9 Religious Paintings

It has been a busy/not busy month. I’m on the move and sitting still. The writing has stopped, for the time being inclined to pull me out of myself and just “be”, after these dog days of summer and expectation of the approaching iron nights. I paint. I water garden. I cook meals. I sit. I walk. Though, “in the head,” I try to allow feelings to come and go freely on the ego expressway. Year after year, these days encompass my most natural season. I do this:

No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
No cultivation, no intention,
Let it settle itself...

Each August for the past 30 years I pick out Alan Watts books on Zen, Vedanta, and Taoist philosophy. Nature, Man, and Woman is my favorite. I judged it by the cover in the eastern Philosophy section of a bookstore in South Florida in 1991, the day after I got a call that my mother had gangrene of the small intestine and would likely die on the operating table. At the time I was reading Song of Myself and a thick green book on the history and practice of Hinduism. I was sleeping on the lakeshore because I had recently left an estranged girlfriend and mother of my first child. On summer mornings I took a bar of soap and a razor into Lake Ontario and washed up like a loser. I got the call at work (I was making pizzas), and was on a plane the next morning. The Florida surgeons saved my mother—the first success of 6 people known to undergo the surgery. Alan Watts appeared in crisis and showed me a new path to feeling. I glued that book to my hip and walked all about creation for the rest of summer and fall.

I suggest it to any person who is afflicted by ego and pain.

So, though the writing is on pause, the painting is free to form out of me. Here are nine mid to late summer ones, ending with a poem I wrote that fateful autumn back in 1991 grasping a new book to teach me how not to seek the enlightenment of checking in and out of life. I’ve published it here before.

I hope that’s okay.

The Perpetual, Uncalculated Life Of Rain

As the rain from heaven’s doors
Falls silently on city streets,
Falling and finding curbs to rub up against
And pebbles to meet,
Forming puddles, making mud,
Seeking sewers...
I frown behind a brown door.

I am not the rain
Who comes carelessly to things.
Fearless water washing maggots in green dumpsters
And beading on broken glass,
Falling over rotten meat and fat,
Finding feces.
I am not the rain
Who sleeps with graves and flowers
And the coward men in hot houses,
Cooling dry leaves in showers,
Flowing fast to all sweet things
Which others would despise,
And creeping out of holes disguised,
Indifferent to disease.

Jealousy’s got a strangler’s hold on me.

Sickening, dirty sage, spring pure and natural,
Who creeps so close to dying things,
Fronting the graves of human beings
And pounding white mausoleums.
I despise you foul sage
Gesticulating like the rain
In some stormy southern sea.

A young mother from the village
Came to the Buddha’s mountain hut.
She walked three days in the rain—
Crying and not sleeping, just walking,
Weak, frantic and complaining,
Muttering, weeping, wild
And holding a stiff child,
So white and cold, not sleeping...

Windy, wild mother,
Half-conscious without rest,
Mother mad and going crazy says,

“Please save my baby!
O mountain sage do something strange,
I’ve stumbled three days in the rain.
Quick now, stir a potion, chant a spell,
They tell me you are magical—
And if you are love and if love is good,
She’ll awake and cry for food again.”

And wise Buddha sitting, smiling,
Staring at a cypress tree,
Spoke as a tear dripped down her cheek,

“I will try to bring her back,
But first retrieve some mustard seed
From a hut not darkened by death.
Then bring it here to me
And I will work my magic free.”

She flew through wet leaves
With only child in her arms.

And on a cold black night she entered the village,
On a windy night she shivered in rain,
With stiff child, stone dead, pallid and cold,
She bargained with neighbors
For a pinch of deathless seed.
But with each wild look—
No hut not shook by death.
Now the sage she knew was love,
Who understood that life is suffering.

And on that cold and rainy night
She laid her babe down in weeds.
In the cold wet morning darkness,
She wept long,
Then light made dawn
And the yellow sun rose behind the mountain
And the women came to take death away.

I stand behind a brown door coughing.

My friend, I am you.
So when we meet in the rain, let us embrace,
I believe I have no heavier burden.
By nature it is not painful to love;
I do not ask for more than I am able to give.

In stark autumn twilight I saw you
Standing still in a crowd of movement,
Upsetting the stream, stationary, tender...
And I came to you both tired and confused,
Wanting to stop as well,
But could not.

Dear brother desire, just one step further...
Dear lover despair, do not refuse me!
So help me now, do not refuse me again!

To build a fire in rain is no easy task,
One must have prepared the wood in advance.
Wet wood may burn,
But not bright like when dead and dry.
Woe to the man who sits on rocks in rain
Without shelter.
Woe to his worried little nerves,
Without rain interrupting.

Shiva the great dancer!
The wild lunatic, fire!
Shiva the destroyer, the crematorium, the heart!
I’m drunk from the pleasure your flames and death bring.
O this potent brew life,
And all things new.
What foul, decaying flesh!
What creeping, quiet cancer
Tricking my sick cells!
To know too that I dance with you,
Now and for never again,
Is the greatest joy!

O Shiva the savior,
Dancing and destroying,
Contemplating nothing, killing
Everything so beautiful.
Destroying and creating
All things so lofty and tremendous!
O Shiva, sweet conqueror,
The great death dance,
The total derangement,
Who I see and love and worship!

“Oh my world, my life, my blooming, my ecstasy!”
My sorrow, my pain, my dying, my agony!
What I say to you is not what I mean
So why do I speak?
Wherefore art thou holy slicer of tongues—
You who are most divine, supreme, and sublime?
No purer blood ever spilled
No sweeter tasting blood
Silence, like boredom, the holy abyss,

O how I do believe,
But could your dance rescue me?
I must doubt...

Crying out to Nataraja, the spasm,
My heart beats incantations
But I neither breathe nor speak.
All of this nothing, and I fear for my life.

O Lord of the dance, spontaneous,
Savior of nothing, and all encompassing...
I cannot fail again!

“This wood is soaked right through I swear,
Waterlogged, my skin as cold as ice—
Where will I be in twenty years?
Two months since my baby’s been gone.
That noise!
The water,
The rolling and crashing sea,
The shore,
How close it is to me!
I could listen to its peace all night
If I were dry—
Listen to nothing else I could
But no shelter,
Only wood,
And soaked right through I swear...
O she was fine, O so good!

This morning I heard her cry from another room,
In darkness I saw her eyes,
As I spooned the cinnamon from the jar
And mixed the syrup in her cereal.
Outside the branches scratched at my window,
Outside the rain fell like never before,
Her fever, however, the door...
I held the bib and called out her name.

We used to swim here in summer.
She’d scale these rocks in shade.
But this wood is too wet to burn
And I am not right now,
Too wet.”

To build a fire,
A flame that will last,
Is no easy task in the rain.

I shiver beneath clouds loudly weeping.

O stern gray bird,
O hard heron on a gray rock,
Rain falling, wind blowing, life hiding—
How do you see things?
What can you contemplate?
So far from a tree, not flying,
Just standing in rain accepting
Nature’s elementary beating.
Just standing not accepting

O thing don’t look at me!
I have no offering
Except dissipation.

Still lonely bird standing in the pouring rain,
Bird without purpose or any concept of purpose,
Bird of silent nothing,
Have pity on this thing, me, weeping.

The tree on the bank shakes in an agonizing throe.
The rain in convulsion, winding, laughing—
And a gray bird on a gray flat rock,
Not laughing, not caring, just standing,
Looks out o’er the sea once more
Then flies amid the maelstrom.

Mad angry waves flaunt their teeth,
Growling against the stony shore.
All life a spasm,
All visible life mad and going crazy.
No death has yet been proved,
Though so many forms dying, dancing...
Ecstatic in life decaying
In this dark and wild moment!

And over the sea a bolt of lighting!
This dance, this lightning dance—
Not frightening.
This electric nothing dance!
From the clouds you came,
From the sky somewhere
Sounds Shiva’s call!
The lunatic came from the pulsating sky.

A spark becomes fire
And flames now consume
Wood that would be water.

One left hand of Shiva
And I am alive!
One right hand of Shiva
And thunder rolls over the tips of clouds.
A bough cracks Muyalaka’s back,
And I remember before
When a silent bird said,
“Fear not!”

O ring yer bells!
I am not dead!
You sexy eater, perverted life,
Eat yourself again and again.
Kill my pain wild ecstasy,
Break my neck!
Shake the skull atop your head,
Ring yer bells,
I am not dead!

I am the spontaneous adjunct of nothing.
I am nothing, nothing, nothing!
I am cold, I am life, I am warm!
I am woman, I am man
Thrown headlong together in this dance.
I create nothing.
I dance in darkness, space, infinity
And no sweet nothing do I complete!

Lord, you move to everything,
Dancing and destroying
Rhythmic trees.
Lord, your mind is completely empty,
Dancing and destroying
Primal rock.
Lord, sweet joy, your colors invigorate me.
Lord, your drink, the perpetual intoxicant, nothing,
Is me.
I am the universe resounding with the joyful cry,
“I am!”

This is a photo from 1991, outside my hovel, where I spent crisp mornings touching up the previous poem. Morning cinnamon bun, coffee with cream, and plentiful drags of warm, filtered tobacco.


You can read it from my first book, written with the skills of an idiot, circa 1991 - 1994.