“When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” – Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
7/ 23 / 14
I’m going to change the line-up for a while. I've been revising, cataloging and generally rooting around in my poems over the last several months; I've set aside ones that might suit this journal and turned-up a few and so I’ve decided to start sharing them sporadically and briefly mentioning their place in my world. It should probably be noted that all of these were written before the GBM set-in -- all old ones hopefully not fulfilling their own prophecies.
My first and beardiest and most beloved philosophy professor not only succeeded in swiveling my head around and around -- stopping at intervals on, say, my naivety, my illogic, my stable of misbegotten notions; he saved me from a void cosmos by connecting the dots between Aldebaran and the Hyades, bridging the gap between Cassiopeia and Canis Major -- see stars, see stars run.
See my adviser at new school, inquire after seats in the astronomy class -- see hydrogen, see hydrogen fuse.
With continuing pleasure, I took the next level; with diminishing pleasure, I took the next-level astronomy tests -- see physics, see it call my bluff.
I graduated with a degree in Philosophy (minor English) the diploma for which abides dustily alongside a diploma I earned with a degree in English (minor Philosophy). In other words, I’ve read Plato’s Republic four times.
I carried on my life’s impecunious way picking-up micro-nuggets of knowledge and developing half-formed solutions to the recondite. I carried on, trying to unlearn order --and chaos, for that matter. I carried on snipping ballast sacks -- so beige and burlap -- from my hot air balloon -- so colorful and plump.
And back, naked-eye descrying the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades.
And on, pecking-out poems and stories that were not as magnificent as I thought them to be or as
lackluster as I swore they were.
And back: Six degrees of Francis Bacon; Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights for all the Bronte marbles; Kant, Hume, Hegel -- oh my; Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare -- oh, snap.
And on and on, all the way here . . .
At thirty-seven, memory
Stripped to bare skin—a consequence
Of medicine and the sickness
Itself—I wish I could recall
The Milky Way without planet,
Constellation, or Cynosure.
As when on drives to Knoxville
From Bland, the anonymous stars
Would scale up the sky, as slow as
The hours, as the lollygag miles
To the never nearing coal-stack
Of the Smokeys.
At thirty-seven, the shapeless
Clusters and random amble
Are gone; and my wish, more
Than a brain without panicked cramps
Or tumor, is to have my catalog cleared
Of Messier, mythology,
And hydrogen fusion;
To press my face to the cold glass
And see in Leo’s place a velvet cloak
Pricked-through with the pins of God’s
Own angels, embroidering
A miracle of sorts having
Nothing to do with light years—
A consequence of nothing known.
And nearly there (as below) . . .
The Upshot of My Sciences
When I go loam,
I hope to meet
A maple leaf
To hold my hand.
When I go worm,
I hope to find
A sopping earth
To take me in.
When I go kale,
I hope to grow
A purple furl
To greet you with.
When I go cloud,
I hope to blot
A zenith sun
To stake my claim.
When I go sea,
I hope to crest
A toppling swell
To thank the moon.
When I go oak,
I hope to have
A maple tree
To neighbor with.
I don’t think any of this – the versification nor the commentary – represent a terminal condition of my heart; more than likely, they represent a careful consideration of my life without either, and why or whether whimsy seems to have edged-out the awe owed the unadorned beauty of reality.
I can tell you this, I believe there is some correlation between what seems to be a slippage in my fascination with the empirical and the dunderheadedness accreted during times of my infatuation with the so-called sublime.
Beyond that, I can suggest that the continual struggle in my brain is a notable factor in my increasing dunderheadedness. In other words, I got dumb. Not necessarily as a result of constantly conflicting ideals, but as a coincidence of bodily corrosion and the vicissitudes of fortune. I got dumb. Mute and dull. It’s hard to dodge the spitballs of an indifferent goddess while timing deflections of astral bowling balls -- aflame and careering.