Allama Iqbal, a Naat, and The Mystery Behind the Green Door

Maryam Museum VII

Maryam Shahbaz…young poet on the go…signed into the shrine honoring the life of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal, and hoping for the best.


She found herself caressing the carpet that a poetic icon and national hero tread on so casually in a past, commenting, “…it is hand woven and has a very desirable feel to it.”




Maryam Museum XIIIThe caretaker, Mr. Riaz, offered up the pen (qalam) and ink pot (dawat) that Allama Iqbal used to make words come off the page and dance for those listening to the music.  Words…words…words, such as –

You are the Sacred Tablet.  You are the Pen and the Book; 

This blue colored dome is a bubble in the sea that you are.

You are the lifeblood of the universe

You bestowed the illumination of a sun upon the particles of the desert dust.

The splendor of Sanjam and Selim; a mer hint of your majesty;

The faqar of Juniad and Bayazid; your beauty unveiled.



Maryam Museum XVIMr. Riaz seems to have his own sense of the dramatic – meant to tantalize the imagination of those sensitive to the mysteries of the universe, and of those chosen to interpret that universe for apprentices of the senses.

He led Maryam and a friend to a green door, telling her that it had been closed since Allama Iqbal passed on to the universal mystery nearly eighty years ago.

When asked why it was closed, he only offered that it had been used for a dressing room addition to the guest room.

Asked if it would ever be opened, he reserved his opinion and said it could be opened some day…some day.


Maryam Museum XXIVAn assistant to Mr. Riaz, offered a dramatic reading of a naat – a written epic honoring the master poet’s sense of his desired union with the eternal…the universal…the mysterious…the lines that moved me to think more deeply about my feeling of that eternal, universal, mystery:

It persuaded me with art, it pulled me by force;

Strange is Love at the beginning, strong in its perfection !

Separation is greater than union in the state of ecstasy;

For union is death to desire while separation brings the pleasure of longing…


Persuasion – Beginning – Perfection – Separation – Ecstasy – Union – Desire – Longing


And the final stanza of the naat, one that sunk into my hand-woven soul with a desirable feel to it that seeks out the magic left by those who have written my world into existence:

The world has become dark since the sun has set down;

Unveil your beauty to dawn upon this age.

You are a witness in on my life so far;

I did not know that Knowledge is a tree that bears no fruit.


To this I not only have nothing to add, but don’t even feel qualified to comment.



(Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress through Maryamshahbazmian.  Her poetry collection, The Light Behind the Veil is to be released soon through Multani Press.  Good luck to her…if the truly talented and deserving need luck).

A Young Poet’s Pilgrimage in the City of Poets

Maryam MarketI met the young poet on a social media site.  Over the past few months we’ve become friends – more than friends I guess.  She addresses me in Urdu, her native language, as big brother.  I address her in Spanish as my little sister.  Odd to me, having such a relationship with someone on almost the exact opposite side of the world…Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets.  I asked my little sister, the poet Maryam Shabhaz, if she would visit the shrine of Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan and another native of Sialkot, to give readers an idea of the importance of poets in her country.  She sent me these photos of her pilgrimage.

Maryam started with a photo of the bazaar, not an unusual place to start in a city with a history similar to Sialkot.  Alexander the great made Sialkot the eastern-most outpost of his empire.  Persians, Afghans, Sikhs, Turks, Mughal emperors, Brits, and Hindu Indians all took their turns trying to rule the Punjab, where Sialkot is located.  Cities that have often found themselves in the way of history tend to be market-oriented.  I’m going to let the national Poet of Pakistan, Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Iqbal take over for a while with an excerpt from his poem Age of Infancy –


Maryam Market IThe earth and sky were unknown worlds to me,

Only the expanse of a mother’s bosom was a world to me;

Every movement was a symbol of life’s pleasure to me,

My own speech was like a meaningless word to me.

During infancy’s pain if somebody made me cry,

The noise of the door chain would comfort me.

Oh! How I stared at the moon for long hours,

Staring at its silent journey among broken clouds;

I would ask repeatedly about its mountains and plains,

Maryam Market IIAnd how surprised would I be at that prudent lie.

My eye was devoted to seeing, my lip was prone to speak,

My heart was no less than inquisitiveness personified.



Maryam, it seems, stopped off in the market…did a little shopping around.  Here she photographed a dealer of essential oils, Ittar in Arabic…herbal scents distilled for perfume and home use.



Maryam Museum XThe next photo she sent me was of the exterior of Dr. Sahib Iqbal’s former home.  I think I’ll let an excerpt of Maryam’s poem The Departed Soul speak for the reverence Pakistanis have for a national hero, one so revered he has a national holiday named in his honor.

Giddily, stand at the light curve,

Wait to embrace the departed soul.

The trifle human remains

Are left of the life carefully mold,

After him, days keep unveiling to unroll

Not any tasks hold gild;

At last, men realize, memories aren’t sacred holes.



Maryam Museum XXVMr. Riaz, the caretaker of Allama Iqbal’s shrine, told Maryam that photographs were not allowed in deference to the memory the poet, scholar, and politician that had such an impact on Pakistani independence.  She told him about the project she was working on, and he agreed the photos were for a noble cause, giving her the unheard of permission to take photos.  The first photo inside the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal is of Maryam signing the guest register.  Between 50 and 75 Pakastanis a day visit the shrine, with the number rising to 300 or so when a college or school arranges a visit.  The visitors who had signed the register before Maryam were from Rawalpindi, and Mr. Riaz pointed out a former Foreign Minister of Pakistan who had signed the register not long ago,misspelling Islamabad, the capital city in which he had exercised his official duties.  I guess politicians are the same everywhere.

The final entry to this introduction to Allama Muhhamad Iqbal, and to this introduction to Maryam Shahbas and her poetry, will contain photos taken in the former home and current shrine to Dr. Sahib Iqbal, and will be accompanied by one of his most famous naats, or religious praise poems.

Maryam Shahbaz’s poetry can be viewed on WordPress under the name Maryamshahbazmian.

Allama Iqbal and the City of Poets

Give to the youth my sighs of dawn;

Give wings to these eaglets again,

This dear Lord, is my only wish –

That my insights should be shared by all !

This poem is from the book Bal – e -Jibreel by Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal was one of the foremost thinkers and doers of his land of Punjab, formerly India, now Pakistan.  Dr. Iqbal began his education at Scotch Mission College in his hometown of Sialkot,then did graduate work in Arabic and Philosophy at the Government College in Lahore.  He also studied in England, earning a degree in Philosophy from Cambridge University, qualified as a barrister in London, and finally earned his doctorate from the University of Munich before returning to his native land where he practiced law, became a professor of Philosophy and English Literature, and produced poetic and philosophical writings that not only inspired people in their everyday lives, but contributed to the independence of Pakistan from Indian control.

Besides being proclaimed the official poet of Pakistan, born in Sialkot, known in Southern Asia as the City of Poets, Dr. Iqbal collected a raft of titles along the way, a testament to his importance in the academic world as well as Pakistan’s struggle for independence.  He earned the title Dr. for his academic work…he was knighted, and became a Sir…he was one of the most revered leaders of his country’s independence movement, hence Sahib, and a towering figure in Asian literature, adding the respectful title of Allama to his credentials.

The picture above is my friend, the young Pakistani poet Maryam Shabaz, before a mural of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal.  Maryam is a new voice in Pakistani and world literature, her first collection of poetry, The Light Behind the Veil from Multani Press, is due to be released soon.  Maryam is a young woman I met through a social media site, but has become much more than a cyber acquaintance…more than a friend – mi hermanita…my little sister.  I asked her to travel around her hometown of Sialkot, Pakistan – the City of Poets – and take a few photographs so I could write a post or two about her life as a young woman living in Pakistan, and the history of poetry from an area of the world where poetry is not only beautiful words meant to entertain, but essential food for the soul.

“Allama Iqbal’s poetry takes us far beyond the materialistic aspects of this mortal life,” Maryam wrote me.  “The youth, whom he called eaglets, are the only segment of society he believed were able to bring about future change for the better so vital to all societies.”

I am going to be doing a series of posts on Allama Iqbal, Maryam, and Sialkot…the City of Poets.  Maryam made a pilgrimage to Allama Iqbal’s former home, now a shrine and museum.  Cameras are forbidden in the revered site, but Maryam explained to Mr. Riaz, the caretaker, what she planned to do with the photographs, and he gave her permission that is not afforded others out of respect for Iqbal and his towering contributions to education, literature, and his country’s independence.


 Maryam Museum VIV

This photograph of Allama Iqbal hangs in his former home and current shrine/museum.  It is one of the few informal images of him in his home. I’ll leave readers with another of Allama Iqbal’s sayings, one I had to have Maryam explain to me.

You despise one bowing down, It frees a man from many bowings down.

This confused me at first.  It seemed as though the poet was implying that not bowing down to “the Creator” would save people from the many supplications to the Creator expected in the future.  Maryam explained that what Iqbal meant by these words was that there are those who think bowing before the Creator is a chore they don’t need to follow, but that bowing down before the Creator gives the supplicant an inner peace and sense of empowerment that keeps them from having to bow down before mortal men in their everyday affairs.  Sometimes I feel so ignorant.  It’s good to have friends like Maryam, poets who are in tune with the power of words and their true meaning.

More of Maryam’s trip through Sialkot and visit to the shrine of Dr. Sir Sahib Allama Muhammad Iqbal to follow…Inshaa-Allah, Dios quiere, God willing.

(Maryam Shabhaz’s poetry can be found on WordPress under the name Maryamshabhazmain)

The Philosopher Red Consoles Pluto

達磨 Dharma-Zen Painting-

達磨 Dharma-Zen Painting- (Photo credit: hira3)

If there’s one thing that really gets under my skin it’s a whiney, petty god that sits around bitching all the time.  There are enough of them already.  The Philosopher Red knows this, but I come home to the Ghost Hotel last night and he’s got Pluto, the Roman god of the Underworld, and his snippy, primp of a wife Persephone, and another woman, out on the balcony chowing down on his psychedelic Black Ant Dip and sipping cocktails.  They were deep in conversation when I passed them, and oblivious of me.

“My planet,” Pluto said.  “How could they down-grade my planet, re-class it to dwarf status?  It’s a number now – 1343…something, something, Pluto.”

“They got a lot of nerve,” Persephone added.  “And now humans are sending some satellite called New Horizons to stick their noses where they don’t belong.  We’ve got workers there right now, cleaning up the place…landscaping…re-paving the road to Hades…and -”

“They’re going to have a time of it,” Pluto said.  “Cerberus is friendly when we get visitors, wagging his tail…but when anybody tries to leave the land of the dead, he turns as vicious as…he’ll devour them.  They should have read the small print.”

“That’s all he ever talks about…him and his three-headed dog,” the female voice said.  “Does he do anything when humans hold contests to name our moons?  And then one of your new gods, a William Shatner, wins, naming one of our moons Vulcan, after a pet of his, Spock or something…if we needed his help naming our moons we would have asked for it.”

“I guess you have to expect that sort of thing,” The Philosopher Red said, then a sigh.  “When you dwell in the dark, when you fear no mortal, when all succumb as they transform in states of agony…despair…having violated universal law.  I can sympathize with Shatner’s drive to name some small part of the fearsome mystery, to go where no man has – blah, blah, blah.”

“It’s not all that bad,” Pluto replied, defensively.  “The UnderWorld is not “hot as Hades” like the hell depicted by Christian tradition.  It’s a pastoral landscape, I think.  There are rivers – one, the River Lethe, or “Oblivion” – alongside which the most recent life can be forgotten.  The Elysian Fields, or the Fields of Asphodel…who could ask for better?”

“And New Horizons…all the remodeling…” The Philosopher Red said.  “I wonder if NASA knows who they’re getting into?”

“When have humans known what they’re getting into?”…a female voice said, an older-sounding voice…regal, almost.  “My Pluto has had so many names…Clymenus, notorious, The Hospitable One, Plydegmon, the Receiver of Many Guests, Plouton, the Rich One, and humans were afraid to invoke his real name.  Now they call his Kingdom a dwarf planet, and they -”

“I guess they’ll find out what they’ve done…down-sizing you to dwarf status,” the Philosopher Red said.  “They’ll be begging for mercy at your gates.  They’ll be -”

“It’s not like that,” Pluto said.  “Just ask Venetia here.”

Venetia?  I got up and walked to the doorway leading to the balcony.  Persephone was slumped back in a chair…eyes glazed over, another victim of The Philosopher Red’s psychedelic Black Ant Dip and probably too much alcohol.  An elderly woman with poor-fitting spectacles was sitting between Pluto and the Philosopher Red.  She was spectral…a ghost.

“Venetia?” the Philosopher Red said, echoing my inner question.

“The wonderful Venetia,” Pluto said with a grand sweep of his open hand, indicating the woman.


Pluto in rotation. Gif-animation

Pluto in rotation. Gif-animation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I had some respect…even then, at age eleven, I knew the weight of actions and the importance of names,” the spectral old woman said.  “I lived near Oxford, England, and was eating breakfast with my grandfather in the spring of 1930 when I heard about this new planet.  Astronomers were arguing over names.  I suggested the name Pluto, in honor of this great man,” she said, nodding her head towards Pluto.  “My grandfather had a friend, an astronomy professor who was part of the team trying to rig up a cosmic map.  They took my suggestion of Pluto and adopted it unanimously…first vote…unanimously !”

“And now look at what these heathens have done,” The Philosopher Red said.  “Another part of my childhood taken from me…no more nine planets…no more cute little Pluto…now just a number assigned to a so-called ice ball.”  He shook his head and swirled his cocktail. “I know my faith in science is not what it used to be…if you can’t count on your favorite planet, what can you count on?”


Persephone woke out of her intoxicated funk.  “And all the remodeling.  Do you know what’s it’s costing us to clean the Underworld up before that imbecilic space mission gets there and starts taking pictures?  Plenty, let me tell you…” She sagged back into the sagging material of her chair.  “Plenteeeee…we’re here to turn Venetia loose on them again.  I sense some earthly down-sizing in the futue of some of these so-called Astronomers.”




Dharma-Zen painting…red cloak          Dharma-Zen painting   red cloak            Dharma-Zen painting   red cloak

Abraham Lincoln: Advice from the Ghost Hotel

So, here I am, crashed out in the Ghost Hotel, the empty shell of some developer’s dream, and the walls are beginning to glow whiter…the straight edges of doorways and windows are starting to waver like sinuous dancers.  I should never let the Philosopher Red cook…or at least, eat what he cooks.  I go to the concrete chunk and wood scrap pile we call the kitchen and look at the recipe he used.

1 bunch of spinach, chopped

1 1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup mayonnaise

1 package vegetable soup mix

3 green onions, chopped

1 cup roasted chapulin (or other insects)

Squeeze spinach until dry.  Combine ingredients.  Refrigerate two hours.  Serve in hollowed bread.  Scoop using crackers of vegetables.

Now, Chapulin is a Spanish slang word for grasshopper, or a young thief or troublemaker.  A bag lying on the counter has a few of the large black ants which The Philosopher Red has discovered cause a slightly hallucinatory effect when dried and eaten.  He becomes a troublemaker when so intoxicated…I regress into my self – past the area where the Rude Red Dude rules.  A Chapulin, indeed.

A Lincoln penny on ground

I walk out onto our rubble of a patio, and find, of all things, an American penny.  The wind sounds like the hum of an audience waiting to be entertained.  “A much better image had he, before the weight of wisdom and responsibility brought him to un-sightly ends,” I pronounce in the best tragedian voice I can muster.  I would have flopped in Shakespeare’s Globe.  The wind seems like muffled applause.  These ants do the job.  Note to self: never eat anything The Philosopher Red –

“My father taught me to work, but not to love it,” came a deep-chested voice, world-weary and monotone.  “I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh — anything but work.”

“A talking penny,” I mumbled.  This was beginning to take on a religious feel…projecting words on to idols, although the smallest American idol – but one any Televangelist would worship.

“Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances,” the voice replied.

“But they all look so good while doing so much disservice to their faithful,” I said, feeling a bit silly talking to a penny, but so alone in the Ghost Hotel it didn’t matter.  And look at Lincoln’s image…not the skeletal mug of his photos during the war years, but the grand features of a born entertainer, a teller of stories, maybe.

“When a young man in Illinois I was riding through a wood and met a woman, also on horseback, who stopped and said; ‘Well for land sake you are the homeliest man I ever saw.’ ‘Yes, madam, but I can’t help it,’ I replied.  ‘No, I suppose not,’ she observed, ‘but you could stay at home.'”  The Lincoln voice sounded playful.

“Might have been a good idea, in your case,” I said to the image on the penny.  “Too late to learn from history though, or advice from friends.”

“All I have learned, I learned from books,” the voice answered.  “My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”

“Well, you know,” I started, thinking I might as well play along with my distorted senses.  “America hasn’t not done so well since people like you…last president raised in the Age of Reason, left before telling us how to clean the mess up.”

“This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.  Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it…”

Now this fantastic voice seemed to be rising to the occasion…a little bit of good old stump oratory…some frontier wisdom.  I sat down.  The effects of eating these black ants might last a while.

“…America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“I hope you wrote some of this down,” I said, flipping the penny aimlessly. “This common little copper disc reminds me of common people.  They serve a purpose for a while, but in the end   they’re expendable.”

“The Lord prefers common-looking people.  That is why he made so many of them,” the voice said, a light-hearted air starting to become apparent.  “And writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of  this world…enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and space.”

English: John Wilkes Booth.

English: John Wilkes Booth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Plain and not honest is too harsh a style,” a new voice echoed through the concrete walls of the Ghost Hotel.  I looked at a darkened corner where it seemed to have originated from, then back at the penny now lying head up in my palm.  I must have looked a bit baffled.

“That is the corner where presidential assassins seem to congregate,” the Lincoln voice said.  “That Booth – always quoting from Shakespeare…Richard the third.  A beast of a man when ignored.”

“No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.  But I know none, and therefore am no beast,” the assassin’s voice rang out.  A voice trained for the theater…projection.  Looking into the corner I see the spectral shapes of several people.  I look to the penny.

“John Wilkes Booth…but I suppose you knew that,” the Lincoln voice said.  “And…Giteau, Czolgosz, Oswald – claims to fame, presidential assassins.”

“Sin, death, and hell have set their marks on him, and all their ministers attend him,” Booth’s voice boomed.

There were more than four spectral bodies in the corner.  A female voice began muttering, as if talking to herself:

“Am I sorry I tried?  Yes, and no.  Yes, because it accomplished little except to throw away the rest of my life.  And, no, I’m not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger…my thoughts of -”

I looked to the penny for an explanation.

Sandra Good, and her cohort Squeaky Fromme,” the Lincoln voice said.  “I hear they tried to assassinate a President Ford, and the joke around here is that he was stumbling down stairs and slipping on wet streets so often he was more of a danger to himself than these attempted assassins were…the management allows their failed company to mix with the successful, for reasons – ”

“Dispute not with her: she is a lunatic,” chimed the Booth voice.  Does he know anything except lines from Shakespeare?

I could hear a squeaky voice arguing with the surer voice of Sandra Good.  “Chapman, shut up…” they said in unison.

“This has to be harder on you than hallucinating on black ants,” I said to Lincoln’s profile on the penny.

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on,” it replied.

“Good advice,” I said, looking in at The Philosopher Red rifling through my shirt pockets…probably looking for more ant money, “Very good advice.”


The Face of a Young Woman of the World

Maryam ShahbazI sent my friend Maryam an e-mail…wanted to make sure she didn’t mind me using her picture in this piece.  A female activist in her country was recently assassinated for audaciously using words to call attention to the suffering in her land.  There’s money and power in misery, and those who try to pull the plug on the money machine will pay…with their lives, if necessary.  I didn’t want to put my friend in any such danger.  She is a poet, and she has a voice, and she is a woman, and…she’s from the dangerous and demonized nation of Pakistan.

She didn’t answer for a few days, and I was concerned.  Finally, this came:

“Major electricity and internet problem ! Our government is striving to provide us with many options of ‘going out’.  Now, everyone is losing their hope for a brighter day.  Those who have means to go away are leaving for countries other than Pakistan.  It surely is getting catastrophic.  It sure does give unforgiving heartache to see your country being bled to death.”

I hear smug, self-righteous voices reciting records of slaughter as if their favorite sporting team had put one in the “win” column.  I sense satisfaction when news of more dead bodies to be piled – more coffins to built and filled – surgical strikes – collateral damage, is reported – oh well…they probably deserved it any way.  This disaster needs a face, and here’s one…the face of the “enemy”…and, the words of the “enemy” –

“My hope is that one day I will be able to travel the world, to meet people and relate the story of a land beautiful and green which has been polluted by the hands of us mortals.  I believe in the coming years, the people more than the government will be responsible for the change towards nations like us, especially when they get to see the human side of things politicized.”

Maryam Shahbaz and FriendsMaryam is a writer, a poet, from a city known for its poets.  She recently earned a degree in commerce, but her leg was broken, and she had to put further studies on hold for a while.  She and her friends like to dress in ways that might dismay her elders, like so many young women do all over the world.  She thinks her words and opinions have value, like so many young women do all over the world.  She likes shoes, a passion she and my wife share,like so many young women all over the world…just one more pair of shoes.

Maryam is publishing her first book, a collection of poetry currently in the final editing process.  She hopes to come to the United States and give readings of some of her works concerning the destruction of her country and the difficulties that come with being a young woman who thinks for herself, and thinks the world can be a better place for us all to live in.

I take pride in the fact that Maryam asked me to write a dedication for her poetry collection.

My wife is proud that Maryam asked her if she would allow a few of her photographs to grace the pages of her poetry collection.

Maryam is so gracious, thanking us again and again for our contributions, and I sit here thinking that I should be thankful that she wants me to contribute what little I can to her effort to improve the lives of the people of her country, and the lives of young women the world over.

I am humbled.

I do not believe in surgical strikes.

I am not stupid.

I watch the news now and again, too often, it seems, and I hear the wail of the world being slowly turned into a charnel pit.

I am not deaf…or sightless…or voiceless…and somtimes I feel so very alone.

Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your world, Maryam…I hope that during your lifetime you can write the world to a deeper understanding of just who the “enemy” is, and that those enemies of the world will not only read your words, but take them to heart.

Your burden is something most of us can’t even imagine.

Good luck to you, my friend.

The Philosopher Red Takes on a Sufi Ghost

達磨 Dharma-Zen Painting-

達磨 Dharma-Zen Painting- (Photo credit: hira3)

The Philosopher Red was up early this morning and out looking for work.  Good for him.  I went out all day taking pictures, keeping up with the local happenings with Big Wave Billy as he gave lessons to  two Slovakians without an ounce of balance between them.  I’ve never seen two people so defeated…at odds with their bodies, and I felt they could be me, or I could be they…although wonderous happenings were in the works.  I just didn’t know it until later that night.

I heard the Philosopher Red come in.  He was talking in a severe way with himself, and he’s not a person to be interrupted when he’s arguing with himself.  He made a hell of a noise, the clinking of glass, the popping of the cork, a distinct gurgling, and then all was silent.Soon he was talking to himself again, but this time his voice seemed to change from his usual growling complaints to a slow, melodic drone, followed by his raspy and world-weary voice.


I crept over to the doorway separating our living spaces to hear more clearly.  If he was going to go over the edge again, I wanted to be one step ahead of the Rude Red Dude.  He was complaining about the image he had created around Tamarindo, and how he would never be able to find a job, and how dangerous he felt it was squatting in the Ghost Hotel.  A deep, calm and dignified voice replied:


“Forget safety.  Live where you fear to live.  Destroy your reputation.  Be notorious.”


“Easy for you to say,” I heard Red reply.  “Living out here on the edge of nothingness is driving me nuts.”


“I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on the door,” the deep, calm voice replied, “It opens.  I’ve been knocking from the inside.”


“But I hear things…you’re just some guy from a book,” the Philosopher Red whined, “I’m talking about my reputation here.”


“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others,” the calm voice replied.  “Unfold your own myths.”


“Stooooooop,” Red said, raising his voice until it echoed through the empty concrete caverns of the Ghost Hotel.


“Raise your words, not voice.  It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”


“Whoooa,” the Philosopher Red taunted.  I heard the distinctive pop of a cork from a wine bottle.  “I thought you were going into some god thing, bringing in reinforcements, or something.”


“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”


“Sure, easy for you to say…you’re a fragment of my imagination.”


“Sit, be still, and listen, because you’re drunk and we’re at the edge of the roof.”


I looked through the door.  All I could see was the red-robed back of the Philosopher Red sitting on an unfinished ledge of a concrete balcony.  He held a wine bottle in one hand, and an open book with an ornate, oriental design in the other.  I considered trying to pull him in to safety.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi gathers Sufi mystics.

Jalal ad-Din Rumi gathers Sufi mystics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Either give me more wine or leave me alone,” the calm, resonate voice said.

There was no other person in the room.

The Philosopher Red took his bottle of wine and poured a small stream of the red liquid on the open pages.

“There, what’s your god have to say about that?”

“Knock, and He’ll open the door…Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun…Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens…Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.”

“Sounds wonderful,” the Rude Red Dude said, then taking a long draw off his wine bottle.  “This is all…”

“But listen to me.  For one moment quit being sad.  Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.”

The Philosopher Red took another drink off his wine bottle, then poured a good draught over the pages of the book he was holding open, and turned the page.

“Don’t you have some place to be?” Red asked…a sarcastic tone.  “Some other souls to save?”

“My soul is from  elsewhere, I’m sure of that,” the resonant voice answered, “And I intend to end up there.”

“Yeah,” Red said.  “Everybody’s got something to hide except me and my monkey,” he sang, not sounding a bit like Paul McCartney.

“Be like melting snow – wash yourself of yourself,” the calm, deep voice said, assuring.

“…like melting snow…wash myself of yourself…”  The Philosopher Red slurred, putting the book down on the ledge of the balcony and taking a long drink, finishing the wine bottle. “I’m either going to throw up, or pass out…it’s a toss-up.”

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you,” a disemboweled, resonant voice intoned.  “Don’t go back to sleep.”

I watched as The Philosopher Red slid clumsily from the balcony, lie down on my bed, and roll over on his back.

“The breeze has secrets to tell me,” he slurred.  “I can’t go…to…slee…”

And he was out cold.

I picked the book up and looked it over.  A poetry book…the name on the cover –  Jalaladdin Rumi.

I slept the light sleep of a dancer that night…spinning, white-clad whirling dervishes twirling their way around and around the stage floor of my dim dream



Robinson Crusoe on a Sunday Morning


Khalid_Sheikh_Mohammed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been hanging out at the beach today, cruising around some internet sites, and I decided to word search hero, since the idea of the hero has always interested me.  I came across some list by some maniac that listed his top 100 heroes who “changed the world” from biblical times up until modern times.  It was mostly a list of American military figures and American presidents, so I can only imagine where the list maker was from and what his or her criteria was.  There were also links to pages entitled “World Religious Map”, “Bible Questions Answered”, “Bible Study” and “How to Lose Weight Fast.”  The dumbest thing about the criteria was the “changed the world” part.  I can think of plenty of people who have changed the world…Genghis Kahn, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolph Hitler, any number of corrupt Popes, Al Capone, atomic bomb makers and droppers, Eugene McCarthy, 9-11 attack mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Osama bin Laden.  That’s an awfully abbreviated list.  And, all of these people were or are Heroes to millions of Some Bodies, at Some Time, Some Where.

George H. W. Bush awarding former President Ro...

George H. W. Bush awarding former President Ronald Reagan the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction in January 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After seeing what other subject matter was available on this site I was not surprised a bit to find Ronald Reagan and George Bush  among this lister’s heroes of recorded history…and I was a bit baffled, but not surprised at their placement, considering the company.

Ronald Reagan was placed at number 5, and George Bush at number 15.  What the…?  I had thought this muscular Christian had gone too far even considering them for his top 100, but placing them both in the top 15?  Need I even go on? Why not?

Feeling a bit dismayed after my search for heroes, I considered who would be considered influential.  Time magazine does one of these lists every year, and if you can’t trust Time who can you trust?


lady_gaga_1920x1080 (Photo credit: Jason H. Smith)

Let’s see…in 2010 Sarah Palin, Conan O’Brian, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Ashton Kutcher, and Taylor Swift were on the list.  Good grief !  Are people really so daft?  In 2011 Prince William and Katherine Middleton were on the list, as was Pope Benedict XVI…but one of them is getting out of town while the getting is good, and if you know who these people are, then you probably know which one is getting gone before the offal falls.  Alright, this is why Time is no longer a relevant source of anything but gossip and sensationalistic pap.  I’m beginning to feel like a Robinson Crusoe, but even Friday won’t hang with someone who lacks the influence of Ashton Kutcher or a Pope who is slipping out the back door.

I tried the 1oo most influential song list, hoping for some sort of cultural connection.  The first site I tried couldn’t load…the second warned it would load my computer with cookies…and the third loaded but then locked up on me.  I couldn’t even form a technological connection.

Alright, I thought…how about the world’s most popular serial killers, or movie villains, or – Books !  Influential books…I can do that.

Mr. Robinson Crusoe

Mr. Robinson Crusoe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had to get to number 57 before I found a book I had read and own, Candide by Voltaire.  Common Sense by Thomas Paine, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, The Trial by Kafka, Nineteen Eighty-Four by Orwell…and that was it.  Five books out of one hundred…five percent.  It seems that I’m not going to be in with any in crowd.  I need to form a pompous superiority complex, or maybe cultivate a crippling inferiority complex…how about both – “My inferiority complex is better than yours!”

What to do?  Is there a 100 Greatest Losers list?  How about a 100 Greatest Nerds list?  Let me…

Screw it…  Back to the Robinson Crusoe bit – I could find a big rock, put it in my pocket, walk down to the Pacific, then…yeah, I know – Virginia Woolf.  Derivative.  Time to log off and lay in the sand of a big beach near a small town and enjoy the sun shining on my face.


Old Man Coyote and the Three Beats

Coyote surveying her domain in the marin headl...

Coyote surveying her domain in the marin headlands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people want nothing to do with the ambiguity Old Man Coyote carries around like a mojo.  Rarely mentioned by any his more traditional names, or recognized in his more common anthropomorphized forms, he’s still there…whispering his way in and out of our daily lives like a waiter  with a tray full of drinks weaving his way across a busy dance floor.  Trickster came to post-modern America in the guise of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.  The mortal emissaries of Old Man Coyote, they came scratching at the door and begging to be allowed to introduce Trickster into the conservative American culture of the 1950s.

A basic need for any human being is a sense of being, of belonging, a sense of not only the continuity of society, but also that they have a place in that society if it does continue.  The trickster character has evolved as one of the most useful and widely spread mythological tools we use when searching out form and purpose in stabilizing ourselves as autonomous individuals in the context of a nation, ethnic group, tribe or family.

Having no form or purpose of his own, Trickster is an agile and exacting actor, easily assuming the local costumes and culture while carelessly creating and destroying in the eternal dance of life and death.  He spans generations and continents as easily as he does gender and sex, changing with the stability of quicksand.  Every culture has focused their neurosis and fears on at least one such character of ambiguity.  In Germany, it is Till Eulenspiegel; in West Africa, it is Spider; in Ireland, the Leprechaun; in France, Reynard the Fox, Gargantua and Pantagruel; in Greece, Kargoz; in Turkey, Nasr-eddin, the hodja (clown-priest); and to the Norse he is Loki, the mischief-making sky traveler.  But the Trickster tales of the North American Indian cultures outnumber all of them put together.  To them, Old Man Coyote is the quintessential trickster figure.

Old Man Coyote, part human and part animal, taking whichever shape is convenient to his purpose, combines in his nature the sacredness and sinfulness, grand gestures and pettiness, strength and weakness, joy and misery, heroism and cowardice that together form the human character.  Willing nothing consciously he brings everything about.  Easy-going he does harm.  Carelessly, he does good.  He is the master of paradox and flexible pragmatism.

Symbolically we may take Trickster for human beings, struggling to master themselves.  In everyday situations we recognize him as a con artist, or a big, fat liar, or in a more sympathetic view, simply our best non-ordinary friend.  Carl Jung, very aware of mythic archetypes, incorporated Trickster into his concept of the Shadow – the dark side of being human, the side better kept hidden from the neighbors.  Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs were perfectly imperfect Tricksters for our post-modern world.

If ever there was a time that American culture needed a little loosening up, it was the late 1940s and 1950s, an era when popular sage Walter Lippman observed smugly that, “for the first time in history the engine of social progress has run out of the fuel of discontent.”  For some, President Eisenhower’s politics of consensus reflected the nation’s affluence.  Throughout America, those who were doing well seemed to believe that economic inequality had been eliminated.

With home ownership spreading, consumerism becoming the dominant lifestyle of the country, and television advertising suggesting that everyone was taking part in the “good life,” there seemed to be almost no one questioning the system or even suggesting alternatives were necessary.  Conformity was the only game in town.

This was the situation that young people like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs faced and began to question.  How does an individual retain any autonomy in an overbearing system?  How does one find freedom in a world where every move fits into someone else’s plan, and the individual, even under the illusion of acting independently, ultimately exerts no control over, and has no choice in, their destiny?

To Ginsberg – more so, Burroughs – and especially Kerouac, the answer seemed…do like Old Man Coyote does; keep moving and provide a difficult target.  These three tricksters became stateless and rootless nomads.  Kerouac’s On the Road celebrated individualism and the lonely quest for identity, displaying contempt for the security and stability that American culture offered at the high price of total conformity and personal compromise.

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo, circa 1956 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ask any coyote and it will tell you that no claims to freedom can be made without offering the same liberation to those around you.  Kerouac seemed to have no problems with this idea, as Joyce Johnson relates in Door Wide Open, a book of letters between her and Kerouac.  “Jack could come and go in my life, turning up for a few weeks or perhaps a month,” she wrote, describing their on-again, off-again love affair.  “When he said, ‘goodbye until next time,’ he’d leave you with your freedom intact, whether you wanted that freedom or not.”

This freedom Kerouac sought, and found, seemed at times to be a demon, and as with all demons, questions are raised…demands are made…tolls are exacted.  There seems to be a dark, choking, and personal fear in his work that the true and ultimate freedom that he sought might not be found at the far end of the highway or on the other side of the border.  The toll?


For better or for worse – and Old Man Coyote is at more than comfortable with ambiguous results – Kerouac is remembered as a tortured soul searching outwardly and inwardly for the ultimate sound, the ultimate high, the ultimate place, the ultimate consumption of “the other.”

Allen Ginsberg did his fair share of searching also, moving across continents and oceans to league with other intellectuals and bohemian types.  But, as where Kerouac’s rambles seemed random and erratic, Ginsberg seemed to always have some ultimate pattern serving a specific purpose and end he had in mind.  His inner Coyote came out as a disseminator of exploratory knowledge as he became a guru to the Woodstock Nation of the late 1960s.

Ginsberg’s impact on succeeding generations was sealed forever with his part in popularizing LSD-25.  The hallucinogen was given to him by anthropologist Gregory Bateson, whose supply came from connections to the shady CIA operatives who were supplying the drug to academic programs and individuals.

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at the...

Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs at the Gotham Book Mart celebrating the reissue of JUNKY, NYC, 1977. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Besides sharing many of Ginsberg and Kerouac’s more Trickster-like attributes, William S. Burroughs honed in on a couple of subjects near and dear to the heart of Old Man Coyote; avoiding outside controls and dissecting language to its bare bones, to a state where all lies and truth become not only possible, but necessary.  His novels Naked Lunch, Junky, and Queer were not only in defiance of the sensibilities of the times, but offended the guardians of public decency to the point where his books were banned, and he was tried on obscenity charges.

Using his experiences with opiate addiction as a model for control of any and all kinds, Burroughs has done as much as anyone to try and break down the barriers that society and language have erected.  As Old Man Coyote might do in the end, Burroughs finally moved to Lawrence, Kansas, the near-geographical center of the Bible Belt, and the nation he spent most of his life escaping from.  Defying middle-Americans and daring their agents of control, he used his back yard for target practice, collected too many cats, openly smoked what he wanted, and held court to bikers, Rastafarians, and other rebels until death came for him six months after it came for Ginsberg in 1997.

The “beats” were more of a fraternity of spirit and attitude than a literary movement, and their writings have little in common with each other.  What they did have in common was a reaction to a constricting and repressive society and the narrow-mindedness of their society.  They also shared an interest in widening the areas of experience available for themselves, and if necessary, dragging the rest of society along with them until some kind of communal shift in consciousness occurred.  And, like Trickster, they used any and all means available.

Joyce Johnson fears that the effect these three shape-shifting and changeable figures had on her might be lost on succeeding generations.  In Door Wide Open she wrote, “By the mid-1960s the culture had changed so much and so quickly that it is hard today for a-historical young people to remember that there were transitional years before certain kinds of freedom we now take for granted could be fully achieved.”

The “beats”, like Old Man Coyote, are praised and cursed, sometimes in the same breath.  Doctrinaire feminists, along with many of the more politically correct, roasted them for their macho behavior and attitudes, but deep down, most will admit that they were responsible for ushering in sexual liberation and a new openness in American art and literature, forever transforming the way Americans, and eventually the rest of the world, lives.

Candidates for my Hall of Heroes?  Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs…I guess so.  Old Man Coyote?  For Sure !

Kurt Vonnegut – Advice for Babies

Archive: Apollo 11 Sees Earthrise (NASA, Marsh...

“Hello, babies.  Welcome to Earth.  It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter.

It’s round and wet and crowded.  At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here.

There’s only one rule I know of, babies – God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Kurt Vonnegut

                                                                                                                      – from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater

Kurt Vonnegut speaking at Case Western Reserve...

Kurt Vonnegut was a hero to non-believers everywhere – yes, a hero…but probably not in the strictest sense of the term.  To be a hero, he would have had to have left a secure, static position in his society, voluntarily left that security to take his chances with the dangers of the unknown, then return to that society with some sort of boon, knowledge or hard-earned wisdom that brought benefit to his fellow travelers in life.  The truth is that the Vonnegut family were traditionally Freethinkers, his grandfather, Clemens Vonnegut, even wrote a well-known manifesto on Freethinkers after immigrating to the United State from Germany.  All young Kurt had to do was listen to his elders…which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.  He often included the following statement in public speaking engagements:

“About belief or lack of belief in an afterlife: some of you may know  that I am neither Christian nor Jewish nor Buddhist, nor a conventionally religious person of any sort.  I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishment after I’m dead.

And, after the success of “Slaughterhouse Five” Vonnegut became one of the most in-demand speakers at university commencements, and remained so during the 1980s and into the 1990s.  He had one theme, which is pretty well summed up by the quote from “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater,” and several stock examples of his disappointment in the behavior of his fellow human beings.  One was the irony of his birthday, November 11, Armistice Day, which evolved into Veterens Day, which he saw as a shift away from reverence for the end of a senseless slaughter to a glorification of death, along with military air shows, parades, and other displays of the machinery of death.  He wrote in “Slaughterhouse Five” that:

“I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres or enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.  I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.”

Is it possible for human beings not to take part in massacres, not to feel satisfied or gleeful about the massacre of enemies, or work for the companies that treat massacres as business opportunities?  Sadly, I doubt it.  Kurt Vonnegut did think so, and he stated that his personal sadness at his failure to change our world enough to make him quit trying through his writing.

Is it possible for human beings to behave decently without any expectation of rewards or punishment after they die?  I think so…I see it every day, and attempt to do so myself.  Kurt Vonnegut thought so, too.  Good for him.