I keep on vacant land
A horse which none can see
Now and again grasping the reins
I go to meet a twelfth-century Zen priest
He lived for eight hundred years
There is no trace of his body
His body has turned into words
Soon even the words will be gone
Until then a temporary home
Borrowing the eaves of words
‘Flowers open and the world arises’
When he says this
He is the flowers opening he is the world arising
As words within words along with words
Opening and closing
Floating and sinking
Continuing as words
Continuing to live inside words
Unable to die
While words exist on earth
He turns into rocks wheels love
He transforms into blood sky calendar
As so he must continue to be tortured
By the painful recognition that he is the world’s equal
What is it that is painful
There is no pain like
That of words become flesh
That mankind does not feel it as pain
Is because they do not truly feel the flesh
Says the withered priest.
– Makoto Ooka
Makoto Ooka once pointed out that the modus operandi of traditional Japanese poetry is a dynamism between two conflicting mindsets: one that is willing to let go of one’s ego and create harmony with others, and another that pursues ultimate solitude, what he called a sort of “party” attended by “lonely hearts” — Utage to Koshin.
I heard this song the other day and it seemed appropriate for these sequestered days. None of us are getting around much anymore.
Duke Ellington wrote the music and first recorded it with his orchestra in 1940 with the title Never No Lament. Two years later Bob Russell (born Sidney Keith Rosenthal) wrote the lyrics and it quickly became a hit, reaching number one on the US R&B Charts for both Duke Ellington and the Ink Spots. It has been recorded by a diverse group of artists including Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Paul McCartney, and Willie Nelson but nobody ever sang it better than Sam Cooke.
Missed the Saturday dance
Heard they crowded the floor
Couldn’t bear it without you
Don’t get around much anymore
I thought I’d visit the club
Got as far as the door
They’d have asked me about you
Don’t get around much anymore
Darling, I guess that my mind’s more at ease
But nevertheless, why stir up memories?
Been invited on dates
Might have gone, but what for?
Awfully different without you
Don’t get around much anymore
The first time I ever got up on stage to sing and play guitar was October 15, 1981 at the Copper Fox Tavern in Oneonta, NY. It was a requirement of the guitar class I was taking in college. I played three songs. Two of them were original, and if the scrawled notes on my old cassette are accurate, they were called Restitution’s Final Reprise and Paranoic Foibles. I have no memory of either of them. The final song I played is one I will never forget. It was Slippin’ and Slidin’, written and originally recorded by Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard.
I never met him or saw him play but he was always there, like air and water, inescapable and seemingly inexhaustible. Sadly, the shell that (barely) contained him has been exhausted now. There never was, or will be, anyone like Little Richard. Not even the armies of rock’n’rollers who followed him and changed the world by emulating his weird, sweet, sexy energy.
On the first day of my quarantine, March 16, there were a total of 3,774 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US. The rise of that number has been sickening in more ways than one. If the people in charge of our federal government – the Republican party – had more faith in science and less faith in the malignant growth in the White House, many more Americans would be alive today. Much of our suffering has been, and will continue to be, needless.
In the 55 days since I began practicing social distancing, I have been out of my building three times to gather supplies and twice for a walk in the woods. Today, I am going on my first social visit.
I will continue to distance myself after today, to wear a mask when I leave my apartment, to work (and do everything else) from home. But I will not be keeping a plague diary.
The people who read this diary – you know who you are – have given me great comfort. It would have been easy to feel like I was talking to myself, banging my head on a brick wall, screaming into a void. Instead, I felt part of a conversation, even if I had to imagine your side of it.
Thank you for that.
Come back to visit my blog once in a while. I’ll still be posting a few times a week. I am working (remotely) with a drummer on a couple of songs so there will be music, and paintings, and poetry, and probably reviews of 19th Century novels, waiting for you when you return…
For my penultimate plague diary, I wrote a diatribe about Trump, his supporters, and the Republican Party, but decided against posting that. And I’ll tell you why…
I have been intermittently studying the philosophies of Stoicism and Taoism. They have quite an overlap for schools of thought that developed so far away from each other in space and time. To the Stoics, there are four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. I can honestly say I work on the first three. The fourth goes against my grain. In the immortal words of my fellow Bronxite Carolyn Leigh, I can go to extremes with impossible schemes.
So, even though my political rant was inspired by my feeling that our government is not acting with wisdom, courage, or justice – I decided to heed these words of Taoism’s founder Lao Tzu:
One who is too insistent on his own views, finds few to agree with him.
And then, I decided to investigate these:
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
So I went for a walk in the woods. And it helped. I sat on a rock by the Hudson River and listened to the lapping of the waves and the twittering of the birds in the trees. Across the river, above the palisades, is a building I have been staring at for decades, because I can also see it from my apartment. I never knew what the building was used for until today. It is a nursing school.
Their work is a much better testament to wisdom, courage, and justice, than my angry diatribe. From their website:
Recognizing the need to serve the sick and indigent of the community, Dr. Frank McCormack and Dr. George Pitkin appealed to Mother General Agatha Brown of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace for help in finding a suitable hospital site and in providing administrative and nursing staffs. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace had been a presence in New Jersey since 1885, one year after the order was founded in England with the goal of fostering worldwide peace and justice.
The Sisters purchased the estate of the late William Walter Phelps and erected the hospital, staffing it with members of their Order. They also welcomed their first class of students to the School of Nursing only weeks before the hospital opened. When the first patient, a woman with acute appendicitis, came through the hospital doors in October 1925, Holy Name had 115 beds and less than a dozen physicians. Only five years later, a unit with 70 beds was built to meet the needs of area residents who had been impoverished by the Great Depression.