A bridge over the Missouri

With time, we can learn to coexist with the river, a River of Hope..

George Fitch, in a delightful essay1 written for The American Magazine in 1906-07 pondered thus on the rationale of alluvial soil as behind the peculiarities of the river Missouri: “Does it explain the thousand mysterious eddies , the turbulence that boils out of the river like an eruption or the giant hand that clutches the fisher boats from below and draws them down? Does it explain what makes the river a mighty flood in South Dakota and a miserable trickle at Omaha ? Can it diagnose that queer, eerie half murmur, half chuckle with which the water goes about its work of destruction ? Does it account for the innate deviltry of a stream that will sleep quietly while a railroad builds a million dollar bridge over it and will then move over and flow around one end of the bridge ; and then, when another million dollar bridge has been built to please it , gets quietly up and moves back to its old channel in perfect content ?

Well, it is a River of Hope that flows beneath the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge between Council Bluffs in Iowa and Omaha in Nebraska, or so they say. The area around is corralled within neat clean lines embossed in manicured gardens and cycling paths, the same land carved by the forceful Missouri overseen now through the stony gaze of a contemplative blue troll. The river too, appears ponderously still in its aura of blue and dark, struck by the glitter of the times.

Omar punctuates here the imagination of men or of mine, adds poetry to twilight simply as the evening crawls to the thought of a song I once knew and I wonder if perched on a rock, he too is thinking the same..

Some days I don't know if I am wrong or right
Your mind is playing tricks on you, my dear
'Cause though the truth may vary this
ship will carry our
bodies safe to shore
Don't listen to a word I say
The screams all sound the same
And though the truth may vary this
ship will carry our
bodies safe to shore".

Verse from 'Little Talks' by Of Monsters And Men

It is actually the river that provokes a stream of consciousness, our poetic abstractions, our dependable realities, enshrined here in a troll musing the sunset, having arrived home under a remarkable bridge, while finding friends through kindness and openness as per the brochure. Creative illusion I find, is very much like these spaces where the surreal meets the tangible. What is it, if not bizarre, a liquid form which engraves thus in its ebb and flow the landscape in a mood board, and the mind conjures poetry as evocative as a bridge spanning its snaking path. I am not surprised that such a structure should arise at this very spot ornamented in gardens and mascots of blue trolls, like a collective creative riposte to the untameable Missouri.

I imagine what trajectory my writing should take today; would it like a bridge staple two states together or loop around akin to a river and divide them? I think of lines from Jericho Brown’s poem, Crossing .. “The water is one thing, and one thing for miles. The water is one thing, making this bridge Built over the water another.”

Much like poetry is this ‘bridge and water’ symbiosis, where words as viscous and malleable spark a river flow through language the rigidity of a pathway that smiles across it, rising just the same on one side of the day 2

It is this cable-stayed footbridge that provokes a seamless dusk with an infusion of colour through its programmable controls. Walking past the chill of Iowa into the cold of Nebraska simply involves crossing a line etched in the middle of it. I am taken up in its weightlessness, these darkening lights in all shades of November, in colours of the poetic imaginings of those that designed this pathway or made a case for it.

The bridge was named after former Nebraska Senator Robert ‘Bob’ Kerrey, who secured $17 million of federal funding for it in 2000; he was inspired by his own Back to the River efforts3. Was there not poetry in that endeavour, a creative swashbuckling of sorts over rivers. Bridges such as these change the skyline, the economy and corral people along specific pathways, like the 150 miles of nature trails in the area.

And then as George Fitch wrote, way back in 1906-07, “There are rivers of all lengths and sizes and of all degrees of wetness . There are rivers with all sorts of peculiarities and with widely varying claims to fame . But there is only one river with a personality , habits , dissipations , a sense of humor and a woman’s caprice; a river that goes traveling sidewise , that interferes in politics , rearranges geography and dabbles in real estate ; a river that plays hide and seek with you today and tomorrow follows you around like a pet dog with a dynamite cracker tied to its tail . That river is the Missouri .”

The Missouri is the longest and possibly the hungriest4 river in North America, arising in the Rocky Mountains in Montana, flowing east and south for 2,341 miles before its confluence with the Mississippi River, north of St. Louis in its namesake state of Missouri

There is a bit of the apocryphal in writing poetry for rivers that are wild and unpredictable; a poem about such an unsteady thing can never be true at any given point in time but laying a footpath over the Missouri, that simply exists for itself and yet is a bridge after all is actually true. Such a strange and contrived thing sports a dividing line between states, etched now in concrete. Yet, I anchor this poem in this bridge which is also a poem about a river or perhaps about love as it exists in a river flow or perhaps of the intractability of our ideas of love which span bridges across the raging ephemeral. And still, the river lives on like glow, mirroring the sky.

To the Missouri

Swiftly River you sculpt the banks of divided lands
I ask: So, what of love ? I sense you jest

in bubbles and heave to provoke perhaps
the silted shallows, simply converging as rivers do

or diverging as rivers do, fluid as a perspective
in Omaha, now the passage of oracle in longest river

My question dissolved is fluidly rhetorical
in a molten ebb and flow, while your swollen whisper of riparian name

lends symbolism to quaint maps
There as River X or River Y -

you chart course in colour, a snaking measure
whence you were birthed someplace

Will you die elsewhere, River? For marked and mapped
in the minds of men are their abrupt beginnings and hasty ends

to water that hurtles for Oceans another oblivion
Dammed, River, you swell like common rage then

flood like grief, even if life began in falling
to an ambitious puddle someplace cold

We think of this here, River. We think of where you become
River so deeply deathly ponderous,

our thoughts can dive, float, get wet, wet,
wet and drown I laugh at this now,

River, for we almost drowned in drought
in a smidgen of tepid water, then spoke

in tongues delirious on ghosts Those shallows
were death traps and the slime on rocks, a trait

of stone jaggedly cowering near the edge
of dry indecision How deep can be deep?

How deep is a poem How deeply can you
perceive a confluence of surly suppositions

that meld like water beneath an imaginary line
blurring Nebraska from Iowa

Ne - bras - ka

I - o - wa

lips kissing a syllabic twist around our tongues
like the silt you sashay into the void

We care for language that makes folks crimp
a duchenne smile of a bridge that spans

your glistening meander making us walk
They call you the Missouri or at least

some part of you like they call some part
of everything Love.

References:

[1] Page 637, The Missouri River, George Fitch, The American Magazine, Volume LXIII November 1906 to April 1907

[2] Line 6, Crossing, The Tradition by Jericho Brown, Copper Canyon Press

[3]https://www.visitomaha.com/listings/bob-kerrey-pedestrian-bridge/59364/

[4] {It is the hungriest river ever created . It is eating all the time – eating yellow clay banks and cornfields , eighty acres at a mouthful; winding up its banquet with a truck garden and picking its teeth with the timbers of a big red barn . Its yearly menu is ten thousand acres of good, rich farming land , several miles of railroad , a few hundred houses , a forest or two and uncounted miles of sandbars} ~ Pages 637-638, The Missouri by George Fitch

The colour of appearances

Driving West, Ed Sheeran on the radio singing songs he has written and I find that the leaves simply change colour through the course of his Afterglow. How very apt. I cannot think of a more perfect song for the changing hues of foliage, leaving Pennsylvania, the sun laying claim to the west, like a glittering exhibitionist .. and then Lake Erie with her choppy waters. A thought crosses my mind, an acronym I knew for the great Lakes – HOMES; never imagined I would one day see the water that makes up all of that E. Who knew vowels could contain so much water. Here, it is autumn and the leaves are beginning to hoard hue.

Stop the clocks, it's amazing
You should see the way the light dances off your head
A million colours of hazel, golden and red
Saturday morning is fading
The sun's reflected by the coffee in your hand
My eyes are caught in your gaze all over again (Ed Sheeran, Afterglow)

Further on in this song, Sheeran sings of Iron and Wine, the stage name of singer-songwriter Samuel “Sam” Ervin Beam whose songs are actually the stuff of poetry. I like Iron and Wine; that Ed Sheeran listens to him, is heartening. Perhaps it informs his own poetry and he speaks for both of them when he says “There’s no better way to get your point across than to put it to a beautiful song”. The sign made me smile.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Sam Beam too has sung songs of Autumn and I have excerpted some of his brilliant lyrical poetry, because I like it.

There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

(Passing Afternoon from the album 'Our Endless Numbered days' 2004)

It is easy to be inspired by Autumn, our consciousness of the colour of senescence, the passage of time through the hue of everything that the light makes delightful ..

Dappled moments caught in the weft 
of the carpet like splashes of colour
and I noticed a mimosa in the drink.
The outdoors drenched in fresh hues
of rain and light danced a myriad ways
to red. Yellowing canopies little
thirst for the rambunctious energy
of green so the grove shimmered
all shades through that late afternoon.
Now that I think about it, laid thick
onto those off coloured regrets were
spent sentiments, a dilution of resolve,
the death rattle of a fading of dreams.
What did we absorb to reflect so?
Simply a mirror, the land, sky, you, I ..

davina e. solomon,
September,
Pennsylvania 2021

Autumn is a time for thoughtful retreat. There is a reason why nature wills itself to sleep, it is simply the absence of light. I never experienced such a season in the tropics, life is brazenly bright in those places where people usually have sunny dispositions and write poetry to the monsoons and harvests, mostly.

Just in case you are wondering about the science and why we think we see leaves reflect green, researchers are struggling to explain this still. Chloroplasts use the energy of green (at least 90% of it) and there could be other structures of the leaf cell that help reflect this colour.

Given the noise of light that reaches the leaves, or even those shaded in the undergrowth, the leaf photosynthetic apparatus tries its utmost to absorb similar wavelengths of light and that which it receives at differing rates. The photosynthetic machinery has evolved ‘ not for maximum efficiency but rather for an optimally smooth and reliable output’. [1] The plant system aims for stability, not system efficiency which, I like to think, is the hallmark of the natural world. (I wrote earlier of the inefficiencies described in the wing -planform of the dragonfly).

Other pigments that accumulate in the leaf are also responsible for the multiple hues which we can observe in plants during Autumn. Yet, why we see colour the way we do still needs to be investigated further. Unlike in many other mammals, trichromacy evolved in humans, i.e. red, green, and blue colour vision, possibly for foraging, social signalling or through evolutionary constraint. [2]

I am intrigued by the change in colours and how the hues we observe, give meaning to nature and to life or perhaps, it is we who ascribe colour to situations in myriad ways. Even research hopes to explain this someday, until then, we have only poems.

References:

[1]~https://www.wired.com/story/why-are-plants-green-the-answer-might-work-on-any-planet/

[2]~https://aeon.co/ideas/the-red-and-green-specialists-why-human-colour-vision-is-so-odd

More on Haiku, Senryu and the nomenclature of hybrids

Haiku and Senryu

A few weeks ago I explored the similarities and differences between Haiku and Senryu (Read here and here)while constructing a few of my own having being inspired by Richard Wright’s ‘Haiku: This Other World’ [1][2][3] Both forms contain seventeen morae or ‘on’ or syllables and are structured in three metrical phases of five/seven/five syllables and are unrhymed but it is the Haiku that usually has a thought pause. Senryu is about human nature, can depict humour, sarcasm, cynicism, opinion, philosophy etc while Haiku takes inspiration from nature, should contain a seasonal reference (kigo), a thought pause or a cutting word (kireji), should be succinct, Zen, austere and portray harmony of images.

The Haiku of Matsuo Basho

Matsuo Basho, the most distinguished Japanese poet of Haiku [4]explained best, man’s affinity with nature in his travelogue Oi no Kobumi (Manuscript in My Knapsack): One and the same thing runs through the waka of Saigyo, the renga of Sogi, the paintings of Sesshu, the tea ceremony of Rikyu. What is common to all these arts is their following nature and making a friend of the four seasons. Nothing the artist sees is but flowers, nothing he thinks of but is the moon. When what a man sees is not flowers, he is no better than a barbarian. When what he thinks in his heart is not the moon, he belongs to the same species as the birds and beasts. say, free yourselves from the barbarian, remove yourself from the birds and beasts; follow nature and return to nature! [5]

Contemporary insights

Hakutani and Tener, editors of Richard Wright’s compilation of Haiku [5] quote R. H. Blyth who writes thus about Haiku taking further from Basho’s position, an insight into what Haiku means, even today: the joy [in Haiku] comes from the “(apparent) re-union of ourselves with things.” It is the “happiness of being our true selves.” Austerity is not only a lack of intellectualization, it is almost a wordlessness, a condition in which words are used not to externalise a poet’s state of feeling, but to “clear thing,” according to Blyth, “that seems to stand between” the poet and real things. Because the real things are not actually separate from the poet, they “are then perceived by self- knowledge.” Certainly, haiku ideally removes as many words as possible, stressing non-intellectuality, as thought, like passion, must depend upon and not substitute for intuition. The joy lies in the humor, the lightness, the lack of sentimentality. Blyth states: “It goes down to something deeper than the unconscious where repressions wait with ill-concealed impatience. It goes beyond this into the realm where a thing is and is not at the same time, and yet at the very same time is.”

I find Blyth’s explanation along with that of Basho’s sets the yardstick of measure of great Haiku, of what is true to original form. Contemporary Haiku verse exhibit a flexible composition, which makes it tricky to navigate the 5/7/5 syllabic construction, which may quite as easily qualify as Senryu. Does a reference to the natural world in a verse with a philosophical concern or one based in metaphor, make a Senryu a Haiku or vice versa or can it be a new form entirely. I found an article by Elizabeth St Jacques [6]that helps solve this issue. She cites George Swede, the co-founder of Haiku Canada (1977) who provides, she says, the clearest and most logical answer. After studying haiku types, he came to the conclusion that English-language haiku consist of “three content categories”: Nature haiku, Human haiku (senryu), and Human plus nature haiku (hybrids).

Linked Haiku/Senryu hybrids as a meditative process

I created some hybrids that appear to blur the distinction between both forms, although I find that staying true to the original may be an acceptable challenge of maintaining discipline in poetic construction while preserving the essence of Haiku or of Senryu. The evolution of a separate form based on similarity of structure and pithy intent is inevitable, acceptable and should probably be given a new specific name and description. I wish it could be called something other than a hybrid. Bloggers and poets Mike and Bryan at their online magazine indirectly allude to this form as ‘Failed Haiku’, which is also the name of their blog. They have compiled a detailed resource guide for Haiku and Senryu that I found especially informative to read [7]

I should like to write Haiku like Matsuo Basho because it would appear to be a meditative exercise in attempting a certain degree of mindlessness, or as Blyth noted ‘non-intellectuality’, yet, Haiku along those principles is still profoundly thoughtful because its construction is intentional.

Exploring the nomenclature of hybrids in a new paradigm

The terms Haiku/Senryu can be confusing while classifying such hybrid poems, even as current descriptions stricture one within the accepted forms of composing either. Hybrids have evolved into a separate form altogether and I wanted to name specifically the style and process I use in composing verses to a 5/7/5 syllabic pattern, as well as the linked forms of the same. I looked through a range of popular terms used in the meditative practice of Kintsugi that could possibly apply to such hybrid Haiku. Kintsugi itself is the literal term for the gold joinery of accidentally broken ceramic, sealed in East Asian lacquer which is a resin made from the highly toxic sap of Rhus Verniciflua [8][9] a technique that emphasises the scars and imperfections in the finally reconstructed item. Thus kintsugi (as ceramic art or as meditation) embodies the principles of wabi-sabi (looking for beauty in imperfections, revering authenticity), gaman (the practice of dignified endurance), kansha (act of expressing gratitude for nature’s gifts), Eiyoshoku (nourishing the body), mottainai, (which expresses regret when something is wasted) and  mushin  (the acceptance of change) [10] All of these apply to my compositions, yet are not an exhaustive list. Even so, these are merely words, in a language I am not familiar with except for these terms in universal usage.

So I ventured to look for something  analogous within the organic world. Here, unlike in the material world, where objects can be created for pleasure or even broken to be fixed, it is the principle of adherence that finds resonance in the living, in the attachment of cells. In living organisms for example, the very basis of the evolution of multicellularity lies in the fundamental property of the ability of cells to adhere to one another. This is brought about by Cadherins, which are transmembrane cell–cell adhesion molecules, that have a role to play in cell signalling, in determining cell shapes and cell positions, triggering tissue morphogenesis etc. When cells contact each other, cadherins from the opposing cells located at the site of contact form trans-bonds across the contact [11] Interestingly, stained tissue viewed under a microscope under various interplays of light would appear to resemble Kintsugi (gold joinery) but all this within a structured yet fluid assemblage of cells , like in a 5/7/5 Haiku. Of course, it would be odd to name hybrid haiku/senryu after such calcium-dependent adhesion but this adherence of cells finds favour in my understanding of contemporary pithy 5/7/5 composition. Such hybrids are not about fixing brokenness or creating Frankensteins or simply observing the beauty of nature or measuring imperfections or life philosophies or spiritual practice or expressing witticisms. They are more like a fluid cellular organisation of disparate functions, still uniquely defining an intentional yet kinetic proliferation akin to existence ~ a cellular morphogenesis that simply appears to occur, yet adheres in a cohesive narrative, a matrix of tissue. Perhaps, such haiku/senryu hybrids, when linked in stream of consciousness style of writing, could be called adhesion haiku or adherence poetry or viscid haiku ? (haiku here simply refers to the recognisable 5/7/5 syllabic pattern. Viscid was first used in the 1630s and refers to something adhesive, mucilaginous, viscous). I am merely exploring but I will go with Viscid Haiku for my linked ‘not exactly haiku’ style of verse for now.

Viscid Haiku

I composed some today inspired by the mundane here and now and also moments accreted to memory. I would like to call this hybrid poetry process as babbling through a brook of  consciousness 🙂

I scored dough today,
bread flowered in the oven.
Earth kaleidoscopes.

Blather of sunshine
roused late blooms in feverish
hues. Embarrassed paths.

Orchid drops pale hues
onto a seasoned table.
There's always Autumn.

As underlayment,
foam muffles rushed footsteps. We,
never heard them leave.

Driving through New York.
Walking in Manhattan feels
like morbidity.

We travel common
googled itineraries,
breathe borrowed moments.

Water displaces
underground soil. Friends depart
and houses settle.

Sore eyes seek a page
and gravity haunts water.
Pen stole a moment ..

Delightful I find,
this kitchen spiralizer.
Geometric food.

Thunderstorms last night
felt like aliens messing
with clouds and fire.

There are many ways
to craft a photo booth light
box. Sun's always bright.

The book I'm reading
never ends. Thoughts cruising past
words to tomorrow.

References:

[1]~https://akitahaiku.com/what-are-haiku-senryu-and-tanka/

[2]~https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/modern-senryu/

[3]~https://poetrysociety.org/features/on-poetry/senryu-the-haikus-comic-cousin

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

[5]~Wright, Richard:haiku – This other world, Edited by Hakutani, Yoshinobu and Tener, Robert

[6]~https://startag.tripod.com/HkSenDiff.html

[7]~https://failedhaiku.com/links/

[8]~https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/elac/hd_elac.htm

[9]~https://mymodernmet.com/kintsugi-kintsukuroi/

[10]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nbcnews.com/better/amp/ncna866471

[11]~https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(13)00710-0.pdf

Freddie Mercury: bohemian rhapsodist, stitcher of songs

Mama,
I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.

~ Freddie Mercury
This was taken outside the Rock Pub on Nevskiy Avenue, 38/4, St. Petersburg, Russia

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There is something enduring about the Bohemian Rhapsody and it still finds a place on many of my playlists. It was on an evening during lockdown last year while I was out walking, in a singular perfect moment I thought I actually felt this song, its poetic composition and its musical score and decided I wanted to write about it. I did. I was Freddie obsessed for a month or more and I never got around to publishing the article. It is his birthday today, so it appears to be the perfect time to post it. 

This is a fresh look into why the composition reads like an expression of his personal inner conflict and I was further inspired that his early childhood and adolescence appear like a montage of scenes from familiar places given that he lived in India and Zanzibar until he was around eighteen. 

Freddie Mercury would have been 75 years old on the 5th of September this year if he were not to tragically die so young from AIDS related complications at forty five, in the November of 1991. He was a flamboyant performer, the one to attain the distinction of having written a six minute rhapsodic suite that catapulted the British Rock band Queen to superstar status; in fact, his Bohemian Rhapsody, taken from their 1975 album,  A Night At The Opera, has been streamed way over a billion times on Youtube [1]  and remains one of the most intriguing lyrical compositions to this day. 

So, I wish to use this occasion to send some love to wherever in the afterlife this Persian Popinjay may be strutting around but also to ponder why this poet/bard would have rhapsodised thus .. 

From Wikipedia – (Left to right) Joe Mazzello, Rami Malek, and Gwilym Lee promoting the film in 2018. MTV International – Bohemian Rhapsody Cast Play Who Said It: Queen or The Queen? | MTV MOVIES. CC BY 3.0

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Many are aware, I assume, of the 2018 movie starring Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody,  a biographical drama about Mercury that renewed interest in Queen as well as all the biographies written about him. The song itself reads like a nihilistic anthem but is in fact a uniquely poignant and perhaps, concealed message, on what the composer Tim Rice [2] called, a sort of coming out song about being gay. Interestingly, Freddie began writing this song while in his twenties that was completed and recorded after around the middle of his roller coaster life, in 1975. 

Mercury didn’t give that very many interviews and in those which he did, he actually spoke more about his music, the business and other such related matters, offering very little insight into his personal life, of which he was very guarded and discreet. At the same time, of the various biographies [3]  that were written about him, the one by his partner Jim Hutton, Mercury and me, focuses mostly on their complicated relationship and provides a unique perspective of Freddie Mercury in his final years. The other, A Life in His Own Words, edited by Greg Brooks and Simon Lupton,  is a collection of quotes and interviews in no chronological order, with a foreword by Mercury’s  mother, Jer Bulsara. Then there is Somebody to Love, which was compiled by entertainment industry veterans, Mark Langthorne and Matt Richards, who speak mostly of the impacts Mercury had on the acceptance of LGBTQ and about the AIDS crisis. 

His British biographer, Lesley-Ann Jones [4], who wrote Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury in 2011, in her interview with Billboard, recalled Freddie as a very polite, respectful and an incredibly shy man despite his flamboyance on stage. She noted that although he was inherently gentle and kind, he could be waspish and cruel. The movie [she said] hadn’t scraped the surface of his multiple contradictions. When she enquired about the meaning behind the words to the song, he didn’t  give her a clear answer although he did allude that the song was about relationships. 

She also noted that the childhood and adolescence of Freddie, until the forced exodus of his family from Zanzibar in East Africa to the UK in 64, was shaped largely by Freddie’s life in boarding school, discovering UK pop singles and avante garde contemporaneous music and being consumed by separation anxiety for living so far away from his family; it is what largely shaped him and his art and is little spoken of.

Freddie Mercury and the Hectics. Scroll.in This is an article interviewing some of Mercury’s classmates at his school in India. Article by Anvar Alikhan in 2016.

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Extremely reserved about his birth family and his cultural upbringing as a Parsi from India, Freddie also never openly admitted to his sexual orientation, in fact is known to have  stayed away from his partner Tim Hutton while in the eye of the public or the British tabloids. His relationship with his ex wife Mary Hutchins was  without children and he left her a vast portion of his legacy, his beloved home and entrusted her with dispensing with his ashes after death. They had a remarkably long lasting relationship evidently, built on trust and mutual affection, despite a divorce and presumably, admittance of his sexual orientation early into his marriage. 

The Bohemian Rhapsody [5], as it were, appears to encapsulate the unspeakable tragedy of Freddie’s life as he perceived it at the time, something he could perhaps never articulate to himself then but foundered below the surface. Many have attempted to interpret the song but haven’t exhausted every approach to its intrigue. The real Freddie Mercury behind his leonine theatrics, drug fuelled orgies and endearing onstage persona will forever remain an enigma but he admitted to his beelzebub in lyrical acceptance of his own fallibilities, which is endearing. Perhaps, that’s why a song inspired thus can capture the imagination of millions.

As bohemian as they make them, Freddie Mercury was a stitcher of songs for his rhapsody was written on scraps of paper while a student at Ealing college (1966 – 69, hardly two years after he left Zanzibar), so most likely manifesting his inner voice, finding expression in his episodic, yet unified and free flowing single movement work, that sweeps across contrasting moods, tones, voice, operatic crescendos, literary devices. The music he set it to even includes a lengthy guitar riff. It is remarkable that a song without any formal structure, is so engorged on a potency of feeling through words displaying pathos, eliciting sympathy, expressing outrage, making invocations of exculpation, indicating resignation and surrender to an inescapable fate (or in retrospect, functions like a premonition) and interrupted by what loosely functions as a sort of flippant chorus, this particularly he described to Kenny Everett, a DJ friend of his, as random rhyming nonsense. 

If random be the faux chorus at conception, irregular it hardly appears upon analysis. Almost akin to the West African Oriki praise songs or rhapsodies in traditional Yoruba music with  bards employing great poetic license leaving much  to interpretation or the imagination of the listeners, or even the far removed Chinese elegiac Han rhapsodies  with their many literary devices, Freddie Mercury, in more recent times, has been the ultimate rhapsodist, in essence a Rock Genre contemporary stitcher of songs, with an avante-garde composition that evolves like a sum of many disparate parts to yield this six minute episodic ballad. 

Joshua Allen [6] of The Morning News, sometime in 2008 [7], made a jocose argument that the perfect track length is 2:42 seconds, a kind of golden mean of audio. Even if they didn’t know it then, Queen did not succumb to the pressure of reducing the duration of this six minute song to conform to any existing idea of a perfect song length. Freddie Mercury was no conformist. It is so heartening to see artists remain impervious to pressure in their radical, risky, creative out- of- the box approach while they push the envelope, so to speak.

The decades of the sixties and seventies were those of counter cultural free spirits and hippies, the era of corduroy or bell bottoms or puka shells and feathered hair. Also, in an interview with David Wigg [8] in Munich, 1985,  Freddie, alluding to his Parsi heritage said: “That’s something inbred, that’s part of me and I’ll always walk around like a Persian popinjay [9]. No ones going to stop me honey”. There’s frankly, nothing more bohemian than that. In fact, his silver sequined jumpsuit [10] and harlequins, wing tops, vinyl pants, yellow buckle jacket are unforgettable.

In the same interview in 1985, Wigg pointedly asked Mercury, “Have you become disillusioned with mankind?” The artist was nonplussed for a while before he laughed and retorted: “That’s a bit heavy isn’t it David?” In that conversation with Wigg, Mercury admitted or quoted that he has no true friend and that Mary Hutchins was the only one he would refer to but he treasured his independence,  hid behind his work and admitted to going on stage for the adulation of his fans, which he considered being his fantasy land. When he came back to reality, there was no one to give him that emotional support that he most definitely craved.

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

Yet, his theatrics, the outrageous costumes, being blasé with the public that ‘trapped one’, he said, ‘into delivering what they wanted to hear based on what one had done before’, was the last thing he would want, to stymie his creativity. It was truly the knife edge Mercury wished to tread on, the danger element which was exactly what he thought the band needed. His biographer Lesley-Ann Jones noted his perfectionism and attention to detail and that Mercury approached being a frontman for the band as a job like any other and yet, he was happiest while on stage. 

Years ago in Stone Town, Zanzibar

Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Balsara in Zanzibar, to Indian Parsis originally from Bulsar, now known as Valsad, a city in the Western state of Gujarat in India, mainly known for its Vansda National Park. It lies along the Gulf of Khambhat (Cambay), south of the city of Surat. The Parsis are Zoroastrians who fled Iran in the seventh century, with many settling in Gujarat and Maharashtra. His father was a cashier at Zanzibar’s British Colonial Office [11] and was transferred to the island of Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania), where Mercury was born in 1946. His parents’ house is now converted to a hotel on the island. Mercury spent his youth in India where he attended St. Peter’s Church of England School, a prestigious all-boys boarding school in Panchgani, near Bombay along with many other expatriate Indians living in East Africa at the time.  While in India, he called himself Freddie and also formed a popular school band named the Hectics. He finished the last two years of his courses at the Roman Catholic St. Joseph’s Convent School back in Zanzibar.

An example of a Zanzibari door, I don’t have a picture of the Mercury house or any other house that claims to be the birth house or residence of Mercury’s family, although some can be easily found online.

.

His family was relatively wealthy and by no means was he a poor boy. In 1964, the Zanzibar Revolution [12] helped overthrow the islands’ first post colonial regime after independence from British rule, a period of several weeks where people of Arab and South Asian heritage were targeted, in many cases lethally, by African islanders, the former being mostly affluent and economically privileged. During this time, he and his family used their British passports to flee to England where he attended Isleworth College and Ealing Art College, and graduated in 1969 with a diploma in graphic art and design. It was a turbulent life, moving under duress from Tropical Zanzibar to Temperate England.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me.

It is also the life of a boy, who during his formative years, had been separated from his family across the Arabian Sea, where one needed to board a ship to attend boarding school or return home. Freddie is known to have been shy by nature and made fun of for his hyperdontia or his famous protruding teeth and was nicknamed ‘bucky’, [13] experiencing perhaps the usual traumas of childhood slurs. It wouldn’t appear odd that he hankered after sympathy, considering his later, flamboyant life. Freddie didn’t quite hide behind who he thought he was, or the legacy of his childhood impressions, instead he stood before the world to court adulation.

Reportedly, after Freddie Mercury  married Mary Hutchins  in 1973, he confessed to her he was bisexual in 1976 but his song went public in 1975. It was a remarkable relationship but this is not to minimize what Mary may have gone through, discovering after marriage that her husband was gay. The 1980’s are understood to have been a period of intense homophobia; the conservative governments at the time provided very little support to LGBT either in the UK or even in the US. To exacerbate the issue, the AIDS epidemic was demonised in common parlance as the ‘gay plague’ [14] and manipulated to blame or vilify LGBT people, to justify increasing homophobic repression. 

Moreover, Mercury had his childhood and adolescence spent in fairly conservative environments, in Catholic Schools, in being a part of the Parsi community, even undergoing the traditional Navjote ceremony which is akin to a Bar Mitzvah in Judaism. So, here was a boy who was most certainly having an immense emotional conflict regarding his sexuality sitting squarely in the middle of contrarian societal, parental and religious expectations including those of the multitude of his fans. He never told his mother he was homosexual; and she recounted this [15] with a tear in her eye in an interview, dismissing it as things that weren’t spoken of in those days. For a public persona like Mercury, traveling the path he had to is like traveling along a paralleling of soul desires of sorts. These were most probably immensely powerful sets of anachronisms, of  the culturally conservative and  the contemporaneously glam rock, to carry within one’s heart, to try and contend with. 

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead.
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away.

Mama, ooh,
Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm not back again this time tomorrow,
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

If he were, in that day and age, to resort to understanding and coming to terms with his sexual orientation through confessions, public admissions, or even scanning the liturgical texts of the day, which perhaps he did, it may have set the tone of what he truly felt was his fate as a gay man which wouldn’t have been an easy path to tread. To be a ‘man’ in a conservative society at the time, would be to assume then the task of procreation within heterosexual partnership, fulfilling the expectations of carrying on the familial bloodlines. In light of this, in his song at least, he publicly admitted to his Mother it would appear that he was not the man she hoped he would be.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine,
Body's aching all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

People sometimes say that HIV appeared[16] in the 1980s in the USA, but in fact this was just when people first became aware of HIV and it was officially recognised as a new health condition. Freddie Mercury recorded the Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, long before this. It was on June 5, 1981, that the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) about Pneumocystis Pneumonia in Los Angeles, wherein it described cases of a rare lung infection in five young, white, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. Other unusual infections in all the men were also reported as well, indicating immune systems that were not working. Two would have already died by the time the report was published and the others would die soon after. This edition of the MMWR marked the first official reporting of what would later become known as the AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) epidemic.

Mama, ooh (Any way the wind blows),
I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.

A sexual orientation that isn’t the norm in a generally homophobic society can be difficult to come to terms with, let alone safely express. This, compounded with liturgical texts and codes that list out  punitive measures rather than an empathic understanding, along with the seemingly archaic laws of the day and age, would have surely  triggered a debilitating inner turmoil within Freddie even if he were a pop star and celebrity. One can only wonder if he were able to connect with his family or community or peers over this, for a secrecy around it would have surely been a recipe for emotional and psychological trauma and isolation of sorts. It might serve to remember that Freddie Mercury spent all of his formative years and until he was 18 in India and Zanzibar. Even though the Parsi community is considered quite progressive within India, homosexuality nevertheless, had a bad rap across religious divides in either of the places at the time. 

Of the five books of the Avesta, also called Zend-avesta [17], the sacred book of Zoroastrianism that contains its cosmogony, law, and liturgy, and the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra), the Vendidad/Videvdad is the main source for Zoroastrian law, both ritual and civil. Zend-Avesta literally means ‘interpretation of the Avesta’. The information about homosexuality contained in this literature is restricted to anal intercourse, as defined in the Videvdad (8.32) In the Avesta there is no mention of heterosexual anal intercourse, but in Zoroastrian texts this practice is alluded to and equally condemned. There is also a distinction between consensual [18] and non-consensual passive partners; thus, in the Videvdad (8.26-32)[18], the punishment for a man who is submitted to intercourse against his will is a whipping, the same as would have been the punishment for killing a sheep-dog (Vd. 13.2); but, if he does it willingly, his sin is inexpiable. There is also an Avestan fragment which indicates that the passive partner may be killed with impunity (Fragment, Vd. 7.52.3)[18]

Given his background and sociocultural context, perhaps Freddie Mercury at the time of writing the song, already considered himself damned. In an age with very few  answers available, it would be a remarkable feat to live a way of life that was against the grain of society.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning very, very frightening me.
(Galileo) Galileo.
(Galileo) Galileo,
Galileo Figaro
Magnifico o o o o.

There have been many interpretations of who from the band would most likely have been any of the characters mentioned in this verse. Scaramouche was interpreted to be Freddie himself.  Italian Scaramuccia,[19] is a stock character of the Italian theatrical form known as the commedia dell’arte; An unreliable servant whose affinity for intrigue and unscrupulous nature  landed him in knotty situations from which he always managed to conveniently extricate himself, usually leaving an innocent bystander as his victim. If these words were, as Freddie himself described them, nonsensical rhyming words, then he was well versed in poetic gibe.

Expecting the Scaramouche to perform a triple metre lively Spanish dance like a Fandango,  to the accompaniment of guitar and castanets is much less like the tomfoolery it was actually meant to be [20], for Freddie, the quintessential performer simply only wanted to have fun on stage.

Even so, it hasn’t deterred ardent fans from trying to guess who inspired those characters. Galileo was purportedly the guitarist Brian May, who went on to get his PhD in Astrophysics. Figaro, according to some analyses, would have been the tuxedo clad kitten Figaro from Walt Disney’s 1940 animation film, Pinocchio or simply, the enigmatic [21] bass player, songwriter in Queen, John Deacon.

Freddie wanted to be adored and lived his life large. He said so himself. He was known for his outrageous parties, one of which was famously known as ‘Saturday Night in Sodom’ and not for nothing. Guests were rumoured [22] to have been  welcomed by dwarves serving Bolivian cocaine from trays strapped to their heads amidst a menu of other exotic diversions.

I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me.
He's just a poor boy from a poor family,
Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

What may have been the price of this adulation, the raunchy hedonism and dissipate debauchery?  Alexander Atkins in an insightful analysis [23] of the song, refers to next stanza as revealing a Faustian bargain that has possibly been struck with the devil,  wherein the central character of the song trades his moral integrity and soul in exchange for worldly pleasures and comforts. Is this what perturbs the composer of this rhapsody? 

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Will not let you go. (Let me go!)
Never let you go (Never, never, never, never let me go)
Oh oh oh oh
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go.)
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

In Christianity, alternate names for Satan or even a lesser devil are Beelzebub or Beelzebul which derives from the New Testament’s preservation of an otherwise unknown Jewish tradition in which Baal Zebub was thought of as the ‘prince of demons’. Deep within perhaps, there is the crystallization of a thought or belief, that his sexual orientation attracts damnation. 

The severity of  punishments [24] and future prospects of ridicule, ostracism or even harsh penalty for men performing anal intercourse vary in the religious sources that dilineate such issues. The Ardā Wirāz-nāmag also known as the Arda Wiraf or Book of the Just Wiraz, a Zoroastrian religious text of the Sasanian era written in Middle Persian, describes the dream-journey of a devout Zoroastrian (the Wiraz of the story) through the next world. In the case of homosexual intercourse, the passive performer is punished by having a snake the size of a beam go in through his body and out by the mouth, while other snakes are chewing up the rest of his innards (chap. 19; tr. Gignoux, pp. 174-75) [25]. Interestingly, this sin is the first that Arda Wiraz (The wise Wiraz) encounters in Hell; all other sins are further down, with the more serious among them, presumably heterosexual  anal intercourse and adulterous seduction, which are also punished by being eaten by snakes and worms (chap. 71; tr. Gignoux, p. 201). Strangely, religious texts, however dated and irrelevant to contemporary situations, dictate much of the socio-cultural, even if the religious avatar of an argument is eventually discarded for some moral, ethical or in some cases, even a scientific garb. 

Interestingly, Peter Freestone [26], Mercury’s close friend and former assistant who helped execute the singer’s funeral, wrote in his book ‘Freddie Mercury: An Intimate Memoir by the Man Who Knew Him Best’: “Freddie had been far from being actively opposed to anyone’s religion or faith. The things that offended him were the trappings and hypocrisy involved in the various clerical and institutional aspects of established religion.”

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.

If the Bohemian Rhapsody were about relationships, it would appear to be a sad case of unrequited love with a lashing out at anyone that perchance, sought to diminish Freddie’s self worth. I don’t think it is, it is a lashing against his personal and public circumstances. It wasn’t easy being who he was then, except for the slight relief of the stage.

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me.

Any way the wind blows...

Recording the operatic section [27] itself took over 70 hours. If anything, the very declaration of his indefinable sense of vulnerability and angst in poetic lyricism, is what shot Queen to super stardom. They say that every person has at least one book within them, maybe even a song; this was, I believe, Mercury’s song, his profound expression of a potently effervescent self, steeped in his innermost despairing conflicts.

One often overlooked aspect is his astrological portrait. Given the human tendency to assess and judge people not personally known through  psychological, anthropological, social, cultural and religious lenses, an astrological lens should not seem then, too far-fetched.

Freddie appeared to be consumed by an innate and intense desire to create an alter ego worthy of adulation on stage. His purported out-partying at the time, of even Elton John, his addictions, multiple sexual partners and over the top sartorial flamboyance on stage, made me curious as to what the actual stars revealed about Mercury. It wasn’t easy to find any information on this aspect except for some birth charts on popular sites. I did find one particularly interesting analysis by Sidereal astrologer, Michael Conneely, which presumes that Freddie was born under the lunar mansion or nakshatra of Moola (within the Sagittarius constellation)[28] His natal chart stands true for what is already well known about Mercury – his star output on stage, his creative talents, his theatrical flamboyance, even his hyperdontia and early death, but what lies behind his very personal Bohemian Rhapsody, is revealed by the position of his Moon, which in astrology is the seat of emotions. This particular one, Moola,  can be a difficult one and part of the constellation can be located at (which Sidereal astrology defines) the point Gandanta or the spiritual knot. The Moola Gandanta is placed where the sign of watery Scorpio meets the sign of fiery Sagittarius, potent merging of water and fire that turns into steam, metaphorically speaking. Vedic Astrologer Komila Sutton explains rather poetically, what it means to have a personal celestial body like the powerful moon (the bedrock of emotions and the inner life as per astrological belief)  at this point, and it applies to Freddie Mercury quite aptly in the light of his very famous song which in turn seems the blueprint of his famous persona ! 

She says, [29] “Sagittarius Moola Gandanta is the most difficult one as it moves the inner soul towards it’s final direction towards merging with the universal consciousness. This is the stage where the material ties are being shattered and the soul realises it’s true spiritual direction. This is where the maximum churning of the inner emotions takes place. Even when the soul recognises it’s path towards its true nature, it fights against it. This is never an easy task. It creates many psychological or physical blocks that need to be tackled with great maturity.”

And she goes on further to elaborate “The belief is when life crystallises at a certain point, then we journey towards the higher manifestation of the soul and the consciousness. We have to go through a particularly trying time to prepare our minds for the next step in the journey of our soul. If you are born in any of the gandanta, you can expect some spiritual difficulties in this birth. A lack of support, a sense of transformation.” I found this so poetically expressed that it felt like she was speaking of this song, the intent of the person behind it and I had to share the whole of her definition.

Short of Freddie Mercury himself being resurrected to explain the meaning of this song, a request he did not concede to during his lifetime,  I believe all modes of theorising have since been exhaustively employed. Freddie Mercury passed on before the world collectively condemned homophobia, before AIDS was no longer labelled a gay plague, before nations and communities slowly moved towards the acceptance of differing sexual choices, before religions, clerics and zealous adherents foisted less their views and judgements although they still do in many parts of the world. 

In the decades rife with bohemian free spirits , all the angst that Mercury harboured, he transformed on stage, for the world to behold. A conflicted man perhaps, a dual persona, living disparate lives in the eye of the public and in private, he wrote this song when he was a relative nobody, one that only reveals his lust for life: “ I don’t want to die; I wish I’d never been born.” Mercury prevailed for as long as he did and still prevails long after he is gone.

Happy birthday Freddie !

References:
[1] Martin Chilton. (2019).  ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’: The Story Behind Queen’s Rule-Breaking Classic Song. Retrieved from-https://www.udiscovermusic.com/stories/queen-bohemian-rhapsody-song-history/
[2] Lesley-Ann Jones. (2015). 'Bohemian Rhapsody Was Freddie Mercury's Coming Out Song'. Retrieved from-https://thewire.in/culture/is-bohemian-rhapsody-really-all-about-freddie-mercury
[3] Joshua Kanter. (NA).  The Best Freddie Mercury Biographies: Three Must-Reads About The King of Queen. An intimate glimpse into the public – and private – life of one of rock’s greatest showmen. Retrieved from-https://www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/books/best-freddie-mercury-bios-970839/
[4] Sam Moore. (2018). Freddie Mercury once told his biographer he felt “imprisoned” by fame. Retrieved from-https://www.nme.com/news/music/freddie-mercury-felt-imprisoned-by-fame-biographer-lesley-ann-jones-interview-2411234
[5]A Z Lyrics. (NA). Bohemian Rhapsody. Retrieved from-https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/queen/bohemianrhapsody.html
[6] Joshua Allen. (2008). Two Minutes and 42 Seconds in Heaven. Retrieved from-https://themorningnews.org/article/two-minutes-and-42-seconds-in-heaven
[7] Eliot Van Buskirk. (2008). Is 2:42 the Perfect Song Length?. Retrieved from-https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.wired.com/2008/04/is-242-the-perf/&sa=D&ust=1601049895771000&usg=AFQjCNG8wJWFQZSQflvF2antd-_0mrEK2A
[8] David Wigg. (1982). Watch Freddie Mercury's Rare 1982 ET Interview (Exclusive). Retrieved from-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywyzFJYGOig
[9] Ionia Italia. (2018). A Persian Popinjay. A Review of the Film Bohemian Rhapsody. Retrieved from-https://areomagazine.com/2018/11/11/a-persian-popinjay-a-review-of-the-film-bohemian-rhapsody/
[10] Amy Lee. (2018). The Most Unforgettable, Iconic Looks From Freddie Mercury -- Pics! Retrieved from-https://www.etonline.com/the-most-unforgettable-iconic-looks-from-freddie-mercury-pics-112880
[11] BBC. (2018). Freddie Mercury's complex relationship with Zanzibar. Retrieved from-https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45900712
[12] G. Thomas Burgess. (2018). The Zanzibar Revolution and Its Aftermath. Retrieved from-https://oxfordre.com/africanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277734-e-155
[13] Rachel Lopez. (2018). Before he broke free: Classmates of Freddie Mercury share untold memories. Retrieved from-https://www.hindustantimes.com/art-and-culture/before-he-broke-free/story-QEYCfhPcS5FmodSXflsd5I.html
[14] Peter Tatchell. (2012). 1980s: A decade of state-sanctioned homophobia. Retrieved from-https://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/1980s-a-decade-of-state-sanctioned-homophobia/
[15] Stefan Kyriazis. (2019). Freddie Mercury never told his parents he was gay; mum Jer explains why. Retrieved from-https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/music/1214695/Freddie-Mercury-parents-gay-Mum-Jer-bulsara-Queen-band-fans-music-AIDS-boyfriend
[16] HIV.Gov. A Timeline of HIV and AIDS. Retrieved from-https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/history/hiv-and-aids-timeline
[17] Britannica. Avesta:Zoroastrian Scripture. Retrieved from-https://www.britannica.com/topic/Avesta-Zoroastrian-scripture
[18] Prods Oktor Skjærvø, “HOMOSEXUALITY i. IN ZOROASTRIANISM,” Encyclopædia Iranica, XII/4, pp. 440-441, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/homosexuality-i (accessed on 30 December 2012).
[19] Fraser Mcalpine. (2015). 10 Things You May Not Know About Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Retrieved from-https://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2015/10/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-queens-bohemian-rhapsody
[20] Definition of Fandango. Retrieved from-https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fandango
[21] A portrait of Queen’s John Deacon. Retrieved from-https://brianmay.com/john/portrait.html
[22] Uncut. (2013). Queen: “It was all like a fantasy to see how far we could go”. Retrieved from-https://www.uncut.co.uk/features/queen-it-was-all-like-a-fantasy-to-see-how-far-we-could-go-18631/
[23] Alexander Atkins. (2019). What is the Meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody?. Retrieved from-https://alex-65670.medium.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-bohemian-rhapsody-e150bee6bbb0
[24] Hoshangji Jamaspji Asa, Haug, Martin, 1827-1876. West, Edward William, 1824-1905. THE BOOK OF ARDA VIRAF. Retrieved from-http://www.avesta.org/mp/viraf.html
[25] Encyclopædia Iranica. Homosexuality i. In Zoroastrianism. Retrieved from-https://iranicaonline.org/articles/homosexuality-i
[26] Ashley Lee. (2018). ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ glosses over Freddie Mercury’s roots and religion — just like he did. Retrieved from-https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-freddie-mercury-race-religion-name-change-20181102-story.html
[27] Matthew Horton. (2015). Queen: 20 Things You Probably Never Knew About ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Retrieved from-https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/queen-20-things-you-probably-never-knew-about-bohemian-rhapsody-767713
[28] Michael Conneely. (2018).Freddy Mercury & Bohemian Rhapsody Astrology. Retrieved from-https://blog.starwheelastrology.com/tag/freddie-mercury-vedic-astrology-birth-chart/
[29] Komilla Sutton. Gandanta - The Spiritual Knot. Retrieved from-https://komilla.com/lib-gandanta.html

Dragonflies playing dead and other baseline studies for our trip to Mars

I love the moist and humid 

of marshland,

watching

tall grasses break

the surface of water,

simply wondering

what fish must silver

the shallows

or what reptile

slither a shiver

down the spine ..

I took these photos while we walked the trail at Lobster Cove meadow and Appalachee preserves in Boothbay Harbor. They look like a poem. At 46.8-acres,  this preserve boasts of a freshwater wetland, large field and a quite densely forested upland [1] I loved every part of it and given half a chance, I would have perhaps spent my morning sitting by that soupy ferment of grass and sodden earth, creating botanical drawings or writing floral poetry ..

.. but this prose poem is really about dragonflies and a lyrical questioning of the viability of some species of the order Odonata, on planets that humankind propose to relocate to. Of what use then, is a dragonfly?

I'm hypnotized by the dragonfly's

agile life path

or is it - a flight path?


On taxonomy ~


Marsh trails at Lobster Cove,

court me in grass -

resigned they are,

to the trample of feet,

or fate, in Maine,

land richly resplendent

in the iridescence

of one hundred and fifty five

species ---

emeralds, jewel wings, reds,

golds, pond damsels,

darners, skimmers, hawkers,

predators,

dragons that fly,

and this isn't metaphor..



I flee to be happily feral

in these teeming marshes,

soliloquising to this multitude.

This thick slice of populace,

if you police the species,

spawn irreverent ideas

of vagrants or migrants

or residents. Of these

I ladle millions with simply

the scoop of my hand,

from a steamy soupy puddle..

Hundreds of dragonflies

and damselflies,

are squadrons in the sky,

a flight arena weakening air.

They meld in a singular

poetic brush stroke

of airy romance

even as my botanical eye

purloins them from a vast kingdom

to stricture within an Order,

of specialised missions,

their godly wings for escort,

or those that pivot

to a singular pursuit

of combative intent

and thus, genus is recruited

to sub orders and

other such self effacement

There are 155 species of Odonata in Maine which include the 112 of  Anisoptera,  which is comprised only of dragonflies. These hold their wings horizontal to the surface they alight upon, while damselflies (Zygoptera), hold them vertical, this being an important criterion besides the eyes, for easy differentiation between both, although they look quite similar.  Beyond that, you could mull over the variation of  corrugation patterns, the curvature of the various ridges and deep valleys on the plane of the wing membrane, or wing span and attached musculature while considering that individuals within the same species vary considerably as also, between the species. Yet, it was of great interest to me, that measurements based on the wing profiles from a single wing of very few dried specimens spearheaded whole studies and scientific hypotheses on the effect of these morphological characteristics on aerodynamics of the dragonfly. 

It’s a dragonfly, I want to know why it flies .. so ..

.

.

Now imagine this complex wing architecture, the attached musculature that enables the independent movement of each of the four wings and the aerodynamic magic that propels the dragonfly through three dimensional trajectories, through space. The ability to manoeuvre in a way that they can fly backwards without any added expense of energy, their speed, agility and their capacity to hover, aids them in their remarkable predatory routines. It makes my heart skip a bit when I understand they exclusively intercept other flying insects while in flight, perhaps like humans attempt to do in aerial combat. These remarkable creatures can cruise, pursue, intercept while on their territorial flights, in chasing others like them or in stalking prey and some can even fly in formation.

Flying is arduous and requires efficient management of energy. In extensive studies of the relationship between the wing planform of Odonata and aerodynamic efficiency during flapping flight, it was found that dragonflies must generate 221% of the power that would be necessary to produce the same lift with perfect aerodynamic efficiency (i.e. from an ideal ‘actuator disc’ or ‘lifting line’ in laboratory conditions). Damselflies, operate with a less efficient wing shape in comparison and have to generate 275% of the power that would be required under ideal conditions, simply to fly [6] The overarching question in these studies of wingspan efficiency is, why are insect wing shapes so variable. No one has yet discovered an optimal solution from the standpoint of aerodynamics as insects have several adaptive and non-adaptive factors that contribute to wing shape, and only some of these adaptations will have any aerodynamic or mechanical relevance.

Currently, no suitable wing model exists, to replicate what is experienced by the mechanosensors present on the wings of these living creatures, that are responsible for relaying sensory signals required to power a flight. Eliciting predictable and repeatable flight responses in laboratory conditions has been tricky as well, but most importantly, inorder to generalize and validate flight strategies in the real world, field recordings are essential, but we find that a reliable field data logger for Odonata is yet to be developed.

Thus it stands, we do not understand many things about dragonflies and there are several reasons to continue to study them, least of all that such research will advance humankind’s understanding of unsteady aerodynamics, flight control, sensory integration and the evolution of flight [6] but each dragonfly has its own unique functional design and form, therefore, the task of learning about the metabolic cost of flying to each organism and drawing conclusions thus about flight strategies, is much more complicated than it appears. Until now, no human to the best of my knowledge, has produced a successful dragonfly except for another dragonfly.

My need to know and understand arises as a matter of habit, marking with gravitas this breezy situation which sometimes, a marsh walk can be. When I excitedly tell my husband about surprising facts I come across , I mean, who can not notice the science of it on a leisurely walk .. he wonders the same as I, why one’s mind cannot quite exult and float, elated on fresh air and sunshine alone 😄 Well, I try …

.. not to think of some innovative blueprint for a new drone, designed perhaps like a dragonfly or a damselfly, or scientific research pondering the inefficiency of those horizontally or vertically held wings, that somehow refuse to be consistent in their shape and size [5] There I am, in a marsh, dragonflies in a flight arena of sky, exhibiting the same tendencies as the rest of the sentient species and I realise, there isn’t enough grass nor sky for everyone. There are entire societies at play here not to feel crowded out, and I, a bystander, looking from the outside at their arduous frolicking and wondering of the aggressive sexual behaviour of dragonflies that suddenly taints every romantic vision of earth and sky that I would like to weave into my marshy poetry. Somehow, writing lyrically of how happy I am to see dragonflies engaged in territorial displays over grass, is akin to admitting I enjoy bullfights or so I think and I laugh, for I do or maybe I don’t. In all seriousness though, it prods me to think of the limits of acceptance, a virtue we are smug to extol, or of the questions we are reluctant to frame …

Do you know how we map 

the flight of consciousness ?

I think that is what it is ..

the question I mean.


I wish I could veil my glance

in poetry, blissful membranous

euphemism, like lined coffins

for the dead but I would be

unfeeling not to notice

the corrugations in

those angelic wings.


Is everywhere the place

where the glade is pleasant,

the woods cheerful,

the waters run deep ?


Sometimes, all those things, yes 

and the female of the species

dropped dead. It startled me

from my airbrushed soliloquy, 

for blade strokes -

aerodynamic, iridescent

in a viridescent marsh,

had squelched irony

from the maw of design.


Nymphs in the shallows,

are a Neverland

of eternal childhood.

In the wake

of an artful airlift

for angelic pursuit,

are embattled skies

of conflictual ardour,

and comically painful

those cerci on neck ..


The kama sutra of aerodynamic love

yields outlines of hearts,

lyrical hymns to creatures

great, cherubic, winged,

but the females fake death

to squadrons of a militant

genetic drive.



Will we need dragonflies on Mars

with no oxygen nor water to monitor?

And what use a desultory

Martian anthropomorphisation

as it bites the barren of dust?


Each wingspan a solitary delight,

those 180 degree flips

three dimensional trajectories

of love, for survival of the species

through nicks and bruises ..

Mating in dragonflies is a unique affair in that it involves serious terms like tandem linkage and wheel formation and a great deal of aggression [7] It is highly acrobatic sport and eventually a mating pair forms this heart shape as in the picture above. The male first grabs a female by the back of her neck with claspers at the end of his abdomen that are called cerci which are structural appendages that actually fit into species-specific grooves in the female. Once this tandem linkage is established, the actual consummation takes place which is quite interesting but involves sexual gymnastics involving abdominal segments and appendages for scooping out of rival sperm, some vicious territoriality, pursuit of multiple suitors and a very tired female at the end [8] The high male-biased ratio in adult dragonflies at breeding habitats, has in part, contributed to females using different habitats to avoid male harassment.

Females of some species of dragonflies (Female moorland hawkers or Aeshna juncea for example) are vulnerable to being harassed when laying eggs since they aren’t protected by their male mates. This isn’t the case with all dragonflies but many of the species exhibit sexual conflict. In Moorland hawkers for instance, eggs are usually fertilised in a single sexual encounter with a male, and copulating again could damage their reproductive tract so after the act, females crash dive to the ground at very high speeds and fake death [9]

As I marvel at the dragonfly, I appreciate what humans can learn and possibly unlearn from our compatriots on this sometimes green and golden earth, while I question if there is more to the poetry of the species than simply one upmanship, mean spiritedness, lusty escapades, romantic illusions and other attributes of our inherent genetic propensity, that mainly drive every conflict, every conquest, every war and all tribalism.

How much of dragonfly do we wish to be, plainly rhetorical musing …

There were mushrooms too ..
I thought this looked like living sculpture ..

References:

[1]~https://www.mainetrailfinder.com/trails/trail/lobster-cove-meadow-and-appalachee-preserves

[2]~https://maineanencyclopedia.com/dragonflies/

[3](Gives a list of species found in Maine and their distribution) ~https://www.jstor.org/stable/3858343

[4]~https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/geb.12758

[5]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/phys.org/news/2014-11-secret-dragonflies-flight.amp

[6]~https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2015.0389

[7]~https://www.thoughtco.com/how-dragonflies-mate-1968255

[8]~https://www.livescience.com/43206-animal-sex-dragonflies.html

[9]~https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129185-female-dragonflies-fake-sudden-death-to-avoid-male-advances/

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: “It will clean you out from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.” [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