Monthly Archives: May 2004

A Meditation on St. Sebastian

What is the secret
hidden behind
the veiled innuendo
that hangs
its tapestries
of heavy corded cloth
on these rotting temple walls?

I pierce your flesh with countless
arrows, yet you fail to die;
beheaded, in a pool of cloying blood
your gore-stained neck still
spouts a sermon.

Your skin reeking of the sweet
heavy sweat of gasoline, that hangs
like night jasmine in the humid air
is a reproach; and the raw furrows
there along your back
sing out a louder song than the
hiss and crack of the bullwhip
whose overture is now at end.

Shall I proceed to light the anointing oil
that to your neck you are immersed?
Will turning past their breaking point
the screws against your thumbs
release your hands
from this grasping hold on my neck?

I have burnt away your tongue
with live, red-hot coals;
Will your drawn and quartered limbs,
under the patient care of
some sister-wife,
be sewn to whole in some dark,
fetid swamp?

Look, the lions will not even
deign to touch your ruined
flesh — it reeks of waste,
of offal, some perfume
that burns the roughest tongue.

What would you live to prove,
that in your dying cause
remains?

Give me no more martyrs;
for the aroma of seared flesh
does not provide a savor
to my senses.

29 MAY 2004

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Et tu, Brute, or Julius Caesar by Newsfeed

Sometimes keeping a journal can be compared to elective surgery undergone in lieu of some other action, corrective or otherwise, to remedy a more serious life-threatening condition. The act of journaling or blogging, for me, is less about getting my thoughts and creative aspirations down on paper than it is chronicling the space and time continuum in which those things arise. And really, it is less about that than it is about the interactivity of internet journaling.

To do interactive journaling right, from my perspective, is to follow where those who come to my journal come from — their journals, websites, associations, news sources. Sadly, it ultimately turns out that most blogs are not about the self of these individual bloggers, but more about their sources of information. There is, in a lot of cases, the misguided notion that the blogger is responsible for the only intelligent filtering of information available on the web. So many blogs are filled with clipped stories extracted from newsfeeds — that frankly, everyone else reads too — in an attempt to define one’s own political, spiritual and/or societal framework and/or agenda through some kind of William S. Burroughsesque cut-up of the reality they inhabit.

The problem, though, is that it is definition through exclusion, through the interplay of other peoples’ words. Very rarely — and this is what separates the mediocre news filter from the blog worth reading — the aggregator describes what is essential, absolutely necessary, and ultimately the most universal aspect of the selected news clipping — and that is its effect on them personally. In their own words. Now, these words may be disagreeable to me. They may be misspelled. They may not only disgust or amuse (and these seem to be the polar extremes, with tittilate and epiphanate floating somewhere in between) and they may cause me to shrink back in horror from the person whose self is revealed in their ramblings. But that is the REAL part of the news of that blog. That’s what makes it worth bookmarking, revisiting, and clipping from, not figuring out that of the 1,979 times Donald Rumsfield, for example, said something hideous today that was repeated on the web, that my blog has tracked down and collected 1,732 of them, and duly reported my findings like an objective reporter not personally affected by the findings or the outcome of an act, or somehow not part of the very statistics deemed worthy of report.

Because information is not an end unto itself. It cannot be. That’s like saying the Bible is God. As I’ve said before, that’s a little too limiting when it’s obvious that God is the entire library.

The point I’m trying to make is this: that it is not the information that is important, that is worth sharing — although the most interesting thing about news aggregation on the web is its explicit illustration that the freedom of the press, at least the mainstream press, is limited to those who own one. What is important is that there are people attached to those blogs. And those people, those individuals, who in these troubled times may be so afraid to not only give their opinion, but form it in the first place (after all, doesn’t the Bible say that to think about sinning is ultimately the same as committing the sin itself) have got to have something to say, something worth hearing, at least in their own minds, or they wouldn’t be going through the troubling of establishing on-line accounts, designing blog templates, accumulating directory links and cultivating friends-via-electron. But what is it they’re saying? Are we as a society claiming, boldfaced, that we are nothing more than how we are portrayed in the news? Is that all there is to it?

Sure, I’ve got an agenda. So does everyone else whose got a blog. It may be just a playful way to express an alternate side of yourself. It may be that you want some way to focus certain energies that affect your worldview. It may be that you’re simply tired of holding pen to paper, or phone to ear as a means for communicating “what’s really happening with me” to your friends, be they “real-life” or “on-line”.

I wonder, though, how many express that agenda in their own words, or taking the easy way out, like Dr. Frankenstein, create the monster that is their on-line selves using spare parts from other people’s bodies.

Bah. Enough ranting for today. I’m off to the Gulf of Mexico to dip my feet at the seashore.

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The Wall

There is something in a family that doesn’t like a wall
inside the boundary it constructs, its face against the world,
that thin veneer of solidarity presented to conceal
or pander to the social mores ranking its esteem.

Behind the bastions of normalcy, its main concern
is making sure the single units pretend to conform;
and in that monitoring, it wants no separate, secret lives,
accepting only hesitantly strangers from outside.

Each strained reunion of the brood is subject of concern;
and any bricks laid on in private are quick set upon
with sledgehammers of guilt, and picks of hinting, sly reproach,
each proud attempt to isolate examined and destroyed.

Against this force of silent judgment, one who would be free,
seeking an authenticity outside accepted norms,
must toil in dark and secret, lest their labors be discovered
and hung, a warning pike along the outer fortress wall.

The separate self the enemy the hoarding family fears.
And so with subtle sabotage it works into new bricks themselves
the shale of doubt, and shunning stones to weaken each new plan
until in desperate surrender only the whole survives.

And distance, what is that to it, that reaches beyond time
across the generations, fingers clutching, like ivied vine
that resists even violent axes to grow back anew
and cover each new wound, and scar, with uniformity.

Its cry to arms is “Unity against the gathered hordes
that seek to infiltrate and then betray us from within,”
and with that xenophobic fervor fights to quell, subordinate,
the individual desire to reach outside its grasp.

There is something about family that doesn’t like a wall
within its defined boundaries; it challenges the whole.
And each new member must accept their assigned sentry role
or despite years of effort, its well-maintained castle falls.

27 MAY 2004

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A Tendency to Madness

There is a touch of madness in my blood;
but not a malady of harmful need,
more like grasping out for things that last
despite all proof that just illusion stays.

My German, Swiss and Irish stock is sound –
at least, they learned self-medicating ways
to lose the swirling doubts that trap the mind
and seek to mire the soul in endless strife.

But in the French and English strains there is
no safety net to guard against the world
that grinning wildly reaches out to fool
the willing mark that wanders the arcade.

It feeds upon the silence between words,
a shadow hidden far from prying eyes;
and yet, I feel its presence in those times –
its desperate ambition to survive.

It consumes slowly, sucking at the bones
that frame both solid world and healthy dreams
leaving a fragile and de-marrowed shell
which crumbles without warning into dust.

I fight against this great insanity
that lingered in the minds of my forebears
and turned once thoughtful paragons of wit
to sad, bent husks of life welcoming death.

Perhaps the gene is watered down enough
that it may find no purchase in my fate;
or finding others in my line to chase
that prove less argumentative, elect

to spare my later years this sapping curse.
It also may be that my madness lies
on other tangents, stronger than this thing;
The Celts have demons, too, that must be fed.

27 MAY 2004

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Late May at Twilight

The night is late arriving yet again;
and in the day that lingers past its time
it casts tentative shadows, brushed in hues
of lavender and faded rose and blue,

while twilight, holding back its unsure breath
as if it means to swell and burst its seams,
drops only hints its patience has an end
and seems shy and unwilling to intrude

upon the sun’s last monologue, intoned
in barely whispered wisps of light.
It lets the final words slip out, then fade,
as finally, the dark blue curtain falls.

Against this backdrop, gentle mauve and pink,
the distant stars appear like bits of thread;
there is a quiet rustle in the trees,
and suddenly, the cool of evening comes.

27 MAY 2004

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My Mother Tongue vs. My Grandmother’s Tongue

After having spent a number of days contemplating the connection between the Vedic and Celtic stream beds, via Indo-European language, and receiving a number of illuminating comments to my queries posted at several Celtic culture sites, I now find myself struggling upon the horns of a different, but related, dilemma.

The bottom line is this. I am a writer in English. That is the language in which my fluency and mastery can be expressed. Like Yeats, I question whether it is possible to achieve a true “literary mastery” of more than one language in a single lifetime, exceptions like Vladimir Nabokov notwithstanding. You see, learning another language at a rudimentary level is not enough — my desire is not to pass myself as a native speaker for the purposes of travel, or even to enjoy works in their native tongues — these obstacles can be relatively easily overcome with a modicum of study. The issue for me is to become fluent enough to write in another language. And in order for that to occur, I need to consider that in order to read a lot of what I’ve written in English, the reader must be pretty fluent in English. Otherwise, much of the nuance, the plays with language, the subtlely of innuendo and colloquialism, are likely to be overlooked, or even lost.

On my mother’s side, English is for the most part the lingua franca. As second-generation naturalized Irish, I can only assume that any Irish language proficiency was diluted by the time of our arrival on these shores, primarily due to the British efforts before and during the time of naturalization to replace Irish with English, even to the extent of banning the use of Irish. But on my father’s side, I need not go back that far to find non-English speakers, at least through my father’s matrilineage. My grandmother spoke Plattdeusch (Low German, or Pennsylvania Dutch if you will) during her childhood, and was forced to learn English in American schools as a child. My father learned this language in order to speak with his grandparents, who had naturalized from Bern, Switzerland and spoke no English. As a result, I have less trouble recognizing German words (albeit not High German) than many other languages. I also tend to get at least the Low German accent right. On the German-German (opposed to Swiss-German) side, my grandfather had no German. His family had been in the United States since 1741, fought in the American Revolution and so on, and was for all intents and purposes completely Americanized.

So the result is that English is my Mother Tongue. It is the basis for my understanding of the world. While certainly I have an affinity for a number of foreign expressions and modes of understanding based on my study of those languages (Latin, Spanish, Irish, Sanskrit, German) or my exposure to them (Plattdeusch, Hawaiian, Creole) I will remain only a “literary speaker” of English. Sad that this is true, it seems to me. Perhaps that is too self-limiting.

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The Black Druids

At seven ten this morning
as the night gave way to dawn
a band of three of black druids*
gathered out on my front lawn

I heard them last night singing
in the dead calm, loud and clear;
but did not recognize their song
until they drew more near.

Drawn to my house, I might suppose
to offer me some clue,
and sip with careful wisdom
from the lawn’s supply of dew

Three travelers from the Otherworld
stopped by to check the fire
beneath my recent relit forge
and kindle my desire.

“Recall your smithy lineage,”**
they spoke, and then took wing.
Against this synchronicity
I dared not say a thing.

How odd that they should now appear,
as strangers to these lands,
and offer this encouragement
to my oft idle hands.

And yet, these harbingers whose song
last night I failed to ken
have come to stay among my trees;
I count them as my friends.

05 MAY 2004

* In Welsh, the blackbird is known as “Druid Dhuhb” or the “Black Druid”. While we are fortunate enough to have wrens, crows, bluejays, robins, cardinals, sparrows, starlings, pigeons and an occasional parrot among us here in New Orleans, in the five years I have been here this is the first time I have seen an actual black bird. Perhaps there is some significance to this, as the black bird is one of the totem animals for the Druid — a communicator between this world and the Otherworld, a piercer of the veils.

** There is an area of the old city of Philadelphia that at one time was known as “Cooper’s Road” or “Coopersville”, in part due to the fact that my ancestor, Simon Litzenberg and his five sons set up shop along that stretch after their arrival from Europe in 1741 as blacksmiths and wheelwrights.

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