Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Silver starlight sings and dreams
The Song of Many and of One
And webs of Singing and of Dreaming
Dance and Weave
the Tapestry of Worlds...
Sparks of Green on rock and earth
Coalesced from Light and Wind,
Ever reaching toward the sun,
Embrace the deep...
and so a Leaf unfurls.
2006 Jan. 29.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
Oh what a waste of time this is!
Are you a fool, or physics wiz,
As you once claimed, for if you were,
You'd spend, instead, more time with her,
Your wife, I mean, that Mrs. Li
That you've forgotten -- I mean me!
-- your disgruntled wife!!!
Wai-Sin Li, NY. Jan. 29, 2006.
The short piece above, "Waves -- Hmmph", was written, not by Wai-Sin, but by me, a day after writing "Waves". Over a month later, on a Saturday, with Wai-Sin not home, I had the time and privacy to write the piece below, which I present here in partial reparation for the earlier deceit.
Arjun (Babui) Janah. 2006, March 11.
Li Wai-Sin -- Conscience.
"I am not complicated, " you once said,
When I was cross at you, by anger led
To question how you differed then from me.
"I'm simple -- just," you said, "like one- two-three."
And so you were, my true and simple love,
As I found out, as years were counted out,
And you held true, amidst the pull and shove
Of wordly things, to that which does not shout
But whispers, soft, the simple, quiet truth
That we ignore at peril to our soul;
Because the strength to face and follow through
This truth, by habit formed, does keep us whole;
And when we do forget, or put aside
This listening, by complications led
Astray, from hard and narrow to the wide
And easy road, we weaken, and grow dead.
For a dead heart is what you do not have,
When those around avert their eyes or sleep,
And you, awake, must see, with pain, and choose
The path you tread, though weariness be deep.
For pain must come with love, and love with pain.
This is a truth we face, or cowards be;
From you, my love, I came to learn again,
That duty clear, that we need hearts to see.
And though you are, like me, a human, frail,
When you and I are gone, with our travail
Then past, and those who still remain do wail,
And then move on, I hope that those prevail
Who see the humor of it all, and laugh;
And drink a toast to you, my angel half!
While in their hearts a blossom opens up,
That gives them strength to see, yet not give up!
Arjun (Babui) Janah.
Brooklyn, New York, 2006 March 11.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
Waves -- of Duality
Some nations rise, some nations fall,
Some nations never rise at all.
Some lie low, while some stand tall,
And slay and preach, until they fall.
As raindrops fall, so vapors rise;
As clouds depart, to leave blue skies,
So clouds arrive, before our eyes;
As empires fall, so empires rise.
Nations rise, and nations fall;
Why so, we do not know at all.
What's born, must die, and this is so,
What ups, must down, yes this we know.
As ocean wave has crest and trough,
And each, by self, is not enough,
So good and evil, clear and mist,
And light and dark must coexist.
~ ~ ~
Life and death, and night and day,
Are but One, that seems as two;
And yet, we claim, "It must be true,
Death is not life, nor is night day!"
It's true, each one the other needs,
But still, we say, "No -- we must cleave
What's One, in twain, just as a sieve
Must separate the stones and seeds!"
For to confuse the right with wrong,
Or false with true, or prose with song,
Would leave us dulled, beclouded quite,
Bereft of form, and drained of might.
For we are creatures, built of form;
And form was born, out of Unformed,
By that same act, of cleavage sharp,
That brought forth light, and brought forth dark.
~ ~ ~
So nations fall, and nations rise;
A child is born, an old man dies.
The Water moves, from crest to trough,
And back again, from down to up.
The clouds ascend, the rain descends;
And day and night do cycle through.
Upon what's right, the wrong depends;
Without the false, there is no true.
So nations rise, and nations fall;
Peace turns to war, war yields to peace.
Why so, we do not know at all;
Save that it's so, and without cease.
~ ~ ~
Pain and pleasure, love and hate,
Sorrow, joy, esteem, contempt,
Peace and turmoil, lust and sate,
Hope, despair, to quit, attempt,
Desire, aversion, tiredness, zest...
These are but poles, 'twixt which we sway,
But just as east turns into west,
So also yes gives way to nay.
Waves of being, leaves of form,
Circled round a central Corm,
In time and space do us embed.
Where the start, and when the end?
~ ~ ~
What the Center, what the Germ?
Is It real, is It firm?
Is It fluid, sharp or dull?
Can we grasp It, is It Null?
It is not that, it is not this.
Not that, not this -- then what is It?
It is not here, It is not there.
Not here, not there -- then where is It?
It must be All, and must be Naught,
Because It lacks all qualities,
That do arise, as we forget
That that which is, is also not.
It must be here, and must be there;
And yet is neither here nor there.
It is Quiet, It is Peace...
Worlds in conflict, without cease!
We cannot grasp It, yet can see
What It is not, though It is All;
For we are caught, although we're free,
By twins that hold us quite in thrall.
~ ~ ~
Arjun (Babui) Janah,
Home, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn,
2006 Jan 28 Sat.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Our lives are transient -- we are like leaves on a tree. But fresh new leaves emerge each spring. And we who teach leave part of our selves behind, with some of our students. Here are some reflections on this and other things.
This was written on a foggy winter's day in Brooklyn, while the writer was recovering from the strain of making a difficult life decision. He was sitting in a teachers' lounge, in an unusual state of calm reverie, while observing the teachers there -- some middle aged, some very young. They were talking with one another, and going about their grading and preparatory tasks, during their break from teaching.
The building was an old one -- yet sturdy, and still being renovated. And so it was that the ghosts of teachers past, and the shadows of teachers yet to come, seemed also to be present -- as did this teacher's own youth, in another city far away. He had been reminded of that distant time and place while walking through the misty streets earlier that morning.
All of these things seemed to come together in that teacher's lounge, as though all time and place were one. It was as quiet and transcendent a moment as one can hope for in a busy teacher's life.
In this, my fifth decade upon this earth,
I breathe this air, so often breathed before,
And yet as fresh, today, as it was when
Life first emerged from ocean's nourishment.
On this calm winter's day on Brooklyn's seaward edge,
As warming ocean mists caress stark city trees
And softly blur hard edge of street and sign and store --
I sit inside a city school, as warm as steam
Can make it -- dreaming, in the teachers' lounge,
Of streets and stores and signs 'cross seas far hence, \1
Bathed in the air and light of wintertime --
With smoke of wood-fed stoves, and morning mists
That cleared away as dawntime turned to day,
While tropic winter's sun warmed pavement folk,
And livelihoods, or deaths, were sought in city bustle...
Of her, indeed, I dreamed in subbing's solitude -- \1
That other, busy-languid town where we were born,
And grew up, taking in, through all our senses fresh,
Into young minds and hearts, all that was new
To us, and yet was old -- thus learning, day by day,
What those, who lived before, had learned, and changed, and left
For us to live, and learn, and change, and leave behind --
A rippled, churning wake of feelings, thoughts and forms --
To flood, and nurture, growing hearts and minds.
And all we learned, though old, was yet as fresh, for us,
As 'twas to them, who went before, and will remain
As fresh to those who follow after us, as is this air
That I, right now, breathe in, retain, and soft exhale
In this warm teacher's lounge where teachers mill --
Where I perceive those teachers gone before, and those
Not born, all passing through, all flowing, like this breath,
On this calm winter's day, on Brooklyn's seaward edge.
Arjun Janah < email@example.com >
2006 Jan 13 Fri
Brooklyn Studio Secondary School
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York
1. The writer is an immigrant, in his 31st year in this country, and in his 19th year of teaching in the New York City Public Schools. He is currently "subbing" while on family leave.
Cafeteria in the Sky.
So here I find myself again,
Looking out those windows tall,
At skies, and clouds, and soaring gulls,
And Brooklyn marching out below,
In rows of ordered, tree-lined streets.
Her buildings, frozen waves of brick,
Long, cresting parallels, advance
Towards that distant, sharp divide,
Where sky and earth attempt to meet,
-- Twain elements, asunder torn
In times primeval, and still kept
From union by horizon's fence,
That sweeping line, as straight as if
'Twere ruled, of old, by the precise,
Strong hand of some great artisan,
Who clove the blank unformed in twain,
And thereby gave it form, for us
To later name, as earth and sky,
And watch, with awe, and wonder, whence
Came this twofold magnificence.
And here they undulate again,
In tempos fast and slow,
This ancient sky that's new each day,
This earth that's Brooklyn now,
But once was forest, once was field,
And will, again, be so,
Just as this sky that's overcast
Will change, in time, to blue.
Across the river, men's thoughts race,
And guts contract in fright;
For there, they brook not slow of pace,
Nor faint of heart e'en slight.
Yon Mammon's temples are the place,
Where men move fast, for life's a race;
But Brooklyn's streets have rhythms slow,
To calm their fevered brains.
Manhattan's towers make hearts pound,
In awe at Mammon's might;
But Brooklyn's schools do views afford
That heal our hearts and minds...
As does this view from Brooklyn's south,
From teachers' cafeteria, set
Atop a school beside an "el",
That runs atop an avenue
With name that's Dutch, from long ago,
When this long isle had forests green,
And in its east, lived ancient tribes,
Whose place names still remain;
While, on its west, new settlers, drawn
From Europe's western Netherlands,
Had built a church, named after town,
In homeland far, that gave its name
To avenue, and then to school,
In which I sit, and contemplate,
How past to present links; and then,
How present links to the unborn;
As from this cafeteria high,
I watch a train, all silver smooth,
Appear, and glide, in silence, 'long /1
The "el" below, and disappear,
A silver dream -- now here, now gone,
That leaves me, idly wondering,
Was that a train I saw, or not,
A fact, or figment floating through?
And so I find me here again,
As I have, now, for four years past,
At first as substitute, on leave
From that familiar school, at which
I'd served for thirteen years, and which
Still pulled at me, with bittersweet
Memories of those not seen,
Nor heard from, battles lost and won...
Awhirl, within my mind and heart,
Were students' eyes, that colleague's laugh,
That room in which I'd lived and taught,
That walk at dawn, 'neath Orion's sword,
That morning ride, in back of bus,
Those days of labor, full content,
That midnight trek, back home to rest,
And rise, again, to work with zest.
< portion excised to "Lost" > /2
And 'twas with all these things in mind,
Much like a man, in love betrayed,
Or patriot, from his land exiled,
That I first came to sit inside
This cafeteria in the sky --
At first, as said, as substitute,
This view imbibing, and with hope,
Arising, deep within my heart;
And then, as teacher, with my set
Of keys and classes, learning names,
And faces, fresh and young and myriad,
With classes two, and labs fourteen,
Fall Term; and later, in the Spring,
Five classes, all the same, each day,
With youngsters, courteous and rude,
Some bright, and others not so bright,
And oldsters, helpful and not so,
With satisfactions small and great;
While tasting, often, of the bitter fruit,
Yet never, yearlong, a dull day!
And so, through new acquaintance made,
With teachers, guards, and cleaning men,
Plus others, of all sorts, who kept,
Much like a ship, the school afloat,
Each with his life, his joys, his woes,
Some needing help, some giving it,
To fill my mind with human things,
And wake my heart anew;
And overall, a friendly lot,
With old-world graces not forgot,
Beneath brash Mammon's nose --
Yes so, with these, plus work and kids,
Much like a man who's wedded new,
And slowly lets old longings go,
And painful wounds subside...
So did my whirling mind grow used
To this new village, faux, I'd found,
And let old village go;
So other matters, set aside,
Could slowly cometo mind...
And now, on leave again, because
Of family, and more, and wandering,
From school to school, like vagrant bum,
Yet learning, learning, every day,
How kindness small, and courtesy,
And paying people mind always,
Do make of life a heaven small;
Or, absent, do dismay the heart,
And harden it, and make of life
A hell, indeed, unless one has
The strength, and wisdom, lightly to
Set dross aside, and turn towards
What little is of import true --
What will be left, when we are gone,
In hearts and minds of those we see,
Yet, often, fail to truly see.
For there is much, that hearts can see,
That minds cannot, when clouded by
The smoke of striving after vanities;
And gold is cast away as dross,
And dross is sought, as shining gold,
Until, all falls away, and light
And darkness intertwine as one,
And vanish, into nothingness.
Arjun (Babui) Janah < firstname.lastname@example.org >,
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 2006 Jan 21.
(Commenced in the teachers’ cafeteria, on the 5th floor
of New Utrecht High School, on 2006, Jan 18, Wed.;
and continued and completed at home, Jan 21, Sat.) /1, 2
1. The elevated train line runs along New Utrecht Avenue, which is set at an angle to the regular grid of streets and houses in this section ofBensonhurst, Brooklyn. The trains run past the red-bricked New Utrecht High School building, which towers above the surrounding blocks of two-storey houses, but is separated from it, at closest approach, by the long New Utrecht playing field.
The tall windows of the 6th floor teachers' cafeteria face away from the playing field. Looking out from these windows, one sees the elevated trainway as a diagonal line cutting across the grid, connecting the near and far distances.
The horizontal distance, and the cafeteria’s elevation, make the noise from the passing trains fade away. At least during the noisy school day, the trains appear, from the cafeteria, to glide past, along the diagonal line, in perfect silence.
2. A section about neglect of family, resulting from preoccupation with a
teaching vocation -- with attempting to fix what may well be unfixable given
current circumstances -- and the consequences of this neglect, was added on Feb.4 Sat. This was recounted, I know not why, in aquatic allegory. It was later removed, to stand on its own as "Lost."
( For "Lost", see the 2006 Feb. 27 entry above, or at http://journals.aol.com/sjanah/dailypoet/entries/887 .)