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Kazim Not I am Kazim Knot Cosmonaut I am Naught Not I am a Kazimnaut

Bas-relief representing the Descent of the Ganges or the Arjuna's Penance, Mahabalipuram, India

The stars we see exist in different space than we do, their well-known patterns and mythical associations dependent on our relationship to them, but also of course in a different time: they are echoes of a past more remote than can be accounted for in the existence of our species, or for some of them, even our planet.

Planet was a word meaning wanderer and so we are wanderers too, not just in our own lives but in a very wide universe. All of our life is this same astrological practice of looking at bodies, events and phenomena from all space and time, in our own lives, and far before them, to determine the course of action in the present moment.

Vedantic texts call it karma. Past action creates present condition. Present action creates future condition. A poem is way of mapping these directions in the present (lyric) moment. Poem as yoga asana, poem as astrological chart, poem as tarot card spread, poem as yelp.

This past month, the month of Janus who looks both ways, I tried to think of poetry, awareness, the human body in many different terms: conceptual art, yoga, quantum physics, sankya philosophy, snake oil medicine, quack science since borne out as proven, hard science since borne out as quack.

I have no defense except: “the sailor cannot see the North—but knows the Needle can—.”

To sit in the quiet of the woods and allow the earth to enter you.

To look skyward and read the ancient light letters since which gone out and when you will not know.

To wonder as the weather systems of the planet itself shift and change when will this change in the sky portend a similar change in the rocks and water table beneath. We float so lightly on the surface of what we call “continents.”

I am not too bright (just look at my transcripts) but like many people in my position—that our ambition outstrips our intellect—one thing I do is I think hard.

And I have a weakness which is a strength which is that I can’t make up my mind. It’s an untidy place, ramshackle and unmade.

There are two genderqueer gods in the Indian pantheon. One is Ayappan, whom I mentioned before. His father was Shiva and his mother Vishnu, who had taken a female form. But there is another, Ardhanarishvara, a composite god comprised of half Parvati, half Shiva—she/he is meant to represent all creative energies of the universe.

When I was in Varnasi during the Saraswati Puja I rejoiced, because Saraswati, consort of Brahma, is still active in the world while he sleeps. She guides all wisdom-seekers and so her puja is celebrated by students. It is a riotous occasion. The students construct effigies of Saraswati out of twisted reeds and then process down to the river Ganges accompanied by huge speakers and strobe lights mounted on the backs of rickshaws pounding out a scintillating club mix. It’s nothing less than a god-drunk traveling rave.

When two years later during the Saraswati Puja I found myself in Kerala reading about a woman named Saraswati climbing the sacred steps of the Ayappan Temple to offer worship (and by gender supposedly defiling the place) I knew I was witnessing the true seeking of wisdom.

The myths and stories we are given, all of them, are not about control, but about daring the consequences of thinking past the known: Icarus falling from the sky, Lot’s wife turning back to look at the burning city, Hanuman taking a wild leap into space to protect and rescue his friends.

Stars from different places appear to guide us. New scraps and poems from Sappho come. The labors of silver scholars reveal Emily Dickinson’s ornithographic orthography, sweet signature, bright felon.

A poet has the language, its meanings and signposts, but also more importantly has body and breath, to shape the experienced moment. The sculptors of ancient stone at Mahabalipuram knew it somehow, wrote it into stone.

Now the mischief-making physicists suggest the high likelihood that the entire universe is a computer simulation and we are inside it. This is not new knowledge. Certainly Sappho when she wrote, “someone in some future time/will think of us” had some inkling of her future life past the body, a future life as text.

In any case we do transform matter into energy, energy into matter, not just at the moments of our birth or our death but in our actual lives. That’s the secret snake oil doctors know and mad prophets as well. Every human changes from one gender to another using an influx of hormones—it’s called puberty. But Teiresias the prophet wanted to see both sides of life and so she kept switching—every seven years a new gender, a new way her body could be in the world. That was the secret of her prophethood, not her blindness as the scholars wished you believed.

And gender, like genre, is just a word to describe a set of perceptions, and it’s a weak word at that, not very definitive, not very ancient—meaning tied into the system of meanings by associations of millennia—not a work like “poem” or “poetry” for example which eschews those small ways of categorizing bodies or texts.

Anyhow, among many fake claims was that there are more cells in the human body than there are stars in the universe. Who knows if that’s true. I don’t. But I was told yesterday that there are more bacteria in the human body than there actual human cells. How about that? We aren’t even bodies—we’re just constellations of matter and energy and foreign objects.

So maybe Hawking is right. Maybe there aren’t “event horizons” and there are only “apparent horizons.” The body itself is a horizon, a shifting position that is described, not a locus in and of itself. Then how can you say Cogito ergo sum. It can’t be true.

In which case Sappho’s new poem arrived just time. It is a prayer for the same return home for her sea-faring brother. In its closing lines she prays for the health of her other brother.

How kind that our ancient poetry is the hope for the well-being of our siblings. That all the matter in the universe wants us to find our way safely home.

To make a body into another body is a dangerous proposition that involves crossing unbelievable horizons.

And every year sharp green spring wants to break through and alarm a new body. Who was I a lonely boy in the Canadian north just dying to know. When I held the felt up to the sky I wanted to see.

When I write a poem or practice yoga I too am Saraswati slowly transgressing, climbing the sacred steps to defile that “event horizon,” that threshold or barrier at which point we are supposed to disappear.

Something else happens, something we have not approached yet. Sappho is sure of it, she says when her brother grows up and becomes a man “then from full many a despair/would we be swiftly freed.”

God is a mirror or a lens flensing.

I am nothing if not you.

Come safe home then. Become.

This early ego, this erstwhile ersatz ergo.

Originally Published: January 31st, 2014

Poet, editor, and prose writer Kazim Ali was born in the United Kingdom to Muslim parents of Indian descent. He received a BA and MA from the University of Albany-SUNY, and an MFA from New York University. Ali’s poetry collections include The Far Mosque (2005), which won Alice James Books’ New...