Thursday, July 29, 2010

Johannes Brahms – the sound of the human heart

My sense is that many people who like classical music admire more than love the output of Brahms. Each to their own, of course. But I do find this state of affairs to be somewhat ironic. For me, Brahms was the most heartfelt of composers. To make my case, I would divide things into heart-music and soul-music. These categories are never distinct in any composer. Shades of each come into the compositions of all the masters.

Brahms is considered a hold-over, writing music in traditional sonata form. In this respect, he went against the contemporary pulse of New Music – the more open and radical forms. Liszt and Wagner heralded the new age. Brahms was viewed as a stodgy conservative. It is only natural, then, to consider the music he cast into older forms to be essentially less rhapsodic and emotional than the melodramatic effusions of a Liszt or Wagner. To be more “absolute” music than feeling music. Ah...but this is where the heart of genius comes in.

Regarding Brahms's symphonies, only his last one really moves me, though I find depths of feeling in the previous three. As far as the other large-scaled pieces go, his two piano concertos and his violin concerto open onto passionate vistas. These are roiling, emotionally sweeping confessions of a wounded, plaintive heart.

Yet things move even deeper into heart-music with the smaller forms: quartets, trios, sonatas, solo piano.

The other approach or expression in music – what I call “soul-music” – can be hard to distinguish from heart-music. This is subtle stuff. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann...well, of course they wrote music teeming with emotion. But I maintain that the overall complexion of their output reflected moderate or extreme abstractions of the soul's agonies and ecstasies. With Schumann, we enter the realm of fantasy and imagination as elements of his soul music. Even his works ostensibly inspired by amorous triggers seem to me more upheavals of the spirit than convulsions of the heart. A certain diffuseness is in this music, making it less visceral-seeming. More commentary than confession.

On the other time-side of Brahms, we move toward Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, Mahler, Debussy, Rachmaninoff....then on to Prokofiev and Shostakovitch. I think the same thing applies with these composers. More soul than heart. Even the emotionalism of Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff strikes me as melancholic passions leaking from souls than beating from simple, desperate human hearts.

What was the peculiar stimulus or inspiration that prompted Brahms's outpouring of heart-music, as contrasted with the soul-music of so many others? I think it was his unrequited love. There is an “earthiness”, a wordly quality I discern in his cello and violin sonatas, in his solo piano pieces. It is the song of a heart pleading from visceral depths for what it may not possess. There is blood and fire, water and air in this music – basic organic elements that one can almost taste in these pieces. Amorousness, passion, tears, and dreams.

Even in his string quartets – that many find to be clogged with dense structures – there is, I feel, the opening and closing of heart-valves in emotionally stressed space.

Johannes Brahms's “voice” is distinct, unique in its textured harmonies of plaintive urgency. Others will disagree.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


He's there, I know it.
Staring like a gargoyle.
He never says a word.
I don't think he can talk.
I think he's pre-verbal.

Don't gimme any crap
about the essential me.
No hippie blathering,
no crystals, no gurus.
This guy ain't higher,
but he is quite deep.

Maybe some India yogi
reaches his own depth
and finds his own me,
that other me staring
from an elemental pool.
He calls him “essence.”
If he says it's cosmic,
he's full of mystic goo.
That phantom staring
is more like a reptile
than a star vibration.

Well...I was too rash.
He's not really a reptile,
though he probably lives
down in the hippocampus.
I think I actually saw him
once a very long time ago,
when I was staring into
the mirror like an idiot.
My face began to warp.
I scared myself real bad.
The phantom surfaced
and just stared at me.

I think he's a doppelganger.
I think he shared the womb.
I don't think he's the sad me,
wandering around in dreams.
That me is this surface me.
The me that I am is so lost
in dreams and in life. No...
my doppelganger isn't lost.
He might be in my dreams,
but only as quiet observer.

Sometimes I wish I was him.
I think he has powerful mojo.
Powers from the spirit world.
Sometimes I do wonder a bit
if others ever catch a glimpse
of that other me staring back.

And sometimes I do wonder
just what he's thinking about...

* * *

O, man who thinks he sits on a settled throne!
Know that your kingdom is always in anarchy.
I have watched the parade of your nonsense.
Your arrogance, your humility, your aestheticism,
your daydreaming, and your romantic delusions!
And I keep silent, here embedded in the abyss. are right about one thing only. How
you came to know this thing is beyond even me.
Yes...far from the weaving of threading world
lies the Great Abyss. I am there and here also.
Those strange roses when you were a child?
You fell into their spiraling blooms, those echoes
of deep absence, mirrors of the scarlet fantastic.
And I am still partly embedded in the formless
weave of sighs and spreading desires inside.

But let me not ponder such strange things.
If I could speak, I'd tell you of life and you.
This world of colors and uncanny textures
is a helpless child. You and all of the others
are moving through the surreptitious creases,
through the moaning folds of matter into time.
And in this textured time, you and the others
are unknowingly urging the Great Bloom open,
opening into dangers and glories of capricious
possibility...into layers of the unexpected.

And you, yes you, turn on a spiral of beauty.
It is your curse and your blessing. You love
that gracious being who glanced from mystery,
whose smile is perfection. You adore because
she is a symbol of those roses still enchanting
you from a distance of dream and old ecstasy.
She, like those blooms, burst the coils of stasis.
So she is the analog of your Imagination. You
have spent many years breathing and weeping.
So she is now the great culmination of breezes,
gentle rains, and fragrance. She brings peace.
Do not tremble, do not strive nor desire. Simply
receive this gift from the Abyss – the air of her.
If she smiles toward you, know you have lived.

Now...the weight of roses and ancient waters
fills the groove between us with a dark veiling.
I fade and go on to the regions of long waiting.
In hallowed shadows, I will hear the whispers
of others who are the others of who you love.
And I will attend the quick moment after death,
blend into you, quell the fever and the shock.

* * *

And sometimes I wonder
what he would say to me.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Twilight of the Idylls

When Beauty fainted, that vacuum filled
with the dissonant hymnals of self-singers.
Lines of superior saying turned into howls,
decaying the Fair One to rust and bones.

Oh!...for that unexpected quiver of image!
Visions poured from vessels of quiet grace...
Visions inside that moved into new worlds,
thoughts and complex feelings now moving
into atoms of air and onto sensuous pages.
An alchemy recasting dream into metaphor.
Quiet miracles of inspiration becoming other,
becoming nature's dreams on supple words.

The sense of word as shaman's conjuration,
changing curved petals into forms of trances,
changing heart wounds into colors of flowers,
has now been replaced by words self-pitying.

May the gods and spirits prevent my defiling
of art into bone-dead murmurs from a diary!

Once more the quick vignettes of brilliance,
those words uncarnal yet birthing effusions
and building clusters of magical new seeing.

But is it too late? Have the cynical years
ruined our mode and path to the Garden?
Have exquisite hues of that archaic saying
withered completely into mausoleum dust?

Even lamentations are beautiful when lost
in moments of uncanny, idyllic utterance.

Keats made Odes that altered time's pulse,
remaking space to hold his slow wonders:

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth,
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim --

* * *

Twilight falls on worlds and into sensibility.
Time grays tonalities of conception and saying.
This Age is on me, confusing and obscuring.
So I light a candle to mark my ardent location:

In this city of fountains and cafes serving strong coffee,
yes, here where some move quickly and others dawdle...
I could not help but write a name on a moment of sunlight
cauterizing the late morning with a soft flame of joy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A.H.E.M. -- Agency Handling Equivocal Menace

It may have come to your several attentions that, in my spare time, I investigate and sometimes prevent unusual phenomena. Such as an outbreak of back-talking monkeys near Kuala Lumpur that had to be quelled. I'm part of a semi-secret network of highly sensitive agents stationed around the globe. For that monkey assignment, I teamed up with K., who is a locationally fluid and metaphysically ambiguous expert.

Our base of operations is in Bucharest, Romania. We have two hidden bunkers there, one housing the control center and one our antique laboratory (which is filled with inspirations based, in a manner of speaking, on conceptions of Nikola Tesla).

We are not a pseudo detective bureau like, for instance, S.E.T.I. UFOs are so yesterday and very boring. The way vampires and Nostradamus are boring. Ordinary psychic stuff and ghosts and Trilateral Commissions and scary beasts we leave to people with paranoid delusions. We go after the true and real eruptions of the uncanny. Stuff that makes the moon bark.

Once, the laboratory designed and manufactured a copper egg large enough for two of us to fit inside. It was a bit cramped, and I was glad – the other agent was a comely Brazilian lass. Anyway, we were sent through a dubious aspect of space to deal with a possible extra-dimensional threat. We arrived unharmed, though a bit disheveled and dehydrated. The mission was a success, but it was too top secret for me to divulge the details.

Over time, I hope to publicly record other battles with the absurdly annoying. Others might find it of passing and mild interest. Anyway, just wanted you to know that someone is out here, protecting the planet from arbitrary goof-forms and spurious configurations of unholy substance.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Concerning the Spiritual in Kandinsky

[Or see my slightly revised pamphlet version -- at]


I wish to talk about – no...preach about – some things that perturb and stimulate me. I am full of passionate opinions and strange visions. Doesn't that qualify me for the role of sermonizing seer? Maybe, maybe not. And there is certainly no guarantee that anything I preach will be persuasive or even make sense. :)

These things – these stray thoughts – have hung in my mind for a long time, like vaguely colored threads. I wish to grasp these threads and weave them into some kind of verbal mosaic. The prompt for weaving them is a re-reading of Wassily Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, published in 1911.

Considered broadly, I suggest that there are two types of people: the pragmatic and the aesthetic. The architect is a presumed synthesizer, but for me, he must stand among the pragmatists (granting, of course, there are exceptions to every rule). His projects attempt to bridge the chasm between the utilitarian mind and the dreaming soul. But just as the nervous system has no provable purchase on consciousness – no bridge that philosophy or science can erect via concept or theory – architecture must always be tethered to the physical, the practical. It will not reach across and touch the dream.

What of the religious believer, one might ask? Shouldn't I provide a third category beyond the pragmatic and aesthetic for him? No. He is also pragmatic. Although he deals in gods, angels, heavens, and hells, he remains grounded to the pragmatic, relies on forms of logic and reason to justify his faith in unseen beings and realms. Dogma and ritual are engineered mediation. Even burial ceremonies are a practical method whereby incantations transport the corpse's soul to a different territory. As pragmatic as moving goods from one seaport to another.

Yes, there have been centuries of great religious art, especially Christian inspirations: Augustine's beautiful philosophical meditations, Bach's cantatas and oratorios, Corot's God-haunted landscapes. Shouldn't I consider all this as aesthetic? I contend that even these are pragmatic manipulations, reconnaissances of merely different territory, attempts at metaphysical rapprochement. Those writers, composers, and painters presume too much about the “architecture” of reality and its having been shaped according to a holy “blueprint.” Hence, pragmatic.

There is a subtler religious impulse: Buddhism. Zen rock gardens and spare paintings of elemental nature would seem to epitomize the aesthetic. Yet Buddhism might be the most pragmatic, the least aesthetic of spiritual orientations. Instead of seeing it as a poetical, soulful impulse, I view Buddhism more as a constructivist project: a system for building up wrecked ego by paradoxically burying it in “fields” of imagined equipoise and stoical oblivion; the no-self as a vast pragmatic construction based on repressed despair. No, I will not include the Buddhist among the aesthetic ranks, even if he is seen by some as more spiritual than religious...or even as some kind of “artistic” atheist.

But I don't wish to imply that the aesthetic realm belongs exclusively to the atheist. Some atheists are strictly pragmatic, strictly utilitarian. They are aloof from the world of spirit, and for them, the dreams of art – aesthetic “séances” – are unknown experiences. Many atheists have not arrived at their unbelief after sifting through melancholy layers of profound thought – their vaunted sanity is merely a shallow reactionary stance. For them, Camus's twisting in the winds of perplexity and darkness is a non sequitur.

Consider the atheist cosmologist or quantum physicist who probes the vast or minute corridors of nature. Yet who is blind to the fact that Being per se – mysterious actuality, bare presence – lies behind and is distinct from nature's manifested objects and processes. Though that foundational abyss is beyond even a God (always signified as having qualities and attributes), that great, mysterious Void of the Real might very well have some aspect of the sacred about it. But the shallow type of atheist wouldn't even know what I'm talking about. Reality, in all of its dimensions and possible ways of being construed, is for him an interesting puzzle to be pieced together and then you die.

Just as the pragmatic believer sees the world as an expression of God, the pragmatic atheist sees the world as an expression of itself. Both are blind to the fact that “behind” God and world lies another consideration, another dialectic: Actuality and Nothingness. No God and no world can be self-justified. The “I am that I am” already requires an abyss of the real in which to be.

So...who possesses a true artistic spirit, who has a real aesthetic disposition?

First, I need to define what I mean by “aesthetic disposition.” The word “aesthetic” is derived from the Greek aisthētikos, from aisthēa 'perceptible things,' from aisthēsthai 'perceive.' For me, the aesthetic disposition is one characterized by looking at and coming to some kind of terms with what is really there. But I'm not talking about realism or naturalism in the arts. Nor do I mean simply someone who paints, sculpts, composes, or writes with flair and imagination. And I certainly don't mean those who spill thousands of words about theories of the beautiful in philosophy. Or those sophisticates who annotate color-plates in expensive books on fine art.

By “aesthetic disposition,” I describe someone who suspects that something is really there but is hidden in our shadows, dreams, and mysteries. Someone who then tries, through expression or appreciation, to discover what it is that is shadowing, dreaming, mysticizing that suspicion of the real into us. A disposition that doesn't take reality for granted. And I mean someone whose imagination is boundless, whose moods are abyssal and euphoric – able to contain within them the infinite gradients of emotional, spiritual reality.

Someone who is astonished to see the soul of motion abstracting out of a complex dance. Someone who weeps while sympathizing with Schubert's great B-flat Piano Sonata. Someone for whom time disappears while standing before a hypnotic canvas. Who becomes absorbed completely into Proust's memories. In short, a spiritual being.

But just as there are variations among the pragmatists, there are also many kinds found in the aesthetic camp. In the superficial layers are those for whom beauty is truth, truth beauty – the aesthetic capacity is exhausted in sighs before a pleasing painting or perfect mathematical theorem. Deeper and subtler is the response of the rare spirit – she for whom art, music, and literature (yes, even math and science) are merely doors behind which is a palpitating Mystery.

While the pragmatic mind will ask of history “what happened and what did it mean,” the aesthetic spirit ponders “what is time, what is event, what is meaning.”

Now...even though Kandinsky uses the word “spiritual” in his book's title, I have my doubts about him being a pure aesthetic creature (according to my possibly eccentric criteria). “Heresy!” you might exclaim. But let us see, let us explore this together.


The first part of Concerning the Spiritual in Art is “About General Aesthetics.” The radical artist, according to Kandinsky, leads a reluctant humanity toward and eventually into higher “atmospheres” of spirituality, of inner truth. He points out how previous avant-garde movements, which astonished and repulsed contemporary auditors, soon became the accepted, the norm, the taken for granted. Each notch up this artistic continuum is an advance of the general human spirit into a more expressive and more discerning condition.

At the time of writing, science was making discoveries about the equivocal nature of matter, the quixotic nature of energy. And some seekers were turning from traditional to ancient, esoteric ways into meaning (Blavatsky's Theosophical Society is an example). Suspicion was being cast on the external, with various hopes being placed in the internal, the mysterious. I would also include the philosophers A.N. Whitehead (“process” and “prehension”) and Henri Bergson (“duration” and “intuition”) in that general turn toward the inside of things, which influenced many around that same time, in that same ferment. And we must not leave out that great aesthete Nietzsche from the ferment. In fact, his thought was a primary yeast. From Rüdiger Safranski's Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, this appears:

All of the significant artistic currents in the early twentieth century, from symbolism to art nouveau and expressionism, were inspired by Nietzsche. Every self-respecting member of these circles had a “Nietzsche experience.” Harry Graf Kessler gave eloquent expression to the manner in which his generation “experienced” Nietzsche: “He did not merely speak to reason and fantasy. His impact was more encompassing, deeper, and more mysterious. His ever-growing echo signified the eruption of Mystik into a rationalized and mechanized time. He bridged the abyss (Abgrund) between us and reality with the veil of heroism. Through him we were transported out of this ice age, reenchanted and enraptured (entrückt).

Symbolist writers like Maeterlinck had lain the foundation for a new type of art: free abstraction, as opposed to the external, the naturalistic. Kandinsky emphasizes that art has always been the attempt at expressing the soul's complexion, but it had been, thus far, constricted and filtered through the natural, the objective (even Symbolist painting relied on the world of known forms to hold its deeper suggestions). Still waiting in the shadows of consciousness is the human spirit, which requires unfettered, unmediated expression. I should mention here something brought up in the translator's Introduction. Sadler brings to our attention the genealogy of attempts at a freer art. Those earlier exemplars on the brink of Kandinsky's emergence and assertion: Cezanne and Gauguin.

For Kandinsky, all true art – canvas, sculpture, story, poem – aspires to the condition of music. His non-representational, non-objectivist approach to painting is a desire to turn shape and color into abstract rhythm and melody – into an inner harmonious “seeing.”

We are presented with the examples of Debussy, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg, who all contributed to new musical techniques and forms, new ways of artistic freedom. With them, chromaticism, dissonance, and even atonality (as well as Stravinsky's wildly sprung rhythms) offered the world a means for expansion of consciousness, of soul. Expressing even the spirit's discord with “ugly” sounds was a way into higher, more profound beauty...the beauty of hard truths. Freedom of expression, above all, is the driving impulse for the possibility of a new art.

Music, which is outwardly unfettered by nature needs no definite form for its expression.

That statement is on the last page of the first part of Concerning the Spiritual in Art. And moving beyond definite form is Kandinsky's goal, which I think he realized most wonderfully a little later on in his abstract paintings. (This manifesto-like book was written on the cusp of Kandinsky's own plunge into painterly non-objectivism.)

The second (final) part of the book is “About Painting.” Here, we are given a course in the psychological science of color and form, shade and line. But really, more of a pseudo-science. This entire part is a delight to read, to experience Kandinsky's free-form, oracular pronouncements about the human relation and response, especially, to color. Shapes, he seems to say, generate their own spiritual response in the observer. Triangles, used as a compositional principle, can evoke an upward, aspirational movement in the soul. Later, Kandinsky urges a transcendence from even such simple geometry and points to a new world of expression in which formal indefiniteness will charge the canvas with greater spirituality. Ambiguous form will allow an intuition of what is beyond the concretions of nature and known object. As he says, “The more abstract is form, the more clear and direct is its appeal.

The extended section on color is, indeed, fascinating. He states that “Shades of color...awake in the soul emotions too fine to be expressed in words.” His spiritual color theory is based on how certain warm shades like yellow draw us to the external (toward nature and the known), while cooler shades like blue recede (prompting a melancholy desire to move with them into a transcendent inner realm.)

Free color and free form are not all. He also proposes this for a new art: “attempts must be made to bring the picture on to some ideal plane which shall be expressed in terms of the material plane of the canvas.” That is some deep stuff right there! It's the kind of concept that takes a while to soak into my skull. And I'm going to remember it, because it will help me to better understand and appreciate abstract art. I also think it bears on Kandinsky's elusive word “spiritual.” Perhaps.

Here's some more good stuff:

The harmony of the new art demands a more subtle construction than this [Cubism],something that appeals less to the eye and more to the soul. This “concealed construction” may arise from an apparently fortuitous selection of forms on the canvas. Their external lack of cohesion is their internal harmony.


Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement of the human soul.

Utmost in Kandinsky's thought is the realization of a “spiritual atmosphere.” He concludes his book with this sentence:

We have before us the age of conscious creation, and this new spirit in painting is going hand in hand with the spirit of thought towards an epoch of great spiritual leaders.


Well...after such a book, after his having given the world such stunning masterpieces of abstract art, I should include, without a moment's hesitation, Wassily Kandinsky in the aesthetic and not the pragmatic camp. Shouldn't I? But hang on....I want to look at this question a little more closely, more deeply. After all, skepticism is the handmaiden of truth.

He did say this, which works in his favor: “It is the conviction that nothing mysterious can ever happen in our everyday life that has destroyed the joy of abstract thought. Practical considerations have ousted all else.” Point for Wassily!

But what is he getting at with his use of the word “spiritual”? What does he really mean?

As we've seen, music is the pinnacle for Kandinsky. Its freedom from nature provides him with action principles for painting. Music moves us in mysterious emotional ways, and he intends that painting should also reach deeply into the soul. But does he qualify or explain music as a higher spiritual form? Does he go where Schopenhauer did, who “pronounced music the direct expression of the world will” (from Safranski's Nietzsche). Nietzsche spoke of music as waves, and “Waves, which spill ceaselessly onto the shore, carrying you and pulling you along, and perhaps even pulling you under and submerging you, were Nietzsche's symbol of the depths of the world” (Safranski).

Music is a “language” of the ineffable. It speaks only vaguely, and what it speaks of, sometimes, seems beyond human experience. I wish Kandinsky had delved deeper into this. I'm willing to call music a spiritual art, but I would then be obliged to look at the word “spiritual” with a stronger, tighter focus. Music has the power to suggest the Beyond. It can conjure soul-states much subtler than the word “emotion” denotes. Just think of Bach's solo cello suites or of Beethoven's late string quartets or of Bruckner's cosmic symphonies...of Mahler's existential symphonies. Those “sayings” lift us out of the ordinary, and for a while, we are in worlds beyond the five senses. We sense another reality or a higher, uncanny atmosphere of our one reality. And a different spectrum of profound emotions is stimulated in us. As Safranski says: “In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche called this ecstatic life in music the 'rapture of the Dionysian state, which eradicates the ordinary bounds and limits of existence.'”

But I wonder if Kandinsky would go or was capable of going that far with the word “spiritual”? I wonder if he means by that word merely the extreme hues or eccentric shapes of emotions wrought in us by experience? Some music, I think, is indeed spiritual, is capable of evoking the Beyond – that mysterious power of presence allowing nature and even a possible God to have being, to come into the clearing of actuality.

Kandinsky's “spiritual” includes this, which is another point in his favor: that art can reveal to us the inner life of things, like the still-lifes of Matisse and Manet. I think he is getting at something like Kant's “thing-in-itself,” the numinous aspect of phenomena. And that reminds me of philosopher Martin Heidegger's late-period reverie on a painting by Van Gogh of peasant shoes: a secret, inner, profound “life” inhabits those shoes and whispers to us about another side of reality. But...Kandinsky only drops this aspect before us in passing. He doesn't go into it with sufficient depth. And given his “psychology” of colors and forms, I'm inclined to see this “spiritual” aspect as having less to do with numinous evocation and more to do with how a painted vase of flowers affects our merely sentimental constitution. Or perhaps how it affects our associational matrix in which deep memories are subconsciously re-woven with colors and shapes. In both cases, we are dealing with the emotional, and I think the word “spiritual” should be reserved for possibilities of transcendence. For what is beyond the ordinary range of conscious or even unconscious experience. Does that inner life of the vase of flowers belong to itself, or does it represent a configuration of our experience?

Kandinsky seems to use the words “soul,” “spirit,” and “emotion” interchangeably. This annoys and confuses me. If you have read Kandinsky's book or have a desire to do so at some point, I would be interested to know if you agree with me that his use of the word “spiritual” is loose, inexact, and almost careless.

But perhaps I should be more generous, or at least subtler in my analysis. It could be the case that Kandinsky and many of his artistic contemporaries had internalized spiritual matters and found no need to speak explicitly of underlying currents. Maybe something like Nietzsche's Dionysian theory was taken for granted during that time: that the world spirit behind phenomena is a dark, capricious force. Adorno saw that spirit-force dissipating from cultural awareness, from recognition, from acknowledgment. So, I do wonder if it had already receded from aesthetics by the time of Kandinsky's writing.

In his chapter “The Language of Form and Color,” we find this: “The inner need is built up of three mystical elements....” These three elements have to do with “personality,” “style,” and “artistry.” His explication of those terms baffles me. Nothing he says even remotely qualifies those elements as mystical for me. It almost seems that he would have been more accurate to say “vague” instead of “mystical.” (Could our translator from the Russian be at fault?) For me, Kandinsky is smuggling in a loaded word to support his book title. It's as if a verbal legerdemain is occurring: profound words used casually, perhaps irresponsibly to create an unearned impression. For me, the word “mystical” is indeed associated with the spiritual, but both adjectives should be reserved for something like the serious probings of a Meister Eckhardt and not used for an artificial flavoring or spicing of mundane material.

Considering the book in its entirety, I must ask this: are the artists, sculptors, composers, and writers of that new age of freedom being urged to uncover or stimulate responses to deep reality (an underlying spiritual significance) or are they being asked only to register their uninhibited personal emotions – uninhibited by traditional themes and forms of expression?

I think I will go ahead and allow Kandinsky into the aesthetic camp. Though I suspect he leans toward a pragmatic (worldly) concern with mere psychology and emotion (with how to evoke emotion), he has dropped sufficient clues about his sensitivity to the mysteriousness of existence. Yes, I think he suspects the world is haunted by a numinous quality. But he was not profound enough a thinker or sensitive enough a seer to push very far into that “atmosphere.” At least in words. He may very well have succeeded in evoking the spiritual in his paintings. A sensitive aesthetic auditor of those canvases might very well be exposed to something truly spiritual painted into them.


So...lest I also leave things in a careless state, I should reiterate what I mean or expect with the word “spiritual.” For me, it has to do with the shadows, the dreams, the mysteries that we find on our aesthetic paths. As they move with us and dapple our days in melancholy hues, we are sporadically, tenuously put in touch with Being. Our aesthetic orientation should be a higher affective state: a going-into or a living-into the dark light of Actuality. The possibility of presence -- of thereness -- is a true and deep riddle. Other little riddles – like space-time, gravity, quantum uncertainty, the chemical eruption of organic life, the forms of human love – ...all these pale beside the naked fact of presence, as such. Even if there is a God, that entity or Pantheistic extrusion will always be contingent, dependent on the mystical “foundation” of Being, as such – the possibility of anything actual. In such a light, Being is better seen as a kind of Nothingness – an abyss from which presence and actuality arise. An Abgrund. Meister Eckhardt knew this, and he wrestled mightily with it, moving from God to abyssal Godhead. Heidegger knew this, and all of his philosophy flows from it. In Sonya Sikka's book Forms of Transcendence: Heidegger and Medieval Mystical Theology, she says this: “Since it is being that lets every being be a being, every being, however it may concern and affect us, remains infinitely behind and under the the compulsion of being; we only feel the press and urgency of beings. Being is as if it were not there, as nothing.

This sense of the actualizing Nothing through which beings have presence is a hard conception to hold in one's mind. It's really other than a conception. It is an experience. Twenty-five years ago, I had one of those rare experiential moments. For a few minutes, I was able to hold in awareness the strange fact of naked presence, of stark actuality...of Being, as such. It was like being thrown into a vortex, and for a little while, I spiraled into the abyssal Abgrund. Into the basic Fact of the Real. Into this abstracted condition in which all things and processes are situated in their presentness. I will never forget that experience.

From George Steiner's book Martin Heidegger, comes this: “It is the unique and specific business of philosophy, therein and at all times referential to its Greek inception, to be incessantly astonished at and focused on the fact that all things are....” Also this: “Heidegger is a man literally overcome by the notion of 'is' (Greek on), a man inexhaustibly astonished by the fact of existence, and haunted by the reality of that other possibility, which is nothingness (Sartre's néant).

Heidegger was an atheist, but even he was forced into a mystical corner at the end of his thought, of his philosophical project. Again Steiner: “Heidegger locates in the mysterium tremendum of the Hölderlin ode, of the Van Gogh painting, that 'otherness' of absolute presence, of ontological self-signification, to which he cannot allow a theological-metaphysical status. Hence also, and most enigmatically, the turn toward 'the gods,' toward the Geviert('foursome') of pagan, chthonic forces in Heidegger's last writings. For the later Heidegger, Being is presentness in the poetry, in the art we believe in. But how can that which 'shines through' the choral song in Antigone, how can that which 'conceals and discloses itself as the true being of Being' in Van Gogh's painting of peasant shoes, be thought, be said in terms other than those of transcendence? Words failed Heidegger and, at a pivotal stage in his life and work, he failed them.

Given all of the above, here is what I think that spirituality in art entails: it is an attempt to probe the fact that Being, qua being (actuality) is a hiddenness; in the clearings our art ties to make, we strive to bring the shy mystery into awareness, for ourselves and for others; art is an unforgetting of the most essential.

When Kandinsky uses the word “spiritual,” I don't think he is going that far and deep into reality. I think he is mostly talking about how colors and forms have an associational impact, how they affect our feelings. And his passion for free expression hits me as more about working in the “music” of world than about an unbridled probing of the spiritual basis for world. I think he would have been more accurate had he titled his book Concerning the Emotional in Art.

The only artist I would unreservedly call “aesthetic” or “spiritual” is Yves Tanguy.

I'll bring these stray thoughts to an end with a quote from George Steiner's book Grammars of Creation:

Dated 1901, Hofmannsthal's Ein Brief, better known as the "Lord Chandos Letter," has lost nothing of its finality. The eponymous hero, a brilliantly endowed young Elizabethan aristocrat, writes to Francis Bacon. He has already, at nineteen, composed mythological poetry. Much is expected of him, for both world and word have been prodigal. But now "the capacity to think or to say anything coherent has deserted me."....A watering can, a dog lazing in the sun, a modest rural cottage on his estate can become "a vessel of revelation" (Gefäß einer Offenbarung) so charged, so brimful with existentiality, as to make impossible any adequate response. ..."in a medium more immediate, more fluid, more glowing than is the word. This medium too is made up of whirlwinds and turning spirals; but unlike language these do not lead into the bottomless, but somehow into myself and into the deepest lap of peace."

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

vagabond's tale

Oh...perish the thought!
I'm just a mad wanderer,
like a poor trainless hobo
stomping around here
in southern Arkansas
to places real, unreal,
and a few in-between.

That guy who does poems
is taking a day or two off,
and he asked me to sit in
here under this shade tree
and do some daydreaming.

This old willow is sighing,
so it'll work fine and dandy
as a place for languishing.

I'll tell you a quaint little story,
worked up as sort of a parable
or maybe it's like a worn map
plotting out no destination. goes nothing...

Somehow, the young man
found himself in a backwash
of the slow Ouachita River.
Down past Moro Bay ferry,
floating into a dismal slough.
His dinghy made no noise...
as he drifted into the strange.
His thoughts calmed down...
as he drifted into the strange.

And the world soon spoke.
He thought it was a dream.
And the world said “I'm here.”
He thought it was a dream.

“I am here under these forms,
but I am not of these forms.
I am the blind musician who
sometimes grieves in music,
in the songs from Mississippi,
in the voices of black singers.
But I am boundless and live
even now on Jericho's plain,
being strode by stern Hebrews...
in the flint and sand they tread
up to the wall of broken bones.

“I am old and filled with fullness.
Starlight glances off my absence.
Great thunder unheard beneath
vast seas translates me roughly.

“Can't you see me without eyes?
Can't you hear me without ears?
Young man...I grant you vision
this dead-water day of ravens
bouncing in the snaky limbs.

“I give you my haunting void,
and I seek nothing in return.
Know that I hold all the gods
and all the forms and all souls
in the teeth of sharp memory.
All these plasma days of suns
and all the nights lovers kiss
across divides of mighty seas
are never lost in time's illusion.

“I hold all things inside the riddle
of my clear abyss. My stark tone
vibrates into every grain and star.

"I am as hard as granite. I am
as soft as sighs. And all the gods
were given their shapes by me.
I visit Bacchanalias of wild ones
who have no temples, only fire.
I am the life of life, so I am also
the death of death. If you fall
into a well of melancholy know
you have fallen into my heart.

“You have seen me so naked now!
Young man, you have felt the tone
of silence that is my great octave.
Only speak of me when you find
words that can be a suggestion.

"It is time now for me to be absent.
I will return as the æther in objects."

* * *

Well...did you like my story?
It's more or less a true one.
I think it's about time to go.
I think the poet is returning.
I believe I'll drink this wine
down to the bottle's bottom
and then head to Louisiana.

But before I go ambling off,
let me toss you a nice adage:

if you see a raven bouncing
with two eyes like diamonds,
stare straight at that sucker.
You might notice "something"
very odd staring back at you.

the peculiar "art" of deflection

Well...somebody's got to say it. Human beings are very odd. We live our lives in constant forms of activity, in order to subconsciously push the fact that we exist into a dark empty room. We think this is all adding up to something, to some kind of Answer. Yet we have never asked the Question.

Politics, sports...needlepoint? All forms of sublimation. Unknowing deflections. Unthought, unspoken hexes against the Conspiracy -- against the unnamed ghost of Actuality.

Think about it. Lives lived out with hardly a thought or gesture toward the implacable mystery of being-in-the-world. Astonishing. Someone might cough politely and interject: “My good man...if the mystery is implacable, then why should human beings fret at all over the unknowable?” I would reply: “Very good point.”

The only forms of activity that halfheartedly confront the Meta-Fact are some philosophy, some religion, and some of the fine arts (painting, sculpture, dance, music, literature). But only some. Very little of the some at that.

Let's save philosophy for last.

Religion occasionally brushes up against the surface of being. Usually though, it is merely another form of folding the mind into a neat and manageable pattern. Some old Hindu sages and a couple Buddhist masters took at least a glance in the direction of what-the-hell-is-going-on-under-the-surface. But soon, they deflected it. Soon, they figured out some way of incorporating and middle-managing the abyss into their let's-get-on-with-it structures of living. They turned their backs on the breathtaking Meta-Fact. Or they duped themselves into thinking it could be tamed. Could be lived with.

Then there was Meister Eckhart. He would not let freaking go. That dude went deep into the stratosphere of actuality. He ended up saying wonderfully evocative stuff in his attempt to wring sense out of there being anything at all. God was subsumed in Godhead and then Godhead teetered over into the Abyss. I suppose that's a kind of religious approach.

All other religion, with respect to being as such, is just a ritualistic, superstitious business. The mystery gets deflected into sentimental and anthropomorphic Just So stories. It's like unconsciously or symbolically taking the Meta-Fact to the woodshed for a good whupping – to beat the stubbornness and annoyance out of it. Turn it into a God and sing hosannas to it.

Some painting, sculpture, and dance are attempts at coming to terms with the sublime horror...the persistence of being that goes too far, that goes beyond mind. Some music is attuned to the Meta-Fact. The greatest composer of being as such is Mahler. His symphonies are wracks of ruin on which the perplexing soul has been beaten and thrashed. Some literature sneaks up on existence. Rarely, though. Usually such probings come at it obliquely or offhandedly. That's okay. That good. That might be the only way to do it and maintain sanity.

Philosophy. Via Heidegger, it appears old Parmenides knew something was afoot. Leibniz asked a very good question. Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche did some archeology into the numinous. Nowadays, we have analytical philosophy. *Yawn*. Pieces of the Meta-Fact get washed down the waste drain by those linguistic morticians.

Oh! I left out science. Good grief! Science is an ostensible telling what the world is made of. But World is only a deflection of Being into artificial ingredients. Science doesn't do well with abysses. It has trouble enough conjecturing about and staring down black holes. we are. Back at the beginning, which never really began. Because we are not interested in the fact that we exist. We just do it – exist. We are not even aware that we are pinioned to a canvas that has no texture, no substance, no means for traction. So we deflect the Meta-Fact into a warped ping-pong ball that was backhanded way too hard.

A great mystery is slinking behind us, yet we dance ahead into our forms of nonsense that seem sensible to us. The Meta-Fact, though, makes every moment and every event an instance of organic absurdity.

Water Shows the Hidden Heart

From the City of Constellations
to the wanderer
and a Place of Rains
he journeys on...
...the City of hesitation and doubt
the Island of the house the colour of the sea
the Plain of Mementoes
he journeys on to find his love...
...the Valley of lost time
the City of End and Endlessness
the Isle of Revenents
he journeys on...
...the City of Solitudes
the City of the distance from you
the City of Words of blue
and yellow and red and green
he journeys on to find his love...

...where the road takes him throuh
the City of Sleep
the thinking that does not end is within him
Then he dreams
the road takes him
this man who is searching
it brings him
in silence through the night

where the Cities that do not Exist, exist
it brings him
in silence through the night
close to the City of Realisations;
it is here one finds the way...
...Mount Orison
the City of Days
the Tree of the lost
he journeys on...
...north of his love
a road through a valley of darkness
the islands that are not of this world
he journeys on to find his love...

It is a long way through darkness
to the way of the eremite
the eremite sings of the world and of
the journey of love, which is not lost in eternity
...the Valley where the moon is caught in the trees
water shows the hidden heart
endlong into midnight
he journeys on...
...the parable of day
the Room of Books
where the winds come to him and say...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I laugh with you...

...and that draws us together.

Real friendships begin when two people share a wink and a smile at something mutually perceived as funny. Humor is the fuel of a friendship. Intellectual and spiritual alignments and congruences are also important. But if the funny ain't there, the relationship will have a certain hollowness.

That's why, with rare exceptions, places of worship – churches, synagogues, mosques – are not breeding grounds for friendship. It's all too damn serious. Worshiping or placating some frowning god is not a good environment for the true blending of harmonious souls. is a good place to experience an inappropriate giggle arising from the diaphragm.

Politics is even worse. Earnestness makes spirits ill. Spirits are light and like to dance on sunbeams ricocheting off the tails of drunken kangaroos.

Philosophy and science and even the elevations of art are not conducive to the forming of deep, subtle spirit-bonds. A good guffaw between friends makes Plato queasy...makes Newton dizzy...makes Monet drop his brush in alarm. “Let's be serious!” they plead. But to no effect. The friends are too busy snickering.

Life is funny. It is absurd. Just being here is a witty thing. The irony of it all contains shades of winking satire.

My friend Yael and I share a lot of interests. But when she hits me with one of her characteristic zingers, all bets are off. Deep stuff can wait. The moment has a transcendent relish to it. I know then that friendship goes way down into the octaves of significance. And things get funny.

unexpected snowfall

Back in the fifties, there was room for surprise.
A tornado had to be twirling in your front yard
before the local news station was aware of it.
The soft arrival of a snowstorm was like a visit
from the Tooth Fairy while you were sleeping.
It seemed that meteorological reports came
by way of Morse Code or the Pony Express.

So, you are five years old and full of pancakes
drenched with Aunt Jemima. Your tummy is full.
You get in your Popeye the Sailor Man pajamas
and sleep the sleep of flying dreams and Zoro.

The next morning a wonderland greets you.
A deep snow has fallen overnight like magic.
That is why the fifties were such a cool thing.
Forget James Dean or Elvis or Marilyn Monroe.

And it was real good down in South Arkansas,
where unexpected snowfall made you crazy
because you had a lot of room for surprise.

The front yard beautiful with dusted pin oaks.
The side yards unseen, so left there to just be.
But the backyard! The backyard! The dawn mist
hanging there like the breath of unbuilt snowmen.
With hardly any light yet spoiling winter's trick.

The large friendly pines out there are now strange.
They seem confused and mumble their quiet shock.
You are also not sure of what has happened here.
Did God spread out this gift that makes your heart
beat so fast and beat so warm and beat so happy?

You are ready now to leap and run into the snowfall,
but you wait with the back door cracked open a bit.
You wish to keep this moment forever, this waiting
in front of a tangible dream coming out of nowhere.

Now I am very far from the time of that occasion.
Now is a sweltering summer burning up the grass.
But this is the best time to remember that winter.
This is the best time to wave at that young boy.
He will look at you funny. You wink back smiling.
You ask him to stop half-way out in the backyard...
to look around quietly at the unbelievable scene,
to listen carefully for the heartbeat of a divinity...

to confirm for you that no misjudgment in the snow
had been made on that morning of transcendence.

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

Fatima Gomes is a paradox...

...and that is neat.

She is always reading and thinking and writing. She is always thinking about stuff that is beyond me. Categories and conceptions that are too subtle and complex for me to understand. Stuff like figure/ground in philosophy. Stuff like semiotics in lingual analysis. She said something the other night that blew my mind, something about how language brings forth color and body to the thoughts we convey to another. She was quoting somebody famous or semi-famous. But the fact is she knew about it, knew it was significant.

Even if I don't know what in the world is going on, I like soaking up the atmosphere of these things. Fatima's mind can somehow slip in-between the skin layers of an probe implicit structures. She brings into my skull a certain resonance – her philosophical contemplations remind me, in form and subtlety, of Walter Benjamin's own silken movements through other disciplines and topics.

And yet......

Fatima is strangely grounded to the sensual, natural world in which her body is enveloped. Sounds, movements, aromas, textures...all these things are not mere unconscious background noise for her. Her invisible antennae purr in these precincts of matter and energy. The kaleidoscopic swirl of human existence and location and predicament are vital pieces of information for her. They register deeply. And when she writes casually about the night's curtain fluttering...or the music drifting in from the street...or the actuality of a chair in her can see, hear, and sense it so clearly.

I think she is something like a poetical philosopher. Fatima's oblique, peculiar, eccentric, and elliptical way of looking at things and into things bodes well for an original contribution to thinking. Or maybe she is a philosophical-imagistic poet. Her poems seem like that.

Oh...and she is real funny. She makes me smile, and she makes me laugh. And she is real nice. She is very patient with my slow mind and with my forms of nonsense.

Anyway...Fatima is a paradox. And she is neat.

Monday, July 12, 2010

unwritten letter

Neruda was a loud martyr to love,
ostensibly mooning over his women,
when actually trumpeting his ego.

Can it be done? A poem or letter
that is supple enough to subsume
the agonies and ecstasies of self?...
to cover rawness with silken subtlety?

Already the non-reader balks, winces.

I know you love the greatest music.
I know you feel into keening aspects.
I know deep symbols dance for you.
I know you're aware how foolish I am.

So there's no need to write a letter.
Instead let me speak through music.
I am sure you like sounding symbols.
I think that will express my feelings.

Mahler's 9th Symphony is what I choose.
I hope you accept its speaking in tones
to take the place of my unwritten letter.

I. Andante comodo

The waterfall of your hair is such life!
The turn of your head is the gesture
prompting tears so gentle in my eyes.
The depth of your own eyes goes dark
into tunnels of incomprehensible vision
that time has given you and that life
has given me as a journeying into joy.

A castle is holding secrets in its dungeon
of nights, a castle in the lost precincts
of fantastic old Europe. Holding hostage
stars too pure to shine in Neruda's sky.
I gather those clusters of desiring light,
I gather them into my bags of breathing,
into my lungs marking the doom of time.

Yes now from the ramparts, I think of you.
I breathe in the dark light of you. Alone,
I am drawn toward your dancing ghost.
You are not so much flesh as a rhythm.
You are moving angles and quiet pauses.

You are turning in your golden silks, you
are turning out there on the plain of hope.
The sense of your music, of your dance
is a form of my irrational nature, of my
long eruption from nothing into hurting
matter and energy, having found you.

That solo flute! Can you hear its wavering
cascade of tones through warped mirrors?
The drunken reflections link into a circle,
and I skip along its perimeter like a boy
who has stumbled into a field of daisies.
You are the soft golden glow that spreads
over the bittersweet meadow, all the way
out to the curving line of death's horizon.

II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers.
Etwas tappisch und sehr derb

Oh!...the streets are now filling with souls.
I'll follow them to the soirée where touching
is always a possibility, even among phantoms.

The ghosts are swirling here! And laughing.
I shall mingle with a faint smile, expecting
to see you out there in the crowd of wonder.
So many deep colors – scarves on breezes
gently lifting hearts and feet in happiness,
in this carnival of hot-blooded spirit revelers.

But you are not to be seen here among them.
And that is the new gift of sadness I treasure.

I step into the whirlpool of masks and sighs.
I begin to turn this way and that. I dance
in 3/4 time my absurd delight in separation.
Faster, faster...into a dizzy stomping witless
moving symbol of how much I do love you.

III. Rondo-Burleske.
Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig

It had to happen, in this movement of Mahler,
a spilling of black feeling onto the cusp of beats!
It had to change into this Delirium of Mockery.

The brass is guffawing “Ha ha ho, Ha ha ho!”
And I think you are here now, but changing
into a cat standing on hind legs and leering.
Who could miss your noble Egyptian purring?...
that purring at the silly mouse who chases you?
Even the mouse laughs at his pathetic torment.

This is truly a form of hell, and is nauseating.
This is the warping of passion into nightmare
that comes from me becoming an afterthought.

IV. Adagio.
Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend must, it will, and it does change again.
Your heart is a soft miracle of rain and growth.
And like the unknown pulse of hidden elements,
the music of your smile is infinite and will hold
a place for me in the garden of mystic affection.

Wait!...a little more time. Yes...a little more time.
Here in the slowing space of purling dimensions.
I am so out of sequence and losing imagination.
It drains into the culvert of hope and is washing
away piece by liquid piece, like raindrops after
touching the garment of your silken perfection.

Oh!...look what a mess I've made of not writing!
How could you bear to imagine such outpouring?
I got carried away with a wanton exuberance
coming from the miracle of knowing you at all,
even some niche of your coy unreachableness.

Sometimes I stray toward death and its succor,
but it's nothing to desire. It's the death of desiring.
So I'll burn near the ending. I'll burn off my symbols
in a cold fire of kisses, kissing only the cooling air.

Do you see that I'm trying to reach beyond words?
And as music fades into a dream of never waking,
I'll stretch out an unwritten hand toward your own.
Maybe you'll mistake my caress for summer wind
brushing across the surface of sensitive fingers.
You'll not know my spirit moved in that moment,
moved as finale folded into the desert's sigh.


I have heard that the flung sea can also carry
a message on its glimmering, salty surface.

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

Saturday, July 10, 2010


In this gentle plunging wildness,
mountain trees grow into spring.
Blossoms are fragrant with hope
of death coming later in the year.

I could build a nice philosophy
out of this Yin-Yang paradox.
Instead I'll simply sit becalmed,
refusing my brush and paper.

Springtime can be a bad time
for those who fall prey to it,
for those who think of desires
as auguries of good fortune.

And spring is like a memory
before something happened. Ha!...
I laugh straight into the riddle.
I laugh so hard that four tears
trickle down to my crooked lips.

This cool morning wine is good.
Why wait for evening's permission?
Blossoms now dim to unknown colors,
a song is coming from their scattering. that the lazy breeze whispering
a poem that could never be written?

I think this old mind is calming down.
Passion seems so absurd these days.
Who could love a hermit, anyway?

Tomorrow I might again dip my brush
into ink and try to make words dance.
If someone 'dances' to their rhythm,
I would take it as a quiet form of love.

That fog of branch-torn blossoms
now falls onto clear brook water.
And it complements another riddle:

so much wine has made me sober.

[Written in April, recently revised.]

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

onion skins


These headlights cleave a moonless night,
and I jolt at the wheel like a lost picasso.
In scattered yards lie corpses of cars,
and the small weary houses simply exist.
On someone's tiny porch a naked bulb
is glowing blue into thick indifference.
This darkness is difficult, it is almost solid,
and above the trees, no moon is symbolic.

Last night's strange dream pulls me down,
submergence again into troubled wonder.
Even now there are traces of wounding
roses occulting that childhood fence.

Soon my friend will speak thoughtfully.
His words will candle flickering hope
as shadows gather like taboo laughter
held in during somber funeral services.

Soon I will feel the release of much time
squeezed too tightly into a sweating knot.
And enough wine will be drunk to bring
that irony making smiles grow crooked.

After incantations and wine-sent visions,
I'll leave the strangeness of his house
and grope back home through darkness,
where no moon is uncovering the roses.


How appropriate that Leonard Cohen
would underwrite a slow apotheosis,
a catharsis of weeping and knowledge.
It is good to know what it is you desire.
It is good to know that groping will end.

Who cares if the object is impossible?
Grapes ripening toward wine don't care
if they are selected or culled by fate.

The swell of juices is a play of liquids.

At last into the lungs of deep breathing
an air so fragrant with subtle fantasias.
At last squeezing out marrow of magic,
before bones are taken into an ossuary,
before clock faces crack and blood dries.

And those old roses that drew into the boy,
that spread into the night's phantasmagoria,
change again into recognition of her as home.

The swell of music is the form of her beauty.


Summer creates dragonflies over roses,
and designs are woven into hushed air.
The plot points of strange attractors
trace the forms of ambiguous feelings.

When nightfall comes, a moving into
layers of translucent unwritten pages
that hang like mirrors reflecting symbols.
The eyes go into such depths for making.

Groping into wanting, then toward making.
Now midnight sings like the odes of Gypsies.
And the surfaces of symbols tilt so drunkenly.
Dragons in flight weave words for a poem.

Paracelsus brooded, long and laborious
with beakers fuming his artful concoctions.
But the miracle of turning lead into gold
is not an alchemy nor a soul's rebuilding.
Rather fingers must peel memory and time,
going deeper into pungency near the core...

to make something old new and fragile,
to filter the soft light of thinning veils.

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Hatred That Resists Exorcism

A Hatred That Resists Exorcism

I must get my hands on both of the books mentioned in this NY Times piece. Already, there are hundreds of words I want to write. But this time, I'll be rather quiet. Maybe I'll write stuff after reading these two books.

I will say this: I am confirmed in my suspicion that anti-Semitism is most likely at the root of most verbal attacks on Israel today. Ostensibly, it is only attacks against Israeli governmental policy. But when I smell a skunk, I know there's usually one nearby. When I hear Israel called a "fascist, racist, Zionist state," I know what's what. The passion behind such outbursts has a dark and evil mischief behind it, even if the outburster is not aware of it. Israel is the only country in the world (as this article brings out) whose very existence is questioned. And not just by hysterical Islamicists. That is very telling.

Legitimate complaints can be made against the Israeli government. But when denouncement is decoupled from any wider historical context, when it is mute about persistent Arab atrocity against the Jews, well, that's when I know anti-Semitism is alive and well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

accidental glory

You might glimpse it amid the pines,
in late morning when pale light falls,
when the ocher grass almost glows,
consecrating the relics of branches.

You stand in stillness, no god bothers
such a pooling of gentle confusions.
No one could paint this ambiance.
Not even Corot. And no Impressionist
could divide these beams of grace
into a deft rendering of how it seems.
It is a waking dream, and we plunge
on such occasions into alien depths.

I said no god bothers such confusions.
But what do I know? A piece of some god
might be extruded into this trembling light,
some old thought of Pan or resting faun
might have collapsed this wave-function
onto natural objects and into sentient eyes.
Yes, what do I know of the uncanny womb
from which pregnant gleams are sourced
that rapt the mind with birthing vision?

Gardens of careful flowers are temples
built to tempt the reticent luminosities,
to ground hopes for untamed moments.
But artifice will never hold the infinite.
Only a forgotten iris's petaled rim
might receive the tragic glowing boon,
might bring that radiance from inside
to meet the angled sun in secret ritual
of substance and light becoming one.

Oh...such instances are surely divine!
The untold story of one's end is heard,
and death would be a transient shadow.
Into that light! Into that confirmation
near a forest or on a meadow's edge.

It is an accident, that late morning luster.
It is like a wish you never thought to make.
And you are then with her in quiet infinity.

Copyright 2010, Tim Buck

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lay of the Brook-side Sylph

[translated from proto-Finnish and sung in ancient Forlornian Mode]

The cold, the cold, the cold wind is blowing
The snow, the snow, the winter returning
The light, the light, the days are now fading

And the water now dancing and twining and splashing
Will be stilled in the ice and my brook will be sleeping

Now it's time that I go into the depths of my soul tree
Now it's time until spring that I dream in Old Mother
As the sky becomes gray and the cuckoo is a-haunting
I must leave and await a different moon and my lover

He will come then, he will twine meadow flowers in my long hair
We will laugh at the stars on the other side of winter
He will come from the distance where people are dwelling
We will smile at the butterflies in the passion of summer

The cold, the cold, the cold wind is blowing
The snow, the snow, the winter returning
The light, the light, the days are now fading......

Copyright © 2010, Tim Buck

the bloom

It's when memory does long work
on a happening that was to begin with
dazzled in a funneling of bemusement...

In those raw events, the roots of vision
meet and blend into the numinous soil.
The shy blossom of stricken time opens
for only a moment, as a brooding gift
of confusion and a burden of wonder.

Silken petals too thin to see with eyes
curl out from coiled space and spread
a fragrance of the unreal onto feeling.
And into the bloom of unknowing,
one is drawn, then falling, then...
spiraling through the fibers of a god.

The bloom is stemmed to hoary tubes.
It only opens when prayers twist back,
becoming howls of silent, innocent irony.
And the bloom opens for anyone who
is too far subtly gone for any asylum.
It opens sometimes when love's claws
rake the chambers of unquiet hearts.

Constance is a poet. I think I'll ask her
if she also waits on such dark blooming
of suspense in ripened moments when
words are pollen that we might capture.

* * *

Now!...the opening is opening.
And from the soft drunken colors,
layering like wings of desiring angels,
I see strange pieces of language
glowing in the nearing distance.

I scoop this unthought word and that.
I pull them in so I can humbly write
onto petals of the unknown bloom
my fragrances of love and despair.

Copyright © 2010, Tim Buck