At Noon I’m Just a Man

I.

I lay down a Captain and a deist
scheming at waves of massed dreams
diving from the plastered sky
– kill a little, leave a little be –
and casting a guided prayer for peace
and help
and hoping
there’s enough company here for the plea to be absorbed.
The key prayer for reinforcements
in rooms defrocked of their vested power of relief.
Under the moon, that last supper clings to a dream
of never being taken at all.
In a moment, God says, it will not have been.

II.

I wake up a poet and a deist.
Spreading my toes to filter First Things
springing from the earth of the morning
– catch a little, leave a little be –
and casting a blanket prayer for space
and absence
and hoping
there’s enough emptiness here for the plea to echo back.
The rare prayer for abandonment
in rooms vested with a host of languid dust motes.
Before the sun, breakfast clings to a hope
of being taken alone.
For a moment, God says, it can be.

Burning Down the House

In winter it is all wet.
The trees burdened groundward
Exhausted cedar boughs
reach skyward to nothing,
clawing at the clouds
like they’ve woken up inside
a grave without a bell.

I look inward to late spring –
the marginal brightening.
A shuttered window at midnight where
there’s dancing inside
and the light trips out just around the edges.

In summer the house burns down
and everyone gets out
alive

Reaching for Mysteries

It is all wet.
The trees burdened groundward.
Cedar boughs exhausted
from reaching skyward to nothing.
I look forward to late spring.
The marginal brightening.
A shuttered window at midnight where
there’s dancing inside
and the light trips out just around the edges.
In summer the house burns down again.

That’s not for nothing. Not for something. Shower thoughts that might have a little life in them.

I’ve got a week – ooh, lemme get a little Euro here: I’ve a week at uni behind me. It was just the lubrication I needed. I’m not fully comfortable and confident there, but my NEW GUY NEW GUY NEW GUY neon has dimmed. The hardest thing to do in a foreign land is kill time with grace and dignity. My schedule with the kids, combined with the uncertainty of traffic, means I leave for school as soon as I can and generally get to campus well before class starts. Have to kill time. I’m getting better at it.

Colleges are the sort of places that cling to the idea of being a good place to be. I suppose that to call a collection of buildings “good” is to misuse the term a bit, but the architecture and the landscaping and the livable area in general just always seems to have been designed in an effort to rise above the mundane. And I think that is good, in a very old fashioned, rigorous sense of the word. A century ago I would have been able to say that it “reaches toward the divine” without losing readers. Today I can say vaguely and without offense (to anything but the truth) that it aspires to something greater. The architecture can be grand, the open spaces are comforting. College campuses are not strictly functional places. They are transformative places. And this is not simply because of the classes or by accident or by dint of tuition and private funding. It is because it has always been known that to be at our best requires help. To achieve at our highest levels is not a droll and mechanical undertaking. The human status quo is truncated by inherent limitations, and we surpass them only by reaching beyond ourselves. Historically, that was the purpose and intent of art and architecture and music. College campuses are one of those places where a little bit of the human reach is still directed upwards.

Which is not to say that Seattle University is a gem of architectural wonder. It has some of those spaces where commercialism and efficiency have muscled their way in and a shy austerity is created by too much lighting, too much space, and too much smoothness. I like the rooms in the administration building instead. Paint flaking off the frames of the wafer-thin windows, old brown chalkboards, doors that close with a heavy ‘thunk.’ Everything is so sturdy above the thick carpet that sounds are naturally muffled.

At the top of the 2nd floor stairs is the always shut door of the small Immaculate Conception Chapel. I want to go in, but I adore the mystery that the closed entrance creates, emerging over the horizon of the top step as you ascend, and I’m afraid that to open it will solve that mystery and make life too normal again. The proverbial door that, once opened, can never be closed again.It’s like Christmas: the problem with presents is that it’s no longer Christmas after you open them.

Week 2 starts tomorrow. I get the feeling this one’s going to move fast and set the tone for what’s coming. Killing time should become much less of a concern.

Moar Poetree

Civilised (I spelled that with an English s instead of a z, and Word took the piss) civilized people, smart people, don’t make resolutions. Do we? Remember Keyser Soze? “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he wasn’t real.” Well, the greatest trick that people ever pull is convincing themselves that nothing has to be hard. Resolutions are hard. If you don’t make a resolution you can’t fail at it. Last September 1st I resolved to quit drinking. Done. I can’t really resolve to keep not drinking, because to not drink implies that, in different circumstances, I would be drinking. It implies a battle against impulses and urges. I don’t have those. Can’t fight an impulse that I don’t have.

What do I resolve?

I’m sitting in Starbucks, where the interior designers give zero shits about the concept of personal space. The guy next to me is so close that if I lose focus I might start typing on his keyboard. This is not a good arrangement for me. I resolve that by the end of 2017, this will be a perfectly acceptable arrangement for me.

What else do I resolve? Moar Poetree. I took that Creative Writing class last quarter, which turned out (to everyone’s surprise I eventually learned) to be a poetry class. I’ve written some poems over my life. I’ve read some. I’ve railed against free verse because it is the written version of every modern art installation going. It is the manifestation of the mantra that “art can be anything, and anyone can be an artist.” Neither of those things are true, and neither is it true that hammering out a 15 line free-written run-on sentence of f-bombs and sex, then breaking it up into random lines, is always poetic. Or even artistic. Sometimes – often times – it’s just bad and inaccessibly personal. What would be the point of something like golf if it had literally no rules save requiring a club and a ball? When poetry has no rules save requiring words, there’s nothing left to be good at. There’s nowhere to put the beauty. And I’m afraid I will not back down on this one. Whatever the paint-splatterers and fecal-smudgers may pretend about art existing for shock and discomfort, they are wrong. Art is for beauty and intellectual improvement. Art can, of course, be beautiful and uncomfortable. The two are not mutually exclusive. Look at how many people are made uncomfortable by Christmas plays. Imagine the furor if something as incredible as The Assumption of Mary showed up in a courthouse.

the-assumption-of-mary

So yes, beauty can be uncomfortable, but not because it’s beautiful. Rather, because we’re not. The arrangement is supposed to be that the beauty in art can show the viewer his ugliness and help motivate him to aspire to greater things. Not that the ugliness in art can show the viewer just how ugly art can be and help motivate him to be miserable. Cans of Shit  (It’s Wiki, no pictures) come to mind, but the list is long.

I digress. I prefer (preferred) rhyme because it requires discipline where free verse eschews it. It’s harder to be good when you have limitations, and so it is better to be good when you have limitations. But I have come around. That someone simply insists his free verse is good does not make it so. I certainly don’t have to believe that it is. Also, that there are no – or fewer – rules, does not mean that free verse cannot be good. I proved that several times last quarter. Free verse can be spectacular.

So…

Moar Poetree. I carry prejudices. So do you. Saying “Welcome, refugees!” does not mean that you approach the world with harmonious magnanimity. I do not deny my prejudices. How does my prejudice work? I write a little formula in my head. It’s poetry – it’s art – so in this day and age it’s likely to be very preachy. The saying goes that all art is political. All art is politics. So, the first number in my formula is “art” and its attendant political meanings. Next we have the first poet we examined in my Creative Writing class: Naomi Shihab Nye.  “Naomi. Shihab. Nye.” Can you imagine a more wildly identity-packed name than that? She’s from somewhere that isn’t Nebraska, that’s for damn sure. So in today’s political and artistic climate, that name wields a heavy ethnic aggressiveness. When you are named like that, you are armed. You are weapons hot in the Western culture. So my equation looks like this right now:

“Art” + “Weaponized ethnicity”

This, by my calculations, can only result in one outcome:

Art + Weaponized Ethnicity = White People Suck

Unlimited license to rail against whiteness and privilege and all the dull usuals that populate places like art, where mediocrity bullies its way to power. It’s a title IX officer’s wet dream.

And so we dove into the poetry of Naomi. Shihab. Nye. I was doubtful and skeptical and preparing my defense. And we read “The Art of Disappearing.” And it was beautiful. It is beautiful. Nye is Palestinian, she is Texan, she is American, she lived in the West Bank, she went to Trinity University. She could be killing us with political accusations. But she does not. Politics exist wherever they are sought, and her poems are no exception. But she is a child in an adult’s body, writing with an informed innocence that I think is impossible if you have never been loved. I mentioned that the beauty of art can exist to show us where we are not beautiful, and to inspire us to improve. Nye’s poetry ups the ante, making me not so much aware of my ugliness, but making me feel more beautiful than before I started. Oscar Wilde said “Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.” Her poetry, I think, does that. It makes me sympathise with her success. It makes me happy for her. That’s really something. She wrote this one about time:

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

I am happy for her that she wrote that. Last night, friends and I scribbled wishes on wispy sheets of paper. Gossamer parchments. We lit them and they rose up as they burned, the ash falling slowly back down so it could be caught, carefully, and the wish could be made real. The first stanza of “Burning the Old Year” seems to have been written for that moment. What a nice way to wake up on New Year’s Day – sober and poetic.

So my other resolution: More Poetry.

Back to the Dance

When I started this creative writing class, I swore that I would only write original content. Meaning that I would not go back through my years of essay/poetry/flash fiction blogging for material. Thus far I have honored that. But our last assignment is to write a poem that involves the concept of or a sense of time in some way, and damn it, I knew immediately that I had the perfect piece to go back and pull forward. Here’s the original from (oh my) nearly 5 years ago. I love that I’ve been recording things for this long. Since what, 2008, I think. How’s that for a sense of time?

Here it is, poemized. Poetified. Poefied. It’s probably not the final form. We always revise and revise and revise, of course. But how nice this is:

We Have a Dance that Makes Us Forget

We’re incredible, you and me.
We should be fetal and weeping
all the things that come our way.
But we barely notice as we act like waking up this morning
erases all the times he woke us up last night
the poor boy and his cutting teeth and
whatever the rattling wind
did to his dreams.

And in the fog of another morning
we are buried under the things.

But we’re incredible, you and me.
We should be dim and unresponsive
if we could afford the lapse.
But we barely notice as we give the girl a ‘good morning’
and a choice of food for breakfast.
She crests the stairs carrying
the bags under her eyes
that her father gave her.

And the harried ballet of the birth of a day gets eased by
– we’re already late.

But we’re incredible, you and me.
We should be hunched and scuffling
if we could even move that fast.
But we barely notice and we make a little dinner
and go “ga-ga” to the boy
and “use your manners” to the girl
and we smile and
have a family hug.

And they want to hear music now because
they dance to everything that isn’t sleep.

The old men on the TV continue to beat each other dumb
while the old man in his chair heaves a sigh
that comes out like the ghost of his grandparents
rushing to turn up the radio.
A sigh that works like amnesia.
The television disappears with a click.
A fog horn mourns in the distance.
The music plays and our people dance.

We’re incredible, you and me.

The White Noise of Prophecy

 

What if I just drove hard
with a picture in my head of where I wanted to go
and that picture was a desert.
I drove and I dreamed and I screamed and I became
a carbureted harbinger of ills that I can taste when I speak them.
And I spoke of where I wanted to be –
black charred sands
ice cold mornings
a lifetime of miles from her grave.

What if all I could do on the way was
vent that little cigarette window and watch my spent ashes
dancing an unlikely moment in the eddy
while I rod full throttle
with a picture in my head of a place that doesn’t exist
because it might be the only way I can stop seeing that forest –
damp green sanctuary
damn dirty cliché
all moss and mood and running snow
pooling in raucous serenity
where the world’s worst poems about loss
collect to commiserate over their feelings of inadequacy
and where a dipped toe stirs guilt into prophecy –

white noise
the pestilent buzz of a dead limb
the prayer that didn’t take

And what if I was Jonah
driving in a panic away from the mouth of a giant fish
because in the rearview I saw inside its maw
and I saw that wicked forest
mocking me forever as it begged me home.
So I had to fly forward to a burnt delusion
to leave that pretty little place in the woods
where I buried her.