POWERS OF THE THRESHOLD

My working title for this ‘book’ was ‘Fragments of a Study of the Emotions’. I’m still not happy with the title I have, but I haven’t found one that does justice to the subject.

The book has two parts, ‘The Mothers’ and ‘The Fathers’. My idea is that the European-Mediterranean Mother Goddess myth represents, in the story of the Hero who is born, loves and is sacrificed, a ‘feminine’ cycle of emotions from hope to passion to horror to acceptance, including many shades of happiness and sadness, while in the Indian list of emotions, or rasas, on which ancient Hindu aesthetic theory was based, we find a more ‘masculine’ interpretation of these forces that form the bridge between our animal nature and our conscious experience. I have personified the rasas as ‘Little Gods’, which is not part of the Indian theory. My version of the Mother myth comes from more sources than I can remember.

 

POWERS OF THE THRESHOLD

Sometimes the wall between
our muddled daily feelings
and their ancient sources
becomes transparent and we see
a realm of lords and ladies
performing patterned rites
under a twilit dome
that is not quite the sky

and if we enter there
before the show dissolves
we glimpse how they’re shaped
out of our blood and nerves

and strive to become dream
and crystallize or merge.
We taste their yearning
and their piercing joy.

 

1 -  THE MOTHERS

 

THE UNENDING STORY

At any street corner
he steps across lightly,
swinging a camera or laptop computer
like a ball in the game he plays,
wholly contained in the moment;
and She, standing on the other side
her flames hidden behind dark glasses
chooses him lovingly,
condemns him implacably.

 

SEEING THE SON’S FACE

A lifetime’s labour pains
may at last expel into space
the figure of the hero
fighting the harness of his manhood
or more rarely the dancer
- the rare gift of the sky -
fine-robed and haughty
perfect in compassionate grace
marking the steps to the centre
on earth and in all worlds
contingent without limit.

 

SEASON I: CANDLEMAS

The light never dies in the bowels
of earth; the mother light won’t die;
all through the winter it watches in the shadows,
incubating the seeds, nourishing the child.

Today the light returns to our fields,
tiny spears of flowers prick the soil
from inside and raise limpid flames.

From the cave She appears, pale and perfect,
shining like the pure white candles
on her crown.

Look at her now,
young and eternal,
beautiful as a sliver of moon,
and whoever dares, touch
the fire in the pristine font
of her truth.
He’ll be her captive poet,
the sacred fool in her game.

Dance

Cauldron’s seething,
She is mistress,
all renewing -
ho ho ho
carne vale carne
ho

Sap is running,
wine arousing
heartbeat racing
ho ho ho
carne vale carne
ho

Veins are molten,
navel beaming,
desire is heaven
ho ho ho
carne vale carne
ho

Witches

The Candlemas wind
brings round the shreds
of consummated years;
washed in the sky
they dress the child setting out
on the heroes’ path,
costume of his innocence.

Now he’s trying some steps,
playing with stellar sparks,
a happy cub.

Play, child,
enjoy your white moment;
soon enough you’ll discover
the abyss of your fate.
We women have seen it;
we assent to it for you.
The stars watch themselves in our tears.
Play now.

 

SEASON II: EASTER

 

Birds celebrate her
and offer her their eggs;
She blesses the nests,
fondles their soft warmth.
Buds that are trodden
by her little girl’s feet
lift their heads and open wide.
All furry creatures,
mice and deer and rabbits,
come to the virgin mother
to be petted.

Enter the hero, he’s tender,
his horns are small and mossy,
his pale eyes overflowing
with early dawn light.
On tiptoe he approaches the girl;
she turns and beckons
to the witches of the woods.

Witches

Zit zit zit
I catch you in my lasso
fresh vine lasso

Zit zit zit
I block you with my baton
thorny green baton

Zit zit zit
I scare you with my talons,
snare you in my tresses.

Zit to the left
Zit to the right
you’re going to fall in the circle

 

Hero

I’m on my knees, surrounded
because you will it, Girl.
I look and you’re growing,
as tall as the forest,
as tall as the hill,
and your arms light up the sky.
Golden fruits are falling
from your blazing branches.
A ray pierces me
from the heart of the light
and I surrender -

I surrender.

 

SEASON III: MAY

 

Witches

She bursts the chrysalis of her purity
and sets free the red flesh
of passionate deity -
dense baked clay
dewy rose petal -

terrifying newborn,
give her time to try her gestures
and taste her language made
of little drops of blood,
to know she’s beautiful.

Then we’ll put down our spears,
and stop pretending to guard her -
the will of that flesh
can’t be denied.

 

Hero

Run witches,
it’s my turn to chase you,
my body is bristling
with rays.

Chiselled nut
they forged me on earth
with curls at my wrists
and horns.

Dance with me,
we’ll make the forest shake
and all the flowers of May
burst out.

Call Her too,
let her be swift and wild,
with one jump my hand
will grasp her.

 

The people

The sun has spread a golden day for us,
the happy earth has caught it in her cups,
orchards and flower gardens drip with gems
and birds are somersaulting in the air.

The bold young man has won the lady’s grace,
she blazes as she promises her love,
no word can shape between his trembling lips,
they join their hands to seal the solemn vow.

In chorus we acclaim the mystery,
the young year celebrating his betrothal,
our coloured ribbons weaving as we dance
the pattern of his foregone destiny.

 

SEASON IV: SUMMER SOLSTICE

 

The night is throbbing,
the table laden
with fruits and flowers,
plates are gleaming,
cups overflowing,
the witches laughing,
their mantles glowing
redder than the bonfires
surrounding the feast,
crackle of firewheels
bursts out on the hills.

The Hero jumps into the circle,
impetuous and aroused,
he empties the cups
one after the other
and takes his place at the side
of the Queen.

 

Witches

Look how happily
puffed up and blushing
he claims the bride’s
embrace,
how unhesitatingly he plunges
into the crater of her breast.

Joyfully, she
returns his deep glances,
her body proclaims their mutual
conflagration.

Time is suspended
in its turning in full sunlight
while the marriage is consummated.

Only we women remember
tears and ashes
knives that wait.
The radiant-limbed sky
the rolling cloth of earth
kiss and annul their rift.

The jet of ambrosia pierces
all sensitive pores
toward the germs of life.

Now the harvest is sown.
Our planet is
sustained in flight
by leavening of desire.

All that grows
speaks or flowers
is fed by the flow

of Her erotic power.

 

 

SEASON V: AUGUST

 

Hero

Slowly the sun ripens,
the days spill ardours
on earth and in the sky.

I who am chosen
persist like a live ember
in the oven that she is.

Her fruits are my own toys -
catch! a strawberry for you
and for you an orange! -
the favourite is dispensing gifts
by evening light…

 

 Witches

Listen, you playful boy,
for you there can be no peace:
the sun begins to wane
and you sink with him.

Have you seen her today,
your lady incarnadine?
She’s changed her dress again
to drab crow black.

You’re turning pale -
so what were you expecting?
Suddenly the chasm opens
at your feet.

 

Witches

tick
run run
tock
amongst the stubble
tick tock
now you can’t jump
so high

tick
laugh laugh
tock
pretend to be happy
tick tock
the sweet juices
are poisoning you

tick
my sickle catches you
tock
shaves off your rays
tick tock
slashes you from chest
to phallus

tick
I shake you
tock
scatter your seed
tick tock
so you pay earth
for your pleasure

 

 

SEASON VI: AUTUMNAL SOLSTICE

 

Hero

Why have you rejected me?
In all the golden ripeness
only I am parched and sad;
shadow among the fat fruits,
I weep my downfall.
I never meant to offend you,
when I bragged and boasted
the glory was all yours,
as yours are the riches
overflowing your table,
offerings to the giver.

But why to me the pomegranate,
underworld food,
that your firm hand is holding?

 

Witches

Between long shadows
as evening falls
She opens her mantle.

Brilliant silver,
she illumines twilight
dazzling us.

We witches kneel
before her splendour,
the fallen hero

wakes from his torment
remembers his promise,
‘to you I surrender’.

His loving eyes shine,
the air supporting him shines,
the axe in Her hand is shining.

 

Witches

The double blade
cuts off his head
hacks him to pieces
sows him in the field.

Go seed!
Renew the pact
with the darkness.
From the small speck you are
creation will unfold.

 

The people

Our brave young man is dead,
savagely they felled him
celebrating the harvest.

He was mischievous and friendly,
he was very much in love,
the mistress has taken him.

We’ll pick up his limbs
and lay him in the cave
and cleanse with our tears
the pain of his short life.

 

 

SEASON VII: HALLOWEEN
The people

Son who died when your time came,
cut down with the corn and the grape
to fecundate earth with your blood,
wake tonight one last time.
Sap of roots in the cave
flow in your veins,
lime from droppings on the floor
prop up your bones,
threads you borrow from spiders
pull your limbs,
light forgive you your blindness:
we invite you to share our feast.

 

The people

Bless us with your hands
that have touched the last wall;
bless us with your mouth
that no longer eats our bread;
bless us with your eyes
that watch us with such loving sadness.

You died for us
and we’re dancing,
you gave up speech for us
and we’re shouting,
you ask us for nothing,
nothing is what we give you
except an instant’s thought
while we forget
so we can live.

Witch

On my white horse
I carry you back to the grave.
I place you on the stone
and pull your feet.
I reward you with silence
I reward you with rest.

The dark tide rises,
the whirlpool of bottomless
night gapes wide,
I deliver you to its jaws.

SEASON VIII: WINTER SOLSTICE
A finger of light from the dying sun
has penetrated to the nuclear stone
in the earth womb

and the year has turned.

Now the sun begins to ascend,
and the fecund germs to swell,
the Child is constellated in the hidden fires.

The light that inhabits the depths
overflows tonight into the sky,
stars rain down to meet it
and angels hover joyfully
renewing their lustre
in the silver fount of the abyss.

 

The people

Dear little Child
just born
warm your tiny feet
on our hearts.

Little star child
you are hope,
rest your sweet sparkle
in Mother’s breast.

 

The jealous shadows
surround the Child again
dimming his delicate light:
nothingness is fighting
against being, to bury it
in the wreckage of the future.
But the Child resists.
Under his clear skin the blood beats
loaded with germs of stars
and the Child stands,
lifts the torches of his hands,
confronts his shadow twin
and shatters him on the brink of the world.
Then he smiles.

 

The people

The Queen is crossing the sky
like a slow comet
holding the Child by the hand.
See him, she says, victorious at the beginning;
praise my small warrior.

Let’s sing in chorus
praise to the shining Child
and the Goddess who bears him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 – THE FATHERS

 

 

THE LITTLE GODS

 

They stand there
solid in the corner of my dreaming eye
but if I turn to look at them
they’re reduced suddenly to hieroglyphs,
a semicircle of bare trees
with free-floating brass breastplates
and humpbacks and snouts and flower emblems
in the air around them
and bouncing bubbles or reptile eggs
where their spawn are shaping
or their withered ancestors receding
into a gaseous past.

What do they want with me?
- all male besides, loud-voiced and smelling
of body fluids.
Don’t they know I favour woman’s
ordered dance through the seasons,
her tenderness to the fallen hero,
her faith in the seeds swelling in the dark?

Don’t they know I know they’re backward,
brash, crude, loud, too tall and intrusive,
ignorant of psychology, compassion and political
correctness
and should have been dismissed
centuries ago?

It’s no use – they insist.

My Lords Emotions, I’m with you.

 

 

POTENTATE I: EROTIC LOVE

 

Letter to an ancient god

 

Dear Sringa,

It’s not long since I learnt your name.

Insects are milling in the evening air,
baby whirlwinds rise from the dusty paths
and leaves share the last tremors of sunlight.

I’m writing to you on impulse
because you’re so beautiful,
as once I would have addressed Krishna or even Shiva,
wondering who I’m blaspheming against.

They say you’re straight as a fresh spear
supple as a cat and old as the scent of earth;
the light from your horns and tusks
glows on your mahogany dark skin.

On the roof in front of me is a white pigeon -
she has no mate either.
Can we ask you for lovers with encompassing wings?
Do you deal only in bodies of flesh and earth,
or manage elaborate games of hide and seek?
Or do you want to be worshipped,
only you as god and master
and only your reflection in other faces?

The sun is going down now
in a dark red whirlpool between clouds,
the flames of hell
or the burning mansion of desire.

Is this your answer?

 

Chestnut

Love -

even if this is not love
even if you’re not you
but the shell of a shiny god
I’m trying to crack

when I see you
all my body’s cells tremble
remembering how they were shot
by your sweet juices
from crux to toenails
to third eye

and if it’s still not love
then even so

I love you.

 

Surrender

I wanted to live once;
the city quivering with power by day,
and not dark at night, but crawling with half-lights,
markets for desire on all the corners
and love only a key’s turn away,
was all the dream I needed.

When I met you
all my orifices were open like sea anemones
in the tides of Eros
and you filled them all.

We were alive, no one could have been more alive.
Now it seems that I live and you are dying.
I should have forced you to take me with you.

And when the time comes
and they’ve put you away in an oxygen tent
out of my arms’ reach,
I’ll be closed like a stone against the city and the world,
crumbling inside, streaming, howling into the sweet
putrefying dark:
it’s too much, I give up, I give up…

And who will accept my surrender?

 

 

PHILOSOPHICAL POEMS

 

Original yearning

Lucifer’s fall is time’s arrow
opening the desolate abyss
between quick flesh and stone death.
We mourn our lost darkness.

The love that moves the sun and other stars
- the still wellspring -
is a nuclear orgasm’s distance away
from our loneliness.

 

Hero To End Heroes:
Lucifer again.

Lucifer is not Oedipus,
it was not the father he betrayed;
he broke the mother’s peaceful order
when he fell, and yet remained
her intimate and ally.

There’s no heroic progress without the rift;
and no return to joyful copulation
under the dome of many-coloured glass
unless the furnace of his wings

overtakes the frigid cities
built by usurping men
on the shore of the abyss
and plunges them in chaos.

POTENTATE II: HEROIC VALOUR

 

A History

Arjuna questioned God
facing the battle-field.
God said take aim and shoot,
be like the arm you wield
and know why you were made.

And faithful Karna, strong
as elephant or hill,
blazed with the sun’s own fire
his body-littered trail,
a sacrifice to fate.

The fallen hero lies
upon a couch of arrows
while hard men’s tears rain;
the blood flows down the years
tainted by treachery

and arrogance and greed,
and with it courage drains
and selflessness from the warrior’s heart;
his lines of force go slack
and shadows hide his right.

The hero’s body flaps
like dry stalks in the wind -
no one can wear this armour.
But we see his ghost and cry,
the echo makes us cry.

 

To the Hero

You were the son that left us,
growing from a slender, beautiful young man,
light on his feet,
poised, with the world axis at his navel,
into a lumpish, barrel-chested brute
whose weight warped the sky.

You’ve had your moments.
You’ve been sentinel, defender
against vandals and violators,
you acquired a sort of glamour that we liked
and some of us still go picking gleams
where chance sows them:
a forearm, an eyebrow, a tone of voice,
an occasional exploit.

But at heart we’ve had enough of you.
Our trust drained away over the centuries
as you left us to weep beside graves and empty beds
and lost the difference between duty and cruelty.

We miss men, oh yes -
but your hollow shell can’t win us
nor any of the guises
you’re trying on as substitutes
for what you meant
and what we meant you to mean.

You’re just a bundle of swear words.

 

 

POTENTATE III: DISGUST

 

Who is he?

He invites no devotion.
His bland flesh, white fish
or stale dough smells
of drains.

He looks down his nose,
twists his lip and eyebrow,
and hides his left hand
from the right.

He preaches thousands of rules
for avoiding pollution
and keeping the distance
of hate.

 

Fate

The wrinkles that deface the aged
and folds that sag toward the grave
and toothless gums and trembling limbs
disgust us and are not forgiven.

Old age is not forgiven.
Decrepitude is not forgiven.
Try again

Are you sad?
Have men been bad?
Try a roll
with the vegeta-bull.
Two steps forward
and one step back -
mine’s the hunchback.

The woebegone
are not alone -
a lame god spreads
his loamy chest.
Two steps forward
and one step back -
mine’s the hunchback.

 

Toad

The toad
has the misfortune
from a semiological point of view
of a slimy skin
with knobs on
and the bottomless bucket mouth
of a bloated braggart.

He’s probably quite happy.

 

 

POTENTATE IV: ANGER

 

Old god

You seem to be the tallest,
you lop off lazy limbs
and superfluous growth
and shoot straight up
with the red blood sizzling under your skin.

Yours is the other dance beat
at the cosmic festival,
the answer to our inertia,
your movements are glittering blades
that hack down
all that’s out of step or tune.

Beautiful as a vulture
you swallow our decay,
exact as a surgeon
pare away our cancers;
doing the work of death
you nurture life.

Wind

first perceived in extremities
wind screaming through boulders
whetted teeth of frost
fire surging in gusts
searing breath of deserts
summer’s and winter’s fiend
scorcher
howler
crippler with cold
sweeping panic wind -

letters of his name
form in ice and ashes

 

Wish

No more gods like Zeus or Jehovah
hurling thunderbolts at rebels;
we don’t want scrambled brains.

Anger is crystal clear
alertness against trespass,
a shaft of deadly white light
that burns out with its prey.

Brother of compassion,
grant us your grace.
The next table:

Frail child is brought dessert,
it’s not what he expected,
he fusses, slams his spoon;
burly father loses patience,
takes the boy by the head,
stuffs cake in his mouth;
the child spits and weeps;

the shine goes out of daylight.

How to get involved?
You can choke on anger.

 

 

POTENTATE V: HUMOR

Comic

His white teeth dazzle like gems,
or lightning-bolts over the crawling sea,
and he struts open-mouthed,
gushing roars of laughter when he’s prodded.

 

Problem of the object

i.

Is there an honest laughter
that doesn’t belong to the arena
of cat and mouse?
Only the belly guffaw that floods
the whole cosmic void?
ii

That god made me for a laughing-stock -
a dwarf, obese and camp to go on with,
I walk a banana peel without end
and still I don’t mean  to be a clown.

 

 

POTENTATE VI: TERROR

 

Always

He rises out of the darkness,
opens his dragon’s jaws
and swallows a heavenly body -

we tremble,
our hair stands on end,
we’ve known him always.

Footfalls sound on the sidewalk,
heavy paws in the undergrowth,
knife or fang sneaking up on us -

we tremble,
our innards turn to water,
we’ve known him always.

Suddeny silent the aircraft engine,
the valley waiting for earthquake;
he’s holding his breath -

we tremble,
our hearts are squeezed tight,
we’ve known him always.

Shadow

In this bland room
- beige carpet and cushions,
touches of dull blue –
time is confined to banks
without accidents.

At the bottom of a teacup,
in the shadow behind the TV
trapdoors wait to open
on a void taut with horror,
a soundless scream.

 

Moment

For a moment she pretends
the patches on the X-ray
are a defect of the film
but already she knows
and the doctor confirms
her body has turned against her
and she has no defence.

 

POTENTATE VII: COMPASSION

 

Maybe

You seem like someone different:
if I hear you rightly
between the screams of pain
you’re not crying for yourself
but for your neighbour’s affliction
and your tears
water a different devotion;

your sadness might contain
yearning for lost fusions,
sorrow for the brevity of being -

or are you also a conventional man?
Pity

Is this all?
this pile of bones under the white blanket,
this tiny slag-heap -

the softness of hair,
the sweet line of the side
already denied.

She holds back the shout
but her hands despair
twitching like wounded birds.

 

 

POTENTATE VIII: WONDER

 

Maker

He treads heavily in the sky
and the deep bells ring out;
if he mixes light and shade
elves and ghosts go dancing.

Owls’ eyes and orchids,
stripes on tigers and marble,
are his handicrafts;
revealed, he’s tower of lightnings.

 

Sight

Every time sight discovers itself,
in new eyes in a cradle,
hypnotised by campfire,
stripped clear by fright,
he is incarnated.

 

Los Rastrojos

Veils of mist stream down
from the stony ridges and each
droplet bursts its clarity
on the tight-packed earth.

By chestnut horse light
and clay wall light
the seeds grow.

 

 

THE OPEN QUESTION

 

 Shanti

A ninth figure hovers,
willing to be counted,
not in the same rank,

neither man nor woman,
wrapped in a grey cloak
woven of all colours,
above and further,
yet at the core shining
before the juices spin –
sentient peace.

 

 

 

 

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