Angelic Political Opponents

These days in politics, there is a tendency to demonize people who hold opposing political views from our own. I feel so strongly about my candidate, I can’t imagine how people can support the other party’s candidate. There are enormous flaws with the other candidate that they either explain away double talk away or deny. They are dead wrong, it seems to me. So there is a strong temptation in me to denounce the people themselves who support the other guy. To make them into demons.

I have a highly successful friend who supports the other guy. My friend is a devout Christian, as I am. He was mentoring a young African-American man through the church. After his daughter grew up and moved out of home, he adopted a young Chinese boy with a cleft palate. Then he adopted two more Chinese girls. This guy is rich, so the children from China came into a good home. He has a friend who is a surgeon. The doctor performed multiple surgeries on the palate of the young Chinese boy. The wife of my friend told me one night that she felt bad because the doctor wouldn’t take any pay for performing the surgeries. That doctor one night gave me an Allman Brothers double-album CD and a Los Lonely Boys CD. My friend always gave me discounts on the products he sold because 1) he wanted to keep my business; and 2) he knew I was poor. He always treated me familiarly and with respect. When I self-produced a CD of my original music, he sold them in his store.

By every metric of a man, my friend is exemplary. And yet I am tempted to hate him because of his political allegiances. Can you imagine! Is that what this age has come to? I don’t think it’s just me. I really need to remind myself of the character of my friend, because I keep manufacturing bad reasons why he is supporting the other political candidate. He and I used to be able to debate our opposing political positions. We cannot, now. But I do need to remember he is a friend. And an angel on earth.

Philosophy of Education

I went to school to learn. That may seem self-evident. It should be self-evident. But it is not.

As I reflect back, I see that many of my colleagues did not go to school to learn–at least, that was not their primary objective. I remember asking one of my Harvard English professors why it was that hardly anybody in class asked questions or even spoke. The distressing reason was that the students wanted to make a good impression on their professor. Silence is less risky than asking a question that could indict the interlocuter. But I asked a lot of questions when I didn’t understand something, or when I disagreed with an interpretation. I was less concerned with the way I looked than I was concerned with learning.

I remember talking with a professor at a wine and cheese social. We were talking about students who try to ingratiate themselves with influential professors. It happened to be an influential professor I was talking to. He told me that it is so obvious when students try to do it. Then he exclaimed, “You’re not like that, David!” Never have been.

My academic major was not calculated to lead to a tenured faculty position. Were I interested in an academic career, I would have been an English major, or would have majored in scriptures, or ethics, or history, or any number of well-established academic disciplines. But I majored in religion and literature. There were only two major universities in the US that had religion and literature majors. Not a promising discipline to major in.

But I wanted to learn about modes that express meaning. I believe that two leading ways humanity has expressed meaning are religion and literature. I already had a B.A. in philosophy. I achieved my aim of learning about meaning. I learned about poetry and about religions and they taught me about meaning in life. And, more importantly, I learned how to continue my learning after school. And I continue to learn, even in these, my senior years.

I am not commending the path and approach I took to education. I was never tenured, never had much of an academic career. But I’m at a stage in life when many of my friends are done with their careers. So it’s all in the past with all of us. And, finally, in these my senior years, I am happy with the learning I have pursued and continue to pursue, and the subsequent life I have cultivated and now live.

COOL

At first glance, I didn’t think he was cool

I scanned the committee, and none of them looked cool

I wondered what I was getting myself into

“They all look like nerds!” he exclaimed, surveying the hotel lobby

At the conference we were attending (before The Big Bang Theory made nerds cool)

“Careful,” I replied, “You’re going to spend your whole career with the likes of them.”

“Don’t tell me that.  I can’t hear that now.”

I did an online search of an old professor for whom I was a T.A. and was on familiar terms.

He was the coolest guy I ever knew and at a party in his house,

I noticed a book of French fabliaux in the bathroom

Now a well-published professor of Indology and a yoga teacher in Santa Barbara

Which I think is about as cool as you can get

But Carol looked at his picture, with his wild hair, and said she didn’t think so.

“You think Dave’s cool?!” my roommate to my other roommate—I the accusative case.

Carol grew up on a farm, which makes her as natural as a person could be

And nature is not involved with that which is cool

We may view a lion or a wild boar as regal

But we wouldn’t see them as possessed of what is cool

Nature has no airs, no trendy styles, no current fashions, is no poseur: the ground

Carol is genuine, real, authentic, natural, like the beanfields she hoed

Like the Tao’s breath of the valley spirit, the uncarved wood

And being together with Carol, what is cool evaporates like mist in the mountain valley

Time wears down that which is cool,

As age steals beauty of a certain kind

Jobs can have the effect of cool

“I was learning to drive a rig; I went for status.”

A big pick-up truck will suffice for cool if you can’t drive a rig

And workers of jobs that are cool look down on others

“It’s your fault that 20-somethings don’t want to work and live in their parents’ basement.”

“You academics are to blame for all that political correctness and the ‘woke’ movement,”

He, to me, and then vanished into his conspiracy theories

Wearing his ball cap; me, the accusative case, wearing my beret, he resented

“I’ll bet he doesn’t even work on his own car,” I heard someone declaim

My friend from Harvard laughed and laughed when he heard it

Resentment piles upon resentment as the professions pay

Little respect to pipe-fitters—which all comes down to a form of cool—

Hip-Hop booming from the speakers in their BMWs as they pass you on the road

I’ve never noticed a pig looking down on a horse

A rabbit insult a mouse; a mouse, a groundhog

An oak, a poplar; a flower, a thistle

Nor an ocean wave ostentatious, a thunder cloud pretentious

And when I walk in the woods, I’m not a Harvard graduate

And Carol opened the chicken-wire gate and walked around with the hens and roosters

MY BLITHE SPIRIT (redux)

O, to be blithe

Hail to me, my blithe spirit

Blitherie is not whither my spirit listeth

To be blithe, I need to release much

To fly away some glad morning

Release more than just a few weary days

–More than the consequences that drove my ambition–

—-The momentous, heavy pressure, guilt, blame,

—-Blame my early family conspired to see was my guilt,

—-Echoing through a severe religious system:

—-“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”

—-Did anxiously strive to live such impossible words, yet the same, kind Master’s words

—-“My yoke is easy and my burden light,”

—-I never heard.  I can never be the perfect god I try to be, nor ever the perfect child

—-I try to be who will be approved by my father

—-No.  Not while I carry the guilt of my family’s sins, born upon the person

—-I am

—-Denied.  Denied confession, satisfaction, and absolution

—-Echoes through this self, denied, self-denial.

—-Enflaming ambition, the hunger, nay, to crave

—-Blessing.  In a degree, from a book publisher, record producer, an arena’s applause

–And now this dalliance with being blithe; hail to me, my blithe spirit–    

With spirits I’ve attracted in my Kirlian aura, karma

It would be a sort of religious conversion

To be a new version of the self I’ve been and become

Plato once told me that an unexamined life will never be blithe

I came up in conversation out at the pub, I heard later

I, back in the solitude of my hotel room

“Dave’s probably working on his book while we’re out here”

In fact, I was carried away deep in Beethoven’s Mass in C

Kyrie eleison.  Donna nobis pacem: have mercy; give peace—and I, a pastor

Which is what I mean about blithe

There are no trines in my astrological chart

All my planets are in the first house and everything

I do or that happens to me comes with a momentous upheaval

And I must be momentous, I guess, and not blithe

I think I could be blithe if I wanted

If I only wanted to be blithe, to let go, could let go of it all, wanted to let go of it all

Or ought to let go of it all and be blithe

EINSTEIN, THE IKON (A Spenserian Sonnet)

Einstein’s face: the universal ikon

The single signifier signing brilliance

We know how Einstein looks, but not Newton

Who has Bach or Swedenborg’s appearance

And all are equal in intelligence

But it is Einstein’s face we see as genius

Leibnitz or Descartes don’t stand a chance

For smarts, it’s only Einstein’s face for us

His smile, mustache, and wild hair all a fuss

MY BLITHE SPIRIT

O, to be blithe

Hail to me, my blithe spirit

Blitherie is not whither my spirit listeth

To be blithe, I need to release much

To fly away some glad morning

Release more than just a few weary days

More than the consequences that drove my ambition

The spirits I’ve attracted to my Kirlian aura

It would be a sort or religious conversion

To be a new version of the self I’ve been and become

Some of my team told me I came up in conversation out at the pub

I was back in the solitude of my hotel room

“Dave’s probably working on his book while we’re out here”

In fact, I was deep in Beethoven’s Mass in C

Which is what I mean about blithe

There are no trines in my astrological chart

All my planets are in the first house and everything

I do or that happens to me comes with a momentous upheaval

Like a religious conversion and not like the zephyr of a blithe spirit

I think I could be blithe if I wanted

If I only wanted to be blithe, to let go

And even this poem itself isn’t blithe

EXPECTATIONS

A whole community of us; a whole culture

A drop-in center, network, support groups, community clinic

Psychiatric symptoms so severe; we understand one another

We all knew each other when I was there

Yet, since we aren’t raving, regular people who see us expect

We function as if our symptoms are not severe

Who don’t understand us as we do one another

Grudge against government hand-outs

Which I barely function well enough

To be denied

Barely function

Function well enough

Just well enough

To be shamed by my co-workers’ expectations

That I function better

As if I didn’t have an illness

Not understand

That it is my best and I do have an illness

And so the whole community of us who understand

One another, our culture, our community, our symptoms

“You have an illness;” she said, “You shouldn’t be working.”

HEMINGWAY’S POETRY

And Hemingway tried his hand at writing

Poetry

And it never went anywhere

And everyone knows of Hemingway’s

Stories

And Gertrude Stein said that they were

And that he must not write stories that are

Inaccrochable

And Hemingway’s mother never liked his work

And they couldn’t read his stories in her

Reading group

And Hemingway wrote in a letter that he wanted her support

And for Christmas Hemingway’s mother sent him

A gun

And Hemingway’s father had committed suicide with

The gun

And Hemingway’s mother thought he would want it

And Hemingway unlocked the cabinet and used his own

Shotgun

And ended his illustrious literary career by his own hand

And had undergone electroshock treatments at the Mayo Clinic for

Depression

ABOUT

And what about content?—As when we talk

To each other and don’t deconstruct our meaning

We talk about things to each other

And don’t use artistic language

About

Time was words were about.  I’m not so sure

Poetry is invested in about

About anything

I certainly have other interests

Than only words in themselves

As when I talk to others and don’t use

Artistic words

I try to use the best words to

Express meaning

And when I do it well, there is no explaining

Come to think, I guess I’m done

Writing words about words anymore

I certainly have other interests

Like writing

About

REGRET: ONE MAN’S EPIC OF PAST FRIENDSHIP

“I like your hermeneutics,” he exclaimed, that night in the Newton pub

Which was a Harvard word where we met and became friends

He meant my interpretation of Cindy Lauper’s, “Time after Time,” as we watched the video

I think of that night, even now, 37years later, when I hear the song

We were, maybe, too old to be playing at those grad-school hijinks we laugh about

Good times I now recollect with sadness, recast  

Each of our Ph.D. studies beset us with distance: he stayed and I went south

And I took the Amtrak up to Boston from Charlottesville carrying my guitar

To play and sing at his wedding and I did a Bible reading

I understood, when he explained another friend—a longer best friend—would stand as best man

Time passed on; he put me up at the Harvard Club where he was a member

When I needed to do research for my dissertation at the Houghton Library

He, the kind of friend who cared, anxiously

Made earnest inquiries out of his field with his psychiatric professional friends

While I noticed others’ indifference or the sneers, fear, outright laughter and some avoided me

He made the precipitous phone call that saved me, deep in the psychosis that broke my mind,

And got me into the psychiatric hospital and he phoned me in there every day

So it’s not so easy

I saw his car in my apartment parking lot out my window

That week I wrote 100+ pages for my doctoral exam

Writing and editing all day and deep into the night

I couldn’t break my concentration to visit with him

And he knew to go to my favorite bar to ask about me

This my heavy tome culminated on the day he drove down from Boston

To sit in on my open dissertation defense in The Rotunda and he posed a question

We now laugh at the professor’s quip, “Who is this guy?”

He waited with me outside the interview room while the committee weighed my oral defense

And the same professor borrowed his pen to formally sign off on my successful dissertation

He presented me his pen, formally, in my favorite bar as his family celebrated with me

Which makes it hard to write him off

And hard to believe he would cross the line

Recently, during international travel, my Permanent Resident Card expired

–An oversight of mine that became strangely serious–

Stranding me in Florida, necessitating reems of paperwork,

–And, of course, an international lawyer–

Which he recognized I would need and found one for me and got me home

And came down to Florida at the time to keep me company a few days

His substance issues got him there in a mess, off the bus

And I helped clean him up so we could hit the town,

And, of an occasion, to pursue gentlemanly discourse at a favorite, posh cigar lounge

Which causes me to re-think the line he crossed

But certain things aren’t funny, even for us

No, not even for us

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