I find myself wondering where we are going, and why.
Change has taken the leaves from the trees,
the song from the songbird, the soil from beneath
Humanity, sanctified beast united in worship of its own debris,
where are you going? Do you know where you are going?
Do you know why? You are ruining the world for yourself
because you do not know how to change.
You are not like the leaves that turn orange and red
each November. You refuse to move, refuse to be shaken,
clutch tightly to the thinning stem that attaches you to
the trembling branch of the shaking tree.
The world is changing all around us while we stay still,
static, asleep in the shelter of our glory.
Glory-- a word for the worst of times.
A war word.
The word hangs over the flag-draped coffins of the growing
cemeteries. It promises that this will never end--
in the name of glory, we must be strong.
Humanity, when will you stop killing yourself?
Humanity, will you change?
“If I worship you from fear of Hell, then burn me in Hell. And if I worship you from hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship you for your own sake, do not withhold me from your eternal beauty” -- Rabi’a al-Basri, Sufi poet, mystic, and saint who lived from 717 to 801 AD
Sometimes I read you in the words of ancient poets,
in the verse of Rumi, Hafiz, and Rabi’a.
From their voices and gentle instruments came sacred music.
I can almost hear the song through the written words,
but I long to hear more,
to hear what is lost when music is translated into language.
Sometimes I see you in the endless sea.
The patterns and repetitions of daily life
become tiresome every now and then,
and I feel I cannot walk home in the afternoon,
that I must walk along the shore
until the sky is grey.
I touch the water
so replete with salt and life.
It pulls away from me
and then embraces me with towering waves.
I am comforted by its steady rise and fall.
I feel falsely that I know this ocean well,
though I have seen only the fraction of its immanence
appearing within the borders of my horizon.
Some among us will tell us to be afraid
of this world and the next,
to live opposed to life
and to imagine that prophets and saints
were neither human nor lovers of humanity.
Some among us will want us to be blind
to any light but our own,
will not want us to understand
that we are only many different lamps
illuminating the vast and open evening sky.
These people wear the costumes of teachers and guides,
but speak not to the soul
and instead to the knives one carries in one’s heart.
There is no time for music,
no freedom to search for what is true
and what is beautiful.
Do not be afraid,
neither of this world nor of any other that may be.
Do not be afraid,
but embrace the strangeness and complexity of the world
and search for or create beauty wherever you go.
Do not be afraid,
and remember that the prophets and the saints
were both human and lovers of humanity.
The Earth still wore the modesty of night
when we drove through the silent city streets.
We could see only the outline of her body,
phantoms of shops and office buildings
and every mile or so a man
walking alone in the darkness.
I was less than half awake,
and you were only slightly more.
Because of that, or the time that has gone by,
or because of the many nights that summer
I drank a thousand cups of tea
and never slept because of you--
Because of these things, there is a dreamlike quality
to my memory of the morning we drove to San Francisco.
The landscapes, from farms to famous cities,
guarded by a veil of darkness.
The sun did not come up that morning.
Black clouds replaced the clouds of night
and it rained and rained.
It was the first time in a year
that I watched rain fall on the window.
Beautiful, heavenly rain.
It sang to us throughout the morning
with its hopeful, childish voice.
Almond trees grew by the side of the road,
and to the other side was the ocean,
tremulous, rushing to the shore.
Between us, the almond trees, and the ocean
were the little towns along the central coast.
At a market, we saw a medieval tradesman
selling avocados in the rain.
It was good to be still for a while,
to rest for an hour in a quiet cafe
in a town where only strangers lived.
I slept for the next five hours,
dreamt within what is now a dream to me.
When I awoke it was light outside
and no longer raining.
The clouds were in someone else’s sky.
We were crossing the Bay Bridge.
It lacked the fame and beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge,
but possessed a warmth no other bridge could offer.
So many times had I crossed this bridge when I was small,
it felt like crossing back into childhood.
The Earth threw off her veil of darkness
and wore so many brilliant colors.
She danced a busy dance,
and her streets were filled with people,
and the shops and cafes of the city
were open and full of life.
Of course there is not silence, there
never has been nor ever will be;
and if there is, it is an artificial silence,
a silence without dignity.
There is the silence of those who
refuse to listen, but eventually
their eyes and their ears must be free.
There is the silence of those who
cannot speak, but eventually
their voices must be heard. There was a
silence before the world was born,
but it was only the anticipation
of the tumultuous revolution
of light, the original cry
for change, the first time hope prevailed
Lungs fill up with blood and water,
fill up the cave of breath with muddy
water. Movement, life is lost, the
power recedes. I am reminded
that I am not mine, I am a
thing of nature, like trees that can
grow white with snow or bacterial
infection, like crops that can fail,
like seedlings that never grow to
fruition, like rain suspended
in clouds, never to fall. I thank
what controls me for every breath
that it gives me, or every breath
that it does not take away, every
day it presents before my eyes,
which open only by the will of
this mysterious presence of
When morning came I kissed the newborn sun.
The sky was crystallized with golden sun.
The sun spoke to me, asking me to kiss her.
How could I not kiss the fiery lips
of the solar system? My breath stopped,
everything stopped, I was stopped by the pause
of endless light, a world of light, a sky
so damp with rainwater that it sang.
Rain fell as we kissed and it was beautiful.
When morning came I kissed the newborn sun,
and immersed myself in a world of light.
Crowded in the tiny room,
the students spoke in hushed voices.
Language itself was a crime,
and these young men and women
were engaged in the treasonous act of political discussion.
A traitor to the nation
was often made an example
to those who would do the same.
Many hung for this crime,
and thousands more spent years isolated in prisons,
returning to find their children grown
and unable to recognize them.
With tenderness and rage, the students remembered friends
who had become examples.
It was to those friends that they owed their disobedience.
When someone is murdered, we call it barbarism.
The killer is an unregulated beast
who abuses his freedom to do what is only his nature
and the nature of all human animals.
But these killers, whose victims
were only slightly more than children,
were respectable men.
They wore the state’s uniform
and answered to eleven levels of bureaucracy above them.
And some of them won medals for their efforts.
If they murdered, if they tortured, if they imprisoned without trial,
it was only to make an example of those who would threaten national security,
even if that threat was only a song, or a poem, or a meeting.
They could not be criminals if they made the laws.
The students recalled the fate of lost friends
when the officers came knocking at the room’s wooden door.
When they felt educated, civilized, patriotic hands around their necks.
And they shared the fate of their friends
when they were lead without trial
to die before they had lived.
The loss was felt by all
who dared to dream of freedom.