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excerpt from “Ask A Difficult Question: Variations on Rumi”

By: Norman Fischer | 02/22/2005
In Topics: Writing / Art / Creativity
Norman Fischer:
excerpt from “Ask A Difficult Question: Variations on Rumi”
I Was Blown Back
Singing Horse Press 2005-01-01
ISBN 0935162321
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“Ask A Difficult Question: Variations on Rumi” is a long poem, written by Norman in memory of his cousin, Anne Wruble, included in his book, “I Was Blown Back.”

This is an excerpt from a long poem called “Ask A Difficult Question: Variations on Rumi,” written in memory of my cousin, Anne Wruble, who had died of breast cancer at the age of 48 after a long sad struggle. I had for some years been in dialog with her (and myself) about questions of life and death, and going to her funeral, in the place where I had grown up, which seemed so different to me now, after so many years absence, was an uncanny experience of time and loss, the supreme strangeness that is always there in living, but usually unnoticed. The poem was written longhand in a journal that had been given to me by a friend. In the journal, blank pages for personal reflections were preceded by short inspirational quotations from Rumi. I used these quotations as part of my poem. Each numbered section (there are 29) is a “variation” or response to the preceding Rumi quotation.

The poem appears in Norman’s 2005 book, “I Was Blown Back.”


A great silence overcomes me,
and I wonder why I ever thought
to use language.

In the early morning on the road’s a deer
By the side of the road frightened
In the light of the headlamp bolting up
The hill and falling down all her weight
Of a sudden into the car going by
And colliding there with a crash of the mirror
That mirror’s face cracked
Person’s objectified as mime of myself fractured
To worry about but is only reflected light’s shadow
Shimmering as if mirror’s a lake
Or river to be crossed
Back and forth east and west daily all the days
Of the past
Seeing I am he but he is not me
No objects only subjects, subject
Nothing to pick up only something to put down
That is pressed upon
Broken finally – altogether smashed
In a shower of painted glass
Next an opossum there
In the road grooming
In the middle of the road in the dark
(This in the past, is memory
Diamond eyes
Ocean eyes deep, indecipherable
(Such subjects without reflection
Tree-leaf eyes
(Each one distinguished but not another
Like a beast from another world lost
In this one the beast
On the road I saw
When the car swerved
Drunk I was and did not know what
I saw, followed
Confusion, reaching out with hands to want it
As something real it is not – it’s the mind’s
Subject startling possum
With such metallic tail and bald
Grayish pink, slow, not jumping like a deer with that ardor
Going off the road seeing this thing slowly moving
Off the road
And falling backward with a crash
Into the present fright not knowing what I am
But not moving, not worried, only grooming
Not moving, not looking
With ocean-diamond eyes in the reflected light


Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.

The speechless full moon
comes out now.

I ask
Why did I begin?
What did I hope for?
Where did I think to be going with my tubes and tins?
However these questions step back into myself
Toward the mind’s source stream of forgetting
Remembering the first cloud there in the morning
Catching the morning’s dawning piling up
One cloud on another as day’s light glows on –
Always the answer which is a question
Not wanting an answer
A question that’s pure wanting
And nothing to be wanted
Released to it like wind
Up and then gone in less than an instant
(Is this what I am repeating
(That someone has said?
All of myself disappearing
(How do I know? I do not know
(So that in the pure laughter of poverty
(Of the deprivation of myself within myself
(Like a cabinet inside a cabinet
(Of all objects that the senses know
And I read “Abraham knew Sarah”
And the knowing made the issue Isaac
Which was abandoned, offered
This is a music
Because I have forgotten the episodes
All the stories of my life – what happened?
(And returning to the river
(Crossed daily to the battle
(Took place there
(As the fort guarding
(The river lasting two years
(Did those things happen other than
(That there is now
(There is here and there
(Knotted into the cloth
(You are not in good hands
(Hands holding what is thin air
Yes I will tell you a story but only so that you
Can forget the story
Words bitten into paper to be read
Following along with finger or lips
Crawling ranks of ink clouds
To be followed like light or laughter
Around the room all rise and follow ink in new lines
In the exigency of that or the emotion of someone’s
Story to float inside
So the commentary should reduce the weight
Making the meaning to be opposite
To subdue the terror and bitter enigmas
Substituting air light or wonder
That floats off from the page
Black lines and dots entering the sky
Brings tears those repeated words of the story
That are free and do not mean anything now
Do not erase the heart or punish it
Because they are erased open it
Through the tales that are music only now
(Could that
(Be what
(Could those
(Signify it is not
(What occurs
(As past or present
(It is another


Instead of being so bound up with everyone,
Be everyone.

Bound up in life’s knot
Letting them be
So bound as to remain
Those who are gone, inexist let them be we
Bound in those bindings (bindings of
(Laughter -bindings, comical
(Life that is absolutely
(As absolutely
(Ripped away
(Given over
(As sacrifice in time, he said
So Anne’s gone yet bound in the sorrow
Of her husband
In the passion of her sister
In the anguish and terror
Of her daughter
In the struggle to deny the loosing
Of the knot
Cloth flowing in wind freely
How is it we’re everyone already?
Loneliness isn’t possible since
All’s draped with the cloth
Empty or full because thin
Is everywhere isolated, included
So not really there
As anything or anyone
Moon over pond, paper over rock
Mind over matter
And the character in the story in the line
Is someone else now
No image only darkness ever was
Struggle inscribed in love’s book
As the woman said who could see the future
“It’s like that, not that but
Like that, that way the past
Folds forward and back
Making patterns in tea leaves”
My body disappears into yours in sight
Perception’s continuous suicide
Even mind and thought
Isn’t of myself
Thin, it waves in the moonlight
Inevitable, ineluctable
Crawls out to an edge of light
And illuminated bursts into view
As it would not in the dark
Baby’s fingers pull down the moon
Her forceful desire
Like a ball bouncing on a bubbling stream
Is everywhere at once bound so completely
As to be entirely free
Never alone as long as it is
A question
A wanting toward
A one addressed that isn’t