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Halfway Through March

When I woke this morning, I was afraid I could not write. I felt it was gone. It, whatever that is, felt absent. But during the day’s discussion, in the three minutes between classes, in moments during planning, the topic of poets came up. I found the poem “We Bring Democracy To The Fish,” by Donald Hall. Don’t blame me for the way the title is capitalized – blame Donald. Anyway, he was Laureate until that poem was published. Then he was Poet Non Grata. He and the Dixie Chicks hung out together looking for work.

Distressed Haiku had this line: “I finished with April/halfway through March.”  His wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had died in the month of April, 1995. That line. That one line. I have said that myself, nearly word for word. And I was writing again. But would I ever write of anything else?

I ask that, yet I have. I have. But, time and time again, I return to it. Why? Because one doesn’t go on. One doesn’t heal. One continues, with the wound. With the weight. One may be happy, one may be loved, and one may be content, one may have a wonderful life. I certainly do. But that is still there, because it is part of our lives. For those in this “club we’re in that I wouldn’t wish anyone to belong to,” as a friend of mine put it, one doesn’t go back to the old way of being, but creates a new normal around the space.

Everything is made of space. So, I guess, I’m still writing about everything. I guess.

 

Halfway Through March

It is second period.
I have been discussing
Poetry with Mr. Wolf.
Poets, appreciated but
Never paid well,
Never paid attention to,
Paid heed, respected,
Honored, yes: the Poets Laureate
Paid, at first, in wine.
Chaucer paid in
Gallons of wine.

Name bridges after them,
Put up markers roadside,
Have them inaugurate
The president, but don’t
Pay them enough to
Leave their teaching posts
So they can develop
Their craft without
Daily worries of bills due.

The discussion moved to
Donald Hall. One year only
He held his post.
He published
“We Bring Democracy To The Fish.”
So long and thanks for all that.

But now it is period three,
Donald Hall is in my brain,
So I am reading.
Students working,
Teacher reading, because
I can barely think
Anything else.

I didn’t know
He lost his wife.
Twenty-six years,
Cancer comes and
She goes.

I had always pictured him
Alone. Solitary, New Hampshire
Snow. Writing.

But he wrote of
Her leaving and
What was left,
He wondered if he
Would ever write of
Anything else.
Here, listen to his
Distressed Haiku:
“Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?”

Here is the Universal.
Here is the experience
Of the creative. Of those
Who take everything
Of their lives, of their
Surroundings,
Turn it into something

To understand.
Make the internal life
External, visible, palpable.
Make something with
No hands reach out,
Shake you, shock you,
Leave you thinking,
Understanding what you
Did not understand before.

Make the solitary
The common experience.
Remind me
I’m not the only one.

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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Poetry, psychology

 

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The Photograph

I remember a photograph
I never took.
I remember.
I remember taking it.
I remember taking this photograph
Of three Tibetan monks at Chanukah
Smiling over candles we had just lit.
Lee said the prayer,
The kids watched,
I looked on,
The monks beamed.

Staying with us, eight monks
Touring the United States
Making sand mandalas
Here and there. A week spent
tapping, rasping ground stone,
Rainbows into patterns intricate
And sharp, fine and beautiful,
Complex and ephemeral.
Done, and one prayer,
A sweep of the hands
Across the surface from
The four corners in and
Gone.
The candles lit,
One asked, as well as he could,
To say their own prayers.
Chanting, grinning,
They blessed the candles, our home,
and the time we have.

There were small presents.
For the kids,
Trinkets and such,
For the monks,
Halva, dreidels,
Latkas and applesauce and a
Chocolate coin for each one.
For Lee they had a kata
White and light and flowing.
For me, a bracelet of skulls
Made of the bones of a water buffalo,
Dead of old age,
Alive on my wrist,
Whispering to me, always,
This ends. This ends. This ends.

More about Hanukkah?  Or Chanukah? More about Monks?
A New Set of Malas
Chanukah
Skeleton Dance

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2015 in Culture, Family, Poetry, Religion

 

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Chanukah

Happy first night of Chanukah to 2.2% of the American population, and me too. I have many many wonderful memories of Chanukkah with my family. They had become sad. Watching Inside Out last night actually let me see those, visualise those memories in a different way. They are now blue and gold.

I was told a slightly alternative version of the story of the oil and the eight days. I was told this by a P’nai Or rabbi, David Zaslow of Ashland, Oregon. In it, God has nothing to do with the oil lasting eight days. Everyone prays for it to, but when the temple is quiet, people sneak in and add small amounts of the little oil they have. The poorest of the poor add what they have, and the temple flame remains lit, and spirit continues to shine. It has been said that God works through those who seemingly have nothing to give, so discount no one, take no one fro granted, feel there is no person without worth. Tikkun – the good works that make a heaven of the Earth. Perhaps there is a god who made us, but it is left to is to make heaven. Up to us to answer prayers.

I was reminded of this today by GiGi, Arlene’s Daughter, who said that there was a Santa Clause. He is all of us, everyone. And I remembered this story.

I won’t be lighting anything. I won’t be saying the prayers. That falls to Sef, my daughter, now. I can’t. It doesn’t feel right. But this still means something to me.

Bless you all. May your lights shine even when there seems to be nothing left. And, if it seems out, may the light return.

 
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Posted by on December 6, 2015 in Culture, Family

 

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The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth

I don’t often sleep through the night anymore. The sleep of the righteous eludes me. The sleep of those without care seems out of my grasp. My mind is rarely clear, my body rarely at ease. I dream. I dream of times when nothing has changed, to remember, sometimes in the dream, that things have changed, find myself wondering why I dream this again and again. Sometimes I simply wake into a world so different than I dreamt in that I am confused. Some days this lifts as I get out of bed. Some days this lingers into morning, into the day..

Some nights I dream about tests ungiven, forgotten, incomplete – about my job being in danger. These are dreams of safety, or fear of losing the same.

Some nights my dreams are pleasant. Calm. Happy. I tend to remember these. But, often, I wake after them, as I do after the unpleasant ones. And wake often. Many nights I look for five-thirty to come soon so I can end the succession, dream after dream, or the lying half-awake, half-asleep. But some nights, not often, but enough that I know they will come from time to time, I sleep through the night, and the dreams are good, joyous, or happy, and I am comfortable, and all things are right and I want sleep to go on, that state of ease to continue even after the sun has risen, so I can lie there where all things are fine.

This morning I did not wish to wake. And, after waking, wanted to write. But I did what I always do – wash, dress, make my lunch, go to work, put off the writing until there is time, til work is done, til papers are graded, til errands are run. Often, the writing, the event, becomes lost. The energy dissipates, the muse becomes tired of waiting, feels unwelcome, leaves, By evening, I cannot call her back, cannot recall the feelings, cannot retrieve the compulsion. This evening I can.

I don’t know why. Perhaps having kicked wheat again, perhaps having learned to not eat late, to eat lightly, but I have been more comfortable the last few nights and, last night, I slept. And I dreamt.

I dreamt I was in a labyrinth. Dark, but not too dark. Greenish gray blocks form the floors, the walls, the distant ceiling. Wide spaces to wander between the walls told me this was large. Gargantuan. The scope felt as though it was encompassing of all that I have known, all I have been told, all I have experienced and all I knew to be the world. And I was deeply within.

And all was fine. I wandered one way, turned here, came to a wall, walked back, knowing there was no wrong choice, no bad direction, but only experience, that there was no getting out, only being within, this way, that way, moving on. It was calm. It was comforting.

Then I was at a table, tea cups full, in easy conversation with Joseph Campbell. We were talking about the symbolism, the pervasive, archetypal power of the labyrinth, from Crete, to the tribes of the American Southwest, from European monasteries to the sulci and gyri of our own brains, we carry the labyrinth in our psyches and our bodies. We discussed, unlike the common idea of the journey to the center being a search to find oneself, the labyrinth being a symbol for life itself, for the journey that can  be neither planned nor defined, that starts without our bidding and, most often, ends without our permission, with the space between one of chance, discovery, of choices and unknowable paths, each decision leaving us, like Frost, to take one road or another,, knowing either one would do, knowing the differences was at once minor and profound, immediate and everlasting, that “way leads on to way” and, even if we were to walk back again, to retrace whence we came, the road we take is now walked by a different person that the one who first laid foot there, as each choice changes who we are.

The conversation was pleasant. it was deep and comforting. it was the conversation I had always wanted with him but came not close enough to having.

Then I was back within the labyrinth. I was walking with Lee and we came to a place of decision – a crossroads – a choice of three ways. We could go left, or right, or continue straight. She stopped and looked at me and began to move to the right. I knew I had to walk on and I knew too she had go the way she had to go. And she did. I watched as she walked the first few feet from me, faded, gone. Nothing but an empty path and stone.

I was back again with Joseph. People have their own paths, he said. We can’t walk them. Even when we walk together, we are not on the same path. We can share space for a while, but when the path is clear, one must turn and nothing can stop that. That is something the labyrinth teaches us.

Then I was staring at the paths. Same as before. Left, right and forward. But I had a map in my hand. A plan. Turn this way, then that way. I knew how to go and I began to walk forward. Before I was through the crossroads the path in front of me became slowly solid, a wall forming where the path had been. My map was in my hand and my map was useless.

At the table with our tea again. Campbell leans a bit forward. Plans are fine, but take them lightly and be OK with letting them go. They may work for a while, but then we may find the way blocked and must discover ways around, or the way can sometimes disappear altogether. We must be willing to let the map go.

I wanted to lie here with this, to let it sit, but I felt the time I had was coming to its end, and the soft sound of the singing bowl told me it was time to leave my bed, to rise, and go toward my day. My day at a place I had never intended to be, doing something I never had planed to do.  Which, I know, is just another way of saying I am alive.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2015 in Culture, psychology, Religion

 

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Collecting Stones

Collecting Stones

Today is the day I collect stones.

Years ago, far away, Jews, before they were Jews, back when they were a wandering tribe of anthropo-theists who believed in a single god that they insistedGrave 1 was unlike any other, met the Canaanites, who believed in no such thing. Before they merged, even back then, we buried our dead in the ground. At first this was in caves. Then, in the ground itself. In areas that were too hard to dig, too rocky, a body would be placed on the ground and stones would be heaped on and around the body. The community would bring stones and the more people who attended, the more stones would be piled. One could tell how important, or how loved, and they are not the same, by how high the pile of stones was.

Still today, the tradition continues. One can walk through a Jewish cemetery and see graves with stones on them. Someone comes to visit and leaves a stone. “I was here.” “People still care about this person.” Over srtre gravetime, the piles grow.

The Hebrew word for pebble is tz’ror—a word that also means bond. In the memorial prayer, El Maleh Rahamim, we ask the deceased be “bound up in the bond of life”—tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that this person’s memory continues to live on in us, through us. And the practice is not kept to just Jews who have passed, but one may see pebbles on the grave of any beloved or respected. If you see pebbles, you know a Jew has been there. You know the person is loved.

Tomorrow I bury my father. Unlike my grandmother, whom I myself buried, my mother—and soon my father to join her—is buried in a “waterproof” concrete casket buried in the ground over which a concrete lid is placed over which a marble lid is placed and secured with four large bolts. I shooed the workers away and secured the bolts myself. It was not the same, one shovel after another, but it was some closure. Tomorrow I will do the same.

bernstein graveWhat strikes me about this cemetery, other than the non-Jewishness of keeping a body from the elements, securing it from the waters, protecting it from the natural process that brings it back into the Earth, is this—a nearly complete lack of stones. Oh, the graves have stones. They are brought in, small ones, in pockets and handbags and baggies. But there are none to gather—as though the ground had been cleared, swept, scraped free. There should be a sign. “There will be no gathering of stones here. No. We have made sure of it.”

First breath. Last breath. In between, we collect stones.

And, so, today I collect stones.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Culture, Family, Religion

 

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Adam Byrn Tritt and the Story of the 34th St. Wall -Isis Ash

Gainesville’s 34th Street Wall, loss and poetry. Courtesy of WUFT, Gainesville and WJXT, Jacksonville, Florida.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Culture, Gainesville, Poetry, psychology

 

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My Messy Desk

Einstein had a messy desk. Behind the messy desk were messy bookshelves with piles of reports, journals, and loose papers. A study published in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Sciences suggests, strongly, that a clean and tidy desk, or office space, leaves one doing socially acceptable things, having normative ideas, and, for want of a better set of terms, doing the right things, thinking the right things, and behaving. Those who worked in, or, in this case, filled out a form in, a messy room, with a messy desk, had less normative ideas, made more creative connections and reported being willing to try things much much further afield. They didn’t see the need to do the right things, think the right things or behave as expected.

I may never clean my desk. It does not make me smart. It doesn’t make me a creative genius. I may clean my desk. It does not make me dumb. It doesn’t make me dull. But the messier side of life is about being indicative of webs of connections. Not graphs. Not charts. Webs of ideas, concepts, facts, which may seem unrelated but later are pulled together to solve a mystery, a problem, a puzzle no straight lines or charts could solve and shine light upon an answer no single beam could illuminate.

It is why one needs to learn things that are of no immediate use. Of no seeming use at all. Because the more of those things we know, the more errata we have, the more connections can be made, the greater our potential for creativity. Connecting things no one had thought to connect in ways no one had before seen. That is how the unsolvable becomes solved. That is how the unanswerable becomes answered. That is the creative process.

That is the gift of a broad liberal education – one of curiosity and not direction. It is why America was a creative powerhouse. Losing that is why we no longer are. It now costs too much to be curious. It doesn’t result in a job. And we all lose.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Culture, Education, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

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