Bing, Bang, Boom!


Because it is time for science, A and I sit at the table and watch John Francis on Ted Talks.  JF is extraordinary in the technical sense, for he took two ordinary acts to their extreme: “the man who walked and didn’t talk.” For this, I want to kiss his seasoned big toe.  Initially, he wasn’t aiming for extremism, he was just being a man who (I imagine) felt the earth in his belly and felt his belly in the earth.  He sensed that nature wasn’t just something we made uglier and uglier by our environmental carelessness; it’s us.

dvi hasta oceanasana

After witnessing the collision of two oil tankers in SF in 1971, he made a pivotal choice: ambulation would be his M.O.  He wasn’t going to ride in vehicles anymore.  If his phylanges couldn’t get him where he needed to go, then he wouldn’t get there.

He took to his feet and started walking.

Outside in the Anatolian fog, massive cargo ships move their loads.  They seem like cities inexplicable unto themselves, of the sort Italo Calvino could have narrated into existence.  The ships head along the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea and its extremophile substrata, where bacteria live on the equivalent of battery acid for the pure joy of it: meze or methane?  Tinier fishing crafts bob out of the way of these Bohemoths which look, from our window, like the archenemies of sanity.

attraction and aversion shake hands, part I

attraction and aversion shake hands, part II

To make matters worse, JF decided to shut up completely.  At first, he conceived of this as a gift from a notorious big-mouth (himself) to his community, a personal experiment.  At a Vipassana retreat, Day One can also be written off as a game, an endurance test of one feeling mildly like a martyr.  Nonetheless, the Ajahn knows the practice is no sport.  Refined as he is, his snickers unfold only in the padded privacy of his gyri and sulci, as his breath passes in and out of the sweet spot.  JF had noticed that in so-called conversation he was usually too preoccupied forging his own answers to listen to what anyone was saying to him [Buddhism by any other name would smell as…] But having gotten quiet and thereby treated to the ocean of words banging around in the atmosphere of his brain, he just kept at it.  And kept at it.  And kept.

His mom and pop were a bit bummed.  It was troubling, after all, that someone outside the monastic container should decide to abandon the linguistic currency that constantly (re)establishes who we are and where we stand.  People shouted at him from their cars.  After all, a car is an instrument of power.  You have the power to kill in a car.  But nothing destabilizes the human psyche faster than being faced with the intentional, peaceful silence of another.

Moving lightly through the world, he walked on in silence to receive advanced university degrees in environmental science.  He closes his Ted talk by saying with the cheeriest grin, which would be abominable if it weren’t so wrenchingly authentic, “We are our environment.”  Well, what else could we be?  It’s about how we treat each other, he insists.

The boats creak past and past again.  The ferries let out streams of black smoke, resembling expletives in the gaseous state.  I ask A how his statement applies.  She says, well, what isn’t good for our environment likely isn’t good for us either.  I ask what she means by this.  She says, for example, looking at the computer all day: it’s not good for the environment and it’s not good for us.

We look at the computer, where JF is frozen at the end of his talk, brandishing his banjo.  His mother, I think, is in the audience, her heart batted like a pool ball by the sound of his voice.



We are reading Emily Dickinson, and I’ve sent F on a hunt to find a poem– any poem– from hermetic D’s ouvre that appeals to her.  She comes back with this umbilical cord in hand:

Love is anterior to life

Posterior to death

Initial of creation, and

Exponent of Breath.

We’re both stunned just looking at it.  The poem does a few jumping jacks by doing nothing at all but lying there.  Poet laureate Kay Ryan says: to create good poetry one must be in over one’s head.  In the case of this poem, I do not even recall I have a head.  In a similar vein, Dogen advises to practice (meditation? being alive?) like your head is on fire.  Therefore, Emily Dickinson: ablaze with the very enormity she practiced in measured dialectic dashes–

After a few minutes of my poorly suppressed gagging over this pristine artifact, I turn to F. and in my most superfluous, teacherly manner ask her: So why did you pick this poem?

F [looking at me from the apogee of adolescent scorn]: Because it’s awesome.

Me: Why is it awesome?

F: Because it’s awesome.

[Tautology 101]

Me: But why?  Put some descriptive language to it.

F: Because it’s like: bang-bang-bang-bang!

I concur entirely.

No literary criticism ever beat that analysis.

The poem bats its eyelashes back at us—a mighty feat, since it has no eyes, but still, I feel like it can see us.



We are taking a Turkish conversation class to become a little more adept at what this culture, like most, does best: eating and talking.  The Turkish language delays its verb until the end of the sentence.  Even as a native speaker, you have no idea what is happening to merit a sentence in the first place until the very last minute, though you know what adjectives, nouns and prepositions cluster around the event.  Perhaps this is why people seem to speak so quickly, rushing towards the grammatical denouement of the sentence’s thrust.  As one Turk tells me “In Turkish, the point comes after everything.”

kapha-- the great caliph of butter

We learn a few conversational pleasantries.  This is like butter to rub all over the dry bread of daily life.  Why not toss in some well-wishing as lubricant?  May it go easily, Kolay Gelsin, I say to whomever I can, even the inanimate.  You have to eat the letter “g” as it comes out of your mouth, which really puts the “con” in consonant.  Thus spoken, a butterfly immediately alights on the cash register.  The clouds reconfigure to let a little nugget of god plink down to the icy streets.  God dusts herself off and goes right back where she came from.  The butterfly makes off with a 50 lira bill, muttering to itself: elli elli, hos bulduk! (50, 50, I like it here!).  Maybe it will birth its young on the tattered length, which would be about the best thing currency ever witnessed.

But the truth is: our gum-chewing teacher, F, is positively orgiastic about linguistics, reminiscent of a Classics eccentric locked in an attic with the entire Loeb Library.  He is in love with nouns.  F wears wool long underwear—80%!– against the Turkish precipitation, which falls all over the windy emotions of this place.  He rubs his hands together vigorously, admonishing us to pay attention with all our senses to the nouns that fly from his mouth. “You must greet all the objects in your house,” he urges us.  The parts of speech never had such a captive audience.  Next we will learn numbers, an impoverished group by comparison. The last one on F’s list is bir katrilion. This sounds to me like superman’s breakfast smoothie.


edible nouns are the best nouns of all

Bang Revisited

J and I go to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.  It’s an indoor graveyard for statues that once actually meant something to someone.

Sappho’s head sits in the middle of the hall, the body to support it, if it ever existed, long gone.  Her kepi is huge, and the lips thick, as befits a poetess of eros.  Zeus, de-legged, can be seen over the roof of her hair, wondering whom he can bang, and how, and how soon, albeit with nothing inferior to his rectus abdominus remaining.  But the trysts he dreams of, nose broken from domestic difficulties, can only be housed on spectral mattresses.  What creature the two of them might spawn, were she interested in turning her gaze or in what his gender had to offer, would be something like a Tempest of Tetrameter, a wily consequence of meter and meteorology.  As it is, a marble hallway comes between them, and she’s staring at the doorway, where abandonment happens and so burning begins.

A few rooms apart from the remnants of Olympic desire are the materials of various funeral cults: see where all those hormones get you?  Herein, a special collection of steles engraved with caveats to potential future thieves of these reliquaries.  Such as The Grave Stele of Typhaine and Epaphrodeitos:

“Onesime [has erected] [this stele] in memory of his daughter T & her own husband E.  If someone this stele, may he also be smashes completely with his family.  Philippos has [also] erected this stele for his wife [T] who was his heart’s content.”

-–Roman, 3rd century A.D., Burca.

Excellent.  Retribution was never promised in such rickety grammar.  Nothing protects the stele from the curious hand of the museum’s visitor.  I’d like to touch the words which anticipated such greed, but don’t want to be responsible for my family winding up in smithereens.  Instead, I crane my neck to see the rough carving of Cybele, fierce Mother Goddess who required castration of her devotees.  She’s surprisingly flat, not appearing such a penis-hoarder as the lore conveys; on the other hand (no pun! No pun!), her plain form exudes the total comfort and normalcy of unchecked wildness.

When I’ve read about her in Catullus’ oft-ignored “long poems,” the word “ravenous” comes to mind.  She’s the antithesis of anything that belongs cast in marble.  And yet in this sprawling mansion for old objects, the worn icon smells of forest.  John Francis, I suspect, would understand how our own internal energies are almost too profound for representation, requiring instead the transaction of stillness and action which are our everyday acts.  Even Emily Dickinson knew when a dash was more appropriate than further singing.  J is behind me, looking fondly at the stele for a deceased pet dog.  It’s his favorite, the trait of loyalty with which he resonates.  I wink at Cybele as we walk outside toward the slushy courtyard and the tram, where the heavy rain falls as if it’s aiming for us, and the only trace of the forest lies in what the belly remembers.

post scriptum: surya


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6 Responses to “Bing, Bang, Boom!”

  1. rickyb Says:

    Wait for it! I love that in a language, as if your senses have to catch up with, well, sense. If we could only stop thinking long enough to actually listen, such training in a language like this tells us, we’d actually hear something worth waiting for.

    Dickinson, on another hand, explodes into sense & syntax so suddenly she obliterates the senses long enough to reorder them entirely. Poetry you can feel in the spine, that teaches you how to sit up straighter when something new is being said.

    I love this new entry, Sara. Though, truth be told, it would be hard to imagine a missive that I wouldn’t like…



    • saraknowsyou Says:

      she does seem to get a pause– a caesura?– between sense register and sense expression– like a time-out in the nerve synapse–

      ricky b, this missive loves you right back– crooked or straight– tight or loose– broken or whole–

      meanwhile, what would eurydice say?

  2. (0v0) Says:

    Beautiful busts, alive in stone. You’re building out the Rilke poem, the one about the archaic torso of apollo.

    The butter is also like stone, something you’d see in an American national park, with a split rail fence around it to keep the kids from climbing on.

    Katrillion kisses. Kolay Gelsin in Konstantinople.

  3. (0v0) Says:

    Oh and the lines from Emily Dickinson.

    Thanks to F for finding and to you for sending them back out in to the world.

    They are perfect for my day here, and I’m as tempted to keep them circulating as I am to leave them here inside the massive missive. Either way, I will return and re-refer, as usual with your posts.

  4. saraknowsyou Says:

    circulate it! all poetry needs oxygen!

  5. becfish Says:

    Sara, Sara, where have I been and why have I not been here, or rather there on the Bosphorus with you? It has been too long since I’ve read what you’ve been writing and the years have been kind to you. Such a pleasure to catch up with your brain, I have my work cut out in the days ahead. Just what this jet-lagged mind needs to wake up again…


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