Red and Green All Over Again

O soft yellow buttercup field
tinged green with red sorrel leaf,
not even your copious yield
affords full-blown relief.

O swelling boughs whose song
blossoms like snow in Spring,
our hearts, alas, are strung along
by dreams of you to which we cling.


Christian Morgenstern, who wrote the two stanzas loosely translated here, died well before LSD was synthesized — in 1938, though its psychedelic properties were not discovered until 1943.  There is nonetheless something acid-like about the whimsical  ecstasy in these turn-of-the-twentieth-century verses.

Right away, let me admit that my case acid has anything to do with Morgenstern’s poem (which it doesn’t) is, at best, an afterthought, the mental counterpart of persistence of vision which sometimes produces the rainbow effects he wasn’t alluding to in his second line. The highlights gracing Morgenstern’s entrancing yellow field of buttercups can be explained without resorting  to hallucination. Spring having sprung, we can easily verify that fresh leafage does sometimes have reddish edges to it, usually shifting definitively to green within a matter of days. There is thus no need to relate Morgenstern’s poetic vision to the visual effects produced by psychedelics  — or to have written any of what follows below. His “red leaf sorrel” reflected acuity of vision rather than enhancement of it. 

That said, anyone who has dropped acid or imbibed or ingested or smoked serious psychedelics like mescaline, peyote, or psilocybin will recognize the aura of contrasting colors which graces objects in the visual world when on a trip, like halos except not just on saints, but everywhere. Lucky survivors of that now distant epoch will see where I am coming from, as the jargon of those times put it. 


So the motif of red-and-green decidedly captured my eye, though my attention was further captivated by the sorrel, one of my favorite edible weeds. And, as I came to excavate this connection, I recalled that long before, in fact during my brief phase of home-schooling, actually home-kindergartening, I had intuited, independently I like to believe, the binary nature of complementary colors, not just red-green, but orange-blue and yellow-violet, though I always called the last hue purple. Was it my own foreknowledge and expectation of red going well with green which set the grounds for the perception I had while tripping? Or were those fractal special effects in fact there, wherever that might mean when under the influence of lysergic acid?


What I can point to is a repeated pattern in my poetry, where I often turn when trying to understand or express myself.  For example, in Ars poetica, where I describe a bird-watching expedition in Mexico in quest of a trogon, I write:

I looked up through the rainbow spray where
my creature should have been, emerald scarlet in the air,
thoughts of ruby green …


I intended to echo the baroque motif of green thoughts, but with a spectral twist of my own, playing on antinomies conjoined, emerald scarlet, ruby green.  At the beginning of the poem red bromeliads had been set like jewels in a background of tropical shade.

In another poem, Stoic Garden, this image of complementaries returns in a sequence starting from a statement of the primary colors themselves before adducing  antitheses first phenomenological, then corporeal.

green for red,
absence for the flutter of a wing,
a heartbeat for a spasm.

I can’t otherwise tell you what it means, this serial substitution of contrasts, green and red, being and absence, a regular heartbeat for a spasm of an undefined sort.

In another this time explicitly Lysergic Vision, red and green themselves are not  denominated but the naked branches of elms in winter are tinged with spectral  fringes in the refracted glare of winter sun off the skin of the trunks and limbs of a stand of trees in a field of crusted snow one blue-sky February afternoon in Wisconsin:

O, the spectral symmetry of the elms,
retinal veins through which suns stagger
on stilts, suturing folds of soil and sky!

Those sutures of sky and soil were polychromatic, in my memory to be sure, but actually, then and there.  


In my spiritual life there is a before and an after LSD. I haven’t touched the stuff for over half a century, since the summer of 1967, but in my opinion LSD was the perfect entheogen — a “class of psychoactive substances that induce any type of spiritual experience aimed at development“.

The power of those entheogenic experiences was such that my memories of them were eventually gathered in Déjà vu: 

Once they are with me I know they belong,
these spells when I do what I know I’ve done.
They start with a memory, where ought to be none,
an onset of symptoms something is wrong.
Then reigns within a split second of grace.
Familiar feelings are stripped of their name.
What is marvelous springs from one and the same
utterly common theme I cannot place.
Some quirk or trick of thought quells my fear,
makes the moment’s scattered parts cohere,
shows behind the hubbub and din there swells
a hum I might be able to hear
if I ceased listening, a drone which dwells
and will still when I disappear.

For over a half-century I’ve perceived transcendence or immanence or any psychically aware state through the lens of those LSD-driven bubbles of expanded consciousness.

Déjà vus are now all I have left to cling to, like the dreams in the last line of my translation. I worship their fleeting instants as unique instances of reunion with … the godhead? No, that puts too much of a theist spin on it. But the metaphor of communion may hold. Déjà vus are like sacrements to me, except there is no need to confess in order to receive them.


For those who read German, here is finally a classic exegesis of the Morgenstern source, a reading that doesn’t come down to mounting ones own hobby horse, as I have done here. He says, dismounting, and offering with apologies to any who have been waiting for it, the poem itself:

Butterblumengelbe Wiesen,
sauerampferrot getönt,
– O du überreiches Sprießen,
wie das Aug dich nie gewöhnt!

Wohlgesangdurchschwellte Bäume,
wunderblütenschneebereift –
ja, fürwahr, ihr zeigt uns Träume,
wie die Brust sie kaum begreift.


Dementia and other Delights

Many years ago I wrote some light verse about the Second Vasectomy I had to suffer, the first one having failed out of what I feared was obdurate will on the part of my genes to procreate. The two stumps of my severed vasa had found a way to reconnect despite cautery, aligning so perfectly that the 2-3 mm channel through which sperm is conducted into the penis and ejaculated remained functional. I thought of these stumps as a pair of cobras dancing opposite each another to the warble of a flute, finally embracing in a kiss. A kiss of life. 

Planned Parenthood had to go back to the drawing board, me back to the operating table. Only local anesthetic was applied on both occasions, so I got to observe, admittedly with a blurry, distant eye. 

This time I’ll settle for prose instead of poetry to describe — not in gory detail rest assured — a recent medical procedure, a colonoscopy. Though there is a poem involved. 

For the record, colonoscopy is a common procedure for someone of my age. The results were negative, which means they were good. Nothing ominous here.

Yet there are few things as excruciating as the obligatory 24 hour fast and purge before a colonoscopy. Purification of the gut is accomplished with the help of a truly awful substance, CoLyte, of which four liters, roughly a gallon, must be poured down ones gullet within a few hours to prep the large intestine, voiding it of all opaque matter, in particular the very fiber we are urged to eat daily. Once the inner bowel tissues are pink and shiny, they can be observed with the help of a colonoscope, the overall state of these tissues be determined with a self-contained mini-video. Any suspicious polyps or other growths can be snipped off and saved for the lab.  As for the procedure itself, it was a real gas, if you’ll allow me the expression.


The way it works is that the patient, or at least his, in my case, colon is inflated, this to facilitate the insertion of the device. Afterwards, it takes an hour or two to deflate. Surprising how inodorous the farts are, comparatively speaking. A bit like a fine white wine, like water splashed on hot slabs of sedimentary rock. Very little rot there.

Just before starting the operation, the nursing personnel administered a sedative and an anesthetic. The latter had a familiar ring to it, FentaNYL, whose brand name is the apt coinage Sublimaze.* 

Yes, FentaNYL is one opioid involved in white blue-collar drug addiction, similar in some ways to Oxycontin but stronger, in fact 75 times more powerful than morphine, while Oxycontin is but 1.5 times. Analogues or variants of FentaNYL can be as much as 10,000 times stronger than morphine, which is why they are often deadly when casually mixed into street drugs such as cocaine like Comet or rat poison have been in the past. It follows that FentaNYL is dispensed medicinally in micrograms, what we used to call mikes back in the day of Timothy Leary. In my case I got the standard 50 mcg dose via IV. It worked.  Michael Jackson got much more.

As I reflected back on the experience later in the day, it became clear that the second ingredient in my pre-op pharmaceutical cocktail was more intriguing than the narcotic. Modazolam is a sedative often combined with FentaNYL to ease anxiety about an incipient and then ongoing procedure. It is known for its capacity to create anterograde amnesia, the “loss of the ability to create new memories, leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past, even though long-term memories from before the event which caused the amnesia remain intact”. 

I’m-gonna-stick-this-thing-up-your-rectum-but-you-won’t-remember-it, kind of thing. For this reason Modazolam plays a part in the pharmacopeia devoted to EoLC, end of life care. As Woody Allen said about dying, he doesn’t want to be there when it happens. Modazolam might help, since with it you won’t remember, even in an afterlife, that you were. And, mercifully, I was present only physically during my encounter with the snake-like colonoscope.  

Retrograde memory is another kettle of fish but there are also many drugs which can destroy or impede long-term memory much faster than the humdrum decay and degeneration of the brain. We all manage our memories as best we can, availing ourselves of the techniques and disciplines which work best for each of us and turning when need be to the panoply of mood and pain-abating drugs available, too many to list but including the simpler non-pharmaceutical ones I like best, coffee, wine, cannabis, in that order and optionally, depending on how I feel, on what I define as my needs. 

One non-chemical way to manage our own memories is through the exercise of poetry.  Which brings me to my point. 

A couple of years ago I began a poem citing the advantages of dementia, currently a kind of euphemism for senility, becoming senile. This process of getting old and losing memory function is usually looked upon with shame. 

Not by me. I want to go down proclaiming the benefits of forgetfulness, the glory of senility which even the Stoic Seneca never addressed properly. Here is a start in that direction.


Loss of memory short-term — a boon in disguise!
Attention then falls on what dwells in the eyes.

Recollection, remembrance and their coeval regret
make up together the other great threat.

Wisdom if it comes means cutting the cord.
Breaking with memories brings as well the reward

of recognition hard won at long last
things of youth are things of the past.


*(JOB ALERT FOR UNEMPLOYED POETS: Pharmaceutical companies might pay well for creative concoction of brand names. Look into it.)