Monday, May 17, 2010

An Exercise in Observation...

Part One.
The plan was to record observations in 6 locations, repeating the round in the same order for seven days. These were to be concrete. Perceptions of the physical world: sight, sound, smell and touch. Avoiding—without making hard rules about it: metaphor, simile, overtly figurative language. Select by first impression. Whatever should happen to grab my attention? Keep it short. No imposed links or connections.

Begin in my apartment. My living center. Expand outward from there. Next, behind the house: the mostly concrete slab that serves as back yard; followed by the front porch overlooking Morris Street two houses West of 13th Street, then to a bench on Passyunk midway between Morris and Tasker; from there to the crossing at Broad and Morris a block and half away. Take the subway and make the last observation in the court yard of City Hall where private, public, commercial and political space converge.

Later the same day, write a second section to each of the stations visited. These would be free to go wherever mind, memory, thought or flights of fancy might take me. Their connection to their partnered pair need not be explicit, but again—first impressions rather than studied or thought out responses. Don’t reject design and pattern as it might emerge, but don’t impose or force it.
When completed, there will be 42 Stations, 84 sections and (probably) a concluding piece

surprised at how easily this came. Of course, this is hardly foreign territory. Do this in my journal every day—though with no formal structure, and no distinction between concrete observations and flights of association and personal reflections.

Greatly increased consciousness of the countless details left out. I chose to limit my selections. Knew perfectly well they represented but the minutest fraction of observable (and observed) reality in any place I stopped to pay attention… but began to feel viscerally the absence of so much left behind. And began to grow aware of the importance of the circle… thought of it for the first time as a form pilgrimage—not the linear journeys from to origin to destination, but the ancient Celtic pilgrimage sites that still remain in Ireland: circles with stations designating degrees and forms of connections with power to bring the sacred into the world.

I would not have thought of this had I not been carrying my Spirit Stick.

 Today that spirit of pilgrimage grew even stronger—the more so as the ‘stations’ were/ are secular, everyday places. The repetition of the circle felt like winding a spring, concentrating the power of the sacred.

When I finished the rounds, I stopped at the PCA window with the carved ceremonial sticks. I noticed my reflection, and the reflection of my own Spirit Stick. Behind me, the passing cars, people—buildings across the street remained opaque, while we were transparent to those beautiful ceremonial sticks—as though they were passing through the center of my body. When I realized this, I positioned myself, beginning with the center and moving first to the left, than to the right—centering myself (my reflection) before each stick, letting each in turn pass through my body, fusing with my spine, my Spirit Stick.

I’ve seen no ghosts. What I believe is no lest evidence and reason based than before. No mystical sense of the divine. Same world. Only imagination changes… but I found myself profoundly moved…to the point of tears as I descended down to the subway station.


Neighbor in the house in back was out in their yard... too distracting to meditate. Is that where things began to go wrong? My sense of this as pilgrimage, from intimation to assured acceptance. Realize how identity changes as elements in the aggregate change. Realization not of thought or experience, but thought attempting to describe what has happened--the reality of what has happened exceeding what is experienced. Spirit stick again. Leaves dry up and are replaced. Pieces I've attached work loose, are lost and replaced. It's the same and always different, as I am the same and different with different people, in different places. In the presence of the spirit stick I change, and having changed, when I put it down, I'm not what I was before I took it up. Too much caught up in these thoughts. Seduced by a false sense of well-being. I failed to recognize the warnings... the thunderous parade of cycles, the sirens, the flashing lights. Mindfulness is being-in-the-world, not zoning out. Poetry is not wishful thinking. No less vulnerable, no less in danger for poetry and spirit stick... perhaps more so... all the more important to be present and mindful.

It wasn't so much the loss of my notebook with the day's entries (also lost: observations from Morris Park, sketches of wildflowers, measurements of American chestnut saplings, sightings of birds...) --as my reaction when I returned to where I'd left it not five minutes before and found it gone. I was fucking PISSED! Where did all that peace of mind go! The bull shit about that damn cane! At least I knew enough not to leave. I circled around, peered in trash receptacles, returned again and again to where I'd left it... as though I expected it to magically appear. I didn't leave in that agitated state but waited till I regained my composure. I went over what I was going to do... skip this day and add another? Leave Day Four blank? Would it be dishonest to record both parts after-the-fact? The more I thought about it the more unimportant the actual writing seemed... the words on the page I mean. One writes in mind as one scratches figures on the page. I may have lost the page but I haven't lost my mind... well, not entirely.  No, the words are still there, and if not quite the one's I'd set down, wasn't that like the Spirit Stick? Shedding it's parts, gaining new ones.

There were other disturbances that day. A bill from a visit to the emergency room from a fall on my bad leg--though Medicare covered all but $45.32 of the $2,805 total, I only have $9.00 left in the bank till my next Social Security check... and on the same day, another medical bill.... this from a visit to my primary care physician for my hypertension. Another $65.00.

Yes, poetry can save us...but not from the risks inherent in living in the natural world.

Day Five

I met Sam who told me about Bakti Yoga... a Cambodian Buddhist with a computer downloaded image of Shiva on his wall.

OMNAMA SHIVAYA he wrote in the notebook... Shiva... the Hebrew word for seven. My seven day poem. Walking, not sitting. What was I mourning?

Day SIX HERE , Day Seven HERE
A let down from day five.  The mind resists consolidation. Two encounters though--on the bench on Passyunk and at City Hall. I've become utterly indifferent to who is there or who is not--when it comes time to read entries from the the previous days. Indifferent for myself... not for how I might intrude on others. The man beside me on the bench... we exchanged a word or two... felt comfortable to go about what I was there to do. Wrote in my notebook. Took out the scroll of previous days and read aloud.  For politeness sake I said, as I was preparing to leave, that I hoped I hadn't disturbed him.

Oh no! he said! ... nothing more. But sensed that he enjoyed this... no explanation needed. None offered.

At City Hall--sitting not far from where I read my piece... printed scroll flapping in the wind, a young man... 17 .. 18... with graffiti covered boom box as his feet.  Who are you? he asked.

What did he mean...?  did he think I might be someone famous, a celebrity perhaps? (this only occurred to me later... my thought then was that he meant, not who... but what). Said my name...and told him I there to write a poem.  A poet

He looked at me... not quite there, it seemed.  Could you teach me to be a poet? he asked.

What could I say? ... Only your heart can teach you to be a poet, I said ... such a cliche...

I have to go, I said... I really need to pee! (I did),  Oh, he said... suddenly animated and altogether there... Wendy's lets you use their men's room--pointing the direction. You know where it is?

I did. And thanked him... and went my way.

Day Seven

Difficult. A rainy cold day.  But the rain let up and I managed to muddle through. I made my appointed rounds... and only at the end when I read all the previous sections from City Hall did it come over me... that sense of having done something, a wash of spiritual accomplishment. My Shaman Stick in hand... I stood there for a long time watching the traffic, the people passing by, listening to the crowds of kids heading for the subway after school. What I've learned, I thought... that poetry is not a thing of mind alone... but action, doing... engagement.  No closed texts... but open... open  ... a permeable membrane to the world

Tomorrow, when I've added my reflections, I'll take this to each location and recite the whole of it. Performance and meditation both private and public.  Violate the borders of the world...

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