Clayton Eshleman, from 'PENETRALIA': 'The Dream’s Navel'

For Stuart Kendall

 Gotham Bar & Grill in Manhattan, dining with Caryl, Cecilia & Jim.

At a table near ours, alone, a woman in whose face I saw the face of death.

At one point she turned toward me:

I could only stay in her black ray lane a few seconds.

   So, here we are. Sipping the cheek timber, the cistern eyes

   of earth’s granite-gated vineyard.


Freud: “There is a tangle of dream thoughts that cannot be unraveled.

This is the dream’s navel, the spot where it reaches down into the unknown.”

—where I see a spider, like a mantic mandala, pedipalp-probing its way,

    tracking the shadow of its abdomen…


Cecilia Vicuña: “the shadow

                          is from the animal

                          you used to be

                          the shadow

                          is from the one

                          you will be

                          the shadow is not from you

                          from them

                          from the one who passes

                          it’s not a shadow at all

                          it is the sound

                          of a shadow

                          it is the shadow

                          of the sound”


The dream navel is also a knot, tying off mother absence. The cut allowed the child to emerge. What is the Cro-Magnon dream navel?  The discovery of the cave wall as a subjectile, the maternal interior having been replaced by the cave. The point of departure for a meander is the dream navel, that nodal knot from which metaphors blossom in every direction.


Some Upper Paleolithic engravings are of “creatures” only vaguely resembling anything that lived: animal-snouted archai on the leash of,

                 in the harness of,    alchemical mush,

                 like sled dogs bounding in slow motion

                 along Combarelle’s Inner Gallery,

                 heads dissolving into fable drift…


“In fact,” Gaston Bachelard writes, “a need to animalize is at the origins of the imagination… its first function is to create animal forms.”


 A wolf spider is staring at me through a Henri Michaux drawing.

“Everything is translation at every level, in every direction.”


It is all about birth, about having

no berth, about being centerless, a core of ore

loss, a log of stammer steps,

screams of lattice ivy, lettuce driven

mind entwines.


So there is no full release

even for the intestines of articulation

as they process the nurture of experience,

phantasy’s wily slip knots, or spit cots,

the bunk of our ardor, where we are

imprisoned in kittens & door slam states.


Michaux: “The person who hasn’t been detested has missed something—common failing among the clergy, pastors, and others of this type, who often make one think of cattle. They lack antibodies.”


We are free only to the degree that we are able to acknowledge our lack of integrity in any moment.


The hidden forever meaning:

we lie in duplex strata, less stalk than tassel scatter.


As if the universe were sleep’s debris.

My absence…    As if absence were mine.


Even Whitman could not see into what he was not,                                                       

or the notness of his is, the double not,                                                                         

no opposition, not-not, the no word abacination of the soul's                                               

blindness to                                                                                                                                    

its own being.


Headless oarsmen rowing the heart skiff through the rainbow of a totality

ebbing & flowing over the rocks of man’s now quite clearly

unregenerate nature.


We have lost the temenos,     the imaginative precinct

     in which van Eyck, say,

could orchestrate a specific world,

we who are no longer curtailed by plants.

I continue to feel as if I am crawling around on an outside,

a globe I cannot penetrate, that I cannot get inside of & circulate.

So have I succumbed to a citizen state of mind?

When I let go, I hit this rubber-band backsnap:

No more polar bears. No more honeybees.


                            It is crying outside.



          image is the place where I put on my soul,

an inner lining, coiling down into the miracle of

Neanderthal tombstone cupules, Cro-Magnon engravings,

     earliest shamanic hybrids,

               through which a mistress spirit might climb,

electric with Tantrik lesions,

from the serpent lounge latent in

that magic region Artaud so feared

where the soul snake sleeps

until charmed up to that imaginarium where

brain & sperm might wed.


My mind is a spermal animalcule

impregnated with female blood.

The Muladhara Chakra is not feminine

nor is my imagination masculine.

I reject duality & vote for the orgy of contested mind.

The soul was in exile even at Lascaux.


Paradise is a form of polymorphous merger

charged by the bathysphere of the poem

rising from engrailings where squirrels reflect,

& robins ruminate, the animal lager…


The poem is from the beginning a hybrid choir

coughing up ancestral bison in language twisted straits.

Oh the difficulty of the soul! Nothing explanatory grasps

what the poem uncommonly senses

when it is integral to its irony slides,

its Derrida shutters.

                                   Bottom is crossed by

something alive, mythically a crab or turtle

brought up mud, regurgitated it into a Cro-Magnon hand:

red ochre, or manganese, discovered in

the descent, mixed with cave water,

palm pressed against the dream’s navel stone, released,

leaving a “hand” without a hand,

negation’s—or was it absence’s—first

imaginal presence!


Jardin botanique, Bordeaux, 2008.

The bud & spoor density of a mauve Baudelairian incubation.

Tender vines erupting into fanged blooms…

Minute nomadic ants percolate the many-breasted

      Venus of the Plants.

Centuries pass… And the ghost of Henri Rousseau

          glides,   a virgin on a lost ark,

          in chime with cloned obsequies,

                      fertile diapasons…


Fixed in his webbic grappling,

into the aethercore the poet pours his siliceous soul.


[NOTE.  “The Dream’s Navel” is the final poem in Eshleman’s Penetralia, a collection of 58 poems (mostly from years 2009 to 2014) that Black Widow Press will be publishing this May. Along with two other poems, “The Jointure” and “Nested Dolls,” which come right before it in the volume, it is, as Eshleman himself describes it, “a kind of serial scholarly and imaginative piece, with the penultimate long passage drawing into a single composite focus my sense of what may be involved in poetic inspiration going back into the very ancient past.”  It is in that sense too a fulfillment of what Eshleman once laid out as a path for himself & other poets: “I am speaking of a poetry that attempts to be responsible for all an individual writer knows about himself and his world. It is that simple and that awesome.”  The determination to keep that going over a lifetime is itself to be noted. (J.R.)]