Nathaniel Tarn Four Recent Poems

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                                                                                                    for Antjie Krog

no one has ever sent, or you are sending off things
which no one has ever received – and for that matter
ever will, and when I begin, when I begin to say this,
you believe I am talking [non/sense,] but it is not true,
I am talking the only sense there is which is what we do,
you and I do – and call it, what do we call it, do you know
what we call it, when we translate a situation into life?

When the tears begin, that is the moment when
everything flows, drama is launched, when language
takes over a field which may or may not belong to it –
no one is certain, but the dark drapes are brought out,
[the dark drapes are draped over the windows anyway],
incognitos walk into the room handing out messages,
interpretations concerning the great abandonment,
at which time drapes turn red and we deal not with ink

but with blood. We wish to send analyses concerning this
but no one will ever have learned the code. And we wish
to receive encouragement and comfort in the light of it
but no one will ever have memorized the words. Then what
we do, [what we do], you and I, not to earn a living, never, no,
but simply to tell so that we do not die, hands us the hands
of no one; the blessing of the never-met, the never-heard of,
asking of us that we bow down and pray, that we weep, that
we conciliate the powers that be and that do not be. But it is

impossible, given the name of human nature, and we do not
pray. Return to seven – sacred number, pass go, do not collect.
We suppose a stage is reached when nothing is heard any
longer, when not one word can pierce the iron-coated heart.
What do they call it: charity-fatigue? compassion-fatigue?
[which also sashays up and down with the stock market.]
Who has taken to him/herself the pain of a whole universe,

no one withheld, crushed by that whole, certainly not by "sin,"

that way then – nothing laid in the tomb, not even an absence.


What is this self which realizes one night
that its whole life has only had one meaning:
the question of the relation of a whole to
whatever may be said to depend from it –
that most ancient of philosophical questions?
Because you cannot only pursue the whole,
desire it ardently your whole existence through,
because the whole is meaningless without the part
and the part must be as carefully examined and expounded
as the whole. If you go for the whole alone,

what are you doing except entering a cloud
so that your task is to become ever more pure
until no shred of remembrance of any part remains with you
and the thought of any part immediately drowns into the whole,
[the thought or apprehension of the whole] – and you are
now so desperately wretched and one-sided. No, it is the
stubbornness, the innate cussedness [and stubbornness] of the part,
any part, [any part whatsoever], dropped by circumstance
into a consciousness, [birth taken in a consciousness] –
as part of a whole, you understand, you cannot,

[absolutely cannot] do without that part-enabling whole.
It is that stubbornness which links you to the moment,
to the circumstantial existence of yourself in time,
as if you were a note in music, or a bird
in a flock of birds disappearing into winter
and the moment is the only thing that you truly possess,
can ever possess, the very definition of possession
and that possession is the possession of a part, a part only,
indeed the moment, [the very moment], is nothing but a part,
and never yet of a whole. But then, [but then], you are straining,

[ever straining] for the selfish possession of that moment;
forgetful of the whole, that which you were first desiring,
the cloud that sits in the midst of your mind, [your mist],
which would swallow and make null all those parts as parts
floating around in the mind – and another kind of selfishness,
the selfishness of the light-hearted, the cloud-walker,
alone with his invisibles, his intangibles, all those angelic wings
with emptiness at the heart, without beings between them,
all those illusions, that beg for the want of parts,
his kingdom worth less than a horse, [merely a part, a part].

Except, of course, [except of course] if there were a signal,
if, in the midst of that cloud, all the parts were suddenly
beheld, [held] as if holding together, as if there was a pattern
discernable there and, yes, of course, my god, the moment,
[the moment] would then be both part and whole in one body,
waiting only on mind,[the holy mind], to weld them together,
what once upon a time was called the firefly of spirit,
before disappearing from this quest, not once and for all,
no never, alas, of course, [once and for all] – but merely
merely until the next moment, eons afterwards,

when whoever owns the machine stands again at the doorsill
and the astonishing beauty of the understanding is detected
and the knowledge that it is always there – however many times
you are at a loss in the world; [at a complete loss in the world],
to be returned to, in that new moment, which is also all the old,
as if this moment were ageless and could always return
with the astounding recurrence of air by the unbounded ocean.


Here is life, here is existence
being spoken of, praised and lamented,
here is life hiding behind everything that could define it.
Here is the secret of everything there is to be said
hiding behind the words with which to say it.
There is no other life but we cannot find this life,
life itself is the mystery we cannot clarify.
It hides, it hides remorselessly, all through the ages.
All things go down before it on bent knees,
on some angle of their shape if not human
but it will not reveal itself, by song, or word or whisper.
Nothing can be gained from it, nothing kept.
There has been no description of it that will satisfy
though it burns with a flame that eats worlds.
It is not mentioned in any dictionary,
it is too obvious, too all encompassing to be named.
Sometimes someone will take it with him or her,
they will take it away behind all those veils
and leave the scene with it quite definitely
and it seems that it will never occupy its space again.
And even though it has gone, still we cannot define it.
Mother and father lie on either side of it,
breathing it into its own very specific departure
and it goes, slowly but inexorably, leaving the world behind
and all that is left on the ground is the snow,
and the departed’s own breath wipes away the footsteps.
Then the music, the music starts again, the unspeakable,
the untranslatable watchdog of the emotions.
The sun begins to shine in a far off sky, not like itself,
as if it were an altogether different star,
yes, like another planet now, on another chart, another map,
surrounded by clouds no other eye has seen. Looking hard
at the veils – which are always hung, they, which rarely move,
one witness here does see one veil move, move infinitesimally,
as if the wind itself were moving to migrate,
the wind which had caused life to dance
in endless repetitions from the beginning of time,
as if it were deciding to move and take all present with it.
Smiles of surpassing ignorance light up the mourners’ faces.


Now this is man, coming toward you
before his side is presented to you
and then his back is seen by you
dissolving in far distance,
whether it be mountain or sea, it
little matters. You notice him
crowned with all knowledge – proven
by paper particles falling around
his feet, each one inscribed not
with a word alone (as in a dictionary
tumbled toward his shoes) but whole
ideas, concepts, theories of life and
death, what has been called at times
"theory of everything." Before him walks,
transparent to him – more so to you –
wholly invisible, the girl Sophia,
breast bare, voluminous, and nipples raining
warm milk of mothering, also to ground.
This man, coming toward you, passing you,
backing away from you, he wears that smile
so temperate, a peaceful countenance, noble
demeanor in every gesture, informing you
he has derived the keys from all philo-
sophy, believes he’s gained his "wisdom."
He’s marched from all his gods into mankind
and now must access stone. Not only stone
but frozen stone: or if you wish,
call it accessing thingliness. He
leaves: no doubt of it. And as he
goes, his coasts crumble away, his beaches
bleed, his fields and forests rot in the sun,
his hills and mountains break, revealing little
gold, silver or other treasure that you
might have hoped for – even his skies
collapse around him, without a single
diamond for all those crippled stars:
the landscape you might say is dis-
solution, nothing appearing in its
wake save ice. Now a small radio
in someone’s hand, some one of
you, (computers have been down
for a few hours) announces in
a neutral voice, you feel the smile,
together with appeals for you to
buy this or that product: "Be
it now known to you (about that man)
that all his kin and folk, widespread
acquaintance in all lands, friend-
ships with great and small, all died
preceding him in the gigantic fall
for which he had not thought to build
museums so that some species might sur-
vive of this whole world. And you that stand
here watching him go, thinking you
own your loved ones and loved things
in hologrammic order, well kept, secured,
needing no record, lists, books, photographs,
no deep insurance – look at your feet
now where you stand, as he goes for-
ward of you on his way, see our last
island crack under those feet, experience
the water start to freeze your ankles,
soles and toes. "Last chance," Sophia
whispers – as her milk also cools on ice.

This material is © Nathaniel Tarn

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