Poem: Joey The Underwater Milkman

 

octotot

After years of being a milkman,

 

Joey decided to become an octopus.

 

He studied them as much as he could.

 

 In the delirium preceding the slitting of his throat,

 

Octopi were his thoughts’ sole focus

 

 

 

In the following murkiness, the dark hours

 

Of draining blood, the growing schism

 

Between spirit and body, Joey’s essence poured

 

Itself back into the world, rewaking, couchant,

 

Before the throne of Jove, who, diving his soul’s purpose,

 

Cast him deeper into the sea’s foams

 

 

 

Then all was a chamber of blue,

 

Procreant from a shuddering shell,

 

He left his egg, fragile doorway of the world,

 

His hard, horny beak breaking through its bonds,

 

To clack into infinity

 

 

 

Not bird, nor fish, nor snail enlarged,

 

His thoughts expressed themselves

 

In the billows and contraries of undulant body,

 

Not a recoil, nor the spilling of crimson ink,

 

But a net, a hunter, a capturer, an acrobat

 

Hunger-governed

 

 

 

He danced with polymorphic agility through this matrix

 

Of ocean, seaweed-silhouetted, peeping beadily through

 

Shoal vistas, circumspect, puncturer of any thought,

 

Listen to his mind: the crunch of soft-tissue and bones

 

 

 

Concealed in pebbles,

 

Minareted in sands,

 

Perched on the brink of sub-aqueous cliffs,

 

Waiting, searching, fin-tasting and charged,

 

A maze of motion, of unwritten currents,

 

Jet-propelled prism refracting muddied

 

Fragments of stealth

 

 

 

II.

 

But then days arabesqued into more than just

 

Stealth-lined shadows – of prying life-pryer:

 

 

 

The coral was coloured too harshly,

 

Dizzying his mind into unwelcome mazes:

 

What if there is more to being an octopus

 

Than being an octopus?

 

 

 

“There is,” unthroated strangeness confirmed,

 

“For all things stretch back to and emanate

 

From the centre. All things lead to where

 

Your tentacles are going, your thoughts

 

Disappear in discoloured ink.”

 

 

 

And he was a kid again, at the fireside,

 

Hearing his father wax lyrical on the delivery of fresh milk:

 

 

 

“At the centre of the ocean is an octopus bigger than all of this –

 

His far-reaching arms balance the eight directions,

 

Juggling the five elements,

 

His ink is the blackness settling the night,

 

His eyes the flash fire of ineluctable day.

 

 

 

“He Is the reason your Father dies after ejaculation,

 

And your mother a sack of eggs serrated by self-slaughter!”

 

 

 

“But why must I be so?

 

An eight-armed orphan to the world?”

 

 

 

And Joey remembered the seasons of his father’s woe,

 

The dread certainties manhood would make him mate.

 

He knew of no more earthly love than this.

 

 

 

So he cried into the ocean,

 

Neither man nor mollusc,

 

Just a net adrift, conundrum-captured,

 

Hunting and roaming,

 

While throats, still slit, dribble reality into the sink,

 

As The Baboon God beats out his own brains.

 

 

 

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Poem: Dance By Candlelight

jacob-s-dream-1639

Dance by candlelight,
Though it took us a long while to get here,
Circumambulating the sacred mountain, tolling
The bells of raven’s calls, kestrels hovering as
Though suspended on strings as we this spiny
Ridgeway walk, over outcrops of sandstone,
Forests teetering precipitous on the lips of
Landslides. Pipits leaping out of gorse and
Heath to be personified as leopard-print
Mushrooms rising out of rotting timber,
Lichen caking everything in the ancestry
Of crystal pure air

But we never discovered the mystery of the stolen wood,
Hot-air balloons rising horizonwards. We drove through
The Valleys, slag heaps, stone bursts, and the chill air of
Keeper’s Pond, to see bridges half-constructed in mid-air,
Built by cranes pushing their hands through the roots of
Clouds – buildings burned out – buildings abandoned –
Stray cats housed, and rockeries unvisited by vole or
Mouse

It is a different world up here,
Where the pink ling yields to the Martian surface
Of autumn, where spindle bushes fruit in public gardens,
Where a screen connects me to you hundreds of miles away,
Every pixel a prison of yearning

I am sorry for my sourness, my irritability,
My sulky moods – this creature, unhabituated to desire,
And spun in the solitude of his own mind’s caverns

I do not want to be a trial to you,
A hardship of endurance,
A craggy mount –
A fist of thorns

But I am no smooth-lipped sailor:
Mine are turbid waters, bespeaking a surface
Of serenity concealing many shipwrecks –
I am sweet, thorny, heavy, fruitful, and unyielding
As bramble o’er gravestone – I am the malleability
Of melted and re-solidified steel, wielded in the coils
Of a serpent

I am the moonbeam’s muscles –
The storm call of a throstle –
The dreaded wish of penny in fountain –
Or a tuppence in the throat of a swan

But somewhere beneath this petticoat of ice,
You unfrosted me – took off my corset –
And enabled me to feel a desire for which
I may or may not have been made

But desire is a fire,
Sending out embers of hope and needful expectation,
And the desire to love, and to surrender one’s self,
Can come so near to dashing on the rocks of selfishness,
As a ship, it becomes hard to steer

But each and every moment needn’t be amplified so –
You can turn a butterfly wing into the winking eyelash
Of God – the tinkling of harpsicord in golden ballroom,
Treading a minuet of careful proportions

Cannot you subdue me and rinse these bad moods from me?
I can be heavy as cement – unyielding as ancient crag –
A standing stone refusing to budge –
Unable to be dragged by man –
All men must come to it

So, you put on your gloves,
Putting your hand softly into my chest,
And say: “Stop being such a drama queen!
You’re nowhere as bad as you think you seem!”
And feeling understood, softened and surrendering,
I let my tensions thaw into healthy tears

 

Diary: Childhood, Imagination, Nature

constable.jpg

Today I have been looking after my niece. We have been wandering around the garden, examining insects – (all of which she idiosyncratically refers to as ‘Ladybugs’) – and I have every confidence that she will go on to be a pioneering entomologist!

It reminded me of how an appreciation of the natural world is innate in us, and only later lost, as our quest for pleasure becomes confined to silicon screens; consigned as useless because, while it may make us happy, it will not make us money or orgasms – better to get lost in the pulse of clubs and pornography, than listen to the jukebox of songbirds in succession.

There is a virtue to being a small child: from the vantage of your innocence and unworldly perspective, you look at things more closely, with a more immediate intensity; even seeing a single ant in motion was enough to make my niece gasp – when was the last time you gasped in wonder at something so small, it could be crushed by your little finger?

It reminded me of my own innate love for nature as a child. At Primary School, I always loved those activities that most involved interplay with other forms of life: catching crickets in the long-grasses; fishing for newts, insects, and fish with our nets in the pond – and if you ever had the good fortune to capture a frog, you were tantamount, for a day, to a king.

Now, as I write this, I am reclining on a sandy bank against a willow tree I have known since I was four. Its long, sinewy flanks lie horizontal on the river’s edge; and for its sheer clamberability, and adjacency to water, it was our imaginal ‘Pirate Ship’ when we were children. We would climb its limbs, improvising stories – the River Usk a gateway to the rollicking high seas.

This again shows how natural creativity is – the desire to ‘make things up’ – the eternal art of story-telling. For so many of our ancestors, whether read from a book, improvised, or from memory, the relating of stories would have formed much of the entertainment and social cohesion during idle hours – an opportunity for a whole family or community to be transported together into the past – into The Dream Time – into the bourn of other worlds.

Now, there is the sense that stories are only acceptable within the safe confines of a film or paperback novel – people seldom get together to tell stories anymore. It’s almost as though we fear fiction – we fear imagination – as though, if we do not keep it too tightly imprisoned within a well-ordered space, it may threaten to spill over into our reality, and stretch and warp it beyond our means of comprehension.

But reality and imagination are inseparable. Reality feeds imagination, and imagination ornaments and modifies reality. Nature is the collective dream of gods, daemons, and faeries; art, culture, and civilization are the hardened nightmares and fancies of women and men.

This is something that children intuitively understand. Nature is more than just a resource, a biologic reductionism, a house dead of green furnishings – it is the birth place of dreams. An ant is not just ant, but an introduction to an adventure – a flower is not just a flower, but a portal to another world.

And if you were infinitely small, and capable of falling into the cup of a bluebell as into a wormhole, who’s to say what worlds of magic iridescence you would endlessly discover?

 

Diary: Asthma, Acting, and Anxiety

monet-etretat1

I am hoping to write my way into being able to breathe again. For these last few nights my asthma has been so bad, that, come evening, only by lying stretched out on the floor on my side, can I breathe with enough ease not to send myself into a panic.

Needless to say, this posture is rather limiting as to the kind of activities it permits; I can easily fall asleep, or visualize worlds sprouting out of the carpet; I can drink, and feel my hyper-active thoughts blur into a softness – a sort of lounge of comfortable discomfort, where all the visitants are too intoxicated to realize they are reclining languidly on devices of torture, reading the complete works of Oscar Wilde with their heads impaled on spikes.

Then my emotions and fancies flow freer because they are not attached to PANIC’s maniacal reigns. I reflect on all the sensations I want to experience –all the things I want to pursue, and be pursued by – not to look on the escarpments of pine forests on the side of the Blorenge as piddling flicks from God’s artistic wrist, but as something I can actively encounter and be soothed by.

But, at the moment, soothing things are hard to come by. Locked into an agoraphobic paralysis, one of the few places I feel actively safe is upon my bedroom floor. Whenever I feel PANIC push her needling, catecholaminic fingers into me, I comfort myself by thinking – “So long as I can get home, I’ll be fine – so long as I can lie down on my floor, without worrying about maintaining my composure for the sake of professionalism, all will be well”

To a man accustomed to being fearless, this has all been very debilitating. The idea of going anywhere unaccompanied distresses me, and yet, I long to be able to wander freely again with equal depth.

These panic attacks began three week’s ago – the week before I was due to go onstage in ‘Hello Dolly.’ I ended up being incapacitated for a whole rehearsal, and a friend had to comfort me as I was tazered by the universe, convulsing and writhing on the floor, before explosively sobbing from sheer nervous exhaustion.

Come the week of the show, performing was the last thing I felt like doing. My confidence was completely undermined – I was terrified that I would stop breathing, or collapse from panic on the stage, and the whole show would have to be cancelled due to my debility. Almost every night, prior to my actual appearance on stage, I felt certain I wouldn’t be able to go on, and that I would have to live forever with the humiliation of having ruined a show everyone had put so much effort into.

I was so desperate, that I tried to make a deal with my personal spirits, praying fervently to whatever gods or goddesses would listen: “Please – I don’t care what you do to me once the show is over – ruin me – destroy me if you like – kill me even – but please let me get through the show – please let me do a good performance, so I don’t let anybody down.”

This is not the first time I have uttered such a prayer. Three years ago, cast to play Fagin in Oliver!, I developed asthma. I was so terrified at feeling my ability to breathe had been wrested from me, that I was every day convinced I was going to die. And likewise, I prayed “I don’t care if I die – just let me live until after the show, and I will die a happy man.”

It’s amazing to think just how important these shows are to me; that I would be willing to die for them – that they are milestones of danger in the tapestry of my mortality – when to all others they are just transient pieces of entertainment.

But to me, they are more than just pieces of entertainment: they represent my strength and endurance – my willingness to sacrifice myself totally for the good of the world, even if it be but a trifling thing. Many bombs of happiness have been detonated by things that to others would seem but trifles – the lingering of a kiss – the touch of a hand when one needs it most.

And in the hope that I will be able to do many more such shows, I pray that I will be able to go on breathing. And for those who enjoy said shows as well, I hope you will pray for me too!

Tao Te Ching Commentary: The Gateway to All Mystery

deeper

“Call them both deep,

Deep, and again, deep

The Gateway to all Mystery”

Here, Lao Tzu re-iterates the word ‘deep.’ In Ancient Chinese, this word is hsuan, a multi-tiered and mysterious word, which, itself, refers to all that is dark, mysterious, secret, vague, obscure, hidden, unknowable, and incomprehensible, like a never-ending abyss. Taoists adore poetic phrases such as these, for they subtly describe all that cannot be described. Whilst the word abyss is synonymous with Hell in most religions, in Taoism, an abyss is a metaphor for pure Absence and Unknowability – an endless, infinite void of darkness – like space, itself – containing the potential for untold bliss, beauty, marvel, and light. As The Great Way cannot be known, it can only be known through directly plunging into and uniting one’s self with the unknown.

This hidden dark depth also poetically illustrates the development of meditation, and the celestial light within darkness. Sitting down to meditate at night, in a darkened room, with our eyes closed, we enter into a state of pure darkness. Because our eyes are closed, and there is no light, we are unable to see – and because we are sitting still, and not moving our body, eventually our senses turn off and inwards, and we begin to become aware of things to which we are normally blind. We merge mysteriously with our surroundings, and begin to experience things we would not normally experience.

And, though we are sat in darkness, once our physical eyes close, we give our spiritual eye a chance to open. This spiritual eye could rightly be called ‘The Gateway to all Mystery,’ though it also refers to The Crown Chakra, and the state of our consciousness, as it passes from this dimension, into another one. This spiritual eye is the pineal gland that resides within the brain, externally, between the points of your two eyebrows. About the size of a pea, it is literally a ‘vestigial eye’ and is fully endowed with its fair-share of retinal cells. However, unlike your two eyes, this spiritual eye is designed to look inwards, rather than outwards.

Once you unlock this gateway of mystery, you’ll find that there is no end to it – it truly is hsuan. When I meditate, I regularly have visions of other dimensions, and planes of existence, that stretch on into infinity. And, even though that might sound incredible to your average person, I am still right at the starting gate, and I have an interminable bounty of things left to experience.

If you find all this hard to comprehend, just think about dreams – something mysterious we all regularly experience, but which no one, not even science, has a comprehensive explanation for. Within them, you roam whole worlds, realities, and landscapes – some familiar, and obviously of terrestrial origin; others, bizarre, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen in your entire life. If you’ve never seen such things in your entire life, then where are these image and experiences coming from? They’re obviously not coming from your physical brain, as they have nothing to do with your existing memories. Rather, it is a perception of something beyond your ordinary perception.

Taoists, and all mystics, are dedicated to exploring these alternate modes of non-ordinary perception as much as possible. They are not satisfied with the narrow spectrum of reality we are ordinarily capable of perceiving; they want to throw the doors of perception wide open and see how things look when you are released from the shackles of ordinary human consciousness.

So, if you want to follow The Way, as Lao Tzu says, you must go deeper, ever deeper. For the willingness to always go deeper, and to always keep pushing back the frontiers of the unknown, is truly, The Gateway to all Mystery.

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: Worried Bones

Skeleton

I ask of you,
Softly,
For a place to keep my bones
I set them on fire
And they rise
As smoke
Into the worried sky

Do not worry sky
We’ll find a place for you yet
Homesickness is contagious
But don’t you know –
Sometimes bones
Just get tired
Of being bones?