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SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

A Philosophy of Life

by Al Zolynas

—to Steve Kowit
At the dinner party, Contessa, our hostess,
a lovely woman, though with a reputation
for not putting up with anyone’s guff, bluntly
asked our friend Steve to cut to the chase and confess
his “philosophy of life”—mind you, right then
and there among the mushroom paté and roasted artichoke hearts—
that she didn’t have time for niceties or beating around the bush, life was
too short, etc., all this after one of Steve’s characteristically
misanthropic comments on human beings—he likes
to refer to us as homo satanicus, what with our long
history of wars, slavery, cruelty.
To his great credit, Steve took the question seriously,
paused, drew a deep breath, and simply declared himself
a skeptical mystic
or maybe it was a mystical skeptic.

Oddly, or not, this seemed to satisfy our hostess,
Steve not having much of a chance to elaborate beyond
referring to those moments we’ve all had
when everything pauses, or comes together, when all
is seen as connected, non-dual, miraculous, luminous—
whatever your favorite way of putting it.

At that moment, I deeply admired my friend Steve.
Indeed, what other “philosophy of life” could possibly hold up
in this paradoxical and heart-breaking world, this world
of leukemia and lollipops, catnip and catastrophe,
Abu Ghraib and avocados?  The skeptic says, “I can’t fully believe
anything you tell me because, really, how
the bloody hell do you know?”
And the mystic says, “Yes, like Rumi’s, Dogen’s, Teresa’s,
and a host of others’, my own experience is all
I can finally rely on, even though
I might be completely mistaken.”

So, when the sun rises over the mountain
and the valley awakens with the mocking
bird’s call and the coyote’s (or wolf’s, or dingo’s, or hyena’s)
last perplexed yip at the vanishing moon,
or when the walls collapse and we fall into
the bottomless black hole of
Stillness and Silence, what else, returning,
is there to say but yes, and yes again.
But, please, don’t take my word for it.


SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Al Zolynas

was born in Austria of Lithuanian parents in 1945. After growing up in Sydney, Australia, he lived in Salt Lake City, and in Marshall and St. Paul, Minnesota.

He has a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA and PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. At various times, he has been a poetry editor, resident poet in the schools, Minnesota Out Loud Traveling Poet, volunteer for the Hunger Project, and Fulbright-Hays Fellow to India. Retired from teaching since 2010, he now has emeritus status from Alliant International University, San Diego.

Work by Zolynas has been widely published in journals and anthologies; and his books include The New Physics (Wesleyan University Press, 1979); Under Ideal Conditions (Laterthanever Press, 1994; San Diego Book Award, Best Poetry, 1994); and The Same Air (Intercultural Studies Forum, 1997). With Fred Moramarco, he is co-editor of Men of Our Time: An Anthology of Male Poetry in Contemporary America (University of Georgia Press, May 1992) and The Poetry of Men’s Lives: An International Anthology (University of Georgia Press, 2004), which won the San Diego Book Award for Best Poetry Anthology in 2005.

His works have been translated into Lithuanian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Polish, the last by Czeslaw Milosz. He recently completed translating (from Lithuanian) the memoir, The Parallels of Dita: Surviving Nazism and Communism in Lithuania, by Silvija Lomsargytė-Pukienė and is seeking a publisher for the book.

Zolynas practices and teaches Zen meditation in Escondido, California where he lives with his wife and two cats.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury