XV (from Tibet: A Sequence)

In these abstruse lands, under those sourish minerals

              among the most secret (deaf) of ancient worlds

By the marshes or under the sleeping magmas, the thin laminate of deposits

              at the hearts of the ancient geometries

I have seen the playfully brilliant jets, the rare gold that pierces coarse bedrock.

              Self-secret life, Tibet, yourself as pure rock earnestly penetrated by the carrares.

Your self veined as though by a lover.

I am gifted, endowed too much by your sharp armor, solid and [shrill].

              I must see the vein that is beyond the mineral,

The one that exists beneath the starry glacial expanses, deep beneath peaks and endentures.

There the bright shard is beyond any tangent of being

Is made neither of fire, nor wood, is no companion to the earth nor of water — it is of an unknown luminosity.

Transformed in the Other into blood and spirit and all its metamorphoses.

              This is the only stopping place.

My existence is only the concubine of spirit, my accessory and consort in the matter.

              Here, Tibet, only a strange and difficult beauty exalts.

Author’s note: The poems from “The Tibet Sequence” are loosely based on the writings of Victor Segalen, whose work has spoken deeply to me for years. In his short life (1878-1919), Segalen, a medical doctor for the French navy, traveled extensively in Polynesia and the Far East. Like Gauguin, with whom he is often linked, Segalen was one of the great travelers of indwelling, of otherness. In his little-known “Essay on Exoticism,” he explores “the notion of difference, the perception of Diversity, the knowledge that something is other than one’s self … Exoticism’s power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise.” In his Odes suivies de Thibet, he takes up his interests in Buddhist and Taoist thought, attempting at times to mimic the language of the Sages whose genius, compassion and knowledge of the illusory self he venerated. My own poems are written in the spirit of Segalen’s phrase “to conceive otherwise,” which I believe to be the poet’s essential task. In following Segalen’s habits of mimicry, my work involves an opportunistic, even perhaps exploitive mingling of Segalen’s thought and language with my own. Playing with his words and with mine, I have called these poems “transpositions” and not “translations.” All along, my aim has been to conjure through language an imagined, timeless “Tibet,” a place not only of great and rugged beauty but of spiritual instruction and ethical hope.

The three introductory odes and first fourteen numbers of the sequence have been published in my recent book, This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010.

Michael Heller (© 2012)