Tuesday, July 31, 2012

with a sense of lingering

with a sense of lingering

you didn't need surgery. it was a flesh wound
of sorts, a swollen middle finger. who jammed it
up, into what? last time it was a knife wound,
someone tried to slash tires.

i'm not going to name names.

today the thumb has a thorn
or something irritatingly invisible. i call it
:the reason for the (blank):

blank is defined as any of the following:
drink, sex, longing, tears, food, internet,
run around the block, count to a hundred fears
backwards, this book or that, online dating,
weed smoke, pill down, treadmill, incite a fight.

the body gets buzzed, distracted. i remember
cigarettes, how they felt when i was hooked:
an outlet for unparalleled anger,
a life jacket drowning me. inhale,
let it all out.

it's not easy to pull the blinds.
i have strange curtains that don't block
public pains. at times i wait
guarded, outlining shapes, glancing inward.
have i inhabited this naked world,
this two-way mirror?

my hands could be useful, yet they remain
accoutrements, appendages.
only the fine fur of my best cat
friend knows their true current value,
the going rate on today's market.
i am trading in purrs.

which of these human senses is most starved? 
i ask repeatedly.
the view and shudder of depth i long to match?
the depth of voice i can echo (towards silence)?
that whole taste, unencumbered & unfurled?
that complex smell when face meets face, inhale?

or is it simply the abandon of
skin, hands, skin?


Monday, July 30, 2012

matins by louise gluck


you want to know how i spend my time?
i walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding.  you ought to know
i'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
i'm looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music.  you want to see my hands?
as empty now as at the first note.
or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

the fragile vial

the fragile vial  

by rumi

i need a mouth as wide as the sky
to say the nature of a True Person, language
as large as longing.

the fragile vial inside me often breaks.
no wonder i go mad and disappear for three days
every month with the moon.

for anyone in love with you,
it's always these invisible days.

i've lost the thread of the story i was telling.
my elephant roams his dream of hindustan again.
narrative, poetics, destroyed, my body,
a dissolving, a return.

friend, i've shrunk to a hair trying to say your story.
would you tell mine?
i've made up so many love stories.
now i feel fictional.
tell me!
the truth is, you are speaking, not me.
i am sinai, and you are moses walking there.
this poetry is an echo of what you say.
a piece of land can't speak, or know anything!
or if it can, only within limits.

the body is a device to calculate
the astronomy of the spirit.
look through that astrolabe
and become oceanic.

why this distracted talk?
it's not my fault i rave.
you did this.
do you approve of my love-madness?

say yes.
what language will you say it in, arabic or persian,
or what?  once again, i must be tied up.

bring the curly ropes of your hair.
                                                        now i remember the story.
a True Man stares at his old shoes
and sheepskin jacket.  every day he goes up
to his attic to look at his work-shoes and worn-out coat.
this is his wisdom, to remember the original clay
and not get drunk with ego and arrogance.

to visit those shoes and jacket
is praise.

the Absolute works with nothing.
the workshop, the materials
are what does not exist.

try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it.
be a spot of ground where nothing is growing,
where something might be planted,
a seed, possibly, from the Absolute.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

stable like the ocean

Metta Means Goodwill

—by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Ajaan Fuang, my teacher, once discovered that a snake had moved into his
room. Every time he entered the room, he saw it slip into a narrow space behind
a storage cabinet. And even though he tried leaving the door to the room open
during the daytime, the snake wasn’t willing to leave. So for three days they
lived together. He was very careful not to startle the snake or make it feel
threatened by his presence. But finally on the evening of the third day, as he was
sitting in meditation, he addressed the snake quietly in his mind. He said, “Look,
it’s not that I don’t like you. I don’t have any bad feelings for you. But our minds
work in different ways. It’d be very easy for there to be a misunderstanding
between us. Now, there are lots of places out in the woods where you can live
without the uneasiness of living with me.” And as he sat there spreading
thoughts of metta to the snake, the snake left. 

When Ajaan Fuang first told me this story, it made me stop and reconsider
my understanding of what metta is. Metta is a wish for happiness—true
happiness—and the Buddha says to develop this wish for ourselves and
everyone else: “With metta for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart.” (Sn 1:8)  But what’s the emotional quality that goes along with that wish? Many people define it as “lovingkindness,” implying a desire to be there for other people: to cherish them, to provide them with intimacy, nurture, and protection. The idea of feeling love for everyone sounds very noble and emotionally satisfying. But when you really stop to think about all the beings in the cosmos, there are a lot of them who—like the snake—would react to your lovingkindness with suspicion and fear. Rather than wanting your love, they would rather be left alone. Others might try to take unfair advantage of your lovingkindness, reading it as a sign either of your weakness or of your endorsement of whatever they want to do. In none of these cases would your lovingkindness lead to anyone’s true happiness. You’re left to wonder if the Buddha’s instructions on universal metta are really realistic or wise.

But as I learned from Ajaan Fuang’s encounter with the snake, metta is not
necessarily an attitude of lovingkindness. It’s more an attitude of goodwill—
wishing the other person well, but realizing that true happiness is something that
each of us ultimately will have to find for him or herself, and sometimes most
easily when we go our separate ways.

This understanding of metta is borne out in the Pali Canon, first of all in the
word itself. The Pali language has another word for love—pema—whereas metta
is related to the word mitta, or friend. Universal metta is friendliness for all. The fact that this friendliness equates with goodwill is shown in the four passages in the Canon where the Buddha recommends phrases to hold in mind when developing thoughts of metta. These phrases provide his clearest guide not only to the emotional quality that underlies metta, but also to the understanding of happiness that explains why it’s wise and realistic to develop metta for all.

The first set of phrases comes in a passage where the Buddha recommends
thoughts to counter ill will. These phrases are chanted daily in Theravada
communities the world over: “May these beings—free from animosity, free from
oppression, and free from trouble—look after themselves with ease.” — AN 10:176

Notice that last statement: “May they look after themselves with ease.”
You’re not saying that you’re going to be there for all beings all the time. And
most beings would be happier knowing that they could depend on themselves
rather than having to depend on you. I once heard a Dharma teacher say that he
wouldn’t want to live in a world where there was no suffering because then he
wouldn’t be able to express his compassion—which when you think about it, is
an extremely selfish wish. He needs other people to suffer so he can feel good
about expressing his compassion? A better attitude would be, “May all beings be
happy. May they be able to look after themselves with ease.” That way they can
have the happiness of independence and self­-reliance.

Another set of metta phrases is in the Karaniya Metta Sutta. They start out
with a simple wish for happiness:

Happy, at rest,
may all beings be happy at heart.
Whatever beings there may be,
weak or strong, without exception,
long, large,
middling, short,
subtle, blatant,
seen & unseen,
near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

But then they continue with a wish that all beings avoid the causes that
would lead them to unhappiness:

Let no one deceive another
or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or resistance
wish for another to suffer.
— Sn 1:8

In repeating these phrases, you wish not only that beings be happy, but also
that they avoid the actions that would lead to bad karma, to their own
unhappiness. You realize that happiness has to depend on action: For people to
find true happiness, they have to understand the causes for happiness and act on
them. They also have to understand that true happiness is harmless. If it depends
on something that harms others, it’s not going to last. Those who are harmed are sure to do what they can to destroy that happiness. And then there’s the plain quality of sympathy: If you see someone suffering, it’s painful. If you have any sensitivity at all, it’s hard to feel happy when you know that your happiness is causing suffering for others.

So again, when you express goodwill, you’re not saying that you’re going to
be there for them all the time. You’re hoping that all beings will wise up about
how to find happiness and be there for themselves.

The Karaniya Metta Sutta goes on to say that when you’re developing this
attitude, you want to protect it in the same way that a mother would protect her
only child.

As a mother would risk her life
to protect her child, her only child,
even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.

Some people misread this passage—in fact, many translators have
mistranslated it—thinking that the Buddha is telling us to cherish all living
beings the same way a mother would cherish her only child. But that’s not what
he’s actually saying. To begin with, he doesn’t mention the word “cherish” at all.
And instead of drawing a parallel between protecting your only child and
protecting other beings, he draws the parallel between protecting the child and
protecting your goodwill. This fits in with his other teachings in the Canon.
Nowhere does he tell people to throw down their lives to prevent every cruelty
and injustice in the world, but he does praise his followers for being willing to
throw down their lives for their precepts: “Just as the ocean is stable and does not overstep its tideline, in the same way my disciples do not—even for the sake of their lives—overstep the training rules I have formulated for them.” — Ud 5:5

The verses here carry a similar sentiment: You should be devoted to
cultivating and protecting your goodwill to make sure that your virtuous
intentions don’t waver. This is because you don’t want to harm anyone. Harm
can happen most easily when there’s a lapse in your goodwill, so you do
whatever you can to protect this attitude at all times. This is why, as the Buddha
says toward the end of the sutta, you should stay determined to practice this
form of mindfulness: the mindfulness of keeping in mind your wish that all
beings be happy, to make sure that it always informs the motivation for
everything you do.

This is why the Buddha explicitly recommends developing thoughts of metta
in two situations where it’s especially important—and especially difficult—to
maintain skillful motivation: when others are hurting you, and when you realize
that you’ve hurt others.

If others are harming you with their words or actions—“even if bandits were to
carve you up savagely, limb by limb, with a two­handled saw”
—the Buddha
recommends training your mind in this way:

Our minds will be unaffected and we will say no evil words. We will remain
sympathetic, with a mind of goodwill, and with no inner hate. We will keep
pervading these people with an awareness imbued with goodwill and, beginning with them, we will keep pervading the all­encompassing world with an awareness imbued with goodwill—abundant, expansive, immeasurable, free from hostility, free from ill will.
— MN 21

In doing this, the Buddha says, you make your mind as expansive as the
River Ganges or as large as the earth—in other words, larger than the harm those people are doing or threatening to do to you. He himself embodied this teaching after Devadatta’s attempt on his life. As he told Mara—who had come to taunt him while he was resting from a painful injury—“I lie down with sympathy for all beings.” (SN 4:13) When you can maintain this enlarged state of mind in the face of pain, the harm that others can do to you doesn’t seem so overwhelming, and you’re less likely to respond in unskillful ways. You provide protection—both for yourself and for others—against any unskillful things you otherwise might be tempted to do.

As for the times when you realize that you’ve harmed others, the Buddha
recommends that you understand that remorse is not going to undo the harm, so
if an apology is appropriate, you apologize. In any case, you resolve not to repeat the harmful action again. Then you spread thoughts of goodwill in all directions.

This accomplishes several things. It reminds you of your own goodness, so
that you don’t—in defense of your self­image—revert to the sort of denial that
refuses to admit that any harm was done. It strengthens your determination to
stick with your resolve not to do harm. And it forces you to examine your actions
to see their actual effect: If any other of your habits are harmful, you want to
abandon them before they cause further harm. In other words, you don’t want
your goodwill to be just an ungrounded, floating idea. You want to apply it
scrupulously to the nitty­gritty of all your interactions with others. That way
your goodwill becomes honest. And it actually does have an impact, which is
why we develop this attitude to begin with: to make sure that it actually does
animate our thoughts, words, and deeds in a way that leads to a happiness
harmless for all.

Finally, there’s a passage where the Buddha taught the monks a chant for
spreading goodwill to all snakes and other creeping things. The story goes that a
monk meditating in a forest was bitten by a snake and died. The monks reported
this to the Buddha and he replied that if that monk had spread goodwill to all
four great families of snakes, the snake wouldn’t have bitten him. Then the
Buddha taught the monks a protective chant for expressing metta not only for
snakes, but also for all beings.

I have goodwill for footless beings,
goodwill for two­footed beings,
goodwill for four­footed beings,
goodwill for many­footed beings.
May footless beings do me no harm.
May two­footed beings do me no harm.
May four­footed beings do me no harm.
May many­footed beings do me no harm.
May all creatures,
all breathing things,
all beings
—each & every one—
meet with good fortune.
May none of them come to any evil.
Limitless is the Buddha,
limitless the Dhamma,
limitless the Sangha.
There is a limit to creeping things:
snakes, scorpions, centipedes,
spiders, lizards, & rats.
I have made this safeguard,
I have made this protection.
May the beings depart. — AN 4:67

The last statement in this expression of metta takes into consideration the
truth that living together is often difficult—especially for beings of different
species that can harm one another—and the happiest policy for all concerned is
often to live harmlessly apart.

These different ways of expressing metta show that metta is not necessarily
the quality of lovingkindness. Metta is better thought of as goodwill, and for two
reasons. The first is that goodwill is an attitude you can express for everyone
without fear of being hypocritical or unrealistic. It recognizes that people will
become truly happy not as a result of your caring for them but as a result of their own skillful actions, and that the happiness of self­-reliance is greater than any happiness that comes from dependency.

The second reason is that goodwill is a more skillful feeling to have toward
those who would be suspicious of your lovingkindness or try to take advantage
of it. There are probably people you’ve harmed in the past who would rather not
have anything to do with you ever again, so the intimacy of lovingkindness
would actually be a source of pain for them, rather than joy. There are also
people who, when they see that you want to express lovingkindness, would be
quick to take advantage of it. And there are plenty of animals out there who
would feel threatened by any overt expressions of love from a human being. In
these cases, a more distant sense of goodwill—that you promise yourself never to harm those people or those beings—would be better for everyone involved.

This doesn’t mean that lovingkindness is never an appropriate expression of
goodwill. You simply have to know when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. If
you truly feel metta for yourself and others, you can’t let your desire for warm
feelings of love and intimacy render you insensitive to what would actually be
the most skillful way to promote true happiness for all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

the everyday, 2006

the everyday

for dinner, we'll have
sex. oh wait, that's after.
i'm sorry, i'm screwed
up, just wanting the body
to know the body

we'll have a picnic
by the river with night
vision & talks of water. 
no need for wine.
all blankets.

we'll read books, take walks,
make lists & cross
things out. we'll plant gardens
and disagree.
we'll bake cookies, sing
songs, cut our hair, let it
out, count blessings. we'll
pick up shells & put them
back, take off our shoes
and take off our clothes.

it's in the ordinary
of this living:
be active, sit silently.
we are alive.
we grieve our losses.

finding the genuine & the simple
satisfaction of reaching out,
holding near. again.
and amen.


Monday, July 23, 2012

ode to mix tapes by sherman alexie

ode to mix tapes

by sherman alexie

these days, it's too easy to make mix tapes.
     cd burners, ipods, and itunes
             have taken the place
     of vinyl and cassette.  and, soon
enough, clever introverts will create
quicker point-and-click ways to declare
     one's love, lust, friendship, and favor.
             but i miss the labor
of making old-school mix tapes- the midair

acrobats of recording one song
     at a time.  it sometimes took days
              to play, choose, pause,
     ponder, record, replay, erase,
and replace.  but there was no magic wand.
it was blue-collar work.  a great mix tape
     was sculpture designed to seduce
              and let the hounds loose.
a great mix tape was a three-chord parade
led by the first song, something bold and brave,
     a heat-seeker like prince with "cream,"
     or "let's get it on," by marvin gaye.
the next song was always patsy cline's "sweet dreams,"
or something by hank.  but o, the last track
     was the vessel that contained
     the most devotion and pain
and made promises that you couldn't take back.

(from war dances)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

such a visionary

 ... quotes from winona laduke:

"We are the people that can keep our mother from baking. We are the people that can stop them from knocking off the top of big mountains. We are the people that can stop them from rebooting the nuclear industry. We are the people that can do the right thing, and what a great spiritual opportunity that is. So let us be those people. Let us be courageous."

"Instead of being called "The Place Where the Thunder Beings Rest in their Migration from West to East", or Animikii-wajiw -- up by the City of Thunder Bay. Thunder Mountain, it is called, in English translation from Ojibwe. It is known, instead, as Mount McKay. The place that the Apache people go for their prayers is known not by its traditional name, but instead as Mount Graham. This illustrates to me one of the problems I have with America, which is the naming of large mountains after small men. . . The idea that someone got it in their heads that we could take something as immortal as a mountain and name it after something as puny and mortal as a human. And then what that does to our consciousness as that is repeated generation after generation after generation. It changes how we relate to land."

"We are quite confident that we did not get discovered."

"But we sit over here in our little bubble and think, well maybe someone will save us. There will be some carbon reduction fairy.  That's not actually true. That carbon reduction fairy lives with the tooth fairy. And when you are about nine, you should realize that neither of them is here."

"then at a certain point when they hit your head against the wall for the tenth time you say -- "That's enough. I am going to fight you. And I'm going to make you back down." And that is the communities that I have the privilege of working with. People who say no.  And a lot of people would not bet on us. But you know what, you don't hang out for 500 years in the largest industrial empire in the world and not be kind of tough."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

in the glass

in the glass

up the street, cracks go in between
the intricate future / the furious past
look up look down sky to ants to fast pants
i tap these steps with shoes and hips

the beat there goes
the beat there went

the mean streets of this white place
can't run, breath back
there i pause, here i laugh
sometimes sing this place so green
it's spring and it's spring and

boom click, click click boom click, click click boom click, click click boom
little keyboard solo
boom click, click click boom click, click click boom click, click click boom
little guitar dance
boom click boom click boom click boom click

and boom
this is my boyfriend this is my jam
you got this

head phoned half assed shit talking winding way
going forth, walking over
stepping past, nothing broken

past the popping flowers horns honking bright windows
there's the white eyed contact, there's the whispering shames
the microscope the macroscope
mirrorscope the mirage

shake shake shakeshakeshake
shatter shatter doesn't matter


Monday, July 16, 2012

the words under the words, by naomi shihab nye

The Words Under the Words

by Naomi Shihab Nye
for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem
My grandmother's hands recognize grapes,   
the damp shine of a goat's new skin.   
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them   
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother's days are made of bread,   
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car   
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,   
lost to America. More often, tourists,   
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.   
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,   
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother's voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.   
She knows the spaces we travel through,   
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short   
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband's coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.   
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother's eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.   
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,   
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,   
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
"Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,   
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones."

Sunday, July 15, 2012

black bat

black bat

and eager eyes i sidelined the dark
before it could be bornagain

these were wings, this was my hand, that was a window,
you were wrong.

there, your beautiful colors beat beat beat
and that was glass, again and again, you allmost,

you mostly died, for a minute.
i rescued you first

with a knife, you would
not be seen with a knife you wouldn't

climb on. although your survival depended
on what i had to offer, you swished and pecked

at the window. the reflection was an illusion, my dear
butterfly, here is my hand.

why the warm hand and not the knife?
why the knowing and not the trapdoor, the flight?

for once, just one simple quick can't-grab-the-camera
moment, i wasn't sure who was who,

hand? darkness? or wings?


Thursday, July 12, 2012

for the young who want to

for the young who want to
by marge piercy

talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed.  beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems.  earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

the reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

the real writer is one
who really writes.  talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
work is its own cure.  you have to
like it better than being loved.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

but where was the moon

but where was the moon

in the corner, the hole
in the bucket, dear

your home is a platform
of stars.  it's cold
on sharp nights.  and
silent like hands
without knives.

your craft is distinct.
clear: cut the moon
in half, in hands, cover
with pine sap.  send.

there is no virtual
tomorrow, this is not
a button to click.  this
is the moon, my friend,
the moon.

pull the papers towards
the lines and read between:
some sew the moon
into blankets & boots.
i dove in.  then where
was i?

Monday, July 9, 2012

another from e.e. cummings

Hello is what a mirror says
it is a maid says Who
and(hearing not a which)replies
in haste I must be you

no sunbeam ever lies

Bang is the meaning of a gun
it is a man means No
and(seeing something yes)will grin
with pain You so&so

true wars are never won