Sunday, January 31, 2010

Where Sweet Incense Burns

In silent stillness a lotus blossoms
Rising off the pond like a morning mist

When water hushes the ibis takes flight
Gliding on updrafts through a purple sky

A apple falls where spreading branches’
Shade cools the swami’s levitating soul

As thrushes warble a furtive fox blinks
And dandelions eddy on the breeze

Between some bushes a single moonbeam
Scales garden walls climbing through the vines

In a cold dark room where sweet incense burns
Reclines a stiff form its soul drifts away

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Significant Word Exercise - Peace


It always begins with the lighting of a candle in a darkened room. This is followed by the burning of incense. I close my eyes and focus on my breathing. Inhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four… exhale, two, three, four… hold, two, three, four. My body yields to a slow, calming rhythm. As I inhale through my nostrils, the scent of the incense infuses me with thoughts that mesh with the scent being burned: it might be ocean scent, or roses, or sandalwood, or any other from among the myriad of scents available.

My heart rate slows down and I feel a tingling sensation run up and down my spine. I focus my mind on each of my chakras, one at a time: the base of my spine, genitals, navel, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and finally the crown. As each chakra is opened to receive universal energy, I feel it expand and throb, then pulse in rhythm to my breath. With my eyes closed, my inner vision observes a whirling vortex of white light above my head. Then, a beam of white light descends from the vortex into my crown and all of the chakras emanate a glow. It is at this point I intone my mantra. Over and over, the word resonates from my throat as I allow it to ring out for as long as I exhale. I never break the rhythm of my breath.

Sometimes, it feels as though the blood ceases to circulate in my body. Sometimes it feels like a fire within me rages. There are times when I feel as if a flood of water is washing me from the inside out. Occasionally, I visualize the white light enter with my inhaled breath and a gray smoke expelled when I exhale. On those times, the gray usually becomes cleansed a little with each breath, so that at first, I see dark, murky and thick strands of smoke expelled when I exhale until, with enough time and focus spent on the breathing exercise, the smoky discharge gradually changes into a light, wispy and thin white mist.

That is the time when I try to empty my mind of all thoughts and hear the stillness of the night. I tune out words and just hear whatever natural sounds might be present. I don’t think about the sounds, I just drift on them - mindlessly, thoughtlessly, and serenely. It is in this state that I find inner peace.

Commonly Accepted Understanding of Peace

According to Wikipedia, “Peace is a quality describing a society or relationship that is operating harmoniously. This is commonly understood as the absence of hostility, or the existence of healthy or newly-healed interpersonal or international relationships, safety in matters of economic or social welfare, the acknowledgment of equality and fairness in political relationships and, in world matters, peacetime; a state of being absent any war or conflict” (Peace, Wikipedia, 26 January 2010). Very much the same definition can be obtained by looking in other encyclopedias and dictionaries, so this definition can suffice as a working description of the common, universally held conception of peace.

In the sense described above, peace is not viewed as an inner state of being for an individual. Rather, peace is seen as a state of affairs, equilibrium, between two or more parties: individuals, collectives, countries or cultures. The viewpoint expressed suggests that peace is defined by relationships, and especially by the absence of conflict in those relationships. When people get along, they are at peace with one another. When countries are not engaged in war, they are at peace. When ethnicities and classes treat one another fairly, with equality and evidencing social justice, they are perceived as being at peace with one another. Thus, harmony in relationship, between and among groups or multiple individuals, expresses the popular and broadly universal conception for the meaning of peace.

On the Beach

I walked along the seashore. The sound of the surf rolling in to the beach, waves occasionally crashing, reverberated in my ears. Gulls flew overhead, and their calls rang out between the rhythmic ebb and flow of waves which washed the sandy shoreline. The gray day hushed the breeze into stillness. Out on the water, a few gulls and a lone pelican bobbed on the rising and falling ocean. Three dolphins took turns diving and swimming through the waves, riding on the backs of the waves the way I once rode on breakers’ faces. Way off in the distance, I could see a fishing boat maneuvering to reap the harvest of the day’s catch.

The salty smell brought a smile to my face. My eyes laughed at the damp mist in the air. Driftwood and dead kelp was strewn about on the shore, left there by a higher tide. I dug up some sea shells as I strolled along the water’s edge. Some children played in the surf. A man ran with his dog on the shoreline. As I watched life around me, I found myself feeling withdraw, apart. An understanding came upon my mind that I did not need to be part of the activity. I sat on a large log and gazed about me through my sunglasses. All I wanted to be was one of those waves, and as I imagined myself to be one, I found peace of mind.

Celebration for the End of WWII

At the end of World War II, after the last atomic bomb had been dropped and the Japanese surrendered, celebration rang through the streets of New York. People hugged everyone nearby. Strangers kissed to the moment. A tickertape parade wound through the streets. Bells rang out. Champagne bottles were uncorked and people toasted to both victory and peace. People shouted their glee. Mothers expectantly awaited the return of their soldier sons. The end of hostility released revelry to the new found peace.


I look at what I have written and notice something odd. The commonly, or universal perception of peace as defined by Wikipedia is one which entails a relationship between two or more individuals, or cultures or countries or other social units. Yet, neither of the moments from my life which I presented as having been emblematic of moments in which I felt and experienced peace have anything to do with relationships.

It appears from my examples that peace, for me, is the absence of relationships, the absence of people, the absence of the complications and entanglements that come in relationships with others. It seems that my conception of personal peace is an emotionless state, both joyless and without sorrow. Rather, peace, in my life, is evidenced by an emotionless serenity in between joy and sorrow, where I am in harmony with myself and nature, but where other people are only and always on the periphery. Peace, then, for me, is contented serenity in solitude.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Old Wine

I am going to present a poem which was written spontaneously and has not been edited. It is a prompt exercise based on an example which comes from Charles Bernstein's Experiments. This exercise arises from a prompt or suggestion which is rooted in anaphora. Anaphora is a kind of formless form. The poem can take any shape, use any meter, be regular or irregular in line numbers, and be rhymed or without rhyme. The key point is to create one device which does repeat regularly. So, there is form within the formless. In this exercise, which I am titling "Old Wine," I am using as my form the prompt which follows:

I used to be _________,
but now I am _________.

Old Wine

I used to be an adult,
but now I am a child.

I used to be a prince,
but now I am a frog -
all the kisses which princesses
etched on my brow, cheeks
or lips have finally faded.

I used to be a heart
beating in unison
with the rhythm of a generation,
but now I am a single
candle flame flickering in the breeze.

I used to be naked
in a world with no mirrors,
but now I am mirrored
in a world of overcoats.

I used to be a puppy
running free in an open field
wondering what everything
smelled like,
but now I am an old cur
barking at passersby
while I curl up
with a flavorless bone.

I used to be the man
who wrote epitaphs
on the cemetery markers
of the boys who came
home from Vietnam,
but now I am a ghost
of the empty shell,
the space in the coffins
where souls who die too
early silently cry.

I used to be a warm fire,
but now I am old wine.

Feathery Finger Fractures

The winds of a winter blizzard
cut through me, razor sharp,
revealing a bloodless heart
reclining, motionless
in a gaping cavity,
and covered with an icy
surface, like a frozen lake,
as feathery finger fractures
crack across the ice
sheet. I stand at the center
while the frigid waters
wait patiently to swallow
my shivering flesh.
This destination lies
at the end of a path
I deliberately chose, I know
my icy precipice perch
offers its greatest peril
in the warmth of sunrise.

An Interpretation and Discussion of Charles Olson's Poem "Maximus, to himself"

Maximus, to himself


I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross
a wet deck.
The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar. Was delayed,
and not content with the man’s argument
that such postponement
is now the nature of
that we are all late
in a slow time,
that we grow up many
And the single
is not easily

It could be, though the sharpness (the achiote)
I note in others,
makes more sense
than my own distances. The agilities

they show daily
who do the world’s
And who do nature’s
as I have no sense
I have done either

I have made dialogues,
have discussed ancient texts,
have thrown what light I could, offered
what pleasures
doceat allows

But the known?
This, I have had to be given,
a life, love, and from one man
the world.
But sitting here
I look out as a wind
and water man, testing
And missing
some proof

I know the quarters
of the weather, where it comes from,
where it goes. But the stem of me,
this I took from their welcome,
or their rejection, of me

And my arrogance
was neither diminished
nor increased,
by the communication


It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet

Charles Olson, “Maximus, to himself” from The Maximus Poems. Copyright © 1987 by the Regents of the University of California.

What Maximus, to himself Means to Me.

Olson talks about learning the simplest things last. The older I get the more I feel like the simplest things are never learned, for instance, learning how to conduct relationships with others. Does one ever learn how to do this properly? I don’t think so. We all end up having disagreements with other people, sometimes arguments, and sometimes misunderstandings arising from poor communication or illogical inferences drawn from some expression, action or event. Often all these circumstances lead to estrangement for some period of time all the way to occasional termination of the relationship. In severe cases, they can lead to individuals isolating themselves from the world. The truth is, people don’t ever really fully learn how to relate to one another, and each of us only does so to varying degrees. Yet, relating to other people seems like it should be one of those “simplest” things to which Olson refers in the poem. Hence, it is, as he says in the opening of the poem, learned last.

The sea is a potent symbol in this poem. I believe it is a symbol for all of humanity. It is beautiful to see how he could use an event from his life to explain life and relationships. He tells us he had trouble getting a hand out or crossing a wet deck. These are specific tasks at sea. They are also symbols: getting one’s hand out a symbol of offering one’s hand to someone else in friendship or to help when they are in need, or to ask for help when one might be in need oneself. Crossing the wet deck could symbolize the ability to traverse difficulties in relationships when they arise.

Then, Olson redirects our attention. The sea wasn’t his actual trade he says. He suggests that, in reality, we do not deal with humanity as a whole. We deal with individuals, and especially those individuals who are in our immediate frame of reference. For Olson, that “immediate frame of reference” is larger than for most people because he was a writer, so his writing affected people far beyond the number of those he met and conversed with in person. Even at this, communicating with – and relating to and with – those people in his world, he says he was estranged as he was with regard to his understanding of how to really learn the art of interpersonal relationships. So, the art of relating to his audience of readers, was delayed – or to continue the metaphor, learned last (perhaps if learned at all).

Olson goes on to say that we are all late, suggesting that the problem of relating interpersonally is universal. He explains that not only are we late (to learn the lesson and art of relationships), but we (or he and his contemporaries in the early 50s when the Maximus poems were written) live in a slow time. He is suggesting an interesting juxtaposition here. The time was speeding up with the growth of post-WWII America, the rapid rise of a post war economic boom, the sprawl of cities into the suburbs, the proliferation of the automobile, and roadways and highways being built to link every corner of the US. Yet, Olson suggests that as everything was speeding up, we also experienced a slowing down of our interconnection - our ability to relate with and to one another. This is indicative of his ability to see estrangement and alienation in his world.

He also speaks briefly of a difference in self-perception. That is, Olson says we "grow up many and the single is not easily known." Here, again, he is referring to alienation in the world. He is also referring to the pressures of society which force conformity on the individual. A third interpretation offers itself as well, that is that we have many sides or aspects to our personalities, and for an individual to get to the root and see one's true or essential self - that single unifying part of us within the multifaceted personality, the many facades we present to the world as we try to fit into situations and groups - is a very difficult thing to do. In other words, we never really know ourselves.

He refers to a quality of achiote in others, in those who conduct business. The achiote is a plant which is indigenous to the tropical region of the American continent. One of its uses is as a spice/coloring agent to replace saffron in rice. It was a flavoring for a Yucatan drink. It was used as a paste to make body paint by Native Americans. It was used as a hair dye and also as a base for lipstick. This indicates he considered these others as people who colored their world, painted their world, flavored their world. They were, thus, an additive to his world like a spice, people whose influence nuanced everything in his world and were, consequently, beyond his ability to influence. He claimed they were agile in their ability to exert influence. He contrasted that with a view of himself which he says he could not say exhibited the same agility. There is a sense of his feeling of being late to understand how to relate to his world with the kind of agility that would have allowed him to be the same kind of spice, the same kind of flavoring and coloring which might have wielded a wider influence on his world.

Olson tells us he has had some small effect in presenting what he has learned. He has given lectures and written papers, etc., which he calls his doceat. Here, he refers to Pound’s Cantos and Pound’s use of the Latin word in the sense of to move, to teach or to delight. However, he is referring to these abilities only in terms of intellectual pursuits, to ideas, to affairs of the mind. Conversely, with regard to what he calls the known, a word he is using to symbolize the physical world and life with and among people in a tangible sense, meaning interpersonal relationships as opposed to intellectual pursuits, he reaffirms his lack of confidence and adds the observation that he came late to understand it. He lets us know that life and love came to him, more as a gift than as an active process in which he took part. He speaks of past experience as tokens, meaning symbols of the life lived, but not the direct expression of life.

Next, he calls himself wind and water. These are two pliable things which, however, are capable of causing very slow erosion upon the land. In the sense of their being pliable, meaning they can be resisted, dammed, walled out, guided into specific channels and withstood, he indicates that he is missing the proof of his ability to affect and influence his world and to impart some real sense of himself on others interpersonally. However, in the sense that they cause slow erosion, he may be inferring that his work might have a more lasting quality with the effect of influencing future generations more than his contemporary world. He knows the weathers and where they come from. In other words, he knows acceptance and rejection when he meets it. And as a consequence of rejection and acceptance of his work or himself in interpersonal relationships, he says, the world determined his worth by the acceptance and rejection it expressed toward him. This is what he means when he uses the symbol, “the stem of me.” It is his essential self but not his view of himself. He accepts society's view of him as society's view. But, his arrogance, meaning his self-worth, he says, was not affected by others’ opinions regarding him or society's perception of his worth to the world.

He concludes on a hopeful note. He says that the business of his relationship to humanity (the sea) is unfinished business. The sea stretches out before his feet. In other words, he is still alive, so still working on his relationship with the world. He is still offering his work to the world. He continues to strive to impart his unique impact on the world. Hence, the future is undefined, and whatever will be his ultimate effect on the world is yet to be determined. He still has time to learn the lesson of relationships, both interpersonal and with humanity as a whole. So, the lesson comes late in life, indeed. He infers it is not complete as long as one is still living.

This means a lot to me, as an older man still trying to learn how to conduct interpersonal relationships as well as feeling inadequate in my ability to either accept or offer the deepest levels of connection in interpersonal relationships. At the same time, as a man who is only now, at 57 years of age, trying to pursue a career as a writer and to conduct a dialogue with the world, with humanity as a whole, I can take heart in Olson’s final optimism. There is still time for me to begin and enter into this relationship with the world and with people individually through interpersonal relationships. I can still hope to offer my doceat from my learning and perspective. I can still be a pinch of achiote on the world. Nothing is defined. The fulfillment of interpersonal relationships and a dialogue with humanity still loom as possible.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Night Howls Hysteria at the Moon

Sheets of paper lie shredded on the ground -
words that once made sense, now jumbled,
tumble aimlessly in the wind, someday
strewn in regions so far apart they'll not
call up memories: staying submerged,
until drowned. Fleeting smiles' spent
energy fades in time to the gray haze
engulfing a foggy beach as witness
to the cruel ends that swallow treasures
at the bottom of a dark, cold ocean.

Don't sing me anymore songs or paint
another spring landscape - they haunt
the empty echoes reverberating through
the last lost shades of color reflected
as dusk envelopes the Pacific sunset.

The night howls hysteria at the moon
while dogs bark and cats screech
in drunken alleyways of a forgotten
past: the last line cast to mooring
pillars, slithers awry, all sense defied.

A caterpillar crawls across a leaf's stem
seeking a secure refuge to shed its skin
which will harden into its cocoon,
but the vulnerable pupa offers a tasty
meal before ever having a chance
to form into a chrysalis, leaving no time
to transform into a butterfly.

Sidewalks erupt under foot as discordant
jazz plays in the nearby cafe. Colors run
together, leaving a muddy wash background
coagulating in the sewer of my veins,
and the last violin sonata strains derange as
the night howls hysteria at the moon.

a willow who weeps

only a cold wind blows
the heavy, drooping arms
weighed down by a clinging
frost dripping from the eyes
of a willow who weeps

Monday, January 4, 2010

An Inky Ooze

"I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant—
Among other things—or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened."
- From T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets," III of The Dry Salvages (No. 3 of the "Four Quartets.")

The moon cries teardrops of blood
as a foreboding gloaming encroaches -
its shadow-finger injecting an inky ooze
onto the sky-blotter. A zillion catapulting
electromagnetic fields etch invisible arcs
across the motionless vortex, skidding
and careening like billiard balls shot
apart by the break. No cue stick lies
nearby, evidencing a lack of prescience.

If you drop a pebble into a pond
you'll see patterns expressed in ripples,
though not through the design of your
intelligence. All apparent sequence, order
and plan in a universe with a single
common denominator - infinite
expression - arise like mental figs,
the fruit of the perceiving imagination.

Every electromagnetic field emanates
a unique perspective. No imagined
perception of order agrees with any other.

All deductions are equally true and false.

Tears of blood flow because we kill each
other over our disagreements in deductions.

Patterns only arise in response
to the parameters of hypotheses.
What you see is what you get
because it's what you expect.
Each individual reality looms
into view as a mirror's reflection.

As the moon's shadow-finger injects
its ink ooze into the sky-blotter, people
spread an inky ooze on it, too,
butter-knifing the air, land and sea
with the excrement of Jonestown.