Sunday, 11 September 2011

The fall of the towers

On a date like this, everyone gets to remember what they were doing ten years ago when they heard about the terrorist attacks. And of course, any personal connection gets remembered.

I don't have any personal connection beyond having visited once the Twin Towers as a tourist. And it all felt so surreal at the time, it reminded me of a book called The fall of the towers by Samuel Delany. The book is full of surreal moments, including that, in spite of the title, there aren't any towers falling in it. The title was inspired by a piece of art called The fall of the towers that showed a crowd frightened of something that couldn't be seen in the frame. Maybe a picture like this one:

(This is recent artwork by Anthony Roberto)

It certainly feels appropriate for a day like today. But maybe even more appropriate, in a subtler way, is this excerpt of the book:

Normally the giant's telepathic receptivity was only a few hundred feet, but recently he had found his range expanding, sometimes for an hour or more, to cover miles. As he stepped on to the balcony, he felt the subsensory tingling that announced one of these attacks. Suddenly the City, as though a veil were pulled away, was revealed to him as a vast matrix of minds, clashing, jarring one another, yet each isolate. I am alone, he thought, adding the millionth repeat to a million-fold echo.[...]

Somewhere a man and woman sat together in a room, shoulder to shoulder, heads bent together, reading a poem from a crumpled paper, now stopping to ask each other what this line meant, now going back to look at another page. The patterns growing in their minds were not the same, but as they tried to explain what they thought to each other, or bent to read or reread the lines, the images the poem made upon their thoughts were like flames dancing orderly about one another, contrasting or similar, still a single experience, an awareness of unity, unaware of their isolation. Delusion? thought Arkor. No. The now brittle, now flexible, bending and quivering lights danced orderly together. The giant smiled, alone, as the two bent closer to the paper.

Or, expressed more briefly in one of my poems:

There's a barrier between us,
except that there isn't.
We are all alone,
except that we aren't.
We are all together
chained by the links of love.

Sunday, 4 September 2011


It's high time I mentioned why the book I've written is called 'Always home'. It's the title of one of the poems, and in a way, not in a blatant way, but in a deep undercurrent, a running theme across most of them.

Home is... but first, before I finish the sentence...

Imagine home is somewhere else.
Just pick a place, any place,
a place you know, a place you love.
Imagine which corner you'd sleep in.
Imagine the rhythms, imagine the views.
What does the world look like?

Home is... this is how other people have finished the sentence:
  • ... being surrounded by tall trees.
  • ... the one heart.
  • ... stone.
  • ... eucalyptus, Pacific, chaparral, hawk, coyote, heat, hills, sand.
  • ... apple pie and Sunday supper.
  • ... roses, garden, blue iris, wicker, porch, swing, copperhead.
  • ... lakes, streams, pine trees, birch, oak, maples, iris, dogs and cats, kids and old people, gram's cookies and fried cakes, morning coffee, my Mom's hands.
  • ... music, books, words themselves.
  • ... where Blackbean and the Silky Oak, Red Cedar and the Kauri pine, Cathedral fig and Quondon trees have grown as long as ‘Old man time’.
There are as many different homes as there are people, and just about any place, even a simple feeling or idea, could be home for somebody.

And at the same time, we all know what home feels like, and that every home feels like home. That's why we say 'I'm going home' rather than 'I'm going to my home.' This isn't a quirk of the English language, in Spanish you say 'Voy a casa', in German 'Ich gehe nach Hause', in Czech 'Jedu domu'. In most languages, 'home' isn't 'my home' or 'the home', it's just 'home'.

At this point, you could start asking strange questions like: What's this thing called home, that seems to be everywhere but not anywhere, that everybody has but no one can claim ownership of it, that's the same for everyone but different for everyone? And if you ask strange questions, you risk getting strange answers.

You are always everywhere
you are.

You are home.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Where the streets have no name

A whole bunch of people answered the challenge about one-word poems. The list of poems (re-ordered to make it slightly more interesting) is:


And the winner is... James Joyce, and the word "Yes".

There's a story that James Joyce was invited to dinner and spent most of the time very quiet and looking pensive. Eventually, he said:
'I'm sorry I've been so quiet, I was looking for the right word for something I'm writing, and I've finally found it.'
'Oh, please tell us, what's the word?' said the host, expecting to hear some wonderful new invented word. (Remember, this is the man that wrote Finnegan's Wake, a novel stuffed with so many invented words that it has been often described as being written in its own invented language.)
'The word is "yes".'
And if you turn to the last page of Ulysses, Joyce's masterpiece, there it is. Of all the real and invented words, that's the one he chose to finish it off.

"Yes" is also the love poem that sparkled one of the most famous and least likely marriages of the history of rock&roll: John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John first met Yoko when she was doing an art exhibition in London. Because John was a superstar at the time, he got to see it before the official opening. One of the exhibits was a ladder, and at the top of it, a spyglass he was supposed to look through to see something. He went up, looked through the spyglass, and he saw this tiny placard saying "Yes". Afterwards, John would always say that if it had said something rebellious or negative, he wouldn't have been interested, but "yes" was something he could connect with.

After single words, let's talk a little about names. Hurricane Irene has just passed over New York, and I was reminded of the lyrics of Where the streets have no name by U2:

The city's aflood
And our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name

Many streets in Manhattan have no name, but a number. But U2 say the song is actually about Belfast, about people not daring to say their street name because it could identify them as Catholic or Protestant. And some people note that Northern Ireland isn't known for their deserts or dust, and suspect the song was written in Ethiopia, a place they visited after Live Aid, where a lot of streets actually don't have a name.

It doesn't really matter which place U2 really meant. One of the things that make this song work is that "where the streets have no name" sounds like a magical place that doesn't really exist. We are so attached to the names we put on things that the idea of taking the name off immediately transports us to another plane. I wrote once a poem about this, and if you are really good, I may even post it later.

What are your favourite place names?

Sunday, 21 August 2011


You might be forgiven for thinking that I missed last week's post because I was on holiday. In actual fact, I was so behind on a deadline that the weekly post had to be abandoned. I have noticed that I'm the only one that seems to be crazily busy, and that everybody else is on holiday or taking things as easy as if they were.

In that spirit, I'll be minimal today. Today's picture is....

And today's poem is a one-word poem. I just haven't decided which word yet. What do you think is the best one-word poem? As an inspiration, here's a Spanish one by Miguel Hernandez:


Which means: "You made lightning."

Do you have any better ideas? Please avoid the obvious, such as 'love', 'God', etc.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Death is before me today

There seems to be plenty of darkness in the news today, with riots in various places and the financial world panicking with the possibility of starting a new credit crunch... but bigger this time round.

My personal life is providing the perfect counterpoint: I just came back from a funeral, and I recently got the news that another relative that spent most of his life in a mental hospital has died. A starkly clear reminder that once things start to go wrong, they may well go wrong all the way.

But I can't say I'm in a dark mood. The funeral was in the same chapel as my husband's funeral, a little more than a year ago. The man that died was sitting two seats away from me on that occasion. It reminded me vividly of that time, but it wasn't a sad memory. It was beautiful. And the man that died had done his damnedest to cheer people up on his own funeral. His selections of poetry and music ranged from inspiring to enthusiastic to downright funny. That was very much like him, wanting people to be happy above all.

The best way to describe the feeling of the day was that this man clearly understood the ebb and flow of life, and was happy to go along with it. We're born and grow, the same way we breathe in, we get to whatever is our personal high point, then contract again and die, the same way we breathe out.

It reminded me of one of the oldest poems that have been recorded, from ancient Egypt:

Death is before me today:
like the recovery of a sick man,
like going forth into a garden after sickness.
Death is before me today:
like the odor of myrrh,
like sitting under a sail in a good wind.
Death is before me today:
like the course of a stream;
like the return of a man from the war-galley to his house.
Death is before me today:
like the home that a man longs to see,
after years spent as a captive.

The first time I read this, it was in a comic that has Death as one of the main characters (The Sandman). And here you can see what's probably the best remembered page of the comic, perfectly suited for a day like today:

If everything goes to hell in a basket tomorrow... you still got a lifetime.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Coming out

Gay Pride Day is going to be in a couple of weekends in town. Gone are the days when people were terrified to admit they were gay, and male celebrities would be thoroughly humiliated to be discovered in flagrante with another man.

Just about everyone is comfortable talking about their sexuality nowadays, but many people are still terrified to talk openly about where they are spiritually. Somebody I know was talking about the difficulties of "coming out". As in: "I was drunk in a festival and started telling people about stuff like liberation and the ego doesn't really exist, and everybody thought drink was making me crazy."

Strangely enough, it's OK to have faith in the beliefs of just about any religion. Faith is perfectly fine. Saying that you actually know rather than believe is entirely different, though. It crosses a line. It's OK to believe, as long as we all understand there's nothing real in there. It's a story people like to tell, a nice fiction. But if you actually think the fiction is real and you know it from direct experience, you must have lost all touch with reality.

People are gradually starting to come out, but they are still very careful. There isn't any good reason to be afraid, though:

There's a barrier between us,
except that there isn't.
We are all alone,
except that we aren't.
We are all together
chained by the links of love.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Will enlightenment help me lose weight?

The news are making the world look like a rather scary place lately: A madman has been shooting dozens of people in Norway, Greece has finally defaulted and there are an unclear number of European countries ready to follow suit, the USA Congress are unable to agree on anything even if the lives of millions of Americans depend on it, and - the worst of all - Amy Winehouse has died!

In moments like this, it's when you need to focus on real-world, practical things. Like what they are doing at this forum, people are answering the tricky question: Will enlightenment help me lose weight?

No, I'm not saying it with heavy irony. If you aren't asking this kind of practical question, you either don't believe enlightenment is real (fair enough), or you take everything way too seriously.

And it's easy to give practical questions a practical answer:

Do what you will
is the whole of the law.
Do what you will.

Know what you want,
know what they all want,
know what matters to you,
know what matters to them,
put it all in the balance,
and let it all rest,
then do what you will.

You couldn't do anything else,
so do what you will.