The way I close my eyes
And see the sun explode
To flowers with a thousand nodes,
A bomb whose rays arise
Like pistils streaming from the skies,
Molten tentacles that live in light,
The way that with my eyes closed tight
I can watch the frenzied dyes
That the seeing world denies,
A twisted snapshot of the night
Too delicate for normal sight
Which the thwarted vision magnifies
Into fiber optic countrysides,
Neatly copying the caging
Of the eye’s internal staging,
The way that sometimes slides
Merge the garden with the grime,
The way a girl dissolves to sunlit rhyme,
The way the hidden camera discloses
Our focused faces in the roses.
Goethe painted paintings where you had to close your eyes to see the real painting inverted on the retina. Such retinal images invert colors, as negative film is inverted from the prints it creates.
One morning in Colorado, I woke up with the sun in my eyes, and closed them briefly to see a supernova swimming with the myriad floating dots on my eyelids, very much like the flash of an atom bomb.
(Such floaters are signs of a detaching retina, and I later had some six hundred laser sears in each eye to cauterize the retinal tissue back to the epithelium, eliminating the visions I describe here. I had always been sensitive about my eyes, but after this I became fearless.)
Inside the butter-yellow circle were white dots with stems, like the nerve endings of the optic cell when magnified, and very much like the close-ups of the ends of a fiber-optic cable, which must imitate our own molecular secrets. The butter-and-eggs aureole reminded me of the flower of that name, which perhaps explains the flower imagery. I was impressed that the apparition took on the form of the eye’s structure itself, the way we assume ghosts imitate reality.
So I wrote a poem about ways of seeing, the way in which being myopic or even having your eyes closed is more conducive to miracles (or at least mirages), having always in mind how the camera lens merges images into images with an adjustable polarizing filter. As I twirl the filter, I black out either the reflection or the view through the viewfinder, but if I stop in the middle of twirling the filter, I can include quite a bit of both extremes, merging the clear things with the blurred things. The dark room, the camera obscura, of the camera never obscures the meanings of objects; it illuminates them. The camera obscura is also the underside of a butterfly’s wing.
Their wings are colored by refraction, diffraction, and interference. That is, the spacing of the wing patterns produces colors in the light spectrum. As the angle of the wing changes, the colors change, causing iridescence. When light hitting the wing interferes with light reflected off the wing, a color is either canceled out or enhanced. So butterflies are living reflection or deflection photos, depending on the light and their position.
The real life of the girl in the poem dissolves similarly into the unreal life of the poem, and yet ironically the real girl will die, while the false girl will maybe live a little longer in the dim artificial room, the camera obscura, of the rhyme. So our shiny faces, our camera lucida, reflect mortality, while our tiny lies, our camera obscura, prolong lives. Our souls live and die on the wings of a butterfly. The Greek word for butterfly is psyche, or soul.
We are trapped between the reality and the image, between the mirror and the lens, between the grime and the garden, between the camera lucida and the camera obscura, the two sides of a butterfly’s wings, and it is through the metaphor of poetry or film, abnormal forms of unnatural sight, that we transcend our unsightly state: the emulsion, the superficial film of our Bambi limbo.
The sunlit rhyme and solar rays of second-hand sight bathe the poem with a photographer’s stolen strobe, that efflorescent paparazzi metaphor. The hidden camera steals the girl, the garden, and the sun.
Years ago, an editor of Poetry, John Frederick Nims, complained that my poetry should be as lively as my prose, an annoying point on which I blame all my later attempts to be coherent.