Wallace Stevens once wrote:
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
Why so few?
I once read that our minds
(pardon the geek-speak):
“Emerge from interactions among countless,
Specialized, independent, interconnected,
Largely unconscious mental processes.”
Little minds, minds all the way down,
Workers in a vast mind factory,
Combining to create fleeting structures of experience,
Flying up into consciousness
Like blackbirds startled from the branches,
Only to disappear into the forest
When the next thought appears.
Blackbirds? More like bees.
When I listen to music, the hearing bees
Work with the music recognizing bees,
And the I-still-remember-the-first-time-I-heard-Coltrane bees,
And a whole hive of knowledge and emotion bees
To fill my mind with memories of Jazz,
Dark nightclubs, beautiful hipster girls
In black tights and turtleneck sweaters,
And the wondrous, dangerous, summer nights of youth.
Or when I’m writing,
Word, phrase, and grammar bees,
And snippets-I-recall-from-Shakespeare bees,
Hook up to write about blackbirds
From time to time, they recruit a swarm of hearing bees
(Moonlighting from their work with the ears),
So I can hear the syllables, feet, and lines,
The rhythms, textures, and rhymes,
Silently in my mind.
The trick is (there’s always a trick)
It feels like it’s all just me,
A single mind,
The mind-bees create the trick, too,
Collecting memories, stories,
Into a single self, I call “me,”
A single, seemingly immutable self,
Accumulating possessions, mortgages,
Ex-girlfriends, sins, legal papers, parking tickets,
ballpoint pens, and other crap.
It’s just a fiction.
Constructed by mind bees so I remember who I am,
And where I’ve been,
And all the friends and souvenirs
I’ve picked up along the way.
A delicious, solipsistic fiction of a self,
As comforting as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
I think I think, therefore I think I am.
We construct countless selves throughout our lives,
Each transient band of bees or blackbirds,
A newly invented self, popping into existence,
Child and adolescent selves, partly formed,
Still smoldering with the fires of creation;
Young explorer-selves cruising the country in an old truck;
Musician-selves lost in the labyrinths of harmony;
Scholar-selves searching the past in books;
Career-selves dancing to music we never wrote.
Storekeeper, beatnik, scientist, teacher,
Lover, Christian, husband, Buddhist,
author, musician, Atheist, old man,
Each a unique, fully formed self, each still burning,
Each giving way to another as life demands.
Movements so fluid, continuous
I feel as if it has always been
Just the same, single me.
And like the blackbirds in Stevens’ tree,
The swarming selves never go away.
They hang out in the shadows,
An unruly, inconvenient mob of
Selves, proto-selves, and forgotten selves,
Appearing briefly in dreams
Like grainy pictures of Bigfoot,
Until they join a new
Bunch of bees or blackbirds
To construct yet another self.
Like Walt Whitman said
“I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Maybe that’s why we get old and die.
We fill up with so many selves
That they just won’t fit anymore,
And one day, they all burst free and fly away
Like spores from a giant puffball,
Or fuzzy seeds from a cottonwood,
Floating on the thick warm air,
Or a swarm of bees,
Or a flock of blackbirds,
All exploding onto the wind,
Leaving only an empty husk behind.