Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

WHO INVITED INCA INTO MY NARRATIVE, ANYWAY?

Why Inca, anyway? For starters, when it came to conceiving my novel Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I seem to recall an attraction to the wordplay, Inca for Inc., befitting a story about corporate intrigue.

Maybe there was even a sense of llama and alpaca wool as raw materials for the abandoned waterpower textile mills that instead become the front for covert business activity.

I was already aware of how much indigenous lore remained lost or buried in the American inheritance and wondered how much more might be festering somewhere. Even before issues of illegal immigration entered the picture, I was curious about the alternatives lurking in the imagined jungles of Latin America. Maya and Aztec, for example, also had rich imperial cultures that contrasted with the Spanish invaders.

The novel takes on its own meandering along the edges of consciousness and subconscious currents. Just what are we doing in our careers, anyway, at least in the face of ultimate existential purpose? And what is the allure of corporate politics, strategy, and gamesmanship, at least in the higher offices? Bill may be out in the sticks, but he is a puppet of sorts for the Boss. A player. Or maybe just his apprentice. Either way, he’s green and supple.

Here we encounter, however dimly, a darkness conquered by another darkness, perhaps crueler under its Christian veneer. Yet a New World Native undercurrent runs counter the peasantry of Old Europe, and pagan influences infuse both sides in the millpond of Bill’s labors. As for the company paying his Bill’s bills? It’s at least as mysterious as the Inca itself.

IN THE OVERLAPPING KNOTS

What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

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

FROZEN IN SPACE

For now, it seemed we were driving backward in time. The freeway was well behind us, as well as the housing developments. We encountered more tarpaper, unpainted siding, elk antlers above the shed door. Forest, and then steep hillsides, closed in on the road until, as the incline pitched noticeably, we entered the national park, with its hairpin curves around canyon walls finally giving way to switchbacks rising up a mountainside to Paradise Needle a mile above sea level.

I observed a rhythm, too, in the cloud cover. Initially, it presents lapses and teasing glimpses of nearly-sheer green slopes shooting above the roadway. Finally come earnest visions of actual summits overhead. Unexpectedly, the breathtaking white immensity of Mount Rainier itself appears. Even so, you’re unprepared for the snowy mass before you. No photograph could have suggested such vast dimensions. Even if this view were displayed full-size, it would occupy an entire gallery, including the floor and ceiling, and still the camera lenses would have compressed the vertical and horizontal expanses. What you behold is so broad the windshield cannot frame both flanks simultaneously. Rather than a smooth, cloud-like shroud, the mountain’s mantled glaciers reveal themselves as fractured, violent, and disdainful amid rocky spines. Everything shimmers in the thin, cold, crystalline air. As I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, Todd regarded rocky saw-tooth ridges arrayed around the stratovolcano itself, and these remained separated from it by fathomless gorges. Starting with his chin to his chest, and rolling his head upward until my neck could stretch no more, he regarded the nearly three-mile elevation from valley bottom to summit. “Thou whose heart constantly reaches upward,” he began to pray, standing within a supreme example of spiritual architecture. “This is nothing like what I’d read in those textbooks. Wow!”

He, too, was frozen in space.

For more of the story, click here.

Three sections from MOTET I

1

pick a language . a religion . a star, somewhere

of what I’ve distrusted
and yet seek

in the night of spring greening
where birds begin arguing (the males, as usual

but listen

good questions
guide better
than many answers

let me relate notations
of elk found on mountains
behind mountains – beside mountains, too
where streams run fast and clear
in everlasting rapture

before they appeared to me in their flesh
before I had children
before you appeared
but now

we’ll argue theology over lunch or dinner
or the menu

but first, grace

2

all this is not the same
as sitting by yourself

not the same as watching
anything

or listening to anything
or tasting anything

you can touch

since you asked, I’ll tell
you everything I know

if you tell me
where you’d like to start

3

to be completely honest
is so simple
you would think

until facing others
until facing yourself

all the temptations
all the screw-ups

all the aspirations
all the ruins to your back

all the idealized masks and labels
you wear
the childhood you’ve never left
all the flattery and self-delusions
all the false accusations you can’t quite shake

all the flaking paint on the siding of your house
all the cracking plaster within

as you age, all the lost years
you deny
all the shortcuts

so much of what your mirror
never reveals

no matter what you say
no matter what they say

the sins of omission
as well as commission

all the skills of a Philadelphia lawyer
all the skills of public office
all the skills of executive decision

any or all

the impossibility of saying exactly who you are
or why

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

OR THAT?

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. I haven’t said anything about shoveling snow, have I?
  2. One tension in today’s world is a matter of staying in place in a restless world. Sinking roots, as it were. Going deep. Without getting stuck. How is this rooting balanced with personal growth and evolution? And, too, how is it I’ve stayed Quaker, amid all the other self-identities in play?
  3. Am continuing my practice of learning Spanish before breakfast – along with our Cuban-roast coffee.
  4. A friend shows us the mass of stonework in the cellar of his 1755 New England saltbox house, and we recognize it’s a thermal mass that holds heat in winter, keeps the place cooler in summer. Those old Yankees were way ahead of our times.
  5. So the day starts clear, then clouds over. Snow on the way? Gotta check our weather vane, see if the wind’s coming in off the ocean.
  6. Observing two side-by-side icicles hanging over our second-floor windows, I see one’s bumpy while the one next to it’s smooth. Then realized, yes, water drops freeze as bumps, and thus the smooth one becomes the question.
  7. As Boss would have told Bill in Big Inca: “I told you to report EVERYTHING.” Maybe there are limits.
  8. Listening to piano music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk, keep hearing a riff that sounds like “Skip to the Lou,” itself a puzzling phrase. Turns out it’s Scottish for “love,” and the tune accompanied a circle game. Also, Gottschalk was quoting a slightly different and more wistful tune from New Orleans, which explains the notes that move sidewise.
  9. The Libertarian Party really blew its big opportunity. Royally. Now where does it turn?
  10. Perhaps tomorrow will be a bathrobe day. Or at least sweats. No driving, just stay indoors at home. Plenty to do here, anyway.

~*~

Joe Pye in ice -- what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

Joe Pye in ice — what had flowered does so once again in the heart of winter.

 

GARDEN DIMENSIONS

“They already were like gods
made in Yahweh’s own image
and didn’t even know it.”

“I could see the Woman would be easier
to convince. She appreciated color and
the bouquet, where the Man noticed
only the fruit’s heft and taste.”

Every snake has its own hole.
Sometimes a snake is just as snake,
Doctor Freud.

And the Serpent went on to make a fortune
developing shopping malls lined with retailers
promising to cover everyone’s nakedness.

* * *

God creates a Helper for the Man
and she helps him, all right:
helps him get into trouble,

helps him to the forbidden fruit,
helps him get ejected from Paradise.
Not only that, but I’d venture

she believed she was doing something
beneficial for him all along,
something for his own good.
(And it was very good)

* * *

Where has Eden gone? Maybe
it’s now ahead of us, down
the road, rather than behind
with its gates shut tight.

As for Original Sin,
life’s not fair.
Some parents gamble
away the mortgage,
their children’s
college tuition.
Others get to be boss
through the injustice
of genetic roulette.
But that’s not really
part of this story.

* * *

Where do the other people come from?
Maybe the question becomes, for us,
where do other people COME FROM?
You! My neighbors! My antagonist,
my friend, my spouse, my children?

Perhaps they come from that other couple
God created, in the first creation story,
just before Eden. Perhaps they, too,
are ejected from their own Eden.

Perhaps there were other gardens
that were also released –
the ones whose stories we’ve forgotten.

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

OH, SUCH PLEASURE IN THE SPRAY!

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

Penguins at the New England Aquarium take utter delight in the periodic rounds of spray around their pool.

The New England Aquarium at the edge of Boston Harbor is a fascinating destination. And penguins can be endlessly amusing.

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.

 

SINGLE ENCOUNTERS

I picked up the receiver

“is your wife around?” pause

“what number did you want”
pause

“I’m sorry . I must have the wrong number”

she sounded so married
I wished there was a wife to answer

~*~

“God-damn idiots, afraid to dirty their hands”
the old woman reiterated
“real work would kill ’em”

~*~

“I want to stop smoking
but I’m a very negative person”

so just recast the proposition
if you really want to stop puffing

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015

MAPPING MORE THAN GEOGRAPHY

I had no knowledge of the streams of quiet rebels who experience divinity directly, thanks, in part, to the map of their heritage as they work with the soil and their own bodies. These days, they resist as best they can the manufactured desires beaming from satellites or television airwaves, even while they watch many of their children succumb to these temptations. They could tell us about Elijah or Jeremiah, the Babylonian captivity, or the Maccabees’ war of independence, in addition to my own ancestors’ sufferings recorded in The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians or Joseph Besse’s A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience. When, at last, I reclaim this legacy, piecemeal, I ask, “So whose story are you telling, anyhow? Which grandparents are yours?” Opening their maps, I follow their footsteps, even in a strange land. Well made cartography includes supplications and blessings, as well as warnings.

My own homeland once included many woodlands well into my grandfather’s childhood. A balance of forest, with its firewood and construction timber, and farm fields and pastures. So much so, in fact, that people could travel dozens of miles on roads that never left forest between cities. By my own childhood, however, most of the trees had been leveled, and even the woodlot on an uncle’s farm doubled as pasture for hogs and cattle. In winter, the countryside was a stubble wasteland.

Similarly, a prairie denuded of buffalo is impoverished. How much poorer is a suburban lot occupied by restless greed? Here I am, dwelling in desert I consider healthier and more vibrant than the construction I see overrunning the lands around cities and towns. “Rebuild at the core,” I urge the wind. “Repent!” Turn about! Bring back the buffalo and the buffalo nickel, as well as amicable urban neighborhoods. There are all kinds of communities, and humans are only part of the equation. There is land, there is sky, there is water and flowing. To say nothing of what exists beneath them.

A person who comprehends maps will appreciate history as well. Perhaps even musical scores, as another kind of map with a dimension of time.

I listen to my wife and learn of the mental maps many women carry. The ones of kitchens or gardens. Others leading to childbirth and parenting, or even away.

I, meanwhile, come here for a taste of primeval wilderness — a hope to experience a timeless reality that holds humanity in a state of awe rather than arrogance. Just look to the mountains for salvation. Look as well to dreams, each one having one foot in your past and the other in your present.

Carried to an intelligence that daylight conceals, I sense that within many rapidly fading distinctions I’ve scorned are important markers; these ranged from where to harvest wild berries and their uses as food and medicine to my own ancestors’ hymns and religious teachings. To be creative means building on what’s come before, rather than entering a new universe. The path on the map goes from one place to another. Respect is essential — another way of honoring one’s fathers and mothers. There’s still time to cultivate individuality and character in the field. Sometimes, even where homogeneity is perceived, a people can differ as sharply among themselves as they do from others. Ponder Polish Catholics in Chicago, Congregationalists in Ohio’s once-Yankee Western Reserve, and fire-breathing Baptists and Pentecostals in Detroit and what they might do to enhance each other’s heritage, rather than striving for some common denominator. That’s another way of lifting up mountains, rather than leveling. Even on flat land, each body leaves a hidden stamp on its soil. Learn to read vibrations of an environment, and you identify communities dwelling therein, sometimes a century or two after their departure. Through the news and entertainment media, I grew up knowing more of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, though they were only incidentally closer geographically than Kansas City or Minneapolis, supposedly within my Midwestern realm. I knew more, too, of Hollywood back lots and Beverly Hills. Indeed, not until much later had I recognized the Midwest I’d considered so conservative and culturally backward was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, a hotbed of radical politics and organized labor. Many of its cities elected Socialist mayors only to replace them with Ku Klux Klan within the decade. Talk about upheaval! In the front parlors of homes in many small towns across the Plains, the latest wave of European high culture was performed; three of the nation’s oldest handful of symphony orchestras were organized (St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati). In the machine shops of isolated barns and backyard stables of small-town entrepreneurs, curious Midwestern farm boys tinkered perfecting the automobile and a thousand other industrial marvels. Kite-flying bicycle-building brothers put men in the air.

Much of this I did not understand or appreciate when dreaming only of escape. Only now did I come to see what remains of a once rich and varied heritage. In those days I looked off to the limits of a world; fixes like Boston and Seattle as strands of Utopia. What I encountered instead was a step beyond the anticipated. Of the neighborhoods I would come to call home, none quite fit what people expect of East Coast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest, either.

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

FINGERINGS

many classical musicians regard a score
more through their hands (as instrumentalists)
or the eye, according to the sheet (as composers)
or even the mouth (as singers)
than through the ear, much less the heart.

in that light, Beethoven’s mastery in deafness
should appear no miracle

unlike Charles Ives, off-limits
when the circle needed completion
– without the ripple of applause or engagement
or critical test of application –
only the stone-dead silence of scorn or indifference

let us touch, then, releasing these birds
from rows of ink on a page
as if this were another spring morning

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