Any Kind of Shrine

I am in love with every church
And mosque
And temple
And any kind of shrine
Because I know it is there
That people say the different names
Of the One God.

– Hafiz (1315-1390)

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The Perfect High

The Perfect High (Or The Quest of Gimmesome Roy)
by Shel Silverstein

There once was a boy named Gimmesome Roy. He was nothing like me or you.
‘Cause laying back and getting high was all he cared to do.
As a kid, he sat in the cellar, sniffing airplane glue.
And then he smoked bananas — which was then the thing to do.
He tried aspirin in Coca-Cola, breathed helium on the sly,
And his life was just one endless search to find that perfect high.
But grass just made him want to lay back and eat chocolate-chip pizza all night,
And the great things he wrote while he was stoned looked like shit in the morning light.
And speed just made him rap all day, reds just laid him back,
And Cocaine Rose was sweet to his nose, but the price nearly broke his back.
He tried PCP and THC, but they didn’t quite do the trick,
And poppers nearly blew his heart and mushrooms made him sick.
Acid made him see the light, but he couldn’t remember it long.
And hashish was just a little too weak, and smack was a lot too strong,
And Quaaludes made him stumble, and booze just made him cry,
Till he heard of a cat named Baba Fats who knew of the perfect high.

Now, Baba Fats was a hermit cat who lived up in Nepal,
High on a craggy mountaintop, up a sheer and icy wall.
“But hell,” says Roy, “I’m a healthy boy, and I’ll crawl or climb or fly,
But I’ll find that guru who’ll give me the clue as to what’s the perfect high.”
So out and off goes Gimmesome Roy to the land that knows no time,
Up a trail no man could conquer to a cliff no man could climb.
For fourteen years he tries that cliff, then back down again he slides
Then sits — and cries — and climbs again, pursuing the perfect high.
He’s grinding his teeth, he’s coughing blood, he’s aching and shaking and weak,
As starving and sore and bleeding and tore, he reaches the mountain peak.
And his eyes blink red like a snow-blind wolf, and he snarls the snarl of a rat,
As there in perfect repose and wearing no clothes — sits the godlike Baba Fats.

“What’s happening, Fats?” says Roy with joy, “I’ve come to state my biz.
I hear you’re hip to the perfect trip. Please tell me what it is.
For you can see,” says Roy to he, “that I’m about to die,
So for my last ride, Fats, how can I achieve the perfect high?”
“Well, dog my cats!” says Baba Fats. “here’s one more burnt-out soul,
Who’s looking for some alchemist to turn his trip to gold.
But you won’t find it in no dealer’s stash, or on no druggist’s shelf.
Son, if you would seek the perfect high — find it in yourself.”

“Why, you jive motherfucker!” screamed Gimmesome Roy, “I’ve climbed through rain and sleet,
I’ve lost three fingers off my hands and four toes off my feet!
I’ve braved the lair of the polar bear and tasted the maggot’s kiss.
Now, you tell me the high is in myself. What kind of shit is this?
My ears ‘fore they froze off,” says Roy, “had heard all kind of crap,
But I didn’t climb for fourteen years to listen to that sophomore rap.
And I didn’t crawl up here to hear that the high is on the natch,
So you tell me where the real stuff is or I’ll kill your guru ass!”

“Ok, OK,” says Baba Fats, “you’re forcing it out of me.
There is a land beyond the sun that’s known as Zaboli.
A wretched land of stone and sand where snakes and buzzards scream,
And in this devil’s garden blooms the mystic Tzu-Tzu tree.
And every ten years it blooms one flower as white as the Key West sky,
And he who eats of the Tzu-Tzu flower will know the perfect high.
For the rush comes on like a tidal wave and it hits like the blazing sun.
And the high, it lasts a lifetime and the down don’t ever come.
But the Zaboli land is ruled by a giant who stands twelve cubits high.
With eyes of red in his hundred heads, he waits for the passers-by.
And you must slay the red-eyed giant, and swim the River of Slime,
Where the mucous beasts, they wait to feast on those who journey by.
And if you survive the giant and the beasts and swim that slimy sea,
There’s a blood-drinking witch who sharpens her teeth as she guards that Tzu-Tzu tree.”
“To hell with your witches and giants,” laughs Roy. “To hell with the beasts of the sea.
As long as the Tzu-Tzu flower blooms, some hope still blooms for me.”
And with tears of joy in his snow-blind eye, Roy hands the guru a five,
Then back down the icy mountain he crawls, pursuing that perfect high.

“Well, that is that,” says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone,
Facing another thousand years of talking to God alone.
“It seems, Lord”, says Fats, “it’s always the same: old men or bright-eyed youth,
It’s always easier to sell them some shit than it is to give them the truth.”

This Luminous Beggar

Excerpted from Misia by Robert Fizdale and Arthur Gold © 1980, Misia Natanson writes of her friendship with the poet Paul Verlaine:

It was there that I struck up a friendship with Paul Verlaine. Usually between benders, and always sad, he would come in the early evening, sit down with me, drink, read me beautiful poems, and weep.

One felt the unconquerable, the tragic youthfulness of his heart. Somewhere behind that immense forehead lived a soul which knew the uttermost bounds of purity. This drunken bum zigzagging across the Latin Quarter, this luminous beggar dragging his feet in the mud was conscious only of the sky. The horror of being ugly, of being ugly every day, without respite, every minute, even when his heart was dazzled by love for another being, had gradually taught him a profound humility. The blows of life? He had brushed them all aside. They did not prevent him from coming back to sit at a sticky marble café table, order an absinthe and a dreadful little pen, scratchy and squeaky, one of those pens born to be dipped into the inkwells of the poor… His were simple words, transformed into treasures…

It was my tender memory of this little café which made me go to see him in the hospital when I heard he was seriously ill. I shall never forget that poor ravaged face, the long shaky hand he could barely lift to take mine and the light in his feverish eyes that tried desperately to express what his lips no longer had the strength to say… Two days later Verlaine died. His funeral procession, and Debussy’s, were the only ones I ever followed on foot.

Paul Verlaine died in Paris in at the age of 51 in 1906.  A nice collection of his poems, translated into English, is available online at Poetry In Translation.

“Nay, nay! I better understand!”

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by Sana’i (1080-1131)
Translated by E.G. Browne (1862 – 1926)
Taken from Persian Poems, An Anthology of Verse Translations, © 1954

Not far from Ghúr once stood a city tall
Whose denizens were sightless one and all.
A certain Sultán once,when passing nigh,
Had pitched his camp upon the plain hard by,
Wherein, to prove his splendour, rank, and state,
Was kept an elephant most huge and great.
Then in the townsmen’s minds arose desire
To know the nature of this creature dire.
Blind delegates by blind electorate
Were therefore chosen to investigate
The beast, and each, by feeling trunk or limb,
Strove to acquire an image clear of him.
Thus each conceived a visionary whole,
And to the phantom clung with heart and soul.

When to the city they were come again,
The eager townsmen flocked to them amain.
Each one of them — wrong and misguided all —
Was eager his impressions to recall.
Asked to describe the creature’s size and shape,
They spoke, while round about them, all agape,
Stamping impatiently, their comrades swarm
To hear about the monster’s shape and form.
Now, for his knowledge each inquiring wight
Must trust to touch, being devoid of sight,
So he who’d only felt the creature’s ear,
On being asked: “How doth its heart appear?”
“Mighty and terrible,” at once replied,
“Like to a carpet, hard and flat and wide!”
Then he who on its trunk had laid his hand
Broke in: “Nay, nay! I better understand!
‘Tis like a water-pipe, I tell you true,
Hollow, yet deadly and destructive too.”
While he who’d had but leisure to explore
The sturdy limbs which the great beast upbore,
Exclaimed: “No, no! To all men be it known
‘Tis like a column tapered to a cone!”
Each had but known one part, and no man all;
Hence into deadly error each did fall.
No way to know the All man’s heart can find:
Can knowledge e’er accompany the blind?

 

England is a cup of tea.

America is a Gun
by Brian Bilston

England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.

Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is a gun.

Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.

Japan is a thermal spring.
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
than America as a gun.