Thus it is (for people who live by the sea, a semi-autobiographical confession)

To be read to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHPEKLQID4U

I

Of course the swirling tide
With slow revolutions of its wheels
Twas ever thus Frailty
Watch the bubbles on your coffee

There will inevitably be days when
The front door is open
The strange man turned up again
A bowie knife between his teeth

I was surprised to see he had red hair
They kept him in the hut
The sum of the shadows
The camera could not do justice

Only when they started to dig
They heard cries for help
I felt their roots with my hands
To be asked about the same things

Had taken solemn counsel
A man is coming back
The king is not yet deposed
She showed him the golden child

II

How to go on in life
As if one’s life were a radiant light
Covering his blind eye
In the dream he finds himself

And the unconscious answers
The bear called after him
He was nonetheless free
The very fact that someone imagines

I felt their roots with my hands
To be asked about the same things
Had taken solemn counsel
A man is coming back

With sort of a half smile
No one in the world knew
It wasn’t even raining
All through my childhood

The secret heart or depth
The last room in the long corridor
Deep levels of sorrow
A real problem for me

As I found my teachers
A direct transfer of thoughts
The experience happened some years before
The first important dream comes

At the dentist’s office for a filling
After a time he met a raven
To speak to him in song
(I could find an illustration

This is illustrated fairly well)
The world we are living in now
I had begun to feel relaxed Then
Somebody was playing music

Someone read that poem
That is where it should belong
There are many ways to remember
This knowledge is crucial

This strange feeling of knowing
I have come I have reached you
Entered the boat and crossed the stream
That’s what my dream taught me

It’s just that so many people have so little
His message overflowed out of the wires
His seemingly spontaneous detour
This god did not make our ancestors

Slogans chalked up on the walls
I used to be a jazz musician
The solution lies here
I didn’t hear the teacher’s words

(The uninitiated create insane things)
One evening I sat down
Like I’d almost had a visitation
She spoke to me in song

Turning bullets into jewelry
Already sitting in my hut
Women kneeling as they wove
To rebuild the World House

Reading the news on the radio
What went on behind the barbed wire
The birds and pigs were silent
Where the land was abandoned

III

A hundred pounds of sea salt
The fragrance of flowers
Another day with a dozen babies
All the work was purposeful

There are things to do first
Something more enduring
Violet-green swallows preening
What happened — really happened

Take the rose
He touched and was touched
Finally we arrived
There were pink gladiolas

I used to be a jazz musician
I tell them the story
I know a world when I see one
Where bags of skulls are stored

The story I don’t know
We put up orange cones
She was bearing bad news
The prisoner stands before the judge

I watch and witness their presence
Rain in the north
The elders murmured ascent
Now all that has changed

More and more nations are seeking
I tremble with courage
She scrutinized the trees
Landmarks had disappeared

IV

I remember thinking how beautiful
By design or coincidence
But I felt sorry I don’t know why
We were all more or less in love

I can remember too
Into this tense situation
He went over in a corner by himself
He went home and spent a sleepless night

It was not easy to come to an understanding
A headless angel stands
We walk a dirt path
Drawn back into the memory

To truly understand ceremony
I have made a decision
No one spoke of it
Thus it is with art
……………..
Books used:

Ulysses J Joyce
Shadow and Evil in Fairytales M-L von Franz
Life after Life R Moody
Secrets of the Talking Jaguar M Prechtel
Tiananmen Diary Salisbury
Thief of Tales SA O’Hungerdell
Finding Beauty in a Broken World T T Williams
In a Dark Time Lifton
And a Voice to Sing With Joan Baez
The Life of Mahatma Gandhi Fischer
A Fire in the Mind Stephen / Robin Larsen
The Moorings of Starting Out J Ashberry

It was before


It was before I thought

Of what I meant to tell you

It was before I watched the geese disappear 

And then stood up to count them

But I stopped trying to count them

Because they were too many

It was before I saw them

Before I heard the first goose calling

Before I caught sight of the crescent moon

And realized that the sun had set

Before I lifted my eyes to the sky

And allowed myself to rest

In my work clothes

But it was before that

That I slipped into myself

Because I had thought enough

It was before the last leaf had fallen

From the tree I was sitting under

And before the siren faded

Into the cityscape

Of the dream you sent me

Before the news died down

And before the wind died down

Before the last edit

It was before I sat

Before I stopped

Before my body said stop

And before I went back to work

In the backyard

It was before our conversation

It was before you left

……………………

Reflection:

This poem is the opposite of the following post, “It was after”. We have a cairn in the back field that we walk around, usually clockwise, ritually, before placing a stone with a prayer on the cairn. Somewhere I read that by walking counterclockwise around the cairn you can journey backwards in time, visiting the past — events and people — in composing a prayer or a blessing. These poems are like that. “It was after” strikes me as a clockwise movement and “It was before” is a counterclockwise movement. If these poems were timepieces, the events described in the poems might be the interlocking gears.

It was after


It was after you left

After our conversation

After I went back to work

In the backyard and after that

After my body said stop

And I stopped and I sat

After I sat

It was after the last edit

After the wind died down

After the news died down

After the sirens faded

Into the cityscape

Of the dream you sent me

After I realized

That the leaves had fallen

From the tree I was sitting under

It was after the last leaf had fallen

After I decided I had  thought enough

After I slipped into myself

And allowed myself to rest inside my work clothes

That  I lifted my eyes to the sky

It was after I realized that the sun had set

It was after I caught sight of the crescent  moon

That I heard the first goose calling

And it was after I heard the first goose

That I heard the rest

And it was after that that I saw them

And it was after I saw them

That I tried to count them and couldn’t

Because they were so many

And it was after I stopped trying to count them

That I watched them disappear

And it was after that that I stood up 

And it was after I stood up

That I thought

Of what I meant to tell you

……………………..

Reflection:

This poem is exploring how much we learn by tracking our life backwards from a given point in time, for example, by viewing a day through the lens of what happened like running a film backwards. In this poem the metaphor is the workday, but there are plenty of clues that the poem is about a life, so the question is, is the poem recalling a day or a life? For example, one of the stations the poet passes through is the realization that all the leaves have fallen from the tree he is sitting under. The orientation of this poem is not causal but acausal. So his coming full circle to the conversation he refers to in the first line is analogous to the seasonal coming full-circle of the migrating geese. There is also a karmic feel to this poem in the sense that this day could be like the day in Groundhog Day (1999, starring Bill Murry), that the Bill Murray character is forced to repeat until he breaks the spell by taking control of his destiny.

………….

We’re in good hands for this summit followed by a reflection

So, We’re in good hands!
All the delegates are here.
One trusts
They will get it right.

The chair will make sure.
Order! Order!
Sleepers will be castrated.
(What’s the cause again?)

The chairman is nonplussed.
(I’m just going to say, I hate that word.)
The chairman is upset.
This should have been easy peasy.

We had a whole year
To come up with an impressive agenda!
Nobody goes to the bathroom until we vote.
(Now that’s leadership!)

Everyone looks tired.
Everyone looks wasted.
Everyone looks like they would rather be home
Walking the dog or painting the car,

Or making donuts or practicing yodeling
Or taking up ballroom dancing or cleaning the garage.
Will somebody ask that man in the back
To stop turning his head 180 degrees?

He looks like he’s not human!
Now everyone is doing it!
Is there a human in the house?
I think it’s time to take a break.

Turn on the air-conditioning
Better yet, everyone hold hands.
Form a giant circle around the hall.
We’ll tone.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a voice
Or can carry a tune.
Let the sound of our voices
Heal us. Heal the planet.

ommmmmmmmmmmmmmm

……………………………

Reflection:

I tried to explain at a recent poetry reading that poetry is my way of letting my trickster out. The trickster dances between the opposites and is out of the binary universe, the universe of convention (and conventions!). He refuses to get sucked into the flow or the script, any script . A Summit for the trickster might be the inverse of a summit. He might see it as a nadir when what is revealed is how f–ked we are, with no hint of a real working agenda for dealing with the climate catastrophe we all face. This is no time for a summit! We should be going to the sacred mountain on our hands and knees for answers. I know that “summit” refers to the status of the high and powerful participants of the summit. But really everyone is powerless, and many-times-over a loser, completely out of sync with reality, complicit in the unraveling of the natural world. Shame, shame, shame. But the trickster is not invested in shaming or being right. He is only calling a spade a spade. It energizes him to dance around the subterfuges and hypocrisy of the ones responsible for accelerating global disaster. He doesn’t complain or castigate, he dances, he ridicules, he laughs at the garish three-ring circus of the world.

This poem is done followed by a reflection

Dolphins have been around for 50 million years.

Koala Bears have been around for over 23 million years.

People (human beings) have been around for 300,000 years.

Because of people, dolphins and koalas and people
May not be around too much longer.

I’m sorry, dolphin.

I’m sorry, koala.

I’m not very sorry for people.

To be sorry for us I would have to be a saint.
All of this could have been avoided.
We could have changed how we do civilization
Any number of times.

We talk a good talk
But we walk a bad walk.

We walk through each other,
We walk lying down,
We walk in place,
We walk on the moon,
We walk to our car,
We walk into the store.
We walk back to the car with bags full of X, Y or Z.
We walk to the war drum,
We walk right through golden opportunities
With our eyes shut, always thinking,
thinking, thinking . . .
We sleepwalk,
We walk ignoring the dead. . .

In our obituary it ought to be noted:
“They were really good at starting over.”

While crossing from an island in Maine to the mainland
I saw a dolphin stitching the waves together with its sleek silver body.

In a video I saw a koala demonstrating how to slow down.
But that makes you a target for any predator, I said
To my imaginary koala.
My koala didn’t look up.
I guess he figured I was smart enough to figure it out for myself
That if slowness was a deathwish
They wouldn’t have survived for 23 million years.

But the fires that are burning up the earth
(Legacy of our brief 300,000 years
Of sharing the planet with dolphins and koalas)
Those fires have decimated 30% of the koala nation
All within the last decade.

I slowed down one day
Enough to overhear my heart chakra
Talking to my root chakra:
I can’t stand it, my heart said. It’s all too sad and upsetting.
My root chakra didn’t look up.
My root chakra was focused
On moving slowly and balancing my steps

I try to move slowly like the koala
Through the hurting land.
I try not to look over my shoulder too often.
But honestly?
I’m talking karmically now, but
I don’t think I want to start over again.
It’s too hard
And what’s the point?
I think 300,000 years should be long enough.
We’re 300,000 years old!
And we still haven’t learned
How to play nicely,
How to share,
How to eat and drink in moderation,
And how to pick up after ourselves.

This poem is done.

…………………………

Reflection:

I’m satisfied with how this poem ends without warning. When I say, “I don’t think I can start over again”, I am speaking for myself and as a human being with 300,000 year old DNA. I’m perplexed: 40 or 50 years should be enough time for one human being to master enough of life to grow up which is defined as “playing nicely, sharing, eating and drinking in moderation and picking up” after oneself, but 300,000 years of being human should be enough to have mastered our big brain and walking upright and being a mature species, like the dolphin or the koala. Don’t you think?? I see this poem as my way of announcing a certain weariness of spirit. The feeling is that I’ve been here any number of times before, done that, been that, tried that. I’m tired of “starting over”, which is what the human race, in the end, is probably best at. But it’s dumb, it’s meaningless, it isn’t going anywhere compared to the success of the dolphin and the koala, who we could have learned from, but instead we are wiping them out with pollution and fire, even as we prepare to “start over”, as we have done again and again and again for our entire evolutionary history. I don’t know where this poem leaves me but I feel like taking a break, not to start over but to retool. Whether I do or not remains to be seen. This poem might just be a way of clearing my head of a few cobwebs.

Closing each sash

Only much later
Did the rain come
After everyone was asleep.
Thrashing the windows
It seemed angry.

It sounded like
It wanted to wake me up.
Still half dreaming
Barefoot like a child
I went from window to window

Closing each sash,
Noting how the sills were wet
Feeling the damp
Reaching into the house.
I was glad

To return
To my warm dry bed
Where I could hear you breathing
As I settled back
Under the covers to dream.

So you built a dam

So you built a dam.

Little you.

A mighty dam.

How did you afford it?

Where did you get all the materials? 

How did you know how to carry out 

Such a mega project?

How did you get all the permissions

And persuade all the locals

That a dam is what was needed

In this pristine place?

How nice for you

That you were able to convince yourself

That the world needed another dam.

How long had you been planning?

When did you wake up and say,

I’m going to build a dam!

Say, I’ve an idea for you.

There used to be such a sweet stand of willows

Where the rapids pooled,

Where we used to shed our clothes on the rocks

And hide behind the waterfall,

Where the red-winged black birds 

Nested in the spring.

Why not call your dam

Willow Dam

After those willows

That watched us grow up.

I know you already have a name

For your dam,

But maybe you can change it

Just for old time’s sake,

Just to remind you 

Of how it was before 

You became omnipotent? 

The jamboree

I finally and suddenly wrote enough.
My words were tired
Of my excuses and subterfuge.
First, they let me out of the maze,
Then they said: We are tired of being used
Against each other.

They said: You clearly don’t understand us.
But you don’t have to move away or die.
They said: Just leave us alone for a while.
Out of the maze I was more lost than ever.
I watched my words get naked.
They opened the stops,

Threw open the wide gates,
There was going to be a jamboree.
Colorful, joyful, fierce, crazy . . .
Words flocked from everywhere!
They trampled the chain-link fence.
Hungry, backwards, dancing, flying words

Riding on elephants and ostriches. Little words
Riding on the shoulders of larger words,
Playing exotic homemade instruments —
Drums, bamboo flutes, marimbas and kazoos.
And they were generous.
A kind little word invited me in, assuring me:

There is a place saved just for you.
I wore a beautiful hat, a flowing scarf and face-paint.
I showed up with high expectations.
My ticket was a favorite old word.
All I had to do was say it and I was in.
(I think the word was “whittle” or belfry”.)

There, on a dais,
In the middle of a tired looking field
Of muddy trampled grass was the OED.
My word-ticket became a bird
Which flew from my mouth.
It dove into the OED.

There was an explosion of words.
A swarming cloud of a million words rose up
To form a cyclone of confetti
Which sprouted dragon wings
And flew away
Cavorting beyond the thousand-mile sea,

Disappearing over the yellow,
Blue, green and silver-misted mountains
Of everything I would never write.
I picked up my pen and smiled.
The eyes of all my words were on me.
The jamboree had begun.

Answer to the 5 Rules of War followed by brief reflection

Military necessity

(You cannot assume my complicity.)

Humanity.

(What morality preserves our sanity?)

Proportionality.

(Grotesque contortion of reality.)

Distinction.

(Cold-blooded extinction.) 

Honor.

(How innocent the goner?)

……………..

My original intention was to write a much more serious, thoughtful but scathing “answer” to the Rules of War, but I burned a lot of my octane for this project in poring over the edits and addendums of these rules. It’s not so much that the basic thinking behind the rules has changed but the language has — certainly not the rightness or wrongness of fighting wars. That is not up for revision. It’s all still deep inside the box of the warrior mentality, which is completely unfathomable to me. Anyway, I had so little energy left after studying this work-in-progress, which now includes fighting in space, that I decided something is better than nothing, just to be on record for how I feel, which borders on nauseated.

Stand by followed by brief reflection

“The strike on the vehicle on 29 August . . . killed 10 members of one family, including six children, relatives told the BBC.”

The drone is a Reaper,
The missile it fires is a Hellfire.
There you have it.
The person who programmed the drone is a nobody,
A minion of the Great Satan
Who corrupts or explodes whatever he touches.
He can’t help it. He’s Satan.
But who are we who stand by?
Does that phrase ring a bell?

Stand by.

You might not be needed yet but — stand by.
When Satan gives the nod or wink you must all push your buttons.
What buttons?
You didn’t know about the two buttons?
They’re right next to your conscience.
Red means: Don’t do it, count me out, this is insane etc.
(But the red button isn’t connected, it’s just a prop.)
Green is: Go ahead with my blessing.

Blow up anything or anyone you want.
I’ll look the other way.

Call it whatever you want: vengeance, two eyes for an eye,
Call it American-style Justice,
Doin’ the dirty work,
(Other missiles are called Mr Clean and Spic and Span
An everyday antibacterial missile that kills bacteria and viruses
On contact and is effective as a disinfectant when used as directed.)

Call it any kind of righteous google-gook.
Call it doin’ Hell’s work but someone has to do it.
Call it permission to commit surgical error
Any time any place anywhere,
Just not here.
Call it the price of living the good life.
Call it the new amorality.
As long as the Reaper’s mission is farrrrr away.
We’re good with it.
Tomorrow will be two minutes, 56 seconds shorter than today.
That’s all that matters really.
I can live with that.
That’s about how long it takes to brush my teeth
Or pick what Netflix I want to watch
To keep reality at bay.


Stand by.

………………………

Why am I posting this the day after 9/11? That wasn’t wholly intentional, but, as I thought about it, I realized the timing is relevant. Remembering 9 / 11 awakens all kinds of emotions in us, all of us, especially those of us who recall the shock of watching the towers fall to dust in real time. And right afterwords, that ominous lull for two or three days, when the sky was that bright flawless blue, like a blank slate, and I for one wondered (albeit not in these exact words), What will be written on this great blank slate? Personally I saw it as a time to revision what our world, our country, is about and who do we, Americans, want to be going forward? Are we going to get angry after the grieving . . . our eyes, just red from restless, sleepless nights and tears, flaming with the red blood of vengeance? I saw that same knee-jerk, vengeful rage flare up in Biden’s speech after the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport killed 60 Afghans and 13 US troops. And I thought, wearily, Here we go again! When will it ever end? The only winner in this mutually destructive eye-for-an-eye-world is that nameless spirit (of many names) that seems so ready to kill, lash out and hunt down “the enemy” at any cost . . . In this poem I name this Spirit “Satan”, but it could just as easily be Bin Laden or Nixon (who was about to drop a nuclear bomb on Hanoi) or anyone who thinks it’s OK to wipe out human life with the pushing of a button.