Daily Archives: June 3, 2004

Tradition and the Individual Talent

for T.S. Eliot

When Icarus took flight with home-made wings
he sought to rise above, not divine laws,
but listening to how the eagle sings
attempted to reach past the aeropause

that culture places on its young when born
to limit how far flung their dreams may reach,
and teaches children to avoid its scorn
by tempering their thoughts in civil speech.

Poor Daedelus, tradition’s solid stock,
can only watch in anguish from the bluff
as his bright future plummets to the rocks,
its bindings frayed, momentum not enough.

Against the ceiling set by common whim
there is no soar or dive; just fall, or skim.

03 JUN 2004

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De Toqueville Rides Again

In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions themselves. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we look to it very narrowly, it will be perceived that religion herself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.

— Alexis de Toqueville, 1805-1859, Democracy in America

In other words, equality does not equal independence, and liberty does not equate to freedom, particularly of thought.

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Alone Again

Alone again or so it seems
and yet my street of broken dreams
goes on and on.

The moon has kissed the sun goodbye
and yet hello, a kiss with which
to build a dream upon.

Childhood wanderings in lands
of dragons’ wings and foolish fancy
now begin the slow and wondrous
journey to the dawn;

and all alone again I wonder
how much longer I can carry on.

Back-lit silver silhouette,
a shadow lighting cigarettes
in time with me.

Purple grayish ashen rings
lilt carelessly
as tender summer breeze,

floating through the evening sky
to unknown destinations,
ones that we can feel but never see;

and once again I am alone,
a child full grown
but lost in make believe.


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Looking Back at Years of Writing

I seek an answer in the shadow of these years spent wandering and lost; in crumpled notebook pages that mark a trail of desperation and precocious notions, sex-crazed teenage dreams stained with cigarette ash and the half-mad scrawl of an anguished and lonely soul wanting only to belong to something worth belonging to, something real. I see behind these quaint reminders that the poet I have become has been now thirty years in the making — even at nine years old there were signs of a kind of infectious madness. Believe me, I have dissected my own work over the years with a sharper scalpel that any high-priced psychiatrist could possibly envision.

There is something that draws me to this earlier incarnation. Something that is antithetical to that which can be defined as an American experience. The experience garnered by growing up in America. That experience is the preponderence of ambition and the absolute lack of lofty ambition.

To give oneself without question or pause to a life of the mind, in a nation that worships the life of the body, to produce, to commerce, to practicality. That is the madness that I see forming in myself at an early age. The curse of having read, by the time I was 12, of the history of the entire world without having the limiting prejudice of American interests being of foremost importance. To wonder, at age 10 or so, what the Native Americans really thought of Columbus, echoed perhaps by Flip Wilson’s line “and the Indians paid not much attention to Chris and his boatload of Spaniards, being busy celebrating ‘Not Having Been Discovered Yet’ day…”

I search the landscape of the American mind, and I find no great philosophy to unify the innermost spiritual quest of mankind, but rather Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Eli Whitney — inventors of practicum to make this world, not the next, the happy hunting ground.

And I wonder about Thomas Jefferson. The line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” Certainly, it can be intepreted to mean that all humans are created, that is conceived in the same manner — in fact, in the exact manner of any of the mammalian species — by the coupling of a male and female of that same species for the purpose of generating offspring. In that sense, yes, they are created equal. Yet, beyond that simple act of conception, there is no real equality. And it is not that act that gives life — as there are obvious and numerous examples of human coitus that do not result in fertilization. Life is something else altogether; not bestowed by human parents, but rather by a cooperative massing of the energy of the universe into a particular manifestation. Once that manifestation announces itself vocally, it is indeed for the intents and purposes of reincarnation, alive. At any time prior it could, with the cooperation of universal energies beyond the scope of human manipulation, cancel its current mission and await a more fortuitous venture. But that is another point, altogether. As Krishna said to Arjuna at a critical juncture, when Arjuna was bewailing his required task of slaughtering countless relations and other worthy soldiers … you can no more in reality end their lives than you can create them anew. True life and death are beyond your control; you are merely an agent for forces outside your mortal comprehension. But back to the creation of equals. Certainly, in the studies of genetics that have been pursued since the time of Jefferson, it is clear that the concept of equality at creation is slightly in error. Genetics give one a stooped back, receding hairline, penchance for physicality, prediliction for speech, brain size shape and characteristics. Certainly creation as equals requires equals as parents. But that is another story.

Enough of this for now. I will return to this theme later.

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