And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
A blank slate, an empty canvas, that sheet
of foolscap eight and a half by eleven long
Bob Creeley—late minimalist,
hip puritan, wiping at his one good
eye—told me once was how a poem began.
Began, because there was no other choice.
And young James Franco, telling me how
he’d tried to recreate what Hart Crane
had done by staring at his own blank page
there on that Olivetti. He was recalling
something Ed Harris had once said:
how he wished he’d kept those two
minutes in the film he was making, where
Jackson Pollock stares unblinking into
the white canvas at the nothing that is there,
not unlike the Creator God who once stared
into the darkness covering the face, if face
it was, given the way the language works—
or doesn’t—that seems to call us from those depths.
That is, until the Spirit, the Arch Breath,
call it the Wind if you will, whipped over
those waters, as over some blank black canvas.
And, in time (if there was time back then)
God said, Let there be light. And like that,
like a switch turning on, there wás light,
and the Lord saw it and called it good. And
where nothing was (if non-being can be said
to be) the trumpet sound of sound itself
began to sound. And it was good. And words
followed: the multifoliate pulse of Pythagorean
sound. Music is its name, what the ancients,
who seemed to know knew better than
we know (if we know anything at all)
called the Music of the Spheres. Then
lines. Lines of verse. Lines of paint as now
Pollock’s brush begins to swerve down
and then across the canvas. And it was good.
Oh, it was very good, for as Issho says,
we must learn to live as waves, each of us unique,
but part, always part, of the ocean from which
we came and to which we must return:
a face of water that stares into a face of water
across which the Wind must always wave its way.
And then it’s back once more to that blank slate
that began these lines: the empty canvas
which seems to taunt the one who dares
to stare upon its face until you catch it staring
unblinking back into the blank face of the beholder.
From Ordinary Time (Slant Books, 2020) by Paul Mariani. Copyright © 2020 by Paul Mariani. Used with the permission of the author.