Poetry: Faith Shearin

Servants by Faith Shearin

In college I read about Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton
and I thought of their great minds and their long dresses
and their gilded friendships which involved tea

in the library or on the lawn. I thought of the places
they traveled and the weight of their trunks
and all the ways their marriages did or did not

please them. I thought of the dogs that followed
at their heels and the rooms and gardens they
decorated and the beaches where they

carried umbrellas. But I never once thought of
their servants. I didn’t think of the cook who
woke up to make the fires of morning or the maids

who stood over a pot of hot soap, stirring the day.
I did not think of how someone dressed them
and scrubbed their floors, how someone

brought their dinner on a tray. It was years before
I knew they had them at all: invisible, unremembered,
people who gave their lives to drudgery. Now I

can barely write or finish a book for all the housework
and errands, now I think of them: knocking dust
from the curtains, carrying the rugs outside

each spring so they could beat them with a broom.

See more poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

My Impressions

The poem speaks for itself.  But it is this sort of poetry — clear, direct but deep — that I love.

About Faith Shearin:

  • I am not sure when Faith was born (? 1970s) and she has been variously reported to have lived in a cabin on top of a mountain in West Virginia with her husband, her daughter, and an opinionated dachshund and in Baltimore.
  • This poem, “Servants”, is from Faith Shearin’s book Telling the Bees. © Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2015.  Found on The Writer’s Almanac.
  • another poem: “Buried” and author’s statement.
  • Poetry Foundation: three more poems


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Is Japan a “Religious Country”?

I have written many posts discussing the limits of the word “religion”. Both religious folks and religion-free folks often buy into the illusion that “religion” is an easily recognizable thing. They forget that the word is an invented abstraction with lots of agendas packed inside.

I contend that the various activities that we variously label as “religion” differ from each other enough to blind us to what those individuals or groups are actually doing and how those practitioners may have more in common with non-religious practitioners is very important ways.

This confusion stems from a more important human cognitive defect called “reification” — where an abstract word is confused to be a word pointing at actual concrete thing. Reification fallacy also reaches into our mistaken views about politics, sex, identity and self – to mention a few.

Today I’d like to share an article that again illustrate what I am trying to say about religion:

Religion without belief by Chris Kavanagh

I lived several years in Japan and my experiences agrees the author’s experiences and the states he quotes showing that most Japanese don’t view themselves as having religious affiliations or firm sectarian beliefs, but that about 40% of Japanese hold supernatural beliefs. Yet even among those who do not hold supernatural beliefs, many still participate in ostensibly religious rituals.

Chris states: “… the United States, where 48.8 per cent reported that God is very important to their life, only 6.1 per cent chose this option in Japan. Strong beliefs, I argue, are not an essential feature of religion in Japan. “

So is Japan a religious country or not? The problem is the term “religion”. Chris’ article explores this well.

Chris then takes a stab at defining religion as “concepts and traditions that not only cluster around supernatural beliefs, but also practices, like rituals and festivals”. Like Chris, I am willing to use the term and took my stab at a possible definition here. But whatever definition we use as an expedient heuristic, we need to understand its limitations. Chris’ article points out those limitations well.

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Jarring Jazz and Insight

russian-jazz-quartedLast night, my dearest friend and I went to a collaborative Jazz and Poetry performance dedicated to persecution of writers and artists. The Jazz, by a Russian quartet, was incredibly abstract and experimental. Both of us walked out with a shared impression:

The music was painful in the beginning, but we both felt ourselves relax during the performance and let the music bring forth interesting feelings, emotions and sensations that we could not have experienced if we hadn’t relaxed. We both recognized that initial temptation to tense up against the unfamiliar which can shut down much insight.  And we both speculated on how this can parallel what we sometimes do this with people in our lives.

Mind you, neither of us are now tempted to a regular diet of this sort of jazz, but the evening proved delightful, I’d go hear it again, sometime.

Readers: Please share any similar experiences you have had.

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India: Cows and Dung

In my 20s, I made two trips to India, and during both, feces left bold impressions: human and cow. These memories were awakened the other day when I read an article in Open called “Cow Dung Capitalism“. Open is an Indian media online and print magazine. The author appears to be an Indian of Tibetan descent: Lhendup Bhutia.know-your-shitBelow are a few quick stories of mine related to India and feces:

Dung: an etymology

Dung: used many for other animals feces, but not human feces. Odd how we always try to view ourselves as exceptional, isn’t it? Even when it comes to our shit. Looking at my chart on The Evolution of English, you can see that the Norse language (northern germanic) helped form English, and after these conquers left the English Isle, they left their dynge (a heap of manure).

Dung as Fuel

Dried cow dung, unlike wood, is abundant in India and burns slowly at a low temperature. In Indian villages, meals are cooked over dung fires and dishes (like lentils) depend on this sort of flame. If all Indians used wood, their deforestation problem would only accelerate.

Dung as Sacred

Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and when I was there 20 years ago, they still wandered many city streets. On one of those days, I was walking through a crowded street buying some groceries when a cow snuck up behind me and started to eat some of the vegetables sticking out of my hand bag. I reeled around with a karate round house kick to the cows head — I was hungry and tired and in a bad mood. The crowd did not understand and started to yell and me with a few hitting me. I escaped basically unharmed and never kicked a holy cow again.

In the villages where I spent time cow dung was mixed with water and used to paint the mud homes to purify and beautify them. Cow urine was used on floors as a sacred disinfectant.

Dung as Cosmetics and Medicine

In Hindu scriptures, the 5 products of cows. ‘panchgavya’, are considered as having great benefits to human health. And the Open magazine article tells how these days, many companies are taking advantage of this religious belief, selling cow dung and urine.

Unadulterated cow urine and dung have always been procured from cow-shelters by the traditional for use at home and in temple pujas. What’s recent is the array of therapeutic and beauty products flooding the market that use these as ingredients. There are face packs, bath scrubbers, mosquito coils and incense sticks that contain cow dung. There are creams, cough syrups, body oils, health tonics, weight-loss tonics, and floor disinfectants that contain distilled cow urine. You name it, they have it. And the names of gau mutra or gau arka (cow urine) or cow dung are not hidden away in long lists of fine print on the packages.

Shitting in Public

One of my biggest impressions is how many times I found people shitting to the side of the road or on the beach.  Out of amazement, back before digital photography,  I took a whole roll of photos of this phenomena only to be told that roll did not develop when I tried to pick it up at the photo store.  I guess many Indians were ashamed of the fact too.

Please consider reading Bhutia’s article — it is a fine read. And this post belongs to my other scatalogical babblings if you are interested.

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Scatological Posts

I’ve come to realize that many of my posts are scatological in nature.  I’ll let readers figure out what that implies.  Here is an index of those posts:

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Common Sense: The Wedding Dress


My travels, experiences and studies have done great damage to my notion of common sense. Indeed, nowadays, one of my favorite hobbies is undermining my common sense whenever I have the opportunity. This Priceonomics article by Victoria Finkle is called “Why Do Brides Wear White?”  and does just that.

There is no common sense — just the ordinary, constraining, practical knowledge of the culture we are invested in, and hypnotized by.

Hindi: practical intelligence : vyaavahaarik buddhi
Japanese: ordinary knowledge : Jooshiki
German: gesunder Menschenverstand : healthier human understanding
French: good sense: bon sens
English: horse sense & common sense
Russian: zdravyy smysi : robust/healthy/sound meaning/sense
Spanish: sentido común: sense common
Greek: koiní logikí: common logic

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Mind Soup

mindsoupWe all have association soups floating in our minds. Due to our unique experiences, we associate things together that others do not. After time, these associations become “common sense” to us, and we can’t see how others don’t understand these connections.

For instance, “dude, milk, guy, cow, idiot and garlic” are all related to each other in my head. In fact, I have caught myself joking about the connections to folks before I realized that it was only my mind that made the connections due to my unique language experiences. The listener had no experience with my mind soup and thus should not understand. Above I illustrate my connections to these words — coming from languages I have learned or studied. See how they are all connected? From garlic to dude. The first fun connection is how in Hindi, Cow is guy and Milk is dude.

Conclusion: Whether it is language, religion, politics, sexuality, culture, food or much more, we often forget that the connections we have in our own heads aren’t those of others. So, when someone says something odd to you, consider exploring their mind soup with them before you pass judgement. For they themselves may be unaware of their own connections. Instead of striving for the “truth” behind a statement, sometimes just trying to taste the statement can be much more rewarding.


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