In a wonderful two-day workshop with the poet, Ellen Bass, I learned about a poetry form she called “The long-armed poem.” About Frank Gaspar, the inspiration for this form, she wrote: “(Frank Gaspar) reaches out a long arm and scoops so much disparate, seemingly unrelated matter into his poems and yet there’s always a sense of inevitability that these things do belong together—a strong magnetic or gravitational attraction.”
In that workshop we had two afternoons to create two such works, and witnessing what was revealed through sustained “freefalling” as Barbara Turner-Vesselago calls that let-go sort of writing, I became enamoured with the process as well as the results.
Allen Ginsberg said, “Write your mind.”
So… in a recent workshop I introduced this process along with a series of words to include, such as razor, cradle and mercy, a mythological figure, the name of a place, lyrics, and various other random items. As an AWA (Amherst Writers and Artists) facilitator, I also took up the pen and wrote with the participants.
I began with the present – what was right there at that moment.
Here it is:
I am in a circle of people in a square room, a man who is surprised by the mention of razor, the street outside with its sun and too-loud motorcycles and my own fretting unsure heart beating slant against its bony cage. It could be Orillia or some other place such as Oregon in that bright dry desert where every lover was a Bacchus and we were all there just to catch a glimpse of the master. We sang, love upon love upon love, and we meant it, too; every phrase bathing our throats, swirling in our hearts until we swooned and were still. All in a line, our bellies full in the two pm sunshine (did it ever rain there?) with tambourines and drums, guitars and Russian violins, our voices soaring, feet stomping, jumping in our love-frenzy, waiting for the beloved one; a spark of bright blue paint off the hood as his car emerged at the top of the hill. Light upon light upon light. I danced because I was there in that line, my heart so full I cracked wide open and it was good so good. Now I am here, calmer now perhaps, the same furious sun lighting the way for line ups in the street, maybe for a concert or waiting for a bus. But who stops and sings? The crazies or the buskers. We might stop a moment, not to listen but to drop a coin into their mouth. It’s not easy to write about that time. I dreamed for years about going back. About that sort of mercy. Someone who had the power would say, “Now you can go home.” They would tell me, “Off you go. Pack your bags, cradle your heart and head back to those wise ancient hills where every day you rocked in the palm of love.” The main street would be different, but everyone would have heard the same message and they would be hugging and dancing, and of course, weeping. But you can’t go home. There is a word for it: hiraeth. It means something like being homesick for a home that doesn’t exist. The city of stars we built is now a children’s camp with water slides and jungle gyms. No more disco, no more casino. That’s right, we had a casino – those boys loved to poker and blackjack. Even gambling can be a spiritual practice as long as you pay attention, as long as you stay awake. It’s a meditation, Deepam, here have some coins, learn how to celebrate losing. After I left I wanted to be cured of my hiraeth, my need, my longing, my ache for home. But I went to India because being in the Buddhafield was the closest I had ever come. India was many other stories. It was different. But still we sang and for a while it seemed like the one true home. But you just don’t get rid of your longing, do you? Sometimes I feel as if I am running out into the streets like one of those beggars with their wounded child wrapped in dirty rags, but I fall instead into a canyon of kindness. As if anyone ever gets to go home. As if there is a cure.
I sat so close to the master I could feel the rise and fall of his breathing, see the fine white hairs on the backs of his hands, see, even if just for a fragment, what he saw. He didn’t really take it with him when he left; some of us just thought he did. We were left like children arguing over the toys he left for us. We aren’t gods or goddesses, just silly mortals left here on the ground turning over stones as if there is something better underneath.
I wanted but didn’t want to write about that time; the Ranch time, Osho time, and especially not the perfection of love then. Who would believe it? Even I have come to doubt its truth. All I had to do was get on a bus and it dissolved behind me like salt in water. My lover weeping until he had no eyes left to see. The low dry hills full of ghosts. We had no real right to be there to begin with, isn’t that so? Who belonged there? We sannyasins dancing delirious in the afternoon sun? Up to our knees in mud, pipes and logs, saws and bulldozers carving out a life with our ear to the land? Even Bharti, a heart surgeon from Frankfurt who told me he was still a heart surgeon laying pipes throughout the commune for water, our heart’s blood. But what of the first people, long gone now; those who breastfed their young and buried their food with coals in the ground?
But the time is up. This, for now, is home. A circle within a square.