canto ii: genesis
At time t = 0, Gods do not
exist—nor anything so humanlike
as Will, or Word, or by Intention driven;
nothing to call by Earth-familiar names
to say “It breathes” (or “births”) or “It creates”—
as though the fathomless were us and we
were Universe. No, what abided then
defies our small conception, overhuge:
past mind and human measure—on the scale
of Everything and Ever…
(as we have come to know them) then were
and coupled as the sum-of-energy
condensed into a dot more slight than dust.
Worlds upon worlds, and all the seething sky
(of gases, galaxies, and zodiacs
and light), compressed to boggling potency
inside a nucleus of fire.
Bursting a blazing universe, it swept
a sudden radiance and spread itself!
under and over, flooding forth—dense heat
diffusing—distance growing—growing out—
as all the singularity
e x p l o d e d
—then it’s centupled suddenly!—
as all it is
—stretching its curve
of contour flat, and spreading substance out
across an even tract
the spurt relented—ending swift as it
began—and by the afterglow the scope
of Universe had massed from near-to-nothing
to a small globe—so small a palm could hold it:
heavens in hands; existence in a plum.
But on its edges out, like ink in water—
pluming more space into the spacelessness—
while still its crushing densities of heat
and energy keep light itself ensnared…
…3 8 0, 0 0 0 y e a r s
free electrons pair—
and Light broke sweeping through transparency
to pierce the endless and translucent air
So all was
darkness and the black
nocturnal ocean of a windless night
the darkness…hidden and unseen…thick mists
of hydrogen and helium accrue
in globules packed by gravity…
cramming the tight-drawn mass on dense, crushed mass—
laying down coat on coat of dust on dust—
until—within each pressure-tortured core—
atoms combusted—bursting into light—
and set the skies ablaze with stellar fusion:
S T A R S!
in sporadic pools!
bright astral hearths—
and forges too! (since in their fiery rooms
the protons fuse—and, as their light depletes,
new elements are burned to stoke the flames,
deterring death). From Hydrogen1 to Iron26
these huge, sidereal foundries fire their cores
until—at last (their storehouse spent)—deep hearts
implode, then send their ruptured shells
Consider now the Supernova! bright
and blending lights in indigo and blue
as mirrored bells blow out in irises
resplendent atoms like a flower-flame…
Over And over.
Rich supernovas sow atomic yields
in space. That’s how our sun (a winding ball
of mist) came sculpted from the swirling dirt
it lit eight billion years from origin.
…Nine billion years…
…Ten billion lifeless years
without an eye to mark the nebulae,
watch stars explode, or chart the waxing spheres
as they revolved in vacuum-void. What sense
was there? What being could perceive the time
when all these wonders first unfolded?
Ten billion years had come, and gone—unseen,
Well, it came.
The fleeting sentient instant came
Yet sentience spawned its like therein; its like
continued after it had ended (gone,
begetter—gone, the father—gone the thing
that was, forever: back into a lost
oblivion of time), while life-passed-on
perpetuated what-could-live! So shift
on shift compounded up to greater shapes
through metamorphosis. A hominid…
It grows, stalagmite-like, in quiet change
from life’s first prototype: a cunning ape—
a mulling primate: now, philosopher
of fire; first “thinker”: Homo sapiens.
And yet, just us—of all the organisms
creeping upon the Earth—looked up to stars
in wonder; asked our knocking chests the cause
of wind and thunder; roamed the barren turf
and sought some Answer for ourselves, for all,
for everything that stirs under the sun—
and sun itself.
Behold! the Universe
had its admirer! Dim, lifeless gas
exploding light-years off? Imagined Friend.
The senseless dust? Coy Lover—distant, mute,
and hurting-dumb to men who wooed the night
and sought a Hand.
How could we know the skies
were deaf as skeletons? the heavens numb
as dirt? They moved as we did, and what moves
must have a heart… must know that they exist
as we do… know, for all their vastness, more
than us… know our true part in this dark globe—
where life arose, but was not told “Because”
or where it’s going…
Was this how Heaven came about?
Was this the origin and genesis
of souls and spirits, Something “higher up,”
a transcendental Answer over all
and mortals’ Meaning from immortal clouds?
Were we so eager to be held, we looked
and found an Earth alive, a teeming world
of things like us (yet higher)? forestfuls
of rustic gods and ruddy sprites, who took
the face of man upon themselves, the edge
off loneliness, and gave the forms we see
a Form to signify?
Then Time itself
would seem like something heavy with a wonder,
as though each moment looked toward or to,
as though some deeper purpose drove it onward…
—myths told ourselves to think the cosmos good?
(Or is this origin of Origins
itself but one more story…?)
Who can tell?
(Whoever thought they could?)
Such is the tale, though, as its been given out
once leader of the world.
It is to him foremost, I think, we owe
our Spirit-less existences—and those
today who haven’t heard his name, surely
you’ll know his handiwork?
They call it now.
Faust. Faust would save us from illogic’s vice,
would blare a spotlight through the dusky woods
of terrifying gods and fiendish sprites
that we might know and so not fear the world—
but tame it.
Time was not an endless round
of cyclic turns and sacred rites, but Now,
Now! Now!—an ever-Present burning forth
of differences and opportunity
to change it.
Faust. Faust says: there are no souls
or spirits deep within the Earth: just mud—
material to better us! with oil
and metals which some alchemy can change,
and power save us!
Fausted, people listen.
And look: the cities, rendered fearless, rise…
They brim with slaughterhouses, armories,
and mills; steel plants and stark assembly lines
ticked to a Standard tock; greased shops of sweat
and wanting, steam in all the alleyways,
and towers shadowing basilicas
with looming iron up—until the stench
of Progress so intoxicates it stinks
to Heaven like a sacrifice, and burns
the crumbling steeple-tops like lye…
True…not the earthly paradise our Faust
so eggs to make an omelet.
Worlds were coming: rich and soft and fine
as oil. Worlds without such suffering
as morals, guilt and warring—suffering
All was quickening its pace, then,
progressing faster—buildings looming up
and hungry humans: richer, fatter—God
in wane, and exorcized Material
more lord and master of their minds than He,
than anything—as ship on ship and rail
rushed in the New Millennium, and ‘Man’
now cursed Hereafter.
All was ready, then,
The day. The change.
A world of tinder-hearts
in lust for flame.