COMPASSION IS THE SWEETNESS THAT ENTERS
Compassion is the sweetness that enters
the wounded apple of knowledge after
you’ve taken your first bite out of it.
It’s not an antidote to the facts of life and death.
And you should know by now if you’ve suffered at all,
and it’s impossible not to from the moment you open your eyes,
the night is not a reward, nor the lantern of the light
that goes before you on a graveyard shift of the stars.
Compassion is the oldest instinct of the heart
and first muse of the mind that can taste only
the blowing blossoms and bitter green apples of the spring,
gripe brain, before it ripens like a sunset in your blood.
That’s why the heart knows more about it than the head.
And I expect, on that basis, no one is more capable
of loving us who must doubt that we’re worthy of love
to live up to the truth of it than the dead who can open
the tiny koans of the seeds at the core of things
like the lockets of fortune-cookies that break
like twisted cosmic eggs in a rush to spread their wings
like waterbirds who write the lyrics of their songs on the fly.
Words for the eye. Words for the ear. Words
for the voice of the wind like black walnut trees
and kites in a storm. And if you really know how to listen,
I mean if you can hear the wavelength of a black snake
swimming across your blood like a mantra
of terrifying, beautiful wisdom that keeps its secrets
to itself, or hear the unfathomable oceans in the black rose
whose petals and eyelids are always smashing
like white eyelashes in a squall of sunbeams
against the breakwater of a white dawn that passes
like an albino eclipse in a moonlit leper colony
of extinct black rhinos. If you even remotely
hear what I mean when I speak like this sleepwalking
through a dream grammar like a prophetic skull in a trance,
words that dance like light on the mindstream
rejoicing in the clarity of the voice that expresses
the hidden message encoded in the genes of the fireflies.
You have mouths. Speak for yourselves.
Some like lighthouses along the banks of life.
Some like thieves with searchlights for eyes on a bomber’s night
when everyone is underground and the bummers are out
plundering the evacuated houses of the zodiac.
Might be the ravings of a star struck maniac talking to himself
to make sure nobody else is listening. Might be
the surrealistic lament of a Dadaist night bird
singing out loud in its sleep for things it doesn’t know
it longs for, or maybe a lunatic is waxing prophetic
in a labyrinth of his own echoes trying to sound his way out
of the mountains without end he’s being trying to befriend
like a cloud or an eagle silvered a moment
like the ore of a dream in the corner of the eye
of a moonrise coming on like a hurricane
with a black pearl in its teeth. The eclipse of a sacred lie
compassion concedes to an alibi without a myth of origin.
Compassion is the child of imagination that identifies
with its simulacra of suffering by applying the heart
like a bloodbank to the wounded eidolons of eyeless images
that didn’t know how to bleed, or breathe, or cry or see
until compassion tempered their impression of themselves
as paradigms of rationality, by shedding real tears
in an ice age of lenses that kept their illusory distance
from the stars that came out after the rain, wet and shining,
laughter radiating through our tears, because life isn’t a dry fire.
It’s the hand on the rudder of a lifeboat
that keeps you from drowning from the day you were born
in the undertow of the tides of the new moon
until the night of the full when you haul everyone aboard
who’s been swimming through glaciers of tears
like baby mammoths for the last twenty-five thousand years
afraid of extinction if they ever stopped to catch their breath.
Compassion is accepting everyone’s death as a portion of your own.
Everyone’s life as your third eye, a vital organ of your own body.
Compassion is an undisciplined action of the heart.
Compassion arises like a moonrise of inspiration
in the eyes of the older sister of the muses
who walks too much alone as if she’d devoted her solitude
to the suffering of a wounded stranger she met along the way
when she let her hair down like willows of rain
to cool the scorched earth and slake the roots of pain
until they bloomed like foxfire in the shadow of her passing.
Most poets sit around the lesser fires of their art
trying to divine the smoke of what’s burning in their hearts
like autumn leaves they’ve heaped into books
that smoulder in tears more often than they break into flames.
But if compassion turns her eyes toward you
like a star in the darkness beyond your blazing
the Milky Way runs like a bloodstream through your veins
and you see in terrifying clarity the great mystic details
in the deep watersheds of picture music efoliating
like wildflowers and galaxies, grails, fountains,
lunar herbs, and starfish raised up off the ground
to take their place among the shining, radiant with life,
in the low valleys and high fields of an imagination that heals.