What Attenborough said — A sonnet

His right eye, pinched shut, he was the hoary sage

An old actor delivering his last speech from the heart.

He was ripe and ready to leave the mortal stage

But, before the final curtain, had resolved to upset the applecart.

All the things we have lived for, just forget it,

All the things we are conditioned to want and need

Either change how we live or we’ll regret it!

Here was someone I could trust, last of a dying breed.

There was no ego in his manner or his speech,

He was exactly who he appeared to be

Even though his ultimatum seemed out of reach

Something in his delivery inspired me.

He gave me hope and here is why:

He believed in us, I saw it in his good eye. 

……………

From the crosshairs — a sonnet


Another shooting in this ravaged land 

Shakes me from my morning stupor like a ground-wave

Thundering under my feet where I stand

Disturbing my ancestors in their shallow grave.

Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t scream

Like some wild thing that has lost its habitat

Or somebody waking in a cold sweat from a dream

Of which I remember nothing but that

There was a shadow loose on Turtle Island,

A nameless fear that robs me of all hope

And this will never be your land or my land

But all of us will be in the crosshairs of someone’s scope

Until we name this shadow that is all-American

And dare each other, against the odds, to begin again. 

Birds sing louder in Virginia followed by brief correspondence

Birds are singing loud in Virginia.
Some are in Spanish.

Así así – Así así – Así así – Así así

(They repeat because they have something important to say
And they might get drowned out by their neighbor in the cedar).
If they don’t repeat like a sweet little broken record
no one will know what they hold in their hearts.
(Their time for singing is brief you know.)
My gift right now is knowing nothing about birds
So everything about them seems like a miracle.
Just for example, that some speak Spanish.
Many come from far away like me
I am from Vermont where the birds mute themselves.
I sing too.
My songs come from deep inside
And they are simple.

No entiendo – No entiendo – No entiendo – No entiendo

That is my default song.
It changes from season to season
And decade to decade.
I used to sing very loudly.
When I was 30 and 40 I sang:

Salve el planeta! – Salve el planeta! – Salve el planeta! – Salve el planeta!

Now I sing:

Querido Dios (dear god) – Querido Dios – Querido Dios – Querido Dios – Dame un sueño! (give me a dream!)

That is my sweet broken record these days:

Querido Dios – Dame un sueño!

………

Thoughts / a correspondence:

Ron Ridenour: So SAD and so SORRY — because of what just happened in Ecuador where the good guy (Andrés Arauz, a 36-year-old leftist) who could have helped “salve el planeta” (save the planet) a la Gary, lost to one of the U.S. candidates, lover of greedy capitalism and destroyer of the planet (Guillermo Lasso). The birds who sing in Spanish (not only in Ecuador but also in Virginia)  and the poet who sings in Spanish “no entiendo” — Exactly. Me too.”I don’t understand” either. How f–king stupid so many human beings are today (yesterday too, but it seems more so today, especially since the 1930s, 1960-70s). This f–king long-live-consumerism-and-identity politics is ruining everything else.

Me to Ron: Been away visiting fam in our new camper, hence my poem about birds in Virginia. When I wrote it the birds were exactly as you said, emissaries from far to the south with important news in Spanish awakening my own bird-nature. Sometimes this country (with so much unrealized potential) just makes me so sad (!!), my poems have to work hard to track hope, especially when it isn’t anywhere close to be found. I was in Virginia, which is as beautiful as VT in places, but the further south I go the darker the American shadow (which I am not going to unpack here or name) . . . The relief I feel in corresponding with kindred folk comes from not having to explain everything, because we share a common back-story of resistance and standing up for certain values and principles. When I write poems I trust my intuitions and you know what Jung said about birds in dreams?  He said they symbolize our intuitions.     

………………….

Reflection: When I wrote this poem, as Ron surmised, I was not thinking of the tragic outcome of the election in Ecuador. And maybe that’s part of the problem with Americanism, that we (whoever “we” is) are profoundly out of touch with the rest of the world, which is why our government can get away with so much shit, through direct intervention and by proxy internationally. This poem is hopeful in that the birds awaken me to my far-flying intuitions, but they are singing in Spanish. In a way that makes total sense to me, even though it is very sad, that I can’t converse with my own intuitions because I am such a victim of my ethnocentricity, I need a translator to understand my own intuitive bird-nature.

 

Vermonter in Virginia followed by Just a thought

Cows on the hill
Birds singing
Sun rising

Birds on the hill
Cows rising
Sun singing

Sun on the rise
Hill rising
Cows singing

Sun singing
Hill sunning
Cows rising

Birds singing rising
Cows sunning singing
Sun rising singing

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Just a thought:

Virginia might be for lovers but Vermont is for people who love Vermont, i.e., long winters, short summers, arguably one of the best places for writing, albeit I’m not sure the sun or the cows sing there. When I go back there I will have to listen closer (with my hearing aids on). This poem starts with 3 conventional descriptive lines and segues to a more psychedelic landscape more like the The Land of Submarine with everything singing and rising and shining.

Star-tangled Banner: (Badly needed upgrade of the Star-spangled Banner)

O say can’t you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous night

On our newsfeeds we watched, while our children were dreaming.

And our angry red glare, our hopes bursting in air

Gave proof through the night of what our fears had laid bare!

O say, will that star-tangled banner e’re wave

O’er the land of the free or the home of their grave?

What is the difference between DDT and Glyphosate? followed by a brief reflection

What is the difference between DDT
And Glyphosate?
There is no difference.

Not to me anyway.
And I’m not thinking about how
They both cause cancer

And slowly kill us.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Neither is it that both

Are the darlings of industrial agriculture.
Love is blind. But don’t judge.
How do you be objective about something

That’s In your muscles and bones
Your blood and brain?
You don’t have to listen to this,

Coming from someone with chronic Lyme.
After all, whatever I say might just
Be the Lyme talking!

Or it might be the caffeine of my coffee,
Or it might be a bitter karmic spirit
Tickling some obscure lobe of my brain.

I confess, I ate a clementine yesterday
And glyphosate started whispering,
“There, there, admit it, you love me.

You need me, I am your darling
Stop worrying so much.
When you die it won’t be from me.”

I should have known by now,
Being an American: When you
Debate with a poison, you lose.

……….

reflection:

This poem comes out of a place of . . . rancor? Sometimes I have to write a poem just to draw a line, a magical poetic line, between me and what is fomenting my antipathy, to differentiate between the space I occupy and the repulsiveness of whatever is pissing me off, and these days there is a lot out there that is pissing me off and repelling me. I am not into writing poems just to create solidarity around an issue that is pissing me off or distressing me . That would be very selfish. There are lots of poems that are like that, but I don’t save them and I certainly don’t post them. What keeps this poem from being a sour-grapes dead-beat poem is the last stanza: 

I should have known by now,
Being an American: When you
Debate with a poison, you lose.

When I wrote those lines, the feeling was, Oh, so that’s what this poem is about. It’s about how you can’t win when you are treating a poison with the respect that you would grant a worthy opponent in a debate or some kind of contest. Trying to explain why you despise something that is obviously toxic and deadly is to enter into a universe where any number of terrible things are tolerated because to admit intolerance of the toxic or deadly thing means that you are taking a moral stand and then everything has to change. I think we all know what I am trying to say here. If we stopped being tolerant of things like glyphosate, we would be drawing line after line in the sand, calling out the toxic, announcing that we are no longer willing to debate or shadow-box with the intolerable, which is what we have all been doing for decades, but we’re ending the relationship once and for all. So, yes, as an American, this is something I have learned, and it certainly doesn’t make my life any easier: When you debate with a poison you lose. 

What’s in your poison?

We must be more than prophets, Part2: Ed McCurdy’s vision — A prose poem


Last night I had the strangest dream.

It wasn’t the strangest dream I ever dreamed before

But it was strange for me:

I was in a large room with three friends

On the second floor of an old building 

Facing main street.

I and my friends were using it as an ad hoc gym.

The four of us comprised a cadre. 

We were all masters of a martial art

And this was where we met regularly 

To practice together.

We were activists, championing certain causes,

Not by fighting but by showing up

At different demonstrations 

To contribute moral support

And to demonstrate self-mastery.

We were waiting for another group of four to show up

Who were also a team of martial artists

Who were interested in joining us

To expand our group to 8.

They show up and each one demonstrates 

A different mastery.

One of them is able to walk up a wall.

In the second part of the dream

Our group is showing up at a packed arena

To meet up with the new group 

To join them in the bleachers.

They are saving seats for us.

There they are! We wave.

They wave back as we approach. 

This dream is strange for me because

I have never set foot in an arena.

But when I recorded this dream this morning

I recalled the folk song, “ Last night I had the strangest dream”.

In that song there is a “mighty room all filled with men”.

A mighty room!

As a shamanic practitioner, it means something to me,

That the room itself is mighty.

“Mighty” denotes strength, extraordinary ability, power.

All attributes that we don’t normally associate with a room.

But in the shamanic universe there many such places of power

That the shaman or healer or medicine person 

Might seek out to facilitate deep work or healing ritual.

Here are the words of the song by Ed McCurdy:

“Last night I had the strangest dream

I ever dreamed before.

I dreamed the world had all agreed

To put an end to war.

I dreamed I saw a mighty room,

The room was filled with men

And the paper they were signing said

They’d never fight again.

And when the papers all were signed

And a million copies made

They all joined hands and bowed their heads

And grateful prayers were prayed.

And the people in the streets below

Were dancing round and round

And guns and swords and uniforms

Were scattered on the ground . . .”

Whenever I used to sing that song

I always felt two emotions: sadness and power.

I’m going to say grief and power. 

Isn’t that in itself a little strange?

Sadness was what I felt while I was singing it,

But grief was the underlying emotion

That I could not allow to well up

Or I would not have been able to finish the song.

But grief, if one allows oneself to feel it,

Clears the air, clears the space,

For what? 

I feel that that is what this song does. 

It carves out a space for large emotions.

Cleansing and empowering emotions. 

But, I’m not the only one who feels sad 

when singing this song.

“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”

 Was also an emotional song for (Kingston Trio’s) John Stewart 

and Nick Reynolds. Apparently they also could barely sing it 

without crying. . .(wikipedia)

Maybe it’s a prayer.

I think it is a dream of a moment 

Of great cleansing and healing,

A vision of something that could happen

When the space and time is right or ripe. 

Maybe it’s a song of power. 

In November 1989, 

As Tom Brokaw stood on top of the Berlin Wall, 

He directed his NBC-TV cameras towards the school children 

On the East German side of the Berlin Wall, 

To show the children singing 

“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” 

En masse as the wall was being dismantled. (wikipedia)

This song has been recorded in seventy-six languages 

Including covers by The Weavers in 1960, 

The Chad Mitchell Trio in 1962, 

Simon and Garfunkel in 1964, 

Cornelis Vreeswijk in 1964 (in Swedish).

Hannes Wader in 1979 (in German), 

Johnny Cash in 2003, Garth Brooks in 2005, 

Serena Ryder in 2006, and Charles Lloyd in 2016. 

James McCurdy wrote it in the Spring of 1950.

1950 was the year the Korean War started.

5,000,000 died in that war (40,000 Americans) ,

More than half of these civilians. 

1950 was just 5 years after WW2 ended, 

5 years after the Bomb was dropped 

On Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

McCurdy wrote it during the McCarthy Era

When the Red Scare and the Cold War 

Were gaining steam.

Ed McCurdy died March 23, 2000. 

That is 21 years ago today.

In a sermon preached 

At Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA,

Rev. Josh Hosler identifies Ed McCurdy’s anti-war ballad 

As a lullaby!

“Great lullabies (he tells us) keep entire peoples focused.. 

My mother also used to sing—’Follow the drinking gourd’—

For though we were generations removed 

From the Underground Railroad 

And our white bodies never would have had need of it, 

Still, parents must call their children 

Outside themselves into a world deeper 

Than their cozy little suburban house. 

(He is clearly speaking as a White Man here,

But his message is pretty universal.)

The ground needs tilling if justice is to be planted in human soil.

The prophets knew this (he continues). 

They passed down their oracles from parent to child, 

from teacher to student. 

They were mindful of the ‘days to come’, . . . 

(What days are coming?) 

When are they coming? Shhh, my child. 

Learn the song. Isaiah sings poetry into our souls—

Songs of ascent to the highest of hills, 

With people from all the world streaming up to it.” 

There is a power-spot — the mountain top.

Another powerspot is “down by the riverside”

Where we will lay our burden down.

Was McCurdy a prophet? 

Lullabies lull.

I think it has lullaby in it.

If “Last night”. . .is a lullaby

That might account for the grief it evokes,

The sadness of not having my mother

To sing me to sleep. 

These days have been long!

These wars have been long! 

Iraq, 18 years and counting.

Vietnam, 19 years. 

So, when McCurdy, the prophet (let’s call him a prophet

On his anniversary), said that he dreamed of a mighty room

Filled with men signing a paper

That said they would never fight again. . .

That’s something that hasn’t happened.

But I believe that it is going to happen

In the days to come. Can you believe that?

That’s McCurdy’s vision, his gift to us

Is this bridge over troubled water. 

“All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine”. (Simon and Garfunkel)

Soon people in the streets will be dancing

Round and round, while guns and swords and uniforms

Lie scattered on the ground.

But McCurdy wrote that song in 1950.

He died in 2000. Now it is 2021.

Over one hundred thousand Americans 

Have died in wars 

Since he wrote his song. 

He wrote it for the coming days!

What days? When are they coming?

Shhh  my child. Learn the song. 

Dr. Tom Moorcraft (of Origins of health. com)  says, 

That he lives the way his father taught him,

As if there is no plan B.

What we are working for is going to happen,

But we are the ones who are going to make it happen.

No plan B.

How are we going to do that?

Or another way of putting this is,

In the days to come, when there is no war

And people have stopped fighting

People will ask, How did we get here?

How did this golden day dawn?

And the answer will be,

It started with a song.

………………

Dreadful knocking — a sonnet, followed by thoughts about writing sonnets and by what is meant by “dharma”

Some like to test the acuity of their brain
To see if they are losing any powers of cognition,
But I have watched more than just cognition wane
From coast to coast across this fogged-in nation.
It used to be smog that made it hard to breathe
But now it’s something else that steals my breath.
May I interest you in a cool drink from the Lethe?
And what’s that dreadful knocking? I feel like MacBeth!
Knock, knock. Who’s there? My soul?
Or maybe it’s my conscience or my heart.
I was guilty of forgetting, but now I’m on parole,
So Knock, knock. Who’s there? A fresh start?
I’ve served time in this prison of shitty kharma.
It might be time to embrace a different dharma.

…………

Thoughts about writing sonnets:

Writing sonnets, for me, opens a special part of my brain that is just for writing sonnets. I’m glad that I’ve discovered that about myself. I wouldn’t have tried my hand at it if not for John Hawkins, who, in addition to having a cool name, is a very gifted and prolific writer and poet whose postings can be found on https://www.opednews.com.

He just announced today that he is challenging himself to write a sonnet a day for a year. I highly recommend reading him. You will probably, like me, be inspired by his many gifts, not least of which is his seemingly boundless wit.

A reflection on what is meant by “dharma”:

When we are living our lives in reaction to things that have happened to us or things in our personalities that were genetically down-loaded (i.e., “he has his grandfather’s temper. . .”I come from a broken home”. . .”I was a foster child”.). . .that is our karma, and this, for most people, defines the first half of life, if you want to divide life into two “halves”. (We can transform our karma with hard work during our lives, but if we just accept our karma (or “lot” in life) we are living under its yoke and “fate” becomes the most powerful force in our lives. (Things just “happen” to us.)

But at some point something shifts. Maybe for some folks it is when they have kids or they quit a stifling job or they move to Vermont from a city! When we begin to live by future causes then there is a sea change and we begin see a path into the future unfold and karma is no longer the dominant factor in our lives. We begin to explore our “dharma”. Now read this couplet:

I’ve served time in this prison of shitty kharma.

It might be time to embrace a different dharma.

I pulled some books from my library to get a good definition of dharma to help us understand what this couplet is saying:

Dharma might be thought of as: The ultimate value or meaning of one’s life that can “dawn on one” via a vision or in the course of following a path or practice, that can change the course of one’s life. But it is not “the” or “a” path (such as the path of Buddhism) unless it is experienced as your unique path of the flowering of your own Buddha nature. (Riding the Ox Home  Willard Johnson)

Another way of thinking of dharma: A dawning of the fullness of one’s dharma can awaken one from one’s habitually cherished way of thinking (rut) . . .The dharma may be “devoid of substance” and yet powerful enough to awaken a vision of another world or another world of possibilities. But the dharma is nothing if not personal that might be experienced as “growing out of oneself” (or one’s old self), as opposed to having some new awareness being “poured into” one.  (Essays in Zen Buddhism  D.T Suzuki)

The dharma arises not from the assimilation of a wisdom or teaching leading to a practice but it arises from continuous and never-ceasing inner growth that manifests as one’s way or path(Essays in Buddhism    D.T. Suzuki)

………….

At a certain point in life, because of a synchronicity or a culmination of chance events, we arrive at an intersection where we can choose to step onto a path that is our unique path. For a Jungian it means “individuating”. For a Native American it means “taking one’s power“. For a Buddhist it means fulfilling one’s dharma.

In this poem I am peeling myself away from associating with the bad karma of the United States so that I might walk my own Dharma-path. 

Again: “The dharma arises not from the assimilation of a wisdom or teaching leading to a practice but it arises from continuous and never-ceasing inner growth that manifests as one’s way or path.”

From now on, we — followed by reflection on its writing

Read aloud and slowly to the accompaniment of Klaus Schulze’s “My Ty She”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0nZbt1Txsk&t=2552s 

Low volume.  Start at 10.00

Stay here as my guest
You’ll be in good hands
Trance is not difficult

Can teach us nothing
Though his eyes were open
In the middle of the night

Watched in dumb shock
Some things don’t translate
Under existing conditions

His toes were webbed
As we have discussed
To get the children smiling

Filled with animal noises
I sang in the high mass
To meet the bear

We had to go naked
To the great mountains
Passed a burning house

Eaten up with fury
Robin’s eggs and diamonds
Something fresh and new

All the props and sets
Living with his choices
Either of his horses

Some sort of compensation
That’s most of us these days
Mad-rattling his shields

Fought hard for the sun
You may get thrown
In another darker story

Came at me like a tornado
From now on
It wouldn’t have mattered

For so many centuries
Yielding up a vivid miniature
Behind all such moments

We finally gave up
Another space and time
Use to tirelessly repeat

Came to my house
With only inner traces
Taken as a whole

When it was over
Sufficient time had elapsed
There is only the spiral

High pitch of feeling
Whispered to him, saying
Why do you draw back?

Pulled back the blankets
Why do you draw back?
Whispered to him, saying

In their complex hearts
At their council
Blooming in secret

Saddened by the closure
His face was hot
More than a game

Straight spout of black
There was a poem called
Tear down your house

And all the rest
Tear down your house
The sorrow that he knew

The metal-walled community
I returned to them
Bore him along the horizon

Not vanishing then
He listened to her words
He tried to speak

Standing on a bridge
They assumed he was gone
Deeply held things

He had half-promised
Needing some kind of mirror
I write these pages

Took a deep breath
Have dared to dream
It poured hard all night

Tucked it under his arm
Once you have touched it
I’m going to mail it

Then fall into and sleep
In contemplating oldness
I feel such tiredness

Close-fitting grey hat
Around those dead cells
Watching them leave

For the time being
The trinket was passed around
They only seemed to retreat

Not a little nettled
One can imagine that
Sufficient time had elapsed

I am no longer young
We picked up the pace
Your own story grows

The lonely darkness
He went through the motions
Responsible as the stars

From every possible angle
Harmonize the art
Surprised you remember how

…………

Books sourced:

The Real Wrexham G. Daves
The Magnificent Obsession L.C. Douglas
Gilgamesh — A Verse Narrative Mason
How the Irish Saved Civilization T. Cahill
Endless Path R. Martin
And a Voice to Sing With J. Baez
The Drummer’s Path S. G. Wilson
The Golem I. B. Singer
Albert Einstein In His Own Words Einstein

………………

Reflection:

So what is this poem about?  I think it is about the responsibility (?) the burden (?) the other responsibilities of the shamanic poet, or poet-as-shaman. 

The last stanza says it all: (In) The lonely darkness / He went through the motions / Responsible as the stars / From every possible angle / (to) Harmonize the art / Surprised you remember how

The poet evolves through many selves, many “I”s, not just in a lifetime but sometimes in the course of a single day. The worldly one who brings in the wood or washes the dishes or makes dinner, isn’t of much use when it comes to writing a poem like “From now on, we”.   In the last line he is talking to himself. He is always surprised that he remembers how to “harmonize the art”. The “art” is, of course,  the writing of this kind of open-ended, soul-liberating  poem that enters upon unexplored territory outside of my familiar beat. The “lonely darkness” is the self-imposed blindness of starting out in the pitch dark of uncharted space, inching my way along, feeling for objects, peering into the darkness for any kind of illumination.  

I have written about this technique of repurposing fragments of sentences extracted from books pulled from my library. The justification for the invention of this “oracular” technique derives from the assumption that what we already know isn’t working, that conventional metaphors aren’t getting us to where we need to go fast enough, the assumption that time is short . . . That, if poets can manage it, they should use their art to journey shamanically, to press into the darkness, to “burn down the house” where you have been hanging your poetic hat. “Tear down” your poetic address and get naked to “meet the bear” in the great mountains. The challenge is, if one has it in them to be a shamanic poet, don’t wait. This would be the time.  

The first day of Spring, followed by a brief reflection

The first day of Spring
Is not March 21.
It is whenever the muddy road
Yanks my car back and forth
As it struggles to get me home.
It is when the snow has melted
But only on the south-facing hillsides.
It is when I go for a walk
And have to zip up my coat in the shade,
Unzip it in the sun,
And carry it up the hill.
It is when the voice of the brook
Turns lilting
And wood smoke
Hangs over the neighborhood.
It is when I hear the trill
Of the Red Winged Blackbird
And when I catch myself whistling
Some carefree nameless tune.
It is when,
Somewhere around this time,
Most likely on a walk,
I allow myself to believe
It’s here.

…………..

Some thoughts:

This poem was “written” on a walk. I should say conceived. It is a list poem. All of the signs of real Spring were things I was experiencing on the walk except for the wood smoke hanging over the neighborhood, but that was so vivid in my mind’s eye that I couldn’t leave it out.Two of my favorite list poems are Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Edmund Spencer’s Faerie Queen, which was required reading in my Renaissance Lit class in grad school. In both of these works listing is the poet’s way to channel ecstasy, the ecstasy of their overwrought, overflowing imaginations. In my poem it is simply a device to help myself remember the images in the proper order so I could jot everything down when I got back to my car at the end of my walk. I was reciting it aloud of course as I walked. Lists are a natural aid to oral recitation. 

Spenser invites all the great rivers of the world to the Bridal Feast — last but not least, the rivers of Ireland. (I think it was these stanzas that inspired T.S. Eliot to personify the Thames in his Dry Salvages, Four Quartets): “I think that the river / Is a strong brown god”. (Four Quartets — Dry Salvages)

Here is Spenser:

There was the Liffy Lolling downe the lea;

The sandy Slane; the stony Aubrian;

The spacious Shenan spreading like the sea;

The pleasant Boyne; the fishy fruitful Ban;

Swift Awniduff which of the English man

Is cal’de Blacke-water, and the Liffar deep;

Sad Trowis that once his people over-ran;

Strong Allo tumbling from Slewlogher steep;

And Mulla mine whose waves I whilom taught to weep.