Watching the Waterfall at Lu Mountain
Li Bai, trans. by Chou Ping, Willis Barnstone, and Tony Barnstone
Sunlight streams off purple mist from Incense Peak.
Far off, the waterfall is a long hanging river
Flying straight down three thousand feet
Like the milky river of stars pouring from heaven.
The trouble I’m having with fasting is the same trouble I’m having with being human.
The trouble I’m having with fasting is the same trouble I have with being human.
One of these is something I’m going through, a current problem. The other implies that I have a more permanent state of trouble, a possession of the singular, trouble. There’s a flavor of ownership to the second statement, and an earnestness to the first.
With sentences, I don’t know which is which sometimes. While I am fasting, when I hear words, I often jumble them all up in my head. There’s a distortion effect. I am underwater listening. I’m straining to perceive, but it’s not always clear.
It bothers me that I don’t know which sentence I mean. I am not debating the finer points of grammar. I am asking a legitimate question about what endures in my life.
During Ramadan, other people, including myself in previous posts, have been rather filled with the spirit of piousness. I was told that Allah gave Ramadan to the people in part so that we may become pious.
For two days of the fast now, I have battled a scorching anger. There is nothing pious about it. I am like a five year old with really big feet stomping around the room. I wish it were not so. I have the perception that an injustice is being done to me. I feel pressured to do something, to spend money, so that I can be part of a group I feel I did not choose. I feel tricked. There have been moments when I am so indignant that I want to speak my anger. I blame myself.
Last night, I had the joy of opening fast with Roopa, Ely, and Jessica. As we threw back water and food, I heard Roopa say, If you have to say it, you don’t have to say it. We laughed at this moment, but I squirreled the wisdom nut away to my nest. Safe in the tree, later in the morning, I’m using my teeth to crack it open.
I don’t know how to let go of whatever it is I have to say. I know that saying something will make me feel better, if I come to it the right way, without expectation. I’d like to be able to wait until I could transcend and be in a better place, a safer place, before I act. The need and desire for action, however, transcends caution. I keep looking to the sky and asking for the superpower of being laid back.
To me, the question of saying anything at all veers straight into the years I have worked finding my speakerboxxx. I never feel like I can afford to give up the gift that empowered me. I worked hard and asked lots of questions to be able to speak. To employ words for a cause.
Words are never enough. There is an entire well underneath our bodies. It pulsates with feelings. We would be thoroughly scared if we were to put our bucket down and raise up some of this shining material. Most of us do not know how to access it. When we do, it runs through our system like a charge. What comes out may be something you don’t recognize. Poets wink at us when this happens.
Once in a play of petty and trivial proportions, a woman I barely knew in Los Angeles spread dull-witted, but malicious, rumors to divide me from my own friends. She was new to the area, and the man she was dating was a close-knit member of my existing social circle. He knew that I bore witness to his cheating and perceived me as a competitor in his life. She was embarrassed about how she ended up hooking up with him. I’m sure that doesn’t sum up their motivations and feelings, but it’s the best I’ve got. One thing led to another, and I suffered the disappointing realization that not everyone I considered a friend was actually such. Some people believed this couple’s rumors. Others simply participated in their games.
Years later, I’ve even come to thank this power couple for showing me what’s what. One could say I moved on.
Nearly three years after all the drama I moved, and a new friend brought up the name of the woman who’d moved to Los Angeles. She was gushing about how wonderful this person was. I opened my mouth to laugh it off. I found that I could not. I got hot. Really hot. I didn’t say anything. I simply left the room because I didn’t have anything nice to say.
Believe me when I say that’s a drastic improvement on the heat I would have unloaded when confronted with the same situation a year ago.
What strikes me as remarkable, however, is my inability to genuinely forgive, despite the understanding I have achieved about what happened. That understanding makes me feel pious. However, the grace it would take to truly forgive has skipped me. It sucks to be in a new place and experience the swelling of an old pain.
But we’ve all been there: the place where we are simply unable to move past our hurt, despite our intellectualizations, despite our perceptions.
And even despite our wisdom.
During Ramadan, as I fast, I feel my self expand, as if I was flying through the ether, through Allah. I have such love for the places that Ramadan brings me. I choose to describe it like this: it’s not that I no longer care, or that I have transcended my petty feelings. It is that in the morning, during prayer or poem-writing, that in the daytime, with all the pixels of hunger and thirst arcing toward my life, I don’t have as much to say.
I aim to have a conversation that feels impossible and difficult soon. When my forehead touched the ground this morning, I prayed that I would not say any of the things I absolutely have to say.
By Pablo Neruda, trans. by Alastair Reid
I have to remember everything,
keep track of blades of grass, the threads
of all untidy happenings,
the resting places, inch by inch,
the infinite railroad tracks,
the surfaces of pain.
If I were to misplace one rosebud
and confuse night with a hare,
or even if one whole wall
of my memory were to disintegrate
I am obliged to make over the air,
steam, earth, leaves,
hair, even the bricks,
the thorns which pierced me,
the speed of flight.
Be gentle with the poet.
I was always quick to forget,
and those hands of mine,
could only grasp intangibles,
which could only be compared
when they no longer existed.
The smoke was an aroma,
the aroma something like smoke,
The skin of a sleeping body
which came to life with my kisses;
but don’t ask me the date
or the name of what I dreamed—
nor can I measure the road
which may have no country
or that truth that changed
or perhaps turned off by day
to become a wandering light,
a firefly in the dark.