By the help of an image
I call to my own opposite, summon all
That I have handled least, least looked upon.
And I would find myself and not an image.
As I perceive the world to be, | so it is. That’s what’s called magic. || Wrote two letters today, | spoke without speaking to | those whose words need to be | heard. Thanked them for knowing || how perfectly to break silence. | Preyed upon shadows the Nordic ||| forest of my furrowed | brow furnished thick with sweat || until darkness dripped thought onto | vellum. A tamed Viking son, my | ancestors invested me with | this heat’s indefatigable || competitiveness, my | vicarious realm a blank ||| page blanketed in my aching | sophistication, its borders || those four corners foreign | kingdoms bringing order | to what I imagine, | lest I fail to resist || its wail’s temptation and yield to | believing another’s visions, ||| for a frail moment be | tormented by a mere || stranger’s opinions. Thundering | confidence even when my mouth’s | left unopened. My own water- | marked half-sheet a miniature || creature comfort, a dear | familiar bed letter- ||| pressed by printers’ lips with languid, | twisting obsidian kisses || dignifying into | exquisite existence | my intimidating | monogram’s Janus-faced, || twinned Js gracing ageless paper | actually laid from rags of ||| cotton. Made archival, | born permanent. To save. || Historical in construction. | As if one’s initials were some | folioed phylactery, some | tangled lamen protecting all || sensitive senders from | their great recipients’ ||| potentially fatal, very | incendiary first glance’s || final judgment. Nothing | left out, worked in as if | every note were my | diary. Nothing but || the best for candid comments I | want to be permanent. To be ||| remembered. If not so | modest, then more honest || when less likely to be seen face | to face. Felt I was doing well | the Lord’s work, better than going | on about my Self the way I || am now yet again. Pen | in hand, everything ||| on my mind and nothing on but | talismans, rings and pure silver || the quick power of which | I hoped turned my tongue more | sacramental than its | usual turbulent || mercurial, tithing its tide’s | current more suitable, I sat ||| at my leisure, halfway | between decadent and || deadened from too much lived pleasure, | lording over an ebony | table, spread knees knocking against | inveterate legs hellhounds must || have battled, scratched raw with | many movements which have ||| ravaged them with damage somehow | still fresh, no matter how antique || or quaint my attempt at | sacrilizing my scarce | space with something classic, | wanting to impress them || both in an old-fashioned way, flayed | sinner with the bones of a saint ||| saying thanks with ink good | intention stained, spellbound || by a publisher and poet, | neither I’ve known other than through | their own fame. My name’s the gate through | which each leaf of my needing to || be needed passes from | this heart’s locked garden of ||| hard secrets. Blessèd is the wreck | expression salvages, for what || tames the savage head is | nothing less than letting | in the dread imperfect, | admitting it. Yes, let’s. || Confessions have a curious | way of taking time to turn shame ||| to something more subtle | than sudden, in order || that remorse isn’t forced, but more | sublime when you finally find | your suffering transformative, | worth its pain nonetheless. Somewhere, || lightning strikes out at the | desert floor and turns it ||| to stone with fingers it must strain | heaven to break against earth so || recalcitrant. Watered | dirt births mud enough to | brick up hurt sunlight still | manages to touch, thirst || a wound as much a window as | tearful ashes take on the shapes ||| masquerade personæ | paint. Something subversive || hides below the surface of the | transgressive, as time passes through | swords of flame these sands its hours turn | to glass, burns from man his gathered || illusions until his | true reflection relents ||| and surfaces. Hazards trust’s risk | until its dim flicker fixes || fractured images which | stick. Blessèd is the speck | of him dust sends to the | furnace, shattered shards of || black mirrors more refined after | seven years passed over by luck, ||| for far worse has fate been | to them who’ve never known || love. Never once by its whip been | licked. Those of us whose dark and deep | experiences of it taste | tragic sweeten with the wit of our || molasses bitterness | gilded heroes myth has ||| already honeyed thick, those we | mortals admire from afar whose || legendary deeds the | needless charity of | our bumbling honesty | seeks to repeat, if not || gloating heroically, then | pouting awkwardly. Yours, truly.
☞ The title of the poem is derived from a line in Petrus Garsia’s In determinationes magistrales contra conclusiones apologales Ioannis Pici Mirandulani Concordis Comitis praemium, originally published at Rome by Eucharius Silber in 1489; signatures Kiv verso through Kv recto, reprinted in Lynn Thorndike’s A History of Magic and Experimental Science: Volume 4, published at New York by Columbia University Press in 1934; pages 497–507, translated by Richard Kieckhefer in Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century, published at University Park, Pennsylvania by The Pennsylvania State University Press in 1998; pages 98–99, note 15, subsequently quoted by Alexander Cummins in his essay “By stone and by call: Medieval & Early Modern Scrying”, from “[Part] 2[.] Contexts” of An Excellent Booke of the Arte of Magicke: The Magical Works of Humphrey Gilbert & John Davis from British Library Additional Manuscript 36674. Transcribed, Edited and Introduced by Phil Legard with Supplementary Essays by Alexander Cummins, published at London by Scarlet Imprint in 2020; page 220.
1W. B. Yeats, “Ego Dominus Tuus”, [Stanzas 2–3, Lines 8–11], from The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), in W. B. Yeats: Poems selected by Seamus Heaney, published at London by Faber and Faber in 2004; page 57.