Name Time

'La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),' by Oiluj Samall Zeid on Flickr

[Image: “La Otra Navidad (The Other Christmas),” by Oiluj Samall Zeid; found on Flickr and used here under a Creative Commons license. The site is a mausoleum in León, Spain, commemorating Republicans killed in the Spanish Civil War. Each nameplate represents one victim.]

From whiskey river (italicized portion):

[Interviewer Terry] Gross: I’d like you to read another poem from your book “Book of Longing.” And this is called “Titles.” Would you tell us when you wrote this?

[Leonard] Cohen: I’ve been writing it for a while. But I finished it last winter in Montreal. It’s a poem called “Titles.”

(Reading) I had the title Poet. And maybe I was one for a while. Also, the title Singer was kindly accorded me even though I could barely carry a tune. For many years, I was known as a Monk. I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early. I hated everyone. But I acted generously. And no one found me out. My reputation as a Ladies’ Man was a joke. It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone. From a third-story window above the Parc du Portugal, I’ve watched the snow come down all day.

As usual, there’s no one here. There never is. Mercifully, the inner conversation is canceled by the white noise of winter. I am neither the mind, the intellect nor the silent voice within. That’s also canceled. And now, gentle reader, in what name — in whose name — do you come to idle with me in this luxurious and dwindling realms of aimless privacy?

(Leonard Cohen [source])


The secrets to living are these:
First, the past cannot be improved upon.
Acknowledge what was and move on.
Next, the future cannot be molded.
Then, why bother?
Last, nothing can ultimately be controlled;
Not the past, nor the future, nor the present.
Accept this moment as it is.
Honoring these three,
One lives without shackles.

(Wu Hsin [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Too much time is squandered on
What was and
What might be
Leaving only table scraps for

This mystery of which Wu Hsin speaks:
It is unperceivable, yet
It is the very root of perception.
Although unfelt,
It causes all feeling.
The father of thought,
The mother of being,
It is the immovable background upon which
All motion occurs.
To name it is to
Diminish it.
Wu Hsin references it as
That from which all emerges and
All returns.
Saying even this is
A movement away from it.

(Wu Hsin [ibid.])


Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change

Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time.

{Naomi Shihab Nye [source])

…and (young Josh has just witnessed a murder, and is about to encounter the title character of The Stupidest Angel):

[Josh] debated calling 911 or praying, and decided to go with the prayer. Like calling 911, you weren’t supposed to pray for just anything. For instance, God didn’t care whether or not you got your bandicoot through the fire level on PlayStation, and if you asked for help there, there was a good chance that he wold ignore you when you really needed help, like for a spelling test or if your mom got cancer. Josh reckoned it was sort of like cell-phone minutes, but this seemed like a real emergency.

“Our Heavenly Father,” Josh began. You never used God’s first name—that was like a commandment or something. “This is Josh Barker, six-seventy-one Worchester Street, Pine Cove, California nine-three-seven-five-four. I saw Santa tonight, which was great, and thank you for that, but then, right after I saw him, he got killed with a shovel, and so, I’m afraid there’s not going to be any Christmas and I’ve been good, which I’m sure you’ll see if you check Santa’s list, so if you don’t mind, could you please make Santa come back to life and make everything okay for Christmas?” No, no, no, that sounded really selfish. Quickly he added: “And a Happy Hanukkah to you and all the Jewish people like Sam and his family. Mazel tov.” There. Perfect. He felt a lot better.

The microwave beeped and Josh ran to the kitchen, right into the legs of a really tall man in a long black coat who was standing by the counter. Josh screamed and the man took him by the arms, picked him up, and looked him over like he was a gemstone or a really tasty dessert. Josh kicked and squirmed, but the blond man held him fast.

“You’re a child,” said the blond man.

Josh stopped kicking for a second and looked into the impossibly blue eyes of the stranger, who was now studying him in much the same way a bear might examine a portable television while wondering how to get all those tasty little people out of it.

“Well, duh,” said Josh.

(Christopher Moore [source])


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  1. A very Merry Christmas to you and the Mrs, JES.

    That Stupid Angel story does sound like fun.

    And many thanks for this year’s Christmas Playlist update. I listened to it the other day while spending 4 or 5 hours sprucing up my apartment in anticipation of the arrival of AirBnB guests for the weekend. And I was more in need of seasonal uplift than usual…..

    Freak rainstorms earlier in the week (the wet season is supposed to be over now, but….) caused blocked drains and localised flooding. This is particularly distressing for rats, evidently, some of whom are driven into rare forays into the upper floors of buildings in search of a drier environment. And rats love to chew through plastic. I’m sure there’s no nutritional value to be derived from it, but hardy-and-shiny gets their gastric juices flowing somehow. And this, I surmise, is how I came to get electrocuted by my washing machine a couple of days ago. Just as I was starting to feel all grateful for a lucky escape, I discovered three or four young rats gambolling around my apartment…. with the AirBnB-ers now barely 12 hours from arrival. It’s not been a good week. But at least I didn’t have to deal with any toy packaging this year…..

    • And the best of the season to you as well, Mr. Froog!

      Your story here about life in southeast Asia — not that this will comfort you — nicely counterbalances other recent stories you’ve shared, featuring dense, emerald- and jade-green vegetation, utterly transparent blue skies, and so on. I thought I’d never see the appeal of the region to travel writers, ex-pats, beachcombers, and so on, but the details you’ve provided previously (including — ah, very much including! — the photos) have made me waver in my disregard.

      Are you preparing to, um, well, to vacate the premises for your upcoming AirBnBers? Or will they be staying in just a portion of your home? I’m not sure there’s a right or a wrong answer there; both sound unappealing in their own ways!

      (I’m not seriously recommending you watch it any time soon, but now I’m wondering if you’ve ever seen the Peter Well film Of Unknown Origin, from the early ’80s? It apparently never got much respect from critics or the public in general; Rotten Tomatoes currently has it at a 44% approval rating. But it’s always been on The Missus’s and my list of “must” recommendations for urban horror. Trailer here.)

      The Stupidest Angel is indeed fun… Kind of slapstick action, along the lines of something by Carl Hiaasen or maybe Elmore Leonard (or maybe Fargo), with a supernatural element thrown into the mix.

      I sincerely hope you get the rodent problem out of the way, whether you’ll be staying there or not. Your holiday weekend has already been spoiled by (well, I assume) a zero per cent prospect of anything like snow… but this situation sounds like a very “special” sort of hell. And in any case, do spend some time out and about among other people; you’ve always been able to get comfort from good surroundings, good people, and of course good libations!

      • I think I’ve heard of but never seen that Peter Weller film. A lot of people were no doubt discouraged from even giving it a try by that AWFUL trailer – and the unfathomable title. It sounds as if it’s actually a pretty smart and funny take on self-destructive obsession, and – for a low-budget horror film – it has a pretty strong rating on IMDB. I might have to check that out…. once my own difficulties in that area are resolved.

        The AirBnB-ers were only taking the guest room, although I was vacating the entire apartment for them, as I’d already arranged to take a short Christmas break in the picturesque southern town of Kampot. Perhaps doubting my rat story, or simply averse to trying to make other arrangements because they had a truly absurd amount of luggage with them (there’s a very pleasant guesthouse right next door to me, but they couldn’t move even a few yards without fatigue and distress), they obstinately insisted on staying anyway – which was mightily irritating and inconvenient for me, as I really wanted to give the rat-catcher man a free run of the place to be sure of having extinguished the problem before I return tomorrow.

        Luckily, I have never found rats to be particularly disgusting. I was not happy to have them invading my home; but I’m sure many people would not have been able to sleep with that knowledge, whereas I shrugged it off stoically: annoying, but I’ll deal with it tomorrow. Cockroaches would probably have discomfited me far more; but even with them, I don’t suffer the panic attacks that some do – I just catch and kill and flush the little beggars, and get on with my life.

        I’m only just starting to recover mobility after a serious leg injury. It seems that a recurring heel problem that’s been bugging me for a few years was in fact an undiagnosed degeneration of my left Achilles, and the tendon gave up the ghost and ruptured completely back in August. I was on crutches and unable to leave the apartment for a month or so, clunking around in a heavy surgical boot for a couple months more after that, and still hobbled by a major limp now. (One of my ex-students suggested my confinement be ideal for getting some writing done. I replied ruefully, “Oh, I’m writing LOADS, But it’s all variations on ‘Rear Window’!”)

        So, I feel I’ve got some catching up to do with my hoped-for explorations of the region, and am heading off for a month in northern Thailand and Laos in a couple of days. And I’m planning a north-south odyssey through Vietnam in…. April, probably.

        I hope 2017 has many wonderful things in store for you.

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