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Charles Upton: California Poets Part 5, Six Poems

Charles Upton

December 22nd, 2022

California Poets: Part V

Charles Upton

Six Poems

Excerpt from The Wars of Love

In the Cave of the Heart shines a hot, interior Sun.

Sometimes it is veiled by leaden clouds,

Sometimes by a mist of dull, tarnished gold.

At times the clouds are a muddy olive color;

At other times, the color of dried blood.

But beyond the veils of despair and complacency,

Of shapeless intoxication and grim spiritual will

A find gold Sun is roaring with knowledge

Over an incandescent ocean, heaving in mountains of divine energy,

The tidal-waves of the Aeons: passing as we watch them

But eternal in the Core of radiance, before whose face

We rise, and pass, like voices. Whatever word is heard in that light

Stands like a pillar

Between earth and sky.

So now the Violet Fear and the White Fear.

Now the full Beast driven from the heart, rising in front of us,

And us knowing him.

Open Hell. Seal not the door where evil dwells.

Stir the banked coals, the immemorial anger, the mirror-bound suicides,

Lizards on a red cliff at dawn....they flex the sinews of their wings,

They take delight in their own beings....

I say all will be pressed into service.

I say all will be required to fight.

The passive, the coward, the innocent will be trampled down,

Unless locked in single combat with Antichrist

In mountain solitude and stillness.

Invoke, therefore, the war in your marrow;

Call on the fight you were born with, that enemy

Whose lie is cut and tooled, precisely,

To cover your single truth.

Pick targets. Each man is alone with all men

In this night of war. The conglomerate form of Death

Stands guard on each human door,

Solid to the bullet, and the chisel—like those cliffs in the Sinai

In which our skirmishers discovered, still living

The imprisoned forms of men!

The sky is roofed with machines now, a guarded perimeter to block out

the angelic orders;

The earth is filled with the limbs of struggling giants, locked apart in

separate mirrors, in cold branching corridors of time;

They are powers of creation chained in elemental caverns when the

Human Form was planted on earth,

Because Man, when he fell, needed ground under his feet, the bedrock of


But we have forgotten God now, and the rock is unsteady; our

foundations crack like parchment, they heave and shift like water;

The mechanical chatter of demons, the acid of shattered images are our

gods and our protectors;

The wasp and the locust advise us; the spider and the scorpion guard our


Who knows this? Who has the courage not to worship

At the feet of his own destroyers?

Friends, I know you.

You are those scourged by what you see in the crackle and hiss of fire

That flowers in the rift of God. You have incontrovertible reason,

proof to silence laughter.

You are the face of the Divine Humanity driven to the margins and

borders of the Earth,

Weighted and crushed by the Trust, till you release the burden of your

heavy word, to the pavement, to the center of the Earth if necessary

That the heart give up her dead;

You walk through the cities of the grave in the high mountains with food

and intelligence for your people;

You open your throats to the Messengers to give them a living voice;

saints take council beneath your ribs;

You offer your bodies to be the purgatory

Of souls you will never know.

You are those who in your hunger did not ask for food and so became


Who in thirst did not cry for water and so became rivers;

Who in nakedness did not flinch under shame, but suffered it, rejecting

the cloth of the world,

And so became a city for all people, where no-one is refused

But only those who know how to place their foreheads on the dusty earth

Can enter.

You live in that Year

When each man and woman picks up their whole cross and walks,

In the terrible sunrise, down the burning road,

As the structure of common reality crashes all around us,

Torn free from the flesh of memory,

Stripped naked to Mercy,

Gone beyond Death—

The scythe reaps, the seed-heads fall

The harvest barn is hidden everywhere in the fire;

And the wedding-smoke rises,

Perfume of all love and murder,

Heroism, quite secret work

In the caverns of the heart,

Pounding the stone doors

Of those sacrificial priests

Who desecrate the Human Form to build the regime of Antichrist,

Gods of the New World Order,

Powers of frigid glamour, and insane false hope, and numb despair:

Pour fire against their sanctuary,

Against the Dragon

Against the Tower—

Glyphs of destiny, strung like nets

Through the charged structure of the thunderhead

Weave lightning into working knowledge,

Where the Living Truth sits mounted and armed

In the region of the Air, on the borders of the next world now shining

into this one, in dream and vision more solid than a rock in the hand,

To overturn their altars, those blissful devotees, worshippers of

despair incarnate

To whom Love is a torturing fire.

At the precise point where their pain and loss are most deeply denied,

In the mouth of their wisest wound these words are engraved

White fire cut on black fire on the

Skeletal plasm of their nerves:

And Love is what we wish them.

But how can they accept such a gift from the likes of us?

How can they even know their need?

They are inheritors of the whole world—we are nothing

But inheritors of the earth.


The horn of remembrance now cracks the shell

Encrusted on the heart for six thousand years,

Awakening the nations of the human dead

From their iron sleep. The people of the tombs arise and have their say

On the plains of Akhirah:

“We are those

Who lie slandered under the name of death.

We have incontrovertible reason,

Proof to silence laughter.

From palaces of torture,

From twenty terms in the grey, damp, infinite dusk

We raise our voices and salute you,

Who still sit laboring in your dream—

You living men and women, clothed as we were

In the sweetness and the dignity

Of human flesh. We are the strength of your arms and your loins,

The voice of your living memory.

Speak us, man! Tell our story.

We’ve been muttering too long in our ruined halls, those narrow beds,

The groves still barren of our voices;

We’ve lain too long in the seed-houses, the uneasy archives,

the crucibles of sleep.

Beware! The dead are hungry for those who will not live;

The ones who die into a coward’s dream we consume;

We eat, and are not satisfied.

But as you remember Him, He will also remember us, in our chambers

of darkness

Till the river of our endless dying flows East again,

Toward the rising sun.”

The Voice of the Primordial Adam

When I was a man, I had no Self but God;

Now I am the Self of every woman and every man,

One with all who walk the path of Nothing.

All those who have become Nothing before they die

Have no Self but I. I am the road the stars travel

Before the face of their Lord. I am a ladder seen in a dream;

Angels ascend and descend upon me;

My flesh is a highway of living intelligence.

When the seven seas rise like sap

Through the bark of the olive, changed into liquid light,

There I will stand, in neither the east nor the west.

When God summons the four winds back to His chamber,

Calling them each by its name,

I will be the body of that vast, returning sigh.

To visit God is to spend the night inside the Sun,

The Sun who hears and sees, without sleep.

So shed the world, and open the gates of dawn:

The Sun is about to rise for the last time,

Climbing the green balconies of Axis Mundi, the luminous steps,

Gathering in the fruit of what has been,

Storing away the seeds of what shall be,

Till it stands on the floor of high eternity, the Temple Mount

And prostrates itself before the throne

Of the Light which does not set.

Portrait of the Beloved Versions of 23 of the Quatrains of Jalaluddin Rumi based on the literal translations of Ibrahim Gamard and A. G. Rawan Farhadi rendered as potential English song lyrics What is this sorrow grips me like the night? Is it blind? Does it see me lost to light? Earth shows my image, yet in heaven I'm free: What hand can lift a star from off the sea? Who claims the ever-living One has died— The Sun of Hope is gone, his days are done? Sun-killer climbed the roof and shut his eyes Then cried out like a fool, “I've killed the Sun!” Every day my heart drinks one new wine Whose sweetness kills the taste of all wines past; He first ferments love-sickness, that Winemaster And then serves up oblivion at last. Any one might have a friend or lover; Anyone hold a job, or play a part; Like the Prophet and his khalif in their cavern, I'm with Him in the furnace of my heart! That love from which my lifeless life takes life A love so fine, so sweet, where does it live? Is it from mortal flesh or from beyond it? Or a glance that he, Tabriz’s Sun, might give? O wounded heart, your cure has finally come; Breathe easy now, your healing has been born; A love who grants the wish of every lover Has come into this world in human form. To behold the beauty of the King, what joy! My soul takes life from that exquisite face. (In a dream I saw the black chains of His love— What could it mean? That dream disturbs my peace.) That musky Tatar curl is pure delight; To hunt a prey like me, delightful sport. In Spring, in early Spring, the world is sweet Like sugar and candy holding hands—so right. From your tall shape the cypress stole its grace, The rose tore open its shirt when it saw your face! For God’s sake, lift a mirror, then you’ll see: “Not one like me, from end to end of space!” Did the perfumed rose ever catch your scent? No, never. Have the sun or stars ever seen your light? No, never. “It’s night”, you say, “behold my darkened window.” If you go, it’s night; but otherwise—No, never! I found no peace, I died of shame, without you. When I came to court I quit my life, without you. Without you how can I break the grip of sorrow? Choked with loss I cried tears of blood, without you. “I'll tear my heart from your ground!” I say—but I can’t. “I'll learn to breathe without you!”—but I can’t. “I'll drive your longing from my heart!” I brag; If I were man enough I'd do it—but I can’t. I have no-one, only You—where can I turn? No cure for this ravaged heart. Where can I turn? “How long”, you ask, “will we whirl with the whirling stars?” It’s the only trade I know. Where can I turn? “You’ll get no help from me, my friend” he said; “Just silly drunkenness and wine and laughter. To kill sobriety and drive out reason Is why God sent me down into this slaughter.” I'll take the blame for you a hundred times. If I break my pledge to you, I'll pay the price. As long as I draw breath, I'll stand your blows, Till the Day of Resurrection—this you know. Your slap is sweeter than another's kiss; Your wound is richer than another's gift; Your cruelty, kinder than another's care; Your insult, dearer than another's bliss. If I fill the sky with groans, I am forgiven. If I water the plains with tears, I am forgiven. You are my soul; that's why I must pursue you— And if soul follow self instead? I am forgiven. The Water of Life—a drop from your shining face. Of that world of light the Moon is just a trace. “I want Moonlight, Moonlight, all night long!” I cried; The night is your night-black curls—the Moon, your face. O Friend, our friendship makes a mighty union; Where you might walk, I’ll be the earth for you. In the creed of lovers it’s a dark transgression Through your eyes to see the world, but not see you. I'm glad this passing world can't make me happy; Drunk without wine—superb intoxication! Why do I need to hear some other story When endless blessings rise from my secret glory? May the heart of Love never look upon this world. What's worthy to be seen by Love, but Love? The day I die I'll cast away these eyes If, gazing on this world, they turned from Love; This dying earth, how long to smell and taste it? It’s time to meet that One of perfect grace. In the mirror of His face I'll find myself; In the mirror of my heart I'll see His face. The fruit will set on the blossoming branch—some day. The hungry hawk will seize the dove—some day. His image comes and goes; when will it stay? It will make its home inside your heart—some day.

Answering Gary Snyder who said: “I don’t ask ‘Why are we here?’ any more.” I found my old whetstone all covered with dust: flat, gray, dull yet filled with sharpness. We’re here so we can see this swarming universe with a human eye. If we were not here this universe would not be here either—no still point to this vast, turning world: Many needs, many maps and agendas, struggles, but no clear Center. Looking at our world, if we did not see the Way Things Are, then there would be no Way. Whatever exists, even if it sees nothing itself still “wants” to be seen; Lichens, orange and green, can’t see colors, yet they put on a show of color only our eye can catch; Cats can’t pet each other, but anyone who thinks that cats weren’t made for petting has never known them. This, precisely, is why we are here: so we can attend to the shapes and motions of this world with a clear, human, mind. Studied leisure is not an animal thing. It’s manlike—purposeless. Everybody else is on the job, following programs, meeting deadlines— all except us. The insanity of purpose renounced, laid down, for one split second And everything comes together again just as it was, like it already knew us. To “renounce” simply means not to mess with it—with life, self-defense, survival; We human beings intervene in the flow of things harder than anybody— yet nobody else Can really let things be like we can, turn them loose to breathe and move, without us, in the free air— And we sitting here, firm as a rock only to witness them as they fly, watch them orbiting the Northern Star, the unwobbling pivot inside the human eye. The seen universe is gathered by the seer into one Center, into the first Stone from which the stars were struck like sparks in the night, turning, in their flight about the One who holds them as both Eye and Sun. Sharpen your seeing along the fine grain of it, you who take pains to sit and attend— Then you will see it.

The Ultimate Blackness Written as if in the voice of God Until you do My Will, I will oppress you. You think you are being oppressed by the world and its disasters, but this is not so. You imagine standing up to the world, changing the world, to escape from its relentless contraction and abasement, But there is no escape in defiance—no escape from Me. Next you imagine capitulating to the world and allowing it to destroy you, Because who can stand in the face of those omnipotent disasters, that relentless sabotage and cunning? But there is no escape in capitulation either, no escape from Me in sacrificing yourself To the world you think you see. Lastly, you imagine your own self to be the oppressor, and so dream of standing up to it and transforming it, Of capitulating to it and being destroyed by it— And yet there is no escape from Me in this either, because who but your own supremely oppressive self Could dream such dreams? No: Until you do My will alone, My oppression will never lift. And what is that Will? It is obedience in contraction, obedience in abasement, obedience in annihilation. It is renunciation of expectation, sacrifice of all imagined outcomes, the end of the cherished illusion of the self-determined self, Of the one chosen and instructed and empowered by God, The one who can turn even heroic obedience into the mask of rebellion. Not that, not any “that” is your Lord, But I alone. I am there in the Blackness, in the Black Night of time— In that chamber where the lines of your silhouette and the motion of your hand. Appear nowhere at all. Is there power somewhere in that ultimate weakness? Is there healing in that sickness? Is there Liberation in that cell of solitary confinement? Is there Mercy in that dark night of the soul? Really? Is this the question you would address to Me at the ultimate threshold? Do you really expect Me to show you the outcome before the fact? Slip you a clue? Grant you a premature glance into the Secret? A hint of the true answers that were written down before the world was made? A glimpse of the Final Score? Never. I will never do that because I am an honest Teacher and an impartial Grader of Tests. Until you step into that final Night you will never know. How can Knowledge walk free of the exhaustion of its endless translators and commentators and petitioners and betrayers Until no-one remains to claim it? I can give you no answer to the question you ask because you are that question: The only way to ask it Is to step beyond the threshold.

What is God? (The Dance of the Human Mind before the Unknowable; the Dance of the Unknowable before the Human Mind) My God, the Worshippers do not worship You, no matter how much they worship; The Gnostics do not know You, no matter how much they know; The People of Unity do not realize Your Unity, no matter how much they realize; The Witnesses cannot describe you, no matter how much they witness…. ~~ from the Munajat of Shaykh Ahmed al-‘Alawi 🙝

God is the Divinity, the only Being, And equally the only One Who is Beyond Divinity and Beyond Being— The Open Field— The Infinite Ascent— The endless ever-widening Vertical Path— Elevation beyond Elevation— Openness wider than Space— Space more open and permeable than even the Quintessence— Infinity expanding without end, widening beyond endlessness…. And also Depth beyond profundity, the Secret buried in the darkest heaviness of matter, Coal crushed in the fist of the inner darkness till it becomes the Diamond of Absolute Vision. IF the One without root Really IS the One from which everything proceeds, And to which everything returns, Then It has no walls and no ceiling, It opens out behind into the Infinite Expanse, Into perfect Emptiness, Emptiness endlessly deepening without motion or passage, Absolute Nothingness overflowing with Primordial Being, Being eternally intensifying and concentrating like a star being born Till Fusion is initiated and Radiance begins, A featureless void streaming with Light, And Power, And Self-Transcendence, As its intrinsic Emptiness reaches ever greater depths of Annihilation, As its primordial Blackness deepens, And its Secret becomes sheathed ever more deeply in the seventy- thousand veils of light and darkness, Which are its layers of dimensional existence— Existence which, empty of Itself, does not even claim existence, but eternally surrenders it To the ever-deepening invisibility of Its unknown Origin, As Its intrinsic Perfection becomes always clearer and more sharply- defined, As Its primordial Annihilation grows more and more radiantly incandescent, Thunderous with the Power of its own Self-manifestation, Spreading out like a nuclear shock-wave in ever-widening rings of Incandescent Truth, Truth zealously intent on concentrating and condensing So as to effortlessly become what It always was, A Reality fully established on Its own foundation, secure beyond all becoming, A Presence that never passes but only arrives, That rests ever more deeply in its own perfect stillness, Precisely by thrusting Itself always more powerfully into the eternal motionlessness of the Rock of Ages, Which is absolute Immobility moving so swiftly that no scale can measure it— Till in the core of Its perfect stillness It surpasses velocity itself, contracting itself, Crushing itself together under the weight of Its own infinite pressure Until It crystalizes into the shape Of Eternity-beyond-Origin, Into an ever-more-perfectly defined abyss of pure Being, Of Being endlessly receding from us, plunging into Itself, Concentrating Itself to the limit of absolute density and beyond, A density which is inseparable from Its infinite expansion and attenuation, An expansion that is simultaneously a withdrawal, A shrinking into Itself past the borders of the Infinitesimal, Past absolute dimensionlessness, till it surpasses non-existence itself, Goes beyond even Its own infinite and intentional act Of Self-transcendence— And all this strictly by the fact Of Its being no more nor less that what It is, Which is simply THAT it is. And OUT of It Springs the tiny concentrated point of THIS SELF, The infinitesimal puncture-wound that defines the whole Field, Defines this borderless universe of Divine Self-Expression, Encompassing every form either Necessary or Possible, And every void between the Necessities And every bridge between the Possibilities And every Impossibility by which the transcendent Necessities are confirmed, All this in ever-widening echelons and immense branching hierarchical trees of Life and Knowledge, Flowing always backward into the Power of Nothing that forms them and informs them, With no intent but the will to be both perfectly Itself, and empty of Itself Just so It can seed them, And give them Life, And carve and craft them out of nothing but the Truth of Its own nature, Till it leads them out from the Night of Time so they can witness one another In the Mahasangha of Universal Manifestation, The Great Assembly of all the unique faces of the One— The One Who creates them precisely by transcending them— By shedding them like skins, Then stepping cleanly apart from them— Totally, instantaneously, beyond all intelligible motion, Timeless as the lightning-flash. THIS is why we see a God Always looming out of His own Darkness, Saguna Brahman out of Nirguna Brahman, Allah out of Al-Dhat, A Face to meet our faces. He looks out through our eyes, Peers deeply alongside us Into the featureless void where we search for Him, endlessly, but never find Him— Because it was He Who found us, And founded us, And named us, And gave Himself a Name by which we could call Him, And by the power of which He could also call us, Call us back to Himself out of the wilderness of matter, energy, space, and time, Back to the House where we were born, Before there were ever tongues to speak or ears to listen, Before there were ever ears to speak or tongues to listen. And all the stars, and the galaxies, and the quasars, and the black holes, And all the folds and twists and currents in the fine grain of spacetime Are flowing backwards forever Into the Name that eternally names them out into manifest existence, And of which they themselves are the palpable echoes, the visible and audible names. What He is speaking right Now, In the Day of Existence He is also listening to in the same Now, In the Night of Non-existence. We are nothing but words Passing across His threshold From Silence to Silence. Who can name Him? No vision takes Him in But He takes in all vision. Only He has the power To speak his own Name…. But as for us—what might we be? The truth is, we are that Name. Therefore, seeing that a Name is something that is spoken Rather than someone who speaks, For us to speak our own true names is unbecoming— It un-becomes us, Takes us down into our separate components Till finally it stores us away in the Barns of the Unseen, In Eternal Night hungry for sunrise, and pregnant with it. We are performing this act of unbecoming right now as we voice the single Name we share With the One who first named us out into this wilderness, Fading all the way back to the dimensionless Point where all existence hid itself in impenetrable Darkness Before the Name was uttered. This voice Never dawned upon that Darkness, These words Were never said— Which is precisely is why they will never pass away—because into what could they ever pass? THAT is their warrant. THAT is their proof. So rest in the humming Darkness Resounding with the Voice of God. HE ALONE is the One Who will say what needs to be said, Explain what begs to be explained, Obliterate what longs to be obliterated, Annihilate the darkness of the Question in the light of the Answer. This recitation is ended now. Its tents are folded. Midnight breaks over the earth Of human speech.

Author Bio:

Charles Upton, 73, is an American Sufi Muslim, author of 16 books on metaphysics and spirituality—including works of spiritual psychology, metaphysical exegesis of mythopoesis, and “metaphysics and social criticism”—4 of poetry, and 3 on Islam. A protégé of Beat Generation poet Lew Welch, his first books of poetry were Panic Grass, published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in his City Lights Pocket Poets Series, and Time Raid, published by Don’s Allen’s Four Seasons Foundation is his “Writing” series. He was raised Catholic in an essentially pre-Vatican II Church, participated in the “spiritual revolution” and peace movements of the 1960’s and 70’s, and the Sanctuary Movement for Central American refugees in the 1980’s, later becoming associated with the Traditionalist/Perennialist School of comparative religion and metaphysics founded by René Guénon and then headed by Frithjof Schuon. In 1988 he converted to Islam and was received into the Nimatullahi Sufi Order under Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh; in the same year he published Doorkeeper of the Heart: Versions of Rabi’a through Threshold Books. in 2010, after Nurbakhsh’s death, he maintained his connection with Sufism by taking ba’yat with a lesser-known silsila of the ‘Alawiyya Tariqa. In 2011 he published The Wars of Love and Other Poems through Sophia Perennis Publications. In 2013 he conceived the Covenants Initiative, based on the groundbreaking work The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad with the Christians of the World by John Andrew Morrow, which has since become an international peace movement in the Muslim world; he is presently Executive Director of the Covenants of the Prophet Foundation. In 2016 he published What Poets Used to Know, his book on poetics, also through Sophia Perennis.


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