The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis by Luisa Igloria

buddha

Review by Robbi Nester

Recently, I watched an episode of the Netflix series The Chef’s Table featuring the sublime cuisine of a South Korean Buddhist monk who resides in a monastery in the forest, where she cooks for her community as well as for visitors who come from all over the world to taste those dishes. The food she prepares, her words, and everything about her embodies the teachings of Buddhism.

The multiple avatars of the Buddha in Luisa Igloria’s collection of poetry The Buddha Wonders If She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis (Phoenicia Publishing) have not yet reached this monk’s advanced stage of enlightenment. They have not retreated from the world to serene sanctuaries, but live out their lives in the midst of the chaos the rest of us must negotiate every day, and yet these poems, like the dishes the monk prepares, are perfect embodiments of a Buddhist practice.

In “The Buddha considers with all seriousness,” the Buddha shops for ice cream in a convenience store, where she considers “[t]he vanity of decisions that revolve around desire.” Though the speaker in this poem, as in so many others, is the Buddha, this desire is not theoretical. The poem and the poet are clearly attached to the world of the senses. These poems embrace that world and evoke it with great care.

At the same time, they take up the challenge embodied by Buddhist philosophy, finding a way to unite it with poetry, which on the surface seems incompatible with the notion that desire and the senses, the concrete things that make up the substance of poetry, are but illusions. The speaker in “Ghazal with Cow burial” wonders about the after-life of a cow: “The cow that in this life was cow, does it remain the same? Does it dream/ of feathered grass in the fields, of gnats, the low symphony of fellow-cows//chewing their cud?” Poetry without the body is hard to imagine. What does it mean to be oneself when all the particulars this entails have gone? The very act of pondering this insoluble riddle presents an act of meditation.

Similarly, in “The last temple in the north,” the speaker, clearly a teacher of literature like Igloria herself, muses on the odd parallels between postmodern theory and Buddhist philosophy. Post-structuralist theory reduces language to illusion, indefinitely deferring meaning, yet, the poet insists, “[o]nce we understand we have nothing, then and only then can we understand poetry,” the word “deconstructed into fearful significance.”

In one poem after another, the various incarnations of the Buddha undertake the mundane tasks of everyday life, going on the Internet, filling out job applications, and dealing with the same annoyances the rest of us face. Yet on top of these everyday frustrations, this Buddha has others. Igloria elaborates the down side of a life of absolute compassion. The Buddha, open to the suffering of every living creature, suffers from chronic migraines and also psychic pain of another sort. To that end, she seeks out a therapist.

Privy to the Buddha’s worries, we find him fretting about the possibility of resolving doctrine with one’s emotions, as in “The Buddha listens,” where the speaker wonders “How is it possible to cultivate detachment/at the same time that one practices compassion?” Yet elsewhere, in “The Buddha is a wallflower,” we find the speaker practicing this very skill, listening intently to another’s reminiscence and remarking “how a memory not even his can offer a spark undiminished by the years.” This is radical empathy, the ability to identify totally with another, an ability as prized among poets as among practitioners of Buddhism.

Despite the fact that these embodiments of the Buddha live among us and sometimes suffer as we do, Igloria reminds us in “Innervate” that we carry within us our own retreat, the “little hilly village” of the brain,”criss-crossed/by winding trails and nestled like an egg/in a walled-off fortress.”  It is to this redoubt where the speaker of “The Buddha picks up a call without first checking caller ID” retreats in his response to a telephone sales call, using a tactic that is at once straightforward and ingenious. Rather than simply hanging up, thus inviting further calls from the persistent sales-bot, the Buddha answers this person’s questions about life-insurance with tenets of Buddhist philosophy, such as “The goal/ of all life is the movement toward greater/and greater enlightenment, which is the freedom at last/from suffering and illusion.”

As this example suggests, Igloria both charms us with humor and gorgeously crafted poetry and embodies Buddhist concepts that can so often resist words. Whether you have never read the work of this poet or have followed her work regularly, treat yourself to this book.

 

You can find the book here: http://www.phoeniciapublishing.com/the-buddha-wonders.html

 

Robbi Nester frequently reviews books of poetry. She is the author of a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and three collections of poetry: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and a forthcoming book, Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag).

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Recently Received Books

rec rec

We update this link on a regular basis. These publications are available to reviewers for possible publication at North of Oxford.

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2017/11/12/recently-received-books/

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2 Poems by Lilah Clay

sundial

Photograph by Brian

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A Weaving 
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I feel like a sun dial.
That stone anchored
in field,
turning my shadow arm
around the day.
.
I always know what time
it is.
Time to pause,
breathe,
turn away
from the foundation of the past
poured over
skeletons of bad doctors.

                     *

So the years cobble me together,
part invalid, part brilliant.
A weaving of yarn and river
that bandages my presence
here.

                    *

Who mourns the soul
of an old barn
collapsing into firewood?
.
Who understands
the security of confinement
to rebuild anatomy
upright?
.
The Distance Crossed 
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This cocoon you have spun
of silk, ink, scar tissue,
has summoned the irises
up from their winter graves
to watch you emerge
.
part sphinx moth,
part willow pressing forward
toward bone from buried roots.

.

So gently the transition
of embedded
to free legged,
only perennials
.
can sense the distance
crossed
from wood grain
to human
again.
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lil
Lilah Clay is a writer, poet, and survivor of chronic Lyme. Her poems have been published in World Literature Today, Splash of RedHer CircleVine Leaves Literary JournalMarco Polo Arts Mag, and Ascent. Her current collection of poetry Bed, Window… Sky explores the imaginal realm of the last twenty months she has spent mostly in bed healing a back injury. 
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nightmares no longer scare me by J.J. Campbell

jj
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nightmares no longer scare me
.
it’s the constant struggle
.
the never-ending dance
with pain
.
will you drink yourself
to sleep or to more liver
damage first
.
you look at your badly
damaged left leg and
wonder why you chose
to stop doing drugs and
just accept the pain
.
i look in the mirror
before i go to sleep
each night
.
nightmares no longer
scare me
.
loneliness is the only
friend that never let
me down
.
eventually, i’ll be an
old man
.
alone
.
still talking to himself
.
still playing all the
old songs
.
still holding out hope
that dream woman will
walk through that door
.
hell, even a burglar
would be a welcome
sight
.
jj

J.J. Campbell (1976 – ?) is currently trapped in suburbia, plotting his escape. He’s been widely published over the years, most recently at Lucidity Poetry Journal, Fourth & Sycamore, Synchronized Chaos, Horror Sleaze Trash and Pyrokinection. You can find him most days waxing poetic on his mildly entertaining blog, evil delights. (http://evildelights.blogspot.com)

Mockingbird Manages the Morning by Carol Hamilton

mockingbird

Photograph by mjeedelbr

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Mockingbird Manages the Morning
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despite sweet grass scents and hummings
from highway and military base
and the heads tucked to feeding dish
as the furry black and tortoise-shell cats
silently eat against the minor twits
and tweets of blackbirds lighting and
alighting the stretch of electric wires.
His insistent love pleadings outcry
even the squirrel’s acrobatic rustlings
in leaps from crepe myrtle to giant elm.
Ambulance siren laces voice
with car passing in front of the house.
But then squirrel takes the lead
with a metallic clatter as he bounces
off an ancient and unused martin house
Morning light is gentle and glosses
the slim trunks of crepe myrtle
yellow-green and lovely.
Now the squirrel does pom pom twirls
with his tail as he bounds on branches
and fence links near the cat dish.
And even the mockingbird has left
the squirrel to what now appears
to be his morning callisthenic routine.
At last all is muted in the soft air
telling me how rain will come tonight
                                                … perhaps.
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carol ham

Carol Hamilton has recent and upcoming publications in Bluestem, Southwestern American Literature, Commonweal, Louisiana Review, Cold Mountain Review, Common Ground, Sanskrit Literary Magazine, U.S.1 Worksheet, Broad River Review, Homestead Review, Poem, Louisiana Literature, Haight Ashbury Poetry Journal, Off the Coast, Blue Unicorn, Birmingham Poetry Review, Pigeonhole and others. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma and has published 17 books in various genres.  http://www.carolhamilton.org/

 

 

Decent Gazelles by Ben Nardolilli

neon
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Decent Gazelles
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Under the green light, our skins collide,
pendulous forms swinging until they twist
Into a basket of similar feels,
bundles of goosebumps bristling all over
Like ball bearings or rice,
we struggle to see who will pop first
Both of us know we look like aliens,
thanks to the neon generosity of the street
No need to back off into the dark,
only a reason to make first contact again
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BenNardolilli
Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Inwood Indiana, Pear Noir, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish a novel.
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The Invalid by Frank Wilson

rain 2

Image by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

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The Invalid
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He lies upon the sofa staring out
The window at the rain. Lying about
Is what he does these days, his flesh in need
Of healing, though his spirit’s newly freed.
Few things he looks at now inspire dreams.
A knowing silence lately seen gleams
In mind and heart, transfiguring mere time
And gesture into hieroglyphs, sublime
Reminders every raindrop, every leaf
Engages every joy and every grief.
.
 frank
Frank Wilson is a poet and critic. You can visit him at Books Inq. http://booksinq.blogspot.com/
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