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THE WALL

by Lewis Ellingham

[San Francisco: 2010]

photograph on page 2: jacaranda shadow shortly after sunrise, east wall of a cottage in the Castro / Mission District, San Francisco (August 2010)




The Wall 1B

to be light shadowed on pealing paint stretching like an acrobat over scored gray, a wall between the jacaranda branches, leafings, florets and what is beyond the wall never seen beyond the hearer of a music— a question of lavender in high summer seen as Bali dancers whose silhouettes are lightly colored flames as memories of an earlier roundness flat upon a wall, a clapboard cottage wall, a rising sun somewhere slowly steady and what is hinted elsewhere, a cupcake, a toothbrush, a sleeping soul, a music possible in the general breath of passing morning. A saucered poplar leaf, a tiny cup, floats by so light, so like a leaf, somewhere gone now, what color it had been unremembered.

Spotted and arcane, mites inhabit edges birds will savor, not just hummingbirds like helicopters but those more challenged in the struggle to eat the mites, fluttering persecutors, little eyes and little bodies ruffling for attack— rot and wires, is there light or sound within it all?

The hummingbird doesn’t want me looking, No, not at all. Not looking.







The morning is cool. summer, yes, the guardian has flown in, perching, staring, agitating for these eyes to leave watching, leave the jacaranda and its shadows darker against the gray clapboard wall, offering the loveliness of this summer morning, quiet for a city, wall clocks pacing slowly even the hummingbird quiet on a twig so light neither moves. bzzzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz CRASH! and the redwood is gone I saw planted 20 years ago just beyond the wall, an ominous beginning to the morning, the insects moving over the clapboard, the fronds on the tree gently waving in their varying intensities depending upon the distance of the branches from the wall and the brightness of the sun. A bright mid-morning on Corona Heights but just as I fully relaxed and began to savor a view of San Francisco highrise landscape to the northeast, downtown, no finger of fog even through the Golden Gate, an increasingly hot day the first kaw came, a raven pair circling, noisy and occasionally landing in nearby trees, then rising, agitated; almost at arm’s length, a bit more, along the trail fence on the steep stair trail eastward facing in the glare of the sun’s light, a set of talons, a young Cooper’s hawk slightly moving then calmly launching across my face toward the ravens now settled on a tree branch all noiseless, downward 


toward the Devil’s bench where charcoal once stained the burned hole penetrating through a thick plank, a fire unseen by any, maybe in the night, and fierce, Effie’s shade, that’s what it is, not perhaps at the Devil’s bench, but nearby, high above the preschool bungalows below where she once shepherded little ones who made a pet cemetery in the rock climbers’ rockface straight up to the Monterrey cypress at the Devil’s bench, yes, Effie’s shade, that’s what it is, the disturbance affecting these birds, we are not alone, no, Effie’s shade that is what’s behind the wall. The BBC announced the other evening that Stephen Hawking has concluded that there is no reason to posit ‘God’ to fathom The Big Bang, though at one time he had said ‘to understand the Big Bang was to know the mind of God.’ — that too is behind the wall. Ammonia — three parts hydrogen, one part nitrogen — floated through the floating mind, a space in darkness but as if glazed, as a starched, crisp Irish linen tablecloth can be, a gleaming crystal goblet waiting for wine, a — darkness so complete as if glass, shiny blackness — the only noise, the cave’s floor, a snake crushing a baby’s skull, swallowing & the electric hiss of others, the baby’s adult companions noticing the little sounds, water trickling — Kentucky, Azerbaijan, Kandy in Sri Lanka then elephantine dripping, each drop a blast in crystal blackness serpentine caressing chill wrapping chemical sharpness, breathless, the snake had finished 


eating, silence again, hissing, all the others, who would want to know, who would want to be? and be what? glaze and not ammonia but withdrawing absence as if suction by degrees were moving one universe into another, one hidden place into a flowering sexuality. ‘What is on the other side of the wall?’ a tree, not a jacaranda, a pond, a broad pool, a glistening as light touches, reflects: shines from its blues and whites, more silver though unstable, Hermes manifest though from some other tradition, the Ohlone perhaps, coyote, hummingbird flickering surfaces a large pool before Mission Dolores, before humanity around the sandy glistening, so few trees, so strong winds everywhere scraping surfaces skin, bark, stones were the pileated woodpeckers yet here? woodlands yet so thin, what is beyond the wall strutting shorebirds creeping pincers hot players snapping the pond light on the beach the question no longer behind the wall, beyond the wall, its other side diseased like the Ohlone by the Christian god, hermetic hummingbird rocking like 


mercury in a sharp breeze.

Plotinus imagines “the flight of the alone to the Alone” I try to listen: “There were not two; beholder was one with beheld; it was not a vision compassed but a unity apprehended.… This is the life of gods and of the godlike and blessed among men, liberation from the alien that besets us here, a life taking no pleasure in the things of earth, a flight of the alone to the Alone.” Enneads VI.9.11 Now the wall is masked, a screen covers a scaffold, the clapboard siding of the cottage to become part of a 2-unit condo complex, back; 2 more where the redwood once stood, a litter-strewn construction site now, the cabin hollowed to its core, gutted utterly, only a few sounds this morning, hot and clear, late September, San Francisco’s only hot season, the fog-bound summer just past, the jacaranda’s face now flatter, the intensities all evened, sharpened as the screen pushes closer to the tree, its shadows Indonesian puppetry still the face of Che Guevara? perky, poised for a new revolution in Bolivia, the one in Cuba just behind him? the face of Albert Einstein, tufts of old hair in old Princeton, old eyes staring, no where near a unified field theory, his papers bundled in his office by Israeli officials ready to carry them homeward, to place them … Lucy, her face, the australopithicus afarensis face we share?




Catalepsy is a nervous condition characterized by muscular rigidity and fixity of posture regardless of external stimuli, as well as decreased sensitivity to pain. Catalepsy is also a term used by hypnotists to refer to the state of making a hypnotized subject’s arm, leg or back rigid. “Arm catalepsy” is often a pre-hypnotic test performed prior to an induction into a full trance. Catatonia is a syndrome of psychological and motorological disturbances. Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum first described it in 1874: Die Katatonie oder das Spannungirresein (Catatonia or Tension Insanity). In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV) it is not recognized as a separate disorder, but is associated with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia (catatonic type), bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental disorders, as well as drug abuse or overdose (or both). It may also be seen in many medical disorders including infections (such as encephalitis), autoimmune disorders, focal neurologic lesions (including strokes), metabolic disturbances and abrupt or overly rapid benzodiazepine withdrawal. Samadhi in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and the yogic schools is a higher level of concentrated meditation, or dhyana. In the yoga tradition, it is the eighth and final limb identified in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali––prabhupada Samadhi. It has been described as a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced subject, and in which the mind becomes still, one-pointed or concentrated though the person remains conscious. In Buddhism, it can also refer to an abiding in which the mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience. In Hinduism, Samadhi can refer to videha mukti or the complete absorption of the individual consciousness in the self at the time of death, usually referred to as matasamadhi. the black screen shimmers like silk, the puppet face head-on, an animal’s eyes both there and not against car lights on a country road at night. Horsies playing! no, no! horsies run away! ‘still one final face full of longing staring with unquenchable thirst* berries, berries! strawberries, red berries, gimme, gimme! ‘still one uttermost stone face breathing its inner awareness’* 


horsies, berries, trip & fall, no!* no! I’m coming so far away.

Just black metallic sheen, ‘silk’ in its way, nor has the bright sun favored the screen, but cast shadows elsewhere, just the grid of latticed scaffold hinting through the shine of what is anyway muted: hammer sounds from the work behind the wall, the chat of workingmen before and invisibly behind the wall, yes, it’s all there. nothing at all. the loggerhead turtle pads her way beyond Hawaii, beyond Wake Island, the Marshalls, then climbs to Japan what is beyond the wall never seen beyond the hearer of a music— what courses the body, the containers of blood, but is neither? what is beyond the wall never seen the hearer of a music— in the wee hours the music of silence — children are said to say ‘whee’ as well

__________________________________________________________________________ * after R. M. Rilke’s Der Einsame, lines ‘noch ein letztes, sehnendes Gesicht, in das Nie-zuStillende verstoßen, noch ein äußerstes Gesicht aus Stein, willig seinen inneren Gewichten....’ 

Lew Ellingham's The Wall  

Poem by San Francisco writer and poet Lewis Ellingham.

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