Eye's Mind

By Peter Halstead


The way that wind crops water
And crenellates the sand,
Sight steals palm fronds from disorder
To organize the Yucatán

When I close my eyes to see its world
Reflected as I try to tan;
On my lids the sea is pearled;
It flickers like a ceiling fan

Or the drawings you design
To flip as quickly as you can,
Where a tiny pencil line
Becomes a running man:

So to spot this coruscation
I might as well be blind,
Exploring as I can this coral nation
Only in my mind.


We assume the retina repeats
Only what the body meets,
Making colors complementary
Just to items that we see;
But, waking from a dream,
A tree is outlined by a stream:
Without opening my eyes,
I catch nerve ends by surprise,
In flagrante with a scene
On the eyelids’ movie screen,
Originated far from light,
Faked by sleeping’s second sight,
Optics manufactured by the mind
(Nightly novels for the blind):
So who says observation is the goal
Of the controversial soul¬—
Vision may be just a part
Of the eyesight’s dazzling start.


Goethe painted pictures that were intended to be stared at intensely in order to conjure up different colors entirely after the eyes were closed, auroras of the retinal image. I wrote a long dissertation on his color theory in high school, getting my great-aunt to translate the segments that evaded my dictionary. Living in a small town before the internet, I had somehow managed to get hold of a German, but not an English, version.

This poem is a souvenir of Goethe’s retinal world and is one of my myopia poems, one of the perks of not being able to see very well, or of only seeing details. This weakness has, I suppose, been behind my preference for a small picnic spot in a forest over a panorama over the whole valley.

To contradict one of my presumptions, in reality the nerve endings that register light and then call up fading versions of it after the eyelids close would probably never register enough sensation, were I blind, to cause complementary colors to flicker in the dark, so even darkness may be a function of sight (in Virgil’s words, visible darkness), but the blind hope for light is a condition even of the sighted, and should never be reasoned away.

Waking from a dream of a spider one morning, but not opening my eyes, I saw the spider outlined very accurately in a retinal image that filled my eyelids’ so-called screen with exactly the outlines of the spider from my dream, a textbook image of a large spider seen from above which could not have been extracted from actual vision (hopefully).

So either retinal nerves manufacture hallucinations, which the brain then turns into dreams, or the mind’s scenarios are conveyed to the retina, even in sleep, forming false images that the sleeper, being asleep, cannot see, but which nevertheless exist in the mind’s eye, or the eye’s mind. Eyes see while minds sleep, observation possibly being a tradition more honored in the breach than the observance.

Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico
March, 1997