From the Greek hypothesis — literally, “a placing under”

What if it’s true: that as you walk,
another is walking within you, perfectly
coterminous with your own walking?
What if it’s true that as you sit,
another sits within, weathering you,
like the coal inside the ember?
I don’t like to think that our bodies
are mere vessels — or vassals —
but what if they were? It could explain
these odd, apparently random urges
to hold & be held, or to lose oneself
through concentration: the not-me within
wants to reach the not-me without.
Sounds plausible, doesn’t it? Maybe
that’s how a finger continues to itch
after the amputation of the arm, & why,
as we slowly tighten around our cores,
strands of white begin to appear
on our heads, an extra light glimmers
behind the eyes, & a network of cracks
under the skin begins to offer glimpses
of an inner blue: heaven is within,
just as the mystics always said! True
or not, it’s enough to make me think
about counting every last breath.

A revision of this poem from March 2008

18 Replies to “Hypothesis”

  1. Coincidentally, I was thinking about this in the last couple of days and now you’ve put it into words!
    I was wondering who exactly is the voice in my mind which argues and often disagrees with the “me” who is the actor of my life-script.
    So your image of the Other who sits within is a fine one.
    I think that this Other is probably the one who is wiser but it does not necessarily have the power to change us.
    I like this:
    “as we slowly tighten around our cores….”
    Ah! That’s what has to be done.

    1. Natalie, I’m glad this resonated with you. My thinking about the aging process in recent years has definitely been influenced by my friendships with beautiful female elders, including yourself: I am fascinated by all the ways in which we can confound societal expectations and not only remain attractive, but perhaps even grow more attractive in certain ways, especially given a lifetime of practice in beauty-promoting exercises such as laughter, curiosity, and surprise. All of which I suppose might be summarized as remaining attuned to otherness, within and without.

      It’s O.K. to hear voices as long as you can talk back to them. :)

  2. My gosh, you’re good. I wonder about tightening around our cores, though…I wonder how the image/notion of core moving from its central interior locus out into Other, out from itself into a synthesis and marriage of Self with Other, would work?

    1. Well, sure. My idea here was to challenge that dichotomy in a playful manner, but in the past I’ve written in much more concrete terms about the literal other-beings for which we are home and ecosystem. Even the organelles in our cells originated as separate beings. I actually find these revelations from modern science much more thought-provoking than the hoary old myths about soul and spirit, but I’m not prepared to fully abandon the myths yet.

  3. Kia ora Dave,
    I wonder if that is why, when I travel alone in the mountains, I get along with myself so well, even talking freely to that voice inside and having a conversation. Either that or I am cracking up.

  4. Well, well … mus be something in the wind this spring, since, like you and Natalie, I have been asking around and working with the same otherness of sorts in a small series of interviews with the self…Maybe I am cracking up too — or maybe, in this landscape of solo twitterings, I hunger for a bit of old fashioned dialogue, even if I have to have it with myself.

    1. Hey, most of my best writing comes from dialogues with myself. And thanks to the widespread use of cellphone and Bluetooth technology, I no longer have to worry about getting stange looks if I talk to myself in public.

  5. Yes, this hits the spot with me too. Beautifully thought through and captured Dave. Since living here in what passes for a relatively isolated spot in Wales (meaning I can go all day and see no-one but the postman) I’ve noticed how much I rely on the company of that half familiar, half stranger within, who argues with me, pricks my conscience and instigates surprising dialogues in which I feel almost as though I’ve been turned into a walking debating society. I’m not a poet, but I sometimes wonder whether this phenomenon bears any relationship with what poets do when creating poetry. I’m also beginning to worry about meeting people on my dog-walking rambles, because I’m aware that much of this goes on fairly audibly. Jack the terrier has the grace to look as though he’s interested in what I have to say, but I fear he’s humouring me. It’s a relief to know that others ponder on this stranger within, and are as puzzled as I am. What takes me aback is how much he/she/it catches me unaware, and I think a dozen times a day “Good grief! I barely know this ‘other’ who’s co-habiting my head!”

    ‘as we slowly tighten around our cores’ sounds so right, though sometimes I feel that I’m not tightening around my core at all, but loosening and unravelling, like a ball of garden twine that’s slipped its ordered tethering and has become a soft tangle where once it was sinewy and tight. But your notion seems right too. Sometimes things can be opposites and yet still mean the same, still capture the essential truthfulness of an experience. Clumsily put, but I hope you’ll know what I mean.

    1. No, that’s right: opposite notions often capture experience equally well from different perspectives, i think – I guess that’s why I’m a poet rather than a scientist!

      I do think our culture puts us at a disadvantage in only allowing for a single soul/spirit/self. Most other cultures have believed in two or more “strangers within” — even ones as closely related to our own as the pre-Christian Norsemen. We’ve iherited a radically simplified, depauperate ecosystem of the imagination.

  6. Like Clive, I feel more of a loosening around the core. Maybe some chestnut brown strands will return to the head.

  7. Dave, thanks for the flattering ‘beautiful female elder’ but she who sits in my inner core is around nine years old, or maybe seven. The outer me ages but the inner one stubbornly rejects chrono-logic. I suspect we all have a contrary creature within, as the interesting comments to this thread indicate. And I suspect the hoary old myths have a lot more in common with revelations from modern science than is apparent.

    1. Well, emotionally at least, I don’t know if very many of us ever made it out of childhood. As for rejecting chrono-logic, Charles Simic says somewhere that it’s a characteristic of poets to be continually amazed by the passage of time. I know that’s true for me. It sounds from what you’re saying that it ain’t just poets.

  8. Love this. And interesting comments, too. I think I may be unraveling also – or expanding and contracting in different areas – cracks don’t open up without expansion, do they? Frost heaves of the soul. Or I’m cracking up, as Robb said.

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