Tag Archives: integrity

Greater than the whole

They’re not so often obvious,
the most important things;
in nuance lies the heart of life,
the rhythm that persists
despite the grandiose and wild
that receive all the press.
The understated subtlety
remains the truest test.

What difference does each moment make?
Not much, when set apart.
When you add them together,
you find out how greatness starts:
a simple grin, a stolen wink,
a seeming cast-off line;
almost unnoticed as the noise
from others rushes in.

Each plays their part in miniscule,
a section of the whole,
and seldom wanders out beyond
the confines of their role;
and yet, each is integral
to the thing that they comprise.
In that, too, is a greatness
beyond measure, in disguise.

16 SEP 2011

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Damocles

If you would have me write of bliss,
exclaiming art mere artifice,
a simple sham designed to fool
the ignorant who fill our schools
with some vain hope of what might be:
quite useless, a mad symphony
that holds no tune, does not inspire,
I say: I will not be your liar.

I cannot speak except my truth.
To turn the curse of misspent youth
from years of folly into gold,
to cower where I should be bold,
to silent, watch your fabric wind
its cloak of death upon the mind;
these things I cannot, will not do,
and call it art to forgive you.

Unless it strains against the mold
to whisper secrets long thought cold
and buried to the modern soul,
unleashes furies thought controlled,
and births the questions best unasked,
there is no meaning in art’s tasks;
despite its pompous, highbrow claims,
it is a cripple: blind and lame.

What madness you would have me fake
to shield from view such a mistake
may fool the senses for a while
with clever tricks, a knowing smile;
and on such palimpsest you may
suppose to write of one true way
by which the world is formed and doomed:
its genesis, its prime, its tomb,

But know true art will prove you false
and throw odd beats into your waltz,
unloose and snap your well-tuned strings
and turn to rust your well-oiled springs.
And then, what good mere words of bliss
to serve you? I can tell you this:
Art’s sword, that you would make a plow,
is cultivating those seeds now.

03 OCT 2006

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If You Want Love

My father was an upright man who never went to church;
but he gave his word and that was that, he’d help you from a lurch.
He hated all self-righteousness and practiced what he’d preach;
when I asked him what made the good life he’d give me this speech:

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

My father died ten years ago; we laid him in the ground.
I don’t think anyone expected he’d be Heaven-bound.
When I think back on how he lived, I have to crack a smile
imagining their faces when they look in his file
and it says:

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

Someday may be good enough for some folks, he would say;
but if you want to change the world you’d better start today …

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

17 MAR 2006

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Lend a Hand

for Natalie Maines

They say East is East, and West is West, the two will never meet;
when you see something new coming, cross to your side of the street;
never question why things happen, that’s the way it’s always been;
higher walls make better neighbors: you’ll hear it time and time again.

They say truth is small and finite: you can hold it in your hand;
anyone who tells you different is just selling worthless land;
that the lines are clearly drawn between what’s right and what is wrong,
and you can’t fight City Hall, so you had better play along.

But this life is like an ocean: what I know won’t fill a pail;
and it’s nobody’s fault but mine if I should try and fail
to grow beyond my roots and find my own place in the sun,
seeking truth where it is hidden in each moment’s fleeting run;

and the longer that I travel, seems the less I seem to know;
it’s by facing that uncertainty I learn how to love and grow.
There’s no secret to the universe, no single grain of sand:
you just do your best, and try to lend a hand.

They say everything is set in place, your fate completely sealed;
there’s no bargaining with destiny once you ante for the deal;
never question that the rules ensure that each of us will lose,
simply get to where you’re going, shut your mouth and pay your dues.

They say my way, or the highway, do exactly what you’re told;
don’t look to the horizon, ’til you’re doddering and old;
each of us has got a purpose in someone else’s grand plan,
and it’s not for you to say what makes a man.

But this life is like an ocean: what we know won’t fill a pail;
and it’s nobody’s fault but ours if we should try and fail
to grow beyond our roots and find our own place in the sun,
seeking truth where it is hidden in each moment’s fleeting run;

and the longer that we travel, seems the less we seem to know;
it’s by facing that uncertainty we learn how to love and grow.
There’s no secret to the universe, no single grain of sand:
you just do your best, and try to lend a hand.

14 MAR 2006

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Inheritance

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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Watergate and Lao Tzu

I remember being 8 years old and watching every minute of the Watergate hearings on television. Watching the PBS special on the 30th Anniversary of the Destruction of the Innocence of the Republic, or rather, the Watergate scandal (which Kurt Vonnegut so eloquently pointed out was the first time we as a nation were made aware that a President so hated the American people that he in essence used the Constitution as toilet paper and demonstrated his contempt for law as being for other people), I am reminded of something Lao Tzu wrote:

The value of a government lies in its honesty;
The value of management lies in its ability;
The value of action lies its timing.

To which I might also add: the value of justice lies in its impartiality.

As many of the senators who participated in the hearings commented in this retrospective, it would nice if we as a nation had learned some kind of lasting lesson from Watergate. Something about the nature of the Executive branch to stretch its tentacles seeking power and usurping the nature of balance between itself and the other branches of government. Something about our Chief Executive believing themselves above the law, beyond the realm of culpability, outside the judgment of history, able to justify its own actions in the name of national security.

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Right Action

Into the crumbling chasm we fall,
past expectations and preconception
where rational mind’s great gift, perception
turns out to be not too much use at all;

and the comforting thoughts of our blindness
(great faith in dogmatic institutions
giving us outward form, but no solutions)
seem so useless, if void of some kindness.

When you accept a single lie, because
it makes your own state easy to swallow,
your search for truth is weakened and hollow;
and you may cure symptoms, but not their cause.
Ah, how much effort we each spend to solve
mysteries that do not help us evolve!

16 JUL 2003

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