Saturday, October 24, 2009

villanelle: "Code blue"

"Code blue" they said three times    but Yama's hand
moved every piece into its lethal place
the chessboard shows what destiny has planned

we move through nights and days by whose command?
we seek to glimpse what ever-distant face?
"Code blue" they said three times    but Yama's hand

is suave and stealthy    let me take my stand
by loving you    though your game's named "erase"
the chessboard shows what destiny has planned

I came back from points East both broke and tanned
around the globe by winds of fortune chased
"Code blue" they said three times    but Yama's hand

is sure and steady    we're familied and clanned
we're civilized with lavender and lace
withal the chessboard shows what fate has planned

New York and California your life's spanned
you had to leave    but why this sudden haste?
"Code blue" they said three times    by Yama's hand
the chessboard shows what destiny has planned


for my mother, Betty Jane Israel (April 2, 1927 - October 23, 2009) in memoriam

Thursday, August 13, 2009

new land, new look

. . . the "new land" being California (my place of origin in fact, but I'd been living in Asia [India & China] for the past two and a half years).

Thanks to young Gavin for snapping the photo (not to mention to Gavin's mom, Shireen for wisking me all around Walnut Creek on a whirlwind shopping (hair&beard-cutting / self-presentation-retooling) excursion. Now (in Los Angeles) I commence a job search -- working again in America being a satisfactory Plan B (the India work visa [application long pending] looking now unsure-at-best).

Semi-surprisingly, I'm quite enjoying being back in my old homeland.

At the Davenport residence, I played a few notes on the piano and a few touches of raag Bhairo on my sarangi, before being further wisked away to the airport . . . with my parents awaiting me in LA.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

shi: At the Wild Waves Guest House


At the Wild Waves Guest House
              there are thatch-and-bamboo huts
Jai Ram! says the man from Khazakstan
                          he pours hot adarak chai
with raaga Todi   greet the morning
                                lingering on the notes
to transport you to Matrimandir
                            fetch a bicycle nearby
walk on sands the sea has pulverized
              breath the sea-breeze sans a sigh
a sunlit crystal awaits your gaze
                    be done with whys-and-whats
perhaps it's time to start a new painting?
                                  take a week and try
at the Wild Waves Guest House
              there are thatch-and-bamboo huts


Beneath Matrimandir   water gently flows
one sits a silent hour   in the inner chamber

how rare is the mind that its own nature knows
evanescent thoughts arising   without number

taut muscles   with due training   become limber
hid heart   albeit benighted   stirs and glows

amid torrid day crows cawing   harsh and somber
beneath Matrimandir   water gently flows


The restless ocean churns   day after day
the intrigue continues on   without conclusion

has the universe   so many things to say?
every utterance   embodies sheer illusion

the gestalt of our existence   is confusion
as vast as the oceanic Bengal Bay

if profound or vapid   thoughts form in profusion
the restless ocean churns   day after day

poem 1: Thursday, June 4
poem 2: Friday, June 5
poem 3: Friday, June 12

This sequence of 3 poems is itself a third such sequence -- the first being At Shridhar Shrigudda, and the second being At Tiruvannamalai. These sequences (may be said to) narrate a journey south -- from Bangalore (Sridhar Srigudda) to Tiruvannamalai to Auroville (Wild Waves Guest House).

Friday, May 29, 2009

villanelle: "At the brink of dawn"

At the brink of dawn   one hears the peacocks cry
there are vehicles on the highway   at any hour
is it time to amble the circle   of Annamalai?

in the depth of night   you brew Nilgiris chai
and intone the saptak   watering music's flower
at the brink of dawn   one hears the peacocks cry

the observer remains unobserved   maybe he's shy
those who seek the source find sweet   what else were sour
is it time to amble the circle   of Annamalai?

in the heat of day   the brain is apt to fry
amid twilight cool   the limbs recall their power
at the brink of dawn   one hears the peacocks cry

life is vanishing   but it's impolite to sigh
you've a chance yet   to ascend the lonliest tower
is it time to amble the circle   of Annamalai?

supple fronds of palmtrees wave   in a pale blue sky
midnight sweat is washed away   with morning's shower
at the brink of dawn   one hears the peacocks cry
is it time to amble the circle   of Annamalai?

line 1: Peacocks freely wander around the living-quarters area of the tree-shaded grounds at Ramanashramam (Ramana Ashram). I hadn't been aware of this creature's arresting dawn cry, till spending a few days at this charming ashram (the poem was written May 27th. In the instance, I happened to make the giri pradakshina in afternoon-evening rather than at dawn.)
line 3: Annamalai: one name for the small sacred mountain also known as Arunachala -- the life-long abode of Ramana Maharshi, and having a long, interesting spiritual history. (Surrounding the mountain is the town of Tiruvannamalai.) The mountain itself is regarded as a manifestation or embodiment of Lord Siva.
"to amble the circle": giri pradakshina, circumambulation of the mountain, is an established custom and practice for pilgrims visiting Arunachala.
line 4: Nilgiris chai -- tea grown in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, South India (in the instance, a potent, powdered green tea packaged by an Auroville outfit).
line 5: the saptak (Hindi): notes of the musical scale; a saptak is an octave.

Monday, May 25, 2009

shi: At Tiruvannamalai


At Tiruvannamalai   each day's distinct
while what remains the same   remains the same

the ancient mountain seems   but freshly inked
the one who's scrawled it plays   a gracious game

the formless hides   in every form and name
causation's chain   if infinitely linked

pure destiny   ignites the mystic flame
at Tiruvannamalai   each day's distinct


All things the eye beholds   are a play of paint
so skillfully shines the art   they appear quite real

whatever seemingly is   peradventure ain't
the Self behind   these objects well conceal

you're royally hoodwinked! how does it make you feel?
the mural upon mind's wall   so vast and quaint

loses   with vairāgya   its dark appeal
all things the eye beholds   are a play of paint


O let me stay in the Ashram   some days longer
it takes time to grow tomatoes   or glimpse God

the force that's elsewhere dim   seems here a bit stronger
one even observes the universe   grow odd

in a way that's hard to pin down   I've not trod
around the mountain yet   while here I linger

my brooding mind   reveals itself as broad
O let me stay in the Ashram   some days longer


[Written at Sri Ramanashramam (Ramana Ashram), -- poem 1: May 25 (after a day distinguished by a first walk up and over the mountain, Arunachala); poems 2 & 3: May 27.]

Initially, I discovered this particular form (which I've dubbed the "boomerang poem") in Chinese poems of recent dynasties (I'm doubtful the form existed as early as the Tang; perhaps it appeared in the Ming -- but this is sketchy speculation, my scholarship being inadequate). Only a few such poems have seen translation, far as I'm aware (I believe I recall one or two in the anthology Sunflower Splendor). In any event, I've enjoyed playing with this variant of shi-in-English now and again.

note to poem 2:
vairāgya (Skt. [from vai meaning "to dry, be dried" + rāga meaning "color, passion, feeling, emotion, interest"]): dispassion / detachment / renunciation

notes to poem 3:
line 2: this line paraphrases (or anyway recalls) a passage from Francis Brabazon's Stay with God (1958), vide: it takes time . . . tomatoes

lines 5-6: circumambulating the mountain (giri pradakshina) -- some 14 kilometers -- is a principal practice for pilgrims to Arunachala.

Poem 3 could (hypothetically) have been presented as a literal (rather than merely literary-rhetorical) plea, though it wasn't so employed in the instance. But (on asking for some additional time) Ashram authorities did kindly grant me one day more.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

At Sridhar Srigudda (English shi -- 3 poems)


At Sridhar Srigudda   the rain comes   once again
electricity dies away   while lightning flares

tomorrow's my birthday   listening to night's rain
moutainside serenity   dissolves time's cares

I'll be 53   my life's plan not yet plain
I await a Calcutta job   my love affairs

are merely notes now   Bhairavi's sweet pain
my olden sarangi again prepares


Again late rain   again the lights are gone
to inscribe a poem   I use a mobile phone

bright lightning flares   deep thunder rolls anon
from yon one hears   the dinner-bell's brass tone

without an umbrella   sambhar I'll forgo
intoning verses   in my room alone

alas   "only myself   I do not know"
tonight at least   night's lovely dark is known


The Mother whom they invoke   is deep and hidden
her universe   reveals itself in parts

time will draw a line   through every line I've written
though it shine a spell   for some few eyes and hearts

I've yet to compile   a book of Asia verses
inspiration flashes out   in fits and starts

on tomorrow's stage   what my mind here rehearses
there's another's tongue   that this perchance imparts


Composed (in the instance, as SMS poems) May 19th [poem 1] and May 20th [poems 2 & 3]

Since some decades, I've periodically explored -- as here -- poems "in the Chinese manner" (flowing from my study of classical Chinese in the 1970s). The 8-line poem with 5 characters per line (mirrored by 5 stresses in these English lines) is the most basic and prevalent form of classical shi (often with the rhyme scheme seen in poem 1; the scheme used in poems 2 & 3 is my modification). [Note: in these particular poems, I've not followed some aspects of the form (especially concerning grammatical parallelism -- which in the most classical phase was pretty much requisite in the 2nd & 3rd couplets), though at times (in other poems in this form) I've delighted in exploring such.]

Sridhar Srigudda is an unusual temple complex and spiritual school located by a small hill near Kengeri (southeast of Bangalore City), off the Mysore Road. I've enjoyed living here (as a guest) all week, happy to say. Worship practiced (by the resident guru, Gurumatha Amma, and her students) includes the Tantrik Shaktism tradition known as Sri Vidya -- a tradition remarkably expounded and illuminated by Ammaji's ever-flowing discourses (which are oftentimes perhaps 20% in English, the balance in Kannada). One feels one has dropped into a gone world or century (in some respects), though spiritual principles underlying the ornate language and symbolism seem by no means antiquated.
In all, I've found this a fascinating follow-up to my couple-day stay at a Tibetan / Mahayana Buddhist monastery (Kopan Monastery) in hills near Kathmandu, a few weeks ago.

notes on poem 1:
line 2: "electricity dies away" . . . perhaps for some readers not resident in India, it might not immediately occor as obvious that when it starts raining, electricity (in one's abode) is apt to die out (one then resorts to candles). The (concurrent) lightning was of course literal; but coincidentally, recent recitations (heard from the Lalitha Sahasranama) had included names that note lightning as a special form of the Goddess.
line 7: Bhairavi -- an early-morning (or, in practice, oftentimes late night) raaga having four flat notes. This raaga is heard in many bhajans (devotional songs). In Hindustani concerts, it is fairly customary to conclude the program with a rendition of this raaga -- hence its strong familiarity. Bhairavi is one form of Devi (the Goddess), counterpart to the terrible-glorious form / aspect / phase of the life of Siva called Bhairava.
line 8: sarangi -- a bowed string instrument of Hindustani music.

notes on poem 2:
line 5: sambhar [Mid-20th century, via Tamil from Sanskrit sambhāra "collection"] -- a delicious soup made from lentils and vegetables, found ubiquitously in South India (and a staple at the temple kitchen)
line 7: "only myself   I do not know" -- this line forms the refrain in a ballade by François Villon.

note on poem 3:
line 1: "The Mother whom they invoke" -- in the tradition here noted, Devi (the universal Mother) is, as Lalitha Tripurasundari, understood to include comprehensively (in her triune nature) all aspects of Maha-Kali [consort of Siva], Maha-Lakshmi [consort of Vishnu], and Maha-Saraswati [consort of Brahma]. (In a different context and style, this idea has likewise been expounded by Sri Aurobindo -- albeit he looks at the Shiva-consort aspect under two rubrics [Maheshwari and Mahakali], bringing the number of fundamental facets of the Mother to 4 rather than 3.)

A locus classicus, Shankaracharya's Sanskrit poem Tripura Sundari Ashtakam (in 100 verses), has been rendered by Gurumatha Amma as a poem in the Kannada language; -- and the verses (along with their associated 100 yantras) are inscribed in polished granite at one garden shrine at Srigudda, aface a murti [statue] of Tripura Sundari. This new version of Shankara's ancient mystic poem was recently lent musical interpretation in a recording session (supervised by Ammaji) of my dhrupad music-gurus, the Gundecha Brothers. In connection with this recording project, Ammaji (with a group of her students) came and resided for several days at our gurukul [music school] Dhrupad Sansthan, some few months ago. At that time, she invited the music students to view Sridhar Srigudda in Bangalore as an extension of our Bhopal gurukul (hence my visit).

Initially I'd given the 3 poems individual titles --
  1   ("mountainside serenity")
  2   ("night's lovely dark")
  3   ("through every line")
But as a linked sequence, such prolixity of titling seems excessive.

Friday, May 15, 2009

villanelle: "the next poem"

The next poem that is not to be
expires before it tints the page
it wanders cloud-like over the sea

hovering in sheer mystery
a bird that could evade the cage
the next poem that is not to be

when wordless   where lives poetry?
holds silence some hushed heritage
wandering cloud-like over the sea?

words bind   words seeking to set free!
gears swirl   yet fail to engage
the next poem that is not to be

how grasp it?   peering   can't you see
desire contort in hapless rage
what wanders cloud-like over the sea?

timor mortis conturbat me
(if "may" if "mee"   mere persiflage)
the next poem that is not to be
yet wanders cloud-like over the sea

[Yelahanka New Town, Bangalore]

Occasioned by (or responsive to) -- and borrowing (as this poem's 1st line) -- a Facebook "status line" that had been posted by poet Koyamparambath Satchidanandan, May 15th (the above poem being initially composed by way of "comment" in the Facebook interface).

Note: first stanza originally written as:
    The next poem that is not to be
    evaporates 'ere it meets the page
    it wanders cloud-like o'er the sea
Then I thought better of pulling those archaisms into this century, and began revising...

Besides the (repeating) line borrowed from Satchidanandan, the other borrowed line in this poem -- the Latin timor mortis conturbat me -- is nicely discussed in a Wikipedia entry here. (W.S. Merwin, some years ago, composed a superb elegiac poem modeled on the classic one by Dunbar mentioned in said entry, "Lament for the Makers.") I'll confess to having been confused about the proper Latin pronunciation of the word "me" (hence my next-to-penultimate line above) . . .

villanelle: "through regions blurry"

Those who love me lend me darkness   when they go
this darkness is a gift   I learn to carry
it shows me things I else   would never know

time's river seems unending   in its flow
and yet they say   but a little time we tarry
those who love me lend me darkness   when they go

amid surface-life you'll feel   the undertow
I delight in leisure   though the world loves hurry
it shows me things I else   would never know

with the ants and flies   I sit and watch things flow
since antiquity   survival's made things scurry
those who love me lend me darkness   when they go

sages say   life's secret's in   the guru's toe
gurus chide   "be happy child   do not worry"
this shows me things I else   would never know

Atman from Illusion   how distinguish?   so
must our tale wander on   through regions blurry
those who love me lend me darkness   when they go
and it shows me things I else   would never know

[Yelahanka New Town, Bangalore]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

villanelle: "Tagore's birthday"

With a blank page   the world begins anew
in the noon shade   I sit to pen these lines
Tagore's birthday   all things are trembling dew

Hiroko on her rikshaw   lost from view
amid gesture   the dance its thought defines
with a blank page   with world begins anew

under cover of the what   abides the who
every season shows   some portion of its signs
Tagore's birthday   all things are trembling dew

I await Calcutta's paperwork   the screw
turns slowly   as the sundial aligns
with a blank page   the world begins anew

only two days at the monastery?   true
it needs years of work   to draw jewels from the mines
Tagore's birthday   all things are trembling dew

in the hour's lull   we ponder and review
possibility is born from pregnant brine
with a blank page   the world begins anew
Tagore's birthday   all things are trembling dew

(at Santiniketan, West Bengal)

Friday, May 1, 2009

ghazal: "monsoon cocoon"

Siliguri   the following day   the border again being closed
hints of monsoon   on entering May   the border again being closed

at six in the morn   the rains commence   the surpeti's drone all but drowned
Delhi Hotel   extending my stay   the border again being closed

expressing my love for India   through leaving her at her command
does she yet harbor   something to say?   the border again being closed

my passport booklet gathers its stamps   betokening every move
Asian montage   in freeze-frame today   the border again being closed

I'd put off washing clothes   now these rains!   unless they cease how will things dry?
monsoon cocoon   holds me in its sway   the border again being closed

some Vaishnav preacher's loudspeaker's blare   is dampened by all of this rain
stray honking horns command "time to pray   the border again being closed"

without embrace   our parting proved spare   will you embrace me with your heart?
it seems I can't   get too far away   the border again being closed

you paint blue ovals day after day   your meditation takes this form
I meanwhile sing   Bhairo's roundalay   the border again being closed

Darjeeling tea again let me brew   sweetened by Narendrapur bees
Ramakrishna   sees Kali-Ma's play   the border again being closed

like Raphael's   my sojourn grows strange   the unexpected is its rule
I pine to reach   a realm far away   the border again being closed

ghazal: "Siliguri en route to Nepal"

Every move on the chessboard of fate   they say is predestined
how you seek   whom you love   what you hate   they say is predestined

if the world is a congeries of bubbles   on what do they float?
that our boat is arriving   though late   they say is predestined

with elections   the border is closed?   wash clothes at a hotel
when you reach the monastery's gate   they say is predestined

Siliguri en route to Nepal   three years coming going
when a work-visa's stamp may await   they say is predestined

in the arbor of Shantiniketan   shade is discovered
where we wash up in poetry's state   they say is predestined

you return to Japan in ten days   shall we meet in Beijing?
how the sequence of moons waxes great   they say is predestined

room 5 at the Delhi Hotel (as it's called)   Siliguri
rather dingily charming   the rate   they say is predestined

there's a stupa in town worth visiting   time's brief abundance
turns us tourists by chance   travel's spate   they say is predestined

when last night I was tuning my sarangi   strings had grown tight
through what byways our hearts navigate   they say is predestined

I've a clothesline but not any clothespins   hence I've an errand
what particular tasks you narrate   they say is predestined

not yet noon when the world grows sweltering   Bengal late April
every droplet of sweat on your pate   they say is predestined

rice available at wholesale rate   a red-lettered sign
how some trace of your grace you relate   they say is predestined

when in evening the honking of horns greets the flutter of wings
of night's beauty   how poets may prate   they say is predestined

Raphael's resignation runs chill   like a creek in the dark
where it travels   while we cogitate   they say is predestined

Thursday, March 5, 2009

paintings shown at Meherabad Art Exhibition

Happy to report: four of my oilpaintings were included in the 4th annual group exhibition held at Meherabad on February 25 (Meher Baba's birthday). Thanks to Eric Solibakke for nicely arraying the work (and receiving my couriered parcel sent from Bhopal -- regrettably I wasn't able to make the trek to Ahmednagar this year) . . . Here's a glimpse of my work on view. Some 13 artists participated this year. (I'd like to see images of others' work . . . )

Saturday, February 28, 2009

ghazal: "photography was invented"

Photography   was invented   so I could see you
white temple walls   were cemented   so I could see you

life guards jealously   possibility's calculation
catastrophe   was prevented   so I could see you

the varnish of our conversation   thickened with time
the river's ink   flowed undaunted   so I could see you

who requires a million words?   where is one true line?
the mind became   single-pointed   so I could see you

in pondering you   one sifts through   myriad notions
the ocean's trove   was recounted   so I could see you

the universe proved episodic   likewise our Earth
some brilliant   batter bunted   so I could see you

growing weary of games   sleep's curtain again descends
awakening   light ascended   so I could see you

one thought to paint miles of canvas   and astonish?
two feet unrolled   O road dented   so I could see you

is sophisticated utterance   time's pleasantry?
the chai-wallah   tersely grunted   so I could see you

should Raphael petition your darshan   might his prayer
be suddenly   simply granted   so I could see you?

Friday, February 27, 2009

ghazal (lullaby): "green or blue?"

Who are you   O Meher Baba?
green or blue   O Meher Baba?

false or true   O Meher Baba?
old or new   O Meher Baba?

life is passing   day after day
morning dew   O Meher Baba

what I seek   within this great weave
how construe   O Meher Baba?

oftentimes   I'm losing the thread
passing through   O Meher Baba

tracks of birds   no eye can detect
where they flew   O Meher Baba

evening settles   upon the land
night's review   O Meher Baba

midnight   steeped in ink like a tea
poets brew   O Meher Baba

are my efforts   truly sincere?
what's your view   O Meher Baba?

Raphael   is singing your name
loving you   O Meher Baba

(February 25, 2009)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ghazal: "each paradox"

The page desires the word   don't deny it
the branch requires the bird   don't deny it

our perception of the world   creates the world
what's true   is truly inferred   don't deny it

dim inference   is the narrative we read
the dream's shard   albeit blurred   don't deny it

one third of life spent sleeping   one third working
confusion befills the third   don't deny it

your destiny?   viewing   her perfect visage
when such a secret is heard   don't deny it

every hope   holds one hope   in its heart
when soul's conviction is spurred   don't deny it

we stand on the brink of meanings   that stymie
when something deep has occurred   don't deny it

the undertaker knows   what is his business
the hero must be interred   don't deny it

did poetry expire   last century?
largesse belongs to the nerd   don't deny it

each paradox   a fragment   from one mirror
the glue's ordeal is absurd   don't deny it

your bank account has dwindled   but not perished
when mystery is transferred   don't deny it

the smile   of the belovèd   spells gladness
blithe letters   dance in the word   don't deny it

sometimes ghee   sometimes milk   sometimes buttermilk
for alms   she offers you curd?   don't deny it

when unwinding golden thread   you discover
some debts   were darkly incurred   don't deny it

whatever you favored   that became my creed
but bafflement you preferred   don't deny it

isolation is a fiction   that afflicts
the sheep   belongs in the herd   don't deny it

with each transient transaction computed
time's bottom line rests assured   don't deny it

the balance   of the cosmos   astonishes
its theme proceeds undeterred   don't deny it

the context of each note   thick with nuance
to love   the text has referred   don't deny it

one circles the mountain endlessly   until
of crude impertinence cured   don't deny it

feet lodge complaint unreasonably   perchance
the trek was often chauffeured   don't deny it

the tale looms long?   thank God the night's yet young
a hard travail we've endured   don't deny it

limpid happiness   glimmers   with the dawn-light
to dark   though heart be inured   don't deny it

while roses slumber   the pool   shatters the moon
a vernal breeze has bestirred   don't deny it

when Raphael strings baubles   of poetry
a stealthy pearl is conferred   don't deny it

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

ghazal: "you with your beauty"

Whatever the trial   you with your beauty   bless me
all silent your smile   you with your beauty   bless me

the day starts anew   again the birds broadcast promise
though lengthy the mile   you with your beauty   bless me

absurd are the ways I'm waylaid   seeking your mandir
beyond the world's guile   you with your beauty   bless me

my body I coax to join   your noble endeavor
we thread single-file   you with your beauty   bless me

half a century's gone!   the other half waits   somewhere
let substance lead style   you with your beauty   bless me

there's nowhere to go!   you're everywhere!   day's pilgrimage
describes the sun-dial   you with your beauty   bless me

suppose Raphael grew discouraged?   what consolation
sings soft all the while?   you with your beauty   bless me