That’s the promise of the Richard Branson venture, and I hate to be such a luddite, but has anyone pondered what we’re not doing on good ol’ planet earth while Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber are booking their commercial flight beyond the stratosphere…? Anyone?
Oh, wow! I can see how cool it is. I can appreciate the challenge, and the temptation for the Virgin Galactic owners and stockholders. And I can even recognize the correlation (and the correlative argument to be made) with the early automobile’s displacement of the horse-drawn carriage. What’s that? Just prior to the mass production of the Ford Company’s Model-T, the stench of manure in Central Park seemed more pressing than the visionary highway system!
Yes, yes, yes… this blaze of glory is just like that… Let the analogies fuel the entrepreneurial spirit. Except that, with the foul odor of the equine waste, the ozone layer had no holes in it (yet), the epidermis of the earth had not (yet) been smeared with asphalt and slicks of motor oil, and perhaps most importantly, people were not (yet) compelled to move around so quickly to accommodate a pseudo-sense of transcendence.
And again, I’m not interested in holding back the inevitable progress of technology, or in being a thorn in the side of every imaginative CEO… My concern is that, given the expenditure of resources (both financial and cerebral), our priorities seem a little bit like those of Caligula and his first century Nemi ships. Is it that we want to make that mark in history? Or is it that we’d like to escape the crush of history that doesn’t care about the elaborate investments we make in our pet projects?
Osseous, aqueous, cardiac, hepatic–
back from bone the echoes stroke back
fromt he halved heart, the lungs
three years of weightlessness have cinched to gills.
From a leather chaise, the astronaut’s withered legs
dangle, as back they come, sounds
a beaked percussion hammer startles into shape.
The physician cocks his head and taps–exactly
as a splitter halves his slate, the metamorphic rock
chisel-shocked, then shocked again, halved
and halved, until a roof appears, black as space.
I’m gaining ground, he says, the astronaut,
who knows, from space, earth is just a blue-green glow,
a pilot light he circled once, lifted, swiftly flown
above the rafters and atmospheres, half himself
and half again some metamorphic click,
extinct as memory. I’m gaining ground,
he says, and back it comes, his glint
of cloud-crossed world: a pilot light
or swaddled leaf, green in the season’s infancy.
Diana Nyad has done it!
And, if you’ve been reading this blog since September 26th of 2011, you understand how amazed I am with the tenacity and the fortitude of this colossus of a woman…
The only thing left to say about this endurance-athlete is that she’s accomplished what she’d always wanted to do–swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida–and now, she may turn her sights to those Portuguese “men of war” in the U.S. Congress… That is, now that Diana has conquered her own demons and dealt with the jellies of the Caribbean, which might have embodied those Jungian archetypes quite nicely, my sense is that she is well-suited to take on the debates and the deliberations that ought to be happening (with results) in Washington, D.C.
And yet, is it unfair even to inquire?
Well, I don’t assume that she’ll change out of her swimwear and into her congressional outfit overnight. I’ll give her the time to allow that swollen tongue to shrink down to its civic size. A year or two should do the trick. Next question…
Is there precedent for this sort of thing–the drafting of a pop-culture celebrity–someone other than the late, great, Sonny Bono–someone who’s performed with amazing stamina? Ummm… Charles Lindbergh, we know, never ran for office, but sure made his political views known. And… ummm… John Glenn served from 1974 to 1999 as the Democratic Senator from Ohio, with his only qualification being that he orbited the earth in 1962… He had, of course, what Thomas Wolfe called, “the right stuff” for his generation, and saw the mythos of his life as the means to muscle us all to an even greater end.
Ummm, Diana? Are you listening?
I know for a fact you have a social conscience; your plans to swim in a pool for the benefit of Hurricane Sandy victims is laudable. Rock on for Rockaway! And yet, after that, it may be time to kick Marco Rubio‘s ass… I don’t even know if you have a residence in Florida, but my guess is the state would be glad to have you represent its constituents, which (did) include (as of your 3rd attempt to swim from Cuba in 2011) nearly 10,000 gay and lesbian households in Broward County alone.
You see, while you’ve been doggedly pursuing your dreams in the ocean, another sort of undulating sea has been churning and churning and we’re desperate for a heroine like you.
Plus, when I look at your face and ponder the elegant wisdom of its brazen wrinkles, I sense something wholesome and healthy that never really ages; and if it does, it grows old with a beauty that I’d like to honor in some sort of social contract. Teach us to swim, Nyad. Many are just treading water and don’t know how.
When I heard today about Tesla Motors and their Model S receiving the Best Safety Record from the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, I thought about the namesake of the company and how he was depicted in the film, The Prestige, by none other than David Bowie…
Bowie, of course, sang the infamous lyric, “This is ground control to Major Tom,” and what the song-writing cross-dresser of the 1970′s had been doing until the 2006 film is anyone’s guess. He sort of fell off the cultural radar screen, or at least my reclusive section of that screen…
And yet, now that Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and the English artist (born in 1947) have become synonymous, my head is reeling with the unlikely possibility that the latter is the reincarnation of the former’s obsessive soul. Or, if that gives you the hibby-jibbies, I might capitulate by suggesting that just as our bodies conduct electricity, who’s to say that our spiritual identities don’t spark with the friction of our mutually creative energies?
Anyway, as far as the car and the company, which has only been in existence for ten years, it’s clear that wisdom, innovation and free enterprise have combined to do something that may be good for the environment and good for increasingly mobile, self-conscious hominid. (You will notice that I don’t include the Sasquatch as a beneficiary of the Tesla gadgetry–only because that biped is content to maneuver the woods on foot.) What’s also painfully evident from the company press release, however, is that 15,000 electric cars scattered about 31 countries (and a base price of $60,000 per vehicle) will not make a dent in the driving habits of most commuters around the world. Not any time soon.
And so, I wonder then about the potential for cloning cars as the Tesla/Bowie device does with cats and hats and magicians in the motion picture. And I wonder about the ways imagination actually threatens the status quo, and makes Thomas Edison the hero while other modes of genius are shunned and shoved aside. Why is it, for example, that science and mystery are held at such great distances from one another that we assume to believe in the method of one we must preclude the thrill of the other. My hunch is that the physicist/futurist had more than patents on his mind. My intuition suggests that he had more than hotel bills to pay:
The gift of mental power comes from God, Divine Being, and if we concentrate our minds on that truth, we become in tune with this great power. My Mother had taught me to seek all truth in the Bible.
Is that simplistic? Is that a naive statement from a superstitious man? I don’t think so. You can find other quotes at TeslaUniverse here. And when you ponder them I hope you’re struck as I am about the integrity and the essential value of change. Perhaps, contrary to popular belief, the truth sought by Tesla and others is not some entity or proposition that we conserve. Or preserve for posterity.
Perhaps the very nature of truth is change.
The impulses that fire us up most have very little to do with money or becoming a successive CEO or BFD (Big Fucking Deal). Unless you’ve already been calloused by the hegemony of capitalism, there’s still a venue for your embodied soul to make a new thing.
And perhaps be a new thing in the process!
Alas, and this is the news! A twenty-three year young woman, today pictured in a bra and panties, once had been the little girl on the hit television series, 7th Heaven. Once upon a time she frolicked innocently about on Aaron Spelling‘s set as Ruthie Camden; and now, just look at her, following in the footsteps of Jessica Biel, who, at 17 had appeared topless… Oh, the scandal of what we do to the females of the species!
But don’t they know that if you can go from prepubescence to adulthood in the blink of an eye, you can also go from a vivacious beauty to a body that sags and drags its way to convalescence? I don’t mean to be a party-pooper. Every human being, without deserving her or his day in the centerfold, certainly has the opportunity to love the gene pool they’ve been given… My question is: Where are the magazines that will put on prominent display the truth of the aging process?
Oh, I forgot. Those images don’t sell. (Or perhaps they may if those misguided plastic surgeries tuck and tighten skin-flabs so much as to make the patrons of People gawk at celebrities who have ruined their faces.) They don’t incite that Come-Hither look of prurient interest. Magazines and on-line websites, with the niche market of the United States youth-culture, will never admit it… but their fixation on the nubile young nymph, or the full-bodied femme fatale, is secretly fueled by despair… And my suggestion is that we switch to an alternative source of fascination with flesh… Do I think a woman ought to be booted from her Roman Catholic Youth Group for posing in the buff? Not at all. The crux of the matter is that all matter, including us, breaks down and is subject to decay.
Fast Forward to the day when our little girl, when anybody’s little girl, is not ours anymore; that is, when MacKensie Rosman is old, old, old… when she’s got so many wrinkles around her eyes that any application of Victoria Principal‘s skin cream remedy is futile… when Victoria Principal herself has the scruples to admit and look her age at 95… and perhaps when those pigment spots on a face form some kind of beautiful word.
Wisdom! I’m really searching for Sophia in all the wrong places. According to Proverbs 8, she’s still standing at the crossroads and crying out for anyone whose listening: “To you, O people, I call and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence, acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak of noble things, and from my lips will come what is right…” None of this, I hasten to add, is meant to downplay the sensuality that we enjoy and ought to enjoy into our fifth, sixth, and seventh decades. Hell! We ought to enjoy the delights of being sensual creatures well in 7th Heaven… And yet, given the acclaim of the program, 7th Heaven, this parade of body shots in neglige is natural consequence of a dis-embodied spirituality. (Let all network heads, including the ones at Home Box Office, take note!)
There is another way of showcasing the human form without losing credibility on the downward slope of life. Check out Mina Loy, a poet who rebelled against the religious strictures of her day in verse like this (from Part II and III of Songs of Joannes):
In which a wanton duality
All the completion of my infructuous impulses
Something the shape of a man
To the casual vulgarity of the merely observant
More of a clock-work mechanism
Running d own against time
To which I am not paced
My finger-tips are numb from fretting your hair
A God’s door-mat
On the threshold of your mind
Come to me There is something
I have got to tell you and I can’t tell
Something taking shape
Something that has a new name
A new dimension
A new use
A new illusion
It is ambient And it is in your eyes
Something shiny Something only for you
Something that I must not see
It is in my ears Something very resonant
Something that you must not hear
Something only for me
Finally, I don’t think Ruthie, the character in 7th Heaven until 2007, has the time to look back at some non-glossy pictures… But if she does (and if you do), the Photograph of the Girl, by Sharon Olds, is a good place to start:
The girl sits on the hard ground,
the dry pan of Russia, in the drought
of 1921, stunned,
eyes closed, mouth open,
raw hot wind blowing
sand in her face. Hunger and puberty are
taking her together. She leans on a sack,
layers of clothes fluttering in the heat,
the new radius of her arm curved.
She cannot be not beautiful, but she is
starving. Each day she grows thinner, and her bones
grow longer, porous. The caption says
she is going to starve to death that winter
with millions of others. Deep in her body
the ovaries let out her first eggs,
golden as drops of grain.
What ever happened to that girl? Is she attractive now?
I haven’t seen all of Sam Rockwell‘s films, but the stand-outs, for me, include The Green Mile, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and now, The Way, Way Back… And, in each piece, the actor reminds me of a composite of figures that I knew in high school and college. First, Rockwell’s the guy who’s incredibly perceptive in sizing up fellow students and teachers; his bullshit barometer is extremely sensitive… Second, he’s never married and claims that parenting is “not his bag,” which means that he either knows the limits of his own knack for other-centeredness, or that he’s probably the type of dude, who, if he became a parent, would do a conscientious job… Third, this son of actors has come through a series of awkward choices, and while landing on his feet, epitomizes the old Soren Kierkegaard adage: “Either way you’ll regret it…”
In The Way, Way Back, for example, Rockwell plays Owen, the dubious manager of the Water Wizz, whose original owner declared that the theme park should never be improved or updated from its 1983 glory! God, aren’t you hooked already? And now, let the wild, but not too wild, rumpus commence: to my mind, Rockwell’s facial expressions and line deliveries make this plot move in ways it would not go otherwise. It’s sort of like that car he drives, which is just “the right amount of shittiness.” The gist of the script, written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, orbits the gangly, adolescent persona of 14 year old Duncan. Liam James nails the role like a young Ethan Hawke in Dead Poet’s Society… Anyway, with Steve Carrell, Allison Janney, Toni Collette, Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry, you would expect a montage of comedic stunts and feel-good character arcs.
And yet, I think it’s Rockwell who makes the narrative cohere around this essential message: Relationships with Mom’s and Mom’s boyfriends and the beach house milieu may “suck,” as Susanna (Annasophia Robb) says, but the patterns of PacMan ought not to be rationalized. That is to say, let’s not write people into or out of our lives as if we could assign them numerical values on a scale of one to ten. Duncan, at the start of the movie, has been labeled a “3″ by his mother’s asshole-boyfriend, Trent; but like the classic rebel that he’s portrayed elsewhere and often, Rockwell has a way of dispensing wisdom that shouldn’t belong to guy who eats pop tarts for breakfast.
Owen, I would guess, is Rockwell’s quintessential essence, and by that I mean that the real person is working something out, even as he’s performing. It’s a rare gift. But as the Gong Show host/slash/CIA agent in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, he’s basically making Chuck Barris more interesting than he actually was. Who knew, for instance, that the Unknown Comic and Gene-Gene The Dancing Machine were anything more than vapid day-time alternatives to General Hospital? I know I didn’t. Moreover, when Stephen King’s vision of John Coffey came to the screen, we all loved Tom Hanks as the prison guard with the urinary tract infection… But it was Rockwell, wasn’t it, who made us believe in evil’s dumb ambivalence in the flesh of Wild Bill Wharton? Yes, without a doubt, something of our moral anarchy resides in this human being, born in 1968, at the height and depth of the Vietnam War. Something. Something dark like the night sky, and something light like the stars’ light, just reaching us from centuries and centuries ago…
And so, I applaud and affirm the creative blood flowing through the veins of Sam Rockwell, whose parents divorced when he was five years old, and who dropped out of school, and who became an Outward Bound project… and who came out the other side of Hollywood’s madness with a bemused smirk on his face and a postmodern truth to tell.
Well, it hurts.
Yes, Agnieszka Radwanska has posed poolside, and now her image has been captured for prurient posterity. Good for her. And good for us. But what’s this I hear about her priest back in Poland? He announces that the young tennis star has been dropped from the youth group… and that, “If she meets a man who she can truly love and establish a happy family and raise Catholic children, then she would probably have to hide these pictures from relatives.”
Hell no! Say it ain’t so, Father Marek Dziewiecki! Who would look at this physical form and be ashamed? The Pope in Rome? Peter… Paul or Mary? Jesus? I can’t fathom it! I can’t fathom a finger-wagging God who complains about the aesthetics of life that certainly have been created for our appreciation, and dare I confess it among the heavenly bodies, our pleasure. That is, just as we need not rush into an ethical consideration of the moon and the stars and the glint of sunshine on the river, so we need not despise the hips and thighs that delight the eyes. And so, thank God for making Agnieszka a gorgeous human being!
Are we then in danger of objectifying her and the others who appear in the glossy pages of ESPN’s magazine, or in the infamous Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition? Perhaps… But the other side of the spectrum is just as dangerous, and probably more than we realize; I’m talking about the hatred of flesh, or the embarrassment of being found in a sometimes taut and sometimes sagging body.
Christianity (whether it’s Catholic, Protestant or Anglican) would do well to consider its own earthy, incarnation-roots. And if practitioners in Poland make that return-trip, my sense is that they wouldn’t be so quick to drop anybody from the Youth Group. My sense is that they’d recognize how the Christian faith affirms the body and abhors the dualism of the Docetists.
From my reading of the Hebrew Scriptures, bodies are everywhere and not the issue. What’s at issue is Abraham and Sarah‘s trust that even though they’re old and decrepit, they’re still going to give birth to the baby Isaac. What’s at issue is that Jacob’s hip is put out of joint from wrestling with an angel. What’s at issue is that King David failed to give glory to God for the woman he noticed taking a bath on the roof of her house… And just imagine, if Nathan would have approached Bathsheba and dropped him from the Youth Group. What did she do?
Likewise, let’s turn to the Greek New Testament, with its flaming references to flesh… All I’d like to note here is that sarx runs far deeper than the epidermis of a tennis player’s tanned skin. Sarx takes in our wants, desires and appetites, and that’s where things go wrong. That is, it’s the person who indulges his (usually his) or her whims for personal gratification, who empowers the flesh to rule in a relationship. And yet, it’s the person who tries to snuff out that whim in others, who may be guilty of indulging it.
Ask yourself: What’s triggered inside us when we see the image of Mary Magdalene as she’s played by Monica Bellucci in The Passion of the Christ? The lust of the flesh has nothing to do with whether the actress looks good as the prostitute, but everything to do with how others want and desire her. Can we simply look at her, or at Agnieszka and then nod to the implicit maker of that beauty?
Now, within the carnage that is Mel Gibson‘s version of the crucifixion, we see, mirrored back at us, the ways that even church-people want to appear righteous and will repeatedly turn what is beautiful into what is twisted, perverted and ugly… And so?
And so, isn’t that the height of hypocrisy? Can’t Ms. Radwanska’s future spouse and future offspring speak for themselves without the priest’s intercession?
Alas. It seems like it just began. And I was just getting to appreciate the nuanced complexity of the show’s main character. “Don Draper is an asshole,” says my spouse. “I can’t believe he’s doing this to her… What’s the appeal?” I have to agree. That is, I HAVE to agree. If I don’t, I’m suspect. I’m culpable in the same 1960′s sexual malaise. I’m enmeshed in the drunken stupor of the Advertising Agency in which Don Draper is a partner, in charge of the “Creative Department.” And therefore, for the sake of cultivating one kind of character I cannot, I ought not, honor the character played so well by actor, Jon Hamm.
Nevertheless, I tell you, this is hard.
I absolutely love the writing, and the creator of the series, Matthew Weiner, has a resume that also includes HBO‘s The Sopranos. (It should also be noted that Matthew Weiner, the Executive Producer and University of Southern California MFA graduate, is no relation to the formerly-dis-graced-and-now-rebounding, running-for-mayoral office-congressman, Anthony Weiner. The latter’s photographic story-telling does not share Matthew’s textured subtleties.) And, if the New Jersey organized crime families and Madison Avenue corporate offices have anything in common, it must be the ability to live the life of total and unapologetic duplicity. Weiner’s fictional array of weasels and sharks are adept at looking their guinea pigs straight in their faces and lying through their central incisors. The intrigue of this deceit sets the plot of each episode rippling and roaring off in several directions at the same time. Moreover, the angst of Don Draper et al is nothing if not convincing, and that leads me to a Monkey-See article on the subject that I happen to peruse this morning.
…he’s perpetually a whisper away from being a better man…
Holmes, like my aforementioned spouse, can’t stand the fact that Don “goes in circles,” which is to say that he never seems to learn. Jon Hamm does well, with his droopy eyes, slumped shoulders and beard-stubble, to show viewers how his character feels badly, even guilt-ridden. The affairs, the lies, the taking credit for other people’s work all take their toll. The double-mindedness is slowly chipping away at Draper’s dapper and debonair demeanor… And, if last night’s Season Six finale is any indication, it seems like he’s about to crack wide open. Holmes is correct to point out, of course, that if Draper comes totally clean, we won’t be watching.
But the idea of a Mad Men episode having heft because Don makes progress by hitting bottom and making a gesture that suggests he’s been broken by his demons and is ready to search for happiness? That’s an illusion, always. It’s always been one, and it will always be one. He is this person, for better or worse, selfish and dishonest, obsessed with his own hurt. There are lots of ways to tell that story, but to believe in his growth as a person is to be seduced by his toxicity.
Perhaps, Weiner (he of the unfortunate name) has us just where he wants us. The interiority of each person is baffling, and what makes Draper so potent a persona is the ways he may act upon his impulses and have them explained in terms of his “upbringing” in a whorehouse (with Hershey’s milk chocolate included). Many other episodes in many other lives have no such explanation available. Nothing coherent anyway. In fact, what keeps us fixated on the dip-shit characters of Madmen is the entertaining alternative it provides to our own on-going psycho-drama.
Can we ourselves reconcile inner and outer worlds? It’s becoming more and more difficult. Aliases and avatars, and yes, targeted advertising, maintain the illusion that we can be dissected into parts and that each part has its own ability to act with integrity. Compartments, although helping us with the necessary multi-tasking of getting through the week, make us like ghosts. We drift in and out of our embedded-ness in family, in work and in recreation with little or no reflection. Moreover, beyond reflection, there is the possibility of a leap… That’s right, a leap!
Here’s my suggestion for Season Seven of Madmen, and it involves Soren Kierkegaard.
What if Jon Hamm/Don Draper actually turns toward the camera (I’m envisioning something like the maneuver of Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)? What if this brooding, broken man then leaps over the entire ethical arena in which he now wages fierce battle for our amusement? And what if Weiner’s masterpiece breaks down that proverbial third or fourth wall which will suggest that we can no longer live our vicarious lives through Draper (without consequence)?
When one person sees one thing and another sees something else in the same thing, then the one discovers what the other conceals. Insofar as the object viewed belongs to the external world, then how the observer is constituted is probably less important, or, more correctly then what is necessary for the observation is something irrelevant to his deeper nature. But the more the object of observation belongs to the world of the spirit, the more important is the way he himself is constituted in his innermost nature, because everything spiritual is appropriated only in freedom; but what is appropriated in freedom is also brought forth. The difference, then, is not the external but the internal, and everything that makes a person impure and his observation impure comes from within. Soren Kierkegaard, Three Upbuilding Discourses.
Just what we need! More artifacts from this dreaded epoch which future archaeologists will discover and keep quarantined with the radioactive remnants of styrofoam cups and the plastic figurines from a cornucopia of McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes… There will be, I predict, millions of unread copies… wrapped in slick cellophane and 75 percent off stickers affixed to them… And, after the semiotics experts dig through the verbiage they will have one more reason for the decline of what Lincoln once called “The Great Experiment” of Democracy.
Evidently, Palin’s beef is the tired, maggot-infested, one, in which people have been forced by politically correct marketeers to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas!” Keeping Christ in the celebration of the holiday will comprise the essential meat of the book, but the other trimmings, of course, cannot be overlooked. According to the One-Time, Half-Term Governor of Alaska, there will be certain recommended activities in which families may partake and glean some sense of that original yuletide message… And these activities will be “jolly” in nature, which may or may not mix with the legalese-sputum with which Palin may suggest that we lick our stamps.
Hmmm. I wonder if she’ll include anything on Saturnalia and how the Romans welcomed the Winter Solstice!
And that’s the conundrum, isn’t it? Religion and Religiosity must always manifest their rituals/beliefs within a dynamic montage of cultures. And, at the vortex of this montage, things become blurry; and Jesus (believe him or not) has become blurred in countless ways from that first scribbling he himself did in the dirt at the alleged stoning of the prostitute. This is what Palin and many Fox celebrity-pundits fail to grasp. Traditions must risk being interpreted, re-interpreted and yes, even mis-interpreted. It’s like this with persons, personas and personalities as well. Individuals, as we live and breath, are mysterious and unknowable in any ultimate and definitive sense, and that’s what Democracy gives us a chance to see. We see the blur of historic human beings and we try our best to formulate an honest conception of who they’ve been and who they’re becoming…
Individuals tip themselves off by their actions and by their words, and unfortunately, Palin’s defensive posture over the years has not proven very jolly. We can’t exactly say what her intentions are. And yet, she seems intent on being right and on being perceived as a tenacious bulldog or mama grizzly who won’t let go once her jaws have clamped down on an opposing liberal. Think: Katie Couric. Rather than admit that her infamous interview with the CBS news anchor didn’t go well, and that she claimed to have read “all” of the most prominent periodicals known to humankind, Palin has persisted in attacking the person who simply slow-pitched this generous question: What (or who) … informs your world view?
Sadly, another book which helps conservatives defend their rights as per “Christmas” will not propagate a Christian world view. It will instead push us further into a polemical argument the fruit of which will taste like toxic chips of lead-based paint. Meanwhile, the true poetry of Christmas resonates best in silent and small encounters that may never be published to great acclaim. I’m pondering now the Thomas Merton work, Raids on the Unspeakable, in which Divinity shows up in the fields with the lonely shepherds, rather than the crowds who thwart community and conversation in the name of another ‘sly fox’ prognosticator.
This is A.E. Stallings and her poem, Alice, Grown-up, at the Cocktail Party:
The bottle still says, “Drink me.” I still feel
All knees and elbows in a room, half hope
To shut up tidy as a telescope.
The nonsense people talk! Oh to walk out
Through a little door, into the crepusculum
Of a private garden, the only person there
Save for the nodding idiocy of flowers.
The hours pass, a slow murder of Time.
Always the golden key sits out of reach.
Always people riddle me with questions
For which there are no answers; always the wrong
Words tumble out to fill the awkward breach,
Like half-remembered lyrics from a song.
I’ve lost the trick of dealing packs of lies
In spades, so that the trumped heart follows suit.
The bottle still says, “Drink me.” One obeys.
If only I could forget things as they pass,
Amnesiac as the glaucous looking glass,
Or stop that sinking feeling I am falling.
Oh, to walk out the door, to where the moon
Hangs like a disembodied head’s queer smile
In the branches of the trees, the curious while
Till the sun comes up and paints the roses red.
In Dante‘s Canto XXV of The Inferno, Virgil showcases the seventh level of hell where individuals (politicians perhaps) suffer the consequences of the disingenuous behavior in which they participated during the course of their lives. These unique persons actually morph and combine body-parts until their individuality (represented by their faces) is utterly distorted. “The two heads now were one, and we could see/ two faces fuse in one blear visage, where/ no vestiges of either seemed to be… Four forelimbs now combined to make a pair/ of arms, and strange new members grew in place/ of the bellies, legs and chests that had been there” (R. Wilbur’s translation)…
These two very distinct candidates for the office of the Presidency of the United States are already (before our mortal eyes) merging and splurging into the same “blear visage.”
Having flopped so many times in his attention-getting-bed-wetting-record-forgetting-over-betting campaign, the one-time governor of Massachusetts appears smug and entitled. And perhaps, in the warped realm of Republicanism, he and his slicked back hair has waited in line like the dutiful servant of the party. Never mind that Romney’s idea of ‘looking out for the little guy’ is a hearty-hand-shake, a photo-op and lift to the unemployment office (a charitable act he makes the servants perform with their pick-up trucks) — he ranks among the elite and has made his money the old fashioned way: he’s inherited it! And so, if that doesn’t qualify him to lead a country, teetering on the brink, well, who would you rather have?
Newt? The name suits him, eh? Not quite the salamander. Not enough integrity to be a chameleon. At any rate, Newt, like overly sensitive, but braggadocios bully at recess, has thrown his butter-ball buttocks into the proverbial hit-parade of conservative idealogues and demands that he be taken seriously. Seriously!?? The former Speaker of the House of Representatives wants to take credit for all of the goodies associated with the 1990′s and the Clinton presidency, but brushes off the ethics violations, the extra-marital affairs, the government shut-down and most recently, the Fannie and Freddie paycheck he received for services rendered as a “historian.”
The point, and I do finally have a point, is the sad commentary that these two possible nominees makes about the Grand Old Party, the party, after all of Abraham Lincoln. And I don’t just mean boo-whoo, quit-your-whining kind of sadness. I mean sadness that borders on shrill despair and may take us to the edge of a real economic and cultural abyss.
I watched one of those specials on television, dealing the the Mayan calendar and the supposed end of the world as we know it — in 2012 — and the narrator’s voice-over mentioned something about how the Mayans believe that epoch-beginnings need lots of help. And consequently, the rulers of that now-defunct society (over 2,000 years ago) had cultivated the notion of killing off as many of the under-class as they possibly could. They sacrificed them… chopped off their limbs… And the reason? Well, to start over again afresh! Of course! Don’t you see?
In the logic of the dominant class, the scapegoats have been born for only one purpose, and that purpose is to preserve the proper order are designed to be. And so, it makes sense, in this skewed calculus that Barack Obama could be the rightful leader of this country in 2012 and beyond… because he’s… he’s not like the Newt Romney and Mitt Gingrich. He’s not, in the words of the latter, a Kenyan anti-colonialist. He’s not, in the words of the former, an appeaser of foreign governments who are out to get us.
Now, I need to beg your forgiveness for the ironic tone of the last two paragraphs and simply state the fear and apprehension that I have regarding the delusional state of debate in which many of us are immersed day in and day out.
To accomplish this, however, I will have to resort to a poetic device with which the moderns and postmoderns are not too familiar. It may sound a bit jarring to the ear at first. But stay with these… O’s…
O, would that the Republicans or some yet-to-be-named party would nominate a true partner in the discussions that we need to have!
O, would that we would linger long on the substance of morality and not simply its shimmering layer of plastic!
O, would that the weak and the weary and the wounded and the wandering might find care and compassion in a federal government, which could be both effective and efficient!
O, would that the powerful (in terms of health, wealth and stealth) would take note of the possibility that other powers are at work in this Universe and that a comeuppance is not as unlikely as they imagine!
The Retractions of Stories We Took As Truth: The Famed Psychiatrist Who Wanted Her Quintessential Case
There’s something disturbing about the truths that are being retracted in a seemingly constant flow.
For example, the famous case of Sybil, a person diagnosed with multiple personalities, has been debunked. Sybil didn’t have multiple personalities at all (she didn’t even know her multiplication tables). All of her personalities have been exposed as “fake,” and this revelation exposes an even greater revelation.
That is, Dr. Connie Wilbur, who discovered Shirley Mason (Sybil’s real name), had a passionate interest in the disorder and her patient, learning of that passion, presented for the psychiatrist what she wanted. The next thing you know, not only is old Jed a millionaire, but there’s a 1973 best-selling book and in 1976, a film, starring Patty Duke or maybe it was Sally Field. And then, consequently, we cannon avoid the torrent of copy-cat disorders — which produce, in turn, a statistical spike in multiple personality disorder.
Beautiful, isn’t it?
But what we have here is not, let it be understood, “a failure to communicate” a’la Cool Hand Luke, escaping from prison. What we have is a brilliance of interpersonal communication with the goal of authoring a 1970′s truth, which must be propped up and maintained like any human construction (or fabrication). A cover-up, which is interesting in prospect but not so much in consummation.
Ultimately, the issue is not why Shirley Mason did what she did — in suddenly delivering the goods and launching into a bunch of phony voices, etc. — but why Connie Wilbur WANTED her to, and essentially willed her ward into this splintered and fictitious mode of being in the world.
Wanting, of course, is not a straightforward topic. We are told repeatedly (or were told repeatedly) that the heart wants what it wants. And that these wants include men who are not our husbands, women who are not our wives… ahh… men who are not our wives, women who are not our husbands… as well as all that slick stuff that accompanies the sale of a valued commodity. If that commodity happens to be “Sybil,” so be it. What else are we going to do with our lives? (Don’t answer that just yet.)
How do you explain why elephants
appear to move their unwieldy hulks
with greater dignity than most humans do
in their finest moments,
as if they had evolved beyond wanting
anything but what they have? …
Have we made too much of our own?
And did you notice afterward the dawn
opening up with a tentative eagerness
as if there were something crucial to illumine,
as if we would wake up early just to see it? …
Once again I’d like to return to the theme of truths which have been retracted. There’s a trend if anyone’s paying attention — a veritable cycle in which we go with the spin of the immediate news flashes and then keep going until a book and a movie come out… At that point, so many people are making so much money, and living in a lifestyle to which they’ve grown accustomed, that the original story cannot fail. It’s too big to fail.
Then again, to paraphrase Robert Frost, something there is in the universe that does not like a lie. Something there is that will not tolerate a load of crap and will eventually sniff it out and break it back down into its constituent, organic parts. Something there is that will not leave Sybil lay dormant and unexposed forever.
The current story is that Shirley Mason, as disturbed as she was, moved into a home near Wilbur’s. She died in 1998. Whether or not she ever felt known is a matter of debate. But I will refrain from debating it here.
A fascinating possibility that we may consider, however, is as follows: What if those news items and factoids we cherish turn out to be utterly vacuous in a ten, twenty or thirty years? Does that mean, ipso facto, that these tall tales did not point elsewhere toward some deeper truth about ourselves and the cultures in which we are embedded? No. On the contrary, I think it means there is a truth to be found, or a truth that actually finds us…
In the short term, there are things to learn and to learn well about Dissociative Identity Disorder and the struggles of those who are born into a sort of mental wrestling match with angels and demons. These mythic ways of understanding or conceptualizing the trauma are useful at times. And yet, as we’ve seen there are myths like Hercules and Harry Potter and there are myths like the need for a quintessenital patient of our professional dreams… Beneath or beyond them, however, the dichotomies between healthy and unhealthy folks go away. The truth, that poets have known for quite some time, is we’re always ordering our disorders.
So, I’m helping to teach a class of undergraduate students, and on the book list for the series of lectures are both Moby-Dick and The Vagina Monologues, back to back, one week after the other… This, it seems, is the nature of survey courses in literature. When we’re dominated with male writers and want to throw in a token female, among a series of classics, the 10th anniversary edition of Eve Ensler‘s screenplay works well…
Then, of course, comes the snickering and the under-your-breath, sneaky asides, those remarks that play on the title-images. “Moby Dick,” as you may know, is a whale. But when the proper name for a man’s phallus isn’t readily available, there’s always some dick nearby to get the word on the public record.
By contrast, it’s nice to hear a woman’s bare essential characterized with a little decorum on a book cover. (When my younger six-year-old son, however, first heard the word in casual conversation, he thought my wife and I said “China,” and proudly blessed his parents with this health education ditty: “Boys have Penis. Girls have China.”)
At this juncture, you see, the reader may appropriately expect a transition. That is, a hinge or a bridge or a nexus by which one idea or theme or description links with the next. And yet, lo and behold! We’ve already experienced at least one transition in the parentheses in the prior paragraph: we went from books, to whales (not to mention great literary archetypes), to the phallus, to one of the female reproductive organs… to an up- and-coming economic powerhouse, the People’s Republic of China. Isn’t this awesome?
Transitions, like these, are often called intuitive or implicit, as opposed to logical or explicit. And I’d like to make the case that we need many more of the former to be bantered about in academia today. And if these types of obtuse turns seem too much trouble, you might stick to reading cereal boxes and directions for putting together some Ikea furniture (although have you seen the eclectic bookshelves that can be built with an Allen-wrench?).
I will admit to having some hugely embarrassing moments lately.
Like the time we were reading some Kokinshu love poems aloud. About twenty of us in a circle went round and round, reading these brief, five-lines pearls of delicate beauty, and here’s mine:
does the beribboned
cock of Meeting House share my
is it for love alone that
we raise our solemn voices
Now, please understand. I’m not always this immature when discussing Japanese poetry from the 9th century or so. And probably, if I had made the effort to speak the original language, the verse wouldn’t have done what it did, which was send me into a seizure of junior high giggles. Alas, where to go from here?
My sense of things — first hand experience as well as second hand literature — is to make this broad and sweeping claim: IT’S ALL ABOUT IDENTITY. Transitions happen in wild and wonderfully creative ways, given the fact that we engage various moment with a unitary frame of reference. We ourselves — I myself and you yourself — relate Moby-Dick and The Vagina Monologues and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida lying about when his parents moved from Cuba to Florida (not 1959, fleeing Castro, but 1956, two years prior to Castro coming to power). You see how painless that was?
Anyway [transitional word de jour] — here’s an identity soliloquy on the lips of Captain Ahab, coming all the way from chapter 132 of Melville’s novel:
What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not himself; but is as an errand boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does the beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I.
And, without further adieu, p. 87 of the Monologues:
I eventually named all the parts of my body. My hands–Gladys. They seemed functional and basic, like Gladys. I named my shoulders Shorty–strong and a little belligerent. My breasts were Betty. They weren’t Veronica, but they weren’t ugly either. Name my ‘down there’ was not so easy. It wasn’t the same as naming my hands. No, it was complicated. Down there was alive, not so easy to pinpoint. It remained unnamed and, as unnamed, it was untamed, unknown [sort of like Moby Dick].
I added that last part myself. Couldn’t resist.
Yes, yes, yes, for the sake of clarity and not blowing up the world and doing stupid acts of stupidity unto ourselves and unto others — some explicit, well-signaled moves are necessary!
Ah, but the identity which moves about the universe in the blink of an eye, aye, there’s the mystery that’s worth pursuing. Is it a great white whale, beneath whose blubber beats the eternal verities? Or is it the enigmatic parts of our anatomy, which send us wildly into the existentialist’s void?
Almost any transition can get you there.
Does the formula hold up? Are we guaranteed to find a person of spiritual depth at the root of a beautiful masterpiece? Is it a truism to conclude that a magnum opus — a great work — always proceeds from a great man or a great woman?
These very questions came up recently a classroom discussion I had; and believe me when I say that I so appreciate these discussions. However, when I offered the possibility that a poet who writes well may have received this skill/finesse-set as a gift, the response came like so: “That’s not a very intellectually satisfying answer… You’ve just replied to a spiritual question with a spiritual reply…” To which I say, “And so what?”
At various times and under certain conditions, I am not sorry to leave our cerebral cortex, cerebellum or whatever lobe or hemisphere you choose, unsatisfied. Greatness does not have to belong to a human being. Greatness may be granted to a soul and find expression in a soul… And therefore we ought not be surprise when that same soul spews out anti-semitic crap. Or when that same soul does something really stupid in public.
The other side of this dilemma has to do, of course, with the understanding of the self, which is a more contemporary term that has been applied to the soul since Sigmund Freud. Namely, the self or the soul may not be as unified as we suppose. The self may be splintered. And perhaps, one of these splinters of self produces the greatness and another produces the vacuous stuff that makes us what to vomit…
Mark Strand is a poet, who is familiar with this kind of back-and-forth exchange on the nature of the soul.
I thought of him today because last night in the aforementioned classroom, his name came up. My conversation partner said that as an undergraduate student he and his buddies traveled five hours by car to hear Mark Strand read his work. They, of course, had his work in print. They could read them for themselves and not bother with the transportation arrangement. But they want to go and see this great soul read:
“The Dreadful Has Already Happened”
The relatives are leaning over, staring expectantly.
They moisten their lips with their tongues. I can feel
them urging me on. I hold the baby in the air.
Heaps of broken bottles glitter in the sun.
A small band is playing old fashioned marches.
My mother is keeping time by stamping her foot.
My father is kissing a woman who keeps waving
To somebody else. There are palm trees.
The hills are spotted with orange flamboyance and tall
billowy clouds move behind them. “Go on, Boy,”
I hear somebody say, “Go on.”
I keep wondering if it will rain.
The sky darkens. There is thunder.
“Break his legs,” says one of my aunts,
“Now give him a kiss.” I do what I’m told.
The trees bend in the bleak tropical wind.
The baby did not scream, but I remember that sigh
when I reached inside for his tiny lungs and shook them
out in the air for the flies. The relatives cheered.
It was about that time I gave up.
Now, when I answer the phone, his lips
are in the receiver; when I sleep, his hair is gathered
around a familiar face on the pillow; wherever I search
I find his feet. He is what is left of my life.
Martha Stewart’s Daughter, All Hallows’ Eve And The Darkness Of Wall Street — One Of These Things Belong With The Other!
Once we get beyond the sixth grade, however, the patterns become more complicated — and more personal.
And you remember that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has renewed momentum among, not only “hippies” and “hipsters,” but even your average under-water home-mortgager.
But did you know that Martha Stewart’s daughter, Alexis, has written a tell-all book, in which she describes how mommie dearest never liked to celebrate Halloween, that, rather than primping and preparing with all kinds of decorations, they turned off the lights and pretended no one was home???
The point of today’s ramble/rant is to declare that all things are related. That would not be such a huge revelation except for the fact that so many political leaders and media moguls feel as if they have a beat on what’s happening in today’s multi-cultural maelstrom. Shhh! Don’t tell anybody!
Increasingly those who are most prominent in Washington, D.C. — or anywhere along the grapevine that is ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC — don’t have a clue about the level of unrest. Moreover, I don’t think it all hinges on economics, so much as, maybe interactive, dialogical modes of communication… And so, as the 70-year-old mother of Alexis Stewart barks out her disapproval regarding the spacing of nicknacks and the proper way to set up the dining room table, we have a generation of men and women who resent the whole superficial display of alls-right-with-the-world.
This is also how Martha relates to the ancient tradition of dressing up in costumes on October 31 — and may also be tethered to the so-called vagabonds who picket the corporate offices of nearly every major city!
Masks. Or Masques.
Halloween, of course, has wild associations with the agrarian life and the seasonal change. Yet, when Christian thinkers began to stalk the pagan cultures to which they felt called, they supplanted the autumnal holiday with a holy day. The new rationale for the festivities then revolved around “All-Saints” Day (November 1st), in which catholic believers would acknowledge any sacred leader in the history of Christendom who had not been named in a previously designated day on the calendar. On the night prior to November 1, therefore, church-saturated communities set out to rid themselves evil spirits and inclinations — virtually anything that might distract them for their focus on the saints.
The whole idea of wearing and then not wearing a mask, I think, corresponds to both the original dynamic of pumpkins and full moons coupled with the pious rituals and mind-sets of the Christian faith tradition. That is, your mask covers up your true identity in the same way that ghouls and goblins seek to twist and pervert that identity in Christ. Go ahead and wear the mask on All Hallows Eve, but then be prepared to shed it at midnight.
A mask, in the sense that I mean above, differs from the notion of some medicine that masques the symptoms of a major disease — one that might otherwise be discovered by an astute physician.
If some news anchor on one of the major networks should then masque the dire dynamics of “Occupy Wall Street,” that dude or duddete ought to watch out, lest the true social disease sneak up on us by surprise.
The following are cinquain-poems, written prior to the roaring twenties and the collapse of Wall Street in 1929; Adelaide Crapsey is the author:
With faint dry sound
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
Old winds that blew
When chaos was, what do
They tell the clattered trees that I
Refuge In Darkness
Dim veil and blue
I will cover my eyes,
I will bind close my eyes that are
This next one is dedicated to Alexis Stewart and her mother:
Not these my hands
And yet I think there was
A woman like me once had hands
Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed have been married for almost a day now. After twenty-eight years of living together, and “raising” two children, and hosting their cable show, something about Family Jewels, they’re finally ready to commit. Amen.
TMZ has the exclusive details from Beverly Hills — so I’m going to spare you. Spare you the pomp and the pageantry. Spare you the glitz and the glamor. There’s nothing like nuptials when money’s no object.
But, for the sake of redeeming all that tongue-wagging, fire-breathing, “I wanna rock-n-roll all night” swagger, I offer Robert Burns:
A Fond Kiss
A fond kiss, and then we sever;
A farewell, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy,
Nothing could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lov’d say kindly,
Had we never lov’d say blindly,
Never met–or never parted–
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.
Fare thee well, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee well, thou best and dearest!
Thine be like a joy and treasure,
Peace. enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
A fond kiss, and then we sever;
A farewell, alas, forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!
A kiss, of course, is just a kiss. Humphrey Bogart taught us that. But then again — not really.
The other day, in a lecture hall, a studious professor tried to explain metaphor in all its glory. He made use of the Shakespearean phrase, “My love is a red, red rose,” and then broken things down like so:
- a rose, as a literal thing, is beautiful and fragile
- the female sex, for the most part, cannot bench press 200 pounds
- therefore, the poet is comparing his female love-interest to the flower.
The problem with this analysis, I realize, is that it took place in a class of about 300 undergraduates, and when teaching to a horde of non-English majors, it behooves the teacher to tame the ambiguity. Nevertheless, as we moved onto discussions of symbol and archetype, a mild-mannered occupant of a second row seat raised his hand and challenged the “red, red rose” synopsis. He observed, for instance, that Shakespeare may have been referring to the tenuous and delicate condition of his own “love” for another human being — how that emotion, so elusive and so much the cause for anxiety, may be compared to a rose. He went on to say that, in his humble understanding, a metaphor takes an abstraction and then relates that ornery, vague thing to something not so abstract with thorns. And then, while the rest of the class stirred and cavorted among themselves, it occurred to me: maybe this guy’s in love and maybe the feelings he has aren’t directed at a former Playboy centerfold. You know what I mean, Vernadeen? Am I coming through?
Stephen Dunn, I think, gets it:
She pressed her lips to mind.
How many years I must have yearned
for someone’s lips against mind.
Pheromones, newly born, were floating
between us. There was hardly any air.
She kissed me again, reaching that place
that sends messages to toes and fingertips,
then all the way to something like home.
Some music was playing on its own.
Nothing like a woman who knows
to kiss the right thing at the right time,
then kisses the things she’s missed.
How had I ever settled for less?
I was thinking this is intelligence,
this is the wisest tongue
since the Oracle got into a Greek’s ear,
speaking sense. It’s the Good,
defining itself. I was out of my mind.
She was in. We married as soon as we could.
Hugh Hefner, who attended the hitching of Simmons and Tweed, once declared a correlation between conservative politics and conservative sexual morays. On the History of Sex series, he claimed that he launched his magazine, featuring Marilyn Monroe, because he wanted to live life with a certain sense of “style.”
Okay. I guess so. We’ll give you that rationale. But over fifty years later, it’s all “style” and the kisses mean a lot less than they used to mean…
Well, it’s time to start wipe the slate clean and break out a new thing of lip balm. And for inspiration, there’s this scene from Spiderman, hanging upside down and having his mask pulled back, that’s just the stuff. No, nothing kinky. Metaphor. Take this image. Go ahead. Take it, and allow the significance of two faces, clasped at the mouth, to waft over you. Smell the aroma of Pepe Le Pew and believe once again in the tragic, comic kiss, that it actually goes somewhere, some secret place we might want to call… you know, wink-wink, nudge-nudge… love.
So I admit it. I will confess that when I heard of Holly Madison‘s breast-insurance policy, “I Sing The Body Electric” did not immediately spring to mind. On the contrary, I tried to imagine the Lloyd’s of London adjuster trying to re-evaluate their worth in decade or two. (Here’s the Reuters article.)
Okay, re-focus. A few snippets from section five of the Walt Whitman classic follow:
This is the female form, A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot, It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction... Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused... Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest, You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul. The female contains all qualities and tempers them, She is in her place and moves with perfect balance, She is all things duly veil'd, she is both passive and active, She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.As I see my soul reflected in Nature, As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty, See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.
Now, although Whitman would be the very first to emphasize the spiritual nature of both male and female bodies, I wonder if he ever imagined the necessity of insuring his poetic observations. That is to say, Holly Madison wants to protect and preserve a valuable commodity, and the fact that that commodity happens to be a visual glimpse of her surgically enhanced chest makes no difference. (The price is probably set along the lines of ticket sales to the Las Vegas show in which the Playmate performs.) And yet, consider the unfading quality of the descriptive (and for the Victorian Era, salacious) verse that the poet penned for posterity.
What’s it worth to ya, ladies? Gentlemen?
Think of it. If some wild and crazy bard can somehow capture — or perhaps set free — the essence of your physical form, would you consent to actually being the subject matter? Would you permit the writer to sketch with the English language or with any language how your taut flesh is firmly fitted to your adroit bones? And wouldn’t that gesture in and of itself pay out more than what State Farm or Geico could ever promise to pay out?
No, I’m not inviting anybody to pose in the nude…
But, once again, I am suggesting that our pre-occupation with sexuality is out of kilter. It’s not that anything’s bad or sinful or dirty when it comes to our certain expressions of masculinity or femininity. It’s not that we can’t be honest about our proclivities, our anxieties, our orientations and fetishes. It’s simply that we need to get over trying to “insure” our value — and especially our innate value as it relates to a particular youthful exuberance that we might like to maintain well into our twilight years.
Get over it. The aging of the human body is part and parcel of its charm — a huge component of its “soul,” as Whitman might have said.
O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you, I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,) I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems, Man's, woman's, child, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's poems, Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears, Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids, Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges, Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition, Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue, Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest, Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones, Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails, Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side, Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone, Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root, Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above, Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg, Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel; All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one's body, male or female, The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean, The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame, Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity, Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman, The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings, The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud, Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming, Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening, The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes, The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair, The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body, The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out, The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees, The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones, The exquisite realization of health; O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, O I say now these are the soul!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking poetry like that is tame compared to the pornographic stuff of the novelist (John Updike is excluded). And maybe you’re thinking that a strip tease has more of the titillating charm that you’re looking for… Ahh… Maybe… But I would question the fact that you’re ultimately looking for that in the first place. You have to admit — reading the above (section nine of “I Sing The Body Electric”) — does have certain esoteric charms that also include more than one carnal or enfleshed view on the subject. And that subject is what I believe we’re all looking for.
Anne Sexton wrote “In Celebration of My Uterus,” and perhaps, after you read it, you will agree that it’s hard to objectify any part of the female body:
Everyone in me is a bird. I am beating all my wings. They wanted to cut you out but they will not. They said you were immeasurably empty but you are not. They said you were sick unto dying but they were wrong. You are singing like a school girl. You are not torn. Sweet weight, in celebration of the woman I am and of the soul of the woman I am and of the central creature and its delight I sing for you. I dare to live. Hello, spirit. Hello, cup. Fasten, cover. Cover that does contain. Hello to the soil of the fields. Welcome, roots. Each cell has a life. There is enough here to please a nation. It is enough that the populace own these goods. Any person, any commonwealth would say of it, “It is good this year that we may plant again and think forward to a harvest. A blight had been forecast and has been cast out.” Many women are singing together of this: one is in a shoe factory cursing the machine, one is at the aquarium tending a seal, one is dull at the wheel of her Ford, one is at the toll gate collecting, one is tying the cord of a calf in Arizona, one is straddling a cello in Russia, one is shifting pots on the stove in Egypt, one is painting her bedroom walls moon color, one is dying but remembering a breakfast, one is stretching on her mat in Thailand, one is wiping the ass of her child, one is staring out the window of a train in the middle of Wyoming and one is anywhere and some are everywhere and all seem to be singing, although some can not sing a note. Sweet weight, in celebration of the woman I am let me carry a ten-foot scarf, let me drum for the nineteen-year-olds, let me carry bowls for the offering (if that is my part). Let me study the cardiovascular tissue, let me examine the angular distance of meteors, let me suck on the stems of flowers (if that is my part). Let me make certain tribal figures (if that is my part). For this thing the body needs let me sing for the supper, for the kissing, for the correct yes.
Evidently, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite — as big as a school bus — has finally penetrated the atmosphere and come crashing down to earth. Welcome home!
It’s been a while since NASA launched you as an entirely intact apparatus, and now that you’re back, in fragments, strewn out like drift wood in the vast Pacific Ocean, we’ll have to catch up… So what’s it like to go from the benign six tons, hanging loose and free-floating and going round and round, to the dangerous debris that’s simply falls until it hits the bottom of the sea, or makes a dent in some barren stretch of Siberia?
God, so much has changed since you were sent away twenty years ago… the rise and fall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Enron’s collapse… Duke basketball’s not as good… Brad Pitt‘s become a decent actor… Rachel Maddow is the new Peter Jennings… Keith Olbermann is on his second Countdown and maybe his third meltdown… R.E.M. has disbanded… Joe Paterno‘s still coaching, but nearly every one of his joints is made of titanium alloy… Lots of new coffee shops are springing up all over the place… there’s free wifi (except at Chicago’s O’Hare)… Jerry Falwell‘s kicked the bucket… Congress may shut down the government again… the skyline of New York City looks different… the polar bears are missing a few slabs of ice… a man with a Kenyan father and a Kansas mother has been elected president and may be again… But, can I confess something to you, O Personified Space Junk? Would you mind?
Well, ah, the fact is… We’re in a state of re-entry too. That is, much of what has comprised our wholeness has been burned off and disintegrated. And so, Fragments R US… You should take comfort in that — which is to say, you’re gonna fit right into things. You probably won’t miss a beat. Wherever you land, you’re going to land on your ass. Sideways. Bent. Bruised. All fucked up. And eventually the barnacles will be all over you like groupies on Justin Bieber. You’ll look a little bit like that other hunk of technological debris that we cast off back in April of 1912… There won’t be any deck chairs that we can salvage. But hey! — the Titanic has nothing on you. Nothing but the memory of a few thousand lives scarified, not to mention, sacrificed, to our collective hubris. And, as far as we know, not a soul will even be maimed by your flaming re-entry of assorted 300 pound parts!
As far as we know…
I guess what I’m trying to say is THANK YOU. You’re like this giant metaphor that is yet to be discovered. You’re so close to declaring something that really matters, something true about us and what we strive for, who we aspire to be and those disparate particles we will all ostensibly become.
Am I stretching this too far? Am I reading into your plight what I want to see? Hell, no! I don’t want to see more fragmentation and deconstruction. I’d like to experience some sort of cosmic unity. The sad thing is I’ve made various efforts and overtures; and when I have a chance to catch my breath, I’ve got souvenirs of a place where I’ve never vacationed. I’ve got heirlooms from relatives who aren’t that familiar. Anyway, I really appreciate you listening. For a defunct satellite you’re not so bad a conversation partner… Better than most.
The Second Coming
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
As technology continues to tantalize and taunt us, the big news from the Techland column of Time Magazine is that researchers at the University of Berkeley have used brain scans to generate images on a screen. Those images, however, are not your ordinary MRI scan of the hypothalamus or the cerebellum. Oh no! That’s kid’s stuff compared to the latest re-make of The Pink Panther, starring Steve Martin. Evidently, what’s going on is this: test subjects watch a movie and have their cerebral cortex stimulated, the corresponding “brain voxels” are then translated onto another screen, where they show up as blurry simulations of a simulation. You follow?
I’m not sure I do… But from Matt Peckham‘s article alone it would seem that the movie industry has some hard choices to make. For example, do the major studios get the rights to Steven Spielberg’s MRI, and is it even necessary to cast the actors and have them attempt to act their parts? That is, couldn’t scientists just tap into the creative genius without the rigamarole? Moreover, when it comes to the proprieties of Netflix or Direct TV or On-Demand, the potential of this work should scare the hell out of you! We’re talking one designated viewer who then makes him or herself available for others to access the movie imagery and voila! No need for a clunky download. No need for the Comcast middle-manager to muck things up… Probably the only element we’d be missing is the theme music or the score from composers like John Williams.
And yet, I have to wonder what this new fangled brain-scan-into-movie genre might mean for the poets. Poets have certainly benefited from the motion picture portfolio in a number of dynamic ways. Cross-pollination, of course, abounds. Even so, it’s the very definition of image that concerns me at this manifest moment of gadget-destiny. And by calling that out I don’t intend to diminish the importance of visual stimuli whatsoever. It’s just that words, by contrast, are more than a conglomeration of pixels on a page. The preeminent mode of words happens to be sound and speech, and because of that the images poets evoke may go in lots and lots and LOTS of directions that even the original author does not consciously perceive.
The dilemma, therefore, in the brain-scan technology is that it may limit the image-associations or at least inhibit them from occurring between sender and receiver. Poems, you see, are two-way streets. Images come and go. Personages are sent from a stanza and invited towards a closing couplet. Readers go places the poet had not imagined them going, but must allow them to go (in order to succeed as a poet).
There is, of course, another issue that I haven’t mentioned thus far.
What happens if we attempt to use the brain scan of a person whose witnessed a crime? That individual sees what she sees and represents those images in some kind of narrative sequence that makes sense to the wiring of her brain… But maybe there are other explanations and scenarios for what occurred and for the events that have been observed. And maybe that other-oriented context is what the supposed sovereignty of the visual image always overrules. And maybe it’s the interpersonal character of image-sound-associations that democratizes our communication as well as our creativity.
“Now You See It” is a poem by Kathy Fagan. As you read it, I wonder what volumetric pixels are being generated in your brain. Will it be possible for others to view them like the movie we take in at AMC Cinemas’ multiplex? I doubt it. I doubt I’d be able to follow exactly where you’re going and why. You’ll have to tell me later.
Am I wrong, or were you
the galoot who bitter, blighter
scatter were. Were the dark
that dawned, that hit, that had me
rue the day, then duck, then hide,
then turn away. The bowls
of my hands made a seashell,
cracked, you could hear the ocean
run through, shell game,
shell shock, after-, electro-, -treat,
I mean wheat, shock of
copper where the penny’s
nicked, your molars
human size but otherwise
exactly like a mastodon’s.
No Dogs Were Harmed In The Writing of This Free Verse, But Just In Case… Keep An Eye Out For Michael Vick’s Old Compadres!
That is, Atlanta. He will travel there with his new teammates, where many animal-rights advocates may bemoan the professional athlete’s release from prison, where he spent 21 months for pleading guilty to various felony counts related to a dog-fighting ring. They may bemoan the injustice of the whole ugly scenario, showing up with placards and bullhorns and organizing boycotts of the game. But inasmuch as Vick has “paid his debt to society” — we’re left with something more damning to worry about. Given that he’s apologized and actually begun advocating for the canines that he once abused — we may want to turn our attention toward those “friends” who bankrolled the illegal activity back in 2007 and who may still be out there.
Ashley Capps is a poet with lots of friends, and among them are guys with names like “Shane,” who breeds Pit Bulls… Of course, Capps herself may not associate with the dubious character that’s mentioned in one of her poems, “Shane Says,” but it’s curious that she doesn’t include an epigraph.
Something like, no dogs were harmed in the writing of this free verse:
Shane says he used to breed pit bulls back in the woods off his yard–
thirty dogs, thirty lengths of three-foot chain.
All they wanted to do was bite each other.
And there were plenty of people who wanted them that way.
One night, he heard a racket like the Gates of Hell.
Blue lights everywhere, knew he’d been found out.
He practiced saying, A man’s gotta make a living
as he grabbed his gun and walked out back.
But the officers they were just laughing their asses off,
saying, Buddy can you call off your dogs?
We been chasing this fucker for over an hour,
and he made the mistake of running into your yard!
And there was a man lying on the ground
with each of his legs in a pit bull’s mouth.
Shit, said Shane. They don’t let go–
There’s a special tool -- so he got the tool,
straddled each of the dogs, cranked open the jaws –
Says, after, It looked like a couple of bowls of spaghetti
attached to a man.
What’s the name of that tool, I ask.
Breakstick. Only thing that’ll pry ‘em off.
That so, I say, and the woods and the fields
and the roads disappear and it’s quiet in the dark.
Now, let no one who associates with the poet/educational therapist assume that she’s guilty of any collusion with “Shane.” Unlike Barack Obama’s ties to the professor, later convicted of domestic terrorism, Ashley Capps does not pal around with those who bet on which doberman is the toughest. The breeding of pit bulls, to which she alludes, may just be a ruse for talking about the shady parts of town and the seedy suspects who make their living there.
However, the syntax alone raises fascinating questions about the “fair game” of our friendships and associations. May we draw upon them with or without changing their names to protect the innocent? Is poetry subject to the same unwritten rules that allow Carly Simon to sing, “You’re so vain… You probably think this song is about you”?? (Who was that loser anyway? Mic Jagger? Could be. James Taylor? I seriously doubt it. Tommy Chong? Hey, someone’s reputation’s at stake!) Anyway, I think the answer is Yes to whatever question we may want to go with. We can, and ought to sink our vampirish fangs into our relationships — and then we ought to allow whatever we suck out to dribble on the blank pages before us and our potential readers.
I’m not pushing for a libel suit and don’t want to smear just anybody. But if Michael Vick’s buddies are going to use him to build their clientele and if Ashley Capps’s acquaintances are going to write about her — I say, have at it!
Reading an Ex-Lover’s First Novel
I don’t mind if you say, her blouse
fell open like thunder, or if you recall
the amethyst veins inside her eyelids, the sand
in the delicate ditch of her neck. Go ahead
and compare the strung lights of the pier
to white streamers behind a black wedding car.
And those sea oats, scraping
under the constellations, did console.
But I have a problem
with the way you describe the body
of the crab washed up that morning
as an orchid, as a music box, as
if it were intact, when in fact
the thing was pink chunks of meat
that floated away from each other,
blue broken pieces of shell on a gut string.
You saw it. You
were there –
that enormous claw, dangling
like a polite, ridiculous teacup.
You see, there’s not a dog anywhere near this poem (although the seafood has been obliterated). And that’s probably what I’m learning from Capps: Vary the target.
Make reference to “Shane,” if the mood calls for it. And yet, don’t obsess. The chances are not always so good when it comes to any single friend really reading this stuff. But if he or she does, the line endings offer a glancing blow or a slight poke in the ribs. Nothing to get in a tizzy over. Nothing to be indicted about. Nothing to get Roger Goodell’s attention…
By the way, I’m hoping the Eagles win big time! And I’m hoping that Vick has a great game, passing from the pocket and scrambling until his heart’s content and his mind is cleansed… Ashley Capps has this great opening line in “Washing The Brain.” She writes,
But first I must tie up the dogs.
I am washing my brain
because, while relatively small,
it has been much handled:
There was a cook who borrowed it
to flavor the chowder; it was better
than garlic or bones, and it sang
from the bottom of the pot. Thus,
they survived the shellfish shortage.
There followed a priest
who rubbed it like a lucky marble
between sermons; a sequined circus
performer who juggled it with steak knives
in the dark; a ranger
who used it to bait the traps
for bears that bit the tourists; and
a florist in want of oasis,
who pierced it with wired roses.
All along, the brain
was memorizing the names
of crustaceans and flowers, wrestling
with Jacob and the angels, lamenting
the grizzled silver fur. It might have stayed
with the cook forever, fevered
and brothed; but when, on behalf
of the brain, I have called, the cook
hangs up, or doesn’t answer.
The shocking insights from the recently released Arthur Schlesinger audio tapes are these: Jackie Kennedy didn’t think women had the constitution for politics. Jackie Kennedy said that JFK feared for the country if Lyndon Johnson were to become president. Jackie Kennedy called Martin Luther King, Jr. a “phony.” Jackie Kennedy had a snobbish view of Pat Nixon‘s hair style. Jackie Kennedy loved her late husband and tolerated his philandering. And finally, if the Cuban missile crisis had spiraled out of control, Jackie Kennedy wanted to die with her “elusive man” and her children rather than survive in some underground bunker…
And there we have it. The princess of Camelot sounds downright catty, and by today’s standards of discourse, scandalously backward. But perhaps the only thing we should say about anyone whose been taped in 1964 is that she’s merely stuck in her time (and had no other recourse but to be stuck).
Stuck, of course, may seem a little pejorative. I don’t intend it to be. Jackie Kennedy, like all of us, had to move with the flow of history and respond to her interviewer with the upper-crust elegance in which she had been born and raised. She had a bias, if not a prejudice, that came silver-spoon society of New England and saw no reason to shake loose from it. But, I would argue that the bulk of Jackie Kennedy’s provincial take on the world had its source in a time that had its time and is now long, long gone.
We should remember that when we assume the posture of speaking for future generations — as if this time of 2011 has the pinnacle point of view from which all timeless truths may be uttered. Not so. We’re stuck too. Consider the “Recent Changes at Canter’s Deli,” by Ed Skoog:
The telephone is no longer upstairs.
Cut fruit in cold cup will never be whole.
Nothing is where it was. The plate
is beside the bowl. My mind’s all fucked up,
distorted, pale light reflected on stainless steel
of the walk-in cooler. It is not where it was.
Here’s the spike to build a body of receipt.
Sweat collects on the water pitcher lip
like the goodbye of a woman I loved.
The clerk bends his body to pray the miracle
of the hand washing station, turns knife to loaf.
The present pours into the pepper shaker.
It settles on the silk ivy of the now. Odds fade
in the sports section fallen between the counter,
where paying my bill I orphan a dime
for a silver mint, and the window snows sun
brilliant on Fairfax, demanding the commute.
They are not letting me drive anymore
and turning onto Melrose on the bus,
the driver, I overhear, has another job,
one he doesn’t know the name for.
Up in the haze some undiscovered animal
watches us, its plan mapped out, fire
swinging up the canyons, unfolding
until flame may flicker tip of sabertooth fang
in the museum where rare finds are hidden.
I, too, am a dinosaur. Rawr. My little claws.
I’m the dredge flopping for tar from the pits.
Click. I am a kind of David Bowie
in the Amoeba everything’s-a-dollar bin.
I have four fingers and a thumb on my right hand,
equal representation on the left, and fourteen
billion toes. I’m a windup rooster. Who I am
and what I feel are irrelevant enough to be central
to the project of contemporary American poetry.
Or perhaps any art. Poetry’s just the form
of unimportance I teach teenagers above L.A.
under slanted windows that kill, by surprise,
the birds we then write about, gathering bonfire
around the small corpses, because it’s cold here.
Ed Skoog, I think, may be onto something. Being stuck in history makes for the best poetry. Without it we launch speeches into the public domain that sound over-confident as to our overall impact upon the civilized world. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t reach for eternal things. I’m not saying the sublime verities aren’t out there “blowing in the wind.” Rather, let’s just search for poetic ways and artistic disciplines by which we might keep ourselves in check.
In fact, we may discover that while not even trying to stand the test of time, some wise reader from the year 2061 will boil down a grandiose thought that we ourselves never had. Go figure. By paying attention to our own stuck-ness in our time we help the George Jetson family of tomorrow recognize their own finitude.
Even Canter’s Deli can be put on the endangered species list. Apparently, the Dodgertown Deli has displaced the franchised vendor at Dodger Stadium and will serve arugula salad with goat cheese. (Now, that’s more Jackie Kennedy’s style.)
It’s the Sunday just before Labor Day, and I’m awake to the sounds of hash browns and sausage being cooked on the skillet. Last night, at The Gorge in George, Washington, the Dave Matthews Band rocked my world. Last night I heard a saxophone solo that seemed to pry loose an ancient lava flow. Last night guitars combined with drums, violin and flute to poke a peep-hole into the next universe. Today, however, I’m not going to worship anywhere — which is strange given that for nearly twenty years what I did last night would have been impossible without me, as pastor, falling asleep during the prelude.
So this is strange, to say the least. And if I were to try to say the most, my mind might easily confuse the outdoor venue of The Gorge with the abyss in Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail. You know, the one with the bridge keeper who asks three questions of the wayward knights of the roundtable. If any knight fails to respond correctly, that gallant suit of armor is exposed as a mere facade, a fraud perpetrated by those who’ve nurtured the Arthurian legend and who are now cynically flung into the darkness of the void. Anyway, that’s where I am, or was on the evening of September 3, 2012 and I’m sticking to that story. That is, for the first time in a few decades, it’s as if the bridge keeper inquired as to my “favorite color” and I didn’t hesitate.
The abyss, in my humble estimation, can only be approached and breached like this: subjectively. Consider the following song lyrics which Dave Matthews sung at the edge of the Columbia River. The first was originally written by Daniel Lanois:
Oh, oh deep water, black and cold like the night
I stand with arms wide open
I’ve run a twisted line
I’m a stranger in the eyes of the Maker
I could not see for the fog in my eyes
I could not feel for the fear in my life
From across the great divide, In the distance I saw a light
Of Jean Baptiste’s he’s walking to me with the Maker
My body my body is bent and broken by long and dangerous sleep
I can’t work the fields of Abraham and turn my head away
I’m not a stranger in the hands of the Maker
Brother John, have you seen the homeless daughters
Standing there with broken wings
I have seen the flaming swords
There over east of eden
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Burning in the eyes of the Maker
Oh, river rise from your sleep
Oh, river rise from your sleep
Oh, river rise from your sleep
You Might Die Trying
To change the world, start with one step
However small, the first step is hardest of all
Once you get your gait, you’ll be walkin’ tall
You said you never did, cuz you might die tryin’
Cuz you might die tryin’, cuz you…
If you close your eyes cuz the house is on fire
And think you couldn’t move until fire dies
The things you never did, oh, cuz you might die tryin’
Cuz you might die tryin’, you’d be as good as dead
Cuz you might die tryin’, cuz you might die tryin’
(sax solo) I still remember I woke up and all ran away
If you give, you begin to live
If you give, you begin to live
You begin, you get the world
If you give, you begin to live
You get the world, you get the world
If you give,YOU BEGIN TO LIVE, YOU MIGHT DIE TRYIN’
Oh you might die tryin’, you might die tryin’
The things you never did, oh cuz you might die tryin’
You’d be as good as dead
The things you never did…
You might die trying… Gotta love that. I think I’m finally at that point where I genuinely want to try.
I read recently that Matthews used to tend bar in Charlottesburg, Virginia. A friend suggested that he record some of his songs, and the rest is sheer creative brilliance and passion! At The Gorge, before 20,000 or so screaming fans, it’s clear that he loves what he’s doing with words and with the skilled musicians that surround him… “Bartender, you see,” he cries into the canyon, “The wine that’s drinking me/ Came from the vine that strung Judas from the Devil’s tree/ It’s roots deep, deep in the ground.” Last night, the song ventured far afield, closing out to the melody from The Wizard of Oz tune, “If I only had a brain…” The crowd nearly genuflected, and I guess that’s the point.
Is it possible that God shows up, more often than not, when we don’t name him explicitly? I’m all but finished with church as it’s popularly conceived in North America, and I think the Dave Matthews caravan understands why. That is, the abyss teaches. The abyss reaches into our hearts and minds better than any puppeteer and more powerfully than any pollyanna worship leader could ever dream of reaching.
Some of my old colleagues, of course, would beg to differ. The clergy guild might accuse me of copping out. They might even feel that I’ve committed career-suicide, or that I’ve wandered in the general vicinity of the pig sty. Those whose livelihoods depend upon the theatrics (i.e., the liturgics) of institutional church might even use me as a sermon illustration and pray that I return home like the prodigal son… I can honestly say, however, that church has never been my home. Not for a hundred years, maybe more.
Here’s a snippet of religious news from the editors of the Spokesman Review who harken back to something that went to print on September 4, 1912:
Spokane’s ministers “threw down the gauntlet” regarding a question that they clearly regarded of the utmost gravity: Should Spokane’s Interstate Fair be open on Sunday, the Sabbath rest? The ministers had previously asked the fair organizers to honor the Sabbath, but received no response. So now the ministry, showing their displeasure of the slight,” issued an ultimatum… They said that either the fair close on Sunday or else it would “suffer the loss of patronage through the influence of all the pastors in the Inland Empire.”
Oh God! If those men of the cloth could have only seen the vibrant display of passion and the sincere spiritual pilgrimmage that I experienced last night, and that presumably will happen again today, the Lord’s Day. Take note, you peddlers of pedantic and rehashed powerpoint presentations! You whitened-’or sepulchers!
–By Pierre Reverdy
I was ready for all that might happen Head lowered Feet touching my head And everything that moved in the corner Against the wall Opposite me and beside me The mirror as it faded had begun to tremble There was a light Long ago and the face that I see Midnight Would this be the hour Under the roof the rain-pipe weeps And a far-off train that was calling The room stretched beyond the walls At that moment they might have caught me Or I could even have stumbled World was falling over and over into slumber
So NPR’s Neal Conan is interviewing a former NFL agent regarding the financial kick-back scandals in various NCAA football programs. Apparently 20 teams have been sanctioned since 2010 for infractions related to certain players who receive certain expensive perks. And in the course of this conversation, Josh Luchs says this:
I think the NCAA is just – and all those folks are trying to keep all the money that they can for themselves. Release enough so they can live on it comfortably. They are – just as people are writing poems or playing music are going to be musicians or writers, they should be allowed to proudly exercise their skills. They’re not going to be – if they’re scholars, that’s great. But let them live comfortably on a scholar – on a full scholarship that gets the soil money out of the way. And the ones that are lucky enough to go on to a professional career, they will make their millions later.
Now, I don’t know what this sports agent knows about “writing poems,” but it doesn’t seem that the practice in and of itself is very lucrative. But what galls me is the comparison in which creative writing seems so well-endowed with funds, if not fans, and football players are living on Macaroni and Cheese. Ahh, I don’t think so.
Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood the context of these remarks. Context makes a difference, which is to say that if someone doesn’t give a rip about college football then the obscene amount of revenue that it reaps would not register as a true scandal. On the other hand, if one did care about the sport and appreciated the spectacle and the traditions of each collegiate alumni association, well then, that person might want to insure the integrity of amateur athletics from this point on.
And yet, do you remember that episode of When Harry Met Sally, in which Harry is depressed. He and his buddy go to a New York Giants game and sit in the midst of this rowdy crowd of spectators. Every now and then, “the wave” starts up and the stadium rocks with successive sections standing and sitting back down. Round and round goes “the wave,” and Harry has been doing it with everyone else. The only problem is — he doesn’t care anymore. He’s doing “the wave” with the sell-out crowd, but his first wife has had an affair and he’s about to get a divorce. You see, for him, the context has totally changed — although it doesn’t appear like it, given that he’s still there, among the 90,000 people in their jerseys and their sheik home-team apparel.
Anyway, the point being — although I love college football — I believe that every potential player at The Ohio State University or The University of Miami should be schooled in an alternative context. Rather than money, money and more more, let these talented jocks share their “star power” on campus with the aspiring poets. That is, for every pep-rally, insist that the starting backfield show up at a poetry slam or a reading. For every interview on ESPN, make it a prerequisite that each 300 pound lineman read some Billy Collins (the literary equivalent of Bret Favre).
And, speak of the devil, here’s an Introduction to Poetry:
I ask them to take a poemand hold it up to the lightlike a color slideor press an ear against its hive.I say drop a mouse into a poemand watch him probe his way out,or walk inside the poem’s roomand feel the walls for a light switch.I want them to waterskiacross the surface of a poemwaving at the author’s name on the shore.But all they want to dois tie the poem to a chair with ropeand torture a confession out of it.They begin beating it with a hoseto find out what it really means.
This Much I Do Remember
It was after dinner.
You were talking to me across the table
about something or other,
a greyhound you had seen that day
or a song you liked,and I was looking past you
over your bare shoulder
at the three oranges lying
on the kitchen counter
next to the small electric bean grinder,
which was also orange,
and the orange and white cruets for vinegar and oil.Alll of which converged
into a random still life,
so fastened together by the hasp of color,
and so fixed behind the animated
foreground of your
talking and smiling,
gesturing and pouring wine,
and the camber of you shoulders
that I could feel it being painted within me,
brushed on the wall of my skull,
while the tone of your voice
lifted and fell in its flight,
and the three oranges
remained fixed on the counter
the way that stars are said
to be fixed in the universe.
Then all of the moments of the past
began to line up behind that moment
and all of the moments to come
assembled in front of it in a long row,
giving me reason to believe
that this was a moment I had rescued
from millions that rush out of sight
into a darkness behind the eyes.
Even after I have forgotten what year it is,
my middle name,
and the meaning of money,
I will still carry in my pocket
the small coin of that moment,
minted in the kingdom
that we pace through every day.
Again, I’d like to emphasize CONTEXT. What’s the context — the mysterious ultimate context that has a bearing and a poignant influence upon the pen-ultimatecontext???College football is fantastic. The chill in the air. The roar of the student-section. The mascots doing push-ups for every point being scored. Joe Paterno standing on the sidelines of Penn State until his knees are replaced by titanium joints, left over from the last Space Shuttle mission. The invocation of “God” as if the deity were a big fan of Auburn and had blessed them with a National Championship… All this hoopla and hubbub has a place in my life and in the lives of every red-blooded American (we’ll leave the blue-bloods out of this for the time being). But I never want to forget the larger context of NCAA football, not for a minute, not even for a split second.
Rainer Maria Rilke… Herman Hesse… Don’t leave home without them. Take them to school like a pen-n-pencil set or like a three-ring binder, (maybe even instead of a three-ring binder). Stuff Rilke and his Letters to a Young Poet in the side pouch of the backpack with a bruised banana. Slip Herman Hesse and Siddhartha into the zippered pockets of your parachute pants (and keep the cellphone on vibrate in case somebody calls).
Rilke and Hesse are the original homeboys, the dreaded posse that I and many others need as we make the transition into autumn and back, yes, back to school.
So what is it, you may ask, that qualifies these hoodlums (originally from Prague and the Black Forest region of Germany) to watch our collective and unconscious backs? Well, I’m gonna tell ya. Rilke’s mother dressed him in girls’ clothes until the age of five and called him by the name, Sophia, after his deceased little sister. Hesse’s father suffered severe bouts of depression and according to his son, “always seemed like a very polite, very foreign, lonely, little-understood guest” in his own home. Rilke entered and was discharged from an Austrian military school in his early teens. Hesse once ran away from the Evangelical Theological Seminary (Maulbronn Abbey), settling, of all places, in a field before being discovered and sent back to school:
Lying In Grass
–by Herman Hesse
Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.
Words like these, of course, aren’t always taught in school. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? That — coupled with the fact that we often spring from parental units that do the best they can with what they themselves had been given.
So, on this late date in August, I propose taking it all with you into the classroom. Take Rilke and his longing for childhood, and take Hesse and his rebellious addiction to red clover. And yes, take the unresolved memories of a family of origin that is peculiar to you and to me. Think of it. No student would truly be prepared for the grueling regimen of private or even public education without the spillage of milk from home. There’s no use crying about it — the spilt dairy product, that is. Might as well, let it drip from your lips… like poetry. Rilke’s poetry:
All this stood upon her and was the world
and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
yet wholly image, like the Ark of God,
and solemn, as if imposed upon a race.
And she endured it all: bore up under
the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far-gone,
the inconceivably vast, the still-to-learn,
serenely as a woman carrying water
moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
transfiguring and preparing for the future,
the first white veil descended, gliding softly
over her opened face, almost opaque there,
never to be lifted off again, and somehow
giving to all her questions just one answer:
In you, who were a child once — in you.
At first a childhood, limitless and free
of any goals. Ah sweet unconsciousness.
Then sudden terror, schoolrooms, slavery,
the plunge into temptation and deep loss.
Defiance. The child bent becomes the bender,
inflicts on others what he once went through.
Loved, feared, rescuer, wrestler, victor,
he takes his vengeance, blow by blow.
And now in vast, cold, empty space, alone.
Yet hidden deep within the grown-up heart,
a longing for the first world, the ancient one . . .
Then, form His place of ambush, God leapt out.
Priscilla Dunstan, a McClatchy-Tribune reporter, offers an interesting take on the transition into the realm of academia. In her article, “Child Sense: Smoothing out the highs and lows of back-to-school,” she notes the following differences in the youngsters:
- Tactile children need more physical contact and cuddles;
- Visual children benefit from a visually based school schedule;
- Auditory children will need talk about their day;
- Taste & Smell children…? Allow your child to bring a small comfort item to school…
Bingo! I’m assuming that Rilke and Hesse had to be “Taste & Smell” children. What else could they have been? Is there another sense that we’re missing? (Not The Sixth Sense of sniffing out dead people a’la Bruce Willis and M. Night Shyamalan!) Is there, for example, a poetic sense? Some extra-thin skin that makes everyone a poet? Some aura that we have to unlearn if we’re going to fit into the curriculum? Some word-to-thing coordination that’s both our beginning and our ending?
Rainer Maria Rilke to the rescue! Hurry up, Herman Hesse! The summer days are fading.