by Steve Gaines

what have the oracles told me
how have the stars led me into the this cul de sac of an
once more caught up in the eddies of inspiration
up against the pitfalls of a practical life
without the incautious rationale of my old self
without things that make sense
the way they do when you can still do

of late I have spun my course on a random excursion
thrown off the orbit of my old understanding
like a snake shedding its
my skin thick enough to hold me inside…once
small protection from myself
not thick enough now to insulate me from a changing mind
making up new directions and reasons at any whim
unable to choose intelligently from what comes
following the physics of least resistance like a pin ball
bouncing through the two dimensional world of childhood again
sadly no longer a child by any definition
and putting off the obvious constructions of growing up
waiting for what…?
bells and whistles
or fireworks from the dark side of my mind?

lost once more in the confluence
of time and space without a map
thrown about in the currents and
cautions of ideas once rife with promise
now just detours in the stream

awaking in the cold confusion of wishful dreams
the nightly visits of the Muse not so desperate anymore
slowly climbing out of the stupor of that easy sleep
at a loss and picking up the old routine of back and forth
as it slowly dies of its own unnecessity
having grown into a sort of perpetual un-motion
where there used to be lights turning on
and things falling out of the
gathering momentum today only
after falling off some precipitous
mountain of surprise

I wonder on the odd vacant moment
what the relationship is between madness and genius
not exactly an original question I suppose
but something I have mulled over on long boring trips
on the occasional sleepless night’s searching
“am I less than an artist because
most of my marbles are in the same
or am I so normal only in the
absence of a marketable genius?”

when you think about it
on those sleepless nights and meandering days
madness seems a simple minded state of mind
an other wise grown up putting on childish faces again
playing the reasons game with only guesses
ending up breathless in the stale wind
coming off the old ego trips

not like when “I can’t!” never occurred to me
not when I could still sing why into the night in lieu of worry
not when I would swap my soul
for answers that did not require any

on the merry go round of that careless past
I would throw words around
in the sudden hope that they might somehow coalesce
that they might add up to Art
or at least craft
or maybe the odd answer to everything

they didn’t of course
in the long run at any rate
add up to Art
and the answers floating to the surface today
when I dabble in those dangerous recollections
are more confused in the total than useful in the specific

did I push the hope too early?
accept too easily the mystery in lieu of conclusions
did I look for satisfaction in the
shallow reflection of clever tricks
and trading the ponderous for the glib
judge my results by the pound rather than
the metaphor finely turned?

hard to say today
hard to bring back the naïve
expectations of the thirty year old me
without the innocence polluting the results…..

like having my life told to me
by the people who were actually there
like a child absorbing stories of his
infancy that were never really his

ever notice the way old men belabor their old age
like a puppy who refuses to do it’s tricks?
the way they resent the process and passage of time
the same years they impatiently wished away at twelve
have become an unfair loss on the far side of sixty something

but I do not think I have taken that trip…have I?
I’m just as happy to not have all those
hills in front of me anymore
and just as sad, I suppose,
that my tricks are greatly reduced these
but still they are tricks
useful for turning heads and evoking
the casual response occasionally
and I still practice their use when I’m able
forgetfulness or impatience not with standing
no matter the present calcifications in my head

its just that I find the faces I paint these days
to be mostly this old man in an
old mirror
and badly focused
and I seem to render it over and over
in different words but identical conclusions
but then who else would I paint?
not the twelve year old buried in the deep dark past
the twelve year old doesn’t exist by today’s rules
he has no connection to the present
anyway he was happiest just being
not in trying to be understood
what I remember of him now
are only the borrowed baby stories
all those other hand me downs
embellished and exaggerated
and what I would put down today about those
lies and relics is far too
foggy and distorted
just make believe and wishful thinking
about who he was

the little boy is no longer in me
no longer is me
and I am not him
the two of us separated by philosophy and experience
by everything that has happened forgotten and remembered
and the memories, dredged up, end where they begin
they are not common experiences
only random bumps in the continuum
and who the tomorrow me will be is at best a guess
you can not conjugate a life
past present future all melt into one another and yet
all become distinct as well
they never predict or define
but fall through time like single frames in a biography
non-linear and disconnected

what ends up in the end is not the sum of events
but only notes in the distance playing on
a coda composed for as long as it lasts
the music falling and rising through history
fading into infinity like fog laying across the landscape
obscuring the beginning and the end