Monthly Archives: July 2016

My poem: “The world is at war because it has lost peace” (Pope Francis) — Why I wrote it

But it’s not just the world that has lost peace.
I lost my peace.
I used to have it.
I used to cook meals with it,
I used to season my food with it.
It was with me when I mowed the lawn.

My peace,
my vision.
I even had it after Orlando . . .

I was watering the garden
and I looked up
at the clouds passing over the field,
and that was when I realized that peace was missing.

Have you seen it?
It was right here only yesterday?

You ask, “What did it look like?”

Well, like a sunrise,
like a bird singing in a tree,
like a wetland beside the interstate.
It looked like a gun with a flower sticking out of it.
It looked like a catchy bumper sticker,
like a sunset,
like a red and pink Hawaiian guitar
with islands stenciled on it
and a hula dancer.

It made me happy at the end of a day
no matter what the day was like.
It looked like a book of Sappho’s poetry
by a reading lamp
switched on.

It looked like a fish jumping clear of a stream.

It looked like a ray of hope.
Like a sleeping cat.
It looked like my grandfather’s sad face
when he was teaching me how to throw and catch a baseball.

I was watering the garden at dusk
and I looked up
at the clouds passing over the field
and one of them looked like a pink guitar.
I saw how beautiful everything was
and that was when I realized that peace was missing.
It was when I was paying attention to all the reasons to panic,
when nature was showing me every reason to hope;
I panicked.

I lost it.

If anyone finds it
let me know.
I’ll be home
or you can leave a message.

This was an attempt to bring home the dire implication of what Francis was saying. What is the “world” but a lot of individuals like the me in this poem? And, if we have lost peace in our private lives, what does that look like, how does it feel on a daily basis? We might still go through the motions of our day, such as watering the garden, which is typically a peaceful and calming activity and, if we’re not present we may not even register what we’re doing.

James Agee (in A Death in the Family?) wrote a description of men watering their lawns in the suburbs in the fifties, in front of every other lot up and down the street, that caricatured that sacred ritual as living proof that everything is copacetic in the universe. But when peace is missing it’s like the fifties where everything appeared to be in order, but up close the men were grinding their teeth or their eyes were bloodshot from insomnia or they were wobbling from just having downed several martinis to calm their chronic anxiety and the peaceful picture was just a front. There are ominous similarities between these days and the fifties to be sure, so Francis’ warning is worth taking in and personalizing. Continue reading

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blogging, finding my way

I want to write about blogging, the challenge of finding my legs.  I feel like an infant writing about walking. “This is cool”, it might say. “I fell down on my butt, but that’s understandable. It didn’t hurt, because the floor is right there. This is really cool!”

One thing about blogging is I can cover my tracks. I can make a fool of myself, hit “publish”, recoil at something I said, and make it go away within minutes. But what am I doing? What is the point? The point is to find my blogger- voice, which is going to be different from my poetic voice, my email voice, my phone voice, my conversational voice, etc. Blogging is about freedom of speech but that’s not all. There has to be rules, but here the only rules I have to follow are the rules I impose on myself. I can make up my own ground rules and if I don’t like them or, if I outgrow them, I can throw them out. I am my own boss in a blog. I can be irreverent. I can rant! Or I can dispense entirely with the boss-worker paradigm and sit in council with my various voices, and just pass the stick. If I’m pissed about something, then that pissed-voice is holding the talking stick.

I used to rant. That is what I used journaling for, mostly, for decades. Continue reading

“Hitching a ride with Cassandra” and why I wrote this poem

Hitching a ride with Cassandra (formerly titled, “My dream of the tear-shaped car”)

I’m feeling down.
I’m heading back where I started.
I’m hitching back.
The land is wide open,
Cold and blustery.
I decide to stand right where I am
Instead of walking.
I’m too tired to walk another step.
All I can do is stick out my thumb
And hope that someone will pity me.
A car shaped like a tear stops.
(Oblong and tapering to the back.)
I squeeze under a flap in the rear
That the driver secures after I am seated.
Once the “tear” is sealed
We begin moving.
There is a woman in the back with me.
I can barely see her,
Or anything else for that matter.
My eyes are tearing up.
I’m not crying,
But tears are streaming from my eyes!
How far are you going? the woman asks.
I don’t know, I say, trying to dry my eyes.
(I knew before where I was going
Before I got in,
But now I don’t seem to know anything.
It is as if my mind has been wiped clean.)
What do you see? asks the woman.
I try to see her, but all I see is a blur.
I frantically blot my eyes with my sleeve
Trying to bring her into focus.
Just tell me what do you see, she repeats.
(I begin to see the rudiments of a face
And the color of her hair —  red.)
I see that you have red hair, I say.
And your eyes are blue.
No, I mean, (she says) what do you “See”?
I say, Sometimes I see what is coming.
Is that what you mean?
Right, (she says) and no one believes us.

Us?

My name is Cassandra, she says.
And, yes, no one believes us.
It’s very sad.
Where are you going? I hear myself asking.
To a place where I can just live, she says.
I settle back for a long ride.

A friend of mine, whose insights I respect, upon reading this poem, offered this critique: “It has a made up quality to it that puts me off. The drive in the car and the other details have a generic feeling to them which tells me that I’m in your mind and not in your “felt” experience,i.e. your world . . . I’m sure you could discuss the ideas behind it. But in the end I don’t think poetry is so much about ideas as feelings . . . The metaphor of the “tear shaped” car is kind of heavy handed I thought. Then again, it could have come from a dream. Did it? If it did I’d be curious about the other images in that dream.”

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What should we do about the moon?

 

What Should We Do About That Moon?    

A wine bottle fell from a wagon

And broke open in a field.

That night a hundred beetles and all their cousins

Gathered

And did some serious binge drinking.

They even found some seed husks nearby

And began to play them like drums and whirl.

This made God very happy.

Then the ‘night candle’ rose into the sky

And one drunk creature, laying down his instrument

Said to his friend – for no apparent

Reason,

“What should we do about that moon?”

Seems to Hafiz

Most everyone has laid aside the music

Tackling such profoundly useless

Questions.

— Hafiz (Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāz, 145h century Persian mystic and ecstatic poet)

This is a poem by Hafiz that a friend sent me this morning. I thought it was funny and I loved the question posed by the title. It’s a very drunken question because of course there is nothing we can do about the moon unless we are soused to the gills and are in the company of someone who shares our vibe that all is possible, even one’s influence with the moon.

What’s wrong with the moon just the way it is? Well, it’s always floating off somewhere, and changing. Hafiz compares the moon to a candle. These beetles have found some wine and are having a rare good time. They are probably playing quite well on their instruments and being reminded of the passage of time with an end to their party is a huge downer.  Their powers are at peak. They are poets extraordinaire, musicians of unparalleled taste and skill. And that darn moon reminds them of the fleetingness of their genius. So I disagree with Hafiz, even though he wrote the poem and should have the last word, I don’t think it is a useless question at all.

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I’ve got a problem

It’s getting harder and harder for me to kill anything.

I’m going to be embarrassingly honest: Yesterday I was dumping the cat litter out back in a place where everything gets dumped if it’s organic, and I saw this little bug on the litter racing around sensing immanent danger. I had to rescue him before I could toss the litter. He was very agile at avoiding the leaf life-line I was offering so his rescue took a few minutes. It’s just that he was so alive! Why “he”? Maybe because I identified with him. That could be me, I tell you, running around trying to survive while something that knows what’s really going on is offering a simple way out.

But it’s not just insects. It’s plants. Weeds.

Weed-wacking is something I have to gear up for. I feel bad for all those green beings I am wacking off at the knees. Sometimes I wack around a wild flower, sparing it, but the nylon blade is fierce and lethal. I can’t even see my own weapon, but everything within the invisible radius falls before me. There are two mes. One loves all forms of life and calls himself a pacifist, and the other pulls up hundreds of weeds in the vegetable garden like a human machine. I’m good at weeding. Very good. I’m efficient. I’m lethal.

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Fighting Zombies

I watched a zombie thriller last night on Netflix. It received only mediocre reviews but that is fine with me. I hold zombie flicks to a lower standard. They are all basically working the same plotline. Something goes terribly wrong with an experiment or a virus begins to wipe out the human race except instead of killing its victims it turns them into subhuman, half-dead creatures who walk the post-apocalyptic urban landscape attacking and killing for no reason. It’s the randomness of the zombie’s agenda that titillates the scare-reflex. Something about zombie movies bypasses my usual filters for weeding out senseless violence. And as for the innocent lives that are lost? Those people are just being spared having to live in a world that is no longer worth saving.

Whenever my wife leaves  for a few days, such as now, (which is not that often but right now she is at a workshop), I make sure I take in a few sci-fi flicks. It’s one thing I enjoy that she and I don’t share. I’m not hooked on them but I have a soft spot for certain film genres (mostly low budget, class-B beauties) that satisfy a facsination that dates back to my childhood.

Sometimes my parents would let my brother and me “camp out” in the basement to watch the “late” show and, if we could manage to keep our eyes open, the “late late” show. Come to think of it, they didn’t know we were watching late-night TV. My parent’s, who, like many parents in the 1950s and early 60s, were simply oblivious to what we were up to half the time. They trusted that we would limit ourselves, per our agreement, to watching Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits when actually we were more interested in the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” or the “50 Foot Woman”, who, to our delight, when she grew, outgrew most of her clothes. (She was scantily clad, but inexplicably clothed none-the-less in 50 foot rags.)

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Rainbow Gathering

The Rainbow Gathering was just 15 miles from here in a beautiful part of the Green Mountain Forest.   I was excited. They have never been so close to us. They have been gathering since the early 70s in National Parks around the country where they have certain rights within the law, to come together and camp for up to 2 weeks as long as they don’t leave a mess behind or change the landscape. These gatherings are huge . . . sometimes between 4,5 thousand. Many stay the whole time. (You don’t notice the numbers except at a couple of the plenary circles. Their tents are scattered throughout the forest along the main access path, like a thousand mushrooms.)

The gatherings are dedicated to world peace. These are really good, well-intentioned folks from all walks of life and they set up a woodland village (actually several) with kitchens and ritual space and ovens made from area rocks and mud. They represent a cross-cut of humanity. Some might be teachers, while some are homeless or itinerant, but everyone is friendly and loving. (There is no money, just giving and barter.) The food is cooked there and free. The kitchens are equipped with clean water and donated supplies and ovens that look like something out of The Hobbit, wood fed.

I didn’t camp out but attended for two days in a row, biking a few miles in. (The cars along the entrance road stretched for over 2 miles!) I really enjoyed just hanging out and walking around, as an elder . . . having conversations and joining in circles and playing music. It stirred something in me to be part of this event for a little while. (I suppose it fulfilled a fantasy on some level of wishing the 60s could return.)

The energy was all about connection and living close together for a while as a great family. People who are there for the whole thing are, of course, undergoing a profound shift of consciousness, and probably many of them (the veterans of the Gathering, old and young,  and especially the old timers) are able to shift the moment they enter the forest. (It must be very hard to leave for them.)

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