Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
Reader Survey
PN Review Substack

This poem is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

The Citadel of the Mind Stav Poleg
First you were an idea, a blue satellite
orbiting a distant, dark

moon. Then you were a feather, the light
distance it takes for beauty

to form into something like finding
the ground. It didn’t happen

without warning, the morning
glowed like a feverish neon sign – an indication

of clemency – I thought, the sky
turned sapphire and dark like new foreign

fire – a transposition
from fear to loss – how wrong

I was. How wrong
was the weather, raining and raining

without pause. I’ve always thought
there was one primary source –

not light or fire but the small
movement from sound

into a word. The leaping fish
was glowing from blue to bright turquoise

when moving upstream
or was it a song I was trying

to catch – a foreign soundscape
floating above the wide-open highway

when heading back home? First
you were an idea. Then, an idea

with wings – something like flying
or shifting the weight between travel

and dream. Today, I’m reading
that The Vita Nova tells of dream visions

and feverish hallucinations. It’s late
afternoon, the shortest

day of the year. There are so many ways
to lock oneself out of a castle, out of a word

that threatens to destabilise
a sentence, a faraway kingdom, the heart

of a scene. Love
and the trembling of light when it reaches

the water. Love like a highway – a misapprehension
of speed. First you were stretching

your arms, testing the wingspan of grief –
it was not theoretical – you’ve known

for too long how it feels. Knowledge
and grief – the strange forces

of water when they reach a new land –
no – it’s not that. Knowledge

and grief – a theatre scene carrying
the weight of an unpronounced

word – no, not quite what I mean. First
you turned loss into a symbol, a primary

myth. Then you found dreaming – the sounds
taking flight in a faraway

street. That you carried a sign like a country –
that you weren’t able to let go –

was that grief? The empiricist
insists on realism, dreams

may come later, dreams are the function
of a visual mind. Dreams are echoes

and interpretations. There’s order, sure –
there’s order even in chaos

theory – patterns, equations, the long
calculations of matter as time. The historian

considers primary sources as if they were numbers
not words. The poet is a pragmatist – making

something out of the strange promise
of nothing – words

are important but not that
important. First you were an idea, then

a dark river, an arrow, a field fractured
with lights. The philosopher seeks

the truth. Truth, the poet thinks, how unusual
and noble, how responsible

and full of trust. The poet is a pragmatist –
she prefers to play. Play, like sleep or love

is the most serious thing – the poet
claims. Sure – the physicist

says before heading towards the river
that cuts through opposite

notions of time – whatever you say.
In the Convivio, in the battle of knowledge

versus love – Lady Philosophy
wins, hands down. But Dante tells us

that Beatrice is still there, still walking
around, still holding the citadel of my mind

the citadel of the mind –
like a chamber of flashing blue light –

is struck with new fire, lightning, the fierce
temper of rain. Time

has passed but the mind
does not do time. The mind refuses

time as a gift made of distance
and light. The physicist understands

time in relation to space
and gravity – time is the fourth dimension

in a physical non-metaphorical
sense: there is no such thing as Space

but Space-Time. The heart, the heart
is constructed of four chambers, the poet

tries. The poet studies time like a theatre
scene – the fourth wall

like a curtain of time between language
and play. On the stage, time

can be anything – a theatre
prop: an hourglass full of running blue

sand. The actor takes the small
hourglass before tossing it towards the ceiling

again and again. Time, like something
falling, time like a dark implication, a realization

of heat. The actor picks up
the broken, uneven

fragments of glass from the sand-covered
floor. The poet goes out of the theatre, takes

the first bus and starts running, running
in words. Reading physics is like drinking

ten cups of espresso in one
hour – the poet contemplates – my mind

is high on physics – my heart
is flying on so much caffeine. Time –

like a want or a miscalculation –
is that it? In the Convivio, letting

Beatrice go is turning her into a leading
idea – the sketch of a castle

before building a castle. Does it work? Well,
in the Purgatorio, Beatrice will come back

less as an idea, more as an undefeatable
force. First you were a satellite, then

a dark forest, a fortress of words. You turned love
into knowledge, darkness into a wrestling

ring – the audacity of language
when it gathers more speed. Yes, I know –

I must accept – not everything
is about loss. Not all philosophy

was forced to be written out of exile, the deep
soundscape or grief. Not every word

was invented due to the loss of another –
O.K., sure, but most did. The poet is circling

and circling a word like a feverish
hawk – time – a dark arrow

with wings, no, it’s not that. Time, an invisible
wall between language and play. Well –

time – like love or sleep, destabilising
a scene – no, still not quite

what I’m trying to say. Time, like losing
someone, losing brilliantly, exceptionally, losing

mathematically, theatrically, losing with all
chambers of hearts – and not losing

them at all, not losing one bit – is that
right? There’s this thing Einstein wrote

in the letter to the sister of his best friend
Now he has departed from this strange world

a little ahead of me. That signifies
nothing. For those of us who believe

in physics, the distinction
between past, present and future is only

a stubbornly persistent illusion. Yes, the poet
says, count me in – I’m a believer

in physics – that’s what I meant
when I said play. First

you were an idea – a flying formation
of words, then an admission –

time – no, I do not understand
how it works. The poet is a pragmatist –

in Paradiso 30, Beatrice will give Dante
a departing message full of sadness and play –

luce intelletüal, piena d’amore –
maybe that’s why it was always about

the citadel of the mind
not the chambers of heart. The mind –

the mind has to work so much harder
when confronted

with loss. The mind must be pragmatic –
construct a fortress, lose

itself in theatre, physics – anything –
to accommodate the heart’s erratic

notes. First you were an idea, then an idea
with wings – it didn’t

work. Then you became a citadel, a strange
castle to walk around or throw

your heart in. The heart
has four chambers, the poet

thinks – why is that so exciting? Like the four
dimensions, the four directions, the fourth

trembling wall. The poet
is a moralist – how on earth

has this happened? Well, words
are important but not that

important – the poet believes in the material
reality of right and wrong. First

you were an idea – a gift
of belonging, the distance it takes

to fall into form – but then something
happened, something

so dark you were not able to utter or carry
with words. A moralist,

the poet will come to the conclusion
that knowledge has little to do with ethics

and everything to do
with loss. Grief, like a city expanding, grief

like the four highways
of a heart. The mind is fearless –

it will do anything – build
a citadel, move stars

across a map, construct new forests of lights
and dark rivers, the mathematics

of space and time – whatever it takes
to carry what’s left from one’s language

or childhood, whatever it takes to carry what’s left
from the heart.

This poem is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
Further Reading: - Stav Poleg More Poems by... (4) Articles by... (2)
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image