SUNYATA

(for Philip)

We live our lives life in a delicate

Balance between chaos and peace.

Each short-lived, the one the other will implicate.

The ancients wanted neither–sought release.

 

An empty chair in the middle of

A grassy yard, reflecting bright sunlight.

I set it there.  But hesitated when I saw it.

Where is the self that seeks to know despite

The onslaught of experience, who seeks to understand it?

Who tries to grasp ahold of love?

 

The ancients reasoned “no-self” sidesteps Karma;

And David sees Jehovah as a rock;

And other systems turn from social Maya:

Prestige, respectability sneering mock.

 

Paul in prison and Christ a capitol criminal?

Christ in prison and Paul an evangel?

Who draws the lines, who forms the frame?

Living shatters all our images–nothing stays the same.

 

“Because everything changes, all is nothing.”

But I, I sit in the chair, on the lawn.

I hear the many birds singing.

I remember the tree tops’ hue at dawn.

I see the leaves flicker, the limbs’ easy swaying.

 

We trace the lines and leave them drawn.

And we are left with the chair, on the lawn.

The ’50’s Lie

Contemporary television varies from the mediocre to indecent.  I think of the plethora of reality shows.  A short while back Jerry Springer paraded the underbelly of society before us for entertainment.  Now we have Dr. Phil who makes a fortune parading seedy neurotics before our faces who seem to lack modesty as much as they do morality.  A new series is coming out which promised to air difficulties in newlywed couples before us for our entertainment.  The promo clip they keep showing depicts a man telling his spouse he wants a divorce.

I think of the television programs I grew up with in the ’50’s and early 60’s.  Ozzie and Harriet, Donna Reed, Leave It to Beaver all depicted perfect families including housewives who wore dresses and pearl necklaces as they busied themselves with housework.  In cinema, Mary Poppins and Sound of Music showed stern fathers becoming child-friendly under the influence of odd governesses, both played by Julie Andrews.

So television in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s depicted wholesome content, in fact, uplifting content.  But an idealized kind of wholesomeness.  When I became a teen, we rebelled against the strictures of propriety that the ’50’s packaged and sold us.  We grew our hair long, participated in free-love, listened to acid-rock music, used drugs–all the the horror and chagrin of our parents.

But were the images television broadcast in the ’50’s and ’60’s accurate?  Clearly, the happy families were ideals and not real.  But the values of the television shows were actually enforced in society.  Men all wore short haircuts; girls skirts and dresses at school.  I remember when the controversial new policy was instituted which allowed girls to wear slacks to school.  Most of society went to church or temple.  Streets were clean and white in suburbia, which is where white people moved to, out of downtown.  That is how I remember society then.  I didn’t know then about the house parties my parents went to with neighborhood parents where drunkenness was widespread.  Or why one of my parents spent mornings bent over the toilet.  Or the bowling teams where adults also drank, taking an hour-and-a-half break at midnight to attend mass.

I don’t see a predominance of television depicting marriage, family, and suburbia these days.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Now, instead of shows about families, more often they are about dating and meeting.  Single people dominate media.  While I feel disappointed at how insipid and scurrilous current programming is, I wouldn’t want the whitewashed shows of the ’50’s either.  We have much more freedom, today.  But with freedom comes responsibility.  That’s what seems missing from the mix today.  Society flails without a moral gravitas.  Even if Donna Reed was an ideal, at least it put forth a moral ethic.  Today, we have the Kardashians and Dr. Phil leading the way.  Yes, I believe it’s come to that.

 

I WATCH HER IN THE BLUES CLUB

I see her every night in the blues club

There is where she finds community

Not a drunk, as I was, she is a regular

The bar’s her church she once confessed to me

 

She was dealt a harder deck that I was

Foster homes, running away, the streets

I had advantages of middle-class

Her past defines her life and who she meets

 

She holds out love and acceptance to everyone

It’s a sobering lesson for me

She even asks me weekly for a sermon

And each night demonstrates Christian charity

 

Jesus hung around with disdained people

And reached out with his heart to one and all

The blues club is her church without a steeple

The benefit from our relationship is mutual

TIME

Time

Something to be filled

Not enough of

Passes unnoticed, unpondered

Work, family, sleep

Filled fulfilling aspirations

Perfecting, learning, creating

Time

How we fill the time we have

Young people chase their dreams

My friends who partied with me

When we were young

Went to school, found a career, retired

–I’ve watched whole lives

Career, family, retirement, death—

And it all means, has meaning

Means a lot

Some just get by

Passing time

Pastime, time passed

Time management

Time: “My most precious commodity”

Not enough ours in the day

Racing the clock

The Reaper

Time, pastime, time passed

Time out

ALIENATION IN ILLNESS

Beset with a serious illness

I waste away weak

And unwilling, rage and rail at everyone and the world

Enervated, I lack the energy

Necessary for goodness

I languish, lamenting my lack

Of energy, enervated, angry

I know I am better than I am

Suffering, I grow insufferable

Strain the patience of my friends

Alienate my acquaintances

Struggle with my beloved

Commitments constrain the convalescence I crave

I rave at the world in this illness

And pray my relations will stay

Until I return their love

When I heal, return whole, regain my heart

IF YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE

To answer my question

An Indigenous teacher

Once told me

If you know who you are

You will never be lonely

I didn’t understand

 

White, I grew up

In bland, blanched suburbia

Moved to

A small, rural town

We people were the entertainment

The gravitas

Friends

Porch sitting hours

Moved to

A hip, slick, cultured, sophisticated, city of universities

America’s Athens

Loneliness, assimilation, knowledge, alienation from self

Moved to

A wealthy, beach retirement town

Boredom, self-discovery, self-recovery

Toured foreign countries

Europe and the roots of Western Civilization

Meso-America, Maya

Tropical Island

 

I am

Wherever I go

I understand

SPRING IN EDMONTON

Some of the trees have buds

Majestic V’s honking Canadian Geese can be glimpsed in the sky

I’m not wearing a jacket

Neither am I wearing shorts

It’s too soon for Dionysian ecstasy

My eyes squint as the brilliant sun shines above the horizon line

When it used to be night a month back

Winter’s sand remains on the roads

Even though they drive the street-cleaners late at night

It feels like I have more energy

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