THE MAPLES ARE BEGINNING TO TURN
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.