FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO

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……..FOR THOSE LIKE GALILEO WHO NO LONGER READ
……………………………………………….Le Canal de Bourgogne *

…………………So where are they now the poems
…………………for those who do no longer read
…………………but lose their way in words,
…………………their overheated selves
…………………closed down like God’s own
…………………disowned fools in
…………………damp, forgotten locks
…………………and other fasts and solitudes—
…………………fisher kings, tall stilt-legged birds,
…………………the mist-wrapped walker with
…………………the busy dog and old slouch hat—
…………………mute, pre-dawn souls bewildered by
…………………the wash and roar of meanings when it’s all
…………………gunnel-rubbing function transport
…………………pumping huge breast-plates of
…………………greased iron up and down
…………………a ruined cut?

…………………In what remains of waterways
…………………the late unharnessed signs
…………………solicit violence from the banks—
…………………they gesture darkly from the verges,
…………………they flash behind the trees.
………………………..DO NOT PASS HERE
…………………someone shouts with dented palms.
…………………………….BLACK SPOT
…………………cries another lover, forehead
…………………rusting with bullet holes.
…………………And what’s that hanging man
…………………muttering in the shadows
…………………underneath the low bridge?
……………………………….STOOP
…………………he seems to be saying, taking
…………………some deeply-laded pleasure
…………………on all fours.

…………………Or is such uninhibited display
…………………just loose sluice valves stuttering?

…………………For see—
…………………how easy it is to swing
…………………those mossy lock-gates to
…………………and turn the handles down,
…………………the act that predicates
…………………a dryer route, faster,
…………………less brave and spectacular,
…………………its tow paths like third rails
…………………that sheltered spark
…………………over-night delivery,
…………………shinnying under ground.

…………………I want poems for those
…………………who are like me
…………………not chosen to dance
…………………by the girl in the red silk dress,
…………………that the words may be hard
…………………and penitential like the chairs
…………………we fast to inhabit while
…………………we wait by the wall,
…………………plain and patient
…………………until the music stops
…………………and we all go home.

…………………Write me a dozen poems
…………………that cover their heads in white
…………………like girls who have taken vows.
…………………I will listen hunkered down
…………………with the quiet doves at dawn
…………………while they kneel humbly in starch
…………………and crocus dust for seven days,
…………………the ecclesiastical calendar
…………………going from purple to green.
…………………The lines will tremble
…………………around their eyes
…………………like veins in silver leaves.

…………………Oh, I’d lock into
…………………any old post-industrial canal
…………………to hear such winsome
…………………angel rhymes and
…………………early morning cloister traffic—

…………………the reverie of antique grease like myrrh
…………………or amber-wax on iron plates,
…………………the stricken wicks,
…………………the cranks like icon sheets
…………………turned down for one last night
…………………beside the basins full of spirit silt,
…………………the huge rustling posts and pedestals
…………………that mesmerize the undergrowth,
…………………murmuring in the rushes where no moth
…………………wrapped in its own juices has no robe
…………………or swaddled Moses goes unfloated.

…………………And all the while the mist-wrapped
…………………walker’s sheltered track,
…………………the busy dog,
…………………the heron’s tact.

………………………………..from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades
…………………………………………of Poems Under House Arrest. * *

……………………………………………Christopher Woodman

…………………
* NOTE:
The early industrial canal provided the most important transport for heavy cargo in much of Europe right up to the 1980s, yet few recall how the gates, cranks and levers worked, the intricate water supply and the long ‘reaches’ through the countryside. The Canal de Bourgogne, a truly sacred relic with its almost 200 shaded locks, climbs up through the Burgundy region of central France and then descends toward Paris, linking the Mediterranean with the English Channel. An engineering masterpiece, it put the finishing touches on one of the most beautiful old-world landscapes in Europe.

The Canal de Bourgogne is one of the places I have loved most in my long life away from home, and is still one of the closest to the holy place in my heart. I still rejoice in the thought of it but know I will never visit it again as it is no longer a working canal, just a playground, and I’m not interested in that as I so loved working my way through it. And I’m still working in my place of exile far from home, and still wrestling with having lost so much that was once so familiar…

* * UNDER HOUSE ARREST:
I have a number of longer poems like this one that I have sent out to journals over the years and, as none of them has ever made their way into print, this side of my work is completely unknown. In addition I have 4 long poems, only one of which has been published, and that quite miraculously just after it was written way back in 1992. (If you’ve never read “Connemara Trousers” you can have a look at it here.)

The present poem is more difficult, I know, but so was Galileo’s predicament. The technical canal imagery is not widely known, “locking-in” and “locking out,” for example, and the pent-up violence in phrases like “gunnel-rubbing” and “loose sluice-valves stuttering” is certainly uncomfortable. I suspect the convent imagery is going to make some readers feel uncomfortable as well, and some may throw up their hands in despair at the surrealistic muddle of liturgical, mechanical, and mystical imagery at the climax of the poem.  On the other hand, my feeling is that the poem explores faith, frustration and displacement issues on quite a deep level. A sensitive reader who has been through a similar Galileo-like “house arrest,” and I think many of us have, will understand the extreme discomfort that that entails. Even more importantly, I think they will understand the mysterious resolution and sense of liberation, almost of joy, at the end.

Writing the poem certainly helped me.

…………………………………………..~

Can’t say more than that, can’t and don’t want to,

………………………………………………………………………..C.

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……………………………………………………………….[Click to go back through to the end.]
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IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED: off the Record at Eighty.

…………………GRAVITY’S RAINBOW:
……………………….Sunday in the park with Sir Stanley

……………………….O rejoice in the women,
……………………….and the white perfect ducks
……………………….with their fashionable heads in the mud,
……………………….how they tether themselves down
……………………….with pegs in the ground
……………………….so they won’t float up in the air,
……………………….the feathery dry air that is brighter than gold
……………………….but stays unredeemed on the shelf.

……………………….For those ducks like the women
……………………….turn weight upside down
……………………….by the water on Sunday to stay down,
……………………….not to be better, or up nearer the sun —
……………………….like buskers, fine philharmonic
……………………….conductors, preachers, teachers,
……………………….invalids in chariots, toddlers and clowns,
……………………….all creatures with sweet little flippers that tickle the air,
……………………….as pliant as play-dough or beeswax,
……………………….useless as paperweight slippers,
……………………….ballast for butterflies, barbells for kittens —
……………………….perfect as the lead in the magician’s tight furnace
……………………….or the sticky brown muck in God’s oven.

……………………….“O the big wide basket of my body,”
……………………….the duck woman cries,
……………………….“O the piles of starched linen, the fillips,
……………………….the white cotton aprons and tea-towels
……………………….folded so nicely in my trembling arms,
……………………….down on my knees by the pool!

……………………….“Take this fine little turn-up,
……………………….for example,” she says,
……………………….“do you see how it’s paddled and done?
……………………….“The masterful curl at the end of the tail,
……………………….how the bottom turns upward as if at a ball,
……………………….the crinoline, the petticoats,
……………………….the old-fashioned drawers that kick highest of all —
……………………….and O how they flutter with each do-si-do,
……………………….and how the heart goes — can’t you feel it?
……………………….And aren’t it worth the applause?”

………………………. “Come on in then, come on in!”
……………………….the duck-caller cries,
……………………….and when she comes in on his arm
……………………….to waddle like a lover on the velvety floor
……………………….or soon to be mother,
……………………….which is very good too,
……………………….how he dips by the water for a nod or a snooze
……………………….any day in the park, old poet by the pool —
……………………….takes his nap on a folding green chair and the paper,
……………………….a moist royal nap amongst women,
……………………….head-over-heels in God’s pool.

……………………………………….from GALILEO’S SECRET: Two Decades
………………………………………………….of poems under House Arrest.
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AD HOC
This poem has a whole bibliography just waiting to be discovered by some ardent young academic a few years after my death. “And the guy never got published,” he may recount breathlessly to his friends over his latte at Starbucks. “So nobody’s ever done him!”

For a bit more on what’s to be done, this off-the-record discussion continues in the comments below — and needless to say, anybody is welcome to join in.

Christopher

[The discussion continues in the Comments.]

 

NOT ‘HAT,’ WHAT’S UNDER THE HAT ON THE ROCK.

Lisa photo - hat
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This photo was taken last Sunday by Lisa Levine — we were at the bottom of the Montathan series of waterfalls in the jungle very near Wat Pha Lad. Lisa showed me the hat photo first, then the one of what it’s like to be under the hat on the rock a day later, and if you click on the hat you can see the underside too — as I would like always to be seen, I admit, and of course know that I rarely am.

You are unlikely to remember the little poem below, it’s so unassuming — I posted it four years ago on the thread called One for Sorrow, Two for Joy. Yet the poem is still very much on my mind, and has come to have a special place in La Croix Ma Fille. That’s the “Book of Poems & Relics” Julija Lebedeva has been illuminating, and which I’ve been talking quite a lot about recently. Indeed, it’s often the simplest and most naive poems from my past that come to speak to me most forcibly in the present, and this is certainly one of them. Another irony is that “Daedalus Brief” was one of the first poems I ever submitted to an editor for publication, and in Paris no less, so you’d expect it to be a lot more sophisticated than it is. But I knew nothing at all about anything at the time — I was only 51, after all, not a very big age for knowing much about what is simple and true. Because I was not yet the person under the hat on the rock but the boy in the air with the father’s brief folded up impatiently in his pocket.

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……………………….DAEDALUS BRIEF

………………………….If you jump high enough to know
………………………….exactly how to stay afloat

………………………….if you suspend your breath
………………………….just at the point the next begins

………………………….and spread your shoulders
………………………….gently out like this and this

………………………….feeling each porous blade
………………………….expand with gently harnessed air

………………………….your altitude a little lower than
………………………….the height which makes you think

………………………….but higher than the space below
………………………….while having nowhere else to go

………………………….then you, my son, will never have
………………………….to stretch for some new stunt to please

………………………….or words to pray
………………………….or be.

……………………………………..in Fire Readings, A Collection of Contemporary
……………………………………..Writing from the Shakespeare & Co. Fire Benefit.

………………………………………………………………………………..(Paris, 1991)

Christopher
………..

NOTE: “Daedalus Brief” is now placed just before one of the ‘crux’ poems in the new illuminated version of La Croix Ma Fille.

You can read the poem that follows “Daedalus Brief” and an updated discussion of what lies behind both of them Here, and in particular in the Post Script at the end.

Needless to say, I don’t call a spade a spade as I’m a poet. But if anybody reading this wants to suggest what he or she would rather call it what is more what it actually is, I’d be all ears. Because there are as many other words for such digging as there are angels dancing on the head of a pin — which is, of course, yet another ancient, outdated speculation that has become cutting-edge fodder for physicists in our times.

C.

[Continued in the comments]

LA CROIX MA FILLE

IMG_0831[You can click your way right onto Julija’s desk in Baan Uii Dee.]

It’s three months later and Julija is back, and I’m writing what follows as much for her as for you and me. Because we’re all working on this project together, though Julija’s Latvian, of course — Russian is her first language, Latvian her second, lives in Norway and was brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, all powerful influences on her work. Today Julija’s desk is no longer under the volcano on Bali as it was before but up here on the porch of one of our old wooden farmhouses in Chiang Mai where she’s working on the first draft of a cover for La Croix Ma Fille. If you click on the sketch you can see in detail what’s emerging, an illuminated vision every bit as fey yet as final as the book’s last words:

……………………………………..grâce à la croix,
……………………………………..grâce à la fille,
……………………………………..fleurs de sel,
……………………………………..delivery.

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PERSONAL NOTE: Please, please don’t worry about the French — indeed, if you don’t speak French the lines may well say more to you than if you do. Because French phrases and place-names have come to have an almost sacred quality in the anglophone imagination,  like “je t’aime” and “Côte d’Azur” for example — or for gourmands at least, “sauté,” “vinaigrette” and, most beautifully and appropriately of all, “fleurs de sel.”  In my experience, poetic phrases based on subliminal, polyglot fantasies come more out of the shadows of the heart than the light of the head, indeed, they resonate magically like Shanti Shanti Shanti  and Amen — in silence, or in tongues, or under the bed.

And be honest with yourselves. Which word in the above lines do you really not understand? Is it by any chance “Delivery?” Well, me neither — which is why the whole book not only got written but still matters!

C.

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SOME NOTES FOR JULIJA

“La Croix Ma Fille” is the local nick-name for a 170 year old stone memorial just outside the Breton fishing village of Le Croisic. The cross stands alone on the cliffs of the Côte Sauvage high above one of the most dangerous lee-shores on the whole north-west coast of France — which is why the title is in French as well as why the love story that runs through it is set there.

But what makes these rocks particularly menacing is that they are right beside the entrance to Le Traict du Croisic ( = “the tract, area, sand flats of Le Croisic”), one of the safest havens for storm-tossed mariners on the whole of the Brittany coast but extremely difficult to get into in heavy weather. And that’s the terrible irony, because as the mariner-poet runs for the perfect shelter behind the breakwater he takes the risk of being dashed on the rocks just on the other side of his salvation, and many widows have been made in one last desperate effort to avert that all too familiar disaster.  Like the tides of life, half a dozen of one equals six of the other — and of course that applies to any dangerous crossing what is more love story like this one.

La Crox Ma Fille B:W tweaked 1 copyThe stone cross in question was erected as a memorial to a much loved daughter who died on the rocks below on August 7th, 1845 — its inscription reads simply, A MA FILLE/ 7 AOUT/ 1845. Over time the local people have  realized that this solitary, wind-swept cross has a life of its own, and that it’s power resides in the mysterious phrase, “La Croix Ma Fille.” Indeed, the cross has become a sort of magical ‘hex’ or ‘totem’ for the Le Croisic community, a ‘spirit house’ one might even call it (‘hôtel’ in French is ‘altar’ in English). Whatever, the local people know La-Croix-Ma-Fille can reach out to their storm-bound loved ones as they struggle to stay off the terrible rocks below, that in the darkest moments its power guides and protects them like a lighthouse or an angel, and brings them safely home to the hearth in one piece.

“Fille,” of course, can mean either ‘daughter’ or ‘girl’ in French, just as “my girl” in English can mean ‘my daughter’ or ‘my girlfriend.’ So the expression, “la croix ma fille,” just says “the cross my girl,” which is what it says in the title of the book as well as in Samson’s haiku at the beginning and in the long poem at the very end. And it’s that mystery which is at the heart of what Julija is trying to illustrate too (I like this attempt in particular — and this one because it’s by Samson which means it’s even closer to home…).

Perhaps it’s clearest of all at the very end of the poem called “La Croix Ma Fille” — it’s Part IX of the long poem called “Fleurs de Sel” which terminates the book. I’ve never put up this poem before, and have a feeling I’ll eventually chicken out and take it back home and look after it in silence for the rest of my life.

But in case I don’t, I just want to say that there’s a boat beached on the sand flats of the “Traict du Croisic” at low tide with four heavy anchors set out fore and aft, two off the ‘samson-post’ on the foredeck and two more off the post on the stern, the rush of the last outgoing tide having been as ferocious as that which will surge back from the opposite direction in just an hour or two more.

…..
……………………………..LA CROIX MA FILLE

………………………………….Relict fast on an alien strand
………………………………….flaked out like an idle rope—
…..
………………………………….the plaits loose in their tress,
………………………………….the cradled belly soft and toes

………………………………….uncleated, the cross of the limbs
………………………………….a hammock loosely swung between

………………………………….four great anchor posts dry but deep
………………………………….in the leavening sand where the gulls

………………………………….wait the turn like soft marbles
………………………………….disposed on a board of white leather

………………………………….worked to a maiden smoothness
………………………………….fresh, unstained, released from all

………………………………….the muscle loads and lust
………………………………….of the great beast that once in-

………………………………….habited that hide, the tongue
………………………………….cupped in the silent cavity

………………………………….of words all said and signed
………………………………….and thoughts a mirror sunk

………………………………….like the sea when it lies down
………………………………….in the sand to sleep, its blind might

………………………………….cupped in the great callused hands
………………………………….that lie half-closed, half-open—

………………………………….infant hands that once
………………………………….and once only water held

………………………………….and wash and wash
………………………………….like off-shore bells—

………………………………….grâce à la croix,
………………………………….grâce à la fille,

………………………………….fleurs de sel,
………………………………….delivery.
…………

I thank you for still being there, and ask that you continue to be gentle too,
Christopher

for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright”

An antique Relic found amongst the Ruins,
thought to be Samson’s.

What Genius Means Border………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

A further antique Relic thought to be Samson’s:
illuminations on Jūlija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

God burns

…………….God Burns 4 …………..[Click twice on both to see better, & read carefully for clues to decipher the text.]

Dear Jūlija,……………………………………………………….December 9th, 2017
I love what you say in your last paragraph about the “message of the relics” — it’s very exciting how we’re finding our way there together, and I’m tremendously grateful to you for the help.

In answer to your question about Franz Wright, he was a unique, and uniquely great, American poet who also had a uniquely troubled life. He died just two and a half years ago after a long struggle with lung cancer, having essentially smoked himself to death. He had been abusing drugs and alcohol and everything else for 40 years, was in and out of mental hospitals, and was famous for being extremely angry and aggressive in public and especially  on-line. For examples of the latter you can go to For Franz Wright (2010) cited in my previous post. In particular you can read his Comment 34 followed by his Comments 38 & 39, and finally his very moving last Comment 41.  (For convenience sake I have highlighted all Franz Wright’s Comments in Green.) And you can also read a short reply of my own to him in Comment 40, which will give you an idea of how I dealt with all this at the time.

Insufficiently, needless to say, and why I have felt compelled to revisit the original thread 7 years later, and of course why I am dedicating “He Reflects on What his Genius Means” to Franz Wright along with your beautiful illuminations.

Also why I have high-lighted in blue the discussion with my co-editor at the time, the anti-modernist critic, Tom Brady, who mocked Franz Wright ferociously both as a poet and as a person throughout. My feeling is that readers will be interested not only in Tom Brady’s ‘Old- (as opposed to ‘New-) Critical’ views but also in the way my own understanding of both ‘the poet’ and ‘poetry’ in general developed during the discussion. Because I was caught between a rock and a very hard place, pushing against two uncompromising Savanarolas, Tom Brady on the own hand and Franz Wright on the other, the former dismissing my poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” as “didactic” and the latter as “perfectly awful.”

Which was a lot to deal with then, and still is.

[Cont. in the Comments.]

WHY IT IS MORE IMPORTANT FOR A WRITER TO SLEEP WELL THAN BE READ, OR ALMOST

Dod Proctor, %22Morning,%22 (1927)…………………………..“Morning” by Dod Procter (1926).

………………………………………………………………………… December 2nd, 2017
My writing is for me like a journal that sleeps in in the morning…

that wakes itself up every day from scratch…

that is always the same yet always completely different…

that like time itself starts over again every time it’s aware of the time…

that like time is aware of itself only in a present that has neither a past nor a future or anything in common with anything defined, labelled, catalogued or published…

that is always there in my present because it has never had to become like another person’s book on my shelf…

that is never finished because it has no other reader to fix it like a butterfly on a pin, a print in the darkroom, or a boat with a chart and a hand-bearing compass somewhere out there on the ocean…

that is never opened because it’s a book that has never been cut even after it has been selected, edited, printed, purchased and held in a hand or a wrapper or warmed in a pocket or by the pillow in somebody’s bed…

that is susceptible to revision but not editing, i.e. susceptible to being re-seen but not re-said because it might sound better any old way…
………………

[cont.] ……………………………………………………………… December 3rd, 2017


…..

…………………………...‘LIBERATION’  (vendredi, 19  janvier 1990)

[cont.] ……………………………………………………………… December 4th, 2017
I lay in for a long time yesterday morning, figuratively speaking, and my sense of it is that that was good. It meant I didn’t have to explain anything to you about what I was doing and, low and behold, that worked out brilliantly. Because it was obvious — you just clicked on the clipping to get in and even if you didn’t speak a word of French the drapes showed you everything. And of course Cristina Szemere then set that up beautifully in her elegant précis: “persistent absence…awareness because there is no revelation, no un-dressing.”

Oh my!

And then on top of all that there were you visitors from France, Spain, Angola, India and Thailand along with the anglophones from the U.K. and America, all clicking on ‘Liberation’ to get a life in the next:  FOR FRANZ WRIGHT – January 21, 2010.

What I’ve done today is highlight the relevant passages in blue so that if you’re ready you can breeze through it all quite easily and I can continue to lie in.

Oh yes, and the keywords, of course: Didactic, Perfectly and Awful.

[cont. in the Comments.]…………………………………………. December 6th, 2017

from JULIJA’S SCRIPTORIUM ON BALI

IMG_0548
………………………..

………………………..Stumped like this,
………………………..we hear the Years
………………………………………………..cascade
………………………..And stoop to grace
………………………..the Water
…………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

IMG_0551
………………………..

………………………….(Remember? Click HERE if you don’t.)

These are all three rough drafts, even the last one, but to me the blotches, squiggles and crossings-out have their own special glamor. Indeed, they all testify to Jūlija’s imagination, inventiveness and skill as a calligrapher, and as work in progress they all lead me deeper and deeper into the poem.

C.

“O FOOL OF EARTH!” A Haiku by Samson illuminated by Jūlija with Caravaggio, T.E.Lawrence & an encore by our Christy himself.

Julia O Fool of Earth jpg

……………………………………………………………………November 21st, 2017
A first draft of an illuminated haiku by a very special and gifted new friend, a Russian speaking Latvian calligrapher who goes by the single name of Jūlija. And there’s going to be lots more of her, including an illumination of the haiku in the previous post. At the moment her version of “Stumped like this” is lying on her scriptorium desk on the island of Bali, and I just read that Mt. Agung is going off so there may be a delay.

Just a few weeks ago, Jūlija and I started working together on a project to illuminate a series of what I call “relics” in my latest book called La Croix Ma Fille. And just to lay this new card on the table from the start, should La Croix Ma Fille find a publisher it would now have to include Jūlija’s work. Because what she is doing has inspired me so — lifted my spirits, confirmed my hunches, and given me the courage to believe that, even at just a few days short of 78, this author might still manage to publish the book!

I’ve had the idea for years — that I might assemble a book that would include some poems that I didn’t write myself but were “found.” So La Croix Ma Fille has a Foreword entitled “Three Relics Found Amongst the Ruins, Thought to be Samson’s,” the last poem of which is the haiku called “O Fool of Earth” — which, if you please, was written not by me but by the “front-line saint” called Samson, a Justice League enforcer if there ever was one. Because he’s God’s own body-guard, bouncer, and batman — yet he’s also humanity’s fool like the shy inventor, Bruce Wayne, which means not unlike me and perhaps even a bit like you. And don’t forget that these jottings were discovered “in the ruins” sometime after Samson pulled the temple down about his ears — “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life,” as the Bible puts it. And if that doesn’t sum up our own well-meaning but tragic interventions at home and abroad, what does, and I mean both on the personal and national levels?

Here is the “relic” as it appears in my typed m.s. in 12 point Lucida Calligraphy — that’s as far as I dare to go for open submissions, but I’d love to see what a good book designer could do with the fonts, colors and spacing . It’s a ‘Haiku’ as well as a ‘Relic,’ of course, so there’s that too to take into consideration.

O Fool of Earth - Relic

Jūlija’s version of the same poem at the top of the page is an early sketch with the script partly in black-letter and partly cyrillic, a fusion which creates an ageless sort of sacred cypher, which I love. Because the reader mustn’t forget that the original was transcribed in long-hand by a prophet in a most challenging position — trussed up between pillars with his God on the one hand and his girlfriend on the other (my imagination still goes to  Caravaggio*  for that, the saint’s bare head, her lap, the nipple, and God flaring up all over the place…).
………………

*Note: CARAVAGGIO! or How the Samson of Painters Paints Samson.
……………………………………………………………………..November 25th, 2017
It’s the prophet himself who wrote this little poem so forthrightly, of course, and by my way of thinking it’s the weakness of Samson that demonstrates his ‘chosen’ status more than his brute strength ever did. That’s why I think Samson was granted even more divine strength for that one last shove, and why the effects of it were even more cataclysmic than what he managed to do with the jawbone of the ass. And that’s how Caravaggio painted him as well, didn’t he? Doesn’t his shaved Samson reveal a prophet who is even more powerful sexually than he was before, his smooth skin, his feminine curves in silk and his hands just like her’s? And don’t the lovers fit together just about perfectly? And doesn’t everybody inside and outside the painting know just what that means? (Click more than once to see that even better.)

What also makes this haiku holy is the simplicity of its vocabulary: “wise,” “heart,” “love,” “girl’s,” “flares up,” and “burns.” Had someone like me written the poem you’d think it was by a middle-school student trying to make his creative writing teacher happy, whereas the author is actually an ancient prophet who is just about to discover his true strength by acknowledging that he has not only lost it but abused it. He admits, moreover, that his heart is not “wise,” and whereas the girl’s heart in the poem just “flares up,” his goes on burning and burning, a self-destructive and at the same time self-affirming conflagration not unlike Caravaggio’s. And it’s not demeaning for him to use the word “girl” either — indeed, he’s mocking himself, not women, exposing his fatal attraction to fantasy lovers as opposed to real or ‘other’ persons, and that’s a man-problem that no amount of man-splaining can ever cover up. Samson may be a saint but he knows he’s also a fraud ** — which is precisely what makes this humble scrap of a relic-poem so precious, and why any human being might think to fold it up carefully and place it in a small reliquary on a string about the neck, a talisman to keep from being undone by gently, humorously, respectfully turning oneself away from the self-serving self to behold. And “turns” is just the right word to describe whatever that is, I feel sure, though I haven’t a clue what that is myself.

**NOTE: The flawed saint I admire above all, and the one I never stop thinking and writing about, is T.E. Lawrence, and in a sense all of the above is about him. While actually on the road to Damascus at the very end of the Arab Revolt in 1918, [and with the Morte Darthur in his camel’s saddle bag, dear Jūlija and Romain], Lawrence realized that “all established reputations were founded, like myself, on fraud.” He removed himself from public life altogether shortly after representing King Faisal at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the outcome of which broke his heart as well as the whole of the Middle East. He died in 1935 under the name of T.E.Shaw, an ordinary mechanic in the Airforce. It was just a local motorcycle accident on a small country lane, but his funeral entourage a few days later included everybody from Bernard Shaw and E.M.Forster to Winston Churchill, and many born like myself too late are still there.

……
ONE LAST FINAL ACT AND DEPARTURE
By way of an encore to all these final acts and departures I’d like to bring in for one last bow another Irishman, J.M.Synge’s almighty wastrel/minstrel hero from “The Playboy of the Western World.” For it’s “our Christy himself,” that genius liar, lover and logos, who makes such an utter fool of himself that he can turn the tables on the whole world, and scold all the Fools of Earth in one hearty go as if he were some Old Testament prophet: “Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome, it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of earth!”

Which should bring this to a close, I think — dear friends.

Christopher

ON HOW I MAKE SENSE OF IT

IMG_0549(shopped)

Calligraphy by Jūlija added Nov 29th, 2017. CLICK HERE for more on Jūlija and our work together.
………………

…………………………..Stumped like this,
…………………………..we hear the Years
…………………………………………………..cascade
…………………………..And stoop to grace
…………………………..the Water
……………………………………………………..‘s Fall.

………………
a.) The poem has exactly 17 syllables, so it’s a haiku. That makes me slow down, reflect, get myself ready.

b.) The rhythm is, surprisingly, strict iambic — count the syllables and see. There are precisely 9 iambs which should add up to 18 as each foot has 2 syllables: da dah. So how can there be just 17, an odd number? Indeed, that’s the sort of simple-minded question any haiku worth its salt asks us, of course, and why we never get bored with the good ones. And the simpler they are the better — and the simpler we are too, needless to say.

c.) Perfection-in-imperfection, like everything. In fact there’s an invisible event at the very beginning of the poem which is unwritten, unaccented, and inaudible.  It’s simply not there in the poem — the first step has been lopped off, so to speak, truncated, ‘silenced’ as we say about an enquiry or execution, ‘stumped’ as we say in the forest or when we’re handicapped or failing. That’s why the first audible word in the poem works so well as a one syllable foot overshadowing the whole poem. “Stumped” from the very start, the poem is overshadowed by no shadow and left with no tree to bear, look up to, or hide under.

d.) “Stumped” is in the passive voice, an involuntary event that happens to someone or something — it’s done to you or me, not by us. The complementary “stoop” at the beginning of the second part is ‘active,’ as we say, and ‘finite.’ It’s what we-the-stumped do about it in the poem. And I’d say that rhetorical tension makes the poem a ‘haiku’ far more than the syllables do, or the layout — at least it does for me, and I’ve been living with this poem for over 20 years. Indeed, I’m writing this not because I wrote the poem but because it’s still talking to me.

e.)  There’s an even noisier event toward the end of the poem which constitutes a whole foot in itself, as huge as it’s empty and speechless.  The final ” ‘s” on “water’s” cracks off the edge of the 5th line to plunge down through the open space and land next to “fall” on the 6th line far below at the end. And it shushes us as it goes, indeed silences us completely as it plummets through space to rest at last beside the noun it owns at the end in perfect silence.

f.) A technical detail to further that. Like so many final events in stress-based languages, the apostrophe-s on “water’s” is not counted as a syllable. Yet in actual practice we pronounce “water’s” in three distinct parts: wa/- ter/- ‘s, almost as if there were three syllables. In vowel based, tonal languages as in Asia, for example, this is hard to say as there is no vowel to support the final consonant, and what does one do about that? Indeed, that’s why I’m called Kitofer where I live, the crush of 3 consonants at the beginning of my name, Christopher, being almost impossible to enunciate in an unstressed, tonal, vowel-based culture.

g.) Perfect iambics, yes, but not perfect pentameters — the poem is deficient again as there are only four feet in the final line. On the other hand, there’s so much happening in that apostrophe s as it tumbles off the edge of the poem that the numerical deficiency is filled up with something else in mid air, and in a poetical as well as a graphic sense fills in for the missing foot. In addition, the missing syllable makes just the right sound in its spectacular descent, the cascading sssssssss of the star which brings the poem to an end with no ripples, impatience or movement in ‘fall.”

h.) I’m pleased to say that none of the above attempts to explain anything at all about the meaning of the poem — haikus worth their salt rarely do. That’s why we so often choose to live our whole lives beside the ones we like best, as I have beside this one. They are never stingey.

Christopher

ON WHAT I CAN SAY

Man Fishing     Mae Toranee copy

Here’s a writer at work beside what he’s working on — and as usual you can click on him to see better, indeed more than once if you really want to get into his world as well as into hers which is multiple too. He’s fishing on an autumn day in Stuttgart, Germany, and she’s wringing the very same water he’s fishing in out of her hair at Wat Pha Lad in Chiang Mai. And for the record, he’s Everyman and she’s Mae Thorani.

Some of you reading this will have been to Wat Pha Lad with me, and will understand what I mean when I say it’s the most beautiful mess in the world, an abandoned other-world nursery full of broken toys, baby buddhas, bric-a-brac, cast-offs, and basketfuls of dressing-up glitter. A very old water Wat in the jungle on the way up Doi Suthep, the holy mountain that hangs over Chiang Mai, Wat Pha Lad is a spiritual honey-pot that every day attracts mysterious little things that seem to sprout up out of the ruins — like that preposterous white chicken rocking back on its heels to gaze up at Mae Thorani wringing the water out of her hair. Indeed, this image of the goddess herself just turned up out of nowhere the other day, complete with the over-the-top dime-store necklace, and I was so excited I had to go all the way home and come back the next day with my camera. I almost said fishing rod, but that would be getting way ahead of myself.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Christopher. ….

P.S. Next day. ……………………………………………………..November 1st, 2017.
If you clicked twice on the goddess you might have noticed the bejeweled dancing girl scrunched up in the lower left corner behind the white chicken. When I first saw her I thought the curled leaf was her skirt, but in fact it’s not clear where her legs are, which of course are important for who she is and what she does, which is dancing. For she’s a Nang Ram, and even disheveled in the undergrowth she minces and glitters with her beautiful bare arms and her bracelets thrown back on the pillow beside her slightly turned head. What you might not have noticed is that her body is poised on the edge of an upturned bowl — that’s the remains of a red lacquer offering tray which may or may not have been instrumental on the day of her arrival.  On the other hand, the offering tray could have brought up anything that matters, the place being piled so high with the detritus of hope.*….

* NOTE:…………………………………………………………..November 3rd, 2017.
Things that are really important like hope shouldn’t be talked about, that’s my feeling, and I know I’m already skirting dangerously near the edge. That’s why I’m not going to tell you what a Nang Ram is, because if I do I’ll tell you things that I don’t know myself, and those things will get in the way not only of your understanding of them but, even worse, indeed fatally, of my own. Because in my experience the deepest things have to be seen out of the corner of the eye, so to speak, a flickering shadow, an apparition, a bump in the dark, and the moment you turn your head to focus on such things directly, turn on the lights, let’s say, they vanish into things you already know. And that’s simply not what or who they are.

It’s in the detritus of hope where the meaning lies, remnants in the bushes at the back of the house, for example, or buried in the leaves, broken and twisted or lost — off the path, off the record, off limits /sides /color /balance /duty /one’s rocker etc.

The evidence of the spirit world that we can see is way beyond its expiry date, if I might be so bold — it’s because the spirit has ‘gone off’ that we can follow its scent like the physicist can ‘track’ the fading footprints of atomic particles in a cloud chamber, or the mathematician ‘crunch’ what is left of what may or may not have been there in the numbers at Cern. You may remember some of the photos I’ve posted of what I sometimes call the ‘cloud chambers’ where I live, like the terrible mess in this one. (Forgive me for coming back to that, but I think it’s really worth visiting again.)

Human beings are afraid so they sweep the floor and make lists. The spirit lives equally in disorder as in order, and it falls apart as fast as it’s born. It’s on- and off-hours, on- and off-work all at once.**…..

**NOTE 2:…………………………………………………………November 4th, 2017.
The “writer at work beside what he’s working on” is off-work, of course he is, and the water he’s ‘working,’ as we fishermen say, is the same water that she’s wringing out of her long black hair. In addition, do note that Mae Thorani is gathering the water that flows from her hair into her cupped hand — and that’s woman’s work, needless to say, and why men need her so badly and hope she’ll understand when they come home from the river full but empty-handed.***

Here’s another with a clay pot for the water she’s gathering this time, and a fish.…..

***POSTSCRIPT…………………………………………………November 5th, 2017.

So here’s what I think happened.

Because the original fisherman had been sitting there for so long with his eye fixed on that one still spot which all fishermen know is just where it happens, he was absolutely sure this was it. But the place was also the lair of the beautiful goddess called ‘Earth,’ and she loved her fisherman so much, and wanted him so passionately, so ‘badly’ as we say, to stay right where he was. That was because when he was there on the bank beside her, everything in the world mattered, everything was full and steady, everything moved so smoothly with the light caressing the eddies and the ripples and the flicker of the leaves and the shadows of the birds overhead and the fish slipping like lovers into each other’s perfect shelter beneath. But if her fisherman went away, if he left her, how would she ever recover from that? How could she ever let the man she loved so much slip away like some dirty little hermit out of her life?

So she decided to keep him, and to do that she would have to make him surrender, make him give up his selfish quest to abandon her world for another place he preferred — an unreal, negative place where there was no more desire, or so he explained it, no more impatience, no more striving or anger, conniving, or killing above all, and no more broken hearts, at least that’s what he said. But this would-be lover-woman was a fierce-some power to be reckoned with, no doubt about that — because she was Mara herself,  the invincible Wicked Witch of Nature, the fanged woman, the specter of lust, rivalry, betrayal and anger, and totally red in every root, rotten tooth and wretched claw of her being.

So Mara came out perfectly suited in her slippery-wet dappled trout-skin with her bright red gills and mascara and musk, irresistible for the task at hand — which was to seduce the Buddha and knock him off the Path of Enlightenment once and for all. With nothing on but her bracelets and bangles she knelt before him perfectly at ease, and she reached up over her head with her strong brown arms as all women do with supernatural grace so many times each day all over the world. And she drew her heavy black hair out in a long thick plait that gleamed with the water she’d just come up out of herself —  and she twisted it deftly and the water streamed out in a jet of perfectly clear, perfectly uncluttered, perfectly free water. And the water was the new water in which all human beings are blessed and fulfilled and feel right in themselves, i.e. just as we are if we’re patient whether we catch a fish or not. So Mara the Whore is also Mara the Nang Ram, the lovely, light-hearted Dancing Girl crumpled in the bushes as well as the heavenly Deva with the necklace above, indeed both up and down come together in the frank, irresistible allure of Mae Thorani.

That’s what the Thais call her, Mae Thorani — and how they love her. “Mae” means “Mother” in Thai but you have to bleat her name like a goat to get the full sense of the sort of mother she is, that rough and that intimate. The name “Thorani” comes into Thai from the sacred language of the Theravada scriptures, Pali, a close cousin of Sanskrit — dhāraṇī, earth. And her name is often preceded by the highest celestial title of  them all:  Phra —  Lord, God, Brahma, Seigneur!Mae Thorani**
Phra Mae Thorani is everywhere in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma — almost every shrine, temple, garden and ordinary household has at least one of them. The figure I have chosen here is even more naked than usual — but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? On the other hand, she’s never immodest, even this one, and how could she be, being who she is and so close to you, and the hope in the water she brings!

C.

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