Articles by " Jan"
16 Aug
2017
Posted in: Poems
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So Brutal and Alive

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

5.
When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, and bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled

To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is —

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.

***

(end of series)

15 Aug
2017
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Or Does That End?

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

4.
In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on…

In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparceled time,
Who knows what blazes thorough his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?

On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.

***

(to be continued)

14 Aug
2017
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The Frenzy of Being

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

3.
Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone — a momentary blip —

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they — we — flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want it to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

So that I might be sitting now beside my father

As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe

For the first time in the winter of 1959.

***

(to be continued)

11 Aug
2017
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Toward God-Knows-Where

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

2.
Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.

Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires

Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.

Hero, surviver, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,

Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth, And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.

A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth

Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.

***

(to be continued)

10 Aug
2017
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Some Like to Imagine…

My God, It’s Full of Stars
by Tracy K. Smith

1.
We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man

Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.

Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space… Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,

Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to image
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,

Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best

While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.

Sometimes, what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.

The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,

A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.

***

(to be continued)

9 Aug
2017
Posted in: Books
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Just About To….

“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”

“‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘what I like best –‘ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
—  
from The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne

***

Ajhan Amaro says:
In the process of moving from feeling a pleasant feeling to liking it, to wanting it, to becoming completely absorbed in it, “the moment of maximum thrill is when we’re chasing after a desired object, when we know we’re going to get it, but we haven’t got it quite yet. This is what we call ‘becoming’. This is very useful to understand because, surprisingly, what we get addicted to is not getting what we want but it’s that moment when we know for sure that we are going to get it

“We absorb into that promise, into that becoming. But as soon as we get what we want, we’re already disappointed. The thrill is in that promise…

“It’s important to use our meditation to explore and understand this process; we need to see into its mechanisms, its workings and then through that seeing, to help set the heart free from it.”

8 Aug
2017
Posted in: Practice
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So Many Flavors

 

Even here in St. Louis, we’ve got a lot of different Buddhist traditions to choose from. (Check out our list at Neighborhood Sitting Groups.)

Is it better to pick just one, or try a few, or to sample them all?

Joseph Goldstein says: “One of the interesting things that’s happening in the transmission of the dharma to the West is that so many different Buddhist traditions are being taught here. People have a wide range of possibilities in terms of how to undertake their practice. It’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from different traditions, but there are also some cautions.

“From my perspective, it’s good to do some initial shopping around—to taste different traditions and see which practice really resonates and inspires us. In some way, that’s the most important thing—that we get enough inspiration from the practice to actually do it.

“But then we need to go into the practice in some depth before we again start to explore other traditions, because otherwise it can get a bit confusing. If it’s based on a solid foundation of understanding, it’s enriching to do some Dzogchen practice, or Zen, or different kinds of Vipassana. That can really expand our dharma view. But if we do it too early, there’s the potential for confusion in the mind. So we have a great opportunity to explore all of the different traditions of Buddhism available to us, but we have to use it judiciously.”

Jack Kornfield says: “Especially when practitioners are starting out, they can latch on to new ideas or beliefs as a way to orient themselves. But Buddhism is not some system or idea or set of beliefs. It is an invitation to have a direct experience of the mystery of your own body and mind. We explore what causes our suffering and what makes us free. We practice skillful means such as mindfulness of the body, loving-kindness, forgiveness, and so forth. These practices are all in the service of liberation, not of creating some new set of ideas or beliefs.

“So if your practice is helping you become more present with the way things are, instead of imposing some view on it, then you will start to feel freer and your practice will deepen.”

***

The above was taken from an interview published in Lions’ Roar magazine. To read more, click here.

7 Aug
2017
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Excuse Me for Interrupting…

I Confess
by Alison Luterman

I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
watching
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her
basket,
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years or how to live
alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to
posses
some knowledge that makes the earth turn and
burn on its axis–”
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.” 

4 Aug
2017
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Hunting.

Summer
by Tony Hoagland

The tourists are strolling down Alpine Street
hoping for a deal on hand-carved rocking chairs
or some bronze Kali Yuga earrings
from the local Yak Arts dealer.
It’s summer. No one needs therapy for now,
or a guide to the aesthetics of collage
–laughing as they walk past the acupuncture clinic,
and Orleans Fish and Chips,
then double back to the Omega store
to look more closely at those shoes.
People like to buy. They just do.
They like the green tissue paper.
They like extracting the card from its tight
prophylactic sheath, handing it over,
and getting it back.
They like to swing the bag when they stroll away.
They like to stash the box in the car.
A forty-year-old man stares at a wetsuit on the rack:
Is it too late in life to dress up like a seal and surf?
–as the beech tree in front of the courthouse suddenly
fluffs itself up and flutters,
and a woman with a henna rinse
holds a small glass vase up to the light
to see the tiny turquoise bubbles trapped inside.
As a child she felt a secret just inside her skin,
always on the brink of bursting out.
Now the secret is on the outside,
and she is hunting it.  

3 Aug
2017
Posted in: Books
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What Do We Value?

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I had a doctor’s appointment, then a friend stopped by and we got to talking, and then, after being inspired by an article in the New York Times, I started reading: Affluence Without Abundance: The Disappearing World of the Bushmen, by James Suzman. And then I couldn’t stop.

Here are some of the passages that grabbed my attention:

“Ju/’hoansi [bushmen] spend only 15 hours a week securing their nutritional requirements and only a further 15 to 20 hours per week on domestic activities that could be loosely described as ‘work.'”

“A good case can be made that hunters and gatherers work less than we do and that, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in other conditions of society.”

“What was special about the Bushman data was that it showed that they coped easily with relative scarcity and that they had mastered the art of not obsessing about whether the grass was greener on the other side, which–given that they lived in one of the world’s oldest deserts–almost certainly was the case.”

“[The perspective of the Ju/’hoansi as a result of their introduction to modern society] brings the difference between foraging and production cultures–like our own–into vivid if sometimes uncomfortable relief. It reveals how our sense of time shapes and is shaped by our economic thinking; why, despite our obsession with celebrity and leadership, we take such pleasure in seeing the successful stumble and why we object so viscerally to inequality when we feel ourselves to be the victims of it.

“It also invites us to query how, why, and to what we ascribe value; how we understand affluence, satisfaction, and success; and how we define development, growth and progress. Perhaps most importantly it reveals how much of our contemporary economic and culture behavior–including the conviction that work gives structure and meaning to our lives, defines who we are, and ultimately empowers us to master our own destinies–is a legacy from our transformation from hunting and gathering to farming.”