(The following post contains violent verse and some 1980s era animated violence and sexist imagery. Always trying not to offend anyone while walking the line of potentially offending everyone.)
Not Shakespeare’s heart, but instead from the American writer Stephen Crane.
In the Desert
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”*
Which brings to mind an old Blue Oyster Cult tune:
For the bitterness of the human heart remains an ongoing battle. Winds of limbo always roaring around us. The psychic and actual wars of daily life. We smile. All the scars are on the inside. We come to like it because it is bitter. We smile on through it all.
The pie doesn’t always taste bitter, Tamora. Sometimes, it can be almost cloyingly sweet. And it is not like Titus’ pie, not like what he feeds Tamora, except that we feed it to our children, just as our forefathers fed it to us.
A man in northern Michigan saying, “Your little bit of drainage won’t matter to that big lake. You know how many people been dumping stuff in that lake for years?”
Yes. For centuries.
Won’t make a difference. Lake so clear because of invading zebra mussels brought in on the hulls of boats. Sturgeon gone. Lake Trout gone. Perch largely gone. (They catch what they can in Lake Superior now, not in Lake Michigan.
The fisheries collapsed in the 1950s, and the lake has become a shining ornament–a surface for fast motor boats, jetskis, and wetbikes. Fewer and fewer sailboats. Tourists coming to the National Cherry Festival to drink beer, albeit what brand they might drink remains in question these days.
All this clamor around us while we become dandelions. Our heads turn white and our seeds blow away. Then we are bald, bald. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste. . . Yeah. You know.
Our neighborhoods become cookie cutter housing estates where older people walk little dogs. Like Bradbury’s pedestrian, our night walks remain solitary–blue glow of video screens pulsing from the windows of passed houses. Little houses made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.
Making our way down the old track through the woods, past the shambles of an old, unused deer blind, we come to an abandoned tomb.
An Abandoned Tomb
Wild grasses engulf
the tumbledown fence;
I wonder whose tomb this is?
Cattle and sheep
graze its high mound,
foxes and rabbits
inhabit its empty spaces.
For a traveler,
this is a heartbreaking sight;
where are the children
and the children’s children?
The sighing autumn wind
arouses a breeze of sadness,
a lonely stirring
in the willow trees.**
Too old to wear our trousers rolled. Probably too old to eat a peach. Just the empties comin’ back.
But we don’t think about it. Shove that thought away. Roll it up in a rug. Making out this last will and testament because “if I die, I want. . .” No ma’am. When you die. . .
Do you think someone will leap into the grave? Someone to watch over me or fight. Over my dead body! My soul (sole) preoccupation.
We are so caught up in things, but it all boils down to bitterheart tea. Friendship. Love, Money. Freedom. Yes. Freedom.
Way Out West
‘Twas good to live when all the range,
Without no fence and fuss,
Belonged in partnership with God,
The Government, and us.
With sky-line bounds from east to west,
With room to go and come,
I liked my fellow man best
When he was scattered some.
When my old soul hunts range and rest
Beyond the last divide,
Just plant me on some strip of West
That’s sunny, lone and wide.
Let cattle rub my headstone round,
And coyotes wail their kin,
Let hosses come and paw the mound,
But don’t you fence it in.****
Another unspoken thought goes with this old soul on the range. No need to hasten that goodnight, that big sleep. The East Coker’s descent into the mine comes soon enough. The grass grows wild across the plains. Lightning scars the rocky rims of the pitching world. No hurry. Come late come soon, like the mastodon, sooner gone. Don’t remind us. Don’t speak of it. Don’t remind others. We all know it.
It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where she’s got to see him Where every breath she draws is full of his knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a good one I am making for you. I told him to go somewhere else, I said Good God do you want to see her in it.”It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where she’s got to see him Where every breath she draws is full of his knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a good one I am making for you. I told him to go somewhere else, I said Good God do you want to see her in it.***
Jewel’s rage bound up with compassion. Memory. Grief. He sees the angel of despair before it arrives.
Whoa! Hold on. Why in this handcart? Where are we going? Where will this carriage stop to let us out?
That old house winter,
finding mummied honeybee
husked from former summer,
curled behind the window seat,
brittle-winged tufted back stripes.
Did she feel, in a removed way,
a bee feeling of her loss,
extended family gone,
far hive remembered?
When did she know?
Realize her not returning
when her far end came?
Colony humming on
without her, summer thunder,
sunlight warming honey
she would never know.*****
The far shores. The distant country. We know. Where the elves go. Where Bilbo and Frodo go.
Okay. Maybe Bilbo and Frodo go someplace a little different.
We all weep at the goodbyes. Ours. Theirs. Ours again.
And we worry about those we leave behind, even as we feel ourselves slipping away.
But in this night of darkness. . .well, I’ll leave that as Robert Ingersoll said it. He said it best.
Always life in the midst of death. Always throes lead on to throes and pangs and quarks and leptons. Waves and particles, the heaving face of God. Our politics specks on the moving still surface of a massive cosmos.
Small world? No. We are minuscule travelers in a huge universe, which is much more vast than we can begin to comprehend.
“Now why don’t you tell me about your past? About your childhood? We’ll try to get a handle on your grief.”
“Tell you?! No thanks. I was there. I lived it once. No desire to go there again.”
“We might be able to exorcise your demons, if we work together.”
“No. They don’t really go away. They just get a little quiet sometimes. What happened, happened. I know you think you might help, but going back does no good. Best to move on.”
Let us focus on the life. The spark. Bird song outside the window. The source of the Nile, Dr. Livingston.
OMG! Those are crocodile shoes.
Sheds crocodile tears.
Mock turtle soup.
Damn mock turtles. The fiercest things you ever saw.
Still part of life. Life.
The hoopoe instructs the other birds who seek their king:
“Love has no time for blasphemy of faith,
Nor lovers for the Self, that feeble wraith.
They burn all that they own; unmoved they feel
Against their skin the torturer’s sharp steel.
Heart’s blood and bitter pain belong to love,
And tales of problems no one can remove;
Cupbearer, fill the bowl with blood, not wine —
And if you lack the heart’s rich blood take mine.
Love thrives on inextinguishable pain,
Which tears the soul, then knits the threads again.
A mote of love exceeds all bounds; it gives
The vital essence to whatever lives.“******
Love exceeds and obliterates the self. Life does too.
Once knew a man who had devoted his life to the martial arts. The discipline. Working out and meditating (which is part of working out) every day. Each complete form including its own lying, seated, standing, and moving meditations. Years to learn, practice, and recall. In Tai Chi, each movement not only containing all the other movements, but also while doing the first movement envisioning the next, and the last. A mind art as well as a physical one.
“Why choose this?”
A level gaze. “Because what are you going to do with your time?”
He was right. Many paths lead to a proverbial heaven, or to understanding (which may be the same). Many faiths. Many practices. The mirror, or no mirror, behind the veil. Human time will pass anyway. Ask a ghost.
Clues blow like scraps in the winds of the world. They float around us, sometimes reaching out their hands in offering. Sometimes the universe speaks to us.
The man of Valland, “so lame that that he was a cripple and went on his knees and knuckles“, one day had a dream. “He dreamt that a noble man came to him and asked where he would go, and he mentioned some town. And the noble man said ‘Go thou to St Olav’s Church which is in London and there thou wilt be healed.’ Then he awoke and straightaway went to find St Olav’s Church.” But in London, there were so many churches that no one could tell him where to go, or where the church might be. “But a little later a aman came up to him and asked where he might be going; he told him and the man then said: ‘We two shall both go to St Olav’s Church; I now the way there.’ Then they went over the bridge and on the street which brought them to St Olav’s Church. And when they cam to the churchyard gate the man stepped over the threshold of the gate, but the cripple rolled in across the the threshold and forthwith rose up healed. But when he looked about him, his companion had gone.“*******
Clap your hands. The goose is out. Body exposed in the golden wind. Can almost hear the eyes of the mind rolling–the ghost has descended to mystical quasispeak once again. What the hell is the spectre going on about now?
Sometimes the little cut and paste breaks up our artificial differentiation of attention. After all, topics and categories are only really distinct because we deem them so.
Written on the Wall at Xilin Temple
Regarded from one side, an entire range;
from another, a single peak.
Far, near, high, low, all its parts
different from the others.
If the true face of Mount Lu
cannot be known,
It is because the one looking at it
is standing in its midst.********
Words are vehicles, capable of leading us to truth. This is the sad tragedy underlying the ongoing orphaning of English literature, drama, and the arts in U.S. universities (and everywhere else). We lose the truth for losing the way. Real truth is not a mere comparison, but is instead an actual thee, an actual summer’s day. The beacon of words leads us on to that realization, that seeing. It takes us to what we really long for in our deepest hearts.
Different ways. Math can do this too. And biology. Anthropology. There is no exclusivity.
But words are designed to be like things. Signposts deliberately crafted to help us. To carry us when we become lost. If things are symbols, words are paths.
“Mum said things were essentially emotions. They were little symbols of the life that had been – a Proustian emblem – which was shy she kept so many of dad’s things. Symbols are not to be tossed away lightly.”*********
Pay attention to the symbols. Weed your life, but do not discard them all. Here is richness in the tea.
But cling to words. Without them, there is no way beneath our feet. No road. No bridge. Nothing leading us to unseen or undiscovered countries.
For this moment we have become so desperate. Painted ourselves into corners. Pinned between rocks and hard places. Screwing courage to sticking places has rendered us inflexible. Damnation. Literally. Scriptures and moralistic posturing trying to define our law.
Arguments of faiths aside, we all potentially face fearful things. When Angelo tells Isabella that if she sleeps with him, he will spare her brother Claudio, she is faced with what for her is an insurmountable moral obstacle. Claudio, facing death, has a difficult time understanding his sister’s reluctance to save his life.
CLAUDIO Death is a fearful thing.
ISABELLA And shamed life a hateful.
Ay, but to die, and go we know not where,
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot,
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice,
To be imprisoned in the viewless winds
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world; or to be worse than worst
Of those that lawless and incertain thought
Imagine howling—’tis too horrible. (Measure for Measure, 3.1.131-43)
May be. Maybe. But let us rest.
We can always leave the hospital and walk back to the hotel in the rain. But maybe later “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” (Sorry. That doesn’t quite rhyme.)
Perhaps our life from here is not only under Bram Stoker’s sunset. Perhaps there may be sunrises as well.
Let’s hope so, as we hope for comfort and happiness for all in this tortured and tumultuous world. In the meantime, live as well as you can and stay safe out there.
*Crane, Stephen. “In the Desert.” Poem in The Black Riders, and Other Lines. Copeland & Day: Boston, 1895.
**Shi, Wenxiang. “An Abandoned Tomb.” Poem. In Sleepless Nights: Verses for the Wakeful, trans. Thomas Cleary. Berkely, California: North Atlantic Books, 1995, 71.
***Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990, 14.
****Siringo, Charles. A Lone Star Cowboy. Santa Fe: Charles A. Siringo, 1919, reprinted in Lomax, John A., and Alan Lomax. Cowboy Songs. New York: Macmillan, 1952. 333.
*****Langdon, John. “Honey.” Poem. In The Freedom of New Beginnings: Poems of Witness and Vision from Sonoma County, California. Phyllis Meshulam, with Gail King, Gwynn O’Gara, and Terry Ehret, eds. Petaluma: Poetry Crossing Press (Taurean Horn Press), 95.
******Attar, Farid al-Din. The conference of the birds. Dick Davis, introduction. Afkham Darbandi, trans. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2011, 67. Mystical texts can be notoriously difficult to translate as much of “meaning” may depend upon the language in which it is couched. As much as it can, this translation adheres to Attar’s original medieval Persian couplet form.
*******Sturlason, Snorre. Heimskringla or the lives of the Norse kings. Erling Monsen, ed. A. H. Smith, trans. New York, NY: Dover, 1990, 540.
********Su Dongpo. “Written on the Wall at Xilin Temple.” Poem. In Zen Poems. Everymans Library, 1999, 123.
*********Kilburn, Lindseigh. The Lily of the North. Slough: Maple Publishers, 2022, 213.