A memory remains
of California sun
and that brief incident,
that crossing of the paths
between that woman and
the ones we were
Unaccustomed as I was, to women, young,
who'd follow me and offer me a ride --
and insist on it, a stranger though I was ---
I did not know then what to do
except to walk away ---
perhaps especially as she
attractive and vivacious,
and, at least with me, that day,
flirtatious in a friendly sort of way,
with a sunny innocence that lit her eyes
and a smile that played, like sunshine, on her face.
I did not know then how I should react.
And so, I stumbled and I walked away.
It might have been for the best.
I wonder, still,
how it just might have been
if only I were not
the solemn one that I
felt bound to be
that sunlit day.
I wonder too, just who she was,
that woman, young,
whose form had been revealed to me,
in wondrous nudity,
in morning's light --
that woman who
had followed me --
perhaps because our eyes had met
and she had sensed, as I had done,
a history, unreachable --
without a name --
that turned out
not to be...
I wonder who she was,
that woman, young,
whom I remembered suddenly
this evening, thirty years
and very far away --
I wonder who she was --
and is --
that woman, now perhaps
no longer young...
I did not ask her name,
nor offer mine,
and nor did she,
despite her friendliness...
I wish her well,
and I also wish that I could say,
"I'm sorry that I was
a dolt that day."
It was morning -- 10 o'clock or earlier. I hadn't slept.
But I was young, and though I'd lectured for an hour or more,
I still had energy to spare.
I was walking out of the building where I'd lectured, when
I saw a woman, young, who stood where light was streaming in.
Her gauzy dress was billowing in the breeze,
and I could see her form, as if she wasn't wearing clothes
On exiting the building's door, I met that woman's gaze,
for just an instant. Walking, then, across the sunlit yard,
I heard, behind me, footsteps, fast -- and found her by my side.
She greeted me. I turned and answered, being just polite.
She was quite beautiful.
A word or two of casual talk, and then -- she offered me
a ride. I said, "I live nearby. I usually just walk."
But she insisted. So I sat, and as she drove, she asked,
"So what's your major?" I answered, "Physics."
"Why do you have that book, then?" she inquired,
and gestured at the thing that sat upon my lap --
a book on mathematics, meant for freshmen
who weren't majoring in engineering, sciences
or math -- and needed a refresher course.
But we were at the buildings meant for faculty,
where I was rooming with a friend who taught.
"I'm saved!" I thought. Some part of me
was just unwilling to acknowledge that
I now no longer could romance a girl
who might just be an undergrad, while I
had finished with my post-doc there at UCI,
and now had given my last lecture there in math,
and would be leaving soon for someplace far away.
I said, "We'll talk about that later, over coffee."
"But where -- and when?" she asked.
"I'm sure we'll meet each other once again.",
I said -- and saying this,
I waved and walked away.
I'd almost reached my building when I heard her car
-- and saw it curve and glide away.
This is a revised version of New Season, which I wrote on October 29th, 2006, a few months into a two-year stay at my parents' house in Berkeley, California. That long visit was initiated by a heart attack (followed, during stent installation, by heart failure) that my mother had suffered, on August 26th of that year.
Almost two years after that writing, Joe's Demise appeared, on October 5th, 2008 -- out of nowhere, so it seemed. This happened soon after my return to Brooklyn, at the end of August of that year.
Recently, on reading both poems again, I noticed that a section of the earlier poemcontained a premonition of what is perhaps portrayed in the later one, Joe's Demise. So, after revising New Season, I am presenting it below.
The air has cooled, but still the ardent sun
Retains his strength, as leaves of color fall.
Now comes November... Yet, along this coast,
It is as if we're waiting still for May...
The maples – they are mottled, green and red...
And lighter, warmer shades can now be seen,
Amongst the greens, on coastal slopes and hills.
We know, beyond those hills, and east to the sea,
For a full three thousand miles, the trees stand bare,
Except for dark and stolid evergreens...
But here, the maples, oaks, the wine-leaved plums
And all their broad-leaved kin still wear the clothes
Of early fall, which lasts here into spring...
What a paradise was this, that Nature wrought,
Until we came and drove our freeways through!
Now shopping malls deface the sun-washed coast,
And rushing cars disturb the sleeping hills.
And yet, the conifers rise up to a hilltop ridge,
And little birds are perched on cables strung
Between the poles that stand as straight and tall
As when they slowly grew in forests deep...
And high upon those hills, you still might find,
Beside a stream, a mountain lion's print –
And quickly glance about and hurry down
Before the night descends on fragrant pines.
It is as if the works of men are but
Another shadow that is speeding through,
One more among the countless ones that climb
These coastal hills as clouds go racing by.
All this shall pass, like a storm that lays about
And then is gone. So newborn grass will spring
From asphalt cracks, and rust will eat at bridges...
And trees will conquer buildings, as they've done
Since Olmecs, Mayas, Incas, Aztecs raised
Their monuments and left, as Khmers had built
In forests far across the globe, reclaimed
By plants, and all the life that they sustain...
But wait – perhaps, this time, it won't be so,
And things will take, instead, a turn that is
Quite different – for we have stressed this whole,
Of earth and sea and air, beyond its strength...
That whole may not recover. Life, its part,
May never be the same upon this globe...
And if we do not curb those weapons dread
That we are hoarding, life may vanish from
This blue-green planet – till it starts again
From a seed arrived from a distant orb that's sent
Ejecta forth to find a home and spread...
All this goes through the mind, on a tranquil day,
When all seems changeless, still, amidst the flow...
Perhaps we need these little respites from
The rush of seasons – both of Earth and Man.
We then can note the changes that portend
Of seasons yet to come, whose depth and length
Exceed, by far, the turns of the yearly round.
October ends, and yet, in paradise,
The sun is warm, and hummingbirds in flight
Are finding time to pause and drink their fill.
So autumn here begins, and we have time
To think these thoughts of past and future, while
We savor this – the present's timelessness.
Babui Jana (Arjun Janah) 2006 October 29th, Sun. Berkeley, California
revised, 2013 October 23rd, Wed. Brooklyn, New York
There are some, who'd change the planet. Those more humble, change themselves. Of ourselves, we have some knowledge. We know little of the rest. We can try to change what's local, Which are things of which we know. Let the locals settle issues, As they know those issues best.
There is madness in the workplace, there is madness in the home.
Our children grow demented and our elders lose their minds.
And is this from calamity that Nature wrought – or war?
It's us. We live in darkness, for we've shuttered all the blinds.
There is madness in our cities, and in places near and far.
We follow basest instincts – so a virtue is a vice.
And is this by an order that was given from above?
It's us. We've turned so horrid, we've forgotten to be nice.
The positions that we're placed in, where there's little room for love,
Situations in the workplace, and the pressures on our kids,
They're the things that make for madness. We are running in a herd,
And the ones who aren't running, they may end up in the skids.
So the soldiers in their battles, who will fight and die unheard,
They will slay the ones they're fighting, and will rarely question why.
They are following their orders and have lives that are at stake,
For the one, who ceases fighting, will be likeliest to die.
Are there exits from this madness? Can we say, “It's a mistake!”?
Can the workers slow from working? Can the soldiers cease to fight?
I do not know the answers to these questions, but I know,
That until we get the answers, we will never see the light.
So I'm asking you these questions, and I will not take a “No! I do not wish to answer. We are helpless in this game.”
For your life and mine are in it – and the children's, who are next.
If we do not ask or answer, then we know who is to blame.
For we each may do our duties, mind our business, not be vexed,
But the things that are unraveled, they won't ravel of themselves.
If we do not know the answers, we should seek for answers, or
The children will be saying that we only thought of selves.
******* Let me pause awhile for breathing. Should I rage against what's crazed Till I drive myself to madness And I leave you all enraged? Let us pause to breathe -- and slowly. Can we right the local wrongs? I shall leave you now to ponder -- Are we free -- or are we caged?
The New Utrecht HS teacher's cafeteria was previously on the sixth floor of the school building. From this high location, we could see (if we could make it up there during our short lunch break) the changing sky, birds in flight, and Brooklyn's streets, houses and trees, stretched out below. We could also see the comings and goings of the silver commuter trains (on what are currently the D and M lines). These trains were and are part of New York City's subway system. Like other such trains, they burrow underground in places like lower to central Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. But they surface to ride noisily on elevated tracks, high above the streets, elsewhere.
For a rumination on that earlier cafeteria, please see:
The cafeteria was subsequently moved to the basement of an added two-story cafeteria wing, with the two floors above housing the student cafeteria, which previously had been on the fifth floor.
The apparition alluded to in Teacher's Cafeteria--Part II is the author's younger self, walking through Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, before the dawn, with Orion still visible in the sky.
This was in the late 1980's to the early 2000's. I would walk briskly for twenty minutes, and then wait for a bus (the B-8 or B-82). During the bus ride (in a bus that started out almost empty but got impossibly packed as it traveled through subsequent parts of Brooklyn) I would sit in a favorite seat, just in front of the rear door. There, I would write up a lesson plan to go with the handouts I had prepared and run off the previous night. To do this, I would have stayed late after school, often till midnight (along with a couple of other teachers), scurrying out just before the custodial staff locked the doors and turned on the alarms. They had eventually gotten used to us late-nighters and so tolerated us.
After the hour-long bus ride through Brooklyn, I would walk another ten minutes to get to the school (the erstwhile Canarsie High School, between Avenues K and J on Rockaway Parkway, in the Canarsie district of southeastern Brooklyn). This was my morning commute during most of the time that I worked there (from September of 1989 to June of 2002). I would often return home after 1 am, and be up and out the door again by six. Being younger and more hopeful, with a will for learning evident in many of my students, I could manage it. Although my exertions may have been a bit extreme (and protracted) many other teachers were not that far behind. Many of them preferred, however, to do their preparation (and grading, correcting) work at home.
Canarsie High School opened in the 1960's. It had wonderful facilities, attracted many excellent students and came to have a talented and experienced faculty. It was the scene (along with New Utrecht and other schools) of racial conflicts in the later parts of that decade and the 70's. However, it survived this turbulent period, stabilized and did well for a while. The school was, however, eventually closed by mayor Bloomberg, along with many other schools. The phase-out began in the late 2000's. In 2011, Canarsie High School ceased to exist.
It is well into October – but the temperature is high,
As the sun attempts a clearing in a cloud-infested sky.
Though a peach be called a mango, it can hardly taste as sweet.
Though we're told that it is autumn, it is summer on the street.
So we've roaches on the sidewalks that may scurry from the trash,
And the music of the iceman draws in fistfuls, still, of cash.
And the kids at school are restive, as they crave the A.C.'s blast.
And the menopausal teachers, they are racing to it fast.
For the equinox of autumn, it had come, with all its show.
And the leaves are browned and falling, but the summer will not go.
We're in an “Indian summer” – and, despite the shortened day,
The blizzards of the winter – they appear so far away.
And so many are complaining that they swelter, that it's rotten,
With the hardships of the winter now conveniently forgotten.
But some others are contented with these added days of summer,
For they'd rather not be bundled, and they're relishing the simmer.
And the swollen gourds and pumpkins, they are ripening on the vine.
And the figs are growing darker, and they're tasting quite divine.
And the girls that hail from China, they are wearing tiny shorts,
For a leg that's slim and shapely, such a showing-off, affords.
For the summer's for relaxing, while the autumn is for labor,
Or so we are conditioned, as we bask in season's favor.
But we see the sun is slanting and we feel the heat is mild,
And we know that this is transient and we'll have a winter wild.
And the season of the hurricanes will last till mid-November.
And the damage done by Sandy, with a shiver, some remember.
If a season were a lover, it might give us pleasure, yes,
But could also end up hurting us, as much as it might bless.
So whenever there's a warming, at around this time of year,
There is pleasure in that warming – but a frisson, still, of fear.
It's the heat that drives the monsters, it's the heat that draws them in,
For these days of our indulgence, we'll be paying, as for sin.
And that sentiment is Indian, that I curiously expressed.
So my Asia hasn't left me, but has only been repressed.
But the ones that this is named for, who were Indianed in name,
They are vanished. This reminder – does it waken any shame?
I am answered by a snorting. "Should we care for what was past?
Be contented with the present – and you'll see it's going fast."
There were summers, that I lived through, that were Indian indeed,
But this interlude in autumn, named for “Indians”, it is sweet.
And I fancy I hear “Indians”, who had lived upon these coasts.
On their drums, they're softly beating, as this Brooklyn slowly roasts.
It is just an autumn powwow, by the ocean, on the field,
As the tribesmen yearly gather – and this land of bounty yield.
But they never had “possessed” it, as we others try to do.
Can the shrimps possess the ocean? Can the ships – with all their crew?
Can the ants possess the prairie, or the grasses growing wild?
This season's a reminder – and the question, it is mild.
For as seasons are of transience, so are beings on this Earth,
And by this, you can be saddened – or have bellyfuls of mirth.
And the drums that I've been hearing, imagined though they be,
They are asking us the question – “Can you hear – and can you see?”
2013 October 5th, Sat. & 6th, Sun. Bensonhurst, Brooklyn Notes:
For those unfamiliar with the term, “Indian Summer”, this expression, as used here in the U.S.A., refers to an extended interval of warming during what is officially the autumn season here. Warming spells occur sporadically here between late September and early November, and if one of these lasts long enough, it may earn that moniker. There is no connection to the Asian subcontinent, except for the historical blunder or swindle of Columbus.
The seasons recognized over much of this country are the same four that the early settlers were used to, back in Western Europe. This is not always a good fit, as people know, for instance, in coastal California (where there is not much seasonal variation) or in parts of the arid Southwest, where there is a long dry season and a brief “monsoon”.
In much of India, there was a tradition of six seasons, each consisting of roughly two months. One of these was the season of the rains. The imported Arabic word “mousam”, meaning “weather”, later came to be used, by the English, exclusively for the Indian rainy season, being mispronounced as “monsoon”. This word is also used, in meteorology, for certain seasonal movements of air masses – often associated with rain-bearing clouds that bring moisture from the ocean into a large low-pressure region that develops above a heated land area, such as parts of Asia or North America during their summers.
All along the eastern plains and coasts of the United States, there are contests between air masses surging inland from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, often bearing warm, humid air, and those being driven across the prairies by the prevailing westerly winds or sweeping south from Canada. Owing to the absence of significant mountain ranges east of the Rockies, the fronts between these air masses swing around quite swiftly and rather randomly, giving rise to dramatic changes in weather, including that experienced during an “Indian Summer”.
A perhaps unrelated term, relevant, however, to some of the final verses, is the expression, “Indian giver”. This is a derogatory term, applied to someone who wants to take back what appeared to be a gift.
I believe this originated from a cultural misunderstanding. The Amerindians who were settled on the coasts and elsewhere, practicing agriculture but not part of major feudal hierarchies as prevailed in much of the Old World (and perhaps in parts of Mexico and regions further South in the Americas), retained some of the traditional attitudes and habits of our hunter-gatherer species. So there was probably little recognition of the invidious concept of individual property, or perhaps even of “possession”, as the European settlers were familiar with. So agricultural implements, for example, might have been shared among the Amerindian villagers and loaned out to adjacent European settlers – who assumed that this was a permanent transfer of a “possession”, taking it to be either a gift or some form of compensation. When a native later wanted it back to use, this was considered a deficiency in character – and anyone who did such a thing came to called an “Indian giver”.
Sharing and generosity have come to be even more hounded over the years, becoming so rare as to be institutionally confined (and commercialized) to certain times of the year – with Christmas being a familiar example.
Amerindians from various tribes (now called “nations”) do still gather for seasonal powwows, during which drums are beaten and ceremonial dances are danced. One of these gatherings occurs not that far from where I live, taking place yearly near the grounds of Fort Hamilton (which overlooks and guards the Verrazano Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island, this being the entrance to Upper New York Bay and a scene of naval battles during the Revolutionary War). However, these gatherings are usually during the late summer, not in October – and so I have made use of poetic license here, for which I apologize. (I did write, “I fancy I hear...” and perhaps this was a memory of summer, invoked by the “Indian summer” that now prevails here – far too briefly.)
Finally, “Sandy” was hurricane “S” of the previous year's hurricane season. It hit New York City and adjacent areas during a high tide, flooded much of lower Manhattan and the low-lying coastal areas of Staten Island and Brooklyn, destroying many homes and taking some lives. Coastal New Jersey, heavily settled, experienced even greater devastation, with the shorelines left dramatically altered.
All of that might perhaps be viewed as a harsh lesson, both about possession and about transience...
Ted and Sarah – and Bachmann and Rhee
I studied mathematics, science, seeking for the truth,
And traveled halfway 'round the world, to this, the U.S.A.,
Believing that I'd learn yet more, in verity's pursuit.
But after thirty-seven years, the truth is far away.
For here's a land, where people think that Jesus spoke in English,
The U.N.'s bent on world control, with helicopters black,
Obama is an atheist, a socialist, and Muslim,
And soon enough, their Jesus, speaking English, will be back.
And as for mathematics, science, although they still are extant,
These precious zones of sanity, in a world that's ruled by madness,
Are penetrated now by things, which are the opposites
Of reason, moderation, truth – as every day I witness.
And though we haven't brought back kings and slavery and serfdom,
And witches aren't being burned or devils exorcised,
You wouldn't know that from the things to which we've grown accustomed,
From which, returns of all those things might sadly be surmised.
Republicans would like us all to work until we die,
With others on the way to take our places on the cheap.
The Democrats throw workers bits and pieces of the pie,
While bowing deep to those who sit on dollars that they heap.
I've taught for twenty years and six in a borough close to Gotham,
And the madness of that city can be witnessed even here,
But the ones there with the power and the money and their “got 'em!”
Have no inkling about Brooklyn, even though it's sitting near.
There are those who speak for workers but have never labored much,
There are those who say they're patriots as they cheer for every war.
There are those who say, “The children!” but have never gobbled lunch
While staring at a clock, in sites where toilets may be far.
And I've seen the wars that issued from the ones who have the power,
The wars that were on lands afar and those within our borders.
And everywhere, the in-betweens could only die or cower,
For bosses knew that underlings obey, alas, their orders.
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia,
Americas – South and Central, Granada and Panama,
Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan
Again – and Pakistan and Syria and Yemen...
So many wars, so many lives and nations blown asunder!
And even more of wars to come, for which McCains are thirsting.
More wars abroad, more wars within, with Klein and Rhee and Duncan
As generals, with Bloombergs and Obamas giving orders.
We have had the War on Cancer and we've had the War on Drugs,
And they've each been so successful that we've wanted even more.
There's the War against the Terrorists, who once had been our thugs,
And the War against the Workers – but we've been through that before.
As a teacher, as a worker, I have seen it from below,
From the trenches, from the classrooms, where the feces from above
Have been landing, as the anuses are blasting ever more.
And yet, we are expected to be paragons of love.
Reformers and deformers – and they often are the same –
They fill us up with slogans, and we know that it's a game.
But we follow still our orders, and we rarely stop for shame,
And we're always on the lookout, for another one to blame!
What little do the powers, playing politics in D.C.,
Or the wealthy, in their penthouses in Manhattan,
Or Bloomberg, living mostly in Bermuda, know or care
About the ones who work – across the oceans – or the Hudson?
There's populism rising here, in this, the U.S.A.,
But mostly, it's the populism-right, of Sarah Palin,
That of Bachman, of Tea Baggers, of Rand Paul and Teddy Cruz,
With “Occupiers” ousted – and Obamacare for railing.
Congresswoman and former Presidential Candidate Michele Bachman
And the Empire, it is growing, though we've all been paying dear.
And the drones, they still are flying – and we find the N.S.A.
Has grown to be omniscient – a global eye-and-ear
That sees and hears what you and I are doing every day.
And tragedy has comedy embedded deep within,
And comedy is tragic when the jokers deal in death.
It's yang within the yin within the yang within the yin.
And so it was when Teddy and our saucy Sarah met.
Senator Ted Cruz and former Governor and Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin
A boy meets a girl and a girl meets a boy,
And that's all there is in the end, it is said.
And there's whoopee and there's fighting – it's a pleasure, it's a joy,
Then there's babies – and at times, we may even think to wed.
Conservatives say Liberals are looser in their morals,
But Liberals say Conservatives, with money, are too tight.
And who is wrong and who is right, I leave for others' quarrels.
From both of them, I run away, when either heaves in sight.
On coming home from work, I saw a party on the street.
The beer was flowing freely, and the franks were roasting well.
And I could hear some singing – and, although it wasn't sweet,
It had a sort of rhythm – and a story, too, to tell.
“America, America – we mean the U.S.A.!
What matters it, if continents are named for this our land!
Our Mormons say that Jesus came and took our sins away.
We're red and white and blue! What else is left to understand?
“Oh welcome, to the U.S.A., where you can earn your dollars.
And you'll never have enough of those, although you work your ass off!
And so, whatever be your hue, in politics or collars,
You'll fall for scams, as did the ones, who fell for Bernie Madoff!
“Our Limbaugh roars on radio, O'Reilly riles 'em daily!
Reality is distant, as the crazies lead the crazed!
Some nurse their dumbness dourly, while others flaunt it gaily,
And even though we're clueless, we blunder on unfazed!”
Rush Limbaugh and the flag
Bill O'Reilly, intimidating
I heard – and hung my head awhile and trudged upon my way,
And thought, “There still are things to praise in this forsaken land,
For though it seems that blindness rules throughout the U.S.A.,
There still are those, of sanity, who see and understand."
But surely, long before we see again the light of dawn,
This night will darken even more – and karma, long in baking,
Will slowly rise and overflow, and all will then be gone
Of Empire and of posturing – in darkness of our making.
And who'll remember then our Ted, who'd mounted over Palin?
And who'll remember then Michele and others of her kind?
And will there be a Limbaugh – or O'Reilly with his railing?
Obamacare, we still might have – or still retain in mind.
2013 October 3rd Wed. morning, 4th night & 5th morning. Bensonhurst, Brooklyn