Fillet of Soul with a Dark Night Glaze, by Reggie Marra

– for Kris Kristofferson and Ken Wilber

Endless, empty darkness,
ineffable, voiceless eternity,
no  thing   to speak of

just   this

Still
Perfect
Silence

now

light so bright it
hurts your hair
since you’re there to see
it and
the good news is you
both see and be it
since you are it

in this manifest
game of Absolute
hide and seek

suddenly
infinitely empty void
fills with potential

expanding in all
directions and no direction
but forward –
an omni-directional
vast, silent explosion
into and as infinity

timeless, ever-present
Awareness – oh my, God –
you choose to manifest,
hurtle through hot
endless nothingness,
slow, cool, begin to
take form –
liquefy, solidify,
learn to breathe

and you’re still learning
with   this   breath

emerging neural cord

begets slithering impulse,
begets hairy emotion,
begets operational thought,
gets more and more complex,
even now –

and look at you, becoming us,
Mr. and Miss Homo habilis
with our opposable thumbs,
creating tools with which
we attempt to grasp
the ungraspable, and

Mr. and Mrs. Homo erectus
standing upright on both twos,
recognizing our connection
with each other, learning
to simmer those early grunts and
calls into language that helps us
find our voice and endeavor
to speak the unspeakable, and

embrace the dawning
human potential movement
sending us in search of
warmth, and that first
success-driven speech, a
short, truncated vowel
accented by an index finger
pointing toward
the cave, and

Mr. and Ms. Homo sapiens
start to share big stories as
myth emerges from magic
and calls forth reason –
Copernicus, Bruno, Kepler
and Galileo tag team
a parade of pontiffs –
Bruno gets a stake and fries
that Clement Eight, Galileo suffers
Urban renewal – together launch
the science-religion smackdown,
and the winner is
to be announced
during intermission at the Apocalypse
Theater’s infinite showing of the
Eternal Present –
unwrapped
beneath the bodhi tree, on the cross and
mountaintop, in the cave – or
wherever you happen to find your Self.
Check the Universal Nondual News
for show times

right now, look to the lofty,
shaved-head, everyone-is-right,
tetra-arising, talking-horse’s-
human part of you – oh, Wilber –
Spirit-in-Action by any other name
is still
a rose    arisen
a   raisin’  as  the  Sun
from this waking dream to

face the challenge of lying
in the luxury of multiple perspectives,
creature comforts   and  I – Am – ness

while the prosthesis business
booms in Baghdad,
Bethesda   and beyond

rest in the timeless
perfection of this very moment

while the hole in your heart
blossoms  too  big  to   bear,
too intimate to bare

and the move from
me   and   you
to us
to all of us
to  all  that  is      is    just this,

just  this,   but
sometimes so hard to remember,
to shift    to move on

and we don’t know in that moment
when the sheep leaves his fold
when the fool flees her flock

if he’s a rebel without a clue, she’s
of little faith, or the next emerging
evolutionary perspective –

what’s a shepherd to do?

As I speak, whose voice
is this, really – whose vision
informs my first-person pronoun –
the eye of flesh? the eye of mind?
the I of Spirit? Or, perhaps,
the Cistercian’s anonymous
authority of the collectivity
speaking through  yet  another
case of mistaken identity?

Inquiring minds want to know.

I am in this room, and
I am this room and
everything and everyone
in it.   I am music,
silence and
of course  I love myself
and every   single  one  of  me

whom I’m nevertheless called to ask –
do I authentically transcend
and include the
skin-pigmentation thing, the
masculine-feminine thing, the
hetero- homo- trans-
and bi- thing, those
ever-resilient ethnic and
religious things, the
liberal-conservative,
wisdom-compassion,
justice-mercy, and
intimacy-solitude things, and
can I finally stop seeking
what’s impossible to avoid

what I always already am

and fully feel my
absolute Embrace, my
Mother of all diversity issues,
the One as the Many,
who invites me to sit down in

the One Taste restaurant,
order my fill
from the Emptiness menu

– I’ve already had the Fillet of Soul
with a Dark Night glaze, so bring
me whatever you prefer –

dine alone with you, with us,
with all of us, in the company of
all that arises moment-to-
moment in ever-present
Awareness, savoring every
morsel of each course served
in this Nondual Feast

still desire,
have room for
and   enjoy
the sinfully divine, moist
midnight chocolate cake,
get up from the table
wash all the dishes
return to the street, and
in my own voice
eternally
nourish and nurture
all  sentient  beings?

The Poem’s Story

On January 24, 2007 I received an email from a stranger, and initially assumed the subject line, “You must be some poet”, was a goof from a friend, but the email itself dissolved that assumption:

Reggie,

I don’t believe we’ve actually met but anyone whose poetry is endorsed by Naomi Shihab Nye and who works with Ken Wilber has GOT to have something big going for him!….it is just a fledgling idea I’m exploring at the moment.  I’m designing the National Speakers Association Convention this July in San Diego. I’m going to get our crowd to a higher level of consciousness or die in the attempt! This program will have a very strong neuroscience / metaphysical undercurrent to it and I’m planning to disrupt pretty well every dimension of the Convention that I can get my hands on in order to get people thinking differently. Poetry and music, I think, are the two best channels to a higher zone. I’m looking for someone who will wax poetic about full human potential / the integral world / creating reality etc. in the opening night of the Convention, July 9. Would you feel good about doing something like that and would you be willing to if I can set it up?

Best regards,
Ian Percy

I responded to the email (Ian had me at “disrupt”), and was put in touch with the opening-night keynote speaker, whom I would precede, and whose theme would be “Your Brilliant Potential.” After some three months, twenty-one drafts, and another two months learning how to embody and present the poem, I delivered it on July 7 to some 1,200 professional speakers, who were not at the San Diego convention to listen to poetry. No one got hurt.

I decided early on that a poetic riff on the still unfolding potential that was present before, and in the ensuing 13.8 billion years since, the “big bang” would be the most appropriate poetic introduction to what was sure to be an impeccably written, choreographed and delivered, albeit more conventional, keynote on “brilliant potential” (it was). Cautious optimism visited briefly when the draft of what would become the first two-thirds of the poem came to me in about 90 minutes in two writing sessions. The process slowed down significantly immediately thereafter and for the next three months.

What Ian had given me by mentioning Naomi Shihab Nye and Ken Wilber was recognition of what were at the time my two primary professional, and in many ways personal, focuses – poetry and integral applications. That someone out there recognized the potential of what might happen where these two disciplines meet, and that he had somehow found me, felt serendipitous. All I had to do was unfold the trajectory of 13.8 billion years in a 6-7 minute poem.

This reflection, some nine years after the poem emerged, and just four months since it first appeared in a bound book, reminds me that I continue to have significantly more unfolding questions than definitive answers about the writing, the poem itself, and its ongoing impact on me and on the various communities within which I dwell. In novice Rilke style, I continue to live, and occasionally love, the questions as they emerge.

Attempting to Write From 50,000 Feet

Moving the writing from the initial “Endless, empty darkness” through the emergence of “Mr. and Ms. Homo sapiens” involved less about what to say and more about how to say it. Choosing what to say and how to say it about our post-Homo sapiens-emergent world and especially the most recent 50 years or so – a microscopically tiny speck of time, saturated with an exponentially increasing volume of information and experience, access to which is all too readily available – presented another ‘probloptunity’ altogether. What began to unfold in this processing of what, how, and even how much became a focused exploration of what I pay attention to both within and outside myself, what I value and care about, how I view myself and the world at large, and finally, who (the hell) I think I am. Oh, yes. That. Who exactly is deciding what to include or exclude in this 6-minute riff on 13.8 billion years? “[W]hose voice is this, really?”

Amid this wonderful identity-crisis-based selection process it dawned on me that I was writing a poem to be performed – my love for my slam and spoken-word colleagues notwithstanding – something I don’t typically do. My bias required this poem to work on the page as well as in its vibrations of vocal cords and inner ears. As I wrote and read aloud, listening to and feeling into the emerging sounds and rhythms, I end-stopped and enjambed lines, broke stanzas and spaced words in order to honor those sounds and rhythms, and (as a recovering Enneagram 8) to think I might control, or at least influence, how a competent reader might read the poem.

The irony was not lost on me that the poem’s initial audience would be neither expecting, nor particularly interested in, poetry, that their center of gravity (i.e. collective worldview) might not fully embrace, or embrace at all, the poem’s perspective, and that Ian’s request to write a poem that would “disrupt” a convention and “get our crowd to a higher level of consciousness or die in the attempt” might warrant another look, perhaps through the poet’s self-preservation lens. Looking back, the only lines I wrote specifically for that initial audience – successful 21st-century professional speakers, were: “embrace the dawning / human potential movement / sending us in search of / warmth, and that first / success-driven speech…”, and the only research I did provided the names of the popes who oversaw Galileo’s house arrest and Bruno’s burning at the stake. That they were Urban and Clement the 8th, respectively, was ridiculously good news for the poem.

As I wrote then and write now, one overarching question asks, “How much of what this poem posits do I simply know about, how much do I understand at some level, and how much do I truly embody in my moment-to-moment experience?”* Back then, and now, still, two responses emerge:

  1. Who cares? – the poem seems to be all right (Thanks, Archibald MacLeish), and
  2. What is it about me – how I see and am in the world – such that this question even matters? So much for not answering a question with a question. Or two.

The rest of this writing spirals out from that initial question, and the two questions that arose in response.

Reflection from the Heart, Mind, Soul and Feet

My mind’s response to how much I know, understand and embody with regard to the poem’s ‘content’ was something like, “Do you really belong on stage for the opening general session of the National Speakers Association annual convention, presenting a poem on the evolutionary impulse to over a thousand people who make presentations for a living?” My heart immediately responded, “Yes,” and my soul simply smiled in silence.

At the heart of where I stood as I wrote the poem, and where I stand now is that which allowed me to write the part of the poem that begins “rest in the timeless / perfection of this very moment /…”

From this point on the poem suggests that “timeless perfection” includes everything from that “hole in your heart”; to increasingly inclusive moves “from / me and you / to us / to all of us / to all that is”; to not knowing if the wayward sheep or fool is a rebel, an infidel or…

*This question emerges from the second or two roots that can be clarifying in virtually any circumstance: 1) What is it about this (moment, event, person, etc.) such that I respond as I do? 2) What is it about me, such that I respond as I do to this (moment, event, person, etc.). #2 tends to be where the juice is. an “emerging / evolutionary perspective”; to the inquiry into what or who is speaking through “my first-person pronoun”; to a further inquiry into how I truly hold skin-pigmentation, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and those wonderful “liberal-conservative, / wisdom-compassion, / justice-mercy, and / intimacy-solitude” polarities that are at the heart of virtually every local, national and international conversation in the 21st century.

As I slide myself along each of these wonderful continua, I am acutely aware of the blue-collar, New York, Italian-American, Catholic roots that taught me in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s that America was the best country, Catholicism was the one true religion, “original sin’ was real, guilt was normal, being queer was a sin, having an abortion was a sin, slavery was a bad thing (not so much a sin, though), and even thinking about sexual pleasure was an “impure thought” – itself a venial (low grade) sin. Subsequent meetings with friends and colleagues who are my chronological and worldview peers, and whose earliest years were significantly more progressive, inclusive and ‘concept-of-sin free,’ than mine, continue to remind me of our wonderfully human developmental trajectory, and all of the nuances of family, childhood experience, religion or lack thereof, at-large culture and the physiological traits that impact it.

So, what? So, as with every work of art, once we cut the umbilical cord and allow it to be in the world on its own, every reader or listener who chooses to engage the poem (or has it forced on them at a convention) will engage through his or her unique worldview. I admittedly have cut the umbilical cord cognitively, but not fully from an emotional level. When I presented the poem in San Diego through a rock-concert, voice-of-God sound system, I was listening for laughter at the funny parts and looking for recognition of ‘universal experience’ in the faces of the folks in the expensive seats. Silly me. When I presented it in 2008 at TLA’s “Power of Words” conference at Goddard College in a less formal setting, to a much smaller audience – but an audience that was open to receiving it, the ‘universal’ recognition was palpable, and the laughter, especially Rick Jarow’s knowing guffaw at “Bruno gets a stake and fries / that Clement Eight” was validating – truly a Sally Field at the Oscars moment for me.

Which, of course, begs that annoyingly persistent question, “What is it about me, about how I see and am in the world, such that external validation matters?” The question is not asked in judgment or as a critique. Rather, it is grounded in authentic curiosity: hmm, what’s this really about? Maybe it’s essential to what I do next, and maybe it’s not important at all. Maybe validation and recognition from a community of like-minded peers is healthy. You get the idea. The question asks me to stay open to what is.

Ultimately (yikes), I believe the very thing the poem does for me and may do for others who listen to or read it is just that – invite openness – to find myself in the poem, whether attempting to grasp the ungraspable, fleeing my flock, or enjoying that sinfully divine midnight-chocolate cake, and do my best, through whatever lens I happen to access the world, to stay open to what is. The poem speaks to and through traditional, modern and postmodern worldviews – each of which thinks the others are wrong, naïve or crazy, and juxtaposes them in a way that recognizes that each of them emerges in response to specific life conditions, each offers something of value, and each is partial. Find yourself in the poem, stay curious and open yourself up to your truest version of what is right now. Who are you, really, and what (in the world) are you doing?

I live with these questions every day, and as the late Harry Chapin wrote, “Sometimes words can serve me well, and sometimes words can go to hell, for all that they do.” The poem continues to point me toward some things I did not know I knew, and at the same time reminds me that deeper embodiment of what I think I understand would be a really good idea. Back them words up, Pardner.

Shortly after I returned home from San Diego, a close friend and poet asked, “Okay, so now that you’ve written about arc of evolution, what’s left to write about?” I laughed at the time, knowing he was joking, and still not sure how to respond. Of course, what’s left are the details within every line of this and every poem, the subtle qualities of what emerges and what fades away, the paradox(en) of celebration amid grief and essence within loss, and always, always, love – all of it is left to live, love and write.

Works Cited 

Marra, Reggie. “Fillet of Soul with a Dark Night Glaze” And Now, Still: Grave
      and Goofy Poems. Heart Press, 2016.

Chapin, Harry. “Story of a Life.” Sequel. Fat Albert Productions. Chapin
Music.

Reggie Marra is Creative Director at Teleosis Institute and the author of 3 volumes of poetry and 4 of nonfiction. An educator for 40+ years, he has presented his work for TLAN’s Power of Words Conference, the National Association for Poetry Therapy, the National Speakers Association and the Spirituality Institute at Iona College. Reggie is an Integral Master Coach, trained by and on the faculty of Integral Coaching Canada. Find out more at www.reggimarra.com.

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