Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Skull Flower

Time shapes life, gives it a chronology. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. One is pushed into the world wet and tiny and howling. Everything is murky. The world, which isn’t a world yet since ‘world’ is a concept that has not yet been processed, is a chaos of sensations, sounds, textures, rattles, trinkets, animals, entertainments, and bowls of gooey food. One grows, ramifies, elongates, elaborates, strengthens. The body fills with hormones. Its chemistry changes. Desires, conflicts, frustrations, preferences, aversions, ambitions fill the mind. But the mind is not a bucket. Fill is the wrong word. The mind does not fill with the needs of the body so much as it is generated by the needs of the body. A philosophy develops in order to cope with the world and to provide something akin to a compass, an astrolabe, a navigational system. Instinct, intuition, ideology. One makes choices. Mistakes. Has a family or doesn’t have a family. Has a career or doesn’t have a career. Goes to war or refrains from war. Ages and dies. Each life is different, each life has its own unique narrative.
Life feels very different outside the chronology of time. Outside the constructions of time, its minutes and hours, months and years, seconds and eons. These are the trappings of time. Time itself is more of a mystery. Newton and Plato believed that time is like an empty container into which things and events may be placed, but that it is a container that exists independently of what is placed in it: ships, wrinkles, blood, contracts, stems, steam, war, history, monuments, truths, progenies, picnics, ants. Aristotle and Leibniz believed that time does not exist independently of the events that occur in time but is itself a system of temporal relations among things and events. Time is synonymous with change. With motion and occurrence. Growth and maturation. Diminishment and erosion. The formation of hills, the actions of a stream. The touch of a finger, the gleam of an eye. The way a vision rides our nerves, the way a shower hits the water when a river swerves.

I do not feel time. I can see time if I look at a clock. I can see that minutes have passed. But I don’t feel the passage of time. Each moment feels whole. There’s a simultaneity of experience, of sensations and perceptions flowing together, amalgamating into a single event that has the appearance and feeling of being free of the dictates of the clock. In reality each passage is a hallmark of time. Is time. The movement of my fingers on a keyboard putting letters together so that they become words and the words become ideas is the very essence of time, although it doesn’t feel like time, it feels phenomenal. It feels quick and erratic like a school of fish making a sudden, unpredictable swerve, or a flight of birds, all in motion, but outside the framework of time. It’s when I begin to worry about the future or obsess about an event in the past that time becomes evident. That I feel severed from the immediacy of the moment and caught up in the network of time. Tangled in abstractions. Tangled up in blue, as Dylan expressed it. Tangled in ticks, tangled in tocks.
Tangled in sticks. Time consists of two sticks: the long stick of hours, the short stick of minute by minute.
Letters are sticks. O is a stick curved into an O. L is two sticks. M is four sticks. Q is a stick curved into a hole with a tiny tail. Letters are evidence of time because time is sticks and sticky and sticks to the mind like peanut butter sticks to the roof of the mouth.
There are times when the past becomes so engulfing that I feel swallowed by it. It keeps me agitated and awake. I cannot sleep. I feel injured by my own rumination. “There is a degree of insomnia,” observed Friedrich Nietzsche, “of rumination, of historical sense which injures every living thing and finally destroys it, be it a man, a people, or a culture.”
To determine this degree, and through it the limit beyond which the past must be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present, one would have to know precisely how great the plastic power of a man, a people, or a culture is. I mean the power to grow out of itself, transforming and assimilating everything past and alien, to heal wounds, replace what is lost and reshape broken forms out of itself. There are men who have this power to so small a degree that they will incurably bleed to death over a single experience, a single pain, frequently over a single delicate injustice, as from quite a small bleeding laceration. On the other hand, there are those who are affected so little by the wildest and most gruesome calamities of life and even by their own malicious acts, that in the midst of them or shortly thereafter they achieve a tolerable degree of well-being and a kind of clear conscience. 
It is when I stay focused on the immediacy of the present that I elude the injuries of time. There are motions and change but the motions and change do not feel part of the structure of time they feel uniquely a part of the moment, flavors of a phenomenal chapter in my narrative that is free to feed into a plot or not. Unless I’m being chased by a tiger or defending myself with karate chops or a sword there is no narrative. That’s what I dig about poetry. Poetry is that moment. Poetry is that flash that burns and obscures the walls of the container that is time and frees the imagination, focuses the mind on the present.
My life becomes pointless. In a good way. Poetry is pointless. It is wonderfully, giddily pointless. Emotions are mirrors that distort the images of the present or magnify the events of the past. Emotions are linked to time by grammar. Disrupt grammar and you disrupt time. When Jackson Pollock disrupted the representation of recognizable images and focused on the physicality of his movements above the canvas he remained focused on the immediacy of the moment and recreated that immediacy and physicality in paint. That’s precisely my goal in poetry.
I build things. Boats and explosions. Houses and sounds. I accept the singing of glass and the grandeur of bacteria. The pour of olive oil into a skillet, the insertion of a key into the ignition switch of a car. Or, better yet, a time machine. A machine that removes us from the prison of time and takes us anywhere in time we want to go. But, you say, isn’t there a danger there? Even if we can maneuver in and out of past and future events we lose the present. And yes, that’s correct. It isn’t the time machine that liberates us from time it’s the present moment. Time evaporates and leaves behind it a seed.
It becomes, to quote Philip Whalen, “a howling flower in my skull.”

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