Tuesday, September 7, 2010




The maples are beginning to turn.

Red orange yellow green.

Same order of colours

as a rainbow or a sunset

looking from the outside toward the trunk.

New England asters chicory loosestrife

and the last of the waterlilies blooming late.

A good place to paint beside the lake.

I can see for miles.

My easel doesn’t know

if it’s a bridge or a gate

but it unfolds like a giant insect

a praying mantis

with the wing of a white butterfly in its mandibles

like a primed canvas

ready to reflect the expression

of my interpretation of the world

as it is and isn’t.

Hunting magic.

I smear red ochre on my skin.

I spit-paint my hand in stars against the sky.

Every artist is trying to make a deal with the world

whereby he will say the world was here

if it will say that he was.

But the world’s got a wild card up its sleeve

and all I’ve got is a canvas.

The mind is an artist.

Able to paint the worlds.

Right now it’s dabbing fireflies

like little green lanterns seen through the trees

that can’t keep secrets to themselves.

If the stars give birth to myths.

Then the fireflies like to gossip.

Five petals open.

One flower blooms.


The one in the many.

The many in the one.

I spot a waterlily like a lone swan

unfolding its feathers like crescent moons

to attain enlightenment

and take flight into the night beyond.

It doesn’t mean to be beautiful.

It’s a third eye with myriad eyelids

all opening at the same time

like a thought-moment

in the mystery of nothing

like a drop of water

a tear of the moon

that fell like rain 

and made a big splash on earth

with the compassionate clarity of its original insight

that the world’s not here

just for us to make things up about it

that might or might not be true

to one only lonely view of the way it is.

Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird.

I add some carbon black to some pthalo blue

with a touch of titanium white

to suggest the gengenshein on the horizon

like the glow of stray light

that’s gathered for the night

like many destinations around the same fire

nestled in the dark hills somewhere out of sight

and the sky that flows off my brush

over the edge of the known world

like a wave coming ashore

captures my likeness

in the vastness of its own starless darkness

as if neither of us had a sign we were born under.

The idiots think I’m painting a landscape.

But a birch isn’t a birch

when you see it inside out

like the Huron who roamed these woods

three hundred years ago.

Like the silence that moves the music

it’s not enough just to paint what’s there

you got to paint what you can’t see as well.

You’ve got to cast a spell over the image

like Orpheus in hell

to bring it back up into the light

out of the dead

without ever looking back

to see if you’re being followed.

You’ve got to paint the flower

as if you had a view

of what the seed sees.

Sometimes you’ve got to put your eyes out

like blind water tapping its way along with a witching-stick

to find out what’s going on underground with the star-nosed moles.

When the rug gets pulled out from under you

by a sudden gust of wind

like the flying carpet of your canvas

and the reflection of your easel

is walking on water and stars

like a long-legged spider on stilts

trying to connect the dots

of a new constellation

like a dream-catcher

with a predatory history of lucid webs

it’s still got more feet than you to stand on

if you’re still looking at quicksand like a cornerstone.

I see Venus shining in the peacock green of the western sky

and my eyes shatter like chandeliers in an earthquake

trying to feel the fractures in her light

as if the brushes in my hand were the antennae

of the curious ant that looks up at her from so far down below

he can only imagine what she looks like in the darkness

behind the mirrors she breaks every night.

My guess is that she’s an enlightened waterlily

full of lucid nectar

that offers herself up

like a goblet of tantric delight

to those with enough crazy wisdom

to drink from her eyes

as if they’d just fallen in love with their own seeing.


Ra ta ta tat.

A divine madness.

Creative rapture

in the way things pass away.

The fox stands guard

over the hole in the magician’s hat

waiting for a white rabbit

that hasn’t been seen for years.

But it isn’t nineteen sixty-six on the West Coast

it’s moonrise over Devil’s Lake

two thousand and ten

and I’m mixing ochre and alizarin crimson

to simulate the ripe lunar orange

of the maculate moon disc

before it shrinks through yellow into white at zenith

like the head of John the Baptist

still preaching to Salome

about the dangers of dancing.

But the light keeps whispering things to me

like fingerprints left at the scene of a crime

where just to be a witness

were a sin of omission

like the Holy Ghost without a corpse

or a lawyer.

Like a star not being

where it says it was

by the time its light arrived

I let the next insight

try to express me

as I was

knowing I’ve already changed

time back into space

and it may be my likeness

but it’s not my face.

The wolf in winter

noses around the cattails for muskrat.

But it won’t be until tomorrow that I learn that.

Now I paint a tree

like a torch that went out in the water.

I paint a cedar as if I were the fire in its roots.

I breathe in the rich night air of earth

and let it deepen my blood in the darkness

until it hurts like the mystery

in the wounded heart of things

that have sacrificed everything

just to exist as they are

as they do

in their silence and beauty

without realizing anyone else is here.

Everything struggling to live

as if it were crammed into the last lifeboat

or barely hanging on to the sides

like heavy earrings on overloaded ear-lobes.

The towers of the staghorn sumac

taste like lemon-flavoured couches

and the pine cones go Zen in the fall

and drop like pagodas and samuri

shedding samaras of armour

all over the ground of their being.

But there’s a subtlety in their surrender

that not even the genius of the lake is aware of.

The fruits of the earth are proof enough

we can make it on our own

along with all these others

who’ve found the way to keep going on

is to open your hand

like a map to a big country

with amazing rivers and lifelines

and give it all away

like the leaves and the trees.

The gift of a gift of a gift of a gift

that goes looking for the giver

it creates in the image of itself

to say thank-you to something

it recognizes in itself

like the sea in the heart of a river. 

How rare and precious life is.

What a singularity of awareness

so inconceivable

it creates atoms and stars spontaneously

out of the inexhaustibility of nothingness

and elaborates them into a dynastic conciousness

so that everything that lives

and everything lives

is the cognate and nabob

the subject and object

of a multiversal intelligence

that pervades the abyss of the unknown

like a lake looking up at the stars

that can detect their shining inside it

like fires it can’t put out.

The fish are swimming through the treetops.

The birds are flying through the roots.

I want the waterlilies to understand me

when I paint them

like poems and moonboats

and float them down the mindstream

singing merrily merrily merrily merrily

life is but a dream.

Looking for the way things are

behind the way they seem

is the act of a fool

trying to peel the moon’s reflection

off the surface of the water

to see if it leaves a hole.

The donkey looks into the well.

The well looks back at the donkey.

Which of the two is enlightened?

I’m doing surgery on the rocks

with a painting knife

I can parry and thrust like Zorro.

I bleed them like iron

and scar them like gold

and leave them to dry until tomorrow

when I hope they’ll like the way

the light shines out of them

and not down upon them

the way it does when things get old.

In a world where appearance smiles

and reality frowns

which of the two

is less of a clown

than the other?

The one who turns the painting over

and sees a wall

or the one who sees

the body of the world

under the painterly scab

that’s done its bit to heal it?

And I remember what a desert told me once

looking up at the stars

like a phantom of water

in a hareem of mirages

musing out loud in the distance

like the sand and the wind.

Be kind to your delusions.

In a world where reality

is everything you’re not.

They’re all you’ve got.

You can pull yourself up by the bootstraps

into a pyramid with a future

that feels like an afterlife

or you can lie around all day like sand

contemplating the universe

in every grain of your being

as if you were the light

and it were the seeing

and there were something just out of sight

you were trying to understand

like waterlilies at night.

But either way.

It’s hard to meet a pyramid

that doesn’t feel as insecure as quicksand

waiting like an hourglass

for miraculous mirages in the deserts of time

to fill it up to the brim again

with hallucinations of dreamwater

that can revive the dead like rain on a dry rock.

I paint the moon.

It’s getting late.

I see a calendar

that sheds its eyelids

like a thick white rose of wet paint

and a young girl on the far side of the lake

glowing through her skin

like moonlight through the mist on the water.

Every month she clips

the crescents of her toenails

like the relics of a dead saint.

Apparitions of matter!

A heron and an otter

and the smoke of the Milky Way

rising over the distant hills from a warm fire

that’s making up stories about the stars

that everyone can believe in for awhile

like the blue in the distance of an aloof smile

that keeps things in aerial perspective.

I paint time as if it had a home.

I paint space as if it weren’t alone.

I paint the lilies like waterstars

that grew out of the seeds

of their own reflections

sown by the constellations overhead

that are following the plough of the moon like birds.

I paint the fishbone skeletons of the turning trees like words

that have never been said before

and won’t be ever again.

Red yellow white black

I paint the scream in the skull of the moon.

I paint the pain in her eyes

that trepasses against

the conciousness of why.

The visual is the ore of the vision

that weeps long rivers of gold deep inside

when it’s fired up in the furnaces of the imagination.

Water and wave.

Darkness and light.

There’s no division.

The image is the bright pupil

that goes to school

to become an educated symbol

in the long dark halls of homesick experience.

This is seeing not only with the eye

but through it

as Blake suggested we do.

This is painting roots on your flowers.

This is how you can hear the colour red

and see the silver threads of the nightmusic

the spiders play to themselves

on the guitars of their webs

when there’s nothing left to catch but the dew.

Painting is the discipline

of learning how to cry in harmony

with the tears deep down in things

lachrymae rerum

when they realize

just how sad and beautiful it is to exist.

I paint the light in the limitless eyes

that are all wired in series

like grapes on the wild vine

of the one seeing.

I paint the warring rainbows

in the lies of the stars

like promises that haven’t been kept yet.

I paint the ghostly blue aura

of all those that have ever wished upon them

as if there were a whole new atmosphere

born of every smudge of breath

that dissipates like death

on the cool night air.

I paint the gusts of stars

that rise from the winged heels of the messengers

and then I sweep them off the stairs

with the broom of my brush

and I’m back to square one

of staring at the canvas

like a dead sail on the equator

of a planet I’ll finish painting later

when the wind takes me by surprise

and Isis tatoos a star on the palm of my hand

like the true lifelines of a sailor

to keep me from drowning

in the infinite midnight blue of her eyes

like a wavelength of light

that made it through her veils

like Osiris through the eye of a needle.

Oudeis aneile peplon. 

Declination is latitude.

On the other side of my eyes.

Sometimes the stars take direction from me.

I paint the fleets of the lilies

with skulls and cross-bones on their sails.

I paint them like loveletters to the stars

that keep reading them over and over again

like earthbound constellations far from home.

As above.

So below.

I paint the world

as if it didn’t have a return address

I could send it back to

like a mirror

of what became of it

in my hands.

The mind may be an artist.

Able to paint the worlds.

But the worlds too are artists

able to paint the mind.

Nur wa nur.

Light upon light.

Not black and white.

I look behind me

and there’s a tree painting me painting a tree.

The world labours at being a mind

that can see the world.

The flower is red.

The grass is green.

The secrets give birth to cosmic ears

listening for signs of life among the stars

to reveal their self-portraits painted in light-years.

All worlds are the work of the mind that beholds them.

The future shifts toward the blue.

The past is infra-red.

You mix the two

and you can see

the violet auras of the dead

in this year’s New England asters.

I paint what is eventual

about the potential of awareness.

I paint a crow

like the dark side of my mind

crossing the moon on my easel

like an eclipse of black paint

and I leave the work unsigned.

I stare mindlessly into the night

and see the colours of dark matter

shining like the eyes

of our original watershed.

I see the irridesence

of the rainbow at midnight

and paint an auroral peacock feather

like the Northern Lights

smeared by a fan-blender across space.

I peek through the cracks in the rocks

like the lines that run

like the fossils of rivers

from the headwaters

of the eyes in my face.

Painting is the visible shape I give

to the invisible disciple

of the way I cry

from the outside in

like a cloud circling the world mountain

in a high wind

when no one is listening.

I’m a two-way mirror

with the instincts of a window

and the spiritual life of an autumn sky.

You can tell by the ashes

where the fire’s been.

You can smell the colours

of what the pines have seen.

You can write a book

on the meaning of green

but you still won’t exhaust

the myriad shades

of its infinite sorrows

or capture the deathless hopes

of its breathless tomorrows

rising like ghosts of smoke

from the candleabra of the trees

that burn more like prophets

standing up in their fires unconsumed

than corpses laid prone

on their funeral pyres

like the rafters of an ancient house

that’s doomed.

Rembrandt’s mystic brown

of rich ferrous earth

and spent leaves

withers into history.

Now space is the colour of mystery

deep blue black

with a touch of deadly nightshade.

There’s more of the infinite in the colour

than what’s up close and intimate.

Things go off into it and never come back.

There are no gates on it

and if it’s got doors

no one’s ever stepped through before

they’re always wide open.

Billions of galaxies.

Billions beyond billions of stars.

And still it’s only a fraction of a value lighter

than it was before

the universe picked up a brush

and learned to paint

a lighthouse with no one to warn.

A fish jumps out of the lake

at a low-flying dragonfly.

You can paint the whole universe

in one little dot of radiant white

in the highlight on your third eye

and it would be a perfect likeness

of Isis behind her veils

that no one’s ever lifted 

of Brahman sitting on his lotus

dreaming the world awake

of Buddha under the Bodhi Tree

catching sight of the morning star

of Moses shaking like a mountain

under the weight of his own commandments

of Muhammad embraced in the cave of Hira

by the angel Gabriel

two bow-lengths of revelation away

at the centre of the circle

of Jesus kissing Mary Magdalene

to turn his flesh and blood into a rose

after all the loaves and fishs

after all the bread and wine

of the Great Spirit that lives

like water in the woods

like light in a dream

and whispers

in a voice that’s as clear your eye

that every blade of grass

that springs from its roots in the dirt

like the birth of the living word

at the foot of the lightning-struck pine

where the crows roost for the night

among the empty herons’ nests

is a line of holy scripture

in the mother-tongue of the earth.

Of Einstein proving energy

is the flipside of matter

and there are relative limits

to the absolutes of lucidity.

Or as Dogen Zenji said

When the truth doesn’t fill

your body and mind

you always feel you’ve had enough.

When the truth does fill

your body and mind

you always feel that something’s missing.

If Einstein had been more of a painter

or listened more closely

to the reckless picture-music

of his own violin

like the little suggestive waves

that are raised

when the wind barely breathes

on the skin of the water

he would have understood

you can no more leave chaos

out of your unified field theory

than you can leave nature out of the woods

or a painter out of a landscape.

Thought’s faster than light.

Feeling’s deeper than night.

The black mirror’s brighter than the white one.

I’m painting a paper birch

like a white angel

that drowned in the lake

like the moon without a church for a headstone.