Author Archives: proustmatters

Post – Leibniz cinquain

Monad Cinquain

Many souls float,
reflecting each other.
They perceive all, but do not see


The cinquain has the form of  5 lines with 2, 4, 6, 8, 2 syllables.  The inventor of this lovely form had the unfortunate name of “Crapsey.”  On the other hand, I studied math from a very reputable textbook written by “Dull and Dull.”

Post-Ockham In The Subway

Ockham in the Subway

Su2 train exit at 72nd

#2 train exit at 72nd St.

I’m heading uptown on the 2,
gasping in the unconditioned,
unconditional summer sweat.
Reading a hard book. Trying to.

John cut some down at Avignon,
named them heretics. They fled.
His dread of papal power slipping,
unnamed them. But, we are not unnamed.

John cut their vows of poverty,
their ban on private owning.
Franciscans all, fugitives all:
William of Ockham, Bonagratia and Michael.

For William, species naming was a problem.
Can’t be real. Can’t be universals in the sky.
I am William, come from Ockham.
I am I.     I am.    I.

I ride and puzzle species names.
Its Zabar’s coffee, that I drink, not Drink.
Its you Babes whom I love, not You.
My essence is here, not Here.

I point. That’s the point.
I am like you, but not you.
There’s no likeness – just I, just you.
In the naming is the making.

Train stops at 72nd. I shove up the stairs,
melt the jam, escape the sweat air.
That cat contemplates along the wall;
Really, what if one had no name at all?

I face the street. I fret – my issue unresolved.
Razor, I could use you now to shave the crowd.
I’m up, I can breathe.
I am I.    I am.    I.

Wait. Look out! The din.
Barbed human takes the margin.
Stomping, arms awry, yelling –
Do anybody know yo name?

William of Ockham and fellow Franciscans were excommunicated by John for refusing bequests to the Church and challenging papal power. Philosophically, he opposed the view that names for universals denoted real entities. His Razor is the principle that less is more. Emerging from the subway to the street, I saw a crazed and pitiful man, unshaven, running wildly in the street, yelling “Do anybody know yo name?”

Post-Leibniz Sonnet

Leibniz Sonnet


Monads reflecting each other

True that all my pretty stones and flowers
are really soulful forces hurled or still?
That each is charged with crystal optic power –
a silver glass, reflecting world and will?

The soul-force leaps but does not see its step
nor know its mate in universal dance.
How can a mirror know or see itself
Its single touchstone is an alien glance?

Some sleep, some wake in deep empyrean space
of God who set them in eternal motion.
I try to capture one – just one- and place
my eye upon the monad of this notion.

Heathen image creeping. Poor aspect. Dull shape.
My monad is a bean; small and brownly baked.


“For Leibniz, the universe is an infinite composite of forces or ‘monads’ which have no space or time. Every monad is a living mirror of the universe, reflecting everything except itself. But, there is no real interaction among them, since each is wholly self-contained; what appears to be causal is just the manifest prior harmony imposed by God.” (History of Philosophy, Thilly)

Post-I, Meno

I, Meno

Socrates as stingray

Socrates as stingray

We walk, then, you and I, on wine-dark beach.
I ask a question, noting grain and wave –
a phosphorescent splash presents a fish,
flat and whiskered, bearing novocaine.

Can you tell me where is virtue born?
Is goodness formed by practice or design,
Or does a teacher transfer noble sights
from incandescent nuggets in his mind?

You say, “Before we probe its provenance,
we have to stop, say first what virtue IS.”
I itemize some just and able acts.
You say, “No virtue there. You cite just bits.”

I’m getting numb. I mean I’m getting dumb.
I’m wriggling on the sand. The stingray struck.

Socrates as stingray is a metaphor from Plato’s dialogue, Meno.

Post-God is Dead

 God was Dead

Nietzsche at Languedoc

Nietzsche at Languedoc

New York – July, 1999

Dear one,

I envy you your beach in Languedoc,
the blue, the white and the salt.
You say there is talk of Nietzsche
with companions in the breezy cafe.
Your Dionysus and Apollo are One.

You say that summer’s secrets –
the Whos, With Whoms and Whens –
unravel before you
over campari and soda till 1 a.m.
You say Yes to life.

Here in city heat, in gray sidewalk heat
we are trapped in stasis.
We ration out our steps.
We try to overcome.
Why is God punishing us?

I’m not having a wonderful time.
I don’t wish you were here
to suffer in the stillness with us
who have nothing left to discuss
except the disgusting weather.

We wish we were plants in cool water
because suspended animation
would be a blessing
as cognition gasps that this is only July –
the hottest in memory.

We welter in schmerz.
When God asked “have you had enough?”
I said yes I said yes I said yes –
but my response had no agency whatsoever
and I knew truly that God was dead.

With great warmth,

I wrote to my philosopher friend spending the summer in Montpellier. Here in New York, the summer was one of the hottest in history.

Looking Down in Manhattan

July, 2014

Being a flâneuse in Manhattan has its special rewards if you are willing to let your gaze wander all over.  I used to have a habit of always looking up.  I wondered at the unaltered architectural details from the 19th Century,  at views of “negative space” and composition as in paintings.  BUT, then I discovered also looking down.  Here, the grit and the edge of the city comes pulsing out in unexpected humor and beauty.  Consider stains, roots and drains – captured only by looking down.

A day after a rain gives your eye a treasure of puddles and stains.


La flâneuse








Easter bunny comes to Manhattan

Easter bunny comes to Manhattan

stain stork

Horrible flying insect

Sidewalk creatures flirting

Sidewalk creatures flirting

Bird terror

Bird terror


Sidewalk Swimmer

N.Y.C  sewers are made in India!


Manhattan sewer cap made in India

Looking down at tree trunks and roots –






Bare feet

Bare feet

… and tree lovers nearby.

Tree lovers I

Tree lovers I


Tree lovers II



Mermaid Parade

Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade is an endless riot of color, whacky get-ups, nudity and fantasy.  Great good fun.  It was worth the extra $ to get into the “preparation” area where we could see the paradeniks putting on their costumes, makeup, preening around and practicing.  Plus, there were places to sit, like stoops.

Butterfly lady

Butterfly lady


Pensive flutist

Pensive piccolo

No comment

No comment

Parasols in spotlight

Parasols in spotlight


Green Girl

Green Girl

Mermaid onlooker

Mermaid onlooker



Silver legs

Silver legs

Violin Lady

Violin Lady





My photographer companion - Ashleigh

My photographer companion – Ashleigh


Mermaid Day conclusion – we end up at the beach

Post – Goodbye to Chaim

Goodbye to Chaim

June 9, 2014
Dear Ruth,

How to begin …

I met Chaim when I was 10. He was 12. At a Saturday children’s art class at the Legion of Honor, a man came over to me and asked if I was Jewish. I answered. He told me about a Zionist youth group where there was singing and dancing (I didn’t know from Zionism, but singing and dancing I understood.) Somehow my parents allowed me to go, even though, being stalwart communists, they were opposed to Zionism. That was 1946, just a few years after the Holocaust and before the State of Israel.

So I joined Hashomer Hatzair – The Young Guard. Chaim and I and the rest of our “plugah” (group) met in the small storefront (“moadon”) – the clubhouse. Our program of “sichot” (discussions), “tiyulim” (hikes), moshavim (camps – summer and winter) and chagim (holidays) was our core center, more important to us than parents, school, even more important than romance. For some 7-8 years, we grew up together in this way in this crucial and intense part of our lives. We learned the WWII Jewish story, and through our leaders came firmly to the beliefs in “socialist-zionism”. We studied Zionist texts and were fiercely committed to the creation of a Jewish country based on the teachings of Marx and Borochov – where Jews would find safety and build a just society. We fully intended to emigrate, to found a kibbutz, to live socialistically and in peace with our Arab neighbors. It was a policy of our movement not to have hired labor (especially Arab) – because we believed that would be degrading and conduce to a “class” system. We had no doubt, no question but that we would carry out this emigration plan – our aliyah – when we grew up.

But always singing and dancing.

How unquenchable we were in the thirst for this passion. So many memories come flooding – of dancing with our “chaverim” (comrades). Some names come back: Tzippi, Rena, Moshe, Aviva, Leah, Ilan, Yvonne The dances were unending – we must have known 50. Jewish, Hebrew, Russian, Czech, Greek, Italian … We would gather in a circle and, if there was no phonograph (which there usually wasn’t), someone would start the melody and the dancing would begin accompanied by just our raw voices – in circles or with partners or however. I remember and cherish that Chaim and I would always dance the korobushka.

One summer our plugah traveled east to Camp Shomria in the upstate mountains of New York. Chaim had spent that year on a kibbutz in Israel and was due to return and head directly to our camp. I see him radiant and looking very Israeli in sandals and a Russian-style shirt and bounding into our embrace.

More. Chaim and I were also involved with non-zionist radical, communist-led (or fronted) activities outside of our group. Sunday in the late 1940’s, we stood, he and I, near the entrance of Sigmund Stern Grove where an outdoor summer concert was to be held. We gathered signatures from the incoming concertgoers for “the Stockholm Peace Petition” outlawing nuclear weapons. I can see him very clearly with his clipboard, approaching people. Several of us, including Chaim, gravitated to the LYL (Labor Youth League) – many long evenings of discussion and painful self-criticism. I have a memory of meetings on a big beautiful arty boat in Sausalito. The name “Varda” comes to mind – Varda the artist. Was that his boat?

And, there was the bohemian part in our teens – the mysterious and transgressive world of North Beach lured us – me more, much more than Chaim. But the two of us did have some beatnik days together drinking wine (we were underage) in Vesuvio’s.

And there was always singing and dancing.

With active zionism behind us, after Chaim moved back to Berkeley from Pennsylvania, we often met to dance on some lawn – in a park, in front of I-house (International House) or to shmooze in the Mediterranean Café on Telegraph or to browse the bookstores.

More, channeling back to early years. I remember, that as an adolescent Chaim was a budding biologist. He kept dark jars in a row and cuttings of things in his back yard in the Sunset district. Talked about splicing and made experiments. This curiosity about growing things continued and, if I’m not mistaken, carried on into the back yard in Berkeley. I brought my children Yossi and Rachel to visit Chaim and Ruth; they played among the Glasser fruit trees. Chaim explained some of the tree families to me.

Chaim was a linguist – as well as an adorer of Noam Chomsky – both linguist and politico to this day. (Don’t get me started on Chomsky – it would not be nice.) Even in later years and separated by 3000 miles, I called occasionally from New York to ask about a turn of phrase, a construction, an etymology. One day, when we were in Moe’s bookstore in Berkeley, separated by some aisles, I happened upon two copies of a little book on Esperanto.

Chaim's Esperanto letter to me.

Chaim’s Esperanto letter to me.

Secretly I bought both – then surprised Chaim with one. Over tea, we laughed hysterically (but with sympathy) over the back story of Esperanto – this universal language invented in 1887 by a Jew (Zamenhof) as a solution to the divided world – divided by its daunting and hostile tower of Babel. Later, back in New york, I received a letter from Chaim — all in Esperanto. He had picked it up in just a few days (two or three.)

There are jokes, stories and understandings that we shared where we didn’t even have to speak in order for recognition and memory to kick in. On a call I asked if he had a VCR machine I wanted to send him a tape. There was a slight pause. “Yes,” he said. “Do you know how to use it?” I asked. There was another pause. “… this summer”, he said. We burst into laughter – both knowing exactly what was meant; to wit, that he didn’t know, that he was not up on “technology,” that somebody had probably gifted or pressured him to buy a machine, that he intended to mount a summer campaign to learn. All this was understood in that pause.

I came to know and love Ruthie. She always stunned me with her beauty, her compassion and independent spirit. I never had the joy of seeing her in a dance performance but I can imagine that it would be a picture of grace filled with content. She seemed to remember in detail the visits that I made and would often, in these later years, remind us of this or that. How she took care of her beloved Chaim in his last years grabs me at the heart.

Losing Chaim, I lose a part of myself.


Post – Taking It Off

Taking It Off


Sheepskin on a living room chair

Waiting for him, she studied paintings in preparation for her own. Here’s St Bartholomew, skinned alive, holding his flayed remains and Michelangelo’s own face within that sheet of horror. Why?

The bell rang and the very small boy walked in and right over to the furry white thing draped over the chair. “Grandma, I like this. It’s so soft. What is it?”

“It’s a sheepskin from Australia.”

“Is the white fur his skin? Why do they call it sheepskin? Is it that the skin is from a sheep? How did they get it here?”

She furrowed her brow a little. “Yes, that’s the skin. Are you ready for lunch? How would you like a peanut butter sandwich? We can go to the playground later.”

“OK … but how did the skin get here, Grandma? Did you take it off the sheep?”

“And you can have some jelly with it too. Would you like that?”

“But Grandma, how did they get the skin off the sheep? Did they just pull him out of it? Did he mind?”

She walked away into the kitchen. He petted the skin for a while then went looking for her.

They each had their questions.

Post – Too Little, Too Late

Too little, too late

With reference to:   Reading (Gasp) for Enlightenment, Without Snobbery or Shame by Edward Rothstein (New York Times, Sept. 8, 2001)

Dear Mr. Rothstein,

Are you some kind of a communist? Trying to smuggle the western canon back in and get people to read books, particularly “good” ones? We have just concluded decades convincing the public that to read “good books” is to become ensnared in nets of racial and gender oppression, cast down by white males, mostly dead. That argument was, of course, just a ruse – a ruse contrived to move discretionary time away from books and squarely onto the tube. We wanted people watching and buying. Our challenge was to figure out how to get them to do that. We thought our Political Correctness ploy a masterstroke of unmitigated genius. Now here you come, a spoiler, scheming to get them off the couch and into the library. Get this into your red head – reading books, particularly good ones, is an activity which will seriously cut into TV watching. TV girds the economy (something not to be messed with just at the present moment). If people spend time reading instead of watching, sales will plummet. They won’t buy so much. Just when we are moving to undreamed of levels of persuasion, hidden and otherwise, moving to new assaults that render the mind incapable of sustaining quiet, non-sound-biting bouts of reading, you come along with a rather convincing and graceful counter-assault. Well, forget it. We’ve won.

Look, just last week the Times reported on events that signal empyrean achievements. We have fetched taste and vocabulary out of the toilet such that it will make them go “yeah, yeah – this is us – we’re all the same – we all do that” and they will run each other over on the way to the store. Praise the TV’s fighting exec Steven Bochco. He comes victoriously forward in his struggle to permit “shit” to be uttered (As Cable Applies, Pressure, Network TV Spouts Expletives, Sept. 2, 2001). He is an advocate and missionary – a noble soldier in our war against reading. We salute him and hoist a few in his name. More victories are coming down the pike. I predict we’ll be able to show child porn and live killing on prime time very soon. It makes me tremble to contemplate the soaring ratings. In shaping public appetite for sex, scatology and violence and teaching it to have attention spans measured in milliseconds, we are winning our fight against books – all kinds. At some point we may even be even able to do away with the PC ploy.

As we, the media, continue to consolidate and merge (Court Weighs Easing Limits on Big Media, Sept 7, 2001), our united and uniform front against reading becomes irreversible. Why, just the other day on Tuesday, Sept 4, MTV, with a permit from the Mayor, took over Pier 54 at the end of 14th ST. At 11pm, the volume of “music” was so high that at least 150 complaints were lodged with police and the Quality of Life Office. We are in grateful awe of this successful attack by MTV and the Mayor aimed at any reader holdouts. No way to read with that many decibels. Some residents took to the streets screaming in search of quiet. Fortunately, MTV was able to keep full control of the entire neighborhood till midnight, even though it was a school night. Rothstein, there’s no going back now. Even if readers and potential readers of good books shed snobbery and shame –  successful consequences of our PC ploy – your campaign is too little and too late.

Thank you,
Media United Inc.

Sharon Girard, New York City Sept 10, 2001