This poem was first published in Dislocate.
INSTRUCTIONS FROM THE MIDDLE
For we are never at the end, nor ever at the beginning, but we are
always in a middle time and a middle space---Rumi
I For I wander clockwise seeking the Beginning
and counterclockwise seeking the End, for I know
should I find the one, I would find the other.
2 But the Beginning is always beyond me
at the radix of the rising sun, and the Ending
is always behind me at the sine of the setting sun,
and in all my peregrinations and peripatetions
I have found only the Middle.
3 Therefore I speak to you from the Middle, saying,
search not for the rising or the setting,
lest you become cloven-faced like Janus,
and the person square in front of you
will need to speak with a forked tongue.
II And I say to you, be not the woman
walking in New York City, in Manhattan, on Park Avenue,
flaunting Dalmatians on either hand like fine furs
on golden chains, for one Dalmatian may lift a leg
on an electric sign. 2 Nor be the man who stands in rain
admiring his hole-in-one with his hand on the flagpole.
3 If a dog attack you the wound will heal
though there remains a ragged scar.
But if your heart attack you the wound will not heal,
for the heart is a rabid dog. 4 Therefore, do not plot
and plan amongst the mighty on the hilltop,
but in the valley run
with those who chance the stray bullet,
for the aim of many is poor.
5 And the space between bullets
is silent and peaceful.
6 When you lie on the beach in Miami or Acapulco or Cannes
wearing a satin loin cloth, turning right and left
and back and front for the sake of yellow linen, do not
look directly into the sun with your eyes for even one
minute. And do not look at the sun with your shoulders
or belly for even one hour, for the sun,
though it has lived millennia
is yet stronger than you in your pride.
7 And I say, as you lie there watchfully, your eyes moving
from ankles to knees to thighs and upward toward heaven,
do not turn away if your eyes encounter a thing
not to their liking, but remember that a pine tree
in a forest of pines is a different thing from a pine log
burning on a hearth, and again different
from a statue carved of pine,
and it cannot be known in advance which will be.
8 And remember, too, that yellow linen
alone in a hotel room watching TV is a pointless thing.
III A room with no windows is the universe.
IV There was a man who feared to sleep,
for his dreams were bad and gave him a cold sweat.
2 He dreamed he walked naked on the byways while
from corners fingers wagged shame, and from balconies
mouths hooted and whistled 3 so that when he wakened
he bundled himself into suit and shirt and tie and coat
and walked unnoticed. 4 But at night again he dreamed
he was naked, and in the morning he bundled himself
into suit and shirt and tie and coat and hat and gloves
and walked unnoticed. 5 Yet he dreamed himself naked
once again while the people hooted and whistled
with two fingers beneath their tongues. 6 So that
in the morning he bundled himself into two ties, two shirts,
two suits, two hats, and two pairs of gloves. 7 And the people
all giggled and hooted and whistled, even the young
girls, and furthermore it was summer and ninety degrees
in the shade. 8 So he removed all his clothing and walked
naked in the streets and said, I will take care
of my waking. Let my dreams take care of themselves.
V If time be upon you like a plug, do not, therefore
test the hone of knives with the edge of your thumb, nor
count the floors from the balcony to the pavement, nor
envy your neighbors their gas ovens. 2 For though your self
succumb, yet your other self will bend over you
and breathe into your mouth.
VI Observe that bovine chew twice. 2 Sweet clover
is made sweet milk by the second stomach. 3 But if you
chew and swallow a thing and find it indigestible, do not
attempt to digest it again at a later time. 4 For all
that will come of it is nausea and a stench.
VII If you expect milk in the cup and find wine, it will
taste bitter and you will spew it out. 2 But if you expect
wine and it is wine it will taste sweet. 3 I knew a man
who ate so much of the fetid and swallowed
so much of wind he became engorged and cramped. 4 Look!
he cried, thus doubled over, all is canker sore
and fundament! 5 Then he went into his garage and took
the exhaust hose of his car and administered an enema
with his own right hand. 6 I knew a woman upon whose shoulder
her baby's spittle dropped like icicles, 7 and a woman
who did not feel the spittle of her baby
for it was the same temperature as her body.
8 And one of
these two will the baby's
whether the woman has lain between two
or lain among many, or lain on her side breathing
the breath of one man morning and evening.
VIII As you rip, so shall you sew.
IX Do not be astounded that the poet break his pen
between his teeth 2 or that the painter rip bristles
from his brush 3 or that lovers utter oaths with their
lips pulled back from their teeth 4 for only what is hated
will ever be enough; 5 what is loved will never be
X Know that if a person sweats in a coal mine
there has been heat and labor; 2 and if a person sweats
in a cotton field there has been heat and labor; 3 but
if the sweat of a person mingles indistinguishably
with the sweat of another person, there has been no labor.
XI If a man drive a great distance alone in his car
the miles pass swiftly, 2 for though the land
on either side is arid and the road bleak 3 his mind
flowers with fantasies of his beloved. 4 But if his beloved
sit beside him 5 the journey is tedious and the destination
pointless 6 for of whom then does he think
7 and where is he going?
XII When there comes upon you a time of distress,
do not wave your arm high above your head 2 for one
will shout "hallo" 3 and one will look at the sky
for an eagle or a Goodyear blimp 4 and one will run,
shielding the back of his neck 5 and one will arm himself
against the vanity of kings: 6 Do therefore lie you down
in silence on the road 7 that one who stumbles over you
may lift you up.
XIII If thy right hand offend thee once, do not
cut it off. 2 And if it offend thee twice, do not cut it
off. 3 But if it offend thee three times, then cut it off.
4 Yet not until you have taught your left hand
the good your right has done. 5 For there is much pleasure
to be had from one's own right hand.
XIV Then I said to myself, I have wandered clockwise
and counterclockwise, over acres and wiseacres. 2 I
have searched at dawn in the dew of rose and larkspur,
3 in the pale mandala of the morning sun, 4 in bark
and birdsong, 5 in purple pellets of the field where
I wrapped myself in mantras, calling out across rivers,
calling ohm across the span of waters; 6 I have searched
at midday in motel rooms, 7 at dusk in crystal goblets
among the well-to-do and coiffed, 8 in the long happenless
night; 9 I have searched in marble chambers where candelabras
light a suspended world, guarded by guards, priceless,
10 in libraries and institutes, devoting myself
to the outpourings of others, laboring diligently
XV And I have arrived at the Middle, from whence I say,
2 Allow the arrow of your mind to hit wherever it flies,
and the arrow will draw around itself a target.
3 For he who aims often misses the mark. 4 But the arrow
of one who shoots first and draws the target afterward
is forever in the bull's eye.
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