Still Sali Haiku—the persistence of love over grief

October 15, 2017

Grief persists after the loss of a close friend, but so does love. In time, grief recedes and love predominates. Here is a haiku for my sweetheart: Still Sali. I see that ‘still’ has both meanings: continuing and stillness.

                         Still Sali Haiku
                (You are still in my heart)

             The love is still there
           Our souls are still connected
                   But I still miss you

                  © Ken Chawkin
                    Oct 13-15, 2017
                    Fairfield, Iowa
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A tanka remembering Sali and her gift to me on the one-year anniversary of her passing

October 1, 2017

During difficult times, and Sali’s final days, we were helped by the kind staff from Hospice Compassus. After Sali passed, they continued to offer me support with their bereavement program throughout the year. On the one-year anniversary of her death they sent me a letter and a brochure, Journey Through Grief: Looking back at your first year. They encourage “Grief journaling and all forms of writing as an important and helpful tool for healing.” They offered helping prompts to those grieving to get started with these two Reflective Questions.

As you look back at the past twelve months:

1. When thinking about the life of the person that you’ve lost to death, what — of themselves — have they given you to help you move through the rest of your life?

2. During your walk through grief, what have you learned about yourself that will assist you in moving forward?

I had been writing in a journal all along, and posted some entries and many poems. After reading these questions I was moved to write a haiku, then extended it to this tanka. I will give more thought to these questions and write something later, but wanted to post this tonight to mark the one-year anniversary of Sali’s passing.

Tanka for Sali
A remembrance of you and your gift to me

What you did for me
Was draw Love out of my heart
And into our lives

It completely transformed me
To become a better man

Oct 1, 2017
One year after Sali’s passing
© Ken Chawkin
Fairfield, Iowa

This entry, 9 months after her passing, reviews our relationship and what it meant: For Us—a tanka honoring Sali and what we shared. I also updated the entry Celebrating the Glorious Life of Sally Monroe Peden, which contains newer descriptions about Sali by friends who spoke at her Memorial Service. There are many beautiful tributes there, and now, halfway down, you’ll see today’s date, October 1, 2017, with new entries from David and Rhoda Orme-Johnson, Kate Ross, and later Rannie Boes.

Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything–how the light gets in. It came thru him & lit up a broken humanity.

September 10, 2017

True to the end, Leonard Cohen‘s work charted the arc of his career, between life and death (Sept 21, 1934 – Nov 7, 2016). His search for redemption also influenced his fans. Cohen’s evolving understanding of life, beautifully expressed through his music, shone a light through the cracks of a broken humanity in a dark suffering world. He never claimed to have found all the answers, but seemed to have reached a kind of inner peace toward the end of his life, between himself and his God.

There is a repeated stanza in one of his songs, Anthem, that conveys the redeeming acceptance of light illuminating the darkness, compassion and love overcoming bigotry and hatred: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.”

There may be a crack in everything, but how does the light get in—from without, or is it released from within? I’ve often thought about the profundity of those lines, and there have been many interpretations of what he may be implying. See mine below.* I think he sang about finding that divinity within and among our broken humanity. I wrote this tanka in honor of Leonard Cohen.

Leonard Cohen’s music lit up a dark world
A tanka in honor of the poet by Ken Chawkin

Leonard Cohen said
There’s a crack in everything
How the light gets in

It came through him and lit up
a broken humanity

Of course there is a kind of irony here when he says, “Forget your perfect offerings,” since he labored for months, sometimes years, on getting the lyrics to his songs perfect. At some point, though, he must’ve given up, admitted his imperfection, and sent them out into the world. As Leonardo da Vinci once said: Art is never finished, only abandoned. Other famous artists and writers have said and done the same thing.

Artistic Genius—Two Creative Approaches

There is a story about Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. They happened to be in Paris at the same time and decided to meet at a certain café. During their conversation, Dylan, one of the first to sing Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” in his concerts, asked Cohen how long it took him to write it. Cohen was embarrassed to tell him the truth so he lied and said 2 years. Then Leonard asked Bob how long it took him to write “I And I“, and he replied 15 minutes. I think he said he wrote it in the back of a cab. Cohen later told this story to an interviewer and confessed that it took him more like 5 years to write that song. He never could complete it, even after 30 verses! Their styles reflect the different philosophical approaches of ‘first thought, best thought’ versus ‘revise, revise, revise’.

You can read the fascinating history of that song in Alan Light’s book, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah”. Malcolm Gladwell, in Season 1, Episode 7 of his Revisionist History podcast, discusses the history of “Hallelujah” with Alan Light, around 20 minutes into the conversation, for about 10 minutes. The theme is about two kinds of artists—those who seem to create spontaneously, and others who labor for a very long time—the differences between Mozart and Beethoven, or Picasso and Cezanne.

See Leonard Cohen’s website www.leonardcohen.com with links to more.

As  a footnote, I just tweeted (9-19-2107) Leonard Cohen’s biographer, Sylvie Simmons, asking her what he meant about the light getting in through the cracks, and she pointed me to Allan Showalter’s website, Cohencentric: Leonard Cohen Considered, and this post: Leonard Cohen On “The Light” In Anthem That “Allows You To Live A Life And Embrace The Disasters And Sorrows And Joys”.

Leonard later spent time in Bombay, India having conversations with Ramesh Balseka, a teacher of Advaita Vedanta. It made a profound impression on him; his life-long depression had finally lifted. He also befriended an Indian gentlemen, a fan, Ratnesh Mathur. You can read about their relationship and see photos on Cohencentric. Also read this BBC report: When the light got in for Leonard Cohen.

*Quora posted this question: What did Leonard Cohen mean by his lyrics: “There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in?” About a dozen people posted their suggestions. Here is my reply:

I agree with a number of interpretations posted here, quoting William Blake, the Kabbalah, and other esoteric sources, to explain what Leonard Cohen may be referring to in that line. They all make good sense to me. I also think that the light, of clarity, understanding, call it what you will, comes from within, not without. Metaphorically we may imagine light coming into a dark broken place from outside. But it can also light up the darkness from inside, if one knows how to turn on the switch. Another interpretation then, is no matter how broken, incomplete we are, with the proper approach, meditation technique, one can transcend, go beyond our limitations and just Be, experience that unbroken inner light of pure consciousness. With repeated exposures to one’s inner divine nature, the outer vessel, our body, can begin to heal, mend the broken cracks, and become whole. One way to experience this inner and outer development is with the regular practice of Transcendental Meditation.

Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia

September 1, 2017

I discovered jazz in high school and soon became aware of Bill Evans. An accomplished musician educated in classical music, he chose to become a jazz pianist instead, and took elements of those influences to create his own unique style.

As a young man, Evans went on to compose and perform modal music with Miles Davis. Miles praised Bill’s contribution in the groundbreaking Kind of Blue LP released in the summer of 1959 by Columbia Records, often considered the best-selling jazz album of all time. Evans later left Davis to play solo, and form his own jazz trios. Bill Evans became one of the true jazz legends of our time.*

In this intimate 1970 interview and concert at the rural home of Finnish host Ilkka Kuusisto, a very wealthy and very highly regarded classical musician, with jazz musicians in the family, Evans was asked if his group practiced. He explained that “the trio has never rehearsed. … All the things that we play have grown out of performance.” They shared “a natural development through common desire to make it more musical all the time as much as we can.” It was “freedom with responsibility…to the total performance.”

In his solo work, Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia. The calming repetitive left hand chords juxtaposed with the right hand animated notes evoke fluttering doves of peace calling to each other. Pure genius! It reminds me of the French impressionistic sounds of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Ravel, but this is distinctly his own music.

“Peace Piece” was an unrehearsed modal composition he recorded for his Everybody Digs Bill Evans LP released in early 1959 on the Riverside label. It’s been hailed as one of the most beautiful and evocative solo piano improvisations ever recorded. I totally agree. One of the most beautiful jazz recordings I’ve ever heard. A peaceful masterpiece. A masterpiece of peace!

In this 1966 documentary, Bill Evans talks with his composer brother Harry about the creative process and self-teaching. Evans spoke of a Universal Mind. “I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a universal musical mind. Any true music speaks with this universal mind, to the universal mind in all people. The understanding that results will vary only in so far as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks. …”

Click SHOW MORE under that video to read the rest of the transcription. Evans also analyzes the melody and harmonics of Star Eyes, and performs other pieces, in between musical discussions with his brother.

*Bio excerpts from Jazz Musician Archives

Bill Evans (August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980) was one of the most famous jazz pianists of the twentieth century. Along with McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson, he was the force behind the biggest evolution in jazz since Art Tatum and Bud Powell.

Evans won seven Grammys during his career, the first for Conversations With Myself (1963), [which I had bought back then] although not for his most celebrated work, Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961) with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian.

His use of impressionistic harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists, including Herbie Hancock, Denny Zeitlin, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett, and his work continues to inspire younger pianists such as Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, and Lyle Mays, as well as other musicians such as guitarist John McLaughlin.

In 1994, Bill Evans was posthumously awarded a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) “for altering the course of jazz piano with his lyrical, impressionistic solo and trio recordings, characterised by the understated intensity, distinctive chord voicings, and unique harmonic sensibility that opened up the vocabulary of modern jazz.”

‘In Our Loving Eyes’ a poem by @kenchawkin remembering a special love with Sally Peden

August 31, 2017

In Our Loving Eyes

Some people are stargazers
We were soul-gazers
Looking in each other’s eyes

Windows to the Soul
A Self-reflecting mirror
Drawing us nearer

Love … looking … at Love

© Ken Chawkin
August 31, 2017
Fairfield, Iowa, USA

Related: For Us—a tanka honoring Sali and what we shared

Related poem posted September 22, 2013: Haiku of the Heart – for Sali.

Added October 1, 2017, A tanka remembering Sali and her gift to me on the one-year anniversary of her passing.

David Whyte describes the mysterious way a poem starts inside you with the lightest touch

August 18, 2017

David Whyte on the physical act of writing poetry

David Whyte recites a poem to Krista Tippett and audience describing the physical bodily act of writing poetry during an interview hosted by Cambridge Forum about her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living.

The Lightest Touch

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then, like a hand in the dark,
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line,
you can feel Lazarus,
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands
and walk toward the light.

River Flow: New and Selected Poems (RP)
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press (2012)

In a similar vein, before New York poet laureate Marie Howe read “Annunciation” to Krista Tippett On Being, she described how, after tearing up several versions, she gave up, and then, it just came through her. This revelatory description of mystical conception, in Mary’s words, parallels that of poetic creation, in Marie’s words.

My first published poem, ODE TO THE ARTIST: Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park, was a similar experience. After several attempts at writing a poem about the lotus pads in front of us, I got out of my self and wondered about their perspective. Much to my surprise the poem quickly wrote itself. Other parts of poems would present themselves while Being in Nature, which I would later complete.

This process of getting out of the way and allowing poetry to innocently come through you was expressed by my son after his class was assigned to write a poem for homework. He felt strongly that you couldn’t will a poem into existence; it had to be inspired. He was barely eleven years old when he wrote INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

With reference to “the silence that follows a great line,” Billy Collins discusses the value of getting to the end of a poem and what can happen afterwards.

Beautiful wise poem by Carol Palma honoring a friend who had crossed over to the other side

August 14, 2017

When I was going through a difficult time with Sali’s illness getting worse, Carol Palma and her husband Greg came to visit us. Carol later sent me a lovely little poem as a gift to help me cope. Previously written for a friend, it was profound and went deep! In a way, what was expressed in the poem would prepare me for the inevitable. And to understand that it was not the end. It was all about letting go, in more ways than one. And the repeated end-rhyme gently reinforced the point.

I’m in a place where there is no night
We experience each other with divine sight
I wear a robe of shimmering light
With golden threads that hug me tight

I cling to you with all my might
Tethered to earth like string to kite
You let me go and I take flight

I always wanted to share this perfect poem with friends. I bumped into Carol at the Dome Market last night and she approved my posting it.

potted purple petunias poem @kenchawkin pays homage to @W_C_Williams’s red wheelbarrow

August 2, 2017

Norman and I get into my car parked across the street from Thai Deli where we just had lunch. It’s hot so we wait for the AC to kick in and cool down. He points out the beautiful petunias on the sidewalk in front of us. They’re purple, planted in pots, and placed on both sides of a doorway. Playing with the ‘p’ sound, I come up with a line that has seven syllables in it. I’m reminded of The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams and think of a similar opening. Noticing the backdrop, I finish the last line of the haiku. Coincidentally, I later discover it has the same word ‘white’ in it. I return the next day to take this photo to go with it.

potted purple petunias

Potted Purple Petunias Poem
Haiku in Homage to William Carlos Williams

there’s something about
potted purple petunias
by a white brick wall

©Ken Chawkin
July 31, 2017
Fairfield, Iowa

Listen to this soothing cooling Rain Melody (Raga Megha) to bring the rains and cool things down

July 31, 2017

Rain MelodyFeeling too hot? Experiencing a drought? Listen to this beautiful Maharishi Gandharva Veda musical performance of Raga Megha, also known as the famous Rain Raga. It creates a soothing cooling influence on listeners and in Nature. It can be played at any time for increased energy and bliss. This Rain Melody reduces tensions in the atmosphere and is traditionally played during the hot summer season to bring rain and relief from heat. We can use some of that, which is why I’m posting it for us to play!

Musicians are Amar Nath on bansuri (bamboo flute), Somnath Mukergee on tabla (percussion), and Sukhamar Chandra on tambura (drone). This 45-minute CD, is available at MUM Press. Listen to this raga on repeat from your own device. Also posted on SoundCloud. Video by Frank Lotz.

Celebrating Norman Zierold’s 90th birthday at the Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant we met Marie

July 28, 2017

On July 26, 2017, I took Norman Zierold to the Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant in Bonaparte, Iowa to celebrate his 90th birthday. It’s located about 29 miles south of Fairfield in the historic Villages of Van Buren. He told me he enjoyed eating at this restaurant from time to time as it reminded him of his earlier years growing up in the Amana Colonies. I was also curious to see it so we went.

Bonaparte Retreat

Housed in the historic 1879 old Meek Grist Mill building, Ben and Rose Hendricks had opened the restaurant in 1970. Before the Industrial Revolution, farmers from miles around used to haul their grains there to be milled into flour. The Gazette published an article with 19 wonderful photos (Feb 15, 2015): Iowa All Over: Time stands still in Bonaparte.

The restaurant serves traditional Iowa food, and the staff are very personable. Word got around that Norman was celebrating his 90th, and they came over, one by one, to wish him a happy birthday.

One of them was Marie Hainline, a friendly 94-year old woman with the most wonderful smile and twinkle in her eyes. She used to run her own nursing home, which was a challenge. She retired and has been working as a waitress at the restaurant for over 30 years. She’s happy and looks healthy. Marie raised 4 children, has 11 grandchildren, many great grandchildren, and 2 one-year old great-great-grandchildren—twins!

This photo of Maire was taken from an article in the Midwest Wanderer (Nov 23, 2015): Bonaparte Retreat: Dining in an Old Grist Mill. Among the photos are one of the back of the building and the inside, where we sat at a round table looking out a window at the Des Moines River.

Marie Hainline at Bonaparte Retreat Restaurant

After paying our bill, Marie showed me an article about her published almost 7 years ago in the Hancock County Journal-Pilot in Carthage, IL. I found it on the internet and wanted to share it with you. It’s a delightful description of Marie and her impressive work ethic. She is an inspiration!

Perky waitress is reminder to be thankful for work

By Patsy Davis, Carthage | Nov 23, 2010

Recently my sisters and I took a road trip. Although we talk pretty much every day, we seldom get to spend much time actually hanging out together. As we started the day, we decided our destination would be the villages of Van Buren County in Iowa.

Read the rest of this entry »


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