welcome to volume 9, May 2004 of

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9623
(for the print issn 1554-9666)
Alexandira Rand, Editor
http://scars.tv - click on down in the dirt


THEORY OF NOTHING CHAPTER 3


COMPLETE DESCRIPTION OF HUMANITY’S MEANING


By Kenneth C. Eng

What is humanity? More importantly, why is humanity in existence? Most would say that we are merely a trifling species in the midst of a vast span of evolution and that the cosmos is far larger and grander than our minds can understand. However, despite the pessimistic modern outlook that humans are insignificant specks in this cosmos, there is a logical way to prove our importance in the universal chessboard. In order to do so, one must understand the workings of the human psyche and how it relates to the certainties of the universe. The details to be considered are the three cognitive elements of understanding, the reality of choice, reproduction and memory, the structure of human evolution, and the future of mankind, which would lead us to the ultimate purpose of all men and women.

The Elements Of Human Cognition

The mind is the foremost important ingredient in creating reality. Hence, the first step in comprehending our place in the universe would be to catalog the three parts of cognition that allow our brains to function. These three fundamental constituents include memory, intelligence and imagination.
MEMORY is mandatory for storing data. It is absolutely necessary, for without the ability to recall ideas, objects and entities, there would be nothing to think about, and therefore no consciousness (as we all know, consciousness is a requisite of existence). Even nothingness is a “thing” in and of itself, and it is still possible to think about nothing. However, not to be able to remember nothing would be absolutely ludicrous and cause the mind to cease to exist. As will be described later, nothingness also happens to contain everything, which is another reason to cherish the capability of recollection.
More important than memory is the second mental component, INTELLIGENCE. Intelligence refers to the capacity to process data and draw from it conclusions. It allows humans to formulate strategies and tactics in the cosmic war so that they can better attain desired objectives. If memory is a solid mass of clay, intelligence is the liquid that allows it to be molded. Intellect can draw implications from information and sculpt datum raw material into cognitive art. Without this component of the mind, there would also be no thoughts, as memorized knowledge would just clump up at the depths of a dolt’s cerebrum, never to be utilized for constructive purposes. After all, silver in the mine is worthless.
The final and most significant factor of the psyche is IMAGINATION. This is the ability to create ideas from nothingness, drawing information from the voids of the mental multiverse. Imagination has no bounds, so it contains everything that can possibly be known or thought of. Not all humans have the capacity to extract concepts from nil, yet this is the cognitive element from which everything in the universe emerged. While it is the most important element, it is not at all necessary, as humans can survive without ever having to design a work of art or write a masterpiece.
However, survival alone is not the meaning of life. There are other options and choices.

Choice Is Irrevocably Real

Although metaphysicians frequently argue about choice in Ultimate Reality, few have come to a certain conclusion. However, when one speculates the aspects of destiny and causality, it is easy to see that human choice does exist to a specific capacity. In fact, it is a definite requisite of existence.
Since every event has a cause, it is implied that there was a beginning to time and that the laws of causality are always constant. Essences and limits prevent an infinite amount of causes from plaguing the world, so there must be a finite number of causes to every effect. Even the emotions and cognitive capabilities that humans utilize to strategically plan out their actions (as strategically as they are capable of) have limits by this reasoning and can also be understood in terms of quantifiable entities that can react with each other like billiard balls. Thus, everything, including choices, must follow a chain reaction that has already been laid out from the dawn of temporal motion. Therefore, destiny is real, and we are forever bound to it.
This is not to say that humans can never have a choice, though. The exact opposite is true. The ability to decide is an inherent part of thinking, for if we could not think, we would not be able to process the data of the universe, and thusly, the universe would not exist. Imagine trying to experience the feel of the morning breeze whilst all your neural functions are locked down, preventing you from intellectually ciphering any form of information. The breeze may as well not exist, because every feeling must be accompanied by thoughts, no matter how incapacitated the observing subject is. Analogously, the rest of the universe would not exist if we were aware of all things that were to happen in the future. Thought is an inherent component of consciousness and if we could not think, we would not be, as Rene Descartes so aptly put. Further, because thoughts are meant to create decisions, it is clear that choice is real.
Thence, we are all moving along a preset timeline in which all our choices have already been made, yet we are still making decisions within that timeline.

Reproduction And Memory

Everything was spawned from the Big Bang, from stars to lakes to steel. What makes us different from nebulae? Why is life any different from the quantum particles that make up the unified macrocosm-microcosm? The answer lies in the tendency of DNA to replicate.
Genetic material is different from all other matter in the universe because of its ability to record or memorize information. By recording the past, it can better duplicate itself and more importantly, it can better improve upon its ability to remain in existence. After all, the very complexion of evolution is to weed out the entities, organic or inorganic, that are less likely to survive. DNA is excellent at clinging onto existence, as it can potentially multiply without limit while enhancing its code and sparking advanced evolution. Furthermore, it too came from evolution, as atoms and nucleotides had to form in order for double helices and ribosomes to be. One might even say that although DNA came from the same point and time as everything else, it is special in that it has evolved to evolve.
As quantum mechanics and relativity are unified and there is no rift betwixt the macrocosm and microcosm, then there is no reason to assume that quantum mechanics should not apply to our large-scale realm. Therefore, anomalies can occur in more widely perceivable ways. Examples of macrocosmic anomalies would be the mutations that triggered the ability of genetic material to change. Change permitted improvement, and the logical mechanisms of evolution steered the alterations so that only the ones that enhanced survival remained. This would not have been possible if DNA did not have the capability to store the past.
From this, one can conclude that all DNA-based life is special in that it is specifically crafted to seek existence. Nevertheless, it has to be held into perspective that all of our advanced human attributes were spawned from this need to reproduce. Procreation is in some way related to everything in our development, even if the evolved characteristic is one that contradicts the very purpose of multiplying. The flexibility of humans to choose not to reproduce or to possibly search for ways to eradicate all “superior” species (as well as one can define “superior” when quality is relative to so many universal factors) defies the virtue of spawning, but still results from the need to spawn and follows the laws of evolution and causality. Note that evolution’s mechanics cannot be defined except in terms of probability and deduction because of “superiority’s” malleability.
Considering that we are aware of evolution and can potentially affect it through conscious will, we actually do not need to reproduce anymore in order to sustain evolution’s flow. There are many alternatives, including gene splicing, cloning, and artificial selection (which is ironically natural in a way, since our ability to use artificial selection is the result of nature’s development of our intellect). Nobody has to die and nobody has to have sex in order to augment the gene pool. With these sciences, it is possible to enhance the human race through eugenics or to damage it via breeding inferior units, which is not altogether unlikely, as humans are also capable of insanity. Nonetheless, before any action can be taken, one must consider the purpose of being able to tweak evolution to one’s specifications. To do so, the chronology of the humans must be taken into perspective.

Structure Of Human Evolution

Why are humans so exemplary in the search for the meaning of existence? One reason is that we are competent enough to be a prime reflection of evolution’s ultimate state. While this may sound offensive to some scientists, note that there are many reasons why this does not contradict the truth behind evolution in any way. In fact, the main focus that must be apprehended in understanding human development is the parallel manner in which the evolution of single-celled organisms to multicellular organisms relates to the evolution of multicellular organisms into societal orders.
Let us first consider the history of the most social animals Ė humans. The earliest ancestors of homo sapiens were mostly solitary, striving mainly for survival as lone organisms. Albeit our primate origins are still being hotly debated, it is generally accepted that humans did spring forth from some sort of non-social organism, whether it was the proto-mammalian reptiles of Mesozoic Era, or the Cambrian Amphioxous, or maybe even the primitive bony fish. Even if we evolved from none of these, it is unambiguous that we developed from cells, which started as solitary single-celled organisms. From these loner predecessors, which may have been a wide variety of species, we formed into small social groups to better increase the chances of survival via collaborative hunting/gathering. While this progression probably made humans much more submissive, it ultimately aided in reproduction, as larger bands of warriors meant a boosted probability of success.
The first societies were probably not very structured, and perhaps only consisted of a group of humans that temporarily united for tactical purposes. However, as banding became significantly effective and more commonplace, every civilization matured into three components Ė government, military and underlings. Governments consisted of the group’s dominant member, the military was composed of physically superior units, and the underlings were the individuals that were less adept at physical combat and could be used for basal production purposes. With these essentials established, civilizations increased in size, building into more complex networks of humans that worked and behaved as one. Again, those that could not work together were generally less likely to survive and/or encounter mates to reproduce with, so inevitably, loners were mostly weeded out of the evolutionary game. As societies increased in size, there was little room for smaller and weaker groups, and thus, social orders evolved to become more and more sizeable, until alas, nations were formed.
Nations perform on different modes, such as tyranny, oligarchy, democracy, etc., but they all have one thing in common. They all retain the three basic constituents of society Ė government, military and underlings. While they have changed greatly since the time of the caveman, incorporating vast systems of councilmen, judiciary and laws to construct the government, nuclear missiles, firearms and armies to facilitate the military, and specialist production underlings like doctors, lawyers and teachers to make the societal machine propagate, they have not diverged from the main necessities of all efficient civilizations. The government is analogous to a nervous system, the military is analogous to offensive and defensive mechanisms, and underlings are symbolic of the manufacturing organs that make every living thing function. The only difference between a nation and a primitive society is that the nation is far more complex, since the second law of thermodynamics demands that all systems must naturally increase in entropy. By the same reasoning, every social order, no matter the scale, also acts as a biological organism, and in fact, should probably be thought of as a demi-biological entity composed of cells that are themselves multicellular organisms. Let a Superorganism refer to a multicellular organisms composed of multicellular organisms.
Further proof of this is shown in the evolution of single-celled organisms into multicellular organisms. The earliest single-celled organisms lived completely independently. However, it was more beneficial for survival to cooperate with other members of their species, and thus, the independent single-celled organisms evolved to cooperate with others of their kind. The first interactions between separate cells were probably not well structured, yet efficient enough to give grouped cells more of an advantage than those that were solitary. Bonding to form networks in which the single-celled organisms aided each other in survival, they created multicellular organisms that had brain-like mechanisms, defenses (when it became evolutionarily necessary to destroy/compete with other creatures), and production systems to process nutrition. Early multicellular organisms had non-central nervous systems and obtained nutrition chemically or by the use of simple appendages or membranes. However, as time progressed, their neural, aggressive and productive bodily operations became more advanced, like the complex brain, somatic structures and digestive systems of an insect. Cells acquired specialization, like carrying oxygen (blood cells), transmitting synaptic information (nerve cells) and designing new variations of a particular multicellular organism (reproductive cells in sexual creatures). Finally, the entire process, which is still ongoing, led to the present-day humans.
Notice how the evolutionary path of humans into societies parallels that of the evolution of single-celled organisms into multicellular beings. The development of a complex, structured government from the disordered and non-centrally commanded mingling of ancient hominids is comparable to the growth of a central nervous system from a non-central one. The evolution of spears to missiles is akin to the flowering of harmful membranes to high-tech horns and poisons that some animals bear. In addition, the unfolding of simple underlings into specialized civilians is like the progression of single-celled beings into specialized cells. Therefore, societies act almost like multicellular organisms built of multicellular organisms, which in some ways are similar to the functions of single-celled organisms that also have nuclei, organelles and potentially defensive/offensive membrane weaponry. The only difference between the three is that they occur on different scales, further supporting the notion that the macrocosm and microcosm are undifferentiated.
From this, one can see that humans are really not that disparate from simple life forms, including Superorganisms (multicellular organisms composed of multicellular organisms, a.k.a. societies), which are actually simpler, and thus closer to cells than actual humans. This makes us not at all unique, but as DNA had evolved to evolve, we have evolved to consciously evolve. So we must ask ourselves Ė what are we supposed to do with our almighty gift? The answer lies in the future of humanity.

Mankind’s Future

Science fiction writers typically craft stories about the future of humanity through the use of parallel universes. The limitless possibilities of a multiverse are, nevertheless meaningless unless one understands the purpose of life. Thus, there are multiple futures to humanity that should logically take place if certain actions are taken. All of this is, of course, not taking into account quantum anomalies that make probability moot (probability can be contradicted in the same way induction requires itself to prove itself). The irrelevance of these anomalies can be accounted for later.
If nations are like cells built of organelles that are humans, then it is logical to suppose that they will further evolve into grander beings. Similar to primordial cells, they can already perform mitosis-like behavior by usurping territory or dividing into multiple countries. If many of these countries gather, then they can initiate the spawning of a primitive multicellular organism composed of Superorganisms. Efficiency is increased when every element works in unison, but obviously, the nations of the world, and humans in general, are not prone to collaborating in total harmony. Can there ever be such a unified world, then?
Absolutely.
Most humans inherently have tendencies to seek dominance, yet at the same time, they also exhibit the desire to consider the thoughts of others. These two instinctual traits are necessary results of evolution in a social order, since the societies that best survived were those in which individuals were competitive enough to speed evolution (another example of a reflexive evolutionary scheme in which those that are more evolved are the ones that were faster at evolving) through battle, and also benevolent enough to maintain order within the civilization so that it could function smoothly. Morals came to being because social humans innately understood that killing, stealing, and vandalizing for reasons contrary to the benefit of civilization threatened their interests. However, just as moral laws evolved to become instinctively wired into human brains so that they follow it almost automatically through feelings of guilt and fear, so did the need to rise to power. The desire for respect is inborn in humans because biological development favored the existence of those that could best command a civilization. Hence, both attributes coexist in most modern humans, sometimes contravening each other in weird ways. Albeit, they are excellent for creating mass conformity.
Conformity is an imperative factor in constructing a Super-Superorganism, a multicellular organism that is composed of multicellular organisms that are composed of multicellular organisms. Humans are ideal for this, as their social bounds operate in such a way that evolution will eventually draw them to be, in the future, cloned according to function. Like animals, Superorganisms have immune systems that are designed to eliminate all foreign particles and dissenting units. Governmental agents and police forces are used to ensure that unruly humans obey the regulations that the neural centers of the nation decide on and to battle threats from other nations. Although rebellions frequently occur throughout human history, in most cases, people do not revolt against a government, which makes it even easier for a singular mind to take control. In fact, unstable social orders are more prone to failure, and thus, those that contain units who are less inclined to dissent are more likely to reproduce more units and enjoy augmented efficiency at the same time. Thus, those that conform will ultimately win the biological game, rendering a very flat gene pool in a society where ranks are established by lineage. If the nonresistant breed enough along these lines of ancestry-based status, a society in which cloned specialist units will rise.
Such a state would be great news for the Superorganism, which would be as evolved as a regular single cell. At that point, it would be able to unify all humans and control them in an attempt to continue its survival across the globe, and the universe as a whole.
Should an “ideal” society, one in which everyone operates in total harmony, actually develop, it would probably be able to expand across significant stretches of space (assuming that the “laws” of physics allow for it). Since it is based on humans that reproduce in generations that survive for 80-100 years, it would not truly ever die lest all its human components are killed. Therefore, it would exist in its own deep time, and can stand to wait for thousands and even millions of years for its cosmic mitosis to be completed. Understand that the humans, if they were perfectly operable clones, would not have any choice, and thus, not truly be conscious. They would not be able to cease this process unless an anomalous mutation occurred, like a unit who was intelligent enough to place his own interests and the truth above the weaker-minded majority and deal damage to the large-scale societal creature in much the same way as a virus would damage a soma.
Supposing that these anomaly viruses are quickly destroyed by the less conscious humans, this intergalactic Super-Superorganism would eventually take on a consciousness of its own, utilizing the lesser Superorganisms as unconscious cells. In perhaps billions of years, it could attain a brain as advanced as that of a human, except that its mind would be as large as a galaxy. Indeed, it would be the next level of evolution, and the whole process can repeat until it reaches a scale as large as space and time and the universe itself.
But here’s the question: WHY???
In an infinite loop of iterating evolutions of prototype organisms into human-like consciousnesses, what would be the purpose of having evolution in the first place? What does the size scale matter when the consciousness type is identical (the macrocosm and microcosm have little differentiation as quantum mechanics and relativity are conceptually unified in that they require perception to create reality)? After all, human sentience must be the highest form of sentience because it implements logic, contains all conceivable emotions, is aware of itself and can ponder its place in the cosmos. Even if there were intelligent extraterrestrials in the universe, they too must be in some way “human” in that they must also be able to experience to a certain degree the same emotions and to use the same logic we do. Can you imagine a taste sweeter than honey? Can you fancy a smell worse than that of excrement? Even if you could, it would exist in the realm of abstraction, because it is simply not possible to create a new emotion. The very notion would be meaningless. The fact that no human can imagine anything beyond its own limitations (as limited as imagination can be, which is unlimited), proves that by the Uncertainty Principle, there must be nothing beyond our ability to perceive and conceive.
So what can we conceive about our place in the cosmos?

The Human Place

Humans are the only creatures that have evolved to consciously evolve, yet the whole point seems purposeless, as there is really no greater gain from having a humanlike creature as large as the universe. Eugenics would definitely improve intellect, imagination and memory, thereby aiding the quality of life, but it would still be pointless in the long run, as causality must have a purpose that terminates existence. Survival alone is not a reason for living in and of itself.
Our psyches are the most capable of responding with conscious choice to Ultimate Reality. What then, does Ultimate Reality have in store for us?


A LAMENT FOR US

Tom Booker

Something’s unreal about us together
grouping and groping for mundane purpose
to amuse, to dispose, to boost slippery ego
less majesty than anyone might rightly propose.

EDIFICE REX we build but occasionally
when ground zero sustains frontal assault?
More often we achieve an ANIMUS MIX
a misery of personal montage and melee.

Who, in fact, are we, that mindfully aspire
to reach for landscape that’s not much higher
than business–a concern for exclusive few
for status, for comfort, relief from fleet fears?

What temple will welcome the spirit-most seeker
bearing insight above the book of its order?
What roar can bestir the hearts of our kind
unite “these” into “us”, beyond any issue?

Mem’ry fails to conjure the awesome potential
community of God and humans did promise.
This power, this blessing, for each, for all
dwells dormant beneath our mastery of sanguine.


Scratches

Heather McFall

A thin bracelet of blood adorns my wrist. It’s still warm as it slides down and pools in the palm of my hand. The pain is dulled, numb compared to what it was ten minuets ago. I miss her. I reach for the bottle of Scotch sitting on the white tile near my feet, and pull it to my lips. I shutter as the heavy liquid slips past my tongue and burns my throat. I hate the stuff, but Caitlyn liked it. Scotch neat. I twist the ring around my pinky finger with my thumb and take another drink. At first, I hated her for not telling me. It took her passing out and going into hypovolemic shock before I knew a thing. By then it had already metastasized, by then she was already dead.

I struggle to stand. I can’t see well beyond the spots of black and yellow blocking my field of vision, but I want to see myself one last time. Coward. That’s her voice in my head, not my own. She would’ve hated me for taking the easy way out. She would’ve hated me for breaking my promise.

“I’m sorry,” I mutter to my reflection. And what about him?

“He’s better off. He’ll be fine.”

---

When she woke in her hospital bed, I was there. I hadn’t left her side in nearly three days, and I was sure I was beginning to smell, but she just smiled at me.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said, her voice rusty like she’d swallowed a bag of nails.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.” I reached for her hand.

“Why? So you could wallow in self-pity and worry about everything we never got to do. Don’t be so selfish, Michael.” I started to protest, to tell her I just wanted to be there for her, but she knew me better. That’s exactly what I would’ve done, it’s what I was doing.

“Where’s Mikey?” Mikey is her eleven-year-old son. My namesake, but not my son mind you, because ever since we were teenagers she never let me touch her. She had always told me it was because she cared about me too much for us to get sexually involved, that she didn’t want to loose what we had. I always thought that’s just what women say when they’re too repulsed by the thought of going to bed with you, but I’ve been in her life for nearly sixteen years, while every lover either of us has ever had came and went within a few months. So who knows? But I know she never loved me the way I love her.

“He’s at your mothers, he’s really worried about you. I tried to find Jacob,

butų,” She held up her hand silencing me.

“Don’t bother. He left and he doesn’t want to be found.” She wasn’t bitter, but very matter-of-fact. It amazed me how she could show so little emotion over the father of her child. When he left I wanted to murder him for abandoning them, but Caitlyn just dusted off and moved on.

She squeezed my hand with a renewed force I didn’t know her weak little body even possessed.

“I need you to do me a favor.”

“Anything.”

---

Asshole. I stare at my pitiful reflection solemnly, in her bathroom mirror. The blood on my wrist drips onto the sink and down to floor. She would hate me for making such a mess. I grab a lavender hand towel off the rack and begin to soak it up. No, that’s a decorative towel you jerk!

“Shit.” I toss the now worthless rag aside and fall back to the floor. I touch the gash lightly but pull back when a sharp sting tears through my arm. I had always heard that for a suicide by wrist slashing to be successful you had to find an artery then cut in a vertical line down your arm, but that sounded like it would require much more precision than I was capable of at that moment.

---

“You have to take care of Mikey for me. I want you to adopt him,” I remained silent, unsure of what to say to her, “You’re all he has now, Michael.”

“He has your mother.”

“After the way that lunatic raised me, you think I’d let her take my son? You are all he has. You have to promise me.”

“Of course I’ll take care of him, haven’t I always? But, you have to stop talking like you’re already dead. You’re gonna be fine, stop being so damn morbid.” I didn’t even believe my own lie enough for it to sound convincing to her.

---

I brought the boy to see her everyday for a week, and he wouldn’t touch her. He said he was afraid he’d unplug her. I got so angry with him, one day in the hallway outside Caitlyn’s room I started to shout.

“Why won’t you give her a hug? Don’t you love her?” I know it was cruel, but I needed him to understand. He didn’t say anything.

“You might not get another chance, don’t you get that?” He hit me then. Not hard but I suspect he gave it his best. He ran into her room and threw his arms around her. She cried and so did he. It was the first time since she got sick that I had seen either of them cry, and I wanted so badly to cry with them but I couldn’t. He walked back out into the hallway minuets later and shoved his hands in his pockets.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” he said.

“I’m sorry I yelled.”

“Can I sleep at your house tonight?”

“Sure.”

---

I didn’t cry at the funeral, though I never knew I could feel so much pain. It was muted though, everything was. It was like this for days. Then the pain dulled and I couldn’t feel anything. I wasn’t even sure if I was still alive. Then I got a call from Caitlyn’s lawyers, time to settle the estate. I didn’t have the energy for this, but there was going to be some question as to who would take custody of Mikey, so I needed to be there.

I was wrong. There was no question. A year and a half ago, as soon as Caitlyn suspected she was sick, she took out a substantial life insurance policy. She was so pessimistic; I always told her that. She said it kept her from being disappointed. She had named me and Mikey co-beneficiaries. I couldn’t process it at the time, but she left me everything. She’d also drawn up adoption papers. The lawyers talked and I nodded, though I didn’t hear a word they said. They talked, I nodded. Sign there, there, and there. Initial there, and there. I walked out a millionaire and a father.

---

This morning I went to clean out her house. I still hadn’t shed a tear over her death, but I thought I was ready. I was going through this little ballerina jewelry box she had on her dresser and I found it, right on top. This cheap glass engagement ring I had given her when we were fifteen. I had asked her to marry me then and I promised to buy her a better one someday. She told me in that lovely, flirty voice that she reserved only for me that she’d think about it and let me know. I was still waiting.

I ransacked her kitchen until I found the Scotch in the cabinet underneath her microwave. I broke down. I can’t be sure why I did it except that I felt something for the first time since the funeral. I knew I was alive, but not for long. I grabbed a kitchen knife and trenched into the bathroom, her ring on my pinky. After a few hesitation nicks I dragged the heavy steel across my left wrist and collapsed, sobbing on the cool tile floor.

That was two hours ago. I guess I should’ve cut the other wrist too, I expected to be dead by now. Selfish bastard.

“I love you,” I whisper.

Nothing. Screw it, Mikey’s gonna be home from school soon anyway. I grab the bloodied towel and wrap it around my left wrist. I stand carefully, conscious of my flaccid limbs, and head out to my car, I’m sure I have some gauze in a first-aid kit somewhere out there.

I squint as the sun assaults my eyes, and I stumble down the front porch stairs. One of Caitlyn’s neighbors is at my side taking hold of my elbow, his eyes drawn to the blood stained towel on my arm.

“Hey, are you okay buddy? Do you need some help?”

“No,” I say, “It’s just a scratch.”


Exit

by Donnie Cox

“Even death will have exits like a dark theatre”
— Charles Bukowski

I.
Too spent to calculate
the sum of scattered thoughts,
he sits bent forward,
hands folded in front of his face,
like that Sunday school painting
of Jesus in the garden,
praying for a way out.

He’ll spend the little time left
holding to slippery half-truths,
trying to convince himself
that he did what he had to do.

Pushed to the edge,
he lost all balance & stumbled
into a hole so deep
there was no way to gauge the fall.

Suddenly, as if stunned
by his own desperation,
his body shudders & a short moan,
like the parting sound of hope,
escapes from some dark place
very near his soul.

Just to be moving,
he gets to his feet & walks
to the small cell window,
where he watches a thin cloud
slowly shroud the half-moon.

In his head,
he begins to gather
fractured images,
struggling to frame
the still distorted scene...

II.

...Standing just out of range
of the street lamp,
he eyes a cab as it crawls along
an otherwise deserted avenue.

His attention shifts
to a small, unlit house on the corner.
When he spots the beat-up blue Chevy,
that belongs to her new friend
still sitting in the driveway,
something close to a smile
plays along his face.

Every lousy little detail,
behind those cheap curtains,
burned, by time, into his brain:
every corner, every crack in the floor,
every angry scar on every faded wall,
every broken glass, & every broken promise.

Every meaningless minute spent
begging mercy for every wrong thing.

Feeling strangely numb,
his hand moves against
the cool metal of the .45
tucked inside his jacket pocket.
Somewhere, a lost dog howls...

Slowly, as if on cue,
he lets a spent cigarette
drop from his left hand,
steps from the curb,
& is taken,
like a wind-blown bird,
into the crazy night...

III.

...No last words

He lies flat on his back,
Arms & legs strapped tight
to the contemporary cross.

Staring straight up
into an overhead light,
he fights hard to stay awake
as the fatal fix roars,
like an express train,
through his veins.

For the first time in weeks
things slow down
enough to allow
his brain to latch
onto a clear thought...

Still,
no answers,
only one
last question...

Jesus,
if you’re real,
& can look
through this
concrete & steel.

After having seen
what you’ve seen,
& knowing
what you know,

can you still
stand by
that altruistic suicide?

Copyright © 2004 D.B. COX. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The Comfort of Calculations

Matthew Franks

“What is that stench?” Charles asked aloud after repressing the thought as long as he could.

He had taken his usual place at the small, mahogany desk in the corner of the living room, settling in for an evening of overtime after an already exhausting day of work as the regional manager for The First American Bank. He had been crunching numbers into a worn out calculator when a progressively reprehensible smell began to permeate through the entire house. No longer able to bear the frustration of being disturbed, Charles left his desk to investigate the mysterious odor.

He went into the kitchen and dug through the trash. Perhaps, he thought to himself, the remains of a thrown away rotisserie chicken had rotted and was now letting him know it was past time to take out the accumulating waste. No such easy resolution. Despite his concerted efforts, Charles could not find the source of the decay amidst the discarded milk cartons and empty soup cans. Feeling helpless, Charles ventured on to other areas of the house, peeking in various bedrooms and closets in a vain attempt to discover the culprit.

Put simply, the house was in shambles. Since his wife left him unexpectedly after six years of marriage, Charles became less inclined to take care of things in her absence. Magazines lay strewn across floors, beds in guest rooms remained unmade, and new forms of life appeared to be evolving from the mold that sprung up in the bathtubs. Still, Charles’ search proved fruitless. The origin of the heinous scent was not as easily accounted for as he had hoped.

Even before the separation, Charles lived in disarray. As early as junior high school, he would forget what he was doing during such elementary tasks as tying his shoes before going out. He became confused during tests, at times even blanking out completely despite having crammed for hours the night before. On into his teenage years, he got worse. After successfully obtaining a driver’s license, he found himself parked in a ditch without a clue as to how he had ended up there.

Needless to say, Charles’ parents were concerned. They sent him to a psychiatrist in hopes of finding a quick remedy to their son’s peculiar mental state. Even with a long series of psychological questionnaires, probing assessments, and informal counseling sessions, no solution could be found. According to the diagnosticians, Charles was an average teenager, easily distracted yet overall relatively functional.

Through college, the episodes lasted increasingly longer. For days at a time, Charles couldn’t account for where he had been or what he had done. In denial about the potential consequences of such an ailment, Charles accepted a friend’s proposition that he had been blacking out during heavy bouts of binge drinking. He convinced himself he was an alcoholic regardless of the fact he only drank moderately and in social situations.

Pretending that his problem didn’t exist, he graduated with a business degree and, with a love for mathematics and accounting, climbed up the corporate ladder in eight short years. At work, the bank tellers called Charles ‘Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde’ behind his back. Close friends and associates described what they saw as ‘black and white’ behavior. Some times Charles was a nice guy. Other times, he got downright nasty. Charles, of course, thought they were pulling his leg. One female employee even filed a lawsuit against him for threatening her with an envelope opener. Charles had no recollection of this. The case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence as well as Charles’ spotless criminal record.

“I’m telling you, Dave,” he spoke into the master bedroom telephone. “It smells like something died in here. We better not have rats again. Hang on, Dave.”

Charles clicked over on call waiting.

“Hello? Oh, hi Barbara...No. I haven’t heard from her...I know she’s your sister. She’s my wife, remember? Look, I’ll call you when I know something. Okay?”

Charles clicked back to Dave.

“Hey. I better call the exterminator. I’ll see you at the office tomorrow. Of course, the Peterson file is under control. Don’t worry.”

Charles hated waiting. The smell became more pungent and the elevator music they were pumping through the line didn’t help matters any. All he wanted to do was go back to his calculations. He felt in control with his rows of numbers, his interest reports, and his monthly summaries. All other times, he just felt insecure. He wondered if his wife left him because of his tendency to detach. Whatever the case, the last thing in the world he felt like dealing with was some flim flam bugman who would no doubt charge him for a full fumigation.

“Johnson Exterminators,” a well trained voice came on the line. “How may I help you today?”

When the bugman arrived, Charles stood idly by on the brink of full blown nausea. The bugman couldn’t readily diagnose the problem. He routinely sprayed along the walls and laid traps in various nooks and crannies, but, for the life of him, had no idea how to identify the smell. He even flipped through his exterminator manual as if it had a scratch and sniff section. Though his pride had definitely been wounded, the bugman didn't give up without a fight.

“You got a basement?” he asked Charles. “Sometimes certain species breed closer to underground.”

Charles led the bugman down into the cellar. The ghosts of broken down kitchen appliances lay covered in dust. An old dilapidated couch sat conspicuously in the corner of the room. Charles had to cover his nose. They had discovered the source. The bugman lurked around, peeking up at the ceilings and along the walls for signs of life or otherwise. Charles couldn’t remember the last time he had been down there. Surely, he thought to himself, I wouldn’t let things get so disorderly.

“We don’t use this room much,” Charles, now feeling a little embarrassed, told the bugman. “You go about your normal business, sometimes you forget a place exists.”

The bugman stopped dead in his tracks. He noticed something, that as a typical and humble exterminator, he did not see very often. Sticking out from under the couch was a human foot. Though he did not consider himself a detective by any means, he deduced by the shades of red on the toenails, that it belonged to a woman. Acting on instinct, the bugman pushed the couch aside. Lying on the floor, wrapped in a plastic bag, two mysteries were solved. The smell had been coming from Charles’ dead wife; she had evidently been there for some time. Both taken aback, the two men exchanged looks of shock. Charles felt his thoughts slipping.


Passing For Blue



by Donnie Cox

— For D.N.K.

“The blues is a black man's music, and whites diminish it at best or steal it at worst”
— Ralph J. Gleason — Jazz Critic

My best friend
died last year,
in a 24-hour store —
shot by some shaky kid

when he walked
in on a 32 dollar holdup
to buy a pack
of Marlboros.

He was a blues-man.

He knew more
about Robert Johnson
and Tampa Red
than Amiri Baraka — or Leroi Jones.

He used up most of his time,
and all of his options
preaching to the blue
multitudes, jammed

into the cheap neon
playgrounds, along
the whore-haunted streets
of late-night Memphis;

where no accusing eyes
ever questioned the
heartfelt disguise, he wore
like an invisible man.

And on the day
his ashes were
tossed toward
the rain-polished sky,

there were no
sad fans weeping,
no sanctifying poetry
from Langston Hughes,

just a southbound
breeze to ride on,
for the white boy —
passing for blue.

Copyright © 2004 D.B. COX. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The Market Lady

Robert S. Burch

Road dust covered them from head to foot like a fine coat of flour. The sun had seared their exposed skin to a bright pink hue. All three wore faded shorts, ragged T-shirts, and worn flip-flops. The woman also carried a huge black leather purse over her right shoulder. They moved slowly, as if the sun had devoured their vitality. They breathed slowly through their open mouths.

Unlike them, I take pride in my appearance. Today I wore a short-sleeved blue shirt with a light blue tie, gray slacks, and black loafers. Today we had the highest temperature ever recorded for this day in July. I went without a coat, which I normally wear. Like my uncle, I have a firm belief that you can judge people by their appearance.

I work in an office across the highway from the mall as an insurance adjuster. I got started by assisting my uncle Jack, who is an insurance adjuster, while working my way through college. Three years ago, I graduated from college and went to work for him full time. My uncle likes me working in the office. However, he has encouraged me to get a full time job with a big company that has good benefits. Our office doesn’t have health insurance or a retirement plan. I like what I do. I’m good at it. I make good money.

No one wanted to join me for lunch, so I made my way across the highway to the Renton Shopping Mall. I hurried across the hot asphalt as fast as traffic allowed. When I reached the mall, I stood still for a moment and enjoyed the air conditioned coolness.

Sun Woman and her small fries entered the store about a minute after me. She dawdled choosing a cart and strolled slowly down the aisles, like she was stuck in slow speed. Her children gaped at her each time she picked up an item. Her girl appeared about eight and the boy about nine. They clung to one side of the Sun Woman’s cart and each time they whined or cried she would grab their cheek between her thumb and finger and shake their little red faces until they stopped.

I didn’t see them again for nearly twenty minutes. I had a sandwich and a soft drink at the deli counter. When I finished my lunch I walked back to the front of the store and on my way chose a cold Diet Coke from a cooler to take with me.

Seven or eight shoppers lined up behind all twelve check out counters which is normal at noon. I don’t mind the long lines; the wait in line gives me an excuse to rubberneck and people watch. I watched as Sun Woman and her children got into one of the lines and out of curiosity I stepped into the same line. Sun Woman had several tattoos on her arms that her sunburn and road dust nearly obscured. She had folded her sunglasses and stuck them in the neck of her t-shirt. She had short brown hair streaked blond tied up in a ponytail. Some of her hair had come loose and hung in strands. She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, but she looked like fifty. She wore silver and turquoise rings on every finger and half a dozen silver bracelets around her wrists.

“That’ll be twenty six seventy five,” the cashier told Sun Woman and sneered when she saw Sun Woman pick food stamp books out of her purse. She separated the purchases into two piles. Sun Woman tore the coupons from her stamp books and handed them to the cashier. “How much cash do I owe you,” She asked in a surprisingly husky tenor voice.

I expected a much different voice from a woman who was almost five feet tall.

“Fourteen sixty seven,” she said. She looked at the cashier at the next counter and gave a slight shake of her head. She then folded her arms over her chest and gave a big sigh. Sun Woman searched through her billfold. When she didn’t find money in her billfold, she began frantically pawing through her purse. She found several loose dollars and some loose change. Shoppers in other lines stopped to watch. One couple walking out of the store with their purchases stopped at the end of my counter and pointed at her and laughed.

The man standing in line ahead of me shook his head and left our line. Sun Woman meticulously searched though her billfold again. While she was searching her billfold, I took a twenty-dollar bill out of my pocket and dropped it into her purse. She placed her billfold on the counter and searched through her purse again. I could actually hear her breathe a sigh of relief when she found the money.

My action surprised me. I’m not the type of person who steps forward and helps anyone. In fact I don’t even say, “God bless you,” if someone next to me sneezes. After I’ve had time to think about it: I have to admit that I’m not very happy with myself. I was motivated to help anonymously not for any noble reason, but by anger. I was angry with the man and woman who stopped and laughed at Sun Woman and her children.

Sun Woman left the store with her kids hanging off her two plastic bags. I never saw her again.

In a way, I feel like a fool. Did the woman pick up things that she knew she couldn’t pay for? Even worse, it makes me sad to think that I may not be the good person I thought I was. I didn’t set out to help a person in need, I reacted to the ridicule of another person’s misfortune and that’s not the same thing. Knowing this, why do I feel good when I think about what I did?


from the chapbook Other Worlds, by Ashok Niyogi


from the chapbook Slim Volume, by Ashok Niyogi

RAVENS



Ashok Niyogi

The first time I went to California,
I was so overawed,
I thought there were no crows!

Today in the morning, three ravens came to visit by
And discuss social inequalities they have with the geese.
They thought it would be fruitful to talk to a like-minded person.
So they came to pontificate on various philosophies.
They perched on the chimney-top,
Black against a backdrop of white,
Re-arranged their feathers,
And were ready to talk.

In democratic California they are a vote bank.
On Election Day, over their feathers
They drape the red and the blue.
We promised to grant them equal status
With birds of different hue,
Even hummingbirds,
Who partake only of nectar.

But we will have to address their demands.
In civilized society their hunt for rodents is taboo.
So they invade garbage bins in suburbia
To drink soured milk from cartons past expiry dates.
The food is scarce and hardly gourmet.
Soon they will invade windows of kitchens
To peck with black beaks into refrigerators and larders.
As a human I cannot approve of these intrusions,
But then I quite understand their compulsions.

The only way is to talk to them of Zimbabwe,
Of equations of cruelty reversed in time.
They furrow their brows and look at my map.
But the Atlantic is a big gap.
Blank eye-sockets stare back at their bird-eyes.
Who will they find similarities to vent their anger upon?
Where are the geese?

Anger and hunger mixed together is potent.
It can cross oceans
To mix and parley with those
That are not hungry and angry.

Discussions such as these are always inconclusive.
So, we will sit in the park in the afternoon
And read the Daily Mercury.
Stories of rape and murder and incest and kidnap
Will contribute to a good afternoon nap.
Old men, like the ravens and me,
Must, after all, wear their mittens.

Sleep will assuage their anger and hunger.
In any case I have promised to be back
With tomorrow’s Mercury
To talk to their off-spring with red throats
And baby beaks.

For ravens are my friends.



THE CALIFORNIA BLUE



Ashok Niyogi

Sharp scalpel
To cut away eye-lids
Precision in circumcision
The surgical stare
Without batting an eye-lid
At the blue
Of the Fremont sky.



LAS VEGAS



Ashok Niyogi

Dealing blackjack
From plastic boxes;
Dwindling chips, multicolored, signifying degrees of disaster;
Occasional loud orgasms from neighbors.
Discrete ashtrays and tall drinks
Besides slot machines;
Parking five floors above;
Taking travelators into tropical forests.

Acrobats
With white tigers and lions
That play like kitten.
Waitresses’ skirts showing dimples.
Shriveled breasts inside sequined holsters.
Facelifts amongst brand-names strewn like confetti.
This perpetual party of
Acrobats.

Tramcars from King Arthur’s table to Egyptian pharaohs
And escalators snaking down into roadside strip clubs.
Strobe lights reputed to reach outer space
Or at least clouds.
Magic, music and Andy Warhol.
Van Gogh at the Guggenheim.
Breasts of all colors, shapes, ages, dimensions
And gravitational pulls.

Acrobats
With jackpots in realms of astronomy
Tutoring lessons for games of craps
As the roulette rotates around the sun.
Acrobats.
Complete ethnic equality measured in green.
Cashiers’ grills with extreme expressions.
Vacant eyes going through the motions,
“I will win”.
I will win without emotion.
I learnt how to gamble to the horn of Louis Armstrong
In New Orleans.
When everything was not yet oversized
Like middle aged American breasts and thighs,
Mascara and lipstick and sneakers without socks.

Acrobats
Hanging from pulleys and ropes
Cleaning one-way glass on overpriced windows.
The boardwalk above the strip where
The color is red-
Flashing taillights of cars full of expectation.

Acrobats.
Faces bathed in ever-changing hues of creative neons.
I stare and for a moment I forget
That I am a mendicant monk
Stripped bare of my skin,
Flesh and bones exposed,
Pulse throbbing through blue veins.

Acrobats,
Fortune not camouflaged
But etched in deep lines
On the fractures of my skull,
While frescoes still in their infancy
Stare down at me from ceilings
And people dine at the Stratosphere
Up above the sky so high.
Acrobats.
How do I watch volcanoes erupt
Systematically every fifteen minutes?
How do I stand and stare
With my staff and begging bowl,
Fully dressed in my mendicant’s robes’
Pacing the pavement through throngs of people?

And yet it is people that I crave-
Acrobats.

All the while surveillance cameras blink at me
From chandeliers.
Tricksters through life
Advertise with blinking neons
And are done.
But tricksters with words are
Acrobats.

We are, all of us, acrobats
Juggling rods of fire with baseball bats
And love songs are electronically synchronized with fountains,
Water is on fire.
In the hungry eyes of passers-by
You sense desire-
Upon the boardwalk where senses reign supreme,
I sit, meditate and look back on time
Whilst human searchlights look for God.
On which freeway do I race my juggernaut?

Acrobat in lotus position
On the seat of my meditation.
Such vast multicolored emptiness!
Which poems do I say, that synchronize
With hotel arcades?
Which gondola do I rent
That can serenade a mendicant monk,
An acrobat in the desert?

On shards of salt and volcanic rock
I walk
Bare-foot in my mind.
Because
I am
An acrobat.



LIGHT



Ashok Niyogi

Remind me,
I am talking of Delhi and not Moscow
Not wake-up calls through wooden slats
In a suburban San Francisco window,
Not dappled sunlight up Yosemite way.

A painter would have caught
This scraggly light between the pines
This beautiful slanting morning light
When everything is soothing,
Nothing is bright.

But poets have no vision you see---
They just write poetry.



SUITCASES



Ashok Niyogi

Don’t you realize that in the tears of departure
There lies a violence unbidden
Because I don’t want to go.

Don’t you realize that in the fireworks
There is fire, controlled though.

Don’t you realize that in the suitcases of abandon
There is fashion, even if it were not so?

Don’t you realize that in the morning light
You decide my plight.

Don’t you realize that as the plane takes off,
It will take us to our destiny?

Don’t you realize that above the clouds
The light is bright?



HAPPINESS



Ashok Niyogi

Who knows what sores fester
Beneath the ground?
Light the lamps.
This will be the festival of lights.

In the mountain desert,
Near the sky
We will forget about dissension
And chains of command.
We will celebrate with abandon
As we do in our village down below
On level ground.

Happiness is a gust of cool breeze,
A sudden shower in bright sunlight.
Happiness is footsteps on a staircase,
And the turning of the key.

Who thinks about subterranean moons
That ooze pus, gangrenous pus?

Happiness is running to catch a bus
That takes you home,
To candles on your windowsill.
Happiness is the odor of musk.
Happiness is daffodils at dusk.
Let the doctors cut and probe and amputate.
Happiness is shafts of morning light
Creeping through the drapes.
One more day.
Happiness is the smell of freshly mown grass.

Happiness is the perfection of the narrative in a dream.
Happiness is the echo of the same familiar theme.

The bloodletting will pass.
No sores will fester anymore
Beneath the ground,
In the mountain desert,
Near the sky.



HOLLOW STEMS



Ashok Niyogi

Hollow stems.
All of them have hollow stems,
But they clothe them so nice,
You can’t make out it is vice.
Beneath the crests and hollows,
Are the hollow stems.
Phantoms gather as the fans switch on,
And lives are made or overturned,
Dreams are dreamt or slept away.
Hollows stems in nice clothes
Over hollows stems.



INCANDESCENCE



Ashok Niyogi

The sun has just passed away.
It was glorious in its day.
But now its corpse is a uniform yellow
That falls on my pillow
And warms my scalp.

The sun is dead.
I have had the vital signs checked,
Now there is only reflected light.
Soon there will be a spark of incandescence
As we light its funeral pyre.
There will be total and absolute brilliance
And then progressively the light will fade.
Trees will shudder and mountains will be moonscapes.
Huge rocks will float away into outer space.
The human race sniveling in subterranean tunnels
Will be a disgrace.

We light up stoves and turn on the gas
With cigarette lighters we light up cigarettes.

But now we will have to light up the sun.



BUTTERFLY NET



Ashok Niyogi

In the forest with my net and magnifying glass,
Sandwiches and coffee and all the equipment I need
I catch and examine butterflies.
A stallion rides into my butterfly net
And once enmeshed,
Starts to neigh and stamp his feet
Crushing the grass flowers underneath.

I was out to catch a butterfly
But caught a horse instead.



LIGHT A CANDLE FOR ME



Ashok Niyogi

Today is like the topmost branches of trees
Blowing helter-skelter in the cross wind,
Like continuation that never continues,
Like action that is the stuff of dreams,
Like mountain streams.

But I will surely want to know
How, after twenty years,
You will still walk in the snow
Without my elbow.

When you slap together your midnight snack
In your frayed nightwear
You will have company.
It will be the same inane chat.

How will it be
To light a candle for me to see
Just sepia pictures in moth-eaten frames
Of a fractured life?



STOPWATCH



Ashok Niyogi

Meetings and hope
Crash on rock
Two hundred feet into the sea
Crash with such ferocity
There’s a permanent mist
Over the Freeway
Out of Crescent City.

Yet in the Bay Area
Progression is regression
All before the stopwatch stops.

People like zombies
Trundle pushcarts
In and out of organized rows
Of groceries,
The stopwatch never stops.

Weekends we own
With aircraft monitored speed limits
Thousand dollar fines for litter
Elk steaks, the spray from the Bride at Yosemite,
Falling in love with a fox.
On Sunday evening as we do our laundry
We think of the Monday conference call and
The stopwatch stops.

But where is the derelict, the wino, the waster,
To record this all.



NIGHT AT THE REDWOODS



Ashok Niyogi

The gondolas are done for the day
The beer-bellied operator has gone away,
On wire ropes the box-cars gently sway
Almost kissing the tops of the tallest giants.

In the womb of the cathedral tree,
I hold chapel with the half moon at a slant,
My grotesque shadow is two dimensional,
It folds and climbs up the trunk of the dinosaur.
Knurls on isolated trunks
Are wizened Indian Chiefs
Black war paint in the folds and creases
Of their ageless faces.

Rough shaped lifeless statues and panels
Embedded for eternity in their own wood,
The logger and the carpenter
With a tankard of ale,
Crude giants dotted beside the tourist trail
Now go about their nightly chores;
The audio boxes come alive
Mixing botanical data with childrens’ lores,

And all the while the shallow roots
Intermingle and fight for food;
Mute in their struggle to grow
Taller, broader and taller still.
And the branches know
Which way the morning light will climb,
They strive for longevity,
They are not phantoms you see.

The dead trunk shriveled white,
Struck by lightning and yet upright
Sees all in the moonlight.



ART



Ashok Niyogi

It is always art that coincides with art,
It is never otherwise.
Now the question is
Whether this is for the good or bad.
Or is it always just mediocre?

This we shall have to see.

But everyone will agree
That an attempt has been made—
Some words said,
Some paint splashed on canvas,
Some camera frames exposed.

After that, we shall judge
And pronounce like old money,
Which years were better than others.

And if you combine year and place
And astral positions
You may still strive
To derive the moon-dust,
As a connoisseur, sniff with your aquiline nose
And declare that it is a rose.



FLAMES IN PARADISE



Ashok Niyogi

I am petrified.
What would people do
If they ever had the time
To listen to my words.
Will they blame me
For the flames that rise in paradise,
In lives turned upside down,
Postponed celebrations, cancelled parties,
Apprehensive car rides in the midnight rain?

I comprehend somewhere at the back of my mind
That life is a straight line
And forward movement is socially acclaimed.
But how can a drunk move in a straight line,
And only forward?
His feet go this way and that.

How can a drunk understand the established disciplines
Of the forward life.



DEATH VALLEY, CALIFORNIA



Ashok Niyogi

Lest I forget,
You can get a systematic catalogue
Of stratified minerals
Formed by millions of years
In the valley of death.
After all, it is a major tourist attraction
After walking yards of floors
Through tables of craps and slot machines
As wheels of fortune turn,
The only physical reaction
Is that knees ache,
Ankles complain.

In Vegas
We did not see a single scene of high drama.
Nobody jumped from the 28th floor,
Nobody fainted in ecstasy.
None became an instant millionaire
In this major tourist attraction.
This eternal partying is also a profession.
Nothing to do with fate or fortune, least of all, God
Untouched.
And yet they all had to play,
Compulsively play
With faces of intense concentration.

Herded by the chimera of the yellow metal.

There was a certain unearthly beauty in all of this
Like the beauty that I saw in moonscapes
In the valley of death.
Pink and green and cobalt blue,
The sun reflecting from the quartz of salts amongst rocks.
There was a mirage on carpeted floors
Just as there was on the tarmac road
Through the valley of death.

Below sea level
In the valley of death
The absolute was in the lack of life.
No trees, no shrubs, no birds, no sounds.
And yet, snow-capped mountains
Bordered the valley of death.
Therefore, there was this infectious impatience
For the car to take a turn
For a new palette of colors to meet me.
There was such incredible beauty in it all
Just as there will always be
Form
In stunted cacti
In the valley of death.

And of course there was this sense of compulsion
Of having to do what you have to do
In the valley of death,
Just as there is compulsion in clods of grass
To peep through black volcanic rock,
For strange flowers in the palest shade of violet
To bloom by the roadside
In the valley of death.

And there was a certain jaded street-smartness
Just as there is boredom in the endless crystals of salt
On the Devil’s Link near Badwater,
Not spouting, just bubbling through.
I imagine humans wriggling like inferior species of larvae
Just as they do in Badwater,
In the valley of death.
Humans denominated by the color of their currencies.
Just as there are myriads of shades

In retrospect
In the valley of death.



BUTT-ENDS



Ashok Niyogi

Like the madman in matted hair
With a fixed stare
I assiduously collect the butt-ends of my days
From ash-trays:

I meticulously arrange them on my writing table
In descending order, longer to shorter
And then I carefully calculate
How much time I have left
After I have smoked the last cigarette.

It’s a wonderfully repetitive process
Now that I have learnt to hoard.

Now all I must do
Is keep a box of matches ready
To get on board.



CENSOR AND CENSURE



Ashok Niyogi

I see this world through censored eyes,
Because I am the object of universal censure.

But last night I saw a sight,
Which made me put down my toilet seat
And look out of the hospital bathroom window
And stare a while.
You see, this window opens into a utility shaft.
Hot and cold water pipes, oxygen pipes, gas pipes,
Exhausts,
They all run through it from bottom to top.

And right next to my window,
On a rubber-clad hot water pipe,
A pair of pigeons roost.

Actually fast asleep
Husband and wife.
Beak touching beak, neck tucked in,
Plump, happy and satisfied.

I sat a long while on my toilet-seat,
And stared at them with not a little envy,
But they were oblivious to my stare
And I just could not give them a scare,

Pigeons are monogamous you see.



CANCER IN MY BRAIN



Ashok Niyogi

Sometimes the pain is too much to bear:
This cancer in my brain.

Shadows go about their daily chores.
I know all about the changing of the shifts.
I am here to stay.
This low-grade fever, it doesn’t go away.
I tell the doctors
These are the last vestiges of passion.
This fever is here with me to stay.
We are affianced, this fever and I
So how does it matter if tomorrow is another day?

--There is no day appointed in the scriptures
To shoot myself in the head.



BLACK SOUL



Ashok Niyogi

We will go hand in hand into the evergreens
Me and my soul, black as coal.
To hide in shadows that tall trees
Throw on apiaries.
Stinging bees make honey for me,
For me and my soul.

A riot of colors on the beetle’s back;
This peculiar knack
That you have of talking in rigmaroles
Will not save our souls.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away:
What happens when he does not give?

I went to Kinnar (1) to ask the Shiv.
My hoarse cry echoed across the peaks
And the snow doves carried in their beaks
Echoes of ringing shrieks.
In the togetherness of flight
Perhaps they found themselves tight.

Now why is it that dreams of glory
Impinge upon my story
About yesterdays in the life of an ordinary man?

The mangoes I brought back are overripe
And old men, like small babies, are victims of gripe.



(1) Kinnar - A hill district in the Himalaya in India



ETA RUSSIA



Ashok Niyogi

In summer the vodka kiosk
Beneath my flat
Has an open-air watermelon stall
And Azeris (1) with golden teeth
Cheat you on the kilo.
But redder and sweeter they could not be,
The juice trickling down your chin
As you spit out pips on to the roadside grass
And sneak a drink from your vodka bottle-
Transportation into sweet heaven.
All sticky and drunk
You snooze in the sun

************

Attempting a swallow from your bottle
While staring at the ceiling
On the upper bunk of a Rusian train-
The angle has to be precise
Otherwise you will choke and splutter
While the world below you
Eats Kalbasa (2) and boiled eggs.
Their angle need not be so precise
Because on the train floor,
They have made their beds.

***************
This time we stayed at a hotel
By the frozen sea with fixed waves
As if somebody had said, ‘statue’.
We walked upon the sea towards
A lone fisherman who had drilled a hole
In the ice
And with his rod, been moderately successful
Even though he was thoroughly drunk.

******************

We had this brandy warmed up for us
On a spirit lamp, the beaker at just that angle
And I smelt a Cuban cigar.
The brandy was warm and warmer inside
But the cigar was too much
For my Indian tongue.

**********************

Park Kulturi to Park Kulturi
That was our riverboat station
Past the lawns of Mosfilmovskaya
Weaving between the walls of the Kremlin
Kissing the Balchug Kempinsky.

************************

A bite in the wind as we sat on the top deck,
The new glorious church under construction,
Flotsam on the waters of the Muskva.

Those were sunny days.



(1) Azeris - People of Azerbaijan
(2) Kalbasa - A large sausage usually shared.




FEARS AND FOLLIES



Ashok Niyogi

My past follies have come to dine with me
And they say they intend to stay.

Best are the times when I am alone
In a room full of people
And the ghosts that haunt me are all mine.
Champagne breakfast, grumpy good-mornings
And nothing more.

I dance with shadows on the floor,
Silhouettes playing the band.
I understand
I would want my yesterdays to
Push today away into the gloom.
Scarves and chiffons waft about in the room.
Old babushkas (1) sit by the wall
Knitting sweaters that I will never wear,
A patchwork of lives.

What patterns do you care to put together?
What meaning do you care to give?
Even if I live beyond this moment
What fear do I have of abysmal change?

My tears enmeshed in my mind’s rage
Will nevertheless drive me far.



(1) Babushkas - Russian word for Grandmothers



GREEN LEAVES



Ashok Niyogi

The stuff of reality
As flint stones spark fire
And auto tires get eaten up by roads.
Surfboards that catch a particular wave.
Sometimes it all feels so naēve
That I’d much rather dive beneath dreams
For oysters which may yield a pearl
To adorn the artful turn
Of a golden strand
Whilst I learn and endure.

Strings of fortune garlanded with time,
Oceans of grime
Whilst even you endure my tired rhyme.
If you don’t sing along with me
It will seem as if I shriek in solitude.
The tides will watch
As oceans churn up divine nectar.
It is not time yet to lecture me in dry auditoriums.
My horses of fancy
May be in their infancy.
It is not even necessary to tell me why
Pigs fly.

That absolute will wait to be answered by the absolute
For I can only reason with reason.

So tell of today:
Tell me of this breath that you take.
The sequential harmony of breathing
Is ultimately all there is about strife.
If you can breathe properly you will jive.
Tell me of today:
Was there a cloud cover?
Snow or rain or sleet?
Did people retreat into gastronoms? (1)
Were there scenes of muffled human beings driven by the wind through the snow?
Let me know.

If I can see through your eyes
Distances will not matter.
I will tell you which way I go,
You tell me which way you go.
We both have tickets for the avtobus (2)
But they are in your purse.

So we don’t really have to rush.
The thrush is a bird that trills.
But midway through its lifespan
As it sleeps,
Even the thrush snores.
It is so important to learn to know
Which way the wind will turn.
How the shadows fall.
How in winter-

The trees will stall
Agonies of birth
Of green leaves.



(1) Gastronoms - Shops selling food.
(2) Avtobus - Electric trolley buses




CROWS



Ashok Niyogi

At morning light crows gather
Over the thrashing body of their fallen sibling.
As you walk by they are bold in their anger
They fly through your hair and draw blood from your scalp
And all of them together make such an awful din
It recalls for you your original sin.

And all the while, the sibling
Thrashes on the sidewalk.
The red inside its beak shows in desperation
As the crows gather in the morning light.



SKETCHES



Ashok Niyogi

Three old women
Sat basking in the sun
On a bench
In the snow working silent
At their needlepoint.
All three had sleeping cats
On their laps
Purring gently away.
On a week day afternoon,
The park was isolated
The incessant monotone of the purring
Grew louder and louder
Till their eardrums would burst.
The three women looked at each other once,
And gouged out the cats’ eyes,
And let the blood flow
On to their skirts,
Down their stockings,
Into their winter boots.
They continued with their needlework;

The cats were pets.

********************************

A bunch of boys of nine or ten
Behind the school chapel
Were catching dragonflies,
They would sneak upon them,
Catch them by the wing
And tear their wings off
To watch the torsos wriggle.
On chapel stairs
The dragonflies just would not die.

***********************************

The alcoholic middle-aged divorcee
In the flat below,
With a thin emaciated child in the bedroom,
The child snivels and snivels,
The woman lights a cigarette,
Picks up her walking stick,
And taps herself into the bedroom.
She stubs her cigarette on the child’s buttocks;
The child shrieks

**************************

The mangy old bitch with sagging tits
Had sores all over,
Lay in a ditch,
Eyes doleful in hunger,
Yellow teeth bared in self-defense.
Some street children had tied
A string of firecrackers to her tail,
Someone lit the firecrackers,
The bitch yelped and jumped
And danced in fear
As the neighbors watched.

******************************

The beggar boy at the traffic light,
Washcloth in hand was swiping at windshields.
The temperature outside was over 130,
A Lady delicately blew her nose,
Rolled down the car window
To a blast of heat,
Flicked away the soiled tissue,
And quickly rolled back the window
To keep the air-conditioning in.
The tissue fell at the beggar boy’s feet.

**********************************

From inside the glass-walled pizzeria
They stared at the newspaper boys
Crouched against the driving snow,
Mittens with blue fingers sticking out.
Nobody was buying newspapers
Because it was too cold.

************************************

Suburban America, come away
From your baseball parks
And walk barefoot with me
On shards of salt in Badwater Lake,
Peel away this insulation of lawns and kitchen gardens
And garage sales and loans and mortgages,

Come sketch with me in black and white.



CAR



Ashok Niyogi

The moons of Jupiter turned away
When I cried.
After that she walked
To sit in a car.

We were friends
As we are
But she walked away,
To sit in a car.

I said to myself,
This is not the end.
But so it seemed,
So it seemed.
I said to myself
It was a joke
But it was not,
Was it a joke?

This walking away from each other
Whilst sitting in the back seat of a car.



EVENT



Ashok Niyogi

In the event of my death
People will remember me
For the number of teeth that had fallen.
In the event of my death
People will remember me for the lies I had told,
Especially when I was old.

But at the end of it all
They will see the tree with leaves.
They will see the tree about to flower.
At the end of it all,
They will see the tree.



FORMALITY



Ashok Niyogi

What will you find
That you have not found before,
Which emotion of an alien kind?

What will you find
To trouble your heart
If your heart is not already troubled?
Which teardrop will it bring to your eye?

In the event of the formality being over,
Lets walk down to the nearest pub
And share a pint of Larger.
Pubs open at eleven
So at best, we’ll have to wait for five minutes.
You are already thinking of Vodka with a beer chaser.

You don’t want to get chased so early
We have things to see in Wales,
And in any case their local language
Is an absolute belter.
So sit back, have tuna sandwich and coffee
And enjoy the bus ride.
Am I being contrite or am I?

I met this fellow in Bristol
Who used to drive a truck into Saint Petersburg
(it was called Leningrad then)
And he actually claimed that he had had
Kalbasa (1) and brown bread at a friend’s house.
He actually claimed much more
But I am being a gentleman.

And he said he saw the frozen Baltic Sea
Just like you and I did see while holding hands.
Hot palms were hot,
Weren’t they?

And I threw a pebble that skidded seven times on the ice.
Then we walked into a Finnish gastronom (2)
And bought French wine
And did the day.

Once we did that the day was done.



(1) Kalbasa - A large sausage usually shared.
(2) Gastronom - Shop selling food




POETS



Ashok Niyogi

Poets galore,
They emerge from bushes and trees
As if they were bees.

Poets in tandem
Who sing at random,
Poets of words
Who do not know words,
Poets of glory
Who will tell you the whole story.
Poets of love
Who will sing of doves.

But all this has to be tight
The cadence has to be right
Otherwise we are not bright.

When did you last break the sea
To swim or yacht or sail
Or just wet your ass?
When did you last swim?

When will the tears
Stop flowing copiously?
Where were the dreams,
The dreams that come true
As sometimes you do.
When was the fear
In the cheer
Of relationships gone sour?

And dreams that come true.



RIGHT



Ashok Niyogi

If I were to see the sun and the stars today
I would say they were wars.
If I were to meet the sky today
I would ask why.
If I were to go to paradise
I would say it was a throw of the dice
Which fell right
As it sometimes does.
And if this were not enough
To hold my sarcasm,
I would say let’s play “catch”-
You catch my life
And I catch yours
On Sunset Beach.
And then we shall eat fish
At the Fisherman’s Wharf,
Caught fresh from the South China Sea
And imported in refrigerated containers.

When will we be what we are?
When will we see the morning star?



SINNERS



Ashok Niyogi

After a few days,
Incorrigible sinners that we are,
We shall sin again.

And then because of this interlude
We shall sin and sin hard,
Like alcoholics after a dry break
Like smokers after a plane ride across the Pacific,
We shall sin and sin hard.

And when we wake up from the orgy
We shall make confession,
Seek absolution
And then plot the next sin again.

This is habit forming like a narcotic
It is shameful indeed:

But no one has yet explained to me
Why it is sinful to sin.



SONGS OF SILENCE



Ashok Niyogi

All this couldn’t be happening to me.
Reflections in the mirror-
That is what it is,
Songs of silence sung in rhythm,
And scattered voices in the dark,
Stark naked
Begging clothes from the falcon.
It was not me,
It was a doppelganger, you see.

So what shall we say
As we walk on cobbled streets?
What shall we say,
Who am I and who are you?
When did it begin,
Where does it end?

But the stars will bear witness
Even when eyes tell lies.
It’s unfortunate
That I just couldn’t find the words.
Now I search for them in blindness.
It’s unfortunate, the touch and the feel.
It’s unfortunate that we had to go through the rough.



STILL LIFE



Ashok Niyogi

A generous bowl
In subdued Moreno craftsmanship
Placed on wood of Scandinavian pallor
Berries and cherries of varied genre
Spilling over like literary forms
Artfully

Banana as Ikebana
Pineapple for thorny heat
Tangy tangerine
An African mango in solitary
Melons carefully desecrated
Into Halloween shapes
Lemons in demure yellow

Clever light glinting on crystal
Discreet gold outlines
Only old money is discerning
Electronic sentinels keep watch
Over the virtual hothouse

You are the millionth visitor to this exhibit
On the Embarcadero

You wait for the fruit to ripen
And be ready to eat



ONE MORE DAY



Ashok Niyogi

It never comes easy, does it-
The rhetoric?
Now it is mandatory that I speak
To allay the guilt of a labor less day.
One more day when I did not
Participate in life,
When footfalls and football were all the same,
One more day of gray,
One more day about which
I have nothing much to say.

I walked the dogs.
I have constipation,
Little appetite, frugal meals.
Recuperation never comes easy.
I sent an email, some CDs through the courier.

In the evening I step out
To buy milk and cigarettes.
The checks balance out:
I get some and give some.

This is the price I pay
For one more day.



RAIN



Ashok Niyogi

I am a blood-and-guts guy.
But I will write vegetarian poetry
And get by.

The bud flowers
And the stares at me suspiciously
As if I ever wanted to be
Anything but a bumblebee.
The first raindrop punctuates my buzz,
Symmetry in the rain.

Birds and bees are as formidable a combination
As the proverbial stork,
But not so formidable as afternoon fumbling
In borrowed rooms
With crumpled bed sheets and curtains drawn
And the pitter-patter on the tin roof of the portico.
Symmetry in the rain.

Paddy fields are lush with a live green
That hits your guts.
Vanilla creepers climb areca nut palms.
A spastic looks out of a stained glass window.
Football is played with long passes.
Symmetry in the rain.

I hide my cirrhosis behind trees and bushes.
My blood irrigates them well.
Even across barriers
Of societal disapproval, there is
Symmetry in the rain.
Milch cows whose udders go dry
Are left astray on city streets
To rummage through garbage bins.
In India, to slaughter them is a crime
Though they create an awful stench
That wafts across the
Symmetry in the rain.

Half constructed bridges crumble into backwaters
A sickly Donna Paula (1) with a fist in her mouth
Stares at the crashing waves in startled awe.
Old Portuguese roofs cave in
In plantation country on full moon night.
Ogres dance madly to the drumming of the raindrops.
Symmetry in the rain.

Airplanes think of landing and then change their mind.
Afternoons are restless, evenings ominous.
Cigarettes are stale, just vodka and ale.
Fish smells on Miramar (2).
Clouds are low and uniformly dark
Laden with God on a celestial throne.
His scimitar sends heads rolling on the sand.
On the wet sand the lone mongrel is having a lark.
The rain has stopped and there is silence.
Symmetry in the rain.

Mongrels are mongrels
Either because they are the offspring of mongrels
Or because some master in his petulance
Threw them out to the
Symmetry in the rain.

Seas churn, planets burn,
Babies newborn are speared on swords,
Women raped in front of their sons.
Evil hunts well in time with music.
Symmetry in the rain.

A snake slithers across the road
In front of your car,
Homeless and destitute, its hole flooded.
Casual workers have gone back to Bihar (3)
And coconut trees are afraid of the sea.
There is a peculiar cadence
Symmetry in the rain.



(1) Donna Paula – A lady who lived in the Governor’s house in Panjim, Goa, India. Legend goes that she used to look across the seas for a lover who never returned and threw herself on the rocks and died. But actually she died of tuberculosis as told to me by a family whose ancestors were her neighbors.
(2) Miramar – The beach nearest the Governor’s house in Goa.
(3) Bihar – A poor province in the Indo-Gangetic plain.




SIMPLICITY



Ashok Niyogi

Simplicity leads to orderly ways.
Imagine stars in complicated intrigue
Turning ellipses into circles and circles into Cyclops.
Imagine the orbits: imagine the turning over at the heels.
Simplicity is representative of vibrant music,
Music that lives on through the days.

Simplicity is a burning log fire
For warming hands and feet
That you must ultimately quench
With the quivering thighs of a wench.

Simplicity is communication without the vicissitudes of language.
Simplicity is virile.
Simplicity is the morning sun,
Contemplative silence, watching the orb of fire dive down into the sea
On sultry impatient evenings of impending violence.

Simplicity is falling in love
Without asking too many complicated questions.
Simplicity is all about counting trees mindlessly,
Engaging in soliloquies with birds and squirrels,
Taking an early morning picture of yours
To show you how you will look when you are a Babushka (1)

Simplicity is a quality rarely found in humans
Because it belongs to animals and trees.



(1) Babushka – Russian word for Grandmother



SLEEP



Ashok Niyogi

Sleep overtakes me
During the daylight.
Outside it’s bright.
But in the inner recesses
Of the caverns of my brain,
The bats will only start to fly
Once sleep overtakes me.



SOUNDS



Ashok Niyogi

The pujas (1) are upon us once again
From the 6th to the 10th day of the waxing moon;
Far in the distance a train trundles out
And honks its way,
Or perhaps it is conch shells (2) –
The blowing of conch shells to invoke the Goddess.
From my hospital room
I can’t make out.



(1) Pujas – Hindu worship (in this case) of the Goddess of Strength over Evil.
(2) Conch Shells – Ceremonially blown to invoke the Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu religion.




what is veganism?

A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don't consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.

why veganism?

This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

so what is vegan action?

We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.

We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.

We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.

A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.

vegan action

po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353

510/704-4444


MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)

functions:

* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.

* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants

* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking

* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen

We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.


The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology

The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST's three principal projects are to provide:

* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;

* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST's SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;

* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.

The CREST staff also does "on the road" presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.

For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson

dja@crest.org or (202) 289-0061

this page was downloaded to your computer