Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Surface
George looked on glass. I don’t know
if he saw heaven.
Perhaps he saw himself?
But that’s another story –
a different surface altogether
showed a lovely face.
I see you on the surface.
My skin is where I start
and where you meet the world –
a membrane keeps my inside in
and all the outside out.
It’s just psoriasis. A profusion
of the epidermal layer –
excessive and exuberant
skin cell reproduction
if you want to put it simply.
Whether it’s guttate, erythrodermic
possibly pustular, even inverse
the psoriatic phenomenon
declares itself upon the surface
where Perseverance searched.
And others delve, descend and dig –
the diver dives…
what lies below the surface?
Qin’s massive mausoleum
waits to be discovered.
Surface for the dry geometer
is readily defined –
there’s length and breadth, but never depth
being two-dimensionally confined.
I journeyed deep, and even deeper.
All I carried was my lyre.
With descent I think I found
a deeper understanding.
Then in silence I ascended
through many layers of consciousness
becoming more and more aware
of all those sounds above the surface.
When I broke through
the footsteps ceased
reminding me of who I was
and even may become…
I’ll go on playing.
While we’re here, down by the pond
who’s for Ducks and Drakes?
You watch them walking on the water
each leg ending in a dimple
and wonder at the miracle…
the strength of surface tension.
It may be peel or bark or skin
(that’s squamous epithelium);
outer cortex; a suit of scales;
or chitinous exoskeleton –
that outer layer is always there
a protecting surface everywhere.
And beneath – what lies beneath…
the truth? Indeed, the past is there
just as the present walks upon it.
Perhaps the future flies above.
Sorry this is a longer poem than usual, but the verses are mostly very short, with one (number 11, one/one) being only a single line.
It’s inspired of course by the well-known poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, which has itself inspired a variety of musical compositions as well as at least one book, not to mention offering a general way of looking at anything from different angles or points of view.
Which is really only what I’m doing.
Stevens’ poem is primarily visual – about looking at something, the same thing, in his case, on thirteen occasions.
Looking at a surface, at surfaces, may seem superficially simple. But as they may be transparent or opaque, thick or thin, fixed or fluid, soft or impenetrable, with something beyond or below that may or may not be seen, they call for many different ways of being looked at.
Of course, what and how much is seen – what is noted, what is of interest, how it’s described – is as dependent upon the viewer as the surface itself.
George Herbert’s famous words exploring this –
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav'n espy.
seemed to be a good starting point from which to travel, dressed in different forms – including a couple of haiku (the form which underpins Stevens’ poem).
On my journey I meet Narcissus, a Dermatologist and the Mars explorer, finding myself in China, then metamorphosing into Orpheus who had to be careful where he looked, before watching a pond skater and ending up wondering how time and space intersect…
Perhaps thirteen is a far too inadequate number after all.
I hope you’re grateful that the poem isn’t longer.