Bruce Stater: From ‘The Journey of Metaphor & Remembrance’ in 'Labyrinth of Vision' (redux)

Say the poem is a journey

taken with silent walking sticks

on a path strewn with memories

deaf, dumb,

blind & beyond measure.

Its mouth filled with words

its pockets filled with stale bread.


Say it is an elixir derived from chlorophyll

or the royal jelly of expressionistic bees.


Say its stops & turns are towers, shrines

or little discomforts in sleep.

That each of its shafts pierces

a separate element of dream.

That its bewildering sunlight

is a glittering city where ecstasy dances

hand in hand with death.


It was something I went
looking for.
I was afraid of getting
lost.  & so I hid
in the island of branching voices
illuminated by the ubiquitous pathos
of forgetting.  Something had
torn a hole in my heart
like a leaf, extended finger,
or bone.  & so I stuck
to the honey of something
heavy & eternal--
a breath where celestial light
fell in spurts
dampening the pain
of the infinite unmooring. 

Say that it is

or say that it isn’t.

Say that its exhibitions of false skies

are symbols of a catastrophe

at the dead ends of streets.

Say that its arrangement of white

sticky sugar skulls

is the hypnotic process of forgetting former lives.

That its burnt & empty homes

are the paralyzed angels

in the next century’s enactment

of Paradise Lost.

That its black tarantulas are seedlings

or the trials of an affective disorder &

that its iridescent scarabs

are the ozone above a chronic facultative storm.

That its conscience is a giant

in the form of a dragon guarding the treasure

of deceased gods.


I felt my existence
pressed against me
like a heel
piercing the grain
of the bark
of a fruitless mulberry tree.
I remember it from childhood
when its flesh stopped
falling & its leaves
turned a color of brilliant
unfed reason
that blistered in laughter
at the raindrops
which fell from the blue-
silver patina of branches above. 

Say so much of its

weight that it sinks

ten times

into the river

traversed by smoldering bridges.

& that the ash

of these bridges turns to bone.

& that inside these bones

floodlights surge


into the eclipse

of solar meaning.


I looked forward
to it
where dwelling
in the sky
in the form of a hand.
My hair hung heavy
at my side
like the muscle & bone
of a being drawn
on a page outside of time.
My tongue wagged
this way & that
inside the continent
of my mind. 

Say it is circle, screen, or vessel.

Or that its round is flat

& drifts in-between

this broadstone

& that clenched idea

of a terrible god.


My arms weren’t what
they used to be.  When
I pointed to a star or rooftop
angry dogs barked in the distance
while the shrill whistling
of trains drove me further away
from home.  Into the hands
of enemies who advanced
on all sides
in signs,
light, doors, baskets, empty casements,
hallways, grass, & mirrored reflections. 

Or say it is earth, sun, star, or moon

the purple veil between

this realm & the next,

or paralyzed boat adrift upon

the black sea of wintered orphans.


Say it is the alchemical soup

one swims through in a dream.


I saw a light at the end of a tunnel
which grew in distance
the faster I ran to it.
I was in the back seat
& found that my vehicle
drove on faster & faster
completely out of control.
Each of the immense clocks
in my room had turned
an insane color of red.
My heart palpitated
like the motion
of a fish pulled
from lake, stream, or sea. 

Say it is the daylight of fissure

& sunwheel

or the darkness of

the muteness of moonlight.


I learned to
hunt & play
in the shimmering starfoam
of darkness--
I’ve heard the hyena &
the tokay make noise
by moonlight.  In the
circular music of their mouths
my own screams ceased
& I plunged into the depths
of their secrets. 

. . . . . . .

[Note. Concerning Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision, the opening of the first section of which is presented here, I’ve written previously: “To say it quickly: Bruce Stater’s Labyrinth of Vision is little short of extraordinary – a work that ties language to a journey truly taken & a mind in extremis that acts to record it.  Stater, as I read him, writes with a sense of imaginings that reminds me of a poet like Gerard de Nerval in his visionary prose work, Aurelia, where ‘dream is a second life’ & ‘an overflow’ into the everyday.  As with Nerval & a small company of others, then & now, the vision & the language are inseparable: ‘a Journey of remembrance & metaphor,’ as the title of Stater’s first chapter tells us.  If you want to take that as merely literature, feel free to do so; it is that & something more: a place where metaphor rings true & is – for the duration of the vision – the only truth there is.  ‘It is light, it is dark,’ the old Aztecs said in defining their own labyrinths, & it is also the mark in Stater’s labyrinthine journey of a strong new voice in poetry.”

                Or Stater himself in still more specific terms: “Interesting to me that I began A Labyrinth ... in my last & -- I do not hesitate to profess it -- final period of hospitalization. That in a significant way the writing has been a means of transforming this experience -- not simply of avoiding, confining, or eluding it -- but of providing it with a meaning beyond itself -- rewriting it toward some purpose -- allowing it to emerge beyond the familiar cultural meanings & necessary outcomes without falling back into the private meanings of its own delusional system, its fears, its horrors, its ego driven & solipsistic ideas of reference. Refusing to choose between these. I suppose one could say that I was simply unsatisfied with the semantic field of ‘madness’ -- of schizophrenia -- of the terms through which my experience must necessarily be defined & constrained by our cultural paradigms. Of the limitations of such a term's possible or inevitable outcomes. Even within it, ‘the madness,’ I always had a sense of a genuinely ritualistic mode of performing the possibility of becoming -- summoning a sort of transformation. The terms ‘psychological,’ ‘emotional,’ ‘spiritual,’ & ‘cognitive’ do not quite capture it. I could work with these terms, alongside them, at their edges & fringes -- but had a sense in which their fit was imprecise, shallow, & devoid of meaning. ‘Madness’ was not to be purposeful-- & yet mine seemed to be so.