I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction when I’m up to it and poems when I can’t help it. I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. My most recent book is Heiberg’s Twitch.
1. foregoing material things, asceticism.
2. renunciation of the ego, abnegation.
His thermostat is set at 58.
The Sealy and Honda are both sagging
and obsolete. He no longer remembers sex,
what it was like. Never a vacation,
let alone a cruise. His sweatshirt and jeans are
faded but fresh. Every room is spotless,
all-too-clean. In dust are scraps of shed skin.
Scrubbing out the tub is like scouring himself.
In the void of his closet, one blue suit,
a relic of prehistoric weddings,
hangs like a traitor executed long
ago. There’s still some money he hasn’t
given away. He no longer fasts but eats
little and plainly. Not possible, he’s learned,
to be without having. Maybe that’s why
hermit saints—Onuphrius, Phosterius--
had to be fed from on high; renouncing
used up all their strength. He pictures angels
dropping off groceries from the celestial
pantry, salads and flat bread. Has he toiled
to despise the world only to love himself,
humility twisted to solipsistic pride?
Self is commonly a selfish prefix,
hyphen-bound to interest, serving, satisfied,
aggrandizing. He prefers the blushing
modesty of effacement and the
wild Dostoyevskian abasement—
self-murder, too. It runs in his family;
he can boast of suicides on both sides.
He’s looked into some verses from the East
and found it’s easier to deny a self that
perishes many times or not at all.
With a sartorial metaphor
Krishna reveals that the self is not
at all singular, just one digit in
an unreckonable sum of grey
sweatshirts, blue suits, carapaces, fur:
Are shed by the body. . .
New bodies are donned
By the dweller, like garments.
In the next round he could be a dust mite,
supermodel, jackal, toothless beggar.
The Buddha makes even less of the self,
preaching soullessness, Anatta. Nothing’s
there to go a-transmigrating, just a
flux of consciousness briefly glued together,
a more or less tedious roman fleuve.
Is it to make a self that he’s scorned all
comfort, pleasure, toys? If so, what did he make,
freed from such distractions? An ironic
flattering of the ego? A mind like what’s
left behind by a rising mist? Has he
denied his soul just to wind up self-obsessed?
He scorns those who deny themselves nothing,
who wallow and collect, whose existence
seems a tally of purchases. They flit
from wife to mistress, from being thrilled by
a Lexus to delighting in the latest phone.
Don’t they lose the self by indulging it,
pumping up a blimp soul, bloated and hollow?
He believes that if you deny your self
nothing you’ll soon make it nothing too.
It’s said those holy hermits in the desert
were tempted by treacherous devils,
seducers—perhaps disguised as angels.
©2016 Robert Wexelblatt