The Mystic

I'm reading through old journals again; I wrote this in 1996 after holding a rare manuscript book from 1280. How did ancient scholars carry these words that were written and handed down so carefully over time?

He calls,
The Mystic to his Bride.
Her subtle voice returns,
Fixed into his eyes
As he in her remains.
He lifts her;
A gentle touch
Upon the ribs along her spine.
Her skin–still taught,
Though years of holding
Have formed wrinkles in her folds.
His time all spent
Beside her now.
His hands brush across her face.
He sees no age,
Yet, he stoops closer.
His eyes–grey.
In visions, he carries her,
As she does him.
His life upon her words.
And from their joining,
Two made one,
Come volumes yet unborn.

Misstep

Because an airplane flew overhead
At 4AM
I am awake.
It is the interconnectedness of all things;
Because, two days ago,
In an intersection somewhere 
In Denver,
The flight mechanic responsible for this plane
That flew overhead
At 4AM,
Missed a stop sign and nearly
Ran over a pedestrian,
He was upset and, later that day,
Forgot to note he had repaired a minor problem in a pump.
But, when the plane landed in Fiji, the prudent pilot
Was concerned and had it checked.
This only took a moment;
But, because of this, they missed a take off window.
Whilst they were waiting, the engineer there noticed something else
That was critical and had to be repaired
Thus delaying the flight several hours and putting it in to Sydney
At 4AM; awaking a swath of sleeping suburbs.
Because of that pedestrian, who had paused for a moment
To greet a neighbour in Denver who had surgery some weeks ago.

Yet, somehow,
I'm supposed to believe I have little care 
Or connection to people under siege in Syria,
The asylum seekers in Australian detention camps,
The people in dim factories who made the clothing I wear,
Or the children trafficked to harvest the tea for the cup in my hand.
All things that cover the compass of life and death
As well as the the choices I have to encompass.
When the synchronicity of a missed step
Ripples out across the world,
How can I glibly hold
That the deaths of so many
Are just the gloomy bits
Between advertisements on the evening news.

In Memorium

I just found out that my audio recorder is, alas, dead (and will cost most of the price of a replacement to fix). Unfortunately, as with seemingly everything electronic, this means that I’ll not have it repaired but get something new.
Oh, HHB MDP-500 Portadisc recorder,
You travelled with me around the world and back.
So many hours of interviews and lectures
You dutifully recorded.
You took in various dodgy electrical voltages
And ran without complaint in heat or ice.
You rode in the back seat on washed out roads
And were with me that time in the Cessna
In the DRC
When the pilot told us about the pistol
In the compartment
In case the plane went down.
Those were the days; I knew you had no fear.
Remember when that careless customs official
Broke your original leatherette carrier?
I bought you a sturdy Porta-Brace case
Made in Vermont
So you would be safe.
You used a funky storage format that is now
Nearly forgotten
And you’ve been surpassed by your solid state brethren.
You did so much good in your short life,
Recording all that material for various Not-for-Profit organisations.
I hope,
In whatever existence you have in the Beyond,
You are justly rewarded.
I shall remember you fondly.
Yet still I must ask…
How my equipment built thirty years ago still plugs along
And everything from the past ten
Is a bit iffy?
But, of course, the field recorder from thirty years ago
Weighs as much as a small motorcycle
And cannot also play my .mp3 files.

That Sound

SilenceThen—
A heartbeat
In the womb;
Suspended.
The first sound
We share—but
Unique;
A mother’s monologue.

Birth
And life follow
Days and sound
Collide.
The pulse our own
But, often, stifled.
As discord
Too much
Resonates.

Whispers
We each hold close
Our
Single shared unknown.
I listen, calmly
For this note to
Call me on.
I must attend
To Death’s deep undertone
That Sound
Is mine
—It’s mine
Alone.

Gaia Embodied in a Voice too Soft to Hear

I wrote the first stanzas of this several weeks ago and finished the last few in the wilderness of Knoydart (I think there is a “missing” stanza yet to come). Here is a .pdf of the poem with proper formatting: Gaia Embodied.pdf
In the MSc course I’m on, we’ve spoken much about finding voice—about trying to find words to relate the human condition. I believe poetry is the language one uses to express what can’t be said with words.

Facing the sunset glare
A hundred-thousand vehicles flee
This given city—no matter the language
Of traffic reports or calls home
To keep dinner warm—
“There are clots of cars and I’ll be late again.”
A hundred-thousand single souls sealed
In mechanical motion
Cannot listen to
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

The electric suburban evening
Brighter than all the universe combined.
Inside, the shared Family of Man
Flickers excitedly before my listless kin;
Their warmed-over TV dinner trays with 33% extra portions
Cool in the blue-green glow of
Advertisements for happiness.
The enticing sound so enveloping
They need not notice
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

A bedroom’s curtained darkness.
Silent.
Quiet—nothing but the tousled sheet
Or sometimes hiss of heating pipes.
Though the unchecked onslaught of daily sound now presses
Upon his mind—assails him,
Prevails over sleep and composure
Returning to the origins of thought
And running the analysis of every
Hopeless action.
Too much to hope—for
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

The diffusion of sunrise behind him,
A hundred-thousand shells of men
Take to the streets without protest.
Only to slowly file in order and disgorge
Their naked passengers in appointed boxes.
They sit silenced
In grey padded cubes with no ceiling or sky.
The hum of process overtakes
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

He escapes—a three day
Wilderness excursion—for one
To face Nature, slightly conquer her, return with stories
Travel to and from nature not included in package
Price—some restrictions apply. See website for
Further detail.
But he returns no wiser.
Though he read a dozen books in preparation,
He read nothing of
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

A life?
Of workweeks pass.
He grows accustomed to the baseline hum.
Inside, Inside, he can’t feel to feel
Himself fading.
Pulse, Pulse, Pulse —A clot slows the traffic of his blood.
A terse doctor with his medical entourage,
“We’ll do all we can.”
No hands now—no touch; only tubes and
Pumps—thin wires and the glow of instrumentation.
Subtle sifting silence down till breathing stops.
One breath removed from
Gaia embodied in a voice too soft to hear.

Between this man and Mecca

A few weeks ago, I was walking along a Glasgow street and saw a Moslem man praying in his shop; it was a small electronics store and, incongruously, the qibla had him facing toward a wall of cell phones and various gadgets. I wonder if there is some thought to all the “stuff” (physical and cultural) in between wherever one is and Mecca? I was slightly taken aback by seeing this; it was as if I was intruding on a private moment. Also, the sight of someone in prayer in the midst of a “consumer environment” was disconcerting. So, a haiku.
The open window
Between this man and Mecca,
Such a long journey.

Because of Violence (essay)

In conjunction with yesterday’s poem, I’ve also submitted an interpretative essay on the writing process. I’ll not post the entire essay; however, here is a condensed version that outlines my rationale:
Having personally observed violent societies, spoken to victims of violence, and witnessed innumerable real and imagined acts of violence in the media—I have begin to consider potential remedies; what are the root causes? What is it about humans that give us this tendency toward violence? Is it innate or a learned activity? Last year, I began drafting a manifesto of sorts laying out my thoughts on the topic (with the aim to eventually expand the precepts into a book-length work). However, while the document is clear in its proposals, it lacks a certain vigour. For instance, the third proposal (which becomes canto three in the poem) states:

Given the opportunity, healing takes place
We are able to flourish because of our resiliency and adaptability; nature has a marked ability to recover from what seems to be complete devastation. However, because some wounds are so severe, we must carefully foster an environment where healing can take place. This involves a recognition of the need for healing. It involves an acceptance of our own responsibility for causing injury. It involves an acceptance of our own responsibility in recovery as well.

Recently, I listened to a lecture by James P. Carse entitled Religious War in Light of the Infinite Game. He was asked what is the most important need of the “environmental movement” at this time; his response was that the world needs more poets—that scientists need to learn how to express their research in a poetic manner to bring the power and import of their findings to others. When I was an undergraduate, I took several creative writing classes (I have a degree in English) and used to regularly express myself in verse. However, over the past few years, my pursuit of poetry reading and composition has waned. Instead, I have focused more on “concrete” writing of essays and proposals. Regardless of the form in which I’m writing, my intent is to communicate with clarity and immediacy. Perhaps I was just needing a gentle nudge toward poetry to take it up once again.

This was, however, not an easily accomplished task. I’ve been so long without the rhythms and structure of poetry in my head that it was difficult to wake the muse (and, admittedly, she was a bit fussy and bleary-eyed through the process). I spent the better part of a week in preparatory reading before sitting down to write; in addition, I’ve been choosing and listening to music with lyrics that evoke the mindset I’m in (I did not begin with a particular style in mind; it came into focus through the preparations). I’ve found that these structures, from music and verse, ingrain themselves in me like patterns in timber; they provide the raw material of sorts but the wood is there to be shaped—to be carved and varnished into something new.

In retrospect, my earlier verse was mostly commentary on my own inner state; I’m sensing a shift toward specific social criticism as I now write. While I recognise that a large part of any poet’s work will relate directly to his or her personal experience and outlook, I’m consciously attempting to write broadly applicable verse; I’m trying to find a personal voice that pertains to larger issues at hand.

The poetic form allows a writer to expand on content in ways which would be too cumbersome in prose. By re-working this passage in verse, I am attempting to broaden out the message by the double meanings readily available in English. While still, I hope, maintaining the integrity of my original intent, the verse form allows a reader to add his or her own experience to the words in ways a straight prose passage could not.

I’m attempting to depict violence as a living and vital force—perhaps equally or more energetic than peace if continually fed by the activities of humankind. If we are consciously and unconsciously lending our collective life force to violence, what else could the case be? If the energies of humankind are focused on this one “solution” and outcome, ongoing violence seems inevitable. In canto two, I discuss the internalisation of outward conflict and how this leads to recurring violence:

The outer influence
The inner conflict results.
It does not spring from nothing
And only prospers in a society which encourages it.
A society that allows
The outer and inner conflict,
Where the two co-mingle
Violence grows.

Yet, though these are overarching structures that seem to engulf peoples and cultures from antiquity—and are apparently on course to continue unabated into the future, I propose that violence is ultimately the result of a choice (albeit one in which many people, as individuals, do not have a notable say). The ending of violence is also a choice; again, from canto two:

Consequently, the end of violence
Means a complete abandonment of the society
Which begets it.
The end of violence is a decision,
Not an act of force
or resistance.

I’m specifically incorporating elements of non-violent resistance and the “letting go” of Taoism. The structure of the poem is informed by The Tao Te Ching and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The didactic voice of The Tao Te Ching seemed appropriate to a poem concerned with underlying themes that cross personal, familial, and civic relationships. I’ve borrowed some specific phraseology from Eliot, as The Waste Land speaks both from an individual’s viewpoint concerning the disillusion of society and incorporates a larger “trans-personal” voice that speaks for past and future societies.

I attempt to mimic Eliot’s archetypal imagery of planting, growth, budding, and decay (in both a positive and negative sense); In canto five, the energies of fear and the energy of well-being vie for the consciousness of humankind:

The expression of goodwill
The substantial words lived out.
As a society built upon fear
Feeds itself with fear;
An individual composed of well-being
Grows and spreads that energy
—We are an infections breed
The mindset, the purposed thought, from one healing—the healing
Of society follows.

Eliot ends The Waste Land on a debatably ambiguous note; it is not clear if the world is fated to decay or poised on the brink of re-birth. My ending lines are meant to read either way concerning violence (as the poem is not necessarily meant to be entirely prescriptive); I would rather leave open the opportunity for the reader to raise his or her awareness.

A man’s heart
And the Earth he despairs
Are one substance.
Without respect of one, the faltering other will break.
Without respite from violence
What hope have we for life;
What else may we imagine?

It is the imaginings of men that determine whether the heart and Earth will live or “break”. Note that I am specifically saying “man” here rather than choosing a more gender-neutral language; earlier in the poem, I elaborate on the collective of responsibility to choose between violence and life. Here I mean to comment on the choices that are usually made by men to despair of the Earth and proffer violence. However, the “we” in the last two lines is meant to read inclusively; it is the unified imagination of all humankind that will either bring hope and resolution or, alternatively, imagine yet more destruction.

Because of Violence

This is part of a “creative assignment” for the MSc; we’ve been asked to produce a piece that speaks to an environmental or social issue. Alas, according of the vagaries of HTML, most of my utterly keen typesetting for this poem will be lost; some things are still better kept on paper. Here is a .pdf version of the poem with the intended formatting: Because of Violence
One
Because the world is a place of violence
—All life has value
What is the root of violence;
In what soil does it grow?
It taps down and breaks through the clay of life,
—Bodies and Earth alike
It grows—perversely alive, but is the end of living.

The world is a place of violence
But that world is in us; we are they who devalue life.
What is our first cause?
—May we not foster life for living things?
Or is the chief end of man oblivion and dismay?
Can we discern between these?

Two
Because violence opposes life and well-being
—Violence has a beginning—and an end
The outer influence
The inner conflict results.
It does not spring from nothing
And only prospers in a society which encourages it.
A society that allows
The outer and inner conflict,
Where the two co-mingle
Violence grows.
Consequently, the end of violence
Means a complete abandonment of the society
Which begets it.
The end of violence is a decision,
Not an act of force
Or resistance.

Three
Because violence has enduring consequence
For the future of all living things
—Given the opportunity, healing takes place
How may we endure
When it seems there is complete devastation?
Some wounds are so severe
That we lose all scope of injury
All hope for remedy
All memory of health.
Who can bear responsibility
For the cause
And for recovery?
We cut ourselves with swords
Too large, too common
For any one hand to grasp.
All the world cannot bear our weapons.
Are we strong enough to lay them down,
Or will they fall too swiftly;
One sharp quick stroke among the playthings.
Without reason, our weapons become masters.
—The sword without a sheath
Wants for blood
Or Rust.

Four
Because life is connected to all and the part is of the whole.
—The builders will seek peace
No enduring community is built on fear and violence;
The bonds formed under duress
Will only lead to bondage.
A community of fear
Depends on violence;
One violent cohesion to another,
The structure feeds itself.
The end is the beginning
Some will fill the gaps
And suffer for it.
Trust and goodwill are foreign words
Or used trippingly on the lips
Of those who suffer suffering;
The cause of words and deeds
In a morass of mindless mumbling.
The builders come with peace—all else
Breaks apart
Stone, spirit, sanctuary, sanctity—hope.

Five
Because humankind (mankind, womenkind, people, the products
Of flesh and blood, the subjects of love and hate, the caring
Components of careful plans, the surprise results of impromptu
Intercourse, the discarded unwanted remnants of the same, the
Inert and the charged, the important and the impotent, the living
And the lifeless ends of grey society…)
Because all these have the ability and responsibility
For healing
—The blessing of another
Is the means to end violence
The expression of goodwill
The substantial words lived out.
As a society built upon fear
Feeds itself with fear;
An individual composed of well-being
Grows and spreads that energy
—We are an infectious breed
The mindset, the purposed thought, from one healing—the healing
Of society follows.

Six
Because every faith
Because every philosophy
Every expression of humanist ideals
Should call for goodwill and peace
—The poet has this voice; complete the cycle
Violence among people and violence among ourselves and nature
There is no division–there is only the continued delusion of
Dichotomy.
We split the atoms of our soul into smaller unknown units
And package these in cleverly presented boxes
And try to buy a corporeal whole
With a multitude of purchases—but the impetus is gone.
The broken atoms leave only waste;
Fallout
Upon a race of automatons.

A man’s heart
And the Earth he despairs
Are one substance.
Without respect of one, the faltering other will break.
Without respite from violence
What hope have we for life;
What else may we imagine?