October Musings in Stockholm, 2016

October 1, Saturday

Zephyr is the bringer of breezes.
He visits me as I sit in the garden,
Surrounded by tall, flowering bushes
In their last blooming days.

Moving air rustles through the leaves,
The flowering stalks bend and bounce
At the ends of long branches,
Some so heavy they reach the ground.

These I will remove
So they may grace our home
Before their final fading.


October 2, Sunday

It’s the Autumn cleanup at Johannelunds koloniträdgård. Our allotment is sixty-five square meters, enough for our flowers, fruits and vegetables.

One of our neighbors has a rose bush which dominates the end of a path where our parcels lie. Several years ago I was ordered by the leader of the cleanup, since the parcel-holder was absent, to take the bush down to the nub to clear the path. I was well out of breath at the end of the effort.

Here it is again, bigger than ever, crowding through the path into our mutual neighbor’s parcel. It’s an unruly, globular presence, gleaming with orange and red hips like lights on a Christmas tree.

The path ends at an impassable ditch just a few meters beyond the bush. If our mutual neighbor doesn’t like the intrusion, perhaps she should take care of it, or rally a bunch of younger people to commit to the effort. I don’t see her here today, and I’m hiding out, nursing injured extremities.

This bush is not only a survivor, but has gained intimidating stature. I am in awe of it, drinking its power as I relax on a folding chair, a few steps distant.

The risen rose bush
From Earth’s power and purpose
Sharp thorns and bright fruits

 

October 3, Monday
Kids at Play

At Four O’ Clock in weekday afternoons the commons is filled with children and parents. Two preschools are part of this planned neighborhood.

There’s a big sand box, a small slide, lots of plastic toys and small wheeled vehicles. Chalk marks and designs in pastel colors decorate the pavement.

The inevitable soccer ball appears, parents training their future players. The younger  kids don’t care where the ball goes as long as it goes, and goes—standing still and wide-eyed, tracking its trajectory down the slight slope toward the gate barring access to the stairs leading to the path around the lake.

Some parents stand in groups, adult-talking, eyes constantly glancing toward their liberated charges.

It has been dry recently, so the unplanned depression in the pavement down-slope from the sandbox merely has a thin layer of dried mud in it. On or after wet days, the parents allow their children to splash in the puddle at will, protected by suitable clothing, to be sure.

There are three swings on a standard playground swing set at the ‘top of the hill.’ Usually, these are occupied by the wee ones, seeming hypnotized by the steady rhythms provided by their parents.

The children don’t have to be reminded that ‘this moment’ is the true reality, as many sages aver.

I watch the children
I feel I am one with them
Just in this moment

 

October 4, Tuesday

small boats sail the lake
the surrounding green shores will
soon yellow and brown

 

October 5, Wednesday

A British pub
A British Pal
A satisfying pint

There is a certain comfort
in the companionship of a fellow
with seven decades under his belt

David writes prose and poetry,
plays music and sings,
contemplates the verities,
the patterns he perceives underlying all

A British pub
A British pal
“Another pint, please.”

 

October 6, Thursday
Transcribing Fred’s Letters

Fred died twenty months ago. I have his letters from year 1989 through the years until his death in 2015, over three hundred of them.

I have been transcribing them to have permanent, digital copies, as are mine to him. I started years ago, and years of work remain.

Today, I completed transcribing years 1989 and 1990, then compiled and integrated everything we told each other.

How have we changed? We grew a little.

Did we learn anything? Yes.

Did the world unfold as we then imagined it would? No.
 

October 7, Friday
Actual World

I pity the young people, the newest generation. They live ever more in a virtual world, a world without people.

Electronic devices command each set of eyes, down-focused onto a tiny screen for whatever happens there. I don’t want to know.

Last evening I attended a magnificent stage production, an opera about the life of Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa, with live orchestral music by Philip Glass, augmented by and integrated with the players of Cirkus Circör, acrobats extraordinary.

Real people

Colors, shapes and movements

Music and words to fill one’s body

Ancient figures brought to life, bringing wisdom and hope

A feeling of community with the performers and audience

You can’t get all that out of a tiny, electronic box.

 

October 8, Saturday
How it is to get old-er

One is concerned with one’s blood pressure

One is concerned with getting a sufficient number and kind
of foods and supplements containing the full panoply of anti-oxidants

One wonders if one’s prostate gland is well
despite having no apparent symptoms

One wonders if one will ever have enough self-discipline
to shed the ten kilos one has gained since young adulthood

One doesn’t like losing one’s suppleness, evidenced
by the groans one emits while arising from low to high

One’s feet never don’t hurt, somewhere

One’s irritability is evoked, but necessarily contained
when asked ‘How are you?’, because you have to say

“Fine, how are you?”


October 9, Sunday

We are seated across from each other at a birthday party. He seems to be around my age.

Some of his face was taken by accident or disease, but this anomaly quickly recedes in my consciousness. We engage in getting to know each other, sharing experiences familiar to fellows our age: travels, work, family.

He leans heavily on his cane when arising for another go at the buffet table. His attentive wife observes without intruding.

He is tall, bent, one side of his body lacking tone and strength. He returns successfully, our conversation continues. I reach for another bottle of light beer, but before I can open it he pours some from his open bottle into my glass.

I accept, also without comment. We are friends already.

 

October 10, Monday
Waiting for the Lotus

“Without mud, there can be no lotus,” asserts Thich Nhat Hanh, renown Buddhist teacher.

In a conversation today with two friends we became mired in the muck and mud of the current political theater in the U.S. A., which the press ecstatically reports and distorts. It is painful to observe the process and to endure the emotions evinced by those invested in one side or another.

The election will conclude within a month, the wailing and gnashing of partisan teeth and the postmortems conducted by the talking heads will last another, before the press will turn its jackal head toward the latest sex scandals and misdeeds and errors of other people in the public eye.

In a fiction by Jules Verne, “The Adventures of a Special  Correspondent,” there is a passage where a Chinese scholar is lecturing the narrator, a Frenchman: “The cares of business trouble us little; the cares of politics trouble us less. Think! Since the first emperor, a contemporary of Noah, we are in the twenty-third dynasty. Now it is Manchoo; what it is to be next what matters? Either we have a government or we do not; and which of its sons heaven has chosen for the four hundred million subjects we hardly know, and we hardly care to know.”

We have allowed the politicians, their partisans, and the press to thrust us into their mud.

I await the beautiful lotus flowers which will arise when the turbulence settles.

 

October 11, Tuesday
Restaurant Fantasy

There will be tables for one, two, and four people—no more.

There will be sufficient space between any two tables to allow easy passage by humans carrying portfolios, parcels, or plates.

All surfaces will be covered with sound-absorbing materials—no echoes.

No sounds will emanate from the kitchen and other work areas.

When removing vessels, plates and cutlery from vacated tables, staff will carefully place them in a deep, sound-insulated box-cart.

In a cafeteria or buffet with no wait-staff, customers will be encouraged to reserve conversations for the table, where cutlery, condiments, spices, and other supplements will be available.

There will be no ‘music’ piped in from overhead.

Peace and love will be more likely now.

October 12, Wednesday
The Book Circle

Only five of seven in our book circle will meet tonight. This will be sufficient.

Among us we have well over three centuries of fully living in the world.

We were born in widely different places, have traveled and read widely as well.

We can talk about anything.

We respect each other’s opinions, but are not afraid to disagree.

It matters not the book—it will serve as a pivot point for a spectrum of discussion ranging through history, culture, psychology, and more.

Sometimes the book will evoke painful memories which will be shared.

We know how it is.

 

October 13, Thursday[i]
Music

Consider ‘pure’ music

No words, no story

The God Zeus and the human Mnemosyne together created the nine muses

Euterpe, the muse of music, is “the giver of much delight”

We made music before we had words, it is said

I say, let us have more music and fewer words

 

October 14, Friday
Bus Stop

I reckon I’ve waited for the neighborhood bus
some four thousand times, probably more

Many faces are familiar, some new to me
some have disappeared

The little plaza has been completely renewed
new pavement, new stone planters, new trees

We had a good schedule fourteen years ago
ten, thirty, fifty minutes past the hour

It’s changed twice since then
the times are now too odd to remember

I often miss the bus now
but it’s only a twelve minute walk to the subway

Unless it’s snowing

October 15, Saturday
Last days in the communal garden

Cut away dried flower stalks
Uproot the spent corn and squashes
Plant the winter garlic

Rest a bit to view the remaining flowers
In neighboring plots and ours
Silently thanking the other gardeners

We walk home through the quiet forest
Yellowed maple leaves floating to the ground
Our footfalls crunching the gravel

Our souls are peaceful
We link arms
“What shall we plant next year?”

October 16, Sunday

Feeling housebound by mid-afternoon
we flee the house

let’s have a late lunch and skip dinner
To atone for last evening’s excesses

To bus, to subway train, to downtown
Noisy, crowded, chilly, everyone rushing

Find a restaurant, get out of the cold
good enough food, eat, finish

Let’s get home!

 

October 17, Monday
The 1960s, Berkeley

I opened the door, and there I was again
An instantaneous mind-space-travel
Of fifty years and more

Myriad living plants high on a wall
Ferns, orchids, others with names unknown
All watered regularly, along with others
Lining the street-level windows

Big red, but not too red, flower images
On green wallpaper, throughout
Warm and friendly
Wooden tables and chairs
Wooden flooring, well trod

The young and handsome couple, he and she
Behind the counter, at the stove
Like people I knew or regularly saw
In coffee shops and restaurants
In the Berkeley of my college days

Simple in dress and manner are they
Modest and diligent in their labors
Smiling and pleasant to each other and all
Offering wholesome foods and meals
Quiet, jazzy chamber music remembered from my youth

Those were the days…

 

October 18, Tuesday
Do it in the Dark

Early morning, the sun not yet risen
One long side of the room is all windows

One other club member is there as I enter
Fluorescent lamps blaze from the ceiling and wall

After I gather and place my equipment, he leaves
I rush to the light switches, click click

The predawn light is just enough
I lie on the mat and pray—no more people please

Inevitably someone will enter, thoughtlessly
Without perceiving me, switch on the lights

I begin, slowly, first the knees, then hips
I sense someone entering the room

The lights remain off

The spine, the ligaments of the legs
Methodical breathing, counting

Another person, still no lights
Continue the regimen

I remain as the others leave
Finish with the plank, two minutes

Rise, look out the window, sip water
Peacefully greet the dawn

October 19, Wednesday

Where did the day go?
Carrying me through the hours
barely hanging on

 

October 20, Thursday

Would it help
if I told you of
your logical and historical errors

Would it help
if I disagreed with
your cherished beliefs

Would it help
if I argued with
your fixed political position

would it help
if I told you of
an annoying characteristic

Would it help
if I just smiled?

 

October 21, Friday
In the Way

The Afghan wars, past and present
were not about Afghanistan
but, being between other places
of interest to the great powers,
she is trampled in the struggle

I do not know what interest
the Great Powers of the present
have in a land created by the
Great Powers of one hundred years ago
but the people of Syria are in their way

The agonies of Afghans have continued
now for hundreds of years

Can the people of Syria expect
an end to theirs in this generation?

What if all the people disappeared
leaving only the elite and their soldiers?

Would there still be something to fight about?

Someone please explain this to me.

October 22, Saturday
The Martyrdom of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich

He was gifted, he suffered, he made great music

His most deeply felt pieces were sad, even tragic

Yet, ironic, for his tormentors were tone deaf

And those who knew could see through the façade

A dangerous game to play

He played the game that Stalin put in place

To control the people through control of the elite

The rules constantly changing, people disappearing

The speeches prepared for him betrayed the people he admired

Until Stalin died, he feared death every day, but as time advanced

He feared life even more than death

But lacked the resolve to end it

Because he had more music to make

He remained alive, suffering, suffering, humiliated

Writing for the Russian people

Giving them a spiritual touchstone

The Church being officially forbidden and suppressed

We need to remember our martyrs

Yes, ours, even those without the suffering Russian soul

We suffer too, without being able to name our suffering

Listen to Shostakovich and recognize it

Music speaks to suffering and redemption

More fully than can any words

He suffered for us, the martyr

Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich (1906 – 1975)[ii]

 

October 23, Sunday

She is the one who showed me
how to pitch a small tent in sideways rain
on a mountain pass in Northern Sweden

Now we hesitate to leave the apartment
cold gray sky and gusty drizzle
lamenting that the city weakens us

 

October 24, Monday

preparing to write
allowing mind to empty
I await a form[iii]


October 25, Tuesday
Spreadsheet Satisfactions

I can create and control this little universe—
Columns so wide, rows so deep.

I can have over sixteen thousand columns,
Over a million rows!

General names for columns
Specific names for rows.

But how do I group the columns and rows?
And name the subcategories?

What about fonts, colors, backgrounds?
Bold or Italic, and where?

Show the grid? Use borders instead?
Thin or thick, and where to use each?

It’s hard work creating a universe.
Time now for a rest to let it all settle
October 26, Wednesday[iv]

I wept upon reading a passage in a novel
An old man needed the hand of a young woman to hold
So he could sing his song to the other old men
Gathered to remember the old country

I have felt such deep sadness at other times
It arises from a secret, sacred place
From a reservoir of pain stored away
In some far, inner recess

I have wept with joy, many times,
Mostly at weddings and births
But this occasion is different,
As if somebody, something died

I stop myself from prying into this hidden place
To discover what it may be which prompts me
To feel this scene as like a death
I will not unearth the secret

As Uncle Harry said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

 

October 27, Thursday
Gulliver Explains his Country to the Noble Houyhnhnms[v]

A chief minister of state is a creature who makes use of no other passions but a violent desire for wealth, power, and titles; he applies his words to all uses, except to the indication of his mind; he never tells a truth but with an intent that you should take it for a lie, nor a lie, but with a design that you should take it for a truth; those he speaks worst of behind their back are in the surest way of preferment, and whenever he begins to praise you to others, or to yourself, you are from that day forlorn.

The officials of his country consist of
Attorneys
Politicians
Proud Pedants
Censurers and
Judges

Judges, in turn, are selected form the most dexterous lawyers biased against truth and equity, favoring
Fraud
Perjury and
Oppression

.. so that in the trial of persons accused for crimes against the state, the judge first sends to sound the disposition of those in power, after which he can easily hang or save a criminal, strictly preserving all due forms of law.

As for money, when a Yahoo has got a store of this precious substance, he is able to buy the finest clothing, the noblest houses, great tracts of land, the most costly meat and drink, his choice of the most beautiful females, and thinking he could never have enough of it to spend; the rich man enjoys the fruit of the poor man’s labour, and the latter are a thousand to one in proportion to the former.

Hence it follows that of necessity , that vast numbers of our people are compelled to seek their livelihood by begging, robbing, stealing, cheating, pimping, flattering, suborning, foreswearing, forging, gaming, lying, fawning, hectoring, voting, scribbling, star-gazing, poisoning, whoring, canting, libeling, freethinking, and the like.

Three hundred years have past since Gulliver faithfully reported these observations and many more to the Noble Houyhnhnms. We must thank Science and Democracy for, in the years following to-date, having freed us from the terrors and inequities of the untrammeled power of princes, officials, the rich, and those in control of our most precious assets: the independent press, and that we have the freedom to speak our mind in public on anything (still) lawful…

Wait a minute—who is that banging on my door and shouting…?

October 28, Friday

What is the proper subject for a poem?
An ode to all things wild and beautiful?
A detailed discourse on one’s ripening mind?
How about elucidating on digestion?

A rant against the stupid government?
Another aimed at life’s injustices?
A yearning for a person not yet found?
Lamenting on the one you now wish gone?

Pal, look, no one will read it anyway
Just flush your mind then clean your messy home

 

October 29, Saturday
Still ‘Fall’ing

Yes, the countless leaves of trees and brush
Still fall and billow

Bright yellow, mostly, but unexpected dapples of red
from unexpected bushes

Berries, red and white, the latter to last
throughout the winter

The sun reflected from leaves of many hues and shades
is welcome contrast to preceding gray days

One must blink to help adjust one’s eyes to so large
a feast of impressions

So good to have a working retina, well connected
to the brain and, thence, to writing hand
October 30, Sunday

It’s become biting, not yet bitter, cold
Yet inviting when the morning sun
Illuminates through crystalline air
The glories of late Fall

There is no hesitation, as when the day is cloudy
To say “Let’s take a walk!”
And the preferred, almost automatic walk
Is to the forest leading to the communal garden

“Look, a deer! No, two… no, a family of five”
They are poking through the gardens
Two young ones engaging in mock battle
We stop to drink in this glimpse of Eden

Other walkers see them too
Stop as we do to admire them
We all move quietly and smoothly
The spell is broken by the yapping of two small dogs.

 

October 31, Monday
Limerick

The woman who cuts my hair

Was too long away from her chair

Hair as long as my arm

She retreats in alarm

Then sees it’s me, not a bear

 

[i] Listening to the works of Gabriel Fauré, 1845 – 1924), accompanied by Södra Maltfabriken Pale Ale

[ii] Upon reading “The Noise of Time,” by Julian Barnes.

[iii] “Form Is Emptiness, Emptiness Is form”—from yogic and Zen Buddhist teachings.

[iv] “Brooklyn,” by Colm Tóbín

[v] “Gulliver’s Travels, Part IV: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms,” by Jonathon Swift; 1726