GARDEN SURPRISE

GARDEN SURPRISE

She walked near the meadow alone, her pen tucked
Neatly behind her ear,
Her inner timer set to ‘soon’. Along the garden path,
Winding in circles she’d remembered as a child,
A stone centaur, half-sunken, glared at her
With scowling menace. In her reverie she’d forgotten to
Affirm her own wit on occasions like this and,
Pulling the pen out quickly, jotted notes to add to her collection
Of nature poesy. A far off whistle caught her attention.
In the midst of sloppily written verbiage she’d later forget to unlock,
Death awakened and, suddenly seeing the Centaur shift
To smile at her, she understood the day would be
A lot longer than planned.

Tip for Friday or, How to Begin to Change the World (for the Better)

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

MARIO SAVIO

Easter Walk

EASTER WALK

The sun was cold, the day bright and still;
The leaves moved briskly across the trail, moistened with Spring.
Another silent pass, an occasional grunted Easter cough
And some itinerant hikers collected the circle today.
Beneath the spruce the stumps watched with jealousy as
A short distance past, the sun held its own
On the mossed-over rocks, and near them
A few green pines, ready to march upwards this summer.

The lake threw its glittering aluminum blue waves
Across brisk winds- a northern cold touched the Poet today.
The hands held firm within the old brown corduroy coat.
The squinting made his forehead ache
But around the corner, another spruce, alone,
Stood waiting, greeting him
As if he was a recovered lover from a lost eve.
Stopping briefly he nodded and acknowledged the sentiment
As the steps he made home collided with the mud in otherwise remorseful plods.

Convenient Fictions, part 2

Our separateness, our selfhood and our identities are, at best, convenient fictions, employed by ourselves to escape fear and by others to exploit it.

So, since “I” am a fiction, how can others use and abuse this fiction to their advantage? And how can we still “be” this or that, “American” Black”, Catholic” etc. if these designations are ultimately empty?

Let´s take that last one first.

The traditional Buddhist notion of self, takes all the names we ascribe to who we are as mere designations, names for a whole which simply “tags” us though that “tag” has no real significance. Fair enough. But what if, within the context of my life in this place, and in this time, I remain committed to my ancestors; that I am proudly resistant to incorporation into a dominant narrative which has abused my people and tried to obliterate our cultural identity so as to mask the depth of their deed? This is my feeling as a Puertorican and it is shared by marginalized, oppressed peoples around the world. How does that comport with a broader, less fixed notion of identity as something illusory?

Well, the two are ostensibly contradictory but they function in different realms. In Buddhist terms, this is the difference between Conventional Truth and Absolute Truth. Conventional Truth is the truth we live and work under: I am a worker, I need to pay rent, etc. Absolute truth understand those things as fictions which, in the cosmological sense, are ultimately unimportant. Having the broader view while still living in the “real world” doing what I do is the tension of Life. Holding that tension creatively is my task as a human, as a Buddhist.

So how is that manipulated by others? Well, every time an appeal is made to the strong emotional hold my “conventional” identity in order to go kill others who are said to be “different” than “us”, that is a major example. And every day we are bombarded by appeals to our conventional identities to do this or that, to buy this or that (product, idea, etc.) and rarely is the Absolute truth of our shared humanity appealed to – for obvious reasons. Were we to operate with a requisite and healthy amount of pride in who we are while acknowledging others right to their pride in who they are under the umbrella of a universal, shared compassionate concern for the whole, our political, economic and social systems would look a whole lot different than they do now.

I´ll talk more about that, in part 3.

Convenient fictions

I am a fictional identity.

Not because I don´t exist in the conventional sense, but because all of my existence is provisional, transient, and dependent upon a whole series of causes and conditions giving this word “identity” an odd characterization for such a fluid and potentially open-ended process. (for a further elucidation of my ideas on this topic see Tirado, J. M. (2008) The Buddhist notion of emptiness and its potential contribution to psychology and psychotherapy, International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 27, 2008, 74-79)

Thus “I” am a  process.

This process moves quickly, but “I” (the guiding or dominant tendency within a number of sometimes shifting identities) am constantly adhering pieces of experience together to create a solid framework on which I build a story about who I am. This story I then take to be “me”, solid, immutable, and unmistakably a real entity.

But it´s not. Nevertheless, I hold fast to this idea because I am afraid. I am afraid that if this collection of thoughts and memories is not me, then I am, in fact, nothing. That somehow this identity I so long identified with, should it be discarded, then all I thought I was or am is discarded as well and I am left some terribly unimaginable blankness. I fear then that I will fall into some empty hole of nihilism in which life has no meaning and I am free of all moral, ethical, and socially binding constraints. I fear the “emptiness” of no meaning, no significance, and no ultimate perspective.

This would be a horrible misunderstanding, with obviously disastrous consequences.

When “I” am seen a s a fluid process in a cosmos that is fluid as well, where boundarious are porous and, at the quantum level anyway, nothing dies but all comes into magical being with Grace and Beauty, then I can let go of these fears and relax into the Wonder of Time and of Being.

Our separateness, our selfhood and our identities are, at best, convenient fictions, employed by ourselves to escape fear and by others to exploit it.

I´ll have more to say on that latter part in the next installment.

 

RENAISSANCE ´RICAN

RENAISSANCE ´RICAN

With more degrees
than a geometry quiz needs,
Raymundo Pantones,
known to Anglo friends as “Randy Pants”,
pondered his next step.

Years ago he borrowed
his mother´s savings
(from years of aching hands building little motors
in the warehouse districts of Miami)
and began a career in educación,
which now led him to the poisonous
Fountain of Debt
where Latino dreams drink freely,
and die.

No conquistador´s sword ever cut so sharp
as those wounds which now bled
his generation till they looked
lean and crisp like some old lechón
dropped into a dry sun.
The lucky ones worked as
adjuncts in community colleges
where they sprayed your name in
syllables both sides
misunderstood, but at least you held a job.
On weekends, though, you stood
shoulder to smelly shoulder with 18 year olds
sifting fries under the baking lights
or cleaned floors with
your father´s generation
and your mother´s rabia:

“There is never enough money. Again!”

Now, Randy Pants´ idea was to sing,
and the boos and shouts he received
he wore like a barber´s dish
happily on his head.
Collecting pigeon´s too was fun,
(after work #2 at the burger place),
so he smelled like ammonia-shit and grease
and regularly looked at the Santos on the window
wondering why 1800 dollars a month
was the bitch-price he paid
just to keep the Debt Barons from
claiming the old blue Oldsmobile his father left him
for blood payment on his future.
Future?
Randy Pants had no future that didn´t reek of
cebollas over-cooked with abichuelas each day
supplying tanks of homemade gas enough to run
half the businesses off Calle Ocho or,
where he now lived again, back in the Bronx.
With a little arroz on the side, though,
he managed.

And he still saw stars.
At night, cheap Bics scratched paper
in old notebooks where he saw stars trickle on him
when he won the Nobel Prize for his poetry (¡Ojalá!),
or, facing a firing squad of more realistic assessors,
he thought he´d be lucky to get a chapbook out
in limited edition, 200 pressings which
he´d have to pay out of pocket to that old comunista
who fondly remembered his years in the Young Lords
and so prints
“only what you pay for, pendejo”.

But he wrote and wrote, and wrote.
He swore, too.
All those years of World Book reading
(cover to cover, volume to volume, he bragged) and
a thousand trips to used book stores where
his mother´s pity
got him all the paperbacks (slim and fat) he asked for
jumping about with colored fascination
and overdramatic pleadings.
Books were Randy Pants´ salvation.
Randy Pants had more books than friends (for sure)
more books than chances (cierto)
and more books than his parents had ever seen,
and so he just knew he was on his way.

He left the hood, left familia, saw his future,
applied to schools, got accepted,
got a grant, took a loan, (took another),
took girls home (who went for his poetry),
took more loans (saw less girls),
and by the time he´d gotten four schools down
he cried to Heaven
that the future was coming –
and after years and years
and more years than money,
he´d finished a Bachelors and then
got an MFA to boot! then switched to sociology,
to get a JOB, an MA here, one over there,
then threw himself
into a doctor´s course of misery until
it all crashed upon him, the money dried,
his resources tapped,
and Randy Pants´ debts became a deadly trap.

Now, the little place he slept in smelled of pee from
the baby upstairs who thought
the stairs in the hall a better place to
leak than in her diapers and had La Bruja
as the only landlady who´d take him
(¡Coño chico, con todo esos libros nadie te roba aqui!)
so he knew he was lucky:

Three or four times a month at the community college
the surly and expectant sons and daughters of new dreamers
sat in front of him while “Mister Pantones” spoke of
Pound and Williams,
of Gelman and Burgos,
of Neruda and Heaney,
and they thought his wide eyes meant he was strung out
rather than bleeding out
in tropical enthusiasm the now rankling dreams of
the Renaissance ´Rican
he´d always prayed
to become.

“My father´s fingers were so fat
he couldn´t pick up a dime” he taught,
impressing them with a bobería they couldn´t relate to,
“he´d worked so long with his hands
that he told us to get an education”
and there they sat getting
that very education in the one elective
they really didn´t need, but at least he was from the hood,
(plus they knew they´d see Mr. Pantones at
Bobby´s Bacon Burgers every weekend,
and they´d laugh ´cause he always smiled and told them
poets had to suffer with the people to be great.)

But no great sacrifice goes unmocked, he swore,
wiping the grease on his apron for the 12th time that night
for the 8 bucks an hour which at least kept
the demons from sending him packing to live
on the street where all the dreams in this neighborhood
competed with death to make it first.

“Three jobs down, I drown, but shit,
four and I´d ‘sleep with fishes’!”
Still, Señor “Randy Pants” Pantones,
the poetry teacher living a puta vida
laughed at Fate and swallowed
all the dreams of his family
to finally nail it and be the “da Vinci of da hood”,
but our Renaissance Rican still cleaned the floors with
another ammonia after this,
composing paeans to his Papi
who died hoping his gifted son
would make it somewhere,
someday soon,
with softer hands.

José M. Tirado is a Puertorican poet and political writer living in Hafnarfjorður, Iceland, known for its elves, “hidden people” and lava fields. His articles and poetry have been featured in CounterPunch, Cyrano´s Journal, The Galway Review, Dissident Voice, La Respuesta, Op-Ed News, among others. He can be reached at tirado.jm@gmail.com

THE FLAME IN THE LOTUS

XIX.
I don´t know what part of me
Continues in them. Will it be
My love of books? My humor?
My long walks, or the sadness?
Will they travel the world
Eager to change it like I always did?
I see his shadows; I see her tears.
But both have those smiles-
(My light)-and both my genes-
(My life.) And bigger still, deeper,
Another Light, another Life dances in them,
Infinite and warm.