A gust of consciousness animates a garden of words and voila! there is a birdbath filling with rain. There is a string of words all claiming to be gems of available light. Goya doesn’t babble about such things, but he doesn’t have to. He paints. Me, I continue my search for universal mind, the measureless untouchable source of all things. What is this universe but a lot of waves? The smell of thought floats in this very sentence. Imitating mountains. Finding their momentum in the wings of the hummingbird. Giving birth to dragons and gargoyles. Bubbling out of the paragraph like France, or a fiddler crab gleaming with Hibernian light.
This is how we make a world and live in the world we make. We make it with words. We make it with bricks and mortar. Bubbles scintillate in the sink. Blood circulates in a kind of dream. And we find that when we are done with our shapes and maps we are left with a bruise of recognition. We find that something has come alive. Something that we must nourish. And reach. There is always the danger that the world we make will become too literal, and incline toward mahogany.
Our thoughts can become a cage if we don’t challenge them. The noise of emotions eludes the lacquer of description. Stars spill out of my pockets. Sweating is strange, it’s like being caressed by a warm bath coming out of your skin.
The world comes out of us in different ways. Some people must have Hefty bags on the ready. Others are content to sit all day staring at a garage door. The poem, meanwhile, gets whatever it wants. Raspberries, fire, a handful of drugs. A frequency crawling out of the radio. The sound of a door opening in a west side hotel. A jar of stars. The metamorphosis of bread.
I find a strange satisfaction in breaking an egg with a butterknife. The egg feels just right in my hand, a perfect shape. The butterknife feels shiny. It is shiny, but it also feels shiny. As if light had a feeling like stainless steel. Together the egg and the knife are balanced. The challenge is to hit the egg with enough force to crack the shell, but not so hard that the knife penetrates the yolk. It doesn’t really matter if I break the yolk. It’s just a nice little challenge to see if I can break the egg without messing up the yolk. And then I pry the shells apart so that the contents fall into the hole I have made in the bread, now frying in the skillet. It’s called Egg in a Basket. Something I learned from V for Vendetta. It’s delicious. The perfect meal for the subterranean miscreant.
My thumbs yield numerous diversion as well. More about that later. For now, I must mention something about the life of the poet in the 21st Century. The life of the poet in the 21st Century is exotic. And I am reminded how Jacque and Etienne Montgolfier’s balloon rose at the court of Versailles on September 19th, 1783, and flew for eight minutes, covered two miles and obtained an altitude of about 1,000 feet. It’s crew, a rooster, a duck, and a sheep, landed unharmed. That’s what a poem must achieve. It must walk with mountains. It must serve the experiments of the marvelous. It must be a vehicle for exaltation.
I once saw a ball of gas squeeze into a consonant and give birth to a vowel. The sound it made was heartbreaking and russet. It was hungry for expression and meaning. Crying out for water and thread and fantasy. This is not, however, the way things usually evolve. When talk becomes visible it resembles a stew. And we can continue to think that the world is what we think it is.
Seeing things differently leads to conflict. Artists and visionaries celebrate the obscure not because it hides anything but because it’s ungovernable. Glass honors its transparency not by showing us a view of what we know is already there but by evolving into mirrors.
Or breaking the light into a thousand colors.
The disintegration of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was, in fact, a spiritual awakening. First he is fired. His employers don’t even want to talk to him. He has had a vision. He is therefore contagious. His transcendent vision is a threat to the tyranny of routine. His wife Ronnie, played by Teri Garr, tries to bring him round. Bring him back to the mundane realities of everyday existence, the exigencies of child rearing and paying the mortgage and bills and, most importantly, an intimacy based on normalcy. It doesn’t work. He is drawn inexorably to his fate on Devil’s Tower.
Words flow. They do not tick. This was written on an old brown desk that once belonged to my grandmother. She kept a diary about her life on a farm in North Dakota. The weather, the price of wheat and milk, people coming and going.
People are always coming and going.
Whatever happened to Major Hoople? Where did Lil Abner go? No one is speaking. The hives are silent. I continue to push one absurdity after another into the world. Clouds push the sky to another country. Where is that other country? Does Lil Abner live there? Does Major Hoople still wear a fez? How can we escape from the prison of the world?
We think the world is real because we made it up. But this is only partly true. Take my hand. There’s something I’d like to show you. A lobster shaving in a men’s room. You can see how such things happen. The words are crucial. The words are magnets giving themselves to the mania of the moment. Everything is happening. A swallow swoops and glides. Its intent is unclear. But it dips and thrusts and swerves. Burning like a presence in the morning air.