a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
From The Sistine Gaze: a poem in 31 movements.
‘The Sistine Gaze’ is a book length poem of 256 verses presented in thirty one movements through three sections or ‘Books’ (1 Creation; 2 Eternal Day-The Work; 3 Standing on the Wall). In the poem the poet’s gaze (in The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Rome) is mirrored in responses of the Ceiling and Judgement Wall frescoes. These responses are received via voices of the muse and of the painter, Michelangelo. The conversation is a meditation which both confronts and contemplates in a spiral of images and metaphors. Mythology, theology, personal and cultural experience, the artist at work, and creativity, are core strands. Death, transcendence and acquiescence to social realities inform the imaginative progression of the narrative’s wave-like movement. The poem unwinds through the human body and its destiny.
Excitements of transience
(verses 135-142, Movement 18)
I am a sickle up here, my neck twisted with pain,
my back a gardener’s agony, my eyes slow to tell –
but, friend or enemy, poet, teacher, prostitute, this is a kitchen
stocked to bake bread, to make soup, stirring thought in the residue of history.
Here is my centrepiece and body beautiful
vesting light and dark in a drunken spiralling of desperation and display.
Every thought is built of meadow green or mountain blue. Through open skies
our eyes reach for the contours of wisdom.
Once, a story told of man’s dominion over fish in the sea, fowl in the air,
cattle on land, every creeping thing. Dues imagined in creation’s premise.
But creatures of such beauty may subvert the teller’s art, so story found a narrative,
configured as verb will find its noun, to predicate and subjugate landscape’s tension and potential.
This AdamEve we are comes sweetly forth with suppliant palms as if acknowledging
at times the God, at times the self. Where is the need of purple robe and stern authority
to take us to our beds, and make another? … make another? … make another? … Make a mother.
Life is what we live. Death means life. Flesh our death. Thought disrobes our knowledge.
Desire? A parrotfish at sea.
This is my work up here, and down below. We sleep; we then awake to sleep again
fulfilled by acquisition of knowledge, the ova and the sperm of our creation.
Is body a foundation or a dressing beautiful, replete with the hope of elementary truth?
The flesh I paint excites my brain, the hue and form of every shadow undo me, and release me.
The darkness in sleeping and waking is my terribilità:
the pleasure it unleashes and imprisons: the snog and shag of lip and breast;
the sweat and groan; the groin; the foaming genitals; the pouring forth
of semen as salmon for our dreams; and the turning on to light.
Image spells my dream
and speeds my brush and chalk,
it is the swelter of imagination.
Love is a paint brush spreading hush
and lover’s breath on my chest.
Fear precedes and follows the crusading mind,
impressing half-torn tales with history.
The shorn body in its unrecorded grave
has no thought nor time for beauty to become.
Imprisoned in the convulsed excitement
of this transient trapeze,
shackled to imponderability and sway,
and with lips to kiss,
we wander through the carnival,
losing sight of camels in the high grass.
Like acrobats carousing on stardust floors
the fire of death is what we live on.
Seamus Cashman, BEI’s first International Fellow, is an Irish poet. His three collections are: That morning will come: new and selected poems (Salmon Poetry 2007) which includes ‘Secrets’, poem responses to issues of justice in Palestine; Carnival (Monarchline 1988) and Clowns and Acrobats (Wolfhound Press 2000). His latest work is a book length poem, The Sistine Gaze, due in 2014. In addition to readings in Ireland, he has also read his work at London’s Southbank International Poetry Festival, at Bangor’s POETica in Wales, in Brussels, in the US at venues across Iowa, Nebraska & Wisconsin, and recently at Irish & French Embassy events in Saudi Arabia. A successful anthologist for young readers, he co-edited Irish Poems for Young People and commissioned & edited the award winning, Something Beginning with P: new poems from Irish poets (O’Brien Press, 2004). Cashman, now a full time writer and poet who freelances as editor and creative writing facilitator, has taught in Tanzania, was a senior editor with Irish University Press, and in 1974 founded Wolfhound Press, Dublin, where he was publisher for 27 years. From Conna in County Cork, he now lives in Malahide, near Dublin.