LETTER TO LAYLA
Writing to you is like writing to summer.
I see a stalk of wheat with a small drop
of Eleusinian ergot on it
calling me to its mysteries.
I see you stumping through the B.C. wilderness
in your mud-tugging boots
planting trees like the old Rinzai masters of Japan
for the sheer enlightenment of it.
I wonder if you have an Aussie accent
now that you’re back from down under.
Do the birds sing differently?
They’re fixing the roads here in Perth.
I’m delivering pizzas
in a labyrinth of Minoan backhoes.
And I still write and paint every morning before work.
My brain is a tossed paisley salad
and my heart is an orgy of blue.
I don’t spend a lot of time
trying not to grow old
knowing now is forever anyway
but things flash across my mind sometimes
like sabres of ice that make my blood cruel and cold.
I’m trying not to regret my childhood
and there are times when I can even manage
to throw a few sweetcakes into the snakepit
without asking the priestess
to take her prophecies back
now that I’ve made everyone of them come true.
Your crystal sends its regards
and asks me to remind you in its absence
not to be baffled by your happiness
when it comes upon you
and not to be too certain when it doesn’t.
Sometimes in the afternoon
I get a chance
to sit in the backyard
among blue and white flowers
and read Zen in the sun like an enlightened eclipse
that’s ready to split the difference
between reality and delusion
like one wave from another
like Solomon’s baby
knowing they’re both from the same dark mother.
I don’t add extra shadows to things
by giving them meanings they don’t deserve
and even when I indulge an old habit
for the sake of long friendship
my meanings are birds
that don’t perch anywhere for long.
Tree means tree.
Star means star.
Water means water.
Rock means rock.
This is what here means.
Now I picture you in tight blue jeans.
And lust brings a smile to my face that’s sweeter than grace.
And my body thanks you from afar
for the solar flare and the blue star
that burns the gold out of the crude ore of the Virgin.
Zodiacally speaking, of course.
And for months now I’ve been trying
to remember everything I’ve ever known about Aquarians.
In all ten directions the universe is one horse.
They’re so spaced out beyond the orders of time
kept by the strict lords of the prevailing paradigm
they’re all open gates and no fence.
They’re the cambium
the growing edge
the unhewn brides of spring
that move in with strange guests
like compasses without any wests.
They don’t need any signposts.
They use the trees for direction.
They drive the weathervanes crazy.
And the wind sits down
on a moss-covered stone
underneath an oak-tree on a hill
and holds its head in its hand like the earth
and says I just don’t know anymore
what things are coming to
or which way to go
now everything moves in a groove of its own
like homegrown music without a shepherd moon.
You can come like an equinox
with all the tuning forks you want
you can crotch hazel into witching wands
and loop your way through a maze
of celestial equators and ecliptics
and dupe the lost into believing they’re round
but an Aquarian will include you like a lost and found
in the most profound mystery of herself
like the secret history of water.
And you will lose yourself
like an intimacy in your homelessness
as she pours herself out of her deepest abyss
like tea among friends
and bows to the flowers.
Blue is the bravest colour.
It’s got way more courage than common-sense
to hear the jealous yellows tell it.
And midnight blue is galaxies beyond
Rembrandt’s mystic browns.
Brown never looks up.
But blue is the sea and the sky
wearing each other’s skin like water
tatooed by the stars of the magnificent other
that doesn’t make the distinction.
And whether it’s starless or not
blue is a deep-sky Aquarian
with blackholes like wishing wells
that time forgot to close
like the eyelids of death
when the dream turned inward
like the light of life
to the deep dreamless sleep
of its dark unknown eyeless origins.
And if time doesn’t go soft on you
or south with the geese and the swans
it will harden you into an artist
whose ashes are diamonds
footloose and lucidly peerless
in the mirrors of the waters
you scatter them on like dancers.
I think of you as blue and gold
with a black star brighter
than a midnight sun in the middle
that shows the way to the heretic
who knows her only sacrilege is solitude.
To lock horns with you
would be to lock horns with the moon.
I would rather be your faithful matador
and gather up all my swords
like the stone sunbeams of Amun Re
and carry them down by the armful to the bridge at night
and devote them to the starlit waters
like loveletters to Isis
when she’s going through a crisis
and needs a sexy friend with a red cape
that doesn’t burn scarlet women
like Joan of Arc
in the fires of the poppies
he lights around their feet
to prove they’re not martyred by the sun
whenever their blood blooms
all around them like the flames
of gypsy fires that have lost their fear of strangers.
Some things just transcend themselves spontaneously
like forest fires and birthday candles you can’t blow out.
No one needs to know what they’re talking about
when they have no doubt
nothing they know makes any sense
and it isn’t the long run
but the present moment
that makes all the difference.
And I don’t think time heals much
or that ashes pray for salvation from the fire
like a stay of execution from the rain.
Pain means pain.
It’s got nothing against anybody
though we try to appropriate it
like an enemy outside ourselves
we deceive ourselves into believing
can be slain
without slaying the slayer.
People might eat the hearts out of their noble corpses
and call it prayer
and wonder why it’s as dead here
as it is everywhere
but it’s only a sleight of the eye
that makes the vastness of being here
seem so petty sometimes.
When the pearl doesn’t outgrow the grain of sand
that’s getting it together like the moon
suffering opens its mouth like a wound
and gives birth to a miscarriage of language.
You see how it is with me these days?
I pay the rent
and hang myself out to dry in the backyard
like sunny laundry
to prove to the neighbours
I’m not walking skinless through the world
though I am
but just like them
There’s no inside or out to me anymore.
Walls are just the flip-side of doors.
I notice how the light on the new leaves
seems to shine within
like the luminous green
of salt in a fire
and I start tripping on the connections
between chlorophyl and chlorine
and how one little twisted syllable
can mean so much
when you’re this far out of touch
with the conventional run of things
like a moon-boat on the mindstream
of a frequent flyer.
Even as a child among peers
they said I would go mad one day.
That was what my highschool graduation yearbook
prophecied as my most likely future.
Most likely to become a mad scientist mad teacher mad poet mad.
And so I have.
As my way of not disappointing anyone.
I went down with the ship like a good captain
when the daffodils came up
like periscopes in the desert
and torpedoed the moon.
And if now I walk under them
like lamp-posts with you
that bloom at night
down a long lonely street
with no one in sight for parsecs
as we did that night we both staggered drunk
holding each up other up down Drummond Street
who’s to say the delight I feel
is any less real
than being a weathervane of events
I can’t control
like a traffic cop at an intersection
where directions aren’t horizontal
and not all wrecks
despise the accidental.
The hollyhocks are cocking their elephant ears
at the base of a derelict antenna
and erratic white butterflies
are learning to sail like rudders
and I’m sitting here between pizzas
thinking about you
like one of nature’s elementals
before things took on their shapes and names
like picture-frames with nothing in them.
The scent of patchouli oil you wore
the last time we embraced in the doorway
flirts like a ghost with the flowers.
Words have no identity of their own
except to have none
so they can reflect everything
in their emptiness
and call that their true nature.
People are closer than water
though they give each wave and ripple a name
as they rise and fall like thrones of the sea
who are ruled by what they fool themselves
into thinking they are and rule over.
So be it.
Delusion too is as crucial to enlightenment
as play is to a child.
It’s just a game you can finish
when you wake up in the morning
and life perishes into life
light into light
like stars in the sun.
One is the only opposite of one when you’re alone.
It’s hard to keep company with zero.
When it isn’t unbearably lonely
it’s too drastic.
True solitude isn’t monastic.
And it’s not like the world
is some kind of sleazy cosmetic
or greasy facepaint you can wash off in the mirror
like the exaggerated tear
of a clown with a homely flower
that never made it like honey with the bees.
There are small ecstasies
going on in the shadow-crossed grass
practising persistence and patience everywhere
like a virtue even the sidewalks can’t suppress.
There’s more power in a blade of grass
than there is in a sword
and though there is a valley
and though there is a mountain
an up and a down to the fountain
they all use the same voice
to echo the bird that flys through them.
And there are incomparable lucidities of night
that surpass even the deepest insight
of light looking into a darkness
in which there’s nothing
nothing at all to illuminate
because existence hasn’t arrived yet
and there’s not a lot for the light to do.
There are eclipses like ladies in waiting
that have never disrobed the moon.
And the truth has no eyes.
It’s never seen the dandelions.
So I’ve sat all afternoon here with you
and watched the ants from a bird’s eye view
like Egyptians heaping up the sand
into tiny pyramids all around me
like a disinterred thing without an afterlife
that would only prove impossible to bury.
The tulips open their scarlet goblets like mouths
to French-kiss the sun
and there’s a large fat black crow
on the leafless branch above me
telling me things I already know
that will keep coming back to haunt me
like all these years on the run
as if my next breath were always behind me
but I think of you
I think of men and women
I think of God or the lack thereof
and time and death and life and truth
darkness light and love
all the usual stuff
and I’m so grateful God
isn’t bound to the truth like her word
and made a liar out of herself
more magnificent than anything I’ve ever heard
the moment she created the world.
Birds are perching in my roots.
My branches are witching for water.
Salmon are jumping in the starstreams.
And though it’s late in the afternoon
and I haven’t delivered anything for hours
I can already hear Aquarius tuning up to the fireflies
trying to stay in the same key as the flowers.