A Load of Dirty Laundry

For you distressed I carry yr clothes
hamper downstairs taste every word
prior to yr ears like mosquito
static in yr hair I sit on yr head
snatch one with my tongue
smell yr salty skin yr cheeks
freckled read as shame burr
sounds around yr funny ear fickle
bone bowls.

Still you don’t care all that mulch
for words can’t help the ear aches
worse for wear and tears fall
fill the worn clothes washer
I don’t bother separating solids
from colors under from outer
and all that rhyme
fill the tub and ounce of salt
wort scrub-a-dub-dub
rinse the soapy nest.

Pin all to these lines
in the sun of daily
breezes off the water
spinning and tumbling
little white terns fly off
as you dry off in dry
bamboo grass we learn
we two live in a slip
and fall place as you slip
a link and fall into the abyss
of this lonely ableness.

Few Notes on “Loving,” Fiction by Henry Green

loving-henry-greenI’ve been looking to read more Henry Green for some time. New York Review Books is in the process of reissuing a collection, introductions to the minimalist titled works by a few of today’s influential critics –  Daniel Mendelsohn, James Wood, Francine Prose, and others. Originally published in 1945, Loving was Green’s fifth book. Other Green titles in the NYRB series, a few more forthcoming in 2017, include the abrupt titles:
Back
Blindness
Caught
Doting
Living
Nothing,
and Party Going.

Loving is literature in a way that many works of fiction are not literature. That is to say it is about language first before it can be said to be about anything else. It might not make a good read for readers who value information and being told things straight up what’s going on. It’s not a page turner. One is encouraged to stay on the page and look again.

The characters include servants and their masters as well as a few animals, including dogs and peacocks. Not much new or different there. Narration is minimal, the book reading almost like drama, the text mostly dialog, but point of view scatters this way and that depending on who’s viewing what where. A bit of children’s book form is suggested by the symmetrical borders of “Once upon…” and “and lived happily…,” and of course the adults often behave like children while the children behave like adults in their ability to stir the plot to action – thinking here of the murdered peacock and its abused corpse and the purloined (or lost and found) ring and its burial, while the one character not taken in by anyone’s childishness is the “reprethent [of] the Inthuranth Company” (133), come to investigate the claim of the missing ring who gets things right but whose authority is undermined by the slapstick speech impediment imposed by the tooth he’s just had pulled.

The setting is a large country estate, a castle in rural Ireland during World War Two. Bucolic enough, but if that sounds pleasant, it’s not so much. Life is a cold and hard working go with much worry and darkness and shut off rooms full of covered furniture, and worries about the close but distant war and what might happen if the Germans invade Ireland, what the Irish are up to, and how the relatives are making out over in beleaguered England. And there are rations and shortages but still plenty of domestic work but real opportunity found only in factories or submitting oneself to the brutalities. Still, not much there either that we don’t find in much literature of the period.

The plot concerns an old butler who dies and a younger one moves in to take his place, a promotion not enthusiastically welcomed by the entire staff, for Raunce promises to issue in some changes and challenge tradition, including insisting Madam call him by his actual name and not Arthur, the name she prefers to call all butlers, regardless of their actual name. Most exasperating is this new Arthur wanting morning tea brought him still in bed and that tea brought by one of the two lovely maids Edith suspicioned of desiring possibly to return Raunce’s inappropriate advances.

The dialog though is what the book is purposefully really about, and the reason for reading that book. Characterization is revealed through dialog, and helps explain the idiosyncrasies of speech and syntax and varied ways of talking employed. As another example of Green’s distinctive but sometimes even peculiar style, he seems to prefer “this” and “that” to the:

“and he took that cushion, ripped the seam open” (130).

Nothing wrong with that, but it appears throughout, in a variety of syntactical shapes, and might strike the ear as odd:

“who took this man’s business card” (131).

But see if you don’t come across that oddness on your own. There are many more examples: “she strode up to that arrow and gave it a tug” (forgot to hold the page; and while I’m at it I’ll add that I’ve resolved this new year to stop marking up books read with marginalia notes and all. Makes the occasional review a bit more difficult though. Ebooks are easy for looking things like that up, but the memory gets not as much exercise. Remains to be seen if the “notes” a la reviews improve or not).

Loving will make a good choice for a book club group, not that I belong to one, but thinking you might, or you could start one, Loving your first book.

Loving, by Henry Green (1945) and 2016 New York Review Books (Introduction by Roxana Robinson).

awake & asleep

ear to ear
each other
we hear
now there
now here
tilting
tinctures
chandelier
sweeps & swivels
& windowsill
candles glisten

in moved & numbed
dark a sommelier
comes pinches
the wicks dreams
river yarn & damn
earwax secrets
sheets surface
smears of sea
& ocean seer
seal bobs near
freer & freer

On Letting My Hair Grow

letting-my-hair-grow

I’m letting my hair grow.
It’s starting to snow.
Nothing to be done,
Estragon fond.
“Now I’m a donor,” I told Susan,
“on the recent license renewal.”
“They’ll take your anatomical
hair,” she said, the young one
at the Department of Motor
Vehicles: “On your license,
be a donor?” she asked me.
“Sure, and why not.”
“It’s not like you’re going
to be needing it,” she laughed.

I don’t need it now,
I thought to myself,
she in Santa Claus costume
red and white furry thick
and outside snow falling
and her hair black maroon
hanging tussled out
the Santa red cap rimmed
white and the big white
ball at the end bouncing
about as she whirled around
to grab the form
for me to be
an anatomical donor.

My papers in order –
DD214, Birth Cert.,
proof of address – but,
“We don’t need them
this time,” she said.
“You’re in the system.
You showed us all that
last time. You only
have to prove it once.”
(On this I did not
correct her.)
“But let me see
that discharge sheet.
Why don’t you have
VETERAN
on your license?”
She read down my DD214,
taking her time.
I was number 106,
the DMV not crowded,
middle of day middle of
week middle of month.
Not any, any, any.
Middle, middle, middle.
“There it is,” she said.
“Other than dishonorable,”
she happily smiled,
as if given a gift,
or handing me one,
the white ball again
twirling as she turned
and grabbed hold
another rubber stamp.
I was 18, number 16,
that first drawing,
I might have told her.
I looked good a few
of the squad said
of my shaved head
coming from the barber
at Fort Bliss, zero week.
I went in full curled
long and wild just out
of the surf at El Porto.

“OK,” she said. “Take
this to the photographer,
end of the counter.
Merry Christmas!”
And I said it back
to her. It’s best
when at the DMV
to remain calm
and try to relax
and let your hair grow.

“Number 107? 107?”

Bodig

break shoe
tongue
twist
 

flying
by the seat

 

intestinal fracking
of one’s pants

from roof of mouth to eye bird nest
prow brow
head to head
crown noggin
fisticuffs fracus
best foot forward
tripped up
from behind
nose to nose
dried honey crystals
hundred years old
rub a dub dub elbow grease
unfair to the fare thick skinned
heartless
calloused
body out
of tune
with mind says
without a punch thrown “you go your way
and I’ll go mine”
Genet tolls
neon tubes
afterglow
mouse muscular
green scapular
easy way out
chest
prayer ov
er drawers
 

tasseling hair

offer cauliflower
ears
 

ago

loose lips
hips tip
flip
banana trunk
carrot leg
zucchini toe
feet flap
tongue roll
slip slap

The Sufi in You, The Sufi in Me

For a couple of years, I took classical guitar lessons. Once a week, I arrived at my teacher’s house, obediently left my shoes on his front porch, and sat with James in chairs arranged in the middle of an empty room, Feng shui, he said, facing south into a single music stand, while in another room, unseen, his partner exercised on a mini trampoline. James was fond of what he called Sufi sayings, and used them to convey guitar techniques. In our first lesson, James asked me what I was after. I had already been playing the guitar for years, a kind of folk jazz free-lick fingerstyle, but I wanted to learn something about music theory, better learn the fretboard, and better read notes.

“Playing classical guitar,” James said, “is not about musical theory. And once you get the notes, you don’t think about them, any more than you think about individual letters when you read a text. The theory is in the work, placed by the composer. What the guitarist does is technique.”

James frowned at my guitar. I had a better guitar at home, I told him, but a steel string folk guitar, unsuitable for classical playing. And I had a three quarter size nylon string acoustic, but it didn’t hold tune. “Get rid of all those guitars,” James said, “and get a good instrument, the best you can possibly afford. You play an instrument to make sound.”

Then James asked to see the fingernails on my right hand, and he took a steel file to them, and then sanded the nails smooth with a fine piece of wet and dry sandpaper. The rest of that first lesson was spent learning how sit and hold the guitar, how to breathe and relax the shoulders and neck, where, James said, I appeared to carry all my stress and tension.

Regarding the care of fingernails, I mentioned to James I was playing on a city co-ed softball team, where I might wreck his fingernail work. “If you are a good softball player,” James said, “you won’t hurt your nails. Fielding a ball is technique.”

James was an excellent guitarist, but he had difficulty performing in public. One day, James informed me he was moving away. He was giving up the guitar and going into typing. He was going to be a typist. He was passing me on to another guitar instructor. I was never sure if his move to typing was true or if he was using a kind of Sufi-like koan to send me a message about my guitar playing ability. In any case, I was not dissuaded; I thought about composing a piece for typewriter and guitar.

“What have you learned in your time with me?” James asked, in our last lesson. “That I want to play the guitar beautifully,” I replied. “You already can play beautifully,” he said, “but you are a poor listener.”

img_20170102_141921I thought about James, recently, reading through Heart of a Sufi: A Prism of Reflections (Arch Ventures Press, 2010), about Fazal Inayat-Khan (1942-1990), also known as Frank Kevlin, a name Fazal invented in an effort to circumscribe his legacy as grandson to Pir-o-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, who was instrumental in broadening awareness of what Fazal apparently preferred to call the “Sufi Way” around the world. The book is a high quality, sewn bound hardback, and includes black and white photographs, and informative appendix matter (contributor profiles, bibliography, glossary, website links). The primary content of the book consists of anecdotal, testimonial, and essay-like pieces contributed by people who knew Fazal as students or followers or were community members, particularly of Four Winds, a kind of commune located near Farnham, UK, and which was Fazal’s home for a time.

The text is, then, an oral history. Twenty-one writers contribute experience with Fazal profiles primarily, it seems, from the 1970’s, a time when interest in communal life and alternate inquiries into how one might live flowered in many countries around the world. The book will be of interest to researchers working on oral histories, religious or spiritual movements, charismatic leaders and followers, or the period in and around the 1970s – as well, because Fazal was a trained psychotherapist, researchers interested in therapy fields as well as the functions of the mind and its potential spiritual energy or in foundations of learning and being and becoming.

What I learned of Sufi from James amounts to about as much as I learned of guitar, which is to say that I am not a good listener. But the Prism of Reflections text is a good read for those interested in experiencing vicariously the era noted for gurus, spiritual quests, alternative life styles and approaches to religious and spiritual questions. The book is not an attempt to convert readers to any kind of Sufi practice. Its purpose seems to be primarily a vehicle to remember and give tribute to an influential teacher while describing his impact on the individual. Little attempt is made to venerate or hold Fazal up as a saint. And indeed, my own general skepticism of movements and teachers was catalyzed by some of the anecdotal evidence presented.

For example, there is this conversation with Fazal related in one of Ashen Venema’s pieces:

“After the Earthing event at Four Winds Fazal invited me to stay on, with a condition,
‘You must at all times do as I say.’
I was speechless, and held his gaze for what seemed an awesome long time. He must be joking, I thought, he can’t be serious. I did not know then that Fazal’s teaching respected doubt, deeply, as the true measure of one’s faith. I struggled for a tactful answer. All of a sudden Fazal smiled and winked an eye. He didn’t have to say a word. I trusted the light of intelligence in his eyes” (49).

Fair enough, but something a bit creepy lingers with that “at all times do as I say,” which he apparently said to others also. And the passage above might leave the reader, as many of the pieces in the rest of the book also might, with a cryptic experience. At the same time (and of course, as several contributors seem to suggest, the anecdotes may say as much or more about the writers than about Fazal), the memoir-style remembrances seem honest and balanced in their critical approach. Ashen goes on to say:

“The Sufi family was and is an enigma, a spicy mix of characters with little in common. We could have come from different galaxies…Groups reveal to us our place in the human family, reflect the warring crowd within our individual psyche, where we struggle towards a dynamic balance and optimal functioning in a complex world. Groups quicken the process of psychological integration – and, ultimately, the freedom to be what we are already” (49-50).

Later in the book, though, I came across this, a bit shocked and surprised:

Principles relating to the customer

  • Serve our customer
  • Satisfy our customer
  • Service and maintain our customer’s products
  • Delight our customer” (128).

In context, a section on the meaning and strategies of leadership, the principles are not at all jarring – I mention it here to help illustrate the wide spectrum of approaches the contributors took to remembering their experiences with their teacher. Fazal himself seems to have been somewhat isolated or even alienated by his own persona as potentially viewed and distorted by others. As a kind of celebrity, he seemed aware there would be students who would not necessarily benefit from a mentor they filled with their own projections. But in that sense too, the book acknowledges the difficulties inherent in the entire enterprise.

There is great value in this kind of book, a collective memoir remembering a time, place, and person influential in helping shape the direction of individual lives and responsible for the continuity of group efforts that will no doubt be compromised by the vicissitudes of individual needs and desires as principles move through changing environments and meanings and time. The book may serve as an introduction to further studies, as its bibliography and glossary make clear. The book is learned and credible, and will be valuable to specialists and researchers of various topics, but again, its greatest value to the general reader is probably in the diary or memoir like diversity the individual contributors bring. The book is engaging precisely because it’s readable. These are very interesting people, people who have struggled with self and meaning, direction and efforts to contribute to something larger than their individual awareness might project. And many of the anecdotal pieces are down to earth descriptions of the man Fazal and his work and time. Taken as a whole, they create an oral history biography.

And if you find, after reading the book, there does not appear to be a Sufi in you, you can always pick up the guitar.

Heart of a Sufi – Fazal Inayat-Khan: A Prism of Reflections (2010), Arch Ventures Press, Edited by Rahima Milburn, Ashen Venema, and Zohra Sharp.

img_20170102_142010

Body a la mode

Hair is home
host to vermin
both lowlife
and high fliers

little lady bugs
after aphids
and crickets
around the neck

head is open
for business
enter up
escalator nose

bay lips open
for winnow
shopping
the ears parking

garages for
diverse scads
take elevator eyes
to the penthouse

sweet
down now
to the fruit and nuts
the walnut shaped

butt rarely sees
up as down it sits
a-squish in fat
the thighs arise

down to deal knees
legs akimbo down
to ankle gears
pulleys the feet

monkey wrenches
between toes
grease growing
mushroom nails

this being husk
breath munching
crunching
masquerade

and inside the body
marching things
really grow
interesting .