[ by Charles Cameron — some of my own poems, some of my own theology, and a damn fine French police procedural on Netflix ]
Engrenages / Sprial, season 4 episode 9
Madhu, a wonderful friend of this blog, encouraged me some while back to post some of my poems here. I don’t do it often, and I hope you will at least tolerate it when I do.
This one, for instance:
The rolling dice
That there is a murder to be committed, this the god knows, that the car
travelling through the woods contains victim and victor paired like dice strung
on a rear-view mirror, this the god knows, but it is the tops of trees
the god attends to, oblivious of the car which moves on its inerrant way
between them, the topmost branches it she or he observes, the upper
and as the car is first heard approaching, middle, and as it rolls into view
in left field, lower branches, the car now drawing his attention, riddle
of the two men still obscured by deflecting windows, roof doors tyres and
the leaves, the fallen, as though the two men from their high estate had fallen
to this, to the ground, among leaves which become mulch, the one sooner
and the other later, man become mulch as the god had become man, a
seasoning, of the ground, fall, a leavening of the earth, spring, in that primal
and primordial turning of planets and years on which between tree top
and mulch, between before and when with no after, two men’s dice are rolled.
As you know, I’m interested in the workings of the imagination, and find much of its power concentrated in the specific theologies and rituals of the world’s religions. My poems, accordingly, allow me to explore themes at the intersection of human behavior in all its light and shade, with the divine, in all its brilliant clarity, depth of heart, and, well, ineffableness, inscrutablemness, indescribability.
Indescribable? The word the Athanasian Creed uses is Incomprehensible:
As also there are not Three Uncreated, nor Three Incomprehensibles, but One Uncreated, and One Uncomprehensible.
You see, for my purposes the word god refers precisely to a greater unknown that nevertheless permeates and can inspire us — and simply saying that indescribable is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent gives us very little understanding. Inspiration and revelation are, for me, poetic openings on what cannot in any definitional sense be known, but from which our lives can glean radiance, love, clarity, courage.
In my attempt to glean some of that harvest for myself, and to spread some of what I glean around in words, I have found myself writing a long, continuing series of poems that take their central motif from films. If god, or whatever name you might use to point to that Incomprehensible — that medium “in which we live and move and have our being” — if that is indeed conscious of all that is, I’m inclined to wonder how it (he, she, other, all or none of the above) perceives, in a way that makes sense to me.
And the “seeing” that most extends my own outward perception of the world is the seeing done by cameras and brought to me by movies. So I give “god” in this series of poems all the zooms, overhead shots, close-ups, jump cuts, helicopter rides, narrative thrust, slomo, freezeframe and other tricks that film is capable of… to get a human glimpse of an omni-director who might even, like Hitchcock and Renoir, choose to make a cameo appearance in his (her its or other) own film.
And what films do I use? The one’s I’m watching between fatigue and sleep, for late-night entertainment — usually thrillers, and on Netflix. The poem above and the two which follow were written this last week, triggered by an episode of Engrenages, a French policier [trailer here] which shows in the UK under the title Spiral, and which has been called “France’s answer to The Wire” in this Guardian write-up from an early season: Meet Spiral’s feminist anti-hero.
I like it very much — but have to put it on pause from time to time, when a poem comes on through.
Okay, here are the other two poems from the set of three, drawn from my viewing of Engrenages, season 4 episode 9:
The spade wasn’t used, wasn’t needed, wasn’t necessary, the dice rolled,
no murder was committed, did the god know this, no, that the car
traveling through these trees would roll back the two men out of the woods
and into some new relation, clearer for being less fearful, though
he wild with hope and he sweating with regret might yet change course
as the god already knew or might know or might not if there be such
a they it she or he know, passionate impassive or nonexistent, or might
mightily decide — but the dice had rolled, the car parts the trees, departs
the woods, burial and the eventual arising of young two leafed tree sprouts
will continue though the car has left to right of view, and still, moved,
the god sees, observes, reflects, and builds, in his own extended image,
narratives of birth and eventful or eventless lives and meaningless or
on some perhaps many occasions meaningful deaths, and — who knows,
perhaps the god if any, rebirths after eventful nonevents, and thus onwards.
and this one:
And then again the car, in the woods, its doors wide open like wings,
surely the god would lift the car above treetops, clouds, into some other,
some blue, some empyrean, yonder, where murder would no longer
be needed, necessary, where no dice would roll but puffballs,
tossed clouds. hither and yon without pattern or purpose, repeating
yet that eternal pattern, that this car so still might forever roll,
this breath so quiet might breathe, life under the trees and under these
stars continue, continue, one death less than the god expected, the
car wings watching to carry the spirit windward, deprived of the death,
the murder uncommitted is no murder but if it be committed, even
here late in the day in the woods, in this word, committed, then
there is murder under the high trees a few paces from the sad car, the
corpse carrier, the fortuneless car carriage, and a man who stood
upright yet walked crooked perhaps is fallen, flat, dead and truly buried.
Caroline Proust as police captain Laure Berthaud, in Engrenages
Please feel free to comment on any or all of this: the ideas about a greater-than-human perception, poetry, cinema, Engrenages, these particular poems…