Wednesday, February 29, 2012

No one will come

"..but it's two o'clock in the morning and no one will come.

You are left there in your own private archipelago of terror.

And you understand
That you are not only a stranger to yourself but a stranger
To the world you inhabit, a visitor, a foreigner, an illegal.

Who let you in? Who the hell let you in?"

Page 83, 'How in the Night (and the Meaning of Your Life)'
From 'The Book of What Remains',  Benjamin Alire Saenz

Sunday, February 26, 2012


"We are drawn to edges, to our own, parapets, and sea-walls."

'Apart', Robin Robertson

Gole Laleh

Lovely music, from these Iranian singers.

Gole Laleh:
and at

Mahsa Vahdat, Marjan Vahdat: Gole Laleh (She's Got the Whole World in Her Hand) (2007 - Songs From a Persian Garden)

Thanks, Vlad.

A walk in the park

Tree Parichay at Cubbon Park, organized by INTACH (, presented by Karthik, avid birdwatcher and Chief Naturalist at Jungle Lodges and Resorts.

Of rows of mahogany trees breaking into young orange leaves, creaking bamboo groves, majestic silk cotton trees, flowering palaash and frangipani and copper pods and jacaranda, playful migratory gray drongo birds - and squirrels, squirrels everywhere, eating the flowers of Spring, while playful dogs run around in glee, rustling the thick carpet of dry leaves.

Flowering Trees of Bangalore:

It's not happening to you

Conversation overheard in the lift. Two girls, dressed for partying, who got off at the floor where the pubs are. One of them is complaining about her boyfriend who does not want to watch horror films.
The other one says, "A lot of people find horror films disturbing."

She replies, with a sneer, "Well, it's not happening to you, why can't you just watch it?"

The state of the world, explained to you, in a second. "It's not happening to you."

"First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me."

Martin Niemoller

Saturday, February 25, 2012


for Cait

The brimstone is back
in the woken hills of Tuscany,
passing the word
from speedwell to violet
wood anemone to celandine.

I could walk to you now
with Spring just ahead of me,
north over flat ground
at two miles an hour,
the sap moving with me,
under the rising
grass of the field
like a dragged magnet,
the lights of the flowers
coming on in waves
as I walked with the budburst
and the flushing of trees.

If I started now,
I could bring you the Spring
for your birthday.

Robin Robertson

This brief Spring, this getting ready, while the heat slowly prepares to come back, to ripen the mangoes:

A Thousand Kisses Deep

My mirror twin, my next of kin,
I´d know you in my sleep.
And who but you would take me in
A thousand kisses deep?...

Leonard Cohen: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Spoken Poem Live @ London):
Lyrics here.

Photo from Google Images

Friday, February 24, 2012


You are what you remember.

*           *           *           *           *
You must go out into the desert again.
You must live there in silence
until you encounter God.

*           *           *           *           *
Sometimes, you wake in the night.
You are afraid. You are afraid
that your heart will become
a desert again. Uninhabitable.

‘The Book of What Remains’, Benjamin Alire Saenz

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold*

The Emotional and Mental Cost of the Recession, by David Milligan-Croft :

Will there be a void, and what will come to fill it? Or will we come out of it, wiser, stronger, our eyes wiped clear of delusions? (I mean, the ones who will make it ) How many more will we lose to suicide, depression? What will be left on the battlefield, after all this is over?

And this time, do we really believe that

"Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand"?

Or are we afraid?

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

And will there be so many who will not speak up, hide their heads in the sand because "Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew" **?  And when they finally come for them, will there be anyone left to speak up?

You can't take it with you, by Ioanna-Ekaterini Nezi:

What do you think?

* The Second Coming, W.B.Yeats

** First they came for the Communists, Martin Niemoller

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To be understood

"It is no surprise to me that hardly anyone tells the truth about how they feel. The smart ones keep themselves to themselves for good reason. Why would you want to tell anyone anything that's dear to you? Even when you like them and want nothing more than to be closer than close to them? It's so painful to be next to someone you feel strongly about and know you can't say the things you want to.

When was the last time you wanted to say it all to the right person? To have it all come out right, to surprise yourself at how together you could be. When was the last time you ever met someone who made you want to give it all to them? I mean give yourself to them. Where you couldn't express yourself enough - like you wanted to cut off one of your arms to be understood.

That's it - you would cut your head off to have someone understand you. You know how pointless that one is. You know how many times you've smashed yourself to bits on the rocks."

Henry Rollins, 'Solipsist'

Monday, February 20, 2012

How everything turns away, quite leisurely, from the disaster

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus 

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

William Carlos Williams

 *         *          *          *          *          *          *          *
Musee des Beaux  Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Thank you, Ioanna.

But Icarus also flew... 

Photo from Google Images.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

And, worst of all

"..Tengo went on. "I'm tired of living in hatred and resentment. I'm tired of living unable to love anyone. I don't have a single friend - not one. And, worst of all, I can't even love myself. Why is that? Why can't I love myself? It's because I can't love anyone else. A person learns how to love himself through the simple acts of loving and being loved by someone else. Do you understand what I am saying? A person who is incapable of loving another cannot properly love himself."

Page 410, Chapter 8: 'Time for the Cats to Come'
'1Q84', Haruki Murakami


"The Nagual told you time and time again that the only freedom warriors have is to behave impeccably.

...I narrated to her the way Don Juan made me understand what was meant by impeccability.  He and I were hiking one day through a very steep ravine when a huge boulder got loose from its matrix on the rock wall and came down with a formidable force and landed on the floor of the canyon, twenty or thirty yards from where we were standing. The size of the boulder made its fall a very impressive event.

Don Juan seized the opportunity to create a dramatic lesson. He said that the force that rules our destinies is outside of ourselves and has nothing to do with our acts or volition. Sometimes that force would make us stop walking on our way and bend over to tie our shoelaces, as I had just done. And by making us stop, that force makes us gain a precious moment. If we had kept on walking, that enormous boulder would have most certainly crushed us to death.

 Some other day, however, in another ravine the same outside deciding force would make us stop again to bend over and tie our shoelaces while another boulder would get loose precisely above where we are standing. By making us stop, that force would have made us lose a precious moment. That time if we had kept on walking, we would have saved ourselves.

Don Juan said that in view of my total lack of control over the forces which decide my destiny, my only possible freedom in that ravine consisted in my tying my shoelaces impeccably."

Carlos Castaneda

Saturday, February 18, 2012

He collects poems

"He collects poems
like a magpie lining the
bare nest of his heart."

Aseem Kaul

"So when people say that poetry is merely a luxury for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read much at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language - and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers - a language powerful enough to say how it is.

Let's not confuse this with realism. The power does not lie directly with the choice of subject or its social relevance - if it did, then everything not about our own contemporary situation would be academic to us, and all the art of the past would be a mental museum. Art lasts because it gives us a language for our inner reality, and that is not a private hieroglyph; it is a connection across time to all those others who have suffered and failed, found happiness, lost it, faced death, ruin, struggled, survived, known the night-hours of inconsolable pain."

Jeanette Winterson on T.S. Eliot

From here.

Friday, February 17, 2012


"Hey, Tengo, do you know the difference between the English words 'lunatic' and 'insane'?, she asked.

"They're both adjectives describing mental abnormality. I'm not quite sure how they differ."

"'Insane' probably means to have an innate mental problem, something that calls for professional treatment, while 'lunatic' means to have your sanity temporarily seized by the luna, which is 'moon' in Latin. In nineteenth century England, if you were a certified lunatic and you committed a crime, the severity of the crime would be reduced by a notch. The idea was that the crime was not so much the responsibility of the person himself as that he was led astray by the moonlight. Believe it or not, laws like that actually existed. In other words, the fact that the moon can drive people crazy was actually recognized in law".

Page 307, 'What's the Point of its being a World that isn't There?'
From 'IQ84', Haruki Murakami

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Underneath them, and within them, I see you lurk...

"You have not known what you are — you have slumber’d upon yourself all your life;
Your eye-lids have been the same as closed most of the time;
What you have done returns already in mockeries;
(Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in mockeries, what is their

The mockeries are not you;
Underneath them, and within them, I see you lurk;
I pursue you where none else has pursued you;
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the accustom’d routine, if
conceal you from others, or from yourself, they do not conceal you from me....."

Excerpt from 'To You', Walt Whitman

The time of the almond tree

The time of the rain tree is not the time of the almond tree. While the rain trees are filling up their bare branches with a million fresh green leaves, their canopies thicker by the day, the almond trees are slowly turning golden-red and shedding their leaves, on the morning-walk streets. (You must someday speak to the road-sweepers, how intimately they must know each tree.)

And the mango trees have been abloom in their inconspicuous way since a while, their sharp fragrance exhuding promises of mangoes, their tanginess, followed by sweetness. The yellow jacaranda has begun to bloom all over the city last week. Soon they will make even the most insensitive person stop and stare. The dense cover of thick bunched-fist blooms on branches where the leaves have gracefully fallen, to make way for one brief glorious declaration of yellow.

And you, mute ghost, you walk among them, the only certainties in your world, while your fleeting fickle quicksilver seasons leave you dazed, afraid, the ground beneath your feet forever shifting.

A guide who leads us only to ourselves

"A pantheistic force animating the world; a schizophrenic deity both plebeian and patrician; a guide who leads us only to ourselves: Eros, clearly, is no simple god. He is, Socrates contends, no god at all. Draw­ing together the strands of these various reflections, Socrates main­tains that Eros is, rather, a 'great spirit' who is 'midway between what is divine and what is human,' his ambiguous nature owing to the strange circumstances of his conception.

Sired at the birthday party of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, Eros is the child of Pov­erty, who came to the festivities uninvited as a beggar, and the god Plenty, a welcome guest who passed out there drunk. He produces a son who is neither 'mor­tal nor immortal.' Now fully grown, Eros takes after his mother. Con­stantly in need, he is 'hard, unkempt, barefoot, homeless.' But, like his father, he is 'brave, enterprising, and determined.' Having inher­ited 'an eye for beauty and the good,' Eros continually searches for these two qualities through love, as befits one conceived in the pres­ence of Aphrodite.   

"Straddling the human and the divine, Eros is an emissary, con­ducting 'all association and communication, waking or sleeping,' between the gods and men. His twofold nature explains his defin­ing characteristic - desire itself. For what is desire but the human acknowledgment that one is in need, that one is lacking? As Socrates explains, 'the man who desires something desires what is not avail­able to him, and what he doesn't already have in his possession.' "

Author: Darrin M. McMahon  
Title: Happiness: A History 
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Date: Copyright 2006 by Darrin M. McMahon
Pages: 32-34

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This quiet voice that is borrowed, or my own

Many Scientists Convert to Islam
Nomi Stone

Conversations with a Muslim friend

So, if you don’t believe in full it means you don’t
believe. Words tumble onto the rock. A book

Okay then tell me about heaven’s beautiful
food and women. Who are these women?

My friend says, “This life is like a twenty-minute train ride.”
He says, “I live inside my
faith more fully every day.”

I am standing on soaked pavement outside
that majestic hotel in the center of town. Just before
dark, the birds come in a furious swoop like
hornets, stinging the sky to let in

what is on the other side.

Then the next life is equally
about the body, denied in the first?

“Do you know the Prophet knew the exact number of bones in the human
body? And why do you ask so many questions? You ask
more questions than you take in breaths of air."

The birds beat. They crumple in
rivers of sky. At the same time every day. Kierkegaard said that

every instant a man in despair is contracting it. My friend is not
in despair; I am not in despair.

Kierkegaard says there are three kinds of despair: despair
at not being conscious of having a self, despair at not being
willing to be oneself, and despair at willingness to be

oneself. Listen, the train. Why complain about
the seat, the air conditioner? Just do
your best until you arrive.

During Ramadan, I fasted a week. I went to the mosque.
My friend’s uncle said:
“So you are becoming Muslim?” I said: “No.” He said: “Shame
on you.”

In the cold November current, there is a whirring of wings. Sometimes
they cloud into petals, sometimes they don’t.

When the forehead presses to the earth, the blood moves
down. In the joining, the self lightens. You must count the three perfect
joints of each finger to keep time. Make no mistake, you leave the body only

through the body. The train ride. This quiet voice that is borrowed or my own.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Apatheia, holy stillness

"From Remigiusz Sowa best Documentary Transmitter Award winner at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival; a truly remarkable story of Father Lazarus El Anthony, university lecturer, Marxist who abandoned his life in Australia and went in search of God and freedom. His pilgrimage eventually brought him to a life of a Christian Coptic monk and live in solitude on the Al-Qalzam Mountain (Egypt) in the pursuit of what the Desert Fathers called apatheia, holy stillness."

The Last Anchorite Part 1 (8.55 minutes):

The Last Anchorite Part 2 (10.01 minutes):

Anachōreō: To withdraw:

Photo from Google Images

Tségihi, house made of dawn...

"In fact, many Native American and First Nations songs do not use a fixed language at all, but rely on vocables, which are impromptu words without a specific meaning but whose sound fits the song. Words are not necessarily an essential component of songs, sung poems, or even certain prayer ceremonies.

...Here is a song (or poem) used by the Navajo Nation as a prayer in the healing ceremony known as the Night Chant. It uses fixed words and phrases, and is recited to a rythmic ceremonial drum beat or, sometimes, to a small spirit drum:

House made of dawn.
House made of evening light.
House made of the dark cloud.
House made of male rain.
House made of dark mist.
House made of female rain.
House made of pollen.
House made of grasshoppers.
Dark cloud is at the door.
The trail out of it is dark cloud.
The zigzag lightning stands high upon it.
Male deity!
Your offering I make.
I have prepared a smoke for you.
Restore my feet for me.
Restore my legs for me.
Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
This very day take out your spell for me.
Your spell remove for me.
You have taken it away for me.
Far off it has gone.
Happily I recover.
Happily my interior becomes cool.
Happily I go forth.
My interior feeling cool, may I walk.
No longer sore, may I walk.
Impervious to pain, may I walk.
With lively feeling may I walk.
As it used to be long ago, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Happily, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant showers, may I walk.
Happily, with abundant plants, may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.
Being as it used to be long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
With it be beautiful all around me.
In beauty it is finished."

From here.

Anachōreō: To withdraw

Anchorite (female: anchoress; adj. anchoritic; from Greek: ἀναχωρέω anachōreō, signifying "to withdraw", "to depart into the rural countryside") denotes someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, and—circumstances permitting—Eucharist-focused life.

...The anchoritic life became widespread during the early and high Middle Ages. Examples of the dwellings of anchorites and anchoresses survive. They tended to be a simple cell (also called "anchorhold"), built against one of the walls of the local village church. In the Germanic lands from at least the tenth century it was customary for the bishop to say the office of the dead as the anchorite entered her cell, to signify the anchorite's death to the world and rebirth to a spiritual life of solitary communion with God and the angels.

...Hearing Mass and receiving Holy Communion was possible through a small, shuttered window in the common wall facing the sanctuary, called a "hagioscope" or "squint". There was also a small window facing the outside world, through which the inhabitant would receive food and other necessities and, in turn, could provide spiritual advice and counsel to visitors, as the anchorites gained a reputation for wisdom.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


A Conversation

Drinking together, just the one cup between us,
The wine soon tasted of both our mouths,
Back and forth so often I could not tell
If the wine made me drunk, or your words.

Hu Ming-Xiang

From here.

We talk about the weather

Of university days. Of theatre, street plays, changing the world. The belief that we will never let this fire die, that we are all in this together, this brotherhood of the Passionate. That autumn of Brecht. Of Kundera. Of Che. And Neruda. Of "Come and see the blood in the streets!"

A poem of Brecht. And it all comes back.


We embrace.
Rich cloth under my fingers
While yours touch poor fabric.

A quick embrace
You were invited for dinner
While the minions of law are after me.

We talk about the weather and our
Lasting friendship. Anything else
Would be too bitter.

Bertolt Brecht


Sea-weed sways and sways and swirls
as if swaying were its form of stillness;
and if it flushes against fierce rock
it slips over it as shadows do, without hurting itself.

D.H Lawrence

Friday, February 10, 2012

The hands from the trains

From 'Bombay, Meri Jaan - Writings on Mumbai', Edited by Jerry Pinto & Naresh Fernandes, Penguin 2004.

"Asad, of all people, has seen humanity at its worst. I asked him if he felt pessimistic about the human race.

"Not at all", he replied. "Look at all the hands from the trains."

If you are late for work in Bombay, and reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you can run up to the packed compartments and you will find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outward from the train like petals. As you run alongside you will be picked up, and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway. The rest is up to you...

And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable or whether you were born in the city or arrived only this morning or whether you live in Malabar Hill or Jogeshwari; whether you are from Bombay or Mumbai or New York. All they know is that you're trying to get to the city of gold, and that's enough. Come on board, they say. We'll adjust."

(Excerpt from a review, I have not yet read the book -

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


“..As for Kabir, I went to him through the Nirgunia singers of Malwa whom I heard while lying ill in Dewas. I learnt about their capacity to create vacuum which is so crucial for a Nirgunia bhajan. They use notes in a distinctly hermit-like manner so that notes are thrown at you but you don’t get hurt. They sing in loneliness.

In singing Kabir my attempt is to create this essential loneliness and yet also a persisting sense of community. Kabir says it himself beautifully: "I am severally alone." The total identification of the interior and exterior is Kabir’s most challenging aspect.”

Kumar Gandharva

The Second Time

"....You haven't met yourself as yet. But the advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them might present you to yourself."

From the film 'Waking Life', by Richard Linklater

*          *          *          *          *          *          *
"We saw Lazarus arise and walk. Took off.
And was not seen thereafter.
No one saw him die the second time."

'The Garden of Epicurus and Other Poems'
Ulla Hahn

*          *          *          *          *          *          *
"Catch me, I am falling."

Woody Allen, 'Zelig'

Nathaniel. I will teach you fervour...

"...Nathaniel, I will teach you fervour.Our acts are attached to us as its glimmer is to phosphorous. They consume us, it is true, but they make our splendour.

And if our souls have been of any worth, it is because they have burnt more ardently than others.

Great fields, washed in the whiteness of dawn, I have seen you; blue lakes, I have bathed in your waters - and to every caress of the laughing breeze I have smiled back an answer - this is what I shall never tire of telling you, Nathaniel. I will teach you fervour."

André Gide (1869-1951)
Les Nourritures Terrestres [Fruits of the Earth]


"Suicide was against the law. Johnny had wondered why. It meant that if you missed, or the gas ran out, or the rope broke, you could get locked up in prison to show you that life was really very jolly and thoroughly worth living."

Terry Pratchett


"There is only one reason why you could sympathize with this story and it is that you must care for the terrible lack of reciprocity we all must learn to live with. If you have not yet felt it, let me only say I love and envy you for your incompleteness.

- and of course that inevitably you will feel it, as we all feel death, not as punishment, but simply the inevitable.

...We are looking at an ordinary woman, one living in the natural non-reciprocal world, trying hard to believe in reciprocity, trying to shoulder the burden for lack of correspondence, trying still to find not love nearly so much as reciprocity."

'The Man who Shook Hands' a cpllection of poems by Diane Wakoski

29 Jul 1991

Monday, February 6, 2012


"All this talk so far about classic and romantic understanding must seem a strangely oblique way of describing him, but to get at Phaedrus, this oblique route is the only one to take. To describe his physical appearance or the statistics of his life would be to dwell on misleading superficialities. And to come at him directly would be to invite disaster.

He was insane. And when you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he's insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it. Otherwise your own opinions block the way. There is only one access to him that I can see as passable and we still have a long way to go."

Page 87, 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', Robert M Pirsig

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Circuit breakers

"All beings on the planet are far more interconnected than we, for the most part, recognise. Technology did not initiate our linked-ness but has greatly intensified it.

Telecommunications and mass media connect us not merely informationally, but also energetically and psychically. As a consequence, we can now instantaneously and exponentially multiply one another's agitation. In an era where sorrow and disquiet so frequently overload global communication grids, those who cultivate equanimity and stillness can act as circuit breakers.

Practising peace in this way is one contribution toward ensuring that our contact with each other serves to cool and not inflame our individual and collective mindstates."

Page 141, 'Sacred Secular, Contemplative Cultural Critique' by Lata Mani


For Albors Pascal Askari, who brings me music that floats in and out of my day, unobtrusive, light, gliding, a reminder that you should not try to possess anything that is truly beautiful, you must just let it wash over you, and be grateful for finding yourself in its path.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Look up!

Rain trees in winter. Their branches open up like a flower, a bouquet. They flow into the sky. Like water released into the open, suddenly frozen.

Below the earth do their roots mimic the same spread, do they reach out with the same longing, tremulous, quiet?

Looking at these, you feel you've overshot your quota of beauty in life, now everything else is a bonus:

A vision of another way

by David Budbill

You can see him in the village almost anytime.
He's always on the street.
At noon he ambles down to Jerry's
in case a trucker who's stopped by for lunch
might feel like buying him a sandwich.
Don't misunderstand, Ben's not starving;
he's there each noon because he's sociable,
not because he's hungry.
He is a friend to everyone except the haughty.

There are at least half a dozen families in the village
who make sure he always has enough to eat
and there are places
where he's welcome to come in and spend the night.

Ben is a cynic in the Greek and philosophic sense,
one who gives his life to simplicity
seeking only the necessities
so he can spend his days
in the presence of his dreams.

Ben is a vision of another way,
the vessel in this place for
ancient Christian mystic, Buddhist recluse, Taoist hermit.
Chuang Tzu, The Abbot Moses, Meister Eckhart,
Khamtul Rimpoche, Thomas Merton—
all these and all the others live in Ben, because

in America only a dog
can spend his days
on the street or by the river
in quiet contemplation
and be fed.

"Ben" by David Budbill, from Judevine.


 "A loved one is also singular, distinct, separate. The more closely one defines, regardless of any given values, the more intimately one loves. The finite outline is a proof of its opposite, the infinity of emotion provoked by what the outline contains. This is the deepest reason for the frequent elongation of Modigliani's figures and faces. The elongation is the result of the closest possible definition, of wanting to be closer."

Page 105, 'Modigliani's Alphabet of Love'. From 'The Sense of Sight', John Berger

And he had so many friends...

The Suicide's Room

I'll bet you think the room was empty.
Wrong. There were three chairs with sturdy backs.
A lamp, good for fighting the dark.
A desk, and on the desk a wallet, some newspapers.
A carefree Buddha and a worried Christ.
Seven lucky elephants, a notebook in a drawer.
You think our addresses weren't in it?

No books, no pictures, no records, you guess?
Wrong. A comforting trumpet poised in black hands.
Saskia and her cordial little flower.
Joy the spark of gods.
Odysseus stretched on the shelf in life-giving sleep
after the labors of Book Five.
The moralists
with the golden syllables of their names
inscribed on finely tanned spines.
Next to them, the politicians braced their backs.

No way out? But what about the door?
No prospects? The window had other views.
His glasses
lay on the windowsill.
And one fly buzzed---that is, was still alive.

You think at least the note tell us something.
But what if I say there was no note---
and he had so many friends, but all of us fit neatly
inside the empty envelope propped up against a cup.

Wisława Szymborska
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh   


 Wisława Szymborska, Polish poet, passed away on Feb 1. I cannot think of a better definition of poetry:

“In a way, Szymborska supplied her own best epitaph, and obituary, in the text of her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she took on the “astonishment” of normal life:

“Astonishing” is an epithet concealing a logical trap. We’re astonished, after all, by things that deviate from some well known and universally acknowledged norm, from an obviousness we’ve grown accustomed to. Granted, in daily speech, where we don’t stop to consider every word, we all use phrases like “the ordinary world,” “ordinary life,” “the ordinary course of events.” …But in the language of poetry, where every word is weighed, nothing is usual or normal. Not a single stone and not a single cloud above it. Not a single day and not a single night after it. And above all, not a single existence, not anyone’s existence in this world."

No whiteness is so white as the memory of whiteness...

The Descent
William Carlos Williams

The descent beckons
as the ascent beckoned.
Memory is a kind
of accomplishment,
a sort of renewal
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
inhabited by hordes
heretofore unrealized,
of new kinds—
since their movements
are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat—since
the world it opens is always a place
unsuspected. A
world lost,
a world unsuspected,
beckons to new places
and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory
of whiteness.

With evening, love wakens
though its shadows
which are alive by reason
of the sun shining—
grow sleepy now and drop away
from desire.

Love without shadows stirs now
beginning to awaken
as night

The descent
made up of despairs
and without accomplishment
realizes a new awakening:
which is a reversal
of despair.
For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love,
what we have lost in the anticipation—
a descent follows,
endless and indestructible.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A twilight-piece...

The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,
And autumn grows, autumn in everything.
Eh? the whole seems to fall into a shape
As if I saw alike my work and self
And all that I was born to be and do,
A twilight-piece.

'Andrea Del Sarto', Robert Browning

The far side of the lilac

For Kavya, who sends me these beautiful lines from a cold country, saved by the bright sunshine she revels in:

“To make the most of the sun’s warmth, sparrows flock the bush (lilac colored flowers bloom out of it in Spring) bordering my window. The leaves of the lilac bush have never withered. No, not even in harsh winter. They, just like the sun and the sparrows, want to keep me in high spirits. I often wonder where do the sparrows and the geese hide when it snows. They come back the very next day it stops snowing.” (Indeed, where do they hide?)

My favorite passage on the lilac, from Berger:

“Perhaps lilac is the most abundantly feminine of flowers. It came from Eastern Europe and was imported into the West in the sixteenth century. A Slav flower.

Among the mountains here, the lilac trees flower at the time when the first cuckoos sing. Cuckoos and lilac come as a pair. The cuckoo is pure impudence. Later when he falls silent after mating, he eats grubs and caterpillars-even those which are poisonous for other birds-with impunity.

The scent of the lilac, you once said, is not far from the smell of cows in the stable. Both are smells of peace and procrastination.

The days are becoming long, and in the evening I sit in the kitchen reading without a light. On the windowsill is a jug with a flowering branch of lilac, which I cut in a friend’s garden. It is pale purple, the color of a much-washed ultramarine blue shirt….

….The walls of the house are thick, for the winters are cold. On the window embrasure, close to the windowpanes, hangs a shaving mirror. As I look up now, I see reflected in the mirror a sprig of the lilac branch: each petal of each tiny flower is vivid, distinct, near, so near that the petals look like the pores on skin. At first I do not understand why what I see in the mirror is so much more intense than the rest of the branch which, in fact, is nearer to me. Then I realize that what I am looking at in the mirror is the far side of the lilac, the side fully lit by the last light of the sun.

Every evening my love for you is placed like that mirror."

John Berger
'And our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos '

Photo by Kavya.

How the river held still...

Oh, such beauty.

Living on the Plains

That winter when this thought came -- how the river
held still every midnight and flowed
backward a minute -- we studied algebra
late in our room fixed up in the barn,
and I would feel the curved relation,
the rafters upside down, and the cows in their life
holding the earth round and ready
to meet itself again when morning came.

At breakfast while my mother stirred the cereal
she said, "You're studying too hard,"
and I would include her face and hands in my glance
and then look past my father's gaze as
he told again our great race through the stars
and how the world can't keep up with our dreams.

William Stafford, 'The Way It Is'

Remembering our wings

At the posh restaurant, families sitting at tables, silently eating their food. You look around. Not many smiles, and no laughter. No visible enjoyment of the food, of togetherness. Couples not looking at each other, but elsewhere, or staring into the plate. An entire family of 20 sitting across a long table, separated from each other, no one talking to each other. Funereal.

Is it only with friends that we truly relax, feel lighter, step out of ourselves, forget the burdens we carry, remember our wings? Does family weigh us down, remind us of all that ties us to the earth, subdue our wild free spirit?

*              *              *              *              *              *              * 
From a heavy metal fan friend, you learn this startling fact you never knew.

Megadeath: one million deaths —usually used as a unit in reference to nuclear warfare.

*              *              *              *              *              *              *
"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill

*              *              *              *              *              *              *
Some people eat their own mattresses. Like cows!


The indignant go-away horror of the safely married woman, in front of the garishly-dressed prostitute.

The self-righteous "I would never do such a thing" loathing of the never-challenged morally correct person, in front of the criminal, the addict, the un-wed mother.

The curled-lip smug superior air of the mother and grandmother, in front of the childless woman whose lap has never been filled and celebrated.

And the laughter or embarrassed half-afraid turning-away of the comfortably sane, in front of the mentally-ill reject wandering in strange clothes, muttering, lost, not-fitting-in.

November, 1967

Dr. Zhivago was playing at the Paramount
Theater in St. Cloud. That afternoon,
we went into Russia,

and when we came out, the snow
was falling—the same snow
that fell in Moscow.
The sky had turned black velvet.
We'd been through the Revolution
and the frozen winters.

In the Chevy, we waited for the heater
to melt ice on the windshield,
clapping our hands to keep warm.

On the highway, these two things:
a song from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
and that semi-truck careening by.

Now I travel through the dark without you
and sometimes I turn up the radio, hopeful,
the way you were, no matter what.

Joyce Sutphen

Blog Archive