Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Thursday, May 07, 2009


No poem this time to give me the excuse of calling my essay "notes." I just want to describe a recent experience.

I was sitting in a library near a window, reading. In the corner of my eye, I caught something shiny (metal?) in the grass outside. I stared at it. The gleam came and went, seemed less metalic. I kept looking, finally saw it, just a small square of whitish paper, leaning on grassblades, wobbling in the faint breeze, which shifted it so that, from time to time, it caught and reflected a sun beam.

I did all this looking without thinking, but intently. I didn't really have the thought "I'm looking to see what's shining in the grass" until I was mildly surprised to find it was just a bit of paper, but by that time I'd drifted into a state of deep relaxation. It seems that in order to perceive at that distance that what I was seeing was a scrap of paper, I'd had to "let go" and give my perceptions full sway, and having achieved that state (where, without focus on the shiny spot, I could see what it was), I just sat there and continued to let what was in front of me fill my eyes.

What did I see? A few birds (starlings, I think, four of them) rise from the grass to a tree. Various bugs flitting. Grass blades shifting. A car driving out of the lot, a person moving down a path....

And it was fascinating. I felt no urge to move or look away or to do anything else ever again. That is, I felt I could sit there looking at the motions and comings and goings of the scene in front of me (not Grand Canyon or the Pacific, just lawn, some trees, some parking-lot asphalt) -- sit there forever and continue to find it interesting. Every motion created space, right there in front of me. Things could move in or away or to one side or any combo of these. Everything was moving. And for some reason or no reason, it was INTERESTING!

Space and time and things were interesting. Isn't that interesting! And I knew (and know still) that there was no limit to this interest. After all, it's MY interest. I create it.

I did not decide to continue to sit in that chair and stare at the scene forever, or until at closing time, someone had me carted away to a mental hospital. But the knowledge that I'd have been happy with no more than my little theater of space, time and motions, that I needed nothing more for myself (I don't speak of the body's needs) left me free, incredibly free.

After all, the usual view of entrapment is the Eastern notion that we are caught up in the wheel of events/time/illusion by desire, a flame that enfolds and consumes us. I don't know that I escaped desire. I have no desire to be without desire. But I learned that I could dispense with it. I learned that I could find all the joy I wanted in myself.

Of course, I was taking great pleasure in the bare bones of the physical universe, all the little happenings among blades of grass. But these props were so minimal that I could easily sense myself as the source of my pleasure and interest. I was palpably extending over the scene my own admiration, like a second and subtler sun light.

So I became free from desire, free to have or not have it, for desire is easy to let go of when you know how much you can create, how little you need.

(But it's still hard to resist a two-for-the-price-of-one sale on Ben and Jerry's ice cream. Me ye have yet for a little while! Or, speaking as a tricky poet, for a little wile.)


The Art of the Fugue

If all the world except the two of us
lying in this bed were suddenly to disappear --

and it did --

then the power of our suddenly unfettered

(Look at us! We are the center of
creation, our love the seed
crystal, in thunder our bodies
cracking out "Let there be light! Planets!
Creatures!"--eyes seeing in eyes

(or only the idea of eyes, all
that remains of us until we
put back the rest)

what we have made, that it is good, and
there was evening and there was morning, the
next day, lying late, lolling in the vast
smiling space we have made, making
leisurely additions (the bed, sheets,
wallpaper, a ghostly shaft of sunlight,
bird whistles, cluttery airplane noise,
the dog's tongue hot on my cheek) to our dream,
knowing a world that once seemed to be
disappeared last night, but that by the time

(let there be time
(again?)) --

by the time we leave the room
we have made, the suddenly unfettered
fecundity of our dreams

(and who can say if anything
has changed, since we, both makers
and seers, are changed

(though it seems
we've been this forever),

making and seeing the old
newly when we put it back?)

will have put it all back)

would put it all back.

Notes: I've had this experience, for example, lying in bed with someone, looking at one another, having everything but the other person's eyes vanish, having her perceive that same vanishment, having the world reappear, having it feel as though we were putting it back, having present time thereafter seem (for a time) a continual instant re-creation, in-the-beginning being always now.

The form of the poem is a fuguing of "If all the world..." and the fact of it happening, subjunctive (if) and declarative (and it did). This is, among other things, my attempt to convey the stuttery quality time takes on when one is half in it and half outside time. I get that feeling of being exterior to time when I listen closely to a complex Bach fugue and try to track all the melodies at once and, suddenly, am just there, containing them all. I've had a similar experience (though more spatial than temporal) when, looking at trees or grass, I let myself become aware of all the tiny motions that fill my visual field, all the breeze-twitched leaves and grass blades, and at some point I seem to overflow my visual field and to contain my entire body inside a much larger space that I fill up. Once, for a very long instant, I became the entire sky.

[I mean this literally. I experienced it with at least as much reality as ever I've experienced being a body named Dean Blehert.]

I've written elsewhere about time stuttering (now now now) and compared it to old movies where the heroine is tied to the train tracks or to the path of a rotary saw, and we see the train coming, the heroine screaming, the hero galloping, then the train coming again, but it seems to have lost ground and be coming over the same space again. That has happened to me with time: I've seen it stumble, falter,go back slightly and repeat. Or so it seemed, always when I felt on the verge of putting time there myself. Or perhaps of living in my own time and sensing how the agreed-upon time was and was not MY time.

After all, there are many nows. Now you are reading this. Now I am writing this. Are these the same "now." Now two of you are reading this, but for one of you, it "is" 2009, and for the other, it is 2012! Into what incredible tangles we weave time!

The poem assumes (as I do) that mastery of time (which implies prediction) is also mastery of creation, or step towards it. When I can predict something, I am close to understanding it well enough to cause it (create an effect). As a baby, perhaps, not sure yet what this body was or that I owned it, I would lie there, wiggling my feet in the air. I'd observe this, and gradually associate the motions of my feet with specific impulses (intentions) of my own. At first, I'd simply notice I could predict when my foot would move. But at some point I'd take responsibility for that motion, extend myself to own it, to call it my own, and then I'd be able to decide to move or not move that foot.

Similarly, if one pays a very focused attention to what one is looking at, things may begin to vanish and return. One simply observes this at first (perhaps with shock or dismay, perhaps just curiosity), then begins to be able to predict it, then to cause it, at which point one has become, if not a creator, then a co-creator of the physical universe. What PRESUMPTION! Maybe. I'd call it an observation.

By the way, the words "seeing...that it was good, and there was evening, and there was morning" allude to similar phrasing in the Book of Genesis concerning creation.
Well, let there be...an end to this note.


Shhhhh! Or Else!

The soot-grayed lions of the New York Public Library
look snooty, their noses serenely arched,
their eyes deigning to be vaguely aware
of what goes on beneath their line
of stoned vision.

Symbols of wisdom? Or perhaps
guarding wisdom from our
voracious stupidity.

In any case, symbols, solid ones,
much in demand among those
who pore over insubstantial symbols
like these.

If you spend enough time with printed words,
they begin to seem to speak loudly,
but really they are so soft that a nearby whisper
drowns them out, exposes their silence,
shattering scholarly illusions and evoking
real roars that only one newly arrived
hears as soft, abrupt hisses.

Perhaps the lions represent the proud rage
pent up by disturbed scholars, who can only say
"Shush" and wring their eyebrows meaningfully.

Readers are like animal lovers, proud
that cats and dogs come to them and rub
against their legs. We are proud that books
talk to us. "See, Homer must like you.
He won't talk to everyone." A voice
in the library's noisy hush silences
our books. We fear they will not speak to us
again. We are furious.

We protect our libraries
with lions, each dangling a huge forepaw
over the edge, each relaxed, but formidable,
ready to defend with relentless silence
the gentler silence in which books
can be heard.

Notes: One day (I think as a teen), while reading, I realized that when I read, silently, I heard the words. I didn't hear them literally, with full audio perceptics, but I felt someone was talking to me. I felt the books had voices.

It's hard for me to articulate how this did and did not resemble an actual voice. (And one must make such distinctions, because people who "really hear voices" are often forced to take lethal medications, for some reason.) One way to put it is that while I didn't hear an actual voice, I'd instantly react with rejection if someone read the same text aloud to me in a "wrong" voice.

There's hearing and then there's hearing. When I was about 11 years old, I heard my voice on a tape recorder, and couldn't believe it. It was a child's voice (my body's voice hadn't changed yet). I grew up with radio, no TV until age 10. On the radio, people (that is adults) had deep voices. Occasionally there'd be a child on a show, and the child's shrill voice struck me as odd. Somehow, for eleven years, I imagined my own voice was not a child's voice. I didn't hear my own voice. I heard a far deeper voice, like an adult's.

Once when my Dad was talking angrily to my Mom, thinking to defend her, I (about 4 years old) yelled at him as loud as I could, and heard myself as having a voice much like his own, full and resonant. (Fortunately, my parents chose to find this laughable, and I lived to tell about it.) When we were kids, pretending to be adults, we would deepen our voices and hear them as deep, though a recording would have exposed them as the voices of small children one or two notes lowered in pitch.

Certainly when I was little, I could hear my own voice. I even remember some of the things I said. But I didn't hear it the way the tape machine did.

And when I read silently, the voice I gave the books I read (you might say, my own mental voice) was far deeper and more resonant than my own speaking voice. But different authors had different voices and different characters had different voices. Again, this becomes obvious to anyone who hears a work he's only read done aloud by others, whereupon he instantly recognizes which voices are "right" and which are "wrong."

(I suspect when one speed-reads, our internal voices lag behind the finger that sweeps down the page, poor breathless voices.)

In my library poem, I represent this ability (that comes with reading) to hear books talk to us as something odd, like the ability of the boy in the movie "The Sixth Sense": "I see dead people." Since many books are, indeed, the voices of dead people, that similarity is strengthened. Books are one way the dead are alive, and sometimes (for example, with most text books and way too many books of poetry) the way the live are deadened--both writers and readers.

Communication is lifeblood to the spirit. It's what all our games consist of. We grow starved for live communication--for example, real people saying real things to us. Books can be considered a desperate solution to the lack of live communication in our lives. Or, more positively, we can say that some of us have the gift to enjoy live communication from books, so that our lives are rich in communication--and perhaps when we read, the communication is two-way, the authors somehow getting our responses, our contributions to the worlds they create in their books. I know that when (as now) I feel I'm speaking to readers, I also feel I'm receiving something back from those readers. (And, if my work lasts, some of them may not be born yet--at least not born into the bodies that will read [are reading] this paragraph.

Why is silence enforced in libraries? Why are noises so distracting (to those who have not been raised in homes with lots of noisy younger siblings and quarreling parents and have not learned to study with the TV on and various arguments going on overhead and underfoot)? The poem proposes, fancifully (or do I believe it?) that when people in a library are reading, they are "hearing" the book, but not really, as I grew up "hearing" my childish voice, but not really. When someone nearby talks or even whispers in a "real" voice or even sets a book down too heavily, making a "real" noise, the "merely imaginary" voices and gun shots and screams of books are exposed as phonies, even the deep, cavernous tones of the classics being less than the tiny tinny hum of a mosquito when compared to whispers from across the library table. The readers feel as I did, hearing my "real" eleven-year-old voice on the tape-recorder: They reject it. That's not the real voice of the books!

And they reject the distractions that expose their internal voices as tiny things.

Quite rightly, too. Our loudest screams and strongest laughter, our most eloquent perorations are often (to others) inaudible. But they are huge. We live in them. It's a matter of convention, like considering something bad manners or good manners, that we grant to the sounds everyone hears the bigness and loudness that makes them a distraction. When I was eleven, the voice on the tape recorder was wrong. I had my own voice. Can you hear it here? For it is here that I lay claim to my own voice--and to yours.