Winter Quarterly – Ekphrastic / Literature (February 2012 / 12.4)
Artist, Siddartha Beth Pierce: Pierce is a Mother, Educator, Artist, Poet and African and Contemporary Art Historian. She was featured on PBS in 2001 for her art show as Artist-in-Residence at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia, which included 20 poems as well as artworks. Most recently, her work has been published in Troubador 21, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, BluePrint Review, Botticelli Magazine, and the chapbook THE ARTISTIC MUSES.
The Infinity of None-within-One: Sandokai
Awareness transcending body and mind
has no fixed light or dark, time or place,
just as each and every thing in any moment
is neither “favored” nor “unfavored” but perpetually in flux
as sheer potential expressing its true nature
—its own essence and utility, context and character—
as one temporal part-within-a-part
of the ever-unfolding continuum of universal Truth.
Fanning out across the dark nothingness, original and ultimate,
flow veins of sparkling light.
In Relative light, fleeting form and color invite comparison
as do aroma, taste, sound, and touch;
in Absolute dark, all-things-and-nothing are equal and integral
—opposites are two shifting sides of one—
and thus there is no comparison
but just pure perception, a unity of sensing and sensed.
Seeing and seen, hearing and heard, smelling and smell,
tasting and taste, touching and touched
are one: independent yet interdependent,
diverse in function yet related by source in Emptiness,
transitory-and-imperfect yet distinct-and-perfect
each moment into the next: ungraspable.
Attachment is fantasy;
non-attachment, if limited to the mind, is not yet Enlightenment.
The four elements have in common a genesis in pure energy, and yet
—each by its nature according to circumstance—
fire may be hot, wind brisk, water liquid, earth solid;
until it is not.
Just as trunk and branches and leaves, sharing a root,
grow from the soil and return to the soil,
thus for every one-and-sundry thing
the beginningless beginning and the endless end are the same.
Within light is darkness that does not obscure;
within darkness is light that does not illuminate.
Light and dark balance and blend like two feet in the act of walking.
Substance and Absence fit as neatly as box and lid;
Relative and Absolute meet as finely as two arrows colliding
To look beyond form and listen beyond words
is to practice such oneness, to sense both sides at once.
Light reveals the impulse to veil the Truth in opinion and agenda;
practice observes this impulse, accepts it as Relative artifice,
and releases such opinions and agendas as irrelevant
into the Absolute dark.
Moment-to-moment, with practice grounded in Awareness
neither judging nor ignoring but attentive to all,
suffering fades and actions are guided by clarity.
Without such practice comes confusion.
Practice sets no goals “near” or “far”;
delusion alone is the mountain or river blocking the way.
Change is the sole constant, the true Reality:
perfect in impermanence and universally manifest.
Only in practice purely for practice
—unfiltered by comment and continually renewed—
lie serenity and peace:
ephemeral life fully appreciated, not lived in vain.
Note: Sandokai, by Sekito Kisen (700-790), as freely interpreted by Jeannie G. through study of Zen and the collected talks of Shunryu Suzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness, University of California Press, 1999
Jeannie Galeazzi’s work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in forty-five publications including Fence, The Literary Review, Permafrost, Southern Humanities Review, and Main Street Rag, as well as Feathertale Review (Canada), Dotlit (Australia), All Rights Reserved (Nova Scotia), Snorkel (New Zealand), and Gold Dust (UK), and is forthcoming in Segue, Flint Hills Review, and Bryant Literary Review.
Vulture of Habit
Three husbands have pillaged and plundered through my loot for the better part of a lifetime. I can’t say I haven’t trodden over whatever dreams kept them getting dressed every morning and plodding off to replicate torn and scattered days.
I am a vulture that picks away at the remains of habit. I still lace the lips blood red. Most of them snicker and say who’s the old bag with the shriveled canvas. Some poor, tired girl comes in every morning and stuffs my bruised, varicose veined, aching corpulence into pantyhose. I fold my hands and wait while she drags out skirts and jackets, jewelry and heels.
I ask her, you know why that woman in the apartment across the hall died, don’t you? She smiles. I watch whatever dignity I once had crunch between those condescending teeth she blinds me with. What was that, she says. They always make me repeat myself. It adds to the bankruptcy of character. She didn’t get up and she didn’t get dressed. My vocal cords vibrate like a church choir and I dare her to ask me to say it again. She laughs. She is young and insulated from the constipation of time.
One girl takes me out to lunch. She wheels me out in a wheelchair to my Cadillac. Some old lady leans in and screeches at me. Hi honey, so good to see you out and about. What the hell does that mean? I go out every goddamn day. I’ll pray for you in church today, she says. I say, what do you want me to do? Go to temple and pray for you, you sorry fraud, but she waves and walks away as though she can’t hear me. A few more vague faces poke in on my space and contaminate me with their goodwill. I tell the girl to get me in the car. She talks to people who come and go as if I can’t answer for myself. Step on it, I say.
My mother brought me to the land of dust and adobe when I was a baby. 1903, I think it was. She played poker with the cowboys. Never lost. She ran a saloon. She was a volcano. I outlived her lava, never became a milksop like my brother did. That’s why he’s dead.
The girl sits with me at lunch. I pay for her. She should buy her own damn food. Even the owner comes over to pay his respects. He’s no fool. I’ve spent a lot of money in this town. I tell him the place is filling up with scavengers. I eye the girl eating enchiladas off my evaporating dimes.
The owner nods and sighs. He understands. He is entombed by tourists. They don’t know what built this town.
I take tiny bites. There is the imminent menace of choking. Food is an obstacle that must be met and domineered. It is obstinate, but I conquer. I wake up every day, get dressed in my finest and go out to eat. This is why I am alive.
The girl is clumsy putting my leftovers in the take-out box. I always swallow half the food at lunch and the other half is for dinner. She takes a napkin and starts dabbing at my clothing as though I’m a child. I slap her hand away. She smiles, keeps picking food off my lap.
Someone says it is New Year’s Eve. I tell the girl we need to get a drink. She is howling with laughter. I crack a smile. Yes. I used to drink martinis until the doctors plied me with pills. To hell with them, I say. She pulls up to a liquor store. What should we get? She asks. Vodka, I say. It’s always been vodka.
We get back to the apartment complex. I don’t eat in the dining room with the other dreary inhabitants. The ones in walkers puff up with pride and look down at me in my wheelchair and blather on about nothing I care to hear. I am ready for my drink. Step on it, I say to the girl, but she chatters with them as though I’m not there. The girl is strung up by solicitous diplomacy. It will kill her. She will die young.
Once we are in the apartment I feel sleepy, but I am going to have that drink. I tell the girl to get us two glasses. She pours out a thimble-full for me. What am I, a bird? I say, but she is talking and I hear buzzing from my hearing aids. I don’t care.
She touches her glass to mine. I lift it to my lips and take in a slip of some heat. It burns with the fire of the past. I am sitting with Bernard. He is about to propose. I have baited him for almost a year now. I am sixteen and potent with my own pride. They all want me. I am unrestrained and rich as hell. My mother runs the saloon and my father owns the clothing store. Bernard is all butterflies and wild-eyed with love.
Then I reach down that long corridor of three husbands, every one of them standing behind me. I run the store. My parents are long dead. The husbands run around and do everything I tell them to, while I tally up the day’s sales for how many lifetimes?
You know why they died? I ask the girl. She doesn’t hear me. She talks over me. Listen to me, I say.
The girl picks me up like a sack of flour, carries me to my bed. She undresses me. I am tired. So tired.
But every night I say it. And every morning I don’t die.
Meg Tuite’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in over 100 journals. She has been nominated numerous times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel DOMESTIC APPARITION (2011) is available through San Francisco Bay Press. She has a chapbook coming out (2012) through Monkey Puzzle Press. She has a monthly column “Exquisite Quartet” at Used Furniture Review. Visit Meg Tuite’s Blog.
You wander up there in light,
On soft earth, blessed spirits!
—Friedrich Hölderlin, “Hyperions Schicksalslied”
In church this Sunday, the old hymn told us
all about God: invisible, inaccessible, hidden
in light. A silent, wantless Father of light.
A thing as lovely as Hyperion’s sun-swathed
gods strolling the clouds like a garden path,
while mankind slides down the rat hole of his destiny.
But He’s much more like Semele’s red-hot lover—
a god of napalm, or white phosphorus. A neutron
bomb of a God that wants to love all of us to death.
Lee Passarella is a founding member and senior literary editor of Atlanta Review and acted as editor-in-chief of FutureCycle Poetry and Coreopsis Books. His poetry, twice nominated for a Pushcart, has appeared in Chelsea, The Sun, Antietam Review, The Formalist, Cortland Review. SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY, Passarella’s long narrative poem based on the American Civil War, was published by White Mane Books in 2002. In addition, he has published two other books of poetry: THE GEOMETRY OF LONELINESS (David Roberts Books) and SIGHT-READING SCHUMANN (Pudding House Publications).
If you let me take three things to heaven, this is what I will choose: my eyes, for they have seen beauty; my left hand, which can bring a drawing to life; and the pillow in which I’ve cried my dreams of so many years. The pillow is worn, as I am. I am one of those who care about time. Time waters life. Life goes sour when time runs out. My time is running out. From my bed I can see some sky, which means more to me than it once did, though I’m less able to say what that meaning is. I slowly walked through the library today, still upright, and smiled at the nuns bent over their books: I remember the awe I once felt before the spoken word. It was the awe of the first night with a lover. I asked a young nun what she was reading, and she said she was looking at Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. I could hear from the way she said it that she was in love, too. That she had a crush on words that made her thighs quiver. I said that my eyes were tired, though in truth I have all but gone blind, and asked her to recite something she found memorable, and she said, her eyes closed, “What is thy art? To be good.” And I continued, my eyes closed, too, for I know this book by heart: “We must not chale and fret at that which happens.” I put my left hand on the book; I leaned on her for a moment and she leaned on me, and I was breathing the book through my hand and through the young woman both.
Marcus Speh is a German writer, who lives in Berlin. “BOOK BREATH” is a flash from his novel “Gizella” (forthcoming from Folded Word), centered on the historical figure of Gisela the Blessed (985-1065), first queen of Hungary and later abbess of Niedernburg nunnery near Passau. Marcus blogs at marcusspeh.com.
“Running isn’t being free”
—Joyce Johnson, in a 1957 letter to Jack Kerouac
I’m looking through the love letters of a man who didn’t even have love on his mind
while you still race to the freedom of another woman, so “why marry?
what’s wrong with just lovin’?” a question that makes me close the book
and shout at the evening–beer number five–
and I’m somewhere in December, where Jack stopped writing and took to drinking
on the stage of a nightclub where no one stayed to hear him slur
through the second section of Road, a place where you were happier last year,
home one weekend a month like some kind of Kerouac,
spending time away from everything but your Ford, speeding
against the oncoming lights of other cars, the smiles of Georgia women.
I’ve got to stop reading words that were never meant for you or me to hear, unlike
these that seem cold like December, a month I don’t think we’ll make it to–
my bare feet shuffling across a linoleum floor, feeling my way
into a silence that shows up every time you forget to call.