Robert Kelly: An Alchemical Journal

As promised —though delayed because of lack of internet connections in the Upper Pyrenees— here is the first installment of Robert Kelly’s An Alchemical Journal (first published in IO magazine #4, summer 1967 & reprinted in The Alchemist to Mercury, a collection of Kelly’s work edited by Jed Rasula in 1981. There will be about 10 installments to be published roughly one every second or third day. This schedule will be adhered to at least starting next Monday when I’ll be back home in Sorrentinostan, Brooklyn.




A N    A L C H E M I C A L     J O U R N A L


The car came for me today.

It is only those who are in some way in love with death to whom the Queen’s agents come.


Silence as instruction. Two kinds of Silence. Negative: silence as abstention from utterance [how to teach poetry]. Positive: silence as a shape to ram down their throats. In their ears. Bodies. Eyes. Shaped silence, against time.


Harpocrates is the Aion too. Silence of Hokhma. Silence of Binah. Michael Angelo’s grieving women. Tomb of Giuliano de’ Medici, my initiation into the sphere of Binah, into the urgency of poetry. Trey of Spades. Pique-Dame. Prick this woman. Grief. Something held to the lips. Aion. Eis aiona. No time.


Silence is the instruction. Al & Carola had a long way to drive. Overweening oracles. Naufrages. Simplicity. I remembered a story. Why I was there. Why the sun shone. They had a long way to go. Presence fills her. Her body turns over, she sees me watching her. How much is part of the automatic instructions. I will never ask or tell her, she will never tell or ask me.

Wanting to say brass ash tray she said brash ass. Her body turns over. Tambourines, as if those were silence. Whir of the fan. What the adept learns is that waiting for the right time is the same as making things up.

Rebels are walking the streets. “Anti-government forces, Boy Scouts & others who make up the rebel core.” Militant Buddhist youth organization. Her body in the sun. I dont want to look at gentle ease or suntanned knees. I want a gun. I dont need a gun, I want an enemy, I want a war. Kill the elms with soft green. Italic day, signature of the earth.


They are dead. That is they do not answer. What is this busyness of theirs they do not answer to our calls?


What a wonder Thomas Vaughan is, priceless consecutor of the real, of the plain & hidden flesh of man. How he hates Aristotle, disdains the feeble Weiaheit of Tyanaeus. He is here, he is here. The open eye of Matter. O you devil you, you beauty.

Today I look in the mirror. I see that my beard has billowed out & swarms around my eyes. Earlier I stood gasping for breath in the icy shower, only the lattice work wood floor of the stall separating me from the rough earth hole beneath. Between air & water I stood on wood. Between earth & air I stood in water. Only my breath was fire. Since then my hair has lain flat & wet, slow-drying in the grey wind. But my beard! L’homme dans le miroir m’a dit:
Je suis l’homme a barbe rouge.
You can’t do anything with me.

Outside there is a doghouse from which the dog has been removed, or from which he has wandered. It has plywood walls & a shingle roof. The gap in the front is irregular, the size but not the shape of a dog. It is a perfectly good dog house, small for me but ideal for a dog. Dogs go everywhere & do everything. I have never read a story anywhere about a dog getting into a fight with an eagle.

It’s on a hillside, & so much has been in or on or under hillsides. I mean on hillsides but the others came, in, under. I think of the raths & hills my Irishes knew, backparts of my blood, fair dark-haired red-haired men like me who spoke no language I could understand & were my fathers. What if a man desires the acquaintance of his remotest great-grandmother, and she a mere girl, in the matins of the world, walking on the dewed grass of Ireland. What does it mean if a man wants to go into that time before him (though our language says two different things with that word before: “Before Abraham was, I am” but “Before my eyes”), what does it mean if a man wants to step lightly across the Galway field, earliest morning, up to where the mother of his blood walks just as lightly, & to slip his arm around her slim waist, but with his wrist so flexed that the tips of his long fingers brush, press, & half-support the fullness of her right breast, soft loose in her dress?

Whoever that man was I would in that fashion have slightly been, whoever he was he knew the hillsides, had maybe walked inside them beyond the tradition of easy enchantments, had maybe seen those cities, worships, inconceivable entertainments, above all had maybe felt the speed of Faery. And if I say all that’s in the hill is hill-stuff, molecules & subtle motions, I have denied nothing.

The earth, puzzled & dismayed by the ease with which we forget her, rears herself up in hills & mountains to present herself to our eyes, catch our attention. Greeks with the chthonian rites, their blood breakfasts spread for earth, had no mystique of hills, mounts or ‘nature.’ Logres (old Sumer, our summer-land) which spilt no innocent blood, had need of celestial mountains, hills of the first sidhe, bewildering forests piled between man & heaven, a sign, a reminiscence. Mother calling.

Somewhere in this country a girl lives behind a door & has her name & mine conjured together in pencil on that door, a psychotic scrawl that hints the sacred mystery of the truth. Its inscriber got the story right. But the names wrong.

What he & I had to figure out together before we even talked was this: that the central problem of the alchemic Work is the same as the social, psychological problem of Jealousy. Who gets into whom. Why? May I plant these seeds in your garden?

[….to be continued]

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1 Response

  1. Kelly still escapes me – although I always love reading anything he writes

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