Meditation on Time

Let’s take some five second breaths to begin. Maybe even a ten second breath. We will breathe a finite number of breaths in our lifetime and it is less than one billion. Being aware of this fact is supposed to make us value every single one. We understand the present moment as the nexus of past and future, time as a linear system of coordinates, a rather boring line that we experience as straight and endless, even if general relativity tells us it can bend in exotic ways if stretched.

We are all alive at the same time. We share this extraordinary intimacy without much wonder. Geographically, we are almost never together, yet temporally, our paths always coincide. We are ‘Zeitgenossen’ (contemporaries), but that never seems to generate the kind of solidarity we feel for people who live in (were born in, whose grandparents were born in…) the same country as we do. The reason is that there is nobody around who is not a contemporary.

This might be a compelling reason to read history books. The temporal distance to the Greek, the Romans, the Ming, the Aztecs, could make us feel united in our own historical place, ‘against’ the older peoples. It turns the coordinate system of time into something meaningful, a way to distinguish ourselves, a way to become aware of our unique moment.

Solidarity between contemporaries doesn’t seem to bear an intimate relation with the concept of time itself. Breathe calmly. This solidarity is the celebration of simultaneousness. We wonder why an infinite number of events can happen at the same time and be visible for each other. We think of a sort of spiritual gratitude for the fact that we are thrown together in the same moment. It is a relatively simple exercise for a human mind to find such gratitude. When reflecting on time, we want to reach this idea of gratitude. Breathe out calmly, we have the same seconds.

Artwork by Ian Bourgeot

Meditation on Time was originally published on Meandering home


A street

yesterday the street I live in
became new to me
I saw blushing windows in its bend
and wound-up cars following the curvature
the signs on the rooftops read names I had
not noticed before behind a rusty gate
the glimpse of an overgrown trellis
the scent of blossom rushing in
from another season
in doorways weak smiles assemble as
always, how’s everything
the 24-hour bus service,
diagonal zebra crossings
the cracked asphalt
breathed empathy, elated me

I pray and the pale
sky promises me devices:
metaphors, commas, gene splicers
and molten licorice words
that you use to redeem themselves

I never was much of a proselytizer
who would go door to door in a suit,
keeping them open with his foot, but
such aggrandizing scene obliged –

Can you not see it? This changes everything!
We can dance on the eyelids of history,
waltz in the heat of her mementos, excite
their stranger relatives, who were never
buried in manly narrations. If only

if only you listen, Justice can be borne
of such a street whose name
(is not to be mentioned in the poem for reasons of privacy)

So I told an old man about aforementioned epiphany
He said I don’t have much time don’t you see
I’m repurposing a machine to write poetry,
and I can tell you boy it does so well,
it can turn your house into a doggerel and your street into a hell
of a villanelle.

So I step out of his shadow and ask him again
The old man says the machine is broken.
I nod and offer him my help,
which he accepts generously by sending me
on an errand to the beginning of time.

I am not given a dress code, and
rather harshly pushed out on the street.

At 8:54 this morning I begin walking
backwards, my hands in my pockets,
I think a certain nonchalance
would befit the circumstance.

I retract into narrower streets
until a streetlight waxes from a dark alleyway
and I was taken in, like a lunatic

beriddled by my task I walk on the cobblestones
trying to remember good music and putting on an overall
I pass telegraph poles, water mills, pig sties,
fortifications, Roman roads, temples, pyramids.

History is so soothing in reverse
Going back, I strangely have a sense of purpose:
I am going after something that must be done.

A warm haze consumes me. I am
retracing the steps taken by nameless ancestors
in a frivolous bid for supreme justice that is what it is.

I decide I am not dressed for the occasion and don
a multisex suit with a neutralizing tie, ungendered
I continue several light years towards my
destination, and

the air is clearing, I see homo sapiens devolve
and everything becomes almost nameless. I begin
to take notes as I trip over details:
carved stones, graves, bones
I lurch further back, silence takes away
my good mood and I feel daft in my formal suit.

I enter childhoods, analyze everything,
the children always want to become my best friend
and later would leave me disgruntled.
So I analyze the mother of the mother and so on and so on

back to the primates where loss of language
is promising at first,
but the monkeys show me their food and show me their teeth
and I conclude that I must go further

back to some fish with bright angled eyes on each side,
where movement becomes a derivative of the stream
1 fish looks at me
I see the promise of infinite possibilities, or
a play of vectors all equally unlikely
then the fish says “excuse me”,
and crawls ashore.

I put on a sweater and hum Beethoven
because hard silence (<20 dB) makes you mad
and as a child I dreamed of turning his music
into the cosmic background noise
the good vibrations of my arrival
at the phenomenology of the cosmic soup,
where the chef is slime
and later at the speck of dust that engendered everything.

I am no longer sure if I should study philosophy
but I still want to reach the beginning of time
to help the old man and his machine
I flip-flop ever simpler molecules, measure picojoules
rearrange Higgs bosons and quarks
until everything is phase and frequency,
and then just dark,
an infinitesimal
densely simmering
from which follows everything

I write it down in my notebook:
I am trespassing a dark fluid
and again, I’m overdressed
knee-deep in its viscous inevitability
all aspects are lacking and seem to be –

I get my stutter back

Sick with wisdom I return to the old man,
and tell him what I have seen. He nods and
turns a knob. The machine begins to rattle
semicolons, hyphens, commas, ampersands,
parentheses, periods, virgules, apostrophes:
a score of silence

The old man and I are reciting poetry
that is hopelessly, revoltingly right.

A street was originally published on Meandering home

The Playground

The chubby boy points his toy gun at another boy
His great grandfather fought in the war.
This is not a guess. I am sure.
His great grandmother was maybe a comfort lady to the invaders.

But his gun is only made of plastic. He will be forgotten.

I look at the boys.
I see an army of deserters, an anarchist army.
They charge at the playground castle
that is always taken and held at the same time.

The Playground was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: Afterwards by Philip Schultz

Philip Schultz (b. 1945) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry with a collection called ‘Failure’. To him, that failure referred to the relative failure of his alter ego the novelist, who finally gave in to the poet, under one condition: the subtitle of the book is ‘a novel in verse’. Here is a poem called Afterward from the Wherewithal (2014):

everything feels afterwards,
stoic and inevitable,
my eyes ringed with the grease of rumor and complicity,
my hands eager to hold any agreeable infatuation
that might otherwise slip away.
it’s evening and the lights up and
down the street appear hopeful,
even magnanimous,
swollen as they are with ancient grievances
and souring schemes. The sky,
appears unwelcoming,
and aloof, eager to surrender
its indifference to our suffering.
Speaking of suffering,
the houses—our sober, recalcitrant houses—
are swollen with dreams that have grown opaque with age,
hoarding as they do truths
untranslatable into auspicious beliefs.
our loneliness,
upon which so many laws are based,
continues to consume everything.
regardless of what the gods say,
the present remains uninhabitable,
the past unforgiving of the harm it’s seen,
the future remains translucent
and unambiguous
in its desire to elude us.

It’s a powerful description of that feeling. I can relate (can you?) We look around us with these complicit eyes and want to hold on to everything because we know we can’t make any new things spring into being. Yet the lights appear hopeful at night. Perhaps the stoic feeling of afterwards was purging the world and now it is time for the New? The sky couldn’t care less about our suffering, and the dreams in our houses are dull and heavy.

So we are left with loneliness, on which so many laws are based. What does that mean? I think loneliness is a crucial element of our appetite for justice, so all the laws regulating the tiniest details of our public and private lives are often not about preventing misbehaviour or redistributing the (financial) pain, but about feeding the Leviathan called ‘justice’ that looms over society and allows us to engage in shared outrage to escape from loneliness.

Okay, we can’t live in the present and the past was too harmful. Yet the future desires to elude us, because every day the world feels like a fait accompli. So the status quo remains the same and time is the uninhabitable present looking back at the unforgiving injustices of the past and forward to the future that is being consumed by our loneliness.

Reading: Afterwards by Philip Schultz was originally published on Meandering home