Tag Archives: purpose

Children of the Garden

Rooted from the garden of our innocence
Cut down crosstown, cross time
Casting your petals, careless, wind-borne,
spilt from your cup like wine

Do you, can you, remember it,
locked in those vases on the mantle?
Is there something that can tie you back, speechless,
except time?

We could be orchids in the ocean
We could be lilies on the vine
We could be cast in graven images
without divine intervention.

Stripped down, pared back to nothing,
Left out shivering in the cold;
Is there anything remaining here
That’s not been sold?

Packed up, headed on the highway
Moss-free, like a rolling stone;
What do you do to keep from fading,
from growing old?

We could be tulips at the table
We could be roses in the rain
We could be set free from our dependence
On each others’ pain

Who’s left the garden gate wide open?
Who’s picked the flowers by the way?
Who’s left to say she loves me, loves me not?
Who’s going to replant, come May?

We could be orchids on the oceans
We could be roses in the rain, sometimes
We could wake to find ourselves immaculate,
Divine creations
Misguided applications
of divine intention.

JUL 1991

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When I reach the age of Elvis crucified,
two years and small change from now,
I shall have been 33 years a missionary:
singing love songs to the deaf;
painting pictures for the blind;
copying manuscript parts to hand out
to a toneless, voiceless choir;
dancing for a stoic crowd
of cynical philosophers.

At that time, like Rimbaud,
I shall have been a serious poet
for seventeen years.

And like young Arthur, who cast aside
his disillusion and grandiose angst,
I shall endeavor to never preach
another sermon.

The prayer book from which I read,
the liturgy crafted lovingly from my own sweat,
whose matins I have sung at dawn,
its vespers whispered to the fickle fingers
of twilight,

I shall renounce.

My voice, that grows tired of its own echo
in the empty hall;
my fingers, that have worn down the ivory keys
of life’s tempered clavichord;
my mind, that seeks to claim some vain energy
by which to transform, incandescent,
the darkness —
these tools I will abandon.

In these score and thirteen years,
with the coin of Caesar I have been paid:
the pennies of disillusion,
the nickels of apathy,
the dimes of indifference;
and within the span of the next 700 days, or so,
I shall have accumulated
the postage
to return to sender
what talents the gods have sent me,

Unless, of course, I win the lottery.

Because, as Hemingway observed,
the rich are different from the rest of us:
they have money.

19 AUG 2004

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On Auspicious Times

I wonder at the most auspicious times
that by some random system are proclaimed
and why those correspondences we find
ourselves at odds with should take all the blame

The moon, for instance, in its wane and wax;
The seasons, as they go and come again;
The numerals assigned like colored tacks
to calendars devised by human brains,

As if in the whole world mankind’s belief
about the way the universe is made
means anything at all to a small leaf
or changes how it perceives light and shade.

I wonder how the world devoid of man
survived through countless eons and evolved
without the logic only we command,
and managed, with its riddles yet unsolved.

I ask the mockingbird to state its case
for choosing the best moment to proceed,
and swear I see a smile upon its face
that seems to say, “Why don’t you learn to read

a book that needs no glossy title page,
that promises no esoteric lore,
that will not guarantee you center stage,
but may instruct you nonetheless, in more

than what you think important, or germaine?
What book, you ask, contains such heady stuff?
The book of life, that you seem to distain;
but against which, your knowledge is mere fluff.”

I wonder at the most auspicious times
that by some special school are found and named.
It is no wonder that we act so blind.
That we think we have knowledge is to blame.

17 AUG 2004

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Poetry and War

OK, so projects such as Poets Against the War and Voices in Wartime are pretty good ideas. They tout such noble themes, ponder such meaningful quiestions like “The terrible beauty of the poetry is our guide, leading us to the deeper questions of the origins of war is it innate in human beings? Do the warlike societies succeed? What is the human experience of war? Can art illuminate politics? And, in turn, can the grim realities of war teach us about the delicate and important role of poetry?”

But there is a different point to be made here. How many poets REALLY give a damn about anything but their poetry? How much attention to events that do not directly affect their me-o-centric, angst-driven, destined to die young-and-leave-a-good-looking-corpse fueled by the twin beacons of Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas lives do they really pay? Sure, there are specific poets that when called upon to address a certain political issue gladly push pen to paper and come up with something that can be used to further a campaign speech or lengthen lines at a booksigning.

But where, pray tell, were all these poets BEFORE 9/11? What were they using their sprawling notebooks of pseudo-verse to accomplish, other than blocking the landlord’s passkey by laying them against the door, or bartering a few odd lines in exchange for a double espresso? The question I’d like to ask, rather than the mawing query quoted above is this: do we have no sense of history because we have no poetry, or do we have no poetry because we have no sense of history? Or even, do we have no history because we have no sense of poetry, or do we have no sense of poetry because we have no history?

How many poets fill copious overpriced Moleskin notebooks with their innermost, dankest most feral intuition on the dangers of their own all-to-human failings, but reject as inapplicable the advice given to young guitarists — if you want to play like Eric Clapton, don’t listen to Eric Clapton, listen to who Eric learned from — BB, Otis Rush, Freddie King, Robert Johnson — and rather than seek for their pop icon poet’s sources, seek to emulate only the most recent iteration of over-hyped style and end up as poor, weak, undisciplined and sloppy hacks who don’t even have the imagination to imagine their own potential?

How many poets, I wonder, who channeled the inner turmoil of their apathy and the nation’s sleepwalking into projects like those mentioned above, have ever written, not about the War on Terror, but the War on The Things That Make Terrorism Seem Like The Only Option?

Where in this feeble, grasping, quip-throwing, cliche-burning circle of “Show, Don’t Tell” has anyone bothered to change their own reality?
There is a commercial on television lately that really makes me mad. If only because it is so truthful in the message in conveys about the current situation — ostensibly about politics, but ABSOLUTELY pertinent to the arts. To any artist — or to anyone who even thinks about themselves as an artist (or writer, or painter, or what have you, bearing in mind that the most true definition of a REAL POET is a writer with a day job). The commercial goes like this:

A bunch of people are in a communal lockerroom. A faucet is running. People look at it running, comment on how horrible it is, look askance at the flowing tap, shrug their shoulders. They do nothing. Then, in the midst of the milling crowd surrounding the offending faucet, a person enters, calmly, and in a quick motion turns off the tap, then goes about their business. The complaining, wondering, apathetic, bitching, kvetching, confused, and otherwise useless masses are amazed.

Of course, the commercial is about voting.

But it is really about ART. Like the grunge movement, which was obviously very able to acutely document the evil, dark, and wrongness that everyone with half a brain could begin to grok, but obviously unable to come to any kind of consensus (collectively or individually) on how to proceed to solve that wrongness, the arts are a self-aggrandizing, self-promoting, self-serving, self-absorbed pursuit of self-pleasure.

No wonder we have no FUCKING culture. We’ve been satisfied with canned tuna — Andy Warhol, Britney Spears, Thomas Kincaide, Jessica Simpson, Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Wham, Madonna, wow the list goes on — for so long that not only can we not fish, but we don’t know anyone still alive whose willing to teach us how.

Bah. Enough ranting. Go to sleep now, John.

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Thoughts on Writing

To be a cynical writer is to never have been in love…well, to never have been in love and have it endly up other than badly, I suppose.

To be a romantic writer is to forever be in love – not so much with a person, or even an ideal, but more or less with the “idea” of love.

To be a “political” writer, one need only suppose that the ideal of love, while perfectly described in the theoretical world of legislation, has never been capable of reaching its ivory tower notions.

To write action and adventure, the required modus operandi for the scribe is to capture the impossibility of eternity, save through a well-placed legend or two.

To contemplate science fiction is to see love for what it is, a means to a more harmonious future, or the chaos that engulfs the order of probability.

To be an historical writer, one need only remember, with love, the periods of time with which you have no natural connection, or have imagined a connection of such magnitude that it engulfs any such intellectual advancement that may have occurred between the idealized era and the current one.

To be a motivational writer is to disregard the spirit of the times, to insist that love is to be found and described as you find and describe it, that it is to entertain your minds and not your hearts, to make by the “power of positive thinking” the lessons to be learned by losing seem the source of all true evil.

To be a nihilist writer is to never see love at all. It is to experience rejection, but not hope. Fear, but no courage. Reason, but no faith. Grounding, but no earth.


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Dathy Pahka and the Couscous Bauble

We sit in circles, crop circles, like silver-clad heroes at Arthur’s table, dark knights of the soul of verse, our words colliding in the jousts of wit and criticism. Is it the flame that draws us moths to it, and so we dance in the flickering candlelight, hoping to stay entranced and yet remain un-scorched? Like ashes on the forehead can remind us of our lone and bitter days, days when we thought “if I could only be accepted, if they would only listen” and so drank ourselves silly in the inconsequentiality of the moment, we titter, stumble, laugh and tumble against the cold, hard steel of our truths, our realities.

And in the end, we want of wealth, of fame, of power, of “don’t I know you from somewhere” and “weren’t you with…last seasons” and “oh, I thought your last…was simply marvelous” and so on and so forth and furthermore and insofar and even if it mattered, even just one smattering of an insignificant jot of ink that spilled on blotting paper or stained the index finger rather than died its immortal death on the crucifix of watermarks and typesetters’ thorns – yes, even if that could save our tortured souls from waking in a world we could not evade with our descriptions, make light of in our comedic stances, would we want to pass it by, relinquish our hold on that which makes us realize how much we need to simply create, to form, to place under our power that experience of living, of dying, of falling down drunk in an alley watching our world crumble in half empty tea cups?

Written, it seems so concrete, so decisive and bold – yet it is the journal of a hallucination, created in our minds and carried out on the gurney of the flesh into the streets we barely recognize, and the stones in the pavement do not glint or glitter as we remember them, nor so brightly as they can.

An in our drunken haze we drop our curtsies and highballs half-full of the contraband elixir we consider our inspiration – and we ask for it by name in the password prose of prayer: give me three or four rounds of Dark (and often cloudy and thick swirling dark it is), and then a couple of clear and crystal Brights for the road, the road I must trod down in inebriated, lucid celebration of my inhibited yearnings. I want, I announce to the “wicked and expedient stones,” the world of my choice, of my creation: a world where one can morally possess a mind and venture to speak it, a world where social conventions are gatherings of gregarious and yet not sheep-like folk who know not only which fork to use with the salad, but which one to take at the bend in the road that leads to funny or witty, separating dull chortles from mirthful laughter.

Laughter, yes, and tears that come from excess – these are the signs by which we will be known; and they shall sing our praises while they curse us, hound us for mementos while they scour the tabloids for our inadequacies, and read until the wee hours of morning each drop of saccharine and strychnine we draw from our veins with the prick of a vengeful pen.


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The Confessions of an Optimistic Underachiever

Truth be told, my high school years were difficult ones. Having been transplanted from a remote rural environment in northwestern Ohio to the sunny clime of southern California just in time to start high school, I found it difficult to adapt, in many ways, to the Members Only jacket, Izod shirt, Sperry Top-sider wearing preppy environment that was Republican Torrance, California in the early 1980s. Add to this mix the fact that I was really coming into my own as a Musician and poet, that my engineer father very vocally expressed his disappointment in my non-fascination with mathematics courses, and along that road the somehow simultaneous introduction of both Black Sabbath and the Sex Pistols to my worldview’s soundtrack (OK, a little behind the hip schedule of the world, but bear in mind that there were limited resources on radio and record on the farm), and you may begin to see the potential for strife.

Quite frankly, I didn’t particularly care for most of my reality — but a catalog of the ways in which I experimented to alter that reality is not the point here.

My father, perhaps sensing a wandering on my part, and desiring that I prepare to assume a role of some kind in society, laid upon me the burden of absorbing a great number of books from his personal library. I suppose I should be thankful for this, at least on the surface, benificent gesture. As a result, I was brought into the great continuum of self-righteous empowerment that ranges from Dale Carnegie to Norman Vincent Peale and now extends out to Tony Robbins. One of the things my father did during my early teens was to become a distributor for one of these Amways of Advancement, the Success Motivation Institute of Waco, Texas. They boasted such titles (provided, on series of cassettes and volumes of binders beautifully packaged in leather cases) as “Blueprint for Success” and “The Dynamics of Personal Leadership.” Additional volumes of varying levels of import included “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, “Think and Grow Rich”, “The Sale Begins When the Customer Says No” and so on.

I participated in this process willingly enough. I prepared “Plans of Action” (POAs) and memorized all kinds of affirmations. “If you are not making the kind of progress you are capable of making, or feel you should be making, it is simply because your goals are not clearly defined (Paul J. Meyer, SMI)”. “Crystallize your Thinking”. I say memorize, but it would be false of me to assert that at least in some minor way, these platitudes were not internalized to some degree. I am who I am today, optimistic about the possibility of being, in no small part thanks to this indoctrination.

But somewhere along that same continuum, these teachings failed me. Because their primary focus was ultimately on defining success as a function of money. That’s the lesson, I think, that my father was trying to impart — that if you make enough money, you can basically do whatever you want. My father was raised on Horatio Alger and other rags-to-riches stories, and high schooled in Liberty Township, Ohio, the same place where Norman Vincent Peale cut his journalistic teeth at the Republican Courier. A careful reading of Alger, however, will demonstrate something quite different from the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps, earn your way, opportunities are created” kind of jingo for capitalism that they are imagined to be. The fact is that almost every one of Alger’s rags-to-riches heroes ends up rich through inheritance, sheer luck or magnanimous gesture. There’s little or no proof that hard work will EVER get you these things, at least provided by Horatio.

The point of this exploration is that it always seemed to me that the motivations of these self-help gurus were questionable. Dale Carnegie, for example, suggests that when entering the office of an important man, to scan the locale and create a mental catalog of that man’s interests — fishing, his family, the Cape house, and so on — not as a means for developing a connection with that executive as a human being, but merely as a tool by which to exploit that man’s inclination to slim his wallet and fatten your own. Very Sun Tzu, it must be admitted.

And the bottom line is that actually achieving a higher standard of living, as defined by annual income, stock portfolio performance and neighborhood property values, never seemed to actually make anyone that I knew personally any happier, nicer or cooler to hang out with. They had more money, ’tis true, but the reality of it was they weren’t going to spend it on me. And to keep it, nurture it, turn it into more of the same, it was unlikely they were going to spend it on themselves, either. Now, you may disagree with me here, but to value the accumulated item higher than the act of accumulation seemed to be the point of these self-empowerment programs; and the reality was that most people never actually achieved more than the accumulating act. It was “the pursuit of happiness,” and not its capture. Of course, that is a defining American principle. And that brings me to the real point of this diatribe.

Ringo Starr’s perception of the Beatles may be useful here. “For a time, we thought we were the best band in the world; and as a result, we were.”

That’s really the message of all these self-help programs, isn’t it? To enforce the notion of mental focus. As you believe a thing to be, so it becomes. As above, so below. So mote it be. And they say this country is based on Christian principles. Bah. I’ve never heard anything so pagan in all my life. Life is what you make it. Not as it is handed to you (on whatever manufacture platter you imagine). You become what you pursue. Where your heart is, your treasure likewise can be found. Now I sound like Ronald Reagan, except that I realize that the real Gipper is not external, but is yourself. Win one for yourself. Now I sound like the Dalai Lama. Seek the guru inside yourself.

So why imagine it as a world in which you have to be rich to be free? Why imagine it populated with people who think just like you? Why imagine it absent of strife (a necessary component for growth)? Why imagine that it has to be a supermodel, a Ferrari, a big house on the lake?

Why not set your sights a little higher, Horatio? Why not imagine a world where people are not judged by the content of their wallets, but the content of their hearts? Forget art for art’s sake. How about life for life’s sake?

More to follow.

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