California Psalms

Published in July 2013 by Radiolarian Press.Татьяна Апраксина
A year before the turn of the millennium, circumstances brought Tatyana Apraksina, a Petersburg artist and writer focused on music and philosophy, to the far reaches of the American West. On the Pacific’s edge, in the natural isolation of the legendary Big Sur coast, Tatyana Apraksina’s cultural perspective required new forms. She replied with psalms. The resulting cycle combines richly imagistic language with contemplative and emotional depth. The internal events of a personal shift connect, in “California Psalms,” with the scale of the expansive universe and humanity within it. This fully bilingual edition includes illustrations by the author, as well as the translator’s introduction and commentary. The Psalms’ English translation conveys both the meaning and strikingly volatile sound of the Russian original.

“This is a powerful, extraordinary poet, with a unique style and theme and a distinctive creative method.” — Sergei Glovyuk, “Literary Gazette”

$18 US. Available from local bookstores (via Ingram and others) and through and other online sources.
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Radiolarian Press
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ISBN 978–1–887853–37–8

From reviews:

“The author is not only a truly gifted philosopher but also a powerfully imaginative poet, a sharp-eyed artist and a deft sculptor”
“Like all nine Beethoven symphonies at once”
“A flood of creative inspiration like volcanic lava”
“Evidence that the poet transcendentally penetrates the heart of things”
Five stars, Goodreads —”Tatyana Apraksina is Mandelstam coming to live on the West Coast and doing metaphysical battle with the landscape. The renderings by Manteith into English find the poems in English exhibiting the density of a Shostakovich symphony.”




Russian originals © 1999 by Tatyana Apraksina.

English translations © 1999-2013 by James Manteith.


Russian text published in the magazine Neva (St. Petersburg, 2005, 2007) and in the anthology
I Dream in Russian (Literary Gazette Publishing House, Moscow, 2007) following the work’s award citation by the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Literary Gazette.


Prior versions of selections from this work’s English translation have appeared in the journals St. Petersburg Review, Convolvulus and caesura – the magazine of the San Jose Poetry Center, as well as in the anthology Image and Concept in Cultural Studies and Scholarly Ontology (St. Petersburg, Russia: Eidos).  Grateful acknowledgement is made to these publications’ editors, as well as to the hosts and audiences for Russian and English presentations of this work.



To the wonder of California

and to my Alyosha.




“First there was the word.” So artist Tatyana Apraksina declares in the first of her California Psalms, Now the entire work, begun with one word on a portable typewriter brought over the ocean from Petersburg in the author’s suitcase, fills its own volume — the first Russian-text book edition wholly approved by the author, and the debut of a complete English translation. On its way from the mountains of California’s Central Coast to standalone publication, the poetry cycle has appeared in diverse forms, emerging in literary journals and academic anthologies, in readers’ hand-bound printings, in citations and epigraphs, in declamations by spoken-word artists or the author herself, solo and with a translator. Deepest thanks to everyone spreading the Psalms’ impulse. This has been and remains a decisive source of support helping to carry the Psalms out of pre-history and across the border of a different beginning.

The Psalms can also be expected in new incarnations. A recording of the cycle in an audio encyclopedia of Petersburg poetry, for instance. What’s more, with songs and cantatas arising based on the author’s poetry, there’s talk of an oratorio or opera of California Psalms… As before, their future depends on the same narrow path that led to their beginning — the contemplated, written and proclaimed word, and beyond — “as a long-awaited mountain pass, as an edge whose mastery verges on miraculous.”

The essential thing in the Psalms, the author says, is that “It’s all true. It’s all literal. Nothing is made up, nothing borrowed, nothing embellished.” That “nothing is calculated for external result or effect, and nothing pursues any attendant aim.” On the other hand, as the author likes to mention, the Psalms are distinguished by iron logic. This concerns the whole musical score of their ideas and scenes. The logic can seem peculiar as the score’s layers combine — lightheartedness alternates, mingles with anxiety. The Psalms’ playful, contrarian aspect, which allows the author to call them “capricious hieroglyphs,” conceals an underlying “tremor of measureless awe,” likely a necessary trait of whatever writing might occur in the psalm species.

The documentary twists and turns of California Psalms could be examined endlessly. Here and in the commentaries only some cross-sections of details will follow. The Psalms’ philosophy and literary characteristics also invite discussion, with much already wonderfully written and said by their first readers and listeners. Now this road is open for anyone. In any case, readers will find their own logic here, their own connection with the offering that comes to them from the folds of a Big Sur canyon.

The great privilege and good fortune of the translator producing the Psalms’ first rendering in a “Western” language has been a collaboration with the author that by now spans well over a decade and includes living adjacently for nearly three years in Big Sur, in the period when California Psalms emerged. The author had to spend most of this time all but motionless in her “lap of the canyon,” although the spectrum of changes experienced there, along with infrequent ventures into the outer world, acutely influenced her inner life, which stayed intensely mobilized.

Naturally, the Psalms’ composition took place without witnesses. In much the same way, the truth of the author’s life could be fully known only to the author. That is the essence of life in solitude. As for participants in the author’s everyday existence, this side of living “in palms of hands sloping in undergrowth” had varied witnesses, who saw individual parts of the day-to-day and understood them individually. But by and large, the Psalms reflect the art of hermitry. The author had to give free rein to her “monk in the soul,” undertaking a retreat along almost shamanic lines.

The priorities of freedom had long since prescribed that Apraksina shift a large part of her creative work to the night hours, when she could be left entirely to herself. The encircling mountains and dark forest, a light burning at the window of a rickety hut braced on thin pilings, and from within, in machine-gun bursts, amplified by a resonant sheet-metal office desk, the tapping of a typewriter. An image from the genesis of California Psalms. The daytime seems primarily devoted to fleshing out raw material. The author, having arrived with almost no luggage, goes about for days at a time either “in a summer dress, a yellow submarine” — in Petersburg, what had served as a tennis outfit — or in a blue flowing robe, sewn by hand from the same fabric used as window curtains in a hopeless battle with cold and pervasive dampness, which ushered in chills and fever. What else can you do when you’re “delivered to the canyon as if to a lodge of Masons”?…

The key to daily canyon life’s meaning was the author’s acceptance and passage of the turning point depicted in the Psalms, as well as in lyric poetry and artwork of the time and subsequent creative phases. To leave a canyon doesn’t mean to abandon it. The clasping slopes stay printed on the bones; the canyon claims its place in the identity, among personal responsibilities. Yet the development of creative relationships requires distance — something always and everywhere acquired only by the will to ascent, moving as a “spiral by spokes” to the level of freedom.

It’s probably no accident that the Psalms were written near the beginning of the author’s canyon period in 1999, while echoes of a preceding phase shaped by enlightenment humanism remained fairly strong. In many ways the Psalms relate core impressions saved up from the author’s tireless observance of “work that regulates splendid orchestras” as an artist with a musical profile. Committed to travel from Petersburg to California on professional grounds, the author simultaneously arrives here as a pilgrim inclined to perceive the spiritual dimension of this “total change in decorations.” This is partly why she immediately makes use of the gulf now dividing her from musicians’ world, with the Psalms raising the knowledge obtained there to a new level of generalization — if not in the form of a long-wished philosophical treatise, then “by more accessible and persuasive, even contagious, means than originally intended.” The vector of the Psalms’ “reality as archetype, reality as unmediated meanings,” indisputably runs through themes central for the author. To a bystander, it even seemed the author didn’t need to do much studying of nature in California, as if it looked familiar to her, on a scale found in massive musical forms and great performers. The Psalms’ archetypal heroes also remain the same as in the author’s musical canvasses: people with a calling, those who “assist at the holy fire’s altar” in a self-sacrifice to the prime mover of Creation, to its “inhuman perfection” inseparable from love.

From day to day, canyon time contracted, showing fewer signs of favoring human presence. Each month the canyon grew more cramped, its slit more menacing. With the remaining gulps of canyon air, the author managed to bring much to life, which comprises a distinct valuable chronicle. What gains importance is the push toward exodus, ordered by an internal calendar as if at the last possible moment. And the sum of experience, slated for exploration and articulation from a new distance.

The ability to turn toward the past once more and try to illustrate the Psalms came only with considerable time elapsed. Giving this job its due (“covering debts is my life’s great passion”) made it possible to see this major theme as brought to closure, at least on a level enabling a new arc of the creative pendulum. And now, why not view the resulting book as the final outcome of a scientific experiment? There are more than enough tests and conclusions, “theses for the rules” here. Above all, the author confirms everything personally. And keeps confirming: “And if it’s called for — here, upon this coast … I will stay to live” … To this day she remains in the setting framed by the Psalms, enacting the closing assertion: “I’ll make my own America — never mind another.”

It’s hard to say how much the Psalms’ California and America relate to conventional geopolitical territories. Likely physical boundaries and the space of literature and spirit have a chance to coincide. Indeed, the author has responded to California’s call on many levels, gradually building an ongoing base for her work on this edge of the earth. But art is broader than contingent borders. Accordingly, the author creates her own America and California everywhere, just as her own Petersburg, her own heavenly Jerusalem, with creative plurality. “This bacillus dialect, untreatable infection, this I spread through the world…” In the Psalms, the author freshly cobbles together a personal civilization with improvised supplies, oddly enough precisely adapted to creative needs, like Moriah’s ram for Abraham fitting the Biblical patriarch’s task.

In the renewal of personal culture, nothing happens by accident. Everything placed in the Psalms’ “temple foot” is eloquent, all irreplaceable. The author, with virtually no reading materials in Big Sur, asks for a Bible in Russian. The deacon of an Orthodox church in one of the nearest towns, deepest thanks to him, makes a gift of his own copy: the New Testament and Psalms. With this, the Psalm line commences. The delighted author exclaims, “Why not write new psalms?” Also read in parallel was Religions of the World: The Experience of the Transcendental, by the Petersburg-based Orientalist Evgeny Torchinov. California Psalms is undeniably transcendental in content and broad in its view of religions and cultures: “They all have their own line in the centuries’ audited counterpoint.”

The new psalms’ appearance took just a couple of months — May and June. Then the author edited over the summer. This unique time’s eternal substance is the matter of the Psalms.

Any time spent far away from the world’s pressure has special value, although in this case the value needed seeking elsewhere than many presumed — not in “orange groves.” Nothing of the sort. Not a trace of any publicist-lauded beautiful resort lifestyle in gentle sunshine. Whatever is beautiful and gentle in California Psalms is always obtained at a price of extreme tension, of propulsion against a vacuum. The author acknowledges her weakness and inability to adjust to the challenging conditions, her “frail body and confined awareness,” also making no attempt to stand on equal ground with the native population in “wrinkled canyons housing human settlements instead of insect colonies.” But inwardly resonant experience turns fruitful by virtue of a lonely struggle, a kind of descent into purgatory or still farther, “deep in the secret night makes of a molten cauldron.” All the more precious, then, that the fabric of discernment stays intact in the Psalms against the odds. This leads the author to profess that the Psalms have no author — who could have written them? Especially in a state of shock or trance, contrasted with her usual level of composure.

In some ways, the canyon life can indeed be seen as a return to an unspoiled paradise, but otherwise as pure madness made meaningful by the madness of psalms, by keeping them on the lips, accepting their weight. There is no paradise without the cross, or without personally transforming earthly paradise, which always stands ready to reveal its downside of “prenatal idyllic unknowing…” The Psalms have long had a habitat in the author’s memory, in consequence of their repeated reliving in performance. The Psalms live their own lives, working out their new meanings in new contexts.

1999 was a year of widespread desires to interpret the past century and foresee the next. This same year, the completed Psalm cycle’s first readings took place at nearby venues. Sample translations of the text emerged in tandem. Judging from the reactions of the quite varied audiences, which ranged from students to veterans, many who listened to the Psalms began to sense the Pacific Ocean as speaking Russian, its speech clarified by the sounds of Russian words even without a translation. However, any certainty that these words concern a wave, a crag, a specific thought and, moreover, their interactions, requires the fullest possible access to the original text’s actual content. After all, the author maintains, “In life, substantive reality never exists apart from intellectual reality (metaphysical, transcendental…) — just as quantum mechanics never exists apart from gravitation. Everything is connected in a collective, unified, indivisible experience of living.” The Psalms are not just a tallying of elements but a cognizance of human kinship with the highest meaning expressed in “prints of holy letterings,” the “law…revealed on high,” the “categorical imperative.” After a first look at the Psalms, the editor of a leading Petersburg literary journal spoke of them as too far ahead of their time, detached from the public. But the real understanding that always arose as audiences listened to the Psalms says otherwise. Perhaps this is a matter not of historical but namely of personal time, of readiness to connect the unfolding Psalms with one’s own openness to mysteries. Underscoring the Psalms’ relevance are cases of their formal recognition.

Intuitive insight is generally intensified by the written word. For some this is the original’s word; for others, the translation’s. At the moment there’s no way to describe the challenges of translating this work. It is wonderful to have a chance at last to give visible expression to the linguistic symmetry seemingly hinted at in the Psalms right from the start, leading to expectations that the “two lands with a single tongue, the chord” would include the Psalms’ polyphony in many tongues — as bridges linking the ideal with the real.

Seemingly the Psalms were born on the world’s fringes, yet the vertical of their orientation forms an autonomous center reproducing the heritage of civilization. Imagining the cosmos of California Psalms, readers in any country can start by finding there whatever lies closest to them. Perspective stems from personal perception, which complements and enriches the source’s harmony, guiding this to a new unity. This edition, then, is dedicated to the unity of that goal.






1  Tuning for the key — in halfway.




2  The infant-continent sounded his first cry.

3  Like a hero born strapping, pampered tender, sleeping thirty years

by stove heat in a cabin, he takes his feet without much ceremony.

4  Have him look around!

5  Come to himself.

6  Have him

rigorously rub his eyes!

7  The blush of sleep still blazes on the child’s skin, and wispy dreams

muffle lashing tongues.

8  But the golden shade of blessed Fujiyama, and mountains singing under stars,

and godfathers and mothers stand true to him.

9  No one yet knows his massive strength.

10  First there was the word.

11  And the word was God.

12  Subconscious grains still hide debris of drowsing sweetly,

the body remembers a craving for sleep, for prenatal idyllic unknowing,

unawareness, feelings engendered by physiology, and the mind

still has no skill for driving blind reflexes forcefully.

13  Before obeying the parent hand,

before vocalization in intervals of fifths, before the fine technologies

of initiation, by tens of dozens he must pass the lesser and great rivers,

and new speeds in the praise of seventh chords.

14  For a bear creeping from a lair, a circus ring is far too small.

15  The ring solely a playschool for his registry in fate.

16  History has not had its beginning.

17  A first stride stepped, a first rock set.

18  It receives the name of Peter and a post in temple footing, unit

of integrity, hallmark, pure ore for elementary pioneer steel.





19  Saplings of seeded day!

20  Why burn with anger if a leaf is colorless and apples tart?

21  It hurts nothing to wait for shoots of flowers from the loam.

22  Somehow I will process oxygen — I need something to breathe.

23  To know myself alive.

24  An infant at your breast, I only gain from your abundance —

the root with fatter black earth underneath gives sweeter grain.

25  From a weak-blooded pellet, synthetic feed, you, too,

I will reinstate in living soil, like a brittle rosebush.

26  I am doors, you are my key-keeper.

27  You, as Peter, open gates for bliss.




28  The rock is faithful.

29  To the New World, enough new flame.

30  Over the West Coast’s body, over a sonorous keyboard,

over raspy fur of a grizzly I will range my hand, trace the curls,

to leave fingers remembering the warmth of massive withers,

the totem of the male who falls to water.





1  My forest boat, my solitary ark quavers inside a cloud suspension.

2  Shining, tufting, tufted dividing.

3  Myriad grains of ocean, molecular blue ocean waters,

risen vapor, bonded gloom crept to the mountains,

sailed the hollow, heaved my raft…

4  This is no rain, this is no dust.

5  A cloud lies at rest in my bay.

6  The cloud sunk to me, slunk lazily from precipitous heights,

vertically gliding, crumpled on the woods with a belly heavily sagging,

shaggy, shifting, its feelers limply scuffed on the ground,

streaming silver haze through trees.

7  I sit directly in a cloud.

8  Am I a celestial being?

9  I sit and write, I check my watch, I smoke, I think about words,

think about work.

10  I compose a letter, regret the work undone although time


11  I remember names to write and phone, names not to forget…

12  Am I thought of by my tender friend while seated in my tired

cloud, a cloud’s drifting migration paused for a stopover?

13  A cloud consumed me, penned me in its womb moisture,

fatted, soundlessly sighing, reticent, quiet, steeped in mystery.

14  The cloud knows the secret.




15  I sit inside the belly of the cloud.

16  I have studied the daily life of celestial beings.

17  Celestial beings live like I live all the time.





18  I leave my boat stuck in nebulous mother-of-pearl,

my berth asleep in an ocean deposited to it by air.

19  I walk out the door.

20  I walk into the ocean.

21  Ocean dissolved in air, mixed in the air,

coils around me.

22  Water currents move divided, pluming upward from the land,

almost not impacting it, like the lightest snow, an all but

invisible, soft and insulating blizzard.

23  Atoms of the cloud body, microscopic angels,

molecular novices in the heavenly host form schools of minnows,

spout skipping, glint fine spangle flows up and down,

subtly touch me, stroke and bump, breeze childlike breath,

circumvent, scurry unheard steps on their own road.

24  Armies follow their routes, armies sail by in glistening

currents, swelling, smoothly subsiding, whirling, priding themselves

on their serious mission.

25  Pearls mysteriously spatter

soundlessly quavering dark branches.

26  Watery weightless dust spins tufts, swaddles massive trunks,

seeps through green paws, cloaks, nourishes child root

runner bodies, moistens branches, pierces thick dry bark,

enters the greedy orbit of conifer fingers.

27  Giants feed on cloud, breathe cloud ocean.

28  And they, too, know the secret.





29  The giants of forest and mountain take the potion by skin inhalation,

suction, infusing themselves with sea blueness.

30  The trees drink currents, the trees indulge.

31  The trees breathe the suspension.

32  And I breathe the suspension of thick sea like a sequoia,

and I, too, am a tree of ages, sublime, eternal..!

33  And my beauty is a towering sequoia intent on the sky.

34  The steeply round and rigid trunk, tucked in a cushioned felt

case, splays widely like a wolf brow held by a stubborn palm.

35  The trunk’s rounded, even tower heads high, high, high,

where dangling ocean water binds heavens and earth.

36  The tower vertical stands endlessly straight, firm and steady,

fortified by roots in the ground, growing taller with every particle,

every miniscule marble of cloudy fog consumed

by aromatic limbs and furrowed bark.

37  The vertical of these strong trunks holds life, guiding it up,

lacing and rupturing space, riddling through,

encircled in verdant spirals of gaping branches, spiral ascent

by spokes, like flotation rings the trunks encircle themselves,

like screws spiral-threaded for easier incision,

steadier entrance and sturdier grip in blue vaulted heaven.

38  For holding a vertical vertical.





1  Ask the car

will it agree to setting out for an ocean edge

and stay to wait for us who circle deep in the secret night makes

of a molten cauldron.

2  Who here is Virgil

probably you and I a Dante follow humbly wondering

as I see.

3  Warlike stars

as chained hounds snapping leads loom seething in the sky

blind the victim with cosmic flame and threaten with swift punishment

fire rage with signal pyres of constellations known

to those who ponder horoscopes and aim

for the guide of an oracle.

4  Stop on the rock-strewn

perplexing way eroding underfoot and fading

in the black gulf.

5  Let me catch my breath

take in the thought that I may cross into the kitchen of the world’s design

and be in great ones’ company by right.

6  Let me truly hear

the groan and drone of towering massive crags

crowning the ignited sky and facing us with heavy walls

on three approaches.

7  This clamor what does it mean unspeakably horrible

convulsing hulks and setting the heart sinking

and sensing itself left inconsequent and wretched

where the honest towers are —

o how can I!

8  You tell of this

as no more than waves sweeping from the ocean —

no more!

9  Then what can I call a true colossus

when as little as waves in the ocean stands my hair on end

strikes the soul a tremor of measureless awe.


10  Now we advance

through night gardens spellbound garden shades

their eyes scanning us their lips fluttering and boughs bent to us

as our road leads lower yet to reach a mountain rivulet

pouring forth its voice transparently in Beethoven’s apotheosis

forging unearthly sound from earth’s forces

whirled by a Godly hand and under orders


11  Here a narrow bridge stretches a ribbon

from the creek bank we approached from common daily plainness

rubbing up against the verge of worlds real otherwise

with no place to have what we once

held as real.

12  The bridge allows

binding them together lying on both banks unbarring us

fortress portal slabs nearly impassable

dismaying as the mountain slab they cleave

making us probe our long route through them

watching our steps in the low-roofed tunnel to a final break

with all endearing habits left as orphans in the car

huddled at the anxious flank of coast highway

number one.

13  The giants blackly surround

void of feeling void of heart incessant and untiring

trembling glistening and scaling.

14  Living.

15 Now this is objectivity at crest in all its resplendence

a universal choir voice of thunder ear-shattering.

16  O how near it is

to the wrath of God — nothing objective!

17  Dies irae!

18  We studied

what sets requiem apart from ordinary mass —

Dies irae!


19  I lived so many years

not knowing fate would place me turned

facing this inhuman perfection

to stand between the wave of gargantuan ruin

and the unshaken weight of jutting rearing crags

stationed to hear the din of the planet soar in fatal blindness

with no sense of me or even waves or crags

pointless to speak of bridges and trees

only simple being.

20  One wave holds all weight of the ocean

and this weight’s full force bashes beneath my ribs

brutally drilling in the art of life.

21  Fathoming the wave

I will fathom all the unknowns of existence.

22  And as witness I will call Beethoven

who came by knowledge of which music sends the planets and the beacons

reeling in a cosmic dance.




23  Divinity’s batter caused the sky to spill us

a star a flaming spare unmissed in that charity and plenty

loose extravagance to keep us voiced and not cooled into stone

unable to withstand the murderous perfection

and ideal logic present where beginnings all began

as open to our drowsy ignorance

the night of equinox.





1  The Mass sets a wonderful commentary to traversing clouds.

2  Traversing clouds set living illustrations to the Mass in B-Minor.

3  They link in such a coordinated motion, a mesh of sounds and tones

with the silent pace of dark billows mounting in stacks and edging onward, calm

and focused, the spirit is discouraged, unmade for disappearance, aware

my life has no reflection in the balances when games

unfold among leviathans.

4  Who am I, stumbling between?

5  From behind, divinity in choirs surpassing rational perfection,

with the sequences of heaven’s edifices only comparably noble,

unassailable in the rigid law I find revealed on high, never asked

whether I mind the visibility of the Master’s unbearable industry.

6  What can my weak human intellect give

the absolute ages?

7  My absence.

8  And this least thing is under my authority:

not being grit in the pâtisserie love lyric of the faceless.

9  I’m allowed to weep over the fullness of the sight, to cleanse the flaws

from my heart, to keep from breaking the victorious mating,

matter and spirit controlled by harmony’s sole egoism,

intolerant of obstacles.




10  But my frail body and confined awareness

were fathered by the blindness of the great just Law no less

than heavenly masses’ inexorable succession:  higher, rightward,

as bottom basses sweep in slow countermotions,

perpetually changing all they are, outside and within, their every

slightest shift attuning them with everything —

each leaf tremor on any tree, and the shade of foliage

and the form of a cumbersome stone, even one lying entombed in night

desolation more than the dimness of the planet’s other side, even

a random asteroid’s, spawned in explosion of an undiscovered

star some hundreds of billions of light-years remote from these clouds

proudly showcased at the window.


11  The crude falsehood of Babel constructions

matters simply as a bone in the sky’s throat, naive babyish self-delusion:

posing on a stool for the role of being grown, which only shows

them powerless, exposing their sham to an audience.

12  Before the eyes of truth, only the truth upholds its relevance,

even as the truth of a worm beneath an apple tree, if whatever else it could be

lies out of reach.

13  But as for me, not quite as wretched as the worm,

I can’t rightfully seem like a worm, or rightfully flee,

taking my own cue, wanting only not to be what mars the movement

of the great Mass to greatness transported on a cloud highway.

14  A great man becomes truly great

when he stops intruding.

15  And the right I have is to exalt the truth of homespun thoughts

and considerations to clouds and asteroid and Mass, suspending differences

untenable between us, groundless defects in sensitive work

by a jeweler.

16  What do I care if phrasing with merit and clear formulating

raise the threat of a heart attack, rapid as any freak overdose,

stimulant doping while running a marathon circuit?

17  The skittish illiterate body still has no teaching, no training,

no skill in organically free gesticulations

made by a mind with every strength.

18  The flesh still obstinately stiffens at the grandeur of practically mounting

aviation’s airframe with a rocket engine.

19  However —

its time will come for speed, gaining the light unstrained

nature of clouds under wind.




20  I’m licensed for absolute pitch, a tuning wand for hearing,

so my shackled and bolted poverty, tracked by a censoring mind,

might stoke a fire or forge a diamond, wanting to waft cloudlike

and like the sounding Mass, no doubt forming even for a worm about this right

to indistinction:  beside more clouds, beside more mountain rivers.





1  Here — this is the place.

2  In palms of hands sloping in undergrowth.

3  The harsh and the giving joined at my cradle.

4  They reached the sky, active around the birth mystery, tender infancy.

5  Here I come to earthly light.

6  Out of a sacred lap of land proficiently mothering titans.




7  Again and again, Heaven descended with rains,

the sweet wet bodily Earth caressed by urgent heavy inclemency,

the flow of cargo impressed in the drunken cleft.

8  A boiling, foaming current swept moisture

from the deepest-held heart of mountain strata, a surge through jagged thrust to inundation.

9  All March and April, Earth and Heaven, passion-driven,

self-obliterating, formed a seal they couldn’t break,

surrendering themselves to one another, such a mixture,

they too seemed to unlearn

who is uppermost as Heaven, who below is Earth.

10  Seized by sweet compulsion,

they chose to uncouple only an instant, a day, maybe two,

to gaze upon each other, take time to see, then entangle again

in a burst.

11  Here Heaven sheathed in embracing Earth

renewed, renewed its rain scintillation, madly unconstrainable, dousing

the malleable thirst-struck flesh collapsing in craving for union

with heavenly strength, satiation past all will to think,

senses hidden in the greedy clasp of the husband.




12  Completion!




13  Lit heavens

line the canyon floor now as gold of molten day,

now lunar milk to bless tonight’s married love.

14  A handful of the planet finds so many places open to accepting

nativity of souls.

15  I am offspring given to this canyon.




16  The natal peace follows a design intelligently perfect

as Solomon’s Temple.

17  Running water and a table, a boulder altar for offerings —

a home-based miniature purgatory, a stove laid for baking breads.

18  A gauze wreath in the stone crib

pads the nest of a frail fledgling.

19  Beginning now, I am a child of this blessed cradle.

20  Now all here is mine.




21  Beginning now, here is my origin, here’s the clay —

from this clay, the substance of new flesh,

came my crafting, the Father artisan building a total change in decorations

for the working stage of future times.



MONK IN THE SOUL                                         In memory of Father Junipero Serra


1  Dreaming while awake:

a monastery cell on the grounds of a temple…




2  Whitened walls, board ceiling shedding paint.

3  Brown clay tiles brightened with faded glaze

spread their grid to seal the irregular floor.

4  Three unsanded boards crudely bolted make a bed.

5  Tell me, how was it to sleep on, monk, and the dreams?

6  I have known cold and merciless damp nights:

could a soldier’s cloak shield your body?

7  Falling asleep, what did you think of, Padre?

8  Things left undone that day?

9  In prayer to a stern crucifix, fist circling the cross on your chest,

did you cry out for relief?

10  Who else can you seek to uplift you!

11  You always find a day can barely fit your duty.

12  A single garb for a parade or war — the robe of monks.

13  Not even night caused you to shed it.

14  Your robe clothes you like armor — only for the One

would you wear a golden cope.

15  Day done and doors shut fast,

bowed kneeling on the stone floor, you asked for strength and force

and discretion.




16  In the center of the cell, a makeshift table.

17  Barely adequate to hold the Holy Scripture, such a small one.

18  The nominal walls and bed all but disowned:  the one much as the other.

19  Nearly disowning yourself.

20  You had the will not to spend your care too freely

on what might well go unminded by your care.

21  No drawer in the table, no side cupboard, no chair kept

for a guest to sit.

22  Nowhere to conceal a letter or a crust of bread.


23  You freed the cell, as your head and two hands

for one work alone.

24  Just as the heart

you rid of secrets and reserves:  day will come, and some ration,

and better knowing less — to know only the needed.

25  Knowing this

is more than sleeping easily in warmth.





26  The monastery cell of a dream state

forms the motor of my fate, my everlasting engine.

27  This emptiness and innocence

I enter in the storeroom of my soul — may they be its home as well,

may the cell be a place that welcomes me to stay

alone, as I am.

28  Becoming open.

29  And feeling my feet bare on the stone floor,

toss back the cowl, brow raw with heat, and, crumpling to kneel,

embrace the crucifix.

30  I can go through life with nothing for convenience,

nothing fancy, nothing slaking hunger, nothing warm,

only not without this living water.




31  The monk of my soul,

done with his dream, arises from the disconsolate bed,

crosses himself, asks the Father’s blessing on the day’s ascent

and, rosary complete, goes over the threshold.





1  We all originate in ocean…

2  In which magnitude

should I place the poetry of what I see each instant at the walled

Californian citadel?

3  May it come as a day, may it come as a dream…

4  Who succeeds

in measuring the heat of breath and black of rock and whiteness of a quill

without comparing details in the strength of steadfast

Pole stars?




5  My loyalty to you

wants measuring in salt’s measure in ocean.

6  There is no arrogance

in your honed profile of steep coast straining past clouds to light,

open to the pale line of high-voltage transmissions

holding a contact field of converted neophytes.

7  A day will come

with my own time to tell which is my bell.

8  Why promise me

while my feet still harbor the memory of oceanic salt?

9  They’re at the point

of becoming seagrass, shore sand dappled with their soles,

gilded with rainbow crystals like a petrified shell

insensible to alien allures of incidental magic

of a floor never touched.





10  When we walk, the two of us,

the road’s unruly mountain loops, pinching wild strawberries from stems,

I apprehend a way of precious faith, a wayfarer

proceeding over Jordan.

11  I listen closely

for voluminous meanings of violin section summits:

the same hand crafted you and me and these titans singing Gloria,

casually epic in their words, accepting of our patter

as tributes to our wish to learn by copying and borrowing

a role model’s example.




12  Transfiguration wine,

ocean salt fermented, gathered blindly, I will channel into words,

traversing the plateau of jagged pain, trying my hand as a handler of magnitude,

probing the crust of wrinkled earth like petting a wolf’s mistrustful cubs.

13  To walk the blade, you need balance and speed

for good luck in unloading red-hot honey from inspected combs

of the Old Testament…




14  Stone-sculpted caryatids,

water enclosing their knees, spoke to tell me

a providential eye saw my questioning that time

I sat on the escarpment as a bird.

15  — Like it? — God said to me.  — Then take!

16  — Taken. — I said.





1  The blind wanderer pays me a call in this temple.




2  This name is inscribed in the marks of all tongues.

3  At the mouth of each river issued a source in summit snows,

in oceanic storms, in vineyards hidden by mountains from wind,

in the thick blackening of a cold dour rock-face shadow.

4  I see letters on lightning-slain giants,

cyclopean toys:  boulders, shale of crags — and on trunks and stumps

inconceivably inflated, loose household waste

dumped carelessly over slopes.

5  Sun-whitened, a log withered, jutting from sand

like a spine pried from a prehistoric monster, and who sightless on it

sits unseeing, thoughts echoing the sound of breakers every minute

serving notice all is mortal but the music score is ageless

for the seasons’ justice?

6  What use are eyes to someone great as everything in view?

7  And his gaze is all the sharper,

released from guiding geographic latitudes.

8  He pierces with no vision clouding depths closed to eyes,

panicking the eyes with unreasonable texture.

9  Eyeless, he sees as well that a droning bumblebee or thrumming flicked wing

and rasping leaves and rustling bark a trunk has sloughed, and pungent

coastal eucalyptus and the reeking seaweed strip that lines

the frothy hissing barrier cry out of the absolute might

of Olympian gods for all places.





10  An apple bough’s lowliest flower, splendid, self-sufficient,

never asks for charity.

11  It asks — do not intrude.

12  Who wants to see — sees.

13  Not trekking the world,

not seeking fabled beauties, waiting for an insight like an order.

14  Sight can come to eyes unopened and untraveled.

15  Because even the moss probing spaces in the tiles does enough

to catalyze the vision.

16  But here, where the Divine will rises nobly

trumpet-voiced in all, failure to notice this

speaks of more than blindness.

17  The minimum it takes is partial death,

muting heaven’s earnest call with pious patience,

garrison morale.




18  Homer the blind never forsakes these places, hunting for anyone

he might give even fractions of the vision of his love

and deference before the grace of gods in generous expanses,

edges overflowing.

19  Save a blessing, Homer, for a flawless vision no physician

checks and no optometry can classify in charts —

only time and the heart apply.

20  I seek, I summon Homer —

all local places sigh for him, patiently enduring ages

for the sake of braver ones prepared to rise to greatness fully grown

in Homer’s form.






1  Why am I not a leaf?

2  Why am I not a stone?

3  Why not a quill from a wing,

its speedy gyration piercing the air to plummet

to passing random feet on the roadway?

4  Why am I not a droplet

of dancing spurts of river refracting a keen blade of light

to a node of chromatic rays?

5  Why am I not a white daub

on the heavenly azure — not inclement or a cloud, but just an accident,

a quirk of blue averse to excessive stability

and, over the lagoon, splattering the center of its field

with a pallid patch of smudgy contours?

6  On the horizon, surging legions of heavenly ceremony

with solemn garbs white as snow, while fronting them,

gray uniforms of messengers and carriers are brisk bodies, stormy

junior rows as if in service hallways, trotting

beside the lines of troops.

7  The clouds choose a proven way through the mountains,

treating tradition as sacred, their caravan road secure for travel,

floating around high escarpments.

8  Never untrue to the usual routes of transit,

this pageant sails by daily, their triangular stage

opposite the window where I sit, wary of looking elsewhere,

fearing to miss the beauty, the queen of inclemency

who might gain the vote coaxed from me by treetops

ringing the runway with a thick barrier.




9   This is a road of clouds.

10  Some call it as much as a highway.

11  My view is just a triangle,

each day’s erratic climate style.

12  Oh exasperating weather’s hit us here in California!





13  I was delivered to the canyon as if to a lodge of Masons

proposing another test of my patience,

well enough known as it is the world over.

14  This place plays host to winds and foul clouds and seas of fog.

15  Hail falls here, thunder crashes.

16  Each passing day brings problems.

17  The bang and the clang of it all never stops.

18  Cartwheels, somersaults.

19  Storm squalls

stave shut the door I’d open.

20  And sometimes they bash and beat

as if I’d been Don Giovanni inviting the Commodore to the table.

21  They heave my flimsy home like a boat on waves.

22  Or the roof and walls soak up generous rains

from goodly celestial beings not saving water and deaf to my dissent.

23  The strength of heavenly truth

effortlessly proves its endless stamina.

24  The sun sizzles relentlessly in odd breaks

like a student after missing classes, trying to catch up in a half-hour,

seeking a credit.

25  The elements — earthly and heavenly — have their own orders.

26  They all obey the law, all keep to business.

27  And aren’t inclined to give me explanations.

28  If I think hard enough, I won’t need explanations to guess.




29  But until I find a thesis for the rules,

if you please — don’t butt in beneath the heavy haulers’ wheels

on the bustling freeway!






1  How can I lose sight of the waves and slopes dimming?

2  They’re now an obsession, rooted in my mind.

3  And in my heart, suppressing the fullness of its flames.




4  I’m guided to treasures by infinite thirst.

5  I want to call all my own where I see features

of the Vestal Virgins’ fire…




6  Pastry dough emerging from a roller, layer on layer,

breakers sweep their pleats ashore like drapes

of a grand stage.

7  Row after row,

the glimmering boldness of pigment on stout backs,

crouched over the waterhole, dims with the declining sun’s

retreat under the ocean.

8  Coquettish, thrilling, elegant,

alluringly luscious backdrops,

then scenes of  concentrated pensiveness.

9  A heavy screen of grey moiré cordons the horizon.




10  It is time for evening prayer.





11  Eyes tire of squinting into sunlight

and shift to monochrome geometry,

rejoicing at return to tonic triads.

12  All the mountains seem more massive, crowding their formations.

13  Melancholy and estrangement

rest on each aspect of the landscape, devising

eerie forts at the clouds’ upper reaches.

14  Cows in herds

on slopes of grass suddenly possess sublimity,

mystic contemplatives suggestive of the memory

of pagan deities and the entire Middle Ages’ pantheon.




15  But when the half-hours set aside for twilight pass,

all the participants in dramas and cult mysteries withdraw into the dusk,

and until the dawn the dozing world goes evenly divided — as in an era earlier than Adam —

some electricity’s, and part for darkness.

16  And nothing but the medium of sounds

gives space a means to save communication,

which leaves it as before — shared by waves and human beings.





1  I tremble from the meeting,

but trust in trust, can answer nothing else.

2  Victory here is not envisioned,

nothing’s allowed but feelings made known.

3  Love walks the way the Commodore steps out.

4  Who’ll remind me just what

needed drinking

during writing Don Giovanni?




5  I accept the challenge,

since not to take its dare is even deadlier

than certifying personal incompetence.

6  This challenge I accept

as a long-awaited mountain pass, as an edge whose mastery

verges on miraculous.

7  What else but a miracle

should those like me expect, since childhood conditioned to a life

at miracles’ convenience?

8  Consulting long exposure to the palace ceremonial,

one thing’s clear:  when monarchs show their favor, work to sacrifice

in answer.

9  And sing the hymns of thankfulness

with no pause for a breath, and best if in an antique style,

acknowledging my service meriting the highest gifts.

10  Love shows me generosity,

but the answer out of love born for it

so outshines raw nature’s humble borders

that even for a single star of starry thousands,

in night’s normal sphere a firefly resembling a double

horizontal cross, so placidly combusting past the window, it’s doubtful

a soul can offer space…

11  And what in me has space for your freedom from constraints,

heightened a hundred times, receiving my reply?

12  This needs a search for special coordinates!





13  If the Lord gave me a fortune,

he’ll surely also give a place to hold it.




14  The breath breaks raggedly at every curve,

and a skidding foot spells collapse, but a cloud, as if arisen from the earth,

drifts closer in gleam and spume, glittering with rapture as a sign

by now I am in paradise.

15  And paradise surrounds me —

until the blood-red gleams begin to reek of charring.

16  Next ahead is an idyll,

innocuously clear, a welcome panorama,

then a sheer wall overshadows it, the path a crawl

in falling twilight, a knot caught in the throat,

a wrong sensed past redeeming:  from the looks of it,

more like a trail in swampland than in bliss,

heaven’s path!

17  When at last

will the accursed mist that clings before the dawn, curling in the gate,

fall behind?




18  I innately

know the art of feeling no earth as I walk, undeterred

by perilous height, mediating the problem of weightlessness

with the winged strength of a homegrown caduceus wreathed

by snake bodies of wisdom.

19  But here my SOS must stay unaddressed:

I rely on gear and rations given in advance.

20  All the same, covering debts

is my life’s great passion, and inspiration chases me like a taxman,

ruthlessly carving margins from the profits

of my soul.

21  My confusion isn’t criminal —

I came here as a debutante, unsure just how I stumbled

onto stage.

22  I’ll ask my mother:

was it for this stage she gave me life?




23  I don’t promise fidelity, don’t vow.

24  I’ve learned no words beyond a yes and no,

with future depths for answering the rest.

25  No reason not to trust.

26  A dreadful fatalism

only love inviting me to answer.

27  Which means the measure of my willingness to love

spans a Tenth Symphony — leaving no way

free for a prognosis…




28  …save one:







1  I see at every minute the life on every side.

2  And see how it lives…




3  The center here is not the plashing river, never silent,

not the solemn sighs of trees, not the waves fizzing on sand,

or the slicing, keening wind, cleft in two again and again

by all it fails to scatter or blast.

4  Not even the stature of cliffs or extent of a wave.

5  But in all being filled

with a thick, bubbling battering through seams

in living polyphonies of wine.

6  The soul of the First Week

keeps a pulse in the fully disclosed heart of the coast.




7  I view a transfiguration of forms.

8  It registers no pauses, no doubts.

9  Like a shoot from a spent flower,

all issues one from the other, transmuted, infused one in another.

10  Bright-backed clouds minister light to distant gorges.

11  Buoyant reptile mountains arched ridges,

bunched elephant skin in creases, wrinkled canyons

housing human settlements instead of insect colonies.

12  A tawny curtain sagging, the gulf of an enormous cloud of rain,

a cover on a polished concert grand, dragged a dismal shadow

blotting out the moon’s sightless side, a ruler blade snapping a line

on the liquid plane, the median of icy anguish and exultant ray.

13  The Ruler ocean knows no horizon,

it denounces horizons, aligned with sky as escalating fog,

monstrous flexible infinity, its own elastic

unfragmented thoughts.


14  Unweakening Solaris is incapable of sleep.

15  Soaked gloves, black reef

pillars jut from snow-white lacery,

entangling stony jagged fingers in capricious

curls of cloud.

16  Nothing here is vacant, nothing idle.

17  All is in flood with clashing rhythm and breath —

sands, precipices’ festal shade of subterranean fire, a bloody ochre

meeting plush green hills expanding like a swollen-chested

sumptuous wet-nurse.

18  What doesn’t this place have!

19  And each of the singers

would gladly set its part as the lead.




20  Who’ll help to find the real position of the heavens?

21  From what I’ve heard, the sky is overhead,

but I anxiously wonder how to skirt its pit,


22  Stacked mother-of-pearl quilted clouds at my feet creep

in limitless progressions.

23  With its cream, its meringue, its tender weightless

fluid swan down rolled and puffed in taut rings and twists,

coiling and winding them, mussing its living blanket, the row resurfaces

the total span, draping a soft, portly edge

on mountain picket summit steepness, lost

in stratosphere.

24  Their disengagement stays completely inattentive.

25  The mounded muslin of ballet, the ruffled frills

plaster wet solidities of cliffs, pelt the shore,

drape the flanks of heavenly water porters’ trailing caravan.

26  I suppose it’s fair enough to admit

they’re feting me without a sense of measure.


27  Nowhere have I seen the face of earth

outspread so openly, revealingly, volatile and tender.

28  Earth’s watchful face lovingly faces mine.

29  And I watch its own.

30  I watch and listen, widening my eyes and ears.

31  I control my belief, but cannot disbelieve.

32  Acclimated to the rigors

of the work regime of splendid orchestras, I hardly thought

I’d find a place at this display.




33  To sober myself to clairvoyance

with a living showpiece of the art of the fugue.






1  A week beyond the changes,

all this will be completely clear.

2  Seeing my survival, I will be even stronger.

3  My pain’s a gift of mercy which I won’t decline,

not asking even once for narcosis.




4  Quiet, I will try to hear

whether there’s any easing in the piercing height of shoreline days

embedding me with its light, the specific weight of its matter,

reclaiming emptied sites of expired celebrations.




5  Chains of mountains fling on cloud shawls, wind my heart,

scourged, gashed, flayed.

6  My relentless hand methodically folds closed

moldering archival tomes, to cauterize straight through,

starting soothsaid sagas of fire-eyed gold,

California’s branding iron.

7  The primal test of integrating tissue

with local vistas’ elements is timely as the truth of a seed encounter,

as a wave whose nape upraises the script of partitions,

as bracelet roads enmeshing mountains, embracing shore,

the sunken bloodstream system conveying knowledge

of movement by bands in a yellow-white testament matrix,

and the loyal rule of the right hand seamlessly gliding

the laser line of life.

8  My donor didn’t dissipate or weaken

with infinity transposed into the dilated perspectives

of my magnitude of heart.


9  And if it’s called for — here, upon this coast

knowing no sunup, made only for settings, where a daily fading ray,

like light shed through a palm, like a flash from physicality,

from the inverse, floods radiance through flesh of earth with dominance ablaze,

here I will stay to live, fitting anticipations’ designated answer,

steeped, like a rice paper sheet printing holy inscriptions

from a wetted stone.






1  When the cosmos mariners,

their tillers turned and ship sails unfurled,

assuredly maneuver flotillas down my line of sight,

all things, oh God, expose your palm.

2  Your image in each thing,

in numberless importances reflected

as by unwarped mirrors of unwearied orbits’ eyes,

finds recognition everywhere in drumming veins.

3  Your words’ unfathomable fairness

exercises reason with maniacal sobriety,

an ideal mechanism regulated

by a hoary pilot.

4  I find infinite appeal in cruelty’s sinless part,

the categorical imperative, extreme measures a system

coordinating breathing in deep water, projected

on a scale contiguous with every being’s

navigation spheres.

5  Fractures deepen from the desiccated asphalt

crust over earth’s neurons into hot subconscious lava.

6  We cohere just as the earth and sky arise,

from the same stratifications found quite commonly in maps

of geologic deep-lying deposits and in weather charts

tracking air and water masses, matching finely

ordered zones with different climate factors.




7  Flanked by two heavenly bodies, I stand on a third.

8  Passing from the moon’s powdered profile, my eyes roam

to the light-emitting globe.

9  My planet, my tremendous world

is no more than a thin ply, a tender layer,

thermal ashes topping a surface

arising in sequel to the layers

of those which came before, familiar at the dawn of days with me, bemusedly

ephemeral, in consonance with anatomic

girders of the earth.





10  Everything has its logic.

11  A neatly shaven pontiff in a toga

belongs as much to nature as a shaman dancer

clothed in hides of deer.

12  And the beacons of state ceremony

easily conjugate with the masons’ pyramid, contrived of rays

the sun’s eye streams around a concentrated wing,

a bleak cloud flushing timidly but set to burst ahead

and spatter the ocean in a wild flood,

unnerving Spanish frigates.

13  Things don’t disturb each other

when loyal to their own approaches, outcomes, skills, orders,

serving their own regimented service.

14  Heaven’s silk,

when streaked with trails from aircraft, not only lacks no beauty,

but the formerly utilitarian furrow on its azure brow

blazes a seal of dignified adherence to a sacred creed.

15  I’m likely told as much by beveled jewelry

embeddings of reef diamonds in a phosphor silver taffeta,

in ocean volatility, as by the Revelations

of Saint John.

16  It’s not for me to say

which one’s revealing I trust more.

17  Every piece composes the reflection of a face

beyond all contest and comparison, my only choice

for each given instant, for each given point

among the intersection of cell instincts.





18  A square and circle,

equal poles coupling, were one.

19  There with them, in their setting —

my window, with no seeing it apart from all the universe considers.

20  Reality is just breath in and out,

not conscious which of their missions counts more,

and what purpose underlies their passing sequence, diastole after systole.

21  The Ruler’s hand is my hand.




22  However, every sound

may splash at will inside the liquid shelter

of the timbre it prefers.






1  The comforting warmth of wooden boards

touches me since childhood like the warmth of a trusted cheek.

2  The table’s sacred simplicity,

this artless durability, daily needs’ atomic slats,

how could any hope in you go wrong?




3  For me, too,

nothing human is ever alien.




4  The clocktower of California years

shows the scorching rock of August workdays.

5  Over rails,

an interlocking calendar drawn through eras and manners,

I ride on a way never traveled, ticking along like

a timepiece hand.

6  Swept by winds,

bathed by hard rains, pliant in hot-tongued afternoon’s forge,

the table makes me think of asphalt lanes flanking a wiry

median divider.

7  It’s ideal,

like an airfield, its scale showing how long

a road hauls labeled goods in from locations

with no stable meaning for them, to ringed terminus hubs,

the absolute of naming.





8  Our table framed by mountains

sits camouflaged in mental caverns like a vessel’s cargo,

drifting in a clay boat over streams

enumerating bygone thoughts.

9  This depth

begins the stairwell of ascent from encrustation,

heavy meaning spread like underwater mussels on a stone.

10  The table was a table.

11  Then it was a riddle,

an arbiter of fate, a fight arena, steel mill, rocket port…

12  The garden of Gethsemane…

13  It received spellbinding gifts,

creaking with their amplitude as thunder rolled in darkness, spanning

heaven’s dome and rigid earth.

14  Hail hummocks mounted there.

15  A head akimbo there, there a funerary shroud, there a garden knife’s sharp end,

picturesquely glowing, mirroring a jilted heart;

there shepherd crooks, angling rods, there candles… — assorted items illustrate

alphabet vignettes for remedial reading.

16  The planks flooring the coding stand

forget the key charade scenes when a cracking breaks the spell,

perceiving that the cunning living pictures equal practically assigned


17  The mystic epistle of matter whose standard is prophecy

channels contemplative power unreal in its sharpness.




18  I look — again they sit…





19  In the church refectory, we met the brother born for him.

20  Prophets and apostles always did

fancy rather strange proportions.

21  The jaded whispers as they talk, filling the benches,

support chronicles’ primitive entries, this question awaiting an answer —

how goes the current phase of settling a changeless and corrosion-free

unknown:  whose turn is up for handling the bread?

22  (Restrictive, dictatorial, food’s matchless store of drama

spans the ages.)




23  Ever-ageless columns

met like structural supports above the mindless churning

struggle for survival.

24  Below them I was lying in a summer dress,

a yellow submarine steeling myself for a vertical leap,

stretched lengthwise on the table, imagining my route

on corkscrew steps of branching conifers.

25  All nonchalant solidity,

the central object in the country scenery

held us, straightening its back, as we worked each other’s hair

in braids.

26  No customary object on the earth

responds to magic power any less than does this table,

fortune’s translator antenna, completely unperturbed by average charms

of common speech’s sound.

27  While I live —

my dominions admit nothing less than life.




28  Past these metamorphoses, fate’s labyrinth of symbols,

I’d rather let the table be a table once again, and permit my own return

to the normal sides of numbers.






1  You think a wave heads for another wave to clasp it?

2  Or, brandishing its back in the sun, to flicker a quick rainbow?

3  Or give the stiffened girths, stooping to water,


4  Or, slapping the facing wave with equivalent strength,

delight us, angling a dual tower of water to the sky???




5  But no.




6  Each droplet in the sea has its prognosis.

7  And each wave is seeing to its separate work.

8  And cartwheels of mountainside moths, and a seagull’s strident squawk,

and the charm of an otter cavorting in the frenzied boil of violent swells,

and these birds running the speck of beach, on stones,

succeeding in submarine dives and thrilling us with their boldness,

undaunted by the risk of being swept to the open ocean —

nothing happens without a reason.

9  They all have their own line in the centuries’ audited


10  And all have their own fate conducting.





11  Standing on a bent-backed crag, we see from above

the rolling of two waves into shore, their long road wandered,

one wholly uninformed about the other right until the end,

their meeting in a gap below the mountain, passing through a double-sided arch

blasted underneath our cliff by an ancient sire of theirs.

12  Their fates emerge through no more than the clashing of their brows.

13  These waves have missions made for each of them,

which drove them here, pushed them here on time.

14  They didn’t seek each other, didn’t prime themselves for meeting,

but found the way itself guiding the lawful union

of their natures’ undisguisable egoism, deaf and apathetic

as scandals heat the world…

15  The cresting of their roads consumed millennia,

all annals of past waves and all the earthquakes,

all magnetic storms eons before their birth.

16  Beneath our arch, the gods arrange to marry…




17  Wave faces wave with ramrod aimed

but, rushing at each other, both forget

the way they used to live.

18  Comingled,

they surface born again as a great whole, one thing composed from what each carried,

and their eternal transit rich in credit for a new acceleration.




19  I remain alive while I am serving.

20  My high opinion of the wave will not lessen.

21  Never asking the equivalent from it…




22  A wave makes no mistakes.

23  A wave sets all its limitations to consolidate its motion,

to reach the endpoint of its fate.

24  A wave hurries on business,

not caring how being itself will change

social machinations, its arrival simply offering

another time and renovated world.

25  Choosing a course, it doesn’t ask for experts’ views.

26  A wave doesn’t ask whether to be or not to be.

27  It doesn’t need authorities

for certainty it knows the work it does.

28  It doesn’t motion for an edge in its conditions, or support, or a score.

29  So who can be its judge?!!




30  So I can come full circle,

I want to capture the indifference, the dispassion,

and the distantness of static shapes and planes,

placing them together with the foam of cloud and water

in the chemical array that streams in coursing circulation

surging like the Spirit of Moving Waters, like that woodland stream

commands the choir of mountain voices sounding alongside me

as days and nights extend.

31  Its flow joining the ocean,

the river is a chorister, unmarked, anonymous,

relinquishing its voice to forceful truth — obscure causes

and effects — enlisting many strings and many voices of a choir

for a single cosmic TUTTI.





32  Alone as the finger of God sunk to the ground,

I keep my silence — silence fits here more than any words.

33  I hold the unspoken avowal

of a distant northern river’s granite waters, of a marble-columned

Great Hall with a hallowed counterpart

in ligament and tendon architecture, ascendant to the Throne

where local mountains aim.

34  I now see California as my Spasskiy Island.

35  My Fontanka’s the Pacific Ocean.

36  My rejoicing is the pang of facing space beyond expression.




37  Oh what stature in the kneeling worshipper!

38  His subjects’ primordial choir

serves at the holy fire’s altar.

39  Their glory grows,

the more unbarred their bending to the notes

Divinity issues.

40  Who among their ranks is choirmaster?

41  This choirmaster

hears their words, their every sign and every sound, defining

sense as signaled in the memory of words as the memory of water,

and, granting leeway for embodiment on cue, makes every wave’s arrival

a single circuitous time.




TOWER                                                                       In memory of Robinson Jeffers


1  My feeling’s that the awkward weight of stones the poet chose — as intriguingly

unliftable and openly unadapted to ordinary norms

of life’s dialog — took as much deliberation as the weight of my

favorite thoughts.  Other stones cause less trouble, it’s easier to tamp them

into pleasing forms, and no one doubts they’re good to have at hand.  Children lift these

effortlessly.  And as for the poet’s preference for overwork, that’s easily explained:

a well-known opinion holds poetic natures convoluted

and souls arrogant who always push for blind refutation

of all that might fall onto paths of rational logic.  If it’s such a bitter business

walking on the leash of overweening interests, no one stops the poet shaping his life,

on his own land, delineated as he wants:  extremely complicated.

Live, poet, in the company of stones unbridled by the rules of household

reasoning — their pride upholds a lasting respect for things that you yourself

possess.  On a wild shore, it isn’t hard to build an enviable rock collection, but,

hostile to the ends given such means, the poet likes to choose a stone itself as a goal,

upraising his granite tower.  Granite monologue, made

with no rhyme and no single tendency of movement —

its lines favor the private interests of mercurial unmatchable

forms, setting each contrasting stone “I” as a separate fate alone

in its dimension.




2  I have no way of knowing what the poet felt, laboring with each

cherished object.  And lifting a new monolith, my current

find, I don’t quite see how any spine can stay intact

in a building project missing even primitive machinery.

3  The miser will pay twice.  We are wiser.  We think a whole should have no splitting.

4  Someday a temple will stand.  Someday a tower will stand, where the stone of a hawk,

whose flight a blizzard met, hangs sternly skeptical, teaching the tough

to stay clear.






1  Shielded by a snowy mountain

which blesses doors of the Angel port

and watches me unblinkingly even if

thick rain clouds coat the sky, painting a flatness

in which a shaft of smoke over the low house,

braced in foothills, levers a criterion of height,

I write a letter.

2  I write love messages,

notes to what would widen as I near,

to the flower of the universe of life.

3  It intoxicates with love in lovelessness.

4  It replies

with lines, threads, braids that parse the sky diagonally,

settling on my heart in happy dampness like the cloud fog

nutrient of trees.

5  Is it not this that accentuates the vision?

6  The moon,

shepherding lambs, nannying, twists wool in skeins

and weaves strands of clouds, protected by a magic

ring of light.

7  I see the sun reflected in the moon.

8  I see the moon’s face in the mountain halo.

9  The moon sent me a beam of divination from its peak,

its face fallen upon the face of earth.





10  To me, these two moons are two strings.

11  Are two lands with a single tongue, the chord.

12  This bacillus dialect,

untreatable infection, this I spread through the world,

overlooking both the Homers and the mountaintops,

found different from either kind —

here I am, alive, able to act.

13  I still may be a future

holy mountain, classic, constellation, river…

14  I’ll make what’s in my favor!

15  I’ll make my own America — never mind another.

16  This one offers me prosperity in person…




17  Cleansing me

vigorously with a torrent, the cosmogonal magic of roads

is readying an apple resurrection on an upper floor

where clouds yield to an orchard.

18  Bridge trampolines

prevent a fall, impel into the sky on every curve.

19  Our journey unfolds, escorted by heralds,

instructors, conductors, our speed regulated

by rules not meant for traditional movement.

20  Indian settlements’ secret spirit

on furniture of housing hills, high on the mountain plateau,

holds thick meshwork lore of steel smelters awaiting the miraculous

from expiating heat, pioneers’ rite of sacrificial


21  Have no doubt,

it’s my habit to remember where the route ought to lead…




22  High places’ inseam, storm-front parades —

lilac, blue, grey, brown shapes shedding one quill

of downy carmine — all trumpets me upright.




23  It could be time to stand.

24  It could be

time to tend to a promised thing again.

25  My caprice of hieroglyphs,

my encoding forms a twine-knot letter, like digits that record

a massed orchestra, its rise to a new range, a new height

in continuing performance.







“Sonnet 9,” the Psalms’ programmatic overture, was written with the original title “Sonnet for the Key-keeper,” in sequence with the cycle’s coda, “Twine-Knot Message.”  Both psalms appeared in June 1999 during a brief trip north beyond California along America’s West Coast.  When first in America, visiting to exhibit and lecture ten years before Psalms, the author initially encountered the Pacific Ocean during a stay in San Diego, in California’s far south.  Reaching the country’s far northwest helped round out the range of impressions begun in the south.  On the whole, the first psalm’s images occur within a broader survey of the “infant continent,” along with the microcosm of Big Sur.


sonnet – The author calls the first psalm a sonnet not by form but as a “declaration of love.”

9 – “A number related to feelings of love,” and with semantic weight at certain levels in various numerological systems, included those connected with music.

hero born strapping, cabin – The character, setting and scene of awakening from slothful dormancy on the stove are archetypal for Russian folk and fairy tales.  Comparable imagery may be found in American folklore.

Fujiyama – The author conceives the image as interpreted by the Japanese artist Hokusai, the creator of the series Views of Mount Fuji.  The presence of the sacred mountain — whether as the compositional center or an almost accidental detail — gives each of the varied scenes an added dimension of meaning, situating them in a larger scale.

Seventh chord – A chord which in its root position consists of a triad plus a seventh interval (septime) above the root.  References to harmonic musical relations are woven through the fabric of the Psalms.

Peter, rock, key-keeper – The name received by the apostle means rock and may recall “Peter’s city,” Petersburg.  According to tradition, Peter, the rock on whom the church is built, is entrusted with the keys to heaven.

First there was the word.  – Compare with the opening of the Gospel of John:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

he must pass the lesser and great rivers – Compare with the I Ching‘s “The ford across the great river is favorable.”

apples tart – The author developed a special relationship with apple themes upon acquiring an old log cabin, surrounded by an apple orchard, in the deserted village of Plotavets in the Pskov region.  Several years of periodic contact with ancient forms of material culture, as with primeval nature, left a definite mark on the author’s vision.  This first experience of solitude in a “slumbering corner” of provincial Russia proved resonant with the spirit of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, while also serving as a crash course in the realities of traditional subsistence living, naturally involving proximity to wild bears along with other neighbors.  The theme figures in the author’s visual art, including the works “Yin and Yang of Apple Blossoms” and “Plotavets Angel.”

bear, grizzly – A totemic animal for Russia as well as California before European settlers decimated the species.  The grizzly bear, adopted as the state’s symbol, became additionally significant for the author when she studied Father Junipero Serra’s cenotaph at the Carmel Mission (the monument stands apart from Serra’s actual resting place beneath the basilica’s altar).  Sculptor Jo Mora’s composition includes the likeness of a bear cub reposing at the deceased Serra’s feet.

World – In reading the English text, it bears note that the translated Russian svet has two meanings, simultaneously denoting “light” and “world.”

New World, West Coast – In Apraksina’s own words (in “Big Sur Triptych featuring Kerouac”):  “California is the westernmost part of the Western mainland; as for America, so for the whole world.  But California, too, has its own extreme — and extremely wild — West.  Big Sur.  Really, the West can be wild not only in America.  It may be that any west in one sense or another can be called wild:  it is the direction where light disappears.  In ancient China it symbolized the past, and was likewise favorable for the receipt of knowledge.  ‘Bodhisatva comes from the West,’ as everyone knows.  Moving from the sunset side, bearing the knowledge received there.  With this in mind, it is also worth recalling that ‘the Savior is born in the East,’ where the morning star ascends.  The East gives up its light to the West in exchange for knowledge, for what in turn may call forth new light.  A person is drawn to the West in perceiving the time has arrived for a former inner light to be extinguished, submerged in the great ocean of unbeing and timelessness.  Then from the other side of this ocean the newborn sun may rise, bearing the morning light of new life.”

totem of the male – A portrayal of a bear is a favorite compositional element in Native American totem poles.




“Secret of the Vertical” was the author’s first psalm chronologically, a kind of test.  It appeared while the cycle’s character remained uncertain, although the verse’s form and scale clearly differed from the author’s previous writing.


forest boat – The proportions of the author’s hut, as well as the elevation given it by underpinning piers, recalled a ship, as also evident in the author’s cycle of canyon drawings “Ship in the Forest” and in the Psalms — for example, in (9) and (14).

cloud suspension – Dense fog accumulating in canyons is one of the most reliable phenomena in Big Sur.

crept to the mountains – During the day, the conspiratorial fog may hang over the ocean in a wall some ways off shore.  Toward evening the front assaults the land.

I compose a letter – The author seeks to maintain ties with Petersburg.

Armies…priding themselves on their serious mission – Evokes one of the Psalms’ main themes.  Compare with “lines of troops” in (9).

Giants feed on cloud – Water mined from fog supports the growth of Big Sur’s gigantic redwoods.  These trees tend to form an especially dense canopy in canyons, which naturally comprise the fog’s main routes and reservoirs.  The author’s canyon hut stood two or three miles inland in a redwood-ringed clearing.




“Night of the Equinox” describes a nocturnal visit to a real setting in Big Sur, Partington Cove.  The author was brought there for the spring equinox.  In recent years in Petersburg the author observed the equinox by organizing a music festival, “March Solo.”  On the ocean’s shore, the elements themselves provided music.  The rocky coast and the slot of the cove powerfully amplified the sound of waves.  The moonless night kept the water and the coast itself hidden, with only the outlines of mountains under incredibly bright stars and an otherworldly panoply of details discernable on either side of the trail.  The author, not knowing the way, followed her guide down a steep incline to a tunnel through a mountain to a former dock site — the remnant of a bid to establish industry in Big Sur in the 19th century.


Virgil, Dante – The Roman poet and his Italian successor, led by Virgil through hell and purgatory in Divine Comedy, as emblems of the author’s night venture.

oracle – Part of a line of imagery associated with divination and other sides of ancient spirituality.

Beethoven – In an interview, the author relates these allusions to the composer to an experience of the unity of cosmic and human nature while listening to the Seventh Symphony in the forest at night in Northern California, ten years before writing the Psalms.

highway number one – Highway One runs near the ocean along most of the California coast.

Dies irae – Day of Wrath (Latin).  Describing Judgment Day, this sequence, traditionally included in the Western Church’s funeral mass, became the basis for many composers’ works and generally a part of culture.  A painting by the author on the subject was suggested by a performance of Verdi’s Requiem.

wave – Apraksina’s relationship with this theme in Big Sur began with her first visit to the shore, where a wave knocked her down and almost dragged her away, along with her documents.




“Mass” exists because the author traveled to California with a recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor.  The author’s long relationship with this work is attested to by her paintings (1992, 1995) based on its performance.  Bach’s Mass often served as a backdrop for creativity and translation work in the canyon and beyond.


sequences – A musical term for melodic phrases repeated at different pitches.

Babel constructions – Compare with the tower in (17) and the “grounds of a temple” in (6).

great man – A central concept in various wisdom traditions, including the ancient Chinese legacy recalled by other aspects of the text.

stops intruding – Reminiscent of the principle of non-action in Taoism and elsewhere in Eastern philosophy.

marathon circuit – An image possibly prompted in part by the annual Big Sur Marathon on the coastal highway.




The “Lap of the Canyon” image corresponds with the contour of the landscape where the author lived:  a rounded depression transected by a mountain stream’s flow down-canyon toward the ocean.


March, April – Traditional months of rainstorms in Big Sur.

Heaven, Earth – In Chinese philosophy, Heaven and Earth may signify opposing principles, including active Creativity (Yang) and yielding Receptivity (Yin).

Solomon’s Temple – The canyon equivalent of the temple’s legendary magnificence combines the walls, columns and splendor of nature itself with a humble range of human infrastructure — some discovered on-site, some added by the author.

Tap water and a table, a boulder altar for offerings – In the clearing, the table — the same as in (15) — stood downslope from the author’s hut.  Beside the table was a primitive open hearth fashioned of river rocks bound with cement.  The hearth’s main sacrifice at the time was wastepaper, including drafts of manuscripts.

purgatory – In the afterlife, a place for souls’ atonement.  Canyon life had a quality recalling passage to the next world, as well as intimations of resurrection (13, 18) after Judgment Day (3).

decorations for the working stage –  Stage and opera imagery figures alongside that of music throughout the Psalms (also in 10, 11, 12 and elsewhere).




The title “Monk in the Soul” suggests that although the psalm describes a specific person and one of his places, the theme also delineates the author’s inner condition.  Of the dedication, the author notes, “Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan monk often called California’s founder, established the chain of the California Territory’s first Catholic missions in the 17th century…  He walked up and down California countless times.  Because of him, California has the face familiar to us.  The psalm describes Mission San Carlos, in Carmel.  His cell has been preserved in the museum there.  Seeing this cell made an absolutely unbelievable impression on me.”  The psalm in part depicts this cell and its contents.  Like others in California, the Carmel Mission was built by Native Americans under Spanish guidance, as reflected in the curves of the walls, as if raised by hands unused to right angles.  The author sees the mission as an authentic example of historical, cultural and spiritual strata craved in California, with options confined to the “temple” of nature and the “nominal walls” of her own plywood dwelling.


monk – An archetype which the author also considers in its Far East incarnation.

disowning yourself – Serra is known for his asceticism.

dreaming while awake, dream state – The material of dreams and visions is of great importance for the author as a potential axis for everyday life.




The panoramic “Magnitude,” which the author calls the “heart of the Psalms,” forms something of an opposite to the preceding psalm’s enclosed cell.  The title (razmér) as translated accounts less explicitly than the original for an aspect of the word connected with poetic meter.


high-voltage transmissions – Like the cut of the Big Sur highway, the line of wires paralleling it forms a counterpoint to the massive slopes of the Santa Lucias, pitched steeply toward the ocean.  Together with the road, this line provides a precious vector of exit.

feet still harbor the memory of oceanic salt…seagrass – A frequent cause to visit the shore was to harvest seaweed from the beach or directly from the cold water.

we walk, the two of us – The author made a habit of taking day walks on the canyon roads.  In Petersburg, Apraksina also regularly walked at night, but in Big Sur this regrettably proved impossible on the unlit forest roads.

violin section summits – A key phrase in the philosophical geometry of the Psalms.  The author emphasizes that sound combinations convey meaning as much as do the sense of the words themselves.  This principle, found at work throughout the Psalms, also influences the translation.

transfiguration wine – The presumed sacred gift in the Eucharistic liturgy.  The Psalms can be seen as a narrative of baptism and communion in nature (here and in 4, 13, 15, etc.).

combs of the Old Testament – Represented, for instance, in psalmody.

caryatid – A classical architectural detail consisting of a supporting column sculpted as a human figure.  Typical in Petersburg architecture.




“Homer” records a layer of impressions associated with the scope and timelessness of classical epics.


blind wanderer pays me a call – These words may well imply an actual vision, while also pointing to the traveling author’s sense of kinship with the wandering poet, an affinity possibly extending to his hero Ulysses.

temple – General term for a place of worship.

name is inscribed in the marks of all tongues.  At the mouth of each river… – Examples of letters and words of natural origin, suggesting a humanized universe.

eucalyptus – A grove of the Australian trees, planted in California in the 19th century to mitigate settlement issues, grew at the mouth of the canyon.

asks — do not intrude – Compare with “when he stops intruding” (4).

speaks of more than blindness…garrison morale – Behind such phrases lies a range of specific critique of cultural and political mores.

no optometry can classify in charts – Antipathy toward mechanistic treatment of humanity is characteristic of the author.




Typically for the Psalms, the somewhat ironic title image of “Freeway” equates phenomena considered natural with those customarily regarded as soulless — perhaps unfoundedly.


Why am I not a leaf? – A condition familiar to the individual secluded in nature, sensing commonalities with it as well as the implosion of personal conscious life distinguished from the environment.

lodge of Masons – Interestingly, the Masonic movement was fundamentally shaped by the ideal of “Solomon’s Temple” (5) and the importance of the idea of temple building as such (1, 5, 6, 8, 17).  The subject has its resonance in the life of Mozart.

patience, well enough known as it is the world over – By the time of the events noted in the Psalms, the author had shown ample fortitude in her life, and it was somewhat disagreeable to start from scratch in many ways, despite the enormous creative impetus implied in the predicament itself.

Don Giovanni, Commodore – For the author, primarily characters in Mozart’s opera.  Unlike the author, Don Giovanni personifies shamelessness, while remaining a Romantic hero.  In the story, he mockingly extends a dinner invitation to the statue of the Commodore, whom he has recently slain in a duel.  The statue agrees and, coming to dinner, sees the joker off to hell.

flimsy home…roof and walls – The hut was memorably ramshackle.  During inclement weather, the structure seemed bound to slide down the steep slope.  Rain seeped through the flat roof despite attempts to provide a new composite covering and a defensive tarp, which needed regular sweeping during storms to keep the water’s weight from buckling the underlying layers.

don’t butt in beneath the…wheels – Seemingly another exhortation to non-action.




“Twilight” forms a hushed interlude between acts of the Psalms.  The impressions here trace the route from Big Sur’s more populated center to the turn into the canyon, with darkness growing toward nightfall.


Vestal Virgins’ fire – The sacred fire tended by the Roman priestesses of the goddess Vesta.

tonic triad – The combination of a scale’s three primary tones (the root, third and fifth).  Considered the most stable chord in a scale.

cows in herds – The Big Sur cattle grazed fearlessly on the steepest slopes and, as the author liked to note, wore “freshly laundered suits” — especially after a strong rain.

Middle Ages’ pantheon – A set of superstitions typical for the medieval era (ghosts, witches, goblins…).

era earlier than Adam – The Psalms can be read as the progressive experience of a new creation of the world.




One physical “Pass” the author regularly negotiated in the canyon lay not far from the hut, although this distance could seem formidable depending on weather conditions and general well-being.  The hut stood near a primitive private road, sometimes blocked when trees fell during storms.  A little higher up from where this route met the main canyon road, a wide view opened onto the next canyon, where the road continued.  On walks, reaching at least this spot was important.  The ideal was to arrive while the view remained clear, then watch the fog rapidly creep up from the ocean.


Commodore, Don Giovanni – Echoes of the leitmotif in (9), now in the realm of emotions.  More indications of opera dynamics on the canyon’s narrow stage.

what needed drinking – On the fringes of creative experience, Mozart drank coffee with cognac.  In the canyon, coffee without cognac fueled the author’s spirit.

challenge – The author could sense her task in California as a challenge on multiple levels, from the trip itself to the primitive lodgings in the mountains, from full-scale immersion in poetry to choosing American subjects and a personal approach to them.

since childhood conditioned to a life at miracles’ convenience – Not a privileged relationship with miracles, but an early belief in the untenability of trust in rational approaches.  Ultimately both sublime and ordinary life depend on the miraculous in every last detail.

palace ceremonial – The heritage of royal and aristocratic life forms a natural part of the culture of Petersburg.

antique style – In both content and style, the Psalms respect antiquity as well as the broader classical heritage.

firefly – For a long while, a certain star burned with unusual brightness in the middle of the sky to the west of the canyon.

trail in swampland… heaven’s path – The inner dynamic of crossing a pass overlays impressions from a trip along the Old Coast Road, which leads toward the center of Big Sur by a still more narrow and winding way, at a higher altitude, than the present-day coastal highway replacing the historic route.  The outmoded road can still convey a profound sense of the territory’s isolation.  More imagery from this road figures, for example, in (12).

curling in the gate – The point of exit from the private one-lane dirt driveway to the main canyon road featured a primitive gate in the livestock-keeping mode.

caduceus – A winged staff entwined with two snakes.  Known since antiquity as a symbol of heralds, among other meanings.

snake bodies – In addition to the rich literary, mythological and theological connotations of snake themes, the author was born in an astrological year of the Snake.

Tenth Symphony – Even now, although primarily on the evidence of a particular historical period, tenth symphonies have a reputation for fatefulness, since for a number of composers the threshold of the Tenth proved insurmountable, with Beethoven only one among them.

HIS HAND STRETCHES OUT – A recurring phrase in the book of the prophet Isaiah:  for example, 14:27.  The author wrote these words with a large brush on paper and hung the sheet by her hut’s doorway.




“Art of the Fugue” is the second psalm suggested by the music of Bach.  Like the Mass in B Minor, Bach’s fugue cycle traveled from Petersburg to California in the author’s bags.  Apraksina had already explored the notion of an art of the fugue in her painting “Nature of the Fugue” (1989).  The painting’s title seems to indicate a belief in the fugue as a natural phenomenon as well as one potentially artificial (creatively reproducible).  This perspective, with precedents in ancient sources and modern science, is affirmed in the twelfth psalm.  The author may see an analogy between the versatility of Bach’s principle and her own aims.


Solaris – Not the sun, but an intelligent ocean planet, in the novel by Stanislaw Lem and the film by Andrei Tarkovsky.

the work regime of splendid orchestras – Over years of studying the theme of musical performance, the author essentially lived by orchestra musicians’ schedules.




The psalm “Implantation,” which often ends the author’s readings, takes up the impulse professed in (7) for development in the cycle’s second half.


expired celebrations – Biographical allusion related to occasional polar shifts in the author’s life.  The California journey forms but one vivid example.

gold – This primarily refers, of course, to the wealth and purity of creative ore, although the author was drawn to the subject of the California Gold Rush, and particularly its miners’ psychology.

branding iron – A tattoo seared on the hides of livestock, denoting their ownership.

laser line of life – In St. Petersburg, many found Apraksina’s style of driving complementary to her art.  In California, she was intrigued by how the road markings differed from those in Russia, especially reading the continuous white edge lines as connoting a trajectory of faith.

knowing no sunup, made only for settings – On the coast, the mountains block the eastern sky, and the morning sun comes into view only toward noon.  The sunset, however, is rendered long and remarkable by the low line of the ocean horizon.  The sun’s setting into the ocean tints the landscape with hues of blood and flame.  The symbolic relation between sunrise and sunset is noted in the commentary on (1).

prints – In ancient China, the best examples of calligraphy were customarily reproduced on stone (sometimes wood), chiseling them on a prepared slab so that those interested might obtain a copy of the masterpiece.  To this end, the slab was painted and covered with a sheet of rice paper, capable of quickly absorbing moisture.  The psalm refers to “inscriptions” of natural origin, especially those on coastal rock formations.




In the lexicon of daily canyon life, the idea of “sailors” had a narrow local meaning.  Occasionally some visitor, desirous of views, would stroll out onto the deck on the hut’s roof.  Yet the sound of tramping feet overhead only concentrated the author’s attention on the “cosmos mariners,” portrayed in the psalm as administrators, servants of Providence — much as, elsewhere, the work describes armies, musicians, monks, poets…


asphalt crust over earth’s neurons…, trails from aircraft… – Signs of human co-authorship as an intrinsic part of the intelligent planet (see 12’s Solaris), its beauty and meaning.

pontiff – Roman prototype of Christianity’s bishop and Pope.

shaman – A leading figure in nature religions, traditionally serving a tribe and for its well-being establishing ties with the spirit world.  The shaman, like the pontiff, arises in the framework of the Psalms’ religious syncretism.

masons’ pyramid – Topped by an All-Seeing Eye, a symbol present in the Great Seal of the United States, among other contexts.

Spanish frigates – The Big Sur coastline struck terror in the first Europeans to sight it.  Sailing past and not daring to land, Spanish seafarer Juan Cabrillo wrote, “It appears as though [the mountains] would fall on the ships.”

don’t disturb…their regimented service – The ideals of non-action and service as two sides of the same quality.  Compare, for instance, with “stops intruding” (4) and “I remain alive while I am serving” (16).

I’m likely told as much…as by the Revelations – Perhaps reminiscent of Galileo’s adage, “The Book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics,” along with parallels between the “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Scripture” since antiquity.

square and circle…coupling – In ancient Chinese symbology, the circle represents Heaven (creativity) and the square, Earth (logic, receptivity).  The attributes’ union yields the sphere of consciousness.  These poles’ irrational alignment may be understood in light of the problem of squaring the circle.

every sound may splash at will – Compare, say, with “nothing but the medium of sounds” (10) or “They all have their own line…” (16).




In the canyon clearing, besides the path the author’s feet regularly wore near the “Table,” the hut’s window opened onto a view of the old picnic site.  The same table appears with varying degrees of otherworldliness in the author’s canyon drawings and lyric poetry.  This table was impossible not to notice, although just what made it so striking is hard to say — in part, the “rather strange proportions,” along with its origin among the bygone strata of settlers who pioneered the territory.  Later acquaintance with them revealed that the table was made to seat Boy Scouts.  The true fate of the forest table, however, remained a mystery to its builders.  The table’s “airfield” becomes symbolic of fulfilling such hopes as recorded, for instance, in (4), for “practically mounting aviation’s airframe,” the mind, and in (11), the “search for special coordinates.”


For me, too, nothing human is alien – Paraphrased from the Roman writer Terence’s “I am human, nothing human is alien to me,” which Karl Marx once called his favorite saying, conceivably enhancing its popularity in some quarters.  In the post-perestroika period, the aphorism’s citation (moreover, by the Psalms’ author) seems slightly provocative.  Nonetheless, the table in fact becomes a locus for studying an area of philosophy not alien to Marx — the task of establishing things’ true identities (“absolutes of naming”), in contrast to “nominal meaning”:  conventional or personal, positive or negative.

August workdays – Fragments of this psalm appeared in August as the author edited the basic text.

coding stand – Compare, for instance, with “my encoding…” (18).




Intriguingly, the psalm “To the Choirmaster” has its origins in a return visit, now by day, to the same place whose appearance by night is described in (3).  Here the destroying wave of “Night of the Equinox” is seen as a creative force.  The psalm’s title stems from one translation of a heading to many Biblical psalms, where it signifies instructions to send the text to the chief musician for setting to fit the type of performance — for instance, “on stringed instruments.”


TUTTI – Musical term deriving from the Italian word for “all,” indicating a new entrance of the full orchestra.

northern river’s granite waters – The channel of the Neva, Petersburg’s main river, is lined with granite slabs.

Great Hall – Petersburg’s Hall for the Assembly of the Noble, after the revolution the main hall of the Philharmonic Orchestra.  The Philharmonic itself played a decisive role in the author’s creative life.

Spasskiy (Savior’s) Island – One of the islands where Petersburg’s center was built.  The site of the author’s apartment and studio in Russia.  When, after living for many years on Spasskiy, Apraksina learned its name — less widely known in that era — she took it literally, as a sign of a Savior, a source of salvation.  When she heard of the former autonomy of Big Sur’s geological bedrock from America’s continental mainland, as a separate island, this detail overlaid her sense of the California setting  as Spasskiy Island’s looking-glass reflection.

Fontanka – An artificial channel of the Neva in Petersburg, forming one side of Spasskiy Island.  The Fontanka’s proximity to the author’s home encouraged a profound relationship with this river.




The last psalm in order of composition, “Tower,” appeared in July after the author’s return from the trip where she wrote (1) and (18).  Regarding the dedication of “Tower,” the author notes, “The poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) is generally seen as the face of poetry in California in the mid-20th century.  His surviving estate includes the coastal house and three-story tower he built himself from granite boulders…”  As it happened, the author, having learned about Jeffers and the site of his constructions on the edge of Big Sur, in Carmel, read his poetry and visited the house and tower only after writing the rest of the Psalms.  Jeffers’ poetry and edifices struck the author as adequate responses to the authentic coast.  Sensing Jeffers’ personality as if through the stones, she grew interested in his biography and reflected extensively on his creative seclusion and other aspects of his fate.


hawk – The author notes that Jeffers’ Hawk Tower is “adorned with a depiction of the totemic bird.”  Many of Jeffers’ poems express a sense of kinship with the hawk, with the bird’s likeness evident in the poet’s own features.

blizzard – Jeffers died during a blizzard — exceptionally rare weather for his parts, but predicted by the poet in lines where he imagines his passing.




The title “Twine-Knot Message” relates to an ancient form of writing, found among the Maya and other indigenous American peoples, using knots in cord, sinew and the like.  The final psalm performs the role of a coda, with echoes of the contemporaneous overture (1) and the themes and motifs of the whole evoked there—from more discrete examples, like the “snowy mountain” (1, 8), steel (1), pioneers (1), Native Americans (1, 14), writing epistles (2) and Homer (8), to those highly concentrated throughout the Psalms, concerning  movement over spiritual bridges and roads; vision and hearing for receiving the encoded signals of the elements and Universe; symbiosis in nature; and musical themes.


mountain – A distillation of the range of the Olympic Mountains, extending southward from the psalm’s scene.

Angel port – The earthly setting is the town of Port Angeles in the far northwest of Washington state.  The author stayed there briefly as a guest while traveling the coast.

low house – A sense of vivid contrast between daily life in the small town that the author visits for a time and the aloofness of the mountains, with their constant reminder of ultimate truth.

apple resurrection – An apple orchard on the grounds of a motel near Mount Shasta on the way out of California.

bacillus – The antidote that overcomes spiritual ailments and promotes wholeness.  According to the author, “the only bacillus that every person needs.”

digits that record – The author, not a proponent of so-called digital civilization, likely alludes here to the basic meaning of digits latent within the common modern perspective.  The English translation thus sidesteps the phrase “digital recording.”

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