Zen Spot 236--Mindfulness, meditation and a poet lying with violence November 30, 2019 00:00

I sing the body electric

Five words, the meaning of which I have no desire to understand as the poet intended. I have no idea what he was trying to say and I don’t care. Since first reading those words, and ignoring the remainder of the poems, I haven’t read anything with such power.


Crooked violent tombstones in parallel

I’m used to driving past a cemetery — Mount Moriah Cemetery — in Southwest Philadelphia, near my family’s home. It hasn’t been cared for in decades. Half-dug holes populate the three-hundred-plus acres as if awaiting a body whose family was discovered indigent. Thorns strangle everything. Gangs and dealers regularly drop bodies at the edge of the mushy ten-foot cliff that falls off into Cobbs Creek. Neighbors ignore the bodies from the safe side of trolley tracks that run along an impaling rusted iron fence line that seems to go for a mile.

Graffiti and blood are paint. Tombstones have been smashed with cars and skulls. Grave sites erupt as if the dead are pushing up from underneath like a filthy caricature of massive grassy blackheads. The gaping Romanesque brownstone gate at the cemetery's entrance swallows visitors with a fetid mouth that is chipped like the whores’ teeth that crawl along Kingsessing Avenue.

Nobody but soldiers care about the dead and buried.


While Walt Whitman’s mausoleum, in Camden New Jersey, resides about five miles from this shit hole in Southwest, he lies in Mount Moriah in my mind’s eye. I can navigate the path to his mausoleum easily in a dream or nightmare.

It’s been years since I have visited Whitman’s actual resting place. Long enough that Mount Moriah has taken its place in my psyche. While the Harleigh Cemetery may, in fact, care for Whitman with a delicacy that I don’t remember, the city of Camden does not cradle its most famous son.

I remember the violence and poverty on the way to visit Walt more than the visit itself. Landscaping and level tombstones, if they even exist, are worthless.

The body electric among bullets, hookers and toddlers

Camden New Jersey is profoundly violent. For years, it was ranked among the most violent cities in America and has only fallen from the top-ten list because the city’s police force was absorbed by the state and the surrounding county. Jurisdiction was extended far enough past the city limits that crime statistics skewed the screwed. Dollar cost averaging reduced the crime rate.

That said, Camden is, perhaps, more violent now than ever. Following the financial meltdown in 2008, the desperation that drives crime was exacerbated to the extent that crack whores were bearing crack babies simply because they couldn’t afford clothes-hanger abortions any more than they could afford to lose one night working. Bullets fly like flies around rancid meat. If thieves could sell the meconium from a newborn’s diaper, they’d steal it, leave the child for dead and try to purvey the filth to whomever would eat it.

Leaves of grass

My mind’s eye is literate. Not so much that I fully understand Whitman, but enough to understand he hovers like a god or alien. That said, I can’t conceive of the Camden in which he lived and wrote. I can’t bridge the gap between then and now.

Across the river, in Philadelphia, pre-Revolutionary cobblestones, trinity homes and well-preserved brownstones allow one to easily visualize a sanitized version of Jefferson writing of Human Events by candle light. It’s easy to ignore the fact that open sewers, slavery and disease consumed the city in 1776.

Camden is worse.

Today, Benjamin Franklin’s grave, in Center City Philadelphia, is dignified, understated and preserved carefully. Whitman’s gags. That two giants — Whitman and Franklin — can, at once, lie so closely to one another, and so far apart, is astounding.

The statesman lies in leaves of grass. The poet lies with violence.


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What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?