Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Siegfried as the German Soul

Meshal* of the Nebelungen
*A meshal is a Rabbinic literary form, a parable including its interpretation

The foreign warrior enters the land of an unfriendly king, for the sake of marrying the king's daughter. The sons of the king, admiring the foreign warrior's strength, befriend him and make a place for him as a vassal. The warrior marries the daughter of the king, the sister of the king's sons. This warrior grows stronger, surpassing the king in both strength and wealth. Now the son's wives grow jealous, and the king's court envious. They plot to assassinate the foreign vassal, and on doing so, expropriate his wealth.

The wife of the murdered vassal joins league with, and marries a warlike pagan neighbor. She hopes to inflict revenge, and also regain her wealth. She lures her brothers-in-law into her pagan court, where the king has them murdered. Then the queen murders her children by that pagan king, and then murders the king himself, bringing ruin on both houses.

There is another side to this history. It is the side we read in the history books:

There is a man whom many honor. He murders his wife. While his brothers and sisters, his friends, his teachers stand by his side, he murders her, coldly, cruelly. It was not unexpected, had anyone considered his behavior. One day he scorns her; then he degrades her; finally, in the light of day he murders her.

Who was this man? He was Europe, and his wife was Yisroyel. Though the man was brought to justice, what of his siblings, friends, and neighbors? What of his teachers?

But, you may ask, what does this have to do with the story of the king, the murdered vassal, and the revenge brought down by the vassal's wife? The first story is a spiritual history, with motivations, causes and effects. The second story is its political version, its outward events and the questions and doubts one is left with. But it is the same story. In the spiritual version, the king is a composite of many European rulers. The vassal is Yisroyel. The vassal's wife is the Divine Shekhena. Europe's crimes will not go unpunished, but, naturally, it will be God, not Yisroyel that will effect that punishment. In other words, the Divine reckoning will be invisible. The historians will record Europe's political and economic decline, and will find local, tenuous causes, but the spiritual causality of Europe's rise and then its ruin will remain unseen and unaccounted.

The definitive function of true art

More on "My" Language

If you have come this far, you know that language is not fixed, it is not complete; indeed it is merely (dare I say "merely?) an approximation to reality, our personal realities and our shared ones. In this light I would assert that language is one, but only one of the "connective tissues" that help build interpersonal realities.

I have tried to show, without the clutter and excess baggage of theory, but rather existentially, that words need not be thought of as bricks to build with, but clay to sculpt with. And a truly wonderful clay! It is soft and malleable to those who think it so. It is stiff and resistant if so imagined, for those whose "hands" are weak or untrained.

Perhaps it would be well to acknowledge my own errors and failures, instead of casting aspirins. When I compose, and until I'm compelled to produce a fair copy so others can have some hope of following my threads, my drafts are filled with innumerable alternative words, phrases, and images. Reducing this multi-layered mosaic into readable images is necessary, but inevitably diminishes the depth of those images. That is because in some cases there are no right words (at least that I am privy to), or there are many partly right words. So my poems suffer from inaccuracy and incompleteness.

When I am being more or less successful, each word is a vertex (or is it a vortex?) connecting vectors from multiple layers of reality. Their purpose is to expose, not conceal, those layers. This makes reading me slow going, but if one desires to truly understand reality, and not simply get by with the minimum amount of necessary awareness, every moment, every thought, every feeling, every word, quite obviously, is connected to a vast network of related "nodes."

Too often I have not made those connections, or I've only made a few when many were possible. More problematic is when I have been inaccurate. I have distorted or muddied reality, rather than clarifying it. Therefore, I can only rely on you to correct me or expand upon the narrow apertures I've tried to open.

One final note about "reality." It is important to distinguish between the complex, incomplete, and often discontinuous images that expose reality (ie the contents of consciousness), on the one hand, and the spectrum of common and accessible conventions that are used to distort the forms of most modern "art," on the other. Modern art, on the one extreme, creates self-contained narratives that hide or deny discontinuities and contradictions. It is really a form of illusionism and unreality. Popular novels and films do this to great financial success. At the other extreme, we find self-absorbed experimentalism, in which reality, and conscience especially, have become insignificant determinants, or inconvenient obstructions. While both extremes of art, literature, and music can entertain or delight the senses, they cannot be taken as serious. The definitive function of true art is its imperative to inspire moral clarity, ethical action, and spiritual awakening.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Concerning the Third Temple

I dreemd I was holding a sheet on which were written suicide notes from Auschwitz. It was on my heart, so heavy. This is all that happened in the dreem, for a long time, altho perhaps there were also scenes of Auschwitz in the background, too. A dreem of hours, of ours.

Can we say Kaddish for these ones too? They are crying out in my Soul. They want to return to the world but they are still in traum.

Befor the Hi Preest Assenden

I askt Rabbi Yosee,
"May I even say my kwesten?"

He sed, "Sho it so yur tents kan be juj."

I ask, "Wen will we rebild the Tempel,
"And ware?"

Then Rabbi Yosee sat me down beneeth a tree
And all the leevs ov the tree wer illume,
Goelden ritingz allong thaer interkut vaenz.
He kwiklee skannd thru the jenome
And az he did, hiz fase reflekten thaer brillyen liets.

"Heer, I will giv yu the Torrah,
"But nex yu must lern its Mishneh.

     "Thare ar being three Tempelz.
     "The Firs the Lor haz laening in yur Soel,
     "Frum its fowndaten tu its kurven rafter roof.

     "The Sekken the Romanz, hu yu liv ammung,
     "Ar wont tu tare down az yu ar bild.
     "This iz the Tempel ov yur Praer-Staet
     "And wen all the Preesthoud iz bilding
     "It kumz tu kompleten.

     "Wen the Praer-Staet Temple iz thronging
     "And the brokade kertenz ov the Ark ar open
     "The werk ov the Therd Tempel iz begin.

     "Az a sine befor yur iyz:
          "How far hav yu led the Naeshenz?
          "Wen yu plase the nex stone
          "The Naeshenz will fall on thaer fasez in aw.
          "Els the stone iz not in plase."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Blessing the first born

In February of 2004, my oldest son returned to Hebrew U. in Jerusalem, amid a veritable downpour of tears. Back home, feeling the waves of sorrow, I decided to go surfing in it, and found this.

Blessen on my Elden Sun

          It is half of such a shekel that must be given
          As an offering to God.
          The rich may not give more,
          And the poor may not give less.
               Exodus 30:13, 15
               Shabbat Sh'kelleem, 5764, 2004

Yu hu ar haf and all ov me,
A singel sell ov me, shatterd,
And made nu. Tumarro, like Ezra
Yu will rize frum my klefs
Tu retern tu yur holee sittee
And yur saekred wayz.

Yu will ty the sheevz ov weets.
May yu be bownd, also, tu an uprite sheef,
Bownd forrevver tu the wun yu alwayz knu
And nevver knu ennuf.

Yu will dreenk frum sweet wellz.
May yur therst be grate, and with hed throen bak
Dreenk long wile shaddoez ar short,
Ammung sajez and students.

Yu will kapcher bewtee and amplafy her.
May yu frame her aggenst an azher horizen.
May yu kno her chaemberz, her goeld kertenz,
A keeper ov her keez.

The expans iz wide that yu will wok.
May mennee ov yur mielz be wokt with yur bruther,
And may yu sip Shabbat wine offen with yur muther,
Yur haf shekkel with mine.

May God prepare such a way for yu.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Calls to Prayer, Transliteral

What follows is an excavation from Notebook 15 from 1983. That's the year that Nancy (my wife) and I fell apart and came back together in Turkey. In my travels back to her I wrote a number of essays, named "Ottoman Beachcombings." I wrote a few poems during those travels, many of which have never before seen the light of day (if this be day and this be light). I was particularly fascinated with the series entitled "The Calls tu Prayer, Transliteral." I composed them while listening, over and over, to the call to prayer all thru Turkey and elsewhere. There are actually 5 calls to prayer, depending on time of day, but the melodies are similar (but if memory serves me, not identical). It is a most gorgeous and seductive melody. These poems try to capture something of that music.

BTW, if you want to know more about the Muslim call to prayer, see after the poem.

The Calls tu Prayer, Transliteral
[read slowly, with protracted vowels]

Yu ar... Yu ar...
The Master.
Yu ar... Yu ar...
The Master.
Baal, the golden Baal
Yu throw down.

How, oh how iz the lite
Come down, far down tu our harts?
Yea, how, oh how do we lie, do we lie in Lite
Far down, down, oh down in this earthly ground.

Come rize in our harts,
A sun tu our eyes
In this earth, so far, so far...
From Yu...

Yu ar... Yu will be
Our dying laber.
Long we call,
We bow
With our heads tu the ground.
We fall
As dust on the ground.

Clear iz the sky
Glinting like diamond.
Clearer Your brite dezire.
But gloom iz hanging
In this ruined morning
Wen Yu have not come
Far down, far down
Tu our utter pallor.

This ball, this clay ball,
Clay ball, baked clay,
Yu have cast
Cast down, thrown!
And we ar broken.

We look so high.
He set us so low.
Again I call, I call.
All my hart I call.
Again, and again, and all my hart asks how.
In my house and in the hills
So high so high
My hart it flies.
In my home, in my hope, in my hart
It flies, it comes.
He takes us so high.
And then it iz gone.
It iz gone.
He set us so low.

Please gather now,
The breeze wanders out of the hills.
It gathers where fathers
And daughters wonder how...
The trees are filled with swirling lite,
Pearls and sparks, unfurling shoots
And spires of desire.
Come gather!

Come gather now
And rather than hours that pass
So drab,
And the harsh bowers
That grab your hair.
Come under the wondrous
Spell of our Song.
Come intu the wondrous shadows.

The following information about the call to prayer was passed on to me by a good friend. It comes from the Encyclopedia of the Orient.
Thanks Alastor, and love to you all.

The adhan (Arabic term for the call to prayer) consists of seven standard elements:
1 "God is most great" (x4)
2 "I testify that there is no god except God" (x3)
3 "I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God" (x3)
4 "Come to prayer" (x2)
5 "Come to salvation" (x2)
("Prayer is better than sleep" (x2)-- only with the morning prayer)
("Come to the best of work" (x1)-- added by shia's)
6 "God is most great" (x2)
7 "There is no god except God" (x1)
Muslims hearing the adhan, must repeat it with a low voice, but in the place of the 4th and the 5th element, they say "There is no strength nor power but in God". The added sentence of the morning prayer (as seen above) is not repeated either, but replaced with: "You have said what is true".
While the performance of adhan is melodious, there are no fixed melodies. The muezzin is free to modulate the sentences to what he feels is best.

Monday, August 07, 2006

To Hamas and Hezbollah

Keeperz ov the Vinyerd

Lord ov Hevvenz and all ov Erthaz hevenz,
Huze kort extenz frum the holeez tu the heethenz
     My hart feelz it,
     My miendz perseev it,
     My Seel envizhenz it,
     And my Spere knoez
A pepel iz arrizzen frum the baren woddee,
So bitter in its root,
So thornee in its bark,
A frute all seed and poizen.
It iz a kers uppon the land ov Yisroyel.

Wy iz this pepel and wut iz thaer kers
That haetred and venj iz thaer oenlee praer,
That hewman sakraffise iz thaer faverd rite?
Thay ar set themsellz entiyer aggenst Yisroyel
And thare by aggenst the God ov Yisroyel.
Thay hav set themsellz aggenst the God ov Yisroyel
And thare by aggenst thaer oen exxisten.

God ov Hevvenz and all ov Erthaz hevenz:
Thaer oen teechenz refuzen tu tern them.
How will thay tern? How kan thay servive?
Shorlee Yisroyel will be drivven by Yur tiedz,
And drivven by Yur windz tu destroy this ill vine.
Yisroyel will be driven in the chareyots ov Uddoniy
Tu dig owt this weed entiyer frum the land.

Lord, I kall frum the hart ov Yisroyel.
Must we take on this tarabbel werk?
Must we plow this poluten feeld?
Lord ov Yisroyel and Lord ov Islom,
Hu will tern this pepel, if not themsell?
Hu will tern them, if we kan not tern them?
Hu will tern them, o mersefful Juj,
God ov Hevvenz and all ov Erthaz hevenz.
God, redeemen ov Erthaz wide extremen.

Disproportion and illegitimacy in the Middle East, part 3

Hezbollah operates an independent militia from within Lebanon, a militia that is entirely outside the control of the Lebanese government and army. Many nations classify it as a terrorist organization. The UN has demanded Hezbollah's militia be disarmed and disbanded, to which Hezbollah has thumbed its nose. Thus, Hezbollah violates both Lebanese and international law.

Israel, by contrast, is a sovereign nation. Indeed, it is the only nation in the Middle East created by the UN. Every other nation in that region was created after WWI by France and England as they carved up the Ottoman empire for their own economic and political uses. This "carving" (which may be described more accurately as the tearing apart of a carcass by a pack of wolves) was done without regard to history, ethnicity, religion, and culture (as is so obvious now in Iraq). And yet we hear across the Arab world about the “illegitimacy” of Israel. This is a classic example of seeing in one’s enemy what is most true about oneself.

Hezbollah is the definition of illegitimacy. So, if proportion is demanded in this conflict, how does one set a proportion to Hezbollah's illegitimacy and flagrant violation of Lebanon’s sovereign territory, as compared to Israel's unconditional legitimacy? In truth, the demand for “proportion” laid on Israel is really just another hypocritical example double standards, to allow free rein for anti-Israel, anti-Jewish agents. Hezbollah is a proxy for Arab and Muslim hatred of Israel, and is a cloak for resurgent anti-Semitism across Europe and Canada, and to a much lesser degree, the US.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More on non-linear narratives

So... I'm searching out the overlaps between language, causality (or causalities), randomness, and psychological and religious experience. I am trying to envision a kind of non-linear or branched causality, that might better explain (some) things (like knowledge transmission, or historical connections, or the seeming, or real, disconnect between righteousness (or its opposite) and reward).

I have found that much philosophy, math, and physics lack clarity and explicitness in non-technical language. That causes me to wonder how clear and explicit much of that work really is.

But, alas, that presents a contradiction already to me, since poetry is a technical kind of language, and my poetry particularly seems to be such a bumbite for people! So that binds me in 2 contradictions, one concerning clarity; the other that my edgy linguistic experiments are directly related to, and implicated in finding more branched and non-linear causalities. I guess I'm stuck with that.

To get unstuck, here's something I sketched out while stuck in the San Francisco airport a while back. It’s the opening to a stroll thru some causal models and how they've changed over time, beginning with the question, 'what causes malaria?'. But I don’t get to that question in this sketch.

Riddel ov the Thred

Thare iz a thred, it is notten, it is koyel,
Like the yung prittee wimmen, it iz hard tu hoeld.
Wen yu lift this thred, this silkee frinj,
It iz lite in yur hand, just a foton a time.
     Now peenk az the klowdz at sunrize, now goelden
     Az Jerrusullem in the benden shaedz ov dusk;
     It iz blu like the jakkarranda blossem,
It chaenjez over time, it fallz frum yur hand**.     ** utherz say "sky"

Wut iz this thred that the sajez woud spin?
That the fizzassist minuetlee stretchez and frayz?
That biyollojists kut intu seekwens ov assid,
Foelden with oxxajjen, and randem evolvz?

Wut iz this thred, that historreyanz drag it
Like a fishermanz net, troling thaer seez?
Pollattishenz pull it with all thaer mite;
Thay kare not wether it brake or hoeld.
Mathmattishenz woud rezolv its repeeting orderz,
This hapless tangel, theze numbel handz.

Wut iz this thred? Yes, wut iz this thred?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Poem by Jalaladin Rumi

Taking a short break from my own writing, here's a wonderful Sufi poem that is very true to my own experience, both phenomenologically and literarily. By one of the great Sages, Jalaladin Rumi.

Who Says Words with My Mouth

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Let whoever brought me here take me back.

This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

American-Rabbinic Poetry

I have come to realize, mostly after the fact, that what I have been doing for many years is attempting to merge the literary consciousness of our Jeffersonian/Thoreau-ian heritage with the Rabbinic literary/spiritual consciousness, and its precursor, our Biblical conscience. This is not such an unusual thing. Indeed, I would consider Jefferson and Thoreau modern Prophets who were very consciously linking this era to its Biblical, Hebraic conscience. My addition of the Rabbinic component is perhaps less common.

But Rabbinic literature is vast and utterly untapped as a source of imagery, imagination, phenomenology, and multiple knowledge-gestalts. It is shockingly modern and evocatively primitive at the same time. It is hypertextual, non-linear, and liltingly narrative. I would propose that, thanks to an obsessive fugue of immersion and study by 75 generations of rabbis (1500 years), the Talmud and Midrash have been fused into the Jewish spiritual genetic code. And now, in this era, it is, as if, directly available to those Jews who make an effort to Hear it. Thru their transcendent cult and cultivation, the Rabbis have made it the native flora of our soil. We must but turn the soil over and let the heavens water it, and what grows will provide us a harvest of Rabbinic Knowing.

Consider how pertinent, and how perfectly familiar, these sayings from the first generations:

Reb Khisda said (BT Brakhot 55a): "A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not read." In the name of Reb Bana'ah (BT Brakhot 55a): "There were 24 interpreters of dreams in Jerusalem. Once I dreamt a dream and went round to all of them and they all gave different interpretations. And all were fulfilled!"

See my poem “Vizhen Karvd in 2 Seels” as an example of this poetics.

Many Messengers, One Message

A holy message is shaped differently by the soul of each of its messengers, and by the needs of those they address it to, and yet it is but one message.

A Vizhen Karvd in 2 Seelz

     Reb Stienbek sed,
"The men taested the akrid aer
"And saw thaer krop kut down tu the grownd,
"Dust on thaer fasez and in thaer iyz.
"And thaer wimmen wocht them
"Tu see if thay had broke.
"And the chieldz wocht frum kornerz ov iyz,
"Tu see if thaer dadz wer braken.
"But the men did not brake
"And the wimmen held streng
"And the chieldz thay did not hav feer."
     [The Grapes of Wrath, end of chapter 1]

     Reb Kallonnemus Kalmon sed,
"The men taested the akrid aer
"And saw thaer shtettelz kut down tu the grownd,
"Ash on thaer fasez and in thaer iyz.
"And thaer wimmen wocht them
"Tu see if thay lost faeth,
"And thaer chieldz wocht frum kornerz ov roomz
"Tu see if thaer poppaz had lost the Hullakha.
"The menz iyz wer hard, a flint reflekten,
"Struk hard till it sparks and kursen.
"The time of marreev* kame     [* evening prayers]
"And thay gatherd in the dirtee sellerz.
"Abbuv they herd it, 'vehhu rekhuem....'**     [** see 1 below]
"And the wimmen held streng.
"And the chieldz, thay gleend hope."

     And Reb Kalmonz Seel, hiz Aesh Koydesh,**     [** see 2 below]
"We shall be restoren, oh pepel.
"Yu kannot be braken."

**1. "vehhu rekhuem," Hebrew for 'And He, the Merciful,' the words that begin the evening prayers
**2. "Aesh Koydesh," literally "holy fire"; Reb Kalmon's sermons in the Warsaw Ghetto, compiled by his chassidim, and miraculously discovered after the war, in the rubble.]

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Behiend eech thot iz a seekret life

In my previous poetry post (7/27 - Silens, Yu Sperets!) I presented what I call a “reverse ballad.” Stylistically, the slowly evolving refrain leads and shapes the narrative, rather than responding to, and commenting on it.

Here, Heloise, in her convent, has just received a letter from Abelard, after his abandonment of her (more or less). She is composing this response to him. Have you seen this woman lately?

The Werld Dizzolvd in a Teerdrop

Tu him hu wuz a Gode,
     Or rather, Ruler ov the miendz ov Frans;
          My harts konkerer, or rather,
               Him hu haz alwayz inhabbitted my Sol;
My Abballar, frum yur Helloweez, Bride ov Ajez.

The oenlee revvellaten I am evver knowen
Iz that ov yur tuch, the intens knowen
Ov plezzher liting my boddee like a lamp.
     Wut iz relijjen but a pale shade
     Ov the holee yuenyen* that we knu so well?          *union

A koppee ov yur letter sekretlee arrievd,
     Yur "Kullammittee" yu kawl it. Bitter frute we plukt,
          And now I am muther tu a rase ov sorroez.
I koud nevver hav immajjind this loenleeness I feel.

I koud nevver hav immajjind that the werld iz so strong,
     And we, so herowek, so eezellee vangkwisht.
          We! So prowd! so eezelee fell.
The sheets ov yur letter ar spred arownd my sell.
     I kannot reed them a paje at a time,
          Eech hidden moment, eech unreveeld werd.
               I kannot endure the leeving ov time.

Evree surfas ov my rume yu ar userp.
Teerz bler my eyz and drip on yur werdz.
Thay lift the eenk and make it swerl,
     Yur werdz take on a life ov thaer oen.

Wun werd straenjlee tranzformd intu Heebru
Annuther fannd owt tu a snoeflake, a star.
     Like a staend glass windo intu yur Sol.
          Behiend eech werd iz a hidden werld.

Behiend eech letter, behiend eech thot
Iz a seekret life. My teerz fawl;
Thay peers the serfas, and an aenjel eskaeps,
Singing himmz, he sez I wuns toeld him,
     But the werdz ar tuu suttel for me now tu hoeld.

If oenlee yu wer here tu interpret...