Today’s featured poem FOR SHJ
A Gentleman Compares His Virtue to a Piece of Jade
By Michael Ondaatje
The enemy was always identified in art by a lion.
And in our Book of Victories
wherever you saw a parasol
on the battlefield you could
identify the king within its shadow.
We began with myths and later included actual events.
There were new professions. Cormorant Girls
who screamed on prawn farms to scare birds.
There was always the “untaught hold”
by which the master defeated
the pupil who challenged him.
Palanquins carried the weapons of a goddess.
Bamboo tubes cut in 17th-century Japan
we used as poem holders.
We tied bells onto falcons.
A silted water garden in Mihintale.
The letter M. The word “thereby.”
There were wild cursive scripts.
There was the two-dimensional tradition.
Solitaries spent all their years
writing one good book. Frederico Tesio
graced us with Breeding the Race Horse.
In our theases human beings
wondrously became other human beings.
Bangles from Polonnaruwa.
A nine-chambered box from Gampola.
The archaeology of cattle bells.
We believe in the intimate life, an inner self.
A libertine was one who made love before nightfall
or without darkening the room.
Walking the Alhambra blindfolded
to be conscious of the sound of water– your hand
could feel it coursing down banisters.
We align our public holidays with the full moon.
3 a.m. in temples, the hour of washing the gods.
The formalization of the vernacular.
The Buddha’s left foot shifted at the moment of death.
That great writer, dying, called out
for the fictional doctor in his novels.
That tightrope-walker from Krunegala
the generator shut down by insurgents
swaying in the darkness above us.
I’ve been so blissed out for the past week…it kinda scares me. There is no point in being happy if the state doesn’t indicate an oncoming plunge into…whatever it is human beings plunge into.
Fuck That. Imma go ahead and say I am just happy and I intend to stay that way because I deserve it. for a little while at least.
“NOTHING BUT NOTHING WILL BE BENEATH ME!” (most make diddleysquat)
Many of your poems throughout your career represent life on the margins—your characters are often loners, winos, bums, desperadoes, street mystics, long-term residents of fleapit hotels . . . Would it be true to say that the nearest you came to living such a life were the years you spent in New York in your early twenties?
Yes. I came to New York in the summer of 1958 and found myself alone. I had a lot of friends in Chicago, who wondered: What do you want to go to New York for? But New York had more of the things I liked—more movies, more jazz clubs, more bookstores. I attended university classes at night, and I worked during the day at various jobs. I sold shirts in a department store, worked in a bookstore, did a bit of house painting, was an accounting clerk, then a payroll clerk, and a few more things like that. When I was not working or in class, I went to bars and movies. I slept little, read a lot, and fell in love frequently. As I recall, I was neither terribly happy nor terribly sad. One of the distinct advantages of growing up in a place where one is apt to find men hung from lampposts as one walks to school is that it cuts down on grumbling about life as one grows older.