ONE DAY I’LL TELL YOU WHAT IT WAS LIKE
One day I’ll tell you what it was like
to be so precocious in highschool
I was destined to be fucked up now.
One day I’ll tell you what it was like
to be a poor kid at a rich university
going through culture shock
in his own country
at the difference in the way he grew up
and other people lived.
None of it matters now
but back then
when there was nothing I had
or could do
that I could take for granted
like someone coming to the rescue
I tried to stay awake
sleepwalking through a snakepit.
I learned where everyone went
beside the dinner plate on the table
like forks and spoons and butter knives
and lives I could only marvel at
that had come down
through so many generations.
That they were born
into such good families
made me feel by comparison
that I was littered
by a great bitch sea wolf
that was sick of founding cities.
What can you say?
Swimming through quicksand
isn’t the same thing
as standing on a cornerstone?
A good education shows you a way
you never need to live
what you’re talking about?
Like a better home
than the ones
most people return to.
Or that’s what they want you to think.
Bitter existentialist frivolously revolutionary days
when every crisis
appealed to a sense of catastrophe
that lingered like impending pot smoke in the air
and flower power bloomed
like a garden full of antiwar placards
screaming for more freedom than there was choice.
The late sixties
when life was more of a lyric
than a conviction
and everyone spoke in one voice
about a better world
than the paradise
they’d just jumped from
just to prove they could
and be cool in the neighbourhood.
I sat in classical Greek class
listening to the tinkling of the happy bells
that hung from the necks of the children
who were too innocent to be good
and weighed whether it was a blessing or a curse
to be a feather of light
flying so close to a black dwarf.
I translated Euripides
and selections from the Greek Anthology.
All Corinthians are liars.
I am a Corinthian.
I thought about Vesta
tending the home-fires of the hearth
and I remembered my mother
stuffing a dismembered armchair
into the basement furnace
when she’d run out of money for wood
to sustain enough heat in the house
to keep the ice from completely covering the windows
while everyone else
talked about the weather
knowing they had plenty of coal
as if it was just another day in Eden
with an unseasonal cold snap.
It’s hard to point out
where the black dwarfs are on a starmap
but there are dark constellations
with meanings and myths
of their own
that don’t show anybody the way home
or explain things that are better left unknown.
I wrote Sapphics in Attic Greek.
I got beaten at a student demonstration
against the firing of radical teachers
who wandered up the coast
like draft dodgers from L.A.
to look at Dylan Thomas in a whole new way
that didn’t sit well with the establishment.
I sat alone in the sunsets on San Francisco bay
like an eclipse of Isaac Hayes
on the backcover of a bestselling album
wondering what was real and intimate
about the cosmic events
of my generation
other than the words we used
to feel good
about our self-indulgence
like holy books
with unrevealed contents
like most of the drugs we did.
It’s good to be open.
It’s good to be cosmic enlightened and kind.
It’s good to cultivate your mind
like a Zen garden in Kyoto
and see your body and your mind
as one excellence begetting another
without worrying about which came first.
And it may well be that karmically
as Rilke says somewhere
we take the material frequencies of this world
of seemingly tangible matter before us
and transform them through our imagination
into the spiritual wavelengths
of the next habitable medium
we find ourselves up to our breath in.
And maybe we’ll be living on light by then.
But if it’s hell.
It’s your picture-music.
You made it so.
And if it’s heaven.
It gets the monkey off God’s back
like the creationist theory of evolution
and puts it on each of ours alone
to teach it to walk upright like a human
in the awakening landscape of its own imagination.
That’s what creative freedom means.
You’re not walking with anyone but yourself.
You’re talking to the stars
but they don’t answer back
because they’re too busy making their own worlds up
to look up at you
and wonder if you’ve got a mind like theirs
the way you do
or whether you’re one of the blind
who tries to tear the eye out of the view
in the name of clarity
and blames it on its own painting
like the smile of the Mona Lisa
that there’s more darkness in the world
than there is shining.
It’s good to listen
to the picture-music of the celestial spheres
as if you were listening to yourself playing
a guitar-shaped universe
on your own
trying to turn the stone
of a hard hard world
into something spiritual and light.
And it’s good to remember
that if you’re here
extemporizing as you go along
with the way things appear all on their own
like the events that are unfolding
before you even now
it’s your beholding that isn’t perfect
it’s your timing that’s always
half a note off eternity
and it’s only because
you didn’t get it right the first time
that you’ve got an afterlife
that’s catching on
like two minutes with a hook.
It’s good to read a lot of Shakespeare
and then bury his books
where the Dark Lady can’t find them.
It’s all good.
Even in the way
we’re mostly wrong about everything.
Even in the way
our right hand
hasn’t learned to accept
the lightning’s in the masonjar
and the fireflies speak for heaven
in the voices of distant lighthouses
it’s all good.
It’s learning to fall upwards.
Of being educated out of hell.
But what haunts me
and here’s the rub
isn’t so much the past
as the baffled unaccusing look
in the eyes of all those ghosts yet to come
of the tormented children
who have met no welcome on this planet
and look at me
as if I were the one who were invisible
as if it were me who were dead
with a great education
well before them.
It’s hard to mill a harvest of ghosts like grain
on the stone of a conceptual brain
that hasn’t received any rain for years
to cut down all that spiritual starwheat
and turn it into real bread
and make the kids
turn their heads this way
and see someone
as dumb and destitute as compassion
the echo of a lot of books in an empty silo
and no one to read them
until the first and last word
of a higher education come together and says
the only moral imperative of an enlightened life is
Shrink the bellies
of the hungry ghosts
that are swollen with want
and their minds will expand
like stars and planets
well beyond the bounds
of the unimaginable universe
that doesn’t share its deepest secrets with anyone
who hasn’t turned their spirit around like bread
like dark energy into mystic matter
like the invisible into something you can eat
like the relative continuum of space and eternity
into a mess at dinner-time.
The only revelation worth seeking
the only grail worth drinking from
the only insight
into the true nature of existence
that makes new strangers
from generation to generation
trying to know the truth
of what they’re doing here at all
comes in the form of a child
that’s been saved from starvation
by an apple from the tree of life
that’s older and sweeter
than all these snakey windfalls
of human knowledge
that lie like the corpses of innocent children
all over the ground of our being
like a unified field theory
that leaves us out in the cold.
Dumbfounded by an equation
that missed the whole point
for excluding them
as a collateral term of life
we couldn’t factor in
like the square of compassion
multiplied by the mass of the human heart.
and there’s another part
that’s too often missing
and you can ask the light
if you don’t believe me
there’s an equals sign
you have to cross like a bridge
to get to the other side of the matter
where spirit takes root in the starmud
to break bread with the body
and illumination tastes like the light
of a blue harvest moon
at the end of October
in a child’s mouth
when it’s full.