Tag Archives: inheritance

Leaving Something Good

The kind of bands that play
the music that I write these days
seem few and far between;
somewhere between grasping the brass ring
and the consequences
lie some broken dreams.

Just for myself, it doesn’t matter much;
but without substance,
how can we survive?
When everything is so disposable,
how will we prove
that we were once alive?

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

The kind of songs that live
in memory aren’t written
for the copies that they sell;
They represent a drink of water
in a world that seems to build
only dry wells.

And for those who’re never
thirsty, maybe it’s enough
imagining a drink;
but so many die in deserts,
waiting for a single drop;
it makes you think.

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

14 JAN 2007

Listening to John Hiatt’s Chronicles, and thinking about the parallel between some distinctive voices: John Hiatt, Richard Manuel, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker. Yes, they can lay on the coals and push the volume, but each of them is most effective when they approach the breaking point: when you feel as if the next note they sing may well be their last. And it got me thinking about something I read regarding Joe Cocker — that he was willing to do physical damage to himself in order to do proper service to a song. You may well wonder, and surmise that it would have to be a pretty damn good song to be worthy of that sacrifice. Which brings up another question altogether: why inflict such self-suffering on mediocre material, on art that isn’t likely to last the month, let alone the decade or millenium?

Learn from the past, live in the now, leave something good behind. Explaining that to a generation that thinks it can learn how to play like Eric Clapton by listening to Eric Clapton perhaps is a waste of time. Talking to a Deadhead whose only concept of music is the Dead and other “jam” bands, without realizing the scope of music from which the Dead drew their inspiration, maybe is wasted breath.

But maybe it isn’t. There’s a line from the movie Footloose where preacher John Lithgow asks, “If we never trust our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?”. I wonder along a similar tangent: “If we never share with our children why our music (or anything else about our culture or lives) is important to us, and all they get is our CD collection when we die, how can we expect them to appreciate why we bothered to keep it for their inheritance?”.

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Notes from Icarus

Daedalus, my father, tried to fashion me for wings
but I, who treasured heresy, had no use for the things
or for the cliff that he had labored at for many years
to leave for me a fortune or a basis or career.

He shoved me off the edge the day I turned a young eighteen,
not knowing really who I was, or what the drop might mean;
to some gods quite unknown to me, he might have said a prayer
then watched with blended pride and sorrow as I beat the air.

Of course, because the wings were made to fit his arms, not mine,
after a brief respite of floating, I made a decline,
and found in sharp perspective with the looming of the ground
no use for most of the great knowledge he tried to pass down.

The sun above shone as it does, both bright and hot that day,
and my sire’s mix of wax and feathers sought to melt away;
while from the cliff-side, he looked on, still hoping for the best,
like any fledgling’s parent does when they first leave the nest.

But though I am my father’s son, his dream was not my own,
that all the miles he ran and walked instead he might have flown,
counter to training, expectation and man’s hallowed laws,
I sought to regain life on earth, despite its glaring flaws.

And so we parted company, old Daedalus and I,
my view along the cliff’s rough base, and his toward the sky;
and the hard lessons for us both that we tried to avoid
came, in their time, despite the ruses that we each employed.

Now many years have passed, and I’ve recovered from that fall,
though in some places I’m still bruised and sometimes have to crawl;
my father, disappointed, has retired to his death bed,
and I, instead of flying, have learned how to walk, instead.

10 JUL 2004

for James Joyce

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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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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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for Robert Leroy Litzenberg (1928-1993)

My father was a Gemini.
To some that may serve or suffice
to explain him; and to deny
it as a factor is a lie.

For those signed twins are often twice
as hard to know or understand
compared to more singular signs,
and often this polarized land
leaves surefoots, like us Goats, unmanned —
that fate could have well been mine.

For we often failed to see things
eye to eye; his moods were fickle,
and lead to hot shouts and fist swings
then quickly bounced back, on cool springs.

I wouldn’t have bet a nickel
On the way he’d take awful news.

Sometimes it was good to be gone
or failing that, sickly and wan;
Either way, you’d end with a bruise
or a sore rear end to sit on.

But despite his faults (he had them)
and the years I hated his guts,
I realized he wasn’t dim;
so after school I worked for him,
tho’ that might seem to some quite nuts.

Because I’d never heard him lie,
or hold another man’s beliefs;
and not a single year went by
when he didn’t work hard, and try
to give us a chance for less grief
than he’d had growing to a man.

Of all the things he gave to me
so few are more than grains of sand,
or memories of a quick backhand,
except for his integrity.

03 SEP 2003

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Your Father’s Son

Most men come here broken,
but you appear undefiled
despite the years you must have spent
out roaming in the wild;
and when I asked you for your name,
you offered up naught but a smile.
No, you are not mild nor meek at heart,
for you are your father’s child.

Most men arrive hungry,
but you mention only thirst,
as if you’d come across the desert,
scorched by sun and cursed;
and when I looked into your eyes,
I saw no dam had burst.
Though your mother tried to shape you,
you were your father’s first.

You wonder of the lesson?
well, it’s already begun;
and we will speak again, in time,
when this lesson is done.
No, there is naught to give you
save the space and leave to run –
for you are complete within yourself,
you are your father’s son.

07 JUL 2003

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