Thursday, July 2, 2020

Existence



    A stratum of existence
    Exists beyond the words
    At our disposal – some of
    Us yearn outward toward it,
    Others anxious to belong
    Join in ignoring the
    Confusion with their kin.

    Surely, some say,
    There is nothing beyond the
    Words we use to define
    The universe – words originated
    In our prehistoric battles
    With clubs and spears made
    Of wood and antler horn.
   
    At twilight I can hear
    An acapella choir singing
    Music I can somewhat
    Grasp through words
    Beyond my ability to
    Clearly hear, and seemingly
    Anyone’s to believe.

Half way



    It was half way
    She had been wanting,
    Her father in Indio,
    Her brother in Garden Grove.
    San Jacinto in the middle
    Was neither a city,
    Nor off-grid
   
    As I had wanted
    During the decades
    Of years in buildings
    Building DC-8s, KC-10s
    And C-17s; and wishing
    More that she could be
    As she could no longer be.

    She, wild at the start,
    Someone to set a heart
    To racing, fearless behind
    Me on a Yamaha, racing
    Between the lanes, speeding
    Up before the sickness
    Slowed her down.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Dialogue part two



    Grim-faced Lawrence, erstwhile        
    Marine, did you think I’d change
    The cosmos on a whim? You
    Wished those many years ago
    And I gave you what you sought,
    Her to be cared for, and you
    To have something to do.

    I extended her life beyond
    Her doctors’ predictions,
    And yet you brayed like
    Balaam’s ass when you
    Experienced her inevitable
    End.  Do you accuse me
    Now of trickery or lies?

    Am I some devil and you
    A Faust to make me give
    Her back after all these years? 
    Set aside your vaunted knife
    And gun.  Who knows,
    I may have you write some
    Trifles in days to come.

A Dialogue part one

 
    After coffee, taking the dogs
    Out back and half way through
    My morning workout, I needed
    To be quiet so as not to
    Wake Susan; then looking up
    At the mirror recalled,
    And all that had

    Gone before returned
    In muffled thoughts
    Matching the mercurial fog –
    No jogging, I would
    Work harder with weights,
    Not willing to go down
    Placidly in the coming

    Eventuality. At my
    Desk, sipping espresso,
    Ghostly thoughts be
    Damned, I’ll be ready
    With hand-gun and
    Ka-Bar, and not go
    Out without a fight.

Going Home

                     

    Ben and Jessica stopped,
    Bodies rigid.  I reached
    For my non-existent gun
    As the earth irrupted
    Screeching like a tin roof
    Bending beyond its limitation.
    Seeing a brilliant churning
   
    I climbed up from the sea,
    Seeing Susan at the tiller
    With wind sweeping her hair
    About her head.  I sat there,
    Water dripping from my mask
    Watching her never wavering
    Eyes as she steered toward home.

The Inevitable 4th



    We were running then –
    I favoring my right leg –
    Explosions rocking us –
    The gigantic alien being
    Walking wherever he
    Would, unsubject to political
    Fervor or the petulance of crowds –

    Little hope then we
    Could avoid his feet,
    Being in his way
    And not anticipating where
    He was going or what
    He craved, droll though
    The thought, he being deaf

    And blind, riding time
    With no concern for
    Tanks spread out
    Or planes raining
    Down behind.  His steps
    Though irregular were
    Thorough, nothing thwarted.

The Goose



    I was five and my
    Recollections are faulty,
    So they’ve said.  Mother
    And the rest.  My father
    Told me years later,
    He was a Dachshund,
    Dusty, not the goose

    Whom I won at the fair
    Throwing a hoop over her
    Head, leading her off
    To my parents surprise,
    My prize, having been
    Told whatever I won would
    Be mine in perpetuity.

    It was the Depression
    Then; so they said,
    Or something similar, and
    Geese were for eating,
    They told me after dinner
    And after I rushed out
    Back to find her gone.

    Later I was given Dusty
    Whom I loved in consolation
    For the goose, a perfect
    Dog loved by almost everyone
    There being no fences
    People knowing him
    By different names.

    When I was ten he was
    Run over by a car and
    My parents divorced. Ten
    It seemed was old enough
    For those sorts of things.
    We lived with Hill Billies
    And took the bus to school.

    We then lived with Bonnie
    Hilligas and I had a collie
    Until he barked too much
    And was taken to the pound
    While I was at school.
    She was a harsh woman
    With no dogs of her own.

    I can still remember
    Dusty’s death, his body
    Brought home and buried
    In the back.  My parents
    Divorce though was childish
    In its own way.  Lipstick
    On a collar was all I knew.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Watching or Playing

Someone in a different forum expressed an inability to understand why people became excited while watching sports.  He recalled getting excited by playing but never by watching.

"Watching or Playing" is an interesting concept when applied to war.  I dearly wanted to "play," and attempted to join the USMC in 1951 when I was 16.  When they discovered my age I was sent home until I was 17.  I was sent to an intelligence unit in Korea, but I planned to transfer to the "front lines," essentially the 38th parallel which was still being contested.  I was informed that truce negotiations were going on and transfers were no longer being approved.  Being there during the last two battle seasons I was entitled to wear two stars on my Korean War Ribbon.  So was I "watching" or "playing"?

In another example, I was the McDonnell Douglas Project Engineer involved in the delivery of the last Nigerian DC-10 (the last or next to the last DC-10 manufactured.  I was also the Project Engineer for the delivery of a DC-10 to Pakistan.  That one and the Nigerian were the last two DC-10s manufactured) and got to know two Nigerian reps (one for Engineering and the other of Product Support) fairly well.  The Engineer was a Catholic and the Product Support fellow was a Muslim.  I had some interesting discussions with the Muslim about Islam.  The Muslim spoke of inheriting a large parcel of land for some reason I didn't understand (he was educated in Scotland and had a strong Scottish accent).  After he returned to Nigeria I received a phone message from him, but he didn't provide enough information to enable me to return his call.  It wasn't inconceivable that he intended to offer me a job.  If so, he may have thought he could convert me to Islam.  My MDC job was to take care of all Engineering and Product Support needs and not argue about Islam, so he never saw the argumentative side of me. 

I subsequently got a translation of the Qur'an and puzzled through most of it.  After 9-11 I was primed to study Islam and Islamism more seriously.  We had many discussions in the Phil-Lit forum on Islam and Islamism back then.  I recall arguing with an adjunct professor in something or other about whether Islamism originated out of Sunni or Shia theology.  I argued for a Sunni origin, believing Said Qutb the prime Sunni theologian and the most potent force in the creation of subsequent movements in various nations.  The adjunct professor in arguing for a Shia origin thought the Ayatollah Khomeini the source of Islamism.  We each had a vicarious understanding.  I had read more Sunni oriented books and he had read more Shia; so we argued.  He was in the process of founding an anti-Islamism organization, and so popped into Phil-Lit looking for recruits.  He sought to recruit me, but I merely argued with him.  I was not delivering any DC-10s to him & so felt free to argue.  Was I "watching or playing"?

Understanding Islamism is an ongoing enterprise.  I have given it up, but I did read from the June 1, 2018 issue of the TLS a review of four books on the Qur'an by Eric Ormsby.  The books reviewed are The Koran in English by Bruce B. Lawrence, Exploring the Qur'an by Muhammad Abdel Haleem, The Qur'an by Nicolai Sinai, and The Sanaa Palimpsest by Asma Hilali.  Ormsby writes, "if there is a single factor that explains the disparity between Muslim and non-Muslim views of the Qur'an it lies in its language.  This disparity is not due simply to the differences between, say, English and Arabic with the latter's more powerful expressive qualities, lexical as well as phonic.  Rather, the disparity arises from the specific idiom of Qur'anic Arabic.  It is a long standing article of Muslim belief that the Qur'an is inimitable; indeed its inimitable (i'jaz in Arabic) has been dogma at least since the days of the theologian al-Baqillani (d. 1013), who codified it.  This is the basis of the ban on translation; the Qur'an by its very nature cannot be translated -- or rather, only its 'meanings' are deemed translatable.  Bilingual editions of the Qur'an in Saudi Arabia, for example, are always identified as containing a translation of the 'meanings', as if to make clear that it is not the Qur'an itself that has been translated. . . ."

I wondered if by chance Eric Ormsby was the fellow I argued with years ago.  Probably not, because the fellow I argued seemed younger than someone born in 1941 (when Ormsby was born).  At the time, the fellow I argued with was languishing some place as an adjunct professor and saw no hope of achieving a serious place in the academic world; so for that fellow to have applied himself such that he became the Eric Ormsby I read about would be remarkable.

Also remarkable is the fact that Eric Ormsby, born in Atlanta in 1941, is "a poet, a scholar, and a man of letters. He was a longtime resident of Montreal, where he was the Director of University Libraries and subsequently a professor of Islamic thought at the McGill University Institute of Islamic Studies.  Just because I didn't apply myself single-mindedly, learn Arabic and continue to study the Qur'an and Islamic theology, didn't mean that the adjunct professor I argued with years ago didn't.   And yet, unless he became a Muslim and beyond that an Islamic theologian, isn't his understanding (while admittedly much greater than mine) still 'vicarious.'?  Isn't he still merely "watching"?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Insouciance



    They’re stretched alongside
    The roads from here to back
    East, tolling the bells that
    Ring in my ears -- stopping
    To stare now and again
    Waiting for their coming,
    Sure as I’m not what

    They say I am, “look at this,”
    I say, flexing my arm.  “Look
    At this,” they say holding
    My date of birth.  Gesturing               
    To the shotgun next to
    The stairs, I send them off

    To Jessica’s growls, to Ben
    And Duffy watching.  Not
    Long after the sun sinks,
    A neighbor sings an off-key
    Serenade.  Neighboring dogs
    Bark and the ringing is surely
    Softer than it was before.

The Singer

   

    The singer on the hill
    Again is singing, sending
    Her bird-like trills through
    The horizon, her song, the
    little truths – he with
    An ear will hear
    And bask in their

    Dazzling explications --
    Walking, speaking softly
    Muttering about their
    Delineations – what we once
    Knew.  I drew near and
    Listened and heard her
    Singing as a young girl --

    A voice beyond her years,
    Our eyes rolled back
    Till I saw the words
    Deep down, first hearing
    Her sing so long ago
    My mind struggles
    To restore its beauty.

The Excursion

   

    “Have you had anything to drink, sir?”
    “I don’t drink at all, officer.”
    “Your driving seems somewhat
    Askew, sir.  Why would that be?”
    “Oh that’s because of a broken
    Knee-cap, and my ankle’s a bit
    Stiff.”  “But not you” he asked?

    “Not me.”  “Step out of your car
    If you please.”  “In that case I’ll
    Need my cane.”  “Not like any
    Cane I’ve seen.”  He took it in
    Hand.  “Walking stick, then, though
    I don’t do much of that.  Old
    People break, you’ve probably heard.”

    “I have heard that, sir.  My apologies.
    Why are you out here so late?” 
    “Wanted a burger as a midnight snack,
    Haven’t had one since my wife died –
    Leg’s a bit sore still. I’ll need my stick.”
     “Yes sir,” he said.  “Best go back home.
    You’ve been wobbling a bit excessively.”

    He saluted smartly, turning away. 
    I stood there in gathering fog,
    Unclear how I’d lasted this long.
    Looking back with the eyes    
    Of a child, seemingly from a
    Great height – my heart beating
    As steadily for all I knew.  I lay

    My stick in back and resumed
    My journey, using fog lights,
    Queuing up with the others,
    Waiting, getting my order and
    Driving on, steadier now than
    Before. One gets used to being
    Whatever comes next.

The Break

 

    You asked the significance –
    Insignificant largely in
    Light of staggering events
    Round about.  I stagger
    Now a bit in the west,
    But no one will see
    Or see quite as I,

    Breaking is a thing many
    Do, creating a
    Before and after
    Before we’re ready;
    So I’ll see if I can
    Change as need be
    My acquiescence.

    It will be after all no
    Hardship keeping
    Me here even more
    Than I’ve been, amidst
    Pictures from the hikes.
    I’ll reside now a bit more
    In the thoughts I think.

Not Being Bloom



    “Without memory one cannot think,”
    He said, employing his photographic
    Mind as he progressed.  Perhaps
    Though others remember
    Differently and are led to
    Conclusions at variance.
    As old as Bloom but not

    Remembering clearly
    My sixty years ago my
    Thoughts are shallow, floating
    In flotsam nearer shore,
    Not experiencing Juno’s
    Curse and needing to sail
    Beleaguered seas with varying

    Crews.  I am instead
    Being driven to confess
    Whatever she puts
    In my mind, careful
    That whatever I say doesn’t
    Deviate from her direction.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

French hostility toward the Anglo-Saxons


From a review by R. W. Johnson of Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016 by R. T. Howard:

Johnson writes, “In De Gaulle’s view of history – a European history – England and France had struggled for supremacy for the best part of a thousand years.  For most of that time France had been the dominant power, but now its great empire wasn’t just overshadowed but outmatched by the even greater British Empire.  For De Gaulle France was not itself if it was not the leading power in Europe.  By 1941, however, the opponent was no longer Britain” it was ‘les Anglo-Saxons’.  Asked what was the most important international development of recent times, De Gaulle replied: ‘The fact that the Americans speak English.’”

I recall once French fellow in a forum years ago.  He owned a books store, can’t remember where, and can’t remember his name, but we used to argue about the relative merits of France and the U.S.  He knew English and was on an American forum, but he despised the U.S. and perhaps England as well, I don’t recall.  I had read an interesting article in Foreign Affairs and recommended it to him, implying that it would provide a more accurate view of the U.S. than he seemed to have.  He rejected the idea.  He had no wish to understand the U.S. more than he did.  He didn’t quite challenge me to learn more about France, but at some point he became disgusted with our forum and perhaps especially me and disappeared. 

The referenced review appears in the March 16, 2017 issue of the London Review of Books.  Johnson entitles his review, “Danger: English Lessons” and draws attention to De Gaulle’s and other’s interest in advancing French over English in the modern world.  “Howard quotes Gerard Prunier, an adviser to the French Government, who claimed that ‘the Anglo-Saxons want our death – that is, our cultural death.  They threaten our language and our way of life, and they plan our ultimate Anglo-Saxonisation.”

“When De Gaulle ordered US bases out of France, Lyndon Johnson angrily demanded to know if that meant digging up the graves of American soldiers who had died in the liberation.”  My impression is that many of the French at the time wouldn’t mind digging up the graves and sending the bones back to us.  Many French saw the second front that Stalin had been pleading for, Operation Overlord, as merely the occupation of France by a new set of oppressors.

In reading of these events, we perhaps don’t want to spend much time dwelling upon Churchill’s sadness over the loss of the British Empire, but De Gaulle was even more committed to reacquiring the French Empire.  I read histories of France’s pitiful efforts at Dien Bien Phu and in Algeria.  Many Americans, probably, would lose all sympathy for the French upon learning that Algeria after WWII would have been delighted to be considered part of France as equal citizens, but the Colons would not hear of it and so there was a war.  The Colons were driven out and Algeria eventually became independent. 

Perhaps here the French book seller would take offense at Americans who blithely assumed that democracy and equality ought to prevail throughout the world and that Britain and France ought to willingly give up their former colonies.  What right did the U.S. have to insist upon such a thing, especially when Eisenhower took up in Indo-China where the French left off not to preserve it as a colony, but to “prevent its becoming a Communist puppet.”  “As if,” the French scoffed and saw only hypocrisy. 

There is plenty of room to build a variety of arguments to support a variety of opinions.  After reading the above article in the LRB, I checked back through the recent editions of Foreign Affairs to see if there were any recent Gaullist-type efforts to advance French supremacy in Europe, but couldn’t find any.  And yet, I suspect, many of the French, even today are hostile toward Britain and the U.S. for reasons much like De Gaulle’s.  They don’t see the Vichy period in the same way we do.  De Gaulle, who spent the bulk of the War in Britain wanted to get past the Vichy period as quickly as possible.  Most Frenchmen, it seemed to be implied, were really in the resistance. . . but not so much anymore, becoming with Germany the “big two” in the EU – the EU whose capital is in French-speaking Belgium. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sequestered Reflections



    I’ve drifted all the way to
    Eighty-five without ever
    Drawing a conclusion,
    Conclusions such as Leopardi
    Derived from the thousands of
    Books in Maldanado’s library
    Which he precociously absorbed

    Apparently deducing afterward
    Firm conclusions about mistakes
    God made, chief among them
    Leopardi’s hump rendering him
    Capable of falling in love three
    Times but not appearing such
    As to receive reciprocity which
   
    Was determined by the God in
    Whom he no longer believed.
    I’m not sure how many it's been
    For me, not sure anything quite
    Qualified until I met one not as
    Fearful as the Italian but just
    As firm in her own convictions

    Which held God blameless
    Despite her illness while I
    Drifted into grief and might
    Have leaned Leopardi’s way
    Had I not as the kaleidoscope
    Paused seen the smile of the
    Shy Being’s own conclusions.               

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A couple of theories about what to do in response to Covid-19


On my smart phone just now appeared: “Berlin district mayor defends deliberate coronavirus infection.  Berlin District Mayor Stephan von Dassel defended his decision to ‘almost deliberately’ get infected with the coronavirus. . . ‘I was ill longer than I thought. . . and thought I’ll be a bit sick for three days and then I’ll be immune – I can’t catch it and won’t pass it on to anyone, but it was a lot worse than I imagined . . .”

This crossed my mind as well, but I rejected the idea at once.  I try my best to avoid ordinary flu and have no interest in acquiring something comparable just to become immunity.  If I catch it, so be it, but I’m definitely not interested in volunteering. 

In the April 2, 2020 issue of the London Review of Books is an article entitled “Too early or too late?subtitled “David Runciman on political timing and the pandemic.”  Runciman writes, “only one politician has actually cited the actions of the mayor from Jaws as a model for crisis management, and it isn’t Trump.  Boris Johnson used to tease audiences by suggesting that ‘the real hero of Jaws was the mayor, a wonderful politician.  A gigantic fish is eating all his constituents and he decides to keep the beaches open.’  Usually Johnson would end his riff by admitting: ‘OK, in that instance he was wrong.  But in principle we need more politicians like the mayor.’” 

Perhaps it isn’t quite what Boris Johnson believes, but after reading of all the people thrown out of work, threats of impoverishment, even starvation, it occurred to me to wonder whether the approach that seems to be adopted almost world-wide, that of staying home, might in the long run kill more people than the virus.  After all, the gigantic fish didn’t actually eat all of the mayor’s constituents.  Anticipating that not working will kill more people in the long run, we could assume that the Covid-19 will be comparable to ordinary flu.  People die from that is well; so let’s individual stay home if we need to, otherwise work, work, work.  For if we run out of food because farmers, middlemen, and sales people are staying home and the hand-to-mouth people start dying off at a faster rate than Covid-19 victims are now, a few months from now Boris Johnson (if that is what he has been worried about) may seem prescient – or would so seem if he hadn’t backed away from anything that extreme.”

However, the “assumption” in the preceding paragraph may be wrong.  The Covid-19 may be much worse than ordinary flu . . . at least a blog entry, also included in April 2, 2020 issue of the LRB, and entitled “Quaresima, Thomas Jones reports from Orvieto” seems to suggest that it is.  His article is a list of days, beginning “Fifteen days ago: 2706 people in Italy had at this point tested positive for SarsCoV-2; there were 443 new cases; 276 had recovered; 107 were dead. . . “  He then describes whatever was going on 15 days ago. 

Jones article ends “Today: 33,190 positive; 4480 new cases; 4440 recovered; 3405 dead.  This issue of the LRB goes to press on Thursday, 19 March . . . This issue is dated 2 April, two weeks from now.  The day after that, in theory, schools in Italy are set to reopen.  But everyone knows that won’t happen. . . .”

Jones article is pessimistic.  We should sequester ourselves as he and his son are doing because people are dying out there and the risk is high that if we go out ‘there,’ that we will die too.  3405 dead out of 33,190 that tested positive is a little over 10%.  We have all heard that Italy has had a higher rate of deaths than any other nation.  But the Covid-19 is a new phenomenon.  How can we be sure that our nation won’t have percentages as high as those being reported from Italy?

It may be that the next wave of Covid-19 in Italy may kill a lower percentage of victims, but would we want to follow the advice of a “hypothetical mayor of Jaws” on the basis of such an assumption?

My smart phone just informed me that in Germany they are considering testing everyone to get better statistics; which makes good sense since we have been told that some people get it and barely have any symptoms at all.  If such cases are entered into the statistics then the death rate “might” end up comparable to that of ordinary flu. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Forts, studies, hide-outs and covid-19


I didn’t like going places long before I couldn’t.  My situation seems ordained.  I made walking sticks years before the accident. . . well, I was actually intending to make hiking sticks, but if I ended up having to shorten certain sticks because of defects in the wood, I finished them anyway, calling them walking sticks and saying, 'who knows.  One day they may come in handy.'  My orthopedic surgeon was impressed with them.  He spent more time looking at my sticks than at my knee. 

I was looking forward to the weather clearing so I could take the dogs hiking, but it still hasn’t cleared and now it’s moot.  I wonder how the homeless people living on the river are dealing with covid-19. 

And, ever since I was a little boy I liked the idea of having a “fort,” and built several.  We lived alongside a huge vacant lot and in those days forts had to be dug into the ground, which I enjoyed doing.  Neighborhood boys used to pelt us with grass clods and we would pelt them back.  After we moved, I built a fort up in a tree out front.  It was fairly well built.  A friend and I used to go up there and make Japanese money.  We’d cut up blank paper into the size of money and then make Japanese-like scribbles on it -- can't remember why, but I was probably 12 at the time.  There was an oil-well next door and something attached to the top of the oil-truck collided with my fort – which was stronger.  The oil company made me tear it down.  

It was from inside another fort, one I built out beside the garage to wait for the end of the world which Dr. Clem Davies on the radio convinced my mother was going to happen on one Saturday when I was 13.  It was a good sturdy fort.  It withstood that particular Saturday quite well.  After I went into the Marine Corps, my stepfather tore it down.  He said it was a lot harder to tear down than he imagined. 

After I was working at Douglas for a couple of years, Karen, my first wife complained about not having a house of our own; so I bought one in Torrance, making sure it already had a fort – out behind the garage with lots of sliding glass doors.  It wasn’t built to code and so wasn’t included in the price of the house, but none of my previous forts were built to code either; so I didn’t mind.  Functionally, it became a study, and the houses I owned since that one needed to have studies, not forts, but since I am now officially sequestered I’ve been thinking of my study, from which I can see the mountains over the trees through the large window next to my desk, along the lines of my forts of old – not that any of them were forts in the medieval sense.  They couldn’t withstand an attack that came with anything more potent than grass-clods.  “Hideouts” didn’t exactly describe them either, because everyone knew about our “forts” and it was easy to know when we were in them.  And so, yes, the one I’m in now is a traditional study.  It has the desk, books shelves, lots of books and computer gear, but it is also on the second floor, away from the front part of the house, and I can always look to my right and see the mountains.  Since covid-19 it has seemed more like a fort than a study.  Any intruder larger than a virus would have a difficult time entering the house and coming up the stairs.  He would be confronted by a fiercely barking Jessica, who would be joined by Ben (who joins her if she is barking at something he is interested in like cats and strange dogs) and finally Duffy.  And if they were all barking at something, I would get up to check. . . the last time that happened I went downstairs and saw a Yorkie-sized dog sniffing around on our front lawn.    So perhaps “hideout” works better than “fort” under the current circumstances.  Hiding out is sort of like sequestering oneself.  But it is sort of like what I was already doing before covid-19. . . and I found myself looking out my study window and imagining what I would have thought if I knew I would ever have a “fort” like the one I spend most of my time in.  I would have thought it would be very good to live as long as I needed to, to get here.