Your soul has a wide genealogy quite apart from you

covedallasroad

When I grow heartsick by the convulsions of this world; hopeless by the egos holding our earth hostage; helpless by the spectre of nuclear winter, I go to the ocean.

I stand at the shore with stones and seaweed. I attach prayers to seashells and release them to the water.

I watch them ride up the curl of a wave, then fall back to bob like bits of driftwood in the salt wash.

But one or two, I imagine, of the less conscious ones, reach the crest and lift like kites charged by spindrift and light, sail high, grow wings.

It was said of the holy Baal Shev Tov that one day walking in a pasture, he caused sheep to stand and pray.

Later, it was reported that he said this life-altering thing: Your soul has a wide genealogy, quite apart from you.

And I thought of our wondrous cosmos: a school of fish, an ant hill, a cloud of waxwings, a weave of sphagnum, earth’s blanket of mycelium, we flora, we fauna, we with language, one wide organism, one galactic soul.

And I wondered how, if our soul is larger than the physical limitations in which we live, larger than what we can imagine, how can we think to harm, to hurt, to hate, exploit?

For to lash out, is always to strike at our own heart (as the mystics have always known).

And I thought: discrete parts go to war, but parts, which are not apart but in communion, are kind for the sake of others, kind for the sake of themselves.

What should we call this communion? Quantum entanglement of love?

Love, implied Jesus, is the magnitude of being. Meaning, I gather, that beneath our fear, our rage, our sacrifice of others for the sake of security, lies love; our true state in which we move and live and have our being.

True state? Such a leap!

And yet this quantum entanglement of love, this wide genealogy, benign and nonviolent…is it not the only genuine argument against exploitation, apocalyptic capitalism, war?

It is, of course, the one we hesitate to speak of because it appears to be the weakest (and how we fear appearing weak).

As I stand here on the shore, caught in my own fears, resentments, caught in my still-too-sectarian frame of mind, I pray for awakening.

I pray that the deep reality  will come, spark us to life, transfigure us, bring us—all we humans, as Father James Gray used to say, still in our swaddling clothes —to adulthood.

On that day, sheep will stand and pray on their own, and our sanity will return.

On that day we’ll swim together in the bay, our bodies traced by phosphorescence. We’ll read the Kanji of kelp. All the markings of love.

lichen

Some hard reality for dreamers – and a warning for the rest of us

Happy April 1st, and happy Poetry Month!

 

 And here’s a slightly edited version:

Have you had it up to here
with all those creative-come-mystic types going on
about the quiet wonder of the quotidian?

Do you, too, cringe when you read the reviews?
Poet enters into the everyday and emerges enrapt.
Artist finds numinous splendour in the prosaic stuff of life.

Whatever happened to the daily grind, the brine-soaked
reality of every morning—their minutes
passing like anchoritic decades?

I swear, if I read of one more apple-cheeked author
who stands amazed under an ordinary afternoon
I’m going to shoot myself!

That snow mixed with salt and sand is not marzipan!
It’s slush!
Okay?!

That sunrise is not a host of seraphim with wings of flame!
The burgeoning leaf is not the hale harbinger of…
blah, blah, blah!

It’s chemistry, astronomy, biology.
Its physics! All physics!
Always been physics!

Okay, maybe “sunset is an angel weeping, holding out a bloody sword,” *
but that’s because it’s bloody tired of everyone’s delight
in the predictable movement of the planetary system.

Hark! Everyday is not Christmas. Life is NOT a box of truffles.
It’s a string of purgatorial Mondays. Or if your lucky,
a boring slide to obscurity.

You want awestruck? Wait for the giant flash on the horizon.
Wait for the Four Horsemen, the Seven Trumpets,
the apocalyptic haemorrhage.

Wait for the moon to burst its seams
and bleed its achromatic pall upon the earth.
Then go oohing and awing.

Don’t be a schlub. At least win a lottery.
Then maybe, for a while,
you can go telling people of the élan within the mundane.

For the sake of all that’s marketable, don’t let them fool you.
Don’t relent to wonderment. Don’t accede to mystery.
It only breeds trust in the supposed sufficiency of any given day.

And if that catches fire we’re all screwed.
The stage will crack, the façade fall.
The ad will atrophy and the cult of consumption crumble;

and all our sacred edifices—with their theatres of envy and rivalry—
will collapse into laughter,
uncommon kindness, and liberated longing.

* a Bruce Cockburn line


Approaching the 45th American Presidency

 

The following poem was published in Vancouver’s Westender yesterday…Thank you Westender!

westender-poetic-licence-stephen-t-berg

Approaching the 45th American Presidency

I leave Planet Earth Poetry at Hillside Coffee
after listening to an enjambment of poets
fervently consider the current state of the American presidency,
and on my way home remember I need to prepare and marinate
the chicken for tomorrow night’s dinner,
                  that’s the chicken
I bought from Drumpf Meats earlier in the day that I thought (although
I didn’t ask) was fresh-fresh, but was in fact alternatively-fresh,
as I found remnant formations of ice crystals in the cramped cavity,
and the oblique neck, stuffed within, was polar-stiff,
and the gelid giblets, notably the orange-hued heart, was glacial-cold,
meaning this or more: that the bird hadn’t come straight from the abattoir
to its place behind glass, but had spent time in cryogenic rime,
and I remembered too,
                  that a chicken
can live without its head for an ungodly duration,
which beyond all reason,
made me approach the fridge
with unimpeachable apprehension.


How to make something good happen: counsel for the perniciously officious politician

contemplateocean

I could point to the ocean, the chickadees, the aspen trees,
tell you to consider the Carthusian monks
—you could learn something,
especially from the ocean.

I could tell you to listen to the silence at the entrance of a cave,
go to your knees,
crawl in
and watch the neat rows of bats hang like laundry.

You could take a tide-pool bath,
let the wisdom of water wizen your skin,
or sit cross-legged on the sand and gaze inward,
follow the capillaries at the back of your eyes,
down the veins, down the arteries
all the way to your heart, where,
hoping your return, a young monk sits waiting,
saying nothing, which is not  nothing,
doing the nothing  that is not-nothing.

I could go on giving examples,
hinting at true states fit for governance,
but the fact is:
seduced by the hubris of the grand display,
driven by the gluttony of a fragile ego,
you’ve become the serial deploy-er of pernicious policy.
Fact is, without study, in humility, “believe me”,
you can’t make anything good happen.
What you can do,
is leave stuff the fuck alone!


I’m not sure what effect poetry has, or has ever had on politics. Marginal I suspect, especially today, considering the broad cultural shift to the visual. And yet, to my light it continually begs to be written (even, as is the case here, if its best effort is to create a scene for a judiciously placed expletive).

Still, protest poetry, social justice poetry, is at least as ancient as the Old Testament (the prophets were not averse to use purple language). And of course there’s a rich history of the protest poem, particularly during the sixties (Dylan, Levertov, Adrienne Rich, Ginsberg etc.). What’s more, in Russia, poetry could get you killed: it was the poetry of Osip Mandelstam that so agitated and angered Stalin that he had Mandelstam’s life end in a concentration camp.

For me, all I know is that in a world moved to a frightening precipice by so-called leaders the likes of Trump, Putin, Kim Jong-ul, one is compelled to use whatever creative outlet they have to raise a flag, unsettle the craven egos of the emperors, speak some kind of truth to inhuman powers. Not that this will effect change, only that it is right.