Tag Archives: Memphis

The Secret Undertown Ministry

“FROM THE DARKNESS, A VOICE SINGS OUT: I disagree, I disagree – I cannot understand at all; Which doesn’t mean I cannot understand it if I tried to understand it but I cannot stand to stand and understand it when it hurts to stand beneath it, when it falls and cannot stand under its power.”

So here’s a holiday offering for those who are interested in such things. In 1994, when I was 29 years old, I wrote a semi-autobiographical, cut-up, stream of consciousness novel called “The Secret Undertown Ministry” – much of it made up of pieces written for or around the Thursday night open poetry readings at Java Cabana Coffeehouse in Memphis. I originally distributed it to a number of close friends, but otherwise serialized portions of it to various blogs and other websites. It’s never been assembled in its complete form – UNTIL NOW. Anyway, for those who ARE interested, here’s a link to the novel in PDF form: http://www.radicaldruid.com/PDFs/TheSecretUndertownMinistry.pdf. Good luck!

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5. Survive love and loss (part 1)

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said, “The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” I first became acquainted with Kübler-Ross my freshman year in high school – quite accidentally, and by osmosis. My freshman English teacher was Joanne Fahey, who also taught an upper-class elective on Thanatology that used Kübler-Ross’ “On Death and Dying” as its primary text. Seeing students with copies and finding a couple of copies in Ms. Fahey’s classroom, I eventually picked it up and read parts of it. I also think Jiddu Krishnamurti’s “Think on These Things” entered by consciousness the same way. I was very lucky to land in Ms. Fahey’s Freshman Honors English class, by the way. As a transfer student (we had just moved from Ohio that summer), by the time I got to pick my first year classes, the Honors classes were full with a long waiting list. I therefore landed instead in David Spaid’s regular freshman English class. It is to Mr. Spaid’s credit that upon reading my first assignment, he pushed to have me reassigned to Ms. Fahey’s class almost immediately. Both of them saw something in me that I certainly took a long time to recognize myself, and I will never forget their encouragement (and often, gentle scolding).

When it comes to surviving love and loss, I suppose everyone feels they’ve had their share. Of course, it’s a very subjective measure in any case. Throughout our lives what we call “love” and what we consider “loss” evolve almost geometrically, and often in directions that make both states probably unrecognizable to us at any other time of life.

When you’re young, love and loss are different from when you’re older. Maybe not different, maybe just profound on a different scale, measured by a different yardstick. When you’ve only had one friend in your short life, losing that friend is monumental – regardless of the reason. When you don’t make friends easily to begin with, a life that involves moving every seven years or so results in a pattern of loss that establishes how you interact and entertain people for the rest of your life. It’s hard to put down roots anywhere when you’ve been repotted several times. You learn to get your nourishment nearer the surface.
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in the undertown around the middle
earthen jars the senseless struggle:
i shall be released from this
before the current pulls me

undertown, around the rooting rockets way
before the dawn of timing, when
our cultured throats scream out so that
the horse-drawn whispers drawl
their quiet haunting innuendos.

in the undertown beside the river
runs the hiding seeking slumber:
i shall be awakened from this
just before the nightmare finds me

undertown, beneath the covered bridges burnt
before the gods of ego’s altar, when
our cultured pearls slide out so that
the tenderloin potential plays
its game of spattered caulking.

in the undertown below the wasteland
roving scarlet head supporters speak:
i shall not believe in this
until the dream has drowned its dead in

undertown, before subtle shaded sadness swells
its mottled cracking smile, and then
our cultured throats slide slow so that
the sword-clamped teeth can grasp
their severed thoughts’ aboutness.


for Memphis

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Memorial Day 1994

Once upon a time (which so many of us assume is in the past, but could very well be the future) in a coffee shop far, far away (so far, in fact, it might be considered to be in Memphis, Tennessee) on a Sunday that was confused about its own self-image, seeing how it had become devalued by being sandwiched in the middle, between the bookends, so to speak, of a three-day weekend commemorating the inconsistent foreign policy of a barely toilet-trained democracy, a young man named Gravity Pushman, who was an anarchist comedian who moonlighted as a itinerant philosopher/busboy/ panhandler/candidate for the U. S. Senate, sat with a girl who met a Crown Victoria coming out of a Circle K parking lot who dreamt of being a mental case and thereby receiving special treatment from people who assume that they are not (crazy, that is). Like most men of mice and plan, it (the situation, that is) was better laid than executed, which might be considered a moral judgment regarding the penal (or penile) system of the above-stated Greek resurrected Frankenstein monster, but since there are no givens in the above equation, one can never tell. We were speaking of executions and putting our words into action by killing time, which Aleister Crowley affirms is the only real measure of our lifespans that we are aware of, and therefore, if you love life you mustn’t waste it.

“You know what your problem is,” he said, running an Ohio Blue Tip against the floor of the porch and putting the flame to the cigarette at his lips, “your problem is that you just cannot hang; whereas I can hang, do hang, am hanging, and probably will hang at some time in the future, for a crime I could not or shall not have committed, having been sentenced to meet the hangman’s daughter by a jury of my peers in accordance with the laws of the state and the dictates of moral society and quite possibly by the whim of several species of television-weaned autosuggestible mass consumers of misinformation on the basis of circumstantial evidence, or through the influence of outward pressures upon the existent legal system, or perhaps even through the whim of that particular doctor of jurisprudence who in his closing remarks to said jury will imply that although the proof is more in the pudding, there is no pudding like a Jello pudding pop, and ergo, primae facie, habeas corpus, pop goes the weasel.”

“You know I’m not as smart as you,” she said, “I can’t keep up with you.”

“That’s why the humans are a race,” he responded, “and all other things are species or breeds or varieties. They seem to think it’s something to be won, either by being the most fleet of foot or by answering the right question at the right time with the right intention in the right tone of voice under the right conditions to receive the right response.”

“What if,” she broke in, “what if the right wing was really the left wing, and the left wing was really the right?”

He paused for a minute to think, flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette. “You’d still have to cut the breast three ways,” he answered, “the only difference would be that the wishbone would be the funny bone.”

Thinking, hoping, and perhaps even praying that someday she might be clever, she responded in the interrogative (which she could comprehend on certain levels on certain days in certain company during certain conversations, but would be hard pressed to spell, whereas since his experience as a runner-up in the Hardin County, Ohio spelling bee at the age of eight gave him an incredible grasp of useless things such as spelling, he would have been glad to say ‘interrogative’ i-n-t-e-r-r (or maybe ‘double r’) o-g-a-t-i-v-e ‘interrogative’), saying, “Funny ha-ha, funny weirdstrange, funny intelligent, funny odd, or funny indigenous poor people exchanged for funny trees made into funny pulp print in funny papers read by funny exploitationalists passing funny money in a funny farm nursing home for the insane society?”

“You know those times when you think you’re funny,” he retorted, “when you think you’re funny, but you’re not?”

I know,” she interrupted, “this is one of them.”

“If there is hope,” he continued, “its candle might just be burning for you. Don’t get too excited, however, or the exhaust from your deep breathing, soul-searching, self-help administrating, inner-child spoiling exercises just might be enough to put us all in total darkness, which was, of course, where Moses was when the lights went out.”

“Your mother,” she responded, “must be a saint. I just can’t see how any one could put up with you.”

“All I can say to that,” he laughed, “is this: too bad it wasn’t Eddie Vedder.”

MAY 1994

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In Memphis

In Memphis, where the gypsies come to hide their dead in earth
and I too seeking burial for past mistakes learned the blues
hoping to hide my sense of misdirection like Elvis
there along Madison Avenue two blocks from the Western Steakhouse

and fell in love only to marry for another reason
learning to obfuscate and blur the truth with cold beer
shooting the shit with Wonderful Wanda
and a myriad of characters that also knew the darkness

there at Green’s Lounge sitting in with aging bluesmen
also worried about the metal detector at the door
who knew the next generation wasn’t going to help them die
where I learned to like the sound of my own voice

regardless of the words it spoke
and all the endless hours of mindless drudge
that some smart words about politics or drug culture
could erase in the echo of a microphone

where I stopped doing Elvis impersonations
because they got to be too real.

18 AUG 2003

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One Too Many Unified

A Love Supreme played on the airwaves
speaking silent screams, I heard:
truth need not be bullet-proofed,
the voice’s sermon seemed to say.

In Detroit ’65 I woke in birth to this;
before the burning summer’s swelter –
truth be told I can’t remember much
(I read the news much later).

I rode the L toward the lake
I took the bus south-central bound
I passed the white house where I saw
black jockeys striking on the lawn

A Bitches Brew drunk in the alleys,
speaking sermons soft I heard:
truth need not turn ‘gainst itself,
the voice’s singing seemed to say.

In Harlem ’65 I woke in birth to this;
before the churning cauldron’s spilling –
truth be told I can’t remember much
(I read the books much later)

I walked the railroad to the north
I sat on steps behind the fences
I passed the pickets where I saw
leaders leading where they’d fallen

Free Cellblock H spoke in the nightclubs,
humming hurtful hauntings I heard:
truth must needs be spoke and lived,
the voice’s whisper seemed to say.

In memphis ’65 I woke in birth to this;
before the hateful carbine’s humming –
truth be told I can’t remember much
(I saw the film much later).

I rode the BART to see the Raiders
I took the T past Roseland Ballroom
I passed the graveyard waiting vacant
thinking of Crispus Attucks.

(I hear him wondering why)

JAN 2004

When I was living in Memphis, some friend of mine who knew I was a poet mentioned that fact to an African-American preacher friend of hers. The upshot was that this gentleman asked me for a poem about Martin Luther King Jr. to read from his pulpit. I thought to myself … hmm … as a 29-year old white man from the country transplanted to LA and then schooled in Boston jazz college now living in Memphis, my take on this situation is not likely to be altogether in line with a Memphis congregation’s expectations. Al Green, you’ll remember, has a congregation in Memphis. Just down the street from where I was. I mentioned my hesitation to this preacher man; he said, that’s OK. You’re a poet, right? Write a poem. And so I got my first “pro bono” commission. Here’s one of the three poems I gave him. I think it was the best of the lot – but I never found out if he read it from the pulpit or not.

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