Initiates to the Sea

I apologize to my loyal and very much appreciated readship that I have not posted anything for quite a few days. Life has been difficult. Perhaps I’ll write more about that.

In the meantime, I am posting here, after much thought, what is perhaps the most significant poem I have ever written. Please notice that the first stanza is spoken by Alta, my second wife, whom I would never have left if I had not become manic.  It begins as a dirge for the child we lost, who would have been my first child, then morphs into a meditation on the nature of our minds.

 

I

“As I stood on the cliff above the sea

While you were practicing the Mysteries,

The wind came to me and said, `I want.’

What, can’t be told in words, but I knew

It wanted one of us and would not leave

Without our passion, or a life.

I sacrificed what I had to, to the wind.

I felt the child’s soul leave, and was alone.”

 

Ah, beloved, how did we survive those days

Of our madness? I am ashamed now,

Knowing how near I came to losing you as well.

So I must believe, despite my unbelief,

That somehow we were guided and protected,

That our all-too-human madness was, in part, divine.

 

How do I mourn my child who could not be?

Let me confess: I feared my fatherhood,

Feared to be Joseph, or to father a Mozart,

And failed to prepare my soul’s womb for you,

Whom I’d have loved so deeply, anyway.

I fear it was my fear that was the wind.

 

O child, if nothing’s lost from the only mind,

Then choose a better sire next time.

If nothing can be lost, then it’s always here

And always now—but my guts are scored

By randomness. I cannot tell what else might be

From this black-and-white photography.

I wish I could just turn, pure and careless,

To numbers. Oh, riddle me, riddle me,

The plot of this reality!

 

II

Maybe the old magicians knew

More than they said, weren’t so much down

On sex as knew it for a cuckoo

That can push every other purpose from the will.

“The intellect of Man must choose

Chasing women or chasing the Muse.”

Is this true? Does the merely real

Spoil the soul’s hunger for the ideal

But never final symphony?

 

Argonauts must sail between the clashing rocks

In no time at all—for any time is hesitation,

And they’re lost. If we could always live

Right now, in the infinite sandgrain,

In the redeeming flower, we’d know

That eternity is always now, and not

Unending time. But remembering a second ago,

We live by instant replay, and are lost:

The angel with the sword that turns

In the infinitesimal difference between then

And now drives us from the gates of paradise.

Yet we can be saved, and by this paradox:

Sex, or anything that nails us to the instant

Quick, can leap us through the needle’s eye.

 

 III

Paradox deflates the conscious mind,

And when at last it’s flat, the face

You see inside’s no alien god:

It’s all of us, but all at once.

And perhaps this is the only god we know:

Here Comes Everybody, in collective mind,

I.Q. four trillion, purposes unknown,

Yet not itself unknowable, but immanent,

Here, now, in the twinkling of the needle’s eye—

If only my eye could see itself.

O does some great Being peer through me

As I peer through my eyes?

Am I not really me, but everyone?

Is my will never free unless I let it go?

Either prove this wrong or take it

For a good. Some such must be true, but how

Do I get a grip on this angel

To wrestle him for wisdom?

Can I again survive that face

In every sandgrain, every flower?

Ah, but I cannot fear that lovesong I was

In the embers of that gracious leak,

And now I can remember how to praise,

Praise and celebrate the gyroscopic grace

That is always given, if we only knew.

 

If my inner sea’s alive,

If it’s a mind of all mankind

Spread by inexplicable waves

Into a cosmic consciousness

That joins all galaxies in song,

It must still be the source I trust

Of all my certainty that we are good

In which I fell at age fourteen—and thus

I know that Mind is Love, and values me:

I’m me because it wants me so.

When I fall into it, it gives me joy

And gives me back myself, for which

It has a need, as do we all. And thus

The babe comes trailing clouds of glory, yes,

Already filled with all that makes a soul,

Reborn, for all things really are the same,

And utterly new, for every thing

Really is unique, and with some work

Of its very own to do. And thus

Through every baby’s eyes,

God first sees the world, surprised.

 

 IV

On this hypothesis I could take

All Bibles and all faiths, and make

A whole of them—but no, that’s not my job.

There’s more I haven’t fathomed, and I know

I’m here in order to do something new,

Though what it is I’ve yet to find.

Besides, if all this jazz is true,

I’m not supposed to know—or that I do

Just means that I can take it and survive—

Since crazy St. Alan Watts revealed

That God and Satan have a deal

Not to cop out that their cosmic duel

Is a play designed to scare mankind

Into our schizophrenic mind,

Simply because a joke’s no fun

If there’s only yourself to play it on,

And that God loves Christians especially

Because they take the play so seriously.

 

Then might it be better not to tell,

Not to teach the child to doubt,

Lest the Sun and Moon go out?

No, that’s not the way it works.

I’m to tell everything I can,

And those who shouldn’t understand

Won’t get it anyway; so there’s no harm.

The hierophant and Juggler both

Represent the other mind:

The former tells, the latter shows,

Not all, but more than you can use,

And neither lies, though it’s up to you

To read between the lines. Mankind

Needs myths, to be our guides when, absorbed

In animal survival, as we’re supposed to be,

We’d stray into tarpits otherwise.

 

And to a crazy mind like mine,

The myths tell more, enough

To reconcile me to my unknown role:

I must be doing what I’m built for,

Though I may never know it,

And the plaudits of mankind, fame

And riches, honor, power, dung and dust, are all

Irrelevant, as all the prophets say.

We’ll never know what’s really happening,

And yet we’ve known it all along:

O we are a schizophrenic people:

So the gates of Hell cannot prevail

Against us. I suppose we must seem odd

To starry races elsewhere who are whole,

But I don’t want to be an ant or bee,

And our strange compromise has this to say for it:

It lets me be both me and God . . .

That’s quite a trick, I guess.

 

All right, I’ll persevere (no blame)

And hope for news—but look for it as well.

That’s still the same, because there is no way

To learn anything you’re not ready for:

Truth is either tautology

Or paradox; the difference is just

Whether you get the joke or not.

 



[1] Begun in September 1970; final version completed in December 1976.


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