Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Poetries #8

I think by now, a careful reader with an appetite for punishment will have figured out all my tricks and inclinations when it comes to poetry.  I like to think I'm fairly diverse with the forms and techniques I use, but I also know I'm not a genius at this.  Talented maybe, but clumsy, impatient, and definitely undisciplined.  Discipline is a requirement for great poetry, and you'll find little of it here.

It doesn't really matter though, because I had quite a lot of fun writing these poems.  Yes, even the mopey ones.  These poems are all from the month of July 2016, a month in which I had little to do and plenty of time to ignore it.  I think I had a few good ideas that came out in decent shape, so here they are for your reading pleasure.

As far as content warnings go, The Security System Fails makes reference to school shootings; Came to Grips and Coughing both have to deal with illness (nothing serious, I just had a bad summer cold); Honey Pot and We've Been Here Before have some kind of weird food/sex vibe going on.  Honestly I don't know why that keeps happening.

As usual, commentary at the end for the patient and forgiving.
____________________ 

Flashes of Light in a Terrible Drought

Embers sparking in the streets
of south Eugene at two in the morning,
close to where the bowling alley
went ablaze a year ago.

White and yellow, Chinese Lanterns
cut the deep blue night to ribbons,
down the street from the empty lawn
where Civic Stadium used to stand.

Candy coated reds and blues
pollute the darkness of the moon,
pursuing drivers on the run
across the bright Willamette River.


Advice for the Young Growing Old

Celebrate a life
of gentleness and kind words;
cultivate a quiet state of mind.

Find a peaceful home
within your heart for all the
wild, impulsive marches of the soul.

Love the entire world
as much, if you can manage,
as you despise its worst injustice.

Be as human as
your parents and your children,
breathing deep the air of growth and grace.


Indestructible

Hanging by his ankles from the wide
window, his feet betraying no concern -
a lazy smile, seven stories high
and over ninety million miles beneath
a nonchalant, recumbent summer sun.
A finely cultivated air of rapture
emanates from truly unrepentant
troublemakers in the prime of life.


Playlist

Depending on you,
accidents will happen;
night bird flying,
capturing moods.
I found a reason
not to touch the Earth -
give it time.


Honey Pot

Honey, spread on flesh and seared to fine amber,
sprinkled fresh in batter, smeared with butter; honey
with agave, honey blessed with maple syrup.

Pure and unadulterated honey pot,
such impressive composition, say the judges,
spoonful after spoonful dripping cool with bliss.

Bursting spring, when nectar, honey are in season!
Honey pots are overflowing, spread on flesh and
baked in bread, a splash of lust, a blush of honey.


Came to Grips

I wore a bit of cloth between myself
and the cold night that whispered through the blinds.

He closed on my throat, pushed my shoulders down,
and drew my breath across the length of my chest.

The fine hairs on my arms ans legs protested,
they resisted being called to rise.

An urgent cough was satisfied, another
cough suppressed, another half released.

A hollow circle, whole and battered, swung
around, and dissipated what it stole.


The Ecstasy

Heaven is a faint cloud
of noble gasses, lit with ball lightning
an instant after closing time.


Etymologies

Her parents named her oldest brother John
in trust that God would fill his heart with grace;

they called her second oldest brother Rob
when they foresaw a future in his face.

Their youngest son was duly christened Fred
in yearning for the dawn of world peace -

and then they named their only daughter Hope,
that from her chains she would obtain release.


The Security System Fails

Hard iron blast shields
torn, shaken

          Black rivets
screeched, scattered.

          Charred fingers.

Dead blisters.

          Red bullets
struck twenty two students.


Coughing

Cough so loud
the old guitar
beside me hums
in harmony -
cough so loud,
the sweetest sound
echoes through
her body like
a soft volcano,
trembling in
her hollow breast.


We've Been Here Before

Wet with citrus,
weighted down with sweet juice
in the steam of hot days.

Orange fruit
and lemons, ripe and palpable
through bright, dimpled skin.

A mist quickens,
percolating from the air
and sweetening the brain.

Baskets dip,
and liberated tangerines
burst loudly with color.

A hand is reaching
up, further through thick leaves,
claiming nature's touch.

Barely conscious
of the cool scent, the young picker
gladly obeys commands.

A whole day
to be lost, overcome with wet
desire, lost in the orchard.


Madame Owl

Silent feathers, silent talons clasping
electric branches in the urban dark,
and still she sings in lovely tones.

                              Explosions
ripple forth from errant motorcycles,
and she calls them, hoot, hoot -

                              She calls
aloud, to wheels roaring, engines brilliant
with oil, hoot, hoot -

                    To sleepless city
lights with wild screams and candied colors,
hoot, hoot, she murmurs,

          She will be their mother,
sing the missing lullaby in gentle
measure, send them back to moon and stars.


My Heart

I forgave my heart for breaking,
Lord have mercy, I was gracious
in accepting tearful pleas
from a sad and stricken penitent.

I forgave my heart, but I
did not forget its base, craven
treachery, its sabotage
and painful, pitiful surrender.

I forgave my heart, and I
remembered why it broke, forever,
and I never let the sobbing fool
forget its shame and sorrow, either.


Five in the Morning

Sweat in my sore eyes,
I might never sleep again -
have to click "refresh".


She Looks Straight Ahead

The sky is clear and the day cool, but soon
you know it will be hot; you are prepared.
A fan positioned by the open window,
a pot of Arnold Palmer - your breast is bared
and the soothing breeze reflects across your shoulders.
Through your blinds, the common swimming pool
erupts with laughter, dazzling and delighted
with itself for hosting such a jewel.
She walks with such assurance, you could swear
she was Astrud Gilberto, her intent
to make love in her lithe, familiar guise
to someone equally magnificent.
The light across her shoulder blades is kind,
but oh, you watch her so sadly through the blinds.
____________________

Flashes is the sort of poem a Californian writes after watching Oregonians make merry with fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Aren't they afraid of wildfires!?  The police are of course pursuing drunk drivers, since the fireworks are totally legal.  Civic Stadium and Southtown Lanes in Eugene did both burn down a year ago, so this poem gets a little bit of historical dating in that regard.  I don't know if fireworks were involved.

Advice is really about me advising myself, though it is phrased as advice for others out of sheer, unbridled arrogance.  This is the best way to give yourself advice.  The poem arises from my continuing efforts to internalize attitudes that promote peace of mind.  Call it a therapy poem.  Maybe one day it will be found on a therapist's wall.

I'm not sure what brought on Indestructible, but I got the image and I had to write about it.  Just some troublemaker worrying the neighbors while dangling from a window, feeling the limits of freedom.  Hope he has sunscreen.
 
Playlist is kind of dumb.  Kind of really dumb, actually.  For starters, it's an acrostic, which is just... yeah.  An acrostic of the word "dancing".  And each of the lines is a song title taken from my iTunes library.  Ugh.  I did my best to choose titles for good effect, but let's be honest here.  This was a goof.  A goof from start to finish.  At best it's cute.

Mmmmmm, Honey Pot.  This is me in a sensual mood.  It's scary.  This poem is notable for its hexameter lines, which is longer than I usually write.  It's a little repetitive and draggy, but mmmmm.  Honey.

Came to Grips is kind of a strange one.  I had a really bad cough that was keeping me up at night, and I started thinking about ancient depictions of nightmares as demons or incubi that sat on people's chests and drained their life out.  Spooky.  The lines are pentameters, with a lot of long feet placed in for variety.

The Ecstasy comes out of my recurring fascination with the difficulty of properly rendering haiku in English, leading directly to misguided attempts.  Here I went with a 5/7/5 pattern of words rather than syllables, because everything is made up and the points don't matter.  Ball lightning is a very mysterious phenomenon, and noble gasses like neon glow with colors when electricity passes through them.  Pretty straightforward for a poem about transcendence.

Now I like Etymologies, but we should be clear that it is not much more than it appears to be.  I like the idea of parents giving names to children on the basis of deep research into the historical meaning of their names, rather than for silly reasons like tradition or novelty.  The three brothers only exist, of course, to set up Hope's couplet, which is a neat little bit of Feminism 101.  The whole thing came to me after considering why it is that so many girl's names are also abstract nouns like Hope or Faith or things like that, while the same is uncommon with boys' names.  Of course, once upon a time all names had transparent meanings in their original languages.

The Security System Fails was an experiment in spondees that went dark quickly.  I think the experiment was successful, as the ratio of stressed to unstressed syllables is two to three (more than that just would not flow).  It got kind of a scary mood, and turned into a vignette about the limits of visible security measures in the face of determined malice.  Twenty two was chosen for sound and visual purposes, and is not a reference to the casualties of any actual incident.

Coughing is another poem about this damn cough.  It's about trying to find beauty in a painful inconvenience, and was inspired by an actual guitar.

Oh damn, I got all sensual again and seriously abused the word "wet".  We've Been Here Before is about memories of picking fruit with a lover, poetically transmogrified into rampant debauchery.  Avert your eyes.  It also continues my recent fascination with the spondee.

Madame Owl is basically made up of pentameters, but I tried to give the lines a more interesting shape.  It's an attempt at describing the sounds I often hear through my window at night.  Not sure why I can't describe the lights on police and emergency vehicles without referencing candy, but I think it works.

Mopey shit in tetrameters, that's what My Heart is.  Kind of a cracked attempt at getting to the bottom of a heartache that never really heals.

Five in the Morning is just a regular old syllabic haiku about insomnia.

I'm glad it turned out to be last, because She Looks Straight Ahead is my favorite.  Lust, longing, and the Girl from Ipanema in sonnet form.  I'm actually kind of proud of the rhyme work here, especially intent/magnificent.  It looks almost wrenched, but it's really not.  Well done, poet.  The "you" in the poem is not me, but I think "you" and I are kindred spirits.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bird Keeper

When I took the body of my pet lovebird, Zoey, to the veterinary clinic for an autopsy, I was nearly speechless.  At the earliest opportunity, I left the building and drove home, my throat twisted and my eyes raw.  That was the hardest time.

The thing is, it happened months ago, back in April.  I didn't write about it here at the time.  Zoey was a beautiful bird that I knew and loved from the moment she hatched from the egg, some fifteen years ago.  But after memorializing her on Facebook and Tumblr, I didn't know what else I could add on this blog.

Zoey only lived in my apartment for the last month of her life, but I had never seen her as an old bird.  It's true she had some apparent medical problems, but she remained lively, curious, and friendly as always.  I had honestly forgotten how old she was, assuming I still had a few years left to take care of her and enjoy her company.  Finding her gone was a shock, because I was so determined to do my best for her.


My family has had birds since I was a kid.  And like many kids with pets, responsibility was a lesson I was sorely in need of learning.  I truly loved that succession of small parrots, of which Zoey was the last.  Taking care of them was a chore, though, and what kid doesn't try to avoid those?  

So I took on the responsibility of caring for Zoey with some apprehension.  There was my own mental health to consider.  Though I'd seen myself on an upswing since landing my new job, depression has been a constant in my life for a very long time.  I knew its effects well, especially the way it sapped my energy for necessary tasks.  The last thing I wanted was to fall into a cycle of neglect.  

That did not happen, however.  In the time Zoey lived with me, I cleaned her cage once a week, and dutifully kept her well-stocked with healthy food and fresh water.  She saw a veterinarian for an infection in her nostril, which I applied medicine for, as well as for the bare patches on her shoulders.  I played with her nearly every evening, and allowed her the freedom to explore the apartment with careful supervision.  Zoey was a happy bird, and I felt like a responsible bird keeper.


Inevitably, finding an animal in your care to be deceased leads to feelings of guilt, in addition to loss and confusion.  Those feelings diminished somewhat, when I consulted with my sister and made a better estimate of Zoey's age; she had in fact lived a long life.  But I still remembered all the times I'd been less involved in her care, and the many years I'd spent living far away from her.  Zoey and I were friends in a way I hadn't been with any other bird, and I deeply regretted the time I'd lost with her.

Far from taxing my mental health, taking on Zoey was a clear benefit.  She was a link to happy childhood memories, as well as a perpetually cheerful presence.  Tending to her needs gave me a routine that helped me structure my day, an important part of my self-therapy.  Sharing pictures and videos of her with my students made me feel proud.  And I would not put this lightly: it can be absolutely wonderful to have a pet of any kind in the home when you live by yourself.  They may not talk back, but they are incredibly sympathetic.

A beautiful young bird called Zoey.
 By the time summer came around, my next move was obvious.  I liked being a bird keeper, and I wanted to be one again.  And since there were no more family birds to take on, it was time to look out to the world for a new one.  Or, as things ultimately turned out, two.

A little searching brought me to the website of Exotic Bird Rescue of Oregon, where I found an unexpected opportunity to adopt a pair of peach face lovebirds.  Going by the unusual names of Bondog and Sherbert, they are a bonded couple of presumed females.  Both are somewhat timid, and Sherbert has a common disability: widely splayed legs that make walking and climbing an awkward affair.  But both seemed like the perfect fit for my life, though their origins as "rescue birds" remain somewhat mysterious.

Bondog (yellow) and Sherbert (green) on the day I first met them.
Clearly, there's no replacing Zoey, who would playfully chase my fingers whenever I held an interesting object and fly to my shoulder unbidden.  With Bonnie (what kind of name is Bondog anyway?) in particular, I'm lucky if I can put my finger near her without receiving a hiss and a pinch.  They love to be together, but they need separate cages whenever they fall to squabbling.  They both seem perfectly content to spend all their time in one corner of the room, preening and eyeing me with suspicion.

Bonnie does not care for a camera in the cage.
I knew as soon as I met them, however, that adopting them was not a mistake.  A bird does not need to love being handled to be a source of joy.  Watching the pair of them enjoy each other's company is a satisfying experience all its own.  When they splash their little faces with water, or even when they dive heartily into their food dishes, I feel a calm satisfaction in knowing their needs are met.  When they fly across the room after a tasty snack of millet, it's gratifying to see they are healthy and strong.  

 

Even such little birds can have out-sized personalities.  Bonnie is a brash character,  eager to be in the lead of things and sometimes treating her friend without consideration.  Sherbert is more shy, but she is very gentle.  She uses her splayed legs to great effect, even if her landings are always a little clumsy.  I've never seen a bird more determined to keep up.  It's true they can get to fighting sometimes, but when they start cuddling, you'll never find a sweeter pair.

Still not a big fan of that camera.
I was very clear in my intentions to have lovebirds in my home, as opposed to any other parrot species.  Over the years I came to appreciate their cleverness, their enthusiastic voices, and their sheer capacity for affection.  Bonnie and Sherbert are gorgeous animals who I look forward to caring for, years into the future.  And it will be years; one of the things they stress upon adopting a parrot is their potential longevity.  Lovebirds typically live about fifteen years, but twenty is not unheard of.  As far as can be known, Bonnie and Sherbert are both about three, so with proper care I can expect them to be in my home for at least another decade.  It's a big responsibility to take on, but I feel big enough for the task.

Yes, sometimes they are good enough to sit on my shoulder.
Already, I feel myself falling in love with these birds.  It's a wonderful thing to love an animal as a pet, to bond with a creature so different from oneself.  I believe it testifies to the remarkable reaches of the human capacity for empathy, to see and respond to something almost human in a non-human creature.

Netflix and chirp.  They're just like us!
Zoey and I had a bond of friendship, one I will always miss.  Bonnie and Sherbert are bonded with each other, but I am pleased to be a vital part of their little world.  Or, at least the part that provides millet.
Millet for days.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pokémon Go: A Trainer's Report

This is an unusual review for me, because Pokémon Go is a very unusual game.  I'm not accustomed to games that require me to leave my house; those are usually called "sports", and the less said about my relationship with them, the better.  But if catching pocket monsters is ever classified as a sport... well, that's actually a more disturbing possibility than I thought.  Best not to pursue it.

If Pokémon were a sport, my Lapras would be the best there ever was, maybe.
Pokémon is a series of games that seems to have been waiting for the technology of "augmented reality" from its earliest days.  The original Red/Blue versions for the Gameboy were essentially games about amateur naturalists, enthusiastic plant and animal lovers who combed the long grass looking for specimens to complete an encyclopedia.  The combat aspect is really only a means to an ends within the conventions of the genre: the thrill of Pokémon is in the collection, not in the fight.  Now, by removing the monsters from fictional long grass and replacing them amongst real human communities, the engagement of the player is theoretically even stronger.

You may also discover your home is full of ghosts, which just raises more uncomfortable questions.
Granted, it is technically possible to play the game without leaving home, in a limited way.  Certain items can bring the Pokémon flocking to your location, and if you happen to live next door to a Pokéstop (lucky me!), you can easily replenish basic items like Pokéballs and potions.
That really is about the limit of it, though.  To really engage with the "augmented reality" of Pokémon, you need to find a way out into the sunlit space of ordinary reality.  To play this game to its full potential , you need to learn to engage simultaneously with both.

This purple Pokéstop is just within range of my apartment, which I consider its primary value as a residence.
Once you've physically placed yourself in the right locations, Pokémon Go becomes a little more interesting.  At designated locations called gyms, players can battle the Pokémon left by other players, and capture the gym in the name of one of three teams.  Following the map, you can see where other players have established lures, hot spots for Pokémon activity.  And the game encourages long walks with the egg-hatching mechanic, essentially a reward for going to new places, or even just moving around in a big circle.

I walked 10 kilometers for you, egg, show me what you've got...
But what about the other world?  The one where most people can't see the colorful monsters we're chasing around?  Due deference to this reality is required, not least because it is full of cars and creeks and other unfortunate things to walk into.  The stakes of Pokémon Go are pretty high when you consider an outing might end in some sort of real-world disaster.

Someone tell this Venonat not to play in the street!
Prudent players must keep their wits about them, not only for safety but for etiquette as well.  Pokémon Go may lead you through busy pedestrian areas, so you've got to be considerate in sharing your space.  If the gym you're battling for is adjacent to a local restaurant or coffeehouse, perhaps the polite thing to do would be to patronize it now and again.  And if you chance upon a real animal on your journey, it's considered good form to let them in on the action.

No, cat!  Look back at the bird!
By far, my favorite aspect of Pokémon Go is how it has affected the way I see the city I live in.  I moved to this town about six months ago, and social anxiety has mainly kept me indoors during my free time.  With the excuse of a video game, I'm not only going outside more often than before; I'm also visiting locations and seeing remarkable sights that I might easily never have known about.  It turns out that there are beautiful parks, ponds, and architecture all around me.  And as a bonus, they're all just filthy with Pokémon.

It would be inhumane not to catch this one...
 Is there a downside to this?  Well, we already knew being outside was dangerous; it's probably best to play in nice safe groups.  Public spaces aren't always very accessible for disabled people either, which can keep them out of the potential fun.  And as any rural resident can tell you, the game is a bit less exciting when you are miles from the kind of landmarks that get marked as Pokéstops and gyms.  So unlike most video games, Pokémon Go cannot provide an identical gaming experience to all players in all places.  That might be mitigated in the future, but for now it seems like an unfortunate consequence of the basic design.

There's no guarantee you'll find a Meowth chilling in your friend's place, but it's always kind of nice when you do.
If you do have the means and the time, catching Pokémon on your phone is a great pastime.  Battling for the glory of your team, training up an impressive roster of fighters, or just stumbling upon rare Pokémon in unexpected places, all evoke the childlike excitement this franchise carries so well.  It still has some bugs that need to be worked through, but the core experience is solid.  At least when it's not infested with Rattatas...

No, Rattata!  That's unsanitary!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Poetries #7

In my excitement last month to start posting poems again, I forgot about three that I'd written on my phone.  Having this ruined my carefully cultivated chronology, I must resolve to carry on amid this tumbled heap of scattered words.

So the first three poems are a little bit older, the first from February and the other two from March.  They are fairly solid (for me) and thus I am sure I did not leave them out intentionally.  I would never want to deprive you, after all.  The following twelve are of fresher vintage, starting in late May and continuing through to the present.  Once again, the backlog is defeated!

My usual obsessions remain obsessed upon, sex and depression, all that good stuff.  Poison Control hits kind of hard (to the extent that it isn't just maudlin) in the direction of abuse and self-loathing, and Hung Over, Body Scanned is sort of in the same vein.  As usual, I blather on at the end with commentary.
____________________


Luna, Rising Sweetly

Luna, rising sweetly -
a section from a circle,
arching eighty five
degrees, clad in silk
and silver, all composed
of warm, selenic light;
gathered in repose,
posessing grace and awful
power over all
of me, of night and morning,
waning never, even
as the sun completes
its circuit of the Earth;
I am hour, she
is day - twenty four
times I'd live and die
to let her shine, in darkness
or in one degree
of blinding, glorious dawn.


The Firmament

In this total sphere of darkness
I can feel my head expanding,
feel my teeth expand against
my teeth; they sound like blunted chalk,
and all around, within this hollow
firmament of shape and silence,
my eyes can turn from left to left
and see the shadows of my soul.

Black, invisible upon
the starless dome of sky, they seethe
and bubble in an unmistakable
prelude to a renaissance,
anticipating narrow dreams,
and filling them with shade and ether.


A Rare Confession

Bless me, pop, for I have sinned
against your pomp and pieties,
satisfied my lust across
the altar of your vanities,
and all that I have reaped from that
are squawling improprieties
who crawl across the kitchen floor
and toddle through their nurseries.
And pop, I must confess, at times
I've contemplated surgeries,
but I enjoy my sins too much
to disrespect my ovaries.


Sweaty Sunday

Gently ill, the ghosts are resting uncomfortably,
like tea and chocolate at the back of my throat.

And Heather is in there, as clear as she sleeps
in the book of my mind, her eyes and her skin
like tea and chocolate woven together, delicate.

The cat is inside, circling in place, holding the groove,
holding the bitterness down like milk and honey.


Greensounds

Green, the sound of mandolins
and soft, the scent of cinnamon -
alas the taste of pale ale
puts a chill between my lungs
and sets me with a phantom trail.

Dead, the swallow still returns
until, at last, the mission burns;
but where have gone the mandolins,
and where have gone the calling birds,
who sing as sweet as cinnamon?

Bright as golden pale ale,
orange blazes, smoking trails
where stones and silken feathers burn,
sifting through the ashen trees
until the calling birds return.

I remember mandolins,
recall the scent of cinnamon
and fire from the pale ale,
green with life beneath the trees
and wet with dew along the trails,
nourishing the calling birds.


Sentinels

Out of the walls
and up from the floor
the enemy comes,
the sentinels spawn -
unlimited parts
with unlimited power,
the factory builds them
from morning 'til dawn,
attaching their armor
with lasers and rivets,
mechanical beasts
with nuclear brawn -
and hate in their grey
little clockwork hearts,
wroth with the living
until they are gone.


Poison Control

Stop hitting yourself, I whined, and hit myself again,
and again, until I stopped; because I had forgotten,
In all the long distraction of hitting myself, the reason
why I had begun.

                                        And looking in the glass
I saw a cheek as red as a peeling, sunburnt child,
sobbing while his older brother sneered
stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself to his older,
wiser self in a dungy glass.

                                        I saw another cheek
without as many blisters, pink as innocence
in the months after its irrevocable loss.
And I remembered, and I hated this, the lack
of brutal symmetry, and started up again -
stopped hitting yourself, I urged, when at last it feels right.


Ash Swale

"Ash Swale", almost a river,
a toponym that seems to augur
a dryer, more defeated future
from a gentle morning'summer.


Red Spot

The oceans of Jupiter,
sleeping beneath
the ancient typhoon -
after all of this time,
the calescent gales
are barely considered
a real disruption.
They ripple and rage
across infinite seas,
they generate surges
of shimmering hydrogen;
they storm, and they pass,
and the infinite seas
have returned to placidity.


The Same Old Bad Lover's Song

I crept out of your window like a guilty spider
and noisily shuttled down to your garden,
my hand full of seeds, but with no real intention
of planting them in your irrigated soil;
I only wanted a chance to enjoy a snack
in the cool of a sunflower garden, without being
expected to give back, or to stay awake until dawn.

The dirt on my hands clung to my blue shirt,
it smeared the threads with brown and cream particles,
wet with worms from under the flowers' salty roots.
I did the smearing, because the dirt tasted
better on packaged sunflower seeds.

You watered the garden flowers at dawn,
so I dreamed of powerful monsoon rains
And woke, with mud in my teeth and my socks,
after several minutes of the gentlest assault,
coupled with curses of deep, abiding regret
from the sweetness of your heart and your soil.


Odysseus at the Last Gasp

Weep your tears with sympathy
for my corrupt integrity -
the grisly, corpse-like separations,
skin discarded through abrasions,
teeth and feet from gum and bone
disjointed, foamy hair-clumps blown
in salted mats along the shore,
mingled with Ulysses' gore.

Have mercy on the castaway -
a sheet of grass, a bed of clay,
before my courage falls to pieces
and my haggard frame releases
me, like berries from the vine
to putrefaction, past their prime.


Cool

I could never be the kind of person
certain kinds of people want to be,
to keenly wrap their hands around his leather,
run their fingers down his golden spine;
but I possess a certain quality
of stiff resilience to the kind of weather
certain kinds of people find attractive,
though it simmers them in skin and sweat.

If you could reach a hand across my brow
when I am fresh from swimming briskly through
the morning, you could find me firm and ready,
cool and steady, just as certain kinds
of people strive entire lives to be,
if you should chance to find me in my dreams.


The Author Discovers the Watermelon Margarita

O Tequila,
wait a,
wait a minute,
damn,
Tequila, how'd you,
how'd you
get so fine,
Tequila?


Hung Over, Body Scanned

Reaching out for health,
I reach with many thousands
of small, invisible hands
and eyes of mindfulness,
across the furthest reaches
of my body, of
my skin and teeth and hair.

I start from good advice
among my toes, advancing
to the fingertips
I spread apart, above
my head, across my bed,
experience the reach of
raw sensations through
the flesh that thrums between.

I reach inside my chest
and count my heartbeats,
try to time them, try
to synchronize my lungs
with them, to hear the blood
that reaches to my pale
extremities and back.

Further, caress my face,
the skin between the hairs
along my scalp, the hair
across my thighs, my arms
and genitals, before
the goose bumps rise.

A vast expanse of stomach
reaches up, and down,
and deep within its core
it rages with metabolism,
fierce machinery
of acid, wine and strife.

A sour taste between
my gums, a pinch behind
my head that reaches down
my shoulders, bends my spine
and weighs upon my ass -
I reach for these, my dear
sensations, to believe
in poison, to believe
in blood, survival in
extremis and despair.


Turtle Doves

Turtle doves squabble
on bright slopes of dusty hills -
scorched in long shadows.
____________________
Luna is a sweet little love poem, I think, for no one in particular.  Its form is pretty simple, an unbroken chain of three foot lines, something I just sort of fall into when I try to do something stream-of-consciousness like.

The Firmament doesn't rhyme, but it's pretty obviously modeled on a Petrarchan sonnet form, with the crucial distinction that its lines are four feet rather than five.  I was just trying to get my anxiety out on paper, so I guess I wasn't really thinking about form.  I certainly didn't know it was going to be fourteen lines when I started.

Amongst my writings, it rarely gets sillier than A Rare Confession.  It's a very pure case of rhyming getting totally out of control, until it forces something resembling a cracked narrative out of what was once merely an idle scribbling.  The cavalier narrator of the poem does not seem to be aware of less extreme forms of birth control, or maybe she's just really really Catholic.  I don't have all the answers here.

I'm looking at Sweaty Sunday again, and I'm really not sure I can explain to you what I thought was going on with the rhythm.  I can tell you that it is sort of a still-life, based on several elements to be found in my living room as I lay panting in the heat one afternoon.  Heather is a character in the Ursula K. Le Guin novel The Lathe of Heaven, and that's probably the only reference worth explaining.

Greensounds is a similar sort of still-life, heavily influenced by musings on California's fires and swallows and, by a tangential connection, the R.E.M. album Green.  It is a little awkward in spots, working with those repeating words, but I like it.

Sentinels is a little slight, and was inspired by an evening playing the video game X-Men Legends.  The rhythm is very particular (I was going for an "industrial" feel), hopefully evoking the tension of facing off against an endless army of killer robots.  If not, well, move along to the next one then.

Oh god, Poison Control.  I was going for profundity, which led me directly to melodrama, but hopefully the point comes across.  Structurally I was interested in doing something with longer lines (six feet here) without relying on rhymes.  It's not autobiographical or anything, but it does reflect a kind of obsessiveness in my personality.

There is an "Ash Swale" sign on my drive to work, which prompted me to look up the definition of "swale".  This led to brief musings on landscapes and climate change.  There's not much more to Ash Swale.

I like Red Spot, mainly because it taught me another fine vocabulary word, "calescent".  The image of a wave of liquid hydrogen isn't bad either, don't you think?  I mixed in some short feet with long ones, very intentionally I assure you.

If The Same Old Bad Lover's Song is anything, it's a free verse metaphor for a self-centered onanist who doesn't know how good he has it.  Well, it might also be an absolute mess.  You decide, gentle reader.

I was actually reading The Odyssey, specifically the part where Odysseus lands on the shore of the Phaiakians' island, when I wrote Odysseus at the Last Gasp.  It's another Petrarchan pseudo-sonnet, with a closer claim to authenticity than The Firmament because it rhymes.  I use the name "Ulysses" in the body of the poem itself for metrical reasons, as "Odysseus" just doesn't fit.

Cool is a full-fledged pentameter sonnet at last, though it eschews rhyming for the bolder choice of, well, not rhyming.  It's also basically a dirty joke ("stiff resilience" indeed), which I trust you won't judge me too harshly for.  All the cool kids are writing poems about erections.  For god's sake, look at Shakespeare.

Next up are two alcohol-soaked poems.  Margarita is just some drunken babbling about the miracle of fruit juice and sugar mixed with harsh tequila.  Hung Over is, obviously, a little more serious.  I found myself severely hung over after a night out drinking beer with my cousins (not margaritas, they didn't do me any harm).  I tried to manage my pain and suffering with a mindfulness technique, the body scan.  The results were mixed, much like this poem.  It's also another of those three-foot-per-line rambles I love so well.

I always feel silly writing haiku, but Turtle Doves is a fine one, if you ask me.  Like all good haiku, it was directly inspired by an observation of nature. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Reflections Following the First (Half) School Year of a Real Goddamn Teacher

I don't know how long I've been a teacher.  It's not because it's been a long enough time for me to have forgotten.  Neither has it been because of some crack philosophical musing over the meaning of words or the concept of identity.  I mostly mean that I don't know how long I've been a teacher, because the state of my life since starting grad school in January of 2010 has been deeply confusing to me.

The semester of February to June 2016 was the first time I ever held a full time teaching position in the United States.  But when you consider that I taught for nearly eight months while living in South Korea, or that I was a substitute for two years, or a lowly teaching intern before that, it is difficult to call this my "first year" as a teacher.  When you further consider that I have not yet completed teaching an entire school year, it is even more questionable; nevertheless, I can't really consider 2016/2017 my first "first year".  In this warped mind of mine, in which I am unhealthily obsessed with milestones and categories, all of this is deeply confounding.

But none of it really matters now, because I am a teacher today.  I have my own classes and curriculum and I even get paid for it.  I no longer have to explain my life to people with qualifications and caveats.  As a matter of fact, I don't have to explain anything to anyone.  I'm on summer vacation and that means no teaching until September, suckers!

But it is time, I believe, to reflect on what I have accomplished this year.  Not merely because this is a significant milestone for me, both professionally and personally; I feel I owe myself an account of my achievement.  There can be no resting on laurels: I have to make a career of this, both for my survival and for my satisfaction.  There is so much work to be done, and as the students march on it is plain that the work can never really be finished.

The really good news is that, as some have suspected, I'm pretty good at this job.  I'm not great at it yet.  I don't have the deep wells of self-confidence needed to launch myself into legendary status by force of will.  But my skills and talents are neatly attuned to the task at hand.  Whether it's researching for lessons, facilitating discussion, or building relationships with students, I have met with fine success all semester.  I've met with frustration as well, but my colleagues have indicated that they respect what I am doing, and my weary spirit has not yet flagged from any such discouragement. 

My theory of good teaching is being refined all the time, as I observe the needs of different students and try to adjust myself to them.  In fact, I've needed to be flexible, as I now teach students of virtually every age from seven to eighteen.  This is by no means an easy job, and the fact that I am enjoying myself while doing it is something like a miracle.  Pride comes easily at moments like these, and it's not unjustified.

But I have to be realistic, and I have to be critical of myself too.  As I said before, I'm not a great teacher, and whether I can append the word "yet" to that statement is still only a presumption.  I learn more about the craft every working day, but my weaknesses are apparent and they don't all have obvious solutions.

Perhaps my greatest difficulty thus far has been differentiation, or the adjustment of my lessons to meet the needs of students with different skill levels.  This is a challenge every teacher faces, because students of the same age and grade are not necessarily alike in ability.  In my case, the challenge is multiplied by the peculiar situation of my school.

The school where I teach is a charter school in a small rural community; we have a little over forty students in total, with the majority being high schoolers.  This year I taught three classes of high school, with compositions of 12th and 11th, 11th and 10th, and 10th and 9th graders.  I also taught a single middle school class composed of 8th, 7th, and 6th graders, as well as an elementary class with two 5th graders, a 4th grader, a 3rd grader, and a 1st grader.  So to begin with, every class I taught was composed of students who were already of different ages, which made striking a balance with appropriate material a constantly evolving challenge.

Complicating the problem is the relative unpredictability of their skill levels.  Students come to our school for a variety of reasons.  Some have parents looking for smaller class sizes; some have older siblings with positive experiences in our setting; some have had trouble with socialization, often in the form of bullying in harassment.  Many of them, however, come to us because they lack the skills to succeed in public school, due to learning disabilities, mental health concerns, or personal issues.

I have 5th graders who read more fluently than some of my 8th graders; I have 12th graders who are not truly literate.  Since my subject area is social studies, it is extremely difficult to teach in the traditional way if I cannot count on my students' ability to decypher simple texts.  There is only so much instructional time in the day, and I can become frustrated when I must pass over content in order to perform what I might see as "remedial" skills instruction.

My frustrations in that area, however, may hint at a more fundamental issue: my anxieties over forming working relationships of children from different class, race, gender, and sexual backgrounds from my own.  This is another challenge that all teachers must face; I would argue that is a special concern of social studies, as these factors are consistently relevant to the content of our lessons, in addition to the meta-content of a typical day in the classroom.

It's a fact that I'm a straight, white, cis-man who, despite making a spectacularly awkward and protracted entrance into the working world, has never had to live in a state of genuine poverty or deprivation.  I have my struggles, but my struggles are of a different order from those of my students who cannot relate to the arc of my life.  Likewise, it is dreadfully obvious to me that I cannot always relate to their experiences.

The issue of social class looms especially large over my door.  I have many students who live in real poverty, the kind that needs no qualification or caveat.  Some of my least accomplished readers can be found in that group, and I know that this is not an accident of fate.  Poverty disadvantages children at every stage in the educational process, gradually alienating them not only from the school environment but from the social values that promote academic success.  Then along comes the son of a wealthy professional who has been a precocious reader longer than he can remember, and it's difficult to see what basis a relationship can be formed on.  When I become angry or frustrated with a student who will not even make an attempt to do the work I have assigned, it's hard not to see the failure as mutual.

And there is a stickier patch to consider: when my frustrations spill over from the strictly professional to the personal.  Have you ever believed that a teacher simply did not like you?  You may well have been right: teachers are very capable of disliking children, particularly those who make their jobs harder.  Untangling my animosity for a student who does not know any way to relate to me other than through insults and slurs, from my obligation to educate them to the best of my ability, is as hard as it sounds.  Failing to do so can aggravate the tensions of class and race even further, as well as the old prejudice that adults often have toward children in general.

It became clear to me this year that, for all my youthful pretensions, I really am too old to fit naturally in the head space of a teenager anymore, no matter what their background.  Relating to any one of my students requires an impressive leap of imagination, one that may be neither encouraged nor welcome, and is not assured of a successful landing.  I have never been particularly good at socializing with my own peers; assuming an air of leadership and authority is not a comfortable stance for me, and when I have nightmares they are often driven by a loss of leaderahip.

A great teacher is not beyond these concerns - they are fundamental to the practice of teaching, and every teacher is always engaged with the fundamentals whether they want to be or not.  Nevertheless, I take it as a sign that I am not (yet?) a great teacher that these fundamental questions are my worst stressors.  It would not be accurate to say I have not found the solution: rather, I have not yet become fully conversant in the ever-evolving language of the eternal problem.

Some day, I will know what works and what doesn't; how to assume my role in a manner I can perform with no regrets.  My successes will grow and my failures will further my education - the mantra we all hope to establish as a solid belief, teachers as well as students.  I feel confident predicting this, because despite my struggles I am still having a great time.  I could easily go another ten rounds, however long that expression translates to in the count of years.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Poetries #6

It's hard to take poetry seriously when you're being paid to do something else.  It's also hard to take your own poetry seriously when you're reading some one else's.  I've got books by B.H. Fairchild and Rae Armantrout checked out from the library right now; reading the work of a professional is an important reminder of the vast gulf that exists between me and "them".  It's not just about skill or talent, but rather about the intuitive sense of living in the space between words, manipulating them as naturally as a bird sings in the morning, that a successful poet conveys.  It's also about skill and talent, though.

Needless to say I am easily impressed, which is both encouraging and discouraging for my own poetry.  But since I've been so neglectful of this blog while I've been working my new job, and since in the last five months I have allowed the Dreaded Backlog to resurface, it's time to put aside such small concerns as "quality" and get them the heck online.

The dates of these tiny compositions run from January to May of this year.  So I guess the backlog isn't that big, nor have I been especially productive in the poetry department.  Like I said, I've been busy!

My usual fixation with sex and depression remain a thing here, but once or twice it was happiness which drove me to scribble, and I think that's worth celebrating.


Blessings in Bed

Early on that blessed evening,
I was knocked unconscious by
the fury of your hips, your fearsome
kisses in our private room;

But truth be told, you had me at
a terrible disadvantage, dear,
from all the strength I had expended
on that blessed afternoon.


Rhapsody of Foreplay

Wine and fish, with lemon, butter, pepper;
salty with the pearls of the ocean
and as sweet as apple-flower honey,
warmer than the breath of bubbling springs.

Half asleep I taste your mouth, a fever
burning in my dreams; a sudden waking
in the body of a blazing eagle,
rising up in glory on its wings.

Dancing through the dewy morning flora,
left and right, as quick as thieving fingers,
fiercer than a hive of bees in summer
armed with fatal, suicidal stings.

Wet with pressure, live with storm and gasping
in the sturdy grasp of icy water;
never have I been so fully woken,
eager for the breezes loving brings.


Melissa

Melissa worships Death, and
Death is praying for her mother,
sweetly warm like honey
baking in the afternoon sun;
Death ascends, and
takes Melissa with her,
again and again and unto
the final generation
she takes her,
somewhere sweet and warm
to die, in veneration
of the face behind Death, the
Mother of Worship, the life of
honey, the face of
dear Melissa.


The Promise of Poetry

To find your voice
amidst the strange disorder
of your thoughts,

to hear the truth
as if within a moment
of creation,

to forge a bond
between your mind and body,
fierce and raw,

to know the devil
of your soul, the angel
in its nature,

for the price
of a sacred promise:
never look away.


But Now I Remember

I wondered why I didn't hear them,
twenty years of wondering, why
the voices in my head were silent.
And tonight, at last, I realized
the voices in my head had never
stopped their howling, their infernal
baying - I had simply, in my
unbounded arrogance, forgotten
how to listen to the hellhounds
and their voices in my head.


Old Frostwine

He lingers in the lower places, cold
as the burning sun of morning, white as a ghost,
sleeping off the wine his gracious host
provided from his vineyards in the wold.
The lights of spring advance across the hours,
bearing swirling storms of migrant birds
on gentle breezes, singing foreign words
and phrases to the lambs among the flowers,
rudely waking him with hot discord
from dreams of thawing flesh, immersed in wine.
He clings in desperation to the vine
with fingers stiff as weary oaken boards,
before submitting to a wakeful piety,
embracing nature in its wild sobriety.


Old Records

She read it from a list
of great ideas for cheap dates;
"spend an afternoon
browsing through some old records".
And I felt intoxicated,
because it hit me like a hot whiskey
that, by definition,
every record is an old one,
just another echo
of a never-ending, infinite present.
It felt so good, I had
to close my eyes to concentrate,
to kiss the girl goodnight,
and fall in love all over again.


Precog

This life will be my death, before my time;
I shall approach my end in great excess
of all the limits of cosmic speed, and just
in time to catch the eternal instant replay,
cringing with the angels in their seats.


Running Out

The future is an empty space,
expanding in my heart, and slowly
filling with the resolution
of grainy moments, slipping down;

Like bits of sand the moments race
along transparent slopes, to lowly
rest, a failing destination
that slips to grey from pale brown.


A Token of Courage

The feather in his cap was cool as ice, but red
with thunder's blood in circles all along its length;
and this was called a subtle imperfection, as
the thunder should have never given him a fight.


The Ocean Styx

So long, so insensitive;
deep in the warmth of my
pillow, I long to be
fully dissolved in a
tincture of silence, to
abdicate memory.

Bear me through currents of
dreams, slow, relentlessly,
high on the delicate
wings of an albatross,
further than any have
dared to be taken.

So long, and so quietly
passes the journey, and
this is according to
plan; I am rich among
travelers, fortunate
here among galaxies.


Mayday

The spear becomes a shield at
the most inopportune of times.
An army captain contemplates
the rank disorder of the lines,
and gives the men their share of water,
whiskey, butterscotch and limes -
they burrow down and bear the winter,
chilling slow beneath the waxy pines.


Abecedarian

Aphids, bumblebees,
chef’s delight -
every fly
gives honey
in June.
Keep lemon
meringues nearby,
orange peels,
queued rinds.
Softly, they
utter vanities:
white xanthan,
yeasty zopf.


Mind in Body Blues

Never enough ice in the bathtub, never
enough soap in the water,
never enough time to cool down,
to clean up, to get wet and
dry, cold in a smooth, still breeze -
there’s never enough of this water
to slake me, there’s never enough
of the shivers to keep me in roses.


Miller's Bullshit

You amateur scientists, studying quantum
mechanics, debating the odds of a universe
perfectly suited to life - could it be?

Could it be we exist in the universe, yes,
and we also exist in a second, a third,
and a fifth, but (apparently) not in a fourth?

_______________

Evidently, I wrote Blessings and Rhapsody on the same day, which must have been a hell of a day.  Is it a thing where chronically lonely people compensate with fantasies of being exhaustively oversexed?  I wonder what the psychology is on that.  I was trying to be more verbose with Rhapsody, feeling that my poetry of late (or maybe just all of my poetry) has been somewhat lacking in the "color" that comes from a wild vocabulary.  Somehow that led to food entering the mix, which may be your thing, or may not be.  Not sure it's mine.

"Melissa" is a pretty name, coming from the Ancient Greek for "honeybee" (though that's only one of the reasons I find it pretty).  I think I started writing Melissa pretty much just to work with the name, but very quickly went into something dark and symbol-riddled.  It's got kind of a Persephone vibe to it, though it isn't exactly Persephone's story.  I like the slightly mythic tone it takes on.

So, The Promise of Poetry makes me blush a little.  I started working my new job as a teacher in February, and I was asked what elective I'd like to teach in the semester that was starting up.  The first thing that came to mind was creative writing, with an emphasis on poetry, and I got really excited about it.  Thinking I might have to dive into the teaching pretty quickly, I decided that in addition to collecting some poetry for teaching example, I should come up with a work of my own to illustrate my philosophy on poetry.  So , I wrote The Promise of Poetry, and shortly thereafter was told that for my elective I'd actually be "teaching" Study Hall.  Not that there's any connection between those two events...

But Now I Remember is the product, essentially, of a rush of anxiety the night before my first real teaching day.  The feeling was so acute, it felt at the time like I'd never really been anxious before.  I don't hear literal voices in my head, but when I'm anxious I do feel like I'm being accosted by what I imagine people might be saying.  So I tried to convey that feeling of being accosted by the invisible or unreal.

And what have we here?  A sonnet!  Old Frostwine was inspired by the spectacular imagery I saw on my drive to work, up highway 99 in the very early morning.  I was deliberately reaching for the mythic again, this time for some kind of sleepy Dionysus-type guy.  It was very early, after all.  I think it's one of my better recent sonnets, very pretty in its evocation of mists and farms.

I wrote Old Records on the night of my birthday, after having driven down the 99 again to visit some friends of mine in Corvallis.  I was drinking cinnamon spice rooibos, listening to kick-ass soul records on the radio, and generally feeling like the king of the goddamned world.  I felt so good, I evidently felt like I could write about falling in love, even though I don't recall an actual romantic prospect at the time.  It just didn't matter when I was motivated by such a relentlessly positive feeling.  I think my friends found me annoying that night; they didn't seem to think my "all records = old records" formula was as profound as I did. 

Precog finds me in a lower mood again, contemplating early death.  The worst part of death, according to my anxiety, is the whole "life flashing before your eyes" business.  I'd be fine with skipping that, going straight to the oblivion.  Except I really wouldn't, I guess.

Running Out is one of two poems I wrote on the white board in my classroom during study hall, the other one being a misfire that I have since consigned to the memory hole.  This one's mostly a rhyming exercize, and I admit that resolution/destination is not an especially dazzling pair. 

I think that A Token of Courage grew deliberately out of an effort to make something out of hexameters, on which front it is technically a success.  It's another of those mythic fragments, a small piece of a story about a daring warrior plucking a feather from a Thunderbird.  I got this idea in my head: would it be considered a flaw in the performance of the myth if the hero did not get away clean?  It kind of rung with me.

I don't do drugs, apart from alcohol and caffeine of course.  Poems like The Ocean Styx are my half-hearted attempts at inducing something like a trip, not necessarily psychedelic so much as sleepy.  Yes, that's it.  I'm trying to put myself to sleep.  It's not always easy.  Dactyls and anapests seem to be the way to go.

Mayday, Abecedarian, and Mind in Body Blues were all written, more or less, in the middle of sleepless nights.  They are more literal attempts at combating insomnia, I suppose.  Abecedarian in particular is barely more than an exercise (I think you can see the parameters of it quite easily), but I still like it a lot.  I worked harder on it than I do on some real poems, which probably wasn't helping with the quest for sleep...

Miller's Bullshit is exactly that, mixed with quantum physics.  Just a fun little lark.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Album Review - To Pimp a Butterfly

When I started collecting vinyl a few months ago like the goddamned hipster I am, I had a few guidelines.  I would avoid paying for music I already owned, endeavor to include both contemporary and "classic" albums, and attempt to "expand my musical horizons" with genres and artists I had not previously paid close attention to.  Those guidelines led me to the hip-hop section, and they go a long way toward explaining how Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly found itself in my living room, in all its twelve-by-twelve glory.

I'd like to write something original and thoughtful about this album, but its dense lyricism and evocative sounds require a deep knowledge of the context of both hip hop music and the social environment of black communities in the modern United States.  As it turns out, being a twenty-something white dude with a few Outkast mp3s and an abiding fascination with the Roots, doesn't quite qualify me to speak authoritatively on either.  The sky is blue, the rain makes you wet.

So the best place to start, I suppose, is with what this record means to me.  Butterfly is a beautiful record, musically and emotionally.  It's relatable, even to someone like me, when Lamar raps and recites about the weight of society and out-of-control circumstances on one's mental health.  I've spun both discs nearly a dozen times in the past several weeks, learning more each time, both from the record and my not-infrequent trips to genius.com to clarify the meaning of verses and gather much-needed background information.

Maybe it goes without saying that I would need to do some homework to begin making sense of, much less really enjoy, a strong political hip-hop album.  Or maybe it doesn't - but what does need to be said is that Kendrick Lamar and myself speak very different languages.  When it comes to understanding rap, it's not a matter of just keeping up with the syllables.  African American English is replete with unique vocabularies, constructions, and an enduring sense of irony that does not translate into white or "standard" English.  Naturally, how could I expect to listen once and just get it?

More than a language barrier or a culture barrier, there's an experience barrier between myself and Butterfly.  If the music weren't so compelling, handing out funk and soul with equal measures of drive and poetry, the experience of this album would be incomprehensible to me.  How to fathom the depth of survivor's guilt and hypocrisy expressed in "Hood Politics" or "The Blacker the Berry"?  Not without effort.  The swagger of "King Kunta" illustrates the contradictory dynamics of success and oppression, a state embodied in the aspirations and reversals of black men and women.  And yes, I looked these songs up on genius.com before I felt comfortable making any kind of statement about them.  I am still learning how to listen to this music.

For me this album is an education, but for its intended audience it is a view of life, another contribution in a body of culture that is both familiar and increasingly alive.  The emotions on this album aren't just strong, they are expansive, as Lamar leads the listener on a whirlwind tour of rage, joy, hope, and depression, without letting any of it settle into a muted schwa.  That's the real magic of a record like this, that it can embody so completely a full suite of feelings and ideas in eighty minutes of sound.

And controversy?  Why, of course there's controversy.  Every successful hip-hop record is controversial simply for being what it is.  The attacks on police brutality and the insidiousness of white power are central to the message: you can't separate them from whatever content on Butterfly may be "apolitical".  The apolitical is beside the point, as is the ongoing, facile debate over why white people can't use racial slurs if black people are going to insist on reclaiming them.  Sure, that makes it somewhat difficult for me to sing along like I might to some one else's songs; but that only raises the question, why do I feel the need to sing along anyway?  There's so much more to gain just by listening.  If you're scandalized by Butterfly's politics, you've got a lot of listening to do.