Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

Yehuda Amichai

Frighten me into the present

Jack Gilbert, the poet, died on Nov 13, the one who told us that "We must risk delight" and that "Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph."

I Imagine the Gods

I imagine the gods saying, We will
make it up to you. We will give you
three wishes, they say.

Let me see
the squirrels again, I tell them.

Let me eat some of the great hog
stuffed and roasted on its giant spit
and put out, steaming, into the winter
of my neighborhood when I was usually
too broke to afford even the hundred grams
I ate so happily walking up the cobbles,
past the Street of the Moon
and the Street of the Birdcage-Makers,
the Street of Silence and the Street
of the Little Pissing.

We can give you
wisdom, they say in their rich voices.
Let me go at last to Hugette, I say,
the Algerian student with her huge eyes
who timidly invited me to her room
when I was too young and bewildered
that first year in Paris.

Let me at least fail at my life.

Think, they say patiently, we could
make you famous again. Let me fall
in love one last time, I beg them.

Teach me mortality, frighten me
into the present. Help me to find
the heft of these days. That the nights
will be full enough and my heart feral.

Jack Gilbert, 1925-2012

Seeing, in Three Pieces

Somehow we must see
through the shimmering cloth
of daily life, its painted,
evasive facings of what to eat,
to wear? Which work
matters? Is a bird more
or less than a man?

There have been people
who helped the world. Named
or not named. They weren't interested
in what might matter,
doubled over as they were
with compassion. Laden
branches, bright rivers.

When a bulb burns out
we just change it--
it's not the bulb we love;
it's the light.

Kate Knapp,  'Wind Somewhere and Shade'

A November evening prayer

Riding into the city after nearly a month of illness and withdrawing, you are startled to see the tree covered in pink flowers, at a bend in the road. November. The pink of November. You had completely forgotten. You, who had watched the trees on the way to work every day for the last 20 years in this city, noticing every single change in them. You who had decided on your last job because it was right next to Cubbon Park. You are shaken up, in tears, you are choked up with guilt, horrified by what you had almost lost. How could you have forgotten November, its very brief splash of pink?

Twenty years later, you now live in a different part of the city, where the road to work passes through unending ugliness. You know you have lost something vital to your existence, you have not stopped feeling empty and lost for a minute, you are diminished, the face in the mirror grows stranger day by day.

You spend the entire weekend riding around in the perfect November sun, visiting each one of your trees in pink, asking forgiveness. You visit them in the morning, and then again in the evening, you know how they blush under the sun's gaze in different shades, at different times, a love that never grows stale.

In the evening you sit for coffee at the restaurant from where you can watch the trees in Cubbon Park, across the fountain. You remember an old friend who said that you will never make it big, because you never chase fame or wealth, all your goodness will never be recognized because you don't fight for the badges. The friend who on another day, remarked, "You are the Keeper of Seasons in this city", and understood, in a way, that if you ever make it to Heaven, you will have a feeling of déjà vu.

You watch the light turn golden, and for a brief moment you wish you had a friend to sit silently with, a friend who has nowhere else to go after this, whose phone will not ring, and whose gift of presence is complete.

You want to sit here forever, anyways. But then it is time for the sunset. You remember the old wandering seer in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday". "I have to go to the sunset now. I've come to the point where I don't think it can go down without me. That makes me seem needed."

You ride into the park again, under the canopy of the ancient rain trees, and go around the circle of trees with pink flowers one last time, as if around the stone gods at the temple, worshipful. A November evening prayer, which you almost forgot.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


“Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.”

Kurt Tucholsky

All these things


Sun overhead,
you pointed
to the wind-tossed grasses.
This is a memory now.

Together in that first sun,
so vivid:
there must be a pattern

I’d hung my life on.


Snow dropped in clusters,
staggered & jagged.

We don’t matter a bit.

Reflected in lake water:
all these things I’ll forget.

Nate Pritts, "& then afterward"


“Whenever someone who knows you disappears, you lose one version of yourself. Yourself as you were seen, as you were judged to be. Lover or enemy, mother or friend, those who know us construct us, and their several knowings slant the different facets of our characters like diamond-cutter's tools. Each such loss is a step leading to the grave, where all versions blend and end.”

Salman Rushdie, 'The Ground Beneath Her Feet'

The realm of possibilities

I Covered a Great Distance Without Effort

The seats faced backwards although the train car
was headed forward. The engineers designed it that way
intentionally: the cushioned seats at the front facing
in toward the rest of the car,—passengers’ faces,
a Japanese flower arrangement of faces.

The platform began receding. Whoosh.
Not in the sense of being unconscious or knocked out, but
I was coming to

see, that is, to understand an endurance test deep
inside that things could have
gone differently, the furniture. It could have turned out
completely different. That’s within

the realm of possibilities, as if the election were in our favor
somewhere else, in the United States of Atlantis.—

I left off just as I was going
to make a mental note in that regard,

that we were carried along, passively, in motion
without walking or running, spastic reflex in the legs
—To sit down in one city, stay seated an hour and a half,
and then stand up in a small town Milton Bradley
must have modeled its tiny green
Monopoly houses and red hotels after.

Jeffrey Jullich

Rought Drafts

My Ex-Husband Asks Me Who Reads My Rough Drafts

No one, I say, over Thanksgiving dinner at the Fess, the rhinestone ear-
rings I bought to please my lover brushing my cheeks like cool, knowl-
edgeable fingers. Then I amend that to: Well, my writing group does, of course.
But mostly I read my own rough drafts now. I don’t know why he’s asking or
what it matters, the two of us poised at opposite sides of the table,
polite and wary, but still family of a kind, thrown together this holiday
by circumstances too complicated to question.

Dinner arrives, with all the trimmings, and we talk of other things. His
job and mine. Econometric models for utility companies. The business
of selling books for a living. He wears the navy blue sweater with a
snowflake design that I helped him pick out at Brooks Brothers. I wear
a bargain, teal-green silk from Shopko that he’s never seen, the weird
alchemy of divorce making strange what was once most familiar.

Pumpkin pie comes, followed by decaf—sweetened, with lots of extra
cream—and all the silly things we know about one another float,
unspoken, in the lamplight between us. We do not talk of the future.

But as he bends to sign his half of the check, I see again how he bent at
our kitchen table, going over my manuscripts, pencil in hand, teaching
himself about poetry because he loved me. And how it is for love’s sake,
and because no one in our lives can ever really be replaced, that he asks
me this question I do not know how to answer, except with the words
of this poem, this rough draft I am still in the process of revising.

Alison Townsend

This blood of yours

"...For exactly the same reason, it is sometimes satisfying to cut yourself and bleed. On those gray days where eight in the morning looks no different from noon and nothing has happened and nothing is going to happen and you are washing a glass in the sink and it breaks-accidentally-and punctures your skin. And then there is this shocking red, the brightest thing in the day, so vibrant it buzzes, this blood of yours. That is okay sometimes because at least you know you’re alive."

Augusten Burroughs, 'Running With Scissors'

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Ego Boundary

"Suzuki rises from his chair and turns to the board. He picks up the chalk and draws a freehand oval, something like an eggshell in diagram. As though piercing one side of the eggshell with a straw, he draws two parallel lines that cut through from inside to outside.

...The eggshell is the boundary between us and everything else: the identity that constructs the viewpoint of "I-me-mine". The thin line that Suzuki draws on the board contains what we think of as "the world". Though it seems solid to us, the ego boundary is actually something like a mirror that reflects the way our own minds are constructed. Our consciousness imprints itself on everything we see, feel, think, and do, even before we notice. It's almost impossible to see what's "not us" due to the power of its biological force field. Perhaps it's a survival mechanism. Compared with the colossal and incomprehensible immensity that we float in, the egg-ego feels like a place apart - a comfortable little place where the separate existence of the chick can be nurtured.

Although the chick may feel alone within its shell, Suzuki is describing a bigger picture. He tells us that the chick's sense of separation is an illusion. I-me-mine has no reality beyond its purpose of keeping us alive. Instead, everything flows in and through the parallel lines.

...Suzuki's teaching on ego was ground zero in Cage's transformation. The emotions troubling him - where is their reality? They have no real basis. All they are doing is dividing Cage from himself. Walling him up in agonized thoughts. Making him lose sight of his own vast wisdom."

Page 171, 'Ego Noise', Section 2: 'Mountains are no longer Mountains', from ‘Where the Heart Beats - John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists’, by Kay Larson, 2012.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Ink strokes on rice paper -
a wooden bridge
curved over a river,

mountains in the distance
and in the foreground
a wind-blown tree.

I rotate the book on the table
so the tree
is leaning toward your village.

Billy Collins

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Christmas Gift for Tamenglong

The villagers of Tamenglong in Manipur, North-East India, are building a 100 km road that is their only hope of access to medical facilities, all by themselves, with their physical effort and meager financial resources. They hope to complete it by Christmas.

I have included details below if you want to contribute, I did an online transfer. You could just read this article too, about this amazing young man, Armstrong Pame.

Naga IAS officer builds 100-km road in Manipur without govt help

Villagers of Manipur's Tousem sub-division in Tamenglong district are a busy lot these days. At least 150 of them on a daily basis are clearing away a thicket with their machetes and daos. Some are lugging away heavy branches of recently felled trees; and others are operating bulldozers and earthmovers to give themselves the "best Christmas gift ever".

Theirs is one of the remotest corners in the country, where the India shining story has not yet reached; but the villagers are part of modern India's most ambitious road project embarked upon by one man, a young Naga IAS officer, without any funding from the government.


To contribute:

Join the group (photos/details of road construction in here):

Bank Details for Transfer from India and abroad:

To receive the light, and return it

Read it here, preferably, with the photos.

Although what glitters
         on the trees,
row after perfect row,
        is merely
the injustice
        of the world,

the chips on the bark of each
        beech tree
catching the light, the sum
        of these delays
is the beautiful, the human

body of flaws.
        The dead
would give anything
        I’m sure,
to step again onto
        the leafrot,

into the avenue of mottled shadows,
        the speckled
broken skins. The dead
        in their sheer
open parenthesis, what they
        wouldn’t give

for something to lean on
        that won’t
give way. I think I
        would weep
for the moral nature
        of this world,

for right and wrong like pools
        of shadow
and light you can step in
        and out of
crossing this yellow beech forest,
        this buchen-wald,

one autumn afternoon, late
        in the twentieth
century, in hollow light,
        in gaseous light. . . .
To receive the light
        and return it

and stand in rows, anonymous,
        is a sweet secret
even the air wishes
        it could unlock.
See how it pokes at them
        in little hooks,

the blue air, the yellow trees.

Excerpt from "Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt", a poem by Jorie Graham.

Saturday, November 3, 2012



Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at bright moonlight on concrete.

Jack Gilbert

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We must risk delight

"...We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.

To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.

We must admit there will be music despite everything.

We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.

To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come."

'A Brief for the Defense', Jack Gilbert

This is Water

"...There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

.....The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head..It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
A commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace, to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College

There are other options

"But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this.

Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider.

If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options.

It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down."

David Foster Wallace


"...Food is incredibly important. Not just because Cambodians know what it's like to be without, but because it acts as a means of connection. In Cambodia, physical displays of affection are awkward and almost nonexistent, except between pals of the same sex. Therefore a mother will show her adoration for her son through a well-cooked meal: a soup instead of a hug; a well-grilled fish intsead of a kiss."

Lonely Planet: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong

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