Shaking Free of an Epiphany
Remember that voice which briefly nested
In your friend’s mouth as you both stood
On a mountaintop fringed with trillium
Wondering what to do with the rest of life,
A runnel of wind winding through the trees?
Remember how the voice, which was not
Quite your friend’s voice, being somehow
Deeper, more pronounced and bell-like,
Bypassed the usual interpretive mechanisms,
Spoke directly to your constitutional core?
Remember the memories that surged up then,
Of being a child in a clearing gazing at stars
Bare arms infused with the crispness of grass,
The steady whine of crickets scoring the dark,
Every element, including yourself, pristine?
That was when, though later you’d disavow it,
Tears came, along with a need for something
You might, if you weren’t so modern, call
Redemption, a poignant awareness of how
Far from the child you’d been you’d come
And how much farther there was to go,
The only guide to what lay ahead threadbare
Words that had been spoken too many times
By too many people to hold significance.
Where on the horizon were the new words,
The ones the size of pills, the color of plums,
Sharpened and stainless as geometric forms,
The words that curled the toes in convulsion,
Stole behind the barn with a can of gasoline
And lit a match, danced round the flames
So as to summon drought from the rains?
Where were the words that would transform
Facsimile folk, turning slurs pure as spring
Water, saturating pores of Diaspora,
Words that would partake equally of neon
And oak leaf, timeless yet encompassing
The prefixes neo-, hyper-, cyber- and post-,
Where on the tip of your tongue were they?
The wind then, not in response, eddied
Through the green scrim of birch and ash,
And a white-tailed deer sprang in front of you,
Rubbing its nose against the ground, casting,
If demeanor can be imputed to animals,
A prolonged, quizzical glance at the two of you
Before bounding into the leaf-heavy beyond.
When you turned to your friend to confirm
The passing creature, no sounds would come
From your mouth, though ideas teemed;
Somehow the self at the helm of the larynx
Was estranged from the one picking wordless
Fruit on the shores of intention. A disconnect.
Have you forgotten what happened next,
How in your friend’s eyes, which until now
Had resembled noon-light refracted through
A magnifying glass, personality was restored,
The bell-like voice replaced by familiar
Intonations, the parasite returned to its host?
How you put your arms around each other
As if having survived an infantry’s final burst?
How the clear skies broke into storm,
A hard rain buffeting briefly then dying out?
The car ride down the mountain was filled
With silence, both of you turning over coins
Of thought minted in different countries,
Unable to explain to each other a hairline
Fracture appearing in your sense of things,
An imperative indelibly etched on any plans
You might make in the near or far,
And so you listened instead to indie rock
Crackling through the car speakers, watched
The onset of evening through the windshield,
Patches of mailbox-fronted homes scrolling past.
That night, alone, the blue light of television
Could not diminish your neural circuitry’s buzz,
Your palpable certainty that ontological
Change was fermenting in your chest, that
You could engage the real as the deer did,
Regal and unwavering in pursuit of finality.
That night you dreamed of a black hull nudging
Past silt and reeds, opening into an expanse
Of flawless rippling ocean, interstitial spaces
Shifting while maintaining a pattern between
The wingtips of gulls wheeling in formation
Overhead, skies roughly the color of the sea,
A gray blanket of serenity that swaddled you . . .
If only morning hadn’t come, but it did,
Refastening hasps on an extant worldview,
The thought processes which conveyed you
From fast-food lunches to movie houses,
From facing mirrors to the back of bars,
Though you were never quite able to forget
What transpired that day on the mountaintop.
O parched, membranous glutton! How many
Years have passed since you first saw the light
Gleaming from the mask of your friend’s face
Who is now married, expecting a third child?
How many years paralyzed, unable to decipher,
Have you tried to love someone who loves you
But found it nearly impossible to do so?
“You remember too much”, a toothless sibyl
Diagnosed, “your corolla has been tinged black
By a curse put on you in some former life.”
She gave you crystals to dissolve in a hot bath,
Lotion made from an extract of bergamot
And vetiver root, three beeswax candles to light
At the stroke of midnight, but it hasn’t helped,
Has it? My advice to you—beware, it’s biased—
Is to sit on a mat that vibrates at eight thousand
Angstroms and concentrate on a plastic ashtray,
Lime-green and perfect in its Platonic oval,
And if that fails, to pick up a pencil and write.
Shaking Free of an Epiphany is reprinted from Instrumentality (Cherry Grove Collections, an imprint of Word Press, 2004)
Poem, copyright © 2004 by Ravi Shankar
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse