15 Nov 2006, 12:39pm

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15 May 2005, 2:16am

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Prajapati was alone. He didn’t even know whether he existed or not. “So to speak,” iva. (As soon as one touches on something crucial, it’s as well to qualify what one has said with the particle iva, which doesn’t tie us down.) There was only the mind, manas. And what is peculiar about the mind is that it doesn’t know whether it exists or not. But it comes before everything else. “There is nothing before the mind.” Then, even prior to establishing whether it existed or not, the mind desired. It was continuous, diffuse, undefined. Yet, as though drawn to something exotic, something belonging to another species of life, it desired what was definite and separate, what had shape. A Self, atman–that was the name it used. And the mind imagined that Self as having consistency. Thinking, the mind grew red hot. It saw thirty-six thousand fires flare up, made of mind, made with mind. Suspended above the fires were thirty-six thousand cups, and these too were made of mind.

Prajapati lay with his eyes closed. Between head and breast an ardor burned within him, like water seething in silence. It was constantly transforming something: it was tapas. But what was it transforming? The mind. The mind was what transformed and what was transformed. It was the warmth, the hidden flame behind the bones, the succession and dissolution of shapes sketched on darkness–and the sensation of knowing what was happening. Everything resembled something else. Everything was connected to something else. Only the sensation of consciousness resembled nothing at all. And yet all resemblances flowed back and forth within it. It was the “indistinct wave.” Each resemblance was a crest of that wave. At the time, “this world was nothing but water.” And then? “In the midst of the waves a single seer.” Already the waters were the mind. But why that eye? Within the mind came the split that precedes all others, that implies all others. There was consciousness and there was an eye watching consciousness. In the same mind were two beings. Who might become three, thirty, three thousand. Eyes that watched eyes that watched eyes. But that first step was enough in itself. All the other eyes were there in that “one seer” and in the waters.

The waters yearned. Alone, they burned. “They burned their heat.” A golden shell took shape in the wave.” This, the one, was born from the strength of the heat.” And inside the shell, over the arc of a year, the body of Prajapati took shape. But “the year didn’t exist” then. Time appeared as the organ of a single being, nesting inside that being, who drifted on the waters, with no support. After a year the being began to emit syllables, which were the earth, the air, the distant sky. Already he knew he was Father Time. Prajapati was granted a life of a thousand years: he looked out before him, beyond the cresting waves, and far, far away glimpsed a strip of earth, the faint line of a distant shore. His death.

Prajapati was the one “self-existing” being, svayambhu. But this did not make him any less vulnerable than any creature born. He had no knowledge, didn’t have qualities. He was the first self-made divinity. He didn’t know the meters, not in the beginning. Then he felt a simmering somewhere inside. He saw a chant–and finally let it out. Where from? From the suture in his skull.

. . .

Born of the waters’ desiring, Prajapati begat “all this,” idam sarvam, but he was the only one who couldn’t claim to have a progenitor–not even a mother. If anything he had many mothers, for the waters are an irreducible feminine plural. The waters were his daughters too, as though from the beginning it was important to show that in every essential relationship generation is reciprocal.

from Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India, by Roberto Calasso

5 May 2005, 2:36am

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The Invention of Automata

by Cole Swensen 

Perhaps simply from nostalgia
                                                          and a love of things that interlock:

John Müller’s iron dragonfly, who flew, and his artificial eagle, who went out
ahead to meet the Emperor Maximilian, June 7, 1470. And a wild duck that
could fly, eat, and cry all at once, driven by a system of interlocking chains,
and a peacock on St. Christopher Island, who, it’s said, could sing. All these
marvels ran like a common pocket watch, which wasn’t all that common then

and are, I think, related to the case of Wolgamot, the Englishman, who made
his name training bees, who walked about the countryside covered with
them, even to his face and hands, and caressed them and let them drink
from his eyes.

3 May 2005, 3:10am

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Möbius Strip: Love Sex Food Death

by Denise Duhamel

said, “Don’t worry, I won’t
ever die on you, OK?”
and for a second I
believed him.      My
cinnamon angel, his soft
eyebrows folding in
sleep.      My thighs
sticking together, a white
icing between.      A
village near Kashmir
called Hunza is supposedly
the closest thing on earth
to the fountain of youth–
no one born there gets a
cavity or heart attack.
People, on average, live
to one hundred.      The
stems of sunflowers, like
pogo sticks, rising out of
the ground.      I
wanted Nick to have that
power, to make a pact
with the universe to die
second, to be a gentleman
about death.      Hunza
is on a high mountain, the
sea level perfect for breathing
and hard for Hunza enemies
to get to.      His scalp
smells sweet, a mixture of
cave and sea foam.      Water
was still running from the
faucet when Will found Pearl,
hip to bathroom tile, a
shattered glass at her breast.
Though she was dead, he
sniffed lilac soap in the air.
Her lips were sticky with
newly applied maroon
lipstick.      We ate red
bean buns on Canal Street,
fire-hydrant waters spraying
the children and glistening
gray fish that stunk up
entire blocks.      ”Pearl
never smelled dead,” Will
kept saying.      Once
in Chinatown I ordered
sea cucumber (not
a vegetable) by mistake–
chunks of fatty sea slugs I
couldn’t contemplate
swallowing.      Today
Nick ordered Pho-Beef. I
said I wished he’d ordered
Po beef so that I could
order Tinky Winky Shrimp
or La La with fried rice.
We both agreed on our love
of The Teletubbies–the
show that is like an acid
trip, everything in slow
motion, everything
done twice, that freaky
sun with a giggling baby
face.      Sometimes I
ovulate mansions and
magic.      Nick and I
were talking about this
the other day–what
we’d do if we ever went
blind.      Nick and I
don’t usually agree on
food.      I thought
about teaching Nick
how to put on my lipstick,
now while I can still
see.      In Miami
we heard a radio
announcement for
cochinillo asado that
guaranteed the piglets sold
were younger than twenty-four
days which made me
really sad though Nick,
who’s had cochinillo
, was saying yum
.      I’d just
read about the woman
whose surgeon sliced
off her entire eyelid
during a botched face
lift so now she can’t
blink.      She softened
and crumbled, like a
cruller dipped in coffee
too long.      After
he came, his moon
belly glowing, his navel
grew dark as though I’d
just plucked a fruit stem
from it.      The bananas
were as ready as we
were, bright peaches
bristling, the green insides
and outs of kiwi and
lime.      You sudsed
the hollow under my
arm.      We both
confessed to the irrational
fear of having our hands
cut off.      Our first
apartment smelled of
curry, a yellow pollen
dusting the sink and
drawers.      My
favorite lunch ever was
grilled cheese and a teaberry
milkshake.      You
shampooed my hair
twice.      When I
worked in the supermarket,
there was a customer
without hands who could
lift ten pounds of potatoes
with a silver hook he’d
maneuver through the
bag’s red mesh.      I was
always afraid the hook
would twist off.      I was
afraid to see his stub, afraid
I’d have to bend to the
floor to pick up that metal
question mark.

1 May 2005, 2:13am

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Bone to Bone

by Vasko Popa

At the Beginning

That’s so much better
We’ve saved ourselves from the flesh

Now we’ll do what we’ll do
Say something

Would you like to be
The backbone of lightning

Say a bit more

What can I say
Hipbone of a storm

Say something else

That’s all I know
Ribs of heaven

We’re nobody’s bones
Say something else

After the Beginning

What shall we do now

That’s a good one
Now we’ll have marrow for supper

We had marrow for lunch
A hollow feeling nags my innards

Then let’s make music
We like music

What do we do when the dogs come
They like bones

We’ll stick in their throats
And love it

In the Sun

It’s nice to sunbathe naked
I never cared much for the flesh

Those rags never fooled me either
I go crazy about you naked

Don’t let the sun caress you
Let’s just love each other

Only please here not in the sun
Everything can be seen here dear bone

Under the Ground

Muscle of darkness muscle of flesh
It’s all the same thing

Well what now

We’ll call to bones of all ages
We’ll climb to the sun

What then

Then we’ll grow pure
Keep on growing just as we please

What about after

Nothing we’ll go everywhere
We’ll be eternal bone-beings

Just wait for the earth to yawn

In the Moonlight

What’s going on
It’s as if flesh snowlike flesh
Were sticking to me

I don’t know what it is
It’s as if marrow flows through me
Some bone-chilling marrow

I don’t know either
It’s as if all is starting again
With a terrifying beginning

Do you know what
Can you bark

Before the End

Where do we go now

Where could nowhere
Two bones go otherwise

What’s there to do

There for a long time
No one and his wife nothing
Have yearned for us to come

What do they need us for

They are old and have no bones
We’ll be their loving daughters

At the End

I’m a bone you’re a bone
Why did you swallow me
I can’t see myself anymore

What’s wrong with you
It’s you who’ve swallowed me
I can’t see myself either

Where am I now

Now no one knows any more
Who is who or where
It’s all an ugly dream of dust

Can you hear me

I can hear both you and myself
A hellebore is crowing out of us

22 Apr 2005, 2:31am

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Try Soma

A vortex opened up in the tree, and Garuda flew out with the broken branch in his beak, the elephant and the turtle still in his claws. He didn’t know where to go. He sensed that he was in danger of making a fatal mistake. From the branch came a hiss. At first he thought it was the wind. But the hissing went on, peremptory and fearfully shrill. He looked at the twigs. Upside down among the leaves, like bats, dangled scores of brahmans, each no taller than the phalanx of a thumb. Their bodies were perfectly formed and almost transparent, like flies’ wings. 

from Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India, by Roberto Calasso

31 Mar 2005, 4:40pm

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21 Mar 2005, 1:21am

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The “Hymn of the Pearl”

When I was a little child and dwelt in the kingdom of my Father’s house and delighted in the wealth and splendor of those who raised me, my parents sent me forth from the East, our homeland, with provisions for the journey. From the riches of our treasure-house they tied me a burden: great it was, yet light, so that I might carry it alone. . . . They took off from me the robe of glory which in their love they had made for me, and my purple mantle that was woven to conform exactly to my figure, and made a covenant with me, and wrote it in my heart that I might not forget it: “When thou goest down into Egypt and bringest the One Pearl which lies in the middle of the sea which is encircled by the snorting serpent, thou shalt put on again thy robe of glory and thy mantle over it and with thy brother our next in rank be heir in our kingdom.” 

I left the East and took my way downwards, accompanied by two royal envoys, since the way was dangerous and hard and I was young for such a journey; I passed over the borders of Maishan, the gathering-place of the merchants of the East, and came into the land of Babel and entered within the walls of Sarbug. I went down into Egypt, and my companions departed from me. I went straightway to the serpent and settled down close by his inn until he should slumber and sleep so that I might take the Pearl from him. Since I was one and kept to myself, I was a stranger to my fellow-dwellers in the inn. Yet saw I there one of my race, a fair and well-favored youth, the son of kings. He came and attached himself to me, and I made him my trusted familiar to whom I imparted my mission. He warned me against the Egyptians and the contact with the unclean ones. Yet I clothed myself in their garments, lest they suspect me as one coming from without to take the Pearl and arouse the serpent against me. But through some cause they marked that I was not their countryman, and they ingratiated themselves to me, and mixed me drink with their cunning, and gave me to taste of their meat; and I forgot that I was a king’s son and served their king. I forgot the Pearl for which my parents had sent me. Through the heaviness of their nourishment I sank into deep slumber.

All this that befell me, my parents marked, and they were grieved for me. It was proclaimed in our kingdom that all should come to our gates. And the kings and gandees of Parthia and all the nobles of the East wove a plan that I must not be left in Egypt. And they wrote a letter to me, and each of the great ones signed it with his name.

From thy father the King of Kings, and from thy mother, mistress of the East, and from thy brother, our next in rank, unto thee, our son in Egypt, greeting. Awake and rise up out of thy sleep, and perceive the words of our letter. Remember that thou art a king’s son: behold whom thou hast served in bondage. Be mindful of the Pearl, for whose sake thou hast departed into Egypt. Remember thy robe of glory, recall thy splendid mantle, that thou mayest put them back on and deck thyself with them and thy name be read in the book of heroes and thou become with thy brother, our deputy, heir in our kingdom.

Like a messenger was the letter that the King had sealed with his right hand against the evil ones, the children of Babel and the rebellious demons of Sarbug. It rose up in the form of an eagle, the king of all winged fowl, and flew until it alighted beside me and became wholly speech. At its voice and sound I awoke and arose from my sleep, took it up, kissed it, broke its seal, and read. Just as was written on my heart were the words of my letter to read. I remembered that I was a son of kings, and that my freeborn soul desired its own kind. I remembered the Pearl for which I had been sent down to Egypt, and I began to enchant the terrible and snoring serpent. I charmed it to sleep by naming over it my Father’s name, the name of our next in rank, and that of my mother, queen of the East. I seized the Pearl, and turned to repair home to my Father. Their filthy and impure garment I put off, and left it behind in their land, and directed my way that I might come to the light of our homeland, the East.

My letter which had awakened me I found before me on my way; and as it had awakened me with its voice, so it guided me with its light that shone before me, and with its voice encouraged my fear, and with its love drew me on. I went forth…. My robe of glory which I had put off and my mantle which went over it, my parents sent to meet me by their treasurers who were entrusted therewith. Its splendor I had forgotten, having left it as a child in my Father’s house. As I now beheld the robe, it seemed to me suddenly to become a mirror-image of myself: myself entire I saw in it, and it entire I saw in myself, that we were two in separateness, and yet again one in the sameness of our forms…. And the image of the King of kings was depicted all over it…. I also saw quiver over it the movements of the gnosis. I saw that it was about to speak, and perceived the sound of its songs which murmured on its way down: “I am that acted in the acts of him for whom I was brought up in my Father’s house, and I perceived in myself how my stature grew in accordance with his labors.” And with its regal movements it pours itself wholly out to me, and from the hands of its bringers hastens that I may take it; and me too my love urged on to run and receive it. And I stretched out towards it and took it and decked myself with the beauty of its colors. And I cast the royal mantle about my entire self. Clothed therein, I ascended to the gate of salutation and adoration. I bowed my head and adored the splendor of my Father who had sent it to me, whose commands I had fulfilled as he too had done what he promised…. He received me joyfully, and I was with him in his kingdom, and all his servants praised him with organ voice, that he had promised that I should journey to the court of the King of kings, and having brought my Pearl should appear together with him.

attributed to the Apostle Thomas; in Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion