18 December 2006

Hayden Carruth

[From Hayden Carruth’s Toward the Distant Islands: New and Selected Poems, 2006]

The Buddhist Painter Prepares to Paint

     First he must go where
Not even the birds will brave his solitude,
Alone to the sunburnt plain to try his mood
     In silence. Prayer

     Will help him to begin
Perhaps, or tell him if after all tomorrow
May not be better. But, alas, his sorrow
     Is genuine,

     The requisite of art.
He kneels, eyes bent in humble palms. To see
In perfect light is difficult; one must be
     Blind from the start.

     And then the sevenfold
Office, the changing of the hundred names,
The offering of flowers, none the sun shames,
     But marigold

     Of his imagination,
Jasmine of the pure mind, ghostly for the ghost
Of Buddha; he speaks the uttermost

     He whispers, he merely thinks,
Thinking the perfect flower of the universe.
And the primal vastness comes to intersperse
     His thoughts, he sinks

     Through the four phases
Of infinity to the abyss, crying, “Die,
O world. Sunburnt grasses, fade.” The sky
     Turns on its huge axis

     Under him; all is lost,
Fingers, heartbeat, the singing brain, gone,
Or glittering there in that resplendent one
     Who shimmers, posed

     In the wide abyss.
The holy impassivity of his goddess dances
Without motion. The painter sighs. Expanses
     Of unknown bliss

     Widen through death, through birth,
Acheless, moving the goddess, the one, the all,
Who dances in the void of the painter’s soul.
     But something of earth,

     Something of his old dolor,
Calls back the painter now from the reflected
Essence to the form of the goddess projected
     In line and color.

     His sadness is like the itch
That gives his fingers back: among the many
Loves that preceded his pure ceremony
     There is one which

     Denies the formless, paints
Something that might be the goddess dancing, dressed
In green flesh with four arms and three heads, lest
     The loveless saints

     Alone find rapture. Why
Must the painter paint? For love of forms so trite?
Or is it that love of minds and hearts finds sight
     Within his eye?

     The painter’s love is his
Great penalty, because to fashion even
This sham goddess, he must deny the heaven
     Where the goddess is.

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