The gift

I got sidetracked from my poetry today by an article in the newsletter from Brain pickings this morning, that brought a smile to my face in assimilating a memory long past, yet touched a chord, a nerve. It reminded me of some pre pandemic times, as the author of the blog wrote of Marcus Aurelius and his contributions to Stoic philosophy. It progressed to an avalanche of thought perhaps as I wondered about the poetry I should write today in relation to this.

The author of Brain pickings elucidated in her article his Stoic remedy [1] for when people let you down. On what Marcus Aurelius suggested we do in such times, inorder to keep mental composure and emotional equanimity, he says … You should keep the same thought readily available for when you’re faced with devious and untrustworthy people, and people who are flawed in any way. As soon as you remind yourself that it’s impossible for such people not to exist, you’ll be kinder to each and every one of them. It’s also helpful immediately to consider what virtue nature has granted us human beings to deal with any given offense — gentleness, for instance, to counter discourteous people … (source: brain pickings, 18th April, 2021)

Stoicism is a difficult philosophy [2] to subscribe to but I adhere to its immediate definition really well only in times of physical distress, as in if I have chopped off a fingertip, fallen down the stairs or there is an earthquake, like the time I was the only person in our family to remember the keys to our apartment before running down several flights of stairs, during some terrifying tremors … I mean, the door used to auto lock and just in case we survived you know …

Humour aside, the philosophy raises some pertinent questions. If genuinely intuitive and evocative poetry is a manifestation of the landscape of an artist’s interiority and inner resonance, then can a stoic ever be a poet? I am not referring to forms of confessional poetry here but the work of an inspired artist. I wonder about this as I try to submit my thoughts to writing and feel writer’s block on occasion. Here I find inspiring such like, August Kekulé, [3] who dreamed up so poetically (intuitively maybe), the benzene ring, much to the contemptuous amusement of his logical colleagues who didn’t . In fact, substitute the word poetry with life and one is led to imagine, how swallowing discontent in a stoic response could be a way to personal authenticity (which is distinctive from performative authenticity). Such a conundrum if one were to consider the implications of not owning to ones own consciousness, of anything that’s amiss, a denial that could manifest in a passive aggression towards others or a lack of empathy.

This is something to think about, (for another day, another poem perhaps), even as technology aims to be more intelligent and/or sentient in the AI of the future and humans struggle to become more mechanical and standardized. If, as Aurelius suggests, it’s the way we frame the narrative of situations or behaviours that aggrieve and diminish us, then will we not be smug in our own moral superiority? Will we not be distancing ourselves from that which we refuse to acknowledge? Is there really a locus of evil within people ? Not according to Hannah Arendt, who maintains there are no evil people, only unthinking ones. I am taken in at times by Stoicism but like in life, there are many ways up that mountain.

I believe we meet people at different stages of evolution, ours and theirs. To call a person devious or evil is a judgement and stamps permanence in character. In the same vein, no one can always be a kind hearted saint.

What we encounter in others is sometimes an imbalance, in a wounded masculine that can manifest as dishonesty, contempt, dismissiveness, disrespect, aggression, deflection, denial or in a victimized feminine [4] it can allow for disrespect, it attacks, suffers in maintaining a status quo, is vindictive, adapts to it or manipulates. This imbalance engenders a dysfunctional personal, social, political dynamic that we notice in our environment.  We all have elements within us that illustrate both principles in their positive and negative expressions, if you ignore the gendered definitions of masculine or feminine. It isn’t easy to honour them at all times but to honour them requires introspection and a personal magnanimity of thought and spirit.

Though useful in times while facing overt or covert personal attacks from those you trust, I find the Stoic sayings a bit dispassionate, similar but not the same as the Buddha’s approach, which I find more compassionate, in that it allows you to centre yourself in no judgement of another. It does not render you a saint but it gives you the space to honour yourself as you individuate to a balanced wholeness. At least in this context, (I am not in any way attempting to encapsulate the philosophy or the religion in their entirety in a few quotes here), I remember two stories, attributed to the Boddhisatva. I have written them in poems, I think they are self explanatory.

The gift                        The Buddha walks cloaked in silence and he follows Him, a man accosted by demons hooked onto his linens that were brocaded in anger, creweled in contempt and he held a staff of vitriol. Such acerbic syllables  he uttered at the one with a gracious mien, insults that would have melted any lesser being. So the one haloed radiantly in the sun asked the one suffering in the hideousness of the demoniacal,"If you were to buy a gift and offer it to someone who wished not to accept it, who would the gift belong to?" "Of course, it would still belong to me", hissed the rage slithering within the man. Then, said He, with utmost grace, "How then do you force upon me a gift I wish not to accept. It remains yours still."

It’s common today to speak of boundaries, I simply think of the Buddha’s idea of an unacceptable gift. Boundaries are hard to define or maintain in situations that demand vulnerability but learning to rise above what you do not wish to accept helps safeguard precious vulnerability and yet provides  distance from a diminishing and irredeemable circumstance. This I believe, a lot of us struggle with and this story has served as a mantra of sorts, at least for me.

Another lovely story that was attributed to either the Buddha or Mahavira Jain, but thought provoking nevertheless, is as below ~

The appeal                    The gracious one stopped by a lake / where a lotus bloomed like morning itself / fragrant, bejeweled in dew / Those days, fresh water wasn't a pun / and flowers weren't metaphors / Water Gods existed and the world revolved around parables / He stopped to moisten his parched lips / and his heart raced at the beauty of the flower / that he wished to possess it / Reaching out, he was assailed by the rebuke of the Water God, who admonished him for laying claim to His flower/ The gracious one  recoiled at the error of his way and withdrew from the waters edge / In time a brute stopped by for a drink / hastened from his horse and glanced at the beauty of the naked lotus / that quivered at dawn / He pulled it off it's long stalk and deflowered it / That's where the term came from / this rough shod trudge on vulnerability / He went about his merry way with nary a thought / while the God remained silent / The gracious one asked the water deity forthwith, "why did you not rebuke the man so?" / The God simply offered, "It is an appeal I could make only to those that would understand".

Today I simply felt like creating poetry out of these two stories that have stayed with me for ages, a reminder of how to be, a personal philosophy. We always need reminding and Stoic thought this morning was a great way to trigger a poetic construction in memory of something that lay dormant for a while.

It’s been a busy Sunday, a delayed blog post, more philosophy than poetry … tomorrow, other stories, other poems … Thank you for reading.

Background Authorities: (I try avoiding too many hyperlinks and external links to my posts in case it renders them spammy. I have to check though, if it actually makes a difference )

[1]The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down~https://www.brainpickings.org/2021/04/13/marcus-aurelius-meditations-robin-waterfield/(retrieved 18/apr/21)

[2]Stoicism~https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/(retrieved 18/apr/21

[3]The Net Advance of Physics RETRO: Weblog KEKULÉ’S DREAMS ~http://web.mit.edu/redingtn/www/netadv/SP20151130.html (retrieved 18/apr/21)

[4]https://ommanicenter.com/feminine-principle-a-wake-up-call/(retrieved 18/apr/21)

Arriving at Sanctum

It’s always a good start to the morning with rounds of Surya Namaskara to begin the practice of Pranayama and Dhyana. An ex-student of mine spoke highly of Vipassana to me during the early days of the pandemic and I would like to incorporate this lengthy practice into my life somehow, perhaps in a gentler way. I was very impressed he could manage the entire ten days which can be quite severe and that he continues with the practice despite his demanding schedule.

It’s an effort to show up to my poetry blog every day for a poem, a self imposition, but it’s an opportunity I have learned to relish and appreciate. Today, it’s a simple poem about centering within oneself.

All roads lead back to Sanctum, even paths waylaid by ghosts, thorns and sink holes. This is where you will find me, within myself, stitched into a fabric of stolid integrity. Not here are the frayed ends of a cotton deception or torn linens woven in vacillations but the place of raw strength in the fibre of being and a silken self worth, still, steady, cut in true cloth, for like when a tuning fork ceases to vibrate to the vicissitudes of whim, it then arrives at self, in Sanctum.

Memories can sometimes be the burdens of years to those that remember too much for too long, a future can be a pipe dream and tomorrow is not a given. The stress on the present too is quite cliche like a popular bit size philosophy, and we always seem to seek to escape it through sensation or stimulus or deceptions, yet the safest place to be, is the sanctum within oneself in the stillness of now, when the world is not what it seems. Our sense of self according to me, exists only as we build it, in fibre by fibre of tensile strength, woven like a safety blanket, an intricate security harness, a central braid of gravity, never to yield to rupture, no matter the wondrous or the toxic that ricochets within our various echo chambers of life. So many lessons learned this past year and before that. Forever grateful.

Real abstractions and flightless birds

It’s been a busy week and I am trying my best to be consistent about my self imposed goal of a poem a day. It keeps me tethered to the writing and I hope, helps me improve it too. I am compelled to post this second one today as it has been a productive weekend 🙂

Today’s poem is simply about communication, a tribute to the extinct Dodo and other such birds. The poem explores the prison house of language and is mostly a call to the urgent need for factual yet compassionate communication in science. It was a discussion on Wittgenstein’s ideas that piqued my interest in this and the Dodo inveigled it’s way into the poetic mix. It’s sad that some of the very animals and birds we so depend on, we tend to treat with contempt using language as a crutch. Dead as a Dodo, stupid as a donkey, silly goose etc, you get my drift.

On a separate note my library finally received the copy I ordered of ‘philosophical investigations’ by Ludwig Wittgenstein and I have managed to get through the foreword. I daresay, his ideas on language intrigue me, the ones in his latter work. The foreword was an excruciatingly laborious read so I am wondering about the rest of the translation. I am actually hoping I’ll be able to make sense of his ideas easily.

Here’s my reading list for the month and after, except the Zibaldone at the bottom of the pile. That’s my personal copy and I leaf through it sometimes when I want to enmesh myself in the thoughts of someone on an analytical hyperdrive, the same as me 😃

I can be a perfectionist sometimes (much to my detriment) so I cannot write about something until I have actually read it or done the activity, so to speak. Writing about anything for me is a very intense exercise therefore it’s easier to write about things I have done in the past as I have already been through them at least once. Poetry/art are the one place for a creative and imaginative flourishing. Nothing saves the soul like art. Bless my muses, they make me come alive !!!

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At my college library once, eons ago, I had the sweet fortune of having picked up a hundred year old copy of Darwin’s ‘On the origin of species’. I was also the only one to have ever checked that book out and the pages were as brittle as a sand dollar. I didn’t quite manage to read it in its entirety but it was a treat to explore. I hope he will bear with a spectral grin this poetic assault 😃

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Analyse this Darwin /

The rules of your game and 3.4 ounces of downy goose in an 800 fill power / baffled sentience / purely abet man’s survival in the snow so his tears are like snowflakes / while he stares drily in contempt at the defrocked bird / that knows better than to fly up a raging volcano that could mean a roast of tender sacrifice //

Your epistles of Science also eulogized the Dodo in shining sarcasms / the poor bird went the ‘way of the Dodo’ and is now quite ‘dead as a Dodo‘ / even while those sailors ate of her alongside their sneering and jeering, despite their sudden gain of wealth in protein /

I wonder if one spits an intellectual aside at food on the table / skewering fun through an interrupted evolution / A matter of perspective, yes …… //

Cultural capital I think / like a masked banditry of language, proselytizing the masses / if only they knew not to roll in the deep of intellectual deception / science could have hoisted up its own flagpole of insouciant creed /

But then …… how does one know what is real and some birds are flightless / but that, for the living goose / means being packed in pillows as it’s own ‘goose is cooked’ / The silly goose cannot fly and it’s so sadly wrong yet so somehow right too //

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On my playlist today, ‘flightless bird‘ by Iron and Wine ~ a sore analogy to extinction and I think the Dodo did this exercise best, irretrievably extinct. Superb poetry by Samuel Ervin Beam. I heard this song eons ago on the soundtrack of the first of the ‘Twilight’ series and it has found a place in my favourites ever since.

I might post a few random haikus or quatrains the next couple of days as the weekend is super busy starting now, longer poems for next week.

Plasmodesma of dreams …

‘Cogito ergo sum’ and this has a strange way of transmuting into a plummet down a rabbit hole of analysis paralysis. It’s actually gardening that grounds me each time my mind goes into overdrive. I have a sign I created for my garden in Kenya that says ‘I garden therefore I am’ 😃 No matter what it is that triggers a debilitating self narrative within oneself, it has always been the soil for me. I bury my fingers in mud and feel earthed. We each have our own way of battling with storms no matter the phantasms we invoke or worship in our minds. Warning: dissecting Descartes in overdrive ahead ……

Now imagine if the brain-in-a-vat scenario were true, that we are nothing but a disembodied brain living in a vat of nutrients. How is one to tell the difference between reality and a dream like state?  In fact, how is one to tell the difference even if it were not the case? It’s hard to imagine Descartes evil demon of supreme power who cunningly employs his powers for deception by altering the laws of mathematics and logic to present an illusory world. For those that are visually inclined, Christopher Nolan’s ‘ Inception’ would be a great example, where the distinction between dreams blurs, experiences in dreams are created with objects from a prior life and the infiltrators of a dream know that they are dreaming, unlike Descartes, they are able to ‘think’ and thus know while dreaming, that they aren’t awake.

I am picking up on the thread of Cartesian thought from his dream argument, trying less to render it legible through poetry than to illustrate it. Does thinking make you realize wakefulness ? But Leo Di’Caprio is thoughtfully aware even in his dream, to his state of sleep. Have you ever been in a falling dream and woken up having experienced the fall but it’s not quite that … you still have questions, even rhetorical, if you are philosophically inclined.

Dreams, if they aren’t nightmares, can make for pleasant experiences and sometimes for humorous ones … although, for the life of me I have never woken up from a dream laughing ~ food for thought.

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It may have been the votives on the table, the tea lights weren’t blinking / were they lit or were they new / the senses were a jumble like the garbled intellect of Professor Calculus floating in a sarcophagus on an ocean / Why was I remembering Tintin / It wasn’t his dream, it was mine so this is a false memory perhaps / like happiness in sleep /

Is this when the dream gets tannic like a tea kept too long on the counter / to be snapped out of, like Alice from the clutches of an invisible cat and a visible charm / in a free fall plummeting to the rocks below / amid visions of people whose philosophy she thinks she knows but cannot read ……and some that didn’t know me or possibly did /

They were dressed like birds / while you feel naked, you know those acrid dreams when you are in your birthday suit / and everyone you know is at your birthday / smiling at the emperor’s clothes of sudden shame / a vivid montage in a slide viewer unfurling seasons / without colour, unless you conjure a yellowing green in words or aphorisms / that vomits a strange music in cuneiform lyrics, disrespectfully rude in their sharp lines and arrows / as my tongue rolls around in my mouth, a hormonal aftertaste /

Was this a shared dream / the plasmodesmata logging a sequential transfer / bits and bytes of code through cellular minds creating a narrative of pixels / magnified like …… no, those weren’t rocks / It was a trough and I was careening along bridges undulating like a whip across oceans / Could this be real / the adrenalin rush of the roller coaster at Universal Studios / but mine was a feat of engineering /

Such crests rising over oceans disappearing in an atmospheric haze / to fall into an abyss of awakening / in a soft bed …… but I remembered I fell / Here, under the goose down of a plump duvet, time simply draws to a crawl and everything is really real / or so I think ……

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The brain-in-a-vat scenario and the dream argument are best illustrated in the Spanish movie ‘Abre los ojos’ by Alejandro Amenabar starring Penelope Cruz and Eduardo Noriega. (An English version of the same with Tom Cruise in the lead was produced later as ‘Vanilla Sky’). Having watched both movies, the original more recently than the newest, I found the premise of immortality in them quite interesting, except that it comes at a cost of losing ones sanity while in a dream. The protagonist of the film finds himself dreaming and thinking it real, but harbouring real life regrets. Unlike in Descartes dream argument, the sophistication of dreams in these films is such that the dream scenario is coherent, in fact, in the remake of the film, prior experiences and objects are used to construct the dream sequence.

Dreams make for interesting movies for sure, great illustrations for philosophy, the dream itself lends nuance to poetry perhaps, until we know the difference between the real of wakefulness from a dream …… I have yet to get to the modern theories on precognitive dreams that may help to shed light on Cartesian thought and other such mind body problems, more on that later.

I hope you enjoyed the poem dear reader. A heady start to the day, hardly simple but dreams are complicated. Reality feels like a dream sometimes when we are unable to comprehend and then configure a coherent narrative of memories or live fully immersed in the present and plan effectively for the future. Is this what our stressors are I wonder, would the limiting of thinking variables help. A poem should always help indicate a kernel of solution. Plainly rhetorical.

Rhythms in sand, echoes in whale song …

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area lives up to notions of pre-historicity, like the ancient hominin footprints preserved in volcanic ash at Laetoli, 45 Km south of Olduvai gorge. I remember the drive through the area, the feelings that wash over as you see a volcanic caldera for the first time, drive for miles where all around is grass and acacia, the animals not always large as the big five, the spiritual experience if one may call it that, not always as small as the big five 🙂

This poem is for the ancients, for humankind inscribed in footprints …

It was the fever of knowing the fire of volcanoes /as they inlaid a walk / through the dregs of ash that someday, theirs would be ancient hearts of prints /caressing rituals of love in a molten gorge of feeling ... What story then, do the grains of sand sing / with each sinking step washed away in salty tears to an ocean embrace // 

Is this the epoch of restlessness / in the transient tracings of songs coursing through veins / pulsing their way to the expanse of heart / beating rhythm into sand that one would hear /once the ocean has its way / as it echoes in whale song / to resonate in the ocean of you // 

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Please follow at @davinaesolomon for Instagram and for facebook too. I try to post content about the poetry I explore mostly at my Facebook page. I also try my best not to cross post so as not to bore my readers that subscribe to all my handles 😉 Stay safe y’all and happy reading !!!

Stone men for pigeons

At the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in Manhattan, in the company of stone men and pigeons ~ the idea for sculpture poetry grew out of the figures that haunt the plaza that is devoid of people, unlike in the days before the pandemic.

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The streets fidget at this intersection at gazes of stone men / sweeping birds in the gusts of a smug exhalation / The signs say they aren’t meant to feed the pigeons / falling onto the pavement like confetti /hoping for crumbs of compassion //

In the morning hid behind a mask / we exchange glances of belief / truths etched in our silhouettes as the eyes / paint vivid portraits of what must exist/ in the blue, green, grey, brown / hazel or amber inlay of the other //

The times when our smiles were obscured in sunlight and streetlight / people bled onto the path in a diaphanous glow / The invisible slipped past our eyes / but not of the stone men / They have always been solid / sentinels of our displaced pulse / as we erred in the manner of stone //

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