By Michael D. Jackson
Sixty-five, and the thump of surf on ironsand
still drumming into my brain the lore I learned
on this black sea littoral as a child,
chalked by drift, erased by spume, spat on by rain.
Such was the rhetoric I used back then!
Oceanic in import, measured to beat the band.
But we are toughened by suffering
and words are shoals that shift, mere
pumice stone, bluffs that fall away.
So if I were in Mokau now, heading
toward Mount Messenger, I would not
shun anything that washed ashore—blue plastic
packing tape, odd shoes, unlabelled bottles
without ships or notes inside . . .
Though the sea in a conch complain:
“Who taught you how to sing? Who showed you
the ropes? Who gave you driftwood with which
to build? Who confided things no tongue
can tell? Who told you what to say?”
Reading William James
I recall the way that we were taught
our syntax—verbs were “doing words,”
adjectives “described”—and how I lived
not nouns but words like these:
a string of ifs and buts and bys and ands,
Fences go up, and concrete walls
to keep barbarians at bay; shards
of broken glass and razor wire
protect our own. But day after day
bird flight and the tides ceaselessly insist
on subtler shadings for what we feel.
“Reality is where things happen”
writes William James. There is “a more”
that fringes like a reef the deep self-satisfied
lagoon we think is safe. And surf
breaks distantly at night, bringing the
lesson home that separate names
do not mean separate things.
Trying to Read Heidegger
Distracted from Sein und Zeit
by the kids just back from the kiosk,
I make sure they’ve shared
their bounty equally before
returning to “the priority
of existentia over essentia,
and the fact that Dasein is in
each case mine.”
“Open my Kinder Surprise!” my
daughter asks, and then more petulant,
“Dad, can you open it, please . . .”
And so I do, assembling a plastic landscape
with a child and dog
before considering the things
that distract us from
“the pre-phenomenal basis we are seeking”:
My children’s notion of what is fair.
Two candles lit on the windowsill.
My wife due back from shopping in an hour.
This sense of home.
Michael D. Jackson is Distinguished Visiting Professor of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School. These poems are from his recent collection of poems, Dead Reckoning, published by Auckland University Press, New Zealand.