Monday, November 24, 2008

Thoughts on Sarajevo - 11/8/08

I was cleaning my desk and found this scrap of paper, where I had scrawled the following during the train trip described in the previous post:

Sarajevo turned out to be a very interesting city, beautiful, sad, hopeful and unforgettable, and I am glad to have visited it. One the one hand, it reminded me of Ecuador, with its trash-lined streets, the grayness of its buildings where people's private lives hang in the open windows, and the vendors haggling in the streets and watching over their wares everyday for endless hours. But the grayness of cities has many sources.

Unlike in Ecuador, the face of war still hangs grimacing over Sarajevo. Some buildings have been entirely rebuilt, but most are still riddled with bullet holes and shrapnel marks. The post-war standard seems to be, "repair it to usefulness; attractiveness can come later." So, windows have been replaced and doors rebuilt, but everything else remains as it was when the shooting stopped 13 years ago.

Buildings deemed beyond repair have not been torn down, but stand as empty, ruinous reminders of a time when death lurked in every corner. The people of Bosnia have no need yet for post hoc memorials - the streets themselves, covered in shrapnel scars, remind everyone of what went before. Gaping windows tell us of a life lost. And even if you might begin to forget, the graffiti sprayed on every gray wall will tell you of your sin.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A dream

I saunter out onto the tracks of the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, 20 minutes before my train is scheduled to leave. I stand in the cold, idly staring at the offerings of the platform's vending machine. Suddenly the conductor, a small blond woman, starts frantically yelling at me to get on the train; it's leaving right away. I confirm that it is indeed headed for Munich, and stagger aboard, bewildered. The car is almost empty. Besides me, there is only family of 3 - a mother, father and their son who can't be older than 4.

Despite the fact that we have departed 20 minutes ahead of schedule, the captain comes onto the loudspeaker at every stop to apologize for the delay. Could it be that I am on an earlier train that was severely delayed? Am I on the right train?

The trip drags on and on. We keep slowing to a crawl in the middle of nowhere, in complete darkness. The flash of a camera keeps glaring at me through a crack in the seats, as the mother seemingly is making a photo journal of her son's great Ride on the Train. He grows bored of sitting with his parents, and devises a game for himself. He divides his father's newspaper into sections, and carefully walks through the car, placing a piece of the newspaper in each empty row. Soon every row except mine has a piece of the newspaper. Then he goes back to every row and picks up the pieces of the paper, until he is holding the whole jumbled mess in his tiny arms. The process repeats endlessly, until they get off the train at Munich-Pasching. They leave behind 2 half filled Pepsi products and a few newspaper sections scattered randomly about the car. I collect these, and determine which might have reading value.

We get to Munich Hauptbahnhof about 11:20. The train for Ingosltadt doesn't leave until 12:30. I wander up and down the platform and soon bore of my newspaper sections. I leave them on an empty bench. When the train comes, I take shelter from the cold in it immediately, even though it won't leave for another half an hour. As soon as we depart, the captain comes onto the loudspeaker and says that the train has been rerouted. We will go around the entire south side of Munich before heading north to our first stop, adding half an hour to the journey. At 2 am, I finally get out at the Ingolstadt Hauptbahnhof.

A thick fog has descended over the city, and there are neither buses nor cabs. I start walking down the main street toward my apartment. It is about a 2 mile walk, and I can only see about 30 feet in any direction. Suddenly, a man in a suit comes running out of the fog toward me. He pauses when he sees me, but only long enough to say, "I'm being followed!" before he starts running again. I see a second man emerging at a half-trot from the fog, presumably the one following the first.

I dash across the street. The man passes in the opposite direction, and disappears behind me. I hear nothing of note.

About 2:30am, I am finally at my apartment door. All is as it should be.

*This series of dreamlike occurences was my actual trip home from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof after flying in from Sarajevo.*


Come, small one
and gather your things:
We are unburdened now.

Let us leave this rain
to look for new rain,
and let fresh lies
bury our deceit.
Look out into the fields, and see!
How they are overturned,
and the garden plots abandoned.

We will go out from this sickness
in search of the land
where we cannot recognize hollow faces.

We are resurrected.
Beyond this grave lies another,
and the new fields full of fresh sorrows.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Huge Sunglasses and the Ipod: A New Urban Modesty

What was modesty, before its meaning was shriveled to be equal to that of mere prudishness? Was it not respect and reverence for that in us which is eternal, and eternally unique? By veiling our inner thoughts and our bodies, we become un-priceable, unjudgeable and more difficult to objectify. Our eternity begins to shine through our eyes, and those who would know us yearn for our thoughts. In revealing our bodies they become objects, and the only thing we have left to call our own is our eyes; but no one need take the time to look into them, for all our thoughts have become the texts of blogs.

We have given up our selves, selling our bodies into the slavery of the highest bidder we can afford. From WalMart to Gucci, from Starbucks cups to Macbooks, we pay to make ourselves the living billboards of all that is fashionable; we are consumers, and the value of our persons is derived from that which we consume. In this way, the body, that which ought to have been the manifestation of a unique and unfathomable spirit, is placed on display, to become an object of amusement, scorn, admiration, etc. How this object is beheld matters very little, it is the fact that we have made ourselves into objects that demonstrates the shameless revelation of person as commodity. By successfully reducing the value of the person to what it puts on display, we reach a point of self-exposure in which nothing need remain unknown about anyone - we have done away with modesty.

If a person is an object on display, why should it not then be fully revealed? Why should anything be guarded, or kept veiled as sacred? It is this logic that allows us to believe that in seeing and touching another's object - body - we know the person. And so we go on about our lives, knowing everyone we meet, and even some we never meet.

However, upon realizing that we are all objects to each other, there seems to be evidence of a sort of "buyer's remorse." Suddenly, we wish something to remain hidden from view, to hold on to something mysterious, unknowable and individual in ourselves. We solve this problem of keeping up with the competition of the display while returning ourselves to some level of individuality by exhibiting what I would perhaps dub "public privacy," if you will excuse the obvious oxymoron.

Like the somber clothing of the Puritans, our large aviators are more or less uniform in appearance, and the sleek plainness of Ipods makes them subtle and indistinguishable from one another. These two decorative objects attempt to restore individuality by making something about the wearer unknowable.

Large, dark sunglasses hide at least the eyes, and often almost half the face, the center of expression and visible physical individuality. Unable to see someone's eyes, you do not know where their gaze is directed, and the thoughts and reactions that often come through the eyes remain hidden. For if, as according to the cliche, the eyes are the window to the soul, then these dark glasses keep the soul hidden while leaving the body on display.

The Ipod works similarly but in its own sphere. The usage of earbuds emphasizes that the wearer's mind is elsewhere, engaged by other things; they body remains before you, but the person is not present to you. Furthermore, you cannot know what the user is listening to, and so you are shut out from their experience, and while you may be together in the same time and place, your worlds are clearly separated. The Ipod always looks the same to the viewer, but the experience of its user is infinitely variable. Therefore, as the sunglasses above, the Ipod shields the listener's individuality and claims for him his own world, while leaving the body on display.

Modesty was once the guarding of body and action to protect the soul. Now it is the desperate guarding of the soul without regard for body or action, and this regard for one at the expense of the other emphasizes a divide where unity was intended.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Christ and Apollo

In Christ, Word and Thought become Being.

For the rest of us left to ourselves, they remain divided, and word and thought are the actions of our being.

I desire to cross that chasm, but what happens when I am thought and word?

How it was, is, shall be

I am alone.
I am alone with my god.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


When the old blind man comes
knocking on your spiked gate,
do you merely loosen the lock
for him?

Or do you, like a mother
having disciplined her child
clean his hands with stinging medicines
and bandadge them in
your own former nightgown?

Then, when he comes again
Ready to die
He need only cry out
and the gate will fall down before him.

[Who chose you]

Who chose you
O Dweller-in-hell,
Who chose you
as eternal symbol
of Face-turned-from-God?

Who chose you,
and if heaven began again
would you choose again the same?

How might heaven
Live eternally altered
In the light of your eyes

How might hell
Burn with different cruelty
under the will of another

Could mercy be gentler
or deceit more acidic
Love a greater burden
and lust like flaming oil

Or is the quality of human frailty,
the Echo-in-us-all,
Vastly the misunderstanding
of the immensity of our own choosing?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 10

So what
of our being called to love
will move us from our
deceptively dependable
train car cabins
of living for tomorrow?

Tomorrow will not come; only today.

That is why duty never rests.
But emanates ever from the willing heartbeat of its owner.


All I have ever wanted was to give myself away as a gift of love, and to bear the consequences. Perhaps I shall be led to new strength.

Hold my love tenderly, but be not afraid lest it die. For only neglect, out of apathy or fear, will give it place to asphixiate.

Take it up, examine it in the light, in the dark and in the twilight. See how it resonates with joy in the embrace of the earth. Touch with your hand, or cradle it in your arms, and it will show you what it means when the leaves burn and die.

Pressed close to your heart, it will gaze at the pulsing wonder of your very life. Challenge it, and it will grow in strength. Speak, and ice will fall from the stars.

Ways of knowing shall tumble open, the floodgates will burst, and we shall be drenched.

Give your love in return, and we shall burn forever.

Oh this will consume me. But I would rather my Life consumed by Love than wasted at the cool altar of pleasure and memory.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Few love affairs ever truly end; the infinities of each person make them fatefully eternal.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Propensity for Reading Thoughts

The trouble with my literary nature is that in reading, the language of the book becomes so much the language of my own mind that it definitively alters the manner in which I think, write and speak while reading and for an indeterminate amount of time afterward.

Having in the last few minutes just finished Love in the Time of Cholera, I feel myself well-equipped to write to anyone and everyone a love letter. But who would want such a thing from me? The timing of this reading/linguistic acquisition could not have been more horridly fortuitous, as I will now undoubtedly say the wrong thing to everyone in the course of my farewells.

Monday, April 28, 2008

For those who truly listen

Messiaen paints in the air,
Flashing brilliant colors like the
lightning of your hands on the keys:
Parting the reddened form of my mouth in a love song
to the birds
Pushing the deeping clouds
with feathered chords across the indigo sky.

Realizing a trinity of hued love:
You, the piano and a divinely ordained synesthesia -
While the night and I race our ears to listen.
Oh how the clouds do gallop!
Propelled by some unseen force beyond my senses,
or Perhaps just as my pounding heart,
trying to keep pace with the flight of your lightening hands.

Beginning: swept up by the pulsing course
of your creation,
Where colors, sounds and hands
birth one holy spirit.

Faster and faster
we all dive into the sky,
until - playing and listening are so much the same -
I am the piano
on which your fingers ecstatically sparkle
beating my heart,
pressing my lips,
voicing my cries.

Monday, April 7, 2008


When first I see the pale
grass with tender shoots
light up
I think:
Oh, I too am coming alive!

But eyes clouded with sleet
cannot grow butterflies.
And winter lingers -
heavy with ice -
While addiction poisons Newness.

Is it not better
to leave the overused field
lying fallow?

The sacrifice

Temptation is not so much a winged serpent speaking in slit tongues, but rather the fermentation of desire for love.

In laying down our lives, are we called to lay down our souls as well? How am I to lay down my life for a friend if I am to leave everything and follow You? Somewhere I am missing the freedom of this binding and seeing only the paradoxical conflict of earthly and divine loves.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Do you love me?"

He was chasing us, and we were running. All of us, every man for himself. I knew no one. He hadn't shot anyone yet, but we knew it was coming, and yet we all obeyed in entering the open door of the house. I knew I had to hide. Grabbing a young man and woman near me, complete strangers, I threw them into a closet with me. Behind the dark wooden door, the walls of the closet were glass, and sunlight streamed through the sheer curtains. I instructed the two to lie down and be quiet. The girl kept crying and whimpering, and I lay down on top of her to silence her. She began asking repeatedly, "do you love me?" and staring into my eyes with great sadness. I assured her that I loved her.

We heard the gunshots begin, and knew that people were dying. I put my arms around the boy as well, and we were silent except for our breathing. I heard the gunman stop outside the closet door, pausing and scratching on the door before entering. He knelt down next to me and put the gun to my head, looking into my eyes. He was lonely.

As I opened my mouth to say, "please," he pulled the trigger. I don't know what happened next, because I woke up.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Desire is the small creature
with eyes that glow in the dark,
hiding in your center of gravity.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

as experienced once again

There is joy in truth, and joy may or may not be pain.

I feel no sorrow for my actions until I speak of them aloud and dismissively to someone I think will not care at all. But when he does care, tears like allergies well up. Why should I be surprised? We side with our own kind. Telling the story was all a vanity to begin with, and so I accept my punishment.

Moreover, I know I chose rightly.

I am still wildly attracted to him, but it is all excitement and no feeling. Excitement, of a covetously intellectual sort, and still slightly smarting pride. Of course, in 6 weeks we will all disperse, and we will all pretend to be the best of friends and even the friendships of substance will grow empty with the glossing of socially acceptable Good Memories of College.

Have a nice life?

I will make my home among books, trees and large bodies of water.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

If this be love

If this be love, I'd rather disgust.
If this be pleasure, I'd rather numbness. (Ignoring the fact that the excess of pleasure brings numbness.)
If this be passion, I'd rather restraint.
If this be togetherness, I'd rather independence.

For all of you cannot fill me!
Not your body, nor the expanding depths of your eyes.
If after a time, a covenant emerged or were eradicated,
perhaps your soul could fill me.
But so long as you remain unable to comprehend past my breathing,
beating, pulsing, rhythm of physical being unto death,
No covenants can become or begone.

I bear behind the barriers of my body the burden of eternity.
Eternity it is, who holds me from abandoning myself,
Or filling it only half-full.

I think that all of only Nature can hold me and so
I made a covenant with the Forest.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Passing

As moments begin and continue
And the vibrancy of Life sallows
with the incomprehensible stasis
of experience,
Knowledge appears. -
Shrouded in impenetrable plaster,
Caked with rotting youth:
To know myself
I must know the Other.

In seeking,
My body grows weary
And understanding, repulsive.

It is thus that I become most lost
and see only eyes
as if
by engaging another's senses with my own
I might fasten upon
a steadfast something.

But eyes, How they move!
Grasping, not holding
Knowing and not remembering,
They receive the world
and give their wearer.
Alive and searching,
the world is their task
and master.

Were our eyes to meet,
It would mean an end to motion
And our world
So they do not meet.
But rather, they recognize
and become each other's
constant change.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Upon waking/ The workaholic

I inhale the feeling of his eyelids
upon my heart
which sings only to him -
the rhythms of sleep.
Then he lifts his head
and the pounding bursts
out of me to fill the room
and hold (swimmingly, with blood)
his mind, bound to the tides
of my body.

When nightmares end,
I know that the light thuds
are his feet.
And blood: the flush of
dawn upon my cheeks.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

At Prayer

Sometimes, it is as if I could feel my soul expand and contract, widen, and condense again, like the waters of the lake as they freeze and melt in our spasmodic winters. The silent coldness of solitude touches me, and I build tiny lattice-works within myself, holding still the trapped twigs, and imprisoning the fish. I am kneeling, and my mind understands the complexities of my spiritual state and the dualities of my love. Then, all at once, fiery bodies collapse these carefully amassed crystals, and all Knowing flows freely with earth and air. I am lying on the floor, comprehending everything and understanding nothing. Slowly, algae flourishes in the stagnation of passion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Feeling and Time

For Hasty, time has quality(ies), and cannot be a pure, unbroken flow. I interact with time always, all the time, every minute, etc. I feel it, and it moves me. Perhaps the most obvious quality is its speed or perceived speed. At times I feel that I can control time, and then again, in other moments, it seems to control me.

My most powerful interactions with time and its qualities, its submission and dominance, have necessarily involved music. I set up a rhythm, reaffirm it, and deny or stop it. With my hands on the keys, I cake up the form I have given to time, and with full awareness, alter it. It may be called a shift from duple to triple, but the underlying feeling of time itself and its movement changes.

Music seems to be such a direct conduit into the nature of time itself precisely because it been regarded for so long as inherently and necessarily rhythmic, and rhythm has been set up as temporal flow. If the meaning of music and the idea of temporal flow are so closely bound up in one another, then when time becomes not a pure form but a qualitative aspect of experience, then music becomes in interaction with time. Every musical event, both as a whole and as every event that occurs within that whole, marks the experience of that moment of time, holding within it the power to slow it, accelerate it, expand it, contract it, and so forth. In the case of any kind of acoustic music, this power is then ultimately transferred to the performer, and so we have arrived back at our starting point - the empowering ability to interact with time.

However, I must admit that this near abandonment to total subjectivity sometimes frightens me. I do not know what to do when faced with the fact that our only hope for common understanding becomes chance, or perhaps the proof that the duple, for example, is somehow physiologically fundamental to (almost?) everyone's perception of rhythmic events.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is not at all what we imagined it would be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Reaches of the Self in Augustine and Rilke

Both Augustine's Confessions and the poetry of Rilke grapple with the same issues of eternal extension, God and the limits of the self. In book 5 of Confessions, Augustine addresses the paradox that those who would flee farthest from God attain a place where only He is, and only He will find them.

"For in truth they do not know that you are everywhere; that no place contains you, and that only you are near even to those who seek you, because even if they have abandoned you, their creator, you have not abandoned your creatures...And where was I when I was seeking you? There you were, before me; but I had gone away, even from myself, and I could not find myself, much less you." (Confessions. Trans. Albert C. Outler. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2007. p. 57-58)

The idea of endless spaces and eternal extension, when in confrontation with the limitations of the human soul, is one of the most exhilarating and terrifying concepts ever to strike me. Here, Augustine seems to confront the same issue. God, though infinite, does not fill up or occupy space; however, his presence extends everywhere, and Augustine realizes that wherever his body, or even his soul/mind goes, he will not find a place where God is not.

He speaks of being lost, and unable to find himself. This idea of going outside oneself, denying oneself, being beyond oneself, etc., appears in many contexts in literature, philosophy and the arts. Sometimes, it is used to mean a sort of spiritual distance from the earthbound and physical "self" - transcending life into a spiritual realm. In other instances, it represents a loss of control, a loss of the unity of mind and body, insanity and/or moral depravity. Here, Augustine seems to be referring more to the latter, as contextually he is lamenting his moral condition and the subsequent loss of true unity with himself.

Rilke seems to explore the same ideas in a number of his poems, both with and without direct references to God as the eternal, the infinite or the source of unity.

Take, for instance, the second half of Vorgefuehl (Premonition)

Da weiß ich die Stürme schon und bin erregt wie das
Und breite mich aus und falle in mich hinein
und werfe mich ab und bin ganz allein
in dem großen Sturm.

This second stanza is an exploration of solitude and distance from oneself. He 'spreads himself out, and falls back into himself, throws himself away, and is alone in the great storm.' This reference to the storm seems to create a space in which to lose and find himself. That is, the image of the storm forms a kind of limit upon the distance he can go from himself. At the same time, it is as if he is part of the tumultuous motion of the storm. But the fact that he is 'alone in the storm' creates a feeling of intense loneliness or solitude, similar to that of Augustine in his loss of himself and God.

In another poem ("Herbst"), Rilke describes Autumn, first in terms of the falling leaves, then the earth falling out of the stars "into loneliness," then "we all" are falling.

Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen
unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.

This gradual expansion from dying leaves into the largest conception possible - that of "falling" as an intrinsic universal quality of all the universe - is once again a stretching of the imagination, seeing how far the mind can go outside itself. Once again, as with Augustine, a limit is reached, and while here Rilke does not specifically cite God, the implication of a deity is there.

The limit is a gentle, and not unwelcome one; there is "One, who holds all of this falling in his hands with endless softness." A stirring balance exists between the allowance of falling and and its being held and supported. What is particularly striking about this poem, however, is the way in which the narrator, though necessarily part of the falling ("we all..."), has achieved a viewpoint seemingly outside of it, in order that he may understand it.

This idea of simultaneous transcendence of the limits of the imagination and participation in the order of the world is a powerful one, aesthetically, emotionally and philosophically. It allows us to go beyond ourselves and our realm of experience without ever losing ourselves, and accomplishes this by providing a limit which is itself infinite. If God is this limit, then it is He who permits us to journey as far as we can conceive without ever interfering; however, He also provides the limit which allows us to conceive of any motion at all, whether physical or spiritual.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Lover's Gaze

For sometimes
When your eyes are
Upon me,
The world opens
and receives our belonging
Like two small rivers,
giving unto the sea.

Waves are each other's graveyards -
Rising and Falling
Share and are shared.

But if you
Shut your eyes
Because the sun
penetrates the blinds,
Then the door of your room
And the world makes me
an object of its putrid desire.

Sometimes, in the Evenings

There are times when I wish to simultaneously hide my thoughts in carefully coded ink, and simultaneously share them with all the world.

Perhaps this is why I love the forest. Where I can hide from the world, while the earth knows all of me.