Between the idea and the reality

In a month of poetry, you’ve got to throw in some classics, ever timely.

The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz – he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer –

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of this tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.

Shadow play

Yogis looking for poetry often turn to Mary Oliver, Rumi, Hafiz and the transcendental poets, who are ALL wonderful. I bring a strong existential streak to my yoga as well. We can’t only discuss “light and love.” We MUST also explore the shadow. You can’t JUST have Luke Skywalker and Rey; you must also have Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Here’s a poem/song by one of my favorite downers, Leonard Cohen. So dark, so real.

The Way Back

by Leonard Cohen

But I am not lost
any more than leaves are lost
or buried vases
This is not my time
I would only give you second thoughts

I know you must call me a traitor
because I have wasted my blood
in aimless love
and you are right
Blood like that
never won an inch of star

You know how to call me
although such noise now
would only confuse the air
Neither of us can forget
the steps we danced
the words you stretched
to call me out of dust

Yes I long for you
not just as a leaf for weather
or vase for hands
but with a narrow human longing
that makes a man refuse
any fields but his own

I wait for you at an
unexpected place in your journey
like a rusted key
or the feather you do not pick up
until the way back
after it is clear
the remote and painful destination
changed nothing in your life

Spring inspiration

One of my favorite poems by the freak-flag flying weirdo e. e. cummings. I think I first heard this poem recited in a Woody Allen movie… followed by a gem from Hafiz.

somewhere I have never traveled,gladly beyond

~ e.e. cummings
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

It Felt Love

How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its
Beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its
Being,
Otherwise,
We all remain
Too
Frightened.
– Hafiz

Her life was saved by Rock ‘n Roll

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, the legitimacy of his award  was debated widely among the writers of “real” literature. According to The Washington Post, at least, most of the important living American poets welcomed the announcement. Billy Collins was generous:

Can song lyrics qualify as poetry? The real acid test demands that the lyrics hold up without the music, just the words on a piece of paper. That’s how poems come to us, after all. Ninety-nine percent of song lyrics fail the test, even though the songs themselves may be terrific. Dylan is the rare exception; for decades, he has gotten one of the very few A’s.

Personally, I don’t hold songs (or even a lot of straight up attempts at poetry) to such high literary standards. Me, I agree with Bob Dylan, “If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important.” For me, the lyrics are always a critical piece, but the performance and the sheer weirdness of an effort can touch my soul. In yoga, we say “Namaste” as an acknowledgement and reminder that inside we are all the same, the light in me honors and acknowledges the light in you. I see YOU. But that light can be expressed in an endless variety of ways. And I admire and am inspired by the fearless, out there EXPRESSION of whatever it is that your light needs to say. The rawness and the audacious, unselfconscious performance of something deeply felt—however it comes out —is also part of what makes spoken word so powerful.

Here are a couple of performances that move me.

Let the mystery be…

Here’s a poem I just like. To me it says, like Iris Dement, “Let the mystery be.” Poetry is the closest thing  in words to a language my body understands. Experience it, intervene in it, but don’t look to it for all the answers… it’s just a poem, after all.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Phenomenal Women

If we’re talking favorite poems, I have to include this one. I first became aware of Maya Angelou and Alice Walker when they were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, back when she still had two names. I think it was 1987 or 1988. I was in college. Seeing and hearing these women changed me, changed my life. I became — GASP! — a feminist! Or, actually, realized I already was one and embraced it. (Later I would drop the noun and now mainly use the term as an adjective… less limited by people’s ideas of what a “feminist” is.)

I read everything they had written up to that point, including a lot of poetry. There’s not a single book by either of them that I don’t recommend.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Audre Lorde keeps it real

Here are two hard poems by Audre Lorde. I love the way poetry uses the power of language to effect visceral emotion and give sharp focus to the human impact of systemic injustice … I was going to say, atrocity. You decide. Strip away comfortable illusion, and as my teacher says, DENY NOTHING.

Sisters in Arms

The edge of our bed was a wide grid
where your fifteen-year-old daughter was hanging
gut-sprung on police wheels
a cablegram nailed to the wood
next to a map of the Western Reserve
I could not return with you to bury the body
reconstruct your nightly cardboards
against the seeping Transvaal cold
I could not plant the other limpet mine
against a wall at the railroad station
nor carry either of your souls back from the river
in a calabash upon my head
so I bought you a ticket to Durban
on my American Express
and we lay together
in the first light of a new season.
Now clearing roughage from my autumn garden
cow sorrel    overgrown rocket gone to seed
I reach for the taste of today
the New York Times finally mentions your country
a half-page story
of the first white south african killed in the “unrest”
Not of Black children massacred at Sebokeng
six-year-olds imprisoned for threatening the state
not of Thabo Sibeko, first grader, in his own blood
on his grandmother’s parlor floor
Joyce, nine, trying to crawl to him
shitting through her navel
not of a three-week-old infant, nameless
lost under the burned beds of Tembisa
my hand comes down like a brown vise over the marigolds
reckless through despair
we were two Black women touching our flame
and we left our dead behind us
I hovered    you rose    the last ritual of healing
“It is spring,” you whispered
“I sold the ticket for guns and sulfa
I leave for home tomorrow”
and wherever I touch you
I lick cold from my fingers
taste rage
like salt from the lips of a woman
who has killed too often to forget
and carries each death in her eyes
your mouth a parting orchid
“Someday you will come to my country
and we will fight side by side?”
Keys jingle in the door ajar    threatening
whatever is coming belongs here
I reach for your sweetness
but silence explodes like a pregnant belly
into my face
a vomit of nevers.
Mmanthatisi turns away from the cloth
her daughters-in-law are dyeing
the baby drools milk from her breast
she hands him half-asleep to his sister
dresses again for war
knowing the men will follow.
In the intricate Maseru twilights
quick    sad    vital
she maps the next day’s battle
dreams of Durban    sometimes
visions the deep wry song of beach pebbles
running after the sea.

Power

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
yourself
instead of your children.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
within me.
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”

a haiku

A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to write 10 haikus a day for 100 days. With a few exceptions (some days I couldn’t quite get to 10!), I completed the 100 days and ended up with almost 1000 haikus. A few of them were even ok!

In the process, I read a lot of haikus. I learned that the best haiku speak to the heart. I wrote a poem about it:

Richard Wright wrote haiku. I’m reading it.

Mostly I just read along: ok, ok, ok
and then
a little gasp
I pause
he gets something exactly right.
your KNOW that place
recognition. it strikes softly in the body. But it does strike.
you FEEL it.

head head head — heart. yes. that’s it.

 

Here’s one of Wright’s haikus:

And though level full

The petal holds its dew

And without trembling

Sometimes…

time_cover_-_america_baltimore_3ff5a1d633dd79261261a745f650ed40.nbcnews-ux-1024-900Sometimes we need poetry to help us feel the pain of the injustice all around us. Fifty years ago today, violence abruptly ended the life of one of this nation’s most impactful proponents of civil rights, and social and economic justice. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy lives in our continued attempts at nonviolent protest and direct action against the injustices of our day. And, we are still met, far too often, with violence.

Today, a poem from the #BlackLivesMatter movement. You can read more here.

 

Stevie Edwards

AFTER THE VIGIL FOR THE CHARLESTON CHURCH MASSACRE

Ithaca, NY – June 24, 2015

What if we built a God
out of justice. If we prayed
for justice to lead our daily actions
before scrambled eggs and coffee,
if we tithed to justice, dated
only people who believed in the right
justice, got our knees dirty
kneeling on asphalt
in front of police stations
and banks praying for justice
to banish the infidels. What if
we worshipped justice
as much as comfort,
didn’t move our protest lines
when the cab drivers honked.
What if after the vigil
nobody asked if people wanted
to do a die-in, if it wasn’t
perhaps too late. What if
we asked justice what she thinks
we should do to the town
tonight. What if justice
says we need more cowbell,
more pots and pans,
more yell with our lily white
liberal mouths. What if justice
says she doesn’t even need us—
checking our cellphones
on the crowd’s periphery
as a black woman talks about fear.