GREGORY O'BRIEN

Ode to Thought

Each was handed a toy yacht. Each was
      destined for the windward end

            of the pond. Such was
                  the thinking, thought being

            the boat that sets the lake in motion, the child running
      around the perimeter.

There to sail. And so
      each learns to amend or adjust his

            waterish ways—in the morning park
                  where even the youngest head is polished

            by thought, as indeed the eyes are
      by what they have seen

and what they have
      never seen. It is thinking which leads us

            by Ferris wheel or chariot,
                  paternoster or by way

            of the Temple of Higher Thought back
      to the inscribed ceiling

inside the head, the spiral staircase
      down which each thought

            clambers. Glamorous, seasonal,
                  holding the light to best

            advantage, the human head
      might at once appear fruit-like—or

carved from a rare or common
      vegetable, and placed, accordingly, at the very centre

            of the composition. Who would have thought?
                  With you firmly in mind, noticing also

            a preoccupation with clouds, billowing drapes,
      tropical birds. And the danger that, at any moment, thought

might be usurped by its more attractive
      French aunt, nostalgia. Elsewhere,

            the human head must compete with the vase
                  as an object of beauty, research,

            probability—what immense spaces
      are summoned forth—this head

upon which inappropriate or inadmissible
      hats have been placed.

            Armies might have marched before it
                  or on its account ... And the snow

            above and below every thinking
      and unthinking

thing ... A flying machine or other such contraption
      might land or hover there.

            What else lurks beneath the marble
                  forehead, the inscrutable dome? All manner

            of improper thinking or thoughts—
      an apartment block, a woman, lost in thought,

beholding herself in a Polish
      mirror ... Who is responsible for this?

            And what were they thinking? An act
                  of errant thoughtlessness or just another instance

            of thought as it is handed down to us
      from our friends in high places, the clouds—

the earth’s brains, as they
      are sometimes thought of. You don’t need to look

            far to find a suggestion of the human head
                  in the middle of everything—precisely etched or

            rendered by a blunt pencil, as if
      in fog. At times a head might be

a target. Was that a woman’s
      shoe? A slim volume of verse? Could someone explain

            that thin, impetuous shadow
                  moving at speed? Or, out on the quivering pond

            where two thoughts are jostling for windward
      advantage, replacing one another until at last

both are replaced by another thought
      entirely. The phrase ‘I have been thinking

            about you’ could never just be
                  just an afterthought. Or ‘I was not thinking

            straight’—as if a yacht would ever take
      the direct route across this

or any pond. I think
      not. The direction of thinking having taken us

            thus far, on its circuitous route,
                  on this November morning

            when the head of each man and woman
      entertains only one encompassing thought:

a woollen hat and scarf, buttoned coat
      the play of snow upon
            those things

                  that snow
                        plays upon.

                              Paris—Berlin, 23 November 2008

Gregory O’Brien is an independent writer, teacher, painter, literary critic and art curator with many books of poetry, fiction, essays and commentary to his name. Recent projects include the poetry collection Beauties of the Octagonal Pool (Auckland University Press, 2012) and art book Hanly (Ron Sang Publications, 2012), A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy (AUP, 2011) and Euan Macleod (Piper Press, 2010), as well as a catalogue for the touring exhibition Kermadec. In 2012 he was made an Arts Foundation Laureate and received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in non-fiction.

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