Continental Drift, Destination Vows

As events played out recently, I had the sweet fortune of being the celebrant for a very private exchange of marriage vows (yes, y’all read that right ! ūüôā) It was for a lovely couple, very good friends we’ve known for many years. I also had the privilege of solemnising a unity candle ceremony, as well as being a witness later in the presence of an officiant, authorised to lawfully seal the union. It has been a most wonderful experience, in these grey and hazy times.

Later, I wrote a poem to mark the occasion, a tribute to their nomadic lives as they work for the betterment of children’s lives the word over. I tried to capture what it means to be a couple, while being part of the United Nations, separated often by geography and time, which will resonate with those that are involved in long distance relationships. It is a poem on how love sustains across borders, time zones, long separations, days, months, years… a few aspects of the story are deeply personal to our friends, the rest being poetic license. I’ve tried to add a touch of their organic world and weave in some of the countries they have lived in … I have experimented with the first person narrative style which in this poem, stands for either of the couple speaking to the other.

The theme song of this intimate ceremony was an enchanting instrumental based on Verve’s classic bitter sweet symphony. I have italicized what I borrowed from the song. There’s also a bit of Bizet’s Carmen at the end, which too has special significance.

The last month has been a whirlwind of sorts and when beautiful things happen around you seamlessly, like a river flow or you yield to the river perhaps, then surely, life is blessed.

The poem has been arranged to appear like a wave (best viewed on a large screen or tablet), given that a precious friendship was seeded in the aftermath of a Tsunami.

All photographs used with permission
        
        Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, that's life..
     
      bloat of whale song, birdsong, petulant -

    the rattle of tanks and thunder,

   giant waves cascading cymbals on shores

  for heartbeats lost

   in native lands.

    I'll take you down the only road

     I've ever been down.

      You know the one

       that takes you to the places

          where all the veins meet ..

                  those hopeful rivers

                       merging sinuous sentiment

                  into the shapelessness of ocean

             s   p   a   c   e    beneath the breast,

      a vast rhythmic rise

in tidal moons,  waves licking shores

  now awash in stories loosely anchored

    to transient shoals,

          then exasperated,

              sedimenting the ocean floor

                 in breezy metaphors of flying fish,

               fish like mammals breathing our air ......

             The reef edge was always steeply laced

           in a filigree of the statuesque -

       Coral corralling within aragonite bridal veil,

 feelings in free d

                             i

                              v

                                e

Rewind to retrospect:

     Small Giant Clams

         netted and harboured secrets

           to the future we never dreamed of

              except in stories that read as life itself,

               long after the deed is done.

             Washed ashore briefly on coral sands,

         we were a tsunami of affections

   seeking anchorage to archipelagic sentiment,

creating little islands of purpose,

islands of recreation,

 sand banks of spirituality, floating islands,

   floating plankton, floating algae, swimming

     in the shallows like the time

       I almost drowned     

         in fever

           and pulled you to seaweed depths

             but you came up gasping for air,

               to a soul clarity,                               

                  we both did ..

                  Time flew, like I flew, like a raven

             off the ark, to the ruins

        of an ancient fairy tale,

    where salt water couldn't drown

a covenant struck in a yielding heart,

the only living thing which I thought existed

    in the semi arid of those lifeless blunders

         that overstay their welcome on the dunes.

             The stars of the desert as brilliantly

                  luminous as our eyes, blinking binaries

                      when I looked for you in asterisms and you

                         looked to me

                                                and we

                               found ourselves                       

                                     under a red blanket.

                                          You came with a sprig in your beak

                                                to drier sands,
                        
                                                    where we etched

                                                        the holy books of faith

                                                           to our own religion

                                                              under a blanketing sentiment ..

                                                            feelings relocated, landlocked,

                                                        then clarified in three layers of lake

                                                  amid a thousand cichlid kisses

                                        darting under a blazing fire.

                               Those sun burnished hearts

                   south of the equator strangely rhyme

        the same, while venous blood flow upwards,

  downwards and across

that expansive meter

    of grassland, where we fostered

        the lives of children like it were

           a spiritual mandate.

               Those leached affections pooled

                    into a reservoir of love, a lake

                         that turned clear as crystal    

                              in that turbid genesis ..

                                  the celestial was most surreal          

                                      when I woke one day to the milky way

                                          obscured by the million lights

                                             along a river,

                                         dazzling a grid of avenues and streets

                               and I know that to this layered night

                 was hitched the hem of your sunrise

       and your cape of night stars

the one that would course through time

   to find me with stories

     etched in constellations,

         of warlords and poppy fields

            where the only rebel was the heart

                for it floundered on land carpeted

                    in the brightest, sometimes the whitest

                        snow, ravaged by battle tanks, redeemed

                             by roses along savage roads

                                 and land as soft as noni

                              and my heart yearned

                    under the same sky,            

              yours and mine,

      separated simply

by the geography of employment.

   It takes a while to find one's feet

         in the clayey soil of mangroves

             skirting the bay where tigers

                 tread to glide and humans barely stand,

                       for the passage of time

                             has been cobbled in death

                                  trod by the advancing cavalry of years

                            of those we knew who never grew any younger

                        and now, will never grow older,

               but we had each other,

       our days vivisected

 to a standard operating procedure,   

so we thought, zooming through

  the virtual multiverse        

     which sagely conspired to confine

       breath to national pleura ..

          deaf to the ventilating heart,

              blind to the diminishing 'soul'?

          Are human lives as poetic as mangroves -

      inhaling through aerial roots ?

  Or a stone cold reclining Buddha -

  His holy feet rubbed in gold leaf

     having little use for a Midas touch?

        Illusions of habitat, these ..

           Reality is solely etched in our partings,

              our separations, our prolonged confinements.

                Our measured lives

                    reluctantly succumbed

                        to the everyplace invisible

                           punctuating our complacency,

                              like a sardonic smile

                                  lurking without a body,

                                      seeking host.

                                        The world at its loudest SOS

                                     made every moment a past tense,

                              as crepuscular as terse beliefs

                      situating ambition in twilight, that future we all desire

               but never really have.  So we

    defied time,  shredded tense

   planned a grand escape, to elope

      with the moment itself.

         They told us that

               love ..     is a bohemian child and

                   he never, never knew a law,

                      but strangely, love's law

                         kindled this union as certain as a flame       

                     lights another and coruscates the void.

       That's,  the only road we know,    

the tangible of bright, the space w i t h i n,

   limitless as the horizon on a globe

       I'll take you down

          the only road I've ever been down.

              You know the one that takes you

                  to the places

                        where all the veins meet ..

Reincarnation

Babaganoush ~ We are blessed to have friends that cook and those that cook at our place ūüôā
The ocean makes me
want to imagine
reincarnation.
My thoughts
a shoal of -

How does one know
what fish to be ?
The bigger picture
as far as the eye
can see
or as deep,
is a drop of water
under a coverslip ..

When I deliberate
transcendence;
it's simply a measure
of distance - this escape
to the stars

Transformation
has always been
the stuff of atoms
and here I am,
in a world of
limitless
reconfigurations ..
An interesting story from ‘Jerusalem : Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’

Preconfigured deities

I arranged this poem as a series of linked morae of seventeen syllables of the haiku/senryu 5/7/5 pattern.

In a world of the brilliant spark of life, the desire to survive, rival species, judgment and chaos, I took inspiration from periodical cicadas.

They are quite an interesting bug of the order Hemiptera, genus Magicicada and comprise seven of the approx. 3,000 species of cicadas which only occur in the eastern United States. Unlike most cicadas, periodical cicadas lay eggs that hatch and then their nymphs burrow underground for either 13 or 17 years, depending on the species, while subsisting on xylem fluids of rootlets. Brood X of 2021 (roman numeral Рten) was one of the largest groups. Cicadas emerge when ground temperatures reach 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This year it was in May. Males of the periodical cicadas sing using special organs called tymbals which are membranes that vibrate very quickly when pulled by tiny muscles and this vibration creates the cicada’s song.

Cicadas protest
the harsh light.       A horary
ear splitting drumroll
            of sunday sermons -

simply pungent polemic
   crowding around in
a bowl of       sticky
      gruel      ad infinitum

   Stars made no promise
to enflame the sky,
poet! Yet,    how we believe ..
      unctuous metaphor,

sparking delusions,
   imagery       combust .. piss ..
on the bathroom floor.
The Stoic's ablaze. We 

rise to bright, indifferent
self immolation.
Stars fade, cool, splutter
supernovas. The light's not
         always about us.

We are,
             because of ...

For those interested, there is the cicadasafariapp available online, that maps annual cicada emergence and helps share and identify species.

Some references:
https://source.wustl.edu/2021/05/brood-x-cicadas-emerge-in-a-rapidly-changing-world/

https://www.google.com/amp/s/martinsvillebulletin.com/news/local/the-secret-underground-life-of-cicadas/article_1c6ac5a5-a40d-5c38-a5a9-622a9150dbce.amp.html

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/cicadas-brood-x.htm

Wetland Haiku

Here are some Haiku I posted at my Instagram handle. I photographed the plants while on a walk in a marshland.

Dark, red rum cherries 
of summer, drip bittersweet.
The heart remembers.
Rose-mallow unfurls.
Lady leaves her parasol
in Eden's bower.
Thick rain lashed burdock.
The sun will hurl a rainbow
at senescent sky.
Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes,
are poison berries.

Polk Salad / Poke Sallet to the Haiku of Richard Wright ~ an exploration

Poisons come in all manner or form and the ones found in the plant body of Pokeweed are potently toxic. Fatal in large amounts, in smaller doses though, they are sufficient enough to make one seriously ill. The ingestion of any part of the plant might result in symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, and rapid heartbeat. As someone noted of poke-sallet or Phytolacca: ‚ÄúIt will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.‚ÄĚ [1] The dish Polk Salad (made from its young leaves) itself is a form of survival cooking, a necessary thrice boiling out of toxins, like the purging of demons. Now what does Pokeweed have to do with Haiku one might ask …

As part of the Sealey Challenge [2], I took up the only poetry book written by artist Richard Nathaniel Wright, well known American author of Native Son and Black Boy, [3] who began writing Haiku towards the end of his life, thousands of them during his grueling battle with Amoebic dysentery and it quite melded with the Pokeweed I chanced upon during a marshland walk recently.

Phytolacca occupies that twilight zone between being totem and mascot of  poke-sallet themed festivals in Kentucky to noxious weed turned rare famine food. As a vermifuge (anthelmintic – medicines used against worms) it has had its use at a time when people were constantly plagued by gastrointestinal parasites, but today, it occupies disturbed land and is actually great food for songbirds. Native to eastern North America and the South, it is used as an ornamental in horticulture and is of some utility in biomedical research although for most part it is considered a pest or weed as it is poisonous to wild animals and livestock.

Phytolacca americana, also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet, dragonberries is a poisonous, herbaceous perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccaceae [4].

The berries develop from flowers that arise on elongated inflorescences called racemes; beautiful, symmetrical, predictable patterns like Haiku emerge, engorged on metaphor it would appear, they ripen to a debilitating crimson philosophy. Thus, they are quite unlike a traditional Haiku in construction, but if the flowering of Pokeweed is used as an analogy to  poetic process, it develops more like a trenchant Senryu.

In the helpful afterword by Hakutani and Tener, the editors of Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku, This other world’, the authors maintain that  Wright’s work was more Senryu than Haiku because he struggled to develop austerity in them i.e. the absence of philosophical or metaphysical comment, the absence of intellectualisation or imposition of an excessive rationality [5] Haiku essentially stresses non-intellectuality, a Zen kind of humour, lightness, a lack of sentimentality, profusion of joy and a deep connection with Nature. 

I understand Haiku to be more of a practice in the ‘where, what and when’ rather than the ‘how and why’, while Senryu is more of a mock Haiku despite the similarity in 5/7/5 syllabic arrangement, they are more logical and less intuitive. Hakutani and Tener suggest that the major themes in Wright’s haiku reveal his desire to create another world in which his black and white focus would be part of his feeling for nature, that he writes more often about death and the setting sun, about the moon and loneliness, about scarecrows, the rain, about farms and farm animals, about birds and insects, and about spring, the season of blossoms and blooming magnolias.

Traditional classical haiku thrives on the connection between man and nature, and has as its central focus, nature centred feelings of unity and harmony similar to Zen philosophy, which also stresses the experience of the present moment in life or in nature. Within the seventeen syllablic construction itself, two entirely different experiences may be joined in sameness: spirit and matter, present and future, doer and deed, word and thing, meaning and sensation (Hakutani and Tener). Haiku embodies Yugen. Wabi and Sabi. Yugen is a delicate principle of philosophy in Zen Metaphysics, applied to art to denote the mysterious, underlying the surface. Sabi is related to loneliness, a quiet graceful beauty, and Wabi to the uniquely human perception of beauty stemmed from poverty. Japan’s greatest Haiku poet, Matsuo Basho [6] is known to have used the aesthetics of Yugen, Wabi and Sabi. His poetry majorly illustrates that if a poet’s feelings were conveyed in haiku, then those must have been aroused by nature, the four seasons, flowers and even the moon.

Yet, the poems of Richard Wright, some of which read as Senryu if viewed under a classical lens, feel like an amalgam of the antithetical, of subtle beauty with a strong flavour, like Pokeweed. Then again, isn’t intrinsic harmony of being, simply a matter of perception? Aren’t our words merely an inadequate contrivance for harmonising that which we are unable to reconcile, given inherited ideas of beauty and perfection? A plant like Phytolacca, viewed from the principle of Yugen, is perfection in symmetry yet a potent poison. What poetic form could deny the clear beauty of a dangerous inflorescence, its inherent toxicity that would arouse  the emotion of fear or an action to self preservation, a serious aftertaste of misgivings. Even devoid of metaphor, Pokeweed is nature at its finest, benign in form but threatening a perilous interaction. Whether it be Senryu or Haiku, words do little justice to the thoughtlessness recommended in classical Haiku, no matter the strict adherence to form and yet words are all we have.

I have selected some of Wright’s Haiku to share, which I hope are not of disservice to what the author accomplished, given his own understanding and exploration of the form. Reading Wright’s process and the illuminating afterword provided by Hakutani and Tener has been useful in my own education on succinct verse.

Long myths of pokeweed.
Healing colours of marshes
are poison berries.

~ davina

References:

[1]~https://www.saveur.com/poke-sallet/

[2]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wright_(author)

[3]~https://lithub.com/the-sealey-challenge-an-expansive-way-of-reading-poetry/

[4]~https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytolacca_americana

[5]~Richard Wright, Haiku – this other world, pages 255, 279, 282

[6]~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/basho

A Fable for Sirius

(I photographed Saturn last month, risen above the Thunder Moon of July, the month of thunderstorms. Jupiter was to the left but I could not get it into the picture, which is a bit grainy with the zoom)

The thunder moon of July was beautiful, from on top of Cadillac mountain. It lost its bloodied tint as it rose higher above the horizon while slowly shrinking. The temperature had dipped, even though the month had vacillated between the dog days of summer and the cooling dregs of starry respite. They say the heliacal rising of Sirius from late July to Mid August made the days hot in those long forgotten times [1]

July is also the month of dramatic thunderstorms [2] and we experienced some that were particularly frightful this year. Through the zip and crackle of lightening, the resounding heavens created this ominous atmosphere like from a Greek mythology, a genesis of dripping skies, for Ouranos himself wailed of his impotence, his inability to action except in the assemblage of his warring clouds and dire sounding racket. He dripped like foam on the seas. Kronos as Saturn, brightly risen with the moon, appears to contemplate over this ancient spectacle, so close to her luminous being as he slowly strips her of her ruby illusions. There was a bright Jupiter to the left (not in the picture) that shone this July and made for brilliant respite, from a restrictive Saturn near the moon.

Saturn was linked to agriculture by astrologers. In Greek mythology, Kronos or Saturn was the son of Uranus / Ouranos (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth) and the youngest of the twelve Titans. On the advice of his mother, he castrated his father and thus separated Heaven from Earth. He then became the king of the Titans, and took his sister Rhea as his consort. Kronos was in turn killed by his son Zeus, the Olympian, god of sky whose weapon was the thunderbolt. He changed the weather and manipulated the movement of the sun and the moon.

Mythologies create a fascinating connection between stars and planets with life on Earth. For a moment there, the weather seemed orchestrated by celestial machinations. It wasn’t simply staid, matter of fact meteorological observations but divine shenanigans or perhaps, this is how I wished to see it.

These would have been the months of deluge on the Nile in earlier times. The brightest star in Canis Major would have staved people off the flood plains to higher ground because of the predictable annual flooding of the river which in some places was known to rise up to 46 feet ! [3][4] Here, the dog days of summer and thunder moons are a mirage of divine charioteers that drive the weather. This poem is devoted to Sirius, which for personal reasons is one of my favourite stars. Canis Major spans over 20 degrees of the Zodiac in the Sign of Cancer. Cancer is a deeply emotional and intuitive sign while its opposite in the zodiac Capricorn, is cool, practical and logical. These polarities are ruled by different celestial bodies; in the case of Cancer, it is the Moon and Capricorn is ruled by Saturn.

The poem is more of a myth building exercise, loosely inspired by the Gods that control the weather and/or our fears. It is also a poem anchored contemplation of the cosmic forces behind the deluge of the Nile as it happened in ancient times and some facetious meteorology ūüėĄ

Bright dog days 
scorched summer hearts,
melting icy lemonades
beneath stars, hidden
in broad daylight.
And as Sirius dogged
the heels of night,
starry portent
warned of deluge
on ancient sounding
rivers. Hearts aquiver,
the eyes simply blinked
a thunder moon.

A mirage of the night
spawned a genesis
of dripping skies
as Ouranos contemplated
in airy impotence
the foaming mouth
of a raging Ocean,
and Kronos stripped
a red eye moon
of bloody illusions
even as she rose,
brilliantly luminous
to thunderclap
having shed
the betrayal
of a Saturnine deceit,
a frozen rigidity.

In these breathless
oppositions
those oft repeated tales
of cyclical depressions,
regaled mankind
with unstable weather.
Low pressures
stoked
compassionate release
of ancient burdens, on cue.
It was Sirius that simply
shone for millennia
in the arc
of the Sun's brow
and prod the moon
to flood a cove.

Notes:

The dog days refer to Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, which means ‚Äúbig dog‚ÄĚ in Latin and is said to represent one of Orion‚Äôs hunting dogs. To the Greeks and Romans, the ‚Äúdog days‚ÄĚ occurred around the time Sirius appears to rise alongside the sun, in late July in the Northern Hemisphere. They believed the heat from the two stars combined is what made these days the hottest of the year, a period that could bring fever or even catastrophe. In 2021, the dog days span from July 3 to August 11.” [1]

“The full moon in July also is called the Thunder Moon because of the frequency of thunderstorms during this hot, dry month.” [2]

According to historical evidence of Greek authors and later Egyptian texts, flooding of the Nile based on heliacal rising of Sirius could be predicted at the beginning of I millennium AD. This fact is confirmed by astronomical calculations” [3]

Sirius played a significant role in every aspect of Ancient Egypt culture, a role that carried on well into the 20th century, because its heliacal rising in mid-August each year was the signal from the natural world that the mighty river Nile was about to flood. At the heliacal rising of Sirius, people would move off the flood plain to make way for the river, which would rise up to 46 feet in some places!The ‚Äėheliacal rising‚Äô is the first appearance of a bright star in the morning sky, before sunrise.” [4]

References:

[1]~https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2012BlgAJ..18c..53N/abstract

[2]~https://www.interlochenpublicradio.org/news/2019-08-26/sirius-and-the-flooding-of-the-nile-this-week-on-the-storytellers-night-sky

[3]~https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/thunder-moon/

[4]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/api.nationalgeographic.com/distribution/public/amp/animals/article/150710-dog-days-summer-sirius-star-astronomy-weather-language