Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #2, Spring & Summer 1998]


Jellystone: An Introduction to The Tenting Cantos

By R. Virgil Ellis


The central metaphor in The Tenting Cantos is the tent. What is a tent? Much more than rudimentary shelter. It's consciousness, separation, the flimsy boundary between what I perceive and what I might perceive. Oscillating in the winds of solar and cosmic rays (doesn't the sun drive the world's wind patterns?), this tent in a patch of Wisconsin woods is my mind. It's a Western design, pitched and staked in pentatonic planes and Aristotelian angles, but it sags and curves like a sitar, it bellies like Buddha.

Swelling in one breeze, contracting in another, the tent is my breath, calm at one time, unruly another, just like my mind. What I can see or sense is limited by that cloth boundary, which is the wavering outer limit of my senses and my instruments.

The evidence in such variable focus must be taken on faith as truth revealed but changeable, must be interpreted by one of the cloth. This cloth, through which comes secular revelation, is also a sieve whose functioning is always ambiguous: do I keep what is filtered, or what is filtered out? It's a semi-permeable membrane, a cell wall sheltering organelles of consciousness, coated with receptors which let in nourishment but which can be tricked by a virus, a disease of ego.

The tent is that shimmering thin fabric of atmosphere through which starlight wavers, through which, as I lie on my sleeping bag farting greenhouse gas, I punch holes which let in truth I can't bear.

Or I sit watching the play of shadows, branches and leaves criss-crossing and undulating in the wind, shadows on the wall of this wavering cave, jellystone. Or I weave cantos of words and throw them like old movies on this rubbery screen.

Yet as I progress in meditation I am not so sure there's anything in the tent, or that it's there, or that there's anything needing separation or filtering.

Canto 8 | Canto 13 | Canto 21 | Canto 59 | Canto 60
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