When I Am Gone – an essay by Finn Janning

When I Am Gone

In the late spring of 2014, I left my home in Barcelona to walk in Norway for twenty days with my friend Jeppe. We planned to follow the last 300 kilometers of the pilgrim path to Trondheim, St. Olav’s Way, named after the Norwegian king who brought Christianity to Norway in ad 1033. 

I am not a religious person; I do have not faith in any of the marketed Gods but a strong belief in life. And yet, during this journey, I experienced an encounter with a muskox that I can only describe as healing, perhaps even spiritual.

* * *

On our third or fourth day, Jeppe discovered fur from what he believed was a muskox hanging on the bush branches. The fur was soft and had a strong, seductive scent. We decided to follow the animal’s track and not the pilgrim path. Three hours later, we were rewarded when a muskox passed us running less than 100 meters away. 

Could it smell us? Hear us? 

A few hours later. as we were about to exit the denser part of the forest, another muskox stood less than fifteen meters in front of us. 

“Look. Look!” I said. 

As it began to move toward us, we threw our bodies down and hid behind a bush. We took off our backpacks. I grabbed my knife, and Jeppe grabbed his camera. It all happened fast, as pure instinct. Our actions might be seen as protecting life as well as documenting it, a combination that might actually be perfect. Nevertheless, neither of us was aware of the interval between the impulse—meeting the muskox—and our actions.

When it was less than five meters from us, we ran away; specifically, we climbed up a tree. Our hearts were pumping, our skin quivering. Why? I am not sure. It was bigger than a big cow, but in no way threatening. On the contrary, below us, the muskox strolled by, slowly, confidently, unaffected by our behavior. It wasn’t chasing us. Rather, sensing our presence, it looked up at us. It even paused under my fragile tree. I could smell it. For a few seconds, we made eye contact. Its brown eyes appeared to be glassy, probably due to age. It moved slowly, tired; intuitively I knew that it was facing death calmly. 

Once it had passed us, Jeppe wanted to continue, but I couldn’t leave before the big animal was out of sight. I felt a strong connection to the muskox. Standing on a rock, I followed it with my eyes until it faded into the background of the woods. 

Later, Jeppe seemed to regret his rush. “Why couldn’t I just be there with the muskox?” 

I didn’t answer him, but I wondered why I wanted to be with it. 

* * *

Now, recalling my encounter with the muskox, I can see that it helped me move beyond myself. That is, the desire to be somebody vanished, at the same moment the animal dissolved in the horizon. Meeting the muskox was a way of meeting myself, a part of myself, the imaginary clever know-it-all part. 

I remember thinking while it stood under my tree: This muskox could have been me. In that moment, I thought that being a muskox wouldn’t be a bad life. I felt attracted to it, not only the animal’s smell and graceful moves, but also how peaceful it was as it searched for a place to die. It embodied joy even as it took its last tired steps out of life. It was like facing Socrates! To die at peace, I think, equals having lived a good life. I am convinced that I was the last living being that it encountered.

* * *

A week later, while eating lunch, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a strong urge to follow the muskox, to leave everything behind and just walk into the woods. The power of being fully aware of this vivid thought scared me. I felt nauseous, became cold, and began to sweat. I might add that I am a father of three small children. So, what scared me was not just the thought of abandoning my wife and children for a life as a muskox, but rather how sane and healthy the impulse seemed. 

An few hours later, while I was literally just trying to breathe, I felt a sudden rush of liberation. I accepted that I could never leave my family until it really was my time (that is, if I am lucky enough to reach such a point in life, and not be killed in an accident, or by a intoxicated driver since drinking and driving is common in Barcelona). The point was, of course, not whether I should leave my family or not, but the fact that being alive was plenty. Experiencing the muskox saunter through its last moment of life illustrated how a lived experience doesn’t mean doing a lot of things. Not even being somebody. Rather, it means living intense, that is, being fully aware of what matters. 

This realization was more than the evident fact that my children matter more than my writings. It was more fundamental. Instead of trying to be somebody clever, I just felt empowered by life itself. Now, as I mentioned it, I can see that it sounds like a spiritual experience. And yet it was very concrete and solid. It had a smell, a connective look in-between two sentient beings; there was a way of moving. 

I am tempted to call it a joyous experience. According to the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, joy is “what follows that passion by which the mind passes to a greater perfection. And by Sadness, that passion by which it passes to a lesser perfection.” 

Joy is the opposite of sadness, an emotion that is related to the past, whereas joy is related to the present. I have always had a tendency toward nostalgia, the kind that caused me to feel depressed. That tendency began to dissolve the day I meet the muskox. Why? I don’t know. It was a radical acceptance that my life has no coherent thread; rather, it’s a rhapsodic flow of what affects me. 

To put it even more plainly: Meeting the muskox allowed me to consciously experience the joy of being alive. It’s embarrassingly trivial, but now I don’t worry about being trivial. Life is trivial, not banal. Joy is, after all, a process toward perfection, a passage; it’s something that emerges from between two states of mind, between what is emerging and what is dying. So, between being born and dying you can become livelier, more alive and kicking. 

The muskox’s eyes were glassy with gratitude.

I hope that one day I can kiss my children before I blend in with what is still here, when I am gone. 

 

Finn Janning has studied philosophy, literature and business administration at Copenhagen Business School (CBS), and at Duke University. He earned his PhD in practical philosophy from CBS. His work has been featured in Epiphany, Under the Gum TreeSouth 85 Journal, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, among other publications. He lives in Barcelona, Spain with his wife and their three children.

Happening upon Patañjali, author of the ancient Yoga Sutras, in the JFK Transit Lounge – a poem by Vikram Masson

Happening upon Patañjali, author of the ancient Yoga Sutras, in the JFK Transit Lounge

Sir, you would be surprised at what we’ve built.
In New York, we’ve hoisted Himalayan structures,
heated and cooled by underground steam networks;
made innovations in structure and design—
tubular systems, the framing of steel—
so they withstand torrents of every kind.
Many live easily to one hundred years,
taking miraculous potions that halt disease.
Yet republics have splintered and recombined;
their armies still muster to maim and kill.
And we still cannot escape old age and death.

People still hanker after trinkets and baubles;
seek money and sex incessantly, and smoke
on the pyre unfinished and unhappy.
If you stayed, I have no doubt you would be honored:
progressive companies would pay you to speak,
you would be featured in magazines, could
knock Deepak Chopra from his chintzy perch.
But you may be shocked at what yoga has become:
All manner of contortions and twists,
in hothouses and gyms, for “wellness” and stress relief.
No longer needed to find the witness within,
to escape the morbid merry-go-round.

 

Vikram Masson is a lawyer by training who lives in Richmond, Virginia. The interests he wishes he had time for: playing solos on the tenor ukulele; learning how to chant in Sanskrit; and flying weaponless drones with a license. 

On Hatred of the Enlightenment – a poem by Brian Glaser

On Hatred of the Enlightenment

from Five Cantos on Enlightenment

My first word as a child was light.
My mother brought me into dark rooms
And spoke the word as she flipped the switch

And one day at around twelve months
I said the word before she did.
I had a concept and its sound: marked by history.

And months before that I had been taken
Away from her and put through
A spinal tap as a neonate

Because I had spinal meningitis.
Twenty hours separated as a newborn
And subjected to excruciating pain alone.

So when I talk to you, when I pose a question
To you, I have come to understand why
I do not wholly expect that you will answer.

During the Second World War it became
Thinkable to hate the Enlightenment,
As Horkheimer and Adorno did.

What do I have left if I join them—
If I try to return to the dark room
And instead of choosing the concept—

Discovering it again as we may perpetually do—
I sit in silence, rejecting the shared word,
The half-credible evidence of a bond restored?

 

Brian Glaser teaches at Chapman University in Orange, California. His first book of poetry, The Sacred Heart, is forthcoming at the end of 2018 from Aldrich Press.

Speaking to the Unknown – a poem by Richard Green

Speaking to the Unknown

I speak to the unknown
having asked
puis-je vous tutoyer?

I don’t expect an answer
in any voice I could comprehend,
but maybe some form of communication

will pass between us, familiar,
maybe not knowing at the time,
beyond thought,

ideas, structure,
released from definitions
into something like the dream.

 

Richard Green lives in southern New Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley. He writes about natural phenomena mostly. His poetry can be seen in The Almagre Review, Penwood Review, Sin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders, The Avocet, The Anglican Theological Review, and Twitterization Nation. His website is www.anewmexicanpoet.com.

Trinity – a poem by Cynthia Pitman

Trinity

i. Immersion

Water breaks,
pulls me down
to a cold, murky world
hidden beneath the sunlit foam.
I open my eyes.
Yellow, green, black:
sinuous forms
undulating,
ominous forms
dancing their slow-motion death-dance.
They reach for me.
(I reach for them?)

Someone from above
pulls me up.
(No! Wait! Not yet!)
I cough,
suck the air,
close my eyes
and begin to cry.

ii.Conversion

white
white robe
flowing white around me
white
washed white
washed white in the blood
white
washed white
in the blood of The Father
white
washed white
in the blood of The Ghost
Holy blood.
Baptismal blood.

iii. Resurrection

Water breaks,
splits me apart,
twists me inside out,
bends Me into Two.
Blood, water, flesh
flow together:
a distorted image
in the mirrored orb.
My son
(ghost of my father)
My son
(born again)
My son
(washed in the blood)
Coughs,
sucks the air,
opens his eyes,
and begins to cry.

Cynthia Pitman has had poetry published in Literary Yard and Right Hand Pointing. The title of the RHP issue, The White Room, was from her poem, and the artwork was designed around it. She has poetry forthcoming in Postcard Poems and Prose, and a short story forthcoming in Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.

 

Vespers – a poem by David Chorlton

Vespers

A gilded moment passes
tree to tree along
the street before
light folds its wings
to roost. Behind the house
hummingbirds
sip the final glow
before an eyelid closes
on the mountain’s rim.
All the world is undergrowth
to the rodents waking
in the woodpile as
a chill rolls across
the grass and sparkles
on the tip of every blade.
The clock displays
coyote time as
the traffic sings its last
work chorus of the day.
It’s the devil’s cocktail
hour: he’s dropping
olives into a glass of fear
and sitting back
to see what night will bring.
And a prayer
against him runs its course
from lamp to lamp
where moths display
the old and secret texts
of ultimate deliverance
upon their wings.

 

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems often reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant. A new book, Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird, is out from Hoot ‘n Waddle, based in Phoenix.

Lauren Downington’s Doubts – a poem by Megan McDermott

Lauren Downington’s Doubts 

Over coffee, the seminarians
ask each other questions undisclosed
to ordination committees.
Is it worth it if this is just a myth?
Lauren says, Sometimes it just
feels like I’ve picked my favorite
story and decided to live in it
.
She stares down at the Bible on
the table and adds, And even then,
it’s a story I hate half the time
.
But the other replies: Has anything
else ever produced the same wonder
?
Lauren shrugs and admits nothing has.
We’re wired for it, the second says.
Even if it’s false, it’s ours. And that
is enough to put a stopper on streaming
questions – for them to pick up
their readings again and try to make
sense of the senseless.

 

Megan McDermott is a poet and Episcopal minister based in Massachusetts. She recently graduated from Yale Divinity School and Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, an interdisciplinary program dedicated to religion and the arts. Her poetry has been published in The Windhover, Rock & Sling, The Cresset, Letters, Saint Katherine Review, and Episcopal Café.

Plain and Simple – a poem by M.J. Iuppa

Plain and Simple

Standing on our weather-beaten porch, I
close my eyes, for just a minute, before

I take another step that will set me in a direction
that’s plain and simple, going forward until I

find myself back here in this very spot, stopping
in this velvet dark & autumn chill to listen

to the sound of scattering leaves that is
the sound of hands clapping, clapping for

my close calls, for my death-defying
escapes—for me— still here.

 

M.J. Iuppa ‘s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past  29 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

After the Crescendo – a poem by Corren Hampson

After the Crescendo

“I’m really getting bigger,” Lena says, scrambling through the
woods to the creek. Her four-year-old voice affirms the pride of
accumulation, of chubby hands
tying shoes, of climbing trees
like a monkey,
of saying the ”R” in “water.”

In glory we are born,
climb through green change
to a golden crescendo
of confounding growth.
Lost in the jungle there,
we hear voices call from all directions where loss disguises as bright
birds.

I say she will be Lena, queen of the jungle, some day.
She says, “I don’t want to be
queen of the jungle.
I just want to be the jungle.”
“I’ll go with you,” I say.
“I’m really getting smaller.”

 

Corren Hampson lives in Grants Pass, OR.  She is a gardener and poet. Her first book of poetry, Growing Smaller, has recently been accepted by Flowstone Press.

from POND – poetry by John L. Stanizzi

11.14.2018
7.32 a.m.
31 degrees

Paired with nothing, I witnessed the
Occasion of its nearly inaudible thwack
Nearing the pond’s outlet; a single brown maple leaf
Dropped onto the surface and rippled the signal of its arrival.

***

11.18.2018
9.21 a.m.
34 degrees

Plowed perfect, snow mound reflected in the black mirror of the pond.
Oak leaves, blown from the southwest end of the water into the northeast cul-de-sac.
Note of the muddy bottom so low I cannot hear it,
dwindling, darker each day. Perhaps it is the B-flat of the universe.

***

11.20.18
11.33 a.m.
34 degrees

Pluvial night, the rain hangs on as mist.
Opiate ripples when a branch releases its gems of rain,
normal and lonely an act as releasing its leaves,
downward in silence, all around me the sound of rushing water.

***
11.24.18
8.33 a.m.
24 degrees

Peabody, Peabody, Peabody, Old Sam Peabody!
Oblique geometry here, mirror-smooth there, thick battered hem, gray
nuances of ice seal it all – those on the bottom – those in the bottom.
Determined white-throated sparrow searching for Sam, though I’m the only one here.

 

John L. Stanizzi’s full-length collections are Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallalujah Time!, and High Tide-Ebb Tide.  His new books – Chants, Four Bits – Fifty 50-Word Pieces, and Sundowning will be out before the end of this year.  His work is widely published and has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Rattle, New York Quarterly, American Life in Poetry, The Cortland Review, Tar River, and many others.