What is real?

What is real?  What is real is I have steeled myself against Life, and now nothing alive can get in, and nothing alive can get out.

What is real is Mother Nature abhors a vacuum, and so I have become abhorrent to her, and what can I do but buckle under the weight of her hatred.  Who can I be but my tainted double, who huddles in the corner I’ve painted myself in.` Who among the cornered wouldn’t call it a blessing to be turned to dust by such an untouched divinity. Who divides the land from the sea.  Who clamps this powerless body onto the rack of Time and shoves the wooden frame into the straightjacket of straightforward decay.  Who surveys with indifference this chamber of tortured diffidence, within which I feel more like these stone walls each passing day.

What is real?  If I become cemented within these cemented stone walls, if I become hard and demented and silent like you, guarded and impenetrable and violent like you, will you love me then?  If what I make with this pen gives you glory, though I myself feel no joy in what I have done, will you love me then?  Blend me into your beauty.  I want to be inside you.  I want to be inside my experience inside you.  I want to stop this lie I am trying so hard to make true, but I do not know how to slide through my fenced self and arrive, undefended, onto the vast plain within me that embraces you.  I want to make this aching stop forever, and I want to let it make me new.  I want and want forever, until my wanting is my only reason for being.  I want to hear from you.

But what is real is I am tied too tightly to the way I feel to hear the truth that abides beyond thought and feeling.  I am gripping the wheel with all my strength, but the ship is anchored to the shore.  All a man can do, who is not free to be, is pace like that poet’s panther inside its cell, where it has steeled itself against what its life has become.  Nothing alive can get in, and nothing alive can get out.

Restless Words

Come expecting answers and you’ll be left disappointed, but keep knocking, keep knocking, there are as many doors that will open for you as there are selves, but do not think that anything you do will allow you to be at one with yourself. That will come much later, if it comes at all. I’ve come to bear this wound, to endure these flaming arrows that sing in my pierced heart of all that comes and all that goes under the all-consuming terror of being no more.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

What more is there to say? It may be time to rein it in, to wait for rain to wash away these sins, to sit here as leaves are blown past by the wind. The end is never near, the way is endlessly long, the soul’s been dissembled by sorrow, yet the feet keep pressing on. When I press up against myself, who is it I press against? what am I up against here?

“Majestic shadow, tell me: sure not all
Those melodies sung into the world’s ear
Are useless: sure a poet is a sage;
A humanist, physician to all men.
That I am none I feel, as vultures feel
They are no birds when eagles are abroad.
What am I then? Thou spakest of my tribe:
What tribe?”

I wonder what I am doing here. Mystery overwhelms you when you try to solve it.

“Within you there is almost no space; and it nearly calms you that in this constriction within you it is impossible for something very great to find room.”

Who is the one who became himself when he stopped trying to become himself? Who is the one who struggles to notice himself struggling? I shrug my shoulders, the same shoulders that could not force open the door that closed long ago, shaking me just a little, taking me into the center of my centerless gloom. What gloom! I must conclude this nonsense and move on to other things, things that make more sense, things I cannot touch. Not things.

“Just as the earthly lover fears abandonment and rejection by the beloved and can be possessed by jealousy and hatred, so the soul, in its intense thirst for love, feels forsaken and as dried up as is the lost wanderer in a desert wasteland.”

When I touch the woman I long to touch, why do I still long for her? When I begin to know her, why do I feel I’ve lost her, and myself?

“Besides my numerous circle of acquaintances with whom, by and large, I maintain very superficial relations, I have one close confidant—my melancholy—and in the midst of my rejoicing, in the midst of my work, she waves to me, beckons me to her side and I go to her, even though my physical frame stays in place; she is the most faithful mistress I have known; what wonder then that I, on my part, must be ready to follow her on the instant.”

The self I live beside, as if I am in contact with it, is like the powerful hand of another that goes limp when it touches my hand, is like the limb of a black oak that has broken off from the tree and sits splintered as a bridge before it collapses like a marriage into a dying river, is like the crib of a baby whose crying is not heard, is like the toothache in my heel that seals me from the sky.

“Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Carrying a dead man’s shield
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
Walkin’ with a toothache in my heel”

The hound that hounds me provides no relief but I concede he knows about heartache. He is the heartbroken one, the one who will never find the one, the lone one who finds glory only in that state when he is in fact alone. There is no glory in being the lone one around others. That glory is lost as the true self is found, the glorious self that no imagined glory can match, the unimagined self, the unimaginable self, who is not the tragic self.

“Let us acknowledge our misery. Let us yearn for that place where no one can scorn us. I’m thinking of the words the bride sang in the Song of Songs, and I see that they apply perfectly here. It seems to me that none of the contempt or tribulation we endure in this life can compare to those inner battles. If we find peace where we live, there is no conflict that can disquiet us. But if the cause of our strife is within ourselves, then no matter how much we desire relief from the thousand trials of this world and no matter how much the Beloved desires this tranquility for us, the results will be almost unbearably painful. And so, Beloved, please raise us to the place where the miseries that taunt the soul relent. God will free the soul from suffering when he delivers her into the final dwelling, even in this very lifetime.” 

There is glory in being the tragic self, but it is the kind of glory that kills you finally by driving you off a cliff. I do not wish to be driven in that way. I wish only to hear the undivided silence that rests in my breast like the remembered song of a bird before dawn, heard in the December of the heart.

“While I am writing, I’m far away;
and when I come back, I’ve gone.
I would like to know if others
go through the same things that I do,
have as many selves as I have,
and see themselves similarly.”

Start on this path and you will not ever complete it. Start noticing your contradictions and you will be busy for quite some time.

“Crouched Creature of the Plains”

Do I have it in me to write a poem tonight?
Some poems are written like an elk hide is tanned.
I fix my posture, sit up straight in this chair:
A straight-backed poem, coming right up.

Not strait-laced but shame-faced,
Dismayed that this need to write these words
Will not let me rest, will not let me alone.
What is it in me that will not let me alone?

Now that I’m sitting up straight, I wait
For the poem to come.
Some poems are written like a gazelle leaping over a fence,
Other poems are written like a lion devouring a gazelle.

Will the lion in my heart devour the lion in my mind?
No, more likely they will meet as estranged sister and brother,
And one will chase the other through the savannah in the noonday sun
As I sit here in the midnight darkness, waiting.

To chase yourself is to admit both your speed and your lack of speed:
The self you chase is fast, while the self who chases could not be slower.
Then again, the self who chases can run as fast as it is possible to run,
But it will be never be fast enough to catch the invisible self he pursues.

The problem here can be stated quite simply:
There is a self that chases and a self that is pursued.
And there are many more than these two.
Why this multiplicity of selves?

Why can there not be one self, one man?
If the man were one, he could let himself alone.
He could make great efforts and enjoy his work,
He could rest and enjoy his rest.

But there is a self that chases and a self that is pursued,
And these are only two of many.
One self gets out of bed in the mountains at midnight, sits up straight in a chair,
As the other self gets away, a crouched creature of the plains hidden in noonday sun.