Whose multitudes are these?
The children of whose turbaned seas,
Or what Circassian land?
EMILY’S “TURBANED SEAS” have been roaring through me lately. I think because the thought of binding up the ocean is the kind of coil of imagination that seldom happens outside childhood and picture booksand so it calls to me, but also because it has been so cold in New York that when I close my eyes I see oceans roped in white ice, turbaned, as it were, bound up in some mystic freeze.
But it’s also, and possibly mainly, because just after the solstice I started doing Kundalini Yoga with my little brother. A room full of Kundalini yogis really is a turbaned sea.
(I will have to write more about Kundalini and my brother and turbans and turbines and growing up watching Bollywood movies with our Uncle Bikram, a rebellious Sikh who not only stopped wearing the turban in young adulthood, but dyed his hair blond and earned something of a salacious reputation as a photographer and filmmaker, becoming known in India as Blondie Singh.)
But for nowwith my typing fingers as cold as bones, this Dickinson line “turbaned seas” from a springtime poem turning in me in the dead of winter – I wonder if it’s just the weirdness of her Orientalization of nature itself, turning Spring into a mysterious foreigner, with whiffs of Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights; the enchantment of Robert Schumann’s “foreign lands and places”her line is also just the kind of strange imagination music that would take hold in the dark.
Maybe you’ve heard that “nature loves to hide.”
I sometimes feel that poetry loves to hide likewise, that a line’s favorite place to live is deep inside your untutored secretions, down in the dark, in your guts, in the peculiar rhythms of your untendable memory, your heartbeat, the soft little drums of your glands.
Lines have a way of turning like seeds. Part of the watchfulness, the overhearing in the dark or of the dark itself that I and all poets do, I think, is somehow farmer’s work; partakes, I feel, we do, of nature. Overhearing ourselves, letting all this linguistic fallowness lie around inside us and letting it think itself free and left alone, being kind of kind to it, giving it a sense of privacy in this least private of ages.
Before Emily Dickinson makes any sense to you, it might just sound like strange stiff crinoline, a boring period piece. But once you break in, it’s like hearing the whispering of your own corseted and antique souland it seems to me that in every age, in every incarnation, the soul is somehow bound; turbaned like a turbaned sea, bound into stays like Emilyor into a body, a gender, a language, a form, a norm.
When a line turns like a seed, it means it’s really part of me. I think of the prose of Michel de Montaigne, in which thousands of lines from antiquity show upthe guts of his prose like a teeming seedbed of the old. The real test of a poem, for me, is whether and how it lodges itself in my body.
The only thing in me from “The Waste Land,” for example is the world revolving “like ancient women / Gathering fuel in vacant lots.” But the quality of unconscious speech portentously overheard that runs throughout Eliot’s poemthat has a way of entering the memory, doesn’t it. With Dickinson, one feels one is overhearing the magic whispering of one’s own almost forgotten soul. Here I go binding parts of my experience in exotic garmentsbinding into stays the waist of my postmodern spirit, visualizing the tonsured heads of a pair of blessees in the Rider-Waite HEIROPHANT card, which has never been a favorite, more on that another time, but it showed up in my mind so here it is.
I WANT TO WRITE YOU MORE, but the sun has just risen, even though the light is still blue and dim and strange, as though it stayed down a little longer to let me finish, or bid you stay in bed.
But I’ll give you the whole Dickinson poem, which is basically a springtime poem. I have things to say about the rainbow and the peacock and the robins and what it means to “confidently see”; also I recently finished writing a fat book that’s basically about infinity inside the guts of birds. More on that and stars, warheads, thaws, talks, tweets, and everything else, to come.
See you tomorrow.