The Failed Mystics.

2 May

Reader, 

we do not know each other. 

So, whose voice do you hear in your head?

(It isn’t mine.)

 

1. Augustine, the Manichee

The kingdom of light holds no tension.

It was violated by the darkness

thrusting, grunting, growling

Fecund darkness

spreading, infecting, tainting.

 

The light cannot defend itself.

The dark can only attack.

The result: our world.

Fleshy meat sacs

encasing divine fire.

 

Good doesn’t fight; it doesn’t have to.

The darkness burns its own power.

Goodness is weak, 

but this weakness makes it strong. 

 

My ghostly, pale-faced brethren.

Eradicate desire.

No sex, little food, joy in the pursuit of the divine. 

Seek to release

that inner fire. 

Mortify the body.

Reject the flesh.

Don’t eat mushrooms.

Don’t eat snails.

Don’t clean thyself with too much vigor. 

Austerity! 

Don’t whisper it.

Yell it out over the desert sands. 

***

Focus on evil.

Follow the chain of events

from any evil act back to its genesis. 

Everything comes from something.

We’re left with one of two terrifying conclusions:

Evil comes from god

(and therefore some aspect of god is evil)

Or evil exists. 

Independent and alive.

One way lies fear, the other terror. 

If an aspect of god is evil,

Then he is not all-good.

If evil exists independently,

Then he is not all-powerful.

Don’t you see?

We are trapped either way.

Evil is at the heart of existence. 

***

We live in the great era of conflicting ideologies. 

Arians. Manicheans. Platonists. Pagans. 

All engaged in the same struggle:

How to free the soul?

 

Our exterior decline 

Reflects our interior exaltation. 

We burn off our youth

by pursuing the divine.

 

Pleasure ages us.

So does work.

 

Prayer is the pursuit of the serene. 

Blessed silence. 

Okay okay okay.

It all sounds so silly

when I write it down.

I don’t know what I believe.

Maybe nothing.

Maybe my time here

is wasted in pursuit

of wisdom

when the truth lies

down another road. 

 

2. Seneca, online.

Great Jove,

What—

What are they doing?

Nero’s balls

the bull and the dragon

we never dreamed

by the torchlight of Rome

that Venus and Bacchus would rule the world.

 

This is cause for a celebration.

Endless saturnalia

orgies of the finest skin.

My cup runneth over. 

 

To think the future 

has built a religion

around the sacred ecstasies

of hole and mouth

stick and prick

snake and cave.

What’s that line?

“Lord, give me chastity. Just not now.”

***

Is there an end to desire? 

When is our lust finally slaked?

I watched two thousand hours

of grand fuckery

wondrous grotesquerie

Sodom’s delight

a banquet of cock and cunt

a gallimaufry of dick and pussy

undreamed of my Caligula or Nero. 

 

But. 

None of it was new. 

None of it was fresh. 

None of it lasted.

To be human again

to taste the future flesh

to romp and rump.

Would I squander my unearned years?

***

The Egyptians venerated the flesh

—even shit—

They mummified the rich out of love.

They pulled the brains out 

through the left nostril,

unraveling the lobes with a metal hook.

They pickled organs.

They cured and salted the skin. 

 

A lengthy process.

You can tell what a society values 

on how people spend their time.

Future humans will wonder 

why we spent so much time doing our taxes?

And how we could possibly

have imbibed so much filth?

 

I’m procrastinating. 

Avoiding the truth.

I wanted power.

There, I’ve said it.

I wanted to shape the world.

What I wrote didn’t matter.

But what I did? 

I empowered Nero.

I helped him kill his enemies.

That’s my true legacy. 

 

My eyes are failing.

The glowing screen is fading. 

This glorious machine is turning dark. 

I wonder about my country

my empire

my body of work.

How much of it will last?

Which is really just a way of avoiding the only question that matters:

Do I believe in something more than death?

 

3. Thoth, the man. 

Open your eyes

to the baleful glare of Osiris.

Feathered, owlish, beak-mouthed

god of judgment and the underworld.

Your heart rests on a scale

weighed against a feather. 

And who among us lives without regret?

 

Shit and fuck and whatever. 

Who has time for mythology anyway?

Really, who fucking cares?

 

What’s that line about poetry: 

Poetry can be dangerous.

 

Rumi said that,

hundreds of years after I died.

But that isn’t the end of the line.

Poetry can be dangerous, he said,

because it gives the reader the illusion

of having experienced something 

without going through it.

 

Poetry, 

says the world’s greatest poet,

isn’t real. 

***

I began life as a man

but was turned into a god.

I started the mystery schools

and gathered the curious

to my side. 

We studied. 

We wore white robes.

We recorded aphorisms

gleaned from the world’s sages. 

 

But time corrupts. 

My body died.

My essence was transmogrified

into a moon god

with a baboon’s head. 

 

I tried to capture the wisdom

of my visions and dreams

on tablets of emerald stone.

None of it survived. 

It was burned

in a great conflagration

started by Roman soldiers

During the time of Caesar. 

 

But do not despair:

I can recreate all my wisdom 

all my studies

all my toil

with four simple words:

 

Forget.

And start over. 

 

4. Polybius leans against an oak tree. 

I saw them first.

The empire of Rome.

The wretched glory

the crucified thieves

and the eternal phalanx.

I worshiped a mountain god

who loved women. 

A small creature who rarely answered prayer.

Rome

—that giant mouth—

masticating city states into a meal. 

There is no endgame for empires.

They rape and kill and conquer.

Then they disappear. 

Replaced by another. 

It’s a link of chains

one regime bound to another.

 

The Mongols

thought blood was sacred.

To wrap an enemy in a sack

and crush them beneath a grand party

was the ultimate honorable death.

All the butchers’ enemies

squashed and smashed.

 

Spare me such glory. 

 

This tree is old.

The branches are gnarled.

The roots run deep.

It will outlive me.

It will outlive everyone alive at this moment

and most of the empires and city-states. 

What would it tell us,

if we could hear the tree’s talk? 

 

Perhaps there are no answers,

only questions.

I can’t see into the future

but I can study the past.

 

5. Me, the apostate. 

Fast forward a thousand years. 

I biked to the train today

The roads were icy

my hands were cold

Snow battered my eyes and face.

I locked my bike

ascended the ramp to the train. 

And I waited.

 

The sun was hidden.

The sky was beautiful and grim.

I tried to take it all in.

The orange heat lamps glowing orange.

Everything cold and bronzed.

Everything was what it was. 

Everything is what it is. 

Not metaphors.

Not symbols.

Just the sky and the heat lamps 

and the train and the people and me. 

 

I wanted to write a novel or a long poem

about people losing their faith.

They had it

the burning spear

the red-hot rock

and then it was gone,

leaving only an ashy imprint

a shadow. 

 

I imagined:

Augustine as a Manichee

Seneca watching porn

Thoth turning into the idea of a god

Polybius realizing history meant nothing

 

But the poem folded in on itself

became self-aware

became not about belief and its opposite

but the ironic expression of belief.

With these lines, 

the poem failed. 

 

Who can express a simple thing?

This is a chair.

This is a heart.

This is the end.

This is a sparrow.

This is a lonely, red balloon.

 

All of these statements are false. 

All of the above is true. 

 

Conundrums and paradoxes.

Who cares who cares who cares

What do they prove?

What do they mean?

 

Reader, 

we do not know each other. 

So, whose voice do you hear in your head?

(It isn’t mine.)

***

You could say that writing 

led me to a melancholic agnosticism,

where the act of creation has no real double

and feels divorced from the divine.

It isn’t inspired.

It isn’t pretty or fun.

Writing is work.

A strip-mining of the imagination. 

 

Somewhere along the way

morality was marbled in 

with aesthetics

with emotions

with literature and stories and film.

Not black and white

but rainbow-colored.

Complex,

and independent from an all-knowing god. 

 

Meaning:

We have to figure shit out for ourselves. 

 

It feels weird to make declarations

in my own voice

—the one you are hearing in your head—

revealing my own beliefs without a buffer.

 

Writing does so much 

and so little

at the exact same time. 

 

So, a few simple truths

that we can all get behind:

Life be cluttered

Life be busy

Life be complicated

Life be one dreary thing after another

(But who wants any of that etched on our tombstones?)

 

Not Jehovah

The demon who pretends to be god.

Not the patriarchs,

Dirty, old men.

Not Thoth,

who probably never existed.

And not Augustine

who turned his back on the flesh.

Not Seneca,

who couldn’t see beyond ambition.

And not Polybius,

who is almost lost to history.

 

Irony irony irony irony irony

The demi-urge of the present world. 

***

So this is in memory of the first humans.

Worshipers of fire and the sun,

rivers and stones and leopards and beetles,

sex- and death-obsessed

people, just like us, living their lives

with the essentials always on their minds. 

pure,

but not innocent.

 

They were cruel and brave and dumb and brilliant.

They prayed to wind and sand

sunlight and lightning

gods with alligator heads

cat-headed saviors

and snakes that swallow the moon.

 

You could say 

that we now have it backwards

Innocent

but not pure

living our lives

with the essentials erased

replaced with distractions

that signify nothing 

but consume the world. 

 

Our gods are not based on animals anymore.

***

The early poets

worked without forms.

They used words like crude tools,

spears and hammers.

 

Imagine!

The courage it took

to write with no audience

and no antecedent

just the roar of imagination

against the tribal fears. 

 

When you read this

if you make it to the end

if you survive the pretensions

the droll anti-ironic ironies

the historical flim flammery

I hope

that in some bizarre way

the voice you hear 

when reading these words

is now your own.

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