Friday, March 30, 2012

the Fire Sermon

the Fire Sermon

the Buddha addresses his followers in the Quiet Grove,
a stand of old white trees overlooking the Summer Sea.

the birds flash in the fever of living,
dark forms chattering around the boughs
of the summer tree, the first bird speaking in its crown,
sunlight and shade dappling the green into many greens,
a cool blue haze under the canopy,
leaves whispering in the ocean breeze;
they burn with the inner word,
flames of the inmost seeker
that touch the tongue and burn
into articulate speech, the first word,
the genesis tongue. the sun
flames whitely at zenith, standing guard
above distant mountains and the sea;
in the drowsy heat we forget ourselves,
our words, we sleep; birds flicker around us,
their calls breaking the air,
turning and whispering in wild unknowing.
they pattern the air, eclipsing themselves
in restless hunger,
consuming small insect fires, chattering
their words like flames.
the world is fire.

from dark hills broken by rivers
down to rocks breaking the sand,
the eye sees not stones but frozen music,
the dance burning so fast and slow
that to our short-seeing eyes it seems motionless,
more solid to the touch than the hand itself.
but the stones are dancing
in Shiva’s fire; they vibrate in place
like shivering lakes dancing in rain,
humming to themselves of roaring fires,
each atom remembering the forge of exploding suns,
the refuge light of the sky’s red underglow;
the eye sees vibrating chalices of light
and believes it sees silent stone,
but the stone burns.
the world is fire.

in the blue canopy of trees
sulfur butterflies hum, wings rhythmically beating,
pulsing so fast that face-on, edge-on, face-on,
they seem to blink in and out of being,
a flicker in blue air;
the butterfly swims in the hot sea of unknowing,
the forever thirst that sends it flickering
and blinking from flower to leaf to flower,
drinking passionate wine, never replete, never filled;
sulfur and black, mute and restive,
feel the burning, feel what makes them quickly breathe
until they breathlessly fall, mouthparts and mandibles
never still, never motionlessly poised and waiting
like the silent hunter mantis, always flowering
and flickering from point to point
on the burning matrix of day.
they dance, unknowing, breaking themselves
on the sun, the hard white edges of the air.
the world is fire.

the patient mantis well knows the fire
and remains poised, still,
waiting, knowing that the fireflow
will bring the prayer close by,
when it will strike with speed that beats the eye.
the mantis sees the fireflow itself through infinite eyes,
all things as they truly are,
knots of fire flowing in the fields of fire,
bright lines in matrices of shivering flame,
tossed here and there by the field’s hard dancing;
though all believe they give themselves direction, they do not.
the mantis without motion is the observer of all that moves
in Shiva’s dancing, light, the play of flames,
the god’s burning gaze; the mantis is most reverent audience.
this is what it knows; this is why it prays.
the mantis without eyes sees deeper than the eyes of fire.
this is why we fear the mantis: it knows
the world is fire.

as we move beneath the trees, as the breeze stirs its branches,
the sun dapples through sheltering leaves
shatter in our eyes, blinding us with spatters of light;
the greater glare beyond, reflected light blazing on still water,
blazes white in the eye, burning vision black;
the moon is lit by the sun, and lights the sunless plains;
the finger points to the moon, and foolishly
we imagine there is a connection
between the moon and the pointing finger; looking away,
red and green afterimages spin in our gaze,
the field of vision darkens, bluely, dizzily,
like the sky during an eclipse, smothering death of light.
an eclipse of fire is the sun floating in fire,
moon floating between, a knotted light,
darkening, and we imagine it opaque.
light into shadow into light.
lightning spills over into visibility
and we are blinded and deaf, we do not look
upon the god with wonder.
but the trees have not moved, except as they always move,
we have moved through the light beneath them.
is it the wind that trembles their leaves,
or the leaves that make the wind? it is the mind’s moving
that shapes the air, that the leaves turn within.
our eyes drown in their light; our feet
burn on the fiery sands.
the world is fire.

on the beach, rocks break from white sand
like dolphins arcing into sky,
the sun crashes on stones,
sands white and fierce as snow,
snow blind and white like the disused eyes of a beggar child,
like the mute glow of the cave salamander that has never seen,
that would die in the light;
mountain snow softening and melted
by its own trapped heat and the sun’s hammer,
raging white, turning to clear crystal rivers
dancing with searing points of reflected sun,
flowing cold enough to burn the skin
where you bathe in the headwaters by the ice,
river breaking on the stones, flowing closer
till it spills into the summer sea,
warm now with long light, the body’s own endless fever.
light breaks water into vapor,
hot sun feeds the trees that hold the riverbank,
filling the air with cool sweet exhalation;
now, beneath the sun, ocean steams,
and there will come soft rains out of the burning clouds,
falling everywhere and always, washing away like tears.
the world is fire.

like prayers spoken in the wind,
the whale sings, the fish thrum,
songs hot in the ocean’s cold ground;
waters cannot cool them, though they freeze.
they dance in the blazing waters
and are blind.
cold salt wind burns the lungs, is bracing on the skin,
to hold ice burns the hand;
in the shores of ice, shoals of krill
reef and blow in cold currents,
endlessly swimming like seabirds diving through the air,
glowing with inner harvest light, engulfed by the feeding whale;
whale sighs as it sings, breathes deep,
rolls and dives, crying, mourning those who dance
to Shiva’s drum and do not know they dance,
whirling in the heartbeat light till sweat bursts out, skin burns
with fever, they glow to the fiery heat of the dance,
and collapsing wonder why the world spins about them;
the whale knows how they fall off the crest of the wave
and believe the world has gone awry, gone out beneath them,
because they feel it moving now
and do not ride with it; in that moment,
the falling, the fainting, they see,
see truly, just a flash, one terrible moment,
see what the mantis sees.
the whale hears, and sings it; the song will always ring,
even when the whale has gone. even from the edge of the fire desert,
the god hears; the god drums it, eyes glowing red and hot.
the world is fire.

we too, we too, we also.
we also rise and turn and look about in flames,
stone coals in the earthlight;
we feel it through the veil of flames,
perhaps only one forever awful moment,
when we sit beneath the canopies of trees
by the oceanside, where cold salt winds
drift in to mute the hot, heavy sunlight
and the searing blue sky, young birds crying,
butterflies in the blossoms overhead,
when we sit and see whales breaching in the bay,
in the silent blue distance across the wind-cut water,
and do not hear them in the silence of sun and breeze and surf,
though they hear us, hearing instead the deeper roar
of the world’s slow unwinding, down to deeper silence
and dark cold, mountains slowly ringing,
crumbling in the light, when we begin to look through the cracks
in the wall of the world, that wall the eye built
to have something to see—look through the cracks
and find a door, a window, a changing of the light,
a view into what the falling have seen
as they fall, see what the mantis sees;
the fire burns us and we shiver with inner cold.

one said that we must learn to put the fire out.
another said it is the refiner’s fire,
the hot forging that would harden and reshape us.
i do not know; some days the flames are cooling,
some days incandescent. i have burned my feet
upon the icy plain of wind-shaped stones
and must now sit quietly.
but Shiva never stops dancing, never stops smiling,
the drum and bell pulse in the blood forever,
and the god’s eyes glow fiery as he gazes out on us,
the flames dancing in his hand.
it is not cruelty, or anger, or passionate love.
it is not pain, not joy, not weeping, not peace or war.
it is what stands behind all these,
the fire of living, the power under life.
it is the fire.
the world is fire.

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Blogger Dave King said...

This whole post is a great delight. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it. Too much to take in all in one go, but ravishing to the soul. I was particularly moved by passages like:-

it is the mind’s moving
that shapes the air, that the leaves turn within.
our eyes drown in their light; our feet
burn on the fiery sands.
the world is fire.

If I say I found the piece devastating, I trust you will not take it the wrong way!

5:17 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks, Dave, I appreciate your comments a lot.

I had doubts about posting this, which is an older poem, but now I'm glad I did.

10:14 AM  

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