Only thoughts are free

The best poems in the world are written in my mind. The only problem with them is that they’re only in my mind. The difficulty is actually writing words that don’t exist and expressing emotions that can’t be real outside of a human imagination. In my mind anything can rhyme if you think about it the right way. The power of the poem is in the power of the thinker, who has all the rules of reality bent to his will in his consciousness.

Those best poems can’t be written because they aren’t real to anyone but the poet. Writing is limited by writing as songs are limited by singing. Thoughts, though, are free. Thinking is unbound. In my head, everything can make sense if I want it too. I am not limited by logic, or by reality, or by words and rationality. My emotions can remain undefined, my thoughts can remain confusing, and my poems can remain nonexistent.

Which is why I find writing so difficult sometimes. It forces me to put together thoughts onto paper. The infinite dimensions of the imagination are all of a sudden constricted to two. Rhythms and rhymes that once made sense collapse to confusion. Brilliance descends to mediocrity.

I still write, however, to look at my thoughts from the outside. Words on a computer screen are never can never be mine, even if I wrote them, and I can critique freely. There, I can see how sensical my mind’s nonsense is. That is the advantage of writing, it forces and plunges your thoughts and you right into the dreadfulness of reality.

But I never write for self-discovery. The words here are not mine, and I learn only a little from them. What is true about me is only in me, and I can only interpret it from within. I can see clearly without the filters of words into what really is true inside. Even as I write this, it is not how I would have it. It is not true to what I’m trying to say. The words are tarnished, and only my thoughts are pure.

For that reason I rarely write poetry or share stories. I have books of ideas in my head, entire stories and tales that the world ought to hear. But I keep them with me, not out of selfishness, but out of that inability to share. What I write is not me thinking. Only what I think is me. Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh. I am who I am.

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In reading the Bhagavad Gita

I read the Bhagavad Gita a year ago – during a cold January. I read it every day from 8 to 8:30 in the morning and later when I had time- the only book I’ve ever read with vigorous routine. I read it sometimes half asleep, sometimes listening to music, sometimes with full attentiveness. What I found in the Gita was a long and repetitive and boring poem that somehow never lost my attention. There was something in its essence so captivating and other worldly. It is difficult to put into words – it’s not like I agreed with its messages (often in “contradiction”). But the discourse, the thoughts, the poetry kept me alert.

I’ve always  been fascinated by Hinduism, a religion so vast, diverse, and misunderstood. It’s not like I understand Hinduism, but it’s alien-ness in many ways gives it an attractive exotic-ness (Orientalism, anyone?). I swear the text gives an impression of cyclical infinity, of contentment, of ultimate liberation. It gives the hint of an entirely and so fundamentally different outlook to the world that begs for attention and keen interest. The discourses aren’t like those of Western scriptures or even Western epics. The dialogue is always on thought, on belief, on action, which is like belief, but different, but the same, but both, but neither.

The Gita lives in a world of seeming contradiction and juxtaposition – at one point it’s action, at the other it’s inaction. At one point it’s duty, at the other it’s independence. At one point it’s rational inquiry, at another it’s leaping in faith. But these seeming contradictions, these juxtapositions are never portrayed or interpreted by the reader as bad at all. It’s as if the Gita is begging you to live in contradiction and confusion and to love it. It reminds me of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, which seems to embrace ambivalence.  And maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, maybe I’m unsure. The thought that you cannot know, perhaps, is the whole point.

But all the way through, the centrality of an inexplicable contentment runs. I don’t know what I mean in describing inexplicable contentment. There’s a sense I get in Arjuna and Krishna an apathy. An apathy of action, of feeling, of personality. But the Gita once again puts this in a good light. The reader never sees this apathy in a bad way – it’s blissful. It’s not selfish, it’s selfless. It’s not out of hate, it’s out of love. For what? For God? For duty? For love itself? Maybe there is no answer. The thought that you cannot know, perhaps, is the whole point.

Long story short, I’ll have to read it again sometime. The Gita loves not giving answers while seeming to give answers and changing them the next second. It loves to confuse you and throw you out and lure you in again. It has an almost magical quality to it, exploiting and manipulating its own seeming contradictions all for a blissful apathy all in the name of love for the sake of love. Or does it? And every time you throw it down in agony trying to figure out its message, you pick it right back up and try again, falling to its wonderful temptation…

(My reflections are by no means interpretations, as I refrained from pretending I can)

(A quote from Gita by J Oppenheimer, inventor of the Atomic Bomb)

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I am that I am

I am that I am

And that is all that I am

I am that I am

And that is all I can be

I am that I am

And that is all that I was

I am that I am

And that is all I’ll ever be.

I am that I am

And it’s not good or bad

I just am that I am

and I just didn’t choose

But I am that I am

And that’ll just have to do.

Rigged Game

Every day when I was five, my older sister would play teacher.
Her students were me, my stuffed rabbit and an American girl doll,
She’d line us up at the end of the bed
and teach us whatever she’d learned in school that day.

Now, she teaches ESL at an elementary school in Boston
and every week she tells me stories about her students.
Ana does not know how to read in Spanish, much less English
but she still wants to be a writer when she grows up.
Juan chooses to stay inside and study at recess
so that one day he’ll be able to teach his own brother.

These kids are good organs in a sick body.
In 2001, No Child Left Behind
gutted bilingual education.
Students who have been in the country for one year
are now expected to perform at grade level
on standardized English tests.
My sister is not allowed to instruct them in Spanish.
If the kids don’t jump high enough, the school loses money
Improving a school by picking its pockets
is like tuning a guitar by ripping off the strings.

Learning to read in a new language
before you can even read in your own
is like learning to walk while a pit bull is chasing you.
Like learning to sing with the conductor’s fist down your throat

This year, for my sister’s birthday,
I bought books for her students.
A poem on one page in Spanish, the next in English.
She is not allowed to help them read the first.
Their heritage is a banned book

Learning to read in a new language
when you can’t even read in your own
is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.
We are telling these children
who have spent their whole lives in the deep end
that they’ll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther.

In the 1980s, American slaughterhouses
began building corrals in curves,
so no animals could see the blood at the end of the track.
This is how we kept them moving forward.
In 2001, we began building the hallways of our schools in curves.
This is how we keep them moving forward.

You never learn, you fail the test
You never learn you fail the test
You never learn, you drop out.

I know, I am lucky enough to be one of the winners of this game
I was handed a head start
and a rulebook in my own tongue

but the winners of a rigged game
should not get to write the rules.

On the television,
some senator preaches that throwing money
at an “urban school” is like feeding caviar to your dog.
They just won’t know how to appreciate it
After all, if these parents can’t take care
of their own children, why should we?

Well tell that to Ana
who has my sister translate newsletters aloud to her father
because he, too, was never taught how to read

Tell that to Juan
whose mother and baby sister are still in Guatemala
whose father works three jobs

My sister tells me school is the most stable place in these kids’ lives.
She has been a teacher since she was smaller than they are.
but since when does being a teacher mean having to swear not to help?
Since when does being a teacher mean having your hands tied
as the schoolhouse burns to the ground?
We are leading these children along a track built in circles
as their lungs fill with smoke
telling them it is their fault
they can’t find a way out.