Monday, February 1, 2010

Flat out for days: dizzy prophecy; creating poetic vision

Life and art wrestled with my life the past few weeks. My e-mail was hacked or spammed--I'm not sure what happened. My word processing programming collapsed in a sullen heap. And then my body spun out of control.

That part was almost fun. I was out late (unusually) with friends. Couldn't sleep. The next day dragged myself to the Met (which sounds loutish--dragged to the Met--but there you have it). I lasted half an hour when I realized something was wrong. I had to sit down. I was on my way out, in the Medieval section and found a bench facing a triptych.

On the triptych was John the Baptist--the Evangelist--preaching to me. I'd already been dipping into Isaiah, which has got to be among the most contemporary of classics (except the classics are contemporary, which is why they last). I'm not a habitual Bible reader though it's always rewarding and for different reasons than Virgil, Neruda, Dickinson, Hafez and others I've kept nearby the past year. I thought about differences between prophets who describe the evil of the times with a clear promise of something new in the future, and those more rare prophets who prepare us to change.

I'm not being very specific here. If you have some familiarity with the Bible, especially with symbolic rather than strictly predictive interpretations of text, you may have some sense of what I'm talking about. Isaiah told us we were living in wild and wrong times. He was right. We are.

St. John said in unequivocal terms the way out of those times was about to--or had--come. What hit me about these two in terms of poetry was the difference in approaches and foundational philosophies. What kind of a poet do I want to be. An Isaiah who, exquisitely describes the Whore (greed) or a St. John who announces the way out (love and humility).

The battle for me, as a poet, isn't between choosing an anti-greed or pro-love background to my writing, but in having the strength of vision to select the broadest perspective possible for my wor and my lovely soul. The soul she is a gentle force.

Our great poets have the greatest vision. I don't want to say one vision is greater than the other, prophetic vision of the Hebrew Bible--the Tanakh vs. Gospels (kindness, humility). That would be limiting and also downright stupid. As a poet who believes it is her job to lead us to a better world, to help create spirit, I work to rid myself enough of my stupid petty attitudes to approximate the Utopian beliefs of any strong philosophy or metaphysical belief ssyten. It's not the specifics, but the vision and intent.

So I staggered out of the museum--the guards were eyeing me, worried I was going to fall into a Picasso like some poor woman did the week before--managed to buy groceries, and by the time I got home collapsed, flat on my back in bed, where I stayed for the greater part of three (yes) days. I get some sort of flu every year but I never had one like this. If I so much as rolled onto my side I was dizzy. For the most part, dizzy or not, I was grateful. My rent is paid. My apartment is warm and safe. I have clean sheets, a phone, the Internet, neighbors, friends; and I'd (prophetically) taken out my comfort blanket--an R.E.I. sleeping bag I've had since I lived in Seattle.

While vision has to be more than appreciation of creature comforts. I am grateful to have to a basic level as a foundation as I struggle to safe the world.


  1. Harsh, man. Gives you an appreciation of how thin the layer of physical things supporting us is, from the tissues of the body to the clean water at the tap. Enjoyed the piece and hope you feel better. I think we do need to be prepared for a change -the turning of the season and the turning of the generations and the turning of the wheel of history are coming to one of those spots where all the gravity lines up.


  2. The wheel of history needs to take a year off.

  3. You made me think of Fortuna's Wheel a la Confederacy of Dunces. It'll rise again, honest.