With his permission, I post my friend Don's The Dearth of Souls. (His Lectio Divina and the Question of Depth was posted on this blog site April 29, 2016.) My Soul, also to be posted today, responds to this essay.
What a find! An excerpt from the poet Charles Olson’s Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele. I found it in one of my black garbage bags of papers that I had dumped upon Dominic’s bedroom floor in the search for a green book of passwords. The excerpt is about the soul, and it has always been instructive to me, even as I haven’t much thought about what a soul is. The excerpt reads:
isn’t in default?
can you afford not to make
the magical study
which happiness is? do you hear
the cock when he crows? do you know the charge,
that you shall have no envy, that your life
has its orders, that the seasons
seize you too, that no body and soul are one
if they are not wrought
in this retort?
Well, Mr. B., a while back, did a run on the soul after reading Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, but I didn’t pay much attention to it because the coinage made it sound like one was taking care of a cow in some barn away from one’s house. And of course I’ve heard about losing one’s soul to the devil, or selling it in exchange for some item of favor like Dorian Gray bartering for youth. But even in that, just what is it that one is supposed to lose, or sell?
Enter the poem. Yeah, that’s a good coinage, by way of introduction: that the poem puts the pause in me, and within that pause I enter, watching in the magical study my comings and my goings and the comings and goings of others and of this and of that. Perhaps this “entering” occurs when one recites, pours sound, one’s own voice, into the silent words so that they are born into the flesh of a magical study with a polished desk and books which bindings from the shelves catch the quiet light of a lamp. Soft carpet against the bared feet, and out the window a morning star, the black masses of trees, silent or moving with a wind, and a rooster in the yard –the cock- with the red comb upon its head and its alert and golden eye that crows whenever one betrays, oneself, another, Christ.
Mr. J., on the other hand, bandied the word ‘spirit’ about, but that’s just so ethereal, like hydrogen and oxygen before they meet and flesh into water and houses dishes in suds, streams down the nape and the flank, or settles in puddles and mirrors the greens of trees and the puffs of clouds, and ripples. Yes, I much prefer a soul.
But Ms. Jayde says that there aren’t any souls in the world anymore. Gone before I even had a chance to poke into them decently. We’re behaviorists now, I suppose, and we tinker with stimulus and response, or tweak the biochemistry a bit so that the gizmo runs in a more pleasing fashion.
“Lila,” says the Sanskrit fellows, and so we must play with soul, yes? For our good health. For our sanity of mind. For our innate demand that we not be incarcerated within a house of bounds that has no windows or doors that can swing into the boundless, that can let in fresh air within the rooms, and through which we may stroll out to peruse our own personal property of the Boundless. So, in that interest, we return to soul, but we must poke about into it now. Splashy water it must be, or be the comfort of one’s favorite color of a marble that one can curl within the fingers and the palm. Which is to say that it must be an intimate Thing and not like that hydrogen and oxygen that one reads about in texts and can wave one’s hand through and be assured by reason that it’s there. But one can’t touch it with one’s fingertips. It has no curl or lobe of ear, no scuffling sound of gravel beneath the feet, no laughter or questioning in the eyes, and this we must have if a soul is a worthwhile thing to have.
You got a better word? A better pointing to something that isn’t a just reduction to a body, to a creed, and to a most uncomfortable confinement? Ay, I’ll use the soul, but no longer as a cow in a barn, but as a style and not a content, an identity, a bank account, a name. A doing. A splashing of water in the sudsy sink to feel the curve of dish and wash it clean, and dries upon the dish rack, and quietly inhabits its place with light. This is soul, an intimacy, a most private being-here that cares not a whit for proof it’s there. Lose it? A misnomer. Call it instead a confusion that a being-here, the abundance of Place, can be found “out there” when all the while, like Uri Shulevitz’s Isaac, our treasure is beneath our stove.
And within this Place, all Work is done, and all Love is consecrated.
I, briefly, thought I had finished this The Dearth of Souls essay, but it was only an hour after keying in the last line that I knew that there was more. Not a big surprise, eh?, if you are at all familiar with my bent towards going on and on and on into all the branching questions that set out in ever new delicious travelings from even a single asking. And besides, such a Thing as a soul must be a very fertile and wiggly squirmy singing pausing and considering Thing. So, to resume.., I will here state that I am not content with this essay of the soul yet, and I will not be content until I walk about as a soul this very morning. A soul with a belly with a bit too much of a curvature these days. “Ay, you preoccupied chap, flatten it a bit with, say, ten sit-ups, a walking through woods, and smaller bowls of the yummy stuff, -but without restraint, Sir. Instead, play yet another twist of a game of marbles. Use the tiger eye one, then the one with blue.”
Am a soul. Not have. One has a house. One has a body. One has a paint brush. And isn’t every thing a paint brush? For one’s canvass. For putting a little blue in the upper right corner of a sky, or a little gold within an orb two-and-a-half inches from the blue that one calls a sun. Am. But what’s an Am without a color? And I have been guilty of that. “Negate! Negate!” I have been known to cry out. “Neti! Neti! Not this! Not that!” Then what then? No curvature of a belly? No St. Patrick’s Shamrock emeralds in the ear lobe of a woman? No hot water for tea, or a spoon that clinks against the side of a cup when one stirs? No, this Am Am of a soul is chalk full of color, and I’ll even add the pretty no-color, too, so I got them both, when before I just had one.
Vertical. Yes, vertical, too, that subsumes all horizontal. In fact, this vertical of which I speak puts me in mind of the dying of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s title character - the Sicilian nobleman Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina- in his novel The Leopard. This man doesn’t die into a horizontal, but into the vertical of himself, like that of a mountain sinking back into its continent. But not a continent. But his. He. Or, better yet, this Am that clinks the side of a cup of tea with a spoon. So, as for death, -much overrated in this particular soul. A redundancy, actually, of ending that is just a daily fact of clearing out old is-ings for is-ing, or of switching one paint brush for another.
Salvation? Of what? Of the soul from a sorry little two-foot square closet of a confinement. And how did that happen?, which is the question of the Fall, of Samsara, of Caughtness, go figure. Very odd, indeed. I mean, just why is it that one can’t simply open the door and step out? Why all these angsty dramas? Why can’t one just step back and watch? See? The line of a shadow across the snow of a roof that cuts one, too, so that the flesh of this fruit falls open to show the quiet kernel in its center. Listen? To the clink of the spoon against the porcelain sides that is the eschatological end of things, consummating.
But, then, why stop at the soul? Why not Mr. J.’s spirit, as well? Am, the spirit of Things, interfusing, interpenetrating, resting there in the dark massed trees even as I walk by and leave’em behind for other quarters. Why, it’s all quite interchangeable, you see. Dark massed trees, a book-lined study, what’s the diff? And so I’ll take the soul and everything else as well, and every word and every thing will be my pigments in the rollicking and impish art of painting doors on everything.
Trails we follow,