No Perfect Measure

An evening set in metered rhyme,
of pinecones, gainfully bracted
in the manner of spiralling time.

No perfect measure yields a woody cone
although conifer strobilus gilded ratio makes.
The standard mesh of numbers alone

symbolise a hope that a glorious God
assembled in a perfect factory line,
this defiant change to perfectly flawed.

Inversion

It was on a walk along the Lenape trail earlier today, through Mills Reservation in Essex County, that we spotted this mushroom.

As most of us know, a mushroom is only the fruiting body of the fungal mycelium that runs subterranean. And here in this forest were a variety of trees with roots that branched beneath the surface. As Robert Kourik in his work ‘Roots Demystified’ mentions [1] “While one rule of limb has been that a tree’s roots are one and one-half to three times wider than the foliage, other investigators estimate an irregular root pattern four to seven times the crown area; and, still other researchers maintain that the root extension can be four to eight times wider than the dripline of the tree, but only under certain conditions.” 

Leafy excess

This evening, something triggered me to compare the subterranean systems to John Gray’s idea of atheists as inverted believers. It may have simply been the word ‘inverted’ or the pessimistic philosopher himself that struck me, whose work I read with keen interest a few years ago. Terry Eagleton wrote of Gray’s book ‘Seven Types of Atheism’ in 2018 [2], that according to Gray, most humanists are atheists and have substituted humanity for God and that the  popular belief of atheism and religion as opposites, is a mistake. Religions are not theories of the world but forms of life and are less systems of belief than acts of faith and therefore he considered many fanatical atheists as no more than inverted believers. I am curious about this idea just as I am about a tree or a mushroom. I find a tree to be that sort of organism that has its lungs on the outside while the being itself remains embedded in the Earth, just like the mushroom emerges from its subterranean mycelium.

Gills

Well, my poem is not about John Gray or mushrooms or the Lenape or atheists, it is actually on the concept of inversion in trees. I must thank John Gray for inspiring this thought, though.

A seed lay buried to fate in a copse of stately Oak / Leafy susurrations in the crown above, seem to ruffle a verdant cloak / like wind subdued grasses in a glade //

Germination is but an adventitious murmur / seeking the depth of a dark silence / in roots swaddling the Earth like it would have simply crumbled otherwise //

The tree of life is scattershot / hidden from the eye of the Sun / It bends whichever way in seeking baptismal waters / sunk in the innards of the Globe //

There then, where roots are girdled / they chase around themselves in sacred enclosures until / they have choked the trunk to their aerial lung // 

In such viridescence resides poetry / a glint and shimmer until the flicker of Fall / but the trees themselves remain embedded in the mythology of loam //
Speckled in light, unfortunately

References:

[1]Roots Demystified, Chapter 9,  Robert Kourik, 2008. (He did his research for this chapter at the UC Agricultural Libraries at Berkeley and Davis in the late 1980s)~https://www.deeproot.com/blog/blog-entries/how-wide-do-tree-roots-spread

[2]~https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/11/seven-types-atheism-john-gray-review-atheist-believer-material-worldf

Colourful Weekend

Just thought to post something simple today; I shared these on my Insta handle this morning.

Here are a collection of photos from the mural ‘Know thy selfie’ by Canadian artist Donald Robertson, that was displayed at ‘The Shops’ near Hudson Yards, NYC. Also featured today are an excerpt of the poem ‘Necessities’ by Lisel Mueller and the poem, ‘A Physics’ by Heather McHugh. I took them from the collection ‘100 essential modern poems by women, selected and edited by Joseph Parisi and Kathleen Welton’. I find this compilation so illuminating in terms of the poets featured and the poetry selected. The authors have provided some interesting footnotes and biographical information on each poet as well. It makes for a very pleasurable read.

Yodeling philosophy

He laughs, country songs are simply coffee 
heartbreaks, the cloying of sugar love ...

She thinks Hank Williams is the sound of
leaving Virginia, leaving Maryland, leaving
Delaware to board the Lewes Ferry

No matter how I struggle and strive
I'll never get out of this world alive

He yodels philosophy like she almost
always smiles until the poetry rolls off
her fingers and  wrinkles the sea

The water sashays under grey nimbus.
He knots time into a pretzel and smiles
at the spicy honey mustard and ketchup
she pours on a plate. He knows
she hates ketchup.She knows, he knows ...

She points to the lighthouses, so many
line the sea struck hour like beacon guides,

or sirens that save from the sea, that's simply
a viscous burial for rusted feelings,the foam of imaginings.

This boat isn't exhausted yet and she floats
to Cape May on a whimsy, a breeze.

Yodeling philosophy:

Hank Williams singing I will never get out of this world alive

It was Hank Williams and Patsy Cline  all the way to Cape May. There’s nothing like country music to still you into the moment and everything is as it seems, as it is meant to be. The foam of the sea is simply that, what the pandemic ushered in, battles with the ephemeral shadowy past. We cannot make sense of ghosts and the demoniacal of a virus, so we write stories to them, wear masks, but the sea will swallow the foam.

It was delightful this morning, we cycled through the historic district and my vintage and creaky  hotel bicycle had no handle brakes. It was the thrill of childhood once more and I almost fell off laughing at that thing yodeling like Hank Williams 🙂

Banned book

I stopped by at the Strand bookstore yesterday to leaf through the poetry section. There was something about the banned books display that stood as testament to human fallibility.

Of the banned / challenged books displayed, some of which were the usual suspects in the political, it may be of interest to learn that a vast majority of them were the same as were part of library materials and programs challenged in the US in 2019, because they contained LGBTQIA+ issues and themes [1]. Here is a list of questions and answers of how books come to be challenged [2] or the books that have been banned earlier in the US [3]. As the American Library Association explains, censorship can be subtle, almost imperceptible, as well as blatant and overt, but, nonetheless, harmful and it quotes John Stuart Mill on the issue, who wrote in On Liberty: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind …”

It’s no wonder why Leonard Cohen’s poem, Gift, struck me as beautiful, poignantly perceptive of the human conundrum, to speak our truth or not to speak our truth or if there is a truth to be articulated, if at all.

Hallelujah !
I found this delightful poem on a shelf at the Strand

We appear to live in Jose Luis Borges’s “Library of Babel”, locked up in our mental hexagons [4]. If in addition, we have difficulty being compassionate to ourselves, how then, I wonder, can we assimilate the disparate views of others. Is that why writing is banned? I imagine the writing in our own hearts and minds, for we must take great pains to ban it from our own consciousness. Ah, all those psychosomatic illnesses recorded in the DSM-5 must have some as yet indefinable empirical cause, even so the drive to conquer the insurmountable too, comes from the same source. A bundle of contradictions, we are, sweet sentient human beings, or perhaps self protective, highly evolved, mammalian survivors.

There were many books in the store as there are seconds in a day. Is there an algorithm on how books come about on a shelf or sashay, whiplash, fondle, hack through the public imagination, which is a great place to be, for attention has always been a scarce and expensive commodity. I easily gravitated to Mr Cohen’s book, simply because I spoke of him in another poem a while ago. So much for the algorithm and for the one in my head. The wood-wide-web of the internet on the other hand could be a blessed thing, so expansive, aligned with every Uranian vision, no tragedy of the commons and an irreversible flowering of time into the kaleidoscope of the future.

A bag at the bookstore
Eighteen miles of silence
etched in love's ink for
Saturn, chained to affliction.
Strident affections flayed
and banished to pages
tossed to obscurity,
afraid that heart wounds
would burn in the light of day
on soft paper meant for fireplaces,
or italicized to a cold despair
in blue ink on bleak pages
Love in a bookstore is for glory
or for fame, for every name
that yearned in a million ways,
etched souls songs on labouring hearts
hid away from a shelf or a nightingale
or the prying eyes of a million voices
jostling for space, speaking a version
of truth, mine, yours, his, hers, ours, theirs.
But banned to you, I, him, her, us and them
is love that is simply for love, art simply for art, poems simply for poems, science simply for science and life simply for life
Is everything we do for a turbid audience?
Are all poems a settling of soul?
Is the heart simply pulse?
Is life simply surviving breath?

References:
[1]http://www.ala.org/news/state-americas-libraries-report-2020/issues-trends
[2]http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/banned-books-qa
[3]http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/classics

[4]The Library of Babel ~https://sites.evergreen.edu/politicalshakespeares/wp-content/uploads/sites/226/2015/12/Borges-The-Library-of-Babel.pdf

To Sashiko the Spirit

One of the simplest stitches to embroider with, is the straight stitch. It is most useful in joining fabric, mending a rip and even darning. In Japan, Sashiko is a form of needlework to reinforce fabric through the basic straight stitch, in a variety of patterns. There is something beautiful in mending and Sashiko has taken a spiritual dimension for some.

Detail of a mid-19th century kimono decorated using Sashiko, with white cotton threads on an indigo-dyed plain weave background (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Pic credit ~ Wikipedia

Melanie McGrath wrote a wonderful lockdown essay last year, on how Sashiko can help mend a frayed world, help women compensate in small measure for the depradations of aging, achieve a sense of beauty in the incomplete and the imperfect. Sashiko exemplifies, she avers, the principle of Wabi Sabi. It celebrates the repair of a rip, helps locate beauty in a mend.

I think the poem worked it’s way around to framing questions to the answers already inherent in Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. It inspired me to begin writing about this last year but I never got around to finishing this poem that has seen countless revisions.

The inspiration for the poem came from the chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India, as much as from Japanese Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. Both employ the straight stitch.

This is a Tepchi work saree in the Chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India. It’s too intricate to wear so I hung it on a wall instead 🙂 I edited the photo a bit to make visible the otherwise white stitches, on a light pastel cotton fabric. It resembles Sashiko, except the patterns are intricate.

Process and Form:

Fabric becomes a metaphor for spirit in the poem as well as for the body or the heart. I had written it as a prose poem earlier but later moved to free verse and then again to prose. I now think it’s simply a work in progress until I get the philosophy of this in order. It begins as it ends, with a series of rhetorical questions. It holds solutions of Sashiko to healing what is hurt in the physical or conscious realm, such as the body, the mind or heart, the issues all of our humanity faces in the course of a single lifetime , yet there is something else besides our working conscious and subconscious or isn’t there? If there isn’t, life then would feel simply like a limitation. Perhaps, I’m unable to articulate right now this nascent line of thinking but in time …

I haven’t worked on Sashiko yet, but this is the closest example I could find in my closet. An Indian scarf or a ‘dupatta’ that employs the straight stitch.
The one is more like Sashiko. This straight stitch is called ‘Tepchi’ in Chikankari; it isn’t uncommon to have this hand embroidered all over seven yards of fabric for a saree. This particular work is on my cotton scarf or the Indian ‘dupatta’.

Can a fish drown or a butterfly gasp in the wind / 

Scars fester under the gauze of a smile / as the candle wax of youth drips steady in a strange economy / distraught minds melt into a stream reaching to oceans for a salty dissolution / or bruised bone, brines in the salinity of time //

Isn't time simply a callus over passions / an assortment of calluses / and love seems an ephemeral thing, lost in euphemisms / that help stitch sonnets in traumatized tissues of birth / or weave stitches in tercets to erase carcinoma that create maps of the cosmos on skin / Torn unwieldy feelings are elegies cobbled with tatting needles to create a Frankenmonster / that wants to find and punish it's maker / as it reaches back for us in a cold and callused heart, that's a torn limb become wound wood / sequestering in those dark spaces, buried treasures of pungent memories or medals of honour in the life scars we flaunt //

The sun, arbitrates mortality and stills the breath / We are creatures of habit hitched to this solar arc / or the madness of lunations / and posses no philosophy to life until facing our own demise / or the carcass of our dreams washed to the shores of time / To graft a body, to darn a heart or hem the mind is simply a straight stitch that points to sunrise / the pacemaker of a day unravelling the knots of the night //

Yet, how does one Sashiko the spirit as it disintegrates to ash / Does it lay there withered in it's silent demise / exhaled by the wind to unworldly whispers / never knowing itself or how it spirits into flesh / How does one mend a soul that it may love to live or live to love or become love or become life //

I believe the last verse turned a bit sad this morning since a friend lost her brother to COVID and she spoke of a man beloved of his community, who had to be buried in the absence of one, without the accoutrements of a proper burial. There have been more deaths than can be handled in her city, with no undertakers nor priests, families under lockdown unable to console each other. Yet, she wondered of all the plans she made with her brother for a future that he does not have anymore.


Embroidery has always held a special place for me. My grandmother loved to embroider. I have embroidered quite a bit to create beautiful patterns in thread, but Sashiko is about elevating damaged fabric and it’s subsequent repair to a place of beauty. I like the premise of this, in that it engenders healing. It’s truly a Sashiko mindset that requires we rework the patterns on a frayed spirit, innovating on the spiritual canvas so to speak, a different blueprint of stitches for reinforcement of the self to a place of compassion for ourselves and others. Yet, I do wonder of the consciousness we are imbued in; how does this spirit or soul mend, if it exists, if at all?

References:

Sashiko~The Japanese folk art of sashiko mending is a stunning answer to our modern woes~ https://matadornetwork.com/read/japanese-sashiko-mending/

Chikankari~Tepchi Stitch~https://www.utsavpedia.com/motifs-embroideries/tepchistitch/