The Zen poem that unified a nation

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I was born on the Earth but now live on a planet 40 light years away (see earlier posts for more info).  Most of my posts are from the book I wrote about my experiences, This Moonless Sky (which can be bought as an ebook at Amazon, Barnes, iTunes etc. but can also be downloaded free at if you don’t mind a proof-quality pdf.)  This one is about a historic poem that influenced the history of our notably peaceful country.  I start off here talking to my boyfriend Yith, who is new to the planet and also new to being human, since he was a mechanical alien until recently.  I’m a grade 11 student, while he hasn’t yet got into our school system, since he arrived during summer vacation.   Two pieces of info you need to understand the post:  our planet has no moon; Yith was interviewed by our local newspaper on the day he arrived on our planet and then in later follow-up articles.

**      **      **

“You know how the flag of united Diyyana [our country] is pure black?” I asked Yith.

“Nope, but now that you mention it, I saw that flag down at City Hall …”

“And you know how our main newspaper is called ‘The Moonless Sky.’”

“Do I ever. I’ve been a star in that moonless sky three times now.”

“Very funny. Well, it gets its name not just from our lack of celestial spotlight, but also from [historic poet] Jeiuyng Yeddtloi’s most famous poem:

‘This moonless sky

is the mind of someone else.

No legend of mine

lives there.’

“It’s short, but if you ever have to write an essay interpreting it in your literature class, you’ll have no trouble writing a piece of any length that can be laid out – paragraph, sheaf or book.

“We studied it last year and I learned that the Book of Power [an important text in philosophy courses here] says it refers to “the otherness of others” and how we can’t prejudge other people. In my essay, I said that humans on Earth throughout history looked at the moon and attached their legends to it – from goddesses and gods to ‘the man in the moon’ and ‘the moon is made of green cheese.’ Our minds relentlessly want to do that sort of thing. One place we get into trouble with that practice is when we pre-judge other people. Instead of seeing them as they are, we send our legends out first to stick onto them because of some minimal information we have about them – maybe a hairstyle, maybe something we have heard, maybe their accent when they speak. Yeddtloi was in an early generation here when Diyyana was brand-new, and he was expressing a hope that on this new planet, the sending out of legends to block perception would end. He took the moonless sky as a sign of hope that we could live in reality instead of in the reflected light of our own silly or grandiose or whimsical ideas.

“This was especially relevant for him since he was sent from the Regntum [our capital city] area to be Regional Delegate to [the eastern province of] Korabaas. Most people in our area were from European or Asian ancestry and almost everyone in Korabaas was from Africa. Could we all understand one another and make one nation together, or would we have to split up in the usual Earth way? The Regional Delegates were exchanged between the sides to promote understanding and unity. It worked so well we don’t even have them any more. Some of the tsKorabaatse knew that many Europeans of those times, on Earth (‘conattainable’ – that is, taking into consideration the [approx. 400,000-year for 40 light-years’ distance] transport time on Communicator [alien] vessels), thought themselves better than people of black skin colour, but with Yeddtloi’s poem as an inspiration, it was agreed that the all-black moonless sky would be our national flag, a symbol of mutual understanding in a new world.”

“Beautiful,” Yith said, with evident pleasure. Maybe things didn’t look so bad for the Communicator project here [that is, his alien species’ project of terraforming this planet and importing humans to it] after all. At least, that was the legend I saw in his eyes.

Deiyah [a local administrator who is my main mentor on this new planet] took up the thread. “You can go beyond that and comment on the whole area of the epistemology of human relations – how we interpret each other, what the basis of faith in each other is, whether love is real, and so on. Not to mention how to correct any problems that our maya engenders, if you don’t mind me using one of those Sanskrit terms that can’t be lived without. And the whole matter of what purposes are served by myth and legend and to what extent myth-making is part of our basic mental routine. That makes the poem one of those things our literary people call a ‘deep well of significance’ – it’s a well that you can send your bucket down and keep drawing out meaning as long as you want to lift.

“And he chose to write it in sDiyyanantse and tsKorabaatse [our two national languages] instead of Chinese when our language was brand new, even though he was an excellent Tang-style poet in Chinese.

“There are many other famous poems that he wrote.

“‘Lizard in the dunegrass

has its own poetry –

whispering, crackling –

It leaves its book of skin

and keeps writing.’

“Every time I go on the path to the beach and see the random trails the lizard tails make in the sand there, I always think of that poem. Of course, it also hints at how authors write and renew themselves, so you can write a comparative lit essay on that one too.

“But there’s only one poem I know of that ever clinched the founding of a nation, and now you know it.”

And now you know how my novel got its title. But there are many other dimensions to this title that aren’t explained in this blog post.

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