The Dream

O God, in the dream the terrible horse began
To paw at the air, and make for me with his blows,
Fear kept for thirty-five years poured through his mane,
And retribution equally old, or nearly, breathed through his nose.

Coward complete, I lay and wept on the ground
When some strong creature appeared, and leapt for the rein.
Another woman, as I lay half in a swound
Leapt in the air, and clutched at the leather and chain.

Give him, she said, something of yours as a charm.
Throw him, she said, some poor thing you alone claim.
No, no, I cried, he hates me; he is out for harm,
And whether I yield or not, it is all the same.

But, like a lion in a legend, when I flung the glove
Pulled from my sweating, my cold right hand;
The terrible beast, that no one may understand,
Came to my side, and put down his head in love.

— Louise Bogan, born this day in 1897

Letting go

From animals descended, we retain an intuition that
_____sustained our forebears for a billion years.
We’re out of touch with nature—and ourselves—but there’s a distant Eden past,
_____toward which an inner driver steers.
This fundamental conflict pits our primal innocence against
_____the comforts and security we cherish.
If we drop the tiller, navigate on autopilot through the
_____concrete jungle—will we thrive or perish?

They tell us that a conscious choice to cleave to social norms
_____is all that keeps our fragile lives from being wrecked.
But are we so unsuited to this techno-social life
_____that we must constantly keep evil impulse checked?
Are ubiquitous temptations to addiction so persuasive
_____that we’d fall within their sway without strong wills?
And, if so, are these the fruits that we most value from
_____our culture, or its incidental chemicals and pills?

Just imagine that for one sweet day we drop internal struggle
_____and we listen to our impulses innate…
We’ll sleep ’til sunshine calls us and eat double chocolate sundaes
_____and perhaps show up at work three hours late.
We’ll blurt out “I’m in love with you” at moments inappropriate,
_____and touch ourselves indecently on trains,
But I doubt that we’d be tempted into violence or treachery
_____in crazed pursuit of venal, worldly gains.

They say in Summerhill the children all run free, no punishments,
_____no testing, no curriculum or grades
And students when they first arrive (from stricter British boarding schools)
_____do nothing — but the novelty soon fades.
And once they trust their freedom, settle in and find relationships,
_____developing a passion all their own.
Statistics show that (as a rule) they flourish, and as adults are
_____more likely than their peers to be well-known.

The busy beaver has no need to budget time, does not consult with
_____engineers—and yet the dam gets built.
Bonobos know no jealousy; they stroke and fondle friends and come
_____to orgasm in public without guilt.
Even silly geese negotiate monogamy without
_____the benefit of matrimonial law.
And predators, once sated, turn to pussycats, don’t hoard their prey—
_____It’s man alone who’s red in tooth and claw.

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We pay a price for holding fast to self-control, negotiating
_____every trite decision that we make.
And freedom from that tension just might open doors to selves we barely knew
_____(if we don’t overdose on cake).
I wonder if it’s worth the risk to let authentic voices speak,
_____relinquishing control we know so well…
From comfortable purgatory, take a leap of faith, fly free,
_____and parachute to heaven or to hell.

And (humor me) imagine if our personal examples spread,
_____became a wave of insubordination…
And (while we’re fantasizing) our demand for more fulfilling lives
_____might trend our politics toward liberation.
While there’s no guarantee our freedom, thus asserted one-by-one,
_____would lead us to utopian solutions,
I’d bet my bippy on our primal souls before I’d put my trust
_____in any extant human institutions.

— Josh Mitteldorf

He is Not a Strange Loop

I am a parcel of vain strivings tied
By a chance bond together,50-0023
Dangling this way and that, their links
Were made so loose and wide,
Methinks,
For milder weather.

A bunch of violets without their roots,
And sorrel intermixed,
Encircled by a wisp of straw
Once coiled about their shoots,
The law
By which I’m fixed.

A nosegay which Time clutched from out
Those fair Elysian fields,
With weeds and broken stems, in haste,4bc3c370bf9574a6e8d8341714e3658f-paintings-i-love-painting-art
Doth make the rabble rout
That waste
The day he yields.

And here I bloom for a short hour unseen,
Drinking my juices up,
With no root in the land
To keep my branches green,
But stand
In a bare cup.

Some tender buds were left upon my stem
In mimicry of life,
But ah! the children will not know,
Till time has withered them,
The woe
With which they’re rife.

But now I see I was not plucked for naught,thoreau1a
And after in life’s vase
Of glass set while I might survive,
But by a kind hand brought
Alive
To a strange place.

That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours,
And by another year,
Such as God knows, with freer air,
More fruits and fairer flowers
Will bear,
While I droop here.

— Henry David Thoreau turns 200 today

Another way to decide

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
— A. Einstein (plausible, but not a real quote [QI])

“Can I really trust my desires?  In this exercise, we explore release from habits of self-rejection, self-forcing, conditional self-approval—the campaign to be a good person.”
— C. Eisenstein (also not quite a direct quote)

Civilization has bequathed me a rational ethic.
Civilization has robbed me of my animal soul.

Uprooted is my intuition. Transplanted is obsessive ratiocination.

The robin wakes without an alarm.
The squirrel finds last summer’s squirrelings without a searchable database.
The turtle does not negotiate with herself to decide if he has exercised sufficiently today.
Busy beaver completes the project on schedule without budgeting her time.
The dog licks his private parts in public.
My cat does not count calories, nor consult the clock to know if it is time to eat.
Her body is sleek perfection.

Cilization has given me inner authority,
self-control, and rebellion against control.

I can construct an argument as needed,
convincing myself that (sometimes)
playing hooky can be a virtue.

Someone inside me knows what to do.
Maybe I can devise a plan: “Daily discipline restores inner wisdom.”
Stop thinking.

— Josh Mitteldorf

The Realists

HOPE that you may understand!
What can books of men that wive
In a dragon-guarded land,
paintings of the dolphin-drawn
Sea-nymphs in their pearly wagons
Do, but awake a hope to live
That had gone
With the dragons?

— William Butler Yeats, born this day in 1865

A 19th Century Impression of the Buddha’s Message

In which calm home of happy life and love
Ligged our Lord Buddha, knowing not of woe,
Nor want, nor pain, nor plague, nor age, nor death,
Save as when sleepers roam dim seas in dreams,
And land awearied on the shores of day,
Bringing strange merchandise from that black voyage.
Thus ofttimes when he lay with gentle head
Lulled on the dark breasts of Yasôdhara,
Her fond hands fanning slow his sleeping lids,
He would start up and cry, My world! Oh, world!
I hear! I know! I come ! And she would ask,
‘What ails my Lord?’ with large eyes terror-struck
For at such times the pity in his look
Was awful, and his visage like a god’s.
Then would he smile again to stay her tears,
And bid the vinas sound; but once they set
A stringed gourd on the sill, there where the wind
Could linger o’er its notes and play at will –
Wild music makes the wind on silver strings –
And those who lay around heard only that;
But Prince Siddârtha heard the Devas play,
And to his ears they sang such words as these: –

We are the voices of the wandering wind,
Which moan for rest and rest can never find;
Lo! as the wind is so is mortal life,
A moan , a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.
Wherefore and whence we are ye cannot know,
Nor where life springs nor whither life doth go:
We are as ye are, ghosts from the inane.

… Read the full poem by Edwin Arnold, born this day in 1832

Ripening

Fullness is on me
like the taste of watermelon in summer.
My remaining days stretch out
like a carpet of ripe pecans
on the floor of the orchard
behind my grandparents’ house,
each one waiting to be
picked up, cracked open, savored.
No more youthful hunger;
I eat the moonrise over the ocean,
my mouth round with silver.

— Jennifer Read Hawthorne