Joseph Campbell quoting Heinrich Zimmer

“My friend Heinrich Zimmer used to say the best things can’t be told, because they transcend thought.  The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts.  The third best are what we talk about.”  – Joseph Campbell

 

The Encounter

I stood in a glass house at the edge of the sea.

I watched as the tide rose, gradually swallowing the house, waves breaking against glass walls, and over the glass roof, booming, rattling, trembling.

Seaweed, rocks, shells, too many fish to count, so many colors.

Then came the crabs, starfish, anemones, cephalopods, sliding, clicking across the transparent roof, pressed up against the glass.

Then came the sea turtles, their old tough shells cracking the glass as the force of the sea slammed them against it.  The house was completely underwater now, and water began to seep through the cracks with mounting pressure.

My blood lurched through the veins in my neck.  I thought of running wildly from room to room, but just found myself standing perfectly still. 

I saw the small dark shape of a whale on the underwater horizon, the fluid border of sight.  I tried to blink it away, but it was still there, and it was coming. 

It swept nearer, loomed closer, until it filled my vision completely.  The transparent house was outside the whale’s awareness, so on it came, about to collide into the glass I stood behind. 

Friends, this is how it is to die and be reborn.

This is how it is, returning from the death of your animal nature.

Omphalos

My fires are so thirsty,

the hunger drinks itself.

Transcendent wheel turning,

at once groaning and soundless.

I speak the language of rounded stones,

spoken at the navel of the world.

 

At times I cannot even reach you.

At times I scoop you up

to ride across the world in the cups of my hands,

my skin peeling back

as if it were the bark of a eucalyptus tree.

 

To really explain, I’ve got to go back

to where the rain stopped suddenly

and everything went quiet

and the sky turned bright orange.

I’ve got to go back and I can’t take you with me,

but I will return and tell you what I find there.

 

All my life,

I simply do what I was made to do.

That is why I am a contented man.

Merlyn

I had fun writing this.  I kept imagining Merlyn’s sense of himself as an ordinary failure, as a powerful being who is nevertheless human.  I really wanted to try and capture the notion that he knows all this information about himself that we’re not privy to, leaving room for the reader’s imagination to draw any conclusion it wants about the details of the legendary wizard’s past.

 

Merlyn

The mountains are alive with fire, transcendent breath, vigorous and endless.  Though they have been given a name, a part of them will always be nameless, and I could say the same about myself.

I heed the call of mist-laden glades and walk among stones with broken blades.  I come to you, mountains of fire, full of so many things that matter, yet they will not matter to you.

I come to you as a whittler of small days, a worshipper of whale bones.  I come to you as a man who has a boy still looking out from behind the bars of his rib cage.  I come to you with an owl on my shoulder who comes and goes as she pleases.  I come to you as a failed magician, with iron, ash, light, dust, and rain behind the cellar-door of knowledge.

I come to you as a broken lover, a woman’s hair still caught on my sleeves.  I come to you with the meaning of my name, do with it what you will.  I come to you as the recorder of my own life, pockets filled with scribbled runes of little use.

 

Mythology

Some say I look like a walrus

with my faded apricot shirt and untrimmed moustache,

but here’s the thing:

never has my mind been filled to such an overflowing

with such an uncountable number of things

flickering through me at an untraceable speed,

equal only in their ranking

as items of stunning insignificance.

In any case,

I’ll meet you at the corner of Vanity and Age,

where the brushstrokes of dawn dress casually

and a lone star stands, unobtrusive,

before taking its last drag off the night

and flicking the roach away

to the opposite curb of the world.

And me, spilling out onto the street with two Mary’s –

one bloody, one virgin, singing:

Goddess Pele, purify me with your volcano fire.

Help me remember to see and embrace

what is before me,

and not search too hard for what isn’t.

Help me to not strain my eyes

trying to look too far ahead,

not stare back behind me for too long,

hypnotized by what has passed,

mesmerized by the highway lines.

May I be like the cat

who practices heliotropism so effectively,

who lounges and, smiling, is ever hopeful

about his next meal.

May I not get so tangled in thought and emotion

that I bind myself.

May I honor desires, dreams, fears.

May I remember things are just what they are,

on either side of any hill,

and that there are no sides,

no hills.