Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Vladimir Kush, Metamorphosis

Watching, across the street, a grandchild being unpacked (extricated? downloaded?), I mused how my fantasies used to turn around a small, portable child, not a jumbo babe requiring a vanful of gear. Ah, the beauty of less . . . 

When you lose simplicity, you lose art. ~ Joseph Campbell

You also lose flow. In a poem, you lose the mysteriously perfect velocity that a particular poem requires.

But I don’t want to appear so infatuated with the elegant, luxurious less that I can’t see the need for more -- under some circumstances. There is a season for less, and there is a season for more. I hope the poem below, like the tai-chi sign, presents this balance.


One wants the world. The wing of dawn
beats in him: More! More!
The other never stirs from the loom.
An ancient rhythm repeats:
“Less – less – the real
traveling is inward.”

One loves storms and clouds,
says death is a skyless country.
The other prefers trees,
says death is a cloud of leaves
where at last we understand
the proverbs of the wind.

One asks why rest –
the horrible gallop of minutes
will trample us if we stay.
The other stops to caress
a single plume of grass,
leans to petals glistening with rain.

One craves ravishing words,
says to a lover, “Enchant me.”
the other unravels the yarn
to make beauty more naked;
weighs a shiver of sunlight,
water closing around the hand.

One lets the first smudge of dawn
erase all dreams,
now useless as daytime stars.
The other gathers the lost
feathers of dreams as they fly,
the sky a nest of horizons.

A shroud grows between them,
a weave of tales and waves.
They breathe one breath:
the tide and the shore,
a sea, a story of return –
the moon in a fisherman’s net.

~ Oriana © 2013

Vladimir Kush, The Sacred Bird of Yucatan. 
The lost feathers of dreams?


Penelope and Odysseus are a couple unlike any other in the Western canon. They are not doomed romantic lovers. In some ways they are the opposite of Romeo and Juliet or Catherine and Heathcliff. Nor are they like that psychopathic power couple, the Macbeths.

Yet they are a power couple not only because they are royalty, but because they cooperate. Unlike the unfortunate couples who conduct marriage as warfare (especially heart-rending to see when the warring couple is past eighty), Penelope and Odysseus clearly understand that cooperation is beautiful. This is BALANCE, a non-oppressive division of labor: tasks that are both self-affirming and building something larger, held in common. Coming home must be possible if we are to voyage. The voyage must be made, but with the hope of going back to the inmost self, back to Penelope’s arms:

For though the heart grow desolate, thought it roam
        forever in vain the ways of earth, in quest
of high and lovely things, yet it comes home
        in the end to the waiting arms, and finds its rest.

            ~ A.R.D. Fairburn, “Odysseus”

This is BEYOND ROMANCE: it’s love as loyalty (a deep marital loyalty can exist even without sexual fidelity) and mutual support. The symbol of the loyalty is the marriage bed of Penelope and Odysseus. The bed cannot be moved to another place because it is built from the trunk of an olive tree, with roots deep in the earth. The symbolism of the strong, “deep-rooted” commitment can’t be missed.

In fact Odysseus states that a good marriage is the best thing in life. In Book VI of the Odyssey, Odysseus says to the “white-armed Nausicaa”:

May the gods grant you
Your heart’s desire, a husband and a home,
And the blessings of a harmonious life.
For nothing is greater or finer than this,
When a man and woman live together
With one heart and mind

(~ tr. Stanley Lombardo)

The best thing in the world, Odysseus declares, is harmony between a husband and wife: one heart and mind. The driving theme of the Odyssey is the hero’s desire to return to his wife. But this is not Tristan sighing for Isolde. This is Odysseus, the supreme pragmatist, praising cooperative marriage. United, the power couple can accomplish much more than each alone.

My poem, however, is not about two different people who complement each other. It’s about the marriage of two selves within a person. Only two? Let’s not quibble along the lines of “one brain, many minds.” Art is allowed to simplify in order to make a point (“When you lose simplicity, you lose art.”)

Two selves, then: one who wants more (we sense that this is Odysseus, the spirit of exploring and engaging with the world) and the one who wants less: the solitary quiet of musing on experience, of choosing the best, the most vivid threads for the tapestry.

The season for “more” is youth. That’s the Odyssean voyage to many islands, many new kinds of joy and much suffering as well. Maturity is the season of “less” -- a paradoxical less, since it leads to more wealth. In my calculus, depth = wealth. Now I am mostly Penelope. I weave out of the wealth gathered when I was fascinated by being Odysseus. (But even Odysseus had his quiet, introverted side. And he wept. He wept a lot.) 

Vladimir Kush: Bound for Distant Shores


One of the outrageous ironies of my life is that my “American dream” was “seeing the world.” I would be free to travel. Now I don’t know if to laugh or cry, but when I was in my teens, I really didn’t know that travel was expensive -- a minor kind of ignorance, considering I also thought that most Americans lived in skyscrapers.)

Now that I finally can afford to travel, once a year, say (that’s about the most traveling I feel like -- I’m a typical home-loving introvert that way), other implacable limitations have arisen. Are we the sport of the gods? Sometimes it certainly feels that way.

But then Emily Dickinson didn’t travel, and her genius wasn’t hampered by it. It’s possible that her isolation made her creativity flourish.

Most of my life is inner life. In my Penelope season, life wouldn’t be worth living if I did not have my quiet solitude for reading and writing, and simply for digesting daily experience (no woman is an island, and I certainly have some “outer” life as well).

In honor of “less” and the inner experience, let me end with this poem, which gives primacy to Penelope. 


It’s my waiting that creates you.
The tapestry I weave,
unraveling you in dreams,
is your secret map.

How you try
to read over my shoulder!
You are too close,
thinking you are too far.

Here’s a seaweed-dripping cave
and a sea-nymph’s bribe:
immortality, but nothing else
will ever happen in your life –

and you pick mortality,
that beautiful blood flower –
scorn the sunny-smiled
forever, choose the storm.

Days slide off the loom of hours.
The moon sets, mottled with regrets
like a lamp with islands of dead moths.
Again you think of home.

Wreathed with horizons,
you want me
to stroke your neck,
stiff from looking ahead;

weary of women
opening like shores,
you want my body to lead
into the body of silence.

You beg to know
how the story ends –
and it is I
who tie you to the mast.

~ Oriana © 2013

Vladimir Cush, Candle


Outstanding. So many memorable lines.


Thank you. I hope these poems will find a wider audience, especially the first one. I’m trying to point out that it’s quite easy to have two selves, one fairly extraverted and one introverted. Every writer knows that, but I don’t think it’s been said in a poem.


You know my friend, I have been reading your blog for a few years now and I enjoy them so much...this one is the best I can recall. While this posting is shorter than most, you pack in a lot of insight....and those poems! Incredible verse and imagery, especially like the second. The great Greek poet and writer Nikos Kazantsakis very much identified with Odysseus, he traveled all over the world. One of my favorite images is of him working on his epic sequel to the Odyssey on a train traveling across Russia. That work and his 'Report to Greco' is well worth the read, very moving. Thanks again for a great post and verse, this will be one to re-read later tonight with a cup of Starbucks.


For quite a few years, I identified with Odysseus a lot -- down to concealing his identity. Then Penelope came to prevail. I see the need for both, but without Penelope (i.e. the inward voyaging), the adventures would be chaotic, without a thread to pull them together.

I’ve read some of Nikos Kazantsakis’s Odyssey -- very beautiful language, rich nature imagery. I had no idea that he wrote this long epic sequel on a train across Russia. What an amazing interweave, the vastness of Russia and the vastness of his poem. 


His 'Odyssey' was an odyssey itself; he wrote and rewrote it 7 times over 12 years, finally completing it on the Greek isle of Aegina. An amazing work, I need to reread it soon.


The irony of this is that with all your travels and great poetry content you fully understand that real traveling is inward.

Peacock is my favorite image.

May the gods grant you
Your heart’s desire, a husband and a home,
And the blessings of a harmonious life.
For nothing is greater or finer than this,
When a man and woman live together
With one heart and mind

Homer is right: the best thing in the world is total cooperation and united power of accomplishment.


Now with so many images online, one can see the world on screen. Not quite the same, without the smells . . . But also without the madding crowd.

And, as with re-reading books, I’ve grown strangely attached to the local streets. I recognize the yards, the trees.

And the same with people that one sees again and again, even if it’s a pharmacy clerk at Costco. I feel bereft if it’s not Stephanie, who has a way of giving signals that say, “You are a real person.” Just the fact that she recognizes my face out of thousands of customers means a lot to me. Maybe I should stop saying that I’m not a people person, since I like Stephanie -- I want to say, “She is so human.”

But when I was in my teens, I dreamed of seeing the Amazon jungle and the Himalayas. In fact I wanted to be an astronaut!

This is a very, very early poem, a piece of juvenilia that’s dear to me -- an early premonition that I was to be more Penelope than Odysseus (am I happy this way? Of course I’m happy! Especially since I have no choice!)


When I was a young girl
I wanted to be an astronaut
out there in a space ship  
in the giant blackness
dazzled with stars

but when I grew up I noticed
I was strangely attached
to my room
to my lamp
to the blue coffee mug
where I keep my pencils and pens

the universe is spectacular
but simply too large
just the earth
is too much
I’m still looking for something
small enough to hold on to




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