Preamble to a Dream

The past is but a dream, a dream:
a palimpsest where writ, the scene
fades in and out of nothing, fast;
seems permanent, but cannot last
beyond the span of just one breath.
Each life begins and ends in death,
and like as not leaves little trace:
no name, no song, no deed, no face.

You often suppose that when someone sits down to write their personal history, autobiography, or memoirs, it is because they have at least in their own mind (or at the suggestion of some influencing other) achieved some sort of milestone in their life, reached a certain point at which they might feel that others would be interested in how they got to that place.

You assume a certain level, or at least type, of success prompts the need to trace your now self-satisfied steps back to their point or origin.

There’s the humble beginning, the rough start, the middling trials, and the glorious outcome, right? With an extraordinary bunch of hindsight applied to what probably is, taken individually, a completely ordinary and commonplace series of events. There’s a certain amount of hubris required, in any case, since relaying one’s own story without unnecessary embellishment, laying on the mortar and brick without laying it on too thick, is far from the humblest act one can undertake. Much like taking a vow of humility is often the vainest statement a person can make, writing about oneself under the assumption that anyone else would be the least bit interested is quite a self-assessment from the get-go.

How many who have achieved any degree of wealth, power, or fame are really in a position to spend too much potentially dangerous time with truth, insight or self-examination? Interesting reads, memoirs, but quite often the truer view is found in autobiographical fiction. After all, when the diarist creates a character or caricature of themselves, the result is often a more telling portrait of who they wanted to be, rather than who they are – which gives the attentive reader an infinitely clearer picture of the writer than an “honest” exercise in non-fiction.

No matter what genre you purportedly start out in, every book ever written eventually glides or morphs, intentionally or not, into utopian fiction. Because, after all, whether you’re making up the world or not, what you describe is either the positive result of some horrible thing or the horrible result of some seemingly positive thing. A memoir or dystopian post-apocalyptic vision in that respect are the same. You write about what you know: the good, the bad, and the ugly; the bold and the beautiful; the long day’s journey into night; the light at the end of the tunnel; the cloud of unknowing, or the voice of god. In any case, if you’re describing how wonderful things turned out to be, chances are you start out with a picture of how they began in much direr straits. On the other hand, if you’re waxing philosophic on the pile of shit the world’s become, odds are good you can point to some idyllic past moment when the fulcrum tipped irreversibly from roses and sunshine.

And every written work, whether a guide book to the inner secrets of programming in Ruby on Rails or a fanciful account of the secret life of a covert operative, presents itself in a world that either is, or is not, like the one that currently exists – and in either case, then perhaps its details differ from those personally known by the reader. Because after all, the world “as it is” or “as it is not” is a matter of perception. And the only perception forming that subjective interpretation is the writer’s.

No matter what the writer describes, no matter how “truthful” to their own reality, that description may read like complete and utter fiction (or fantasy) to a reader whose own personal life experience is nothing like it. And the agenda the writer is spinning? That’s an alternate ending to the “fate” doled out in this life, whether in the “real” or fictional world. Whether the fiction or instruction ends up as utopian or dystopian depends on whether or not the reader takes the writer’s advice, and changes the things that the world requires be changed to evolve into something better. Or at least changes, to prevent the stagnation that apathy and inaction tend to breed. And isn’t that the point of life, after all? To change, move, and grow, until you can’t do that anymore – at which point, depending on how you’ve done to that point, you serve as either fertilizer, or poison, to what comes after.

26 SEP 2016

Counterpoint: Domestic Strife and Miles ’64

A flurry of words assaults the ear
as she storms back in the room,
alto voice filling the space
left by the withering blast
of the horn; the false lull breaks

as the drum, relentless, kicks
forward the time, and her growl
bites off the bar viciously,
saying, listen close and learn –
you don’t know my opinion.

No, no, that’s my quick response,
block chords of the piano
trying to fix the segue,
substituting chord after chord,
as the bass beneath pushes

us ahead, red hot and mad,
working the room with anger;
the murderous notes fly wild,
burning away useless charts
as Miles and I turn our backs,

and say, “Never mind.”

The head that began it all
now lost, deliberately,
only tensions and guide tones
suggesting of melody,
her alto pauses and breathes

as the snare drum snaps, alert,
finding the primal level
in our talk, the undertow
where the nothing we share breeds
and lets loose its dark malice.

A conversation, I think,
is not about streams of words
in space from a single voice,
but interplay of accent;
subtle questions in each pause

a spur driving another line,
or emphasis, amplifying
the other’s words, pushing back
perhaps only with a breath
to change rhythm and the tune,

like saying, “So What?”

For the song is not possessed
by one alone; it weaves and moves
from alto to first, trumpet,
then to bass and to the drum,
brass bell, then ivory key,

as moistened reed gives way, back
to the brass, struck on its edge
by wire brush; each one pushing,
working off of each other,
waiting to get the last word.

Now she’s back in the kitchen,
but her solo I block out;
focusing my quiet vamp
’til she sits out a chorus
and I can speak my own phrase

as she turns her back to me,
thinking, like Miles, of control,
giving me a bit of space,
with an irritating cool
that shows she is the leader.

The band says, “We hate that.”

Revised version 10.31.2001

Some Things

Some things that might have always been:
that reason clouds the minds of men,
and lets them think a thing defined
is by those limits held entwined;
one’s moral compass shows true north;
that one can judge another’s worth
by using just the scale you know;
or can by wishing make it so.

Some things have been that should not be:
the vain illusion that once “free”,
one sees the world without deceit;
that victory holds no defeat;
that there is, and will always stay,
a place so black and white, that gray
can find no stronghold nor sustain;
that pleasure teaches less than pain.

Some things that ought to come to pass:
that traveling so far, so fast,
will give perspective on the whole,
and our illusions of control
might fade and gently fade to dust;
our war machines can slowly rust;
and in that brave new world, somehow,
come things not even dreamt of now.

18 JUL 2016

I Wonder, St. Patrick

Oh Paddy, oh Paddy! Long have you and I
held difference perspectives, not seen eye to eye,
nor found much in common, through legend or faith,
or some shared experience wrangling with wraiths.

I wonder, St. Patrick; and wonder makes doubt:
disabling sureness of what one’s about.
Is that what’s called “testing” or “trials” in life,
when words said against you cut like a dull knife
and nip at your ankles, like so many snakes,
while waiting so patient for your heart to break?

There is no reward save a deed in itself,
so never mind waiting in silence and stealth,
but swing that shillelagh as hard as you can!
The wheat and the chaff that cling fast to a man
can turn him to shadow and blind him to truth,
and leave him a feeble reminder of youth.

I wonder, St. Paddy, if a shallow grave,
the rest for both cowards and foolishly brave,
grows grass that is greener than one dug so deep
that who lies there never awakens from sleep.

17 MAR 2016

No End of Days

The world has not yet made its final twirl
around a sun still managing to burn;
the seasons, although changed somewhat of late,
continue with their ceaseless promenade.

Both wise and foolish prattle on no end,
with new results no different from before;
the civilized maintain the status quo
their barbarous ancestors stumbled on.

The end of days is always almost here;
soothsayers find new suckers without fail.
The young, in spite of things, still become old
and stop all their pretending at some point.

So put away those funeral shrouds for now.
There will be no apocalypse this week.

16 MAY 2016

Both Kinds of Good

It should be said (at least one time in jest)
that in the world exist two kinds of good
to separate what matters from the rest,
for use by some discerning soul who could

in keening the true nature of a thing
believe their observations to be fact,
and, damned be the naysay blabbering,
to light the world with simple, subtle tact.

To say the thing could scarce but make it so!
The world believes the magic of such words,
and will, despite what evidence may show,
imagine rocks transformed to cooing birds.

And what are these two parts of goodness named?
The pointing finger, and its share of blame.

14 MAR 2015

When It Comes

When it comes,
the night don’t know no difference:
right and wrong
and that thin line in between.

In the dark,
you just watch for the lightning.
All the rest?
Doesn’t matter what you mean.

Simple truths
in the shadows become complicated:
black and white
both appear as shades of gray.

Choosing sides
beyond sight of the border,
where you find
it don’t matter anyway.

When it comes,
the night don’t know no difference:
You and me
and the darkness closing in.

In the end,
it becomes uncomplicated:
birth and death
and the sacred space within.

04 DEC 2015

Those Whom the Goddess Calls

Those whom the Goddess makes her own
She occupies, both flesh and bone;
and will remain, solid as stone,
until She leaves to take them home.

Those whom the Goddess picks remain
only so long, until the pain
of separation, soul and brain,
creates desire for home again.

Those whom the Goddess wants, she takes:
to mold and change, and sometimes break,
until the raindrop seeks the lake
and finds out there are no mistakes.

Those whom the Goddess loves, live on,
and are but for a moment gone:
before the darkness cedes to dawn,
those listening can hear their song.

Those whom the Goddess makes her own
She occupies both flesh and bone,
and shares them with us just so long
before She calls them to come home.

for Karen Kirchem

27 OCT 2015

Happen

If it doesn’t ever happen
was it ever gonna change?
Do the puzzle pieces ever move
or just not look the same?
Are the ones that make it happen
just the ones we find to blame?
Do we pick and choose the enemies
who help us feel less strange?
Are we really hoping those like us
are all that will remain?

If it hasn’t ever happened
who’s to say it ever could?
What percentage of the greater
helps define the greater good?
Are the enemies we’re fighting
just dressed up in different hoods?
Is the only thing preventing change
that no one thinks we should?
Do we really think the universe will
end, misunderstood?

If it’s never gonna happen
what is evolution for?
What’s the point of boats, or bridges,
standing land-locked, on the shore?
Are the only ones who ever learn
the dying, dead or poor?
What’s the reason to keep going,
or for trying any more?
When there’s no one left still standing,
does it matter who just scored?

10 AUG 2015

Shut Your Mouth

Shut your mouth;
got to be careful, and nobody
wants to hear what you might say.
We’re going south,
so mind your p’s and q’s
and don’t disturb
the natives as they play.
Just keep your distance.
If you don’t get too close
they’ll never even notice
anyway.

Shut your mouth,
shut your mouth;
you may live to speak your mind
another day.

Shut your mouth;
words can be dangerous,
and no one wants
to spoil a perfect day.
We’re going south,
but never mind
because it’s never been
done any other way.
Just keep on smiling.
If you just nod your head,
they’ll never even notice
what you say.

Shut your mouth,
shut your mouth;
if you want to find a friendly place
to stay.

Shut your mouth,
if you don’t want to be
the one in every crowd
who stands alone.
We’re going south;
but does that matter?
Keep your thoughts
safely inside
the comfort zone.
Just keep pretending.
If you try hard enough
they won’t bother to tap
your telephone.

Shut your mouth,
shut your mouth;
if you want to get along
and feel at home.

01 JUL 2015