The Zonules of Zinn

By Peter Halstead

The eye, seen from outside in,
Is the mind’s panopticon,
        An inner theater in the round
            Where scenery is splashed around
A darkened stage whose windows open
To let the stars and planets in,
            The night sky’s sparkling bowl
            Projected by the pupil’s hole
Where, like prom night at the gym,
Sequins dangle on the rim,
            The blood’s horrific pride and pain
            Pasted on the cellophane,
Saran Wrap which erases
What is lifted from its traces,
            A magic notepad that deletes
            Sun’s writing from our sheets,
Effaced from evening’s slate
Like tears on acetate,
            Memories that used to mesh
            With the lenses of the flesh,
Transparent leaves which alight
On the drawbridge of the sight
            And are gradually assigned
            To the valleys of the blind.

July 5th, 2004


Both this and the poem “Sky Writing” were written with my eyes closed, putting the tip of the pen on the paper and rolling my eyes back into my head so they wouldn’t inadvertently move in tandem with my hand as it shaped the letters. I found that, if you print, the eye invariably moves parallel to the pen, but if you use script, the squiggles are too unplanned for the eye to know what to follow, at least if you have terrible handwriting.

So I just scribbled away, line by line, after I’d worked them out in my head, hoping I wasn’t writing over the last phrase, keeping the pen on the pad to save my place.

This subterfuge was a good experiment on the connection of sight and language but arose because my doctor in Honolulu had forbidden me to use my eyes for anything for a week. They both were taped shut, so the good one wouldn’t lead the lasered one astray, I suppose. This proved extremely challenging, and I allowed myself to practice memorized Liszt Rhapsodies on an inner virtual keyboard, as long as my eyes didn’t move. Just like printing, I found that simple passages begged for the eye to trace them on the eyelids, while the busier scales were too much, and the eye just lolled about while the fingers did all the work.

Few people must be thinking about any of this. I can’t imagine what good it will do anyone, but there it is. It certainly made for sloppy manuscripts, and future emendators will probably use them to support the theory of opium use as a driving factor in my writing, but a rogue reporter might check the medical records of Dr. Gregg Kokame, lost in time, for verification of this trompe-l’oeil.

I have always been fascinated with the insides of the eye, their Zonules of Zinn being an exotically-named de Chirico wasteland of blaring visions and optical cancellations. The Zonules sound like an Arthur Clarke novel, but in fact are ligaments that open and close the pupil’s diaphragm. Despite that, I always see a Daliesque desert with the shadows of obelisks extending to the horizon under a sunless sky, and indeed the eye is a round, empty planetarium on whose distant sphere the tiny window of the pupil projects its revelations.