Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

(by Philip Larkin)

Saturday, July 07, 2012

More Hafiz:

Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.
Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth
That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a "playful drunken mood"
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

from The Gift, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Great Religions

by Hafiz/Ladinsky


Great religions are the

Poets the life

Every sane person I know has jumped

That is good for business
Isn't it


Monday, October 03, 2011

The Gratefulness Project

Day 1. Homo Mobilis: I'm thankful for mobility, for my faithful little Hyundai, and for this bi-pedaled body that propels me today across living rooms, city blocks, and campuses.

Day 2. Spiration: re & in: For the breath that fills my lungs as I lay in bed, the tiny mouths inside those lungs that take the breath into my bloodstream, and for the breath-blood that wakes my body and mind.

Day 3. Will & Work: For the 111 students I have this fall, for the chance to drive with books to class each day and teach the things I've learned to think and love.

Day 4. Me lady: For the lady who has walked with me over strange terrain this last year and a half. Thanks, Shells.

Day 5. Color: For the pale lavender cloud bank on the horizon this morning, against a sea-foam green sky. And later, for the hummingbird flashing in the rain-damp shadows like a splotch of emerald paint over orange crocosmia blooms.

Day 6. Human energy: For the heat we give to one another in touch, for the heart-lifting light that beams from kind eyes and smiles.

Day 7. IPA: For the heavily-hopped ale first brewed by 19th century Brits, and now a Portland mainstay. Trivial? No, a daily friend.

Day 8. Fellow Citizens: For the abstraction and the people themselves, the diverse mass of fellow Americans who hiked with me down Naito Parkway, chanting for a healthier body politic. Not for the protest or even the message, but for the people gathered, the headless Leviathan, all arms and wings.

Day 9. Sleep: For the happy shadow that passes nightly over consciousness, providing momentary shade.

Day 10. Family: For the group of creatures who share my genes, my blood, who gather vociferously over pasta and wine, those few I loved intuitively as a child and now, after my thirty one years here, as their friend and fellow creature.

Day 11. Variety: For the four kinds of apples I bought out of the fall harvest-barrels at the grocery store-- the dry Jonagold, the smallish Ribstom Pippen, the exotic Swedish Gourmet, and the holy-heck-perfect Liberty-- and for their unique flavors, the variation from sweet to sour, the way they symbolize a refusal to streamline for the sake of capitalistic ease. Tasty divots in the landscape of an increasingly featureless world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Infant Year

[Published well after the fact]

The calendar offers every year the same gift: a sense of newness, in the middle of winter. A new start. It's artificial, aside from its adherence to the moon's path, but welcome regardless. We've marked it to the minute. In this sense, a year's turn is like a day's turn: at the frigid midnight hour comes a clockwork tick, and it's suddenly not yesterday anymore. A new number on the corner of the screen. Artificial, yes, but that mental picture can move the heart.

We name newborn people, and I've sometimes given a resonating word or phrase to a newborn year, something to name the next 12 calendar months. These flag-words have often proved to be the opposite of a rally cry; the years they name have almost always been examples of the opposite of what the word or phrase described. The year of "Action" was for me a year of confusion and hesitation. Years of "Hope" or "Faith" became years of deconstruction toward a solemn skepticism and years of vision-less presence.

The word on my tongue in these first few infant weeks has been "Empathy," a word newly given to me through the course of many conversations about the failure of human hearts to understand each other, to get along. And as this word sets itself to slow-dry in the year's nameplate, Empathy, I already feel a profound self-examination setting in. In the year of reaching out, I'm finally feeling conscious enough to reach in and begin a lasting change within myself. I see the need: I've always talked big, talked prettily, but in the end I've never had the self-substance to believe something, to want something enough to act, to fight for it.

Last night, I saw The Social Network, the film about Facebook's birth and father, Mark Zuckerberg. I left feeling broken. And angry. I want to know this: why can these various self-focused technological geniuses manufacture within themselves the sort of force that enables the realization of whatever vision their ego allows, while I get sloppily lost in mental picture after picture?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Girl Named Aletheia

At some point in the last year-- I don't remember when exactly-- I noticed that I no longer felt intimidated by philosophical speech, not from the mouth of anyone. Which isn't to say that all speech lost its power to intimidate me; compelling engagements in certain kinds of pop-rhetoric still captivate and quiet me. But that kind of speech, "pop-rhetoric" we'll continue to call it, has a very different purpose than philosophical speech; the many conventional language games we play in popular commerce are a kind of currency, grounded in power. The more confidently someone can use social conventions of communication, the more powerful in that social sphere a person can be.

And though philosophical rhetoric may also be a kind of currency, what's for sale isn't power. It deals in, for lack of a better term, Truth. Right perspective. Though it's likely that there is never a moment of philosophical communication free of power play, still it seems to me that a sincere attempt at "loving wisdom" is usually experienced as a directing of energy outside our conventional commerce, rather than into it-- that is, in philosophy we attempt to purchase, if it's possible, something outside human meaning. And I think the end of my intimidation from this sort of truth-bartering began when that purchase began to seem rather incomprehensible. Which is around the same time I met a girl named Aletheia.

No, not a girl, but if I do ever have the pleasure of having a daughter, I'd like to give her that name. Both for the sound, and for the concept it points to. And if I do give Aletheia as a daughter's name, it will already have been the pre-Socratic name for truth, one which Heidegger resurrected in the 20th century. That's right: Aletheia is a theory of truth. But not Truth in the way you are thinking; an unusual sort of truth. But what are you thinking?

The thinking, I think, usually goes like this: Truth is when you get something right in words. Right? There is coffee in my cup. Right, this is true. Hm. Well, what do you mean that it's true? I mean that there is coffee in my cup, in fact. I mean that I was right to say, "There is coffee in my cup." My words are in a true relationship with the world. This way of thinking about truth is often called "correspondence theory," and has its roots in the Socratic philosophers. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian who set the table of Christian theology using Greek dinnerware, stated this theory of truth very simply: “A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to [...] external reality;” or, as he said elsewhere, "Truth is the equation of things and intellect."

An aside: It's fun, right? That everything that you know was made by others for you to know. Perhaps it's true that there is nothing new under the sun, but it's certainly true that there is nothing new inside your head. We take things for granted, like truth and things, but these are little purchases that have been made, little market changes that you were born into. This life you're living (the one we're talking about) is a fiat money system, with no one at the helm who knows what's up. So, we keep inflating, borrowing, lowering rates...

There is another kind of life though, one that isn't in words. And there is a theory of truth for that as well: Aletheia. This theory of truth says: "truth does not reside in language." Truth doesn't happen when I say something about the world. After all, the picture of a pipe is not a pipe. Nor is the idea of a pipe. But is a pipe a pipe? "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." If I tell you that there is coffee in my cup, by this theory I am giving you instructions about what will happen to you if you come into contact with what we've agreed to know as a cup, and speak of as such.

An aside: I typed that phrase-- "truth does not reside in language"-- into ye olde google yesterday, and came up with a particularly annoying use of the phrase, because the author (of a blog, yes) almost meant something by it, but ended up falling short and contradicting himself in the next few sentences. Which is ... just a little annoying. It'd be like looking up the phrase "Human dogma" and finding a watered down expression of apathetic relativism. Real estate I've purchased via squatter's rights, so keep your hands off my apple tree. No matter how small and crooked it may be.

There ain't nothing new in my head neither, and yet I persist in making little power plays with language. "Look! I'm right!" Yes, and now the world can end, satisfied finally. Thank you.

All the while, Aletheia dances in a corner. All the while that other theory of truth made by the other theorists, the first theorists, the ones who first purchased abstract property, is what we all ... where we all... live. In presence. For the pre-Socratic Greeks, and for Heidegger, truth is aletheia: that which shows itself, that which is revealed to us in presence. Not what we say about it, how we represent it, how we conceptualize it, but what shows. My statement about my cup isn't true, but it is a representation of truth, of an event.

I've made her case very poorly, I know, and I'm quitting before I've begun. My head swims with weird fishes. I've made her case poorly. Have I been making a case? But she isn't for sale; Truth isn't for sale. It's not something you can have, he says definitively. No, because by this way of thinking, truth is something that simply occurs. Sorry. We'd all like to be rich in truth, but the picture I'm seeing right now is one in which claiming you own the truth is like claiming you own the sunshine. Okay. Okay. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Portland's Party Hits

So, I've been listening to 107.5. If you're from Portland you might know that 107.5 is also know as Wild 107.5; its slogan is "Portland's Party Hits." Its beats are funky.
And I'm wondering if this signals some sort of emotional regression in me. Should I worry that I smile when Lil'Wayne's newest offering comes on -- "Call me Mr. Flintstone, I can make your bedrock" -- or that when Rhianna grinds into her bawdy list of musical imperatives for "Rude Boy," I start doing a (very pathetic) robot-dance move around the perimeter of my steering wheel? My favorites at the moment are two by someone named B.o.B.: "Nothing On You," and "Airplanes II."
It's true. And frankly, I'm both physically and emotionally moved by the lyrics of the latter, apparently co-produced and co-written by Eminem, our beloved, foul-mouthed American lyricist. In the song's chorus, B.o.B and Eminem ask if we might pretend that airplanes are shooting stars, because, as B.o.B tells us, he "could really use a wish right now." The third verse belongs to Eminem, and he wonders-in-rap what might have happened if he hadn't have pursued his musical career-- "let's pretend Marshall Mathers never picked up a pen" -- and then he proceeds to give a passionate and expletive-laced description of what his life would have been like if he hadn't had that drive, the excuses he might have made to himself. He says this pathetic alter-ego "wished it, but it didn't fall in his lap," so that "his alarm went off to wake him off but he didn’t make it to the rap Olympics, slept through his plane and he missed it."
Which reminds me of a dream I had a few weeks ago-- one of those strangely vivid dreams that seems to be more than a midnight mind-fart, a dream that seems to mean something. In it, I was scheduled to fly to Virginia for a speaking engagement at the university where a good friend teaches, and somehow I slept wildly late, completely missing the flight. Then, through a series of strange circumstances that could only be reasonable in a dream, I was afforded another opportunity to fly. But this time I got horribly lost in the airport. I remember realizing that my mind wasn't working, realizing I was acting crazily, that I'd only brought an empty suitcase. My ability to make rational choices had failed; I was only wandering, through brain and concourse.
Maybe my dreams and Eminem are conspiring. I've had a similar conversation with a few different people recently, about this, about the fact that unless we "risk this shit," as Eminem puts it, we may wake up 20 years from now and gape backwards through time at the obvious and incomprehensible timidity (i.e. laziness) of our younger selves.
I feel as though I did little risking throughout my 20's, no matter how much my friends and I told each other to "risk it," (the pet rallying cry for a few us). Sure, I had a few good philosophical reasons against buying into the idea of risking it, against choosing something in the face of no good criteria, no compass. In that philosophical stasis, I slept through an alarm or two.
And now, as Lowell tells us in "Skunk Hour," "my mind's not right." Now that I've been given this second chance, with a better understanding of the way this whole world-orientation thing works, my synapses keep hiccuping. I do strange things. I listen to radio I'd never have listened to 5 years ago. One way or another, I might miss the metaphorical plane.
But I did actually catch the real one. I made it on time, sighing inwardly at the luck of it, and flew to Virginia to do a short lecture on epiphany in poetry at Washington & Lee. It was lovely. But does it count as a risk? No, it's more of the result of having loved others and having been loved, connections being made, opportunities opening. And this seems to be true: without love, whatever the risking might achieve, it wouldn't give me any lasting pleasure. Love, or the desire for it, plays a prominent role in the power to will. Eminem says as much in his rap-rant: his bleak description of his failed self peaks in a picture of his two daughters, implying that their welfare is the primary reason he did what he did. And this morning on the radio, an a NBA draft candidate, who'll likely go as number one, spoke of his relationship with his mom, how she'd given up so much to get him where he's gotten, how glad he'll be to give back to her now, to let her relax finally after so many years of pulling 4 jobs. "That's just it, right there," he said. "That's the whole thing."
At this point, it seems right to swap the one cliche -- "risk it" -- for another: "Love is the answer." How is it that cliches can sometimes rear their banal little heads and be suddenly transformed, transfigured, glowing with the radiance of a universal Truth? But neither undergoes apotheosis without the other.

"Epiphany in poetry at Washington & Lee." Sounds like Eminem could do something with that.