Sunday, August 23, 2015

A relationship is a physiologic process

"Dozens of studies demonstrate that solitary people have a vastly increased rate of premature death from all causes - they are three to five times likelier to die early than people with ties to a caring spouse, family, or community.

With results like these backing the medical efficacy of mammalian congregation, you might think that treatments like group therapy after breast cancer would now be standard. Guess again. Affiliation is not a drug or an operation, and that makes it nearly invisible to Western medicine.

Our doctors are not uninformed; on the contrary, most have read these studies and grant them a grudging intellectual acceptance. But they don't believe in them; they can't bring themselves to base treatment decisions on a rumored phantom like attachment.

The prevailing medical paradigm has no capacity to incorporate the concept that a relationship is a physiologic process, as real and as potent as any pill or surgical procedure."

Page 80, 'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Spiegel im Spiegel

Best stress-buster ever, this piece. On repeat.

Spiegel im Spiegel
Nicola Beneditti

Be Not Defeated by the Rain

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat

Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly

Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables

Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well

Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines

Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles

Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all

Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be.

Kenji Miyazawa
Translated from the original Japanese by Hart Larrabee

A father's love is milk and sugar, two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief

Have You Prayed?
Li-Young Lee

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father's voice,
Have you prayed?

I know three things. One:
I'm never finished answering to the dead.

Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father's voice,
his mother's voice . . .

Or maybe he's seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?

When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father's voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father's love

is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what's left over

is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.

And patience? That's to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.

And wisdom? That's my father's face in sleep.

When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it's only me

reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth's wish and earth's rapture, and blood

was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It's just me

in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?

Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.

The Small Country

Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten.

And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?

Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?

And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?

What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?

What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.

Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it?

And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.

Ellen Bass

Limbic Resonance, or the Ancient Ability to Read Minds

"...Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call limbic resonance - a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other's inner states. It is limbic resonance that makes looking into the face of another emotionally responsive creature a multi-layered experience. Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity.

Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition.

So familiar and expected is the neural attunement of limbic resonance that people find its absence disturbing. Scrutinize the eyes of a shark or a sunbathing salamander and you get back no answering echo, no flicker of recognition, nothing. The vacuity behind those glances sends a chill down the mammalian spine.

...To the animals capable of bridging the gap between minds, limbic resonance is the door to communal connection. Limbic resonance supplies the wordless harmony we see everywhere but take for granted - between mother and infant, between a boy and a dog, between lovers holding hands across a restaurant table. This silent reverberation between minds is so much a part of us that, like the noiseless machinations of the kidney or the liver, it functions smoothly and continuously without our notice.

...It seems a strange irony that we need science to rekindle faith in the ancient ability to read minds. That old skill, so much a part of us, is not much believed in now. Those who spend their days without an opportunity for quiet listening can pass a lifetime and overlook it altogether.

The vocation of psychotherapy confers a few unexpected fringe benefits on its practitioners, and the following is one of them. It impels participation in a process that our modern world has all but forgotten: sitting in a room with another person for hours at a time with no purpose in mind but attending. As you do so, another world expands and comes alive to your senses - a world governed by forces that were old before humanity began."

Page 63 - 65,  'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


And you tethered me home

A Poem for Jennifer, after Hiromi Ito

My father died.
I opened the door and there you stood

tall and slender as light.
Gift in your hands: muffins you baked.

Your eyes between green and blue and gray.
Like the sea. Like winter sky.

You knew grief’s hunger, rooting deep.
You knew—

    That winter I moved away,

day after day of snow and black ice.
Schools closed. Roads closed—

    sadness rooted deep.

And you mailed a box of persimmons,
three rows of orange suns. I cradled

each one, set them in a wide glass bowl.
Their light filled the kitchen.

Their light filled my throat, stomach.
I mean to say, You saved my life.

I wanted to leave this Earth: too long
too cold. Darkness shaded my eyes.

And you tethered me home.
I mean to say twice -

Andrea Scarpino


Wordless Love Note

Once when you two were leaving a party, you stood behind her as you both waited for the elevator. You were still only getting to know each other. Suddenly her hand came around behind her back. You wondered what she was up to. Then you realized she was trying to locate your hand. Her forefinger found your thumb and pulled.

And it felt like blood from every corner of your body had rushed to your thumb to receive her magnet finger.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Evolution is not an upward staircase. And why we write/read poetry

Evolution is not an upward staircase

"Many people conceive of evolution as an upward staircase, an unfolding sequence that produces ever more advanced organisms. From this perspective, the advantages of the neocortex - speech, reason, abstraction - would naturally be judged the highest attributes of human nature.

But the vertical conceptualization of evolution is fallacious. Evolution is a kaleidoscope, not a pyramid: the shapes and variety of species are constantly shifting, but there is no basis for assigning supremacy, no pinnacle toward which the system is moving. Five hundred million years ago, every species was either adapted to that world or changing to become so. The same is true today.

We are free to label ourselves the end product of evolution not because it is so, but because we exist now. Expunge this temperocentrist bias, and the neocortical brain is not the most advanced of the three [the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex], but simply the most recent.

Poetry, a bridge between two brains

.....Because people are the most aware of the verbal, rational part of their brains, they assume that every part of their mind should be amenable to the pressure of argument and will. Not so. Words, good ideas, and logic mean nothing to at least two brains out of three. Much of one's mind does not take orders. "From modern neuroanatomy," writes a pair of neuroscience researchers, "it is apparent that the entire neocortex of humans continues to be regulated by the paralimbic regions from which it is evolved.

...A person cannot direct his emotional life in the way he bids his motor system to reach for a cup. He cannot will himself to want the right thing, or to love the right person, or to be happy after a disappointment, or even to be happy in happy times. People lack this capacity not through a deficiency in discipline but because the jurisdiction of will is limited to the latest brain and to those functions within its purview.

...Only the latest of the three brains traffics in logic and reason, and it alone can utilize the abstract symbols we know as words. The emotional brain, although inarticulate and unreasoning, can be expressive and intuitive, Like the art it is responsible for inspiring, the limbic brain can move us in ways beyond logic that have only the most inexact translations in a language the neocortex can comprehend.

...And so people must strain to force a strong feeling into the straitjacket of verbal expression....Poetry, a bridge between the neocortical and limbic brains, is simultaneously improbable and powerful."

Page 32 - 34, 'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Saturday, August 8, 2015




The hitch-hiker I
remember best
was someone you
might call a hobo.

Lord knows what he'd
been through, to receive
a gift that some folks get
who've borne so much.

He traveled light.
He owned a little pack,
a little dog;
that's all.

I drove for fifty miles
before he turned
his head to me
and said,

“I think
I'll get out here.

I like the way
the grass looks,
way up
on that hill.
The way the light
falls on it.”

Max Reif

Each day

In the Middle

of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.

The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time

to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day I look out the window,

green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,

our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee

and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies

twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,

Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,

sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

Barbara Crooker

Opening upon Starlight

Winter Stars

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, and with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them,
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.

Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…

If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes & shining, I can imagine, now it’s end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that the elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.
And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.

Larry Levis


I haven’t written a single poem
in months.

I’ve lived humbly, reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power
and the reasons for obedience.
I’ve watched sunsets
(crimson, anxious),
I’ve heard the birds grow quiet
and night’s muteness.

I’ve seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk, as if a careless hangman
had gone strolling through the gardens.
September’s sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.

I’ve taken long walks,
craving one thing only:

Adam Zagajewski

The Sound of a Train

Even now, I hear one and I long to leave
without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step
onto the platform and reach for
the porter’s hand and buy a ticket

to some other life; I want to sit
in the big seats and watch fields
turn into rivers or cities. I want to eat
cake on the dining car’s

unsteady tablecloths, to sleep
while whole seasons
slip by. I want to be a passenger
again: a person who hears the name

of a place and stands up, a person
who steps into the steam of arrival.

Faith Shearin

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