Notes for Plasma: I’ll Come Back for You, In Outermost Circumference Drawn Down and Far Away, but to Slip Back In with the Key to the Abyss, where Taffy-Pulling Machines have Also and Always Been another Big Thing
At 4:25 AM the birds start singing, their first murmurs dwelling in trees through which stars are still visible. Birds are friends, or, the songs they sing are determined by my hearing as novel – and attractive - to the perhaps genetic necessity of their so singing, and the question remains, are birds friendly? I’ll leave it to the fact that they invariably fly away on approach, although a friend in Riga coaxed sparrows to peck the some of the raspberries we’d just bought at the Russian outdoor market from her fingers by making a sustained kissing noise with her lips, and offering them in the still atmosphere of her unmoving yet still generous hand. Memories blossom, memories fade way, as the sparrows left the outdoor café as we did, also, having the time to have ‘run out of time.’ We go always elsewhere. Life is episodic among friends. Episode, from Greek epeisodios, ‘coming in beside,’ or ‘coming into the road or journey,’ see cede, it says, ‘to sit on this side, to yield or grant,’ typically by treaty, episodic as temporal and temporary, situation in which there is agreement. Birds as friends remind of how Sufis refer to one another, as ‘friends,’ and bring forward, as well, the various recitals having to do with birds, movement, unity and liberation, notably ibn Sina’s Recital of the Bird, Fariduddin al-Attar’s Parliament of the Birds, and, to twist the song slightly away from the birds, Suhrawardi’s Recital of the Occidental Exile (translated, among others, by Michael Bylbyl in Curriculum of the Soul fascicle no. 18, Isma’ili Muslimism), and The Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzan, by ibn Sina’s friend and contemporary Juzjani.
These and other ‘recitals’ have to do with positioning – or re-positioning – one’s self in an initiatic cosmos through which to discover one’s submission – ‘dying’ before one dies – as means of ‘knowing’ God as the mirror through which He sees himself as both partitioning and uniting one’s now-alive life to a ‘self’ feeling pleasure in which there is no final satisfaction, the tools of ecstasy reduced to one’s perceptual mechanism and an intelligence developed sufficiently to know the fracture between an overwhelmingly ‘sacral’ world and one’s daily ‘self’ is what one has, to work with. The trials are obvious. So is the necessity for isolation and prayer.
It is probably now infamous enough a fact that Sufism operates institutionally as a male-dominated procedure, despite the lesser-known fact that, for example, theologian Ibn al-Arabi’s two primary masters as he came into sufic practice were both women, one, Shams, from Marchena and the other, Fatima bint al-Muthanna, from Cordova, in Andulusia. During his travels with various male friends, al-Arabi met and fell in love with the daughter of a learned man of Mecca, Abu Shaja Zahir bin Rustam – who name significantly enough I cannot find – about whom he wrote ‘[she is] a slender child who captivated all who looked on her, whose presence gave luster to gatherings, and who amazed all she was with and ravished the senses of all who beheld her.’
Gender has always presented difficulty in defining operative friendships. My Webster’s Collegiate derives the world ‘friend’ through an old High Germanic root that relates back to a prehistoric Germanic verb represented in the Old English freon, ‘to love,’ akin to freo, free. An obscure or obsolete definition of ‘friend’ is given as ‘paramour,’ an illicit lover. An embodiment of love is apparently distinct from ‘loving,’ as I take it from Montaigne, in his essay on friendship, quoting Horace as having said ‘a lovely woman’s body tapers off into a fish.’ In terms of friendship as brotherly concord, Montaigne continues, ‘as for comparing with it [brotherly concord] with affection for women, though this is born of our choice, we cannot do it, nor can we put it in this class. Its fire, I confess, of us that goddess is unaware / who blends a bitter sweetness with her care, [Catullus] is more active, more scorching and more intense. The politics of friendship can only, it seems, extend so far, more light, less heat, or that the heat be at very least highly sublimated, and as a sublimate, remain submerged, and only in evidence as analogy, as if sexuality were a reservoir that feeds a spiritual connection to the earth, whose growth won’t spiral out of control, or will, but only numerologically, not in the number of friends, say, but, like they say, your friends are weird. Or, one ‘goes weird’ for their friends, for friendship still involves shares of ecstasy, whether sexual or sacral, this love, as it enters up relation, requires involvement enough to see through to a failure to enter the ecstasy, or ways to discover in its almost inevitable psychic violence and transformation, an enduring intelligence.
Reading Quintin Hoare’s introduction to the International Publisher’s 1971 edition of Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, there was the suddenness of Benedetto Croce – an ardent Italian Marxist until 1900 – and his attempt to clarify the four distinct categories of human activity – Aesthetics (the Beautiful), Logic (the True), Ethics (the Good) and Economos (the Useful). Gramsci was critical of this four-square idealism, and said that Politics (Relation), in this equation, had been reduced to a mere passion having no philosophical value. By contrast, Gramsci’s notion of politics figures as the central human activity, ‘the means by which single consciousness is brought into contact with the social and natural world, in all its forms.’
Recalling now, in the drift of writing, a tape recording of Robert Creeley’s reading at Goddard College in May 1973, I remember him saying, in a reading which was mostly LSD-generated talk, rather than a recital of poems, a basic recital of applicable human values, as it were, that, one first, learned how to become a person in her own right, and then, how to be a person among others. The first seems immediate and instant in its grounding, as this develops, if it does, into what remains always spontaneous and responsive, where in the second, there are integers of culture and social habit into which one falls, is identified, rises and perhaps passes through.
There was, after the reading, some outré behavior on Creeley’s part, involving, I heard, him putting a ladder up on the side of the girl’s dormitory and banging with palms against the windows to alert one particular young lady who’d been at the reading, to his presence, and factual readiness to ‘continue the conversation.’ But this is merely the report of a friend who attended the reading, and might not be true. Friends tend to fabrication, elation and exaggeration. A later version revolves around this same friend having been the ‘sober driver’ of a group who drove down to Plainfield from Burlington, including the wife of a better friend whose beauty I was able later to attest to, and who Creeley, after the reading, became uniquely interested in, an interest intense enough that he accused my friend, gently insisting that the group depart, of being ‘the most boring person in the universe.’
My friend, Bud, wrote shortly afterward, a piece entitled Homage to Creeley for Jack Spicer, worth quoting here in toto:
Each poet leads to every other poet. It is a round. A mingling. That confluence, Bob, can be enough for me. The me and you you mixed from the largest to most minutest elements when you say: The plan is the body: The plan is the body.
It seems to be what’s always /around. Random scheme that circulates because of the spirit in things and us. Becoming sometimes you and sometimes intensely me or what intensity in you is me or me to you in return; and then of course on to her and him and you again; for the intense remains like a wave accumulating before all its current force – or dancing motion – and about to crest and fulfill its promise to us borne through it.
That breaking – like the similar, more acute, breaking of the heart – is art of that plan too, it seems. That passing on, to you and you you you you you you you
You said that. And if water kneads us, mixes us, that we consent to fow along with it as simply as we consent to this immersion in language – language of fact & feeling tortuously immeshed – needing us – and so compelling, the compulsion is to need it also.
Those fellows pass the peace pipe and up ahead is the rain and the night. You lean in a lit doorway, the cigarette in your fingers held up below your face, and any answer – even on a dare – has no model by which to evade pain. Pain’s narrow objectives outnumbering you & me, outnumbering us. Numb and dim on a rainy night.
The implications are unclear. They’re immense. Each thing leading to what else? And this is the point at which you want to stop. To come back from what can prove to be only another threshold. Some cigars, your shoelaces. The virtue of movement at any altitude. If we go on. Beyond mere solutions. Doors, raindrops, doubts shadowing us.
But of course it is in the radiance of a few words spoken, that gathers pieces of bread in a saucer, and displaces or damns or, at last, sadly, accepts even the least glaring possibilities.
In this distance I can imagine you and can take up the rhythm of energy that forms a current – more than surface tension – and really does quell the pain. Does get on with intensity. If the situation didn’t change, still, I think, there would be so much flesh on the imagination and its resources to make death-by-drowning practically out of the question. As cable cars, aspens, dawns, pianos, handkerchiefs, acting as buoys and as preservers as much as poems, carry me – but almost beyond living memory – back in a kind of marriage to you.
We all live with the same flaws. The same puzzles. Dance of muscle and blood. The same unconscious maps to consult. And the waves of speech do this too. You may have told me it was out of the question, but I heard different. That the dance could be over. As a fight can be over someone you love. That mingles with what might be, kept behind dreams, rustling, individual.
It is because everything works closely with each other thing that were closer than ever. As I was about to leave I gave you an orange and you would not accept it as a replacement for the sun, no matter how temporary. The orange changed meaning numerous times, there on the table between us. And yet, in that moment of departure, grew closer to us both through those very tenses of its momentary transformation. Not even being lonely. We and it being closer. Even when this physical distance appears most actual, most crucial.
And it is because of the loneliness that I dedicate this to Jack, and then, surely, to all of us.
The social, and natural world, in all its forms. The political is personal. No. Politics is a person. People are in turmoil, in conflict, especially when they speak, even as I am speaking to you. No. I am reading words on a page. No. I am writing out of the turmoil of having volunteered to speak to you at a later date, from where I am, or was, from here. But that was then, and there. As my ex-wife used to say, here we are, and there you go again. Language is a graveyard, and our use of it, a vortex, a whirlpool that sucks down our giving to it some sense of ‘all,’ which then, in contradistinction, rises suddenly up, to appear, radiant, yet only evident from the waist up. The relevant part is still drowning, or being born, or bearing up under the strain of wanting to be more conspicuous than it randomly possible, given the time of day, the season, the year. Friendship, whether among poets or simply among those others who, as birds, or their songs, or all those with whom one may find some sense of traverse, spread, focus and domain, is always fraught with a critical spirit, and the ability to finally ask in how one discovers another’s way in, or out, or their intent to accomplish some implausible ante-up in matters of love, or foreign travel, ‘but why are you doing that?’ The gift is simply a talent to ask, to give to others a tenancy for passion shared, a tendency to be at home, some way to help begin to create an alliance between the living and the dead.