4 Experiments – poetry by Eric Nicholson

4 Experiments from 
101 Experiments in Philosophy

I'm watching a spider.
Patience is another name 
for a spider. It waits and waits
in the centre of its web
unable to think yet
poised for ambush,
triggered by the slightest twitch.
Its life is circumscribed
by a billion years of practice
as are the trees, sharks, mosquitoes
and my own tabby cat.

Stopping thought is impossible
(although neither trying to think 
nor trying not to think is possible)
but if it were possible maybe
we'd tumble into a state
of stupefaction (into animal consciousness)
or else we might fall into the bottomless
abyssal silence of infinite compassion.
In this state we might row between eternity
and the instant in an instant
or we could be the blue sky
watching the clouds go by.

A ray of sunshine slants through a window;
thousands of minuscule dots, bits, flecks, fluff
and sparks dance within a cube of light, a universe
of dust suddenly made visible, spiralling, turning,
crossing; each infinitesimal smut passes from light
into darkness like Bede's sparrow
flying in and out of a room.

Instead of trying to be serene
experiment a little:
cultivate a little terror.
What if you can't stop thinking
that thinking can't be stopped
what's to stop you thinking
the next person you meet
has murderous intentions
and you're her next victim
or that some bright spark (he's a chemist)
has what he thinks is an original thought,
he's thought up a silent killing spree scenario
but he doesn't know he's simply terrorising
himself and he chickens out when it comes
to acting on the thought and anyhow
on second thoughts you realise this
is all in your mind and the chemist
and the murderer appear and disappear
there like vaporous clouds or froth.

101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life, Roger-Pol Droit

Eric Nicholson is a prize-winning poet (Opossum 2020) and a retired art teacher. He is a Zen practitioner and this may influence some of his poetry.

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