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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Metaphysics and the Monkey

The monkey climbing down the Mayan megalith
knows nothing of the powers in the stone,
what a being must believe to carve it so,
how a carving may breed faith in flesh and bone.

He's looking down and back across his shoulder,
searching for the safety of the ground.
There's fear etched in those eyes. Anxiety
Why did he ever try to climb
this chunk of God-knows-what-with-nothing-to-hang-on-to,
this bald and bony rock that's nowhere like a tree?
Unclimbable, that's what!   
He's sure he'll tumble off it soon enough
into some purgatory.       
But now look carefully,       there's something else:
there's sorrow in the eyes at having left
his comfort zone, his loving home.       His tall tree 
is a memory.       Its canopy, his warm and cosy wife --
both figments from a dream. 
The sadness comforts fear. Sadness and fear.
And something else again,
something that we humans know as prayer.
Prayer offered in extremity. 

Like all best heavenly communions, 
his cry is silent. Wordless. Imageless. A mystery at source.
A lifting of the soul to God or to the void.
Translated though, it roughly goes like this:

Please let the world be tree-like underneath,
not flakey like the croissants humans eat
(discarding lives like sun-burnt flakes of skin --
a psoriasis afflicting everywhere I look),
but let us live like ancient trees,
forever deeper in the earth and closer to
yourself above the sky --
                    And let it be like this for all --
not simply the elect.      
And then, please let
the limestone penis on that fabled bird 
one step or so below me, thin
and convoluted, interwoven with a snake, 
support my foot... my body-weight... my life... my all --
my afterlife, if that's to be --  and whatsoever
might come jogging after that. Here ends my prayer.

It ends with life's original hypothesis. He has two choices. 
Always there are two and only two. (The world 
is simple at its core.)
He knows the great philosophers by heart:-
Something either is, or it is not. (that's Socrates)
Branch will hold you, dear, or if it won't,it won't.(Aunt Flo')

No more ado. A single monkey-weight transferred
from dragon's tongue to cock of fabled bird.

Dendrites in his brain light up
like street lamp filaments
illuminating neural pathways
mapping those in the real world.
And as with all such modelling, such calculating,
testing, forging of new links, new phrases come
(wordless again) (and imageless) (half-formed) (unformed) 
into the Holiest of Holies in his mind 
                             (where even he 
has never dared to look) (but where 
he's forced to meet them now, 
                        these alien perturbations, 
ruffles to his natural rhythms),       oddities      like: - 
world is:-    locust on a strawberry 
              inside a lotus blossom
              in a dented can of butter beans.
The label reads: "Made Somewhere Else."
                                                                                      Or: -
world is jungle-friendly path of broken glass. 
                                 Anomalous ideas 
to conjure with      
like:      world is 
sun-dried purple roasted peanuts wrapped in haggis (which
in common with the rest of us, he's never known
but just concocted in some kitchen of his brain).       
Or: -
world is pollen clouds above the canopy.       
Or: -
(coming down to earth and walking on the canopy),
 a trapdoor made of mould, with
a deep pit beneath.      
Or: -
world is root canals in mud and slime 
and sound of sap a'roaring in the roots
                               like water at the falls. -- 

But these are insights he could never own 
or formulate.
He smells them out, like jungle smoke --
like irritations in the nose or throat,
an autonomic thing that happens to the mind.
Time to decamp the hippocampus says, that has
already struck more cells than anyone can count.

By-products all of life's involuntary 
mental exercises. 
              For example, this: what chance
the limestone penis carries all his weight 
for as long as he might take
to work out his next move?
(Or the next two) (Or three) (Or four) 
(How far ahead a monkey thinks, is hard to know.)

These are matters then, that occupy his mind,
that stretch his intellect. They are 
the metaphysics he has made his own.
And all the learning in his head
(which we can hardly know),
cannot quite grasp -- the way his fingers do --
the two millennia of culture in the stone.
.................................................................
This is a new poem offered to Poetry Pantry#133 at Poets United

29 comments:

aprille said...

Just wanted to let you know that I have set out on the journey down this poem. Utterly amazed anybody can construct something so awesome. Will let you know when I have arrived. Safely, I hope.

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

aprille
I feel very flattered and I too hope you arrive safely.

Kerry O'Connor said...

There is much to digest in this existential piece. I was struck by the contrast of the opening paragraph/stanza. You appear to have mixed your mediums of writing to interesting effect. A great piece of experimental writing.

Brian Miller said...

wow david...you went deep...i could start quoting back to you but that would probably take away from the whole...something i wish i wrote...two choices, simple at its core....that is enough to keep the head spinning today....

anthonynorth said...

Deep and intriguing. 2,000 yrs and the questions are the same.

rch said...

Hey Dave this one went places I could have never imagined, it's always such a pleasure to expand my mind at your mega blog.

aprille said...

Samuel Taylor is your middle name, I guess.
Or bedside reading sending you to sleep, perchance to dream.
Can't begin to understand it all, or even some. But the elements are like ingredients of a monumental dish, which doesn't have to be consumed all at once. Quite something.

Manicddaily said...

Dave- this is really a magnum opus of sorts - simeon opus? That monkey on the back of the monument - it is so creative - I love that it's all balanced on a limestone penis. And the jumps - climbs - from the sublime to the less than sublime = are very well carried out - I especially like the humans' croissants - The piece also has wonderful musicality. Thanks. k.

jabblog said...

I felt the sadness and bewilderment in the monkey's mind. Some things we can never understand - 2014 was the Year of the Brain but we are learning more every day.

Mary said...

Wow, Dave! I would say this is one of your deepest and one of your best. I think someone might be able to use this poem as basis for his/her master's degree thesis! Perfection, sir! (I agree with Karin / manicddaily about it being a 'magnum opus.')

Panchali said...

Dave Alexander...Wow! This is a brilliant piece!I loved the way you associated the thoughts with our day to day life....Great imagery and so well penned!

Libby Meador said...

A fun capture. If only I can hold onto it for more than a millisecond - like all great silent communions.

Kim Nelson said...

An epic poem that made this reader ponder the evolution of the physical as well as the spiritual and emotional.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Dave, if you only wrote this one poem in your entire life, this would make you fit for a Nobel Laureate. It is an amazing flight of thought, which deposits us all in the existential and stretches our minds as nimbly as that monkey, perching precariously on his rock, surveys his options. FANTASTIC writing. I am totally wowed.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

A masterpiece, to be read and reread....

And I have repasted once more my cover...will it last?

Carl said...

Wow. At the heart of it all knowledge and wisdom already exists and the only differences lie in the constructs we build to deal with external stimulus. Then god is in every creature and we are all god. Not sure if I got in the weeds there, but that is what this extraordinary journey led me to. I am awed at the number of levels you needed to be working on to build something like this. Did you just boil down the whole of philosophy in a couple of paragraphs?

The Elephant's Child said...

Oh. And thank you, as I travel like the monkey into unfamiliar and uncertain territory. Will he arrive safely? Will I?

Poet Laundry said...

You reached so many things here Dave. A Mayan jungle of a piece...I too am 'wowed'.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Love the starting "The monkey climbing down the Mayan Megalith,". Super.

Willow said...

The monkey, the Mayans, were you there and did you do it, monkey? I am printing this to read over and over and gather more and more. I "cannot quite grasp..." it all in three reads. Profound. I hope for you this is published.

haricot said...

Maybe you can see the unseen part of our history, Dave. I love your long spanned perception, but it is so sorry that some parts are too difficult for me to see.

Jack said...

This is amazing. Poets could learn a lot from reading this one piece.

Ygraine said...

I really like the way you have combined these different rhythmic forms into a single piece of literature that truly speaks to the Soul.
And as for the content itself...well, that is astounding! Genuine metaphysical awareness...the monkey...the Mayans...each and every one of us linked by carved Sacred Stone.
Utter perfection in words!
Thank you Dave :)

Dave King said...

Kerry
Thanks for this Kerry. Yes, I just saw the first stanza as an intro' to the main piece. And you are right: I played around with one or two experimental devise - not all of which got into the poem.

Brian
I like the quote, it's essential to the thrust of the whole, at least as I see it. Thanks for what I connsider to be the ultimate in critical approval!

anthonynorth
Indeed yes, I agree: the questions are still the same.

rch
Much grateful thanks for saying this.

aprille
Oh, I so like your analogy. The philosophy was not meant to have been worked through, rather it is the monkey trying to work things out and make sense of a rather alien that he wandered into. Thank you so much for your very insightful comments.

manicddaily
Like it, like it - simeon opus? yes I like that! And so delightful to have your other comments - esp. the one re the croissants. That is the one I was most unsure about whether it would work or not.

jabblog
Such an encouraging comment. So grateful for it. The sadness and bewilderment of the monkey is an essential aspect. One fact I might have included, but somehow didn't is that ;imestone is very slippery. I saw this as adding to his instability.

Mary
Wow, now there's a thought: someone writing their Master's thesis on it! I could so live with that! (Whether I'd be able to live with the thesis is, of course, an entirely different question!

Panchali
Hi! A warm welcome to you. Thank you so much for visiting and for commenting. Your thoughts will always be valuable, all grist to the mill!

Libby
A millisecond is more than enough - it's about how long the original inspiration for this lasted and then was gone for ever!

Kim
That is such an encouraging comment. Thank you for it.

Sherry Blue Sky
And I have to say that I am totally wowed by your comments. I'm not sure how I can satsfactorily express my thanks - I shall not hold my breath for the nobel, though. Your accolade is more than enough!

Tommaso
Thanks a lot. Still having problems with your posting though.

Carl
Hey, Thanks so much for this Carl.
At the heart of it all knowledge and wisdom already exists and the only differences lie in the constructs we build to deal with external stimulus.
This is so much at the heart of what I was trying for, but also goes way beyond it. A really fascinating thought which I shall give much brain raking to!

AsI said above, the philosophy is a monkey's work in progress. He is right at the early doors of his thinking.

The Elephant's Child
Indeed you will - like the monkey, I feel it in my water!

Poet's Laundry
Thank you. Everybody's been so kind with their comments - as usual. I am wowed by yours. Thanks again.

Rachna
Thanks. Unusually for me, that was the where the writing began as well!

Willow
Thank you for those kind words - and the kind hope also. As I've said above, the philosophy is not meant to hang together, it's the monkey trying to work it all out and thinking irreconcilable things in the process.

haricot
Sorry to hear that, but perfectly well understand. Great to have your comment all the same.

Jack
Wow, and again. Wow! this is some comment. Amazing. Thank you so much for it.

Ygraine
Thank you for a really lovely and much valued comment. I am so glad you thought well of this piece particularly. It grew on me, as they say, whilst I was working on it.



Manicddaily said...

Hi Dave - revisiting your poem. It has so much wonderful stuff - The choice part -- there are always two - just terrific - I love the jump from Socrates to Aunt Flo - (I'm guessing you mean from Jane Goodall - that is brilliant) and the Mum - what will be will be whether it happens or not.

I felt at certain places after that you might think of pruning a tiny bit - it is all brilliant and I don't know where to start but I think long poems are so difficult to sustain - but for me where he is discovering fractal theory becomes a bit of a stretch! Part of the strongest parts - other than the philosophy - is just the joke of the monkey being a monkey and also a philosopher - the mixture of Socrates and Aunt Flo - the mixture of the leafy canopy and the croissants - I can see that you would wonder about the croissants and I probably not as sure of them as I sound --Only I have to say that wacky humor does grab the reader - and something just so surprising. I know in my own work often the lines I am least comfortable with are the ones that people remember and usually that is good.

The end with the grasp is wonderful.

One note - you talk about sandstone penis once and limestone penis another time - I think these are different, aren't they? I don't know if you meant for that difference--

Thansk again. k.

A Cuban In London said...

Like aprille, I read the poem like a journey, albeit one undertaken by a human and not an ape! :-) Amazing piece. I loved the nuances (especially the ruminations on a world that is not "tree-like". Never thought of that).

Many thanks.

Greetigs from London.

Dave King said...

Manicddaily
Hi, thanks for coming back and for the points you make. I must confess that I did have reservations myself concerning the fractal theory sequence, which admittedly doesn't link up with anything else in the poem and so is hard to justify. The wacky humour I think I may have to think harder about. Maybe there is too much of it. it's a good point and neds considering.

You are right about the sandstone and limestone penis. It should have been limestone (which I chose because it is slippery in certain conditions - though I then didn't bring this out in the poem!). I can't think how I made tat slip or why I didn't spot it, but many thanks for pointing it out.

Once again much thanks for all your help.

A Cuban in London
Interesting that you read it as a journey undertaken by a human. I conceived it as one being made by a monkey, but it occurred to me at a very early stage that it could be taken either way and I then tried to keep the two options in play. (I rarely have a problem if a poem is read otherwise than the way I thought I'd written it.

Manicddaily said...

PS - I don't know about your poem, but as a general matter there is rarely too much wacky humor in the world!