In a Single Breath

Posted on January 12, 2012


Enough of cake and cookies, out with the stale macaroons, the spent candles, the oddments of wrapping paper and ribbon behind the couch, under the couch, between the sofa cushions. Days lengthen, at first almost imperceptibly, and although there is so much winter yet to come, the soul begins its slow thaw, urging us in its quiet yet insistent way to put another log on the fire, even as the last bit of coral fades from the evening sky, and to begin again to write its story. It commands the fingers. It stakes its claim on the body.

Which soul is that? “The soul is in a way all things, because it can become a thing other than itself.” So says Heidegger by way of Etienne Gilson by way of Aquinas, fleeing the Cartesian prison for the more open and accessible world of the Greeks, who knew  that consciousness is simply our mode of being in the world, who knew that consciousness is pure transparency, not a mental substance.

You want proof. Read a well made lyric poem. Or write one.  Listen to a well made performance of a Chopin prelude. Or play one.

Here’s a how-to. We reside within the so-called stream of consciousness, which is in fact the world as it lights up within an open present, always and everywhere. More poetically and complexly, perhaps, on the page (page of poetry, of fiction, of music or its performance). The creative muscles, left to their own devices, want to embed consciousness — with all its seediness, banality, raucous humor, and flashes of beauty — so that something transcendent revolves before us — here, now, in the present — in a single breath. Soaring over the fences. Past the line-breaks. Through the arbitrary markers of measured endings — as the measures of music un-measure themselves in every fine performances.

In a certain way I’ve been trying to say (since my first essay in these pages) that each fragment of time contains all of time. The poem spreads that fragment of time before us.

Here’s a better how-to: an astonishment, in fact, though it seems on the surface to be about music, think of it instead of the writer’s Rosetta Stone. Benjamin Zander talks about music, and demonstrates how music leaves the page and enters the soul. Forgive the abstractions, here they’re made patent. It’s an utterly brilliant, and unutterably funny, piece. Ultimately, it’s life altering for the poet who will make the necessary transposition:

One cannot watch this shortish video and not become a better writer.

We’re hostage to our inner geography, its Greek roots twining into “earth” and “write.” Somewhere inside we’re a map of ourselves, and the temptation is to flatten out the creases on our writing tables. Leave it alone. Just feel it with your fingers. See how our inner province is a chunk of Stonehenge, slightly broader at the base than the top, though not much, cross-pieced with our interior territories, a bearing beam that supports our antipodes. Take a look at that inner monk, as lame and ancient as eternal, moving more slowly than slow. See how she refuses your help. How he refuses mine. The inner courtyard fills up with snow, and that very monk hands you a letter and departs, footsteps filling up with snow, like blessings.

Time to write down what it says.

Posted in: Poetry