This is not a journal.
Not in the strictest sense.
Nor is it a story with characters
that breathe and laugh
and smite down giants.
Nor is it a retrospective
with light shining backward
into alleys of remembrance.
Nor is it a memoir
bringing back to life
that which never died.
Nor is it a textbook
filed to a fine point –
more sharp than shine.
Nor is it a nursery rhyme
where hard stuff softens into
good lessons that go down easier.
This is not a journal.
It is a depository –
for words and their spirits.
For their capacity to hunker down
under the harsh heat of life’s longest hours
and make love until poetry appears.
This might be a poem.
Or, it might be a place where broodings
outwit the failed necessity of effectiveness.
Yes. Let’s call it poetry.
Let’s call it something looser, more lascivious
and lighthearted than expected;
more slow barefoot than mere distance.
For poetry is why we came into the world.
Shy lovers trip on words that ache, and
with limited alphabets, build a song.
Why do we measure people’s capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That’s why it’s so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that’s why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I’m not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain’t that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin-
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren’t loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you’re only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You’ve wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you’ve revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it’s honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You’ve given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You’ve convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I’m also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I’ve caused.
I’m an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I’m a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn’t believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply.
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I’ve measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don’t love
Strangers. After all, I’m often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
“He was weird” will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie
Like under-inflated tires meant for better roads,
the sheen wears off until tracks become ruts
and steering makes no sense.
Now they wonder out loud if pitch and yaw can match
the swoop and dive of former days.
And they ask themselves the only questions
worthy of easier breathing and potato salad,
fresher still than the arrival of these moments –
unbearably skint of certainty,
but crouching in the dew of possibility.
This is no John Steinbeck novel they chuckle uneasily.
But it sure bears a resemblance to those sullen characters
pulled from page to thought, from thought to talk
and back again.
And even Oklahoma dust tastes good in a mouth
full of hope, conversations pointed in.
So, like throats yearning for rain,
they steer the bow of an old truck into new wind.
An uneasy road curls herself, snakelike,
hiding just underneath – not so much friend
Unlikely companions, no longer in remission,
make plans on the yawning road before them.
I think often, and occasionally pontificate, on the spiritual practice of creativity; the places they mutually inform and intersect, the artesian possibilities of art-making. It has been for me a means of keeping a few useful items on my mental table, known to topple over from time to time. It means reading. Lots of reading. Further, it means writing about and because of what I read.
Some of the best stuff gets a chance to percolate, and then regurgitate back onto the page. In the process, some of that wordy goodness forces its way into me. Into who I am becoming. Why I am becoming. And for whom.
Two prevalent ideas in American society are mutually exclusive: spirituality and capitalism. They are the philosophical bed-mates of spirituality and profitability (otherwise known as the New Age Movement or the Christian publishing industry), or sex and time management (although it would be fun to explore the correlation).
Even as one who writes about this stuff quite regularly, when the best considerations come along, it behooves me to sit back and let them have at it. Besides, what follows provides much of my reading fare these days and finds its way into my own words anyway. Part of that fare is a weekly email from a website called Brain Pickings. It is dedicated to those things that titillate, inspire, educate, and sometimes enrage.
Today’s offering, excerpted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writers Week contains a stimulating quote that makes this point.
In America, the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions. I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
I hear voices agreeing with me. “Yes, yes!” they cry. “The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!” In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word creative can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.
Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.
Good stuff, right?
Because I knew some excess debt-stress would be great for my spiritual development I took a master’s degree. In Spiritual Formation and Leadership. You know, ’cause…why not, right? It was the altruistic alternative to nautical knot-tying or selling chain-link fence. In truth, it was three of the best years of my adult life. But, already, I digress.
One of the courses necessary for graduation (the only one with the word leadership even attached), offered no small consternation for me. The required texts were bent on forcing spiritual practice onto corporate America like pole dancer nipple pasties (yes, I note that collective groan). I swore to the nipple gods that, should I read one more shitty leadership book that culls its guiding principles from some guy who made millions building chairs, I’d learn pole-dancing myself while reading it aloud in the village square.
For leadership, give me Desmond Tutu, Ernest Shackleton, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Maya Angelou, or Martin Luther King, Jr. any day over these assholes. For imagination, give me the spiritual practice of creativity, art-making divorced from some lesser ideal. Teach me the riches of poetry for its own sake. Take me to the canvas because, in its pulsating emptiness, I find my fullness. Stuff words in my mouth and place me on a stage where I can act out my inadequacies. Drop me on a dance floor so I can shake out my sins and sweat out my aggression. Let our imagination provide the deus ex machina to our profit-lust, the perceived non sequitir of truth and beauty over pragmatism and effectiveness.
Lead me to beauty because the water’s good, not because it enhances my time management skills.
I should probably just write a new Ash Wednesday piece. But, hopefully there is still some charm and comfort in the old as well…
Ash Wednesday has come round again to spill forth her penitent goodness. I first posted this last year on Ash Wednesday. Let’s walk the Lenten road together.
Begins again this Springward journey;
rebirthing all that once lived.
Trickle again once fickle brook and stream
sickle sighs yet in repose, sleeping still.
Earth, sore and Winter-stiff, seeks, sighs
stretches out skinny arms of want.
Her cold, hard bosom births not what soon will come
e’er the Sun’s hungry mouth suckles,
fills his lusty gut on hopeful barrenness
feasting on milk of timeworn, weary passage.
* * * * * * * * *
She forgets not the suddenness of late
and sooner dark, splayed upon a fine, greenness
come for to spite the buds of transforming light
bidding death where life has yet to emerge.
Warmly insistent she speaks, sharing her story
poured out over the long-shadowed land.
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you carve away your slabs of inconvenience with silver spoon,
handed to you in confidence that you might
earn your own pottage.
through flared nostrils, you billow and bluster.
a pall of disagreeable swagger
posing as fortitude – your aftershave.
middle-pack crow at best, your squawking tenor
makes ears bleed that otherwise wouldn’t bother.
but loudest means best when the bleating flock is
only a cover for the finish-line break away.
child-wound-daddy-talk, shoulder-chipped, posture-power
harumphing with front-seat view, proxy-driving
from the back-seat limo of puppet-kings,
where you learned your craft.
too big the metaphor
for too small a man
so big a tongue
for so small a deed
a borrowed empire built
on a ground of smoke and lies and bones of the poor
it makes bad wine from old grapes your gardeners never drink
carve away the dross enough to secure your shiny tale
but never let them see the fear you hide through shinier grin.
mirrors, over-polished, well-lit, world-weary, familiar,
you cannot look away – an honest pairing, your truest friend –
they always stay quiet when you gloat;
at least they wouldn’t deny your rightful place
among the great, the dress-for-success, self-made (apparently)
emperors of steely resolve and art of the deal.
the golf course cathedrals where gods of industry
find reprieve from the weight of their own misdeeds.
the art of misdirection, sleight of hand, deftly removes
what others need, replacing anything too easily overlooked
while we look the other way.
stuffing faces in your pockets, names under your lapel,
souls with dirty fingernails and hungry bellies
whose sweat fattened your wine cellar
whose tears fattened your belly while you robbed theirs.
whose unsightly color and ungodly language
builds your fortune
justifies your hatred
explains your anger
scratch and sort, smile and sign away the lives
of the lesser than
those too insignificant to see, but dangerous enough
to uncover your tiny horse-blinded life
dripping with Babylon pipe-dreams
Caesar’s gold pajamas –
Herod wiping out a generation for fear he’s not first –
the screams of mothers to drown his madness.
her glance was never a look in your direction
she had no choice given her job
she feared your hunger for pussy and the shamelessness
required to step lightly with a conscience that weighs nothing.
and for all that the world is still too small
the job’s in the bag
but the cat’s out of the bag
and your hand is overplayed
masks are wearing thin
time and truth tether themselves
drawing the rope across the chasm
between your rainbow of lust and a bog of emptiness
just in time to speak the one dark word
still hiding stubbornly in your closet –