[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
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,
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.