Sunday, April 14, 2024

Saint Sebastian's Abyss

 


I just read Saint Sebastian’s Abyss by Mark Haber, published in 2022.   I was misled by reviewers who implied that much was to be learned about art history in Haber’s book.  That is true if much is to be learned about cooking from Jonathan’s Swift’s A Modest Proposal. 


Haber is poking fun at art critics who early on in their careers decide that what they have to say about art (or literature, etc.) is more important than what a painter (or poet) accomplishes. The narrator declares, “Schmidt and I were quenchless and insatiable when it came to the end of the world.” The Science Fiction Youtube critic, Moid Moidelhoff, frequently declares “I love the end of the world.”  Perhaps in his case, since he is an atheist, he means that he loves books about the end of the world.  But Schmidt and the Narrator (also atheists) are equally obscure about their love of the end of the world; although it seems most probable that Haber intends the “abyss” in the title of painting, “Saint Sebastian’s Abyss” to refer to the end of the world.  If so, given the nihilistic ending of his novel, Haber believes the end of the world to be a whimper rather than a bang – at least in the narrator’s opinion if not in Schmidt’s.



The narrator writes an opinion Schmidt shares, “Our classmates were only interested in becoming painters, which was preposterous since nothing good had been painted since the death of Cezanne in 1906.”


We do hear in our modern times that what is being done artistically, musically, poetically, etc. is inferior to the great accomplishments of artists and composers of the past.  Harold Bloom declared that Shakespeare, most importantly in his Hamlet, created “what we mean by “human.”  We aren’t willing to let go of Shakespeare or Rembrandt or Bach, Bloom wrote of the anxiety of influence serious poets and writers feel.  


So, what shall we think when Haber’s narrator declares, “Painting, I told Schmidt, admittedly to impress him, was a fool’s errand because painting had died with Cezanne in 1906 and to pursue painting was like pursuing an obsolete skill, becoming a chimney sweep or a town crier?”  This isn’t a judgement critics can legitimately make.  Of course they can and do, but creation is beyond them.  They, if they are any good, have studied their fields and have a good understanding of what the creations of genuine artists look like, and use these understandings to judge the works of new artists.  Only the most negative among them would declare that nothing good has been painted since 1906, written since Shakespeare, or composed since Brahms.


The narrator’s second wife, much to the outrage of Schmidt if not the narrator became a famous art critic.  She wrote a very successful biography of Paul Klee, perhaps achieving more critical adulation than Schmidt inasmuch as he was offended by her.  She in the course of things couldn’t abide the narrator’s overriding preoccupation with Saint Sebastian’s Abyss and left him.


Mark Habor in this novel has written what might be termed a poetic criticism of critics.  One cannot challenge them on facts because their stock and trade are their opinions.  The most successful and deft swing verbal sabers lopping off the heads of presumptive artists who create works that challenge their opinions.  Schmidt believed he had solved the meaning of the mysterious three initials affixed to Saint Sebastian’s Abyss, but dies before he can give the information to the narrator.  The narrator spends three years trying to find out the answer on his own but is unsuccessful.  Blinded Beckenbauer, the painter of Saint Sebastian’s Abyss created at least this one painting that is revered by many, but what has the snobbish Schmidt and the narrator achieved if their critical theories are determined to have no lasting significance.  


Beyond these matters, as reprehensible as Beckenbauer might be, and as out of touch with celebrity as modern artists would find him, he was so devoted to his art that he lost his eyesight in its pursuit.  But the narrator tells us he painted because it was the easiest way he had to make money.   



Saint Sebastian was in fact a great evangelist who was martyred twice for his efforts, the first time with arrows, which didn't kill him.  After he recovered, he went to Diocletian to warn him of his sins and was beaten to death.  Why in Haber's novel did Beckenbauer choose Saint Sebastian as the subject for a painting? Saint Sebastian was considered the Saint that protected the faithful against the plague and Beckenbauer suffered from syphilis which may have been considered a plague in Beckenbauer's day -- in Haber's mind.  It seems ironic that Saint Sebastian, a famous believer during early Christian times, martyred twice for his beliefs should be chosen by those featured by atheists in Haber's novel.   May we assume that Haber is an atheist as well?  If he is not that would be one more irony ladled from this novel. 



Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Springtime on Planet Earth

        A senescent president spends

Beyond measure the wealth 

Of his nation, and supports a

Comedian’s nation pitted against

A Slavic warlord who dreams

Of the war his comrades applaud.

Seeing his foes embroiled,

The leader of Sinitic millions

Likes his chance and seeks to meld

Taiwan into a Chinese whole.

Japanese and South East Asians

Younger than those locked in

Western Ukraine arm themselves


Thinking that they are

More formidable than

The Chinese believe.  In the world 

We try, those of us standing aside,

To hide our faces and hope these

Onslaughts pass us by; yet fire

Burns brightly where we stand.


Somewhere beyond our ken

A malevolence watches these

Stirrings, dipping a finger

Now and then to taste its

Progress.  Humans blind

And dumb in its midst 

Roil inside the growing heat.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Relating to the crises in Nigeria, sort of


I just saw on the news that Nigeria is on the brink of an economic meltdown.  In seven months, if I live so long I’ll be ninety.  It often seems that I can’t watch any news program without relating something in my past to it. In this case, in 1988 I was Project Engineer for the delivery of the last two DC-10's.  One of them was purchased by Nigerian Airlines.  Alex, representing Nigerian Engineering and Ali representing Nigerian Product Support coordinated daily with me.   I got to know them both fairly well.  I was a member of the Long Beach Police Pistol Club at the time and took them both shooting two or three times.  Alex was especially interested in buying one of my guns, but the gun he wanted was the one I took hiking most often; so I wouldn’t sell it to him.  


Alex apparently found another gun to buy.  He said there were bandits where he lived who would approach a house, shout and wave old rifles about and demand money, but if the home owner could produce a gun, they would run away.  Ali scoffed at that.  He had been in the Nigerian military and had a rifle at home.  The bandits never bothered him.  At the range it turned out that neither could shoot very well.  Alex fired a round through the overhead at one point.  His targets had shots, the ones that even hit the target, all over the place, but he was proud of it and took it back to Nigeria with him.


Ali was educated in Scotland and had a heavy Scottish accent which made him difficult to understand.  Alex was a Catholic, but as it happened I got along best with Ali who was a Muslim.  We discussed a wide variety of matters including religion.  I had read the Koran by then and found his interpretation of various passages far different from my understanding, but the same sort of thing goes on with Biblical interpretation so I wasn’t surprised. 


Ali spoke of having important political connections and of being about to inherit a large property.  I was invited, but didn’t go on the delivery flight.  Shortly after he would have arrived in Nigeria, he called me at home, He left a return number which I tried, but his accent was so strong I wasn’t sure I got it right.  In any case I couldn’t get through.  I wondered at the time if he was going to offer me a job.   What would that job have consisted of?


Shortly before delivery of the Nigerian DC-10, I received a copy of a document reporting “Nigerian B-707, on 12-13-88 crashed near Luxor, Egypt after diverting from Cairo due to low visibility.  Aircraft shot tso approaches at Cairo before diverting.  News media speaks of running out of fuel and crashing into six houses and three classrooms.  Initial report of fatalities were the eight Nigerian crew members and one 51 yr old Egyptian woman on the ground.  Serious injuries were sustained by one other adult woman on the ground and four children.  One of the children reportedly died later.  No report of fire.”


Another note said, “Operator “Nigerian date “12-15-88 Nigerian Airlines reportedly fired 3,000 employees.  This included their ‘manager’ or ‘General Manager’.  No further details.”


I learned from Chuck Watkinson, the McDonnell Douglas contract administrator for Nigeria that there had been a riot at the airline and the army had to be called out to quell it.  As a result of the riot 3,000 of the 8,000 employees were fired.  The most critical two were Okojo, the Managing Director and Legal Advisor who was in the process of reviewing our contract prior to signature.  The contract needs to be signed quickly so that title transfer can occur on 12-23-88.”


Those who had been on previous delivery flights of airplanes to Nigeria reported that it was best to go to a luxurious facility in Lagos and stay there until it was time to return home.  There were all sorts of horror stories as to why one didn’t want leave that facility and travel more widely in Nigeria.


As it happened, Susan had scheduled a visit to her sister in Marfa Texas; so Nigeria and Bangladesh (the later offered a side trip to Kathmandu) were out of the question.   Susan’s sister’s husband, was in the Border Patrol and took me on a consolation trip along some of the places on the border where illegals were known to cross.  We didn’t see any on that trip.  


Perhaps Ali had assumed I would be on the delivery flight and he could say whatever he wanted to say to me then, but on 12-23-88 Susan and I were on the way to Marfa.  Whenever Nigeria makes the news I do wonder what it would have been like to have gone there, something I never really wanted to do, but when one’s mind wanders, that sort of thing is bound to come up.












Sunday, February 18, 2024

Unhappiness of Kunsan and 29 Palms


29 Palms was my first duty station after I got back from Korea. My first day there I took a towel and started toward the sand in back of the barrack.  "Where you going," someone asked?  "To work on my tan."  He and a couple of his buddies snickered.  "Not out there you won't."  It was one of the hot months which are all mostly intolerable.  I lasted a very few minutes.  Someone pointed to the outside thermometer which read 137 degrees Fahrenheit.  I had a taste of a non-hot period during which high winds hammered us with sand if we dared to go outside.


We didn't have air conditioning back then.  We had "swamp coolers" which as far as I could tell increased the humidity but didn't lower the temperature.  I hear they now have air conditioning and other improvements at 29 Palms.  I don't care.  I don't like thinking about that place.  I once met a former Marine who retired to 29 Palms town and I asked him "why."  I don't recall his answer.  I was stuck with "why?"


Yes, the stars.  It was eight miles from the base to the "town" which had two movie theaters.  One was a modern theater for the day (1953) and the other was for lesser movies like Westerns and had a cover over the front seats but further back you sat under the stars.  I typically walked or jogged the 8 miles although Marines going to or from with cars would stop for me if I was interested.


I can't recollect how long I was at 29 Palms.  It seemed like years.  I notice went around that they were looking for Marines who had fired expert to transfer to Camp Pendleton as rifle coaches.  I was first in line for that.


Korea, if you don't count the war, was better duty than 29 Palms.  Camp Pendleton was my best duty station. I had a knack for coaching -- never dropped a shooter (that is, never allowed a shooter to fire below 180).  Kept up a quiet chatter with the worst of my shooters telling them to trust me rather than their own minds   Years later Susan questioned my approach saying, "what happens when one of your shooters goes into combat and you are not there telling him what to do?"  Don't know, but the senior coaches liked my results, promoted me to senior coach and let me run the coaching while they spent their time in the slop chute.  I might have stayed in the corps if I could have remained a coach, but once all the Marines assigned to us were qualified (or failed to qualify); then the coaches would be sent back to their "parent" duty stations, which for me would have been 29 Palms; so when my enlistment was up, I decided to get out, take the G.I. Bill and get a formal education.


The trip to Korea involved going by boat (the General Gordon) to Japan (Kobe) and after a few days flown by DC-3 to Korea.  My first job after college was at Douglas Aircraft Company at their Missiles and Space division in Santa Monica and Culver City. After the program I was working on, Skybolt, was cancelled, I transferred to Long Beach to work in the engineering department of the Aircraft division.  Douglas had one Project Engineer, Clark Scott, to handle all DC-3 work and I got to know him fairly well. After Scott retired there were no more project engineers assigned to the DC-3. 




There were at least two instances in my life when I stopped and took stock of my life, that is, where I was at the time, and how depressed I was to be there.  The first was in Korea shortly after I got to the USMC base at Kunsan.  I had learned that transfers to the front line were no longer being permitted; so I was going to be where I was for 13 months.  I stood at the barbed wire fence separating the base from the Yellow Sea and tried to see the sea, but saw nothing.  I saw an empty stretch of sand as far as my eyes could see.  I learned later that the Yellow Sea, at least at our location, had the longest tide in existence.  The Bay of Fundy has the highest, but the Yellow sea had the longest.  When it was in would lap through our barbed wire fence a short distance, but when it as out, it could no longer be seen.  My depression as it happened was short lived.  One day an Indian sergeant named Emhoolah asked me if I was part Indian.  My mother believed she was 1/8 Illinoiq which meant I was 1/16th Indian; so I told Emhoolah that I was.  I learned a few years ago, thanks to a DNA check by Ancestry.com that my mother was wrong.  I have no Indian ancestry at all, but I didn't know that back then.  Emhoolah said that since he was the only full-blooded Indian on the base that he was the Chief and by virtue of his rank ordered all his minions to show up at the slop chute at the end of every day when they weren't on duty.  I neither drank nor smoked before joining Emhoolah's "tribe," but I learned to do both.  A lot of other things went on, mostly fun and enjoyable.  I didn't regret not being able to go to the front line for long.


The second time was quite a bit more austere.  I had been accepted as a rifle coach and was waiting with my seabag for the bus that was to take me to Camp Pendleton.  I stood for a long time next to my seabag, waiting.  I looked about me.  29 Palms did the Yellow Sea one better.  There was sand almost 360 degrees from where I stood waiting.  Surely my life in the Corps couldn't be worse than this.  I resolved to remember this time if in the future I ever felt depressed.  However bad such a future time might be, it couldn't be as bad as standing there in the middle of that miserable nothing waiting for a bus that took a very long time coming.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Blacklist and the storm


At the end of Season two

Elizabeth Keen saves Red

Who may or may not be

Her father. Meanwhile

Back here in San Jacinto

My daughters are on 

The other side of the 


Volcano.  Years ago

Daughters moved with

Husbands to the next

Village.  Now the weather

Changes and an atmospheric

River begins to fall.

Will it quench the volcano


Or merely annoy?

And shall I after

Nightmares hide

Here with Season three

And Jessica who is not

My daughter but

Does her very best?

Monday, January 29, 2024

The Sheriff's Husband

  24-8     The Sheriff’s Husband


She found him in his study,

“Reading what, today?

“Still The Dawn of Human

Culture – quite a lot there,

going slowly.  Maybe the most

up to date book on these subjects.


“The latest on skeletons being 

unearthed?”


  I wouldn’t

put it that way, but yes.”


“We still out of Africa,” Susan

smiled at him widely and sat

in his lap.”


“Yep.  They’re still working on

the dates, though.  We were sort 

of ‘us,’ physically about 300,000

years ago, but really ‘us’ from 

about 50,000 years ago.”


“Seems like we’re getting more

‘us’ all the time,” Susan smirked.


“Maybe so.  Discoveries are being

made with DNA research every year.”


“Speaking of which, how long does

a body have to be in the ground 

before all the flesh is gone?”


“what a strange question.  None 

of what I’m reading touches on 

that sort of thing.”


“Well, you appointed me Sheriff,

so it’s the sort of thing I ought 

to know.”


“Okay. It will depend on the 

temperature, how well the body

is buried, predators with access,

that sort of thing, but I’ll do some 

checking.  You got a body?”


“Actually, I just hired a deputy,

and I don’t want to seem as dumb

as I really am.”


“A deputy?  What are you paying

him?  I don’t pay you anything

so I’ll be fascinated by your answer.”


“He’s a she, much as in our

case, she’s a lot tougher than her

husband.”


“Do you need a deputy?


“Actually, I need a friend.  I told

her there won’t be much pay – maybe

supplies as necessary.  She’s got a 

better SUV than I do, by the way.


Larry spun her around “I told you

to get something more up to date, but

you said you were attached to that old

Liberty.  Go ahead and get something

new.  I don’t like the idea of your 

breaking down in the middle of nowhere.”

“It won’t be that dire, especially if 

Lydia is my deputy.  But I’ll think 

some more about a newer Jeep.”


“Lydia?  That’s an old fashioned name.”


“She’s a bit old fashioned, in the 

Old Testament sense.”


“Whatever that means”


“She’s a bit old fashioned sort of like

those Cro-magnon you were telling

me about.”


“We still don’t know about them

in detail.  They did get out of hand

perhaps, killing way too many people.”


“You told me about their killing off

the Neanderthals”


“That’s just a theory, and maybe a 

crackpot theory at that.”


“Anyway, I like Lydia and she can

back me up if I need backup, etcetera.”


“She have any experience?”


“Ex-military.  I’ll find out more as time

goes on, but I can already tell she’s fearless.”


“As fearless as my wife?”


“Maybe not quite, but close.”



Later on Sue took the paperwork to

Lydia for her signature.


“Wait,” Lydia said “The date is wrong.

You’ve got me working for you the day

before we met.”


“Which is also the day before you shot

your Neanderthal in your back yard

while you were on duty.”


“Ah.”


“Also, since you were so forward thinking, 

we need to set up a plot of land and call 

it Boot Hill.  Let’s put Boot Hill half way

on your property and halfway on mine.

Your Neanderthal will be the first member

of out Boot Hill.”


“The first?”


“Well, yeah,” Susan smirked.  “I don’t know

you all that well or how many people you

plan to kill.”


“I don’t want to kill anyone.  I wouldn’t have

killed the Neanderthal if he hadn’t attacked me.”


“That’s good to hear,” Susan said, sticking out

her right hand, “Welcome aboard.”

Frontier Justice

  24-7 Frontier Justice


“Joseph and Lydia Campbell.

“That’s us.  She’s twenty-eight.

We’ve only been married a month.”


“How old are you, sir?

“Don’t know what that has to do

with anything, but I’m forty-two.”

“This is sounding more and more 

like your wife changed her mind.”


“After just one Month?”


“Back in the Corps I met plenty

of women, men, too, who would

do it in a lot less time than that.”


He sighed and just then they heard

a shot.  “That might be her now,”

Susan said.


And they ran around back,

Trooper leading.


“Lydia!”  Joe exclaimed

in shock.

Lydia whirled as they came up, a three-

fifty-seven in one hand.  Lying on

the ground in front of her was a man

in shabby jeans, breathing his last.


She looked over at Joe and then

at Sue, “who’s this,” she asked,

pointing her gun at Sue.  “The 

        Sheriff, Hon.  Let me take that 

        gun now -- if you’re done with it.”

“Oh, I’m done all right.  He caught

me off guard and was planning to 

take me off, but he didn’t want to

leave here with just me; so he was

loading his truck, real careful like.

But when you came back I got

my own gun and shot the son of

a bitch”


“So we see,” Sue said, perplexed.


“So are you going to arrest me,” 

Lydia asked, still waving her gun?


Sue gulped, “don’t seem like that

would be the right thing to do,

does it?”  Joe and Lydia 

shook their heads.  


“Do you know who he was,” 

Susan asked Lydia?  


“Said he was from

Tennessee, just passing through

when he saw something he liked.


“Meaning you,” Susan asked?

“Meaning me.  But I’m already 

married to Joe and not tired of him

after just one month so I shot him.”


“Don’t blame you a bit for that,

Sue said.  “Do either of you have 

any plan for what to do with his 

        body and car?”


“There’s a gorge on my property. 

I was just looking at yesterday, I could 

dig around in that and cover him right

proper.”


And his car, Sue asked?  


“How about I drive it to

Phoenix, leave it at the airport and 

Lydia follows and brings me back?”


“Lots of cameras at the airport,” Sue

said.”


“Yeah, okay.  We’ll leave it near the

airport with the keys in the ignition”


“That should work,” Sue said,

thoughtfully.  The town Mayor will

appreciate you-all taking care

of this mess and not costing him

anything from dealing with 

        this piece of shit.”


Joseph and Lydia nodded enthusiastically.


“I guess I don’t need to tell you we need

to keep this just amongst ourselves.”


Joseph and Lydia nodded once again

and with just as much enthusiasm.




Hot Pursuit

  24-6 Hot Pursuit


Susan strapped on her Taurus 605

and said, “let’s just take our 

hot-pursuit Jeep and see where

he goes.”  Trooper was up in

An instant, wagging his tail.

They climbed into the old Jeep

Liberty and followed the dust.


The man took a side road and

eventually stopped in front

of a well-kept house.  He

walked to his front door 

and stood looking back

at Susan and Trooper as

they got out of their Jeep


and followed him.  He scowled,

“You won’t help me; so what 

do you want?”  


“We didn’t finish

quite right.  I need your wife’s

name and yours too in case 

something happens in the future

to where I need those things.”


“Like what,” he snapped back

with belligerence?”


“Like if 

she were to turn up dead and 

found lying in your back forty.”


He smirked, “you don’t mince

words, do you?”


“I try not to.”

Ghost Town Sheriff

 [Not exactly poems, 24-5, 24-6, 24-7, and 24-8 are a dream sequence that got out of hand]

24-5      Ghost-town Sheriff                     


“Are you the Sheriff, ma’am?”


“As much as anyone, I guess.

Have you got a problem?”


“And is that your police dog?”


“That’s him, Trooper.  Can’t

do all the tricks a shepherd

can but he can track and fight.

Listens to me most of the time, too

Which is a big plus; so what’s

your problem?”


“Can’t find my wife.”


“Where was she supposed to be?”


“At home, of course, but I got

home just now and she wasn’t

there.  Her car was gone as well.”


“Could she have gone to the store?”

“What store?  I do all the shopping.”


“That’s creepy.”


“She does other things,

“Don’t like to shop.”


“This wife of yours, is she a woman?


“Of course.  I have to find her.”  


“Well you could hire someone

private.  Might have to go

to Phoenix for that.  I’d try

Prescott first.”


“Why couldn’t you

do that?”


“Well, my jurisdiction is

this town and its environs, meaning

all the small farms and houses round

about.  Town council would fire me

right quick if I took to traipsing to 

Hell and gone after your wife.”


He gave her a hard look.  Trooper

growled and the man strode

angrily away.  


“Anything I can actually

help you with?” She called after him, 

but he didn’t answer.  “Guess not.” They

watched him walk down the street 

to a Ford Ranger.  “We didn’t get

his name or his wife’s either.  We’re

already doing a bad job and it’s not

quite noon.”


Trooper groaned and lay back down.



A Surly Old Man


Perhaps it was Cro-Magnon 

Influence in my complicated

DNA impelling me against

Monsters in China stopping

My peers at a line – a 

Truce was signed, a “stay

here” line.  Far to the 


South I heard, “We don’t

Need you up there,” but

That is where I want

To be.”  The sergeant

Shrugged at my naivete,

My new friends shrugged

As well so I settled in.


Years later the wounds

I carry weren’t earned

In war.  No monster 

Struck me down, and the

Citizenry leaves me be as

They did my Cro-Magnon

Forbears as days fade.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Twins


There were two, one

Stacked upon the other

Which I carried with

One hand, the other 

Needing the walking

Stick to keep us

Upright, and the cakes


From smearing the dirt

Path with white frosting.

It isn’t so bad being old.

No one will wonder if I fall,

If the cakes are lost

On this strange trail no one

Else seems interested in.


Out of breath I stop

And lean my stick

Against a tree.

Jessica lies down next to me

And licks the frosting from a cake.

I rescue the other for myself.

No one wonders or complains.

A Little Rain


Through the bathroom window

I saw it was raining again;

Not hard, probably, and in the

Dream I recalled a need

To poison all the bad guys.

No need for me to do it literally.

I had a clever girl for that.


I’ve known a lot of those

Over the years, evolution

Doing that neatly round about.

This one was not precise;

So the dream was a comedy.

She kept forgetting who 

Was left, and laughing.


No one had actually

Started to die.  We

Needed to flee, but she

Smiled on, not worrying,

Doing her humorous job.

Then the scene changed

Sparing me a grisly end.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Losing her again

        She is lost again

Swirling just out of 

Memory’s reach – 

The reality of her

Slips from her

Favorite tree to 

Fall gently down.  


I reach out as far

As I’m able and other

Thoughts approach,

Regrets – nothing

From her.  Across

The street a young

Man starts his 


Thunderous car. She

Would not have 

Returned to sleep.  I see

Less well so each

Step is a challenge as

I turn toward the rest

Of the years without her.


Being bipedal while old

 

When I came down

Out of the trees

I was on my way

Back from Korea 

On a ship filled 

With vomiting Marines.

Everyone did it:


Walked on two legs,

So I did as well,

But the older I got

The more I longed

For the trees –

Not those in my 

Back yard with weak


Limbs that grow too

Large to hold onto,

But those easily grasped

In the forest I 

Dream of still:

When we were young

And full of wild ways.