On The One Hand… And On The Other… And In Between


What Gilgamesh and Gonzaga Have In Common: the Ravages of Time!

bulldogCan we picture the major monuments of our lives as the forgotten fragments of a culture that has ostensibly disappeared?   For example, imagine the famed Mount Rushmore with the faces so eroded with time that Abraham Lincoln’s nose looks as if it were smashed into cauliflower in a wrestling match.   Imagine the names on the Vietnam memorial faded and buried in centuries of silt and debris.  Imagine the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as it may appear to future generations:  a massive melted- down umlaut or an accent circonflex over a desolate terrain…

And, just for the sake of localism (my own localism), try to picture the Bulldog statue outside of McCarthy stadium on the campus of Gonzaga University, home of Zags B-ball–not to mention a great Jesuit school of higher learning, etcetera…   I mention this collegiate icon, not because of the team’s NCAA ranking, and not because its shape or substance compares to the aforementioned marvels of historical architecture, but because, if there happened to be a huge catastrophe and if Spokane, Washington became a distant memory, that Bulldog, known now as “Spike” to the alumnae, would not even be known.   In fact, a society that has devolved may regard the statue as some sort of deity…  or maybe a petrified species of canine that we hunted to extinction like the sabertooth tiger.   And isn’t that terribly sad?

And if you think that Gonzaga and other prominent universities are exempt from such lapses in cultural memory… that surely some narrative will be passed down from admissions office to admissions office through the brute, indifferent centuries, well, I think you’re fooling yourself.   You may even be guilty of Gonzaga-centrism!

But, learn the lesson of Gilgamesh…

According to the Norton Anthology of Western Literature, the epic tale of Gilgamesh gilgamesh-1had once thoroughly saturated the Akkadian/Assyrian world view.   Nearly every corner and every curb of every street had an allusion to the tale of Enkidu, the wild man, and Utanapishtim, the demigod, and of course the G-man, who bounced in between them…   The story, of course, is a story of human nature, a narrative of a human being who aspires to greatness and ends up dealing with loss and mortality.   Gilgamesh, like the narrative of nearly every basketball program, had been told and re-told orally for years…  And then the Mesopotamian PR department got involved and started carving the legend on clay tablets.    It related the events of Great Flood, long before Noah and his family moved into the neighborhood.   It observed the construction of the great city of Uruk and the slaying of a giant.   It rehearsed, as we often do, the mystery of creation and worried about the on-going chaos that keeps erupting through the surface of suburban Ninevah.

“Only in 1844 were the ruins of the palaces and library uncovered through chance excavation, and thousands of tablets in cuneiform–a language that would not be deciphered until 1857–shipped to the British Museum…”   (p. 15).

And so, Gonzaga…  You got a taste of that same thing last week.   Last week, we learned from renovations on campus about a wall-sized mural that had been commissioned and crafted in the 1960’s.   Richard Ingalls, a former art instructor at the institution, was responsible for the work, which detailed imagistically the rich history of the Jesuits’ early connections with the indigenous people along the river.   It’s a dubious tale for sure.   But the mosaic, made from small pieces of ceramic glass, had been covered over in the 1990’s to make way for a Taco Bell…   That’s right.   And you can see how easily the cultural amnesia creeps in.   A humble librarian had apparently been among the parsimonious people who recalled the existence of this picture-story; and for now it will be preserved.  For now it will be reverenced.

For now… but the semesters of time are upon us, and bright minds still grow dim, and dimmer still.   (Many of them have tenure!)



Of Boils and Burrs…

Be Still, the Affliction Said

Be still, the affliction said.

It spread in oozing boils.

It spread by leafy oil

until I died.  And in the afterlife

I took a butcher knife

to skinless ecstasy.

I peeled back leprosy

and soaked in my gout

solution.  Without

an itch that’s spiking

has anyone been hiking,

truly, through oblivion?

I envy the Epicurean

with a lush view.

Contagions come to you

with their California rides,

and with vines that elide

the centipedes on the crotch.

Shall we slough off that blotch

of little landscaped red?

Be still, the affliction said.



The Burr in theCamouflage


A burr penetrates

the perimeter, having latched onto Virgil’s hunting jacket.

Last Friday while

he traipsed through a Palouse hedgerow the bristle first clung

amid camouflage fibers,

followed flag pins and broaches through double doors and joined desert_burrs_857

the seminar in progress.

No one spotted it but Willamina who sat nearest in the pew and who

told him a thousand

times to watch wearing to church the clothing he’d always torn shooting

those starlings, which

never harmed a soul and tasted too gamey for stew.  Virgil never felt shame

when it came to burrs,

rapt as he was with being raptured away.  And here he’d just bought those new

soft-mouthed bitches and

none of ‘em trained to suit post-tribulation pagans, who wouldn’t know the second

of Christ coming if it’d swoop

down vulture-like upon road kill… and who wouldn’t know they wouldn’t know, even

that there is a thing to know…

And that’s the point!  He’s seen this timeline before.  It’s the banner he hung himself from the loft

where the soloist sits on Sundays.

Plus, Willa will never let up about the burr, which is now lost amid the earth tones of her frock.

What happens to things so

ignored?  Are they found in the Lord… or simply flicked away as by the Father’s tensive

sop-bannerfinger, as if

he’s not counting after all

the birds, hairs and lilies that fall.  And with regard to that burr, will the prophesy


Sarcasm in the Future, and in Heaven… and in Elysium

funeralI officiated at my first funeral service in a while last week (about four years), and the experience with the grieving family seemed utterly devoid of sarcasm.   The deceased had been a geneticist and a good one…  He and his spouse had three girls and one boy, and their progeny now amounts to thirty or more…

Anyway, I saw no one smirk regarding the declaration of eternal life and the promise that Dad was in heaven.  I heard no shrill comments from the balcony of the stuffy sanctuary when I described the event as more than a memorial and more than a celebration of life, but as a Witness to the Resurrection!

There!  I said it (or wrote it) again for you to parse and dissect…  Does the author of these frail diphthongs mean to suggest that physical bodies will be raised in some pristine state of existence, and that, after having died and decayed and/or been scattered to the four winds of the earth, some semblance of a human creature will enjoy the perfected fruits of a new creation?

resurrection11Ahhh…  I guess.

I mean… I have no way of knowing, being strapped into this nine-fingered and ever-sagging contraption of flesh, bone and sinew.   (And by that I don’t want to be understood as saying that I have a body and that my true self or soul resembles a passenger on-board a vehicle.  But…)

I am bound.  Even with the advantages of cyberspace and a memory, I am bound.  Tethered to a fixed series of moments in history.   I can no more get perspective on the resurrection of the dead or the coming a kingdom of God than I can see the hair now growing between my shoulder-blades.   And that (I don’t know how) leads me back to sarcasm!


Check out the sarcasm, via the acting chops of Matt Damon, in the soon-to-be-released motion picture, Elysium:

My question?

Will sarcasm be the tell-tale sign of our tenacious humanity in a world of mechanized mannequins with no sense of humor?

Probably.   Okay, next question?

Will sarcasm help us believe in “heaven,” given that for many people heaven is simply the ultra-country-club version of the opulent life… rather than the multi-lingual and extremely diverse community that is depicted in the Revelation to John the Seer, Chapter Seven?

Yes, most definitely.   There will be sarcasm bolstered by IRONY, the likes of which Soren Kierkegaard never imagined.


And so, on August 9, the premise of the debuting film is that “Elysium” is this space-age sphere of idyllic life, where the elite can live without the hassle of coping with the trash (anyone making less than $250,000 per year) on the surface of the old earth.   Cancer cells are routinely removed with a procedural zap.   Jodie Foster, with a nicely coiffed set of blonde bangs, fends off those who try to breach the utopian boundaries…  Do YOU have any questions?

ocean death sand waves grim reaper scythe dogs funny creative 1280x927 wallpaper_www.wallpaperhi.com_41What’s going on, culturally and politically, that themes like this are being explored and brought to the big screen?   It seems as if American Cinema has simply rewired and revamped the ancient modus operandi of belief.   Belief, believe it or not, has always had a sarcastic edge to it.  Christians, who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and then imagine heaven to be a fortified oasis, are missing the point.   And the point is not avoidance of the messy relationships down here (as if heaven were always up, in the stratosphere somewhere).   The point is the utter engagement of a Divine Presence who is determined to reconcile all things  and all peoples.

You see, I understand why it is that belief gets a bad rap.   It’s because the in-vogue, new standards of authenticity are doubt and skepticism, and we assume that believing refers to that unthinking conformity, or to a set of propositional statements.

Not so!   The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible… It ain’t necessarily so, and all of the biblical writers (human to the bone) understood what Porgy and Bess were singing about.   Belief is hairy.  Belief says, F-You to Death, and you don’t get any more sarcastic than cursing out the skeletal dude, clutching a scythe and wearing a dark hoodie.


When Palm Sunday and April Fools Day Coincide, Everything Comes Into Focus

Well, it’s happened.

It’s happened again.

It was bound to happen, given the calendar and the nature of the earth’s rotation around the sun.  Given the history of both Christendom and Secularism.

Palm Sunday, the very day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, has collided with April Fools
Talk about your signs of the apocalypse.   Talk about your ironic danger zone.  Talk about the very word that the carpenter from Nazareth uses in mixed company for those who put on the pious and pompous costume, but who nonetheless refrain from the risk and the sacrifice their “faith” espouses.


Talk.  Talk.  Talk.

Today, I had my first Palm Sunday since (I don’t really know) my sophomore year in college… my first Palm Sunday without waving a palm.   I did, of course, watch the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburg Penguins for supremacy of the state of Pennsylvania.  And when the game was done and the penalties and goals had been tallied for posterity, I said to myself, “Self, you are a fool…”

I’m a fool, you see, because it has taken me this long to find my place in the crowd.

By crowd I mean primarily that metaphysical hodgepodge of perspectives that cheered for the wonder-worker to save Israel… only to jeer him and spit upon him in less than a week.   Talk about fickle.   And this is where I  belong.   I no longer belong among the Sanhedrin who felt as if Jesus may pose a threat to their special status with the Roman government.   I no longer belong with a troop of believers who construe belief as mere ascent to certain propositional statements.   I no longer belong among the pure partiers and prostitutes (too many commitments to spouse, family and friends are at stake).   I belong, by contrast, to those members of the crowd who understand themselves as witnesses to a strange and surreal redemption.

Jesus image on a fish stick

Namely, this redemption requires–you guessed it–a fool, or an consortium of fools, who hide beneath the veneer of foolishness.  Truly, what’s foolish is the very notion that a mere creature, a human being, a singularly unique person, could in fact be the fullness of God.  Go figure.  You really can’t.  You may line up a series of creedal clauses.  You may rest your weary bones on the ritual of Easter and the solace of eternity.  But, in terms of the way we are hard-wired and genetically pre-disposed, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is simply too simple to say and not be utterly changed into someone that you’re clearly not.  That is, a creature among others whose intended for a different sort of world and a different sort of existence.

Foolish.  The apostle Paul (bless his foolish heart) tried to explain.  He said something to the effect… (we can’t be sure exactly the effect he was going for)… something to the effect of “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of human beings.”   He said this and even wrote it down, which is idiotic, because when something like this metaphysical assertion is scribed on parchment, it’s always available for parsing and for pedestrian interpretations.

And so, I won’t play dumb.  I am dumb.  Dumb to believe that in the particular (the particular flesh and blood, embodied persona, a Palestinian Jew if there ever was one) there dwells the universal.   There even dwells that wild and wooly possibility of One who is non-existent, in the way that we categorize existence.   Talk about confusing.  Talk about non-sensical.   Talk about sheer, unadulterated childishness…  It’s possible.  It’s at least possible that a child born to Mary of Galilee grew up and had acne and got bunions AND that he is the very embodiment of One who called creation into existence!!!

It’s at least possible.

And I realize that if I believe this, I’m probably a fool.   April Fools everybody!  April Fools!


“Melancholia” and “Gubbinal” — A Collision Made In Heaven And Bound For Earth

The film, Melancholia, directed by Lars Von Trier, has a strange aura about it.  I’m convinced that part of that glow emanates from the shimmering bare breasts of Kirsten Dunst, who plays a depressed bride in the screenplay  which has just won further acclaim from the National Society of Film Critics.  But the other part — the bulk of the ethereal luminescence in this end of the world scenario — corresponds to the peculiar psychologies which are brought to bear on the potential collision of planets.   How will each character respond to impending doom?   [Hint:  Will the most brave and optimistic of the cast be the first to commit suicide?]



We don’t ordinarily think of these terms as categories by which motion pictures might be evaluated.   Is it a Romantic Comedy or a Suspense Thriller?   Is it a Science-Fiction blockbuster like Star Wars?   Is it fantasy as in the trilogy of Tolkien stories about the dreaded ring of power or The Hobbit, which will prequel them all?   Melancholia purports to be none of the above as the Danish director uses his imagination to explore a very concise notion:   Are those who suffer with certain modes of depression perhaps more attune to the world as it truly exists?   And, if so, will they ostensibly turn the tables on the social hierarchy in which the well-adjusted and the well-healed make pious use of their upper-hands?

I love these questions and I recommend this film for anyone who cries cosmic foul over their blood chemistry or family of origin.

And likewise I stand in awe of  the imaginative freedom that Von Trier seems to share with Wallace Stevens.

Once upon a time — Stevens penned this obscure poem, Gubbinal, and placed it among his collection of esoteric works in Harmonium.   [Have it your way has nothing to do with the Burger King motto of a few years back.]

That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal  eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.


Even as I re-read and carefully reflected on these words I cast about the recent political debates among Republican Presidential Nominees.  Essentially they orchestrate their talking-points upon whether or not an organization of representatives — the elected leaders of the American People — can create the conditions in which families and individuals can avoid as much pain (largely economic pain) as possible.

Newt Gingrich insists that it should be the crooks or the criminals who suffer and that government ought not to punish the affluent for the hard-earned success. He must have forgotten the ethics violations that got him tossed from the House of Representatives back in the late ’90’s.

Mitt Romney, the likely candidate to face Barak Obama, says that he has grown more and more conservative over the years primarily because of his vast experience with running businesses, many of which made money for the share-holders by downsizing and eliminating jobs for the blue-collar middle-class…

You see, “The world is ugly…”   And what’s most ugly is often sponsored by the anonymous donations to Super-Pacs.   What’s most ugly are those who deny their own existential pain, who gloss over their own fears, who feel as if there’s scarcely enough to go around, who avoid at all costs their own anxieties as to not getting their fair share of what’s coming.

Stevens makes no bones about it:   “And the people are sad.”    They are sad in either a dignified and courageous way.   Or they are sad in the worst way imaginable — in a way that makes them lash out and try to control the lives of others.   One way or the other — poems like Gubbinal can save the days and turn the nights into dark pearls of sacred wisdom.   “Have it your way,” says the speaker…   Imagine the sun as a strange flower.   A dynamic component of what the sun means now involves that fragrant and beautiful image.

At times I despair over the money that’s being wasted on films and entertainment which rehash the same ol’ happy-ending, morally symmetrical storyline that we’ve seen and heard for generations.   On the other side of the spectrum, I think it’s too easy that to paint the world with broad strokes and carp about the wretchedness of the human condition.   Melancholia and virtually any phrase of Wallace Stevens works on so many compelling levels, it’s important to stay alive and awake.   With the imagination, the possibilities of honest redemption, of salvaging something from even the bleakest of experiences, are abundant.


So I’m Not Gonna Lie To Ya… Things Are Getting Busy… Sorry…


I have an apology to make to you, and probably if I think about it less egotistically, myself.

What am I talking or writing about?

Well that’s just it.   This is my first day in a hundred when I haven’t posted something, and I’m sorry.

And now, for my penance…

I will unleash some of the verse (my own) that has recently been rejected by assorted literary magazines, who shall remain nameless (so, take that!).

A Wasp Behind The Ear

A wasp behind the ear

the one I shouldn’t touch

if I can help it, my left ear

as David Degville leads

me through the thicket

and as branches whip

back in his wake this

prickly peevish thorax

attaches to my skull, or

what feels like Descartes

pineal gland, and in me

the poison burns white

anglo saxon protestant –

being one of those

acronyms makes my head

swell up fast

behind the fleshy lobe

where Bobby Hanes, who

follows, can see every

thing and flaps his elbow

wings as we are pale –

pretend vampire bats,

a trio of blood-sucking

latch-key kids hung up

side down on monkey

bars, fanged from

recess to Robinson’s

class and she, our first

black teacher, drives a

number two pencil into

my mind and drains out

the puss without flinching.

I can hear her words

and wasps don’t sting.

Anatomically they bite

but never out of spite.


(Read:  Nothing’s The Same)

Make it quick –

when the pipeline

isn’t looking

to bi-furcate

Yellowstone, when Gulf

of Mexico crude washes

up, and wetlands feel

a little slutty

embarrassed really

to be penetrated

and absorb the modern

thrust, the way we like

the juice to enervate

our multiple identities

obscenities that are

appreciated on the sly

by the masses

even Catholic

liturgies if

truth were bolder.

So make it quick –

a clean break

a rupture like

a rapture, and

when “Jesus” takes

the good Christians

up, they’re all ashamed

of Creation left

to soak in fossil fuel

and then whole-cloth-

humanity wallows in soot –

a hefty napkin of flesh –

but doesn’t matter be-

cause matter’s not

trusted, just what we can

feel, a virtual


a festival without name:

We’re so glad you came

(read:  nothing’s the same

without parousia to blame).


Argument Made While Almost Eating The Banana Sticker

They say the bananas that now exist

exist like a shadow of their former

existence, which tasted much better

once.  And there’s no sense in resisting

this value statement once it’s been repeated

by a procurer of past fruit caches.

I know.  I once heard a food broker

say, We’ll never get that taste back

through customs, no doubt.  Mass

production has rendered the plantain

an even paler version, a disembodied

voice that sings Chiquita into being.

Soon, I’m afraid, we’ll all survive on

potassium pills and myths that moralize

I [heart-shape] Lunchboxes.  Don’t mis-

understand.  In generations past we stood

under green bunches of unstickered

organic packages.  Not a single discarded

peel would be caught dead or otherwise

with white trash from any country north of

the equator.   Hell, the lines for Ecuador

hadn’t even been drawn by the Pacific Ocean!

Then came the market’s own demon-

possessed priests who worried about

the brown, spotted pieces of shit that

wouldn’t ship on time.  They’d have to

eat the loss.  They’d have to let the virus

crate the primordial thing, the tropical thing,

with details forgotten by polite company.

And now, the banana’s evolved to this:

toddlers put them to their ears as telephones;

teenagers use them for practice, unrolling

condoms along the bent shafts of

a thousand mock ripening’s that don’t exist

but for which we’ll always pay big

money to enhance the big, slippery truth.



Convenience Stores And The Coming Architecture of the Apocalypse

What’s to become of all the convenience stores?   You know, all the little consumer-venues at busy intersections, selling six-packs of Bud for $4.99, compact cases of chewing tobacco, plus all the beef-jerky you might ever need for the road…  All the Qwik-Marts, all the Gas-n-Go‘s…  all the WaWa‘s with the barricaded booths for employees who speak through vents in the Plexiglas… What’s going to happen when the zombies take over?

I don’t want to alarm anyone with 30 days to go before Halloween, but let me invite you to ponder what may be even more frightening than the possibility of a pandemic or the detonation of a dirty, nuclear bomb or any other catastrophe of which a Hollywood blockbuster may conceive.   And that is, of course, the aftermath of such an occurrence.

Visually speaking, you see, the landscape will be laden with boxy, nondescript buildings with lots of computerized cash registers that no longer work — not to mention rack upon rack of foul-smelling cartons of expired milk.  It’s going to be ugly.   Much of the remaining population will grieve the loss of life and the degradation to the environment in which surviving generations must make a new “go” of it.   But, if you ask me, one thing we might do for them while we have the imagination is to jettison the whole category of “quick and easy” architecture.   Once this category is dumped we might then replace it with a renewal of  concern for aesthetics, community and spirituality.   The essential criteria here would involve beauty.   We’d want whatever remains (after the plague or after the radioactive flash) to be almost bucolic and somewhat quaint.


William Olsen

How beautiful and vast and bright and empty
inside the quick-stop’s inextinguishable glow.
Night has just begun to have its say.

The being in the checkered frock is free
to read the tabloids with a face like a broken window
and dream of being known and extraordinary

and towel the handprints off a jar of murdered jerky
and feel like a moviegoer in the very last row.
Night has just begun to have its say,

the pickled eggs seem older than all creation this Monday
or Tuesday or Wednesday, and years from now
how beautiful and vast and bright and empty

it may feel to be alive and mildly happy,
to walk between the aisles of a brand-new Stop-N-Go.
And when the century has its final say

may the tiny motels of our voices pray
that all the neon sings and wonders so
beautiful and vast and bright and empty
won’t even have begun to have their say.


Yes, this is admittedly disturbing.   But the earth’s ecosystems have always been very resilient.  And I have every confidence that what might be one age’s graffiti might be another’s sacred artifact or retro-kitsch.   The point is, when we uncover the seedier locales of the first century they always appear more wholesome with the years of erosion, corrosion and sediment piled against it.

I’m thinking now about the Life After People series and how its viewers evidently find the human population of zero extremely fascinating.  I don’t.   What’s more fascinating to me is that human consciousness will survive with a vague sort of memory.   It would be sad for future enclaves of people, however, to remember our ethic of convenience and try to emulate it again.  And again.  And again.

I would, therefore, argue that architects owe us something when it comes to those generic places where we spend most of our lives.   What they owe is ironic, isn’t it?   They must create and leave behind a milieu that speaks of specific mountains and specific rivers and specific kinds of grass and maybe a little dew on each blade of grass to boot.

Mark Wallace, in his poem, “Prediction,” makes some wondrous turns:

In the future, we’ll plan the future better.

In the future, you can just become your TV.

In the future, your sexual partners will meet all the qualities on your checklist.

And this anxiety you’re feeling now? In the future you won’t feel it.

In the future, technology will always work, and there won’t even be weekend downtime for systems repair.

In the future, Friday night parties will never be boring.

In the future there will be less deadlines and they’ll be easier to meet.

In the future, all pollution will contain its own self-cleaning element.

In the future, if your house burns down, you’ll have another house by the time you get home.

In the future, your insurance policy will actually pay.

In the future, your friends won’t talk so constantly about everything they think they should already have.

In the future, no good deed will go unrewarded.

In the future people will like you just for who you are.

In the future, everyone will have their own sky marshal.

In the future, fires and floods made worse by ecologically damaging overpopulation will lead to photo-ops for everyone.

In the future, that eleventh-rate doctor you married who’s seeing a nurse in Oceanside behind your back will stay home more often and cut the grass.

In the future, people will fart less.

In the future, corporations will pay you for gas. …