Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Musings


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


  1. First crocus, first hyacinth. More welcome signs.
  2. “Ice out” in our yard – the first day you can walk a diagonal pathway without stepping on snow.
  3. At the feeder, our goldfinches have regained their yellow, first as a tone under the gray and then full-out bold. How rapid the change!
  4. Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry had a special relationship with the University of New Hampshire, one town over. His legacy continues around here. Still wish I’d heard him live, when it was an option. Remember, he taught the incomparable Miles Davis. And my, how I remember that night!
  5. How I love Robert Rauschenberg’s concept of Combines! Neo-Dada, me? Harvesting? (As in wheat. Or driving into fields of corn.) His approach infuses so many of my poems and much of my fiction. What got me labeled as a Mixmaster. Let’s see what we can throw together. Don’t leave out Roy Lichtenstein, either, with his Ben-Day dots fetish from the hot-type days of newspaper production. Oh, how that dates my sense of contemporary!
  6. Another magazine renewal form, among those I’ve let drop. Constrained income has meant limiting my memberships, too.
  7. Here, in a period when I’m supposed to be emerging from my shell, I find myself retreating instead.
  8. In the graffiti at the top flight of the observation tower: “Sometimes love just isn’t enough.” (Looking down, I saw no evidence the author had acted rashly.)
  9. What do we make of capitalism that buys a company and then expects the workers to make concessions to pay for the move? Shouldn’t the ownership go straight to the workers?
  10. Buzzards – more properly, “turkey vultures” – have returned.


The spires show signs of serious damage.

The spires show signs of serious damage.


The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they're part of one parish.

The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they’re part of one parish.


Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city's three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.

Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city’s three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.



This time of year, the world makes a special nod to the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born on March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany.

When I first explored classical music, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Bach was a much more distant figure than we encounter today. Yes, he was considered one of the three greatest composers ever, but largely in a scholarly consideration. Rare performances of his music itself largely focused on the organ works – infrequent events outside of their application in religious services in churches having both outstanding instruments and musicians – or came about through a few soloists who championed his instrumental compositions. Think of E. Power Biggs, Pablo Casals, Wanda Landowski, Rosalyn Turek, or the Bach Aria Group.

Harpsichords, for that matter, were a novelty, and the Brandenburg Concertos were typically performed with a piano as a substitute in the ensemble. How strange that sounds today, when these once exotic pieces are among the most frequently played works on classical radio stations, and commonly in period-instrument bands at that.

For one thing, the repertoire is not as defined by symphony orchestras as it was then – a break for Bach, who wrote little that would fit into their programs, even in a scaled-down mode. Today, we have chamber orchestras, community choruses, and period-performers to champion other avenues of composition.

Seems strange to consider how much the classical music scene has changed during my lifetime. For perspective, Vivaldi and Mahler were even greater rarities. And for many of us, the jazz-influenced Swingle Singers gave us the first clue of just what Bach’s scores might unleash.

We’ve been liberated from the heavy-handed, smoky, Romantic-era, Victorian approach I first encountered. What’s happened parallels the breakthroughs in painting restoration, where old masterpieces were finally stripped of the layers of dark varnish that we’d assumed were part of their intended appearance. What a brilliant, startling, controversial revelation that was! How garish rather than reverential we found much that was finally released to the light. How playful, how scandalous! What joy!

Thus it’s been with Bach, too. In the right hands, the mathematical purity of Bach’s inventions is utterly heavenly, intimate, sensual. To sing the parts with others is a marvelous balancing act of hearts and minds dancing in spirit together. Gone is any sense of a sermon in sound – this comes closer to prayer.

Add to that the demands of daily craftsmanship imposed on Bach, meaning that he created work after work more or less on deadline, with little time for major revisions, and the results can be seen as all the more impressive. No wonder we’re left agog in the face of what we discover in what he timeless wonder he discovered and embraced.


The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?


  1. Wet, sloppy snow? The kind that falls all day, making me want to scream each time I look out the window, even when it’s half melting on the street and ground and even though I no longer have to commute through its hazardous, annoying conditions. The mere thought of it, though, has us going stir-crazy.
  2. Maple-sugaring season, for some of our friends. Just listen to all the discussion regarding this year’s sap run.
  3. Blame the switch back to so-called Daylight Saving Time. Keep feeling I’m way behind. Look at the clock, it’s 1:30 p.m., then have to tell myself it would have been only 12:30 just a few days ago. This internal ticking!
  4. Revisiting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle (four operas spanning 17 hours, which somehow pop up for me in late winter), I confess it’s hard for me to wrap my head or heart around the mythological story. Gods who are not omniscient or who are ruled by lust – that is, who are not omnipotent – make the first obstacle, even before we get to all the reliance on magic and potions. Only when I see them as today’s celebrities does any of this come into focus. And then there is the matter of flawed parenting and marriage. Even more tantalizing is the concept of casting the “gods” as the superrich who are bankrupting America – off they go to their compound.
  5. In observing the Eastern Orthodox dietary restrictions for Advent and now Lent, I’m made more aware of the world’s poor and hungry. Reach for milk for my coffee or for an egg or cheese or butter, then pull my hand back, realizing they’re dairy products, and thus prohibited for the stretch. Under a lacto-vegetarian regime, which I’d practiced in my past, these would be acceptable. The vegan alternative is so much stricter. How out of reach our Western abundance is for so many in the world. As my wife says, the practice makes us tea-totaling oil-free vegans. Curiously, our temporarily limited diet (or “fasting,” in the terminology) does not have me feeling penitent but rather, as we pursue it, has me delighting in ranges of food we normally slight. Even so, I’m really looking forward to feasting come Easter.
  6. Considering many of my favorite hippie-era writers, I’m surprised to see how apolitical many of them are. Richard Brautigan, ever so playful – or even Jack Kerouac, who inspired so many of us. I am open to alternatives, like John Nichols or Edward Abbey, though their writing feels far more conventional and less heartfelt. Makes for a fresh way of revisiting the literature of the era, especially as it leaps ahead to our current political situation.
  7. Insecurity is a manifestation of ego, standing counter to humility.
  8. A sense of being released in to the NOW for the NEW. The way some work continues.
  9. How do people in the construction trades schedule their lives? Do the calls for repairs, remodeling, and new building really average out week after week?
  10. No idea what’s on tap for tomorrow.


New England Aquarium.

New England Aquarium.

Yes, I’m still swimming laps in the indoor pool, the one in downtown Dover. Glad he’s not in my lane.



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


  1. Keep an eye on the pussy willows, about ready to harvest – a sure promise of spring. How gallantly, snowdrops in bloom – green shoots of hyacinths – even in receding snowbanks.
  2. Keep an ear open at night for peepers, coming to life in their thawing vernal ponds.
  3. Time for seaweed runs, too. Off to the beach to collect mineral-rich debris for the garden. What about picking something out of the canister of kites in the loft before I go? Spend a little more time by the surf? Rather than just dashing off and back home?
  4. As I’ve said, I welcome a faith that encourages questioning and action. I’ve come to appreciate the implicit yes in the Quaker queries. (Link to Light)
  5. Keep hoping to find my appropriate schedule, my right routine, my most balanced pace of life. Years before retiring, I’d draft what I thought might be ideal daily and weekly rounds – charts that drew my wife’s derision when she finally viewed them. (To be fair, some predated our marriage.) Yes, there’s so much I overlooked or simply assumed would fit in. And so much that’s come into my life since. My weekly choir rehearsal in Boston, for instance, throws me off-kilter, since it means getting home around midnight. Otherwise, I’d be rising before 5 or 6, as she does, and sitting to meditate as a yogi or just write. So what have I really settled into?
  6. We are getting days now when the top of the barn’s warm enough for yoga exercise and meditation in early afternoon. Not the schedule I’d projected, but one that’s organic to our situation.
  7. Maybe it’s just a fantasy: past/present/future all within this moment, if you pause.
  8. Fulfillment is ultimately not on my own time scale but the Holy One’s. How terrifying!
  9. Perhaps Verdi’s most compelling plot line until Otello, his 1850 Stiffelio tells of a Protestant minister and his unfaithful wife. Tellingly, it was censored at the first performance and then lost until 1960. In the background, at the time, the composer was living with a divorced woman. Could this be the basis for yet another masterpiece?
  10. Why do Americans keep reelecting the same members of the Worst Congress in History? Is there some death wish for democracy?


Right in the heart of downtown Dover, the mill. The retail store in the front sits out over the Cocheco River.

Right in the heart of downtown Dover, the mill. The retail store in the front sits out over the Cocheco River.


Looking at all of the old red-brick mills remaining along the waterways of New England, you’re likely to see them as strong, serious, silent enterprises in their day. Something like a library, perchance.

The reality is something quite different. They were beehives, for one thing, where workers were subject to wide fluctuations in hot and cold (no heat, which could spark fires, along with some brutal summers) – in addition to cotton lung, like the black lung suffered by miners.

As for the quiet? Forget it. These factories were powered by leather belts that ran in relays from the groaning, splashing waterwheel to squeaky overhead rollers on each floor which in turn led to all kinds of clacking machinery. The whole building shook.

Not all of them wove cotton, either, but the mechanics were the same.

The leather belts, by the way, would wear out and break. They alone led to a unique art of construction and maintenance. The city where I live had tanneries to supply the mills, unlike the next city downstream, which was involved largely in shipping.

As the ditty went:

“Portsmouth by the sea,
Dover by the smell.”

As I was saying about that initial impression? These were the nitty-gritty realities.


Charles Ives, supporting a childhood memory
with a cosmos of commotion
how holy!

me? I’m an American, through and through
who wonders just what it means
to be bred in the USA . one, that is, without
the increasingly militaristic outlook

one also passionate about
symphonic and operatic repertoires
and steeped in the history of painting

the apologetic place of American artists
(especially in classical music).
only rock, country music, and the movies
seem exempt
and ever so profitable, as an industry

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


Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.


  1. March, with its upheavals, has any bouts of single-digit lows unable to hold long. Typically, it’s the month most prone to heavy snowfalls, especially when temperatures hover around freezing. Country roads get their “frost heaves,” too, for bumpy travel. And bits of green begin trying to break through.
  2. “Why are you getting so upset, so defensive,” she asks after I encounter a setback that makes a mess on the counter. “It’s the sort of thing that happens to everybody” Except I want to shout, “No! It doesn’t! It only happens to me!” Actually it’s an echo of the childhood reaction after being accused, “Why did you do this to me?”Or more accurately, “How could you do this to me?” Mother blaming the Golden Boy once again.
  3. Making photocopies at our computer printer has me remembering one of my definitions of “making it” as a writer, back when – the desire for an IBM Selectric typewriter and my own Xerox copier. Just think, our computer keyboards are a vast leap forward from any typewriter, at least for klutzy typists like me, while our kids take the copier for granted. Oh, it’s just the beginning of a long list of good gear rendered obsolete in our lifetime.
  4. Been harboring a lingering notion about selecting a “top 100” or “best 100” or “favorite 100” compilation of my poems. Not that I really want another project to tackle, but looking at the range of my work over the past half-century sometimes leaves me surprised. Yes, much of it has a graffiti-like imperfection, once I decided to write on the run and revise along the lines of jazz improvisation more than aspiring to a perfectly formed artifact – or whatever. Let me say there are more rough edges than I’d like. Still, that 100 cutoff would mean an average of just two poems a year from what’s been a prolific output, even without the novels and essays. I’m still wondering how I ever did it while working full-time elsewhere.
  5. Rereading Walden with an appreciation of Thoreau’s pervasive satire. It’s a refreshing perspective.
  6. Can the question “Who are you?” be addressed by “Whom do you hate?”
  7. As an acquaintance was told at the office one Monday morning: “You have a billion dollars to reallocate.” It’s something that happens in a corporate buyout. Not that she saw any of it.
  8. Gotta try praying rather than worrying.
  9. Stay balanced and rested.
  10. We’re big on putting the lentils back in Lent.


Yes, this days our Tibetan prayer flags are frayed and thin.

Yes, these days our Tibetan prayer flags are frayed and thin.


bright brown irises
maybe a little too wide-eyed (available)
hair golden heartbreak. still

Duquesne University and Uniontown, Pennsylvania,
were places he’d been, he told her
requesting the next dance

there’s more than lightness afoot
driving these distances. Attraction, see,
flashes into conflict

“Quakers. They believe in Jesus, don’t they?” is how
she starts revealing she’s Jewish, from New York City,
but Ohio Boy steps back instead of forward, and misses

a third muses, “Relationships are weird. Always weird,”
while wondering if she’s sufficiently brainy to stay him
or just what he might be lacking

all the same, they cover their aces and wild cards,
map their terrain, and
reach out in the music for someone

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


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


  1. Would love to get back to another personal routine that’s somehow fallen by the wayside: sitting abed and “simmering” each morning with a cup of coffee to accompany some reading or just my own thoughts. Rather than popping right up and getting in gear. Theologian Howard Thurman was a big advocate of the practice and its reversal in the evening.
  2. Do have the indolent luxury of hiding out in our third-floor guest room (a.k.a. crafts room), opposite my studio, maybe even allowing a whole thick novel to wash over me as I read if I’m not napping there. It’s the room up there that gets direct sunlight, unlike my north-facing studio.
  3. Forsythia, which she insists are as hardy as weeds, are in danger of blooming too early. One more sign of disaster we’ve observed. We’re watching them, all the same, to bring a few sprigs in to force into flower sometime approaching Easter.
  4. Returning to the memory of hitchhiking – giving a lift to others when you can or extending their generosity, in some manner – suggests compiling a long annotated list of our experiences and what we learned, pro and con. Maybe as Letters to Youth from a retired hitchhiker or a way of finally gleaning some wisdom in reflecting on the era. Yes, it could be giddy but also risky. And I’m not the one to see it from the “hippie chick” perspective. Anyone else want to rise to the challenge?
  5. We’re well into sauna season, the little cabin at the edge of the pond. I’m still not breaking the ice for a dip. Let the younger, more foolhardy guys to that. No, there’s no reason for us geezers to tempt cardiac arrest.
  6. Curiously, I don’t seem to be getting any more done in my personal pursuits than when I was working fulltime. Or was I really neglecting a lot more then than I remember?
  7. February is such a short month, especially for those of us who have legal obligations to fulfill – car inspections and new tags, for instance. And then there are all those monthly payments coming due the equivalent of at least a weekend earlier.
  8. Quakers traditionally eschew a liturgical calendar, preferring instead that every day should be holy. Not that we commonly manage that. But that doesn’t preclude some of us from voluntarily taking up disciplines that would be mandatory in other denominations. For example, my wife and I customarily delve into Advent and Lenten readings and abstain from alcohol for those periods. (As a practice, it’s good to be able to say “No” and stick with it, especially when it comes to temptations like my martinis.) This past Advent we engaged Eastern Orthodox “fasting,” realizing a vegan diet would fit the rules if we eliminated oil on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, apart from the fish allowed on weekends. The avoidance of meat was no problem, but we really missed the cheese and eggs, which many vegetarians allow, and I nearly added milk to my coffee more than once. Almond milk, by the way, is a fine substitute, but I also gained an actual fondness for black coffee. So much for the sugar. Still, it’s surprising how many labels I began reading – cookies, chocolate – and found offending additives. With Orthodox Lent beginning February 27, we’re looking at even stricter rules. It’s what she describes as being a tea-totaling vegan with no olive oil. We really have to admire all those who take this in stride.
  9. And any day now we’ll be invaded by ants. They seldom wait for mid-May.
  10. We’ve seen too many who shout “law and order” turn out themselves to be lawless and disorderly.


You know it's a cold morning when you look out the window and see this. Especially when all the other neighbors are in the same boat.

You know it’s a cold morning when you look out the window and see this. Especially when all the other neighbors are in the same boat.


the Late Quartets
meaning, always, Beethoven
always attended most intensely
late at night

something here liberated from audience
or sound itself
or even emotion or intellect, solely
some pure essence
released within four players’ labor


the labor has me thinking
of Stephen Foster, his two strands of work
the minstrel songs that provided
his income and reputation
but his parlor art songs from his depth

yes, I’m far more compartmentalized

journalism, poetry, fiction, religion, et al


imagining my own funeral
a performance of Schubert’s string quintet
or a hymn-sing
if not my Quaker silence with vocal
messages therein
whatever the next stage

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