25 October 2009

That August Night in New Orleans

Mind met up
with Soul
of Tchoupitoulas & Canal.
She undressed
him on the ferry
to Algiers.
Other passengers
they didn’t say
a word
against that
pale naked Mind
(It was New Orleans, remember?)
just standing
by the deck rail
in the rain
stunned but
glad to have
figured it out
at last.

New Orleans, it's one of those magical cities where you know just about anything can happen. My favorite time to be there is August, when most of the sensible tourists stay away from the 100 degree heat, monsoon downpours, and steam-bath humidity. Something about the town, especially then, peels me down to what's essential; especially when each breath is saturated with moisture, the aromas of fabulous food, and the muddy-wet smell of the Mississippi as it curves around the French Quarter.

I wrote this poem (yup, it's one of mine!) upon returning to Tennessee, my mind still soaked in a funky residue after spending a few days in New Orleans. The piece comes from a waking dream of sorts, one in which it's easy to imagine the feminine Soul getting the masculine Mind to let go and just be. Lately, my mind has been racing into fast forward or short circuiting in the past, so looking at this poem reminds my Mind to hush now, be still, let Soul strip us down.

10 October 2009

Kali, Ganesha, Energy and Angels

One of my favorite characters in Tony Kushner's play Angels in America is Harper Pitt.  She's an agoraphobic, delusional, valium addict coming to grips with the realization that she has married a closeted gay man who also happens to be a devout Mormon.  Harper is also plenty worried about the hole in the ozone, and in one of her delusions, she actually visits Antarctica to try and get a look at it.  By the end of the play, though, it seems Harper has made some peace with her delusions and fears, and has come to terms with what it means to be alive in a broken but hopeful world.  In her final scene, Harper has left her husband behind in Brooklyn and is heading for San Francisco.  She turns to the audience and says:
Night flight to San Francisco.  Chase the moon across America.
God! It's been years since I was on a plane!
When we hit thirty-five thousand feet, we'll have reached the tropopause.  The great belt of calm air.  As close as I'll ever get to the ozone.
I dreamed we were there.  The plane leapt the tropopause, the safe air, and attained the outer rim, the ozone, which was ragged and torn, patches of it threadbare as old cheesecloth, and that was frightening.
But I saw something only I could see, because of my astonishing ability to see such things.
Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like sky divers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning.  And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.
Nothing's lost forever.  In this world, there is a kind of painful progress.  Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead.
At least I think that's so.
Harper, it seems, has figured out a little something about reincarnation.  I suspect she also knows a little something about the First Law of Thermodynamics, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It only changes form.

 Considering Harper's speech also makes me think a bit about Kali, the goddess of eternal energy (and death) and about Ganesha, the god of transitions and remover of obstacles, and about how energy, a constant force shapes and changes us as we, in turn, seek to shape and change it.

In yoga, we learn to breath and to be one with the moment, with what is.  We embrace stillness, but our existence is not static.  The practice itself is transformative; as breath moves through us, it changes our bodies and minds; it changes our way of being here. As we move through our asana practice, we flow through the transitions, the space between each posture, as much as we move into the posture.  Transition compels mindfulness, as does stillness.  Being present in the moment can mean being present in a moment of change.

06 October 2009

The Universal Translator

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of
      the Soul,

The pleasures of heaven are with me and 
     the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself,
  the latter I translate into a new tongue.
Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

In those vintage old Star Trek episodes, the crew of the Enterprise can communicate with folks from other galaxies by using the Universal Translator, which conveniently translates the languages spoken on distant planets into English.  Apparently, no one in the TV audience on Earth in the 1960s spoke Klingon, Romulan or Vulcan, though I understand many folks do today. Still, the Universal Translator served its purpose well back then, rendering the speech of those distant races intelligible to a generation of American Trekkies.

When I read the above passage from Whitman, I can't help but think of him as a different sort of Universal Translator, a very literal sort -- he literally (and literarily) Translates the Universe into his poems, a new tongue.

What I, like many readers, find so compelling about Whitman's poetry is the way he takes it all in -- it seems everyone and everything are included in his work. He addresses all of us collectively and at the same moment speaks to each individually.  Indeed, he tells us in the first few lines of "Song of Myself" For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.  Now that's what I call aparigraha!

I wonder what would happen if we stepped into a transporter beam together?