O God, I have no laurel for a crown.
The dust of dried leaves lies at my feet
in this library whose volumes are countless.
Here are the traces of all that I know,
yet I open the pages and tear them out.
Curled into flowers, strung together,
they succumb to perfection as the words wind.
Such delicate leaves — patterned with passages
like rivulets cascading across barren ground
as fire split the rocks of primordial
Earth apart, its texture like the scent
of stone beneath my hands as my fingers
trace across it — I slide them into place.
You who pulls all things together, come
through my lips like bees to their hive,
fill my mind that opens like a bowl.
Let my hands bear the power of speech,
let my head be worthy to make this crown.
You are the one who set particles into
tuned harmony at the beginning of creation,
the quarks and electrons, neutrinos shot
from afar dancing rhythmic oscillations.
The brightness of galactic nuclei are yours,
the particle jets that curve like bows,
new stars’ bow shock, the screams of pulsars,
the concord of solar systems, the bright
music of supernovae, of inspiralling bodies.
The end and the reunion are yours, too —
the quiet dance of particles as they die,
as matter dissipates in soundless light.
In this broken ground we call home,
this place where shadows softly creep,
who watches the night as it shifts deeper,
this change of the seasons, the blessings
of twisted corn-stalks in the fields?
When I was a girl the fireflies strobed.
The sky above our heads was a temple.
The first image I had was a goddess,
skin star-studded, night-black like Nut,
like Nyx, not-Nut, not-Nyx, someone
whose name remained in shadows of pages
not yet read, lost in unfathomable sea.
The curve of her face, the arms raised,
said ‘bottomless’ and I tasted copper
and steel like water left long sitting.
I felt the vacuum in her, the expanse
that took my breath away on clear nights
when star led to nebula led to depth
unfathomable to my mind, body forgotten,
the swell of the sun into Earth-devouring
giant yawning as I contemplated that all we
know would give way to it, all was hers.
What name to give to a goddess who takes,
who holds aloft our creation, dissolution,
who preserves our echoes like etchings?
I felt the night as it deepened then,
the bottomless water that reflected stars,
fields of asphodel that had never seen sky.
Memory, then, who holds the future and
past, whose lake swells like an inkwell
overflowing, giving birth to creative art.
Mnemosyne, then, whose black lake reflects
the beauty of Nyx, so gentle to touch,
whose water is unfathomable to swallow.
I found Nyx in a poster.
Who knows what I thought,
a child, as I saw her floating,
all good things edging
along her body as she drove
her nightfall over the Earth.
I did not understand the
delight that captivated me,
the way I moved the paper
carefully until carelessness
and moves wore it down,
often — or always — enshrined.
We made river-clay sculpture, scent heavy
with our floodplains, small stones
the price paid for within-budget art.
In school, my hands never made icons,
but vessels, as even then I knew
I would need all I could for holding.
Instead, I hollowed out my words,
beat them firm until they held shape.
In this fertile valley, I learned
the counts of syllables from fireflies,
how to form each line for the kiln,
the ways that the memory of gods hum
in the back of one’s mind like beloved
places now forgotten — we are all
seeded from cataclysm, united here
to solar afterbirth as it encircles our
stars, scar-patterns visible from afar —
the traces of them in our souls unseen.
Your light caught me finding verses.
I breathed into these words, opened their
meaning like a mouth to hold you dear,
and they bent for you, taut as a bow,
until your shape danced like sunlight
and I recognized you in that gladness.
The jars taught me how to hollow out,
how to shape, how supple mud and argil
yield to practice, to familiar likenesses.
The body is like river clay, how it yields.
In the shapes of syllables, in the count,
in the cymbal-clash and the silence,
I pour out, give way, light rushing — a flood.
Note: I read Plotinus’ “On the Cosmos” (Ennead II.1) again today, which I read precisely 10 years ago. It stopped me from pursuing reading Platonism back then because it was so distressingly different from the physical cosmology I know due to my astronomy background.
That was perhaps the worst treatise to start out with! However, I’ve been reading a lot of Platonists, and I am enamored of a lot of the imagery (especially generation + rivers + nymphs + concord/discord + union/division). I also just wrote poetry for literally two and a half hours and haven’t eaten anything, so I will fix that now! Also, most of these sections (II-IV) are reflecting on my childhood/teens.