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/

Pink ballerina

This poem is for my beloved niece, the only person I can think of, who gardens in a tutu. I adore the way she has begun to thread together complex sentences, now that she is three.

Pink ballerina

I found some impressive Macramé creations (photos further down) at a store and thought to inveigle this art into the poem somehow. It adds to my terminology of thread crafts that I have tried to use in my poetry. It must be a highly meditative effort for those that knot yarn or twine into an elaborate aesthetic.

Enjoy the poem and thank you for reading.

Earth sought succour in root and in the arrival of a pink ballerina / a shortcrust* of yearning crumbled in mud, awaiting that sandy renunciation / to be scooped and patted like loam clay into a concrete planter / This little girl is awash in the business of making mud pies or earth flan / and are they not nursery rhymes she gurgles at the English weather / darkened, of thunderous portent, yet its stiff upper lip quivering in a slow rumble// 

She loops time into a Larks head for Macramé / and in the tapestry of minutes spent sifting sand, moulding clay / they work their way into square knots and clove hitches, those ringing voices of rain clouds that traipsed within hearing / while she was alone at play, when dipping a promise of pink roses into the soil, trying to pot seasons into place//

She is transfixed by the tones of these Aeolian charms / frightfully delighted that they resonate in a symphonic choral with her /singing of mirthful gnomes, of winged fairies, scurrying field mice, musical robins, thieving magpies, startled bolts of lightening / and perhaps of love being the sameness of loam found in every forest throbbing with root reaching root//

Yet the burgeoning crescendo lacks timbre of the flowers that have not yet bloomed on the sameness of leaf / that are a blur of mystery plants awash in green / There, in this leafy overwhelm, she bellows a tantrum across the Atlantic that I can hear / for she is a fledgling gardener and what use is taxonomy in mud play//

She gurgles rhymes to placate the thunder / to outshine the sun / and finds the lexicon is of limited skein, a finitude of hues in the spectrum / even as the legionnaires of weather rush to patent the syllables of love's petrichor, consonants of battling clouds, vowels of weeping skies / selfsame synonyms ricocheting in unison//

She is unafraid to rhyme in synchrony for the notes disperse in a swollen rain cloud showering poems / In this garden, she can be the sweetest thing for she invents love, as she pirouettes around rose bushes, clematis and tulips / with a soil scoop in one hand, a wand in the other, to ensure it is indeed magic she does//

Process and form:

I worked from a photo that’s been edited to a painted style, so this should count as a narrative and Ekphrastic exercise perhaps.

Macramé knots mentioned in the poem [1]:

In Macramé, a lark’s head knot is used to attach a cord or thread to something .

A square knot is one of the most widely used Macramé knots and it can be created as left facing or right facing. Square knots need to have at least 4 cords (2 working cords and 2 filler cords) but can have more.

A Clove Hitch, also called a Double Half Hitch, creates lines in a Macramé projects. They can be worked horizontally, diagonally, and on occasion, vertically.

Reference:

[1]How to Macramé: 7 Basic Knots to Master~https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/basic-macrame-knots-4176636


*I am compelled to add this shortcrust pastry recipe inspired by David Lebovitz. He has happy anecdotes to share of baking in France and his recipes are simply elegant

For the tart dough 
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85g) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (140g) flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Make the tart dough by mixing the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on low-to-medium speed, until combined, about 1 minute. (But do not whip.) Add the egg yolk and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Mix in the flour and salt on low speed, until the dough comes together. If necessary, add a sprinkle of water if the dough feels too dry. Don't overmix it. (I often stop the mixer before the dough is done and mix it by hand, to avoid overmixing.)

French Apple Tart (Tarte normande)~https://www.davidlebovitz.com/aux-pommes-french-apple-tart-tarte-normande/

Yellow Plane On Blue Sky

Now who knew, dentists possess the Philosopher’s Stone to turn teeth to dust and dust to teeth …

A vintage toy plane I photographed at a store
The dentist pierces my numb mouth 
A bee sting, I drool maybe.
The attendant sucks it all out.
A throbbing cheek, a swollen lip,
comfortably numb ...
"Can you feel it?" they ask.
"Can you feel your lip?" they touch.
I am looking out a blue sky window
lying in a cathedral of tooth fairies.
"How do you feel here?" they persist
and feel beneath my unfeeling lip.
"Nice" I say. They raise a collective eyebrow.
"Nice" I say, "I see a yellow plane flit
across a blue sky, it's so poetic".
They look too, they laugh,
"Its the carrier* ferrying packages"
across the sky, as they prod and pry.
"Raise your hand if it hurts,
this may be noisy".
I raise my hand.
"It is a bit noisy, the drilling" they offer
"No, it smells like burnt tooth" I assure them.
They turned teeth to dust and dust to gold.
Its Alchemy I think.

The health care industry in the US is the bastion of alchemy. Health insurance is the philosopher’s stone perhaps. I am always surprised by the disparate costs of services and treatments across the continents, for something as basic as teeth but there’s nothing that a healthy dose of Economics can’t help understand or assimilate the logic of.

My dentist though, is kind, considerate and did a wonderful job that day. The Attendant was amazing and we shared a few stories. The tenor of my poem threads my vivid imagination but the plane was real, the sky was blue and I said what I said too. *It was DHL they said, I couldn’t see the name, a courier service then if not a carrier to be precise.

The picture cutout is from a set of vintage toy planes I photographed at a store.

Something off the internet: USAAF and US Navy aircraft entered the war with the classic white star in the blue disk with the red dot in the middle. (Pre war to May, 1942). If the center points of the star are connected (generating an inverted pentagram), the red dot would just touch the lines. The outer points of the white star go right to the edge of the blue disk [1]

Reference:

[1]~http://www.bowersflybaby.com/stories/army_paint.html

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

The locus of evil

I find mob violence a very alarming facet of human behaviour. How communities deal with a member that they may or may not know, especially persons that commit social infarctions, those that they feel are beyond redemption, cannot be fixed, who don’t toe the line, the kind of person whose antisocial behaviour vexes them as they tire of him/her is of great interest to me to try understand human proclivities. It was an anecdote recounted by someone I knew in Tanzania, of a case of mob violence they had witnessed in Kariakoo market once, in Dar es Salaam. The paper referenced below [1] , sheds light on many forms of community violence in the country and the reasons behind it. It also discusses how a community or a family deals with the loss of a relative so assaulted or lynched by a mob. The traits of persons at the receiving end of mob rage appear to be that of an individual bereft entirely of social capital or even an investment in the communal purpose.

Process: I have written about mob violence earlier in ‘Primal‘ and will write again. This poem though has gone through countless revisions and it is still far from finished. It’s written in the narrative style but it has no meter yet. Let me consider it a work in progress.

A millionth of a millisecond is marked in millet /  Gunny sacks of Wimbi in Kariakoo market, line up like hours in the day / Seeds, fine as mustard that will constellate a bubbling porridge in blinking stars /  the molten lava of uji served for breakfast / They sieved it through their fingers like sand / these women draped in soft cotton kanga / negotiating  a banter / with men selling millet //
Over there, glass beads on the counter, simply seconds in the day/ fine as Wimbi, colour of blood / for a ceremonial collar / Maasai men buy beads as fine as millet / for women to  thread unity in community / in a necklace called Umoja / in blood beads / on a market day like everyday, the pulse of an economy / the flow of goods through a vein of commerce // 
He is here too / spiralling through millet like a singular wind / faceless in a crowd of millet / one of millet / he seeks time like all of millet / The seconds gush forth, a rolling river of communal hunger / to survive to another day /  
Community couldn't mend him, regiment him or shackle him / to the amalgam of a communal self serving/ so he is simply Mwizi today / He thieves time in a shiny watch, a magpie stealing luck / spiriting it away like hours in the day / Is success longer in stolen seconds ? The sleight of hand, a practised art / In a movie, we would have rooted for him / 
But today someone screams Mwizi ! Resounding chorus of voices in a cascade of Mwizi, Mwizi, Mwizi ricocheting through the chaos of sweaty passions / surging seventh wave in the stupor of a dying day / women heaving empathic bosoms for a thief assaulted their collective breast /his dagger thrust at a united Manhood  // 
Mwizi makes men of a mob,  warriors all in symphonies of death cries /  communal body rises as one against one / furies raging in whirlwinds / as fear submits him to clay in the hands of children / Mwizi, a  soft dough of resignation / simply kindling to a spark of communal rancor at the festival of burning daylight / a human torch, burnt to ashes, burnt to ashes, burnt to ashes //
Sixty seconds make a minute / do sixty people make umoja ... unity ... The hours gather in day and rage in bile / A shiny watch marked in fleeting moments, mere existence / When the clock strikes, does the hour exist ?  When a mob forms, where then, is the locus of evil ?

Wimbi ~ finger millet, Kanga ~ cotton fabric draped by women, Umoja ~ unity, Uji ~ porridge , Mwizi ~ thief (kiswahili).

Further reading:

[1] Community violence in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: A mixed methods study by Anne H. Outwater1, Edward Mgaya, Jacquelyn C. Campbell (retrieved on 19/apr/21)