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In the following piece, my friend Stewart Ball, the author of Vigil, found elsewhere on this site, asks the question: What is Imagination? I find his answer, of necessity a fragment due to the infinite nature of its scope, to be quite beautiful. The Photographs are by John Christian, copyright 2001.
Bound in dust, girdled by emptiness, amorphous as a vapor. There could be no reason to call this a god. In reality, it is the mind, from which all words have been pushed back. A god yet unknown to us.
Do we know a beggar? Do we know a pilgrim passing? Do we have even the slightest reason to let them flit through our consciousness?
How are the gods born? It goes against all science that we are burdened with this question.
A writer picks up and moves each day. No night is the same. No place holds its place more than a day. It may be will, it may be appetite, it may be that words fall into new meanings as we sleep, so that we must begin again each day to learn the new meanings. This would account for the dust everywhere that already appears on the words as we put them down.
As pilgrims go, we fear life. We know there is every chance it is a falsehood, a nothing in the mind, once the words make their exodus. The desert beyond is a safer place for words. The mind will give words to the gods to devour in their raging hunger. The mind will offer words as sacrifice. Never will the mind give itself to the gods. They hunger; they roam in restless, disconsolate moods. They wish humans were dust. So long as we stay, Life is god over the gods.
Each night, Apollo leaves constellations in our dreams. Each day, snakes' tongues of lightening flick in the dark sky above our brown shoulders. Dionysus reaches in his head for intuition and casts it; it hits like a sharp stone in the back. We dread this rutty trail over the rocks up the hill and stumble ahead without which we are, for the god has exploded into our minds. We see it in one another's eyes.
There is no repent, no retreat. There is no Way. They will not un-grasp us, the god of cold will and the god of fury, and we are too strong, too resilient and ironic, to be rent asunder. We have their words. Words they desire.
Can writers survive for long nourished by a creation story compelled by orthodoxy? What is the work of orthodoxy, of dogma, of doctrine but to expel us? To push us into exile? How are we to deal with the reality that we are nudged further every day from the epicenter of our birth? Who has contrived this betrayal?
Each of us rehearses and retells the story innumerable times over a lifetime. It is the process of asking and answering: where did I come from? What is my source? At every turn on the pilgrim road our words are released and then reassembled into a different version of the story; this is how the story lives, it adapts, reinvents in the folds of imagination, because it must attract and hold every moment of our future and give us understanding of who we are going to be. But who are we? The question is who we are. The question and the fine, chosen words woven by our imagination into an answer.
A writer, a pilgrim, must return to us and claim to have seen the source, to arrive at the place where we began. The claim is the old, worn map of the pilgrim. One day, after thousands and thousands of days have passed, the pilgrim returns for a day to our door and rests his story upon our lintel and during that day we are bound in dust.
After and after and after, the Soul drifts in it's own plasma. Words rush to attach themselves to it, like sperm to an egg. Within the Mother God, in the cathedral womb, float slivers of light, crystal splinters of conception, letters cracked from the page and over and over and over the wateriness turns upon itself, as the Mother Dragon turns upon her uterus, just as the words claim their prophecy of a god.
Beneath the dust, a god's tongue moistens. There the dirt dampens, becomes darker, until a drop surfaces, then another, another, another, a tiny puddle no bigger than an eye forms. The eye swells until a tear bursts from its side, and another, another, another and a rivulet trickles away.
In a moment the vein-course becomes the Ganges, the first source. The world is new in its water! From beneath the dust, a god's saliva was sucked from the Via de Leche into the world. Mother God lay down and considered her cairn. In each thought a mote of dust bore down and settled upon her. She buried herself. She settled deep into the earth, her sarcophagus; she waited, that one day her tongue should protrude into the dust, that the Ganges should flow to her vulva. She waited.
With some writing, the words click like beads on a rosary and bury themselves among the regular intervals of the psyche's metronome. But writing myth is a curse on the writer, because it isn't writing, it's a dizzy swooning, a directionless wind, kicking up words. The mind swirls text, while text obliterates mind. At dawn, a hawthorn bier immolates. Uncountable white sparks scatter before the licking wind, whirled heedlessly up into the skirts of Orion.
The writer is never sure that this myth isn't nonsense. But has madness an aesthetic? Does it possess knowledge? No, it does not. Mythical stories capture just enough of the sparks to issue a new light in the mind.
The edicts of myth apply only during violence. Violence is the ghastly mask of our fear. Once we fear, the door to our death is cast wide open. Through this door we catch a glimpse of an empty shroud of dust and the belated scent of some Other, some Being that has wandered into this emptiness before us, sits on our throne and waits for us.
Myths, we can tell, rest upon their ultimate foundation - all that is unknown. They revere some secret balance of sacred and profane. At the same time, they are torn and ripped apart by the endless struggle of the known- unknown and the unknown-unknown. In this ripping and tearing we come to see light, an understanding, which dawns silently and slowly behind our line of sight, illuminating all that we do not see. The Other, on the dark side of this light and completely unknown to us, profanes mind, makes mind appear to be a roll of the dice. What is sacred? Our gift to god of freedom.
And how often do we see the poet-pilgrim at our door or hear the soft footfalls in our dream? Do they still go out and bring back word of new gods? Perhaps our trust and inclination are wanting, as the Satans count better what they, than the poets, know better. Perhaps the Satans, in their committees, convene a more plausible disguise & feed our fear a few choking straw gods. Is it comfort we claim as god?
The poet and pilgrim have only one strength - strength after weakness. They reopen their eyes, uncover their ringing ears and reiterate from the safe-store of their hearts the reasons they process again into the wide, uncounted rings of the desert.
As a writer, I am stone and rocky ground, the ground of the other side, the unplanted ground of the edge of the abyss. Sifting dust for evidence. Dust is evidence.
The Universal Divine energy is Hers. Precisely, it is Her feeling, Her subjective state. In a human, it is precisely duplicated, or extended into our awareness. So it is, that love is universal.
Thus, She is first, the Originator of the Universal Divine language. She is second, the intelligence of Creation. She is pre-literary, pre-Biblical & unnecessary to history. She is Mother to us & to Word; She provides through Her sublime intelligence.
Hours. One after one. Days and nights and tumult of the Sun's pulse. Seasons of verdant to russet foliage . These cosset the order of the gods, deeply satisfy the gods. A writer will learn to hate them and strive against them. When it is day, the writer obtusely feels for night. He wants his snow and rain and sun poured from his heart. He demands words of his imagination, against the trivia of time.
What, though, do we make of the flood of words in our world, the over-tide that inundates us? The democracy of words, egalite¢ of words, the atomic cosmos of words, pandemic of words? Do they not drown the voice? And our self conscious, self-describing culture - does it not pull us further in as we seek to describe it, dare to critique it, struggle to sound it depths, touch its borders, dislodge its falsities, defend its truths? We brood in its belly. Make flight at the end of its string.
What we know in the heart has no domain. If we have reverence for the gods, it is because we have articulated their nothingness. Over four thousand years, they have descended the ladders of our literature, acquiring stories by which to disguise their impotence in human affairs.
We humans can be nothing more than the vitality of our intelligence. Our intelligence is our womb within Her - Mother Universe. In the womb we strive, bear toward what we are. Oh Come, Oh Come Emanuel - such an invitation to see us in our brilliance!
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