Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Poetry Jam #13

Indulge me once again, unlucky readers, for my thirteenth batch of fancy poetry.  These poems were not meant for such an unfortunate designation; they just happened to have been written between December 2012 (you know, when the world ended) and February of this year.  By this ill chance they were cursed to be a part of Poetry Jam #13.  Apologies all around.

Usual commentary and nonsense, post script:

Susan's Thoughts

If America invaded Florida to
rebase the moon,
repair the seniors' homes
and hospital gates,
and save the alligators,
the world would be happy for us,
history would be kind.

Blue Sparks

That satisfying plug of entry;
now I know we're cooking with fire!
Put it in, plug it in, blue
and silently, before the hum
of industry, cool electricity
coursing through our wires
like the dawn of time and after.


When winds and waters sharply thunder "stop,"
reveal a polished path of ancient rock
and stand completely still, then
who will be so bold
to take the walk?

Not I, say I,
I don't intend to live so long that all
Those secrets shall be willingly unlocked.

My Lover's Favorite Song

My lover's favorite song is done
and I've forgot the melody;
I wrote it in the margins but
I can't remember how I did,
and anyway the paper's gone.

If she will keep the memory,
perhaps not all is lost, perhaps
the song will still play on for her
without my voice to hold it up.

Perhaps the echoes of my love
will keep the music in her heart.

No More Secrets

Relax my love, don't stop, hold still,
we have nothing to be scared of
from the open door beyond;
let the beams of sunlight bare
our secrets to the world, darling,
let our freedom burn the air
around us.

Night to morning break
and dawn to dusk I'll hold you near,
so don't you mind if someone sees;
we have no need of shame or fear,
and neither will we bother with
as long as they can see us clearly
through the open door.

The Song Incomplete

The music fades at the bridge,
and where am I left?
Among stars and vapors,
alone again in the mists,
as silent as then
when the music started:
before the beginning,
the strings in tune,
the precipice

Medieval Gloria

His face, she thought, was not too bad, and how
his armor shone beneath the sun!  She sighed
and thought of Europe in the Middle Ages:
home of glory, inequality,
its castles and its squalor and the plague,
and how an Irish girl might fare with luck.
Determined not to be forgotten once
she'd had the chance to wear that shining armor,
would she keep the charge in her defense?
Apart from time, between the light and dust
of the museum, she could still believe.

Idle Questions of the Sky, Questions Soon Forgotten

How shallow is our misery
when up above the clouds
the sun is either shining
or replaced by brilliant stars?

What shadow on the surface
can compare to all of this?
Why bother with the rain
when you can fly?

Trouble Sleeping

If you're having trouble sleeping,
watch the flame give up the ghost
and think; if this is only fire,
if my consciousness will burn
until it smothers and no longer,
won't these blankets put me out?

Then sleep, and know that waking
will be kindled by the sun;
the light will surely come again,
and even if it doesn't
you will sleep.

Paper Soprano

"Sketch of Spain and Catalonia,
shadow on the paper sea,"
the sweet soprano sings to no one,
but her genius reaches me;

Across the false Atlantic sea,
from years ago and years above,
and scribbled on this manuscript,
a living map to someone's love.

But how I come to hear the sorrow
of the charter, I remember
nothing much, except the summer
that emerged from her December;

Trumpets in the afternoon
and clarinets as evening falls,
with sweet soprano lyrics hanging
on the paper concert walls.

A Simple Goal

I have a simple goal for us:
to love in spite of sadness,
and the onward march of days and years
that tread across our hearts.

A simple goal,
for people very much
in love today
who wish to be in love forevet,
love and never stop.

Abandoned Homes

Somewhere in my town,
between the woods and hills and
other houses
Is an abandoned home.

I don't know if it's safe
to go there,
but I've been there once,
and between the other houses
this one looked alone.

There may be pests inside,
or chemicals,
or insulating foam;

There may be traps,
there may be treasures
in abandoned homes.

Broadcast Day

Both of us have gone asleep
with the radio on;
tonight the DJ is playing
the strangest things
that I have ever heard.

Bossa nova, indie pop
and a tremulous jazz,
with static falling around us
like powdered snow
unfrozen in our hair.

Mournful trumpets in the air,
an incredible pause
and then the analog murmer;
the broadcast day
has ended like a dream.


Thirteen poems, we'll never live it down!

In my mind, Susan's Thoughts is not actually a poem I wrote.  Sometimes I dream about teaching, and in one such dream I was teaching some sort of elementary school art class.  One of my imaginary students put these words on a poster board for a project.  In my dream, I gave her a high five.

I swear to god, I did not mean to write Blue Sparks as a sex poem.  Scrub your filthy mind!  It's clearly about the miracle of electricity and nothing else.

No More Secrets is pretty sexful, though.  I was home for Christmas, and I was lonely.  Loneliness also accounts for My Lover's Favorite Song, but that one isn't all that sexful.

Discovery is all about that cute little ending.  Everything else is justified by the ending.  MOVE ALONG NOW.

The lack of final punctuation in The Song Incomplete is intentional.  Look at the clever guy!

I wrote Medieval Gloria shortly after reading Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland, having been impressed with the author's apparent eagerness to tell the stories of the island's most interesting ladies.  It seemed to me that people ought to be inspired by the best examples of history, whatever their gender.  The girl in the poem looks beyond the ordinary, male-dominated presentation of history and sees an integral place for herself in the story.

Trouble Sleeping is one of my candle poems.  Sometimes, I am obsessed with candles.

I *love* Paper Soprano.  I don't even think it's perfect.  I just love the idea behind it.  Art to emulate, art to recreate, never quite recaptured.

I know there's nothing simple about love, but I don't think that's love's fault.  A Simple Goal is another poem for Tara.

I wrote Abandoned Homes after I walked past one on an epic hike with my friend Bau.  We were trying to find the richest homes in Eugene.  We found them, but first we found a sketchy, empty dwelling that I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled about.

I recall writing Broadcast Day on the whiteboard while subbing for a math class at Willamette High School.  I was bored during study hall and thought about how nice it would be to nap with the radio on.  Childhood memories did the rest.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Test and a Decision

If you've ever had the notion that the United States of America's place in the world is fundamentally untenable, you are doubtless concerned by what is happening with regard to Syria.  Once again, we find ourselves on the brink of what we call "intervention," a term that can encompass all things from occupation to a few cruise missiles, artfully placed to make some kind of point.  The future is open ended, but none of the ends are attractive.  And in the era of the Imperial Presidency, we have become much too accustomed to being led into this sort of adventure.

Something a little different is happening this time.  President Obama, who has thus far seemed to accept the premise that a president may make war as he sees fit, has invited Congress to make the decision of whether to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons.  That this seems new and different should be evidence enough that our system has plainly gotten away from us.  Congress is not presently in session to make that decision, but it will be very soon.  And when our honorable senators and representatives do finally meet, the ensuing events will matter hugely.  This episode will make a fine case study in the role of constitutional government in foreign policy, and will say much about how our constitution and our nation will change in the future.  But it will be even more significant for the people of Syria

Imperial Power

America teaches its children that we are powerful and that this is a good thing.  But while it is obviously preferable to have some power rather than none, occupying the hegemonic status that the U.S. does is inevitably problematic.   Hegemons hurt weaker nations almost without meaning to (to put it charitably), and they invariably rest upon institutional inequality on all scales, global and domestic.  Our power was bought with a bitter price, that will grow more unpleasant with time.

America believes its power to be a good thing, because it enables the doing of good things.  In principle, I believe in that.  How could I not, educated as I was, brought up in the midst of star-spangled flags?  But in acting as the Great Bastion of Freedom, the U.S. has changed itself and altered its constitutional system.  The words on the parchment stay the same, but the system has grown to address the concerns of power.  For example, the Congress may hold the exclusive right to declare war according to the text, but the Cold War taught us to accept that a war was sometimes only a "police action," and that a declaration of war was usually superfluous. 

So what will Congress do about Syria?  Honestly, the question nearly makes me cry.  Obama has asked Congress to give him the authorization to make an initial strike, apparently against the judgment of his cabinet.  But this Congress is objectively terrible, and the only sure thing is that its members will use this opportunity to make fools of themselves.  It is very possible that they will give the president what he asks for, simply because the subject intimidates them.

But suppose for a moment that they do not say yes.  The idea of intervention is unpopular, and the Republicans might well deny President Obama out of their usual spite.  What happens next?

Obama's secretary of State, John Kerry, said today that the President has the right to strike whatever Congress says.  He's plainly not the only one who thinks so.  But what does Obama think?  If Congress tells him no, would he change his approach?  Having overruled his administration on seemingly constitutional grounds, will he stick to that principle come what may?

It is obvious by this point that the Imperial Presidency is alive and well in the Obama administration.  It evidently takes more than hope to dismantle the rationale of power, and it is that rationale that informs Kerry's opinion, to say nothing of the NSA's adventures in domestic spying and the persecution of whistle-blowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.  Syria's President Assad has called Obama weak already for deferring to Congress.  An empire must abhor the appearance of weakness. 

But Obama can do a great deal of good for the United States by respecting the decision of Congress in this matter.  He can show with firm evidence that the spirit of constitutional government has not been fully choked in the thin air of global hegemony.  If Congress tells him no, he should not attack Syria.  If Congress modifies the plan he sent them, he should respect those changes.  And if Congress rubber stamps him, the precedent of his having asked could still be useful.  In any event, the effort to walk America back from an imperial foreign policy will be tasking.  It would be wonderful to set a positive example of cooperation between the branches of government, especially given all the inexcusable nonsense that has made these years so hard.

I have advocated for changes in our Constitution in the past, on the grounds that such changes are desirable and necessary over time in any nation.  It is not the Constitution of 1789 that is really at the crux of this issue, but the more general principle of constitutional government.  This principle, not the text, is what sustains the republic.  Thus far, Obama's approach on this specific issue is consistent with this principle, but much depends on what comes next.

Syrian Troubles

All of this talk of principle, however important, ignores a crucial consideration.  People are dying in Syria, and the situation is only growing more monstrous.  Chemical weapons have been used and may well be used again.  Assad is unacceptable, and though we've tolerated him in the past, that is no justification for tolerating him now.  The rebels, should they succeed, may prove problematic down the line, but what could be worse than a hundred thousand dead?

The United States, for all its problems, is extraordinarily powerful.  Sitting on all this power, it is hard to look at all this suffering and bloody stalemate and accept that nothing can be done, or that nothing should be done.  Whatever consequences we create, there seems to be a moral imperative to do something to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.  If power really can enable good deeds,  then why should it be of no use here?

But there may be no good to be gained, even by firing a missile straight down Assad's throat.  We can't afford another war like we had in Iraq.  We can't afford to take responsibility for Syria's reconstruction.  And we can ill use another cause celebre for al qaeda should order break down after our intervention.

What the people of Syria need is a strong cease-fire agreement, with international peace keepers to hold back any breaks.  It is not obvious how any purely American intervention will accomplish that.  It's also not clear how we can move the United Nations to impose a peace, especially given the behavior of Russia.  Any responsible observer must agree that our choices our dire, but inaction is no less so.

I don't know what we can do in Syria, or what we should do.  I don't think anyone really does.  But for us, this is a test of our historical character, one of many points that will influence where we go from here.  We cannot lose sight of the big picture, and we must be prepared to deal with whatever consequences arise.

So watch what Congress and President Obama do in the next few days.  You will learn a lot about where this world is going by how they conduct themselves.