Notes to Poem: All Is in the Prayer

By Peter Y. Chou

Preface: October's Full Moon occurred on Sunday, October 4, 2009, at 6:10 Greenwich Time. Native American names for the October Moon is "Hunter's Moon" or "Moon of Falling Leaves". When I was at Stanford Art Library on October 4, I sent out email greetings of "Happy Moon of Falling Leaves" to friends along with links to my recent Hiking Haikus at Forest of Nisene Marks (9-6-2009) and El Corte De Madera Creek's Methuselah Trail (9-27-2009). Several friends responded that evening with good wishes, but my favorite was from Denise who sent a short poem "fall is in the air". She was in Dick Maxwell's Foothill College Poetry Workshops (circa 1990-1995) whom I've not heard in ten years until she emailed me on Sept. 12, 2007. Her poem "In descending order" inspired my response poem "Ascension". This time her "fall is in the air" stirred up another response poem "all is in the prayer" that flowed out in surprise. The photo below "Fall Foliage" was taken during my September 27, 2009 hike on Methuselah Trail, El Corte De Madera Creek. The thickness of foliage may correspond to the thickness of autumnal air as well as the quickness in the onset of darkness with decreasing sunlight in autumn. After reading about home runs are harder to hit in the thicker autumnal air, I've included "Notes on Thickness of Air & Flight of Baseballs". By a stroke of luck, I came across a Redbud tree with changing colors from green to orange to yellow— "the quickness of it all" and have included them in my Notes.

"Fall Foliage"— Photo of Douglas Firs soaring to the sky on the Methuselah Trail,
El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve, San Mateo County (9-27-2009)

Here's the poem Denise sent me (left) and my matching poem (right):

fall is in the air

do you feel
the thickness of
it all?

My breath seems
to draw it all
in— and when

I expel,
all hesitation
is gone.

such is the
nature of

sleep well

all is in the prayer

I feel
the quickness of
it all.

My soul seems
to soar all
out— and when

I dwell
inward— meditation
is here.

such is the
nature of
a leaf.

awake well

Notes to poem "All Is in the Prayer":

I feel the quickness of it all
I chose "quickness" to rhyme with "thickness"— besides the thickness of autumnal air, there is the quickness of changing color in the autumn leaves as well as the quick onset of darkness with decreasing sunlight in autumn. Another reason for "quickness" is that it's one of the five values of literature which Italo Calvino felt important in addition to lightness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity. They may be found in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, based on a series of lectures written by Italo Calvino for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard (Fall, 1985), but never delivered as Calvino died before leaving Italy.

My soul seems to soar all out—
This line parallels "My breath seems to draw it all in—" I've substituted "soul" for "breath" since "God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2.7). Prana and Qi are the Sanskrit and Chinese words for breath and associated with "energy flow". In the Katha Upanishads I.2.20: "Atman [soul] is hidden in the human heart. It is smaller than a barley grain and greater than the wide universe." Hence, our soul though a small dot in the heart can soar out and embrace the entire universe.

when I dwell inward— meditation is here.
This line contrasts "when I expel, all hesitation is gone". However, we're saying the same thing as Emily Dickinson in her Poem 383 "Exhilartion— is within—" that ends in "Exhale in offering" (See the end of Notes on "Soul Weight"). Expelling air or exhaling is an outward action, while dwelling inward is meditation where mental activities cease. Patanjali begins his Yoga Sutra (circa 200 BC) with "Yoga is the stopping of thoughts flow in the mind." Also King David writes in Psalms 46.10: "Be still and know that I am God." (circa 1000 BC). So when the mind is stilled in meditation, we experience the epiphany of Christ— "I and my Father are One." (John 10.30). Here's a wild idea: God prayed this universe into being and existence! Before the Big Bang was God's prayer.

such is the nature of a leaf
This line parallels "such is the nature of relief". At first I used "belief" to rhyme with "relief", but since I've already written a poem "What Is Belief?", I chose "a leaf" instead to be in tune with "fall is in the air" and "falling leaves" is characteristic of autumn. Is a leaf relieved when it falls from the tree or when it knows its true nature. I'm reminded of a luncheon at the home of a Lebanese hostess, Agnes, in New Hampshire around 1977, and sat at a table with Swami Chinmayananda and two Catholic Priests. One of them mentioned to the Swami that "we are such weakenings compared to God, feeling helpless like small leaves shaking on a giant tree." I could still hear the thunderous roar of Chinmayananda even now 32 years later: "NO! You're not the tiny leaf! YOU'RE THE SAP FLOWING THROUGH THE WHOLE TREE!" So if the leaf goes outward, it dies with falling to the ground in autumn. But if the leaf dwells inward, it unites with the sap flowing in the whole tree. Also "leaf" could refer to the page of a book or even the Akashic Record, an entire galactic cycle envisioned by Hua-Yen Buddhists or Dante in Paradiso 33.85-86: "Within a single volume, bounded by love, I saw the scattered leaves of all the universe—". Image at left: Redbud leaves gathered on October 8, 2009, Mountain View, California. These heart-shaped leaves from the same tree show changing colors from green to orange to yellow— "the quickness of it all".

Comment on "all hesitation is gone— such is the nature of relief"
Hesitation creates the thickness of it all, because when the mind is in doubt, we can't decide what course of action to take. We feel nervous and stressed out, walking in a fog. The German word for doubt is zweifel containing zwei— two, connected with evil or doubleness. That's why God did not bless the second day of creation when he separated the upper and lower waters (Genesis1.6-8). When doubt and doubleness are expelled, we experience Oneness and become whole again. Then we experience relief and can sleep well. Here's an earlier poem "Breathe in... Breathe out..." (6-1-2006) with Notes to poem inspired by Li-Young Lee's Stanford Poetry Colloquium.

All Is in the Prayer
My first title was "All Is in the Fair" transposing "F" from "Fall" to "air". While there are lots of State Fairs in autumn because of the harvest season and Halloween, I realized that "Fair" suggests a noisy carnival atmosphere, whereas dwelling inward is associated with peace and silence. Such is the nature of prayer so the new title— "All Is in the Prayer". While commenting on dwelling inward in meditation, I thought that if God willed this universe into existence, then literally everything or all is in His Prayer. Just as Emily Dickinson "exhale in offering", I'm thankful to Denise for offering a lovely poem sent across the continent that inspired this response poem.


Additional Notes on Thickness of Air & Flight of Baseballs
    Regarding the first stanza of Denise's "fall is in the air" poem— "do you feel the thickness of it all?", I didn't feel the thickness, but Tony LaRussa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals certainly did. The sports article "Cards' Pujols stuck on 47 homers since Sept. 9" (San Francisco Examiner, Oct. 5, 2009) caught my attention. I was surprised that the best baseball player Albert Pujols didn't hit a home run in almost 4 weeks. Here's the passage concerning thickness of air in the fall— Manager Tony La Russa said cooler fall temperatures are conspiring against Pujols. Temperatures were in the low 60s and high 50s for the three-game series with the Brewers that closed the regular season. "This is probably the worst time to hit home runs," La Russa said. "The air is thicker, it's cooler, the balls don't carry unless you're playing in some parks where it doesn't matter." My friend Jack had already told me about more homers in Coors Field in Denver, Colorado because its elevation is higher than any other major league ballparks. ("Statisticians Show that High Altitude Makes Hits Longer"). Chris Constancio researched "Temperature Effects" on baseball (Hardball Times, October 23, 2006) and concluded "Home runs are relatively rare in cold weather. Over 4% of batted balls leave the ballpark in 75o or warmer weather, but that rate drops to about 3.2% in the kind of cold weather conditions we are witnessing in the World Series. The most straightforward explanation for these findings is that the ball simply does not carry very well in cold weather. Batted baseballs are slowed down by air resistance in the heavy, dense air of cool April and October nights." In "The Truth About April Home Runs" (Hardball Times, May 1, 2007), Constancio found "A batted ball has a 4.0% chance of leaving the park during a game played in 70o conditions, but only a 3.5% chance of becoming a home run in a game played in 50o conditions."
    The most homers hit in a month is 20 by Sammy Sosa (June 1998) done in the summer. When Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's 34-year single season 60-homers record in 1961, baseball analysts said many sluggers fell short because the Babe hit 17 homers in September. Maris hit only 9 homers in September and one in October but had 51 by August 26. Mickey Mantle has 536 career home runs. When broken down by month April through September: 40, 110, 113, 111, 95, 67— we see that he was most productive during the summer, hitting 113 & 111 in June & July, 95 in August, but only 67 in September when the temperature was cooler and the air thicker.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (10-6-2009)