Thursday, March 30, 2006

Japanese Death Poems

As much as I like poetry, I rarely buy one book by one author. The exceptions would be poets I really like. For the most part, my poetry library is made up of thematic collections: Poetry for Men, Poetry for Troubled Times, Spiritual Poems. Poets in these books are usually heavy hitters like Shakespeare, Yeats, Whitman, Hughes.

I have been browsing this one book called Japanese Death Poems this week. I know, it ha a pretty dismal title. But its tradition is in Zen. jisei is the tradition where a poet records his observation of his last moment on earth. A jisei is very short, not constrained by form, and usually taken down by a witness while the poet dictated. This all makes sense considering the circumstances.

I think, in The Last Samurai, that final utterance by the guy who actually was the last samurai, was supposed to be his jisei.

Of course, if any of the other samurai had their own jisei, we didn't get to hear any of them. Not over the sounds of the Howitzers.

If you want to go to a webpage about this, here it is (that is, if I actually do this right):

OK. It didn't work.

Part of the book is made up of death poems by Buddhist monks. One of them, Goku Kyonen, tapped his stick on the temple floor and wrote

The truth embodied in the Buddhas
Of future, present, and past;
The teaching we received from the
Fathers of our faith
Can all be found at the tip of my stick.

He tapped his stick again, shouting "See! See!" and died.

The other part is made up of death poems from the haiku poets of Japan, including Basho, who wrote

On a journey, ill:
my dream goes wandering
over withered fields.

Yes, Orson Scott Card, I know it's in translation.

This one guy, Mumon Gensen, a monk, wrote two:

Life is an ever-rolling wheel
And every day is the right one.
He who recites poems at his death
Adds frost to snow


Life is like a cloud of mist
Emerging from a mountain cave
And death
A floating moon
In its celestial course.
If you think too much
About the meaning they have
You'll be bound forever
Like an ass to a stake.

I like them both. But how can one guy have two death poems? Wouldn't the last one be the death poem and the other just be the second-to-last poem he ever wrote? Couldn't he make up his mind?

Anyway, I admire that people who choose to make their final act one of creation. I know that for people like Warren Zevon and George Harrison, that final creation probably also gave them something to live for as their bodies were ravaged by cancer. But I think it also speaks of their strength to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

By the way, the first edition of William Butler Yeats final poems ends with a really long poem entitled "Under Ben Bulben." This apparently was insisted upon by Mrs. Yeats.

A few weeks before his death, Yeats had arranged these poems in the order he would have liked to seem them appear in this book. This, while not his jisei, was the poem Yeats wanted at the end.


`In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in
political terms' - Thomas Mann

HOW can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics?
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Walking the Rub

Took a walk up Mt. Rub today around noon. Cloudy and drizzly most of the time.

For weekday, there were more people walking that I had expected.

On the exercise front, I went pretty fast. Shaved about five minutes off my usual time. Probably because I wasn't talking. BUT don't take that to mean that I don't like walking and talking. That aspect of the walk has been therapeutic for me.

Scenery-wise, it was indeed cloudy and drizzly. The road was wet, as was the ground. Along the way, I saw a sweatsuit on the path. I kept I eye out for the former wearer, but saw no one. It will remain a mystery.

As I approached the top, I saw a couple of hawks just hovering in the sky, occasionally fluttering their wings so as to stay in one place. I wish I had taken my binoculars.

They played that game with me that birds of prey play when a human approaches their territory. I have seen this on my bicycle outings at the lake as well. As you approach, they act like they don't see you, but subtly shift out of your sight-range as you get closer.

I remember once in the desert, I could see a hawk hovering like this and then diving at its prey below. It moved so quickly that it looked like it had just disappeared.

As I started the downhill, I saw what looked like a dozen or so hawks cavorting lazily in the sky, much like the first two, except they were looping around one another. I have never seen anything like this. In fact, I always thought that hawks claimed territory in pairs and that you wouldn't normally see this many this close to one another. But there were about twelve of them.

I guess they could have been some other kind of bird, but they looked and behaved like hawks. Buzzards I have seen, and their wingspread always looks more raggedy. These birds had the even wingspan that you normally see in a hawks. They were not crows, as their feathers were multi-colored.

This group played the same game with me. As I walked down the Rub side of the mountain, they drifted over to the Riv side. As I turned the corner and started down the Riv side of the mountain, they drifted to the Rub side.

I could also see downtown Riv's tall office buildings, their top floors dissolving into the clouds.

On my right, grasping a branch of a shrub, a hummingbird twitched its head around, perhaps wondering if I saw it, its throat feathers shifted from emerald to ruby as it did so. Near the bottom of the hill, a couple of woodpeckers argued while clinging to a palm tree.

I saw two cats: one calico; the other almost white, with highlights of orange. This last cat approached me and I could see it had blue eyes.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Open Mike

A good night at the Folk Center. A big crowd that stayed big until the bitter end. A few people left, but there lots of people at the end of the evening.

Many talented acts also. Do and her fam brought her boyfriend-in-law to play one of his songs with them playing back-up. They had quite a band going with Jimbo on keyboards, Do on uke, Lins on sax, and bfil on accordion. It was a novelty song with a lot of one-liners crammed together and delivered in at rapid speed. Funny song. Talented bfil. Talented family.

Billy C played Space Oddity on his uke and was among the best of the night. He actually had a nifty little solo that he worked out.

Leemy C did a sad Dylan song. He's voice is getting stronger as is his guitar playing. He was good, but there's this kid about his age that also attends these things and performs. He's sort of attached himself to Leemy. All during Leemy's song he kept singing lines ahead of Leemy, who was trying to interpret the song. This kid was not loud, but could be heard. I guess when Leemy would pause he assumed that Leemy forgot the words or something. Hey, let the guy do his own song.

I performed Little Red Riding Hood, a song that I have been threatening to play for almost a year now. I made a couple of mistakes, but the crowd got spontaneously rowdy and didn't seem to notice. After my first howl, they started howling on their own. At the end, they started making random animal noises. I guess it's my new audience participation song.

The koto playing Chinese girl was there again. It's not really a koto, but the Chinese version of a koto. Similar, but maybe not the same. She was magic.

This one guy who sat in front of me kept making comments at inapprpriate moments that were meant to be funny but weren't and I wanted to tell him to can it, but it wouldn't have done any good.

So, the two high points of the night were Billy C in the first half and koto-babe in the second.

The Folk Center is sponsering a silent auction to benefit victims of domestic abuse. One of the items on the block is a ukulele with one free ukulele lesson. The ukulele in question is a cheap Mahalo. This tiny lady who is running the auction asked me if I would be the free ukulele lesson guy. I'm not sure. I'm afraid my first lesson would be to tell the pupil to go buy a better ukulele.

It's strange to me that the Folk Center wouldn't put up a better uke, like one of the flukes or fleas at least--or even a Sunlite. It's strange that they would invest money in what amounts to cheap toys.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spring! Tra-la Tra-la

First day of my Spring Break. Have thus far spent most of the day relaxing.

I haven't posted for awhile because I have been busy/lazy.

Open Mike this Sunday. The Canaries haven't rehearsed, so I don't think we're going to be the Canaries this Sunday. I have been practicing a couple of chord progressions for songs I might play. My choices are a slow, brooding love ballad from the 60's that has had a bit of a revival lately, a Dylan song that I should know by now, or a song that I have been threatening to perform but have yet to perform. Maybe this weekend would be a good time to perfect the lot of them.

This month, they're starting the Open Mike a whole hour earlier so it won't run as late as it has in the past. I'm interested to see how that goes, what with people's learned habits and all. I plan (I said PLAN) on getting there early. But I don't know if I can ever get there as early a some of the people who show up an hour, sometimes an hour-and-a-half, sometimes two hours early. I like doing it, but it's just not THAT important to me.

When I logged in today, I noticed that I started to write a post about some of the music I have discovered on MySpace, which I feel in my heart is made up primarily of teenagers and losers, but has actually been a functional tool for me in connecting with some uke community people.

Anyway, I will post about some of the uke stuff I found there.

Monday, March 06, 2006

A Scare

There are two former students of mine from my high school who are now taking my college night class as a part of the Middle College program, which allows a selected few students to earn college and high school credits simultaneously.

After the first break, I noticed that one of the girls did not come back and had left all of her books and stuff on and about her desk. Five minutes, ten, 15, then about twenty minutes and she hadn't come back yet. I got kind of worried because it's a college campus and I haven't had a semester yet where there hasn't been an incident of some creep coming on campus and attempting to assault some female student. That, and the campus gets very dark at night and there are lots of nooks and crannies for someone to lurk undetected. And she's a teenager and still pretty naive. And I guess I have a slight father instinct.

So I begin to worry and wonder what to do. Normally, is a student left, I'd figure it's everyone for themselves. But, like I said, she left her stuff.

There's no phone in my room, so I give the class an assignment and take a quick sweep outside to see if she might be chatting on her cell phone or something. Then I walk to the English Department office and tell the receptionist my concern and ask she that she report this to the campus cops, just in case one of them sees her.

I go back to my class and try to act like nothing is wrong, but am completely distracted during the ensuing discussion about some essay we'd read.

Her friend asks me if I wan her to call this girl's cell phone and see where she is. She does so, but no answer.

So, it's been almost an hour at this point, and I'm really worried.

Just then, she walks in. She was fine, but her car had somehow gone flat in the parking lot and she had called her family and her father had come to fix the tire and that's where she had been.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Celebrity Update

So Billy C and I went to this place in Redlands where they have live folk music, allegedly. We decide that we'd like to check it out as a part of an unspoken quest to find music that matters.

The place was called the Martini Vault or something like that. It was a tiny place with lots of variations on the martini. We entered and found three people inside and no band. We asked about that and the bartender told us that the band was setting up in back, in this alley that wended its way hither and yon. We walked out the back door and, sure enough, there was a place where the bands played. This band's name was Bucksworth.

Billy orders a beer and I order my first and last ever martini.

We go back and, indeed, the two members of the band, the drummer and the singer-songwriter-leader were setting up. The venue was al fresco with a canopy overhead and a much-needed-but-sorely-under-performing heat lamp. The performance area was lit by one lamp behind he band area, meaning that it was pretty dark. Billy approached the band members and asked when they would start performing.

Like I said, it was dark and the three of them looked like silhouettes as they stood there talking.

The drummer, the leader, and the Billy chatted for a couple of minutes, when all of a sudden the drummer squinted at Billy and did a double-take and shouted "Billy?"
Billy then did a double-take of his own and shouted "Jake!"

It was Jason, profile #4 in volume 1 of my series on famous people I have known. Jake, as you will recall, played drums for The Skeletones. He was the son of the director of the theater group we both performed in many years ago and he played drums for most of the shows. He quit The Skeletones and now kept time for this band.

He was a teenager then. Now he's 43.

Just then, their guitar player Kevin Bacon walked in with Rob D'Arc and John Wayne.

I made that last bit up.

We shat the shoot for awhile and listened to their first set.

It was freezing cold out there. Everyone was bundled up, making the place look like an inuit single's bar.

The band was really good. The leader has a real ear for hooks and catchy phraseology. Nuke-Bob says check it out.