poems, etc.

9/11 remembrance

It seems to be mandatory for everyone to post some 9/11 remembrance piece today. So...

In the fall of 2001, I had a Tuesday happy hour gig at Leadbetter's Tavern in Fells Point. September 11 was a Tuesday that year.

I figured that music would be cancelled, out of the question, on a day like that. But after watching CNN and listening to the radio at home alone all day, I wanted to be around other people. So, grabbing my music gear just in case, I went downtown.

The streets were empty. But the bar was packed: no one wanted to be alone.

As it turned out, I ended up playing. And so what I remember most is the feeling of being the center of attention (in between the TV reports at least) at a time like that, of having fifty or sixty scared and angry people focusing on you.

I also remember two young men, Marines who knew their leave was just about to end. The younger one, maybe just barely 21, was all gung-ho; his buddy, a little older, was quieter, shaking his head, knowing the shit was about to get deep. I remember how they both groaned after Bush gave a speech with a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face. They tipped good, and I played any request of theirs I could. I wonder where they are today, hope they're okay.

A few years later, I was finally able to write a song about my experience that evening:

"No Words of Wisdom"
Tom Swiss

Everybody's looking at me
They ask me to sing and play
But I've got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

I came down here with my guitar
To help you pass the time
We could have a drink and have some fun
And sing these songs of mine

Now everybody's looking at me
They ask me to sing and play
But I've got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "it is eccentricty that saves us"

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write a poem that includes eight or more words from the following list, which workshop participants brainstormed around the theme "home":

door warmth foundational Baltimore secure share hideaway den hearth siding vista center movable happy grow

sharing the center
with circles, those perfect shapes
this can only happen when
one encloses, surrounds, the other
but the oblong ellipse --
the shape of the earth's walk around Helios's den
and of the comet's plunge from its dark hideway down into the warmth of the solar hearth
the ellipse can share its focus with many
without surrounding

it is eccentricity that saves us
from surrounding or being surrounded
that takes us away and then back again
falling in and then shooting back out

in balance between our own momentum
and the foundational pull that roots us
we travel a loop with a one fixed focus
but the other focus is movable
orbital precession
so that we trace the shape of a blossom
a many-petaled flower
an emblem of our life
joy and beauty and --
let us not forget the flower's evolutionary purpose --
sexuality

sharing one focus
without surrounding
pulled the same way
but each expression individual
eccentric
unique

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly." -- or, not.

Bathrobe's "Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Language Site" contemplates how the sentence "On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur", from Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), has been rendered in English (and Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese) by various translators:

All five English translations are a little different as each translator has made certain choices. The five English versions are:

Name of translator English version
Woods 1943 It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
Cuffe 1995 You can only see things clearly with your heart.
Testot-Ferry 1995 It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly.
Wakeman 1997 We only really see with our hearts.
Howard 2000 One sees clearly only with the heart.

Of the five versions, Howard's is virtually a word-for-word translation from the French. The other translations vary in certain well-defined ways. Here we make a point-by-point comparison with the French and see where the translations vary...

I know jack about French (the only class in which I ever received a failing grade!), but the issues involved here are fascinating to the poet. These versions all have the same literal meaning, so what is difference? The big one is, I think, rhythm.
Woods and Testot-Ferry's versions have it: "It is ONLY with the HEART that ONE can see RIGHTly." "It is ONLY with one's HEART that ONE can see CLEARLYly." You can imagine singing these over four measures of 4/4, a line for a blues or rock song.

Try it: think of, say: "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog":

You Ain't NOTHIN' But a HOUND Dog / ROCKIN' all the TIME

It is ONLY with the HEART / that ONE can see RIGHTly.

or even, for a more exact parallel, move the break:

It is ONLY with the HEART that / ONE can see RIGHTly.

The other translations just don't have that driving beat.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: a couple of haiku

A slow Sunday, we're just hanging out in front of the Grind, chatting. Bad music from the bar a few doors up makes me feel better about my own abilities.

A little poetry to keep the fire going:

bulldog on the bricks
in front of the Daily Grind
lazy summer night

familiar faces
regulars greet each other
a Fells Point evening

heart stretches miles
waiting for her to return
anticipation

How Shall We Live?

First rough draft of a new chapter for the book. (Almost up to 58,000 words total now!)

How Shall We Live?

One of the perks of being an American in Japan is that many people want to practice their English on you. Strangers will come up and start conversations, buy you drinks or even dinner, just to chat.

You get to meet a wide cross-section of people. Usually it's just small-talk, "Hello", "Where are you from?", and so on. But one Osaka businessman gave me a interesting lesson in ethics along with a round of drinks.

I had come to an jazz club (called, charmingly, "Rugtime") to see my friend Eric's band play. Eric is a former Buddhist monk and acupuncturist, current elementary school vice-principal and drummer in several bands. During a break Eric and I were chatting, and an older Nihonjin gentleman approached us and asked in (extremely good) English if he could buy us drinks. We of course readily assented.

We engaged in some of the usual small-talk, and our new friend asked us our impression of Osaka.

Now, Osaka has a unique place in Japanese culture. It's known as the home of both gangsters and of comedians, and for its unique dialect. It's the place where people cross the street against the light and park their bicycles right under the signs that say "No Bike Parking" -- compared to other Japanese cities, that's wild behavior.

Osaka has always been a mercantile hub, and because its merchants were key to keeping the imports of foreign luxury goods flowing during the centuries that the shoguns ruled Japan, they were always granted a little extra latitude. So Osaka never quite fell fully into line with the social norms enforced in Tokyo.

I tried to explain to this gentleman how I liked Osaka's energy, its hustle, its willingness to make a deal and get down to business.

His eyes lit up. "Yes, yes! Let's do business. Make everybody happy!"

The idea that a business transaction should leave everybody involved happy is something that we rarely hear these days, drowned out by talk of quarterly profits and shareholder value. Going deeper and considering not just the customer satisfaction but the effects of our business dealings on broader world, we see what Jacob Marley learned only after his death: Mankind was his business.

In Buddhism, this is the concept of "right livelihood", a big part of Buddhist ethics.

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "Why are you riding the crack?

Zelda's Inferno exercise: supported free-write on the phrase, "Why are you riding the crack?" (a strange out-of-context conversational extract...)

Why are you riding the crack
the crack between now and then
past and present
sane and crazy
the crack between here and there
perception and being
fire and smoke
the crack between land and sky
the crack between you and I
the crack between thinking and doing
between theory and reality
why are you riding the crack, not stepping clearly to one side
why are you in the muddled middle
why are you wobbling in the crack between

Zelda's Inferno exercise: swimming

Zelda's Inferno exercise: write about something from a list of topics...I picked swimming

when I have flying dreams --
which is one of my top repeat themes --
it's like I'm swimming thru the air

breaststroke, freestyle crawl
sometimes the backstroke
occasionally in my dreams I find myself doing the elementary backstroke twenty feet above the ground while my childhood swimming instructor's voice repeats the mnemonic for the arm stroke:
tickle (as hands come to the armpits)
T (as they go straight out to the sides)
touch (as hands pull down to hips, the propulsion stroke)

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "like a sleepwalker barely aware I stumble through"

Zelda's exercise: from the random word generator at
http://watchout4snakes.com/creativitytools/RandomWord/RandomWordPlus.aspx
use a couple of the following words in a poem:

coddled
syncopate
furbish
relearn
conjoin
clunk
destruct
sleepwalk

clunk! clunk! clunk!
like a sleepwalker barely aware I stumble through
stumbling with syncopated step
not dancing but tripping over my own feet

seems I have to keep relearning the same lessons over and over
cleaning and furbishing my brain -- a do-it-yourself job, always
not even your most closely conjoined partner can do it for you

"When Hades brought Persephone to his home"

When Hades brought Persephone to his home --
whether by seduction, or by force --
she ate from the seeds of a pomegranate from his garden
and by the rule of the Fates
she was his --
and, let us not forget, he was hers --
forever

the magic of food grown by one's own hand

And so now you know
why I just smiled
when you thanked me for cooking you dinner last night

through the humble leaves of kale and beets
through the acts of digging and planting and sprouting and weeding and
watering
through the heat of my stove

Zelda's Inferno exercise: "Love broke in through the back door with a hammer."

Zelda's Inferno exercise: The Action of a Sentence. List a bunch of nouns, and a bunch of verbs associated with an occupation, then mix and match to make interesting lines

nouns: food, hair, love, prices, fire, butterflies, sky, roses, skin, chains

a thief: sneaks, opens, breaks, runs, hides, sells, convicted, steals, cuts, listens, fences, looks out, gets away, blows up, cons

Roses con the bees into spreading their pollen with their sweet-smelling lies.

The sky listened to his cries but did not reply.

Her hair snuck into my fingers, softly curling around them.

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