Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Time and Its Passing," a Ten-Part Prose Poem: Parts One and Two

Welcome to my Poetry Page...and thanks for visiting.


It's taken me 61 years to squirm up and out of the 19th and 20th Centuries, and here I am with my own blog (God, how self-serving that sounds...ouch). The idea was suggested to me by my very good friends at the Meher Baba Lovers of Tampa Bay, who said that having a personal blog would be an excellent forum to post my way-too-long (174 pages...whew!), ten-part prose poem, "Time and Its Passing."

I'll try to be brief (yeah, Mick, you do that)...

The poem is in free verse. Each of the ten parts, however, are interspersed with short "Time Rhymes." (Parts One and Two follow.)

"Time and Its Passing" is essentially a meditation on that inexplicable and endlessly fascinating dimension: time: its irrevocability and impregnability, its seeming ruthlessness and cruelty, and conversely its majesty and mercy, poignancy and pathos.

It is also about the journey of the soul, imagined through the creation of fictional characters' experiences, throughout innumerable lifetimes, from a kind of ignorant darkness to a kind of knowing light. If it was a musical composition, it could be called a "tone poem," or, as I see it, a kind of novel in free verse.

As most of you who know me, or read/heard me read this work aloud, the poem was inspired by the life and work of Avatar Meher Baba. It also springs from a life-long obsession with time, the ultimate captivator or all audiences, willing and unwilling. But God, or the Oversoul, as Emerson liked to term the Deity, is timeless, and in His personal manifestations throughout history, continually holds out to suffering and time-weary humanity the timeless touch of His love and transfigurative compassion, which ultimately, and thankfully everlastingly, frees us from time once and for all time.

A quick (and this time I mean it), a word of thanks to Pam Rubenstein and the great group of folks in the Tampa Bay group, without whose weekly encouragement over a very long year of readings over phone and webcam, this fifteen-year-work-in-progress would definitely NOT have progressed to its completion.

Below are Parts One and Two of "Time and Its Passing," preceded by some wonderfully apt quotations from Meher Baba, each of which is duly referenced; the references appear at the end of the poem. I'll be posting succeeding stanzas in a few days.

Thanks, whoever you are and whatever you may be doing at this particular moment in time, for taking the time to read this work. It goes (corny as the saying is, but true nonetheless), from my heart to yours.


From the words of Avatar Meher Baba:

"The drama of the continued life of the individual soul has many acts.
From the standpoint of the worldly existence of the soul, a curtain may be said
to be drawn over its life after the closing of each act.
But no act yields its real significance if it is regarded as complete in itself.
It has to be viewed from its wider context as being a link between the acts
already performed and the acts still to come.
Its meaning is entwined with the theme of the whole drama of which
it is a part.
The end of the act is not the end of the progressive theme.
The actors disappear from the stage of earth only to reappear again in new
capacities and new contexts.
The actors are so engrossed in their respective roles that they treat them
as the be-all and end-all of all existence.
For the major part of their continued lives (running into innumerable
incarnations), they are unconscious of the closely guarded truth --
that the Author of the drama, in His imaginative production,
Himself became all the actors and played the game of hide and seek
in order to come into full and conscious possession of His own creative
Infinity has to go through the illusion of finitehood to know itself
as infinity; and the Author has to play the parts of all the actors to know
Himself as the Author of this greatest detective story, worked out through
the cycles of creation."1

"We thus have God, as infinite Love, first limiting Himself in the forms
of creation and then recovering His infinity through the different stages
of creation.
All the stages of God's experience of being a finite lover ultimately culminate
in His experiencing Himself as the sole Beloved.
The sojourn of the soul is a thrilling divine romance in which the lover
who in the beginning is conscious of nothing but emptiness, frustration,
superficiality, and the gnawing chains of bondage gradually attains
an increasingly fuller and freer expression of love,
and ultimately disappears and merges in the divine Beloved
to realize the unity of the lover and the Beloved in the supreme and eternal
fact of God as infinite Love."2

"By divine law you are shielded from remembrance of past lives, for it would
not help you in living your present life but would make it infinitely more
complicated and confusing."3

"You are first a child.
Then you grow old and drop the body, but you never die and never were born.
In the East, Vedantists believe in reincarnation, and in a number of births
and deaths until one attains Godhood.
The Muslims believe in one birth only and one death only.
The Christians and the Zoroastrians hold the same belief.
All are right.
But Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster, all meant what I mean by real birth
and real death.
I say you are born once and die once.
All the so-called births and deaths are only sleeps and wakings.
The difference between sleep and death is that after you sleep you awake
and find yourself in the same body; but after death you awake in a different body.
You never die.
Only the blessed ones die and become one with God."4

"The wheel of births and deaths ceaselessly turns.
You are born as a male, as a female; rich, poor; brilliant, dull; healthy, weak;
black, white; of different nationalities and of different creeds,
in accordance with your inherent and imperative need to have all that
richness of experience which helps transcend all forms of duality.
Side by side with the experience, the paying and receiving of karmic debts
go on ad infinitum.
How can you clear the account?
The Avatar, or Sadguru, having universal Mind, literally embodies
universal life.
It is through Him that you become free from this business of karma.
The life of everything and everyone is an open book to me.
It is like a film show that I enjoy at my own cost.
I am the sole Producer of this ever-changing and never-ending film
called the universe, wherein I become you in your awake dream state
in order to awaken you to the Real Awake State.
When you experience this state you will realize the nothingness
of what was your awake dream state which you experience now.
This needs my Grace.
When my Grace descends it makes you Me."5

"When the goal of life is attained one achieves:
the reparation of all wrongs.
the healing of all wounds,
the righting of all failures,
the sweetening of all sufferings,
the relaxation of all strivings,
the harmonizing of all strife,
the unraveling of all enigmas,
and the real and full meaning of all life --
past, present and future."6

"I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever
love yourself."7

Parts One and Two
Long Time, Brief Time

Long time, dark time, thick with sunlight and stars and a thousand dreamings
flows on, its tide of remembrances and ebb of forgetfulness washing away
the footprints of each just-passed lifetime, leaving no footprints behind.
Long time, dark and wide and deep sings its quiet music in the hidden recesses
of the heart, sings its one long note of infinite forever singing
whose beginning was before all things were and whose end will be
after all things have passed away.
Long time and its brief music singing softly but clearly of grief and lost love,
of hopes unhoped by trials and disillusion, of tendernesses hardened,
of kindnesses rejected,
of the long dull ache of an empty life lived for no one, uncluttered
and unrevealed,
of songs unsung and words unspoken,
of bigness in little things and littleness in big things.
Long time of long ago, remembered at the oddest moments:
a sudden memory of rooms long ago vacated, the echoes of doors closing
and laughter behind walls, the ends of sentences lost in tears or rage,
of music played on a summer night long, long ago,
of hands held and fingers intertwined and perfume rising from a strong
and shapely neck,
of starshine and moonplay and cloudbursts and showers of comets
that surprised the sky with its brightness, now faded, fading, so dimly felt,
far faint echoes heard just barely above the noise of living, as in a dream.
Long time and the vaulting arch of memory:
of a waltz played on a Viennese balcony on New Year's Eve at the turn
of the century, the fireworks bursting in your heart,
of coming home from a war broken but not whole and almost fainting
in the embrace of your wife, her hair still smelling of roses.
Long time and the crushing weight of remembrance:
of the lie you told simply by keeping silence,
of the truth you told that ruined a reputation and a life,
of promises made but never kept,
of transgressions avenged instead of forgiven,
of help withheld and pity too,
of mea culpas murmured on weakened knees in a dank and empty church,
of too many sins that even long time in all its width and depth can never
fully erase.
Long time and the long reach of retribution:
every action having its consequences, each thought and word and deed
either credited or debited, but payment somehow exacted, sooner or later.

Which one of us does not hear time singing in our hearts?
Which one of us does not feel the pull and tug of the tide of memory?
And which one of us is strong enough to resist it, or would resist it if we could?
Long time dark in its flowing and terrible in its pull, our chests aching
with remembrance.
Long time wide and dark and kind, a huge shadowing hand that wipes away
pain and joy and singing and laughter too and the thronging memories
of a thousand lifetimes, washing each one away but leaving the shore clean
and unmarked for the next one.
Long time and the still sad music, each life a single unbroken note in the long wide symphony of time, its strains coming resoundingly to life in the
crowded moments of a day's hour or minute.
This crowded hour, this teeming hour, filled with hurrahs and huzzahs! so soon
fading, fading, limp sounds in a slowly closing ear.

Thus do we fade from our scenes, like poor actors from their lines,
the stage growing slowly dark, the seats empty, the curtain coming down;
yet behind the wings a brand new play is being rehearsed,
with new lines to be spoken, new parts to be played, and new lessons learnt.

And in one moment a whole life may change, be unhinged from its past:
a word, a phrase, a message delivered with a hammer stroke or a kiss,
or a sudden collision with an idea heavier and weightier than thought itself,
a collision whose course's end had its beginning at the very beginning of time.

The country of remembrance is a little one; its season short; we pass through it,
We sleepers wake in the folded arms of sleep, wake in a cool shaded nursery
where the soft gray light of a rainy afternoon late in August is stealing
in between the blinds, the drone and whir of an electric fan
pulsing the warm, moist air.
We wake on a bed of beast-fragrant straw spread over a cow dung floor,
the air thick with wood smoke and ghee;
wake in swaddling clothes coarse and homespun or in clothes soft
and finely embroidered by hands untouched by sunlight,
hands groomed from birth to tirelessly tend the ceaseless looms of the rich.

And dying.
Passing away on palanquins or in an elegantly carved four-poster bed whose
ancient canopy has itself witnessed births, deaths and couplings
that would produce new births and deaths;
passing away in the arms of lovers and friends, husbands and wives,
on battlefields and playing fields, in darkness and in light,
in the iron-webbed machinery of ships and planes,
under trees and stars and under ground,
in every imaginable pose and position, most of them embarrassing;
dying and sleeping again and waking again, as woman and man,
as villain and hero, as saint and sinner, as rich and poor,
as famous and unknown, short and tall, fit and lame, whole and divided,
pampered and abused, alone and never alone, drowning in a sea of siblings.
Coming and going, coming and going, endlessly tired of the game
but endlessly coming back for more and more and still yet more,
each new play dissolving into the next,
plays whose entrances and exits are endless, each act ringing with fresh hellos and goodbyes, with promises pledged and apologies screamed,
with pleas for forgiveness uttered in the last seconds of a last desperate hour.
And each lifetime the set changes: now a house deep with rooms,
now a hut or hovel through whose gaping spaces the winds
of every season blow, now a dweller in a concrete box
rising thousands of feet into the air.

Long time and the starless dreams of a thousand between-life sleeps.
Sleep me now my tired soul, sleep me now a dreamless sleep but fill it with ships
and stars and a swaying mast;
sleep me now a sleep to last a thousand years, and do not let me wake again,
at least not too soon.
But all too soon is untroubled sleep awakened to the dream of a new life,
the echo of the last one fading in an infant's ear.
Long time, kind time that wipes the slate clean each time, that smoothes
the sad wrinkles and sagging flesh of age into the taut pink flesh
of the newly born.
And so we fall out of one lifetime and into another, as easy as falling asleep,
as easy as waking, as easy as time passing.

Now dive deep into the well of memory, old one, plunder its vault,
excavate its ruins, blow away the settled dust of centuries with the breath
of your desire, that breath that breathes out on one life and breathes
in on another,
the white haired chest collapsing on its last breath,
the hairless infant's chest swelling up with its first breath,
but all one great breathing, one long breath forever breathing out on the old
and breathing in on the new, held and suspended during that interval
between systole and diastole,
between one birth and the next,
a pair of old eyes closing on a completed life and opening upon a new one.
And the breath of your desire bore you up through the kingdoms of vegetable
and worm and fish and bird and animal until eons passed and your breath sang
in a human cage, mingling its song with other songs, and each song was unique:
some louder or more dissonant than others, some soft simple melodies
that a child could remember easily, some staccato breathed,
others simply sung screams, all colliding with one another in a lunatic symphony lead by no conductor and no one is listening except to his or her own little song.

But once every seven hundred-to-fourteen-hundred years or so
comes One whose singing is unlike any other, whose singing
once sang the stars into existence and whose song is so powerful and so beautiful
that we forget for a moment or so our own singing and listen to this singing,
its melody so simple yet so seductive, heard so deeply it echoes within
the chambers of our hearts.
And suddenly our mouths stop talking and our hands stop working
and our heads turn ever so slightly to one side and we ask,
Where have I heard this melody before?
Somewhere, somewhere, a long time ago.
And then it's lost and we go back to working and busyness.
How easily this symphony is drowned out by the single insistent clamoring note
of ourselves.
Yet when that note joins with that singing there is such chording as would make
a thousand pianos seem as insubstantial as ice cream sticks in the damp
and wayward fingers of children.

This aching melody, heard and forgotten a thousand times over, is playing
even now in chords of ancient sunlight, a coda sung for stars.
Because we are as children who hunger for our parents’ call, this melody
is once again entombed in flesh and blood and bone to sing as breath and sighs
and that most lovely instrument, the human voice.
Yet this time the singing was silent, and this silent singing proved to be
the most beautiful of all, for its music could only be heard deep within
the human heart.
A time remembered, only a moment's time, less than a second, really,
but enough to make our ears perk up and turn toward the direction
of the music's coming.
A silent music this time.
A silent, unforgettable singing.

I am the great Rememberer and Forgetter.
In one life I slay you in childhood, in another I grow you into an old man;
in both, before the beginning of each, I wipe the memory away.
I dream my dreams in you, and breathe my longing into your breath.
I am the bright singing in your eyes.
I am the last thought you have before you fall asleep.
I am the hunger in your heart, the thirst in your soul for something more .
I am the weight of days and the great wide arc of memory.
I am the diaphanous membrane of memory which only longing can pierce.
I am that sigh heard and remembered across the centuries.
I am the long thoughts, the long memories, the long hopes.
I am that which is forever lost, found and wasted.
I am that wordless poetry struck into verse by the wind and metered
by the stars.
I am the stiffly spoken speech of indignation.
I am the wordless speech of eye gazing when you love.
I am the burning and the coolness.
I am the ocean and the eye drop of water trembling on a leaf.
I am that hand you hold throughout a thousand lifetimes, never letting go,
not even for a moment.
And, could you but feel it, I am holding your hand even now,
and will continue to hold it until you yourself pass away in Me.

Now time in its turning is turning once more, its long slow hand
turning the leaf over and over, blowing down the ages,
turning one side up in the west, turning the other side up in the east,
settling it calmly on land or tossing it stormily out to sea.
You the leaf and time the turner, you the seed and time the sower,
you the dust and time the sweeper.
Each leaf a boat, each seed a swimmer.
Frail craft borne along by the merest breath, overturned by the most casual wind.
It is the breath and wind of your desire that bears you along and sails you
into so many strange ports of call, where you stop, drop anchor and stay,
sometimes for a short time, sometimes for two or three lifetimes.
Then one day all that you have been and felt and done will swiftly and strongly
blow you clean away from this long dwelt-in place, will lift you high above
this setting for so many scenes played out in grief or joy,
and will carry you to a new place where new scenes will be enacted
with new players who are but old players from your last play
but who are now wearing new costumes and new names.
Those whom you played love scenes with you will greet quickly and with
much affection.
Those whom you murdered with words spoken or unspoken will seek
to revenge themselves upon you and these you will greet with instant distrust and reasonless fear.
And you will wonder why this should perplex you so,
with no apparent justification on either side.
And this is a mystery you will never solve, except through love.

The faces pass before your between-sleep eyes in a steady stream:
the wives, children, husbands, the interminable line of parents and friends;
sometimes the best friend of one life becoming the father of another;
a sister becoming a brother; the combinations endless, amusing, tragic.
And each costume and role change is rung by our own actions, our own
unharnessed words.

So many faces in so many photographs in so many carefully wrought frames
on so many mantles and desks and walls, faces sepia smiling in black
and white staring, the faces coming and going and changing in their frames,
first in wood and now in metal and now in plastic,
not on intricately sewn doilies anymore but on long sleek desks
under halogen lighting in a sterile office thousands of feet in the air.
The next time you gaze into those beloved eyes, fathomless with time,
know that the lost and forgotten eyes of other beloveds lie just beneath
the surface.

Have I told you lately that I love you?
I will love you forever, forever.
Remember me too, my darling.
Do you remember the warm continent of our bed on a frigid night
in late January, the windows steamed over with our panting
and outside the air so cold it hurt and the stars like sharp diamonds
and the sky cloudless and huge as forever?
Do you remember the night in '41 when we went to hear Walter Damrosch conduct the Eroica and we sat huddled together on your mother's
merino wool blanket and you said If you sit in just the right spot you can hear
the concert twice and I said How can that be and you said Because of the echo
and we laughed into each other and held each other until it hurt
but did not move because moving would have broken the magic?
And the stars overhead were diamonds again but the night air
was autumn-crisped and your hair smelled of lavender and your skin of talcum and when the symphony ended in time and space it continued forever
in our hearts; oh do you remember?
Please dear, say that you remember.
Time the great thief is even now stealing this precious moment, rushing it along,
dimming it with harsher sounds and vulgar lights, not sky-made or star-crafted
but metal-forged and rubber-belched and steel-screamed.
Somewhere in time Walter Damrosch is still bringing his baton down on the final
beat of the Eroica, the symphony's last chord still ringing the night air,
then a penumbra of sound before the crashing wave of applause;
somewhere even now that sound and heart-stopped silence is still a throbbing
pulse beat; it has been stilled by time's relentless flight, but our two hearts,
long since stopped, are still beating.
Ah, but do you remember?

Your love for me, my love for you
Will stretch the bounds of time.
My love for you, your love for me
Are poems in perfect rhyme.
Though each of us must one day pass
Beyond even memory’s reach,
Somewhere, somehow our love will speak
In silence, each to each.

And he lay with his head on her lap feeling the earth beneath him
and he looked up at her with the awe and wonder of one who looks up
at a great statue and sees it etched proudly and timelessly against the sky
and he looked at her that way now.
And as he watched the day went to sleep and the night came awake above him
and he saw her face beautiful and grand and noble against the new-born stars
and his heart sang its silent song of joy and he pressed his palms to the earth
and thought he could feel it turning in space but it was only
the turning over of his heart.

The memory of your smile, my dear
Will outshine time and place.
The image, dear, is so engrained,
‘Tis impossible to erase.
The pools of love in your eyes alone
So warm, so deep, so kind,
Could not be penned by a poet’s hand
Or by an artist lined.
Even the sun’s vast eternal light
Could not dim thy image from my sight.

And he remembered now all the times of his lying with her
and each remembrance was a pearl on an ever-expanding string
and their breath was the dawn breeze gentle as a lover’s sigh and he said
Will you always love me as I shall always love you?
I promise.
Not even when we die?
No, she said, not even then.
Forever, then?
Of course, you silly.
And then he sighed and said
Would that I had a thousand more lifetimes in which to love you,
and an ocean formed at the corner of his eye because he knew that they had
but this one lifetime to share and make rich with their loving and then
the ocean overflowed.
Then she held him fast and pressed his head against her breast
so that he could hear her heart beating and he remembered the words of the poet who had said:
I wish every man the love of a woman beautiful and tender,
Unless he has first died on her breast, he can never fully surrender.*
And his heart swelled within him.
And in the sky the stars burned with a steady fire and he knew
they would burn that way forever
like their love, like their love.

When shall we meet again, this you and I?
When this moment freezes, this tear, this sigh.
What hour will bring our hearts into rhyme?
When minutes embrace the hours, and burn in time.
Are ancient hearts such a certainty?
Yea, therein lies the pulse of Eternity.
Shall we know each other only by a tear or sigh?
That will be all that's left to tell us
It was once you and I.

Time, you robber of hearts, you plunderer and waster of moments
so long yearned for; time, you marauder of memories, you thief of dreams,
wearing them away with your terrible distance;
time, you goddamned engine of God's dreaming.

Long time and the long wide arc of memory.
Long time and the long hot breath of desire.
Long time and the too swiftly changing seasons.
Long time, unstoppable time.
Memory the engine.
Desire the fuel.

* From In Dust I Sing, by Francis Brabazon: Ghazal 57. Copyright 1974, Berkeley, California 94701.


Gunthernow said...

Dear Mickeyji,
I love your new blog page! Thank you so much for sharing your fathomless Love for Baba with the rest of the world.
Your boundless Inspiration, tireless Dedication to Baba, and
Beautiful poetry are needed Now more than Ever before. Jai Baba.

Mickey Karger said...

Amazing, moving, awesome (the true definition), passionate, still
stirring inside me. Thank you so much for sharing it and yourself. I am gabberflasted!I tried to post a comment again this
morning, but no luck. As long as you know that your work touched me as deeply as it did, is enough for me.
Hope you and Wendy are doing wonderfully!

Mickey Karger said...

Dear Micky,
Your verses are absolutely beautiful. I am glad you put them on the Web for browsers to read them and enjoy them.

Yours lovingly,

Mickey Karger said...

For Heaven's Sake Mickey; such a delightful surprise!
Such a style,sensibility and subject matter! And I am just barely starting to read.
Miguel Nuñez

Mickey Karger said...

At long last, I was able to read your cantos.

I was very impressed. I don't know what I was expecting, but your language and imagery far surpased it. There is a poignance and wistfulness to your work that I'm not sure I would have appreciated were I younger.

And, of course, the underlying message (which is pretty explicit in the title) is very powerful.

I am obviously much more of a prose person, but your work reminded in my limited experience of T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound or perhaps Derek Wolcott.

I very much look forward to owning my own personally inscribed copy, so please let me know when it's available and how much it will cost.

Much love in the Beloved,


Unknown said...

Jai Baba, Mickey,
Well, you already know how Danny and I feel about your poetry... simply amazing stuff! We are so proud to call you our friend. Your imagery is so evocative and moving, we don't know where to begin. You are certainly Baba as "the gifted writer"! Keep on letting him guide your hand, dear friend!
Much Love always, in Him,
Pam & Danny Rubenstein

Mick Karger said...

Linda Jones, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said:

"Thanks for posting this wonderful poem. Wow!!! Keep us in the loop as more parts are published. Think about a hard copy publication, this is so nice and deep."

Apsley Acers said...

Hi Mickey - fell out of cyberspace onto your site filled with wonderful poetry by accident - but then again is anything really an accident?
Have since been in touch with you - but wished to leave a short message to thank you for sharing your prose with a total stranger tucked away in her log cabin amidst her now bound forest on this winter's eve. ;-) Spring IS however on its way!