HOW THE DJINN GETS OUT OF THE BOTTLE

……………………George Tooker (1920-2011), Dark Angel, 1995.

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Below are the two sides of a postcard sent to me by a friend in response to the first draft of “Works & Days,” a long poem I was just beginning on the Seine in 1993. Sealed in an envelope with the message-side embellished with pigment, text and gold leaf, the postcard arrived in my mailbox on a cold December morning on the Quai d’issy near the Isle St Germain where my boat was tied up outside an abandoned barge for the winter. And now, twenty-five years later, I’m just beginning to realize how much these words have helped me to understand my exceptionally slow development as a poet.

NOTE: You can Click on the angels in the painting to read the “sound wall” verses from “Works & Days.” A “Barrage” is the French word for the dams that control the water level in rivers that have been canalized like the Seine, the Marne, the Yonne and the Saone. The whole poem is formatted in this way, with two ‘Barrages’ to each page.

…………
Here’s a loose transliteration of what Catherine Jean wrote in the Postcard:

…….,,,,,,,,…..“Angels Talking Beyond the Sound Wall.

Christopher,
“A mouthful of pebbles is good practice for diction. But be careful, it’s easy to be deafened like this by the roar of the sea rushing up your shingle. So let yourself go with the rhythm of the flood, and tune your ear to the fine whisper of the foam on the ebb. Then years later, when you’ve been able to spit them all out at last, the pebbles can pass through the screen of your silence like a handful of words glittering in the wash like nuggets.”…………………………..Cathy

……………………………………………Catherine Jean, Aubervilliers, Paris, 1993.

(I lost touch with Cathy some time ago, and I’m posting her extraordinary intervention here partly because I would so love to flag her down again. Any news?)

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And to add one further layer to my Palimpsest of Visionary Interventions:
The following is the Chiang Mai poem which has given its name to my most recent collection of poetry, Brown Water: Poems from Paradise. The poem can also be seen as a celebration of George Tooker’s “Dark Angel,” of course — as can also my subsequent riff on the “Giant Mother” who bleats like a goat as she snakes her brown way from high Tibet down to the Pacific Ocean.

………………………….BROWN WATER

………………………………Pure water’s
………………………………our perfection,
………………………………teased out
………………………………of vacant skies
………………………………like seeded rain,
………………………………the formula or prayer
………………………………that takes no charge
………………………………for what’s the matter,
………………………………shorts nor rots
………………………………not hermit cells
………………………………or stains or leaves
………………………………alive deposits.

………………………………But oh silt-skin Mae Ping water,
………………………………how you slough us off!—
………………………………your load of wandering earth
………………………………melting our floors, how you butter
………………………………up our floury lives like batter,
………………………………sweeten all our beds
………………………………and leave like fossils in the rocks
………………………………our most indecent
………………………………moments’ truths
………………………………as wonders,
………………………………blesséd faults harder
………………………………than our higher thoughts
………………………………and all unclean
………………………………enough to live beside
………………………………like angel dirt
………………………………forever
………………………………free of
………………………………failure.

________________________
Brown Water. All the ditches, canals and rivers in rural Thailand are as brown with silt as the rice paddies and fish ponds.

The Mae Ping is the river which flows by my village in Chiang Mai.

Mae means ‘mother’ (the vowel bleats like a goat). Indeed, all the rivers in South-East Asia are mothers, including the Mae Khong, that Giant Mother-of-Them-All that rises in Tibet, tumbles through China, defines Burma and Thailand, feeds the whole of Laos and Cambodia, and finally dissolves itself in the Pacific Ocean at the very tail-end of Vietnam.

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As time goes on I may replace the asterisks with a few more notes and reflections — should I be so blessed. And please do feel free to add some words of your own in the space below, that I should be so blessed even better.

Christopher

THIS THREAD WILL NOW CONTINUE IN THE COMMENTS

MAKE IT NEW!

 Aborigine Woman

                               Many thanks to AUSTRAVELPHOTOGRAPHY for the photo. 

People have always felt the world was going down the tubes — from “hey, look at her!” to “ubi sunt,” indeed long before anybody ever thought to make it new!

One of the cultures I most admire is that of the indigenous people of Australia. What culture has ever produced greater artists, richer myths, or more healing images? Yet when they lost their past, all 30,000 years of it, it took just a few decades to bankrupt them entirely, economically, culturally, emotionally and spiritually. On the other hand, the tragedy was caused as much by our culture’s inability to cope with change as it was with theirs. They couldn’t deal with us any more than we could deal with them, a heart-breaking impasse for everybody involved right to the end, and still with us.

Two observations on “Make It New” with regard to the gifts of these extraordinary people. The Australian aborigines were always in a sense  “contemporary” — they were “cartoon” artists, after all, and every image and artifact they made was “pop” in the sense that everybody was a fan, everybody loved it, read it and danced to it. Secondly, their culture didn’t change — for whatever reason they were locked in a time-warp, as we might say looking out into space, and as a result nothing ever became “dated” what is more “old fashioned” for them. “Make it new?” Why everything was new already!

I make these observations very much without blame — Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel confirmed what I had always suspected, that the Australian aborigines’ lack of ‘development’ had nothing whatever to do with inferior genes, hands or minds. On the other hand, they didn’t “change” at all in our sense — but that’s not quite the same as I have come to understand the word in Buddhist terms. The Buddha insisted over and over again that denying change was as self-destructive as any form of greed, control or domination. Anicca, or “impermanence” as it’s usually translated when the sutras are rendered in English, is the only certainty in life, says the Buddha, and holding on to things as if they weren’t going to change is the root of all suffering. That’s the fundamental Buddhist teaching, in fact, that Change and the inevitable Suffering that arises out of it are the fundamental truths of all being.

What’s really different about our times, it seems to me, is what is happening to time itself — the speed of change, as if we were already strapped in the rocket that will deliver us from our dwindling planet into the arms of space. Try this to put our own sense of time in perspective: I never even heard of television until I was 8 and didn’t live with a set until I was 42! Even more astonishing, I learned all my maths and physics without a calculator, sailed all over the world without a GPS or other electronic aid, and didn’t touch a computer keyboard until I was 52, the same age at which I published my first poem. And if that last one doesn’t put the word “dated” into perspective for a poet in America, what does?

But we’ll come back to that.

I just want to add that I’m not a Buddhist, whatever that might mean, and feel very strongly that in the light of eternity there are other “universal truths” beside Change and Suffering. Indeed, one of the reasons the aborigines are so important to me is that they tell me more than any other people I have ever encountered about who I really am — particularly as I look in the mirror on my birthday, not a pretty sight at all at 74. But then the old wizened aborigine that looks back at me over my shoulder tells me that nothing that really matters is ever outdated. Change is nothing in the light of eternity, he tells me — and I don’t mean by that Heaven or Eternal Life, God forbid, or indeed anything my new-age friends in white call ‘Spiritual.’ I mean eternity in the sense that I believe Einstein imagined it, or Stephen Hawking in his space-age body, our own little naked good-fella in Cambridge, grappling with the dreaming that’s Cern.

Do you think when the first white man arrived in Australia an aboriginal would have had a problem showing him a God-particle? Had the white man been able to ask, that is? Had he had the intelligence or expertise to navigate that sort of thinking?

And of course, had the good-fella been willing to betray such truths by sharing them with such a big, crude, ignorant stranger?

Christopher Woodman

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