Relearning the Alphabet
(June, 1968 – April, 1969)
For G. who could not help it, I. who saw me, R who read me, and M. for everything.
"The treasure . . . lies buried. There is no need to seek it in a distant counter . . . It is behind the stove, the center of the life and warmth that rule our existence, if only we knew how to unearth it. And yet – there is this strange and persistent fact, that it is only after . . . a journey in a distant region, in a new land, that . . . the inner voice . . . can make itself understood by us. And to this strange and persistent face is added another: that he who reveals to us the meaning of our . . . inward pilgrimage must be himself a stranger"
– Heinrich Zimmer
– Heinrich Zimmer
Joy – a beginning. anguish, ardor.
To relearn the ah! of knowing in unthinking
joy: the belovéd stranger lives.
Sweep up anguish as with a wing-tip,
brushing the ashes back to the fire’s core.
To be. To love an other only for being.
Clear, cool? Not those evasions. The seeing
that burns through, comes through to
the fire’s core.
In the beginning was delight. A depth
stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.
Dark dark dark . And the blaze illumines
revolution of dream to ember, ember to anguish,
anguish to flame, flame to delight,
delight to dark and dream, dream to ember
that the mind’s fire may not fail.
The vowels of affliction, of unhealed
not to feel it, uttered,
transformed in utterance
Not farewell, not farewell, but faring
forth into the grace of transformed
continuance, the green meadows
of Grief-Dale where joy grew, flowering
close to the ground, old tales recount,
and may be had yet for the harvesting.
Into the world of continuance, to find
I-who-I-am again, who wanted
to enter a life not mine,
to leap a wide, deep, swift river.
At the edge, I stand yet. No, I am moving away,
walking away from the unbridged rush of waters towards
‘Imagination’s holy forest,’ meaning to thread its ways,
that are dark,
and come to my own clearing, where ‘dreamy, gloomy,
friendly trees’ grow, one by one – but
I’m not looking where I’m going,
my head’s turned back, to see
whom I called ‘jester’: someone dreamed
on the far bank: not dreamed, seen
in epiphany, as Picasso’s bronze Head of a Jester
I go stumbling
back to my origins:
(if that’s where I’m going)
to joy, my Jerusalem.
I’m a small figure in mind’s eye,
diminishing in the sweep of rain or gray tears
that cloud the far shore as jealous rage
clouds love and changes it, changes vision.
Caritas is what I must travel to.
Through to the fire’s core,
But find my face clenched
when I wake at night
Back there forgetting, among the
letters folded and put away.
‘The feel of
not to feel it
was never said . . .’ Keats said.
‘Desolation . . . Absence an absolute
calling forth . . .’ the jester said
from the far shore (‘gravely, ringing his bells,
a tune of sorrow.’ I dance to it?)
‘You are offhand. The trouble
is concealed? Isak said,
calling me forth.
I am called forth
from time to time.
I was in the time
What light is it
Absence has not become
Lost in the alphabet
I was looking for
the word I can’t now say
and am called forth
unto the twelfth letter
by the love in a question.
Honest man, I wanted
the moon and went
out to sea to touch
the moon and
down a lane of bright
curled pyramids of
towards the moon
the luminous dissolving
humbled, to warm myself,
our bed is
upon the earth
your soul is
in your body
my mouth once more
– I’m home.
Something in me that wants to cling
wants to have been
burned by the cold moon to cinder,
shrinks as the disk
shrinks as the disk
dwindles to vision
numb not to continuance
but to that source
of mind’s fire
no doubt to wax again –
yet I perhaps not be there
in its light.
Hostile. Ordinary. Home.
Order. Alone. Other.
Hostile longing. Ordinary rose, omnivorous.
Caught. Lost. Orient almost,
Pain recedes, rising from heart to head
Apple thunder, rolling over the
Yet I would swear
there had been savage light
In childhood dream-play I was always
the knight or squire, not
quester, petitioner, win or lose, not
she who was sought.
The initial of quest or question
branded itself long since on the flank
of my Pegasus.
Yet he flies always
home to the present.
Released through bars of sorrow
as if not a gate had opened but I
grown intangible had passed through, shadowy,
from dark of yearning into
a soft day, western March;
a thrust of birdsong
parts the gold flowers thickbranching
that roof the path over.
Arms enfold me
tenderly. I am trusted, I trust
the real that transforms me.
the seeing that burns through, comes through
to fire’s core: transformation, continuance,
as acts of magic I would perform, are no longer
articles of faith.
Or no: it
slowly becomes known to me:
articles of faith are indeed
rules of will – graceless,
The door I flung my weight against
was constructed to open out
blue ice-cavern, measureless,
may not be forced by sharp
turns in the wood: ‘Retrace
thy steps, seek out
the hut you passed, impatient,
the day you lost your quarry.
a secret. Restore to it
You will not recognize
your desire until
thou hast it fast, it goeth
aside, it hath
the cunning of quicksilver.’
I turn in the forest.
About me the tree-multitudes
twist their roots in earth
to rip it, draw
hidden rivers up into
Their crowns in the light sway
green beyond vision.
takes me step by hesitant step towards
– yes, to continuance: into
that life beyond the dead-end where
(in a desert time of
dry strange heat, of dust
that tinged mountain clouds with copper,
turn of the year impending unnoticed,
the cactus shadows brittle thornstars,
desolation) I was lost.
The forest is holy.
The sacred paths are of stone.
The altars are shifting deposits of pineneeedles,
streets of choirwood,
not what the will
thinks to construct for its testimonies.
Relearn the alphabet,
relearn the world, the world
understood anew only in doing, under-
stood only as
looked-up-into out of earth,
the heart an eye looking,
the heart a root
planted in earth.
Transmutation is not
under the will’s rule.
Vision sets out
walking the dreamwaters:
not on the far shore but upriver,
a place not evoked, discovered.
Heart breaks but mends
like good bone.
It’s the vain will
wants to have been wounded deeper,
burned by the cold moon to cinder.
Wisdom’s a stone
dwells in forgotten pockets –
lost, refound, exiled –
in the palm of
mind’s hand, moonstone
of wax & want, stone pulse.
Vision will not be used.
Yearning will not be used.
Wisdom will not be used.
Only the vain will
strives to use and be used,
comes not to fire’s core
anguish as with a wing-tip:
the blaze addresses
a different darkness:
absence has not become
the transformed presence the will
but other: the present,
that which was poised already in the ah! of praise.