The Ouroboros* by David Brinks
with men as with caterpillars
nothing was chanced
the penniless world was hemmed-in
by mountains on three sides
with gibbons and cranes to seem endless
gradually three or four flowers
tiny divots of earth
by the tens of thousands
and a skein of fine white sewing silk
appeared on my coat and hat
but to allow for the ouroboros
that lives inside my head
perched on the caldera’s rim
and over my shoulder
like the white bird you can’t see
the spyglass drew a cocoon
beating a drum in the doorway
of my own raising
so many misshapen wishes
too tired to rest or return home
“The ouroboros, the mythical creature who devours itself beginning with swallowing its own tail, is the definition of poetry. Poetry is the only fuel that (ideally) burns clean, leaving behind no messages, no intentions, no authorial conceits, only the vague and not unpleasant feeling that something was there, and now it no longer is. Exactly like life and your human being filled with it (momentarily).”
Is Andrei Codrescu saying that (in P-B) poetry is the embodiment of impermanence as an art form? Poetry is taken in by the heart so one must be present to experience it. Once the sound and meaning of the words and images fade, we have moved beyond the initial experience and are then experiencing the void left by the vanished form, the silent song.
Life lived unconsciously, outside the NOW, is composed of “so many misshapen wishes,” so much having, doing and knowing resulting in a misshapen identity and many of us move like zombies into the imagined future of existential anxiety “too tired to rest or return home.” Or we give in to the conditioning of the false self and return to the past and the afflictive emotions that swallow the present moments and our last chance at experiencing the only life possible. The anxiety and shame of the past and the fear of the future, the tail and head of the ouroboros that never truly existed, has been swallowed by a lifetime of emotional reaction. All that remains is emptiness.
*Ouroboros is a Greek word meaning “tail devourer” and is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. The serpent eats its own tail to sustain life in an eternal cycle of renewal.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.