Poetry: Jane Hirshfield

JaneHirshfieldThree Mornings  by Jane Hirshfield

In Istanbul, my ears
three mornings heard the early call to prayer.
At fuller light, heard birds then,
water birds and tree birds, birds of migration.
Like three knowledges,
I heard them: incomprehension,
sweetened distance, longing.
When the body dies, where will they go,
those migrant birds and prayer calls,
as heat from sheets when taken from a dryer?
With voices of the ones I loved,
great loves and small loves, train wheels,
crickets, clock-ticks, thunder-where will they,
when in fragrant, tumbled heat they also leave?


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

Source:  The Writer’s Almanac

About Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953) : Poetry Foundation, Wiki,

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Should Non-Hindus write on Hinduism?

DonigerWendy Doniger (b. 1940) is a University of Chicago Indologist who is despised by many Hindus. Her books rightfully expose the variety of Hinduisms and how many of them are intentionally sanitized versions which are very different from the earlier saucy texts like the Mahabharata and others.

In India, where presently a Hindu-centric government rules, many Indians protest non-Hindus writing about Hinduism and the government often responds by banning these books. Doniger argues well against such silly protesters in her article in The Times of India (March 15, 2015).

Believers and non-believers alike have biases. But certainly one need not be a member of a group to write incisively on that group. Believers can accurately criticize atheists, and non-Muslims can give us excellent insights into Islamic groups. But in the end, we must question insiders and outsiders alike.

I am several orders of magnitude away from being as informed on Hinduism as Doniger, but even I feel free to write on Hinduism — on a subject of which I am relatively ignorant.

Let the reader beware!

Note: Some books by Wendy Doniger


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Our Views on Talking Animals

panchatantra_how_the_jackal_ate_the_elephantEssayist Stassa Edwards, over at Aeon, gives us extensive examples of talking animals in literature and some of the history of our views of animals.

Stassa tells us of two competing views of animals. The first that animals offer us nothing because of their obvious inferiority to humans due to their lack of “logos”(Aristotle) or reason (Descarte). Yet she points to a contradiction to this philosophical position when she gives examples of people gruesomely executing animals who had killed humans, just as they would humans whose souls were bad, thus hinting at the a different intuition we have about animals.

This other view, typified by Montaigne, puts animals on the same plane as humans.  Here Stassa tells us :

In his Apology for Raymond Sebond (1576), Michel de Montaigne ascribed animals’ silence to man’s own wilful arrogance. The French essayist argued that animals could speak, that they were in possession of rich consciousness, but that man wouldn’t condescend to listen.

While Descartes view permeates a large part of culture — especially the sciences, the virtuous view tends to permeate literature where talking animals have long been used to instruct humanity in lofty morals — yet some not all animal stories are lofty.

Religious_Texts_PanchThe ancient Hindu text, the Panchatantra (conspicuously missing in Sassha’s essay), gives moral guidance to budding princes through the tales of talking animals. Machiavelli would agree that princes need guidance, and like his work, the Panchatantra stories tell opportunistic wisdom mixed with apparently compassionate wisdom. Maybe it was more palatable to let the animals speak this soul-less wisdom? Perhaps this is why the Panchatantra was preserved in the sacred category of Indian literature, to balance out the dry unobtainable wisdom of the lofty Upanishads.

triangle_end_tinyPertinent Links:


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Constructing “Misogi”

MisogiOver at “God Knows What” Chris Kavanagh, an Irish anthropologist who specializes on ritual, has written on the Japanese cold-water purification ceremony (“Misogi”) and his unique participation in it. Please do read Chris’ post — it is superb.

In the comments on Chris’ blog, I discuss the Japanese character for Misogi. Above I illustrate the components for the character to help those interested. Note that though it is a character for a present day ritual centered on water, its original use might have pointed at a purification ceremony which was not based on water. Words and rituals change.

Question to readers:  Have you ever intentionally exposed yourself to extreme cold water?  Why?  How do you think your adventures would differ from Chris’ and the Japanese in the Misogi ritual?


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Poetry: Danusha Laméris

danushaInsha’Allah  by Danusha Laméris

I don’t know when it slipped into my speech
that soft word meaning, “if God wills it.”
Insha’Allah I will see you next summer.
The baby will come in spring, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this year we will have enough rain.

So many plans I’ve laid have unraveled
easily as braids beneath my mother’s quick fingers.

Every language must have a word for this. A word
our grandmothers uttered under their breath
as they pinned the whites, soaked in lemon,
hung them to dry in the sun, or peeled potatoes,
dropping the discarded skins into a bowl.

Our sons will return next month, insha’Allah.
Insha’Allah this war will end, soon. Insha’Allah
the rice will be enough to last through winter.

How lightly we learn to hold hope,
as if it were an animal that could turn around
and bite your hand. And still we carry it
the way a mother would, carefully,
from one day to the next.


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About Danusha Laméris

Danusha Laméris was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to a Dutch father and a mother from the island of Barbados. Her family lived, briefly, in Beirut, Lebanon during the outbreak of the 1975 Civil War. Otherwise, she was raised in Mill Valley and Berkeley, California. After studying painting and graduating from U.C.S.C. with a B.A. in Fine Arts, she began to dedicate herself to writing poems. She now lives in Santa Cruz, California with her husband, Armando and teaches ongoing, private poetry workshops. (source Amazon)

My Impression

“Hope” as an animal that may bite was a fantastic metaphor. I wrote about my affinity for the expression insh’Allah here.


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Poetry: Amy Fleury

AmyFleuryAblution by Amy Fleury

Because one must be naked to get clean,
my dad shrugs out of his pajama shirt,
steps from his boxers and into the tub
as I brace him, whose long illness
has made him shed modesty too.
Seated on the plastic bench, he holds
the soap like a caught fish in his lap,
waiting for me to test the water’s heat
on my wrist before turning the nozzle
toward his pale skin. He leans over
to be doused, then hands me the soap
so I might scrub his shoulders and neck,
suds sluicing from spine to buttock cleft.
Like a child he wants a washcloth
to cover his eyes while I lather
a palmful of pearlescent shampoo
into his craniotomy-scarred scalp
and then rinse clear whatever soft hair
is left. Our voices echo in the spray
and steam of this room where once,
long ago, he knelt at the tub’s edge
to pour cups of bathwater over my head.
He reminds me to wash behind his ears,
and when he judges himself to be clean,
I turn off the tap. He grips the safety bar,
steadies himself, and stands. Turning to me,
his body is dripping and frail and pink.
And although I am nearly forty,
he has this one last thing to teach me.
I hold open the towel to receive him.


See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

About the Amy Fleury

  • Poetry Foundation (source)
  • Amy Fleury is a native of Nemaha County in rural northeast Kansas, and graduated from Nemaha Valley High School. She earned her bachelor’s degree and her M.A. from Kansas State University, Manhattan, and her M.F.A. from McNeese State University. (Washburn University site about Amy)

My Impressions:

  • “Poems” take many forms, as do life lessons and momentary pleasures.


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Sid: Seeking vs. Finding

FerrymanBelow is a quote from the last chapter of Hesse’s 1922 novel “Siddhartha” (translated by Hilda Rosner in 1951). The quote reminds me of my post “Seachers vs Explorers“. Hesse labels the two different styles as Suchen (seeking) and Finden (finding) — or One who Seeks [one thing] versus One who Finds [many things] — see my post on “Homogenizing Reality” for a similar contrast.

It seems, Hesse (1877-1962) and I (1954 – ?) had similar intuitions. Tell me what you think.

Setting: Siddhartha is now an old man who works as a ferryman at a river. The Buddha is dying and many of his monks and devotees are journeying to see him before his passing. Siddartha ferries many across his river. One passenger, “Govinda”, is a former close friend of Siddhartha but he does not recognize Siddartha. Note that thought Hesse calls his main character “Siddartha”, it is not the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) — they just happen to share the same first names.

He arrived at the river and asked the old man to take him across. When they climbed out of the boat on the other side, he said to the old man: “You show much kindness to the monks and pilgrims; you have taken many of us across. Are you not also a seeker of the right path?”

There was a smile in Siddhartha’s old eyes as he said: “Do you call yourself a seeker, O venerable one, you are already advanced in years and wear the robe of Gotama’s monks?”

“I am indeed old,” said Govinda, “but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?”

Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find.”

“How is that?” asked Govinda.

“When someone is seeking,” said Siddhartha, “it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. You, O worthy one, are perhaps indeed a seeker, for in striving towards your goal, you do not see many things that are under your nose.”




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