Last year, I spent six months or so in San Francisco. There, my dude talked me into trying yoga, which I’d badmouthed for a long time. I’m all, spare me your woo-woo shit. My great-grandpa was a coal miner. Etc.
But, when in Rome. We started going to hatha classes with some very kind and articulate instructors. I fell for it. What little I know of yoga practice is meditative and expressive, challenging and rewarding. It’s difficult the way poetry is difficult: you have to work at it a lot to find its fullest expression, but you also shouldn’t “work” the joy right out of it. There’s paradox near the heart of the practice, much the same as verse.
Despite the fact that there is nothing more grating than a privileged-looking twat on the L train bumping people with her yoga mat and Whole Foods grocery bag (i.e. me), I do think there’s room to explore that old Western-made gap between mind and body. When poetry becomes embodied in the vocal chords and mouth, I delight. I feel satisfied and at home, the way I do when singing. And yoga leads into some fascinating embodiments of mental activity, too.
Here are two contemporary poets who I admire hanging out in a mind-body space with yoga poems. I like that Simond’s poem below still lands on the skeptical side, and I love where Ish Klein’s wild mind flies to when musing on Virabhadrasana I, or the pose known as Warrior One, pictured at the top.
From 2007-2009, I did a lot of yoga.
I was in graduate school and full of hope.
I believed in literature and love.
Well, maybe I was a bit cynical.
It’s hard to remember.
I fell in love with someone
named Craig Wesley Freeman.
Recently, he has told me things that
I can’t recall from the beginning
of our courtship. “This car
smells like semen and wine,”
he said I said back then.
He told me that we were both passed
out at a Waffle House and when
we woke up in the red booth he couldn’t
remember where I lived and I couldn’t either
so we drove around Tallahassee
for four hours asking people where
Sandra Simonds lives and everyone
gave us directions to a different
Waffle House, which is so inconvenient
and shitty. When we finally got home,
I wanted to sit in the backyard alone
and look at the pecan tree even though
it was five a.m. I remember staring
at a bright celestial body and asking,
“Jesus H. Christ, is that the sun
or the moon?” and for a split second
I was so freaked out it made me think
that everyone in my life had died at once
and I was left alone and that the feeling
of being abandoned was equivalent
to the feeling of emptiness that
would make me want to slit
the throat of a soft pig.
Yoga was incredibly boring.
My mom called it “stretching.”
Over the phone she would ask,
“Are you going to your
stretching class?” How did
she get so cynical? The women
who taught yoga were mostly
beautiful and had Barbie-long arms,
legs, plastic vaginas without holes, and wore
outfits with suns and moons on them.
They made ordinary looking
women with soft folds
of fat flesh around the abdomen
and neck feel bad about themselves so
what’s the deal anyway?
This too is a kind of cruelty.
They always told us
about the charity yoga workshops
they taught and “Couldn’t we spare
something, even a smile” to help them?
I resent beautiful women who are flexible
and talk about Deepak Chopra
like they’re fucking him.
I resent other things too.
I resent it when people tell me to
“be like the Buddha.”
Hey, fuck you.
I’ll be like the Buddha if I want to.
No center. I hold
every action’s reaction and again:
consequences beyond my neck.
One life: to feel!
In every way!
The warrior way to learn: men fight.
It is a dance: deflect and/or rearrange
the onslaught of force.
Childlike I began:
first I ran, then begged,
then let death catch up my feebleness.
There is no hiding.
When you are killed
you are absorbed by the killer.
A part of the heart at least.
1970, so long to my country. Its greenery, its song.
My match knew it too, allowing an opening.
Buddha is a beast and trained spirit
and can access those willing.
A strong man, a soldier is good to hide in
to align with while reaching.
I think therefore I am elsewhere.
Nearly touching: to be everywhere.
Nothing directly. Too explosive. Force, fear, love and self-
protection determine my direction. I pray: do not put me
near hate too long, it’s exhausting, let me be in love.
A cut worm is not killed.
Each side grows again.
The plow is for working.
It does not only displace:
it doesn’t pave or willfully put worms on a black top
to serve them to the sun. It teaches detachment.
It’s run by someone, sometimes two beings run.
A person and an ox
appreciate that soil is sown by worms.
We have each been through tubes:
and dead relatives too.
All earth is an altar.
As oceans will illustrate.
Have you been in the waves?
Have you panicked?
Undertow taking you way out
and the sun a hot mean hand on your head?
Waves take; the sand wants to record.
Silicon! A devilish element!
So in ocean you are in and a solution.
beyond one form.
There is more to record.
Sense is interested. Not fashion, or before.
Essentially we are each all our time.
We are beautiful somewhere.
I would like slow. Roll the plains
for fun. I would like to be allowed to hang around
as an avid apprentice to a master craftsman.
Part-time. I am not the only.
I have a boat I can row out,
I have an inflatable raft for sleeping.
In sleep I get back to my body.
It used to hurt. A man steers the plow,
the ox pulls.
A girl/me met a man, fell under.
Get up, get up, the adults say.
Mad, I stayed down.
In response am cut.
The tongue, back, up,
leg, back, tongue again, back, leg, back, neck.
Mister, this is history.
You must get over it. You too missy.
you have to work to learn to fight to like to work
and know with whom
this earth churns—a star with and against whim.
Tides take what will let them. Motion essence.
Why do I think there is a gold castle that will have me?
In the middle of the ocean?
Because I can be anyone who loves me?
Castle as of first house;
gold as for protection.
Yoga is from Sandra Simonds’ book Mother Was a Tragic Girl, from Cleveland State University Poetry Center in Cleveland, Ohio, 2012.
Warrior One is from Ish Klein’s book Moving Day, from Canarium Books in Ann Arbor, Berkeley, Iowa City, 2011.