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/

Upside down in a Tarte Tatin

If there were only one kind of apple on earth, it would have been simple, but in the complex tapestry of cultivars there exist 7,500 kinds of apples grown throughout the world and 2,500 varieties in the US alone [1]. It’s incredible how insatiable our appetites are for novelty and this is only apples.

In the complexity of existence, can one ever aim for simplicity if it means having only one kind of apple for eternity. That apple too, forsakes its form in our kitchens, crumbles into a dessert, disappears into pie, is crushed to oblivion in a smoothie, jellied into a preserve or unmoulds as a tarte tatin.

I made one, a tarte tatin or an upsidedown tart for our guests last evening. I enjoy cooking and the creative endeavour involved in food, even so, it made me wonder, as it did in this case, if the apple tastes better when it is no longer an apple …

I chopped nine Gala apples for a tarte tatin. Gala apples aren’t floury
In the transmutation of an apple, a fruit tastes passion in a steamy kitchen. A cup of sugar sits quietly on a pan, melting in tears until I remember to take it off, salve it in five tablespoons of cold butter, to the whisking of a caramelized fate. This must be chemistry in a kitchen.
Nine Gala apples, cross bred clones, shed their skin and split to hold shape in that molten lava frothing like Vesuvius on the stove. It takes ten minutes for a youthful apple crisp idealism to retire into the cloying influence of worldly caramel.
Apples in caramel,.upside down, waiting to be covered in a blanket of pastry
Two cups of floury expectations amalgamate one stick of cold chopped butter, like a lesson to be learned, some salt, sugar  and some cold water to soft crumb into a tantalizing fate, take some punches, pull together, chill for a while and then roll fine and round like a cotton moon.
An hour, perhaps less, for those apples to stew under cover of this floury sheet in a cast iron skillet. They will ponder here of the sin they were charged of, the temptation of Eve, except that there weren't any apples in Eden. Their only knowledge is of the minimal sugared cyanide in their seeds, the exuberant crisp of their sweet flesh, the blush of their skin. Damned for the fate of Snow White, sleep inducing apples are simply poisoned narratives.
And here, in a kitchen, it's an exorcism of sorts, when I tip the pan over a plate to reveal the alchemy. An apple no longer an apple but a ghost of its past in the spirit of the future.
Tarte Tatin ~ an upside down tart named after the Tatin sisters. It was delicious and turned out in one piece. We enjoyed it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Tarte Tatin

Process and form: I chose narrative style and free verse for this poem along the lines of a visual story telling. Philosophical questions thread the narrative. Related perhaps is an anecdote shared with me by a couple of friends, who had once trekked through Amerindian villages near Mt. Roraima. They spoke of hamlets separated by a river, one that consumed a variety of snail which the others across the river avoided, despite it being abundantly available in their area. This is perhaps an answer to conservative simplicity with a snail commonly found in the central rainforest. If they had a few more varieties they could have all had escargots à la Roraima in cassareep, and in a way make simple snails highly complex.

Notes:
Apple seeds (and the seeds of related plants, such as pears and cherries) contain amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside composed of cyanide and sugar. When metabolized in the digestive system, this chemical degrades into highly poisonous hydrogen cyanide (HCN) [2]

You would need to finely chew and eat about 200 apple seeds, or about 40 apple cores, to receive a fatal dose. The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) says, that exposure to even small amounts of cyanide can be dangerous [3]

References:

[1]~https://web.extension.illinois.edu/apples/facts.cfm

[2]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.britannica.com/amp/story/can-apple-seeds-kill-you

[3]~https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/are-apple-seeds-poisonous#lethal-dose

Recipes:

The best recipe for Tarte Tatin ~https://smittenkitchen.com/2019/11/perfect-apple-tarte-tatin/

For simple pie dough, use this ~https://www.davidlebovitz.com/apple-tart-tarte-fine-aux-pommes-recipe-french-pastry-puff/

Or his recipe for Quince tarte tatin which is just as good ~https://www.davidlebovitz.com/quince-tarte-tatin/

The present, like the faded memories of footsteps, belongs to no one

Shoes on my feet and the road can feel me/
this connection to the inorganic/
the patter of muffled thuds resonate
to core/where water runs in subterranean rivulets/
coursing with the memory of faded footsteps/
The roots should know too that I walked past/
and whisper to the entwined masses beneath/
of narratives of a walk in Eden/ charting territory
that others have stamped their claim to/
Do the spiders know or the groundhogs/
that paper bequeaths ownership/
Do the roots inveigle their way through pebbles
and mud/ staking rights to every inch of space/
My feet cannot reach these places/ and yet
exult in the measure of messages/ to them all,
those within which/ simmer perceptions
of halcyon control/ possessing in permanence simply/
a faded memory of footsteps/
Who can contain the present thus/
It belongs to no one and to everyone/
No paper nor stone nor beast/ nor man
can stamp it’s claim to it.

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This month has been debilitating for those struggling with political theatre, the virus saga, the confusion of norm and reality, the hangover from 2020 and changes in the way we live.

I try to encapsulate this in a poem about a walk, drawing an analogy of how human perception distorts life, time, the material into suiting its own desire for control and possession.

I learn that stability is in the walk, the trailing of footsteps, the coursing of a river, the growth of roots. The present is filled with such. All else is perception.

I would argue against defining it as impermanence, that sounds so pessimistic and grants heaviness to the heart.

A coursing river should not make you unhappy just as the pulsing heart makes you live. Footsteps take you someplace and that’s the beauty to the present.

Look to adventure, every moment every second bleeds forth an opportunity for difference, in change.