Alchemical texts, p.1
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       Alchemical Texts, p.1
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           Bruce Boston
Alchemical Texts



  A Talisman Ebook

  First Edition: Ocean View Books

  Copyright © 1985 by Bruce Boston

  First Ebook Edition: 2011

  ISBN: 978-1-4661-0204-0


  The poems included in this collection, some in slightly different form, have appeared in Air Fish, Asimov’s SF Magazine, Berkeley Poets Cooperative, Driftwood East, Fantasy and Terror, Gusto, Lost Roads, The Open Cell, Poetry Night at the Null Hypothesis (audio), Star*Line, and Velocities.


  The Alchemist Among Us

  The Alchemist Is Born in a Sudden Changing of Seasons

  The Alchemist in Transit

  The Alchemist Discovers a Universal Solvent

  The Alchemist in Place

  The Alchemist Takes a Lover in the Infinite Variety of Fire

  A Thousand Faces


  The Alchemist Among Us

  They say the alchemist has left

  his dwelling in the northern hills

  and now moves among us.

  They claim he has abandoned

  his bubbling beakers, pale ingots

  and moldering esoteric texts.

  They tell us he seeks not only

  the transmutation of matter,

  but that of spirit and flesh.

  They warn he is an incendiary

  who must be apprehended

  before his doctrines spread.

  They charge us to watch for one

  with a quicksilver tongue

  who questions all we respect.

  Fools!--to know the alchemist

  look to the pupils of his eyes:

  his will be constantly changing.

  Doubly fools!--for the alchemist

  has already traveled these lands.

  He has strewn his solvents at random.

  and left us oblivious to his passage.

  And now the world as we know it

  grows thin all around us.

  The Alchemist Is Born in a Sudden Changing of Seasons

  Each winter morning,

  bare and heavy,

  apprenticed to the fires

  of the smithy’s shop,

  he bore his trade upon his back,

  he forged his soul to cooling metals.

  Plangently the hammer would ring

  in the day’s first stillness,

  loud against a chalky sun,

  sending the wrens to higher perches

  in the oaks and sycamores,

  the deserted reaches of the barn.

  Such blows would shake his teeth,

  drop sparks about his ankles

  and singe the hair

  upon his turning arms.

  Each falling arc trembled

  the air in its breaking.

  One day he watched the sun

  drift north, bright as his furnace.

  The snow had fled the gables,

  and by the morning roadside,

  soft crucibles of gold

  opened among the leaves.

  Climbing to the loft

  he was stunned, left speechless.

  There in the darkness,

  pale as old straw,

  the pulsing throat

  of a bird he could not name.

  The Alchemist in Transit

  To cross and recross

  the face of the continent

  serving masters and madmen

  only to discover

  that the motes of light

  which dance upon the sea

  do not release

  his sleeping veins.

  To tramp the rutted roads

  past plague and devastation

  and emerge unscathed

  only to once again confront

  the same blank visage

  like an aging question mark

  in the silvered glass.

  To watch kings and saints

  shaping history

  in their jagged shadow dance

  only to learn

  that their dreams

  are less fevered

  than those that prey

  upon his own imagination.

  To discover a valley

  dark rich with foliage,

  to descend to its depths,

  to brush the bark of trees,

  to see forests of moss

  explode and rainbow

  the shadow wilted air.

  To find himself alone

  in a land of tumbled boulders,

  of sheer cliff walls,

  wind etched as intricately

  as the broken maps

  and shattered incarnations

  that fill his palms.

  The Alchemist Discovers a Universal Solvent

  When the moment

  nicks my consciousness

  keen as a dagger's edge

  fast as the laws allow,

  more silent than

  the elasticity of bone,

  I cross the continuum

  and stand beside myself

  with senses flaming

  and body turned to stone.

  For one fractured instant

  sand hangs in the glass,

  the breath of the forest

  catches in its limbs,

  a slice of the natural

  and relative universe

  is stretched on the block

  with light suspended:

  a still life taut

  on the lip of a dream,

  until the moment turns

  and thought is upended:

  the forest shakes itself

  and time reassumes

  its interminable ticking,

  the steady dissolution

  of all it subsumes.

  The Alchemist in Place

  Atop a stool

  in his ramshackle laboratory

  in the green glade,

  his forearms resting

  on the high slanting desk,

  poised in concentration

  deep into the night,

  he inscribes his metaphors

  with gold and rubric inks,

  curlicues, dovetail allusions,

  sharp breaks of the feather pen.

  Fire from the dampened furnace

  casts a rippling illumination

  about the cluttered room,

  light ribbons the stark serenity

  of the alchemist’s features:

  miniature flames catch

  in the pupils of his eyes.

  When his racing thoughts

  swoop and settle,

  he lies upon his couch

  beneath the stars’ clear passage

  and dreams in vivid cycles

  rich with illumination.

  Down liquid avenues

  in a city of blown glass

  he pursues the aqua permanens.

  He joins hands with the

  solar king and the lunar queen

  and they dance in quickening rounds

  until the mystic triune

  is complete.

  By morning’s white light

  he awakens:

  the room is filled

  with yellow-brown towhees,

  marbled finches, pearl gray doves,

  all chirruping the dawn.

  The Alchemist Takes a Lover in the Infinite Variety of Fire

  In the arcane wilderness

  far from the commerce and rage

  the artifex and his soror mystica

  watch the precious distillates

  stream against the glass

  Male soul and female spirit

  they seek not only the alchahest,

  the aurum
vulgi of the day,

  but night’s subterranean coin,

  an aurum philosophicum

  of sure golden illumination

  cracked from the celestial egg.

  Sulfur and quicksilver fuse

  in the depths of their study,

  a sleeping deity stirs

  in the bellows of their breath:

  the sick metals are cured,

  a glowing stone revealed.

  Far from cities and nations

  in the untamed birdsong wood,

  the alchemist and his lover

  join bodies and minds

  in rites of transmutation

  to feel their warmth ascend.

  From calcination to sublimation

  in the vas hermitca of self,

  mercurial essence is renewed

  by flight dazzling and precise.

  Fire, as it leaps against the grate,

  never dances the same dance twice.

  A Thousand Faces

  The old man comes down from the mountains

  his hair filled with brambles and

  full and wind-flowing like a fine robe

  and the old man comes down from the mountains

  his hair filled with brambles and

  full and wind-flowing like an intricate tapestry

  the work of a thousand dancing needles

  and the old man comes down from the mountains

  his skin wrinkled and laced by concentric networks

  overlaid and moving to fine filigree

  and the old man comes down from the mountains

  to the north where he has been meditating

  with the lost tribes and feasting on lotus roots

  and pine berries and the old man comes down

  eyes flaming with the knowledge of bestial altars

  thoughts rich with the forbidden drugs and

  the forgotten dances that swell the veins

  spawn of Dionysus and the old man comes down

  from the north with ice white teeth and

  huge hands leaping from his loose sleeves

  and the old man comes down from the mountains

  with an intensity almost painful and he refuses

  our questions and will not speak with us.

  Finally the father figure

  self onto self

  begin the same no difference

  like the cycles of the sun

  that clock between her legs

  the warm juices of her mouth no difference

  begin a soft seed breaking the rhythm of the womb

  the chain is detonated no difference

  each cell embryonic in its brother

  liquid and linked in geometric precision

  the woman grows heavy with child no difference

  the birth trauma is completed with a metallic

  tour de force as the razor slits the dancing umbilical

  no difference no difference

  And the old man comes down from the mountains

  disguised as a peddler in the night

  and I follow him along the shore and

  ask how one knows the true self

  and he gathers the mottled and ribbed shells

  to string seaweed necklaces and I ask

  how one knows the true self and he chants

  mantras to the growling white-tipped water

  and I demand how one knows the true self

  and he dances in the rising tide

  until the wet sand clings to his feet

  in soft clotty bundles and as morning

  light edges across the beach slantwise

  and I fall drunken from sleeplessness

  at last he whispers that one knows

  the true self like a stream running.

  So I follow the stream high into the hills

  and higher still in the mountains and

  at its fount there is a garden with a temple

  and at the bottom of the garden

  a cypress tree is standing

  and on the walls of the temple

  its green jade walls

  there are a thousand faces

  each of them my own.


  Sure as amber,

  light as the lizard’s eye,

  with words like fire,

  or wax dripping on a coin

  —the face concealed,

  each eye a tallow valley—

  the old man turns,

  chanting gibberish

  hoarse with sense:

  a fierce wind blowing,

  a melting fact.

  Like wax or fire

  such words unleash

  only in the flowing,

  the hand ignites each letter.

  Sure as vespers,

  bright as the fringed sky,

  the senses burn at dusk,

  parchment curls,

  the tongue is pillared.

  And in this silence

  of fallen coins

  —the failing light,

  the gutted trees—

  scribes gather

  like quail in a blind thicket,

  like birds who have yet

  to know the sky.

  Give us the cup of speech,

  they whisper,

  their ink pots open,

  feathers poised for flight.

  Bruce Boston lives in Ocala, Florida, once known as the City of Trees, with his wife, writer-artist Marge Simon, and the ghosts of two cats. He is the author of fifty books and chapbooks, including the novels The Guardener's Tale and Stained Glass Rain. His poetry and fiction have appeared in hundreds of publications, including Asimov's SF Magazine, Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and The Nebula Awards Showcase. One of the leading genre poets for more than a quarter century, Boston has won the Bram Stoker Award for Poetry, the Asimov's Readers Award, and the Rhysling Award, each a record number of times. He has also received a Pushcart Prize for Fiction and the Grandmaster Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

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