Poetry

˜˜˜˜

 

The Alchemist

 (1990)

“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.

                                      *     *     *     *     *

Philosophy

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Junkanoo Beach, Nassau

 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

                 Junkanoo Beach,

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

The Children

March, 2001

 

(i)

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;

(ii)

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;

(iii)

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Bangladesh – A Poem

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.


*   *   *   *   *

 

La Habana Vieja

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, carino, 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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Una Isla Sin Barcos

               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–

    impregnable,

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,

     Ninos dance before they walk,

          The salsa, the ballet, the discotec,

Musica is everwhere.

     Socialismo o muerte!

          Pero sin barcos,

Patria 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.

         

                                             *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

                              Poetry – A Contention

26 July 2003

 

                                     (1)

“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,

              friend poet,

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.

                                 (2)

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.

                               (3)

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.

                                 (4)

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Thoughts of a Terrorist in West Africa

Kara, Togo, 14 June 2003

 

                              (1)

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.

                            (2)

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.

                          (3)

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.

                       (4)

Here the people are very poor,

      houses small, crowded, one room, simple,

They know that faces, hands, and feet called white,

      are rich,

            yet they do not hate, or beg,

They smile, and give directions, and help me

      in the market, the computer cafe,

            to make a long distance telephone call,

                  and buy a doormat for my rented room.

                            (5)

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,

      no more.

                            (6)

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.

                          (7)

Their world problems are very simple,

      easily studied, readily understood,

These friendly smiling people,

      live with deprivation,

            and disease, and daily death.

                         (8)

Clean water hard to come by,

      sanitation difficult,

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.

                           (9)

“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.

                            (10)

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.

                           (11)

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.

                          (12)

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.

                        (13)

It is fitting that they call me,

      a traitor, or communist,

            or terrorist.

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.

                         (14)

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 ignorance,

And those who dominate the rest,

      in the World Bank, Washington, DC, and the Pentagon.

                         (15)

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Mountain Lake

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.

 

Two Roads Diverge in a Yellow Wood

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.

 

Bushwhacking is not an option here,

Only two roads, and the backdrop of dramatis artificiales,

Do not leave these roads no matter what!

Only that other road with its aimless city nights, and one-way trash-can alleys,

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.

 

Bushwhacking 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 bushwhack 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.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *

Freedom

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, never 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.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

Out of the Silence of this Kampala Night

Kampala, Uganda,    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.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

Kolkata

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

   Entry way,

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?

 

*     *     *     * 

  

Morning Sun  

(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.

 

*     *     *     *     *

 

First Day in Istanbul

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.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

Second Day in Istanbul

 

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 worshiped 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.

 

*    *    *    *    *

 

Nothingness

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.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *

 

Paris

 July 2012

One giant consumer nightmare,

One immense tourist trap,

One magnificent collection of museums,

       The city a museum, for all practical purposes,

             with endless costs: a capitalist paradise.

 

A place of a million trains and buses,

      coordinated, to run on-time, through

            an infinity of tour guides,

         and exquisite boutique shops for wealthy women,

               to prostitute their gorgeous ignorance,

                  to their lives of lavish infinite emptiness.

And a place where only a few,

      seem conscious of the planetary threat,

           and struggle against the unconsciousness

                of the many.

 

Yet the people of France,

      unlike those of the US,

talk critically of their leaders,

      revering their rebels and critics.

            of yesterday and today.

 

Everyone knows of Albert Camus,

Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir.

To them it is an on-going tradition,

      in which artists, critics, and rebels

             are as much at home,

                    as the rich, the powerful, and the corrupt.

 

As we stroll through pleasant, tree-lined parks,

we encounter plaques–

      “Here is a collection point, for this district,

        where Jews were deported to the camps.”

 

Is this the ultimate sense of fairness and accommodation?

        or is it the consummate bourgeois cooperation?

Rebel and Landlord equally revered–

       the good, the bad, and the ugly,

writhe apart, and blend together,

       within the endless configurations,

              standing like an awkward Eiffel Tower

                     against this surreal Parisian skyline.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *

 

Oh, to speak from the depths of that darkening church!

 Macedonia, June 2012

At the Fair of South Europe

      the after-dinner conversations,

      in the background,

while I enjoy the fading evening light,

      silhouetting an Eastern Orthodox church,

      with its thrilling cross-capped, rounded domes.

 

What do the darkening outlines of that mysterious church,

       against the fading amber light of the glorious evening sky,

       mean to me?

 

Why am I drawn to these symbols,

       of participation in the holy

       ground of being?

 

Why am I certain that there is almost nothing,

       in these after-dinner conversations,

       whether in English or Macedonian,

       that would interest me?

 

How can I speak at the Fair tomorrow,

       in a way that will bring the universality,

       of those evening crosses,

       darkening within the radiant sunset,

       into the awareness of some of those,

       present at this Fair?

 

How might it be,

       if the holy ground of being,

       could speak through my mind and body?

Oh, to speak from the depths of that darkening church!

 

 *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Macedonian Folk Music

Macedonia, June 2012

 

We have moved to a group,

outdoors under an awning,

They are playing instruments,

and singing traditional

Macedonian songs.

 

There is warmth and laughter–

 What is it that might be missing?

The life of the people, Tolstoy says,

Is the life of God.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *

 

Macedonian Hotel

 

Here in Macedonia,

      In a hotel whose name I cannot pronounce,

In a town whose name I do not know,

      Where they speak a foreign tongue,

And sing songs from a culture

       I do not understand–

I am at home, and at peace.

What is this universal depth to things?

       That enlivens our compassion and understanding,

            And places us at home,

       Everywhere upon the Earth?

 

 *     *     *     *     *     *

  

Macedonia

 June 2012

 In the holy mountains of Macedonia,

I fell in love — once again,

                     with humanity,

        and the bright star of hope,

                     like Venus, rising in the evening sky.

 

For the life of humanity and the life of God,

                     are One,

       and God only exists,

                     as William Blake insists,

                               in existing beings and men.

 

And no being,

                     over eons of vibrant existence,

        has ever deviated,

                     as Zen Master Dogen says,

              under the green trees and eating home-made

              Macedonian bean soup,

                       from the true, pure path,

                              of holy enlightenment.

*      *      *      *      *      *

 

A Nameless Call

Glen T. Martin

30 July 2013

 

(1)

In the place of peace and beauty,

Surrounded by deep woods,

Untouched and unowned,

There is a bird whose call,

Echoes through the forest boughs,

A bird whose call,

Brings me back to the sacred silence,

The deepest sense of wondrous existence,

In the startling moment,

In the ever-renewed moment of wonder and ecstasy.

 

(2)

I do not know the name of the bird,

Have never looked for it, these many years,

to identify its name, or the thrill of its song in my soul,

For I know that the name is irrelevant to that sacred sound,

Echoing in the deep forest and within my ever-awakening soul.

Giving a name to the source of this wondrous call to listen with attention,

might mundialized my utter astonishment,

At the sound arising from the sacred silence,

Bringing me back to reverence and to peace.         

 

(3)

What we have named and seen can lose its freshness,

And become another item in the endless litany,

Of things routine, familiar, and worn out.

Better to walk with openness and expectation,

In these deep, mysterious woods,

Ready to receive what cannot be named,

Ready to awaken once again,

In astonishment at the unsayable depths of things,

And again to move cleanly on my way,

In simplicity, reverence, and hope.

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *