* * * * *
* * * * *
"Der Goldmacher is der einzige wahre Wohlthater der Menscheit." Friedrich Nietzsche
The simple shining of the world’s presence leaps forth in the alchemic Now of hope:
transfiguring immediacy into fire,
changing darkness into light.
We have seen –
that knowledge cannot save, and founders in the despair of crumbling centuries:
discarded beliefs, lost paradigms flowing forever pastward,
towards oblivion, into dark.
We have seen –
values, and the terrified face, struggle for the future listless against a backdrop
of realities no longer believed, no longer loved –
disintegrating toward the twilight of unreality and myth.
And the centuries pound forward, adamant,
pressing us dark against the unknown face,
relentless – knowledge cannot save,
merciless – values do not sustain;
And we have seen ourselves –
belonging wholly nowhere,
in the dark of the unknown face – alone.
Yet the simple shining of the world’s presence leaps forth in the alchemic Now of hope!
and a fire scintillates even in this stillness!
It bursts forth shimmering, a silent spectrum of unknown sparks –
Despair dissolved in the great world work, even now.
And we see –
emptiness shine forth its inner light,
beyond knowing, the golden glow breaking fast,
brilliant between concepts –
in radiance the silent paradigms surpassed.
And we see –
the simple shining of the world-presence,
embrace our being-in-the-world,
and lift us gently toward the sacred ceremony of hope,
The Eschaton breaks forth, redeeming value in the unknown light,
of the alchemic face, radiant in mystery,
gathering again the world,
and promising transfiguration –
Our Transformation – in the simple shining of the holy fire.
The world to be, beyond the nothingness of knowledge and utility,
leaps forth that radiant face,
in the alchemic light beyond being,
that purifying pyre –
The world leaps forth, beyond the dingy paths of everyday,
out of the sacred silence of our being,
and toward the chemic mystery of the living moment,
a fire in our Now, until that Now is all.
* * * * *
3 May 2003
The dreams of philosophy, when we are young,
Are the lethal target of the teachers of philosophy,
They must be killed, and the hard reality of this
Relentless discipline, must break the student’s heart,
For philosophy today, is quite sure that,
The child is no longer father to the man,
For philosophy today,
The soul has no need to build its ship of death,
It is meaningless, the philosophers say today,
To live in eternity’s sunrise,
All you need to know, is the structure of argument,
Not that beauty is truth, truth beauty,
Philosophy to me was once life, and hope, and dream,
But then came my education, Ph.D, and danger of death,
I have had to spend my life unlearning,
I have had to live my life relearning,
The ear attends to this call from the depths,
Of our humanity, of the deepest springs of hope, and life,
Philosophy is not this thin-faced logic,
Wrapping it cerebral tentacles around the mask of death,
Philosophy is not this hard-nosed factuality,
Sacrificing the vision and wonder of the flowers in the field,
Philosophy is not this logos-driven set of abstractions,
Thrown over the buzzing, blooming confusion of our lives,
And smothering the deep purple of the lilacs,
And the ecstatic whiteness of the bridal wreath in bloom.
Philosophy without the thinking-feeling-willing self,
Is the mask of death, the empty husk of peer-reviewed publications,
Philosophy without the visionary, dreaming self,
Is a fetter on the revolutionary upsurge of wild existence,
Philosophy without the deeply wondering self,
Crushes the absolute mystery at the heart of being,
Philosophy is this longing in our hearts,
That must spring forth in all we do,
For our hearts and minds reflect the heart of being,
And the deepest springs of inspiration,
The wisdom and compassion,
The sorrow, and the ecstasy,
Philosophy is our deepest, purest life,
And the thought that often lies too deep for words.
* * * * *
3 July 2000
The blue-green waters of this channel, where black bodies glisten in the wavelets
and schools of fish ripple the surface in a timeless dance,
Where pleasure boats come and go in the calm waters,
or glisten in the sun, white in their moorings,
Where immense cruise ships spend the night at birth,
and commercial ships discharge their traded cargo,
The lighthouse on the left, white against the blue sky,
the sun rising at the right, the clouds, the waters full of light.
This is not Havana harbor, two hours west by plane,
a sailboat cruises under power down the channel, gracefully even without sails,
The air feels cooler here, fresher, a weather pattern perhaps less thermal, more social,
This island of black people – escaped slaves from Haiti,
is a place of freedom and prosperity,
Due, it’s true, to the wealthy North American tourists, arriving daily on their planes and ships,
With their stupid, shallow thoughts, and smug, self-satisfied causal clothing
and vacant smiles – but nonetheless,
The waters here do not float with oily scum, they float the image of that lighthouse
and home the crabs and lobsters, fish and shiny stones on the clear bottom.
The waters here float pleasure boats, small boats for working people,
large ones for the rich,
They are not empty, like Havana, except for children risking illness,
in the effluent of inefficient factories.
People do not risk their lives here to escape, small boats on a vast expanse of sea.
Nassau is a stopping point for me this morning,
No place to live – a nightmare of capitalist smugness –
a birth for the night on the journey home.
What we want and need is not Havana, and what we need is not this pristine
The longing for freedom in our hearts, is for deep transformation,
the jailbreak out of history – genuine newness!
This channel to the sea, where morning breaks above the passionate
confusion of our lives,
Is not Havana harbor - a birth for the night, a turning point
for reflection and for hope.
* * * * *
I have seen the curious bright faces of the Nicaraguan kids,
in a small village far from the terror of the world;
And I have splashed with the wide-eyed children of the Cuban countryside,
in a mountain stream barely ninety miles from the belly of the beast;
I have heard the evening echos of children in a Spanish campsite,
in the mountainous holy north, among ancient Cathedrals of hand carved stone;
I have seen the children in the slums of Dhaka,
bright colored saris on the girls, curious and unafraid;
I have seen multitudes of tiny children in Calcutta, in the light of first dawn,
wrapped in threadbare blankets, no pillow on the concrete walks;
I have seen Iraqi children, twisted and swollen with strange diseases,
their pain screaming silently, even through the innocence of a young life;
And I have known the beast, lived in its belly – the beast of greed, of power twisted,
its systemic, dispassionate hatred for the children of our world;
I have seen the poisonous weapons of destruction throughout the globe,
chemicals sprayed on farm children of Columbia, child soldiers in El Salvador and Sierra Leone;
I have known it selling weapons in the global marketplace, protecting ideology:
marketing free enterprise and jet fighters – selling children into prostitution.
And I have shuddered at this insatiable gorging of gold, clutched by twisted minds and hands,
factory children lacerating fingers and hearts in Haiti, India, and Brazil;
I cry each night for the children without parents, without homes, without hope,
the skies of Afghanistan and Serbia rain cluster bombs, smart bombs, uranium bombs.
I have seen the swollen veins of greed and power, towering banks, traffic jammed Wall Streets
and monetary funds, extending tentacles through all green lands where children sing and dance;
And my heart pours out to the children of the world in their sun-lit golden play,
to their blind faith in the power of life – that is about to betray them;
My heart bleeds for the children – and for the cruel innocence,
of a fate that will soon strangle bright faces into hopelessness and dead eyes;
I have seen those curious bright faces of the children of the world - everywhere,
against the bitter black background of capital accumulation;
And my heart recoils from the managers of our global death camp,
neck-tied accountants, uniformed officers, manicured politicians, prominent investors;
Whose dead hearts and greedy fingers pump limitless gold-black blood,
through the insatiable belly of their beast.
* * * * *
13 January 2004
People dot the fields of Bangladesh,
Dark bodies in the steamy sunlight,
Bare feet lost in muddy water and vivid green new plants,
Singing a song of beauty in their work.
Songs sung together, basic to life in Bangladesh,
Rise from the depths of that communal life,
That binds the spirit in a common love,
Of country, land, and God.
Bright colored saris on the women,
Dark brown bodies of the men,
Immobile in the watery slow landscape,
Sing young and old in eternal repetition.
The Moslem faith of trust in God,
Integrates their timeless, endless work,
Into the immensity of God’s universe,
And sings these fields as their eternal home.
The watery fields of Bangladesh,
Working home for the rural poor,
A canopy of trees on high ground,
Signals village huts and simple trades.
These fields a lake in monsoon season,
For fishing, simple nets on bamboo stilts,
Village now an island, songs of the fishermen
In a world of water.
A clump of trees on high ground,
The dry season or the monsoon,
Alternate in an eternal note of sadness,
Yet joy – water and sun – the glory of God.
Hearth and simple trades,
A community of prayer and work,
Singing a melancholy song,
Of beauty, poverty, and remorse.
* * * * *
2 July 2002
Sitting on the balcony
of apartamiento seis in Old Havana,
The sweaty night freshened by a breath of oily air
and the screech of brakes from Terminal de Trenes,
I watch the stately unseen drift of the planet Venus
across the sky in splendid isolation
above the passion and the heat.
She slowly sinks to the horizon,
the fixed stars behind,
a faint canopy amongst the inky black.
Momentarily a television antenna
obliterates that eye of beauty,
among the forest of antennas
On the tops of buildings three stories up
and crowded in the noisy city streets of La Habana Vieja.
Oh shining jewel of light!
You sink to the horizon of tangled edifices,
leaving the inky blackness and the perspiring electric lights behind.
Venus has disappeared!
And with you a tiny jewel of hope among the tangle of antennas.
Below – a skeen of words and images drawn from the unseen night
into a million apartamientos – the sounds of Cubavision
Radiating from a thousand doors and windows
open in the heat crowded night,
into myriad sparks of mental light
faint as the stars in the darkened sky behind,
Into a million cravings for dinero, for sex, for love, for dance, for fantasy world USA,
celoso, invidioso, cariño, amor
Socialismo o Muerte!
Oh shining single star of light!
or rather, noble planet on your independent course
among the pale estrellas,
You are to me the hombre nuevo of the heavens,
you are the new humanity of deepened consciousness
splendid in your independent isolation
above our world.
To gaze upon your stately drift
oh single eye of brightness and serenity,
our beacon, drawing us apart to deep awareness:
Awakening in us the universal vision,
the embracing compassion of human transformation,
beyond the tangle of antennas, the electric wires,
The passionate apartamientos, the dance, the dreams,
Your beacon arises forever again each night,
And for us each night,
you sink unseen into the dark horizon,
the trackless tangle of antennas and emotions.
Un hombre viejo,
drunk in the night,
ejaculates a string of Spanish curses.
* * * * *
1 July 2002
In the sweaty heat
of the Cuban afternoon,
The wind feels good high up
from the lighthouse at El Morro.
La Habana lies before us,
harbor and sea, white buildings and blue waves,
like all such things,
beautiful from a distance.
La fortress grande at El Morro:
ten foot think walls, sheer embankments
Slotted windows, cannon emplacements –
Built by black Africans – enslaved.
We command the harbor at La Habana,
Spanish masters command before us,
To protect their stolen island,
With its wealth of sugar cane and slaves.
I meet, a Cuban expatriate
on the walkway of the lighthouse,
returned some 43 years too late:
“Una pregunta, habla ingles?
“This lovely harbor and calm inviting sea –
“Why are there no pleasure boats?
“Of course there are only few commercial ships,
“Everyone understands el bloqueo
“But could it be that Cubanos don’t boat?”
No pleasure boats,
Una isla sin barcos?”
I reply: Cubanos dance –
With the music in their blood, bailan,
With the rhythms in their supple bodies, bailan,
With the ecstasy of their passionate hearts.
The joy of male and female permeates this island,
Niños dance before they walk,
The salsa, the ballet, the discotec,
Musica is everwhere.
Socialismo o muerte!
Pero sin barcos,
Partira o muerte!
Pero los Cubanos no le gustan barcos.
From El Morro we look into history,
A plaque on the wall to the brave heros
Who fell in 1762,
Defending the slave-built city against the British,
A plaque on the opposite wall to the brave heros
of England – who gave their lives in the attack.
Cuba does not belong to the Spanish,
Cuba does not belong to the British,
Cuba does not belong to Yanqui imperialists,
Cuba esta libre,
The Hotel Havana Hilton renamed el hotel Havana Libre.
In the harbor of La Habana,
No pleasure boats sparkle in the sunlight,
To celebrate Cuban freedom,
Cubans don’t boat, they dance.
The immediacy of the dance, the salsa rhythms
The great here and now of the supple passion,
The African drum beat in la sangre,
The sensuous movements of the female body,
Express a joy of living in the Cuban soul,
And express a longing for freedom
in the soul of the slave.
This dance is in the blood,
of every Cuban child –
These grand children of slaves,
who fought for their isla bonita,
longing for freedom.
Sweaty sensuous bodies,
In the freedom of the dance,
Celebrate Cuba belonging to the Cubans,
Cubanos don’t boat – they dance.
* * * * * * *
26 July 2003
"This is no country for old men,"
sings my friend,
that greatest of poets,
All the summer long they sing,
the young in one another’s arms
whatever is begotten, born, and dies,
So my friend the poet,
with an eye upon eternity,
sets ship to sail for the holy city of Byzantium.
I have harkened not his call,
to board that ship,
to where the gold-wrought artifice,
Of poetry, art, and literature reside,
to where the collective memory of the past,
is anthologized for drowsy students,
Or bought to decorate the halls of power,
between the Renaissance and the Blue Period,
where stolen wealth craves blessings on its deeds.
This country of fish, flesh, and fowl,
in this respect is also not my country,
But it is the country of your widening gyre,
where the center does not hold,
and the blood-dimmed tied is loosed upon the world,
It is the country of widening hunger,
of planetary misery, unnatural death,
of weapons, and endless war.
Who will encounter that rough beast?
that slinks through town and village,
the young in one another’s arms oblivious,
Who will mount a crusade to Bethlehem,
confront the infidel in his lair,
and retrieve the holy grail of history?
Do you too, friend poet, lack all conviction,
that you wish to escape,
to the holy city of Byzantium?
Does the hour of the beast,
come round at last,
portent a fatalism beyond hope?
Where are you, friend poet,
when there is need of vehicles,
for the word and hope of God?
Surely you have read your Blake,
surely you know that God exists
and lives only through the human heart.
This is no country for old men,
for the ceremony of innocence is downed,
by the Lords of the Earth,
Who summon that rough beast,
with greed, injustice,
and endless war.
Does a poet have no role to play,
in this summer land of birth and death,
where the innocent in one another’s arms,
Are inundated by the blood-dimmed tide,
digested by the Lords of Earth,
and severed from the God of history?
Who is the voice of hope,
in this land of birth and death,
which is the land of history?
Of struggle and hope,
of reflection and redemption,
of miracle and ecstatic life,
You should have read your Lawrence,
for whatever the dead or unborn may know,
they cannot know this miracle,
Of being alive and potent in the flesh,
this once only, the impact,
of this miraculous, shining cosmos!
The rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem,
but it need not be born,
for the great hope of history,
Exists and lives,
through the human heart,
thy kingdom come!
This is precisely the country for old men,
my poet friend,
for we are not in one another’s arms,
And we are freed,
like the prophets of old,
to listen, and to speak,
We can hear the crawling of the beast,
moving toward Bethlehem,
and discern the blood-dimmed tide,
We can hear the call of God,
and like the navi of old,
we speak because we hear,
We must not set sail,
for the holy city of Byzantium,
we belong here.
This is our country,
for deeper than whatever is begotten, born, or dies,
lie the depths of history,
We are the voice of the kingdom,
the voice of the great hope,
for mercy, justice, and redemption,
Do poets have no function,
but to keep a drowsy emperor awake,
in the holy city of Byzantium?
Set your sails for battle, friend poet,
in the storms and squalls of history,
forget that gold-wrought eternity,
Our ship must fly the banner,
of eternity breaking into history,
in action for a transformed world,
Old men must wield the helm,
who hear that voice and heed that call,
to write the poems of history,
Our ship must sail beneath the banner,
abreast this blood-dimmed tide,
of the holy city of Jerusalem.
* * * * *
Kara, Togo, 14 June 2003
A terrorist, according to the dictionary, and the FBI,
is one who spreads terror,
in the hearts of men,
In order to attain social, political,
or economic goals.
Here in northern Togo,
where all faces, hands, and feet are black,
where they speak French, and native languages,
And I do not understand much of what they say,
where men, women, and children smile,
friendly and relaxed,
flashing beautiful teeth, and eyes.
Here in northern Togo, I live for a month
with the people,
yet not with the people, as always,
Thanks to my European and North American,
ancestors, slave traders, conquistadors,
who made me rich at their expense,
Thanks to the global economic system,
ensuring that I remain rich,
at their expense.
Here the people are very poor,
houses small, crowded, one room, simple,
They know that faces, hands, and feet called white,
yet they do not hate, or beg,
They smile, and give directions, and help me
in the market, the computer café,
to make a long distance telephone call,
and buy a doormat for my rented room.
I buy bread and cheese, avocados and peanuts,
at a street-side table,
or from a woman walking by,
A huge bucket of mangoes,
balanced on her head,
I hold a rich white hand out to her,
full of coins,
She picks out the proper amount,
I came to West Africa to talk about world problems,
and to learn - about world problems,
which are their problems, in a certain way,
more than my problems.
Their world problems are very simple,
easily studied, readily understood,
These friendly smiling people,
live with deprivation,
and disease, and daily death.
Clean water hard to come by,
Children play near the ever-present
streams of putrid water.
"What happens to the poorest who
cannot afford a few coins,
for a bucket of clean water?" I ask.
"They die," is the reply.
"When I work to feed the poor,"
says Dom Helder Camara of Brazil,
"they call me a saint."
"When I ask why the poor are poor,
they call me a communist,"
or a traitor, or a terrorist.
Here am I an ordinary man in a strange land,
as I turn my face to my neighbors on this Earth,
in Brazil, in Ghana, India, or Nicaragua,
Or my neighbors here in Kara,
my heart is filled with weariness, yet hope.
All I have to give,
is my conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,
Which should be enough,
since all humans have these abilities,
and can ask,
why the poor are poor.
This simple question,
so clear, so obvious,
borne of conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,
Strikes terror in the hearts of those,
who rule the world,
Terror in the hearts of those who wish,
to possess their riches,
in innocence and ignorance.
It is fitting that they call me,
a traitor, or communist,
As I give a child a piece of candy,
from my bag,
or tip the girl serving soda,
a few coins,
Or share a home-cooked meal,
of corn-mush and sauce,
prepared by my new friend,
A woman who teaches me,
a little French.
For the question why the poor are poor,
is terror to the Lords of the Earth,
is terror to those who want,
To possess, in innocence,
And those who dominate the rest,
in the World Bank, Washington, DC, and the Pentagon.
The only question necessary,
borne of conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,
the question they call "terrorist,"
Is why the good people of Kara,
live with deprivation,
disease - and daily death.
* * * * *
29 July 2004
Great white clouds in the vast blue sky,
Hang like magical islands,
In an ocean of light.
The sky, a thrilling brilliant blue,
Darker hues above, paling to an ecstatic silver blue,
At the horizon.
The lake calm, jubilant with tiny wavelets,
Reflecting the bottomless joy of sky and clouds,
Green forest mirrored at every shore,
Eternal rocks and boulders salute the gray-green water's edge.
Water, sky, and shore blend into the deep mystery,
Of nature's eternal beauty.
It is enough to be still amidst this beauty,
The soul refreshed, relaxing its daily fret,
Yields to nature's grace,
And finds again,
Its bottomless connection,
To the Eden of its birth.
* * * * *
30 July 2004
Two roads once diverged in a yellow wood,
And the poet, with sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and care,
Took the one that was grassy and wanted ware.
He took the one less traveled by,
He recalls reflectively with a sigh.
The first road, traveled by many and most,
Is pedestrian, thoughtless, and basically lost,
Going, as it does, to the chaos of city streets,
Going, as it were, nowhere,
Mass transit of the worst sort.
The second road, the one less traveled,
(but not by much the poet says)
Goes off the beaten path a hair,
Where street lights may not be fully lit,
Suburban sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and care.
Oh this road less traveled,
Where personal life finds its way,
Toward fulfillment – perhaps a bit less gay,
Then the glaring city lights, with their carnival pistache,
And manic speed crazed heights.
All the difference this has made,
With thoughtful inwardness has laid,
The ground of personal bourgeois life,
The self-indulgence of a mind,
Traveled apart from the daily grind.
The poet leaves the rest behind,
Humanity in its city of shame,
Lost in trackless streets of blame,
Aimless amidst an ugly urban blight.
And unconcerned with living that is right.
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,"
And travelers must choose,
The grand way, of emptiness and booze,
Or the less traveled way – the self-indulgence of the bourgeois,
An artistry of self that one can never lose.
The wood surrounds – perhaps a yellow wood of magic and of mystery,
But for the poet the wood encompasses two paths,
A stage-setting for the drama of roads,
A prop for a plug for the road less taken, a backdrop for the path
Of sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and care.
Bushwacking is not an option here,
Only two roads, and the backdrop of dramatus artificialus,
Do not leave these roads no matter what!
Only that other road with its aimless city nights, and one-way trash-can allies,
Go apart to the subtle ways of mind, and be your glorious self.
And those who now anthologize this poem of roads,
In endless editions for drowsy college freshmen,
Hung-over from an alcoholic night of electric music,
And glaring city lights,
Rest assured, dreaming in their professorial beds,
With hopes that some sensitive soul,
Not submerged entirely in the mass,
Not hopelessly far on the road not taken,
Not drowned in the digital chaos of city streets and urban haze,
May choose to walk this road of praise.
And become themselves, perhaps,
A bourgeois college professor,
Or at best a personal confessor,
In poetry or secret spirituality,
Making all the difference for authentic personality.
Bushwacking not an option here,
For there are only two roads,
And the professors seek to draw the children into that grace,
Of those few souls who find their bourgeois satisfaction,
In walking apart from the maddening race.
"I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be,"
cries another poet – and all agree,
We were never meant to be,
A prince – except one such, who asked,
Why we forever lie on our backs, talking about the fall of man,
And refuse to get up.
Who will blaze a trail of meaning for the Earth?
Who will leave the road, and plunge,
Into the yellow wood of wilderness magic and rugged mystery?
Who will lead us from the chaos of electric urban nights,
And the despair of bourgeois self-indulgence?
For the yellow wood is only a stage prop,
For those who are not Prince Hamlet,
Who see two roads diverging in the wood,
And imagination does not recall,
That someone ever walked these woods before the roads.
Who will blaze our trail today?
Who will bushwack in the wilderness, crying out,
To bring humanity, and the Earth,
Into the city of meaning,
Into the holy city of Jerusalem?
The yellow wood is there, a forest primeval,
More real, with leafy ways and sunlit clearings,
And tangled thickets of a world yet unexplored,
A wilderness the heart of which,
Intimates our final destiny and our home.
And we can leave the roads at any time,
And blaze a trail – not to chaos or bourgeois self-indulgence,
But to the holy city of the Eschaton,
At the heart of the yellow wood itself,
A new dawning over the green forest
– a sacred home for humankind.
* * * * * *
16 August 2004
What is this freedom that beckons at the door,
And opens to the heart in moments rare?
What is this song, that comes from bards of yore,
Teaching the fragrance of a purer air,
Than daily care, and fret, and thoughts so poor?
I know there is another bliss,
Beyond the beauty of a woman’s kiss,
A bliss that intimates our future state,
Of peace beyond recalling, ne’er too late
To vibrate in the god, an affirmation of our fate.
I watch the stars at night, the inky black,
Bespeckled by a million points of light,
And know the destiny of humankind,
As truth and freedom from the daily grind,
A wafting in this wind of bliss and might.
This awareness of the sparkling world,
Reflected in the limpid mind,
Responding deeply to its kind,
In bird and tree and sky and sea –
This freedom-world was made for me.
* * * * *
3 June 2005
While we wait in our autobus,
for the stoplight to flash green,
And turn our attention,
to the busy city streets,
Traffic bustling through the crowded calles,
bright red taxis, yellow autobuses,
and flashing blue billboards announce
their corporate graffiti at every turn.
hookers, salesmen, and street vendors,
Scurry, pre-occupado, under the cool cloud cover.
The rainy season promises,
An afternoon freshness,
under giant video screens competing
With sexy billboards,
for momentary attention.
people appear unaware,
That nothing lives on these city streets.
The colors of the busy city,
Flash in splendid suchness,
while the nothingness that is not there,
In its momentary flow,
that neither stops nor starts,
Nor flashes red or green or blue,
settles beneath the great while statue of Christos,
* * * * *
6 June 2005
When the Bhagavan of the
Kolkata Vedanta ashram,
Interrupted my sentence,
That began with "I believe..."
"You only believe, I know !"
But he does not understand,
That faith is neither
Belief, nor knowledge.
* * *
The florescent lights
in the waiting room,
of Kolkata International Airport
Shed the cold light,
of fear and insecurity.
* * *
The hope of the world lies,
In the fullness of life,
That cannot arise under this
Global economic system,
Predicated on death.
* * *
How can you say
you love humanity,
when you don’t love each?
For there is no "humanity"
apart from each.
* * *
To say "I know"
the supreme truth
is a contradiction in terms.
"I know" implies two,
you and truth.
You do not know it,
you are it.
* * *
When you realize the truth within,
you become your own master,
and go out from the facilitator,
who then becomes of no consequence.
* * *
The truth is spread out,
Before us in a world,
So beautiful, so varied,
So divine –
But humans do not see it.
What is human liberation,
But to enjoy this meal,
In the living present?
* * *
The sea that caresses the beach,
Breaks with gentle breezes,
On the smooth beach sand.
The tsunami that tore,
This restful Sri Lankan shore,
Two weeks hence,
Is but a memory
Even in the hearts,
Of the survivors.
* * *
A beautiful girl,
Sitting in a restaurant in Colombo,
With her mother and grandparents,
Caught in a network
Of social restraints,
* * *
Setsubun is a Japanese festival,
And an Oomoto festival,
In which joy and reverence,
In the snowy night.
* * *
One hundred priests in snow-white robes,
And one hundred maidens with them on the stage,
Sit with straightened upright backs,
To purify the sins of Oomoto followers,
From around the world.
* * *
The snow falls gently,
On the lighted paper lanterns,
Along the walkways,
Of Oomoto in Ayabe.
Gentle men and women,
Smile and chat – and pray
The whole night long.
* * *
We follow the priests and the maidens,
With their white robes and fiery torches,
Through the streets of Ayabe,
To the river –
Where many slips of paper,
Float our prayers back to God.
* * *
I ask many questions,
About the relation to the Ancestors,
But the answers,
Clear and simple as they are,
Leave me sitting here alone,
In perplexity and awe.
* * *
All the town dignitaries,
At dinner with the Mayor,
Where jet-black suits,
And drink beer and sake,
In celebration of
The blackness of their suits.
* * *
The priest at the top of the stairs,
Flips his grass whip with a flourish,
To purify believers,
Entering the sanctuary.
As paper lanterns glow outside,
In the falling snow.
* * *
The heat from the space heaters,
throughout the grounds,
Cannot match the warmth radiated,
By the faithful.
* * *
The Fifth Spiritual Leader,
Takes obvious delight,
In tossing handfuls of beans,
Into the crowds of believers,
Who collect the grains,
To take home,
For some purpose that cannot be explained,
Is very important.
The fields of Bangladesh
Heavy in the morning fog,
Under the weight of customs,
And a deep ocean,
Of religious emotions.
* * *
The TV in front of the bus,
Moving northward from Chittagong to Dhaka,
Flashing images of young people,
Dancing to the tune of sensuality and lust,
Draws the attention of these Moslem men,
Who struggle to realize
The freedom of sensuality,
Within the chains of tradition.
* * *
The commercial onslaught,
In images of imbecilic wealth,
Lights the night streets of Dhaka City,
Above the blue plastic coverings,
Of the Pavement dwellers.
* * *
Why do you say
there is no God,
when you look each day
into many human faces?
* * *
The immense contradictions,
Between western commercial
glorification of sex,
And the Islamic austerity,
so powerful in Bangladesh,
Create psychic tensions
Portending social upheavals,
* * *
A conversation begins hesitatingly,
With a beautiful Bangladesh girl,
The airport lines, no longer tedious,
As she tentatively decides,
Whether it is safe to proceed.
* * *
The mystery of beauty,
In a woman’s face,
Reveals the ecstatic,
Impetuosity and risk,
Erupting, ever renewed,
From the depths of existence.
The dark eyes smiling,
From a beautiful face,
Make me understand,
That transformation can happen,
Any time, any place.
* * *
On this bench,
In a Colombo beach-front park,
Young Sri Lankan men,
Periodically sit down,
And attempt to begin a conversation.
Everybody craves something,
Whether money, sex, or companionship,
As a distraction from the empty hole:
That empty suffering known to Buddha.
Why do they not crave God?
* * *
The lights twinkle from the ships,
Moored at the entrance to Colombo harbor,
The slow, warm evening,
Where everyone waits,
Expectant, for something
To emerge from the calm, deep
Soldiers, guarding the hotels
Of the rich, standing bored,
Resting on their automatic weapons.
* * *
As we drive back from the mountains,
With their tea-green-white-water ecstasy,
The van gets hot and sticky,
The day passes slowly,
In Sri Lankan time.
But our conversation
About the transformation of human existence,
* * *
The snow falls lightly,
On the Setsubun preparations,
As our Japanese hosts,
Laugh over coffee and chocolate cake.
* * *
I kneel to the kneeling Mayor of Ayabe,
The translation of our conversation,
Is empty and formal.
But the connection between us,
Is warm and intense.
* * *
Beautiful bundles of food,
Are transported to the alter,
In a sacred zig-zag dance,
And the audience prays,
All the more fervently.
* * *
The chanting voice of the priest,
Is heard throughout the Oomoto grounds,
Some people pray along,
Other people sleep,
While the bonfire outside,
Roars in the night.
* * *
The voice of the Fifth Spiritual Leader,
Is powerful and distinctive,
And speaks to me,
Of authenticity and grace.
* * *
The chanting of Setsubun,
Is a marathon
Of devotion to God,
And concern for the ancestors,
While old people sleep in their seats,
Others smoke cigarettes,
And many women pray along,
In front of the TV monitors.
* * *
At 4:30 in the morning,
People are collecting their
Shoes and leaving Setsubun,
With smiles on their faces.
* * *
Wittgenstein speaks of the
"Logic of religious belief,"
That does not have to make sense,
In scientific logic,
For the beans are thrown to believers,
The cat who purred each morning
on the blue arm of my reading chair,
A small calico who lived here,
with these humans,
For whom this house and yard were home,
She didn't show for breakfast that morning,
like clockwork routinely at the glass door,
Conspicuous by her absence,
I found her curled in the seat of the lawn tractor in the garage,
One of her favorite places,
not eating, still available for petting,
Still ready to purr.
The cat, aged 13, had just stopped eating,
simply no longer interested in the
Bowl of milk she once liked so much,
(although what I left on the step of the lawn tractor disappeared that day)
A little water now and then was all.
The cat was not in pain, and did not appear ill,
for three or four days she simply did not eat,
Losing weight, very thin, still beautiful in black and orange and white,
on the day before her death she lay alert,
On the small green hill by the house,
in the spring grass, ears attentive, periwinkle in bloom,
Enjoying, as she always did,
simply being aware, out of doors - simply aware.
As the afternoon waned, she moved to her hidden spot
beneath the bridal wreath bush, in full bloom,
And full of white spring scent;
we kept a bowl of water near to where she lay,
And stroked her head, now and then, to a weak purr.
That night I knew the cat would move indoors,
through her tiny door into the basement,
Out of the cool and damp of the backyard dark,
and in the morning checked downstairs,
To find her on the basement floor,
too weak to climb the stairs to where we kept
The food and water.
She lapped a little water from the bowl I brought,
no interest in the milk,
With a weak purr to my stroking her head,
ever so gently,
As I moved her from the cement floor to a mat,
for she could not stand or walk.
I carried mat and cat upstairs,
to one of the spots she liked,
Under the table in the spare room;
the spot was warm, and her people could attend,
A proper hospice for a pet.
She lay there on her side,
very weak, uninterested in milk or water,
Emitting an occasional groan,
breathing gently without pain.
And sometime in the afternoon,
her breathing stopped
The awareness and the purring stopped forever.
We buried her in the evening,
in the backyard that she loved,
With a head-post recording Name and Dates,
beside the head-posts of the dog and other cats,
Who have known our house and yard as home.
The universe had produced this wondrous
awareness in black and orange and white,
A miracle named Honeysuckle by the humans,
for 13 years or so, herself unnamed,
Yesterday she returned to its mysterious bosom
in the cool earth.
We stood hushed at her grave-side, last evening,
under the darkening Mulberry tree,
Before the immensity of life and death,
shaken by the absolute mystery,
That encompasses us all.
We wondered at the miracle of life,
and felt, young and old, the drear chill of our own mortality,
While our little cat had simply stopped eating -
for she had never really left,
The One that took her back.
A poem by Glen T. Martin
(Dedicated to University Professors of the United States of America)
We pledge ourselves the following principles: noble, inspiring, without compromise:
We will inspire others to pursue noble ideals: tolerance, ethical insight, scholarly integrity,
And live by the laws of pettiness, viciousness, and mediocrity.
We will inspire others to live with courage and vision,
And live by the laws of cowardice and short-sightedness.
We will inspire others to tolerance of diversity,
And enforce among us sameness and conformity.
We will inspire others to self-questioning in pursuit of truth,
And live by our own absolute certainty of truth.
We will inspire others to grow to maturity,
And live our lives as shameful children.
For we are dedicated to the proposition that all teaching is appearances,
And to a reality forever hidden from the outside world.
Masters and Mistresses of smoke and mirrors,
We hold our students to the honor code!
We are the educated ones!
We are the thoughtful ones!
We are the scholars!
We mold young minds!
Robert's Rules forever!
We above the crowd!
We imbibe the cultured!
We preserve the knowledge!
We bemoan the ignorance!
Deserving the pay-raise!
Such our mission statement!
Our syllabus for success!
Our institutional goals!
Forever we go on!
The endless chain of words!
Chanting, and teaching!
These truths we name!
And pledge our sacred honor:
for this, oh this,
A forever smiling face,
Courtesy schooled in professional ethics,
Determined to conform to bureaucratic forces,
Descending from above—
Plays over the surface of the interactions,
Like morning mist rising from a mountain pond.
Another meeting, proceeding with decorum,
Focus on the task at hand, professionals with a job to do,
Descended from above—
The courtesy of interactions,
Keeps the work on track (a product with which careers are made).
It depends on how they see you up above,
As rational and reasonable in the work,
Playing the objective role, doing what must be done,
Teamwork through which the project moves along,
Agenda informed with corporate goals.
“We do not have to like each other,” the boss lady counsels,
“But we need to do the work (descended from above),
Efficiently as possible,”
A compromise is reached, a deadline met,
Like mist on the morning pond evaporating with the sun.
But beauty in the morning pond disintegrates with hidden angst,
A dim awareness, somewhere in the depths,
That the pond has died— a birthing cradle devoid of life,
Acid rain, descending from above, has turned the cradle toxic,
Fruits of team-players in distant institutions.
A festering life, infected from the past, in fact,
Informs a logic in the service of the depths,
A deeper agenda driven by karmic destiny,
The poet cries in vain: “we are the hollow men,”
A compromise is made, and fate is sealed.
Like robots in an automated factory,
Whose managers have long-since fled,
Mechanically, a product is produced,
That no-one needs or wants,
The work gets done.
A smiling face, veiling a multitude of sins,
A depth of petty partisanship devoid of grace,
Unwillingness to ask the questions “why?” or “who”” or “what?”
“Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die”
Sings the poet, proclaiming the glory of professionals.
A pilot post-war, interviewed on camera,
Recalls the excitement of firecrackers when a boy,
Recalls the thrill of the aircraft: advanced,
Automated, dropping a product from the skies—
Pride of a professional, descending from above.
No longer creatures in need of grace,
The ethics of professionals will do instead,
We end the meeting promptly,
Delegate the work,
And set the dates to meet again, in eternal recurrence of the same.
But in the depths of the morning pond,
Veiled in a beauty devoid of life, remorseless serpents of death,
Germinate in the darkness,
Festering through the water and the land,
As the smiling face of the boss lady—
Calls the question, and decides the vote.
Five Miles Below
The ocean five miles below,
Daybreak comes fast,
The perfectly straight,
Of a previous jet,
Streams beside us.
The path is worn,
Clogged, fouled by the
Of homo sapiens sapiens.
Brutal and stupid
With his technology
Of weapons and want.
11 June 2007
My heart is sad and weary,
Here, the tedium
And the cost of building a new world,
Descend like a waking-dream,
As I face the rules of the System,
Its cynicism, godlessness, and decadence.
Bring me peace, oh God!
Peace to transcend the weary tedium
Of impersonal airports, arrogant bureaucrats,
And soulless security agents.
Peace from the dehumanization of obedience to the procedures of
Totalitarianism and domination: the conditioning of people
To tolerate irrational security measures and dehumanizing procedures.
Bring me peace to live with openness
To thy kingdom embracing the Earth,
Peace to live without qualification,
Peace to think, free of the deadening zone of tedium
That wearies the soul, activating resentment and contempt.
Bring me peace, oh God,
To live without qualification,
So that the dehumanizing measures of THE SYSTEM
Wash off my soul like sunshine after morning rain.
Bring me peace to think, free to live apart,
Unspoiled by the living nightmare of security, surveillance,
Because of your desire for me,
I feel vigorous and young,
Because of your care for me,
I feel significant and respectable,
Because of your passion for me,
I feel strong and beautiful,
Because of your tenderness for me,
I feel blessed beyond belief.
The room before the talk,
A coterie of people,
Apart in subjective space.
The hostess draws the group together,
The speaker commences,
A common external focus,
Subjective spaces suspended,
Only to reawaken in an hour.
The English Channel,
From the air,
Is full of boats,
And the Channel Islands,
With small towns,
Of people living apart.
Then the coast of France
With its small, protected harbors
Gives the sense of peace and beauty
As small pleasure boats
Dot the blue sea.
To know that you love me,
Gives a quiet foundation for my heart,
That lives in the background,
Of everyday life.
Even when you are far away,
In another world,
Our hearts have touched,
The foundation has been laid,
And I will never be the same.
A wonderful philosopher,
Writes to me:
“If rational freedom is rational,
It cannot be a mystery,”
In response to my claim,
About the mysterious
Depths of freedom.
But freedom arises from the abyss,
From depths beyond comprehension,
And struggles toward the light,
Of democracy, justice, and transformation,
Of the Earth.
Its upsurge endangered,
Struggles for survival,
Among countless atrocities,
With a gentle pressure against the forces,
That would deny and destroy,
Freedom arising from the depths.
Yet the upsurge of freedom,
In nature and history,
Like fireworks in the night,
Of geological time,
Like an ever-flowing river,
In historical time,
Lives but the flicker of a candle,
Within each human life.
You only live once,
So you must make your life worthwhile,
By pursuing, truth, beauty, or goodness.
But the ecstasy of the body,
In the sensuous moment of time,
Within the rhythm,
Of a holistic human life.
For truth, beauty, and goodness,
Also lie in the depths,
Of our ecstatic bodily existence.
War - mass murder, excuse for mass murder,
The grave of humankind, swallowing generations,
Swallowing the women and children, crushed in the hell
of the merciless human spirit.
There is no other reason,
'just war' a lie,
'freedom' a lie, 'self-defense' a lie. War is lie.
We must stop, and each person must stop.
Just say 'enough, no more, not through me.'
Let me 'cling to truth'
Let me cling to satyagraha!
Transfomative passion at the heart of
our world-disorder, our world lie,
to make the Earth a garden
of peace, justice, and prosperity.
It will not come from churches, temples, rituals,
It will not come from seminars, speeches, schoolings,
It will not come from intellectual knowledge of world problems,
Noncooperation with evil means NO.
It can only come with the power of NO!
NO to fear. NO to hate.
NO to the nation-state. NO to global capital.
NO to weapons of mass destruction.
NO to weapons,
NO to the ugly mouth of war,
Devouring the Earth.
But this NO,
a real NO without equivocation,
Comes only from that volcanic YES.
A YES to life, a YES to freedom,
A YES to God.
YES, YES, YES
The only redemption for the world comes from
gigantic love (polus agape - Ephesians 2:4),
immense compassionate energy (mahakaruna),
transformative passion for all humanity
and for our precious planet Earth.
"God only acts and is
through existing beings and men!"
Agape-karuna acts here and now- YES
to abolish the nation-state system and global capital, YES,
structural violence twisting our world to disorder,
violence of poverty
violence ripping up ecosystems
violence of difference
our warring world violence-
the ugly devouring mouth,
NO to war
YES to life,
to love the Earth and its creatures
ALL its creatures!
Passionate love in the here and now!
The here and now of this eternal moment,
The here and now of this eschaton
to establish democratic world law,
embracing the unity-in-diversity
of all who live upon the Earth,
with an economic system based
on the infinite dignity
and beauty of each person,
and on the infinite beauty
and dignity of planet Earth.
Transformative action -
the gigantic NO and the volcanic YES,
limitless compassionate energy (agape-karuna),
Only this has the power!
Power of YES, Power of NO
to redeem a world!
Poverty is war,
Ecosystem destruction war,
Nothing to stop war - the ultimate human evil -
But the unqualified YES.
Only love and compassion can stop war!
But it must be each, eachness, each one.
No abstract ideas! Each one says NO.
Each says YES.
"A YES, a NO, a straight line - a goal"
Where is your love?
Where your compassion?
Live your humanity,
Live but one man!
Live from yourself, and live from God!
God only acts and is through existing beings and men!
A Yes, a No, a straight line - a goal.
Be a human being!
The messianic passion of YES and NO.
No more war-
Make your life a YES, and a NO!
10 January 2009
I watch the women and children breaking bricks with small hammers in the hot sun,
In this city in the south of Bangladesh, a few pennies per day for their struggle to survive,
I photograph the women washing their clothes by hand in the Kara river,
In this city in the north of Togo, the brown water of the river swirling with the sewage of a hundred thousand people, themselves fragile life on the edge of that struggle
I jog early morning for miles in the predawn darkness of Kolkata,
Careful not to step on the bodies of the sleeping multitude,
Lying threadbare on the silent cement sidewalks, their entire life’s possessions in a bag,
And under the filthy, ragged blanket.
As we drive, the poor, on the coast road of south Sri Lanka, after the tsunami, search through the rubble of their former homes, looking for a memento from their parents, a precious photo, or a little food.
We hike to a shanty-house in the northern Nicaraguan country side, walls of bare scrap boards and plastic sheeting, no out house except the bushes, no water but a nearby stream,
I try to talk in my unknown language with the street children of Dhaka city, two girls ages 9 and 12 with plastic sacks on their shoulders, bare feet in the glass ridden city streets, garbage pickers, they told me through an interpreter, who live with their mother in a nearby slum.
I stand on a bridge in Chennai where a river pours into the Bay of Bengal,
And watch the swirling sewage of 12 million people rush to the sea, while in the distance pour fisherman drag nets from small skiffs trying to harvest some food from the sewage-laced sea water.
I speak with the woman serving our meals in the hotel in Takaradi, Ghana, how little she is paid for her work, her shanty home not far, her desperate life.
In Bangkok, girls in store windows along the street, scantily clad, beckon for passing men to enter,
I visit the Mosque of the bay in Mumbai, the pier leading to the mosque covered with crippled, deformed, and dying people, hoping for alms, hoping for a few rupees to survive another day.
The children in the municipal dump of Managua, scavenging with their handmade rakes,
Brother and sister they told us, aged 9 and 11, their filthy bodies as brown as the filth in the dump, no schooling here, living in the shanties ringing the dump, scavenging each day, hungry.
I ask my three wheeled taxi driver to take me to a slum in Colombo, he says, you mean the zoo, I say no a slum, he says you mean a shopping mall, I say no a slum, so he takes me to his home to meet his family and neighbors.
In Old Havana, in a poor neighborhood of crowded small apartments, some neighbors pull me into their simple home, you are an American, they say, you must know why your country is doing this to us. Why does your country want us to suffer, to live in poverty?
How do I answer the entreaties in the faces and voices of the poor?
How do I live? What must in do – in the face of this education?
My unique education and its searing responsibility,
In the face of these images I cannot forget?
In the face of these images that I cannot come to terms with?
How do I live?
How do I use these poor hands, this meager mind, these pitiful resources,
that draw me forth, day by day,
like dreadful waking dreams?
* * * * *
2 June 2009
In Cartago, a famous church displays mementoes
Of many miracles performed by La Negrita,
A small, black stone,
In the image of the blessed Virgin.
Found by a simple peasant girl,
Many years before.
We pass a little man, on a corner near the church,
Dark skinned, unnoticed in the noon-day sun,
Grasping two large crosses,
For sale, depicting the Crucified One,
To the careless passing cars.
Here in Costa Rica,
Land of the Pura Vida,
Globalized corporate markets explode,
Within barbed wired, free-trade zones,
Producing profits for the foreign rich.
Here in Costa Rica,
A melting pot of immigrants –
Strangers threaten Pura Vida,
Fear of those who lack the image in their hearts
Of the good life, our Costa Rican heritage,
For what is pure resists defilement,
By the unwashed, the unpure,
the unwanted basura of existence.
People cling to their Pura Vida, and to
The Crucified One, 2000 years past due,
And protect the blessed Virgin, behind glass cases,
On the streets of every pueblo.
The Virgin, safe behind the bars, like the homes,
Of the bourgeoisie whose image she projects,
So passive in her silent inwardness,
Promise of a new birth –
Dreaming of resurrection.
And people wonder about the Pura Vida,
That evaporates like the morning mist
on Volcan Poas,
Every time they try to grasp it –
While working ever-faster, to the pounding pace
Of the free trade factories,
And the tourist business, dinero to be made,
McSuper Mac on every corner,
And in every heart an ache for something lost,
Or not yet found.
Like Negrita, the blessed black stone Virgin,
Granting the miracle of Pura Vida –
The little man, carrying two large crosses,
Depicting the Crucified One in the noon-day sun,
To the careless passing cars,
Signals that the time is neither ripe –
And that the resurrection cannot happen,
Until the crucifixion has been finished.
25 July 2003
The fire in my bones receding now,
as I approach the rainy arc,
and slowly drift toward the last good night;
As I turn my face to unknown years,
of hope and struggle,
that animate my past and present;
And experience each day fading into night,
And night to another day,
this grey dawn awakens a solitary reflection -
How shall I use this new day,
this moment that drifts,
into the diurnal round,
Like a dream,
like the flight of a nightingale,
into the darkening woods of evening;
What do I know?
How must I act?
What may I hope?
These eternal inquiries,
of the philosophic quest,
emerge in deep disquiet;
As the fire from within no longer burns,
out of control, an irresistible internal combustion,
its own reason for being.
The fire flickers now,
grows bright again, then dim,
Reducing day by day the hope and struggle,
to dying embers, flickering coals,
ashes fading to the dark of night;
Today’s new dawn,
with this dark forest beside my cabin,
and this shining lake before me like a jewel,
Will not rise again,
with assurance and bravado,
as when the fire in my bones was all;
The morning grows to daylight,
brief hours of work and effort,
energy and accomplishment, less each day
This fire in my bones receding now,
in years that bring the philosophic mind,
does not inspire an ode on immortality;
My heart is moved this grey morning,
as I approach the rainy arc,
by turns to weariness and hope,
A poet from my youth,
speaks to me again in a different voice,
here upon this distant shore -
these feet of mine that draw me on like dreams?”
4 January 2011
The beauty of this moment,
Includes the ecstasy of standing forth as
An incarnate, living being,
Of just being alive,
Not pleasure, nor aesthetic experience
Nor thought, nor moral action.
This beauty of being alive,
Suchness in the unspeakable here and now,
Appears in creatures –
Standing forth in their ecstasy,
Defined against silence, the nothing
From which they come,
And to which they will return one day,
On this level – primordial –
We cannot tell ‘the dancer from the dance’
This is enough – existence in its fullness.
But what of the Ought –
The moral purpose of existence?
What is the end, the goal
Within this temporal process,
That stands forth in primordial ecstatic beauty?
A past from which to learn,
And an ought that breaks the hold
Of the past,
In gigantic freedom: demanding
Justice, equality, dignity?
Revolution, conservation, nonviolence?
Demanding that we leave,
The still, centered point of being here,
To act between the past and future,
Creatures express the
Ecstatic beauty of existence,
Standing forth from nothing,
In pristine integrity – mute,
Yet in their buzzing, blooming, lowing,
Growling faces of expression,
A human only can speak and celebrate,
The ecstasy of existence.
Only a human can sing a song,
At the temple of Apollo.
And speech draws us beyond,
Over the song of praise,
To the song of freedom,
Draws us beyond religious response –
To confront the gigantic OUGHT,
WHO are we to become?
We emerge in temporality –
Otherness and temporality,
Poles of our ontology,
Always a priori – defined,
By temporality and Otherness,
And confronted with the futurity,
Of being, and beyond.
The primordial ecstasy is not
This gigantic FREEDOM,
Primordial ecstasy is not this –
Absolute demand of freedom,
Demand in all who reach maturity –
In ever-deeper mystery,
Emerging from temporality and Otherness,
Throwing us lost upon the face of being.
No determinant command of anthropomorphic gods,
The ought carries responsibility,
Of freedom to do good,
And overcome evil’s insidious temptations,
Of bread, miracle, and authority,
For justice over the exploiter’s boot,
For equality over hierarchy’s cynical gavel,
For freedom over tyranny’s wanton violence –
For the temporalized transformation,
Out of bondage,
Toward the Good,
Through the incomprehensible mystery of time,
From the womb of being,
To the birth of Schiller’s Ode to Joy.
But the Good is not, never was, determinant,
A bedtime story for children.
Implicit in freedom’s
Temporalized agony and ecstasy,
Not given at the beginning,
As a Deus ex machina,
Setting forth the program,
Like a director who cries “take one” or “cut.”
The Good ineffable, indeed,
But something more is needed,
Risk, indeterminacy, free flight,
Adventure, seeking not only itself,
But creation, origination –
The fulfillment of becoming – actual,
From the plethora of potentiality.
Most perplexing in the world of concepts,
Concerning realities and possibilities:
“Beyond being” cries Plato,
“Beyond knowing” sings Plotinus!
“Beyond essence” intones Sartre,
Yet summons us to action,
On the slenderest of threads,
Against the broadcloth of ignorance,
On the fragile wings of rational faith,
Against disparaging notes from underground,
On the barest promise of ‘utopian-open’ vision,
Against the fabric of exploitation and injustice,
On the testimony of Whitman and Thoreau,
Against the depleted uranium armor,
Of the empire:
Mundus bellum omnium gentium.
The Good as a call, an inkling,
A faithful intuition,
A possibility, a God –
A delicate flower,
Trampled by the soldier’s boot,
A fragile ontology of the heart,
Beyond the reach of greed and power,
A whiff of perfume, ‘a wafting in the god’
Hinting of something new,
Like a beautiful woman,
About to enter the room.
It calls us forth,
In the face of slanderous Tea-party persecutions,
To certain death in the face of Israeli bulldozers,
To listen with our hearts and minds,
Beneath the desert storms of hate and fear.
You cannot teach the Good –
Kierkegaard with indirect speech,
Inspires concern and unrest,
While ‘In the room the women come and go,
Talking of Michaelangelo,’
Perhaps in ‘the darkness of these times,’
It brings light to one or two brains.
You cannot pluck the flower from its cranny,
Tennyson’s macho ecology,
Or command an eternal ‘thus I am,’
Like Napoleon or Dubya.
At a certain point,
Our point becomes to understand,
More and more deeply,
That there is something absolutely fundamental,
That cannot be understood.
Wafting in inviolable delicacy,
Ambience beyond possession,
Hope for the future, no ordinary hope.
Certainty freely chosen,
But commanded absolutely,
Emerging in the fullness of time and freedom,
Defining it seen as loss –
Grasping as violation, knowing as evisceration –
But loving the Good – eros and agape –
Living our lives in the light of its embrace,
In its pristine integrity,
Perfectly itself – loving, and loving back –
Infinite reservoir of hope and desire,
Then we may yet say, without blushing:
‘God’s in his heaven,
And all’s right with the world.’
* * * * * * *
6 June 2010
“I will be silent and hear what the Lord God will utter within me.”
But where and how do the depths of Thy silence flow into this tiny, weakening frame?
Where and how does the moment come when “everything is reversed”?
Where is Thy blessing? Where is Thy hope?
How do we hear the secret soundless voice of Thy silence in the chatter of this superficial speech?
Out of the silence of sleep, I wake within the darkness of this Kampala night.
To ask if this ringing in my ears, like sacred music,
Rants merely more empty chatter of an idle mind,
Or is it a moment of your grace,
A hint of eternity breaking into time?
Out of the depths of this immense confusion of our human situation,
Out of this exploding conflict of demands for criminal justice on the Earth,
Springs an intimation certain as it is unknown.
In the quiet of this hotel – sounds of the city wafting through the open windows,
Like hints of a long forgotten secret message:
Where is Thy love?
Out of the accounts of horrendous violence and cruelty,
Out of the poverty and squalor of this human misery and deprivation,
Out of the darkness – a still silent voice intimates,
That the time is neither right nor wrong,
For I cannot recall the promises that I made:
Where is Thy truth?
Out of the struggle within this fragile heart,
Out of its ego-centric battle among this multitude of egos,
Out of this constant chatter of images and emotions,
I cry for Thy help,
Intimations of a certainty long since abandoned:
Where is Thy justice?
For the hope that flows from the kiss of God,
Oh, Thou beside me in the wilderness!
For the love that flows from the blessing of God,
Oh, Thou who sing of foundations deeper than death!
For the justice that cries out to embrace our frailty,
Demands that we act in confusion and despair,
With only your silence as a guide,
With only your unknowable presence as a hope.
You come on the quiet feet of gentle night,
And enter this frail frame with your secret song,
That we must trust beyond all trust,
That we must hope beyond all hope,
That we must pray in the midst of our despair—
That we must sing the song of the Lord,
Whose verses have no words,
That we must dance the dance of the Lord,
Whose movements flow forth motionless,
We must play this music,
That strikes no chord,
That plucks no string,
Yet vibrates at the foundations of all things,
The emptiness-fullness of the silent sounds,
Arising from the depths,
Arising from the gentle music of this Kampala night,
In which “our little life is rounded with a sleep,”
We enter once again that quiet dance,
That soundless sound, that silent speech,
Emerging in the darkest heart of Africa,
Where we hear your gentle voice,
Calling us once again to remember,
What we have never known,
A call to faithfulness,
To Thou to whom we cannot cling,
Out of the secret silence,
Comes that wordless-word,
That the Lord God utters once again within.
* * * * *
2 January 2011
Morning dawns in this Kolkata guest house,
Traffic noise slowly mounts,
Toward a growing later crescendo,
Crows scream, ever present in the background,
Of a billion Indian lives,
Struggling for a few rupees each day,
Everywhere in India,
In ordinary hotels and guest houses,
The hotel desk clerk and assistant,
Sleep on the marble floors of the
Behind the gated door,
Against an uncertain world,
An unequal world,
Accepted as reality,
Protecting guests and house,
While uncertain of the guests,
Who may wish to evade payment.
Or take a threadbare towel.
What do we know of the terror
That haunts the heart of man?
* * * * *
(14 November 2012)
The dazzling morning sun bursts over the distant mountains in a breathtaking instant,
flooding the lake with boundless golden energy. The lake stands ecstatic, like the divine.
My heart stirs within, my emotions flooded with beauty and glory.
Who dares to say this world lacks value?
Who dares not to love this world?
Who dares to substitute power for beauty?
I gaze at the glory of the earth flooded in golden sunlight,
And certainty fills my being
Bringing faith, hope, and fortitude.
Faith in the Infinite ground beyond personification,
Hope in the immense possibilities embedded within our lives,
Fortitude in the struggle, within and without, for recognition of this ecstatic ground:
I act not just for humanity, but for this unsayable ground of being, value—and life.
* * * * *
16 December 2012
16 December 2012
The shining Marmara sea,
Spread out below the hill side of the old city,
Crowned by Hagia Sophia and the holy city of Byzantium,
No longer sings of civilizations clashing, and mystery ships from many lands.
The dancing waters of the Golden Horn,
Now greasy from the oil of leaking cargo tankers and chugging fishing vessels,
Imaging the Blue Mosque and the old city of ancient history,
No longer tell of drowsy emperors reigning over vast domains.
Here in Istanbul where everyone speaks English,
Often learned by working for the US military,
And every corner has a rug salesman who is your good friend,
And where someone in front of every restaurant invites you personally inside:
Here in Istanbul, has the sacred past been lost,
Amidst the hawkers and the shopkeepers of the Petite Bourgeoisie?
Do memories of an enchanted age point forward through the roar of auto tires on brick alleys,
To a new enchantment of reason, vision, and sacred Sufi dances?
Or does the dismal present, of needing to make a Petite Bourgeois buck,
Leave Istanbul in an awful emptiness devoid of dreams?
Are we living in the hopelessness of endless commodification,
Where everything reduces to dollars and cents converted instantly at market value?
Here I walk the narrow streets of the old city,
At the sacred heart of civilization stretching into the dim centuries,
And my heart is full of mourning and of dread,
The depths of the sacred receding from my view.
Here in Istanbul the people are not waiting for Godot,
Feeling neither the absence, nor the presence, of Godot—
While thousands worship in the Blue Mosque opposite Hagia Sophia.
Their friendship, like their English, is there to sell you a rug,
For there is no rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem—
Only a helpful smile inviting you to dine within.
* * * * *
Do people of a universal human spirit,
Discern one another from out the mass?
Do depths of being arise in the human heart,
To a universal spirit of intelligence and compassion?
Oh the guide! To have a guide is necessary in human life,
In any situation, find yourself a guide!
A teacher who sees beneath the surface:
The heart and soul of Turkey appeared to me this day.
Great artists explained their work to me this day,
In their homes and studios,
Apart from the maddening crowd,
Humble and ordinary within their greatness.
I met today with universal values,
And the depths of a culture in which
The heritage of ages lives here and now,
But the sign on the door reads: “entrance not for everyone.”
The guide lives and breathes the depths,
Beneath the commercialism and the hype,
Winding the labyrinth to another world,
Of truth and beauty and compassion.
The heart of Islam spoke through my guide this day,
And the heart of Turkey as mosaic of many civilizations,
The heart of humanity beneath the surface of everyplace,
The uniqueness in this place, the crowded bricks of the old city streets.
We went deeper than capitalism,
Deeper than warring nation-states in their brutality and ignorance,
Today, we worshipped the universal God,
In a universal mosque of astonishing beauty,
God was not there, my guide admitted, but everywhere.
The vision of another world lives here in Istanbul,
In the beauty of its art, and the humanity of its artists,
In the vibrancy of its religion, calling us to prayer from many minarets,
And in the humanity of its teachers.
Where is God to be found?
“In ordinary beings and men” cries the poet,
Where are the depths to be found?
“Just there on the surface in front of our eyes” cries the prophet.
Where is hope for humanity to be found?
In the holy city of Istanbul.
* * * * *
Written in Istanbul, 17 December 2012
At every moment of the day,
At the bottom of my mind there opens up a nothingness,
That registers as this living dread and angst,
That rises to the top at little failures, or moments of regret,
And settles to the bottom at busy moments –
Like jogging, driving, cooking dinner, or making love.
Are we all born to this despair,
When a deep nothingness saps our surface freedom,
And our life-energy is eviscerated by doubt and incipient disintegration?
Are we born to struggle with the nothingness,
That lurks behind every moment of the day, like a poisonous serpent,
That forces from us courage just to act?
Do everyday people encounter this debilitating dread,
Cutting to the bone like a butcher’s knife,
The natural energy of outward looking life?
Do shopkeepers tremble in their shops, frozen from action,
As I am trembling now at a small act of forgetfulness and loss,
Raising the specter of finitude and vulnerability and ultimate nothingness?
I summon courage daily just to carry on.
This is no small virtue—deeper than Aristotle’s courage,
But appears a failure nonetheless,
For perhaps I should have overcome this angst years past,
In the boundless affirmation of God’s gift of life,
But no, I only struggle on—in courage and despair.
At better moments there is Kierkegaard’s leap of faith,
The groundlessness of finite life thrown to the grace of God,
Thrown upon the Infinite without reservation or regret.
But the leap, with no net below the abyss,
Is not a one time affair, but ever-renewed,
An act beyond even courage, perhaps from an even deeper despair?
How do I carry on?
How do I use these dangling hands in the service of humanity and God?
A cosmic hope descends from the divine, a last resort,
Filling the nothingness with the bright flame of divine love,
And directs my feet beyond jogging or cooking or making love,
To the service of divine transformation—Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.