JOEL NEWBERGER Reviews
Uncreated Mirror by Tamas Panitz
(Lunar Chandelier Collective, Hudson, New York, 2016)
Tamas Panitz says, in the 23rd reflection of his Uncreated Mirror:
Steal the black ring
see what comes
be anything that doesn’t.
Or 23rd psalm: the cup he gives us runs over. He gives us more than most. I once read this book and felt my mind made metal, a ring the poem runs through, and felt myself as distant from the poem as a rock from the river it lives in. It was hard for me to be as much as the poem. It poured through me but would not marry me. I was inevitably everything that did not come; the stoniness and speed of Tamas’ images made me everything other, but would not even bind to me in this difference. He says a poem fluid and supple, which dissolves all its own perverse fixations and fatal stares, which undoes in itself what Tamas calls on us to undo: “the crime of saying it twice.” A crime we had been determined to commit. The abomination of mirrors.
This book was once a “black ring,” slipping off this tongue that wanted so much to heed it. This finger slid through the smooth and cold stone, and it was not held. It was harder for me to read this book that is read so easily and quickly—to, as Tamas requests, “do the opposite of thinking.” To make us do the opposite of thinking he reminds us of nothing, for the sake of eternal presence, tranquilizing that mnemonic faculty that would make ideas in the “re-finding” of objects. But even then how arousing it was to be urged on, led on from where I wanted to lie by such multiple signs and wonders, mysterious images of nothing to come. How pleasing to drop down his lines, his stanzas, now fast, now slow, into our common depth—a descent by images, but to a realm that itself is imageless, uncreated, and more than scary, because there’s nothing to hold or be held by.
Signs and wonders, mysterious images. They were initially, but not eventually, terrifying images of nothing to come. At last they are indeed omens of nothing already existing, but of a new birth, in fact of the speaker of the poem, who has been buried under the mound. That mound is of images, but those images are of himself, and in the poet’s mind they become sharp stones, instruments of his own excavation.
Mound, or the infinitely uncreated, where Nothing is buried. Nothing but a man. And “there is no second creation from the uncreated.” In that self-refracted point, he is made; thence he will begin to come forth for us to feel; to there he has retreated, leading us, if we have read him rightly, beyond images.
It was reading Uncreated Mirror a second time that brought him, breathing, embracing, touching and not touching, so near to me. It was a faint or subtle feeling of giving birth to him, in my own mind. Reflection 33:
say me until you mean you
the directions are clear except for who’s talking
every me Abraham every you Sarah
This is no confusion of identities, but the indefinable precision of love. In communion with any other, we feel this mysterious clarity. Walt Whitman said, to the sea, “I mean tenderly by you and all.” Tamas, too, gently intends and gently makes meanings, by all and by us. There are lines in which we feel his speech as intimately as we feel Walt’s. We don’t know who’s speaking, but we are called, called to go forth—out of the house of memory where we grew up, into these words,—and we shall.
Walt Whitman would be our tongue, the earth under foot. Tamas is our tongue, an almond tree, stones. Let us hear him again, in the 11th Reflection:
do the opposite of thinking, the way stones do
full of words, no arguing, since before
the back of the mirror itself uncreated stuff
with no time to wait, no time at all
He recognizes no base matter, no mute beings. He wrote this poem by listening to things, and they have spoken to him.
The horizon, the flags, the princess, the roses, the wood, the tree, the fire, the water—are “full of words” that are flesh of the poet’s sleeping body. His birth is the total animation of all being. It is eschatological: he comes when the stones are full, as Christ comes in the “fullness of time.” Or cosmogonic: when the cup flows over.
All this flows from the book’s prelude—it is contained there and spills from there—
where Tamas identifies himself with Moses:
I lived as Moses. Lived through infinite lives, so many infinite lives that they grouped themselves into five distinct strings or threads. Each life consisted of a presence, I won’t say it was “mine”…My lives were interjections into other lives, lifting them by my presence from some state which they, in their sphere, had no other means of rectifying.
It was a fever dream. The book does not return us there, to dream, but goes forth with an exactitude only death can bring. At this Mount Navo, looking over into the book that is coming, he has already lived as Moses. He already knows and will speak the secret language of things, this telepathy, which the Biblical Moses only begins to learn when his fate is sealed. In his last great speech, the prophet who had rashly disobeyed God’s command to “speak to that rock” (Numbers 20:8) to call forth sweet waters for his thirsty people, now publishes the name of the Lord: “He is the Rock” (Deuteronomy 32:4). And he proclaims that his “doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew” (32:2).
Receiving the tradition of Moses’ second birth from the Nile and the etymology of his name (“Because out of the waters I drew him”), Tamas says, in section 44:
They took me from the water
but I came away with its secret
The secret of saying so. The secret of speaking to the rock so that it spills God or gives birth to you. The secret of speaking to the rock to hear it speak, speaking to God so that He speaks your words and gives you a new name. Not a second birth, but a second phase in your emanation. A second reading.
There is a famous mystery in the last eight verses of the Torah—the five books or strands of Moses—that does not explain the secret of Tamas’ poetry, as I feel it here, but makes it present. For tradition holds that Moses is the author of the whole Torah, and yet he dies, and God buries him, before the book ends.
A second poem, Guadalcabal, follows Uncreated Mirror in this book. Here Tamas brings to blossom, now, the “words and characters” of a proto-Sinaitic script, found 1999, in Wadi el-Hol, in Egypt. Hand, or hands, inscribed them there in stone, but here they speak like water.
I mean, ultimately, that the poet Tamas becomes in this book—who, after his death, doing the opposite of thinking, keeps writing, not with an undimmed eye and undiminished vigor, but with expanded vision, with a “twisted” tongue encompassing worlds—is a poet who can go back down to Egypt, as Moses did, and can receive their wisdom or that other script. He can receive us who still labor there, having never left, and (who’s talking?) free us from our silence.
Joel Newberger is a teacher and poet living in Brooklyn, NY.