The Emerald Tablet
for Alberto Manguel and Craig Stephenson
This is to do with lostness
with believing that the truth
is buried in some special place
difficult to find
and some hero of ancient wisdom
Moses Borges Gandalf
that stern but kind
omniscient oracle-giving grandfather you never had
will pop out of the green out of the woodwork
to rescue and reveal it to you.
It will be encrypted on a slab of emerald
in exquisite bas-relief lettering
similar to the earliest Phoenician script
by the king of a forgotten world.
It will contain formulae for an antique magic
going back to early Egypt
transparent in our world as a flame in daylight
but still with power to burn
and will tell you that what is inward
buried in earth in flesh and in your mind
is also the bright surface of the world outside
and is divine.
It will start by saying above is the same as below
meaning I think our loneliness is not alone
and will go on to say that spirit
your own spirit but also a universal energy
if you feel you belong
is not trying to split away
from atoms of your body
as we are told
the Christians say
but is embedded in nature
and you yourself are the crucible
in which base metal can be turned to gold.
This is to do with transformation
to do with the dead
and where they are in you
once they are gone.
I have installed my mum’s photo
in a wooden frame
by the kettle
so we see her in the dark as we make coffee.
This is to do with astray.
Above is the same as below
so I trickle down the black iron nerve
of a station I don’t understand
I have lost my mobile phone
with its mysteriously living map
the blue pulsar of identity has disappeared
and the section of my little foldout guide
is scuffed torn unreadable
exactly where I was hoping to go.
Value. Loss. Looking back
where do you start to recover
that pealing of bells
you hadn’t known you’d taken for granted
when somebody who really
One sleepless night after the funeral
I saw for sale on the net
an Emerald Tablet Key-Ring made in Seville
a resin replica of what it might
have looked like verified
by the International Guild of Alchemists.
I sent off for one but the resin feels like soapy biscuit
and the mystic marks mean nothing. Who knows
what it looked like anyway? All they have
is the words. People say Balinas the Wise
discovered it in the eighth century
he entered a cave in Sri Lanka
saw a statue of Hermes god of dreams
climbed down into the vault beneath
where an old man was sitting on a throne
holding a tablet glowing in the dark green
as mistletoe on a winter branch.
Balinas jotted down what it said in Arabic.
Jung saw it too in a dream of the unconscious
as a shimmering table of green stone
in an Italian loggia
above white rocks and a sapphire lagoon
that sunlit place where we might all feel in touch
with what is deepest in us
longing as we do for the adept
who will see our truth and not be appalled
and who will write down
or in a dream
what the writing in our own cave means
and turn it into a key to live by.
We are all trying in our way to understand
secrets of nature secrets of the soul.
Why are we talking of the end of the world?
We’ve met as arranged in the glass hall
of a library full of light
and talk of the lure of hidden knowledge.
Over salad and linguini
all the animals of the wilderness
the shy white helleborine orchid
and the hidden paths
to and from the cedar forest
mourn with the backward grace
of a cry from the broken-open heart
for all our mothers. Elegy
is trembling in the shadow
of the faded half-moon globes
on their slender pistachio columns
marking each descent to the subway.
Trust me. I’m giving you an amulet.
This is your journey no one else’s.
Your passage through love
is and will go on being a perpetual process.
Touch the threshold slab
from days of your childhood.
Climb the worn stairway
to the terrace of York stone
patched with rosemary tortuosa and blue thyme.
Walk the parapet your hair blowing in the wind
and study the foundations
laid by the Seven Sages remember?
Enter the temple the sanctum
unveil the box
unlatch the bronze lock
untie the silk cord
above the hidden opening
and take out a tablet of emerald
that tells of trials you endured.
The flowering orchards
and towering ziggurat say
This is you.
This is what you have made
of yourself so far. You quested
to boundaries of earth
for the meaning of life
and found it in your own backyard.
The tablet says you will emerge
in a magical garden by the sea
and enter the tavern of loss
which is also the moment of truth.
Set in Gold
This is death late
gentlest it could
she was ninety-seven had to happen
she was shatterproof
her last word
after Where am I?
when we said we were all here
was (encouraging us) Great
and Pluto took her
lord of the underworld
the only god sworn to tell the truth.