Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Subject and Power

I. Morning

All things begin in darkness, such as
The day, because, no matter how you define it,
There is always that moment of darkness
When the sun peeks out; there is darkness,
For, in order for the light to prick holes through the sky,
There must be a dark veil to be pricked.
In order for the sun’s head to poke out,
It must first be underneath the blankets.
All things begin in darkness, such as
The river.  We are standing by the spring now,
Where the water leaps to greet the air,
But this is only the source we can get to.
Down beneath the grey stones is never-challenged darkness,
Crystalline caves echoing with the water dropping,
Pooling up, and creating pressure until
It bursts forth here where we are now.
All things begin in darkness, such as
Our journey.  Right now, as we stand on the shore
By the spring, mud and slime coating the rocks beneath us,
Only night-vision permits us to stay upright,
Without slipping, down the rocks or back into the source.
Only night-vision guides us as we set out,
Step by tentative step,
Only night-vision and the soft susurrus
Of the snaking route beside us in the darkness,
But darkness will not last forever,
Or at least darkness cannot persist everywhere,
Or else nothing could begin in darkness,
And so the dawn begins when the sky begins to brighten,
And the river begins when the streamlet trickles down to the meeting place,
And the journey has begun but continues as we pick our way
By the whispering streamlet
Over the primordial mud on the rocks
Into the indecipherable glow of the sky
Until the rushing friends begin to mingle,
Until the whisper turns to gurgling laughter,
Until the glowing light coalesces as sun,
Until it becomes easier to rush down like the stream beside us,
Until the stream beside us hits the gaps,
Halts, holds its breath, leaps – falls –
Until water falls!
Waterfalls!  Waterfalls – where the paints spilled by the sun
Pour down glittering over the white ridges,
Where the laughter becomes cacophony,
Where the simple becomes complex,
Where a sheer chaotic swirl bounces forth
Like a little explosion of Heaven bursting on the Earth,
A bomb of joy destroying mundanity,
The breath of love diffusing in our hearts –
I love the waterfalls reflecting the daylight,
Which is why I bless the light.
I adore being here at this point,
Which is why I bless the journey.
There is perfection in the glinting rainbows of waterfalls,
Except for the cold wind rising up behind us.
I hear the origins of wind lie in pressure differentiation.
I do not understand the wind, deeply,
But I wonder – does the wind arise in darkness?
Does the wind secretly sneak out of some metaphorical darkness,
Or is the wind birthed abominably within the light
To chase us cruelly down the mountain?
I could stay by waterfalls forever,
Except that we have made plans to go on a journey,
And except that there is a cold wind rising up behind us,
Sapping the comfort from the banks,
And except that the rainbows will be destroyed in darkness,
And so we continue to tumble down the mountain,
As the streams combine, edging parabolically towards river,
As the colors brighten, the world blooming into full day,
And as the wind is ever at our backs.
The force that pulls us forth is gravity, desire,
But violence is the force that pushes us on.

II. Afternoon

The nature of our location has long been plain.
Plains, it is clear, are flat and broad.
The ideal plain is covered with green –
Green grass, flowers, life shooting up to greet the sun.
In real life there are patches of brown,
But there are also fields of beauty –
Green dotted with occasional spots of colored flowers.
Sometimes plains mutate into forests,
Which are shady respite, restful nuance
To the sunbaked continuity of plains,
Darker browns and softer shade,
Crunchier leafy flooring beneath our feet.
When disparate instantiations are grouped together as a mental category,
There must be some generalization lurking behind it.
What lurk behind the plain and the forest are two things:
One – the flatness, so that, when the soft breeze rubs against our faces,
It would take ten thousand years until our gaze breaks
Against the blips, more like symbols now than mountains,
And, when we look where we intuitively know must be downwards,
There is no visible hint of slope,
And where we are could last forever;
And two – the river, a blue mirror of the green in the plains,
A level pause in the midst of the forest,
But always the river, the same concept in every context,
Eternally threading through the landscape mat like fate,
Gravity, desire, violence – omnipresent.
The category is the middle.
The category is a balance.
The category is the farthest point.
The category is the afternoon
Of our journey,
For, as we travel easily, lazily, over the river banks,
Bask in the sun, dawdle in the shade,
As the river rumbles in its broad, steady maturity,
As we point out silver and golden darting fish in the water,
As the buzz of insects suffuses the afternoon with calm,
As I think I smell a sweet background flower fragrance,
Although I cannot deny a certain aura of suspension,
A moment stretching, backward and forwards, some twenty thousand years,
We are journeying yet.
Our presence implies a progress.
We are journeying yet.
Our stagnation is uncorrelated with rest.
We are journeying yet,
Even if motion has blurred into stillness.
We are journeying yet,
Even if we are forgetting –
Are we forgetting?
This is the problem with setting,
Or maybe this is the problem with the human mind,
Or maybe this is the problem with time –
Yes, I think perhaps this is the problem with time.
I have not forgotten the mountains,
But I only experience them now as abstractions,
Symbolic, removed, remembered, but only remembered.
Life is and therefore must have been always
Easy and flat, step by unhesitant step.
The river is and therefore must have been always
Broad and calm, a rushing undercurrent beneath the insect buzzing,
But I have not forgotten the spring.
The banks are and therefore must have been always
Well-hollowed out of the Earth, evident and unquestioned,
But I have not forgotten the muddy rocks.
The sun is and therefore must have been always
Radiating light and heat out into the day,
But I have not forgotten the nighttime.
The landscape is and therefore must have been always
Conducive to an easy background flow,
But I have not forgotten the waterfalls.
I would not be shocked if, in my mind,
There is some kind of eternal waterfall.
If I have a soul, there are worse ways to conceptualize it
Than as that perpetual waterfall,
But I do not know if I have a soul,
And so you can see that although
I have not forgotten the waterfalls,
My journey has removed me from the waterfalls.
What is absent is not what is present.
What is present has the quality of eternity,
Even if it has not the property of eternity,
And even if we understand it has not the property of eternity.
I have not forgotten gravity, desire, violence,
But gravity is hidden in the vales,
And desire has devolved into a parody,
As desire always devolves into a parody –
One might define habit as a parody of desire.
A journey is a concept that implies desire –
Even if it is nothing more than the desire for the surcease of pain –
But I know journeying devolves into a habit –
When the motive force of each step after step
Stops being a vital power and retreats into a past self
Whose intentions are the spur behind each movement
So that one’s mind disconnects from one’s body,
And someone else seems to be in control.
Whatever thoughts, feelings, and desires
Flicker in the spirit, there is no connection
To the journey – or the connection is oblique, only,
And so one is alive and thinking and simultaneously
A ghost and a robot programmed by a ghost
In a repetitive loop of action.
Not that there is anything wrong with journeying.
Not that I fail to take pleasure in journeying,
And the day is warm, and the sounds are soft,
The light is lovely and the flowers fragrant,
The colors bright and the company engaging,
The weariness bearable and the routine comfortable,
But the desire is veiled and hidden.
As for violence – I have not forgotten the wind,
But the wind is and must have been always
A ghost itself, a hint only, and certainly pleasant.
Mountains have become symbols, but
I wonder why I ever chose the wind as a symbol
When it is not only material but also
Mundane and barely noticeable.
After ten thousand years, we become desensitized to violence.
The journey is and therefore must have been always,
But that is self-evident.

III. Evening

All things end in darkness, such as
The day, which is something that ends slowly.
As we walk on, there is a gradual dimming.
The sun is no light bulb to blink out in an instant,
But it is as though you look up, and the sky is blue –
Then – you think the sky is still blue but
You realize that the quality of light is different –
As though the sky has been folded back on itself –
It always was, you think, a blanket,
And now it is just doubled back to darken.
The sun has grown old throughout the day.
Now it is no child playing with bright blues and greens.
It has taken up a different sort of paint, and, behind us,
Spills of it like autumn leaves or berry stains
Begin to alter the plain pattern.
It is a commonplace that this is beautiful for a reason.
Imagine your own sunset.
I will not write a poem for those who cannot imagine sunset.
That is what changes the sky.
We might turn around because
We too like to imagine the sunset, darkening bit by bit into twilight.
All things end in darkness, such as
The river.  Out ahead of us, sky and sea become darkness.
At another time, perhaps a blue corner would demarcate the horizon,
But now we can hear the waves,
And maybe the sleepy sun still highlights a white crest or two,
But mostly the river is pouring out into darkness.
Limits are blurred, everything is blurred,
The sound of water beating back on the shore is a blurring sound.
The scent of salt in the air is a blurring of boundaries.
A bird or two is still framed in silhouette against the sky,
Calling out a cry or two to jolt through moments with sound,
But there is only one or two.
This sharpness is dying away,
All to be consumed by darkness.
Step by step over wet pebbles we are approaching
The darkness, and the river too is pouring, frothing
Out into this endless, endless darkness.
All things end in darkness, such as
Our journey.  Why are the gulls fleeing the sky?
Why is the corner’s edge wearing away?
Do not tell me it is only the blanket folding,
The sun sleeping, the paint all fading naturally to blackness,
When I can see the dark clouds gathering,
Smears of black and grey earth churning up,
Covering the leaves and berries.
I can hear the distant rumble of the thunder,
A sudden deeper growl cutting across the blurring sound of water,
And its swifter companion cutting through the sky,
Again and again, illuminating only to further highlight the darkness.
Sometimes when you sleep at night you are restless.
You kick up the sheets and blankets, move them about,
Until you wake up in the morning to odd piles all about you.
I think the sun must be restless.
Its blanket has moved and shifted, piled up in odd places in the sky,
Threatening and alarming.  Soon the rain will be coming.
Is the water I feel on my arm from the spray,
Or is it the harbinger of a further darkness?
Rain and spray, clouds and night,
Water and darkness blur into one,
And I say, all things end in darkness.
She says, all things begin in darkness.
She asks, do you remember the spring,
Bubbling and frothy, pouring forth
The water liberated from eons of caved darkness?
I say, I remember the spring,
But all things end in darkness.
She asks, do you remember the dawn,
And the first gleamings of light as the blanket became thinner?
I say, I remember the dawn,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the mountains,
How hard it was to clamber down over the rocks,
Without slipping, the long distant view down
When our gaze followed gravity twenty thousand years into the distance?
I say, I remember the mountains,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the waterfalls?
She does not even describe them.
I say, I remember the waterfalls,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the wind
When it seemed to bring a hint of snow and chill,
As if to remind us that the mountains stretch up beyond
Even our imaginations, into the snow-capped peaks at the start of the world?
I say, I remember the wind,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the plains,
Where we walked together and laughed,
And the river was wide and untroubled?
I say, I remember the plains,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the forest,
Where there was shade, and dark green,
And it almost felt like something was hiding
Somewhere in the gaps between brown and black,
Watching us silently as we passed?
I say, I remember the forest,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the insects,
Whose soft buzz was like the sound of summer,
Who remained, like the basic pulse of life,
Constant throughout the plains and forests,
Gifting texture and peace to the afternoon?
I say, I remember the insects,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember the flowers,
Whose fragrance was almost imperceptible,
A hint, only, but pervasive, stretching throughout the day,
And whose colors gave beauty to the light?
I say, I remember the flowers,
But all things end in darkness.
She says, do you remember our journey.
I say, I remember our journey.
She says, all things begin in darkness.
She looks out over the water,
Her pensive face illuminated in one second by distant lightning,
Then shadowed in another.
How distant is the lightning, really?
Is that spray or rain dusting my arms?
She says, all things begin in darkness,
So I want you to take my hand.
I am still.
She says, all things begin in darkness.
Of course, there is a general drift downwards into darkness,
But gravity is not the only force.
If it were, then gravity would already be forgotten,
As all things crunched together in an eternal compaction.
For gravity to start, there must be separation.
Gravity’s origins lie out there in the expanse of darkness
As the sun spills indifference to gravity out over the land and water,
And the water that has succumbed to gravity is stained by exhilaration,
Excited, jumps up, invisibly leaping out against the call of gravity,
Then darts, freed, through the air.
The water once imprisoned in caves away from the sun,
Has finally reached its fruition, its ultimate experience of freedom,
Until the enthusiasm dies away,
And habit can no longer conquer the absence of desire,
And freedom devolves first into formation,
Then precipitation, guided by gravity,
So eventually, whether it is an immediate response,
Or long delayed by eons hidden in pools below the earth,
Each particle will return to the streamlets,
And once again meet and join and flow down to the mouth,
Guided again by gravity,
And thus it is here, in the darkness and expanses,
That gravity is made possible,
Here, where gravity fails to reign tyrannically,
Only here can be the source of gravity,
For how could water fall,
If there were only the pools at the bottom,
So I want you to take my hand.
The spray beats endlessly against my face.
I am still.
She says, all things begin in darkness.
Here, where we stand, the storm will hit,
The waves will crash, water will eat away at land,
Eroding and devouring these tiny pebbles beneath our feet,
The tenacious remainder of a history of assault,
Eventually to be reclaimed and made again into darkness,
And so, yes, there is violence here,
But it pales next to the violence in the darkness,
Where in the midst of the storm there is no land to be assaulted,
Only water combatting water in a never-ending battle,
Sea rising up and lashing in pain against the sky,
Sky falling down in rivulets against the sea,
Water on water, surge against surge,
Sea and sky indistinguishable, both nothing more
Than whirlpools of insistent water clashing, crashing.
One endless stream of white water up and down in chaos,
A waterfall and waterrise turned from cacophony into something more intense,
All the noise and all the power in the world engulfed in water.
We live on the land,
And so of course the force of water,
Surging back against its children,
Raging to recover what has become separate,
Is the force that dismays us,
Destroys our shelter, shocks us,
And yet imagine the plight of boats out on the water,
Where the storm rocks them back and forth
And no succor remains, where there is no land to hang on to
Only water above and water below,
And the boat rises up all the way into the air,
Which is not an escape from water but a return to more water,
So that there is no escape from water,
And, pinned between water and water,
One is doomed to succumb and never return to land,
But instead by stretched out and taken up by water,
To be pressed by violence into its shape forever,
So I want you to take my hand.
I think the water is beginning to fall on water, as she says,
But I cannot see.  Out ahead of me is only darkness –
The water is darkness, and when I turn my head,
I think I see only twilight, interrupted so briefly by white bolts –
Behind me is intermittent darkness.
I say, so gravity begins in darkness, and violence,
But what then of desire?
She says, and what then of desire?
She says, desire; she pauses.
She says, I think, is a fiction.
I do not say, it feels real.
She says, I know it feels real,
But you alone can feel your desire,
And you cannot feel my desire,
If it is real, it remains inpalpable,
Not to be communicated straightforwadly,
And thus to speak of desire is always to speak in figurative language.
A simile, then -
Desire, I think, is like gravity,
Only more so.  It is only after something has defied gravity
That you can see the beginning of gravity.
Only, then, when something is empty of desire,
Can you see the beginnings of desire.
If desire begins in the darkness,
And if, as you insist, desire ends in the darkness,
Then there must be a moment, out there, in the darkness,
Empty of desire, a moment or an eternity of stillness,
Without even the ghost of desire.
Does desire build on desire?
Yes, I am sure a million hopes and dreams
Spark each other in the human mind,
As the rush of gravity would pull the stream
More and more quickly down towards the bottom,
But each candle once lit, though it may light another before the end,
Burns out inexorably.  Eventually the wax melts,
And all that is left are the stains of color dotting the tablecloth.
What fire rages forever?  Therefore, desire must also arise
In the absence of desire, an original fire,
A moment when you awake from stillness,
Take stock of yourself and think,
Oh, this feeling is desire.
You feel once again the pulling,
The yearning, which will be there
Until it dies again.  One does not desire
What one possesses; hence, there is a pattern –
Desire – act – obtain – but the interruption
Always changes the shape of the desire,
As the journey is not the source of the journey,
And so the mouth is different from both the source and the journey,
Even if both source and mouth lie in the darkness.
Out there, on our journey, you said,
You were a mind, and a ghost, and a robot programmed by a ghost.
What then of your desire?
You may think that water lies for a hundred thousand years in pelagic darkness
And never is a flame kindled in water,
But then the lightning hits a ship, the only tall point for miles,
And it goes crackling into flames,
Or maybe an oil spill is burnt off
And so the water all around sparks into fire.
All stability is cyclic.
Desire ends in so many ways.
It ends in the obtaining of all possible outlets for desire,
But when there is nothing to set outlets into relief, then there is darkness,
Or it ends in the burning out of the flame of desire,
Which metaphorically leads to darkness,
Or it ends when no mind remains to contain desire,
Snuffed out into nothing, where all there is is darkness,
But where there is nothing,
There is everything to be desired.
When you were a mind, and a ghost, and a robot programmed by a ghost,
How real was your desire?
If the darkness kills desire,
It is also where desire will be born again.
When you reach a goal, and the ghost dies,
Then only can untainted desire rise from the ashes,
So I want you to take my hand.
This cannot be only spray;
A steady thrum falling down on my head,
And I can barely see through the darkness.
Staring out at the darkness,
I already feel as though I am in darkness.
The dimmest of lights behind me,
The occasional bolt heading closer,
Are nothing in the bulk of darkness.
The sun has covered its paints with the blanket;
The birds are asleep; darkness is behind me
And in front of me, we are almost already
In the darkness and the water.
I can feel it all over me,
And I can breathe, so I am not in the sea,
But I am almost already in the sea.
The waves leap up on the shore,
The pebbles below me are soaked and wet,
The rain is streaming like ocean currents.
I can look up to get a face full of water
Or stare down to look the water in the face.
I can see the clouded over blanket above me
Or the failure of the horizon out in front of me.
With darkness and water surrounding me, above and below,
Left and right, before and behind,
I have no sense of direction,
But, without direction, I can have no sense of gravity.
There is no easiest path to take.
She says, I want you to take my hand.
Fat drops of rain blur together with ocean spray.
If I am without gravity, I may also be without desires.
A long time ago, someone in the past formulated a desire,
Somewhere distant, tens of thousands of years away,
And I have been fulfilling her desire.
Anything else that briefly sparked up from my feelings,
Thoughts, emotions, was quickly smothered
By the ghost in the machine.
One desire drawing me on for so long,
Long after it faded into habit,
And now I have lost all my desires.
If I knew what I wanted, I might do it,
But now it seems as though as sea and sky and land blend into one,
There are no distinctions,
And one path is as good as another,
If I am only waiting for a flame to light again,
And the lightning is right above me,
And she wants me to take her hand.
She says, I want you to take my hand.
Pebbles are sucked beneath my feet into the sea.
Violence is justified in self-defense, I hear,
But otherwise one is pushed by violence, not pulled by it.
Surely it is better to avoid violence.
Surely one universal desire is to escape violence.
Out there in the darkness, she told me, there is violence,
Endless violence; the sea will seem calm but, at its core, violence.
The sharks are eternally moving in the water, I hear,
The storms are rough and destructive.
The mermaids have sharp teeth.
They bite into you and your blood pours out into the ocean,
And I have always been terrified of jellyfish.
It does not seem right, somehow, to become violence
When one is not violence.
The thunder now is so loud, so close,
It sounds like the pebbles are exploding.
How can one make the choice to become violence,
And yet, I struggle to remember, even in our peaceful times there was violence,
The breeze that calmed the plains and ruffled the forest
The same wind that threatened snow in the mountains
And is sheeting a deluge against my face now.
If violence was the force that pushed us on, towards the darkness,
And if violence lives in the darkness,
And pushed us out of the darkness,
If the quake that splits the earth to lift up mountains is violence,
And the sea tears at the land in violence, fighting to take back
What once arose out of it, pushed by violence,
Then the whole world is formed in violence,
The moments of peace only the product of violence,
And doomed to once more fall back into violence,
As if violence were mass and the process gravity.
We may wish – I do wish – for the vales to last forever,
But the vales are a thin veneer between earthquakes and tsunamis.
We cannot stretch it thinner.
It has ripped apart, poked on one side by the mountains,
Drowned on the other by the sea.
If we are to make a new one, it is an act of violence against the darkness.
We may want to avoid violence,
But we ourselves were birthed in violence,
And only after destruction is their space left to create in.
When the world is a unity,
When sea is sky and darkness darkness,
Only by tearing things apart can we return to distinctions.
Maybe if we try a little harder, do a little better,
Peace can arise once more out of violence.
Maybe peace can conquer violence, next time.
If violence threatens to destroy peace,
Peace must know how to defend itself,
And thus if there is a time when violence is not the answer,
We have not reached it yet.
We need to make the space to create it in,
Make for thicker vales.
Here, in the present maelstrom of violence,
My hair is whipped around by the wind,
Already wet and dripping little streamlets of its own,
And I say, all things begin in darkness.
The wind is loud, the thunder fierce,
The sea fighting back with its own howls.
She needs to shout.
She shouts, from here on,
We will become the darkness.
We grab hands.
Holding hands, forming a line, we rush together
Out away from the majestic mountains,
Into the pools where the water begins to creep up our legs,
Out away from the plains,
Into the salt and the streams of water caused by sudden darting fish,
Out away from the darkness,
Into the darkness,
Sea and sky and land drop away,
Darkness is darkness is darkness.
We are rushing now, now that our journey
Has ended and begun, rushing forth
Out past the mouth into the sea,
Out past our fear into emptiness,
Holding hands, together, sweeping on
In the struggle to become the darkness.


Dance Visions said...

WOW! Well so far I read Morning and Afternoon. will save evening for tomorrow. Brilliant! So complicated yet put so beautifully and I can so fully understand and relate. BRAVO!

Anonymous said...

okay, now in the middle of Night. Loving it. In the meantime can you explain a bit about "gravity" and something about who "she" might be.
Thank you.

Grace Mulligan said...

Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you're enjoying it.

Gravity, is, well, gravity. I think that the line "violence is the force that pushes us on" came to me first, but I'm not sure I remember how I got from there to the idea that other forces were involved too. On some level, I think it just seemed obvious enough to me that a river flows downstream because of gravity that I felt it needed to go in there. To the degree that gravity becomes metaphorical or symbolic in the poem, I suppose it's symbolic of scientific law or natural law in general, but I think that mostly gravity is just gravity. The part about gravity, desire and violence was really something I came up with for the first part that ended up being increasingly important as I continued to develop my ideas for the poem rather than something that was a key part of the imagery as it first came to me, so it ended up playing a large role, but the fact that gravity and desire ended up playing such a large role in particular was to some degree unintended at first?

I came up with the image that prompted the poem while considering a social problem in a social context, so it became important to me to write a poem that wasn't only about a single person's journey, as that wasn't really relevant to what I had been thinking about. I think some of my first few aborted tries may have been about only one person, and that might have been one of the reasons why I didn't find them satisfying? At any rate, it was quite clear to me from the beginning that it had to be more than one person making the journey. I kind of wanted to keep it ambiguous over the course of the poem as to whether it was only two or more than two, but I'm not sure if I succeeded in the end. In the end, it turned out that, since I was pondering my own thoughts about an issue when I came up with the image behind the poem, the poem had to end up with a debate and a solution to the debate. So a particular other person ended up being externalized. I called her "she" rather than "he" for "political" reasons - because if there is no particular reason for a character to be of any particular gender, you might as well default to female so as to avoid the assumption that default people are male - similarly to how, when writing an essay, I generally alternate between calling indefinite people "she" and "he" but am always quite careful to call the first one "she,' not "he" - and for personal reasons - because I did come up with both sides of the argument, and I'm female, and because when I imagine an arbitrary friend to take a trip like this with or to have this kind of conversation with, she's more likely to be female in my mind than male.