Review of ‘The Tao is None of Your Business’

My friend, writer M. T. Philipps, has posted a very kind review of my book on Amazon. Philipps is author of ‘Keeping Calm‘ and the upcoming ‘Roses in Space’, to be released this autumn, 2020. Keeping Calm is a memoir covering his life’s pursuit of the spiritual, striking a good balance between anecdotes of youthful misadventures, accounts of meeting prominent teachers from various traditions, and insights and advice on meditation practice, with an emphasis on Dzogchen. Roses in Space is a collection of his poetry, with extensive commentary. His review of The Tao is None of Your Business follows:

“The poems initially struck me as Dadaist, with occasional glimpses of brightness and wit, a casual mixture of metaphor and observation that succeeded in eliciting a feeling of camaraderie of spirit in some instances. Others revealed an earthy substance that teased a sense of playfulness and joy from me. Still others hinted at philosophical reflection oddly reminiscent of Emily Dickinson if she were a contemporary urbanised wayfarer. Humour employed surprised me with a giggle or two. These poems grew on me, and I caught myself wishing for just a few more as I journeyed through them. Tossed into the mix were the odd prose poem, a contemplation on sound and another on air and one on time that wove in a story of sorts just to check if the reader were paying attention. But more about the poems, Randall takes a simple act like slamming a door, in ‘Slam’, and riffs on it until it takes on a philosophical significance almost, a revenant that continues to return to mind. This ever curious awareness drifts swiftly, latching onto the things, but only momentarily. Or check out the mini-tragi-comedies of ‘Heat’, ‘Making It’ and ‘Omerta’, pungent speeches on the environmental crisis that is modern humanity. And I am just hinting at the silvery richness of this slim volume–the next reader will have to discover the rest alone, but I must mention that there are some pithy insights into the nature of existence later in the book.”

Europa

Title track from John Gentry Tennyson’s Europa (2000), a jazzy piano romp with accompanying bass and drums. Positively packed with amazing little phrases.

Gallery, July 2020

Here’s some photos from a brief visit to the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, and a few around the Hive, all taken in the last week of July, 2020. My latest obsession is the High Pass filter which, when abused, gives that smokey, dreamy look. Both bird photos taken at home. At the nature center I saw no birds at all, as in none.

Fascist Boot-heels Come On Down

Here’s a little protest ditty in honor of the Federal forces invading Portland, and the armed MAGAs who cheer them on. May you all be arrested, detained, and prosecuted to the full extent of the law, if there’s anything left of it when Barr & Co. complete their project. (The cadence is the same as a boot camp drill sergeant’s call-and-response song.)


Fascist boot-heels come on down
     the dread antifa's in our town
Follow this psychotic clown
     you can't tell up from fuckin' down

Fascist traitors you're in luck
     folks down here is dumb as fuck
They clutch their guns and cry in fear
     dressed up in their combat gear

They see Dumbo spouting lies
     about the libtards they despise
And realize 'he thinks like me'
     there is no shame in hatred, see

Just tell'em it's okay to hate
     you bring your torch and don't be late
We'll burn a cross and knock some heads
     come on down and join the Feds

The unmarked cops will cast a net
     and disappear some bums, you bet
You'll know that it can happen here
     when jackboot troopers club your ear

Forget your daddy fought a war
     to stop them nazis ever more
Now the nazis run the place
     you cheer them on in all disgrace

The framers they can't help us now
     they weren't all-knowing anyhow
Quote us now some Thomas Paine
     while it's all twirling down the drain

We'll fix it come election day
     unless they figure out a way
To thwart the People's will, at last
     and disappear the vote you cast

Fascist boot-heels come on down
     the dread antifa's in our town
There is no time to fool around
     you don't know up from fuckin' down

Birding

Cooper’s Hawk

Birding can be difficult to understand for the uninitiated. I have many times spoken excitedly with coworkers about a bird I’d seen that morning and sensed that they were feigning interest while quietly wishing I’d just hurry up and finish my story. (I do the same thing when people talk excitedly about their favorite team winning a game.) If you haven’t made the connection yourself, it is hard to see what the fuss is about.

There are two main types of birding: planned and unplanned. Unplanned is the best—it’s like getting an unexpected bonus. A third kind is a blend of the two, just noticing local bird-life as you go about your day, the no-big-deal birds because you see them all the time. This is still birding, but not the kind you write home about. So between the three, we are always either birding, or ready to be birding on short notice. Sometimes we eat and get some sleep.

I was taking a small bag of garbage out to the receptacle on the street the other morning and noticed a bird, startled by my presence, flush from the ground in the empty lot across the street. The lot there is cleared for new construction and I see doves, pigeons, and sparrows there all the time, but this bird was bigger so I stopped and focused. It was a hawk of some kind, with prey in its grip, flying straight into our property.

I went back in the gate and looked around, but could not spot it. Then a few minutes later I heard the Blue Jays start squawking and crying. This is reliable hawk-alert behavior for jays. They hate raptors and are fearless in their efforts to expel them from their territory. They will scream and dive-bomb a hawk until it gets fed up and leaves. This I have seen many times now. So I followed the noise and located the bird, halfway up an oak, perched on a thick branch and dining on its prey. I could see the striped tail and for sure had a Cooper’s Hawk up there.

On the rooftop.

This tree happens to be located next to the apartment building so I grabbed my camera and headed to the rooftop with the intention of sneaking up and getting a photo. There’s plenty of foliage between myself and the oak up there, but I did find a gap that afforded a nice view, without the hawk noticing me. The above photo is the result.

I watched for a while as the jays kept at it, the hawk ignoring them and picking away it is victim. I could not see what unlucky bird it was, but statistically most likely a White-winged Dove, the most plentiful hawk prey around here.

So there you have it: I was minding my own business, doing a mundane chore, and all of a sudden I’m birding. I know what you’re thinking and you are right: we birders are all nuts. What we do borders on the sort of compulsive behavior that some would think needs treatment. Maybe so, but as maladies go this one is pretty enjoyable.

The Trajectory of Our Lives

Our garden scarecrow, whom I have named Malcolm Eubanks, has masked up. Malcolm used to work in a department store, modeling fashionable clothing for would-be buyers. Now, his hollow head is being scoped out as a possible nest location by a pair of Carolina Wren. Such is the trajectory of our lives. But you should have seen him in his day. No one could make a pair of Dockers and a cardigan look more desirable. He had the gift.

Red-vented Bulbul

Exotic resident of the Heights, Houston, Texas, US.

I had caught glimpse of this bird several times since I moved here and was stumped on the ID. That white rump patch is distinct and not present on any other North American bird of this general size and shape. Not to mention the bright red below. Finally got a photo and tracked it down. Red-vented Bulbul is an Asian transplant, introduced and established in a number of countries around the world. In the US its range is limited to Houston, TX with highest concentrations in the neighborhood where I live now.

eBird reported sightings: that’s Houston, Texas buried under that cluster of map pins.

Having done web searches on its description and coming up with nothing, I fed the image above into Google Lens and it popped out the correct answer without so much a moment’s hesitation. Another handy bird ID tool.

African Blue Basil

The neighbors keep bees and they sure love that basil. It’s a really large bush covered in blossoms now, and bees.

Inca Dove

Lots of Incas around here.

Mannequin head scarecrow is now sporting a facer. Smart lad! I saw a Carolina Wren poking around at the rear opening to his hollow head.

Flagella

We claimed our independence from
a sovereign, long forgot

But we're all inter-dependent
in what they call the melting pot

Freedom: is it something that
I myself have got?

Exclusive of my neighbor's freedom:
freedom this is not.

House Finch

They visit the sunflowers here every morning.

They’re awfully spooky for an urban population. I finally had to stake out the bush from the rooftop.

Crescent Pond

Mercifully cool early in the morning on July 4th.

Ever seduced by the cult of surfaces. Morning light is when they rally to recruit new members. The gallery of nobs above is a detail of a sculpture whose final appearance is still under development by the steady hand of time and weather.

Albino

The cockroach stands alone. There is no other creature like him. If out of spite you wish to assail your enemy’s reputation by comparing him to one, you have erred. If your enemy was as vital, energetic, crafty, and quick as a cockroach he’d have vanquished you long ago. Show some respect.