From the line of the novel’s plot,
Lazarillo to H.C.E.,
the bottom or poetic line,
we all end up in time’s red ink
written in the volcanic sky
and literature’s last campfire.
So I’ll sit, drinking in the Alps
on this still sunlit Zuriberg,
checking my Swiss Eterna watch.
These Dark Ages must come and go,
but after the ashen skies clear,
another kind of mind will form,
in which elementals and men
learn how to get along with gods
without the need for evil.
Perhaps next time in that new world,
two suns will be better than one.
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