Tao as Lorde

When I speak of the Tao, I know not
but vaguely I

speak of Lorde       the fruit of my wis-
dom is twenty

                  inches too far from soul, twenty
                  years too large, twenty
                  something, perhaps more maybe
                  much less
When I speak of the Tao, I speak of Lorde

for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are — until the poem — nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt

— Audre Lorde, “Poetry is not a luxury”

the dialectics of poetic confusion

The great unwashed in the park – what is it that makes it so easy to classify the classes? women, children, some veiled, some garish, a festive group visiting this tiny walkpark of mine in this far off city nook     love imagines lives a little different from what privilege has taught from the pulpit     imagines lives of care, of concern for their sisters, brothers, younguns     yuN na tha maiN ne faqat chaaha tha yuN hojaae? 1     no stretch of imagination to immortalize the beaming smiles – under duress too – of my park lot

meanwhile my lot festers unabashed in connivances of convenience, contempt for the sake of bile     the unparked ones are the ones that worry me, the platitudes of concern, the beatific biles

the driver happily blocking the road with his car while talking to a friend     entitled shout: baap ka road hai? 2     I see joyful camaraderie that cares not a whit for a car or two stacked up behind     the pulpit snivels civility     love shakes her head     tao is good to the good as well as bad, lao tzu sages, so shall I accommodate the pulpit, the snivel?

or shall I retreat to my khanqah while the mongols of the day bludgeon away?     our great master prescribed nothing but – this much history teaches about rumi3, trying to spirit away solidarity by trivializing the mundane, the unwashed     easier perhaps to be a holy ostrich than to imagine lives of care, concern, sister, brother

yuN na tha maiN ne faqat chaaha tha yuN hojaae

1. “Wasn’t thus, I merely wished it so” – a line from Faiz, iconic Pakistani revolutionary poet who made no secret of his admiration for another “great poet of the east”, Iqbal, who in turn made no secret of his admiration for Nietzche’s superman: the dialectics of poetic confusion.

2. “Is this your father’s road?” A common phrase that like so many others can never be adequately translated.

3. Point raised by the Iranian revolutionary, Ali Shariati. A valid point echoed so many times in history when the gatekeepers of culture/morality/civility/whatnot have been hands-in-glove with despots.

the words & the bees

1. this is the interregnum, these here are the symptoms
2. this is the era of the warring states
3. the coefficient of injustice is two minutes to midnight
4. a bent arc of history is not a broken arc
5. the dream of the butterfly will connect the words and the bees

1. “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” – Antonio Gramsci

2. The era in ancient Chinese history when Lao Tsu and Chuang Tsu, the two seminal Taoists, expounded.

3. “It is still two minutes to midnight” – The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – The Doomsday Clock

4. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King

5. Chuang Tsu’s Butterfly Dream parable

The Kai’ku: a brief what-when of the “but-why?”

bleed slowly through your dreams
the visage is heaviest when the shadow
pierces your masks –

The above is a specimen of a Kai’ku, a lesser known poetic form where the rule is, “aim for a certain number of syllables; if you get it, it’s ok, and if you don’t, then no need to sweat your syllable tree!”

Kai’ku, loosely translated in the Indo-Pakian as “but why?”, is said to have been disemminated by a handful of lesser-known – this is key – mystics going about their un-enlit ways around about the same time as an enlit guy called bodhidharma was bordercrossing Indo-China.

In another account, the origins of Kai’ku have been linked roughly with the time when another enlit – laotsu – bordercrossed, and the gatekeeper requested him to write a little something. Kaikuans would have been least bothered by such inane requests, so this account is less tenable.

the dregs of tao

wangwei spoke of a distant t’ang
no longer viable

as nature     dufu laments laments
his song his

children poor his ambition sharp
sharp till

he channels laotsu but he is late
the river recalls

a bedevilled notion of bloodflow has
ancillary cooptions

tooting a mandatory horn     we have
algebra lessons as

our guide to a moral aesthetic     (so
foundations are

necessarily wrongfooted)     beyond what
the rope of an

eyelid can climb     behind actuarian

lie certain possibilities     the rope
is mountain –

a burnt conscience stokes the
lament of

objectionable beauty     this
form that

begat the warmth of forgetting
now heat

now axis     now the plumb of
terror woven

Dread is my mouth’s resonance     dead is
the willingness

of its voice     which voice?     the stone
demands     which

need goes in search of this voice? the
stone is now rock

in becoming     in riveting itself to the
tales of two pasts

one which is my mouth’s resonance     one
which is its voice

so we can say physics is the aftermath
of reason

ethics the shell of the shell     & art?
art is

the longing for wrong when right-left
revels as an unjust di
          chotomy –


Tagore Kabir XIV: Is it not like a bellows?

This is the sixth post in the Tagore/Kabir series.

The bridge is the swan that tickles your
fickle feather at night; it is the shadow

That falls between heaven and
The idea of earth; it is the

Bellows that swings between the
Real and what passes for the act

Of motion and its resting place; it is
The poem, but you knew that, no?


II. 59. jânh, cet acet khambh dôû

  Between the poles of the conscious and the unconscious, there has
    the mind made a swing:
  Thereon hang all beings and all worlds, and that swing never
    ceases its sway.
  Millions of beings are there: the sun and the moon in their
    courses are there:
  Millions of ages pass, and the swing goes on.
  All swing! the sky and the earth and the air and the water; and
    the Lord Himself taking form:
  And the sight of this has made Kabîr a servant.

T.S. Eliot/Lao Tsu
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow – T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

The space between Heaven and Earth
Is it not like a bellows?
Empty, and yet never exhausted
It moves, and produces more. – Lao Tsu, “Tao Te Ching”

Revisiting the small small, Accra 2016 – I

This is the first of series of posts to follow up on my recent visit to Accra, Ghana. 2008 was when I was there last, and 2002 was when Ghana introduced me to Africa. Since then, what has changed without as seen through the prism of what has changed within is written out in verse and reflection. The context has always been work, but content can change context.

May 15 – Inflight Dubai to Accra

The plumb fascination dons
   every mask, every
   trite boredom, every sink
   that wishes well, the

Plum fascination is a gasp,
   a gap of known and
   little known facts, a gap
   of missing factotums.

“Small small” is Ghanaian speak for a little quantity, small change, etc. Poetically, it captures the spirit of the Tao Te Ching, “know the high, stick to the low.” But all that has been forgotten and turned upside down historically in favor of the grand. A redemptive poetics of the small small is not possible without reaching back and bringing back to the fore the “little known facts” and the “missing factotums.”

May 16

The tailbone of the journey is far from
    Release unless you
Endear its father & soulfish its
    Ancestry; its ghoul of

Faith & train of unreason; the 
    Tailbone of your untapped
Soulwhistle is the further ash
    That trammels and pouts

As it sings, inks into the
    Untimed meter of gash
Of ink and the body of craft & pain.

A poetics of the small small is also not possible without a soulful accounting of the damage done by the patriarchal laws of entitlement and its “train of unreason” masked as faith.

May 17

The old dominion of dread is
   but half past

dead, half past the fleet of
   the unsaid, the

blue cart of a thrush's 
   unusual said, and

done and what is untrue of
   sky is true of sin,

true too of the half past
   unsung dread

the languor, the peel of
   dread and its song.

What has been damaged is felt today as dread, what Erich Fromm calls “the fear of freedom.” The machinery of sin and shame keeps that fear – though irrelevant, unrooted, out of place and time – in play.

May 18

The sin has to decide
  to drown its bellowed

Insight in the shadow
  of this here wanton

Word wanting to drift
  a broken toast, a

Wooden art and the semblance
  of a power turret

In the following posts, I will try to tackle aspects of the “power turret”, the myth of the great leader, the history of colonialism, neoliberalism and Orientalism as they relate to Ghana and as voiced by its poets.

The empire is sacred

“The empire is a sacred vessel and nothing should be done to it. Whoever does anything will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.” Tao Te Ching (XXIX)

An odd navel gazing that makes and keeps on making the same
Error; an uneven
Bent of sight goes on galvanizing sightless tirades of excellentia,
Apologia when
The naught of naughts was so much at hand, when the grace
Of a zero could
Persuade an inner calm, when the stream could have meandered
Downwards as
Physics would have it had it not been for a relentless will of wanton