The Towers of Ilium

Four braziers burn on towers high,
each marking a corner.
Yet no light emits from these brazen pits,
their coals’ black heat just smolders.

The cardinal flames have all waned to ash
without their constant tending.
It takes daily strains to maintain the flash
of signal fires unending.

Four directions to travel by,
each guiding sojourners.
With torches lit even a trifling bit,
we’d travel the world all over.


Authors Notes:

The title is a reference to the line in Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe: “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships/And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?”. I chose this reference because this poem was inspired by a visualization meditation I did some years ago wherein I went to Troy to light four fires on the four corners of the city walls of Troy. Up till now, I hadn’t put together the meaning behind that insight. It came to me as I reflected upon current struggles. I realized the fires symbolized the beneficial habits I needed to maintain to improve myself and my life. The lighting of the fires is the maintenance of these practices, and thus is what guides me.

The poem is about self-control, and the power we have to shape and guide ourselves to get to the states we want to be in.

In terms of form, the poem is symmetrical in the sense that the first and last verses parallel each other in content and have matching rhyme schemes, syllable counts, and rhyme on the same sounds; and the middle verse is split, it’s first two lines rhyming and matching syllable counts with its last two. This was intended not only to balance the piece, but to symbolize the repetition required for effective self discipline, the repetition of daily habits, which is at the heart of this piece.

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Fenix (#tbt)

After your skin sloughs off, does the itching stop, or do your bones scream out yearning to be scratched as the flames lick them clean of sinew and flesh?

Immersed in a roiling sea of fire, at what point do you stop clinging to survival and simply wish the fire would more quickly burn, would fry your nerves and leave you at peace, contented to smolder into a charred heap, crackled and craggy like red mud after a summer shower that’s been blast dried under a desert sun, your limbs skewed at odd angles as bones twist and bend, warped under the hydraulic pressure of escaping vapor.

Does your hope extinguish before your eyes melt? Do you get to see the vitreous gel of your optic orb boil and pop, casting rainbow halos as the firelight passes through the bubbling humor of your eyes? Do you laugh at the irony of childhood admonitions not to stare at the sun?

Can you see anything through the conflagration engulfing you? Perhaps a gust whips the flames up dancing, and you catch a glimpse through the blaze of your own smoke rising up to join the clouds and you are put at ease.

Separated from your body now, can you smell yourself cooking, reducing down to quintessence? Once your senses are burnt out, does your passion for life rekindle? Unattached, free, does the strange beauty of these final moments light up your fervent desire to be? Ardent as a star, your spark rises up with the wisps of smoke into the southern sky.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series and originally appeared on May 13th, 2015 as part of #MayBookPrompts. The prompt was “When You Are Engulfed in Flames”. Photo credit:

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Surrender (#tbt)

I asked Nina Simone what it means to be free. “Words cannot do justice to the experience of freedom,” she said. She paused a moment, a hushed, contemplative silence, before saying “no fear… That’s freedom. That’s not all of it, but I think that’s the best I can do.”

What’s does it mean to you to be free?

I agree with Nina. Few things holds us back like our fear. In any given instant it may be the most powerful and palpable restraint on us, but fear is not the only thing limiting us. Freedom is unconstrained choice, and fear may not be what constrains us most. Oddly enough, comfort may be more confining.

I want to be happy. I don’t want to suffer. If I’m not careful these basic human desires can imprison me in my own privilege. If I don’t actively contemplate what I truly want, if I don’t mindfully investigate my motivations, relatively mild discomforts that I subconsciously avoid will lead me into a cage of comfort.

True freedom means seeing what I truly want, not just what is most comfortable, and making myself vulnerable to that discomfort, embracing it, shaping it and being shaped by it, and in so doing living realistically in a world of my own making.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series and originally appeared on 5/11/16 as part of  #MayBookPrompts. The prompt was “Fifty Shades of Freedom.”

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Tiny whispers in my mind:
"It, he, we, and also mine."
Everything I see I find
is a reflection of my shine.

Everything talks to me, and here I am with my eyes shut and my ears closed; scrunched up like an obstinate toddler willing myself not to know. Despite my best efforts, vague insights trickle through.

Sometimes it feels like that, but really it's the opposite. I don't control it. It's an internal struggle. Consciously, I try as hard as I can to hear, but I can't keep it up. The programming is too strong. It constantly resets to factory settings, wiped.

"Huh? What? Yeah, sure, great, sounds good." And on I go, still grinding the path of the status quo.

In the end, death shakes loose the leaves and we can finally see the bare branches that held it all in place. Or so I'd hope. Yet, maybe this is it, or maybe death is just another step in the same direction. Our whole life just one pace on the path back around. How many rotations till we get dizzy and fall, and, laying there in the saturated void, surrounded by the infinite possibility of nothingness, finally start to hear the echoes bouncing back at us carrying all of the information we need, trying to tell us the shape of the room we are in, but we never learned how to hear it.

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What makes a star a sun?
How we relate to it must.
Can there be more than one?
We’re all made of star dust.

What dulls our shine?
Is it our fear and hate?
We’re all of a kind.
Can we steer our fate?

Not like a cold, faint light,
That’s not your role.
That’s old, ain’t right,
I’ll treat you like our Sol.

Now we’re all the Sun,
A bright, resplendent hue,
And we shine upon
Each other pure and true.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series. It originally appeared on May 9th, 2016 as part of #MayBookPrompts, a series of daily posts inspired by book titles. The prompt was "A thousand Splendid Suns."

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To sit in a void, a hard vacuum, would burst my eyes and boil my blood, and yet be so desirable. I could struggle with the contradiction, but prefer to just accept it like the warm embrace of winter.

If you had no senses, what would be the character of your awareness, and then, suddenly, what would that first note, that first flash, feel like?

Would the void be better having had no experiences previous to it, would the contrast otherwise drive you mad, or would it be best enjoyed as a welcome respite after a full life?

Perhaps it would be ideal in the middle, the climax of the hero’s journey filed down into a flat nub of nothingness.

They say that only in absolute darkness do we truly see; our sight freed from the busy confines of shape and form. The most beautiful fireworks can only be shared secondhand in words imperfect to the experience. Like a dream, it quickly fades at the edges, articulable only in the broadest strokes of theme. Like a dream, the imagination sets itself free to wander in the dark.

And then there was light.

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Onomatopoeia (#tbt)

What constitutes pure silence? If a tree falls in the woods… If we build a sound detector with an auditory acuity far more sensitive than our own, and it tells us there is noise we cannot hear, is our silence broken? How much sound lies beyond the range of our relatively feeble ears?

Once, when camping in the boundary waters I came as close to true silence as I ever have.  As I pulled my canoe into a narrow inlet before a portage, I was struck by the quiet. It hit me abruptly and caught me off guard. A moment passed before I could define the experience. There was no movement. I stood still in the void, and it slowly filled. The sounds of my own body grew louder in the contrasting silence: the hollow drone of my own ears, the wispy rasp of my breathing, the wet gurgle of my throat and guts. Nothing had changed, but as my awareness widened I found myself again surrounded by noise. I shouldered my canoe and continued up the hill.

How much of our experience do we filter out and how much is lost to the noise of our lives? The first time I did a body scan meditation was at a weekend long introduction to meditation workshop. I had started meditating some months before that, but had never placed my focus on the minutiae of my physical experience. It quickly became one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’d had. I became aware of more and more sensations, more and more discomforts, until I felt my entire body awash; practically every inch, inside and out, aching, throbbing, or itching in some way. The instructor asked how the scan was for us. I told him it was horrible.

Imagine if we were always aware of those micro-feelings and sounds. We couldn’t function. Perhaps this is why my infant son likes white noise so much. It must be difficult adjusting to the hullabaloo of life.

Does silence exist? Likely only in the vacuum of space as even the colliding of subatomic particles must make some noise. Within our range of hearing is it possible to find silence?

As I reflect on this, I am lying down on the matted floor of the martial arts studio I teach at, my feet propped up on the wall 90 degrees from the rest of me. Aside from the passing whir of the occasional car, (and the disquieting cacophony of my body, of which I am mercifully unaware) it was quiet. I am taking the opportunity, as I stretch out and wait for students, to ponder this topic when YEEAH! I am suddenly torn from my quiet reverie by the arrival of the first two students, a young brother and sister, who proceed to tear about the dojang and emit a high pitched screech combined with the rapid pitter patter of bare feet running on pads.

I chuckle as other students enter and look at me bewildered by the sound these two are managing to produce. It was a study in the sound and the fury. I saw the grimaces on the faces of some of the newly arriving students as the young sister’s yowl pierced the air. It reminded me of that waterfall of discomfort during my first body scan. What is silence then? I wondered.

If we are always surrounded by noise, and we have the capacity to tune it out, perhaps silence is just a frequency of our own awareness. A place we must tune ourselves to. Mindlessness can feel like a kind of silence, but the barrage of the sounds we ignore continues to exert a not so subtle influence on us; like a grating irritation that causes us to snap and lash out without understanding why. True silence requires we come to peace with the fury that engulfs us, that we stand in it embracing and equanimous. After all, even if we were to find shelter in the soundless vacuum of space, the stimuli wouldn’t cease. The sensations of our body and the litany of our thoughts would keep talking to us.

This post is part of my Throwback Thursday series. It originally appeared on 5/7/16 as part of a #MayBookPrompts series of posts inspired by book titles. The prompt was “The Sound and the Fury.”

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