Chasing Fog

Art yet to come.jpg

Let us strive to understand why

artists of different stripes, through all our times,

have sought out darkness, terror, and woe.

Is this alone enough weight to serve the best

grist for the mill,

the most creative soil?

Some see hope only in pain – best straw for the man,

scare for the crow,

leaves for the tea.

But love yet remains the hottest kiln fire,

best ink or brush, chisel or note, key or bow.

Unrequited?

Better still.

The lover writes, paints, sings, sculpts, dances

her way to unleashed creativity, effortlessly

producing beauty in saying so.

Lose that love and comes a torrent of page-busting pain,

notes of mourning and loss,

all the colours of the universe distilled into singular grey.

Art becomes the dense power of the black hole,

sucking energy from anything unlucky enough

to be in proximity. It is pulled in,

crushed, passed through the dark,

then, released again, purified in travail.

Let the art come then from orbital gravity –

two heavenly bodies in mutual dance.

And, sometimes, great art still issues

forth from the flinging wildly into endless space,

victim of some heavenly collision.

The sculptor trains his eye on her flowing

body, chipping away what stone blocks

the way of the visage that drives him.

Shoot an arrow through her and the same

tools are used to take his own life.

Then, the composer, matching them both,

crushes grisled notes onto a tear-stain’d staff.

The musician throws note after throbbing note, dying

as on cloth all our emotions in each one. She loses a hand

to prepare the way for the still

broader statement of the one who writes of her loss.

It is all an exercise in drilling holes in the sternum

to siphon enough life-blood for the great gushing

onto page, stone, canvas, or staff

one’s gratitude or grief;

tears or triumph;

grist or glory.

There is good art in the good. Perhaps even better art in the bad.

There is art within art. Light from dark from light,

we find the most lasting thing tucked in

the gravitas of every moment.

Baffling.

Unnerving.

Discouraging.

Beautiful.

The artist must find the kernels of beauty tucked

in a backwash world,

like chasing fog in the dark.

 

Let us begin.

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The Price of Home

Published at innerwoven, given the literary nature of this one…

innerwoven

I’ve been stung. Poisoned. Nothing flora or fauna. By a book. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s got me thinking again about our notions of ‘home.’

Poisonwood Bible.jpgTuesday, December 26th. Boxing Day. It’s strange, just saying those words can produce such intense homesickness. A progressive, Canadian family living in a regressive, Trumpian America. Similarly, Nathan and Orleanda Price and their children, Rachael, Leah, Adah, and Ruth May – in equal measure, a family displaced; a little collective of courage and fear, lived in a world of nothing but frontier. Their only certainties were the uncertainties of daily survival in a world that cared little either way.

Their meager, not even daily, meals of eggs or mash, perhaps some chicken if someone took pity on them, removed any vestiges of the stolen or manufactured expectations as whites in a black world. They were equals among those who typically served their every…

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Not a journal

journal.jpgThis 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.

 

Hymn: A New Poem by Sherman Alexie

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

Going Over Things

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

as necessity.

Unlikely companions, no longer in remission,

make plans on the yawning road before them.Morning run copy.jpg

 

 

Spirituality, Imagination, and Pole-Dancing

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.

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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 Writer’s 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?

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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.