Ode to The Music of the Heart

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O, my heart, if your beats could speak

What would they say, what music play?

Tight the chest and yet small drops leak

Emotion’s lay.

 

Let pain subside and patience flow

Through sunny smiles and dismal isles.

Tired, I walk, alone and slow,

These lonely miles.

 

No friend, no foe, no strife, no peace;

A clock, a path, a face, an urn.

Nor sigh nor prayer will appease.

Air, earth: both burn.

 

The flute can never curve like lips

But with silent bellows music makes

Among the dancing fingertips.

Care sleeps. Joy wakes.

 

Sweet silence in the stillness thrums.

My soul in it will ever be.

Awash with love, the moment comes.

Eternity.

Passing Through

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COFFEE AND CHANGE

 

 

 

He seemed to be about six and a half feet tall, but was actually at least two, perhaps three inches, shorter. It was not only the square, solid heels of his leather boots that came up to his knees, but also his wiry build that created the impression of those extra inches. His thick black hair, wild and tousled as it was, still had a healthy shine, and his shaggy black brows covered piercing black eyes that, for the moment, held a gentle expression. The soft, fawn-coloured sweater was clearly made of the purest wool, as was the elegant, jet-black overcoat that covered it. A soft, long, colourful muffler gently but effectively covered his throat, and the black, wool-lined gloves that protected his hands were of delicate, supple suede. The wind did not blow hard so early in the winter, but at his age, he feared its chilling edge that, like a razor, would slice through bone, given the slightest opportunity. While he did not drag his feet, it was obvious that the elegantly carved, thick mahogany walking stick, which rose almost to his shoulder, was not mainly for show. Although his face bore no trace of the effort of holding on to the stick, the fact that his back bent slightly, as he walked, gave it away.

Nobody in the place paid much attention to him, at first. It was a place for the younger people of the town. In the still clear light of the sun that was now low on the horizon, the T-shirts and the slacks with their unmistakably expensive logos and the soft, shiny leather of the loafers bespoke the casual elegance that was the hallmark of the youngsters who thronged there. The brass and glass coffee machine, in the open-air patio, at the back of the room, undoubtedly contained a computer chip or two, had a deliberately antiquated look, which, of course, gave the establishment itself a charming, old-world air. The synthetic, impossible combination of sitars and pianos, so popular with the pseudo-intellectuals who frequented the place, blared out of the tiny but powerful speakers that were invisibly scattered throughout the walls and ceilings. It could not have taken the old man more than a minute to cross the highly polished rosewood floor, to the coffee machine, at the back of the room. And though he made no fuss, he knew that all eyes were on him. Of course, to the casual observer, it would have seemed as though everyone seemed to be looking anywhere but at him.

Carefully, the old man counted out all of the coins he would need for his cup of coffee. He always did this even though he carried exactly the right amount of change and always put it in the same pocket of the same coat, every day. The arthritic fingers made it seem that he pushed the coins into the machine too carefully, almost grudgingly. Behind him, stood an Adonis, young, and full of spirit. Though at least 3 or 4 inches shorter, and far less muscular than the older man, the young man was being surreptitiously eyed by every woman in the room, regardless of her age and marital status. Not quite as lean as the old man, and not even nearly as elegant, the younger man was nevertheless captivating. His raw-silk shirt, with its long sleeves casually bunched up to the elbows, and absent-mindedly unbuttoned, showed smooth, rippling muscles, in the forearms, and a hard, well-defined chest. It was quite obvious that the younger man’s well-sculpted body was the result of many hours with a personal trainer in a gym.

The young man’s eyes had a glint of humour in them, and his stance, though relaxed, exuded confidence. The Adonis possessed a large roll of coins that he kept tossing between his hands, in a mechanical, distracted sort of way. Finally, he got bored of his little game himself and pushed the stack of coins into the deep and capacious pocket of his sharply creased trousers. The young man first rolled his eyes a little, and then tapped his feet, checked his cell-phone and eventually just began to stare down a the floor, as if he had suddenly found something very interesting just in front of his highly polished designer shoes. Eventually, the old man got his plastic cup, filled with coffee, out of the machine. But, as the old man began to turn away, with his coffee in one hand, and the walking stick in the other, a strange thing happened.

The walking stick did not fall, but began to slip on the highly polished floor. Had it continued moving along the trajectory on which it had started, the old gentleman who held it could not have prevented himself from falling. His reflexes, of course, were not what they used to be. His strength and grace did not help in such a situation. The younger man saw the slip almost unconsciously. It took him only a fraction of a second to realize that in moments the old man would be sprawled on the floor, bereft of his dignity as well as his coffee. In the same moment that he saw the stick slipping, though, the young man saw also the fear and the anger in the old man’s eyes. The fear was not of anything physical, but of humiliation. And the anger was directed against himself, not against anyone else. The anger was an expression of the frustration and helplessness the old man felt at that moment, for the old man, too, knew what was happening and was equally aware of the inevitable result. However, to have held the older man’s arm or to have steadied him by the shoulder was unthinkable. It would not look as bad as falling on the floor with coffee all over his clothes, but it would be just as galling. There was only one thing to do.

 

 

The whole café heard the tinkle of change hitting the floor. The young man had dropped all of his coins, and was busy cursing and picking them up. What nobody saw, of course, was that the coins had appeared, almost like magic, in the young man’s hand, from deep inside his pocket, and they were aimed to fall directly in the old man’s path. As he bent over, to pick up the coins, the edge of one highly polished and very expensive leather shoe hit the old man’s stick hard, pushing it perfectly upright. The strength of the push was delicately calculated to push the stick exactly the right distance, and no more. Since the shoe was hidden by the young man’s thigh, as he bent his leg, the movement was invisible to everyone else. And, just in case the movement had been too unexpected, the young man made sure that he put only that one knee to the ground. His shoulders were now at exactly the right height for the old man’s palm to rest on them, comfortably and unobtrusively. It was a good decision. For a long moment, the entire weight of the old man pressed down hard, almost crushing the younger man’s knee into the ground. The old man’s large, powerful fingers squeezed, with agonizing slowness, into the younger man’s shoulder, while he steadied himself. The younger man did not notice. His entire attention seemed to be focused on the coins lying on the floor. His eyes restlessly scanned the floor, as if searching for the rest of his money. He knew, of course, that it would be fatal to move until the old man had fully recovered himself. And then, of course, as if nothing had happened, the old man moved on.

 

 

The incident had probably lasted no more than a second or two. Already, however, pretty young hands were picking up the rest of the coins and handing them back to the handsome stranger, with dazzling smiles. But many of the people in the café were surprised at the young man’s behaviour. Not only had he been clumsy and careless, but he had not even apologized to the older man. But the young man paid no attention to the rude whispers that he heard, about himself. When he saw the older man walking away, safely, the younger man suddenly lost interest in the money on the floor. Raising his eyes, he saw the old man reach his car. The car was parked with its left side parallel to the sidewalk and, as the old man approached it, he was exactly at right angles to the door. As the older man turned sideways to allow the driver to open the door for him, very casually, he glanced at the younger man, who was still on his knee. For just a moment, the eyes of the two men locked and they smiled at each other, in perfect understanding. They each knew that they had seen themselves reflected in the eyes of the other. Youth, and old age, they seemed to say silently to each other, are both temporary. His walking stick firmly held in one hand and the steaming cup of coffee in the other, the old man waited, while the bored chauffeur held open the door for him. As the old man was about to step into the car, he moved the fingers of his left hand, in an almost imperceptible wave, to the younger man, even as the car drove off into the silence.

The old man stared into space for a long moment, as the large, powerful car moved slowly, almost majestically through the streets. Finally, he took a deep sip of his coffee. It was lukewarm. A casual touch on a button, with the little finger of his left hand, made the window begin to roll down, slowly. He waited, patiently, until it was all the way down. Carefully, holding the cup at arm’s length, he slowly tipped over the cup and poured away all of the coffee, onto the pavement below. He decided, as he drew his arm back into the car, that, for once, he felt warm enough to leave the window open. He held his empty plastic cup, with both hands, and looked at it for some time. The memory of the young man’s gesture filled him with happiness. “My cup is full,” he thought to himself.

 

 

 

 

Light in Shining Armour

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The Naughty Light

Once upon a time, it was nearly sunset. You could just barely see a tiny sliver of sun above the horizon of the sea. And even though it was summer and the sun had stayed up as long as he could, it was time for him to leave. Well, almost time, anyway. The sun has many children – millions and billions and trillions of them. And when it is time for the sun’s older sister, Night, to cover the earth in her soft, warm blanket of darkness, the sun and all of his children go home. But, sometimes, there is one naughty little child who will not go home to bed, as he should. And that is exactly what happened this night.

His daddy, the Sun, kept calling to him. But the naughty little boy, kept skating over the sea, and even diving into the waves, sometimes. His daddy told him he was being naughty and even rude, and that it might even be dangerous for him to be alone the whole night.

“Not scared!” said the little boy, turning himself into the teeniest, tiniest speck of light you can imagine, and bouncing from wavetop to wavetop, until he slid off a shiny bit of sand and came to a rolling stop under a leaf so old and yellow it was mostly transparent.

His daddy just sighed. And even though the little boy may have really died, all alone, without his daddy to protect him, the sun could not break the rules of Nature, entirely, though he could and often did, stretch them just a little. And, by now, the rules had already been stretched as far as they could be, for the day, and the sun had to leave.

But Night was watching.

The little ray of light was full of energy and mischief. Oh, the things he could do! He could stretch himself into a line long enough to reach from the earth to the moon and far beyond. He could make himself so small you couldn’t see him He could jump, skitter, slide, and bounce. He never slowed down, even a little, no matter what. And he was fast. Oh, he was so fast! He could go around the whole world a thousand times in less than a second! After all, he could travel at the speed of light. If he had wanted to, he could have been on the other side of the world, where the sun was, in almost no time at all. But he thought he would look silly if he were to go back now. He had said he wasn’t scared. And, well, he wasn’t!

He went to a huge, big city that was full of light. But it was a different kind of light. He couldn’t understand it at all. So, he went and talked to one of the millions of neon signs in the city. This one was on the top of a very tall building – very tall for you and me, that is; he was fast and he had no fear of heights. He was at the top of the building and zipping hundreds of times all around and even inside of the neon sign faster than a shooting star!

The neon sign was big and gruff but very friendly, really. “Are you scared and alone, little boy?”

“Not scared!” he shot back immediately.

“No, of course not,” said the neon light very gently. “You’re a big brave boy; you would never be frightened. That was silly of me. But, you know, you could make lots of friends here.” The little ray of light said nothing in response. “Of course, you would have to change, just a little, to be like us. You’d have to turn into electricity.” And still he did not speak. “It’s easy and painless. Light and electricity – they’re almost the same thing.”

“But they’re not – the same thing, that is. And I couldn’t ever be happy being something I’m really not, you know.”

“Yes,” said the neon sign, who was very wise, having spoken to millions and millions of rays of light, in the daytime, over many years. And then, suddenly, there was a crackling noise and the neon sign went out. The little ray of light waited a long time – almost a whole second. A second is a very long time for a ray of light. And then it shot off, searching for new adventure.

He searched cities and villages, the tallest mountains and the deepest mines. He flashed in and out of exploding volcanoes and the hearts of countless diamonds and rubies. He played with lasers and moonlight, lightning and fireworks. But none of it really interested him. And then, finally, he saw a man standing on the edge of a long, black, empty road, striking a match to light his cigarette. The little ray of light was less than a million miles away, up in the sky, when the man struck the match. And so the little ray of light saw it happen. And down he dived! The man did not have time to lift the match to his cigarette. The little ray of light was playing with the light from the match. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as pure as sunlight but at least it was real, not just electricity. The little ray of light took away all of the heat from the match and turned it all into light. So, the match stopped burning but, strangely enough, it was still alight. The man saw this strange event and was fascinated. He just kept looking at the match. He couldn’t have been more surprised if it had grown ears and a tail. And then, all in play, and just for fun, the little ray of light really lit up the match – not with flame but with light. The light from the match grew and spread until it covered the whole night sky for more than a hundred miles around. It seemed as though there were rivers of rainbows dancing in the night sky – except these rivers showed many more colours than any rainbow. For a moment, the whole world went silent, watching this miracle of incredible beauty – a miracle just given as a casual gift by a naughty little boy. But he was a shy little boy, too. And he didn’t like all the attention. So he waited until the match started to burn again. And when it burned the man’s fingertip and he dropped the match on the ground, the little ray of light was gone!

Now he was having a wonderful time! The sheer joy of being himself without any restrictions had taken over. He wanted to see what else he could do. More, more, more! What else was there he had not seen? Time had seemed to stretch out before him but now it seemed that time would vanish only too quickly. But despite his eagerness for new experiences, he did not rush, now. He glided smoothly, effortlessly, throughout the world not searching any longer, but just looking, drinking it all in, admiring the newness of all he saw. And even though he wasn’t looking (or, perhaps, because he wasn’t looking) he saw a tiny little house. It stood deep inside a wood and the wood itself stood on the edge of a vast, velvety blanket of snow. Inside the house was a little fireplace. It was just barely big enough to warm up the house. Into this little fireplace the little ray of light slowly descended. This was a fire made of neither electricity nor wood, but of gas that came from underground pipes, hundreds of miles long. But, for all that, it was a flame made of natural things. For a little while, he played with the light from the fire. But he did not want to create a big commotion this time, as he had with the light from the little match. Very slowly, the little ray of light took away nearly all of the light from the flame, and let the light seep out of the house through chinks and crannies so small that you or I could never see them. It must have taken him a whole minute, at least, to make a little pool of light outside of the house. But he had been careful. So the house was still dark and warm. In fact, it was warmer than usual. The little ray of light knew a few little tricks that could make the hottest fire just a little hotter.

And, as soon as he was sure that everyone in the house would remain warm and comfortable, he slipped out of it, leaving it still dark, and started to play with the little pool of light he had created outside. Of course, this time he was very careful – at first. Outside of the house, not far from the front steps, was a small little patch of ice, probably no bigger than your hand. And although it was only a little patch, it was much smoother and shinier than the ice around it. It was in this little patch of ice that the little ray of light had created his little pool of firelight without the fire. And he dived into the pool and played with it, entertaining himself for a very long time. And even though he was always conscious to keep the house dark, he forgot, after a while, all of the other things around him. The light had spread.

In the beginning, he had expanded it only a little, from the little space it occupied to a few miles around the house – and always on the ground. But then he had lit up one tree and then another. And then, the snow and the ice, the grass and the trees and anything else that was in the path, glittered with a brilliant light. It seemed almost as if the light had been stretched and stuck on to each object separately. But the little ray of light did not like the way that looked. And so he loosened his control and let the light be itself – bright yet soft, spreading yet lingering, quick yet sinuous. And though he had been careful to keep the house warm and dark, the light outside could not be ignored, after a while. The sleepers woke up and quietly gazed out at the wonder before them. There was light, stretching out for miles, well beyond their horizon. And yet their own house was completely dark and more warm than ever – and while some of the warmth came from the fire, they could feel also the warmth of love and innocence.

Immediately, the little ray of light realized they had all woken up. But he did not go away, this time. He continued to play. At last, he began to tire of the sport, though, despite having much energy left in him. And as his spirits began to fall, the light he had made slowly began to dim. And so he drifted away, quietly, to another forest, thousands of miles away. And still it was dark.

All this time, he had not felt alone or frightened. But now that he was feeling droopy, he began to wonder what Night would do to him, if she caught him. He did not know that Night had been watching him, with love, the whole time. So he curled up into a dewdrop on a leaf and fell asleep. Soon, however, Night reached into the dewdrop and held him in the palm of her hand. And she looked at him, with an expression of slight amusement.

“Uh-oh. I’m in big trouble now!” he thought.

But, as she continued to look at him, Night’s oldest daughter, Dawn, came and kissed her on the cheek. And, Night began to fade away. With infinite grace and love, Night blew gently at the little ray of light who stood tall and bright, even in his fear, in the palm of her hand. And then she was gone. And Dawn vanished too. And the little ray of light felt his spirits rise again. And, with all the power in his little heart, he streaked toward the sky to hug his daddy, the sun – for the sun had risen again.

The I of the Storm

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Water Colours

Great is the grief that floats upon the heart
Made whole in weeping red and hopeless gray.
Love finds its colours in truth without art.

The clay twists, stretches, slowly tears apart
Each breath, each tear, each small whisper that says
Great is the grief that floats upon the heart.

Much we lose and much forsake ere we part
And start to live our lies in artful gray.
Love finds its colours in truth without art.

Ungentle truth carves slowly, like God’s art,
And blades of reason do not, for pity, stay.
Great is the grief that floats upon the heart.

Smile through fire; let sighs, like storms, hide the smart
That, like loveless wheel, shapes colourless clay.
Love finds its colours in truth without art.

No vessel fit there ever is, to chart
Gray dreams in eyes that once could pray.
Great is the grief that floats upon the heart.
Love finds its colours in truth without art.

50 After 50: A Cycle of Sonnets About Love & Hope

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The Moment Infinite

 

When I believe that goodness is in the grave

And that the oceans of joy are at low-tide

Then I remember the beauty that can save

And the gentleness that can through darkness guide:

You, rock over whom light and dark glide and flow

Down, like cascading floods of smiles!

And then the laughter rolls and casts its glow

Upon this life emptied by thoughts of many styles.

Shall I say I have seen love dying quietly

Between the dawn and dusk of romances

In hearts that have not given up their stances

Or shall I rather drink hemlock gladly

And soar unbound for one moment infinite

On the broken wing of hope within it?