Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The McLeod Ganj Psalter RSV

A Series of Poems Loosely Based on the Hebrew Songs of David

With No Apology


Moon Peak - Dharamshala - Himachal Pradesh India.(Dhauladhar Range is a outer part of Himalayan Mountains Highest part of the mountain in this photo is called Moon Peak ) [OC] [1280x757]


By Kenneth Ireland



Dedicated to Zenshin Philip Whalen who loved words like no man I have ever met.

A heartfelt thanks to James Ford Roshi for lighting a firecracker.

Our prayers for David who listened with all his being till the very end. You inspired us.



My thanks to Jon Logan, his husband John Paine, their family, and Susanne Zuerbig for their wonderful support and encouragement.



© Kenneth L. Ireland

September 22nd, 2022

McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

The Introduction

First week: Songs One to Seven

Song 1, Psalm 24, Raise High your Gates O Jerusalem

Song 2, Psalm 23, Following the Flock from Palampur to Chamba

Song 3, Psalm 37, Lady Elgin Becomes a Widow

Song 4, Psalm 137, By the Rivers of Babylon

Song 5, Psalm 90 going on 18

Song 6, Psalm 119, There’s a Boulder in the Road. Is this the hand of god?

Song 7, Psalm 58, A Snake and a woman. This short story has a happy ending.


Second week, Songs Eight to Ten

It was a dark time and we stayed inside, repeating to ourselves as if we couldn't understand. 

Song 8, Psalm 104: 20-23, On Being Mauled by a bear, a dirge

Song 9, Psalm 119:105, Thy word is like a heat seeking missile

Song 10, Psalm 84:5, The Highway to Zion was washed away last night

Song 11, Psalm 77, Hath God forgotten to be gracious?

Song 12, Psalm 121, Give up all hope until you can't! 


Third Week, Songs Twelve to Fifteen

The Days are growing shorter, and the night is as black as it gets. We still look within.

Song 12, Psalm 139, An Exegesis on the Blackness of the Night

Song 13, Psalm 56, O Captain, My Captain

Song 14, Psalm 57, Indra’s Net of Jewels Catches a Spider

Song 15, Psalm 135, Dredging up Buddha from the Yangtze

Song 16, Psalm 59, And At Evening, Let Them Return


Fourth Week, Songs Fifteen to Twenty-Two

Only light rain today. The monsoon is breaking

Song 17, Psalm 130, "De profundis”

Song 18, Psalm 71, Put Me to Confusion

Song 19, Psalm 34; 147, Bablu Called in Tears

Song 20, Psalm 103, Prose & Poem at Jimmy’s

Song 21, Psalm 122, How I Rejoiced!

Song 22, Psalm 109, Saying Yes in The Darkness


Song 23, Psalm 107:24-30, Monsoon should be over!


Introduction

Buddhist Koans or Hebrew Psalms? We Don’t Need to Pick a Fight.

“War crimes by one party to a conflict never justify war crimes by another.”

Years ago I was shocked when I learned that the people who venerate the songs of David and claim to have made a covenant with the only One God showered cluster bombs on Qana in Southern Lebanon where Jesus is said to have performed his first miracle--turning water into wine. The party goers asked Jesus, “Why did you save the best wine for the end?” I ask anyone willing to listen if all the singing and dancing coupled with the veneration of the songs themselves as being inspired actually fostered, or at least reinforced this pernicious view that guns, bombs and self-defense killing are just facts of life. If this is the last word, it’s as bad as the first squibbles.

The Israeli attack was more than 25 years ago. Sadly it was not the last assault on Muslim Palestinians. It continues as steadily as the monks and nuns, Jews, Anglicans and even a sprinkling of Unitarians, chant the psalms.

I'm certainly not trying to pick a fight, nor am I trying to diminish the importance of getting history right, or at least as close to right as we can manage, but don’t tell me how to view the fire power or the chants of David’s armies. Almost 50 years ago a Jesuit friend actually learned Hittite in order to reengineer their war songs and distinguish them from what David’s cohorts used to sing to fortify their spirits before battle. A remarkably Jesuit enterprise. I couldn't tell a Hittite from a Canaanite or remember who won, who was more war-like, who killed more people or took more booty. How are we to know that anyway beyond the propaganda of the victor? Anderson Cooper was not around to report the battles, and David, the religious conqueror, controlled the press release anyway.

Catholic priests say the Holy Office every day following the discipline of cloistered religious men and women. I checked. That obligation is still in effect. They read, contemplate, and pray with these ancient songs. What do they do when they come across horrific barbarism? Turn a blind eye? Explain it away as the result of the passage of time and cultural revolutions? That seems to be the response of most liberal theologians.

My friend the Zen teacher James Ford asked me to suggest a few psalms that I felt were authentic and still spoke to me. He was rereading them with an old Unitarian friend who’d suffered a series of strokes. I made an attempt. Both of us had a hard time with so much of the sentiment expressed we both wanted to take out a thick red pen. But following the Zen adage not to pick or choose, I felt obliged to look at the whole body of work, every stinking bit of it.

Read, contemplate, pray. I accept the challenge. However I want to avoid reading from an impregnable fortress of first principles, though that’s often where the psalmist's language leads me, an ivory tower of impervious prayer. I am even unsure about the performative action of prayer. I will try to read them as poetry. What’s also important for me is trying to ask at least a few good questions. Maybe there’s the possibility of starting to think about subjects near and dear to our hearts--perhaps too near and too dear for ordinary scrutiny--in ways that can crack some of life’s puzzles. But it has to start close to our hearts. Thus poems not commentary. This was the impetus for writing my very personal responses to these ancient and revered songs.

Like a good foot soldier in the struggle of Light versus Darkness, I checked footnotes for lines that interested me, and even referred to several in what I wrote. But stories, especially ones with lots of footnotes, aren't worth much if people don't or can't relate. I will try to stay focused on my life and meditation. I’ve spent a good deal of time deciding if my reader needs to see any footnotes. When it is important to identify who is Hittite, I tried to write that information into the text.

A note about words and language. I read, think, sing and follow an argument in English. I can also read poetry in French with some ease and it feels different. I’ve tried at several points in my life to learn Latin and Spanish, even Greek, but even after eight years, I know that I cannot claim Virgil or Ovid’s vision of the world. Only the most dedicated language aficionados claim that poetry is read through a dictionary. I do not use Hindi or Tibetan much at all, much less fluently, but these languages are the background for my reworking David’s songs. Words come through a filter, and I only claim my own eyes. To acknowledge my limitations, I’ve been as spartan as possible in my choice of English words.

As I read, contemplated and wrote, I was distressed that so many people died. It was not planned. It just happened. I told myself to keep writing. Perhaps dawn would break through the gloom on its own. About death--my life here in a small village in the Himalayan foothills is very different from my life in the West. Healthcare is primitive. People die young and unexpectedly. About war--I live in a community of refugees and exiles near the Indian Pakistani border. We are close to the border between Nepal and Tibet. The possibility of war never disappears. The sting of war is still fresh. I would like to think that my circumstance has opened a window into why these ancient songs have endured. Certainly modern Israelis claim that their life circumstances have allowed them to continue to sing the warlike parts of these songs in a way that David’s armies might have recognized.

They say that Thomas Aquinas towards the end of his life gave up the thread of his theological thinking and turned his hand towards poetry--pretty bad poetry in my view but à chacun son goût . I will close my collection with a riff on Aquinas who, at least in my imagination, faces death with a praise song on his lips.


 
Raise High your Gates O Jerusalem

The First Song, Psalm 24

7/30/22, the beginning date

 

Today I sing of construction and death

Of making and taking away.  

 

I once heard some angels sing 

In plain chant

“O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors.”

I sat behind the screen, not allowed

To see the cloistered nuns’ 

Certainly not their bodies, 

But not even the wimpels

That limited their sight to Him Alone

I could not gaze into their eyes,

And had to content myself with 

A soft song of return to the City of God.

 

This was as close as I was allowed to venture.

 

My carpenter called to say 

My doors would have to wait a day.

The father of one of the workers died last night

And he, a pandit, had to attend to the rituals of death.

.

I love Sushil. 

He works well.

His eye is true.

His lines are straight and plumb.

His doors close and latch.

 

Jerusalem is no more holy than my Indian Jogiwara Village.

The nuns who sang so sweetly believe theirs was the City of God. 

Though I never trusted Augustine, I almost did

When I heard their soft cry to the Lord.

May they sing for Sushil today as he lights the pyre to consume this father’s body.

Raise high your gates, O McLeod Ganj, so that we all can pass through.

 

Sushil and his carpenters will return tomorrow. 

Two solid wooden doors to finish.

 

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

 

Psalm 24 King James Version

The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?

He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.

 

Psalm 24

यह धरती और उस पर की सब वस्तुएँ यहोवा की है। यह जगत और इसके सब व्यक्ति उसी के हैं।
यहोवा ने इस धरती को जल पर रचा है। उसने इसको जल—धारों पर बनाया।
यहोवा के पर्वत पर कौन जा सकता है? कौन यहोवा के पवित्र मन्दिर में खड़ा हो सकता है और आराधना कर सकता है?
ऐसा जन जिसने पाप नहीं किया है, ऐसा जन जिसका मन पवित्र है, ऐसा जन जिसने मेरे नाम का प्रयोग झूठ को सत्य प्रतीत करने में न किया हो, और ऐसा जन जिसने न झूठ बोला और न ही झूठे वचन दिए हैं। बस ऐसे व्यक्ति ही वहाँ आराधना कर सकते हैं।
सज्जन तो चाहते हैं यहोवा सब का भला करे। वे सज्जन परमेश्वर से जो उनका उद्धारक है, नेक चाहते हैं।
वे सज्जन परमेश्वर के अनुसरण का जतन करते हैं। वे याकूब के परमेश्वर के पास सहायता पाने जाते हैं।
फाटकों, अपने सिर ऊँचे करो! सनातन द्वारों, खुल जाओ! प्रतापी राजा भीतर आएगा।
यह प्रतापी राजा कौन है? यहोवा ही वह राजा है, वही सबल सैनिक है, यहोवा ही वह राजा है, वही युद्धनायक है।
फाटकों, अपने सिर ऊँचे करो! सनातन द्वारों, खुल जाओ! प्रतापी राजा भीतर आएगा।
वह प्रतापी राजा कौन है? यहोवा सर्वशक्तिमान ही वह राजा है। वह प्रतापी राजा वही है।

Following the Flock from Palampur to Chamba

The Second Song, Psalm 23


You don’t know jack shit about sheep, herds or shepherds, but, despite this glaring lack, “The Lord is my Shepherd” remains a perennial favorite.

The Gaddi were nomadic until they learned to drive taxis, clean and cook for the Tibetans who landed in their hill station little more than 60 years ago and the Westerners who followed the lamas into the high foothills of the Himalayas, the Dhauladhars.

Here where I live Gaddi men used to graze huge flocks during the winter. Many still do. Before monsoon and after the snow has melted, shepherds set off in search of sweet grass high up where they will stay until the snows force them once again, along with the lemurs and bears, to retreat to the lower plains where they can interfere in the lives of other wanderers.

They and their sheep cross the main road near Palampur, and head across the difficult mountains until they arrive nearly 100 kilometers north in the Chamba Valley--three weeks trekking. Their favored grasslands are near Bharmour where the oldest wooden temple in the world is found. Chaurasi is said to have been built by the descendants of Greek craftsmen who followed Alexander to the ends of the earth, that is until his army revolted and turned back at the nearby Beas River. I saw with my own eyes the traditional Greek grape motif carved above a lintel thousands of kilometers from Macedonia.

This is where I propose to sing about the life of a shepherd, as far removed from the third millennium before the Savior as the psalmist’s song is removed from the Court of King James.

I sing my sad song about a shepherd 

Who drove his sheep

Across the highway near my house 

And headed into the high mountains

In search of sweet grass.

 

Just two days ago

The local newspaper reported

In remote Rajgundha lightning struck.

70 sheep and goats died.

 

It’s monsoon. The ground soaks up the water greedily,

Fog so thick your path disappears.

Our shepherd sought refuge under a tree.

He and his boys lived but they lost their flock

And their livelihood

In a flash.

 

I wonder if their dogs survived.

There is a fund for compensation 

When tragedy strikes like the hand of god

And the shadow of death covers the valley.

 

I don’t have even a faint idea of 

A shepherd’s life 

in the time of David, 

But it wasn’t Little Bo Peep.

 

Psalm 23, King James Version

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Lady Elgin Becomes a Widow

 

Do not fret because of those who are evil

    or be envious of those who do wrong;

for like the grass they will soon wither,

    like green plants they will soon die away. Psalm 37:34 ff 

 

I went looking for a psalm extolling highway robbery. There must be one. This is the way of conquerors, and King David led armies. Lady Elgin sought to honor her husband’s death in a far land behind a modest stone plaque, leaving plaudits in Westminster to his partners in crime. Her husband also led armies.

James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, Governor of Jamaica, Governor General of the Province of Canada, special commissioner to China, and Viceroy of India, died of a heart attack while crossing a rope bridge over the river Chadly in Kullu, 100 kilometers east of where I live. It was on the 20th of November 1863, so post monsoon, but still the river can be wild. I have crossed it myself, though in a car on a concrete bridge. Photographs show a substantial man who should have had enough sense to avoid scary bridges, but duty called.

He was not the man who stole marble sculptures (known as the Elgin Marbles) from the Parthenon in Athens, that was his father, but he did burn the Summer Place in Beijing, and forced the Emperor to cede Hong Kong to the Queen “in perpetuity.”

I cannot find Lord Elgin’s grave, 

though it is said he is buried here.

Saint John of the Wilderness

is modest enough

For a Saint who lost his head.

A simple marble stone behind the church

Hides Lord Elgin’s sins.

He knew

Sins enough for one man

And was ashamed.

 

Did he ask for forgiveness

Or even recognize them 

For what they really were.

Certainly after Gandhi 

Other people began to tally up the loot.

 

The British forged solid reasons for

Conquering kingdoms

Subduing Mohammedans

But really they were just greedy

Bastards.

 

In a land where the dead are burned

Graveyard stones that could be 

In York or Leeds 

Though not elaborate enough for Canterbury or Westminster

Seem out of place.

 

The weeds grow thick in the monsoon rain.

All that I can really see on the stone that his widow

Set in the graveyard are dates.

It is tended because tourists come and ask

If this is the man who stole

Marbles from the Parthenon.

 

He cannot be charged with the sins of his father

Or perhaps he can.

People talk.

 

Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.

Psalm 137 “By the Rivers of Babylon”

Wipe away your tears, then deal with the closing line.

Wipe away your tears

You survived

Rejoice

You can still taste salt 

In your tea

 

You’re not captive

Yet you cry 

Poor fools

 

Today the rivers swell 

And wipe away whole villages

You remember Lhasa

And weep again

 

Death has that effect

You saved your mother

But other mothers left behind

Died

 

A few still trickle across

Mount Meru

Camps built for thousands

Receive one or two

 

No more god-throne

Hoping that freedom 

Might birth democracy 

Instead a new president 

Gets drunk

And rips up the work of 

Generations 

 

Still we chant Tibet

In hushed tones

It has come to symbolize

Enlightenment of a Buddha

 

We use his name

To call ourselves home

We no longer rejoice

When little ones are dashed 

Against the stones of Babylon

 

If only for that

It is enough

 

 

King James Version

 

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

This one you can sing. Thank you Bob Marley. It’s fun.

 

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down

Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down

Yeah, we wept, when we remembered Zion

 

There the wicked

Carried us away in captivity

Required from us a song

Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

 

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart

Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight

Let the words of our mouth and the meditation of our hearts

Be acceptable in thy sight here tonight

 

By the rivers of Babylon (dark tears of Babylon)

There we sat down (you got to sing a song)

Yeah, we wept (sing a song of love)

When we remembered Zion (yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)

 

By the rivers of Babylon (rough bits of Babylon)

There we sat down (you hear the people cry)

Yeah, we wept (they need their God)

When we remembered Zion (ooh, have the power)

 

By the rivers of Babylon (oh yeah yeah), there we sat down (yeah, yeah)


Psalm 90 going on 18


The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Psalm, 90

The Psalms have nothing

Good to say

About Old Age and Death

Few religions do.

It’s their last chance to convert

The Libertine. 

Fear mongering fanatics were numbered

Among the psalmists.

 

Legend says this writer was David, 

Who died at four score minus 10.

Being generous

And at the outside of his limits

I might have another 2 good years

Before I fly away.

 

I grow old

But damn it

At 78

I’m 18

I don’t move as fast

Or go as far

But my shorter step

And slower pace

Suit me well.

 

At 22

Elliot was full of himself

Moaning about old age.

Couldn’t he get hard?

Fantasyland.

I won't

Roll up my trousers

And go chasing mermaids.

I promise.

 

 

From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

T.S. Elliot

 

“I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

 

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

 

There’s a Boulder in the Road. Is this the hand of god?

No one had come to work

By noon.

Even at the snail’s pace 

Of mountain life

This was unusual.

Shivam hiked down the slope 

to Sushil’s shop. 

Legs sturdy enough for the adventure

He texted, complete with click  

A massive boulder slid 

Onto our narrow slip of road.

Paths up and down 

Both blocked. 

A car tumbled down the steep ravine,

Trapping a Tibetan family in mud.

The rain had not stopped after it had done its damage.

It was cold and wet.

This was the situation.

 

I turned and tried to pray--

The situation seemed to demand some response.

The psalmist sees a blocked road

As about lying, law, judgment

And fear.

Throw in some revelation.

The expected response.

Certainly I am not startled by any surprise

Or innovation.

He loves his roadmap to 

The High and Dry.

 

My path allows me to

Simply put one foot

After the other

Perhaps forced to stop

While resourceful Indian men

Dig a Tibetan family out of the mud.

Not the first time we can thank Indians 

In a time of need.

 

Call it anything you like.

The mother was frightened

And grateful when they were 

Able to pry open the car door.

I am grateful.

In the mountain way

We will just drive around the boulder

Until something changes again.

It always does.

 

Psalm 119:29-39, The Message Bible

Barricade the road that goes Nowhere; grace me with your clear revelation.

I choose the true road to Somewhere, I post your road signs at every curve and corner.

I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me; God, don't let me down!

I'll run the course you lay out for me if you'll just show me how.

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.

Give me insight so I can do what you tell me - my whole life one long, obedient response.

Guide me down the road of your commandments; I love traveling this freeway!

Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot.

Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets, invigorate me on the pilgrim way.

Affirm your promises to me - promises made to all who fear you.

Deflect the harsh words of my critics - but what you say is always so good.

A Snake and a woman. This short story has a happy ending.

Reshma Didi told me that she discovered a snake in her kitchen this morning

Before the sun rose.

It was more than a meter long.

Scared and startled in equal parts, she knew it carried no venom.

Still waking to a snake eating carrots in the food locker is unsettling.

She coaxed it into a bag and released it in the forest 

Far from the house.

 

Our story of the a blessed garden invaded by a snake

Metaphysical question, predictable answer equals eternal condemnation.

Lying and subterfuge

Condemn us to listen this devil story forever

We believe.

 

There is a small snake temple in Bhagsunag.

The captive serpent is fat and lazy

Plus Baba has defanged him so that

There is no real danger to his devotees.

 

I have not witnessed the charming, but I think that 

It is not deaf to priestly incantations. 

 

This Song of David and the damn snake may not make the world an evil place

But there is little room for making them into

Family pets. That’s universal.

 

Go release your snakes in the forest as far from the kitchen as you can.

Be careful. Change the course of Western civilization.

 

God Judges the Earth, Psalm 58 King James Version

 


{To the chief Musician, Altaschith, Michtam of David.} Do ye indeed speak righteousness, O congregation? do ye judge uprightly, O ye sons of men?
Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.
The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;
Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.
Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O LORD.
Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.
The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth.


On Being Mauled by a bear

Last winter

The bears came down

Below the snow line.

They were hungry.

Word got out that they were four, 

One with cubs.

 

What went through these women’s minds 

when the bear lunged at their face.

They also had a right to go about their business.

I wonder. 

Astonished.

I ask myself if I would be brave.

 

One who lived is a friend of my cook’s wife.

She was up at the well early

To pump water for the day.

She claimed to have put up a fight.

The village was proud.

The strong survival reflex of these mountains.

 

The Tibetan woman on the kora was not so lucky.

The Dalai Lama should have sent a representative to her cremation.

Her holy work was his.

 

The bears are back up in the mountains where they should be

Now we just contend with rain and flooding.


Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.

The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.

The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.

Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening..Psalm 104: 20-23

Thy word is like a heat seeking missile

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” 

Psalm 119:105 

 

Are words paintbrushes or missiles?

In the hands of a poet, scientist, warlord or propagandist

The same word can kill or be a lullaby.

 

Take the word love, 

Misuse it at your peril. 

Count bodies on the battlefield

Myriads

 

Thy words

 

Hold words with care

Knowing that they can be weapons

Knowing that they will be weapons

When you cross swords

As you will 

It's certain

 

Cradle words 

That will fly 

Into the heart of someone

You love

Sing them

 

Croon words

Into a baby’s ear

With your own voice

Don’t wait for angels

 

Chant words

With your own breath while you can

At least one word one breath

It will cease

 

Ponder words 

Even in a nasty wrapping

 

Leave words alone 

To do their own work

Without you

 

Rip up words that 

Prop open a door

Onto some landscape

That needs to fade away

 

Erase words

Spoken in anger

Or remember them 

Until they lose their sting

 

Check words

That have many translations

Which may very slightly

Or even a lot

Even for you

 

Be generous.

 

 

The Highway to Zion washed away last night

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”

Psalm 84:5

 

There are two roads to my house,

But only one that people take.

In 12 years I’ve taken

The road that loops through the army base

On the other side of the ridge, 

12 times.

 

I don’t even think about the road

That winds straight up the hill.

It’s just there.

 

Then it wasn’t.

 

I woke up yesterday when Parveen called me to say that it had washed down the hill

All of it. 

No more buses with kids coming back from school

No more taxis packing weekenders from the bus station

No trips to bank & grocery 

For a few Western items

 

We wonder how long before it will

Be repaired. Rebuilt actually.

A tall retaining wall 

To support the weight of concrete against the 

Steep ravine.

 

My Tibetan painter friend Tenrab says

Two months.

His Holiness rides the road 

He is old and can’t die while they wait 

For the concrete forms to set 

And dry

It is the Road to Zion.

 

He might die. He knows he will..

 

I say six months

Even working through the cold of winter.

Even for the Road to Zion.

 

It was there. 

Now it’s not.

 

 

Hath God forgotten to be gracious?

Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good? Will he never smile again? Is his love worn threadbare? Has his salvation promise burned out? Has God forgotten his manners? Has he angrily stomped off and left us? “Just my luck,” I said. “The High God retires just the moment I need him.” Psalms 77:7-10 The Message (MSG)

Sonam Rinchen sprinkled

Stories of his flight into exile

When he lectured on Shantideva

Freedom is freedom.

 

Geshe-la told us about his extreme acrophobia 

Hanging from the cliffs as they crossed the Himalayas.

Knowing that the Chinese were close behind

They had to keep going.

 

He closed his eyes 

And with his fingers

Felt for the stone

Beyond the bridge.

 

He said matter of factly

After long months in Tenzingang 

Several Tibetans took their own lives

Tibetans never commit suicide

But they did.

 

“The High God retires just the moment I need him.”

It makes no difference that your mother or your lama has

Taught you to smile and be gracious

The favor is not necessarily returned.

 

Ruth didn't want to translate fire and brimstone stories

Geshe-la insisted

He’d tread a treacherous mountain path

To the camp in Assam

He felt competent to talk about hell

He’d tasted freedom.

Give up all hope until you can't! 

Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. King James Version


Give up all hope. 

Then you can't!


They sang this song

While they carted her body through the streets of London


Not a hill in sight.

In reality not one foot was moved.


Shade, smite, preserve

Persevere.


Not today, not the moon

There is no safety.


At least in coming and going

We have common ground. 

An Exegesis on the Blackness of the Night

 

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me

    and the light become night around me,”

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

    the night will shine like the day,

    for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139: 11-12)

 

I grew up in the country

But even in rural Connecticut

There were lampposts

Every hundred yards.

 

They kept us safe from 

Hidden dangers.

Perhaps a wandering cow

Or a drunken suburban dad struggling to find his door.

 

There’s always something to hide

And something to be redeemed

Protect the stray dog.

 

Here in Jogiwara

Night is night

Black is black.

 

Our very dark sky is just black

Sometimes the moon appears clean and fresh

Sometimes it’s hidden behind clouds. 

 

When we need to light the rocky path

We carry a big flashlight 

And hope that the batteries are charged.

 

Was it was easier before the miracle of 

Electric power?

 

My Aunt Judy loved her job at United Illuminating.

She said the hardest task ever

Was when she rang the doorbell at dusk

To tell his family that their son, brother, husband

Had died touching a hot wire that

Dangled on the country road.

 

There was no hiding.


O Captain, my Captain

 

On the occasion of the Long Life Puja offered by the Indian disciples of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, September 7th 2022

Psalm 56:8

 

Alex loves Tibet like Whitman loved the Union.

Close to adoration

The practice came at just the right moment.

It usually does.

 

O Captain, my Captain

Is a man who lives in a nearby house

And loves his dogs.

 

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

 

It’s a tenuous journey

“You have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling.”

The Psalmist has put his left foot first.

 

If at the end of the Path you step into a life

Other than the one you have,

That mistake seems inevitable.

 

Indra’s Net of Jewels Catches a Spider

 

“who commanded, or prepared a spider, to perfect in the mouth of the cave a web for me;'' Targum commentary of Psalm 57*

Indra’s net of jewels catches a spider

What shape is this?

A vast multi cornered trapezoid

Depends entirely on whim

Or a design we cannot fathom.

 

Buddhists with their ineluctable cause and effect

Want to have one step follow another

Like the Gelugpa monk chasing down the cause

To trap an imaginary opponent into adhering to the Way.

 

The spider’s web is just a catcher. 

Indra’s jewels, nestled in the junctures

Signal being

Gracefully caught in the fullness of life.

 

David’s Master of Song

Plays a cat and mouse tune,

Allusion and deception

Coupled with G_d’s grace to save the day.

 

Traps for heady Jews

Who try to sit quietly and contemplate

The tight web artfully strung between the rocks.

 

This song does require a few notes:

*The rabbins tell a curious and instructive tale concerning this: "God sent a spider to weave her web at the mouth of the cave in which David and his men lay hid. When Saul saw the spider's web over the cave's mouth, he very naturally conjectured that it could neither be the haunt of men nor wild beasts; and therefore went in with confidence to repose."

The Targum curiously paraphrases this clause: [from Psalm 57 v2] "Who ordered the spider that wrought the web, on my account, at the mouth of the cave;" applying a later historical fact, which, however, may have had its prototype


Dredging up Buddha from the Yangtze


The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands.

They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see.

They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.

Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 135:15-18

 

A seated monk emerged covered in mud

Not silver and gold

 

Fourth or fifth century

Old, but not dusted off from Deer Park.

 

His appearance seems like an oracle

Or the answer to the question posed to the Ouija board.

 

Tinkering with water and deserts

The reservoir was made by human toil.

 

David’s Master of Song sounds like 

A Buddhist sage: “mouths that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see,

Ears that cannot hear. 

 

But is he right or wrong 

About no breath in their months?

 

Yes the Statue is very dead,

But the Psalmist wished it weren’t so.

 

He loves the living God.

 

The only part I really like is that the Buddha was covered in mud.

But my liking is liking that does not like.


Notes:
The recent drought has revealed a trio of Buddhist statues on it that are believed to be 600 years old, state media Xinhua has reported. Three Gorges Dam is 578 km from Chongqing, more than a 6 hour drive. 181 m (594 ft) high, holding back thousands of liters of water of the Yangtze. It is an engineering feat. It also displaced at least 1.3 million people and destroyed natural features as well as countless rare architectural and archaeological sites. The dam’s reservoir is blamed for an increase in the number of landslides and earthquakes in the region.


And At Evening, Let Them Return


They return at evening: they make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city.
Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear? Psalm 59: 6-7

Is Right speech easy or smooth?

Next door they complain about the howling dog.

Hari’s daughter ties her up during the day.


Other neighbors complain. 

It is tough to hear.

Dogs are pack animals.


Early this morning Baba

Paraded through the village to 

A cacophonous drum beat.


He and his friends were

Carrying Durga Mata

On their shoulders.


Blessing rounds and begging rounds.

All the dogs bark, not at all in unison.

Difficult for words to match a tune. Always.


It grows dark now and barking has died out.

However, it’s wedding season

And the loud heavy beats drift up from the lower village.


"De profundis”

Psalm 130


This “song of ascents” is usually sung at funerals.


They say it was instantaneous

No one ever says exactly how he died.

It happened just about the same time 

As we were driving home from dinner.


They also say that his cousin who drove the two-wheeler was drunk.

That boy lay for days unconscious in the hospital.

No one knows the truth. No one ever will.

No one will blame him openly. That is just not done.


Rumors in our small community

As ordinary as death and being late for work.

Our driver was also high. We left him in the driver’s hut while we ate.

It was festival time.


Together with my friend Kumar, 

I head to the village to attend

The rituals of death.

They are not foreign at all, 

Though the trappings are. 

He died on Friday

It was Holy Week. 


Just to be there is enough.

It has to be.

Forget religion.

It is all we can do.


In a darkened room, the women sit with his mother.

They hardly move. No one speaks. No one can. 

I know trauma. I watch with my heart.

I bow towards the shrine in a dark corner

With his picture, some flowers.

He was just a teenager.

I turn and bow to his father,


He is the brother and uncle of several of the men 

Who do work for me.

I am connected.

Tears came to my eyes. 


Of course mercy, of course forgiveness,

But you, songster, get closest to the truth 

When you pray the difficult prayer for hope.

Hope is difficult.


My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, 

More than watchmen wait for the morning.


Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.


Put Me to Confusion

"Let me never be put to confusion".


“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion. . . . .Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.”
Psalm 71


I will sing a contrary song:

Put me to confusion,

Even my old grayhead,

Go ahead, do it.


Or I will sow a seed of doubt myself.

Relying on the stability of 

An uncertain stance.

Is far too comfortable

Even given my age 

And lack of balance,

Doubt is just more honest.

Even though I might fall.


Let’s look at a few of the points

Pushed by your songster.

You did not take me out of my mother’s “bowels.”

Pure folly.

I prefer Dr. Spock although my mother was not a fan.

She was always searching for

For the traces of 

Some invisible guiding hand

Which always remained beyond her grasp.

His name was Doctor Mack.


You didn’t teach me from my youth.

The Jesuits did that, and

Though they like to think of themselves

As the agents of the Most High,

They rely too much on Ovid and Cicero

To claim pure Yahweh lineage. 


Of course you abandon the old and frail.

If you didn’t there’d be no complaint.

Don’t feed me that tired old line about

Self-reliance when all resources

Are depleted.

Unless you are really Ayn Rand in drag.


A professor of leave-things-alone

Is rampaging in the living room, leaving a mess.

I will look for evidence of course

But most times it is not even 

Necessary, is it?

You said it and believe 

So it is suspect.


I will only listen to the professor of leave-things-as-they-is.


Who am I to show your power?

You can and should do your job

If you even can.

I will not do it for you.

I will not apologize.


Bablu Called in Tears


Psalm 34:18. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 147:3, He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Bablu called

in tears.

I could see tears.

in his voice.

I could feel raw pain 

If he were as near  

as the palm of my hand.

I would have 

Tried to hold him

His mother died 

in the night.


Who can bind up his heart?

Father killed, 

Perhaps murdered.

Now his mother is also gone.

He brought tea in the morning

To her lifeless body.


She had complained of sharp pain.

Her left shoulder had gone numb.

They took her to the

Ayurvedic doctor.

She would not go to the hospital.

Now her boys and her grandchildren

Have a hole in their hearts.


Pain and suffering

Are not democratic.

Not everyone gets to vote.


Prose & Poem at Jimmy’s

The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

Psalm 103: 15-16


The time and place for different kinds of speaking and singing

It was mid-afternoon when Tara & I started uphill towards Jimmy’s up more steep stairs to the second floor efforts just to be there. More for four poet-activists, exiles and immigrants, reading Tibetan and English side by side. In India English always for subtitles. Could almost be mistaken as native Americans forced onto reservations or indigenous peoples of South corralled into reductiones by my Jesuits. Viewing like a Daguerreotype Dominant culture invades, steals land and resources. The extermination begins. I want to cry.

Tibetans have the upperhand capturing world attention through the charism of their Dalai Lama. Rigorous Buddhism written and practiced for centuries is perhaps more sophisticated than "Black Elk Speaks," but the soft sounds of the Tibetan language; one young woman read as moving as Buffy Saint Marie. Just sounds. A man whose poem "Just Shut Up" lyrical, spiritual, fiery. Our Tibetan Bob Dylan sang a song he wrote, and then sang another with a man who’d never performed in public before.

These gentle people’s fate still and always precarious. Spoke with several afterwards but kept my mouth shut about death and dying. They are aware of peril, but there is a time and place for different kinds of speaking.


You are not the first

Nor will you be the last proud culture 

Devoured by a conquering army.

You know it.

The wounds smart.

No sauve of time 

To gently erode hard memories

No fading into myth

Not yet

Though that process has begun.

Humankind survives.

At least for now.

Sing like there’s no tomorrow.



How I rejoiced when I heard we were going to go to the house of the Lord


Line Up


Determined to hear 

True Teaching. 

I’d come all this way.


Firstly I go to the Security Office

On the Road to Bhagsunag. 

About 60 foreigners at the door.

Though orderly

I take a number and wait.

They check my passport, 

Run it through the computer--

Pass.

Copied in triplicate

I get the badge of salvation

Or at least an entrance pass.

There’s a service charge.

Line One.


I push my way through the crowd

Down Temple Road

Everyone rushes.

He always starts on time.

Jammed up at the Temple Gate

People crush and shove.

The entrance to Heaven is

Nameless and rude.

It’s India.

The turnstile admits one by one

Forcing order.

Line Two can finally be called a line.


I rent a transistor radio

With earphones

Simultaneous translation, 

Mother tongue,

Hindi and Chinese as well

Will the batteries last?

Always questions.

Will I even understand the questions?

Another queue. 

More rupees

For charity this time.

Waiting for my change to be counted

Line Three. 


We slow to single file

For the metal detector

And pat down.

Pockets out.

Men to one side. Women behind.

Monks, nuns, no exceptions.

No smiling.

So close to intimacy 

It becomes impersonal.

Line Four takes time.


I search the lawn for a spot to sit

Among Tibetan families 

Spread out on blankets.

Kids play with cricket cards of 

Muslim players

No line of demarcation here

But the monks higher up sit in

Neat color coded rows

In strange orange hats.

Feathered mohawks in my mind.

We wait for their chanting to end.

Boredom joins

Line Five.


The steps up the throne are few

But steep.

Other hands lift and guide.

That’s universal.

It seems treacherous

The wonder of falling down.

Behind the constant appeal for prayer,

Fear is universal.

It’s a textual analysis

Only slightly dumbed down

To include spousal bedroom fights

Like an Irish pastor

Not missing a chance 

To hit the heart of the matter..

Line Six is a convoluted argument.


Salty Butter Tea

Must be an acquired taste.

Monks fill our cups

I know this is not

Something I can refuse

Even though my gut reaction is 

To spit it out.

It tastes like piss.

I sit and wait to hold up my cup

For just enough to 

Satisfy the bare minimum to be polite.

The boy monk doesn’t care 

What I want.

It’s not personal. He’s just sloppy.

Line Seven spills over.


Stomachs growl, 

It’s also his lunch time

No tiffins for convenience.

Uniformed guards from the

Indian Army come to attention

And present arms.

The admonition about arguing

In the bedroom requires

The presence of automatic weapons 

And live ammunition.

India under threat from the PRC,

That is a dangerous route.

They guide his way to the lower level.

Line Eight is armed and lethal.


Why an SUV to drive 

20 meters to his door?

No crush of crowd.

A smile and a wave

Satisfy the superstitious ritual

To greet and bless.

His stomach must be growling.

Line Nine says it’s over.


We stand up to leave.

The work of religion is done.

The final Line is a prayer

To be delivered from it all.


Today is the end of religion's work--

Go back, all of you, to your homes.

I leave before you,

Eastward or westward,

Wherever the wind might carry me.

--Tōsui Unkei



Psalm 122, King James Version

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.

Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:

Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.

For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.

Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.

For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.

Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.


Saying Yes in the Darkness


I searched online for a reference 

Psalms saying “Yes” 

I found a course for 17.99 USD

That promised Yes to G_d

In seven weeks

Using a formula

Magic costs

I said No.


Saying Yes in the Darkness

Involves saying

Yes to the dark gods

In no particular order

Yes to murder and assassination

Yes to vengeance

Yes to bankruptcy

Yes to making an enemy’s innocent wife a widow

Yes to leaving his children homeless

Yes to condemning them to being denied compassion

The rotten sons of bitches 

Leave no stone unturned.


I was worried that my songs

Have been too much about all the death

Around us in our small village

But that is saying Yes

Yes, saying yes in the darkness.


We don’t need armies to do the killing

Life exacts a toll before we can even take out our weapons.

We don’t need to hear G_d’s voice

To know whether we’re right or wrong.


Shaken, thin and wounded

I know who is poor and needy.

It is me.

You, O G_d, don’t need to say a word.


I will say

Yes to lovers

Yes to arguments

Yes to cancer

Yes to heart attacks

Yes to dementia

Yes to being attacked

Yes to dying while young

Yes to my own dying

Yes to love.

 

For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

I fade away like an evening shadow; I am shaken off like a locust.

My knees give way from fasting; my body is thin and gaunt.

I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they shake their heads.

Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.

Let them know that it is your hand, that you, Lord, have done it.

Psalm 109: 22-27


Monsoon should be over!

From Psalm 107:24-30



These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Before forever,

Before the TV weather man or woman,

We relied on the pslamster to tell us 

What was afoot with the sky god.


Staggering like a drunk,

He made up in poetry 

What he lacked in science.

He also pretended. Poor us. 


But we cannot blame the Psalmster

Or a Weather personality.

We are not reliable soothsayers.

All of us none of us.


Yesterday was half September,

Every reliable baba

From my cleaning lady to Harsh the taxi driver

Said that the sun would shine


They were wrong.


The stormy wind and rain continue to

Drain the spending power of the rupee.

The Hinduvata tries to calm the storm

But their gods prove powerless,


But continue to demand allegiance.

More.

That the spell has not succeeded is never the fault of the gods

But we the people who pray and pay were not good enough.


Our impossible task.


There is no port or haven.

There is no calm, at least not yet

And it will not last.

We are unmoored. 


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