It's spring, and I'm planting new seeds in the garden of my mind. It's still too cold here to plant outdoors (I know, that's crazy — that's Canada!) but I'm diving deep into yoga therapy with new ideas of how to support people. The seeds are ideas, they're qualities I want to nurture in myself and others. And these seeds are imagined as plants. Some of them are vegetables — nutritious, supportive of good health, something to be harvested at some point. Others are merely beautiful — food for the soul. Of course, the tomatoes and the daisies are of equal importance in the cultivation and nourishment of a whole person.
Which seeds are you planting, and tending, in your own mind?
Is Osama bin Laden your cousin?
No. But I have a cousin named Osama. You should get to know him — he loves Americans and their questions.
You're from Iran right? Or is it Iraq? I always get them mixed up.
Let me make it easier for you.
Think weapons of mass destruction. Think George Bush.
Think war on terror.
War of terror.
How did you survive the war? It must have been so hard for you and your family, living under such a brutal dictator.
Sometimes I forget who was brutal. I forget whose side brutal was on. Brutal kept showing his face on the news, so I assumed he had friends on both sides.
You must have so many stories! Did you talk about any of them in your college essay? Oh my God, you would get in everywhere!
Actually, you know the Common Application, where you go to apply for college? You can attach files to your submission. I tried to upload some weapons of mass destruction, but for some reason I just couldn't find any.
Do you consider yourself Iraqi-American?
It's a label I struggle with. Some days I wake up not knowing whether I'm the conquered or the conquerer. In 2003, a rifle was pointed at me. In 2008, we moved to American, and suddenly I was the one holding it.
This time I was pointing the rifle at my old identity, asking it why it always mispronounced English, why it thought there was a difference between freedom and democracy, asking it whether it thought Arabic was written from right to left to confuse the West, and asking it if the Mississippi had ever heard of the Euphrates.
In an interview with CBS News on September 12, 1996, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked the following question:
"We have heard that half a million children have died [in Iraq]. . . . Is the price worth it?"
She replied, "We think the price is worth it."
I recently found out that Secretary Albright teaches at Georgetown. I was rejected from Georgetown. My application essay was 500 words long, but I wanted to write 500,000.
Growing up Mama always told me, el maerof yergos iegol al gaa oja. "Those who can't dance always say the ground is crooked."
Mama, it's hard to dance because the ground has 500,000 cracks whispering under my feet.
They're telling me their names, ages, stories, and asking just how many cracks a medal is worth.
The origin of the word trauma
Is not just "wound," but "piercing" or "turning,"
As blades do when finding home.
Grief commands its own grammar,
Structured by intimacy & imagination.
We often say:
We are beside ourselves with grief.
We can't even imagine.
This means anguish can call us to envision
More than what we believed was carriable
Or even survivable.
That is to say, there does exist
A good grief.
The hurt is how we know
We are alive & awake;
It clears for us all the exquisite,
Excruciating enormities to come.
We are pierced new by the turning
All that is grave need
Not be a burden, an anguish.
Call it instead, an anchor,
Grief grounding us in the sea.
Despair exits us the same way it enters--
Turning through the mouth.
Even now conviction works
Strange magic on our tongues.
We are built up again
By what we
What we carry means we survive,
It is what survives us.
We have survived us.
Where once we were alone,
Now we are beside ourselves.
Where once we were barbed & brutal as blades,
Now we can only imagine.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action--
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.
Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.
As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.
Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake on the sea.
translated by Mary G. Berg and Dennis Maloney
This is a play for voices, and is really mean to be heard more than read. The sound of the language at times is as important, more so, than what it means. Listen below.
To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'–and–rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see find to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.
Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkared, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or flide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite states of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.
You can hear the dew falling and the hushed town breathing. Only your eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded town fast, and slow, asleep. and you alone can here the invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the Arethusa, the Curlew and the Skylark, Zanzibar, Rhiannon, the Rover, the Cormorant, and the Star of Wales tilt and ride.
Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, startfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.
For BP Nichol
Nowadays I listen only to duets.
Johnny Hodges and The Bean, a thin slip
of piano behind them
on this page on this stage
craft a breeze in a horn.
One friends sits back and listens
to the other. Nowadays
I want only the wild and tender
phrasing of "NightHawk,"
its air groaned out
like the breath of a lover.
Rashomon by Saxophone.
So brother and sister woke, miles apart,
in those 19th century novels you loved,
with the same wound or desire.
We sit down to clean and sharpen
the other's most personal lines
—a proposal of more, a waving dismissal
of whole stanzas — in Lethbridge in Edmonton
you stood with the breeze
in an uncomfortable Chinese restaurant
in Camrose, getting a second cup
at The Second Cup near Spadina.
I almost called you this morning
for a phone number.
Records I haven't yet returned.
Tapes you were supposed to make for me.
And across the country
tears about your death.
I always thought, someone says,
he was very good for you.
Though I still like, Barrie,
the friends who are not good for me.
Along the highway
only the duets and wind fill up my car.
I saw the scar of the jet that Sunday
trying to get you out of the sky.
Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkings.
An A and an H, a bean and a breeze.
All these twin truths
There is bright sumac, once more,
this September, along the Bayview Extension.
From now on
no more solos
I tie you to me
I read it hear in your very word,
in the story of the gestures
with which your hands cupped themselves
around our becoming — limiting, warm.
You said live out loud, and die you said lightly,
and over and over again you said be.
But before the first death came murder.
A fracture broke across the rings you'd ripened.
A screaming shattered the voices
that had just come together to speak you,
to make of you a bridge
over the chasm of everything.
And what they have stammered ever since
of your ancient name.
If there were no emptiness, there would be no life.
Think about it.
All those electrons, particles, and whatnot
crammed in next to each other like junk in an attic,
like trash in a compactor
smashed together in a flat block
so there’s nothing but plasma:
no you no me.
Therefore I praise vacancy.
Vacant lots with their blowing plastics and teasels,
vacant houses, their furze of dust,
vacant stares, blue as the sky through windows.
Motels with the word Vacancy
flashing outside, a red neon arrow pointing,
pointing at the path to be taken
to the bored front desk, to the key-shaped key
on the dangling brown leather key holder,
the key that opens the vacant room
with its scored linoleum floor a blear-eyed yellow
its flowery couch and wilted cushions
its swaybacked bed, smelling of bleach and mildew
its stuttering radio
its ashtray that was here
seventy years ago.
That room has been static for me so long:
an emptiness a void a silence
containing an unheard story
ready for me to unlock.
Let there be plot.
My Body Is a Vessel
~after Mary Oliver
for the sun
and a home
for the salt
air, buried in concrete
and dust, and risen
as if my skin remembers
its spring song, no longer
a young and dying thing
but at last,
winged. Bring my body
back to slow rivers.
What's the word
of little joys?
I think it was
in dark times,
kind of like
how our hearts
in quiet places.
— acts of kindness as a source of light
Today is my dad's 70th birthday. This is one of his favourite poems. Happy birthday daD! — Love, neJ
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.