August Saint Bonaventure's Island is surrounded by a coral reef of unexplored and unmapped proportions. The island itself is seven square miles. It is triangular in shape, thickly wooded, and reaches an elevation of 1723 feet. The island is quite fertile and it should be possible to raise almost any kind of tropical or subtropical plants there. It has a circular interior lagoon of fresh water to which there is a narrow inlet. The average depth of the outer lagoon is 8 furlongs. The depth of the interior lagoon is not known. The perfection of the island lies in the architecture of an old fortress on the north side of the inner lagoon. The fortress is nothing more than a collection of crumbling stone ruins dating from a tenth century pirate expedition. On a southern cliff of the island, overlooking the ocean, is an abandoned weather station which was built by Japanese meteorologists and used for six months in 1943. There is, as already noted, an outer reef of coral, but the island itself is of volcanic origin. Indeed, St. Bonaventure's Island is the dead head of an ancient volcano.
August Dream. Rue Tableau Vivant. I am walking down a city street known for its theatre and wandering minstrels. An outdoor play is in progress. I stop to watch a while, then continue on to a telephone booth. Near the booth a man is lying on the sidewalk. I ignore him and step past to use the phone. The phone is off the hook and some idiot is talking excitedly about how hard things are for musicians, only seven bucks a night, etc. I tell him to shut up, that I need to use the phone. The voice tells me I don't understand and to please ask Leonardo to play some more. At this point, a group of people walks up and inquires if the man on the sidewalk is okay. I say yeah, yeah, he's fine, and to the man I say, hey, Leonardo, get up, they want you to finish the song. Leonardo starts to get up, saying yes, I'll finish her song. He picks up a large horn which I hadn't noticed leaning against the booth. He starts to play. I leave the phone off the hook and walk on.
Later, another dream. A magazine called Tibetan Love Song. Thick red binding with a 3-D commedia figure on it. A review of wandering theatres?
Later still, a nightmare. Felt myself disintegrating into coils of electricity or x-rays. Also: Pans of fire passing beneath the upraised backs of novices during ordination rites for the priesthood.
August The house is a real mess. Serge has a bunch of people staying over, sleeping in the living room. I'm glad I moved out here to the children's house. It's a summer house for all seasons.
August I begin my little exegesis of St. Bonaventure by stating my distaste of Scholastic language. It is the administrative language of a totalitarian mind. I once had a book on Scholastic Grammar. The kind of book a Stalin would appreciate.
Blake: "That piece of meat on a stick."
A certain part of Bonny St. Luck got lost in the language of the State, which in his time was the Church. A working vocabulary of the spirit is needed before the glorious adventure begins. But a vocabulary is a mythology, a deep, rich, changing thing, not a rigid grammar with numbered sentences. The mystic conjugates the verbs.
"Strange is the blindness of the mind, for it fails to attend to the first thing it sees, without which nothing can be known. But the eye, concentrating on the various distinctions of color, fails to notice the very light by which all are seen, or perhaps does notice it but fails to attend to it, so the eye of our mind, concentrating on many beings of the particular and universal orders, fails to attend to Being Itself, who is outside every genus, although He is the first to meet the mind, and the One through whom all things are known."
"Nihilentitatis universaliter negari potest ipsi enti."
No kind of reality can be denied to Being itself.
August The appearance of the island when I came on deck the next morning was altogether different.
September ONTOS OF THE ISLAND
Bonaventure, the expositor of the theology of love, accepts St. Anselm's ontological argument as proof of the existence of God, but he seeks God through intuition rather than reason. He follows the way of mysticism much more than philosophy; in this he is very different from Aquinas. Bonaventure's realism reaches into the abyss of the Trinity.
For the Ontological Argument, Anselm quotes scripture: "Truly there is a God, although the fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." (Psalms XIV.1) Which is proof by contradiction. That is, the fool is already calling something (the word "god" in his mind) "not-God."
In answer to Anselm, Gaunilo, a modest monk signing himself Insipiens (Fool), protested that we cannot pass so magically from conception to existence, and that an equally valid argument would prove the existence of a perfect island.
September Dream. Camping in a large mansion. We are the Marx Brothers. Serge, Sam, Noonday, and I: traveling cosmic comedians. Table laffs. Remember myself with drink in hand, being debonair (for some gag) suddenly (telephone periscope) we go down to the ancient baths in the basement. The baths are frozen over. A lone skater is practicing.
Had to get away for a few days so went camping in the woods. On returning, everything seems different; the house has changed. Serge's friends are gone. Augusta is speaking to me again; she's forgiven me for something. And John Hou turns out to be a good lab assistant for Noonday. He'll find the elixir for sure now.
"Scriptures manifold meaning consorts with its Hearer. None but the humble, pure, faithful, and attentive can hear it properly. As a deterrent to pride, a mysterious and profound signification is hidden under the shell of its obvious meaning. The very depth that lies beneath the humble word reproves the proud, casts out the unclean, drives away the insincere, and awakens the slothful to search the mysteries."
Dream about a poet who writes objects, not poems.
September Noonday came up from the cellar today and had lunch with Theresa, the children, and I. He told us an interesting story about St. Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great.
Bonaventure and Thomas of Aquino were, of course, good friends notwithstanding certain technical theological differences. They both studied in Paris under Albert the Great, world famous scholar and alchemist. Sometime near the middle of the 13th century, Albert invented the Automaton, the first robot, which not only talked and moved but actually prophesized future events. It was presented to the court of the king, who, after a time, had it stand in the hallway. Albert never discussed certain things with his theology students, so one day Aquinas, lost in thought or perhaps reading the Office, strolled down the hall. The Automaton must have said something to him, for Aquinas quickly and irretrievably destroyed it, considering it an infernal device.
October It was Chesterton who said: "The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed, that is why the Saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote."
St. Francis: "Tantum homo habet de scientia, quantum operatur." A man has only so much knowledge as he puts to work.
October THE MARSHES OF THE ISLAND
There are two roads on St. Bonaventure's Island. One now lies partially covered by a marsh, the other lies mainly in the lagoon. Their topographical history is as well known as the avenues of Mars. The submerged lagoon road extends almost completely around the interior lagoon. It is the work of tenth century pirates, presumably, but who knows, it could have been built just as well by Buddhist marines, lost Maori, Hawaiian drug dealers, or Hopi engineers. It was submerged by the rising water level of the inner lagoon. The same water table created the swamp on the eastern coast of the island along the outer lagoon. The reason for the existence of the other road, running from the beach and through this swamp to sheer cliffs, is unknown. It is improbable that it was used for cargo since it doesn't go anywhere. It's been theorized that its purpose was religious or ritual in nature.
November Memory is what we have now instead of religion. Perhaps the culture has finally caught up with the poet. Or is it the failure of poetry that causes the decline of civilization? The power of memory. One doesn't return to memory. Memory is the engine. You return to people, houses, landscapes. Memory is already home in the darkened theatre.
November "As for you, my friend, in regard to mystical visions, with your course now well determined, forsake sense perception and discursive reasoning, all things visible and invisible, every non-being and every being; and, as much as possible, be restored, naked of knowledge, to union with the very One who is above all created essence and knowledge. Thus, in the boundless and absolute rapture of the unencumbered mind, above yourself and above all things, leaving all and free from all, you will rise to the super-essential radiance of divine darkness."
This is Bonaventure quoting Dionysus the Pseudo-Areopagite. Bonaventure continues in his own voice:
"But if you wish to know how such things come about, consult grace, not doctrine; desire, not understanding; the Bride, not the teacher; darkness, not clarity. Consult, not light, but the fire."
November Downstairs in the cellar last night with Noonday while he painted. He's an artist like Sam or Serge, but he doesn't use canvas; he uses the worlds of his laboratory. He confesses, smiling, that the lab is merely a front to a series of underground passageways. Noonday speaks so softly, one would never suspect he was once a blacksmith. The emblems on the walls are made in charcoal, chalk, and salts. Here in the cellar, the forest continues her contemplation.
November St. Bonaventure refuting the opinion of those theologians who believed in the possibility of an immediate vision of God even in this life: "The most excellent way of contemplation is to ascend by unknowing, as Moses was led into darkness."
St. Bonaventure compares the theologian in this way of unknowing to a sculptor of marble. The sculptor digs (carves, empties) his statue out of the stone by cutting away all that lies between him and the realization of his idea.
This was the era of cathedral building. Again, let's quote the Latin, for here Bonaventure employs a play on words.
"Et sic arcanum contemplationis a lato consummatur quasi in cubito."
"Hence the mystery of contemplation ends at the top, in a single cubit." A play on the word arcanum and the measuring system of a famous open ocean canoe.
THE METAPHOR OF CONTEMPLATION
November Dreaming about sleeping somewhere. Wake up with optical disorder.
December THE SECRET FORESTS OF ROME
Dream. Some kind of ritual game. Following the guide. In the city. Following different people. Training in trailing. Strange things suspended from the trees. In the archetype house: the parlor of the medium. Plans are being made for a trip to the secret forests of Rome: great primordial forests of the interior, mountains, waterfalls, fantastic natural phenomena. Sam Bola has already been accepted. A priest comes to the house and I am questioned in an absurd manner:
Do you have insurance on your car?
Do you like chocolate chip ice cream?
What kind of cone?
December Later, I arrive at the lightning-struck Martello Tower of the archetype house. Outside the tower, I am impressed with the darkness of the place. I am sure it is haunted by the fully stage-dressed Mephistopheles. When I go inside, I discover he is trying to suffocate a young couple and a girl named Theresa. I wake them from a deep sleep, thereby saving them. For some reason, I rush outside and see two angels embracing above the tower. Brilliant sunlight. Later, passing a large machine made of wheels, I see all the people who have just been in the dream. I see them through wheels.
December Preparations of departure to the secret forests of Rome. Clear plastic tents. The drains in the preliminary camp don't work.
Later, I apply for work in a bed-making factory. A man tells me they're about to close, to come back Monday. They laugh at my rubber shirt, saying I am too young.
"You've got the god-books, now go look for god."
Roscoe (spiritual writer?)
December Seeking God implies that she is not already here in the very heart of the seeking, and in this sense, every specifically religious activity manifests a lack of faith.
December Tonight another talk with Noonday. Says he is a pantheist and the universe is a theatre which is created (produced by) and then contemplated by a god (in this universe everyone has a god inside them) who has destroyed himself. His (or Her) remnants compose part of the material of communication. The skin of song. A cosmos of reverie. A poetics of eternity. A spectacle of spectators.
January THE APPEARANCE OF THE SAINTS
Thomas Aquinas has moved into the tower. Sam Bola is rather upset about it. Terry said, "Gee, why shouldn't the Saints move in?" John Hou asked, "What makes him a Saint?" Terry thought a moment and said, "He just really is a Saint."
I'm going to ask him to autograph my copy of Aurora Consurgens.
Grandfather refuses to act civil. He's been continuously insulting Thomas ever since he appeared, and every time he goes into the front rooms, he practically demands that Augusta's friends leave. The first floor is beginning to resemble a camp. Someone even set up a tent in the side sitting room - for privacy?
January The miracle is sudden. The Saint is quick. The poet looks amazed at the poem on his desk. The miracle is sure.
This is all fabrication. Literally a fabric. Flux of a wall hanging. The veil of the Temple was rent in two.
January Tonight John Hou played his new composition, "The Cave," on the baby grand in Augusta's room. After the recital, Serge accidentally broke Augusta's bust of Heraclitus. Everyone braced for hysteria, but Augusta calmly said she could fix it.
January Merton tells a story from the Verba Senorium in which a gang of robbers played havoc with a congregation of desert monks. The hermits, angry at having their few possession stolen, complained to the authorities. The robbers were arrested and thrown into jail. When the Abbot heard of this, he severely reprimanded the monks for being so un-Christian and especially for calling the police. The monks were shamed. That night they went to the prison and freed the startled robbers.
January Tonight the children are upset. Grandfather has refused to say his prayers and has made sure everyone knows it. I heard him grumbling at the stove: "I'm not going to say those dumb prayers. It's plain old hat. I know, I know, I'm just in a bad mood. But those stupid prayers! Said in public yet! I'd rather stand here and talk to this stove."
This happens every year at Epiphany, when Grandfather traditionally dismantles his annual presipio. This is what the children are upset about, not that Grandfather has stopped saying his prayers. The children themselves haven't said prayers for over a year. Meta calls this "the first revolt of consciousness," after the Age of Reason is reached.
Actually, the children are an integral part of the presipio. Every night for 4 weeks they perform "The Mime of the Shepherds" beside the little city of the presipio, with its tiny waterfall, surrounding forest, and to the south, the Grotto. They do this every night of Advent in the living room, directed by Grandfather.
January THE PERSONALITY OF THE ISLAND
Between the cellar and the kitchen there is a mezzanine on which household supplies are stored. There are tanks of chemical gas along one wall. The cellar is actually a labyrinth of empty rooms. Noonday actively uses only about half of the whole cellar, or so it seems.
Dream: Last Bastions, a movie based on a phrase from Camus. A large movie projected on all four walls of the room. The rear wall is sometimes an audience, sometimes past events.
A weekend of dreams. In the dark cellar, I see something that resembles a cat. My dog (I do not have a dog) sniffs at it but will not really bother. It is not a cat, for when the dog leaves, it stands on two legs. It is very short. A burned look to its naked body. Its eyes are large but seem vacant and dark. I grab this thing and dance with her throughout the cellar.
The dog chases a rabbit down its burrow. The dog actually disappears into the burrow. I'm concerned about this medium-sized dog might get stuck. Calling to him. No answer. Nature quiet. I take the folded edge of ground (there are many burrow holes all around) and lift it up and back, like throwing off bedclothes. All creation is revealed: all the rodents, snails, bugs and worms, baby vipers, even the large ones of the forest come to the circle of this sacred sight.
In the dream there was a movie. We were all being watched by something in the movie. Sometimes, out of the corners of our eyes, we understood. There were vague hints in the movie.
January Serge has just shown me two new paintings. The first looked like a close-up of surf in a seascape. It was titled, Yelling at the Farmers.
The other painting was composed almost entirely of whites and greys. Serge called it, Three Stars Entering the Earth. On close inspection, the painting looked like a realistic representation of three boys dragging sleds off the front porch of a large Victorian house during a heavy snowstorm. A few steps away and this image completely disappeared. Instead, a smooth round object seemed to be hovering over a snowy field. From the far side of the studio, the painting resembled a large hole containing (or beginning to contain) three smaller holes.
February STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF THE ISLAND
Bonaventure: first described as an anthropomorphic island. Early development is fictional. This is the John of Fidenza material. The Saint Himself appears in August. There is little historical development until we enter the House (except for the episodes related to the lost months.) In a way, the Saint and the Island are present throughout. They are the underlying structure on which the Archipelago is built.
Augusta: A name of Caesar, a mask of Maya, a childhood friend of Concepta.
David: Even though the surname changes, he is the primary subject who is writing the diary almost as we read it.
Terry: She is the editor of the long letter that we call Archipelago.
Ariadne: In the theoretical fiction presented here, she seems to be Terry's daughter. She is the structural web of the central agricultural relationship of the work.
Serge: A woven material, usually blue or green. Serge is the left hand, the calligraphic aspect of the work.
Noonday: The alchemical student, who, by hazard, purity of heart, and by keeping his blackboard clean, becomes an alchemist.
Sam Bola: The anagram personified, who, along with Noonday, is one of the dual subjects of the work, his counterpart being Sara.
Maya: An assumed name.
Concepta: The poet-economist who visits the warehouse.
Meta: Noonday's wife.
John Hou: A worker suicided by society.
Evelyn Sylva does not appear in this work.
May Bonaventure was in the kitchen washing dishes. He had left his new cardinal's hat outside on a bush. In heaven, God said, "Little tree, where did you get that hat?" "A saint gave it to me," blushed the bush.
Tony D'Arpino lives in San Francisco, California. His work has appeared in journals such as Bloomsbury Review, Branches, Crossconnect, Pavement Saw, Poetry New York, Runes, and Storyboard (University of Guam). He received a Djerassi Foundation residency for the 2003 season.
Opinions expressed in Terra Incognita are not necessarily shared by all or any of the editors.
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