“What do you think, O Monks, is rupa permanent, or is it transitory?”
“It is transitory, Reverend Sir.”
“And that which is transitory – is it painful, or is it pleasant?”
“It is painful, Reverend Sir.”
“And that which is transitory, painful, and liable to change – is it possible to say of it: 'This is mine; this am I; this is my self'?”
“Certainly not, Reverend Sir.”
“Is feeling, perception, volition, consciousness, permanent, or transitory? Is it painful, or is it pleasant? Is it possible to say of it: 'This is mine; this am I; this is my self'?”
(Buddhism as Philosophy, Mark Siderits)
1. I have travelled far and long,
and I have seen the oceans, and
lay upon their shores. I have felt
the fleeting fire of a snowflake
upon my tongue, but my god,
it is nothing compared to the
countries of your body.
Don't talk to me about
impermanence of form -
don't talk of consciousness.
We're a tangle of blankets
and bad memories, a pair
of lost birds, a microcosm
of all the chaos in the world.
In your arms, there is no
consciousness – don't you see?
There is feeling, rising up in me
like smoke, there is perception,
and there is all the permanence
of the world, suspended on the
tightrope of desire.
We are young, and there is
a long way to go. My life
is not your life; nor is yours
Mine. This am I, this is my self.
And that is you, beyond the
border. Don't pretend like
you know me. Don't pretend
that we understand each other -
we've known each other a few
fumbling hours, for god's sake.
I'm nothing new. There is nothing new
here, today, in the bright lights
of a pulsating city; but our grandparents
would never understand. Our parents
would try, and fail. Life is moving
fast, and we take impermanence
in our stride, we hold on to it
and use it to our advantage.
Imagine if I were forced to spend
my life with you. We are young.
The impermanence of form -
is drilled into us. I know about it
already. Don't read poetry to me.
This isn't a poem: this is life.
In this scene, you and I,
are on a bed. Or a couch.
In this scene, one of us
will always be able to back out
in time. Before it gets
serious, real, threatening.
We're a desperate tangle of limbs,
an amalgamation of reason and passion,
a mess of innocent desire and paradox.
We will unravel before we grow roots,
before we sense moss. We will unravel
because, O stranger, there is no permanence.
The years are slipping by – learn to slip by
with them. It is painless, this partition, there
need be no history, no memory at all.
O lover, you are not mine, nor am I yours.
Your corporeal form wrapped in mine:
let us make this distinction of souls clear.
2. The clock on the mantelpiece
sounds the same as it did, all those years ago.
The pictures are fading faster in the sunlight.
I have watched the sun rest on the taut string
of horizon, from this window, a hundred times.
I have watched my hands grow old, and I have watched
yours. I feel the lines, like webs, across my face my arms
my hands and legs my once-beautiful neck, and I can look
you in the face and tell you this corporeal form is transitory.
We're constantly reading about love, watching it
being overused in the advertisements, like
Christmastime or puppies, or God. You and I,
have watched each other from the blossoms
of our youth to today – what is this? Where are we?
What am I to expect from you when all we have
is the ransom of memory, a thread from you to me,
stretching farther and farther with every day, every sigh.
I know the backs of my wrinkled hands, now, like I know
the backs of yours. I have seen your precious face,
every morning, for years – and I want to call this
Love, like we did in the start, but I can be honest,
can't I? We are used to each other. We don't know
how else to be, who else to watch, where else to go.
It is too late for options. Too late for romance.
Too late to know if I made the right choice
when I chose you. We have contracts and agreements,
tangible (in the photos, in the grandchildren's sparkling eyes),
intangible (in society's quiet, decisive conditions about marriage);
but all set in stone. Permanent. Our love is eternal.
My god, we're going to be buried together. Isn't this
what we always wanted? This isn't transitory -
it isn't painful – it isn't pleasant. This is mine;
this am I; this is my self – because it is all I have.
Your body, and mine. The privilege to watch
the ravages of time. Our feelings, perceptions,
our consciousness, volition. Some days, I can't stand you.
Some days, I feel lonely when I drop you off in the car.
Either of us might go first – and then the permanence
of your goddamn face will disappear, a clean slate.
I'll be a newborn again. Innocent of the malice
of love, of eternity, of unbearable lightness.
Love, as a necessary evil. Love, as salvation.
And to think
that I could have chosen
Christmastime, or puppies,
3. O my little monk,
huddled under white sheets on this grey morning,
what can I get you to drink? Listen: raindrops scrape
against thin walls. There's another sliver of eyelash
on your porcelain cheek; make a wish,
beloved, unfurl your dreams into the wind.
Someday I will look back and search for meaning
in memory: let me set the scene for posterity.
Four walls, sound of rain, palewhite hands in mine.
A swollen bookcase, feeble smiles, prescriptions
and medicine drawers, bills for chemotherapy,
shuddering roof against onslaught of sea from sky.
One little figure in bed, bald, huddled in white.
I want to hold each raindrop
in the hollows of my hand, and fashion them
into oceans for you. Oceans are permanent,
infinite and alive, but what of the oceans
of your eyes? Your form is transitory, fragile,
a solitary silver feather caught in a cage
of shatter-glass bone. Your fingers, your scars, your
breath warming my shoulder: transitory. Your body
against mine, the mole on your cheek, dark curls
against the valleys of your collarbones. Your arms,
limp against the harsh white of bedspread.
Your body, painful. Liable to change, lapping
against my life like a singing wave, unsure, unsteady.
Your smile, my endless blue sky. Your eyes,
watching me unfold my life a step at a time.
Your thunder of life in a corporeal frame of flesh.
The endless rhythm of heartbeat against my chest -
it is transitory. Is it possible to say of it:
“This is mine” - can I accept the flaws
that come with your particular perfection,
smile at your apologetic smile, and say:
“This am I”? This is where I am,
in the embrace of your momentary
corporeal form, split-second reality.
For this life – is it transitory? - yes,
by god, it is ephemeral and fleeting and yet
it is the only thing that is eternal. It is liable
to change, and mutate, and writhe in agony,
and it is the only constant, our only hope.
This life, it is painful, I know, as do you.
I will go through it all again if I have the chance.
Every desperate tear that I have ever shed. Every heartbreak,
every gut-wrenching, white-knuckled time the doctor said
'We don't know'. Don't worry, doctor. The answerdoesn't lie in your files.