Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

LOOKING FOR WIDER CONNECTIONS

My wife, meanwhile, has her own perspective. “Many people think this valley can prosper in isolation, but let me tell you, the local museum indicates otherwise. It’s filled with Pennsylvania long rifles, Ohio flint, a New Hampshire stagecoach, antique cars from Michigan, pianos made in Indiana, Connecticut pistols, even Illinois farm implements. Everybody came from somewhere.” In her case, South Carolina.

Taking her up on the invitation to tour the exhibits, my wife paid special attention to local Indian basketry and beadwork. “Over time, their artistry was pathetically stripped down to resemble coloring books,” she told me afterward. “The gift shop sells greeting cards from Iowa and crafts from what the sales clerk said was ‘Berea, Virginia.’

“Virginia? I replied.”

“The college there.”

“Oh, you mean Kentucky!”

“‘Kentucky, then,’ she said, as if it’s all the same.”

I understand the scowl. “I notice, around here ‘Easterners’ seem to come from such ‘seaboard’ states as landlocked Nebraska, Kansas, and Illinois.”

“That’ll be news to them,” she grins. “Bet they never thought of themselves as Easterners, either!”

Infinite misunderstandings continue, tit for tat.

“Even so,” I say, “this is big sky and cowboy spreads. Even these treeless foothills ignite something in my airy nature. I hope this elation never ends.”

An elation, at least, when I’m out of the office.

I look forward to tonight’s gig with Kokopelli.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

A BIT MORE ON HIPPIE LIT

One of my lingering questions wonders why the intensity of the hippie experience didn’t flower more fully in fiction.

Yes, I know hippies were considered “laid back” and “mellow,” but that’s only part of the picture. A lot of what we felt was indeed incredible and new. Yet while the music of the era gives both lyrics and a soundtrack to the late ’60s and early ’70s, the literary parallel runs thin. Most of the prose is in the non-fiction side of the aisle – memoir, especially, and sociology – works like Barry Miles’ Hippie. Within that flourished a range of small publishing operations, such as Straight Arrow Books and Ten-Speed Press.

But novels are another matter.

As I’ve already noted, Richard Brautigan and Gurney Norman (Divine Right’s Trip) did give wondrous voice to the action. Add to that Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, and we’re soon at the fringe. Thomas Pyncheon’s Vineland, Lisa Mason’s Summer of Love, and Jan Kerouac’s Baby Driver get nods. I’d add Edward Abbey, Tom Robbins, and John Nichols to the list. And then?

Well, there’s always my Hippie Trails series. All five volumes.

As Michael Wards, author of Bitch, a novel about Berkeley 1968-73, commented on an earlier post here, “Today I don’t think 20-year-olds would believe their grandparents were capable of anything that actually happened then.”

That, I suppose, is the entire point. We came so close to a real revolution across the social and economic spectrum. That vision needs to be kept alive and rekindled. Especially in the face of today’s repressive regime.

BRAINCHILD

a feathered and furred woman
bare shouldered, face painted white
black mouth and black exaggerated eyebrows
a black veil over her face

where is the balm?
the salve for stinging nettles?

potted plants on a white mantle

a bowl of sprouts atop a handwritten note
spread over a blue napkin

richly patterned fabric
behind a waxy flower

a pile of Valentines

reeds and songbirds
home is a refuge or should be

a bar of soap wrapped in pale-tea ribbon
a hole cut in a painting left open with crossed ribbons

two men in an open briefcase, as dolls torn apart
so many screws and nails and tense threads
for connections

a barn owl in front of a red barn

a red house with shiny metal roof in the woods

red hen, red comb, red alarm

Bright day in the valley

Lincoln’s Indiana legacy
in a place that couldn’t support a used bookstore

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of
Partitas, click here.

WITH CREATURELY COMFORT, TOO

Universally, people look to the larger animals – in some cases, not just as a food source but with recognition of greatness as well. Even the names of professional sports franchises reflect this reality. I believe the myths and tales of ancient peoples arise in this other way of knowing and soon lead us into an awareness of the abundant activity found in any healthy environment. In these poems are flashes from Amerindian, Biblical, and Buddhist voices – and hints that reach beyond my own observations in the American Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Eastern Seaboard, to touch Africa and Asia as well. Soon, even the smallest creatures we can see have a story, as do imaginary monsters, with their fabrication from living animals.

Sometimes we are affirmed and comforted by other creatures; at other times, vexed, as happens with household invaders. Some remind us of liberty and potential. Others produce essential food, hides, fabric, and more. Because each species requires specific and unique qualities for its environment, there’s no escaping an awareness of place, either. Particularities of water, air currents, soil and rock come into play, as do plants and fellow species.

In this alternative way of knowing, the dialogue turns from being simply about animals to our own interaction in their universe. Obviously, we have much to discover there, about ourselves as well as about them.

The brute – even the bestial human – may ultimately learn table manners that allow sharing in the feast of life.

Join in the circle of Bright Sweet Crude, my newest collection of poems.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

I’M FASCINATED WITH THE INFLUENCE OF SPECIFIC PLACES ON OUR LIVES

A major element in my literary writing has always been an awareness of place, and when it comes to my fiction, I’ve often considered the surrounding landscape to be a character of its own. Called it the local vibe, if you will, but the soil and locale can embody and influence the inhabitants who interact within it. Or so I heard in the ashram when our teacher returned from her first trip to India.

The awareness has stuck with me as I’ve moved across the country, from my native Midwest to both coasts and points in-between.

Another major element, to my surprise, is work and, in a larger sense, economics.

My Hippie Trails novels – Daffodil Sunrise, Hippie Drum, Hippie Love, and Subway Hitchhikers – follow a young photographer who works for newspapers through the turbulent era, and rural Indiana, small-town Northeast, and New York City all have their place in the arc.

As a rundown farm, Ashram is a center of yoga life surrounded by forest and deer.

The Northwest Passion series, meanwhile – Promise, Peel (as in apple), and St. Helens in the Mix – leaps from the Midwest to the interior desert of the Pacific Northwest. In the background we see Jaya’s struggles as a rising executive in nonprofit organizations.  And then Kokopelli’s Hornpipe … plays …

With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses, Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, and Third Rail … are rife with the mix.

The balance tips, though, with Hometown News, which is set in the newsroom of the daily newspaper serving a small industrial city beset by the emerging conglomerate corporations headquartered elsewhere.

And then we have Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, with its young apprentice managed by a mysterious Boss he never meets face-to-face as they transform a backwater town into a secretive factory involving international intrigue. Yes, there’s major locale, but the focus is on the day-to-day banter of what would otherwise be an office while bigger questions – including the very nature of the company paying the bills – remain nebulous, befitting its international distance.

A third central element has been spirituality and religion, especially the strands that veer away from the mainstream. Often my exploration has been for the awareness and nurture these can provide individuals and small circles of kindred spirits. But sometimes my perspective has been critical, especially when clannish identity, superstition, or custom override faith.

It should be no surprise that my next novel will also combine the three elements – it’s set in a family-run restaurant in a college town in the Midwest. But this time, family will be yet another central issue. Please stay tuned.

LOOKING FOR VITAL MUTUALITY

We, who consider ourselves free spirits, despite any penchant for obligations, still yearn for a steady circle where attendance at worship is less of an option within many alternatives. Let the worship itself have an urgency and regularity, may it be a priority in the weekly schedule, free it to be focused on the One and empowering.

To be one!

Don’t ask me if prayer works. Anymore than singing, birds answer on a May morning.

Our struggle is magnified by our degree of selfless service.

We turn, instead, to free-spirits, where we give fairly selflessly of ourselves.

Only problem is, unlike the Old Order or monastic setting, we’re not surrounded by and bathed in the selfless gifting of everyone else.

They just aren’t reliable, no matter how fine their intentions. Ergo, burnout! (You and I always wind up holding the bag when they default or go off to boogie.)

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

GEMINI, BY JIMMINY

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. This matter of scale – and balance – in a life that has an appearance of randomness. All these items collected throughout the house and barn. Somehow, order reasserts itself, if you look.
  2. Remembering the volcano 37 years ago. Just look at the skulls I collected in that country.
  3. Four years later, the move to Baltimore for the one I thought embodied that moment full of promise to take my life upward into a fairy-tale existence of class and repose, a much different direction from where I’ve landed. Alas, she’d already bolted. And mine has become much more organic.
  4. Common Meter, 8.6.8.6, as in “Amazing Grace,” is simply the syllable count. A great way to swap words and music.
  5. Am not having profound or imaginative dreams. But at least the flow’s beginning again, like looking at a secret movie or computer screen.
  6. When taking portraits outdoors, how often the eyeglasses turn into sunglasses in the bright light – and how often people in party mode turn wooden.
  7. Looking at a book of glass houses reminds me how deeply that Bauhaus aesthetic is embedded in my sensibility. Not that I’d aspire to live in one now. Who washes all those windows, anyway? And what about fingerprints or noses? These days I’ve chosen a different style, one based in Yankee houses that just keep growing, as needed. As for curtains, she and I will argue.
  8. To ease back into Hatha – Ha-ha!
  9. “The things that are not seen are eternal” – II Corinthians 4:18.
  10. Still feeling so tentative rather than forceful.

~*~

Why's he honored on the street?

Why’s he honored on the street?

I chanced upon this scultpture at 15 Beach Place while wandering from Chinatown to Faneuil Hall. It’s about a block from the old Boston Music Hall, where Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto got its world premiere. Maybe this site is where he stayed while visiting? Anyone got a clue?

The sculpture resides just left of the doorway.

The sculpture resides just left of the doorway.

AS A VERB, PERHAPS

now I lay me down to weep

 why, we always see the squirrel as playful
rather than tragic

or desperately terrified

a kite in the sky

*   *   *

if getting anywhere were only that easy
or direct

*   *   *

Survival is the first law.
But which Self?

To be hungry
and clever
are a dangerous combination.

Especially when cornered.

*   *   *

layered in trees           wires   roofs and decks
the predominant wild mammal of the city
mocks dogs, mauls cats
stands more visible than rats

bolts a zig-zag route at ground level
where pigeons walk in circles

*   *   *

some creatures are more monogamous

and some fear their young

some, helpless and afraid
have no way of knowing

*   *   *

To find yourself on the other end
of a hungry
and clever
creature

even if it’s only trying to get in

is the basis of law two.

*   *   *

zoology and physics, a most interesting combination

Poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson
To read the full set of squirrelly poems,
click here.

 

HOT AND SOUR

The gateway is just blocks from South Station.

The gateway is just blocks from South Station.

Chinatown is a delightful contrast to much of Boston’s more Yankee reserved style. We recommend feasting on dim sum on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but be sure to arrive early – the restaurants are soon packed for the inexpensive rounds of adventurous platters.

You never know quite what to find in its shops, either. A resourceful puppeteer I know discovered the perfect fabric in one of its retailers aimed at, shall we say, exotic dancers? She was hardly the type, and the owners were amused.

The city is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

It's streets are narrow and busy.

It’s streets are narrow and busy.

LOST YEARS

these damned mill towns exhaust
another mystery in the night
of Indian and Barbados descent
as much a sphinx as medical

for a change, salmon, at the hydroelectric dam

(along with the fish ladders they’re installing
two blocks from my home) the only evidence of life
is where beaver has gnashed a foot up the trees

~*~

the decade and a half
between the collapse of first
marriage and origins

that second                spiritual redirection
and career retrenchment
not harried                but

resignation
collisions
oh, all these devils

~*~

like the other stuff I was going to do tonight
my intellectual existence, it seemed
if she knows any alternatives

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015