Deadwater

Deadwater

I

I recall in tranquillity

Fever-dive hours.

Once I saw a sailboat listing

Upon a great-waved sea

The sea was I and so was the boat

I could not see any stars

For the blasts of ocean-spray

 

In what quiet cove can I go hiding from a storm

Blasting up the cartoid artery and flooding through

The cognitive estuaries, over-spilling memory’s tributaries?

Tell me where I might make my stand against my wrath?

Might a clever present play the future off against the past?

Am I to live only in the lacunae between foretelling & recollection

In the times between guilt and dread when, exhausted of mental flight,

Whether backwards or forwards, the mind drifts in easy content?

 

We shall build a tower

let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth

 

II

Behold, a shattered glass bowl that held doubts

They multiply in shattering

As each beam of light

Crosses every glass splinter

It breeds a new splinter

And a new lance of light

Fecund heresiarch

 

Absolute clarity lies within

That lit glass rubble but the trouble

Is that so does everything else

As in Borges’ library up in that tower

 

III

Do you know where your right hand is? Walking through a shop and not knowing whether you’ve assaulted someone heedlessly. Analysing each moment of your past like a sicko prosecutor. The fears iterate by sinister Darwinism, seeking cognitive blind-spots. Did I mutter threats of violence to that child? Did I insult that shop attendant? Mixed memory and aversion form a rancid bin-juice born decaying.

 

IV

I came to the stairs

There was a wobble in her voice

By each step her voice rose higher

So I rise to her and she calls with greater urgency

And I rise to her with greater urgency

She and I can only meet after escalation shatters

Past the horizon of panic and further-

Past the sea rock of worn defeat

She and I must be one.

I sprint.

 

V

Imagine that someone came to you in the middle of the night, stepped into your mouth and began to grow through your capillaries. They were not content merely with habitation, their constant insistence was that you must keep grafting dead organs and limbs onto yourself. You become a born-again Frankenstein (don’t be a pedant) with all the zeal of a convert to an undead lifestyle. The new limbs are heavy, and stink, and burn up your flesh with septisemic fire and puss-flood, but the man who stepped inside your mouth begs you stitch on more.

 

VI

The inside of a head becomes lonely as it becomes crowded

The only things that elbowed through those crowds

Were other hauntings

Brief dune-sedge love in salted ground

Warring wrath against money made world

Twin engines of raging-love and loving-rage

Racing for diversion and the exaltation of rebellious motion

Circulation round the track kept my blood in motion

Rammed down winds to bellow my lungs

 

Political contention, war, courtship, frenetic study

Vain dreams of greatness, discontent

Which gave me a little contentedness

To declare permanent war or endless love

And so to terminate surrender in unutterable resolution

“Optimism of the will!”- clenched hands, though they wobble

In the obsidian lands where resistance gave no comfort

Resistance still gave sustenance

Just as all the previous Sugatas

 

VII

Life is so long. Are you so innocent? You are tired. You dream of a gentle place. You saw it as anyone might imagine it- holy light on wild-flowers, easy with its comforts, free with its joys. To be such a place it had to be distant from this world and sealed against you.

 

VIII

Maybe I just wasn’t fucking often enough?

Victorian life is better novelised than lived

Hysterical, neurotic, guilty, phantasmal

Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough?

A friend called me the Ayatollah

In respect of my beard and sobriety

 

Hume and the Buddhist sages pronounced that persons are aggregates without greater unity. I find myself a bundle but there is no liberation here. The parts rub against each other like cans in a grocery bag bruise fruit. Or perhaps I am the curate’s egg.

 

IX

Give me a seabird’s wings

On the cliffs, about forty meters over the crab pools

I dream of ascending with the gulls, but higher

Diving and again rising in alliance with wind

What waves perturb the gull are brief

And if it is to end by hawk, that too is brief

Yet I would rise higher still, till I sat on a perch

Overlooking time and the jolting succession of moments

Above the waves of kings, ministers, exchequers

Yet if I am not to reach that exalted perch

I will be low enough to observe the bright net

Of refracted sun that plays upon the hills of water

Give me a seabird’s wings

 

X

Easier perhaps to talk of the accoutrements of terror and the reflections it invoked. Easier to do that then to photograph medusa. Yet I do remember being confused as to whether I was more guilty or more afraid. It seemed important that I be more guilty than be afraid, but it is hard to feel guilt while facing knives. Consequently, I felt supplementary guilt at my thin guilt.

 

We shall build a tower

let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth

 

XI

The future is boundless, not only ahead but sideways

The patterns of your inferences only ever ape

The subtle causal chains which bind the forward momentum

Of the world whose surface you cling to

The mind is stretched between times and possibilities,

Beyond any accommodation by mental sinew and bone

The heart successively roars and fizzles

 

XII

I came to the living room

And it was filled with ash

Though I never smoked

Or sat by fire

I made an ink of that ash

And began to write these verses

upon my arm

 

XIII

He is there, and I smile into his oblivion

He never loved you, so ideas of romance

Had the character of Banach-Tarski’s sphere

He is gone now, other suburbs, other worlds

I do not miss him, except on special occasions

My affections were never lost, except perhaps at the first moment

Dead on arrival

Yet still worthwhile

 

It is right to rebel against most things

But not you, oh sweet tyrant

It’s good odds you kept me breathing

 

IXV

We do not sit upon heaven’s throne

Nor are we the rebel, cast down like a slash of lightning

We are the flesh that raised our gaze

Half wondering, half begging

The dance is ending, where is the bridgegroom?

 

XV

How rash are those who clamour for justice?

(I have been among them)

Life is wide, deep and changing. We are excesses

Of identity, act, motivation.

Of miscalibrated judgement and selfish grasping.

 

Do you think you would be clean under heaven’s eye?

Were there a book that contained each numbered thought and small deed

Of yours wouldn’t you shred it, burn it and eat the ashes?

I wouldn’t. I would give you that book. Press you to read it.

I do not think you would like me, but my terror is to be misunderstood

I fear that you will think I am a different kind of monster than that I am.

So I give you my promise, that should an angel scribe that book

I’ll give you a copy.

 

And I promise that if you ever give me a copy of your celestial biography

I’ll try to shut the my eye of judgement and open that of mercy

It’s simple self interest. Chesed pro chesed.

 

XVI

Can we remember pain? In our mind’s eye we might

See rose fluids or, under that, a startling glimpse of pearly white

Laid open by a scalpel. We shudder back. We peer forward.

But who has the pen by which to bind agony?

“Sharp”, “dull”, “throbbing”, “irritating”, “intense”

Wholly feeble, as if a snake tried to wander with its vestigial leg bones

But that is where we find ourselves- thirsty for conveyance in a desert of names

We can only hope to articulate pain through our inarticulateness

Just as, by chance, static on a television set captures a snowstorm

 

I remember wandering the streets, sobbing and calling for divine fire to kill me and all the other wicked. As I wept I listened to pop on half smashed headphones. What would it take to make you march through city streets weeping and calling the fires of an unknown God?

 

XVII

I ascended to the attic

To store, retrieve, invent

A mnemonic parade

Without volition my hands

Raise the dust in small incantations

How does one dislodge a fake memory?

Or terminate the routine of shuddering

 

I see

He and she are here, interlocked eye-beams

I am not in either eye

In this attic I lay in the pattern of my veins

I am sinews. Whether these gobbets

Be thought or flesh I am in neitherway free

I am chained by my own substance

Above me powers contend in the air.

 

XVIII

Think now

Life has many cunning passages, contrived corridors

And issues, deceives with whispering trepidations,

Guides us by vanities.

 

After such knowledge what forgiveness?

Forgiveness after such knowledge what?

What forgiveness after such knowledge?

Knowledge what forgiveness after such?

Such knowledge what forgiveness after?

 

IXX

In metamorphosis the tissue is not merely subtracted from and added to inside the pupae, rather the whole flesh devours itself, save for microscopic clusters (imaginal bodies), becoming a soup of cells. What unites both life-stages is scarcely more than a double-helixed teleos. Yet memory persists.

We shall build a tower

let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth

 

XX

If I could but seize the wax of Icarus

The tailor of Ulm’s fabrics

Etana or Bladud’s crown of feathers

If I could but fly, I could seize the sun’s silver

Forge a mirror by which to demonstrate

The storm that rends the head

Of some shivering soul you know

Forgive a thief that stole for you and

Shelter all, for you cannot see their weather

 

XXI

To find a point of collapse at which

loss and victory die.

And that sea is now

A vast lake that

Night or day

Forms a perfect twin

To the sky

Over the stones of the tower

Drift currents and sweet, lazy fish

The waves will dance again

But I might hope to dance

With them

 

Afterword

This poem is allusive to the point of plagiarism, and past that. My purpose is to convey an experience with all that I have and I’ll gladly steal words for that. Given the greed with which I have pilfered the words, I thought a referencing system was needed. Passages in italics are more or less lifted wholesale from elsewhere. There’s plenty of references, parallels and allusions which aren’t italicised.

The debt to T.S. Eliot is obvious, even in the title. The debt to the Aiken’s Tetelestai and the Romantics (including Eliot perversely read as a romantic) is less obvious. It’s very much a poem about me, and I apologise for that vanity. My story is not unique. My particular kind of OCD based on a fear of harming others is quite common. Yet few talk about it for fear of seeming like a dangerous weirdo. It is an inherently self-concealing form of mental illness. Especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to avoid the narcissism of self-display even in an anonymous form, but I want to show you this story, lest it be scattered everywhere among the nameless like me, andns forgotten.

For those who have loved me.

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