Friday, August 28, 2015

The Job


It was going together according
To their prescription, their plan,
But I didn’t trust what I saw,
What I was seeing and said so –
Wouldn’t sign it off, told them
To taste it if they didn’t believe
Me and some of them did.

That changed things; slowed them
Down and brought them to a halt.
I sat there while they procrastinated
And searched for someone to blame
Knowing they wanted to blame me
Despite my being the one who drew
Attention to the problem. They wanted

It to belong to someone else.  I sat
There knowing the problem was
In the composition, the lack of
Knowledgeable sense during the
Combining of the ingredients,
The use of inept workers instead
Of sensitive artists and technicians,

But I had no credibility being
The one who voiced the criticism.
“Bring me solutions not problems”
Was their dictum; so I sat silent
And still while they revisited
Their plans and schedules
Looking at each other, seeking

To shift the project away, down
The hall and out into Assembly.
I wouldn’t sign off on that either so
They dithered till it was time to go.
I went too, like them, all of us
Obeying the rules.   I rode home in a
Blinding rain, smiling inside my helmet.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Dying


Our dying isn’t contingent, but
If you say it is I might concede
Though not for long.  Susan grew
Tired of waiting and abandoned
Her hope.  Once when I had been
Upstairs she feared I had gone
And yelled my name in her weak

And debilitated voice.  Ever after
As long as she lasted I whispered
My nearness, on the couch, on the
Floor, and after a long while she sang
Herself in her morphine dream away. 
It is easier in combat, even if terror
Precedes death it is of short duration.

Dying in battle would guarantee
Passing to Valhalla where those who
Fought and died in earlier days waited
With mead and welcome.  Anthro-
Pologists avoid considerations like these,
We live as animals and die the same
Way, but which animal anticipates

And speculates?  What is to come
Next we wonder?  If Christ was
Not raised from the dead Paul
Said then he was the most deceived
Of all mankind, and in our metaphors
We are never content to merely die.
Some think it a shameful act. 

Others want to call and hear an answer
And have someone watch even if it takes
A long time in protracted pain.  I feel
Fit enough to fight.  A violent death
Would suit me now – carried out with
Knife or gun as long as it was a
Long way from medical assistance.   

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Happily ever after


We got married and lived
Happily ever after always
Hoping that meant forever
But not worrying about it
At first and only afterward
Considered the implications
Ever might have for eternity,

But in a practical sense
It meant a long time.
Were we happy that long?
Not if happy meant
Unalloyed delight but if
It meant as good as can be
Expected, then yeah, sure.

She had delightful looks and
Ways.  She could have been
Scheherazade if she tried but
She took me for granted and
Leaned back into the joy of
What remained, and I was happy
To enjoy her one smile at a time.

Monday, August 17, 2015



Mary tried but ended dying
In childbirth.  Years later a
Relative got a bogie on the
Seventeenth.  The TV cameras
Caught her chagrin, but she
Went on and finished well,
Setting a new course record.

And when she later dies it won’t
Be from childbirth.  She is not
Even certain she wants one or
Anything beyond a great career.
In future years women won’t
Be dying from liver or kidney
Failure.  Dying will be from

Congestion, cramming them-
Selves into smaller and
Smaller spaces, breathing each
Other’s air, swearing that some-
One is taking their place in the
Long lines stretching from
Hemet to Loma Linda.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Fan


Take the fan, fanning no one
Now that I’ve moved across
The room to my easy chair,
Duffy needing in my lap
After oral surgery yesterday,
But it could be anything,
No over-arching system,

Anything, everything being
Connected and leading to some-
Thing else, perhaps Duffy,
Perhaps my electric bill, sitting
Here with Duffy in my lap, I might
Struggle over whether to let
Him rest or get up and shut it off,

Or Ben flapping his ears unlike
The fan which is quiet.  I was
Notified yesterday where Susan
Was buried.  I’d asked for
Advance notification but they
Forgot, quietly going about their
Business as though I wasn’t here.

Reaching out


There might be muggers and killers
Outside in the dark, most people
Think; leave the dogs in back
And stay home, but in my case
Taking the dogs to the river before
Dawn when coyotes are all done
Feeding and heading for

Their dens – except I haven’t
Heard them in some time nor
Have we seen rabbits.  I hear
Lynxes are now protected in
This state.  I’ve never seen
One.  The brush now, because
Of the rain, reaches out and

Closes our pathways.  I need
Ben and Duffy to find the way.
Whether an attack in the dark
Or Bobcats in the brush they are 
In the mind – But if one reaches
Out long enough one is bound
To touch something eventually.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Susan Howe and Emily Dickinson

I've never liked the idea (obtained from critics) of Susan Howe's poetry and so have never read it, but I am interested in Emily Dickinson (at present) and so acquired Howe's My Emily Dickinson.  My inclination to skim stuff I'm not certain I need often works against me.  In this case I didn't immediately get a very clever juxtaposition.  On page 15 she presents a poem of John Milton in which he dreams of his wife who died in child birth.  On the next page Howe presents a poem by Emily Dickinson who writes of a pregnant wife who anticipates dying in childbirth.  I had to go back and read it again and see that Howe (who uses history in many of her writings) had prefaced these two poems by referring to the high risk of death during child birth (in Milton's and Dickinson's times), and if the mother survived, the child most likely wouldn't survive its first year.

After figuring it out, I found Milton distasteful (unfairly so, for the poem is a 14-line sonnet) for not representing his wife's point of view, using a classical reference to Jove, emphasizing his own sense of loss when on the next page in Dickinson's poem we can hear the wife (Milton's wife presumably was unable to articulate her thoughts and fears -- or if she did Milton ignores them) anguishing over the dangers of childbirth.  "I'm tempted half to stitch it up" Dickinson writes, and concludes her poem with "And so I bear it big about / My Burial -- before / A Life quite ready to depart / Can harass me no more --"  This last stanza isn't crystal clear, and Howe doesn't offer an exegesis, but it is clear enough I suppose.  She can't very well "stitch it up" and so must bear it.  The "About My burial" must mean thinking or worrying about the upcoming childbirth and anticipating a bad end, her death.  Then if we think about the timing, the anticipating she is doing (which Dickinson's words don't clearly convey) we can see that she is doing this anticipating "before" the baby is "ready to depart," for when it does depart it can "harass" her no more.  People who read this poem must get something like that although a quick check of the internet doesn't back that up.  Several people quote it but without any attempt at interpretation.

This is Emily Dickinson's poem:

This Chasm, Sweet, upon my life
I mention it to you
When Sunrise through a fissure drop
The Day must follow too

If we demur, its gaping sides
Disclose as 'twere a Tomb
Ourself am lying straight wherein
The Favorite of Doom

When it has just contained a Life
Then, Darling, it will close
And yet so bolder every Day
So turbulent it grows

I'm tempted half to stitch it up
With a remaining Breath
I should not miss in yielding, though
To Him, it would be Death

And so I bear it big about
My Burial—before
A Life quite ready to depart
Can harass me no more

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unnamed Muse


As to evolutionary advantage,
I can’t think . . . well perhaps
One.  If I write, my headache
Dissipates, but you might say
It is better without the
Headache or at least to have
It go away with prose,

But perhaps it isn’t like that,
Perhaps the advantage lies
In the dream-filled past,
An access to the realm
In which beauty resides,
And the coming forth
A describing to those

Sitting around in rapt awe.
What good would that be,
I can hear you ask?  Perhaps
None today.  It can’t
Be quantified, but perhaps it
Was part of what made humans
Those many years ago along

With music and the painting
On all those old cave walls. 
But if that’s true, maybe
We’re obsolete and not an
Evolutionary advance, useless
Now like the appendix or tail.  I
Need four Ibuprofen, feeling

My head pound, to ease the
Pain.  My unnamed Muse
Has squeezed.  I’ve given
In and write.  She seems
To enjoy it, reading
Above my shoulder
Then slips away. 

Pax Vobiscum


I tried reading Crime
And Punishment but it
Was no longer relevant.
No one is as poor as that or
If they are they don’t speculate
About God questioning whether
They are free from him enough

To kill someone.  I knew someone
Who speculated about killing
Himself and did, not I suspect
With as much anguish as Raskolnikov,
But as most suicides after
Getting thoroughly drunk.  We
Devote time to growing

And learning then we take
A job and learn some more.
Most of us add a good deal
Of common sense.  Not
Raskolnikov perhaps nor my
Brother-in-law.  May someone
Rest their foolish souls in peace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Matthew Arnold or George Meredith


Perhaps I rationalize, looking away from philosophy some time ago and turning back toward poetry, but I don't believe modern philosophy has many (any?) answers.  No philosopher today has produced a thoroughgoing "system."   Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Gadamer, et al don't tell us what to think but strive instead to tell us how.  Many of them concentrate upon the interpretation of words and expressions.  Matthew Arnold's poem on the other hand falls into the what to think category.  Up until 1859 our ancestor's were happy with religious explanations.  After Darwin things changed.  In Lovett and Hughes' The History of the Novel in England,  page 318 they write, "Both Meredith and Hardy lived in the intellectual atmosphere of science, and are evidence of its penetration into thought and style  There are some hundreds of references to science in Hardy's novels  Both accepted the theory of evolution, but while Meredith's reading of it gave hope of infinite achievement for man through the development of his intellectual faculties, Hardy saw consciousness as an adventitious circumstance in the cosmic process, something for which nature had made no provision.  In 1883 he wrote in his diary: 'We [human beings] have reached a degree of intelligence which Nature never contemplated in framing her laws, and for which she consequently has provided no adequate satisfactions.' . . .  It is to him the fundamental principle of tragedy.    He has declared explicitly in his poetry the philosophy which is implicit in his novels.  In his poem on New Year's Day, 1906, he represents 'God' as asserting:

    .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  My labors, logicless,
        You must explain, not I.
    Sense-sealed I wrought without a guess
    That I evolved a consciousness
        To ask for reasons why.

    Strange that ephemeral creatures who
        By my own ordering are,
    Should see the shortness of my view,
    Use ethic tests I never knew
        Or made provision for.

Hardy, like Meredith, bears witness to the advance of the nature-sense during the century after Wordsworth.  In his noting of natural phenomena, 'the business of the elements,' he was extraordinarily minute and delicate.  His senses were instruments of rare precision.  And, like Meredith, Hardy uses the symbolism of scene to express his philosophy.  Egdon Heath, in The Return of the Native, typifies the enduring force of nature against which man vainly pits his puny strength.  Only those of the characters who accept it and live nearest to it, survive, while Eustacia Vye, who represents opposition to it, brings ruin upon herself and those about her. . . ."

There are plenty of philosophers who have told us what to think but as far as I know, few of their conclusions are accepted today -- at least conclusions of the sort Matthew Arnold required when he wrote,

"Ah, love, let us be true
To one another for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

It is easy to place Arnold in Lovett and Hughes definition of Hardy's philosophy.  The whole educated world drew conclusions after 1859 and it seems fair that these people must fall into either Meredith's camp or Hardy's.  Or, to hark back to William James Varieties of Religious Experience, religious people fall into two categories: They are either sick souls or healthy souls.  Within the Christian framework, which James assumed, they were either people who dwelt upon their own sinfulness (sick souls) or were people who assumed God's forgiveness (healthy souls) and moved on.

Taking Meredith's view we can generate a positive attitude about evolution.   Evolution isn't going to stop and we have every reason to expect that man's mental abilities will benefit.  Process Theology deriving from Alfred North Whitehead's Process Philosophy takes the gist of Hardy's poem (in a manner of speaking) and makes something positive from it.  God didn't intend creatures who could "ask for reason why" but now that they have asked them, God is learning from them.  Humans along with God are evolving.

There are plenty of "healthy souls" out there but many take the view that "sick souls" probably have the right idea:  Better to be a sick soul and be realistic than a "healthy soul" and be naive.  There is no room in nature, red in tooth and claw, for optimism.  Watch the movies based on comic book heroes if you wish, but if you want reality read Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hardy.  At least that's my impression.  I don't think that view holds up well when it is analyzed.  You have to go back into the constellation of presuppositions of the now-pessimistic writer.  Did he take a simplistic view of the Christian religion that doesn't hold up well against scientific advancements?  If so, is his simplistic view the only one possible?  Clearly it isn't but perhaps taking a more liberal view of the Religion vs Science argument we can be religious if we wish, if we need to be, or if we must.  Then the world along with its beauty will provide joy, love, light, certitude, peace, and help from pain. . . . although in the last regard, having witnessed Susan's endurance of pain, no thanks to the medical profession or the niggard insurance company that paid them, there is considerable room for improvement.

I should note here that if I was an advocate of the Matthew Arnold view I'd be in big trouble about now having just lost the "ah love, let us be true to one another" person of my life.  It might be possible to read the poetry I've written over the last few months and come to the conclusion that I have nothing left to live for.  Susan's final illness has been uppermost in my mind for a long time.  Whenever the idea of a poem occurred to me, even if I didn't start out with Susan as my focus, the idea of her would creep in.  There was a third novelist in the chapter from the above reference, George Eliot.  In her case she was very good, according to Lovett and Hughes when she wrote about the people and situations with which she was intimately familiar.  But later on when she became more ambitious and sophisticated her novels weren't as good.   I imagine I see something like that in Wallace Stevens and W. H. Auden:  When they teach out of their sophistication in their poetry, they are teaching poetic, religious or philosophical viewpoints current in their day.  What will happen to their poetry when the evolutionary machinery move us past those viewpoints.  Beyond that, what happens when language moves us past the ability to understand them?   I have been wrestling with Malory's Le Morte Darthur.  Malory lived from 1405 to 1471 but who today can read him without a lot of special education or at least a well-prepared and annotated text?  For that matter, Shakespeare living from 1564 to 1616 is extremely difficult.  So who will read Stevens and Auden in four or five-hundred years?  Will anyone other than literary historians be interested in their political or aesthetic theories?  If I were a "sick soul" I would be overwhelmed by the futility of writing anything at all.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Crock


They closed the cover above me
As they said, not wanting whatever
It was to get out and scare the
Children.  I initially laughed which
Provoked them to challenge
Me to take on the task since I
Thought it a small thing. 

I gathered my Smith and Wesson,
Hollow points of lead not wanting
Anything of steel to ricochet down
There; took two small flash-
Lights with extra batteries not
Knowing how long I’d be down
And there was no other light where

I’d be going.  I took a  knapsack
With water, food, some first-aid
Gear, a length of rope in case it
Was something I wanted to drag
Back up to show it a small thing
After all.  I took a Becker BK9
Knife, long enough to delve into

Darkness without risking my hand
It wasn’t until I was well along I
Realized this should have been a
Two-man job.  No matter.  It was
Certainly a dog or someone’s cat
Cast away while the owner was
Drunk or sick and living off the

Sewage running beneath our feet.
I stopped from time to time to let
The echoes die away, hearing more
Clearly the sewage gurgle along,
An occasional surge in a pipe
Behind the concrete walls and
Sometimes the whisper of something

Small scurrying by.  My cell phone
Rang but I couldn’t hear a voice, no
Surprise there.  After an hour or two
I saw a light and someone coming.  He
Saw me and stopped.  “Who are
You he yelled?”  “Police,” I yelled
Back.  “Looking for a monster” I added.

“Hah, me too.  Police not the monster he
Laughed, “name’s Jack.  How far have you
Come,” he asked?  “Two hours down the
Main shaft.”  He said he’d been nearly the
Same.  “It must be in one of the off-shoots or
Spurs, whatever they’re called.”  “My
“Thought as well, but we might get

Lost veering into one.  Who knows
Their condition – could be other things
As bad as whatever this is.”  “A
Crocodile, is what I heard” Jack said.
A pet that got too large and is now too
Large down here as well.”  “Maybe,”
I agreed and touched the butt of my gun.

He shined his light there “better than
Mine and shined it on his nine.  “Want
To split up,” I asked?  “Not really,”
He replied; so we entered the next
Spur we came to.  My compass said
We’d be heading North by North West.
There was a larger volume of refuse

Flowing.  “Wait,” Jack said.  “What?”
“I heard something – Oh no!”  His
Light picked it up coming toward us
In a rush.  I pulled my gun but Jack
Was in my way.  He sprayed the
Tunnel with his Nine.  The monster
Stopped but when Jack paused to

Reload he rushed us again, slashing
Past in a mad whirl of flashlights   
And the sound of my Smith.  Jack
Groaned.  “Did he get you,” I asked
Rushing back?  “My leg” he moaned.
I saw the torn trousers and a gash
Oozing blood.  After not hearing

The crock and hoping it was gone
I took off my knapsack and got the
First-aid gear, dousing the wound
With Iodine I wrapped several layers
Of gauze around his leg and taped it
In place, stopping every moment to shine
My light in the direction the crock had gone.

“I can’t leave you here.  Can you walk?”
“I’d better.  My Nine didn’t even make
It mad.”  “I got in a couple of shots
With my 357 but I may have missed.”
“Maybe I did too,” he said.  “Though
I wouldn’t admit that up above.”  We
Laughed.  I got him up and helped

Him back the way we’d come.  We
Heard a whooping sound and stopped.
I took out the Smith and Jack his Nine.
We shined our lights up and back. 
“Don’t see it,” he said, “you?”  “Me
Neither.  If we knew where it was we
Could go the other way.  You pick,”

I said, “since it’s your leg.”  “Let’s go
Back toward my precinct, the way I
Came.  I know all our ER people
Pretty well.”  “Ah, accident prone are
You,” I said and he laughed?  “So they
Say.” We struggled on, much further
Than we expected, then we heard

A huffing up ahead.  “Whoops,” Jack
Said.  “We should have gone your way.”
“Stop here,” I said and leaned him
Against the wall.  With my Smith and
Wesson out front I inched slowly
Ahead until I saw what seemed a bulge
On the sewer floor.  It turned swiveling
Itself toward me.  I fired all six rounds
Wishing I had chosen steel instead of
Lead, not sure my hollow-points had
Penetrated its hide.  He whirled about
I jumped back barely in time and he
Raced away.  “You okay,” Jack called,
Worry in his words?  “Yeah, but I think

He is too.  I hate to go on in his direction
But the ladder must be close.   We
Struggled on until we found it.  I
Climbed up, lifted the lid and found
We were in a street I didn’t know.
A gang of surly youths turned to
Stare.   “Hey there Five O,

What’s the Po-leese doing down
There?”  “I’ve got a wounded man
Down here.  How about a little
Help?”  One of them pulled a gun.
“I’ll help you right back down the
Way you came.”  “There’s a crocodile
Down here,” I pleaded.  “Got to be a

Crock, but it’s all yours.  Up here is
Ours.”  I climbed back down.  Jack
Had been listening.  “The Bastion
Street Gang, I’d bet, best not push it.”
He uttered a big sigh and said, “I’m
Game to try the other way if you are.”
“Okay,” I said slowly. We drank

Some water, caught our breath and
Headed back the way we’d come.
Protocol had our precincts send us
Help.  From my direction we saw
Them after an hour.  From Jack’s
Direction we heard later on they
Had all been lost, some killed

By the gator, some by friendly fire,
Five in all.  Jack’s precinct arrested
The Bastions, hauled them all down
Town but nothing stuck.  One night
A week later someone took their cover
Away and pushed a long heavy plank
Down to the sewer floor.  The crock

Came out and killed ten Bastions.
They tried to fight him, but he
Was too big.  They ran off and
Called the police.   They were told
“Call animal control.”  They say
Now its in the warehouse district living
On gangbangers and drug addicts.  “So

Are the sewers safe,” we wondered?
“Maybe,” the experts say, but maybe
There are more of them down there
Growing larger by the year.  We throw
So much away.  A gator can live a long
Time on what we scatter.  Besides, as
The Bastions told us, out there is theirs.”

Over beer one night I asked Jack if they gave
Up looking for whoever put the plank down the
Bastion manhole.  “Pretty much,” he said.
The Bastions wouldn’t let them do a thorough
Check.”  “Too bad,” I said with a laugh. 
“Ever get those splinters out of your hands?”
“Just about,” Jack said. “ You?”