In the Prison House of Language

I am obsessed with words, yet, I find language to be extremely limiting. It was Ludwig Wittgenstein who said in the closing passages of the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, ‘ That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent ‘. Yet, he did a complete turnaround from his earlier ideas when in his later work, Philosophical Investigations, he suggested, creating meaningful statements is not a matter of ascertaining the logical form of the world as it was a matter of using conventionally defined terms within ‘language games’ that we play out in the course of everyday life, that have their own rules. ‘In most cases, the meaning of a word is its use’, he claimed and it is these rules, unique to each language and tribe that we find ourselves enmeshed in on a regular basis that also creates our narrative reality for us.

I had written earlier in the post on Remamos and the Inner Voice, that we are also not witness to the inner self talk of people, that inaccessible sub-conscious, the ephemeral unconscious, the wellspring of our actions, emotions … we make sense of our lives stitching stories together of the experiences that become us at the same time, we set the stage for the world to understand us on how we communicate this to the outside world, either in words or in silence.

In addition, I have been meaning to write on echo chambers for a while. It is interesting how the subtlest in words can alter meanings in communication, bring about an exclusion or inclusion in groups and cliques based on a shared language. It is disturbing that we may be misunderstood or we may misunderstand based on language alone. It is also unfortunate, that humanity heaves under the burden of not being able to communicate effectively, if at all, beyond words.

Perhaps, I am on a tangent here, but the poem becomes a springboard for me to explore linguistic relativity. I hadn’t known anything about the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis until today, and that linguistic relativity was explored in the sci-fi movie Arrival, which I happened to quite like. It’s a philosophical sort of movie based on communicating with aliens that have arrived on Earth. The hypothesis itself suggests that |the structure of a language affects its speakers’ worldview or cognition, and thus people’s perceptions are relative to their spoken language |[1][2][3]

Language appears to be the only defining feature of our human poetry, where we constantly try to make ourselves known to others, to know others through words and narrative. There isn’t another crutch. My poem is more exploratory than a stamp of finality on my views on language. As always, the philosopher in me is plainly musing.

Time colours in different brush strokes
a strange evolution of the abecedary,
in love sonnets* of deceased days,
that now sound like a dirge,
on a hot summer day /A gulf of Eden,
this / Your words drowning, seeking
a page in my lexicon and I want
to nest in your poems //

In the tower of Babel, I watch the sunset
West, windows adding length to shadows
of sounds measured into meaning, the sun
rises in the East and my eyes sparkle
in delight, for the yolk appears
that I know is round //

At the door, those who embroider birds
into memory insist, an exact trilling skein
may be lacking for my opaque cosmogony,
but proffer a redeeming syllabic chant //

Earthy tribes in the plains and narrow
valleys of life, possess no flowery tome
stamped in antique language, as they
plough away the sunlight in tepid sweat,
nor the ones, that pixellate their own sun
in shadows, bent over canvases of creations //

They speak of light like a distant memory
in the lunacy of neon aphorisms //

The cracking ice moans for Spring, they
all know, the cuckoo sings of Summer
and Jasmine’s silenced a hundred ways
namelessly fragrant in every fall //

Of those locked in a tower for lights
narrow ingress and some closed doors,
are warily, blindly feeling circular walls,
passwords changed for knocking, storied nuance
in the admission, glass domes too slippery for sky,
restroom piss gendered in euphemisms and the chamber
grants inclusion to echo in the litany of flushes //

Some days, I want only to string prayers,
in the boundless of the wind that screams
into the clouds, the hum of the earth
swaddled in a lullaby of roots, while
I slowly breathe in the forgiving universe //

Is it a sin to exhale seismic tune to erode
the ivory dunes, breathe a fire to set ablaze
smug grasses of tolerance, so a different leaf
may root in the aridity of the savanna?

How does one wait in the eye of a storm
when all around rages passion,
to be still enough to gaze at a wildflower,
in a wordless poem? Teach me to pray.

Process:

* Shakespeare has to be understood under regimented study or his language escapes us. So it is with all literature that simply does not touch a chord if we are not schooled in it. I remember trying to read V. D. Savarkar’s masterpiece ‘ Kala Pani ‘ in Hindi once. It was written in 1913 and I couldn’t identify with the language used then, even the simplest words of address seemed based in another time, another era. The redeeming chants are about oral traditions and the inspiration for Babel comes from Jorge Luis Borges’s 1941, The Library of Babel and partly, the biblical.

I think this poem became everything in a way and nothing at all. I wish to stop writing sometimes, even if for a while, cite a lack of genuine audience, an igneous ‘writer’s block’, an invisible husky chewing all of my papers, but I turn to Rilke here, who spoke words that I make my own.

Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write” ~ From Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, where she cites his ‘Letters to a young poet’ [4]

I choose to write, words or none, despite how limiting and imperfect I find language to be, it truly only seeks to heal because it aspires, more than anything, to understand.

On my playlist today: My pre-pandemic anthem by Gaël Faure Siffler

References:

[1]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

[2]~https://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought

[3]~https://behavioralscientist.org/language-dont-believe-a-word-sapir-whorf-hypothesis/

[4]~https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/10/04/rilke-letters-to-a-young-poet-writing/

Neptune’s mists

This poem was seeded a while earlier, it was the earthworms on the garden path that inspired it, having crawled out of the waterlogged grass. It had rained prior and they placed themselves in harm’s way,  a sign we would  interpret as foolish (given the worm carcasses all over) and they would consider survival, crossing those great divides between the edges of a winding path.

Seasonal exhalation of Neptune's mists / and hazy corruptions mar a loamy sequester / A twelfth house of sorrow / those sinuous burrows permeating clay thought / tortuous tunnelling  of annelid aspirations // 

Earth swallowed rain / spiriting a life vitality from the blanketing comfort of flooded blossoms / Engraved on a path by the trample of feet, massacre of an exodus / Martyrs to tyrants /  clearly, mist is love or hate or mishap //

Compassion buoys pensive thought or a floating reflection / There are puddles of clumped rain, streaks of blemished sun / Blossoms and buds / These euphemisms of Spring, but trees in a mating game / Summer will bring tender warmth to soft mud, clear dreams and sweet healing //

Cannons, cloudy canons

This recent picture was taken at the Fort Lee Historic Park in NJ, a 33-acre cliff-top park area with scenic overlooks, at what is believed to be the Barbette Battery  in a reconstructed Revolutionary War encampment. Also, partially visible, is the George Washington Bridge.

I felt inspired to write of thunderclouds, cannons,  canons and of  battles and war in general. While we are accustomed to comprehend the reality, the  inevitability of war or battle, how do we make peace with the barbarity of it all? Simply rhetorical musing.

At the Barbette Battery, Fort Lee Historic Park, NJ
Canons aim for thunder. 
What foolishness
is war.. Metal fights
cotton bolls of rain clouds,
whose tears rust cannons.

Lightening fired a bellowing
rumble of consonants,
in a lyrical indulgence,
but the clouded passions
were seeded elsewhere ...

They reluctantly spilled
into a jet stream
of soul poems, a crescendo
of storm angels, thunderheads.
Deafening! This choral

of soft Nimbus that nimbly
play with okta of sky,
painting downy sorrows
in the bleak
of a blankety dome,

pulling
the heavens together   
in desultory greys and whites.
Your canon was to split empire
but how can it split the sky?
The Barbette Battery

Notes:

Okta ~ Meteorologists measure cloud cover, or the amount of the visible sky covered by clouds, in units called oktas. An okta estimates how many eighths of the sky (octo-) is covered in clouds. A clear sky is 0 oktas, while a totally overcast or gray sky is 8 oktas ~http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/cloud/

About Fort Lee Historic Park ~Fort Lee found its place in American history during the 1776 British campaign to control New York City and the Hudson River. In July 1776, the Americans began fortifying this site, which they first named “Fort Constitution.” (They later changed the name to “Fort Lee,” to honor General Charles Lee, whose army had achieved a major victory at Charleston, South Carolina, that summer.) ~https://www.njpalisades.org/fortlee.html

Zanzibar Gem in Exile

There’s a Zamioculcus zamifolia or Zanzibar gem in a sunless corner of my house. It is the only plant that can survive this space and I am amazed at the resilience of this glossy perennial. It is drought tolerant, so can be left to its own devices while on a vacation. Even if you forget to water it, it won’t hold it against you.

.

Zanzibar Gem ~ a ‘love, but don’t touch’ plant
The Sylvan ended thus as pillars of authored dead leaves in sunless corners / where a writers block stamped, nay, squiggled into a cataplectic scrawl in leafy notebooks / All this, while  his leathery leaves are an irritant breath / Zanzibar Gem / charming , beautiful, stoic, offering lessons in  resilience in emerald leather  / rhizomatous longings stirring for spring yet urging forbearance / He has digits reaching for shadows on the wall / even as he assimilates an ideological  toxicity in indoor breath / A Ficus lyrata could help here, to share a generous life force at night / but the melancholic fiddle leaf suffers sun better than a loveless corner / So here, exiled in the eternity of shade are leaves of leather and buried longings / swallowing pessimism / stoic shoots at war with love //

No offence to Carolus Linnaeus and his system of botanical nomenclature, but sometimes, on a whim, I classify my plants as masculine or feminine. It’s a huge disservice to them and leads me to contradict myself in ways I wish not to imagine. I do admire the survival instincts of this plant with it’s pinnate glossy leaves, each that can last upto six months, a succulent rhizome that can survive drought but in no way is it the same as my sweet Ficus Lyrata which produces so much oxygen that it has extra to spare at night, making it a great addition even to a bedroom. Zanzibar gem, a tropical herbaceous perennial, is like a plant version of a Saturnine school of thought that will survive in the trenchant realism of Schopenhauer in a sunless place. For any of you having issues with shaded spots in your home, this plant comes with the highest recommendations.

Zamioculcus reminds me of how to be a mean survivor, a bit lifeless, self serving, holding onto water for dear life, cleansing the air of pollutants like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) from contaminated indoor air, making the toxic its own. It inspires me to strength actually. I admire its stoic refusal to surrender to the elements but one cannot caress its leaves and bury ones face in its shoots, for like other members of the family Araceae, it carries calcium oxalate crystals that can be a skin irritant, so it’s best left alone in a corner.

In the cytoplasm of affection

I wrote this poem in response to a prompt by a fellow instagrammer, to write about an animal or wildlife. I chose the wild in the microbial.

I drew this after eons, in a spell of inspiration

Blepharisma, Vorticella, Cyanobacteria / blue-green algae, Stentor and Volvox feature in the poem today, inspired that I am by the antics of these organisms in the work of another instagrammer. In her microbial world, microbes dance to strange rhythms, cannibalize, reproduce, scavenge, lay eggs, moult, become anxious, sometimes just sidle up to each other or simply float. Find the photos on Instagram.

The diagrammatic version of Blepharisma is my squiggly art. The other species mentioned in the poem are Vorticella with the spring coil and are attached to a substrate. The Stentors are motile and have cilia for locomotion. The blue-green algae or cyanobacteria resemble fettuccine in spinach flavour and the Volvox are a constellation of sorts.

Cilia are used in locomotion but ‘Ciliating’ is my singular stupendous contribution to the dictionary 😃 and will someday be used in Scrabble.

We thought of us today as single cells
'Ciliating' across the universe of colour
under the coverslip of time; a microcosm
of pedalling plants or fettuccine of cells.

The hues of darkness are pink and bright,
in beach slippers tracing paths on glass,
and those springing Vorticella are flowers
we created in our fictions of science ...

But all possess a veneer bound
cytoplasm of affection, crawling like
Annelids across the void in a world
bursting in avatars of the invisible

or their transparent real selves
glowing like gemstones in the sky,
or simply opaque as we are, each
to the other under the play of light,

polarized views secreted within some
dark muddied pond, harbouring
the cells of love, shedding cuticles
of sorrow, laying the germ of tomorrow

or funneling delight in little green globes
that make food ... are food. We must be
blessed to be cytoplasm like them or cursed,
I don't know which, but it's all profound.

Note:
Blepharisma is found in fresh and salt water, is a unicellular ciliated protist and is pink due to the presence of the photosensitive pigment, blepharismin. These pink creatures are photophobic, seek out darkened areas and lose their colour or die in strong light.

Vorticella is a ciliated protozoan with a stalk that is made up of a contractile organelle which serves as a molecular spring, so it can contract. This organelle or spasmoneme is said to have a higher specific power than the engine of the average car.

Volvox is a green algae that forms spherical colonies of up to 50,000 cells and live in freshwater habitats.

Cyanobacteria are Gram-negative bacteria that obtain energy via photosynthesis, also called blue-green algae but aren’t eukaryotes like algae.

Stentors are among the biggest known extant unicellular organisms and also ciliated.

Annelids belong to phylum Annelida that includes earthworms, leeches and the microscopic polychaete worms, oligochaetes.

Cytoplasm is the jelly like substance within the cell membrane,.excluding the nucleus. All together, they make the protoplasm of a cell.

Video:

The video link arrived in newsletter earlier that helps appreciate the many ways to see a microbe, and how a single creature can appear different depending on the microscopy method used to capture it through a manipulating of light.

There’s no one way a microbe looks, only different clever methods to see it~https://youtu.be/VBmzwM76V0o

Pale beneath a zesty rind

Breakfast stories …

Food satisfies and yet, there’s a kind of hunger that permeates the spirit that is insatiable. When I first watched Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton, sing ‘Satisfied’, with Angelica Schuyler, I felt he was making a statement on the path to Boddichitta or the awakened mind. A dissatisfied mind is known to be constantly groping for meaning or creating a path, in a state arising, ironically out of dissatisfaction, according to Buddhist thought.

A verse of the song 'Satisfied' is as follows:

You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied

I'm sure I don't know what you mean, you forget yourself

You're like me, I'm never satisfied

Is that right?

I've never been satisfied

Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Hamilton spends the rest of the play driven by his dissatisfaction. I remembered this at morning tea and I felt this should compel me to write something profound and philosophical but couldn’t quite get past breakfast. So here’s a poem on lemons and avocados. I think, the tart flavour of a lemon helps awaken the palate and the creamy texture of an avocado, smoothens the day.

Lemons stained in sun
Each sun that wafts in with dawn 
stains the lemons yellow,
and leaves them pale beneath
their zesty rind for life.

Sever the citrus in sorrow
and it drips sour,
in a spark that sets you alive.

Slice morning into emerald slivers.
What green of meadows
to contemplate breakfast !

I'm famished for poems
and I string words on bread
to satiate a soul hunger.
Slices of morning