St. Roach

For that I never knew you, I only learned to dread you,
for that I never touched you, they told me you are filth,
they showed me by every action to despise your kind;
for that I saw my people making war on you,
I could not tell you apart, one from another,
for that in childhood I lived in places clear of you,
for that all the people I knew met you by
crushing you, stamping you to death, they poured boiling
water on you, they flushed you down,
for that I could not tell one from another
only that you were dark, fast on your feet, and slender.
Not like me.
For that I did not know your poems
And that I do not know any of your sayings
And that I cannot speak or read your language
And that I do not sing your songs
And that I do not teach our children
to eat your food
or know your poems
or sing your songs
But that we say you are filthing our food
But that we know you not at all.

Yesterday I looked at one of you for the first time.
You were lighter that the others in color, that was
neither good nor bad.
I was really looking for the first time.
You seemed troubled and witty.

Today I touched one of you for the first time.
You were startled, you ran, you fled away
Fast as a dancer, light, strange, and lovely to the touch.
I reach, I touch, I begin to know you.

Muriel Rukeyser was born this day in 1913


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The Rainbow and the Logic Engine

Bow down in hope, in thanks, all ye who mourn;—
⁠Where’in that peerless arche of radiant hues
⁠Surpassing earthly tints,—the storm subdues!
Of nature’s strife and tears ’tis heaven-born,
To soothe the sad, the sinning and forlorn;
⁠A lovely loving token to infuse;
⁠The hope, the faith, that pow’r divine endures
With latent good the woes by which we’re torn.—
’Tis like a sweet repentance of the skies,
⁠To beckon all by sense of sin opprest,—
⁠Revealing harmony from tears and sighs!
A pledge:—that deep implanted in the breast
⁠A hidden light may burn that never dies,
But bursts thro’ clouds in purest hues exprest!

Ada Lovelace, born this day in 1815

Mathematician, poet, Lord Byron’s daughter, and inventor of the idea of a computer program. She worked with Charles Babbage, who constructed the first mechanical computer, based on gears and rack-and-pinion action, and designed more sophisticated logic engines, which proved too expensive with the manufacturing techniques available in the first half of the 19th Century.

Om, a Poem

I’m home,
I’m home!
Shanthi Om.
Roots in loam,
’Neath starlit dome—
Why should I roam?
Shanthi Om,
Shanthi Om.
I swim in foam,
Feed microbiome
On honeycomb
And Kippered Yom,
Shanthi Om.
Read David Bohm
In Google Chrome
Each chromosome
A living tome—
Shanthi Om,
Shanthi Om.
Om Shalom,
(ॐ שָׁלוֹם)
Shanthi Om.



Retort to “Try harder”

Don’t try to be good. Don’t try to do the right thing. When you do, you are already feeling pride in your superiority and separation from others who you perceive as making a lesser effort. The way of conscious striving toward virtue is fundamentally a path of self-aggrandizement, and is bound to come in conflict with 道.

My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness…If you ask ‘what ought to be done’ and ‘what ought not to be done’ to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have answer.

If one is in harmony with 道, then one will act appropriately when the time comes to act, and this will be without struggle, without ambivalence, without even a willful choice. The divine and spontaneous mode of 无为 is the mode of action of 道 itself, and is the source of all good.


Great knowledge sees all in one.
Small knowledge breaks down into the many.

When the body sleeps, the soul is enfolded in One.
When the body wakes, the openings begin to function.
They resound with every encounter
With all the varied business of life, the strivings of the heart;
Men are blocked, perplexed, lost in doubt.
Little fears eat away their peace of heart.
Great fears swallow them whole.
Arrows shot at a target: hit and miss, right and wrong.
That is what men call judgment, decision.
Their pronouncements are as final
As treaties between emperors.
O, they make their point!
Yet their arguments fall faster and feebler
Than dead leaves in autumn and winter.

. . .

Enough! Enough!
Early and late we meet the “that”
From which “these” all grow!

If there were no “that”
There would be no “this.”
If there were no “this”
There would be nothing for all these winds to play upon.

So far can we go;
But how shall we understand
What brings it about?

— from Thomas Merton’s rendering of Zhuang Zi


道 is transliterated as Dao or Tao, and sometimes translated as “the way”.  It is a noun but carries a feeling of motion.  The character is part of the Chinese words for “road” and “reason” and “smell”.  If it is “the way” then think of it as “the way of the world” rather than “the path to righteousness” or “the way to happiness” or any such thing.

无为is transliterated as wu-wei.  Wu is well-translated as “without”, but wei, in this context is more elusive.  The combination “Weile” means “for the sake of”.  I suggest “purposelessness” as an appropriate approximation to 无为.


Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve

Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
Let the radiant thought last in stillness
though the page is almost filled and the flame flickers
We haven’t risen yet to the level of ourselves
Knowledge grows slowly like a wisdom tooth
The stature of a man is still notched
high up on a white door
From far off, the joyful voice of a trumpet
and of a song rolled up like a cat
What passes doesn’t fall into a void
A stoker is still feeding coal into the fire
Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
On a hard dry substance
you have to engrave the truth

— Adam Zagajewski, tr  RENATA GORCZYNSKI

The Earth-Spirit

Then spoke the Spirit of the Earth,
Her gentle voice like a soft water’s song—
None from my loins have ever birth,
But what to joy and love belong;
I faithful am, and give to thee
Blessings great, and give them free.
I have woven shrouds of air
In a loom of hurrying light,
For the trees which blossoms bear,
And gilded them with sheets of bright;
I fall upon the grass like love’s first kiss,
I make the golden flies and their fine bliss.
I paint the hedge-rows in the lane,
And clover white and red the pathways bear,
I laugh aloud in sudden gusts of rain,
To see the ocean lash himself in air;
I throw smooth shells and weeds along the beach,
And pour the curling waves far o’er the glassy reach;
Swing birds’ nests in the elms, and shake cool moss
Along the aged beams and hide their loss.
The very broad rough stones I gladden too;
Some willing seeds I drop along their sides,
Nourish the generous plant with freshening dew,
Till there, where all was waste, true joy abides.
The peaks of aged mountains, with my care
Smile in the red of glowing morn elate;
I bind the caverns of the sea with hair,
Glossy, and long, and rich as king’s estate;
I polish the green ice, and gleam the wall
With the white frost, and leaf the brown trees tall.

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’T was so—t’was thine. Earth! thou wast true:
I kneel, thy grateful child, I kneel,
Thy full forgiveness for my sins I sue,
My mother! learn thy child can think and feel.
Mother dear! wilt pardon one
Who loved not the generous sun,
Nor thy seasons loved to hear
Singing to the busy year—
Thee neglected—shut his heart
In thy being had no part?

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Mother dear! I list thy song
In the autumn eve along;
Now thy chill airs round the day
And leave me my time to pray.
Mother dear! The day must come,
When I, thy child, shall make my home,
My long, last home amid the grass,
Over which thy warm hands pass.
Ah me! do let me lie
Gently on thy breast to die;
I know my prayers will reach thy ear,
Thou art with me while I ask,
Nor a child refuse to hear,
Who would learn his little task.
Let me take my part with thee
In the gray clouds, or thy light,
Laugh with thee upon the sea,
Or idle on the land by night.
In the trees I will with thee,
In the flowers, like any bee.

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I feel it shall be so. We are not born
To sink our finer feelings in the dust;
And better to the grave with feelings torn,
So in our step strides truth and honest trust
In the great love of things, than to be slaves
To forms, whose ringing sides each stroke we give
Stamps with a hollower want. Yes, to our graves
Hurry, before we in the heavens’ look live,
Strangers to our best thoughts, and fearing men,
And fearing death, and to be born again.

— William Ellery Channing is 200 years old today
Listen to this poem, read by your curator, JJM


Life of the Mind

Outside my skin I wear my brain
It insulates me from what’s real.
The only thing that helps me feel
Is pain.

I’d fain retreat within my head
If I could wish the pain away,
But dare not risk hold it at bay
With dread.

Instead of thought or pain or fear,
A life awaits me, ripe with sense,
Sometimes I taste its immanence
So near.

It’s clear, I have not truly fought
This tendency to duck and hide;
Prevented by my stubborn pride
In thought.

You’ve caught me, I’ve confessed the lie
That underlies my captive state;
Right now I can decapitate
And fly.

— Josh Mitteldorf