I check the time and see that it is now.
Outside as far as I can see is here.
What I can choose to do comes down to how
I evaluate and act upon this dear
and precious present — what a perfect word.
Here-and-now is all we have in the absurd
cat’s cradle we construct from might-have-beens
that curdle while we conjure larger skeins
of wished-for lies that we fantasise are wool
that, if we weave it well, will give us full
control and meaning for the lives we lead —
or, better, follow — out of some daft need
to imagine our existences are more
than moments to experience and adore.
The boundary of my ignorance is a point
upon an other wisely absent line
itself too straight to curve itself around
circumferences. My ignorance is unbound.
The more I learn, less brightly burns the light
illuminating spaces I can’t know.
This lets me think I’m winning wisdom while
in fact the gods in kindness make me blind.
‘What colour is the duck’s quack?’ ‘Which questions are untrue?’
Poetically appealing, these are examples
of the error of ascribing characteristics
to categories which can’t harbour them.
A question can be neither true nor false.
A sound cannot have colour as long as words
mean anything. Mistakes of category
misrepresent reality which is elusive
enough without a versifier’s abusive
insistence that the drake’s spring quack is green
and that in itself a question must be false
if it asks him what he’s doing or where he’s been.
I sit in Boston Common contemplating.
A large policeman speaks to me: Move on.
On a Universal City sound lot I watch clouds.
A security guard addresses me: Move off.
Get. Move off. Move on. Man, go away.
Conversations with power aren’t serendipitous
when you are down and out, and old, middle-aged or young,
ageism not a point when you’re destitute.
When I’m addressed this way, I flash The Smile
that Jack Nicholson bought his roles with. I unwind
from whatever position I’m in until I’m standing
on my hands, my T-shirt torn, showing rock-hard abs.
Suddenly people cluster, want to know my thoughts.
They ask me questions, write my answers down
to live by: what I think about the wars
in Congress, about new cures, about how much
they should invest in futures, and in love.
I answer for a while until reporters
from the networks set their mikes on, then I flip
upright. I stow the smile. I disappear.
The squirrel presided. Daws danced. I arrived
from what they call The Nether World: the ground.
My fear of falling balanced by my need
to hear non-human wisdom, I held tight
to budding branches. I stood on a limb.
The squirrel called for order. Jackdaws in their hundreds
flew from the church and occupied the tree.
‘A song!’ one said. They made an awful noise.
‘In Human speech,’ the squirrel said. They complied.
They told me about balance, flight, and life.
I thanked them and prepared to climb back down
and saw other humans take away my ladder.
Were I eighteen, I’d look up to John Searle.
I would scribble beer mats full of formulae,
imagining I understood his world.
With coasters scrawled with theorems, I would lie
abed for weeks while universes whirled
behind my tight-shut eyes. (I might still try.)
Mind, Language, and Society carouse
through my feverish brain which Searle asserts can’t house
my Me. He says Mind’s process, not eternal,
but something like digestion, caused by gas.
Oh beery one, Homunculus Internal,
if Searle is right, you don’t exist. Nor can you last
eternally. I thought you my husk’s kernel
but Searle says you are not. I’d fail his class.
Your counsel that I audit him is keen
advice I’d take, were I again eighteen.
Had I less age, and Searle his present stature,
I’d be too awed to bellyache and bore
on him for what he doesn’t say: re Catcher
in the Rye, the truths of blues, the mystic lore
that Yeats immortalised. Poe’s body snatcher.
But twenty years have passed, and fifty more.
A century if I’m honest, which I doubt.
Time goes elastic when My space runs out.