Friday, November 14, 2008

Guest Posting By Space Cadet - Star-Gazing In The Borscht Belt

(Painting by George Inness)

Space Cadet has devoted the last few years to reviving the eremitic tradition in Judaism championed by Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam in the twelfth century, and the path of seclusion which the Baal Shem Tov and a number of Chassidic masters followed at various times in their lives. He is also trying to learn how to play the Jew's harp without removing all the enamel from his front teeth.

Star-Gazing In The Borscht Belt

Space Cadet dedicates this poem to his old artist-friend Sylvia ("Sura") Zeldis, who first told him about Josef Albers' book, "Interaction of Color."


Catskills shrouded by clouds and mist

Sheltered from inquisitive

Sunlight. In the valley below

Gamblers brave icy roads to Monticello

Minivans en route to bungalows.

In the summer, tourist shops proliferate

Like maggots under a rotted log.

Let me wander these derelict trails

And purify my ears with the song of a mountain stream!


Where once resort hotels straddled the hills

Grossinger’s, The Concord, Tamarack Lodge

Gurus stroll in saffron robes, consoling

Escaped convicts of affluence.

On decrepit porches, Chassidim remember

The country life. Yiddish signs by the roadside

Like old world scholars attempt to refute

These indifferent woods.

Beside the emerald moss, ants build fallout shelters

Flies and chiggers conspire with the wind.

What’s the difference to a bent old man

Preoccupied with making a fire from sticks

Who sips hot tea in the dwindling light

A fading shadow in the unknown

Encroaching night?


I wanted a way out of the city --

Really a way out of my mind.

Be still! I commanded

Enough commotion!

On a wooded slope, beside a flowing stream,

In company of owl, raccoon, and prowling bear,

I made my wilderness camp.

But the noise came along with me:

An endless parade of thoughts, happy and sad

Like unwanted relatives at a country outing.

Help yourself, my friends, I told them.

In these trees, there’s plenty of room.

But I can’t pay attention to you right now.

It is time to gaze at the endless sky

To sit beside the tide waters of my breath.


Once I lived in the city.

Studied, then went to work

Married and raised a family.

Like a fish caught in the net

Floundering in obligations

Struggling with debt

I sought to escape loss and pain

Fought back a smile at praise

And tried to evade blame --

To no avail!

Now the four walls of my house are

The four winds. When I’m hungry

I cook some carrots or potatoes

Stored away from summer

Or swallow a handful of berries

Gathered in hidden recesses of the forest.

Sometimes hikers pass this way

Fresh-faced, wearing their Bean Catalog parkas

When they see me, they laugh at the ragged stranger

And I laugh, too. But my laugh is not their laugh.

In the unformed shadow of sight and sound

The mind finds repose.

From colorless light

All colors come forth and return.


Pausing beside a mountain stream

I lean over to drink – and on the water

See an unfamiliar face, white haired

White bearded, weather-worn

Like a rusty “No Trespassing” sign.

What did I look like before?

Did that face, too, belong to me?

In the ripples of the brook

The face changes shape.

Blurred trees and a patch of sky turn into

A painting by old hermit Monet

With his brushes strapped to his wrists.

What is this world of appearances

But a reflection on the fathomless water

Of the divine thought?


Lipa has become my benefactor.

He works at the Satmar camp all summer

Lets me mooch leftovers from the kitchen.

Now he has brought a portable heater

To my ramshackle bungalow

Plastic for the broken windows

An old army cot to keep my bones

Off the cold floor.

“Get out of here!” I cry.

“God created the world out of kindness,”

Says the burly intruder

Shoving a box across the floor

Crammed with canned peaches, beans and rice.

He probably never had an introspective

Moment in his life.

But heaven’s wondrous purpose

Lipa knows.


Lying on a lounge chair of leaves

I study the white clouds sailing

Across the vault of heaven, like thoughts

Coming out of nowhere

Clouds turn into sky

Sky turns into clouds

Thought dissolves into no-thought

No-thought congeals into thought

Yesh (something) turns into ayin (nothing)

Ayin gives rise to yesh

In essence, it’s all the same.

“When I die,” the Baal Shem Tov

Told his daughter, “It will be like going

From one room to the next.

Not even that!

It will be like going from one corner to the other.”


Josef Albers painted bands

Of color in various combinations.

The same orange surrounded

By turqouise looks so different

Surrounded by crimson.

So what are we

But our contexts?

And if you say, step out of them all

I say, there’s nowhere to go.


Is also a context. Its colors, too

Never stop changing.


City folks say that the hermit’s life

Is a cop-out. If everyone

Cut their umbilical cord to Gas & Electric

IRS, New York Times, CNN

What would become of the world?

Poor world!

I say that taking your mind off what you’re doing

Is a bigger cop-out.


In the Catskills, I devised a plan

For world peace. One that works!

Rabbi Nachman says that all disputes,

All warring nations, are in our minds.

In the moonlight, I listen to crickets

Scratching their legs. The same rhythm

The same pitch. There is no dissonance.

“The desire to achieve transcendence

Is also a desire!” the critic contends.

“Yes,” the sage replies.

“But to fulfill that desire, you must overcome

Every other!”

If the hermit’s life is so easy

Let’s see how long you can last here!


At November 14, 2008 at 6:30:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep these poems coming. I can't get enough!

At November 14, 2008 at 9:23:00 AM EST, Blogger Leora said...

Josef Albers, Rabbi Nachman, and hikers in Bean parkas...keep "painting" your world, Space Cadet.

At November 16, 2008 at 7:04:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i always love this blog, something a bit 'sparse' ?? about writing maggots??!!!


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