Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Bird is Never in the Nest

Note: The initial post has been lightly edited and some stanzas have been added. The total number of stanzas now stands at nine.

Despite the apparent frivolity of the couplet rhymes, this is meant to be a serious piece.

For most of us, this should take several re-readings to sink in. Of course, this is so for for most poems.

The statements made  should neither be dismissed nor accepted without further thought, nor should the questions raised be considered to be merely rhetorical. They are worth due consideration.

That said, neither the validity of some of the statements nor the answers to some of the questions might be determinable in a lifetime. These have been debated for thousands of years without resolution.

Indeed, words will never suffice in these matters, except as pointers.


Orjun (Babui)
অর্জুন (বাবুই)
अर्जुन / ارجن
The Bird is Never in the Nest

That self, that goes by “you” and “me”,
We’re told, by seers, is fantasy.
And that “immortal soul” within,
That often seems so mired in sin,
Is also, by the wise, dismissed
As less substantial than the mist.
Yet all of us might still agree
That mind is real—that wanders free
Without, within, with wondrous ease—
And yet, at death, appears to cease.

But where, in all your swarm of cells,
A trillion strong, is one that tells
Me where it is that you reside—
That place, in which that “soul” can hide—
Or “self”—or even where that mind
That thinks—and “heart” that’s loving, kind
Or “made of stone”—might chance to be.
And so it with “you” and “me”
And “him” and “her” and all the rest.
The bird is never in the nest!

Can matter be the roost of mind—
However hard it is to find?
We look at dusk, we look at dawn.
Perhaps it came—and now is gone?
We cannot find that “I” or “me”—
That thing, sans which we cease to be.
Yet surely mind exists—and so
We learn there’s much we’ve still to know.
Perhaps the mind is like the flame
That’s oil and air—yet not the same.

To cast its light, the lamp may need
The air and oil—yet is, indeed,
Not just the two.  So mind requires,
It seems, this body that respires—
And yet, like flame—and even air—
It isn’t “ours”.  It’s what “we” share—
This mind that lights both “you” and “me”,
And “him” and “her”—in which we see
And hear and feel and question why
We need these things like “you” and “I”.

Behold the storm—with all its clouds
And winds that hide the sun in shrouds
And all the rain that falls—and ask,
"Where lies its self?"  That starts a task
That will not yield an answer.  So
It is for “you” and “me”—but more.
There’s likely not a gram of earth
Or water, air, that gave me birth,
That I could still now claim as mine,
Nor erg that pulsed in newborn spine.   \1
And neither could you find a place
Where I begin and the rest displace.
There is no line or boundary
That could resolve this quandary.
So you and I are storm and wave.
No matter how we try to save
The things we might pretend are ours,
They all will be dispersed as showers.
You have no start or end in space
Or time, despite a name and face.

For tell me where the wave has end
Or start?  We each might still pretend
That each exists—that mind and soul
And body, self, are one and whole.
But like the storm and wave, we each
Are only parts. Upon a beach,
A wave may crash, and yet we see
Another, welling from the sea,
That is the same.  Like storms, we grow
And then we fade—as all is flow.
We're born and live awhile and die,
And rarely get to question why.
But some might say an entity,
That lives, has an identity.
The script that’s in our DNA
And the weave of what our elders say
Give each of us that function, form—
That version of the larger norm—
That memory that, like scriptures read,
Provides the long and linking thread.
So atoms, quanta come and go,               \2
As currents, through our bodies, flow,
That could be matter, could be light,
Yielding pleasure, pain, delight,
But information still persists              
And, all of entropy, resists.                      \3
And some declare—the self and soul
And even brightly burning coal
Are phantoms, while the mind is spirit,
With all the rest as dreams within it.
2016 June 26th, Sun.
Brooklyn, New York 
Monua Janah: 1959-2004
Lamp animation: John Innis, 2005



I would like to thank my friend, Vivek, for some useful editorial suggestions. 
     -- Arjun

1.  An erg is a very small unit of energy, once much used by physicists. One erg is about 1/400,000 of a heat-calorie and so about 1/400,000,000 of a food-calorie (kilocalorie).

2.  Energy, like matter, has a granular structure.  A quantum is an extremely tiny natural "packet" or pulse of energy.  For electromagnetic radiation, the energy in a quantum is proportional to the frequency of the electromagnetic wave.  The energy in one quantum of green light is about 4 x 10^(-14) erg.

3.  The entropy of a system is a measure of its disorder, or of our lack of knowledge about it.  The word "information" in the previous line is used loosely, as in everyday speech, in the sense of "knowledge", not in the precise technical sense of "negentropy" of coding and communication theory, although these usages are connected.

No comments: