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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 74 Cohen exudes an air of permission. Nothing unsettles him. He will explain all: the eclectic collection of objects in his house, like the black-and-white picture of the dog on the pine sideboard (it’s of Tinky, the Scotch terrier he grew up with) that sits beside a modernist sculpture in silver by his child- hood friend, Mort Rosengarten, that stands next to an antique pot, inscribed with Arabic symbols, that his father liked and that came from his mother’s house when she died. Ask him about the graphic signatures, or chops, as he re- fers to them, that he designed and stamps onto several of the drawings. Perhaps they are too private to explain. They look like a secret code. “Not at all. Not at all,” he murmurs. “This one is the old Chinese writing of my monk’s name, Jikhan,” he says, pointing to one. “It got into the press as ‘the silent one,’ but it just means ordinary silence.” The poet as an absence of communication. Roshi, who assigns the names, likes irony, presumably. “Yes, could be,” Cohen says. A beat of silence. “Since Roshi doesn’t speak English, it’s almost impossible to discern what he means.” “These two interlocking hearts I designed for the cover of Book of Mercy,” his 1984 poetry collection, he says, moving along as he describes another chop. “I established this Order of the Unified Heart, that is a kind of dream of an order. There is no organization. There’s no hierarchy. There’s just a pin for people of a very broadly designated similar intent.” “And yours is?” He thinks for a minute. “To just make things better on a very personal level,” he says. “You’re just not scattered all over the place. There is a tiny moment when you might gather around some decent intention.” “And what has been your most decent intention?” He places his hands on the edge of the table. “I can’t think of any right now. There must be one or two.” “Beauty, maybe.” “Beauty, certainly,” he responds. It is often said that Cohen is hard to define. There’s Cohen, the son of a prominent Montreal clothier and the grandson of a Jewish scholar. Cohen, the law-school dropout. Cohen, the novelist, the poet, the songwriter. Cohen, the sexual bad boy who becomes a monk. But he disagrees. “I always felt it was of one piece. I never felt I was going off on a tangent. Mainly because I think we de- velop images of ourselves quite early on, and certainly one of Leonard Cohen with Joshu Sasaki Roshi in 1998 PHOTOBYDONFARBER NOV 70-77.indd 74 NOV 70-77.indd 74 8/29/07 2:22:48 PM 8/29/07 2:22:48 PM