On our 24th anniversary
Close your eyes and try to picture
What the blood is coming to:
Bits of string, a lighting fixture,
As the world comes into view:
Stringlike veins and flashing lights
Into which the memory sinks,
A Rorschach blot of recent sights
The cerebral cortex links
To the understory of the day,
Painting with atomic traces
On the retina’s display
A kaleidoscope of faces
From the sun’s remembered rays,
Subsiding always into places
Cut with fog and haze,
Portraits of our inner spaces
Built from only just the last
Encountered objects, say:
Bits of human chloroplast
Filtered through the spray
Like visions of the blind,
Rejects from what’s really seen,
The residue of humankind,
The earth’s deleted scene;
But, as the sight retreats
Through albums of the night,
It one by one deletes
Enemies of its deeper light,
Spiraling through decreasing slides
Of microscopic cones and rods
To uncover what the eyesight hides
Against the mind’s decreasing odds:
To see is finally to see through,
As, behind my stupor, I see you.
June 22nd, 2004
When you close your eyes, the retinal image of whatever you’ve just seen is shown, its image and its colors inverted, like a film negative, on the screen which is formed by the inside of your eyeball. Like the panopticon room at the Museum of Natural History in New York, the retina is a curved dome on the inside of which the projector of the optical nerve shows its home movies.
As the projector bulb dims, no longer charged up by natural light, its only source of power, colors and images fragment and deconstruct on the inside of the eye. It seems as if the screen on which this spectacle is viewed is the inside of the eyelid, but the eyelid is only the shutter, which blocks light when it’s closed.
As the images decay, other, earlier images, pentimentos, palimpsests come into view, intaglios etched earlier on the eye and still present, as data is present in a computer even when trashed, until it is finally overwritten, and even then it may only be partially overwritten. So the eye is similar to a computer memory. It exhibits a natural order in which it remembers the day’s events, dictated no doubt by how fiercely an event was seared into the memory by the eye, that is, how much we stared at a wall, a pomegranate, a girl’s hair, or a cloud.
As images decay, they combine, as patterns do in a kaleidoscope, forming cubist paintings, fractals, grids, trellises, until the very mechanisms of the optic nerve, cones and rods, are revealed before darkness descends, lit by flashes of the nerve ending, twitches caused by the body’s constant electrical pulse, which continue despite outside stimulus, eventually reducing visual memory to its basics, one of which, I like to think, is lifelong love, an image burned on our screens by time and will.
I wrote the poem in Kailua on June 22nd for our 24th anniversary, which was on June 21st, 2004, but which we celebrated late, as we had just sold one of our liquor brands, an inadvertent anniversary present which transfigured so much of our later life. I am amazed in retrospect how much that reality infused the poem, rather than eliminating it.