My sister Beatrice, who died of cancer just after her fortieth birthday, was a cosmologist obsessed with her high-level work. She once told me she felt she’d become a special animal that couldn’t live far from the limited sources of its diet. Also that she belonged to a gregarious species of which there were very few specimens left. I was not one of them, though we were deeply attached to each other and I have missed her now for thirty years. As far as diet is concerned I’m not like her; my nourishment has come from a wide variety of contacts. I have sometimes wondered where the rest of my species has disappeared to, especially the male members of it. But there are perhaps still more poets than cosmologists (I mean poets to whom poetry is their connection to the world; of the superficial kind there are legions), and I’ve been lucky enough to know quite a number of them, in several countries.
Which doesn’t mean that I haven’t spent a large part of my life isolated in my concerns. Becoming fascinated with India and then Buddhism didn’t help my adaptation to Venezuela, and European friends tended not to be interested in South America. The synthesis – or just blend perhaps – I was trying to reach of poetic, reflective and political preoccupations was not one I could share whole with anyone. I accepted that a long time ago, and I’m happy when I can share bits of it.
If it seems that in this record I’ve left behind my focus on earth in favor of religion, I want to make it clear that in reality it isn’t so. The gods for me, as I’ve tried to say before, are children of earth, as is our human mind that fathers them. Even the light, the image of the spirit, belongs in our experience to earth; we’re aware of it from our place on earth’s surface or not far above. Gods and goddesses pattern experiences, crystallize essences of emotion and vision, give form and direction to our reactions to living, so that even in misery some meaning remains to us. We don’t need to possess them and they travel with us. I’ve been fascinated by their varieties and the intensity of intuition they can inspire. But I still spend more time in the garden, in the mountains, beside water, than contemplating sacred images. The gods are extensions of nature and I always come to rest – or creative unrest – in the source.
Is Lacan’s ‘not-all’ an equivalent of paradise or nirvana, the object of desire beyond all particular desires, and the will toward it the reason why human beings must always feel incomplete? If so, it’s a sad version, which brings the seeker or desirer to the border of a desert covered in fog, or to change the image (and the tone of the experience) leads to a collision with a wall of bleeding flesh and puffy organs.
Surely it’s better to imagine with all the power of mind a place (or non-place) where the germs of an infinite number of possibilities are hidden inside nascent light.
And the working out in the material world of possibilities that haven’t yet been tried.
There are no answers to the questions these thoughts imply about the human future, but individual death is a real and certain limitation, and at my age I’m obliged to be aware of it. I have to take note of the symptoms of aging, of their erosive effect as well as a compensatory opening out of the intuitive dimension where images become knowledge. And I have to think from time to time about the end of the process, so as to die as well as possible.
Landslides and Other Disasters
Getting old is a series of small
earthquakes, surfaces caving in,
ground that seemed solid uncovering
the hollows below.
Convictions we lived by,
patterns that contained us,
configurations projected on to a future
after all not limitless,
break away and desert us.
Some slough off easily,
others hurt like loose teeth pushed by the tongue;
the dream of love is a tooth
as big as a tree
when it’s torn up by the roots.
If we get impatient
and try to peel off a flap of torn skin
or a scab, before it’s ready,
the illusion of success still raw,
But mostly it happens by itself,
the tissue that binds the structure
of a life – the urge to explore the whole world,
perhaps, or the pride of caste –
loosens and the mind falls flat.
The solstices lose their values
or exchange them – we prefer darkness,
look forward to eclipse
and begin to find our own answer
to the puzzle of what’s beyond grammar,
swirling grey miasma
or champagne nirvana seething
with possible universes.
An Old Woman is Full of Poison
An old woman is full of poison,
her words multiply like rogue cells,
pellets of strychnine,
drops of bitter almond;
she says far more, worse, than she means too
and others are appalled.
They wish her dumb or dead.
She’s drowning in her own juices –
on the outside they stink
in her hollows
and inside the flood oozes
swilling like dirty water
in a cracked well,
numbing her organs.
Her memory is a rotting stew;
fragments of her life’s chapters float there,
insults and betrayals and disappointments
swamping happier pictures,
and pieces of other bodies,
like limp or foully dripping penises.
She craves for sweeter flesh.
In the mirror she sees what others see,
respectable, pitiable perhaps,
no longer a player, certainly
with all those wrinkles, fold, flaps,
creases where lipstick smudges.
Poisonous is better than pathetic, she thinks
suddenly and knows it’s all a mistake.
Gold amphibious creatures
float up from her black depths
seeking the sky through her eyes.
She walks with them under trees
and through streets swarming with mystery
and a rain of heavy light
holds time prisoner on her borders.
A life, in brief
Cells form clots,
a pulse starts quickening
like a jolt in an electric eel.
The curled body is forced
through a quivering mangle,
then stunned by light.
Blood veils dissolve. Slowly
rays in the surrounding void
swirl into shapes: blue curtain,
green dress, white buttons,
red and yellow beads.
The world has a surface.
A puppy to grow up with,
container for the love
that sprouts as its ears stand up,
swells through games and punishments,
overflows the little body.
Adulthood: the knot
made of the collision of will
with intractable objects,
even the kindest will
with ethereal objects;
the progress of the knot
Responsibility is a harsh word.
Passion comes in fierce waves
from the bottom of a windless sea.
The heart no longer recognizes
its limits, thinks of prowlers
in dwindling forest: won’t desire
condense behind their eyes
and waken sight?
They could relieve our fall.
Dreams night after night,
in daytime too, of red flowers,
bulging peonies, precise gerberas,
deep lilies, till one night
the red flowers embedded
in the dream flesh detach
slowly to fall into the surrounding
void followed by all other
shapes in dissolving colors
and the pure rays rush after them,
the void is sealed.
But I’m not there yet. I am in fact quite strong. I live alone with three dogs and a cat, in a house on a hillside on the edge of a city, with a piece of land behind it that the trees I planted twenty years ago have made into a forest. I have a rose garden and many orange trees, and enough coffee bushes to provide for myself and family. My grandchildren visit me. I watch the shanties creeping up the hillside toward my house, and I know my peace here can’t last, but since it’s difficult for the poor in this country to get even the tin sheets to build a shack, it’s not happening too fast. Beyond that, I watch the country falling apart and wonder – among other questions – if my pension will go on being paid. I frequently (like all my friends) ask myself if I should try to escape, but stability and quiet have never been my priorities, and in Venezuela there is still a freedom amid disorder, and a spontaneity and human warmth, that make up for a lot of worry and discomfort. And today the sun is out, and the trees are shining, and here I am.