THE MEASURE OF MY GAIT (redux)

But for my body’s vibrancy

Lost from age

I feel better and better, now in my tranquil maturity

A tree grows high and wide with time

I know heights, now, placid in age

I never knew in youth, when I was figuring it all out

 

And I’ve got a handle on how things work better, now in my tranquil maturity

Better than in my excited youth

The world and I sync better

Than my fits to plug into a system I wasn’t fit to engage

In my early becoming adult

 

So many questions I faced unaware

When to argue

When to articulate a novel thought to stand out before my teachers

The battle to be self at school or workplace—alienation—enforcing conformity

That moment when my professor said I’d better start thinking about a different profession

provoked by my Marxist critique of Wordsworth’s IDIOT BOY

 

I really don’t know why I don’t fight anymore

Or why I used to

Or why I was never happy no matter where I lived: Ohio, Boston, Charlottesville, Florida

And my contentment, indeed happiness, now in Edmonton

 

And of the things I no longer let bother me:

Other people disagreeing with me

Things I have to get done by yesterday

Whether people like me

Traffic, specifically tailgaters

I haven’t time nor energy nor inclination to disturb

My peace

The breadth of my awareness

Expanded and expands still from youth’s constrictions

 

Knowing largely the way it was always done, then,

At home, hometown, Sunday School

Plain, innocent, not knowing things

I remember questioning the merits of my professor’s USC degree, me knowing only UCLA

 

Making judgments in these facile these days

The young’s flash and intensity of passion

Have calmed, calming me, contenting my present

 

There was that time when it all lay in front of me

So much to master, to conquer

Most of it’s past now

The challenges I’ve conquered, arts mastered to such as one may

I’ve laid my foundation, a good one

Upon which I stand, build, have built, refine, expand

I burst the bonds that have constrained my heart

As my soul breathes free, breaks free

 

The future doesn’t beckon anymore

Though I continue leisurely progress in cognition, will, behavior, refinement

Sensibility, sensitivity, sentiment, solidarity

I read now as much as talk

And today, W. H. Auden moved my sensibility, sense, cognition towards where I wasn’t before

And today I’m closer to the time when I’ll die

I ponder whether I’ll die well,

Studying to live well

 

My measured gait is not due to decrepitude

 

I carry the weight of my awareness,

Thoughts, contentedness, purpose, perceptions

Measuring my stride through life

Looking back, down from olding heights,

From the altitude afforded by maturing,

On who I was, what I was, how I did what I did

The mysterious ascending current flowing toward my future

Inhabiting my present, my pacific contentment my ever-evolving mentation

And I will die well

CHINESE CULTURAL CENTER (redux)

The Wu Shu Kung Fu academy with its flash and marketing swag

Had a name—t-shirts, slick, glossy booklets, and mob appeal

 

My Hung Gar Sifu didn’t want too many of his t-shirts out in public

Sifu wouldn’t tell me what all the flags written with Chinese characters, and trophies

Placed in the corner of the studio said, were for, meant

Not really on the map, not a crowded academy but with the air of authenticity

Sifu told me could have gone off on his own but for honor to the lineage of his school

Known among those who know in the community

The dedicated advanced esoteric group—I think all China-born

They pitched in when rent came due

When we two college students brought Sifu to Harvard phys-ed

He filled the gym and school reporters came around

After warm-ups and ch’i exercises and everybody was practicing form one

A group burst out in applause watching me do form 4

I guess it all fell apart when I graduated and Sifu kicked out the other college student

 

Greatness can shine even in the gloom of obscurity

The gloom of obscurity can befall even shining greatness

The Wheel of Fortune means

More than a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

 

For sure, certain greatness has a human attraction to all that being choirs in harmony

Then certain vacuous offerings appeal to mob, herd, the vacuous herd, vacuous offerings

 

When Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura unveiled Minnesota’s annual budget

Three local news channels showed up

Every national, cable, network, local news channel showed up—international, too

When Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura MC’d WrestleMania

 

So I say that every clam has its day in the sun

Fitzgerald front page in newspapers in the Roaring ‘20’s, Gatsby unsold in its first printing

My mind wanders to Blake printing his own books alone, unknown like Shelley

And the Impressionist painters displayed in the Gallery of Rejects,

Warning people not to come in or else view art they would much despise

And who’s heard of gaudy Moreau of the Paris Salon and professor at École des Beaux-Arts?

So that medieval poet sings about changeable Fate

In the image of the Wheel of Fortune

Now a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

Chanted ubiquitously through the ‘80’s, now unknown but to music teachers

 

O Fortuna                    O Fortune
Velut luna                     Like the moon
Statu variabilis, . . .       You are changeable

Sors immanis               Fate, savage, brutal
Et inanis,                      And inane, empty
Rota tu volubilis,          You turning wheel
Status malus,               You are malevolent

Vana salus                   Vain well-being

Semper dissolubilis,     Always dissolution into nothing

 

My mind wanders to Pound sitting at the feet of Yeats

The last to adore the washed up out of vogue poet old

And Frost got a full-time poet-in-residence only in the end

Of his legacy life when he wasn’t writing anything memorable

Struggling for money all his heralded fame and no fortune existence

And Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater

When everybody fancied him a washed-up has-been

Still, that young architecture student spoke of his disdain for Wright,

Admiring a post-modern building so deconstructed out of everything human that

A woman vomited in one of its rooms

Mozart lost his vogue, tossed into an unknown pauper’s grave

And where is the corpse of Mozart rotting?  While Falco turns his grave into pop

Ubiquitous in the ‘80’s.  And where is Falco?  Rock me Amadeus!

 

The Wheel of Fortune means

More than a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

 

After all, it was the fitful whim of the impassioned Jerusalem mob that murdered Jesus

The same impassioned mob whose ecstasy welcomed Him into Jerusalem but a week earlier

OKOS

OKOS

 

Okos,” my grandmother used to call me in Hungarian

When I was young and trying to sound profound

“I see what you’re trying to do; you’re trying to sound smart,”

My writing coach told me much later in grad school,

“Sometimes you carry if off brilliantly.”

A couple people even thought me a genius, though I.Q. tests have not validated the presumption

“I think that is a low reading; they have better tests, now,” my psychologist said

And I wondered why make a test if you don’t trust the results

Me, skeptical of the whole notion of genius

I.Q.

And now the degrees I carry certify me smart

And I don’t have to try

 

It’s easy to impress when to go for the intellect

It’s so measurable, quantifiable, easy to see

It’s all so easy

Witness the admiration our social structure bestows upon the smart

You’ll endear yourself to any mother by saying her child is smart

It’s all so easy

I had a hard time explaining to a man deprived of education

That knowing a lot isn’t intelligence; that you can be smart without school

 

Wisdom is a fine acquisition

Deep insights devolve from learning, coupled with reflection

As naturally as an ancient tree grows summer fruit from spring blossoms in due season

And learning can be acquired by anyone through application and motivation

The ambiguous ambition to be okos

Not necessarily smart

 

The wash and impression of intelligence drowns out

The song of simple goodness

What of kind, caring, good-nature, nicety?

What of love?

“Now I’m among dumb, nice people

“Instead of cruel intelligent people,”

A Yale grad told me at a church convention

I don’t know why brilliant academicians want to be so cutting

Why they don’t want to be kind, caring, good-natured, nice guys

What of soul? Of Blues?

And Miles Davis Freddy Freeloader

Lives in the same world as Bach fugues

And people love Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise more

Than his mighty 3rd Symphony

And I love Bist Du Bei Mir,

Written for his wife, as much as

Bach’s Great G-Minor Fantasy and Fugue

 

And what of savage Nietzsche?

What of aristocracy’s progeny and their will to power?

Cutting comments twisted from intellectual cleverness

As if slave morality gives birth to

“sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, humility, and friendliness”

As if the good must be

“the safe man: he is good natured, easily deceived, perhaps a little stupid, un bonhomme

Yes, un bonhomme—a good man

No.  It does not all come down to Nietzsche.  and in this Nietzsche is dead wrong

Though he describes so well the desiderata I advocate and so desire to be and become

“Nice guys finish last,” they used to say

And I’ll finish last if that’s the necessary legacy of being

Nice

I don’t know what the Hungarian word is

TOPPLING MONUMENTS

In my mind, my America will never be the same

What it never used to be

Dirty secrets we all knew about

Repressed

By the Myth, no, fiction, buy the myth

Spun by we who believe that we are white

 

And they are not

 

I can no longer look at the Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

And they even resent Lincoln

Dragged kicking and screaming to the slave auction block’s

Emancipation as a last resort

All wrought by the original sin of Christopher Columbus

Discovery of an established Nation, already

Then the Spaniards came and golden conquistadores stole from the First Nations’ identity

And the concurrent Europeans who believe that they are white

Conquered the children of conquistadores while they destroyed the First Nations concurrently

And Europe, looking on, stole the opportunity to line their manacled coffers

Stenched through the middle-passage

With the stripes of human blood compelled freemen out of humanity

Inhuman, immanis, immanumission

 

Upon this structural repression our Founders founded a great inequality,

Wove the American Dream into the American Myth

And tore the country in half to preserve

The enslavement of innocence, lost innocence, original sin of a nation

And the American dream wove blight for those

 

We don’t see as white like us

We don’t see

 

Like the small, ‘60’s mid-western town in which the Music Man is set

Comprised in stark relief only of people who believe that they are white

The intellectual property of generations of people who believe that they are white who

Crushed

Underneath Conestoga wagon wheels turning treaties into lies

The white lie

The Great Spirit exploded making of sacred mountains four great white faces

Looking down on First Nations

The fruit of gunpower big guns and sheer press of numbers desecrating the Oregon Trail

 

No.  We all knew these dirty secrets.

While we fell into our soothing dream

Until 7minutes and 46 seconds cut deep into

Christopher Columbus’ dream of bloodstained gold

The American dream

The American myth

The Washington Monument

The Jefferson Memorial

The tarnished Manumission of Abraham Lincoln

Dragged kicking and screaming to the auction block’s immancipation

The great lie

Of people who believe that they are white

In my mind, my America will never be the same

 

America will never be the same

CHINESE CULTURAL CENTER

The Wu Shu Kung Fu academy with its flash and marketing

Had a name—all its t-shirts, slick, glossy booklets, and mob appeal

 

My Hung Gar Sifu didn’t want too many of his t-shirts out in public

Sifu wouldn’t tell me what all the flags and trophies in the corner said, were for

Not really on the map, not a crowded academy but

Authentic—Sifu could have gone off on his own but for honor to the lineage of  his school

Known among those who know in the community

The dedicated advanced esoteric group—I think all China-born

Pitched in when rent came due

When we two schoolboys brought Sifu to Harvard phys-ed

He filled the gym and the school reporters came around

After warm-ups and ch’i exercises and everybody was practicing their form

A group burst out in applause watching me do lau gar, them on gar one

I guess it all fell apart when I graduated and Sifu kicked out the other schoolboy

 

My mind wanders to Pound sitting at the feet of Yeats

The last to adore the washed up out of vogue poet old

And Frost got a full-time poet-in-residence only

At the end of his legacy life when he wasn’t writing anything memorable

Struggling for money all his heralded life’s fame and no fortune

And Frank Lloyd Wright designed Fallingwater

When everybody fancied him a washed-up has-been

Still, the young architecture student spoke of his disdain for Wright

Admiring a post-modern building so deconstructed out of everything human

That a woman vomited in one of its rooms

Mozart lost his vogue, tossed into a pauper’s grave

Mozart a pauper

 

Our culture has lost the image of Fortuna’s Wheel, so like changing luna

Except as a Merv Griffin Vanna White gameshow

And the neglected superior in the wake and wash of slick mob appeal

After all, it was the mob who assassinated Jesus

The same ecstatic mob welcoming Him into Jerusalem a week earlier

STANZAS

When feeling forms words into verse

Maybe sublime, poignant, punching powerful emotion, sad or happy, joy;–melancholy

It is a gamble

That the feeling reads through

That others would resonate or care about that feeling, want simpatico

 

It’s safer to arrange pretty words

In complex sequences ideation of symbols

To catch the eye on language games

The leaf of paper ink form word, language

 

In a hip-hop world

‘40’s music still sings to heartstrings

Beethoven yet storms and rages

In our world of facile rhyme and rhythm

 

Outmoded forms communicate despite form

With and through form

And contemporaneity’s distracting noise

Nor a suicidal retirement into the lost past

 

Then there’s just how you feel

And if it can find its way into

Song, music, rhythm, rhyme, word

That verse would mean something someone

Hears, reads, resonates, harmonizes

YOU ARE

You are a firm foundation; you are the earth

Grounding the mistic effervescent misting effusions empyreal emanations volcanic endeavors

Cathedralic manifestations in which this life is built

The mists that a meadow flower-field breathes

The flighty clouds that condense in floating skies

Arising from oceanic bedrock by creative days’ energetic fire

Testing the receptiveness of a sea of otherness boundless around me

You receive me always.  Listen, lift up, light up life

When those clouds amass dark and impend disaster

Then you say, “There is no disaster.”

 

I’ve gotten along alone a long time

Time and times and half a time

As have you, too—in this our separate lives shared

But as I am alone in my generative doings’ aspirations

Being Self

You are always with the alone self generative

 

Gratitude

I forget sometimes

What all is gifted me, indeed, all I have

And it’s a lot

(Though most would call my circumstances straightened)

The greatest gift a Gracious Creator has endowed me

And you give daily, through the years, in the moment

Of your own volition to me

Carol, I thank you

THE MEASURE OF MY GAIT

But for my body’s vibrancy

Lost from age

I feel time better and better

A tree grows high and wide with time

I know heights, now

I never knew in youth

I understand the way things work better, now in my tranquil maturity

Better than in my excited youth

The world and I sync better

Than my fits to plug into a system I wasn’t fit to engage

In my early becoming adult

So many questions I faced unaware

When to argue

When to articulate a novel thought to stand out before my teachers

The battle to be self at school or workplace seeming enforcing conformity

That moment when my professor said I’d better start thinking about a

different profession

provoked by my Marxist critique of Wordsworth’s IDIOT BOY

I really don’t know why I don’t fight anymore

Or why I used to

Or why I was never happy no matter where I lived: Ohio, Boston, Charlottesville, Florida

And my contentment, indeed happiness, now in Edmonton

And of the things I no longer let bother me:

Other people disagreeing with me

Things I have to get done yesterday

Whether people like me

Traffic, specifically tailgaters

I haven’t time nor energy nor inclination to disturb

Me and my peace

The breadth of my awareness

Expanded and expands still from youth’s constrictions:

Knowing largely the way it was always done

At home, hometown, Sunday School

Plain, innocent, not knowing things

I remember questioning the merits of my professor’s USC degree, me knowing only

UCLA

Making judgments is facile these days

The young’s flash and intensity of passion

Have calmed, calming me, contenting my present

 

There was that time when it all lay in front of me

So much to master, to conquer

Most of it’s past now

The challenges I’ve conquered, arts mastered to such as one may

(Though mastery knows no terminus)

I’ve laid my foundation, a good one

Upon which I stand, build, have built, refine, expand

I burst the bonds that have constrained my heart

As my soul breathes free, breaks free

 

The future doesn’t beckon anymore

Though I leisurely progress in cognition, will, behavior, refinement

Sensibility, sensitivity, sentiment, solidarity

I read now as much as talk

And today, W. H. Auden moved my sensibility, sense, cognition towards where I wasn’t before

And today I’m closer to the time when I’ll die

I ponder whether I’ll die well,

As I study to live well

 

My measured gait is not due to decrepitude

 

I carry the weight of my awareness,

Thoughts, contentedness, purpose, perceptions

Measuring my stride through life

Enraptured looking back, down from olding heights

From the altitude afforded by maturing on constrained behaviors,

On who I was, what I was, how I did what I did

The mysterious ascending current flowing toward my future

In the present’s contented, open mentation

And I will die well

The Demise of Greatness

The handful of artists who finished the circle of life in the ’60’s were the last great artists–ever.  I’m thinking of Hemingway, Faulkner, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot and perhaps a handful more.  I think that Thomas Pynchon just made the cut.  In art, Picasso, Matisse, Jackson Pollock and a few others, lesser known.  And in music, Aaron Copeland is about it in the US, and in England Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughn Williams, and the Russian Stravinsky –there are a few others I have left out.  In their day, Hemingway and Eliot were about as big as one could get.  Now, both of them are being reconsidered in academic circles.  From being as great as one could get, they’re now not so great.  Hemingway was too macho and I don’t know what the problem is with Eliot, but he’s on his way out, if he’s not out altogether.  Adulation may be one indicator of greatness, and both Hemingway and Eliot had it.  But are we prepared to say that Falco is great due to his adulation in the ’80’s, or that Smash Mouth in the ’90’s, or who knows who today?

Now, in academic circles, advocacy issues are becoming criteria for import.  I do not say for greatness, because that very category is dissolving.  So, for example, Clara Schumann in  music, Mary Shelley in literature, and others add their names to the important due to revisionist gender concerns.  Other names are emerging from other advocacy issues.  But the real problem with greatness is due to contemporary critical theory.  Contemporary critical theory is deconstructing the whole notion of greatness itself.  The idea that art can be great is attacked also for advocacy reasons.  Greatness implies elitism, and today it is passe to be elite or to be an elitist.  I remember a student in a class I was taking at Harvard saying that our professor was being elitist for asking us to read Baudelaire in French.  I pointed out the irony that she was saying this in Harvard University.  A friend on mine in another grad school, who was deeply steeped in post-modern critical theory, said that everyone in every walk of life is an artist.  I didn’t know what he meant.  But one night when I was drinking a beer I suggested to him that I was being an artist, drinking beer.  I believe that it was then he told me that one day he would kill me.  We lost touch and he never made good on his remark.

Today in universities, pop culture is a bona fide discipline.  On a flight recently, the scholar sitting next to me gave me a feminist critique of Friday the 13th.  Even in the theological school in which I work, Jesus and pop culture is a course offered.  Pop culture is fun and all.  I have been known to watch the Police Academy movies.  But I wouldn’t dream of paying money to an academic institution in which they would teach me about it.  (I’m not saying that there are or have been courses on Police Academy in universities.)  And although I have been known to watch Police Academy, I would never put it on a par with Richard the Third.  But if there is no greatness, and if contemporary critical theory places all art on a level plain, what are we left with?  We are left with the demise of the great.  I don’t see our way to identifying a great poet today.  Remember Run DMC?  Did that band create today’s great poetry?  Please do not take me the wrong way.  The great philosopher/sociologist Eric Michael Dyson elicits much meaning from the lyrics of Jay Z.  But as he himself says, his class at Georgetown on Jay Z is not just hearing “dope lyrics.”  He uses Jay Z to shed light on pressing issues of race in American history.  But even Dyson is not making an aesthetic judgment on Jay Z as a poet.

In fact, I’m not sure that critics can make aesthetic  judgments today at all.  Sure, publishers make decisions on what material they want to publish.  And governments appoint poet-laureates.  Philosophy has reasoned itself out of existence, and Rorty wouldn’t accept an endowed chair in the University of Virginia philosophy department for that reason.  And now I believe that art has criticized itself out of existence.  I suspect that there is no longer criteria for deciding greatness in art.  No word “great” at all in the lexicon of language.  So the likes of Hemingway and Eliot may be the last of the great writers.  And even they are losing their standing in university estimates about who we ought to read.  Are we at the point where Marvel Comics are leading authors of our day?  Will the next generation compare Iron Man to Prince Hamlet?  If the next generation will even know who Hamlet is.

POETRY: A LAMENT

A well-turned phrase

Captured sound of sense

Perfect expression of a truth

Wanting to be told

 

Clarity through word choice: diction

Sentence construction arrangement

Of ideas architectural development

Meaning made through artistry

 

Word play alliteration assonance

Rhythm rhyme resonance meter beat and feet

Imagery symbol simile metaphor

Epic, Allegory, Lyric, Ode, Elegy

 

Truth-telling when there was truth

If there ever was truth

Language scripting reality thought

Feeling words substance signification

 

When there was something to say

To grasp, ponder, moved sonorous sentiment emotion

Sad melancholy somber pleasure ecstasy

Pathos passion feeding and watering cultivation content

 

Transmission of wisdom, speculation, ideation of mood

Tradition taught sought lived into

What matters to be a human

Telos of poesis making humanity

 

When capricious arrangement of words

Wasn’t calculated to obfuscate deconstruct plot sequence

Rearranged syntax disjunct

Verbs subjects objects meaningless

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