ALANA SIEGEL Engages
Heart Thread by Robert Kelly
(Lunar Chandelier Press, Brooklyn & Chicago, 2016)
Thoughts on Thread
I read Robert Kelly’s Heart Thread on the precipice of leaving for a three year retreat. I am leaving in 3 days, but I feel like I’ve been saying goodbye for months. “Heart Thread” feels to me to be a book all about goodbyes, but also about beginnings, and the space each of those moments share, occupy. I’ve been thinking about goodbyes, not understanding the nature of them. I’ve been thinking about last words, and how a poem feels. When I said goodbye to one of my best friends a couple weeks ago, we were at an event turned into a party in a crowded new museum and after we hugged goodbye I said, “see you in letter form” (I mean in the exchange of written letters) and then as I walked away, I added, “or in astral form.” We were now a good distance away from each other, and over the clamorous crowd, my friend, having not heard me, shouted, “What did you say?” “In astral form,” I repeated. Because I knew these were the last in person words spoken we would share with each other, each pronouncement—my declaration of seeing him in “letter form,” and then my echo of “astral form” embossed a meaning into our friendship circulating these resonances.
I was speaking with Robert once, sharing a story of the first time I had met someone, and he leaned over and emphasized that the first moment of meeting someone is when the karmic eye opens, when, what we know most commonly as “the first impression” is made, and your vision of your whole relationship with that person is revealed before you there. Because I’ve been saying goodbye to people in the last months, I’ve been adapting this same logic to endings, but endings seem more difficult to fix in place than beginnings. You say goodbye to someone, casually, knowing you will see them next week, or tomorrow, or assuming you will. You say goodbye to someone when you’re going on a flight, or getting off the phone. You don’t know if you will see anyone ever again, but you can think you know, or feel you do.
The poems in Heart Thread can be held in the hand, as they are held on the page, separate yet alive to one another. I imagined each poem as a person, reciting the first words that came to mind upon being born, or the last words said, in this or that moment. The poems are numbered, and you can have the book with you when you’re walking or riding on a train from one place to another. And when the world frees you from it for a moment of waiting, or traveling, you can read a poem and linger there, in these studies of beginnings and ending.
What is the difference in a beginning and ending, saying hello and saying goodbye? I keep thinking about this, and it confuses me, relieves me, suspends me in a whirling curiosity about the nature of time and meaning. Chuck Stein, a friend of both mine and Robert’s said to me one day that he felt like all his life he had been walking down this path and then when he reached, I think 50 he said, or an age around that age, he felt like he turned around and started walking back down the path from which he came.
The title of this book struck me because a couple years ago when I was beginning to learn Tibetan, my Tibetan teacher in one class said, “there is no word for “love” in Tibetan.” I was enthused, drawn in, seeking out this exit, this answer above all the desire and pleasure but pain that came in that magnet of the world of that word. My teacher followed with a semantic break down of one of the Tibetan words for mind, which he translated as “heart rope.” So this must be where the title of this book is drawn from. I was thinking about it today in the car, and the willful statements in this book, clear and concise in their purpose of writing down what is heard in the mind. There seems to be a vast neural network that is being laid out—a company of minds to think in rather than a single mind in time being thought—not a nervous will unhearing its own monologue—but an availability—a freshness—as this book in so many moments makes clear, that it is for “you,”—it is not for itself—or itself is the linkage of this habitation in which a clearly distinct movement is being propagated, grown. It is like each poem is a seed, the restfulness of a beginning and an end not needing discrimination, and the harmlessness of language being shared, as a place to live in, rather than the fiery furnaces of opinion that arrow into the air and provide no shelter from any storm.
My friend whom I mentioned earlier said to me recently that he writes poems now only in an offering of consolation. I feel this way through how some of the images in “Heart Thread” seem to make my body disappear. What comes to mind most readily is the microwave that becomes a moon. This simple image, not simple at all. This glorious feeling, experience, of the mind’s capacity to make a thing in the world other than it is, to make it like something else, is small and dazzling, is large and tingling. There is a consolation, a company, when a moment in a poem can let you be lost in it, where “sharing” is not needed anymore, the injunction towards it, or the shadow of its absence. You are initiated, naturally, in how the words proved your ability to be moved into them, by them, taken out from the vectors, the hurtling trajectories of will and intention, and hovering.
I am imagining my heart in my body, and my opening questions about ends and beginnings like hearts in the bodies, of myself, or anyone else. Floating, attached, full of function, hot, and yet invisible to me. You don’t know, and because you don’t, you go, out from yourself, into the thoughts of another, or yours, in the form of a book.
There is an intelligence in this book, in the intense engagement with every thought and feeling, understanding each as not isolated, but of a fragile framework being experienced by others, and how many others? This book is deeply concerned with how it affects people, but not in any overly careful or cowardly way. This book is an accumulated study of what seems to be trying to find the words in a single line’s attempt, that can elevate as many souls as possible, somehow twisting, or trying to slake off a culture’s associations into a purity of verse that can liberate a mind in any human being from their ideas of themselves. A poem serving as a discerning force, like a thread that can weave what you need to keep you warm, a rope thrown to get you up the massive mountain you are in the middle of climbing.
And this is thought, in the process of finding it’s true intention, it’s deepest purpose and need, through the fields and travails of so many vocabularies and other places and times, searching out that garment or geography that doesn’t need any other name than the one you are told in the moment of hearing it. It’s like the first time someone tells you their name, and in the great rush in skull of meeting them and taking in all the energies of this new soul before you, you forget their name, and have to ask them as you are leaving, “What’s your name again?” And they tell you.
Alana Siegel, author of Archipelago (Station Hill Press), wrote her review on the eve of entering a three-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat.”