Grace and Gravity

Sunlight strikes the forest leaves.

Silence settles between the sounds

Of wings upon the wind.

I settle back

And gaze into the blue sky space between

The branches of the trees

I breath in

I breath out

My heart is still

Listening

For your voice

To bestow your grace

To dispel my gravity

Earth Day Poem

gary snyder

 

Smoky the Bear Sutra

Gary Snyder

Once in the Jurassic, about 150 million years ago,
the Great Sun Buddha in this corner of the Infinite
Void gave a great Discourse to all the assembled elements
and energies: to the standing beings, the walking beings
the flying beings, and the sitting beings-even grasses,
to the number of thirteen billion, each one born from a
seed, were assembled there: a Discourse concerning
Enlightenment on the planet Earth.

“In some future time, there will be a continent called
America. It will have great centers of power called
such as Pyramid Lake, Walden Pond, Mt. Rainier, Big Sur,
Everglades, and so forth; and powerful nerves and
     channels
such as Columbia river, Mississippi River, and Grand
     Canyon.
The human race in that era will get into troubles all over
its head, and practically wreck everything in spit of
its own strong intelligent Buddha-nature.”

“The twisting strata of the great mountains and the
     pulsings
of great volcanoes are my love burning deep in the earth.
My obstinate compassion is schist and basalt and
granite, to be mountains, to bring down the rain. In that
future American Era I shall enter a new form: to cure
the world of loveless knowledge that seeks with blind hunger;
and mindless rage eating food that will not fill it.

And he showed himself in his true form of
     SMOKEY THE BEAR.

A handsome smokey-colored brown bear standing on his hind
legs, showing that he is aroused and watchful.

Bearing in his right paw the Shovel that digs to the truth
beneath appearances; cuts the roots of useless attachments, and
flings damp sand on the fires of greed and war;

His left paw in the Mudra of Comradely Display-indicating
that all creatures have the full right to live to their limits and that
deer, rabbits, chipmunks, snakes, dandelions, and lizards all grow
in the realm of the Dharma;

Wearing the blue work overalls symbolic of slaves and laborers,
the countless men oppressed by a civilization that claims to save
but only destroys;

Wearing the broad-brimmed hat of the West, symbolic of the
forces that guard the Wilderness, which is the Natural State of the
Dharma and the true Path of man on earth; all true paths lead
through mountains-

With a halo of smoke and flame behind, the forest fires of the
kali-yuga, fires caused by the stupidity of those who think things
can be gained and lost whereas in truth all is contained vast and

free in the Blue Sky and Green Earth of One Mind;

Round bellied to show his kind nature and that the great earth
has food enough for everyone who loves her and trusts her;

Trampling underfoot wasteful freeways and needless suburbs;
smashing the worms of capitalism and totalitarianism;

Indicating the Task: his followers, becoming free of cars,
houses, canned food, universities, and shoes, master the Three
Mysteries of their own Body, Speech, and Mind: and fearlessly chop
down the rotten trees and prune out the sick limbs of this country
America and then burn the leftover trash.

Wrathful but Calm, Austere but Comic, Smokey the Bear will
Illuminate those who would help him; but for those who would
hinder or slander him,

HE WILL PUT THEM OUT.

Thus his great Mantra:
Namah samanta vajranam chanda maharoshana
Sphataya hum traka ham mam

“I DEDICATE MYSELF TO THE UNIVERSAL DIAMOND
BE THIS RAGING FURY DESTROYED”

And he will protect those who love woods and rivers,
Gods and animals, hobos and madmen, prisoners and sick
people, musicians, playful women, and hopeful children;

And if anyone is threatened by advertising, air pollution,
or the police, they should chant SMOKEY THE BEAR’S
WAR SPELL:

DROWN THEIR BUTTS
CRUSH THEIR BUTTS
DROWN THEIR BUTTS
CRUSH THEIR BUTTS

And SMOKEY THE BEAR will surely appear to put the enemy
out with his vajra-shovel.

Now those who recite this Sutra and then try to put it in
practice will accumulate merit as countless as the sands
of Arizona and Nevada,
Will help save the planet Earth from total oil slick,
Will enter the age of harmony of man and nature,
Will win the tender love and caresses of men, women, and
beasts
Will always have ripe blackberries to eat and a sunny spot
under a pine tree to sit at,
AND IN THE END WILL WIN HIGHEST PERFECT
ENLIGHTENMENT.

thus we have heard.

(may be reproduced forever free)

1969

from American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, ed. Bill Mckibben, Library Classics of the United States, 2008, NY, NY.

impulse

Working with at-risk students is a unique occupation. Their lack of filter and lack of awareness of their own precarious psychic state can manifest in some surreal behavior, projecting both fantasies and real experiences into the classroom in the form of drama that can simultaneously reach the level of the lowest comedy and high tragedy.

One day a group of young women came to give a talk on teen pregnancy. With them they brought one of these strange little dolls that simulates a human child at a very basic level. If you mishandle it, the thing emits a warbling, distorted cry that only faintly mimics that of a real human infant. It’s a horrible sound, which perhaps it’s intended to be. At one point the doll began to “cry” and was passed from the arms of one student after another who attempted to soothe it’s artificial agony. Suddenly, one of my students leapt from his seat, grabbed the doll by its arm, wrenching it from the lap of a hapless student.  He then proceeded, with a look of studied determination on his suddenly altered and older seeming  face, to whack it several times across the cheeks with his palm and the back of his hand. This caused the tiny chip that serves as the doll’s brain to come unstuck or become corrupted so that its cry then sounded like the strange gurgling of a dying baby seal . At this point, of course, the entire class broke into uproarious laughter and any serious intention brought to the event went right out the window.

But my point is not about the inability of this particular educational community to be effective in trying to help these students cope with life and the real world beyond the doors of this high school where they will very soon find themselves. That would be material for another, much longer conversation. What floored me was something caught between the violence of the act and the carefully studied manner in which he performed it. And this is why, when he came to my classroom later that day and had trouble staying in his seat and became agitated and jittery for no apparent reason as he so often does, I allowed him to be free to roam about the room, to try to relax those internal demons that appear to keep him from attaining any kind of stillness or from being at peace.

Book Review: We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live – The Collected Nonfiction of Joan Didion (Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, 2006)

“What could be more arrogant than to claim the primacy of personal conscience? . . . Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect that we are already there.”                       

 from “On Morality,” 1965

I try not to judge a book by it’s cover, but it’s difficult in cases like this, especially the cover of this one, where the woman in the Stingray is looking out at me from the past, drawing me in and through the process of wrestling with the silently implied question

I do, also, have a habit of judging books by their weight. I have this superstitious belief that the knowledge between the covers of a book is directly proportional to it’s mass. And this book is heavy. But the convenient size of this book makes it perfectly comfortable to tuck under one’s arm to carry wherever you go, and this book should be carried often and far, because it’s content is, well, the kind of stuff that will tend to bend your head simultaneously in several interesting directions.

“Although to be driven back upon oneself is an uneasy affair at best, rather like trying to cross a border with borrowed credentials, it seems to me now the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect. Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the one condition necessary to the beginnings of real self-respect . . .To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free ourselves from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.” 

from “On Self-Respect” 1961

And it’s times like these, when the going has gotten way past weird, when the grey skies of winter refuse to give way to the blue skies of spring and the very winds that breathe life into the planet are beginning to protest the vanity of the human species by withholding their currents, and the compass cards are spinning in their boxes like mad dervishes under the influence of mad, dull-eyed salesmen and professional hucksters, that what you need is a little sanity and wisdom.

And Didion’s words provide the kind of cold hard sanity and sense that keep me awake at night, reading over and over these passages that give me serious pause and at the same time put all the bad craziness  into a comprehensive perspective. From the silences between her carefully parsed and laid out thoughts comes an idea that life in the midst of  this vast global conspiracy ought, and could possibly be at least different, if not exactly better.

 

 

An American Tune. . .

American Tune
Paul Simon

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high up above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea

And I dreamed I was flying
We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
and sing an American tune
But it’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

Songwriters: Paul Simon
American Tune lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

constellation

I’m sitting here in the dark

wondering if it will ever grow light.

The gravity has pulled me down

into the core where the hydrogen freezes

and the rock melts.

I’m sitting here wondering if

this is all there is

now that the dog faced man

has been swallowed whole

by the giant tree.

I’d sit there in the shade

if I could

and she might bring me

some papaya or a pear or a coconut

and we could watch the waves come in

to the shore

washing it all away.

fretless

whooping slides and fluttering cries of gulls

the gravity and the light

the swell and pull of the tide

like the moment just before

a kiss

 

frantic

I’ve been scratching

at this doorpost for so long now

the paint has peeled back

the wood has splintered

my nails chipped and torn

the pads of my paws blistered.

I think I should probably stop but there

seems to be some disconnect between my toes

and my will

i will

won’t you

open the door. . .