The cover of Eating & Drinking by Sam Silva immediately captured my attention. For me it seems a depiction of the elementals: the blue sky as Air; purifying flames as Fire; a weightless stone as Earth floating in a glass of Water, the universal transforming solvent. The alchemist's vessel/ philosopher's stone/ human being is itself the fifth element which contains the other four. Life, its own wisdom, cannot be separated. Sam Silva's life might be a rough gem, but he cuts beautiful poems from his misfortune. He knows a secret: our lives seem of little consequence; paltry and kicked aside; worthless pebbles; yet they are as beautiful in their commonality as they are unbearable in their lightness. The magnetic lodestone of magic and navigation attracts those who endlessly perfect one another in love. This is transmutation. Like sacred vessels or holy grails, we provide one another with food and drink to satisfy. So like many of us, Silva despairs as to why we won't let this happen. "If the flesh has come into being for the sake of the spirit, this is a mystery. But if the spirit has come into being for the sake of the body, this is a wonder of wonders. How has such a great wealth settled in such poverty?" (Gospel of Thomas, 29)
In the brief opening chapters, key prose and poetry introduce "Sef" and "The Fat Man" who chronicle for us the pivotal events of Silva's youth and its demise. His adolescence was a series of traumatic epiphanies, the onset of paranoid schizophrenia. Equally tragic and ironic was the way that a priest's promise of Heaven, an end to his Hell, caused him to ponder a premature leave of this world.
Kisses From The Heart And Sleeve
The thing I feared the most,
was not the bloody wisdom
of the host
to kill me
with kisses from the heart and sleeve.
I understand those falling towers
of the absurd,
and much more than those intentions
of the spirit-thing, the "holy ghost,"
I am stunned by the stupid anger
that I find now
in my heart and self,
that I might throw away the world
Here at these gates we enter his heartrending coming of age story, a unique torment, as a young man's body so hungry and vital is suddenly racked with a special torture, that of dreaming awake.
For The Boarders
A polished wooden world
where dimly passed the youth
through that psychotic door
where lies becomes the truth,
a wounded bird that fell
through frosty English Autumns
outside on the Commons
where the school grounds
meet the moor
in the mind's forbidden Hell.
Sexual predators, bigots, the violent and abusers of all types frequented his real time nightmare "homes." There was also his "rape" by the pharmaceutical industry:
The Story Of Accidental Rape
Sef was sick from that psychotic conflagration brought on by the ineptitude of a local psychiatrist, compounded and enhanced by the Pharmaceutical Industry and its wonderfully encouraging propaganda. As consequence his medication was changed, and a psychotic episode induced, that in no way reflected the contemporary knowledge of said literature...His behavior was criminal, and bordered on being worse, so that he came quite close to being incarcerated.
There is often a wry humor alongside his angst filled experience of mental institutions and halfway houses.
Sef is "on leave" from that perverse squalor of the halfway house [...] they roll over the countryside, he and a hippie couple in long standing friendship, cracking jokes on the upswing of his journey away from sick oblivion... Brenda lights a joint, but Sef says...no! You know...with my medication... (Serious Business)
The Psychos In Charge is a prose piece which expresses a pathos for military rejects. You know, those discharged from the military with 'Vietnam Syndrome' but no defined medical conditions: recurring, revolving-door victims of the medical system who get caught out in the real world botching suicide attempts and committing thrill-seeking crimes. And here's a less pathological
crazy soldier bullshit story and if you get curious starts with all his scatological bad-talk...gets all of his geography and politics confused...tells you things about training terrorists for Kaddaffi..Just fifth beer talk!, and you don't have to be a Marine to be unimpressed.
[...]I felt entirely too sick myself at the time to really sympathize with his (a fellow musician) problem, was more concerned with smaller things, like getting a handle on my hallucinations. I was not even certain that I wanted to stay alive anymore[...]after the winter of 83[...]I was beginning to think that I might fool a few people into thinking that I was almost human[...]Chuck shows up at my apartment[...]with a very young and very sleazy looking girl, and the two of them offer me a joint...and I declined the opportunity to disengage entirely with reality[...]
First loves and the young woman who carelessly sent him away just as his illness was becoming too apparent:
The Rape (School Won't Start Again Next Fall)
[...]What happened to me, had nothing to do with my oddly sweet high school days, but with that rupture, both humiliating and permanent, that fell to me like a guillotine and severed spiritual skull from distended corpse. That the "word" would descend on such sleeping, easy children of a make believe forest! That I was the only child and fool, to be sent to such "madness" in the ruin of voices and viscerality. "Maria! "my last voice in island paradise...you who stuck me on a bus and waltzed away disgusted...I was fucked like a fool and thrown to the rats of this continental blizzard!
And in the irony that follows all things were the path of your voice...the victim of your providence...but that I somehow was caught in the pincers of its material dictums as if you were the victim...and I the accused.
We were neither!...I wept for you seven lonely years...somehow! And your broach with me was in no way meant as malice...
No Maria...your world was alight with all the fires of a practical joy! YOU are not guilty of malice!
You will be deeply moved by his descriptions of the world's imperfections, torturously revealed through a myriad of voices, waking dreams, and nightmares. He indirectly reveals the lying voices inside his head, while overtly reminding us how the other liars, deceivers and hypocrites, the ones outside his mind, speak and act in the real world of men, women and children, particularly the starved and warred upon.
The Problem With A Square Idea
Each brute assumption
defends its own stupidity
with definitions of the "real"
that scrub and churn
the bottom line
... the cross becomes the swastika,
for every janitor, in kind,
and love, the burning gumption
whose existential chemistry
is merely what we see and feel
as products of the social stain.
Violence is it own bad faith;
its affirmation of an urn
defining every false messiah
to haunt those cheap
within the paranoia, yes,
of an angry aching brain.
In the esoteric arts Water corresponds to Winter; Spring to Air; Summer to Fire; and Autumn to Earth. The seasons are predominant metaphors in this book. Silva also repeatedly uses the word Hell, but Heaven is mentioned substantially less. And if I had his manuscript in front of me and performed a word search for 'heaven", 'hell', "autumn" and "winter" vs. "spring" and "summer", the disparity would be glaring. This seems an unusual alliance until one remembers that the world 'hell' originated in Northern European mythologies. It's not too much of a stretch for Silva to describe parts of his life as an icy hell filled with devils. As if unreal, spring or summer are used sparingly, but generously to describe sacred moments in the arms of his beloved.
Lyrical, ecstatic and sweet, Silva's style balances the page with other reflections of his mind. They overflow with gentle and sad expressions for a multitude of disappointments, with himself and society. His spirituality is a gnostic's comprehension, good and evil, the authenticity of both. Endlessly and necessarily he sorts these out and expresses a daily morality with a clarity the "mentally healthy" rarely achieve. He shows us our seasons and realizes there are no reasons for history's bloody lies. We choose our loyalties and treasons, and this often portrays true madness. Wherein lies our empathy?