Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

FROM MY LITTLE THIRD-FLOOR DECK

did I hear thunder?
coffee in the treetops

just a pony cart of vegetables
street vendor’s cry
(O! the Arabs of Baltimore!)
on his daily round
somehow getting by

yet clouds slipped in

with a long cord, the phone

this old apartment, all light and draught
the floor sinking, new cracks in the plaster
was giving way, downward, you could hear it in the night
paint flaking, more pieces falling to my bed

all going downhill, to the basement

rusty pipes, armies of cockroaches
at work in the walls

constantly dripping faucets
kitchen, shower, the bathroom sink

stacked magazines slid away on their own
new grit emerged immediately after sweeping

the faucet knobs never matched

water rings in the ceiling

blooms collapsing for lack of circulation

To continue, click here.

SEASONS OF THE ASHRAM

MY RESIDENCY IN a yoga ashram introduced its own sequence of seasons. I address these in my novel, Ashram, where different individuals embody different stages in the progression from soul-cleansing to community awareness and service to spiritual illumination. While I limit the plot to the activities of a single day, there’s no way to escape the histories that led each participate to this place or to the conflicts and achievements they’ve already shared in their adventures on the yoga farm.

The ashram allowed a kind of spiritual season I no longer see on American landscape – a place for youths, especially, to undergo intense reorientation and ego-stripping. More traditional monastic settings often point the practitioner in a different direction, something more resembling a career path.

In retrospect, the institution itself was evolving through its own series of seasons. Originating as a kind of laissez-faire hostel and spa before moving into a more rigorous retreat center and monastery and then into a Hindu temple and children’s camp, each season manifested itself quite differently from the others, held together by Swami’s autocratic vision, strengths, and weaknesses.

In season, too, many of my doubts and concerns also bore fruit. When I was ordered to return to the community and refused, only to be ostracized, I was being faithful to a larger Spirit. A different set of seasons was unfolding.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

TAURUS, TENDERLY

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

~*~

  1. Daffodils and rising scrolls of ferns are two of my favorite proclamations of spring. Last year a sharp drop in temperature cut the daffodils down just as they were starting to bloom. We were so disappointed. (The same snap also wiped out peaches across New England.) How quickly, too, can a vibrant patch go scraggly if you don’t divide the bulbs every few years. As for our ferns, I now feel vindicated for all the ones I transplanted in futile efforts that first decade before they took hold here.
  2. Likewise, hold true to a vision of progress, of a more just and loving society, a realm of selflessness over selfishness.
  3. Hard for me to believe I composed Village of Gargoyles while living in an apartment complex atop the highest hill in the biggest city in the state – before moving to the smaller city where I now reside – a place more befitting the village of these poems.
  4. Need to get new Tibetan prayer flags. The old ones are totally frayed.
  5. Has anyone else read Ned Rorem’s Paris Diary or its New York sequel? Saturated in the self-centeredness and self-indulgence of youth, they’re deliciously juicy and fun reading, though I could never be snide like that. Besides, if I did it here at the Barn, you wouldn’t know anyone in my circles. They’re not even celebrities, even of the minor sort. So much for the gossip on my end.
  6. While assembling the hammock, I heard a squirrel overhead scolding one of the neighborhood cats, likely the one we call Spooky. “Get it,” I urged the cat. Whereupon an empty Nutella jar landed on the table, barely missing me, its lid neatly chewed around. Something the squirrel had pilfered from what one of the kids had likely hidden in the barn sometime over the winter. I looked around but saw nobody to confirm was had just transpired. Trust me.
  7. My emotional wall just may be a shell, too.
  8. In my first moves, all my goods fit in my car.
  9. During the American Revolution, the village center that served as Rhode Island’s capital changed its name from King’s Town to Little Rest, with its delicious double meaning.
  10. Yearning for a renewed feeling of bliss – the holy ecstasy – something I wish she, too, would experience, however foreign it might seem now.

~*~

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug's on a shelf above it.

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug’s on a shelf above it.

TAKING HOLD, AS A VENTURE

I’m not that young, even to be this foolish
and this time, a month of rainfall starts
with fireworks, of course, viewed from our second-floor deck
before consulting a plumber about a bathroom
and heating for the barn
or a boiler replacement in our cellar, connecting
natural-gas appliances and restoring the downstairs toilet
and shower to use in a house

before drafting radical views of both the Garden of Eden
and Gethsemane and then the doctrine of Inward Light
alas, by year’s end, both would flower to book length
or, should I say, all? this time around, getting serious
as connecting the dots in a seedbed

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
For more,
click here.

NOW, TO LOOK MORE CLOSELY AT A TWO-EDGED SWORD

If you want to see out-and-out prejudice by people who think themselves to be open-minded, here’s a good litmus test. Raise a matter of Christianity. Or, as a woman, wear a cross necklace. Then ask if it’s the same response you’d get had you presented something from another religion.

Put another way, I’d long ago been appalled by an assumption many of us liberals took in regard to Christians – and to be candid, I was once one who was self-righteously disparaging. Quite frankly, it’s out-and-out judgmentalism that hurts our progressive causes. It’s ignorant of the important support radical faith gave to many movements through the centuries and can still give to the future. It’s a point for dialogue with our opponents, if we’re willing to engage it.

Two common assumptions spring to mind here.

The first involves intelligence. There’s more to life, let me point out, than materiality. Think of love, music, morality, for starters – people with knowledge of ways of empathy, too. Extend that, then, to a recognition that to be a person of faith does not automatically mean stupidity, even if we do see way too many examples in the public arena – not just those of the Christian label, either. Nor do Christian do not come in a one-size-defines-all homogeneity – some denominations, for instance, refuse to bear arms or participate in war as a consequence of Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, while other churches rally around the troops. The ways of thinking and the emphases vary widely, from Fundamentalists to Evangelicals (yes, there are differences there) to Pentecostals to various strands of Calvinists or Lutherans (yes, again some key differences) to various Wesleyan (Methodist) and Baptist and Anabaptist (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Quaker) and on to the Unitarians. And that’s just among the Protestants. Add to that the Anglicans (Episcopalians), Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox and you have a very rich mix, indeed.

Within those are some very intelligent and sensitive people, along with circles of personal growth and ethical accountability.

The reality is that religion is capable of engaging our innermost motions – our hopes and fears, especially. It’s a power that can run many ways, challenging the status quo as well as establishing community. The state and the establishment have many reasons to desire to curb it, as history attests. Even at a personal level, it can be scary stuff.

Pointedly, progressive movements have sprung from this source. For centuries, up through America’s civil rights revolution, social change has grown from radical Christianity. A central thread of the Bible has been the evolution of justice and then radical peace and equality. Read it closely, and what emerges remains a challenge to the status quo. Let’s not lose it now!

As the prayer goes, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth …”

Many of us see that as a more loving, just, and peaceful society. Mock it if you wish, but think of the alternatives. Are they really progress?

All of that, of course, leads to my second point: the so-called Christian right, of the political sort, hardly owns the mantel of Jesus. And since any religion has the potential of engaging those most soulful endeavors of human existence, we see across the spectrum instances of appealing to fear and oppression, on one side, as well as forgiveness and oneness, on the other. Religion in this dimension presents an opportunity for conversation and growth, if we allow it.

~*~

For more on radical faith, see my book, Religion Turned Upside Down.

ROLLING WITH WHALES

on the way out, a fifty-year-old shrimper from Louisiana –
originally from Gloucester, where he’s visiting his sister –
tells of the Gulf’s particular brutality

how crews typically go out twelve days
till the hull is full . his boat with three Rolls-Royce
engines so loud harborside residents complained
he hesitated to open full throttle
unless the water’s churning was especially rough

rocking at the jetty-mouth sandbar
like Canobie Lake’s pirate ship ride
three delighted school groups shriek

when we top twenty-one knots – his boat, twenty-three
yet his went down / couldn’t salvage any gear
lost two crewmen with him five years
he himself now limps
wounded in the knee by a barracuda,
and it’s not healing right . he hobbles along
with a cane, wondering if it’s time to quit
the shrimping in his blood
run an excursion boat instead

“and you, sir?”

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

SUMMONS AND SORROW

On scattered reservations, a few elders rise before dawn each day and summon the sun to return. Don’t scoff. When I, too, get up in the dark and meditate, I feel my own self-confidence rising. Watch the world awaken. Light a wood fire, something I sit beside and watch for hours, its flames more imaginative than television. Bask in the radiant warmth.

Kokopelli, night owl that he is, still slumbers.

My wife, in another room, rolls toward the wall and finally rises to join me.

There’s a science, and then there’s an art. In the pyre, paper first chars, then shrinks, and finally explodes. Only then do flames engulf it. “Consider the bomb a ream would create,” I grin at her.

“Now who would you want to bomb, Buzzard?”

But I also know how difficult igniting that ream would be, and how difficult to keep it burning. Watch carefully and misconceptions turn to ash.

In the continuing drought of that fall and winter, I explore national forest well into February. Areas that should be buried in a half-dozen feet of snow are instead bare. Atop one mountain, I look over a cliff. “I think it’s dolomite.” Maybe it isn’t. Maybe the identification isn’t earth-shaking important, but learning the names of places and their minerals, fauna, and flora adds dimensions to a place. Improves your chances of survival, too, if put to the test. For now, I scramble on the scree and realize that white painted stones at the cliff’s edge marked out a heliport. Far below my feet, a table of forest spreads into basins that are invisible from my vantage, and other places I’ve already been. I trace Forest Service roads, such as they are — 1707 from Raganunda to the top or 601 down to Willy Dick’s. “Keep elk gate closed,” the sign reads when I came out, passing a few back country ranches to the highway’s rush and debris. Far above all that, I sing out: “God bless a bloody rib cage above gray fuzz. Perhaps we’ll have rain in the morning! We shouldn’t be kicking this dust.”

In a zero-degree fog, the sun rises as white as the moon.

“Let our liquid flow again despite this desiccation!” I cry in my dreams. “Why is it so difficult to recall the thoughts rainstorms instilled?”

“You put too much value on sorrow,” Kokopelli tells me. Even in my sleep, that old guide’s still at work.

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

SPIRE OF INSPIRATION

Old North Church, in Boston's North End.

Old North Church, in Boston’s North End.

Lanterns in the spire of North Church signaled directions to Paul Revere and other riders at the outbreak of the American Revolution. The race to Lexington and Concord was on.

Boston 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.

 

PRELUDE & FUGUE 24/

there, in thick grass beside a slow stream
a Jersey heifer
wears telescope goggles to observe
a bragging rival

*   *   *

one with horns turns
to observe the huddled two Holsteins
wait for grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
four in a high meadow
four on a green slope, still

a Jersey heifer, a bragging rival with horns
turns to the huddled dairy cows awaiting
grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
four brown in a high meadow
along a green slope

a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to observe a bragging rival
with long horns turns

the dairy cows, huddle, waiting
for grain beside a slow stream
and the high green meadow

the inertia, meanwhile, is extraordinary
waiting, huddling, bragging rival
mooing, with horns

turning to observe the inertia
meanwhile, a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to stalk a bragging rival

four brown cattle in a high meadow
four on a green slope
two Holsteins waiting for grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
the inertia, meanwhile, is
brown, green, mooing, bragging

the wait for grain
huddled beside a slow stream mooing
in the inertia

meanwhile, a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to observe another cow, its bragging
“meow”

~*~

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see all 50 Preludes & Fugues, click here.

ALONG WITH A BREAKTHROUGH, FREE TO PLAY AND TINKER

Somewhere in writing poetry I turned to the concept of “working in series.” Quite simply, this meant investigating a subject repeatedly, often in a similar form. The process allowed multiple takes from different angles and in different lighting, as it were. In music, it could be seen as a theme and variations.

As I recall, the practice for me originated with Braided Double-Cross, itself inspired by The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan, and quickly led to Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each with its unique structure and inspiration. (Anne Waldman, for the former; Diane Wakoski, the latter.)

Village of Gargoyles is the latest, often with a specific structure for each of the 10 sections. Some forms run longer than others, which introduces variety. And within each, I’m free to play and tinker.

Admittedly, the 200 poems of my Village fall short of John Berryman’s colossal Dream Songs, but it’s still a prolific output.

~*~

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