Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

1st anniversary of my India trip to spread Sali’s ashes on the Narmada River, visit Bijouri campus and Maharishi Vedic Pandits at the Brahmasthan

November 12, 2017

This is the one-year anniversary of the start of my trip to India. A year ago today, I boarded a very long non-stop flight from Chicago to New Delhi. After clearing customs I went to an airport bank to change some money. It took a while, but a driver who had been sent to pick me up waited to take me to a Holiday Inn, where I finally crashed. The next morning another driver took me to the airport for a flight to Jabalpur. My sister and brother-in-law where there to welcome me when I arrived, which was very nice. We then traveled to the holy Narmada River, to fulfill the prime purpose of my long journey.

As it turned out, November 14, 2016 was a very significant day in three major religious traditions at this celebratory time of year. We hired a boatman, and after some special prayers, I spread Sali’s ashes on this peaceful celestial river as he rowed the boat towards and around a small temple at the foot of the Gwari Ghat. This took place during the late afternoon on a Monday, a moon day, but the largest full moon in 70 years, the supermoon! It was highly significant, worthy of Sali’s spiritual merit she had earned offering a lifetime of one-pointed devoted service to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Movement. Some of his ashes had been spread at this holy place as well.

See more details in last year’s post I wrote 3 weeks after returning home: An early attempt at some kind of closure with a poem on Sali’s passing and auspicious times. You can read the many inspiring tributes that were given at the October 5th memorial service, about her brilliant mind, kind heart, and good nature.

It was evening by the time we arrived at the Bijouri Campus in the Brahmasthan of India. During my 3-week stay there I would meet many wonderful meditators and sidhas from different countries around the world who came for the Maharishi India Courses, to meditate and enjoy the recitations of the Maharishi Vedic Pandits. It was a very healing atmosphere to settle into. Just what I needed, thanks to my family.

Traditional Indian Greeting

To start our course, we were each given a special welcome by the Maharishi Vedic Pandits and garlanded with flowers. Here is a photo of me, taken last year, November 16, 2016, after that warm reception.

Kenny at the Brahmasthan Nov 16, 2016

I purposefully stood in front of a large beautiful painting of Guru Dev, Maharishi’s master. I had purchased a print of this latest painting of Guru Dev the previous summer, having seen it featured at Art Fifty Two in Fairfield during a reception for the artist and her work. I had taken a photo of Frances Knight at the gallery standing in front of the original painting. You can also see part of a large Holy Tradition painting on the back wall behind her, one of many she had painted in the past.

Visiting the Maharishi Vedic Pandit Campus

On one of our trips we were taken to the geographical center of India known as the Brahmasthan. We shared a short group meditation and took photographs. And once a week we were driven to the Maharishi Vedic Pandit campus to hear 1,500 pandits recite Atirudrabhishek, an ancient Vedic performance to create world peace.

Sitting there with my eyes closed listening to the powerful Vedic recitation, I started to feel a deeply relaxing peacefulness growing inside my body. Soon, much to my surprise, I started to smile, then chuckle! I felt an inner happiness welling up within me that was totally unexpected. This bliss was a welcome contrast, a relief from the grief I was carrying around with me, mourning the loss of my sweetheart. This profound experience was worth the long tiring trip over there!

Group photo at pandit campus Nov 25, 2016

We put on traditional Indian clothing for these special occasions and posed for a group photo before boarding the buses back to our campus. I am standing in the upper second-to-last row on the far left. The course participants came from England, Ireland, USA, Canada, several European and Asian countries, Israel, Australia, and many from Iran. We were a diverse and harmonious group.

Now that I finally transferred all of my photos from my iPad onto my computer, I could post some of them related to this story. Who knows, maybe other photos will spark new stories.

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Lisel Mueller’s poetry offers us Hope

November 3, 2017

“Hope” is a beautiful poem by Lisel Mueller, published in Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by LSU Press; First edition (October 1, 1996).

Hope
By Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

I also love Lisel Mueller’s poem, “Monet Refuses the Operation,” about French Impressionist Claude Monet: Failing eyesight or spiritual insight: a poet’s interpretation of a master artist’s vision.

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

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.

This new post, added November 12, 2017, is relevant: 1st anniversary of my India trip to spread Sali’s ashes on the Narmada River, visit Bijouri campus and Maharishi Vedic Pandits at the Brahmasthan.

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.

Murals mark 1-year anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death

Montreal murals of Leonard Cohen

Montreal murals made by Gene Pendon (l) and Kevin Ledo (r)

November 7, 2017 is the 1-year anniversary of Leonard Cohen’s death. To personally commemorate this date, Sylvie Simmons tweeted a picture of herself standing in front of a large mural of Leonard Cohen painted by Kevin Ledo on the side of a 9-storey Montreal building close to where Leonard kept a home. It was the center piece for the fifth Mural International Public Art Festival in June. The Montreal Gazette’s Bill Brownstein had written an article about the making of it. He also mentions another mural, a tribute to Leonard Cohen made by artist Gene Pendon, which was painted on the side of a 20-storey downtown building, as part of Montreal’s 375th billion dollar birthday bash. The Globe and Mail described them in detail: Leonard Cohen and a tale of two Montreal murals. ET Canada reported on the official inauguration today, a year after Cohen’s passing. Josée Cloutier posted photos of both murals in one tweet, shown above.

The M.A.C.’s Exhibition on Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything

The Guardian published Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything – Montreal’s tribute to its favourite son. The new exhibition was conceived as part of the city’s 375th anniversary celebrations – but has morphed into a thorough investigation of all things Cohen. On 9 November, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (AKA the Mac) will open the doors to Leonard Cohen : une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything, a tribute to the artist, poet and musician, filled with multi-disciplinary works inspired by Cohen’s songs of life. This special exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art will conclude 9 April 2018.

The show takes its title from Cohen’s song Anthem, which contains the famous line “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The song also inspired artist Kara Blake’s piece for the show, an immersive installation called The Offerings. “The song apparently took Cohen 10 years to craft and is just one example of his many artistic offerings that get inside the beautifully flawed nature of being human,” says Blake. “I wanted my piece to present visitors with a sampling of the creativity, wit and insight Cohen has gifted us with.”

Julia Holter contributed a cover of Cohen’s Take This Waltz, which will play on rotation in the Listening Room. “I enjoyed getting into the feeling of this passionate, seductive, demented waltz,” says Holter, who incorporated field recordings she made during a visit to the Greek island of Hydra, where Cohen had a home. “Being there was incredible,” she says.

For Holter, being invited to contribute to the show is the perfect way for her to give back to an artist she was introduced to as a child and who inspired her love of poetry. “What was special about Leonard Cohen’s work was its calm mystery. I think that can be an inspiration to the world right now,” she says. “The world needs this subtle beauty right now.”

As part of the week’s celebrations, Eleanor Wachtel interviewed Sylvie for CBC Books Writers and Company, which will air Sunday November 12, 2017: Remembering Leonard Cohen: biographer Sylvie Simmons on Montreal’s beloved poet. I read and enjoyed her wonderful biography, I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.

Eleanor tweeted that the photograph of Leonard Cohen, which served as the basis for the large downtown mural, was taken by his daughter Lorca. Interesting that Leonard named his daughter after the famous Spanish poet Federico García Lorca, who had greatly influenced his work. “His books taught me that poetry can be pure and profound – and at the same time.”

*My reply to Quora question about the crack and the light

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.

‘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.

This new post, added November 12, 2017, is relevant: 1st anniversary of my India trip to spread Sali’s ashes on the Narmada River, visit Bijouri campus and Maharishi Vedic Pandits at the Brahmasthan.

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

For Us—a tanka honoring Sali and what we shared

June 30, 2017

Sali with MaharishiHere is a picture of Sally Peden showing Maharishi a photo that may have been taken during their trip To Jyotir Math with western scientists in the spring of 1975 to tell the Shankaracharya about the Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment. I think it was a picture of the 2,500-year-old banyan tree under which Adi Shankaracharya used to meditate. She had a blurry one of Jerry Jarvis sitting under the tree, but I never saw the framed photo.

Kenny & Sally in Columbia 2007This photo was taken in late May, 2007 at Sali’s step-mother, Petch Peden‘s house in Columbia, MO. I never would have imagined sharing a loving relationship with such a pure, brilliant devotee who had worked closely with Maharishi for so many years. There was obviously a very deep level of recognition between our souls. How else could such a thing have happened?

Sally+Ken bldg opening

At inauguration of Veda Bhavan May 27, 2003

These words, “We’re buddies,” had come into my head when we were introducing ourselves at MUM (another story) around 10 years after we had first met in Washington, DC, summer of 1993, but had both forgotten. She had registered some of us at a large group meditation course.

Years later, not long after she had to move into Parkview Care Center (January 19, 2010), I recalled that incident during one of my visits, and reminded her of it. I also shared the two thoughts that had entered my mind at the time, when she walked up to me to ask my name and check it on her list. I never forgot them—Too bad I just got married (again); Too bad she’s on Mother Divine. She paused, remembered it too, and smiled. What a surprise for both of us!

A Jyotishi, Indian astrologer, who came to town with ancient palm leaves, told us of our past lives together. He said we shared a deep bond of friendship and spirituality, this was a karmic repayment, I was now going to fulfill the promises I had made to her in ancient Vedic times, and that she should be with me at all times—her life depended on it. Many adverse situations would spring up over time to test that bond, but I was there for her, right up to the end, and beyond.

Adversity—she experiencing and me watching the challenging changes she would go through in her mind and body due to Dementia—drew us even closer together. I lovingly cared for her, and experienced joy when we were together, even as I continued to grieve and worry about her when we were apart. It also fulfilled a lifelong desire to experience what devotion, spiritual love, was about. It was transforming, to say the least!

I joked that she was making me look good because her friends were calling me a saint, and we both laughed. Early on, when she was going through neurological imbalances that affected her mental stability, I remember saying, “It’s so intense, Sal, what you’re going through, but look at it this way, you must be burning off a lot of karma; you’re evolving quickly.” She looked up at me and quipped, “Hello? So are you!” And we both cracked up laughing. She was my little munchkin.

Sali never lost her sense of humor. Years later, when she could no longer speak, she would still smile and giggle, bringing joy to some of the nurses and aides who looked after her. Her inner nature remained the same; it was always uplifting to be with her.

It will be 9 months on July 1st, 2017 since my sweetheart passed. Sali was a fellow devotee on the spiritual path, my best friend and muse. I have written many poems for, about, and because of her. Most of them are on this blog. They trace a lot of what we went through together. As difficult as it was at times, I would not change any of it.

Our friends would often say how lucky she was to have me in her life, but I always told them I was the lucky one. We both acknowledged the blessing we were given—loving each other at that transitional time in our lives. It’s summed up in this Haiku for Her, repeated here with the hoku from The Rare Gift of Love, now put together in a new tanka.

For Us
A tanka honoring Sali and what we shared

You gave me a taste
Of true Love and Unity
For Eternity

What we shared was glorious
A Gift from God and Guru

Jai Guru Dev

© Ken Chawkin
June 30, 2017
Fairfield, Iowa

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

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

Added November 12, 2017: 1st anniversary of my India trip to spread Sali’s ashes on the Narmada River, visit Bijouri campus and Maharishi Vedic Pandits at the Brahmasthan.

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