It’s 9:45 pm, and I’m at my studio in Englewood, Colorado. I’m having a can of beer. A good one. A Colorado-brewed Scotch Ale. It’s not past my bedtime anymore because I’m past the age of having to be parented. In fact, my parents are deceased. I’m also past the age of caring. Well, I do care some. Only about certain things and about certain people. Right now, there may be a full moon that’s beautifully set in the evening sky above me. Set like a jewel of some celestial, unworldly kind. (Did I mention I’m a poet? Maybe not one of the fine caliber of Frank Messina, but as I stand and breath, I say to this night sky that I am poet.) If it’s not a full moon, then it’s very close. Close enough. I care about the moon. If the moon disappeared suddenly, I would worry. It’s always moving, but it always comes back. People don’t always come back, but I can depend on the moon.
I’m sitting in a folding chair now with the flag of Texas for the cloth part. I hope it’s not a sin of some kind for having my ass set upon a replica of the state of Texas. Would this be like mooning Texas? Doh! I grew up in Texas, so maybe that makes it okay for me. My parents, paternal grandparents and paternal great-grandparents are all buried outside of a small town in the Texas Panhandle, so I say that gives me the privilege to have my ass thus set. It’s nice to have privilege of some kind. I was schooled in Texas through my twenty-fourth year. I consider that a fine privilege. I can depend on that education I received, even if my abilities at humor still sometimes are called into question.
I’m rambling, probably because of the good beer that I’m drinking. A lot of rambling goes on in Texas, but that’s another story. I’m in Colorado now where there’s a whole lot of good beer. It’s late, and the moon is very nice to look at as I type this in my folding chair outside of my studio. There’s very little wind. It’s kind of balanced between warm and cool and feels just fine.
The real reason I’m writing this is because of the poem I wrote and posted recently titled, alchemist, which I think is pretty good, thank you. In fact, I can’t stop feeling it. My hope is that those who read it won’t stop feeling it either. It was written to be felt until one’s last breath is taken. I, for one, have decided that I will.
My aunt’s last breath was taken just last month, less than twenty-four hours after I laughed with her in her hospital room, then pretended to reach out to shake her warm, frail hand when I had to go. She looked down at my hand kind of funny, then smiled when she understood my stupid joke of shaking her hand instead of hugging her. I leaned over, hugged her and kissed her on her right cheek. That was that last time I saw her, and I’m intensely glad that we got to laugh together those last moments.
My cousins and her grandchildren were in the room with her when her breath stopped, and they described it for me later. A long time ago, I was in a hospital room when my paternal grandfather took his last breath. I know of the experience and feel strongly that I can speak of it: that final “peace which passeth all understanding.” We will all experience that final breath, that final peace that has nothing at all to do with books or words, even Biblical words, or knowledge or understanding of any kind. And we will all take that peace to the great beyond. Better to be laughing sweetly than living bitter.
I’d like to try to explain my poem, alchemist, only a little, because poems, like some things, are not supposed to be explained but instead felt, taken deep inside. I truly do want you to take this poem inside, which I myself will take to the grave with me.
This poem can be taken as a recipe or a prayer or both. I see it as both. It can be taken in an Eastern traditional way or a Western traditional way. I see it as both.
A “Flight For Life” just flew over because a hospital is only a block away. Critically injured people are taken to and from there all the time, so I always make a sign of the cross when the helicopter flies over. I can usually see bright lights on in the copters and paramedics’ heads along with their red vests because they’re so close in the air above me. They’re very loud and always capture my attention whatever I’m doing at the moment. But, back to the poem.
alchemist is at its heart simply about the act of meditation. One takes in a deep breath of air. It mixes with one’s inner energy, one’s “khi.” The “pluses and minuses,” or the goods and bads, or sacreds and evils or positives and negatives within are balanced. When one holds a breath in, it’s like an expanding inner strength, a balanced rainbow of bright light, radiating outwards beyond the flesh, an “aura.” (Hang in here with me. Don’t “New Age” out on me.) When one empties the balanced breath outward, the experience of “peace which passeth all understanding,” from either the final line of T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land, or earlier, from Philippians 4:7, takes its place. This is the recipe, or prayer: khi + aura = peace which passeth all understanding.
Try it right now. “Breathe deep the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room…” Doh! Sorry, I accidentally channeled The Moody Blues just then. Seriously, though, take a deep breath, feel the air and energy balancing the crap in your life down into the good in your life, feel the energy expand outward as if becoming an aura radiating out from your flesh, let the breath out and then feel the peace. It’s just a breath for God’s sake! We all do it. We have to in order to breathe. It’s not that you do it. It’s how you do it.
This is a recipe or prayer which cooks one from within in order that one may be ready to be served to others. How can an unprepared or uncooked meal be served to others? It would be an insult, in the least. Being properly cooked brings one to be brightened. Properly serving oneself to others is cause for laughter (and of course it’s a nice privilege to be served as well). You can always tell when one is underprepared or undercooked by what a bummer they are to be around. Yep. Too much minus and not enough plus:
“Hay, how ya doin’ there partner?”
“Just peachy, thanks. Doin’ just peachy.”
“Yeah, well you might just tell that to your face.”
You know the kind.
One’s outer form is imposed on them whether liked or not. A turkey is a turkey. A pig is a pig. A big nose is a big nose. Plastic surgeons aren’t really hiding anything. What matters is that the “peace which passeth all understanding “ is prepared within so that it can then be served beyond. Beyond the flesh. Beyond the form.
There are other feelings in the poem which are personal to me. I won’t share those. They’re for my contentment alone. But the recipe/prayer is for all. It’s so simple. Take the air into your energy. Balance out the shit that media satellites constantly feed you with the good that’s there to be found by just turning the channel in another direction–like towards that very bright moon shining above, or to the Flight For Life helicopters that are so good for reasons that don’t have to be explained to anyone with family or friends.
In a way, the whole thing is like a refrigerator. Unless it’s consistently plugged in, the cold will very soon become warm, and the food will stink. The closest scientific term is entropy. Unless you regularly follow the recipe/prayer, the minus will always overtake the plus just like the warm will always overtake the cold. Regarding alchemist, one needs to stay plugged in for as often as possible to overpower the minus enough to balance the two.
Here’s the most important point. One can never eliminate the minuses in life. They’re there as sure as a big nose is there, or a pig or a turkey. The minus has to be cooked through with the plus to reach a balance. Anything more would be overcooking, or charring. Life has minuses whether one likes it or not. The very best you can do is to obtain balance–regularly, until it becomes a habit.
Many people consider meat to be bad, but I can tell you from having grown up in Texas that finely prepared chicken-fried steaks or barbeque ribs or T-bone cuts of steak are as well-balanced a meal as one can ever find. Although, the “peace which passeth understanding” is many times followed afterwards by an early bedtime with much snoring.
It’s now 11 pm, and the burritos I ate earlier, along with the good beer, are having a similar effect. A natural effect. The pluses and minuses in life are plentiful and natural. Today, and in the days to come, the minuses will, I believe, become even more plentiful. It makes it even more vital to do whatever one can to balance the two, to stay plugged in.
Khi + Aura = Peace which passeth all understanding. That ultimate peace will only be found in death and then taken beyond, but in life, it can and should be encouraged within–to the max–at all times, and then also taken beyond oneself, into your family, friends and the world at large.
Before being served to others, one must be properly cooked. That is the alchemy from the alchemist that turns something base into something of value. That is the Khi, the Aura and the Shantih, Shantih, Shantih. And, this is where I wish to end my prayer before bedtime overtakes me at last and leads me to warm dreams of a cooked Steve that brightly laughs and dances with the alchemist in the companionable moonlight with good beers. Doh!
[the photo and all above text is by Stephen Bort, copyright 2012.]