Cartesian Procedure by David Kellogg
Travelled so long I was alien at home,
where I shoved alone against a marathon
and the mind fell out on certain paths branching
away in curving patterns of equations.
The year was bad for books. Overhead, doctors
muttered alchemical formulae. I said
“I am difficult to please, with an appetite
of fire, and I do not think you can bind it.”
The gathering rumble outside was voices,
a language I recalled at once but forgot
the grammar for. Well, I hoarded my portion
of good sense. Palms unfolded behind the eyes
to a pounded dust of glass and copper fragments
I swallowed. And instantly stumbled onto darkness.
Wars at the onset of winter. A warmed room.
What was there to see? The town was nothing,
a scattered ancient hamlet in secret need
of symmetry and form. A single hand
in the dirt. Of course the laws of heaven held —
the clouds were on the move. Before men,
children: that one knew. Likewise, the judgment
strives toward a mathematical sharpness.
It’s true, you never see whole cities razed.
Rather, each reclaims what each one owns
according to several rules: (1) Deny
all you can; (2) Dice what’s left;
(3) Deepen into order; (4) Detail
where God struggles, among reason’s links.
I meanwhile kept the middle moral road,
as I could not be born but where I was
nor thrash about forever in the thick brush
nor conquer outside what I could within:
desire under the boot-heel of the mind.
You must admire those ancients, men who vied
against the heavens — the best possible job,
though, at the end, it crushed all their throats...
Implausibly, I also walked the narrow
and windy trail Rejection, rock and clay,
those same nine years. Until the rumor reached
my ears that I was home already. The house
of faith was gone, that of action solid.
Among the warring, best rebuild in peace.
By now I know you must be bored. I think I am.
I’m more or less constrained to speak like this,
droning in order to sound sound, supposing
against the dream-language of the senses
that the body, yes or no, will keep on
conforming to the words as they arrive.
This same path led to the knowledge of my lack:
the infinite, eternal, changeless, sure.
Mind, reflecting’s not imagination,
which makes the most of all its small mistakes.
You’ll pardon me if I employ the terms
you learned in school. Recall geometry.
Still, nothing can convince me that a single
triangle exists in all the world.
What to do but think? I doubted much,
yet walked beside myself, beheaded, talking.
Compose yourself, I said; intelligence
will get you through. Yet composition gives
more evidence of your defective need.
If this disturbs, then move, divide, transpose:
my imperfections prove perfection’s there
as sleep supports the day, or death waking.
Let he who has eyes to hear, touch this:
God is as certain as any theorem is.
The world yellows, things go slowly distant.
To bed now, dream of other stars and earth,
yourself sleeved in the casings of another,
a lion-head on the body of a goat...
Elsewhere illustrated, rolling the three
dimensions into two (as a painter
brings to light, or places in the shadow):
that several worlds obey the laws of one,
that darkest caverns hold most precious ores,
that fire sometimes melts and sometimes hardens
ashes into glass; that the action which
conserves, created; that this is not unjust.
Readers may have opened before them the heart
of a pig. Note the heat, the part resembling
the flesh of the ear. Follow the twiny cords
to the soft, inevitable lung. Note how a freshly
severed head still moves (animal-spirit,
thou flame, thou subtle wind) and bites the earth.
Three years concluded and reviewed, you learn
of old authorities, return the land
you won, withhold conclusions, keep to yourself,
publishing nothing and deferring those
other opinions in which you were misled
by hands that turned out bought (effective motive),
or volunteers stronger in promise than
performance, the useless best of their age —
Impossible to regain all you’ve lost.
You grasp the dulling knife again, resume
that war of mind; failing, you call for help.
This time, accept. So what if the invention
flails and stalls at first? One cannot even
with the best music perform the lute at once.