Saturday, October 15, 2016
Well, I've had time. But I'm also enthusiastic using my freedom in the pursuit of nothing. So there you go.
But now that I have a lazy Saturday evening, it's time to hit you all with another hot mess of poems, scribbled from the depths of my soul-thing. They're all from August and September of 2016, a fine pair of months in which good things happened and I was fairly creative.
Content warnings for some light sexual and supernatural happenings.
in a long dream,
for ages after I woke,
completely out of touch.
in car doors,
keys in slit
touch in mental illness.
lost the penalty kicks too,
I left my left shoe.
On resetting the counter from six hundred and nineteen to zero days.
I will lie
awake for nights
in the deep of thought,
examining and dissecting
for the slightest sign
that I am guilty of a casual sin.
Over and again,
I will lie
on this bed and rationalize
until I am well convinced
that I didn't use her
without the noblest intentions.
I will lie
on a pillow my head doesn't fit
and recall, with perfect accuracy,
that she called it off
before I did.
With a thick, red grin,
I will lie
on my back
and take comfort in knowing
that I was the model
of a patient man.
I found an empty washing machine
with three quarters in the slots,
and without thinking, I attempted
the aggravated mortal sin
of stealing seventy five cents.
Mighty God was clearly watching
when I pushed the sliding lever
and found the coins would not go through:
I gave him such a blasphemy,
for wasting a cup of good detergent.
I loaded up the other machine,
and then I thought, at least I'll have
the last word - so I pulled a key
and pried the stubborn quarters out,
to stuff them in my cotton pocket.
Two of them came loose with ease,
but something struck me wrong about
the third; I took a closer look
and found the reason for the jam -
the face of Queen Elizabeth.
It feels strange, but I have never
even been to Canada; now
I have her royal highness on
a shelf, and fifty good American
cents to put towards a visit.
Pouring salt around our door
and chanting Anglo-Saxon,
you were not surprised
to have eluded their possession,
any more than I was shocked
that you had found religion.
Back when you were casting spells
with kitchen herbs and spices,
carving soapy talismans
and wearing black disguises,
your mother was convinced
that you were just a bit misguided.
Your father wasn't worried,
since you passed in all your classes,
and even when you bought grimoires
from alchemists and witches
he preferred to write your interests off
as adolescent wishes.
As long as no one else could see
the revenants and spirits
menacing around our dorm
with eyelids cold and viscous,
a quaint obsession with enchantment
wouldn't seem suspicious.
But I could not ignore
the spectral hellions' endeavors,
nor the lore you had amassed
in circles carved with scepters,
iron charms and sacred songs,
enchanted wards of heather.
The wonder of it was,
the transformation was successful,
and how your tender form became
a shining, potent vessel -
an aegis from a goddess,
raised to infinite potential.
the lady of the parlor whispered,
join me in the parlor for an
the woman in the ballroom whistled,
see the way I balance on my
stylish, modern heels.
the maiden of the kitchen whispered,
find my kitten, I'm afraid the
little dear is missing.
the matron of the garret whistled,
let me out, I guarantee that
you will not regret it.
the disembodied spirit whispered,
the shadows called me by this name,
before they did me in.
On the Leather Seats
A dozen efforts
and several muttered curses,
then a loud, remonstrative
a helping hand,
and then a satisfying
Rock and Roll, and Other Children's Records
Maybe, when you think about it,
but what do I know? I wouldn't know.
This is all I've got to add:
pop was a mistake, and rock
was always just a misguided attempt
to take it back. But don't be sorry;
it turns out all we needed
was rhythm and blues all along.
Three successive days,
strange versions of "Caravan"
lift the radio.
Tuning out, I take a moment on my phone, I lean against a convenient pillar,
and then I see from out the corner of my eye a friendly, feminine face -
she looks at me with auburn eyes, expectantly, as if she were an old friend of mine.
And I am at a loss for words - I stutter, "hey", and ask if we could have met before -
I was confused, I said, because she looked as though she wanted to talk to me.
"No", she answered, before returning to her sisters, "I was waiting for you to talk to me".
She is gone, and with an instinct I depart across the room, to the open bar,
for now I have become a handsome man without a witness.
Before the Dawn, I Know of Such Release
Before the dawn, I know of such release,
as only joyful tension can provide.
The twists of night are settled down in peace,
and in anticipation, I abide
without the aid of any false alarm.
It is a blessing to awaken now,
because the day is scattering its charm,
and I am overcome with thinking how
I'll soon be gathered up in your embrace.
And like a rapid river I am free,
though miles separate me from your face -
a thousand millions couldn't hinder me.
You only need a little patience more
to find me flowing sweetly by your door.
Eye delighted, ear delights,
and mouth inebriated -
so delightful, says my skin
with liquid, cool detachment -
nose cannot reply, because
the scent has left it speechless.
Stubborn bees discover blooms in empty parks and gardens, growing from dead bushes.
On the Passing of a Hateful Poet
The best that could be said on his behalf
was that his politics, philosophy,
and all the record of his acts and deeds
were calculated cruelty - and yet
his book of poems named him "hypocrite".
Crying Out, the Cruelest Plunder
Soldiers, treasure hunters, mighty governments
have gathered at the bottom of a faded quarry,
further wearing out its porous limestone walls
with steam machines and lights like pale, imprisoned stars.
Their shovel-hands have come to excavate my bones,
my skeleton of ashes, middens, ancient graves,
and precious works of art, endemic to my soul.
They work in ceaseless shifts with automatic drills,
to separate the songs and legends, words and faith
(which they confess they never wanted anyway)
from out the rock and soil, bone from bloodied flesh.
They come again, from year to year, in search of plunder,
always something different, always something else
to feed on from the sorrows of my burdened body,
and never once in all the passing centuries
of scavenging from me, has any vagabond
been satisfied to wait until I'd truly died:
they'd gladly tear my ribs to see the living blood.
At Champoeg State Park
Held across the sky, a wind-blown barrier
stills with the lightness of the breeze.
With a step and a high vault,
I could reach across the threshold
and fall into the smooth sea of slim birds.
Cloud fire arcs across the rim,
burns leaves in seven shades of green;
half of them in the dangerous night,
another half aglow,
and I am born aloft on a circus dare
through bold canopies, sail in hand.
Left is a little dance of irregular lines, a short meditation on a typical state of my mind. That makes it sound more interesting than it probably is.
I kind of had to write On resetting the counter, though it may have been a little TMI. It's literally true, I did break my sexual dry spell this summer after six hundred and nineteen days, with the help of a woman who I have not seen since; she sent me a text two days later about just being friends. Having never been in a position quite like that, I tried to express my ambivalence about what we'd been through and how it ended up. My life has changed since then and I'm pretty over it now, but this is a good record for me to have.
Laundry Story is another one of those things that I think is pretty funny, and it's absolutely based on a true story, with only a few fudged details. I tinkered with the meter with all the love due to a really bad joke, and I will always be fond of this one.
Magick didn't turn out with all the majesty I'd hoped for. I had this idea for a rhyming story with rhymes that didn't quite work, and that is exactly what I got. The impact feels a little meh to me, but I tried.
I aimed for creepy with Wiss and I think that one succeeded well. It has a Victorian ghost-story feel to it, and while I'm unsure if "Wiss" is a real (or even plausible) name, the whole thing sprung up from an idle thought that it was a sort of creepy sound. Sometimes that's all it takes.
On the Leather Seats is a sexy little fake-out, the kind of thing that brings a smirk to your face when you've read it. Hopefully. I'm smirking anyway. I'm sure there have been plenty of real sexual adventures that started like this.
Rock and Roll is one of those weird sort-of-free verse poems that I sometimes write with the intention of sounding kind of sleepy and drunk. I swear, it really is on purpose. It's a little sermon on music, and the fake-drunkenness is a small attempt to make that more interesting.
There are two haiku in this collection. One, "Caravan", Again, was based on nothing more than an observation that I'd heard three different versions of that jazz standard in three days. Stubborn bees has a little more to it. It is both a reflection on nature and the seasons, as a true haiku should be, and also arranged as a single line. It is my understanding that this is the way of things in authentic Japanese haiku, and I thought a long line would be more interesting and less "choppy".
After Dark is another true story, pretty much exactly true. It describes an interaction that took place over perhaps twenty seconds, but was sufficiently strange to remember. I was also heavily under the influence of Whitman's Leaves of Grass that night, and tried to imitate the kind of free verse he used so masterfully.
Before the Dawn and Senses are very special poems, both being written for my new girlfriend, Ariele. I met her shortly after my aforementioned "adventure", so scandal-mongers be at ease! I wrote her a sonnet, as that is the most classic form of romantic poetry; though I tried to put a twist on it with a rethinking of the rhythm and line arrangement. Senses is less labored over, but it's also pretty cute.
On the Passing of a Hateful Poet is a little clumsy in the meter, but it expresses a particular thought I had about people with shitty personalities who nevertheless produce beautiful creative work. I've actually forgotten who I specifically had in mind, and that's not a cop-out. Anyway, it bothers me that a person who thinks beautiful thoughts can fail to live up to them, and I feel it's a kind of hypocrisy if those thoughts come out as art or poetry. But hypocrisy, I fear, is inevitable for all of us.
Crying Out, the Cruelest Plunder is a solidarity poem, for indigenous people who continue to be threatened by colonization. It was written as I learned about the issues surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the Standing Rock Sioux community. It was originally to have been in free verse, but the first line led me to favor hexameters.
At Champoeg State Park is another nature poem, written on a school field trip to the place of that name. Just a short meditation on the look of trees and clouds, with a wistful imagined flight to provide some action. Bonus information: I learned on this trip that the customary pronunciation of "Champoeg" is /ʃæmˈpui/, which is just silly.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
And then this will all be over. Well, it really won't because Trump will contest the election (ineffectually, but noisily) and his legacy of outrageous fascism will live on... but at least I'll be able to call him and everyone who voted for him a loser, and then take a nice, peaceful nap for about a year.
I'm now as certain as I can comfortably be that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. That means we'll have to reckon with all of her political baggage, but also that we will have averted a Trumpian apocalypse, and will have opened the door for qualified and inspired women to assume the Presidency in years to come. So, that's cause to feel good.
I've been putting off writing about the election for a while, because contemplating a future where Donald Trump is the President of anything is viscerally disgusting. It's only in recent weeks, as the Donald's poll numbers have tanked miserably, that I've actually felt comfortable laughing at his buffoonery again.
Donald Trump is only funny when his eventual humiliation is assured. He'd be even more risible if he were marching off to prison for the sexual assaults he's all but admitted to committing, but the prospect of his losing decisively in November is also pretty satisfying. Laughing in the faces of ignorant white men is also a fond desire.
I know I'm getting ahead of myself, and setting myself up to eat serious crow in the event that Trump does pull off whatever the opposite of a miracle is. But I need the pick-me-up.
I actually did spend this Monday discussing the election with my students, including the reasons why I could not possibly support Trump. Most of my students are in agreement that he is, to use a commonly cited phrase, "a racist asshole". A consensus for supporting Hillary Clinton is less pronounced, but that's their business. I really don't want to tell my students what to think - but it's imperative to me that they understand what a danger Trump represents to their futures.
How they'll feel after four years of Hillary Clinton, when many of them will at last be of voting age, is any one's guess. I am content to see how she does, and try to evaluate her term in a fair manner. I have my expectations, and she will probably fall short of some of them, while exceeding others. But at least she won't be a tenth as awful as Trump's worst potential.
I'm going to shut up about politics (here at least) until after Election day. But as busy as I am with work and stuff, I want to post some new poetry soon, and maybe even get back to work on that fiction I kind of abandoned last year. Maybe when the last of my Trump anxiety has faded.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
Unfortunately, even the certain knowledge that the "right" candidate would win the Presidency this year, couldn't set me wholly at ease. The good intentions of a voter cannot account for the reality of elected officials, or the reality of the state we all suspect is looking to screw us.
It's not my job - in fact, it's against the purpose of my job - to tell you what to think, who to follow, and who to vote for. But it would be immoral not to be honest with you about where I see this country is going (to say nothing of the world), and more so to deny where we've already come to. I'll do my best in the classroom; if any of you should stumble upon this essay, I hope you will find it more useful.
Many of you know, or suspect, that you live in a medium tainted by political propaganda.You may not know it at a conscious level, but you've learned to suspect that official narratives can be manipulative and self-serving, that authorities can be wrong (deliberately or mistakenly),and that issues can be much more complicated than they appear. Much of what is not criticized or questioned is actually an illusion.
Unfortunately, the people who are most willing to "disillusion" you have only their own illusions to offer in their place. At a fundamental level, this is inevitable. If the veil could really come down, we would have torn it off the rings centuries ago. It's not that we prefer the veil of our illusory worldviews, but rather that in a practical sense there is nothing else to see.
At that fundamental level, people have lived in the illusions of their own worldviews for all of human history. Perhaps there have been prophets and seers who truly could perceive the world as it "really" is. In your life, you're more likely to encounter a series of alternative perspectives. Many of these will be illogical, unscrupulous, and sinister. They will also be dangerously appealing.
Let's get specific: I'm talking about the outrageous pet theories of racists, bigots, and misogynists. I'm talking about the people who cast aspersions on the characters of innocent Jews and Muslims; who proudly ignore the slow, tortuous genocide of indigenous people; who regard Africans, Latinos, or Romani people as racially dishonest and criminal; who interpret poverty and opulence as outward manifestations of human worth; who equate desperate need with greed, and aggressive greed with an admirable intelligence; who peddle inane theories about the size of women's brains and their fitness for an undomesticated existence; who obsess over the harmless sexual practices of their neighbors, and insist on policing and demeaning their habits, activities, and genitals; who treat children and women as a kind of property, to be "protected" or "targeted" in a proud struggle between men; who submissively revere power as expressed through arbitrary violence and self-destructive behavior; who muse on the possibility of improving the world by mutilating or murdering people they deem inferior, defective, or unproductive.
I'm talking about ideas which are repeated so easily, by people so parochial they hardly know why parochialism should be a problem, that the average listener may not even perceive their full implications. Lift up your eyes, and you'll find yourself engulfed in a sea of such nonsense. Or maybe you won't - I don't pretend to know how the veil looks from where you're standing. Whatever your eyes see, I only hope you are listening too.
Now, this is the section where I tell you what to think, who to follow, and who to vote for.
In November of 2016, the voters of the United States will have their choice of being led by a woman with a problematic history of secrecy, obscurity, and inconsistency (the sins of a career politician); and a man who thinks that being rich and famous gives him the right to treat women and girls like toys. More broadly, Donald Trump sees all people as a means to an end, granting them conditional respect as human beings only to the extent that they resemble him, enable him, and embody his prejudices. Hillary Clinton is also ambitious, arrogant, and occasionally dishonest. However, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - in her history to indicate she is prone to the kind of cartoonish corruption which Trump openly aspires to.
There are basically three reasons why Trump has a chance of becoming the next President of the United States. Accounting for these reasons here cannot change the underlying reality. But for your own sake, you should study them, and understand them well.
First, the political system of the U.S. is highly polarized, and strongly favors two dominant political organizations over any upstart rivals. This is not to say that a third party candidate cannot become President, because if that candidate were to win a majority of votes in the electoral college that is exactly what would happen. But constitutional, psychological, and economic factors have conspired to turn Presidential elections into a bipolar tug-of-war, so that a third party candidacy can really only affect the outcome by sapping the strength of one side relative to the other. A vicious cycle maintains the duopoly of Republicans and Democrats on the White House, and Donald Trump is the Republican Party's duly chosen candidate this year.
Second, Americans have increasingly grown frustrated with the state of their country and its role in the world. They come by this frustration in many ways, but they mostly come by it honestly. The truth is, as a global super-power with an imperial (and expensive) military, an economic regime that encourages a huge gulf between the rich and the poor, and a continuing history of brutish racial oppression, there is a lot to be frustrated with. American voters are savvy enough to know that the two-party system and its conventional politicians are in large part responsible for this. Trump is unconventional enough to appear, in some circles, as a viable protest candidate.
Third, Donald Trump has shamelessly rooted his politics in prejudice and reaction. He aspires to lead the United States as a paragon of masculine power, respected for his wealth, physical prowess, sexual boldness, and his brash self-confidence. This is not necessarily a losing strategy in a country inhabited by millions of men who resent the erosion of traditional masculinity. Neither is it necessarily unwise to disparage religious and ethnic minority groups in a land full of paranoid white Christians, accustomed to being treated as "real Americans" and surrounded by those they see as usurpers and impostors. Trump affirms their parochial anxieties, and declares that he has the macho strength of will to put everything back in its "right" place. Even as he is the candidate of radical change, Trump is also the candidate of traditional hierarchies and vulgar parochialism.
The Democratic Party, meanwhile, has nominated someone who largely stands with the political establishment, even as she upends traditional notions about the suitability of women for leadership. Under the administration of Hillary Clinton, the United States will not become a paradise of economic and social equality; neither will it cease in its role as a global empire, terrorizing foreign people with drones and manipulating the affairs of other nations. There is always hope that it may become marginally better, but a message like that does not inspire in so visceral a way.
I am voting for Hillary Clinton because I believe she is good enough: she is the best candidate the nominating process has produced, third parties included. I believe there is symbolic value in voting for a woman, even if she is not an avatar of feminist ideological purity. I believe that many people in this country could face grave danger if she loses, from Trump himself or from the reactionary politicians who take advantage of his rise. She doesn't represent everything I want in a candidate, but her opponent represents everything I do not want. I must oppose him, and the best way I can see to do that is to support Clinton.
Most of you cannot vote in this election, but if our Constitution continues to operate for the foreseeable future, you will have the opportunity to vote in others. I can't foresee what those elections may look like, or what the candidates of the future may offer you. But this election may offer important lessons, which you would do well to learn.
Democracy is not just a mechanism for assigning power to individuals. It is also an ideology, a system of values. It is one which the United States, for all its faults and hypocrisies, has professed to support. It is a rebuke to tyranny and a defense of ordinary people, a declaration that they can manage their own interests responsibly. If you believe in these values, do not support a candidate whose only constant political value is "strength".
Democracy is only possible in a system that is ruled by laws. The laws of the United States are often confused and cruel in their execution, but in being ruled by them we at least are not ruled by the whims of a contemptuous dictator. Laws can be changed without bloodshed, but when a leader has no respect for law or custom, there is no guarantee he will not use naked violence to get his way. If you believe in the rule of law, do not support a candidate who sees it as an inconvenience or a joke.
It is possible to change the worst aspects of our political situation; however, it requires hard work and a concerted effort among responsible and motivated people. Resist the urge to treat any candidate, no matter how anti-establishment, as a savior who can fix everything in a few short strokes. Instead, look for candidates for Congress and the Presidency who will take responsibility for improving our infrastructure and our society. Do not support candidates who are wantonly irresponsible in all aspects of their lives.
Lastly, remember that even if politics seems alienating and irrelevant to your life, the outcomes of elections matter dearly to a lot of people. The rights of women, people of color, immigrants, the poor, gender and sexual minorities, and people with disabilities, are considered to be expendable in a society that does not care about the people behind those generic labels. If you care about the rights and the welfare of your neighbors, do not support a candidate who treats them with contempt, or open hostility.
Our politics work best when more citizens are engaged with them. But they will never work perfectly, and the United States may soon have its day of reckoning for its mistakes and its errors. For now, the best we can do is to try and govern ourselves with dignity and wisdom, to compromise when we must and defend what really matters.
Most of all, remember that world is always more than it seems to be. If you doubt your own judgment, take a good long time and listen.