Thursday, January 21, 2021

Chet Raymo, “The (Unattainable) Thing Itself”

“The (Unattainable) Thing Itself”
by Chet Raymo

“Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations. The light
In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations- one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white, 
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.”

"Simplicity. Morning. Forty minutes till sunrise. Coffee. An English muffin. Sit on the terrace. The sky a deep violet. Then rose. Then gold. Simplicity. The senses fill to overbrimming, displacing thought. The moment is sweet and pure. Distilled. The shackles of conscience fall away. One simply is.

“Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one's torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.”

Now I wait with my eyes fixed on that place along the horizon where the Sun will rise. The sky itself holds its breath, anticipates the flash of green. I try, I try to empty myself, Zenlike, to become an empty vessel for nature to fill. A gathering vessel, brilliant edged. To exist entirely in the moment, outside of time, this moment, just now, now, as the disk of the Sun bubbles up on the sea horizon, that orb of of molten gold.

“There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.”

It's no use, of course. No way to obviate the conscious mind. Perhaps a Zen master might do it, a mystic in transport, a drunken sailor who walks into a lamppost. Even as the Sun's disk inflates, swells, unaccountably huge, the mind parses, frames, construes. I close my eyes to shut out thought and the words fill up the space behind my eyelids. The thing itself is out of reach, the moment adulterated by mind. The blessing of consciousness. And the curse."
(The three stanzas are Wallace Stevens' "The Poems of Our Climate.")

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