Today in my Romantic Literature class we read Shelley and my professor made several adamant points, the first was that all good poets, without exception, are revisers; the second was that for his circumstances Shelley had phenomenal faith in what he was doing, despite the fact that he had almost no readership.
So here’s me, revising and being unduly confident in what I am doing.
I will not pretend to understand my escape three years ago from the most terrible despair of my life, but I know for certain that it took three corporeal forms: an art project entitled “The Whips and Scorns of Time,” which featured a crucified teddy bear affixed to a 4x8 sheet of plywood amid detritus I had been collecting for years all splattered with black paint, a high school diploma, and a collection of poems I called A Child In The Verdant Hills, that basically chronicled my life from 2006 to 2009.
Although at the time I felt it was my best work, it has not faired well in retrospect. Only a few of the later poems (chronologically) show the influence of Cormac McCarthy, and before reading him it seems I was unaware that one should use interesting words. Although I believe the images I expressed were powerful (otherwise I would not have felt the need to express them), my ability to do this was often lacking. More recently however, I have re-read some of those poems and have been struck by the shear violence and nihilistic power of some of my older writing. These were poems written in abject despair, not reflecting on such experiences - but composed in the midst of them.
Although the original collection was more broad, All of these poems were written during the second half of my senior year of high-school, the winter and spring of 2009. This was a time when I was deeply depressed and had chronic insomnia, I would often would leave my house after midnight and walk to a nearby freeway overpass with suicidal intensions, eventually returning and going to sleep – thus the recurrent themes of night, dawn and awakening.
Some of these poems I have been reworking off and on almost since they were written, mostly because of the clarity of my memory of the image (Bedrock At The Edge of the World and God Intended Darkness.) Others have acquired a certain morbid fascination for me (The Knifing Sun and Botticelian Thaw.) The remaining two are probably the least altered, and are in the extremely unusual position of never really being looked down on; in other words, if I was asked to assemble my ten best poems, these would have been included at any point from the time they were written to the present.
All of these poems have been edited, some more heavily than others, in an attempt to use the skills I have acquired in the intervening years to better express what I was experiencing. To various degrees they cannot be considered the same poems I wrote three years ago, one is almost unchanged and another is barely recognizable, most are somewhere between the two, and if nothing else the context has been greatly altered. Child in the Verdant Hills presented a meta-narrative about despair taking form and finally being repulsed, and nearly all of the taking form and repulsing poems have been eliminated. What is left are the a few of the key articulations, a few of the side-notes, and a glimmer of how I finally escaped that time.
Thus I present, Relics of the Verdant Hills,
A collection of poetry ostensibly from the winter and spring of 2009, composed of -
God Intended Darkness (June)
Botticelian Thaw (February)
The Knifing Sun (February)
Bedrock at the Edge of the World (April)
Saturn, Herald of Autumn (June)
God Intended Darkness
In the industrial brightness of night
I see my deepmost fallacious thoughts:
I am, sleep and eat and offer no deduction.
These shining arcs, composing my rectified mind,
Fail to intersect and so my doubt
Persists – consists – unfists
Its gauntlet and releases the rods of my pretension–
Though in the sunlit hours I walk amid the djinn of the upper slopes,
In the deep and silent nocturne, when all about me are in the throes of regeneration, I forget the taste of dawn.
All the earth is metallic and ticking and lit,
Lit when God intended darkness,
Lit when all is to be lunar and stardomed and forged of cold shadow.
I recall hating the night for the leering void of its blackness,
Yet always I knew that in this fiendland’s greatest glory,
From the east salvation would come.
But for this schizoid night there may be no breaking:
Each dim and fetal sun stillborn before its fiery depth may be reckoned.
I am a son of man, yet
Where are my children to carry my blood into eternity?
Lost or fled or never were.
Where did I come to be placed here in the curled soul of the race?
Why am I to be, to think?-
On through the steely night.
I, a child
In the verdant hills?
Nostalgia and spent grains,
It was -
A terrifying place.
Agony and shame,
It was red lights in the long night.
Child, fearful child,
Thank God you did not see this
How can you run?
Your home is so green -
Paradiso of rains,
Purest of elixirs pouring from the sky!
What beast have you found
At the heart of the river
That you would flee with such vitriol
And set your footprints alight?
What horror must you see
At the corners of your vision?
What fear of mighty fiend must consume you?
Alas for you, Child, and
Alas for your fears
Of the dreams of your fathers:
Child in his arms,
Forgotten world -
Now so dangerous.
Towering walls like the ill-begotten end
And the road through the valley to the grave.
Oh you ice-bound girl -
I see you in the garden, chisel in hand;
Through the rimy haze I make out a ghost:
A splinter of you I have conjured up,
Formed out of air to shape this frozen flesh.
Years ago a woman I loved told me spring would come;
I was a foolish child,
The glancing light may drive me mad but the earth will never right itself.
In this storm-ringed place I see your shadow a star below the horizon;
And whether you intend to arise or sink away out of vision
You have turned the clouds all orange and fiery -
A memory of warmth from a bygone age.
Though where your soul resides I cannot know,
The fractures in my mind all point to your image,
All that an onlooker can see:
Oh vision of Botticelli -
All I can tell of you I adore.
Dredge up my soul from a thousand miles east and let it feed on this fantasy.
All that he wanted was moisture for the garden,
And he gave me naught but the depth of winter.
Would you bring a torch and be my spring?
Thawing fire liberating,
Glacial prison melting upon you;
Oh hoar maiden, be my spring.
The Knifing Sun
Haze before the mountains
And the sun burning through -
Burning beyond all eyes can see;
Burning into the mind its dim morning knife.
Piercing deep through the fog it strikes my throat and
Spills my blood on the frost.
Knife and then the crushing mace:
The unknowing elegance,
Icy hammer smashing any sane skull to pieces.
Tear out my eyes,
Sever my ears,
Maim me that I would be numb.
Destroy her -
Werther’s agony in a more murderous form.
Send me farther than all pain can follow,
Send me to that knifing sun that I might be flayed open and burned to cosmic ash.
‘Come, Oh chasm of Sol, and swallow me -
Let me taste your sweet oblivion.’
Bedrock at the Edge of the World
You are the fearful beauty of my dreams,
Your prismatic cratered eyes a twilit moonscape, together
Treading to all horizons a road whilst the somber hymn rings:
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Naught be all else to me save that thou art.
You are the searching of my gaze and the turning of my neck,
My gentle daydreams and their hopeful foolishness,
Those I remember whose sight I may never catch again:
Glimpses of a feral elegance from which I shrink.
You are serenity etherial as the sun rises,
Crumbling like bedrock at the edge of the world:
Fading as I awaken, blanched by dawn sunlight,
Cross-bled into incantations, premonitions
and tears, water for those lost into memory.
Saturn, Herald of Autumn
Like chalkless night there stands before me a time of all lurid dreams.
The glimpsed surreal destiny has utterly fled.
Deafness descending in mute terror -
Winces and gasps and flitting about,
Delaying – defying – defining.
Shall I lay myself down on this undoctored bed?
Prostrate myself before my nemesis, Saturn, the herald of autumn?
Fall into lucid sleep and march on,
Awaiting the never for to be.
Here in the evening,
Amid sundown, all despair becomes westward desert winds.
In crazed light I halt afore the fiendish torridity of a promised lone weeping destructor
And in faithless abhorrence
I fall unto the end.
Forthwith the dawn will come,
Sunbeams knifing a rift in the very desolation of the sky.
Some dawn will come
And I will awaken anew.