Bob Schwartz

Month: March, 2017

April Is Poetry Month: Be Foolish

April is Poetry Month. April 1 is Fools’ Day.

Be foolish and write poetry
Writing poetry is a fool’s game
Be foolish and read poetry
Reading poetry is a fool’s game
Pointless like a line without a period
Like a game without a score
Start and never stop
Not in May or December
Not next year
It is always a month
For fools like us

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Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Moses is missing
In his place
Siddhartha sits.

Israelites are numbered
Can he free them?

The way in the wilderness
Is unpassable.
Can they pass it?

Too dark to sea
The waters give way
To dry ground
As if they were not there
From the beginning.

Walk on
The mountain next.

Twenty-three’s Older Siblings

Twenty-three’s Older Siblings

You are younger
And a little sweeter.
No fiery furnaces
No bows aimed at faces
No worms or bulls or dogs
Just sheep in green pastures
And overflowing cups.
But twenty-one
And twenty-two
Are no less profound
Just as beautiful sung
While he plays his harp
And of course
(need we mention)
Just as holy.
Yet it is your fearlessness
Goodness and mercy
That are on everyone’s lips
While our great words
Sit ignored and unrecited.
Thank God for those
Forced by vow to repeat us.
We hearten ourselves
By saying that
Our time will come.
But it has been
All the days of our lives
And still it is
Twenty-three
Twenty-three
Twenty-three.

Heschel for Passover (or Any Time)

A reader reminds me that a year ago, I posted about including readings from Abraham Joshua Heschel in the Passover seder (A Heschel Haggadah).

You will find the readings I included in last year’s seder below. As regular readers know, I’ve mentioned Heschel a few times in this blog, and more frequently in my conversations and discussions. He may be the greatest of modern masters of Judaism or of any spiritual traditions. He is not always easy, but he is accessible, inspirational, mind-and-soul-stirring at a depth that lasts. His is not fast food; it is a long, rich, delicious meal that nourishes you for a lifetime and that you never forget—kind of like a seder. In addition to Elijah, who we expect at every seder, Heschel would be so welcome any time.

Along with the readings below, I urge you to take a look at some of the collections of readings available and then, if you like what you find, check out some of the many books (I am particularly fond of The Sabbath, but there are so many worthy ones).

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings

The Wisdom of Heschel

I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology  (“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”)


THE MEANING OF EXISTENCE is experienced in moments of exaltation. Man must strive for the summit in order to survive on the ground. His norms must be higher than his behavior, his ends must surpass his needs. The security of existence lies in the exaltation of existence.

This is one of the rewards of being human: quiet exaltation, capability for celebration. It is expressed in a phrase which Rabbi Akiba offered to his disciples:

A song every day,
A song every day

 

THE TABLETS ARE BROKEN whenever the Golden Calf is called into being. We believe that every hour is endowed with the power to lend meaning to or withhold meaning from all other hours. No moment is as a moment able to bestow ultimate meaning upon all other moments. No moment is the absolute center of history. Time is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is nowhere.

 

THE WORLD COULD NOT EXIST at all except as one; deprived of unity, it would not be a cosmos but chaos, an agglomeration of countless possibilities … Life is tangled, fierce, fickle. We cannot remain in agreement with all goals. We are constantly compelled to make a choice, and the choice of one goal means the forsaking of another.

 

THE PROPHETS PROCLAIMED that justice is omnipotent, that right and wrong are dimensions of world history, not merely modes of conduct. The existence of the world is contingent upon right and wrong … The validity of justice and the motivation for its exercise lie in the blessings it brings to man … Justice exists in relation to a person … An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt.

 

THE HEART IS OFTEN A LONELY VOICE in the marketplace of living. Man may entertain lofty ideals and behave like the ass that, as the saying goes, “carries gold and eats thistles.” The problem of the soul is how to live nobly in an animal environment; how to persuade and train the tongue and the senses to behave in agreement with the insights of the soul.

 

HUMAN LIFE IS HOLY, holier even than the Scrolls of the Torah … Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God.

 

TO PRAY is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

To escape from the mean and penurious, from calculating and scheming, is at times the parching desire of man … Prayer clarifies our hope and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification … It teaches us what to aspire to, implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish.

 

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT EDIFICES, most beautiful temples and monuments of worldly glory, are repulsive to the man of piety when they are built by the sweat and tears of suffering slaves, or erected through injustice and fraud. Hypocrisy and pretense of devoutness are more distasteful to him than open iniquity. But in the roughened, soiled hands of devoted parents, or in the maimed bodies and bruised faces of those who have been persecuted but have kept faith with God, he may detect the last great light on earth.

 

WHAT WOULD ART HAVE BEEN without the religious sense of mystery and sovereignty, and how dreary would religion have been without the incessant venture of the artist to embody the invisible in visible forms, to bring his vision out of the darkness of the heart, and to fill the immense absence of the Deity with the light of human genius? The right hand of the artist withers when he forgets the sovereignty of God, and the heart of the religious man has often become dreary without the daring skill of the artist. Art seemed to be the only revelation in the face of the Deity’s vast silence.

Alternating Current

Alternating Current

Edison said
Man was not meant
To ride a wave
To alternate between
In out
Give receive
To breathe.
The vessel will not hold
He said
If you fill and pour
Fill and pour.

Joshu’s dog
Nansen’s cat
Might still be alive
If he were not so stubborn.

Poor master Edison
Could see so far
But only in one direction.

Arcade Fire: I Give You Power, I Can Take It Away

The Clash used to call themselves “The only band that matters,” based on their political and social stances.

Arcade Fire has never been overly political, or overly self-promoting, just great. Their latest single, released in January, doesn’t make them the only band that matters, but it does confirm that they are a band that matters, and it is a track that matters.

If the band had just added Mavis Staples to the track, that might have been enough. But what she and Win Butler sing for us is an anthem pointed right at the heart of today. A reminder, an aspiration, a truth you can listen to and move to and shout and follow, when you’re feeling discouraged.

I Give You Power

I give you power, over me
I give you power, but now I gotta be free
I give you power, but now I say
I give you power, I can take it away
I can take it away
Watch me

The Longing (When Joni Sings)

The Longing (When Joni Sings)

When I hear Joni sing
So early, so young
Love and longing
The longing of love
The longing for love
The love that is longing
The love
The love lasting everlasting evanescent.
The past is not more sweet
The present not more bitter.
A song to travel the sea
Shores seen and dreamed
When I hear her sing.

Start the Day Knowing Nothing

Smart people, or people who think they’re smart, often start the day knowing a lot, and proceeding to discuss what they know, to apply what they know, and to learn more to know.

Setting aside whether these people know as much as they think they do, or should know it more quietly and privately, here’s a little something that really can’t hurt: Start the day knowing nothing.

This isn’t the same as forgetting what you do know. It is more like instantly taking a grand look at everything you do know—which might be very grand indeed—and deciding to hide it away. Just for a little while. You’ll find someplace to put it.

Try it. You may be surprised and amazed at how comfortable and healing it can be to know nothing. You may grow to like it, and so may those around you.

I’m with Stupid and Stupid Is Me

I see that today a few people were reading a post I wrote a little more than a year ago, You Can Stop Worrying About Trump Being the Republican Nominee. But You Can’t Stop Worrying.

At the time, David Duke, ex-KKK Grand Wizard, gave Trump his imprimatur, saying he was in essence “one of us.” I totally believed this would end Trump’s chances of the Republicans giving him the nomination.

I was wrong about so many things. I overestimated the Republican Party. I underestimated the haplessness of the Democratic Party establishment. I overestimated the news media. I should have known better on all those scores but as the poet/political analyst Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

What I wasn’t wrong about, then or now, is this:

Forget all the talk about people flocking to Trump because of their frustration and anger about political gridlock and ineffectiveness. You don’t have to take a deep dive into the research to see that tens of million Americans want to roll back progress not to the Reagan years, but to the years before civil rights and other modern principles of tolerance and equality. (My sad favorite remains the Trump supporter wearing a baseball cap saying “Make Racism Great Again!”).

These people may not be your friends, but they are your neighbors and fellow voters. Whether there are enough of them to elect a President of the United States is an open question.

That open question is answered and closed. I am stupefied. I’m with me, and I’m with stupid. And for the moment, so are we all.

Crow and heron, goose and crow. And fish.

“Now, about what it means to realize conclusively that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind: Suppose ten million people got together and unanimously declared that a crow was a heron. A crow is black, without having to be dyed that way, just as a heron is white—that’s something we always see for ourselves and know for a fact. So even if, not only ten million people, but everyone in the land were to get together and tell you a crow was a heron, you still wouldn’t be fooled, but remain absolutely sure of yourself. That’s what it means to have a conclusive realization. Conclusively realize that what is unborn is the Buddha Mind and that the Buddha Mind is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating, and everything will be perfectly managed with the Unborn, so that, whatever people try to tell you, you won’t let yourself be fooled by them. You won’t accept other people’s delusions.”
Bankei Zen

“You, Sir, if you want to stop everything below Heaven losing its original simplicity, you must travel with the wind and stand firm in Virtue. Why do you exert yourself so much, banging a big drum and hunting for a lost child? The snow goose doesn’t need a daily bath to stay white, nor does the crow need to be stained every day to stay black. Black and white comes from natural simplicity, not from argument. Fame and fortune, though sought after, do not make people greater than they actually are. When the waters dry up and the fish are stranded on the dry land, they huddle together and try to keep each other moist by spitting and wetting each other. But wouldn’t it be even better if they could just forget each other, safe in their lakes and rivers?”
Book of Chuang Tzu