BY JOHN FITZGERALD
The Mind by John FitzGerald is a collection so profound, extraordinary, and almost unbearably beautiful, that I keep going back to it time and again to replenish spirit.
It is composed of eleven chapters, containing a series of parts made of nine lines each, divided into three tercets.
Its pattern is that of a circular labyrinth, which takes the reader to the heart or center of human consciousness through a series of nine philosophical journeys. At the beginning, the poet is “Removed From the Center,” then experiences “Fear,” “Time,” “Beauty and Truth,” “Death,” “I,” “Prophesy,” “Rules,” “Choice,” and “A Mind like the Wind,” before “Regaining the Center.”
This metaphysical labyrinth is a powerful meditation device, which not only brings solace but also transformation and healing. I could never be the same after reading The Mind.
In the opening poem, “One,” we begin our journey alone.
Pain is darkness.
You can tell when you close your eyes and it’s still there.
The thing that really disappears is light.
Removed from the center of the world,
I am alone, but that’s not the point.
There is no center as my life expands,
at least, not for more than an instant.
That is why time acts the way it does—
it knows the center is everywhere.
The poet makes several attempts in his journey. This spiral also embodies an ongoing, perpetual quest whose challenges are all-consuming. It also mirrors our universe – our Milky Way is known as a spiral galaxy – which is reflected in the mind.
Fear is one of the main protagonists in the story that keeps the poet from reaching the center. Yet, just like all the obstacles we need to overcome to become whole, it is also a door. “Fear has a face that disappears whenever I look into it. / Removed from the center of the world, / I am afraid, and that is the point. / Fear is a hole between two places. / Some might call it a door.”
And so, down the rabbit whole we go, as door after door is opened, and the poems call to one another in circular motion. The Mind delves into questions of identity, in particular sections “I” and “Time,” which map FitzGerald’s quest to know himself, to find his core. The existential question is posed here: “Here, where spaces / and lines intersect, is exactly where I should be. / Yet such measurements only serve to prove / that the mind doesn’t seem to exist.” In order to know oneself, one has to leave home.
Moreover, the Greek god of time Chronos and Zeus’ Titan father Kronos, are easily conflated: “Time’s father is the only one that begs for change. / He says maybe the only purpose for time is coincidence, / that’s how it recreates itself.” Time and death are intertwined. Even though only one section is titled Death, its shadow lingers over the whole book, for it is a tribute to the poet’s father, who died when he was only eighteen.
Coming to terms with his father’s death, FitzGerald explores loss and grief in a writing that is concise, rigorous, and so exquisite it takes your breath away. Berryman’s influence on FitzGerald is undeniable. He too was haunted by his father’s death. From “Dream Song #143”:
I’ll sing you now a song
the like of which may bring your heart to break:
he’s gone! and we don’t know where.
That mad drive wiped out my childhood. I put him down
while all the same on forty years I love him
stashed in Oklahoma
The presence of Rilke’s ghost too can be felt. As the poet travels in time, between darkness and light, and faces death, he can “But wonder whether demons manifest in body / fears that angels kept unconscious.” He is unafraid to follow his path into darkness, yet it is light he chooses: “If there is a reflection of light in an otherwise dark pool of water, / that’s the part I want to drink.”
And rebirth: “The mind shoots up out of the dust as if from nowhere” … “and restart the whole process anew.”
“Let us question each verse till it shows us.” This is the work of a master about the process of writing, “Rule three is write what the mind provides.” FitzGerald is a keen observer par excellence, whose expanded sense of time and sheer joy in creativity are combined with intense wonder. He is analytical yet emotions run high.
The Mind is a remarkable, elegant collection of transcendental, primal beauty by a formidable poet, whose work never ceases to astound.