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Nothing in Me


Homage to the Twentieth Century

Stating the obvious
Being and Time
On a photograph of Ernest Bevin at the age of fourteen
Meditation in a time of Imperialist war
Three poems against love poetry
The vigilant eye
Conversation piece
Nothing in me
Meditation and prayer
For Pamela
Three poems on sleep
Spitting in God's face
On the boiler (a love poem)



Somehow that great outpouring
of energy and love that turned
in the end so rancid surely
must have meant something
other than just
the preservation against all odds
for a time at least of a great
empire - the sense of a future
turned to the dust of yet another
'victory for the west' - I say
that if it gave birth
to nothing else it produced
a poem or two
radiant in the optimism that matter
had evolved into Man and Man
was evolving into something
godlike and bountiful and kind
knowing his continuity with
the stones, the plants, the animals,
love as a discoverable
mathematical law
but no - Khlebnikov/
Zabolotsky - you
were magnificent in your error
but you were wrong.
There is no such thing as 'Nature'.
What then is there?
For there is certainly something
running through us - Yes,
absolutely, Khleb-
there you are right,
we are the thought, the voice -
howling, inarticulate,
cruel, incompetent but
nonetheless, a voice -
of the plants, of the animals,
of the stones, the oceans,
the stars, of all
that the lazy mind calls 'nature'
but we have a different and more precise
name for it.
We call it the creature.
It didn't make itself.
And its terrible longing that - Yes,
absolutely, Khleb-
and you too René Ghil
(not to forget Ian Curtis)
tears us apart
isn't a longing for itself
but for something other than itself -
the only thing that can be other than itself -
the Creator - oh but
materialism -
the understanding of that material
unity - understanding
that matter is
of the nature of consciousness, still
was an adventure, and you,
the poets,
at the head of it,
the raw cutting edge of it -
ice breakers! and what you discovered,
even if it is only part of the truth
is true and there is still
work for you to do.



Aaron drest
the silly priest
his two sons blest
his two sons dead.
Aaron magnificently
dressed, humiliated,
stumbling after
his smarter brother.
Aaron the mellifluous
Aaron the eloquent
Moses the tongue-tied
standing behind him
his two eyes bored
into the back of his head.





To state the obvious, poetry
covers many different types
of human experience.
Or, more accurately,
it covers nothing.
It touches many things, but
to reach that height - well,
poetry is always disappointing.
It holds within itself the idea
but never the reality
of totality.
in always promising
what it cannot give
it keeps the idea
of a covering, of a
totality alive,
and so poetry fulfills,
in its own way,
God's will.

But what, if it is anything, is
God's will? Or, if it is nothing,
is there something that corresponds
to what it might have been?
Such as, for example, 'progress'?
For those who believe in progress believe
that things tend in a particular direction,
towards a particular end.
Difficult to imagine
a teleology without at least
something analogous to a will,
something that has built into it
the sense of a future - and yet
the seed goes steadily and surely
towards the flower but our will
rarely sees
the future it envisages.
The plant grows, but does that mean
the plant does anything? Do any of us ever
do anything? or is the doing
done through us
by someone or by something
else? As, for example,
'progress' - the 'Prince of the World', who
whether or not he is the Devil,
certainly isn't God.

And so we return to the poem, which,
precisely because it has failed,
fulfills God's will, asserts
but fails to realise
a reality that, unrealisable
in the world. remains
a reality, a kingdom
not of this world, and that,
and not the 'progress' or the plant
becoming the flower, is how
we might understand
the indirect and subtle
thing that is analogous to
God's will.





A person is not a thing that does things.
How can a thing that does things be
distinguished from the doing? I paint
a picture of a person on a board.
Is that the thing,
its reality lying
in its mere unmoving?
But since
Being is in time
it never is
but always was
(and how can we know
if it ever will be?).
For being to be
in the present
(which is to say
in space) requires
There and there only can it
(whatever it is/was) be.




You can see it in his later photos
Once you've seen it here.
Here its very clear.
His eyes are elsewhere.
The young man in his bow tie,
His waistcoat and his watch and chain,
The orphan boy,
Put out to work at the age of ten
Already the pose of a statesman.
But his eyes are looking beyond that.
I wish I could say I was living in
the future he is looking at.





When James Clavell
reflected upon
the Japanese aristocrat
dreaming a refined
and delicate verse
to the sound of his enemy's
tortured cries,
did he think also
of Edmund Spenser,
Philip Sydney
Walter Raleigh,
men of a graceful
turn of phrase,
land-hungry murderers
and men of prayer?
We who love
well put together
well built words,
we are their
spiritual heirs.
So as I praise
my own finesse,
my subtlety and my most
delicate ear,
I tremble in fear
and say with the psalm
Lord, deliver me
from blood-guiltiness.




Written after reading Jack Clemo's poems Shuttered, Exit and Gulls nesting inland.

My love, my need, seems
at times so weak
so indifferent, and yet,
underneath all that
indifference, so
desperate, and not to be satisfied with one.
I am the profligate son
- giving my heart
to this and that,
which is not specifically to do
with sex, or adulation.
It is always a longing for the one
who is not quite there
- partly there, yes, and even
miraculously, sometimes - but still,
not quite. Could Jack
Clemo with his 'sea
of perilous infinity' - the best
image there is of it - not
understand that?
that his delight
in the girl was still, just like
the perverse
delight in nature, delight
in the creature?
Sometimes, though, in all that
evocative clay I have seen
- not in the beauty of his form but in
his act of forming -
something of the beauty of
the creature - Adam -
as it was meant to be
- not a thing in a landscape
(it being only in
post-Renaissance painting that
there is such a thing
as a thing) but
an activity.


But then again, what does it mean
the simulacrum of emotion
the torments of unrequited love
seen on a screen,
looked at in a book.
This looks to be a very
human invention,
unimaginable to the animals
who certainly know mimicry
but not at that
emotional level.
We are the animal
that imagines pain
and makes it pleasurable
and that
is the secret of the Bible,
all those ups and downs being
a sort of education
teaching us the horror of
a world with
and a world without
(sometimes one wonders
which is the worse
- our love being perverse,
mother of wars)


Why don't they write about their
children - who are, surely,
the justification, the real
Reason with a capital 'R'
for all that messy passion.
The poet gets the girl and they live
happily ever after and meanwhile
a new life, a new mind
has appeared, miraculously,
wonderfully, and is looking at the world
with new
never before existing eyes, and that
isn't the stuff of poetry?
It isn't the desiring or the having
that matters but
the birth and ONLY
the birth, the something
out of nothing, and after that
all that rich, life
giving, life giving.




It is as if He was a man - but if
He assumed humanity
it wasn't as a man that He
created the Universe - and yet
it is as if He was a man that we
ask Him to have mercy on us.

And so this child sleeping on the Cross
but labelled 'the vigilant eye' might make
a sort of sense - God being
consciousness - that consciousness being
the substance of the Universe (substance being
not the stuff itself but the Stuff
under the stuff) necessarily,
always and everywhere, even
as a sleeping child, knows everything,
it being that knowing
that defines being. To be is to be
known by God and 'not to be'
isn't an option.

So you say - you who talk
to me out of a box
in my living room - that that
is unbelievable, as if
anything is believable, as if
our limited consciousness or
Galen Strawson's panpsychism
or Dawkins' autonomous memes are more
believable than that
Omniconsciousness in which
we live and move and have our being, as
we live and move and have our being
in something, surely,
something as unbelievable
as the air we breathe.

But that that
Omniconsciousness should become
a sleeping child, a disobedient boy.
a troublesome preacher, is
improbable, you say, almost
as improbable as that a rock
should (after no matter how many million years)
become flesh and blood, or even
(by the intermediary of a limited consciousness)
bread and wine.

And now imagine (what
can we ever do otherwise?) the whole
Universe, alive, aware or (better
perhaps) embedded in life,
in consciousness, and we,
part of that consciousness, small
and lonely, far out and lost
in all that fiery turbulence,
ready to drown, ready to burn, but
given guides, given help,
able to accommodate, able to reconcile,
if only the Sea
has mercy on us.




Every time I think of you
and you and you and you
and everyone I ever knew
I am full of pain, wondering why
I let that life, that secret, pass me by
for even though there is no-one
who is not a mystery
before whom a lifetime
would not be enough
to bow
sufficiently deeply
we don't see it.
We think they are a waste -
even a vast emptiness -
of time, those
images of Christ, those beautiful
ears and eyes and noses. You who despise
the person sitting next to you on the tube
train, have you any idea
what a brain is? But oh! your word,
your words - when you open your mouth
- the 'idiot wind' - is like a door
shut on what you are. Or so
I thought, but I was wrong. For the complexity
of the process is such that it is
impossible to speak
without speaking poetry/every
word spoken anywhere, by anyone
is a miracle, we are
surrounded by revelation, the ocean
opening, one way or another, one
to the other, and the door shut
is shut in me. And the shut door isn't
judgment but
self preservation,
a protection against
a tempest of revelation,
of light struck out of
the dark abyss, the vast
universe that you are,
and you and you and you.



John 14.30 (KJV)

Yes, I thought the 'Prince of the World' - 'Cosmos'
wasn't the Devil, and the icon of Pentecost
confirms it. There he is with his crown, the prisoner,
not of the Devil but of that other, duller, even
deader thing, Hades. The Devil and Hell
have a certain raw life about them, but here
he is standing, not in fire but in
darkness, maybe not even knowing
of the saving fire that is falling
on the heads of the apostles, who are,
after all, bigger than him, surrounding him,
this little king of a little Universe.
But what are the twelve dead things
he is holding in his hands? Perhaps
someone knows better but I suggest
the twelve dead shells
of the physical appearance
of the apostles, which is all
'the world' can see of them, all
'the world' holds prisoner -
what they look like being
better than what they are.
So when our Lord broke the gates of brass, did He
free the Prince of the World? Or is
the imprisonment of the Prince
of the visible Universe - the big
fish in a small pond - voluntary?
Can we imagine the world - as Wordsworth
and Constable perhaps imagined it - free
of that dark, deadly thing?
Is there anywhere else that that could be
other than in us? in consciousness?
And is the Prince of the World anything
other than us? than human consciousness?
Our excuse for the tyranny we exercise
over the world, which is
that we can't do otherwise?
And so, to paraphrase Jesus - Cosmos, the Prince,
not of what we see but of our way
of seeing, cometh, and he
hath nothing in Me.



For Robin

Our psychology is not the same as yours. When we
strip ourselves down to the bare essentials we don't see
anything divine, we see instead
a grinning face that is not entirely agreeable
and not entirely ours. We are not
what we are, and this
not us, grafted into us, would by now
be all there is if there wasn't
another not us, this one being
certainly divine but still, definitively,
not us, but which might, with difficulty,
join us. But if these two
activities that are not us are so
desirous to war over us there must
surely be something there, something that, if
it is the object of the desire of two
spiritual principles must somehow be and somehow be,
in its own incomprehensible
way, desirable. Which is to say
surely that we are something
neither divine nor satanic/angelic but yet,
being created, continuous
with the satanic/angelic, hence
the ease with which he joins us
and the difficulty He has.
But if we are continuous
with creation is there a distinct
human substance, or do we
carry with us the rocks,
the animals, the trees with which
(sometimes) (some of us) we feel
such sympathy? Is the
human form in the landscape or
the landscape in the human form?
So that the cries of the pain we inflict
daily and on everything
sound from within?
At any rate, it is not
to meditation that we turn,
not to that vast world
of all and everything
where everything is broken but
to what is not there -
the only Thing that
isn't in us - our
meditation is useless
(Father Anthony dixit) if it
doesn't turn to prayer.




This collection of elements
that came together and is/was
you (and you and you and you)
used as a machine the body,
the brain that is/was
an intellectual construction -
for the Intellect
transcends the intellect
and has cleverly devised its own
means of a particular mode
of being, of
having been,
that means being
the material universe.
Lucy was rolled around
with rocks and stones and trees
but you, more like Origen,
juggle with galaxies.
But the means imagined
by you, by that
of which you are a part,
declined, as they do -
as they are programmed to do -
panic like that of a child
on a sledge
gone out of control,
that is what it is
being old.
But to be dead
is very heaven.
You imagined yourself to be
in the machine
but now you can see
the machine was in you.






How warm and comfortable they must have felt
that balmy night
when they all fell into a deep
sleep where they lay
together in the garden
of Gethsemane.
That drowsiness yielding to sleep,
that lovely resemblance to death,
we run to it
like metal to a magnet.
And so they slept
peaceful and harmless
like children, doubtless
dreaming of the wisdom
of the Master they all
adored, but waking
to a chaos of voices,
to lights and flashing swords
and to what must have seemed to be
a bottomless hole of despair.



The competent mind shut down,
the real mind gingerly
opens its eyes and 'we'
look at 'it'
tentatively and in-
competently mapping out
where we are in this
place that is intermediate and unreal
caught somewhere between
the two great realities
of Heaven and Hell.
Here there is no continuing city
and what we see
isn't much better
than the unreality
that overpowers us,
binds us captive,
when our eyes are open
in the moments when we
are competent
and can do something about it.
So we are on a see-
saw, from blind
and able to sighted
and impotent.
Up and down
and up and down
or up and up
or down and down.



So when the disciples slept
was the world they were in
less real than the despair
of the days before
the Resurrection
- when the world received
the Revelation
of the Truth they were dreaming
when they lay
peaceful and happy,
in the garden
in Gethsemane?
(always assuming
that that was really
what they were dreaming
and not
something else entirely.
Our greatest enemy
is not sin,
once we're aware of it, but




Twice yesterday I spat
in my Lord's face.
The first time when I met
an old friend, wanting
to discuss
things we had in common, but
every time I spoke,
her sister intervened,
agitated, nervous,
anxious to please,
laughing at bad jokes, preventing
any real encounter, any real
exchange of memories.
And so in my heart,
I spat, I spat, I spat.
Then, later, in the street,
a beggar came up to me
murmuring in a way
I couldn't understand,
legs unsteady,
holding in one hand
a complete roasted chicken,
in the other a can
of beer. Assuming
he was drunk,
I spat, I spat, I spat,
and that immense sea of suffering -
my Lord stretched out on the Cross -
rolled on past me down the street.




James Baxter thought
when he went to Jerusalem that
he should stop writing poetry, because
it all seemed so frivolous beside
the terrible reality he was now
taking on board, and yet,
if he had stopped writing poetry
I would never have heard of him,
never have heard
of Jerusalem, and yet
he was right, because
what does it matter, when my
grasp of that terrible reality
is so frivolous, that I
should or shouldn't have heard
of Jerusalem? I am the critic,
the sensitive soul who appreciates
from a safe distance
with a tasteful - and even agreeable -
shudder of sympathy
Jim Ferris's 'atypical embodiment'
and Baxter's 'steam'.

Note: Jim Ferris is an American poet, part of a movement of poets who write about their experience of illness or physical disability. Since the relation between body and soul is such an important part of poetry it is a very powerful subject. 'Atypical embodiment' is his phrase for the condition of physical disability. I was introduced to the poetry of James K. Baxter , one of the truly great poets of the twentieth century, by Robin Baldwin. Baxter had a secure established and establishment reputation as a leading New Zealand poet when he gave up everything (literally) to live in poverty in a Maori encampment called Jerusalem. 'Steam' is New Zealand slang for methylated spirits.



ON THE BOILER (A love poem)

The boy who arrived in his oversize
workman's overalls to fix
my old boiler - oh but he looked
so very young, and his eyes
shone as he tried (not very hard)
to persuade me to buy
a new one.
'That old boiler', he said
'is as old as me'. And now that he's gone
the old boiler in my kitchen
is shining with joy and
- as in the Bob Dylan song -
it seems to me
to be
'forever young'.