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The Journey to the West

Though we journey to the West We pray to the East More or less that's the way Each day begins and ends It’s a tale everyone ...

Saturday, October 16, 2021

We Have Met the Aliens ... And They May Be Us

This morning on my dog walk I listened to a not-so-recent episode of the Ezra Klein show in which two scientists heatedly debated the risks and rewards of human attempts to make contact with alien civilizations.  (You can listen for yourself here.) The nominal news hook for this show was last year's release of a Pentagon report that begrudgingly conceded the possibility of extraterrestrial visitation as evidenced by inexplicable supersonic beeps and blips showing up on Raytheon's most advanced detection systems. It's both interesting and comical to hear these two men of science go at each other, somewhat like watching Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd on a rerun of Saturday Night Live, only with all of human civilization hanging in the balance; even when the experts talk, they can't help but project our best and worst fears onto the very notion of aliens. 

But listening to the debate, it occurred to me that there is an altogether different explanation for these military sightings of UFOs traveling at warp speed through our airspace.  What if the aliens showing up on the radar are simply human-made aircraft from the future?  If human civilization lasts long enough to undertake interstellar travel, then surely time travel might also be on the agenda.  And as anyone who grew up reading science fiction well knows, one of the first rules of time travel is not to interfere with events as they unfold in the past, for fear of upsetting the chain of causality that supports the eternal present.  This then would explain why the Pentagon finds it so difficult to make contact with these so-called aliens.  We have met the aliens ... and they are us.  Somehow we must find a way to convince our future selves that we mean them no harm and they can approach us at no risk to us or themselves.  Given the rapacious way in which we are despoiling the planet, this may not be an easy case to make.  But so much hangs in the balance if we ever hope to arrange a rendezvous with our future selves, more mindfulness in the present is surely the best possible route.

In other words, projection may be warranted, though somewhat misunderstood, as an altogether appropriate response to such alien sightings.




@ezraklein, in case you happen to stumble across this blogpost, I have a modest request: would you please ask the NYTimes advertising department to find a sponsor for your show other than Facebook?  Much as I have enjoyed listening to your podcast, you can't help but put your credibility at risk to the extent that Mark and Sheryl continue to subsidize your musings.


 

Friday, October 8, 2021

In the Springtime of Decay



In the springtime of decay
When petals still hold firm
And the citadel of green
Has yet to fall

Nature makes
This teasing promise
In the warm soft light
Of the October day

And I hear the flowers say
All this now shall be
Ours forevermore 
And when death comes
It will start easy like
A long term layaway plan






Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Algorithms of Fate

 for Robert Bly


Eat your shadow as the poet says
And that's exactly what I did
But now my shadow's eating me

Night after night nibbling my ear
Whispering the strangest of dreams
Hand coloring local maps or so it seems
Until there's a blood red tide that laps
The shoreline of Weesuck Creek

And all night long I hear the strains
Of music playing softly beneath
The balcony - a serenade
Strummed on a six string guitar
By the cold hand of fear

The lyrics I remember 
But can no way explain
The path inward and outward
Is one and the same as we
Pass through the portal
Of ceaseless change 
Back and forth in accord
With our fate whose algorithm
We grasp when it’s only too late

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Of the Subtle Body

Only dimly perceived
The subtle body resides
Deep within each heave 
Of the shuddering chest
No mere replica in miniature
Being made of something
Other than flesh

A body electric
Lacking fixture or frame
Nothing but a hollow cavity
Through which energy flows
To the subtlest mind it remains
Untouchable as it oscillates
Through peaks and valleys
Animating all the rest

Monday, October 4, 2021

Beyond All Poetry

I woke up this morning standing
In my neighbor's front yard
How I got there
I have no idea
But I was looking at my life
As my neighbor sees it
Stripped of the usual self-regard
And beyond all poetry

There was a barren ledge
Overlooking a vast plain
Already familiar to me
Having spent a long time there
Sitting attuned
To the rhythms
In the cycle of breath and
Listening to the long slow rattle
From the bottom of my chest
As if I was heaving up a bucket
From a deep dark well

But there are no metaphors
To explain where
I'm going next
The road sign ahead only 
Says sssshhhhhh!
An old man is sleeping 

Beyond poetry 
Is where I always intended to go
And finally I'm here

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Translation Game

One way to understand translation is that it's the opposite of writing or its mirror image. When you write, you start with a truth that’s inside you, and you use language to try and expose it to the outside world. When you translate, you start with an outside truth that’s given to you, and you must internalize it through the medium of language. Translation in that way is just a deeper form of reading, an attempt to go beyond a shallow understanding of what someone else has said by memorializing it in words that ring true to your own ear.

Red Pine, who is one of my favorite translators of Chinese poetry, has said that there are as many translations of a Chinese poem as there are translators. That's really a definitional observation and leads us to the understanding that there is no such thing as a definitive translation.  To take this thought a bit further, translation is certainly not a science, nor do I think of it as an art so much as it is a fundamental part of the human condition. We are forever translating, whether we realize it or not, the web of language that surrounds us into our personal idiom.

We pursue truth the way a hunter chases after game, except that truth is far more elusive than even the fleetest doe or buck.  No matter how many arrows we shoot, they always fall short of the mark, until we learn to shoot in the dark and with no arrows at all take aim.  Writing and translating happen through the medium of language but the truths we pursue reside in wordless silence and ultimately that’s where they always remain.



My new book of translations of Chinese poetry

called The Poetry of Awakening is now available

in paperback.  You can find it on Amazon (if you

don't mind abetting monopoly power) or on Barnes & Noble.


*  *  *  *  *

"There's something wrong here. Translating Chinese poetry isn't supposed to be this much fun" 

     --  Red Pine


When I finished the manuscript for this book, I sent a copy to Red Pine and he was kind enough to provide me with this blurb quote.  My editor, Marc Estrin, decided not use it on the book jacket because he thought it didn't recommend or illuminate the book to potential readers.  This is one case in which I find myself disagreeing with Marc.  Red Pine's blurb reads to me as high praise, at least when I translate it into my personal idiom.  Translating these poems was close to pure delight for me, and I hope at least part of that joy comes through for readers.    




Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I Hear the Spinning Earth (for @duanetoops)

Waking from a dream last night
I heard the earth's gears turning
And ringing in my ears or maybe
It was a high pitched sonic wind
Blowing steady through the trees

Pfizer and Merck might try
To medicalize this condition
But to hear the earth 
Spinning no fearful thing
It's a dizziness to be savored
Like a theremin on a planetary 
Scale the world hums as it spins