It is late Pentecost, and approaching All Saints' and All Souls', and my church is doing a pop-up blog. The following is a piece I originally wrote in response to something in the mass — though I can't recall what it was anymore — and so I thought it appropriate to contribute it when asked if I could offer something. The following went up today, so I thought I'd share it here as well.
golden age or churning of the waters
the peach sliced in half fell open
gladiolas stuck out their tiny purple tongues
and strawberry blossoms by magic became strawberries
still your doubts hover swoop in
and out follow
an unknown will behind me
behind me behind me
where oh where
did the fruits with
their sugar and petals go?
it was that spring the one people talk about
but it's gone and somehow you know
you were never there for it
up under the mind come floodwaters in the night
dark and rotting what they touch
get behind me
i see it coming and suspect
i am less necessary than you
behind me where
shall we wait for the boats that won't come
for the turtles lumbering and snapping their mouths
to float us towards a different death one followed
by a spring we may never see
The concept of a “golden age,” from what I’ve read of world history, seems to be nearly universal. There is always, “back then, when everything was great.”
I am tired of this idea. Not because I don’t believe in a golden age, but because I believe that almost by definition it must have been before human memory as we know it. On some level we know deep, deep in our brain, the hunter-gatherer we are, and will never be again. All of civilization — all the beautiful architecture, all the art, all the music and poetry and mercantilism and supposed glories of the intellect — seem to me a symptom of the degradation of our species. A falling away from what we are, what we evolved to be.
A bleak view for a Christian, I know. We are such optimists! Such unrelenting believers that all will turn out well.
I present no solution to this. Please don't take what I am about to say as a solution. It is entirely possible there is none.
The churning of the waters comes from another mythology: Indian/Vedic.* So too the turtles. They represent a moment when the muck that came out of Shiva’s destruction was churned, and lo! There were good things hiding in that mud!
What the good things are, I don’t know. I suspect they don’t include me as I know myself now; I suspect they are made from my recycled innards. But I would like the turtles to have a chance to float a new world on their backs, even if they do it on the strength of fish they ate, who in their own turn gnawed on my bones.
* I should mention that I do not understand Indian or Vedic philosophy well enough to expound on it/them (really there are Indian schools other than Vedic, but it's the best known). I will say that I think that poetry is a different realm altogether, and I claim full license to do whatever the hell misunderstanding I please in poetic form. I would work much harder — and probably write something much less useful — if I were composing an essay on soma and the samudra manthan. Which I'm not. Yet!