The Golden Fleece

There are plants that look like a tangle of golden threads. These holostemparasites lack the green of chlorophyll and the ability to photosynthesize but they have unique structures called ‘haustoria’ that penetrate into the vascular tissues of a host plant to access their nutrients, specifically into the phloem tissues, so they are phloem feeders [1] They lack roots and leaves and I was very disturbed to find a mass of them atop a patch of Ivy. Yesterday, there were two tangles and they spread so fast,  I had never thought golden dodder to exist anywhere around this area. Cuscuta campestris , as this species is known in the botanical world, most certainly startled me on my walk.

Cuscuta campestris

Researchers are unable to explain how Cuscuta evolved. They have since placed the plant in the family Convolvulaceae, unlike the Cuscutaceae that I had learnt of during my degree. The plant is phylogenetically close to the tribe Ipomoea that contains all those popular twining species we know of, like Morning Glory and Sweet Potatoes, and here it is, amassed on Ivy, making me uneasy and yet, I marvel at the nature of being.

One simply requires removal of its golden twining stems and pruning of the host plant, so that the garden looks less of a mess. Yet, the plant is an ideal species in research due to its lack of differentiation of plant tissue like other complex Angiosperms. The plant can even create a bridge between different plants for transmission of diseases from one host to another, which can be of immense importance in scientific investigations. The haustorium though, remains little understood as a specialized outgrowth that is unlike any other found in the plant world as also does the fact that Cuscuta isn’t typically host specific.

Dodder haustoria penetrating host stem. | Credit: Spike Walker. Wellcome Images. Light micrograph of a transverse section through dodder (Cuscuta sp) and its host stem, showing haustoria penetrating the host tissues.

In the manner of man’s anthropomorphizing ways, Dodder has been described as possibly the most intelligent plant using taste, smell, movement and touch to manipulate other plants, and hijacking and transferring its genes, large molecules like DNA and RNA, including viruses through its specialized structures. Dodder is also able to use messenger RNA to track the condition of the host plant or to alter it which is similar to horizontal gene transfer between plants and microbes used for the genetic modification of plants species [2]

It is a very unusual holoparasite that even produces greenish to white flowers arranged in a cymose inflorescence. The seeds of Cuscuta campestris may have arrived on the patch of Ivy, dispersed by wind, water, birds, other animals, or by man with machines and planting material contaminated by dodder seeds. Children too, interestingly, can be agents of dispersal in that they tend to ferry the plant stems across a distance [3] The plant is of no economic importance and is considered a noxious weed and here it is, sullying the garden and I don’t know what to think.

So I wondered of each haustorium embedded, producing biochemicals that could dissolve phloem components of the Ivy for absorption, without in fact dissolving itself. Was the Ivy in pain? Was the Dodder, a sadistic plant? Its simple stems had matted the surface and would shade the leaves of the Ivy if left to its own devices, reducing photosynthesis and eventually killing the plant. On the other hand, the Ivy itself seems like an opportunist, crowding out the surface, because horticulturists simply appreciated its cosmetic allure in having climbed historically valuable edifices and now deem it a useful ornamental.

The poem is about that which we do not understand except in the language we know of or the stories we hear, whether those be scientific, cultural  or mythological. This tangled mess of Dodder, that I reluctantly call beautiful,  demanded a divine origin and the Greek myth of the golden fleece seemed most apt. (I have added notes below, on the story, that make for interesting reading) The poem is an attempt at a synthesis of our limited knowledge through the creative lens of our collective illusions.

The Golden Fleece of Dodder 

The world was upside down for a gilded moment,
like roots seeking sun, a golden fleece over Ivy
and your tangled mess lifted to the heavens.

This savage union demanded you twine so,
salivating ecstasy within sentient stratum.
Do you feel, as you kneel and grope leafy vines,

the same as when Poseidon had his way
with Theophane, to let out his inner beast
and make you in his image.

You wore it for kingship, golden, fibrous,
for now you walk over your leafy subjects,
taxing their sunny labours and feeling svelte.

Your weave is the hurried knit of a harried tale
and children playing Argonauts,  will snip at your aphorisms
to pass them on in manner of plundering recruits.

They constellate the land like you seed the stars
in the myths of man; What fascination holds such simple staff
that morphs to serpent on yielding strand?

Notes:

In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is the fleece of Chrysomallos, the winged ram with golden wool, which was held in Colchis. The fleece, a symbol of authority and kingship, figures in the tale of the hero Jason and his crew of Argonauts, who set out on a quest for it by the order of King Pelias, in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly. Through the help of Medea, they acquire the Golden Fleece. The story, of great antiquity, was current in the time of Homer (eighth century BC). It survives in various forms, among which the details vary [4](Wikipedia)

The ram was fathered by Poseidon in his primitive ram-form with the nymph, Theophane, the granddaughter of Helios, the sun-god. The golden ram saved Phrixus, the son of Athamas the Minyan, a founder of Halos in Thessaly but also king of the city of Orchomenus in Boeotia (a region of southeastern Greece) and the goddess Nephele. The ram took the boy Phrixus to Colchis and in essence, this act returned the golden ram to the god Poseidon, and became the constellation Aries. Phrixus settled in the house of Aeetes, son of Helios the sun god. He hung the Golden Fleece preserved from the ram on an oak in a grove sacred to Ares (Mars), the god of war and one of the Twelve Olympians. The fleece was guarded by a never-sleeping dragon with teeth that could become soldiers when planted in the ground. The dragon was at the foot of the tree on which the fleece was placed. In some versions of the story, Jason attempts to put the guard serpent to sleep [4](Wikipedia)

References:

[1]~https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17429145.2010.541945

Takeshi Furuhashi, Katsuhisa Furuhashi & Wolfram Weckwerth (2011) The parasitic mechanism of the holostemparasitic plant Cuscuta, Journal of Plant Interactions, 6:4, 207-219, DOI: 10.1080/17429145.2010.541945

[2]~https://jonlieffmd.com/blog/plant-intelligence-primer-update-2015

[3]~https://keys.lucidcentral.org/keys/v3/eafrinet/weeds/key/weeds/Media/Html/Cuscuta_campestris_(Golden_Dodder).htm

[4]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Fleece

Image Credit:

Picture Credits~https://mappingignorance.org/2016/08/22/parasite-plant-check/

The Field Of The Embroidered Quilt

An embroidered bed spread inspired this post today, a story that was set in motion when a dear friend of ours had to make a hasty exit from Dhaka this week as the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was getting ready for a complete lockdown. She had earlier lived in places considered very difficult and stressful, where one could be expected to leave within the hour in case of an emergency, but never quite predicted the present day Covid-19 scenario, in peaceful countries like Bangladesh for instance, where movement has been compromised like it may be in zones of conflict. As per a recent government circular, in view of the  current surge  in  Covid-19  cases, beginning the first of July, movements  all  over  Bangladesh  have been  strictly restricted for one week with exception  to  movements  related  to  emergency  services  e.g.  health  services, police  stations,  fire  service,  electricity,  food  and  water  supply,  gas/fuel  supply, pharmacy, internet and telephone services.


As an expatriate, meeting or connecting with family members who live in different time zones has never been easy, more so during these times. Human society grows increasingly insular with invisible walls in place and now, through disease. Something about the pandemic makes me apprehensive for global diversity through free movement or perhaps that’s been an idealistic notion all along. In any case, our friend is safely with us until things stabilise in Dhaka.


It has been an extremely busy week and I missed posting, although my writing continues with the same intensity. Blogging sometimes takes on a retrograde flair and the writing moves inwards, given perhaps, severe blog fatigue. Then comes along a bed spread from Bangladesh; I believe it merited a post, because it is very much like poetry.
Earlier in May this year, I had posted a poem on Sashiko, [1] which is the art of reinforcing fabric through running stitch embroidery in Japan. In Bangladesh, rural women have long engaged in a similar pursuit of reinforcing the fabric of old sarees (a traditional garment worn by women) through running stitch embroidery and motifs in a form called Nakshi Kantha [2]. In West Bengal in India, kantha is still a very popular form of embroidery as is the Tepchi straight stitch of Chikankari in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Our friend brought me this beautiful specimen of Nakshi Kantha on a huge bedspread that looks so divine, a result of many hours of painstaking needle work by hand. It has artistic motifs  or ‘naksha‘ (in Bengali) all over, an intricate border and a straight stitch runs through the entire fabric.

In earlier times the kantha stitch was used to embroider red, blue and black patterns on [usually] white fabric, by women, during their leisure time or on rainy days. Sometimes years were spent converting old sarees or dhotis (Men’s traditional garments) into thick, embroidered quilts. Designs were outlined by needles and thread and simply filled in, each product distinctly different from another. Today, patterns are stamped or traced and Nakshi Kantha is produced commercially. Traditional designs are influenced by religion or the environment. Motifs in this form, range from lotuses, wheels, solar or lunar depictions to the tree of life, birds, kalka or paisley, and leaves too, that can employ a vast variety of stitches, with the basic being the running stitch or Kantha, followed by Chatai or pattern darning, Kaitya or bending stitch, weave running stitch, Jessore stitch (a variation of darning stitch), threaded running stitch, anarasi or Holbein stitches as well as the herringbone stitch, satin stitch, backstitch and cross-stitch.

Quite a few of these stitches found expression on the bed spread I feel so privileged to receive. The pictures include the bag it arrived in, which in itself is a fine, hand embroidered work of art, on a fragment of a colourful saree. Kantha is used to embroider various articles of daily use ranging from quilts, prayer mats, covers for the Quran, bed spreads, wallets, kerchiefs and other such.  Essentially,  kantha is an expression of creativity, an embroidery of a poem on a lazy day or perhaps an intense passion. As the writer of one blog [4] said about this form “kantha making is very rewarding. The concentration and contemplation that is required in building the harmony in color, design and execution is akin to a spiritual exercise. The kantha maker has to put all her energies into a single basket of mind and execute the design. At the end the kantha means more to the maker than to the viewer. Hence it is a lonely art and is totally bound by the whims of the artist.” It makes me think of what poetry is to me along the lines of a creative solitude and a solitary pursuit. It is the kind of embroidered expanse you hold in your hands and wonder how you threaded those words into existence, those patterns and hues that make you happy, yet sad that there is no undoing an old design, you balk at the thought of repeating one too, so you simply start over with fabric, thread and a new pattern, in a spurt of growth, like life.


I took the opportunity to put the spotlight on a narrative poem written on Kantha by Bangladeshi poet Jasimuddin [3]. Popularly called Polli Kabi (Folk or Pastoral Poet) he was a Bengali lyricist, composer and writer widely celebrated for his modern ballad sagas in the pastoral mode where his  Nakshi Kanthar Math is considered among the best lyrical poem in the Bengali language. As a key figure for the revival of pastoral literature in Bengal during the 20th century, he also wrote poems, ballads, songs, dramas, novel, stories and memoirs. I don’t know Bengali but it is a language that resembles my mother tongue Konkani, which is spoken in Goa along the Arabian Sea Coast, perhaps because of words that share similar roots in Sanskrit. Jasimuddin’s poem Naskhi Kanthar Math or ‘Field of Embroidered Quilt’ was published in 1929, pre-independence India. An extraordinary book, it sold more than half a million copies before independence. 

The poet Jasimuddin Photo by ~Jennifer A. Cutting, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. 1951 Source: Wikipedia


Featured in the poem are scenes of rural Bangladesh, its traditions, struggles and way of life and begins with a drought scene where the villagers pray for rain at a socio-religious ritual. At this event a young man called Rupai meets a village girl named Shaju in a classic case of love at first sight. The lovers get married in the story but the bliss does not last long for when thugs come to loot the crops of the villagers which results in a conflict, five people die and Rupai is wrongly accused of their murder. To escape the situation, he sees no other way but to flee from the scene and leave his beloved wife. Although rural customs and festivities like the harvest, fishing and a wedding, have been emphasised in the poem, in addition, the love story itself is very tragic, for in an attempt to protect her, the couple are torn asunder by Rupai leaving.  Shaju embroiders in solitude, a quilt in Kantha, depicting stories of her life with Rupai, a quilt that she asks her mother to lay on her grave when she dies. She does eventually die heartbroken, pining for her beloved, without ever seeing him again and the quilt is accordingly placed on her grave. Later in the poem, the villagers discover the dead body of a man wrapped in the coverlet, atop the grave, which is identified as that of her beloved Rupai.


It is the kind of story that captures the imagination of everyone that loves stories woven around themes of love, idyllic countrysides, seasons, passions, conflicts, tragedy and redemption. Excerpts below are from E.M. Milford’s translation of Jasimuddin’s poem, featured on a blog [4]. I managed to translate the original Bengali text through Google Translate which did help me thread the narrative and understand the gist of the poem better.

Jasimuddin brings to life, the pulse of the rural landscape and of its denizens in a way that was befitting of the Nature Cult of other famous Bengali poets like Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam and yet, he very openly spoke of the struggles of rural folk, the sordid aspects of rustic life without denying the subjects of his poems, their basic humanity.

Black is the pupil of my eye,
Black the ink with which I write
Black is birth, and Death is Black
Black is the universal Night.
Black is the Son of the Soil and yet
Victor is he of All!
He who with gold
Has credit small.

Yet, the melancholy of grief and illustrating for the reader, the sameness of it across age and other divides, is his most famous Bangla elegy, Kobor (Graves) from his composition Rakhali ; where in a dramatic monologue he expresses the searing depth of grief of an old man speaking to his only surviving descendant, his grandson, at having lost all his loved ones to death, especially the loss of his wife, whose grave he tends to for thirty years. [6]

“এইখানে তোর দাদীর কবর ডালিম গাছের তলে, 
তিরিশ বছর ভিজায়ে রেখেছি দুই নয়নের জলে।“
“Here, under the pomegranate tree, is your grandmother's grave;
For thirty years my tears have kept it green.”
(Graves by Jasimuddin,Stanza 1, Line:1-2)

Poetry is best understood through the language it is composed in, a translation may not do it justice although it enables a reader to appreciate context, as well as the immediate concerns and passions of those that are separate from us.

Some of the poetry requires that one understand the cultural context as well; for example, breaking bangles and tearing clothes as mentioned in a stanza of Nakshi Kanthar Math,  is a symbol of bereavement and grief at being widowed. When Rupai expresses grave remorse at having to leave his wife, he symbolically compares it to leaving her widowed.

Weeping, his wife says,
"Tell me what has happened. Where have you been hurt?
Let me see! Where is your wound ! Is it very painful ?"
"Painful is my wound, my sweet, but not in my body.
I have tom your sari, broken your bangles,
Broken your anklets, broken the necklace round your throat.

Further in the poem Nakshi Kanthar Math, the act of submitting a life event to embroidery is also described just as it happens in the lives of those women that continue to embroider in Kantha for their personal use. In fact, as our friend tells me, women in Bangladesh have sought to steal time for themselves through the very act of embroidery, even if in the company of other women so they could find some solace in such a collective, away from their familial pressures. Current times have turned a mostly solitary domestic art into a cottage industry, pushing some women towards entrepreneurship.

Spreading the embroidered quilt
She works the livelong night,
As if the quilt her poet were
Of her bereaved plight.
Many a joy and many a sorrow
Is written on its breast;
The story of Rupai's life is there,
Line by line expressed.

She is a daughter beloved at home
When the embroidery begins;
Later a husband sits at her side;
Her red lips hum as she sings.
The self-same quilt today she opens,
But those days ne'er return;
Those golden dreams of joy have vanished,
To ashes grey they burn.
Stitch by stitch she carefully draws
The last scene of pain,

I was happy to learn of Kantha celebrated thus in poetry, as it does too the very act of embroidering a life story. It exalts the woman, who in the art of stitching together old fabrics, tries to reclaim her spirit through passionate needlework. It is as if Shaju, in an artful case of transference of expectations and her mortal being, places even the scene of her death and an eventual meeting with her husband in an afterlife, onto a quilt. The product of her passions is strangely prophetic as well. Life to some, may simply be the pursuit of what we find missing in our fabric of existence or an apathetic resigned denial that nothing really matters. In the case of the quilt, there is something poignant yet significant in how Shaju embroiders her past life onto a quilt and in a remarkable expression of agency, even proceeds to weave in her death. It is a story of profound grief, but it is also a tale of seeking pause while parsing life in hue on fabric, it is not a tale of apathy but a tale of creating meaning of something that is inexplicably difficult to come to terms with. It is only a story but for the ones that embroider to express themselves in Kantha and channel their creativity through it, there can be nothing more real than the very act of transcending the mundane through beautiful art. As someone who loves embroidery, I find it heartening that Bangladesh’s pastoral poet embroidered his most famous poem around the theme of a Nakshi Kantha quilt and I was able to learn of it thanks to the beautiful bed spread I received.

Yet, as Jasimuddin notes in his poetry, pastoral poems may give us a glimpse of what appear to be the concerns of others but it is what people actually do, that reveals what is truly important to them and that cannot always be transcribed into words. Sometimes, it can only be embroidered. This post is a tribute to those artisans, not to diminish in any way their creative passions that may not necessarily be reflected in works of beauty they are compelled to mass produce for commercial use. This is for quilts embroidered singlehandedly by them, in their own life stories.

What may we know of the secret sorrow
Of the shepherd in the field?
In vain we search in our joy and our pain
This secret of his to yield.
Our griefs written in verse and book
That those who read may know.
But dumb are the griefs of the shepherd boy
Which only the flute can show.

Not all is tragically bleak and sad in the poem, there is also poetry in the way people express their immediate concerns, like wishing for rain that means everything for the harvest and thereby for livelihood and survival. Verrier Elwin (anthropologist, tribal activist) [7] described these and other aspects of the poem ‘The field of the embroidered quilt‘ so succinctly, (especially of E. M. Milford’s translation) that provide for a glimpse of life in Bengal during colonial times: The latter part of the poem is almost unbearable after this, but that is as it should be. It is a proof of the skill with which the author has entranced us. This is no Shakespearean tragedy-the working out of tragic character to a tragic end, the awful designs of fate drawing to their desperate conclusion. It is the tragedy with which all .who know village life in Bengal are only too familiar; meaningless waste, fruitless despair, hopeless disaster against which man is powerless.· So does cholera suddenly invade a valley, so does the capricious weather destroy the crops or wild animals steal the treasured cattle. Yet out of this strange meaningless existence of loss and separation, hunger and frustration, the villager (as I have seen again and again and as Jasim Uddin portrays most beautifully) achieves the highest ends. His are the values of constancy and courage, love and hope.

I have chosen to include what appears at the beginning of the poem, [8] which a prayer for rain at a socio-religious ritual. It is a beautiful way to see the world even if the heavens are grey and the clouds are dark. This prayerful poem is a way of assuming ownership of sorrow at a drought, in how people demand from the heavens, rain for a parched Earth.

'Black Cloud, come down, come down;
Flower-bearing Cloud, come down, come;
Cloud like cotton, Cloud like dust,
O let your sweat pour down!
Blind Cloud, Blind Cloud, come,
Let your twelve Brother Cloudlets come,
Drop a little water that we
May eat good rice.

Straight Cloud, Strong Cloud, come,
Lazy Cloud, Little Cloud, come,
I will sell the jewel in my nose and buy
An umbrella for your head!
Soft Rain, gently fall,
In the house the plough neglected lies,
In the burning sun the farmer dies,
O Rain with laughing-face, come!'

References:
[1]~https://davinasolomon.org/2021/05/05/upcycling/

[2]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakshi_kantha

[3]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jasimuddin

[4]~http://sos-arsenic.net/lovingbengal/quilt.html

[5]~https://m.theindependentbd.com//arcprint/details/73517/2016-12-23

[6]~https://www.eajournals.org/wp-content/uploads/Thomas-Gray-and-Jasimuddin.pdf of an old man narrating

[7]~https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-177828

[8]~http://sos-arsenic.net/lovingbengal/jasi-poems.html#1.2.8.3

A Levantine Myth

The NASA’s Discovery Program has proposed a new mission called Trident, which, much like the three-pronged spear carried by the ancient Roman sea god Neptune, is set to explore Neptune’s largest and most unusual moon, Triton [1].  In Greek mythology, Triton was the son of Poseidon, who is Neptune in Roman myths. Triton, as Neptune’s son, blows a sea conch [2]. Triton, as Neptune’s moon, runs retrograde, As Neptune rotates, Triton orbits in the opposite direction and no other large moon in the solar system does that. Triton has an unusual atmosphere with charged particles, a layer called the ionosphere which is 10 times more active than that of any other moon in the solar system. The question arose from when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago; How could an ancient moon six times farther from the Sun than Jupiter still be active and if there were something in its interior that is still warm enough to drive the resurfacing  activity observed in the images taken by Voyager 2. This trait is strange because ionospheres are generally charged by solar energy, but Triton and Neptune are 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth, so researchers hypothesise that some other energy source must be at work. (Factoid: It takes 165 Earth years for Neptune to complete one orbit around the Sun). The Trident mission will launch sometime in October 2025 (with a backup in October 2026) and would take advantage of a ‘once in a 13-year’ window, when the Earth is properly aligned with Jupiter so that the spacecraft can use the gravitational pull of Jupiter as a slingshot straight to Triton for an extended 13 day encounter in 2038. I was intrigued by the icy volcanism hypothesised of Triton,  that somehow merged with my poem today, on a surprisingly and seemingly distant topic as can be found in a Levantine salad called tabbouleh [3].

A new Discovery mission proposal, Trident would explore Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, which is potentially an ocean world with liquid water under its icy crust. Trident aims to answer the questions outlined in the graphic illustration above.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
[1]


Now there’s a place called Jonestown, a Northern Lebanon town, where beneath approximately 12.4 square miles, with dimensions of roughly 2 by 6 miles lies the Jonestown Volcanic Field [4]. There’s no volcanic activity there, but it is a mysterious area where the bedrock isn’t well exposed. The volcanics here are composed of igneous rocks (e.g. basalt) which became ‘overprinted’ or deformed during when the ancient supercontinent Pangaea assembled. It is possible that the volcanic rocks came from underwater volcanoes of a mid-ocean ridge or seamount that leaked magma, which cooled into rocks and slowly moved farther away from their point of origin. There is limestone around this volcanic field area, the age of which is unknown since it contains no fossils. The area is also thickly covered in vegetation which makes it difficult to analyse the soil. Reddish-purple soil, for instance, would indicate igneous rocks, unfortunately, most of the igneous rocks around Jonestown are quite weathered and fractured which makes this analysis difficult [5]. Now you see, Jonestown is actually a borough in Lebanon County in Southeastern Pennsylvania and you may have thought it to be somewhere in the Levant 🙂

Sunday Tabbouleh


Sunday had something of the Levant in it. In fact it was lovely with friends and we even celebrated Lebanon as we took over some Tabbouleh that I was able to make and a delicious Baba Ganoush, which I finally got the hang of. I’ve been inspired thus, to write a poem for Tabbouleh, for Lebanon, for the volcanic field of Lebanon county and share my recipe too. The universe is generous in its prompts 😉

An early sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London from1622–1623. Carved from marble. The scene is thought to be making loose allusions to Neptune and Triton aiding Trojan ships as described, by Virgil or Ovid or both, together with additional material. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Neptune bids Triton to blow his shell to calm the waves. Picture Credit: Yair Haklai (Wikipedia) [7]

I also tried to revisit characters in Virgil’s Latin epic poem Aeneid, those of Aeneas and Dido. There is something about the epic building exercises of writers that make books and ideas potent, dangerous and powerful [6], especially since they haunt the imagination long after the text loses its relevance. Academic interest helps to perpetuate myth, project ideas, thread them into contemporary narrative. In the myth of Aeneas and Dido, I find once again the sad tropes of emotional lustful females and calculating dutiful males, that haunt the patriarchy of ancient Rome, its marble male stoicism. The intervention of Neptune, Venus, Cupid, Juno, Jupiter and other heavenly bodies, obliterates free will and I am led to conclude that writers of popular epics tend to undercut the idea of a free evolution by a rigid fatalism of sorts, in self fulfilling descriptions of war as inevitable, morals as convenient struts, a veil of perceptive haze and other such. So I take a leaf out of Virgil’s characterisation and strive to rehabilitate Dido, from her fatal distraction (by the serial deserter, the Trojan Aeneas, through the unfortunate intervention of Cupid and Venus) to reclaiming her wholesome power as the resultant icy volcanics of the innards of the Earth. I also took a bit of liberty with nomenclature here, to epitomise or perhaps embody Dido in Gaia (Her Latin equivalent would be Tellus or Terra, but this Roman goddess sounds a bit marginalised unlike Gaia). I believe, trauma makes us lose personal power in that we volunteer it to a soul lethargy, to life ennui, to the blackout of sadness. Myth-making helps us process turbulence, then again, myth-borrowing (taking Virgil too seriously for example) obstructs self care and self reconstruction. It is important to make our own myths, I believe.


I know it all seems like a convoluted way to arrive at a poem (I should come around to changing its style and structure later, if I feel), but given my habit of circling a mountain before arriving at the top, I should think nothing would trigger fear in the descent then, ha ha 😉

A Levantine Myth

In Parsley, a Levantine munificence accreted together in Tabbouleh,
herbage that covers fractured bedrock in a poultice of healing.

Secreted within, lie igneous outpourings of bloodied tomatoes, 
those solid affections that had welled through an ocean floor 

as Neptune quelled Gaia's contractions, her waters seeking to burst 
beneath the wrinkled surface of a salty sea. She, an underbelly of sky,
  
pregnant in the overwhelm of magma, sweating out her heart in fire, 
muted like a moon of Neptune, in his retrograde soliloquies, yet mirroring

hers in icy resurfacings of skin. The God of the Sea,  boils an amnion  
to hazy mists, how deep will his trident plunge to dislodge those Trojan ships 

of deceptions ? Yet, Triton blows a conch for Gaia, not for man's duelling 
and his warring tribes. He soothes her feverish gnashing of thighs

labouring continents. Some fires burn in water, like desultory heartbeats
moving the pace of rocks through the ocean floor, spiriting away

to stranger places still, marking maps of memories in the beauty of 
a stillborn magma. The limestone they say is no blood relation to such

alien fructification, those oceanic intruders, bleeding still, spilling
secrets in reds and purples. The acid tears spilled in lemons merely 

neutralised in syllables, sedimented to a community of  limestone, 
that possess no archaic remnants reminiscing through dead bones,

an age of glory. Now beauty lies in herbage over once raucous magma
and traces of a salty sea, freshness of life trailing her veins, in fragrance of Parsley


This is a bit of a retrograde recipe for Tabbouleh. It consists not of bulgar wheat, but red quinoa. Seasoned simply in lemon juice and salt, as per taste, the way to make flavourful Tabbouleh is to source very fresh herbs. I used flat leaf parsley, coriander leaves and some mint. The diced tomatoes need to be drained and the quinoa cooled before use. Add extra virgin, cold pressed and unfiltered olive oil for salve, so to speak. You can try scooping up the salad with lettuce leaves or finely chop lettuce hearts into the mixture. Add cumin and paprika if you like and spice is the flavour of life. Don't worry about measures and such technicalities, this isn't a mission to Triton 🙂

References:

[1]~https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/proposed-nasa-mission-would-visit-neptunes-curious-moon-triton

[2]~http://www.columbia.edu/dlc/garland/deweever/T/triton.htm#:~:text=TRITON%2C%20a%20sea%20god%2C%20was,and%2C%20later%2C%20for%20Aeneas.

[3]~https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1012585-lebanese-tabbouleh

[4]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/lebtown.com/2019/08/30/what-exactly-is-the-jonestown-volcano/%3famp

[5] Tristan J. Ashcroft, (University at Albany, State University of New York), thesis, Field relations, structural geology, and geochemistry of the Jonestown Volcanic Field ~https://scholarsarchive.library.albany.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=cas_daes_geology_etd

[6]~https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/15/is-the-aeneid-a-celebration-of-empire-or-a-critique

[7]~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neptune_and_Triton

For Dad

It’s Father’s Day, that one day out of 365, usually observed on a third Sunday of June in over 111 countries and it’s quite a thing, so says the internet.

I sent a great deal of virtual love to my dad like I do everyday 😄 but the day being Father’s Day and all, I would like to re-blog a poem I wrote for him nine years ago. The poetic style, my punctuation etc etc makes me cringe but the sentiment remains the same. Those were the days of Skype.

Skypeing; is there even such a word? I thought it was a word then 😂

Skypeing with my father (July, 2012)

All conversations aren’t worded,

When I Skype with my father.

We are just comfortable in our own silences,

While he catches a game on the TV,

Knowing I’m at the other end of the line.

As I punch out my assignments,

He hears a furious click click click,

Sometimes a monosyllabic grunt

Acknowledging each other,

While he’ll pose a random query

And I give a delayed answer.

But there is no hurry,

As he watches men rush behind a ball

And After a while I say,

“Dad, I’ve got to go, will talk tomorrow”

Or perhaps share another comfortable silence

Then again, all parents aren’t cut in the same cloth. Here is a brilliant poem by Sylvia Plath (possibly) about her father. I have always wanted to write a poem analysis for this but I will simply share the poem link for now. Plath’s lyricism and poetic style are an absolute treat.

Edit: I had to rewrite some of this post given that I recently learned about a home maker poet in India whose poem about the Ganges went viral and became extremely politicized by the various political factions in the country, divided along religious and party lines. I felt , poets get subsumed into controversy not because of the poem itself but due to the mood of the populace using the words either as anthem or a rallying cry to rabble rousing. I think Plath’s poem is similarly powerful and of an event that is now public memory. I admire her for writing her mind in this, although I have come to suspect that writing ones mind isn’t without it’s inherent drawbacks, as it proved to be for the Indian poet, harassed and trolled that she was all over Indian social media.

Daddy
BY SYLVIA PLATH (excerpts)

Stanza 1
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.


Stanzas 5,6
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

Stanza 12

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

I think Plath is simply brilliant in this poem. Do read it in it's entirety at:https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48999/daddy-56d22aafa45b2

Edit: The poem is too long to reproduce on this blog and has some strong language and disturbing imagery; I've added a link to Plath's recitation of it, below.

Andrew Spacey has analysed it quite nicely at:https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Daddy-by-Sylvia-Plath

I’m listing some other resources for my own reading further on:

Analysis:https://www.modernamericanpoetry.org/poem/daddy?page=1

Analysis:https://poemanalysis.com/sylvia-plath/daddy/

Listen to Plath recite the poem:

Venus on the mudflats

I philosophise sunsets, born that I was under a Ray of Venus Vesper direct  [1] and I much prefer sunrise. I would have also liked being the other Venus which might have made me less of a poet perhaps. I find the heavens evocative in the way they bring one in touch with their own self, that one can admire a celestial body thus, without words, by simply feeling, and who is to argue with that. 


It is incredible, how the orbital patterns of the heavenly lights transcribed onto human consciousness, those seemingly inscrutable mandalas, reified into lexicon as the pathways of deities or demons. Humanity has persistently tried to infer meaning from the ephemeral radiance of celestial bodies. Bastions of this wisdom, embedded all that knowledge into stories which capture our imagination and sculpt our consciousness into varied expressions or sometimes seek to explain the impressions we make. I am deeply intrigued by esoteric astrology and astronomy, because I find it preceded Psychology in trying to understand motives and intentions. The appropriation of the esoteric by religions the world over, helps capture the creativity of beings to transform the abstract onto a material plane. According to ancient Greek and Egyptian sources, the periodicity of stars and the flooding of the Nile for example, was predictable, ever since 1 A.D., in fact the heliacal rising of Sirius and the Nile floods can be confirmed by astronomical calculations [2] Even so, the Dog star according to astrologer/mathematical astronomer Ptolemy, who was known to fabricate data [3] attested to the star as being the nature of a planet like Mars, Mercury, Saturn etc [4] which have their own connotations in astrology and Ptolemy was a practical man, an Astrologer. Even so, when a celestial body like Sirius for instance, comes to be associated with something ominous, as in Virgil’s Aenid (and my earlier blog post about Moretum shows how credible he could be) or something magical as in Walt Disney’s (Freemason) Blue Fairy in Pinocchio or gets a bad boy makeover in Harry Potter’s Sirius Black [5], shows quite clearly, that we love to be in the grip of fictions and we enjoy them. Alas, what we feel in reality, are not fictions, they are simply inexplicable as of now.


I tried writing about Venus today; I have been trailing her myths ever since last year when I read a study, based on the descent of the Babylonian goddess Inanna, into the underworld [6]. It is a beautiful mythology about the path of Venus relative to the Earth and the Sun. Isn’t it beautiful that, plotted from a geocentric perspective, Venus returns to the same place in the sky after about eight years in thirteen Venusian orbits (8 x 224.8 days) Over these eight years, the position of Venus thus, relative to the sun and earth occurs five times, hence the pattern has been compared to a Pentagram. Either way, Venus appears for one part of each cycle as Venus Lucifer or morning star and Venus Vesper or evening star. In between, it disappears for a while. The heliocentric orbit of Venus’ is tilted and slightly elliptical. [2] Watch this amazing video created by Guy Ottewell that shows all three [7]  

Most impressive is how our descriptive knowledge of systems burgeons along the ages, for it is only a few centuries old that we know of the Venusian Ashen lights visible through a telescope, as first observed by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Riccioli (1643) who discovered, a faint glow on the night side of the planet Venus [8]. [I have made a mention of this in my poem, hence the reference] Many would go on to report observing these ‘Ashen lights‘ that appear intermittent, yet, despite 700 nighttime observations undertaken in 1988 [9] and 190 positive sightings, they could not establish conclusively any existence of this glow. In fact, the Pioneer Venus Project (1978), whose main objective was to investigate the solar wind in the Venusian environment, sent an orbiter and a multiprobe into the Venusian atmosphere [10] and found no evidence of such lights.

Source: Page 2~https://atmos.nmsu.edu/data_and_services/atmospheres_data/PIONEER_Venus/logs/Pioneer.pdf


In the 1960’s, a task group for Venus nomenclature was established under the direction of the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union ~ This group was charged with formulating a systematic plan for naming the features elucidated by the Pioneer Venus altimetric and imaging systems, as well as those features seen in a proliferating number of high-resolution Earth-based images and they chose a theme in keeping with the age-old feminine mystique associated with Venus: features would be named for females, both mythological and real, who were famed in the mythologies and histories of all world cultures, where circular, craterlike features would be named for notable historical women, whereas other features would bear the names of goddesses and heroines from myth and legend [see the chart on page 202 in 11]. 


Our reliance on the mythical to perpetuate a fiction and then the process of rendering the real, mythical, rests in this limited lexicon which in turn channels us in ways that prevent an individuation of sorts. I am sometimes exhausted that we are caught in descriptions, technicalities, where I would much rather learn a different way to communicate. Which brings me again to Venus, recognising something that cannot be seen in her relative position to Earth, those beautiful spirals the heavens draw in the sky, the subtle conscious awe that it permeates into the knowledge that one Venusian night lasts 300 Earth days, that the clap of thunder clouds can be heard from across the side of a planet, that the temperatures can be as high as 470­ºC, that life does not follow a singular description and we cannot define everything, but this environment cannot be hell, for we simply understand so little. It was in 1947 that Soviet scientist Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov became the first ‘astrobotanist’ when he set up a department at the Alma Ata Observatory in Kazakhstan in order to study the plants he felt certain were growing on both Mars and Venus (It isn’t simply sci-fi imagining like Robert Pattinson in his little garden of Eden in the movie High Life or Matt Damon in The Martian growing potatoes in Faeces), so it may be interesting that  in 2019, ultraviolet patches were discovered in Venusian atmosphere and in 2020, a potential biomarker too, Phosphine, that indicates the presence of anaerobic entities [12] Perhaps, knowledge might help us to steer towards new ways of envisioning life, lives of others, that is.

Currently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is developing an atmospheric balloon, Shukrayaan-1 (Shukra, Venus, the minor benefic in Vedic astrology, Yaan refers to journey in Sanskrit; to be launched in 2024 or 2026), while a joint mission to the surface has been proposed in a collaboration between the Russian space agency and NASA (Humour aside, but it is rather nice to see such a joining of forces in a space race for science) We will learn more of Venus for certain, but how will this guide us in our own evolution is a question left yet again to those nebulous notions of Metaphysics. 

Venus on the mudflats

In a manner of setting, the sun has no equal
It warms as it wanes orange on the horizon.

A matter of wonder: what independent soul
may have sprouted this very moment, in genesis

of having swallowed celestial signatures,
simply, children of an evening star Inanna,

those that would climb a mountain for a cloudy
solitude, so at some amber dusk when the tide

ebbed in the plains below, they would watch
from afar, the ashen lights of their hearts, finally

float like soot to soil and slip under fertile deltas
of sweet inundation. Count to ten, the Universe

whispers on the tail of a sunset breeze. There are
forty nine Canadian geese on the mudflats ......


I enjoyed reading through the references I have used here. For those of you interested in the poetry of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, check the Gutenberg archive [13] I believe the poem of the courtship of Inanna and Dumuzi [14] rates as one of the most erotic ever written that even succeeding ancient texts of other traditions simply could not replicate despite their pantheon of delectable deities and fascinating myths. Even so, in the descent of this Venus into the underworld, an analogy to Venusian orbit, the disappearance of Venus is mentioned in lines 41-47 when Inanna says to her trusted Nincubura, her second in command, to watch out for her, in a strange allusion to Iron ore produced from the decomposition of vegetable matter: “When you have entered the E-kur, the house of Enlil, lament before Enlil: “Father Enlil, don’t let anyone kill your daughter in the underworld. Don’t let your precious metal be alloyed there with the dirt of the underworld. Don’t let your precious lapis lazuli be split there with the mason’s stone. Don’t let your boxwood be chopped up there with the carpenter’s wood. Don’t let young lady Inana be killed in the underworld.” It is a beautiful myth with so much esoteric knowledge hidden in its poetry, which could help emphasise rather than reduce to mere caricature why we appear besotted with the stars. Here’s to Venus and everything beautiful.

And in trying to reach the planet of diamonds and sapphires, here's the poetry of Earth's inhabitants, ever so plodding in their pursuit of knowledge (sometimes, bereft of wisdom, is it any wonder why it gets spirited into myths eventually?)

Members of the Pioneer Venus
team responsible for developing the
probe instruments soon learned that it
would not be easy to acquire the large
Type IIA diamond they required. A
dealer told them, "You can't go out
and buy it, it has to show up in your
box." He explained that there are
10 or 12 dealers' boxes in London,
boxes of the only persons in the world
who deal with the South African diamond producers.
Dealers pick up the
diamonds that have been placed in
their boxes, sort them, and decide how
much to offer for them.
He spoke of rumors that several
large diamonds had been found in the
sands of the Orange River delta in
South Africa, the most likely source of
the kind of diamond needed for the
probe window. Large stones are rarely
found in the diamond mines because
they are often broken by the mining
techniques used.
The dealer said: "What, I'll have to
do is go to South Africa and wine and
dine people who put the diamonds in
the boxes and tell them what my
needs are." That is what he did, and
the Pioneer Venus instrument designers soon had
two large type IIA diamonds from which to make their
spacecraft windows. One of the diamonds was cut and
ground, and the outside circumference
faceted; several windows were made
from it. One had 32 facets, another
had 16 facets. The outside circumferences
were faceted to prevent the
microcracks that would develop from
grinding the stones into a circular
shape.
So the large diamond from South
Africa became the window (fig. 2-1)
through which an infrared radiometer
would view the atmosphere of Venus.
Other windows for the net flux
radiometers were cut from the same
stone.

Source: Page 25, Pioneer Venus, 1983, original document, NASA

Notes:

On Ptolemy ~ Alexandrine astronomer/astrologer Claudius Ptolemy, in books VII and VIII of the Almagest, (Latin title Syntaxis mathematica),  listed the positions and brightness of some 1022 stars and is based entirely on the work of Greek astronomer Hipparchus. He comments on the color of only six of these stars—Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Pollux, Arcturus, Antares, and Sirius—and assigns the color red to each. In particular, for Sirius in the constellation Canis Major, he states its location, on the dog’s mouth, as well as its relative brightness and color: bright and red [15] Now the star Sirius is known to be bluish white. Scholars are busy trying to find out if the colour of Sirius changed from reddish of antiquity to the bluish white of today, based on one single source, Ptolemy’s Almagest [16] This brings to mind the reliability of sources we deem authentic, authoritative, factual and it also reminds me of an observation attributed to Mark Twain, who noted that we be careful when we read health books lest we die of a misprint !

References:

[1]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.space.com/amp/venus-returns-evening-star-may-2021

[2]~https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258607713_Heliacal_rising_of_Sirius_and_flooding_of_the_Nile

[3]~https://www.jhuapl.edu/Content/techdigest/pdf/V03-N01/03-01-Newton.pdf

[4]~https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/ptolemy/tetrabiblos/1b*.html

[5]~http://www.harrypotterforseekers.com/articles/siriusforseekers.php

[6]~http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/amgg/listofdeities/ninsianna/index.html

[7]~https://youtu.be/qWwOrUjFOFY

[8]~https://www.wired.com/2009/01/jan-9-1643-astronomer-sees-ashen-light-of-venus/

[9]~https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1992AdSpR..12i..51P/abstract

[10]~https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/pioneer-venus/

[11]~Page202,203~https://atmos.nmsu.edu/data_and_services/atmospheres_data/PIONEER_Venus/logs/Pioneer.pdf

[12]~https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com/space-missions/history-search-life-venus/
[13]~http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/inanna

[14]~https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~kdickson/inanna.html

[15]~https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-0-387-48942-1_10
[16]~http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?bibcode=1996JHA….27…93C&db_key=AST&page_ind=0&data_type=GIF&type=SCREEN_VIEW&classic=YES

Colonial Iterations

Have you heard this one? Says one guy to another, “My mother-in-law makes yoghurt by simply staring at the milk.” Clearly, he knows nothing about microbes 🙂


I’ve made yoghurt for years but our travels abroad took us to places where there was no fresh milk, except the ultra heat treated variety that that could survive unopened without a refrigerator for six to nine months. We didn’t miss it except for tea. Nairobi though, had lots of fresh cow’s milk, unlike that of the water buffalo milk largely available in India. The 20th Livestock Census found that India had more than 109 million buffaloes, above 56% of the world population [1] Apparently, Italy guard their water buffalo like a national treasure, India should take a page out of their bible.


On the East Coast of the US, the milk from the regular supermarkets ranges from pasteurised, non homogenised or homogenised [2]whole milk to milk that contains no fat, [3] none of it like that of the water buffalo. So, there are no thick creamy layers that separate out and add an amazing layer to yoghurt but I have finally managed to successfully make a fairly thick natural yoghurt, thanks to a starter from a friend. This one tastes very unlike the store brought varieties that are usually thickened with carrageenan [4] or other such ingredients. 

A tablespoon of starter culture in a clean jar


Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are responsible for producing lactic acid that help coagulate milk proteins and thus ferment milk, making it digestible. There are many other types that will exist alongside these two main species involved [5]

Scalded milk mixed with culture (scalding may help get rid of unwelcome yeasts or bacteria prior to adding culture), and kept loosely covered until set to a jelly like consistency


I was so happy to see the curds come alive that I felt compelled to write about them. All it needs is a spoonful of culture or starter, scalded milk that you can dip a finger into without burning yourself and a clean glass bowl (whole milk makes for thicker yoghurt) I placed the culture in the container and poured the milk over and stirred it, covered lightly (I didn’t seal it), I placed it in a warm corner ( the inside of the oven with the light on or a microwave oven). At ambient temperature, it may take a few hours to reach a jelly like consistency which indicates it’s done. I left mine undisturbed for twelve hours and it will stay well alive in the refrigerator, for a week or more until it begins to sour. There are other things that can be done then, like labneh [6] (akin to Greek Yoghurt) or it can be heated to form a soft cheese. Someday, I should write about this too. The yoghurt can be used as a starter culture to begin another batch.

Curds
Colonial Iterations

There's no metaphor in milk, 
it's simply a variety of cows,
like the seven days in a week,
seven breeds of cow in America.

Smile for the small brown Jersey*
with the long eyelashes. 
Bacilli meet bovine, to curdle 
the chaos in tepid milk.

An iteration of this philosophy
yields more curds than 
there are clouds in the sky !
The sediment could be Greek

if the hyper-agile microbes
emigrate across a sieve 
and the plot would thicken 
to defy patents** in a kitchen.

Jamming impersonally
within a porcelain bowl and
all it takes is a spoonful 
to whip up a new world colony.

The Onomastics of teeming multitudes
engaged in a strange barter 
of affections is the logic of science.
That I simply stare and smile is mine 🙂

I was having fun with figures of speech and some obsolete Onomatology ! For those of you that really like yoghurt, this is  the most “terriblest” song I have ever heard about Yoghurt by Ylvis and it’s still the best ! The video is too 🙂

References:


[1]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.fairobserver.com/region/central_south_asia/tarun-shridhar-buffalo-milk-animals-india-news-south-asian-world-news-17837/amp/

[2]~https://homogenisation.org/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-homogenising-milk/

[3]~https://www.homestratosphere.com/types-of-milk/

[4]~https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323117

[5]~https://www.livestrong.com/article/349067-list-of-good-bacteria-in-yogurt/

[6]~https://www.themediterraneandish.com/homemade-labneh-recipe/

* Breeds of Cows, USAhttps://dairycarrie.com/2018/12/10/the-seven-common-breeds-of-dairy-cattle/

** Whey from Greek Yogurt
https://www.dairyreporter.com/Article/2015/03/02/General-Mills-seeks-to-patent-method-that-transforms-Greek-yogurt-waste

Yoghurt Song by Ylvis~https://g.co/kgs/hYVNLv