Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sing to Me

Sing to Me 

Early winter sky along Newfound Gap Road. © Kristina Plaas.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sing to me the song of innocence,
so all the grime and sin are washed away.
And sing to me of what was beautiful –
of mists of morn that rose to greet the day.
Sing to me the song of morning-time,
so I remember days of youth again.
And let me bless you for the morning song
that gives me joy and makes me live again.
Oh sing to me the song of times now past,
so I may walk again upon those paths
and see again the ones who went before –
to smile and laugh and cry with them once more.
Sing to me the song of gentleness,
the song of rustling wind and tinkling water.
Sing to me the hopeful song of dawn,
when dreaming merges with the edge of morn.
2014 November 29th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

Robbie Robertson - Cherokee Morning Song
For a translation of Sing to Me into Bengali, please see:

Maya – Illusion and Attachment

Maya – Illusion and Attachment
When praise comes by, then know that scorn is next.
When scorn arrives, do not, by that, be vexed.
As winds may blow from east and then from west,
So also, chasing worst, there comes the best.
But you could quibble, “No, it isn’t so.
Of woe and sorrow, I have more and more.”
You might be right.  The winds that blow, of chance,
Bring clouds and sun, within the cosmic dance.
And those, who’re lucky, they may bask in sun
For quite awhile, with share and more of fun,
While others may be drenched, through years and years,
And shiver as they shed, forlorn, their tears.
The Stoics, Buddhists, Jains, they all agree –
From woe undue, by this, we could be free –
On circumstance, put no or little weight –
Let praises go – and scorn, as so much freight.

It’s easier said than done, as all may know.
How many mortals, such forbearance show,
Both outwardly and also deep within,
When beaten down with woe and human sin?
How many more have puffed themselves with pride
And on achievements or on praises ride...
And when their small balloons, perchance, are burst,
How much, for what they’ve lost, they strive and thirst…
“Observe,” it’s said, “the world – without, within.
Observe the pleasure and the pain you’re in.
See fear arise – and anger, greed and lust,
And see these then subside, as all things must.
“Observe the breath, and let it gently flow.
As you exhale, so let your worries go –
Your fears and cravings are like ripples.  They
Will dance across the pond and fade away.”
And all of this is well and good.  And yet,
When caught in tempests strong – or in the net,
We struggle, struggle, even when we’re free,
For on this freedom we might not agree.
We cling to pleasure and we cling to pain.
And from this clinging, these arise again.
We crave the pleasure but we fear its loss.
We fear the pain – and in our angst, we toss.
The ones we love – and all we might have built,
We’ll leave them all – with peace of mind or guilt.
And some may leave before or after.  Naught
Remains – and yet we're still, in dreamings, caught.
There’s woe of circumstance and then there’s woe
That we create or worsen.  “Let that go.”
Is what the seers, in their wisdom, said.
Enough!  Let’s practice, now, the things we've read.
For one could write and write, and one could read –
But mount again upon the usual steed.
To practice what I teach, I now should knuckle
Down to do, and at my preaching chuckle.
Upon our mortal paths, we each must go,
But none of us is here alone in woe.
Compassion is a thing that all might feel –
But truly learn, when caught beneath the wheel.
2014  November 29th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

Friday, November 28, 2014

Homo Sapiens

Homo Sapiens 
I had traveled over continents and crossed the oceans wide
To then settle on this island, by the swift Atlantic tide.
And here, I’ve made a living and have duly paid the rent –
But on looking back I wonder where my time and labor went.
For the joy I had in learning and in teaching what I’d learned
May be extant still, but muted, from the lashings that I’ve earned.
And the ebb and flow of seasons and the passing of the years
Have left me worn and weary, as my time of ending nears.
For though I’d flown across the globe, my travels since that time
Have mostly been to work and back – the worker’s tiresome rhyme.
And though this had a rhythm, like the whip on rebels brave
Or on men or beasts of burden, it has made of me a slave.
Should the men, of Earth begotten, and the women, side by side,
Have the Sky they claim as father watch his offspring still provide
The flour for the ovens that their humankind may make
And the fire, in which humans, yet other humans, bake?
Though all my life, for workers’ rights, I’ve carried high the torch,
I wonder what my thoughts will be, while gazing from a porch,
Retired from work at factories, if lucky – or, if not,
While blindly slumped upon a chair and by the world forgot’.
I walk to work and back each day, and though the work I do
Might give me bread to eat and more, I quietly say to you,
“Let not your son or daughter grow to work within a mill,
For that might rob your child of joy and even break the will.”
And what you would not have your offspring do, I’d ask that you
Should not expect that others do.  To conscience, then, be true,
And ask, what humankind can do, to free itself of fetters –
So no one issues orders, nor aspires to join their “betters”.
Let’s rid the world of pestilence.  Let’s start on it afresh.
Let no one call another “boss”.  Your mind and soul, refresh
In waters pure of dignity, so all can rightly claim
There lived a race of beings wise – in truth, not just in name.
2014 November 28th, Fri.
Brooklyn, New York

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Karma – Part II

Karma – Part II
If only we were free to live the life
that’s there to live, without the stress and strife
unneeded, wrought by humans wanting more,
we’d live in grace – and still in grace, we’d go.
From thought arises word, from thought comes deed.
Be mindful then, of stuff on which you feed.
There’s no accountant up there, keeping score,
but every action leads to actions more.

And actions, words, in turn, engender thoughts –
and so the spirals, built of endless naughts,
proceed.  So blessing and damnation flow,
as eons, lives and seasons come and go.
Our thoughts and words and actions make a nest
or make a snare, in which we’re caught or rest.
And when, around us, ignorance accrued
has built a prison, then we’re truly screwed…
There lived a trader once in Brooklyn, who
of much that’s done, around the planet, knew
to raise the shares – and work the fields of woe,
and yet, he daily took the train, to hoe.
But when, one day, he saw the plume that rose
from Mammon’s isle, to which the tribute flows,
he murmured, thinking back to profits’ boost,
“Alas, the birds are coming home to roost.”
“Alas – and yet, at last.” he stood and said,
As karma did its work of darkness dread.
He then resolved to leave his woeful toil
and sow instead the light, in blighted soil.
And so, he turned to teaching children then
and found in this, awhile, a bit of zen,
until he saw that there was nowhere left
that wasn’t, of what’s sacred, quite bereft.
He could not raise his hands to a god and cry,
“Not even here!  Oh tell me – why, oh why?”
He thought of all that he had come to know –
and then decided it was time to go.
He walked that evening to the river wide
and stood in darkness by the current’s side.
He almost dove, but then he heard a voice.
“There's kindness still.  Remember – and rejoice.”
2014 November 22nd, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

Karma--Part I
For a prose preface to Karma--Part II, please see Thanksgiving Thoughts -- On Turkeys, Teachers, Soldiers and Conscience.

Karma – Part I

Karma – Part I 

A bullet, fired in haste towards the sky,
might well descend and hit one in the eye –
but rarely will it land upon the one
who shot it upwards, glorying in his gun.
So also, acts we do in carelessness
might well create, around us, much distress,
yet leave us free, as if our lives were charmed.
We seldom feel the pain of those we’ve harmed.
For rarely do we get to realize
our actions weren’t only most unwise,
but even though we never gave them mind,
to others, what we did was most unkind.
What’s done, has consequence that may
be naught to us, until it’s worked its way
around our world and then returns to us.
Till then, we shrug and wonder at the fuss.
For karma isn’t what it’s said to be.
It often leaves the perpetrators free –
and even their descendants prosper, while
the line of victims stretches, mile on mile…
The world’s divided into those who rule
and those who’re ruled, and though we sometimes fool
ourselves and think that justice will be served,
the villains rarely get what they deserved.
So some imagine there’s a future hell
or heaven – and this dream of justice sell.
But though this breaks a true believer’s heart,
They nowhere go, who’re born and then depart.
So follow dharma now.  Let conscience speak.
And if you can, defend the ones who’re meek.
Be cognizant of thought, of speech and deed.
For once you’re gone, you will be dead indeed.
But you can leave behind a wake of pain
or one that blesses, time and time again.
Go gently on your path upon this world,
in which we each, by randomness, are hurled.
There’s woe enough upon this planet blue,
on which we journey, all of us.  And you
and I can choose to add to this yet more –
or leave some space, where there was naught before.
So leave aside ambition.  Wealth and power
and all that’s done to gain these, hour by hour,
deprive of joy – and even rob of breath –
the ones who’re used – the ones the lords forget.
Pursue your dreams, but not the one for fame.
Let only those you loved recall your name
when you’ve departed.  Quietly live and go,
content that you could be, not wanting more…
2014 November 22nd, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

Karma--Part II
For a prose preface to Karma--Part II, please see Thanksgiving Thoughts -- On Turkeys, Teachers, Soldiers and Conscience.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

There’s Much That Needs Repair

There’s Much That Needs Repair
The minds of men are fickle, and women too are swayed
By wind and tide and fashion, as others watch dismayed.
They seek for reason steady, they look for conscience clear.
They hope for true compassion, but rarely find it near.

We go to wars in frenzies, we’re led to battles dire,
And though we’re red and gory, of this, do humans tire?
The horsemen whip the stallions, and see – they gallop more.
And who will pause from racing – or even try to slow?

For faster, ever faster, is Mammon’s main demand.
But who can still resist this – or even understand?
The Bloombergs make their billions, they squeeze the workers tight,
And who will dare to question – or say it isn’t right?

The more the factory’s profit, the more we are oppressed.
Can learning true, or teaching, be more and more compressed?
We’re told to cut the corners, but never told this loud.
We bow to all the falsehoods that pose as purpose proud.

There’ll come a time when loving, in euros, yen is sold.
For all, that’s deemed as precious, is eyed for ventures bold.
Enough of buying, selling – of body, mind and soul!
It’s time for a repairing – to make what’s shattered whole.

How sweet the sound of wisdom, how clear is reason’s call!
But who of us has courage, to stand for one and all?
Behold the spoils of carnage, and hearken to despair.
The time has come to stop it.  There’s much that needs repair.

The child is quietly playing, as children once did do.
The mother and the father are none but me and you.
The calf is quietly grazing – but no – it’s what we dreamed.
When conscience has awakened, it’s not as what it seemed.

Do not depend on prophets to tell you what is right.
And do not run to bosses to aid your petty fight,
But listen to your conscience and be of charity.
Expel the must of madness and breathe of clarity.

The revolutions happen – and then they dissipate
And make things even harder, for those who work and wait.
It's quiet that is needed, so rush and madness cease.
The sound is then of gladness, the work is that of peace.

2014 November 13th, 3:29 am
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Madness in the Schools

The Madness in the Schools
I could write of global madness till the dread one came for me,
And those who read my ramblings still might never understand.
So let me write of local things – of what I saw and heard
And what I did or couldn’t do – and not of matters grand.
I ‘d read when I was young:  a madman thinks that all around
Are mad – and only he alone is sane among the crazed.
And if that truly is the case, I’m surely going mad,
For when I see what’s thought as sane, I really am amazed.

I see the school I work in, and I see the teachers smile
Or grimace at the jobs they do.  I hear the students chatter
Or murmur or be quiet and I wonder at it all –
For few or none are asking, “What we’re doing – does it matter?”

I see the bathrooms locked, except for portions of the day.
I find three thousand students sharing bathrooms four at most,
And two of them are tiny, while the other two, I note,
Are mostly locked.  And yet, about this school, we often boast.

The senior teachers told me, when I started on a subject,
“There isn’t time to teach this.  We must hurry, hurry, speed!”
I taught it for a good two years, and hurried, like they said.
But then – a period chopped, a week – and all was hell, indeed!
“A period less a week translates to two months less a year!
So how are we to cover what we earlier barely could?”
They shrugged and said, “That’s how it is.” It seemed they didn’t hear.
But I’ve been lost and struggling since.  Complaining did no good.

I’d found the students from abroad had less of attitudes
That irked. They tried to do their work – and treated me as human.
And so I’d asked for them again – but then I found a flood
Of those with English zero – and a task that was inhuman.

“A science is a language that is specialized and yet
Relies, for understanding, on a language that is shared.
So how am I to teach it, and how are they to learn?”
I asked the ones around me – and wondered if they cared.   
I hurried still but also slowed.  I annotated texts,
I simplified the language and I used an online tool
To make translations – poor, but still enough to wake the dazed.
I worked and worked – but more and more, I felt I was a fool.
“What matters is what ‘they’ will see, on entering your room –
The ones who matter in our world, the ones who oversee us.
They’ll judge you on their ‘rubrics’.  And there still remains the test.
So do, what all are doing.  Quit with all your useless fuss.”
This is what the teachers say – and even might believe in.
I’ve painted with a brush that’s wide, but painted the consensus.
And when we’re all reduced to this – or are, by nature, gifted
To teach and learn at lightning speed, then who can slow or trip us?
And much, much more I could describe – and only what I’ve seen
And heard and done while at the school, and only what’s of late…
The mind attempts to do the task it’s given.  It succeeds
Or not.  And some accept what comes – as destiny or fate…
But surely there are things that we as humans understand –
What can’t be done or can?  And surely, in a school with kids,
We try to do what’s best for them?  Expediency may rule
In other things.  Should teachers set their students on the skids?
I look around and see the younger teachers and the old
Alike survive – in ways I can’t.  Perhaps my brain’s been fried.
Or I perhaps am going mad, while others still are sane.
For what I’d read, when I was young, was surely true and tried…

We’re told to teach in ways that seem impossible – and yet,
Behold – the "master-teachers" teach, and gods are satisfied!
Go visit in their classrooms and you’ll see, upon their walls,
The marvels that their kids have done.  They should be deified…
2014 November 8th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York