ABOUT WORDS

Words.
The world words generate. Genesis.
Poesis.
I love the world I enter when I’m talking with Carol
The things Carol talks about are good things
Words are about things
Recently, Carol talked about how hard it is to practice The Principles
In the midst of arrangements for her father’s dementia
Carol talks about what makes her happy
Like the bobble-head that came with a ticket to a football game
Watching dancers two-step
The things Carol cares about are good things
Carol talks about what the good thing to do is
Like her health administrator friend, debating mandatory vaccines
Caring shapes itself into words
Words enter into conversations
I enter into conversations with words
Words I speak shape my soul into existence
I love to shape my soul through good words
In the world invoked by good words as if the genesis of Sacred Scripture
And so I love when Carol and I talk about good things
And shape the world into a place I love
I am a friend in all the world I meet
Though involvement with distasteful words strains my friendship
When I don’t love the words I speak, or hear
Words that shape me into a conversation distant from my soul
Not like the world I enter when I’m talking with Carol
The world of good things talking with Carol generates
Oh, the way I can slough through life
When there are good things I can do
Some days I have no will to do any good thing
Then I’ll start a few scales and the music seduces me
Into the fulness of hours without CNN or Facebook
Words are used in ways
Words are about things and words are active
Words do things
Intentionality generates word choice and contrives to render an effect
Rooted unmoveable in the good as who she is
Carol’s intentionality can’t but effect the good in me
Carol talks to me and tries to make me feel good
Carol makes me feel good, feel better, when I’m feeling bad
Feel better about myself when I doubtful about the good in me
Which is other than being OK with whatever
Feeling good is being brought into good regions of my soul
Those regions religion has brought me to love
Regions that fill my soul with the impulse to manifest what is good
So, I’ll be at the piano, write a sermon, compose a poem
|I love the world I enter when I talk with Carol
It is a good place to be, a place I love, a place of love
Carol and I are in love and it generates good words
For and to each other, generates the world our words make

TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

Invocation.

            This poem can’t rhyme
            Held in rhetoric’s weak embrace
            I’m writing it in a casino
            Listening to the little ball
            Swirl around the roulette wheel
            Nobody is noticing me
            Except a Chinese lady’s glance
            I’d rather write in a dive
            Or a coffee shop that isn’t too hip
            Or a library
            But they’re all closed this time of night
            Still, this poem won’t be plastic

Recitative.

There is an outdated English word
An archaic notion that probably doesn’t mean much
Except to me, and maybe to the devout
I don’t experience it often, except

Sometimes from immigrants, or among students
In religious colleges;–it isn’t just they try to help me out
More, the pleasant way they go about it—almost cheerful
You can tell they wish well to me, to everyone, beyond the journals

It is pleasant to experience a good-natured person
Sincerity is part of it
It isn’t just getting along, nor someone who won’t ice you
But to actively promote the good

It’s not just the kind of thing that will keep you out of a bar fight
Or make someone next to you want to talk to you, drinking beer
Nor even refined social graces, though they’re close
One discovers the good when it is sought out, actively

It could be giving an airport bartender you’ll never see again a good tip
Maybe, more ambitious, learning to play a Bach fugue
Instead of indulging in Facebook
Venturing out of your echo-chamber to confront truth

I try to make Carol happy and it makes her happy when I try
You have to know someone, care, study to make them happy
Learn the kind of thing they like, living in both your worlds together
It’s not a matter of getting them to like what you like

Carol didn’t like Mozart’s Requiem, nor Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto
When I took her out on dates—you can’t talk in a concert, anyway
I don’t look at show homes with Carol, anymore
And tap on the walls, listening for the drum sound of thin drywall

She likes it that I like the things I like, and I, too, for her things
I listen to the plots of the stories Carol is reading
Carol likes me to read her the poems I write
We go on walks together in the park

I know the kind of funny quips that make Carol laugh
And when we need to talk seriously about life’s terms
Walk through the world’s unkind circumstances together
I’ll make a personal observation and Carol will listen

This good-nature, this embrace of the good
Which devout people are like
It’s a certain way to approach life, to regard other people
It’s all more than getting someone out of your face

Playing a Bach fugue does something to my soul
You can’t get hanging out in a bar
Making your fingers work through the harmonies rearranges synapses
Generates the peace I uniquely feel playing Bach or talking with Carol

Bach was a believer and even when he didn’t write church music
The peace is there in the harmonic structure
Like the secular Fugue V of The Well-Tempered Clavier
Which I’m learning, now.  Carol isn’t a musician

She grew up on a farm.  Her dad sang in the church choir
My encounters with Carol rearrange my brain synapses like Bach
It’s that quality of good, of good-nature, that realm I enter with Carol
Like reading the Bible, or writing a sermon, or leading worship

You don’t want to break up that mindset with cheap talk
Sometimes, when I venture out of the house, I use language
That brings into existence a caricature of my soul, cheapens who I am
It isn’t elitism, this aversion for ungracious word order

You read stories of Jesus hanging out with the disgraced
Yet his words stand through millennia
It’s not elitism, this want to live spiritually
More a love for the life words can give, the peace love can give

SCALES

I will be at scales, tonight
Despite my flaws, Carol accepts me as perfect for her
She is perfect for me, our world is perfect
As perfect as can be this side of eternity
But the world isn’t Carol
My world can’t be only Carol, can’t be only our world
The world doesn’t care about me as does Carol—why would it?
There are 24 key signatures, all with their scales
48, if you count pentatonic scales, then there are 7 modes in every key
Though, to me, the modes are another matter
This all is expected of me, of every musician; I expect it of me
If I’m not careful, I’ll rest content in Carol’s valuation of my worth
Rest in the perfect world our own, in our care for each other
Carol doesn’t care about scales—why would she?
Though she is my whole world, we are the whole world to each other
The world is not Carol
If I’m going to solo in Santana, I had better be sure in my scales
Then, eternity is more than scales
And the man playing the scales is as the music in eternity
Time was, that man was all that mattered to me
But the world is not eternity
Even if I think I’ll find eternity planted in the world, through the world
It isn’t either-or, the world and eternity
It’s good to plant my feet on the ground, even if the ground be art
Carol likes it when I play a song for her

YOUR SINGULAR, SURE VOICE

My world unravels now you are away
Your love is away; nothing embraces me
Trust fails around me and sincerity
Our love’s sanctuary is gone today

I’m a stranger lost in language games
I miss the meaning others fail to say
Who don’t remember me from yesterday
My social life comes down to merely memes

The world that is your singular, sure voice
Fractures in a plural mixed up sound
I lose my footing, stagger on shifting ground
Our duet drowned out by static noise

I learned the story of Tristan and Isolde
When all I did alone in school was read
They lived in love’s cathedral, love their creed
And so we lived so long our love will hold

My mind rehearses thoughts of you like a song
And all my memories join in harmony
Although apart, I feel you here with me
And I’ll be with you there however long

EARN MY WIN

If you should rise from Nowhere up to Somewhere,
From being No one up to being Someone,
Be sure to keep repeating to yourself
You owe it to an arbitrary god
Whose mercy to you rather than to others
Won’t bear to critical examination.
(Robert Frost, FEAR OF GOD)

EARN MY WIN
I
The Argument

My small car won the wood-shop race in 8th grade
It wasn’t a fair win
A screw on the track popped out the other car
It wasn’t a fair loss
So I didn’t take the win; I called for another run

I wanted to earn my win

In the subsequent runs, I ended up last
But it wasn’t a fair loss

How about I explain what happened in language that isn’t poetry?  Jeff Aubaugh pestered me to catch my car at the end of the track and I let him.  But on my winning run, he had wandered away and my car skittered against the wall, breaking the fender.  So the bare axle was exposed and my car kept sticking in the wooden walls of the track.  Everybody challenged my car, one by one, and I kept losing and came in last.  But this poem isn’t about my wooden car, or Jeff Aubaugh.

Next class, the boys told the girls that I came in last
It wasn’t a fair humiliation

II
The Evidence

Once, I interviewed for a job they wanted me to have
But it wasn’t a fair win for me
Others interviewed for the job they wouldn’t get
But it wasn’t a fair loss for them

I took the win, fair or not;–the job

It broke my friend’s heart when he peeked at his admission file and found out
His minority status superseded his mediocre standing among the applicants
Now, a grad student with me and his broken heart

He took the win
I earned it, deserved it
I got it by merit

I got published a few times
I merited those publications
They were fair wins
I got published a few other times
I don’t know if they handed me the publications
They may not have been fair wins
My professor got his book published
On the press of the university where he also graduated
A friend thought my professor handed out A’s
Only to graduates from his Alma Mater
Which I am and I got an A

III
The Conclusion

No one wants a hand-out
We want to earn our win
No one wants to take that all we didn’t ask for
A lot of it I didn’t ask for
Neither deserve some of what’s come my way
Certainly didn’t earn
The young couple who worked at Subway
And accepted me, a broken doctoral student, as a friend
When bipolar disorder shattered my confidence,
My professional collegiality, ties to colleagues, professors
No, I did not deserve their love, the young couple
Nor earn the air I breathe
Deserve the beat my heart gives me
Deserve heaven and earth
Merit heaven

Carol

Earn grace
Gracias, we hate to say
Gracia, hate to receive
Receive grace

Receive anything at all

Receive
Grace
Gracias
Grace upon Grace
Gracious
Gratitude

And it’s not all mine
All of my own making

WHEN MY ILLNESS WAS MY LIFE

I was the bipolar poster boy
When my illness was my life:
Super Consumer
Drop-In Center
Support Group
NAMI Organization
Seminar presentations
Academic publications
Consumer community
High functioning.
The eyes of all consumers waited upon me
—We understand one another—
I was my psychiatrist’s favorite
When my illness was my life
And the textbooks labeled me mentally ill, label me
A chapter now closed on the fulness of my life
I can hardly recollect in my life now
Realize that the textbooks still label me mentally ill
My life then, when my illness was my life

My 12-Step community was my life
About which I must keep anonymity
At the level of press, radio, film, and poetry
My only friends
My social life
My whole life
Salvific meetings
Salve
Salvation
Save
And healing persists in the 12-Steps
And I live the principles in all my affairs
But all my affairs are not only in and of
The meeting rooms I attend
All my affairs are not only the 12-Step community

Life does not launch me into recovery
Not as failed life once did
Recovery launches me into life
I must live with, but not by, my illnesses
My illnesses walk with me, will ever walk with me
While I walk this mortal coil
I embrace the whole world that walks among life outside meeting rooms
Life that finds fulfilment among hypergoods that thrive outside meeting rooms
Outside the Consumer Drop-In Center
Recovery, sanity, serenity, meetings, pills
Launch
Launch me
Launch me into fulness of life
This, my life of
Music
Verse
Friends
Amusements
Work
Study
Love
Spirituality
Fulness of life
Life outside the drop-in center, meeting rooms
The illnesses that no longer make me who I am
No longer make life what life is
The chapter closed
Poem concluded
I compose new stories in the fulness of life I live
Write new poetry

MY LOVE

And I will not renounce my American citizenship

Or my love

And I will participate in healing the deep wounds

Of my country

And I will not hold my tongue, my pen, withhold my rebuke

Or my love

And I will participate in government, in democracy

Of my country

My voice, my vote, my pen, my informed participation

And my love

Of my country

MEDIA CHRISTIANS AND CHRISTMAS EVE

Today is Christmas Eve.  Christians celebrate Christmas.  I don’t wish to impose my holy day on the rest of the world, but it seems like that’s the way things are going, these days.  Nevertheless, I am grateful to live in a free society that allows me to celebrate according to my religious tradition, as I think all religions should.  I called tech support for my computer a while back and got a tech in India.  He turned down the volume on his end to dampen the background noise from the Durga-Puja festival which was going on in his neighborhood.  He and I had a wonderful conversation about Hinduism, which I had studied in grad school.  I even have a statuette of Sarasvati on my desk—the Goddess of learning, music, and poetry.

I self-identify as a Christian.  A Christian of the Swedenborgian Denomination.  Let’s establish that from the get-go.  Also, I am a Christian pastor.  But what does that mean?  What does that mean to you?  What does that mean to me?  It may very well be that what it means to me is not what it means to you.  The operative question is who gets to define what Christians are?

Unfortunately, I believe that the media get to define what Christians are.  News media tell stories about Christians—often in relation to politics.  And I think that a lot of people get their ideas about what Christians are from new stories.  However, we need to understand that the media are profit-driven enterprises.  Their reporting has to sell.  I’ve spoken with journalists who say that anger and outrage are good “hooks” to draw in viewers or readers.  If that is true, then the Christians we will encounter in media may well be Christians who generate outrage, are outrageous.  I hope that, as a Christian, I do not generate outrage.  At least I try not to.

Then there are Evangelicals.  I have issues with evangelism, itself.  I’m sure that Evangelicals are as sincere in their faith as am I, but I tend to resent people trying to make me think as they do.  I am a student of religions.  So I have a keen interest in others’ understandings of ultimate reality.  But I prefer to learn about others by inquiry, not by their imposition upon my free thought.  You can see Evangelicals on street corners yelling at people and shoving tracts at you.  Since this kind of Christian is loud and prominent, many define Christians by them.  My frustration with this is probably evident.  Also, there are televangelists.  Anybody can turn on their television and watch a program featuring a Christian preacher.  Often, perhaps usually, televangelists tend to be Evangelicals, which I am not.  I have a friend who owns a multi-million-dollar cigar company.  He always tells me that I should become a televangelist.  He says that that is where all the money is.  He also dated an Evangelical Christian for a while, and keeps telling me what he thinks Christians believe, though he is not a believer in any faith that I know of.  But I don’t hold to a lot of the tenets his former girlfriend held to, and I didn’t go into Christian ministry to make a lot of money.  My Christianity has little in common with televangelists.

For me, Christianity means living by Jesus’ teachings about love.  And I understand that to mean love for people inside and outside one’s own belief system.  The Good Samaritan was a Samaritan—a race despised by the Jewish Orthodoxy of which Jesus was a member, but not a strict follower.  This tells me that Jesus promoted religions other than His own, even religions despised by members of His own Jewish Orthodoxy.  So for me, Christian love extends to all peoples of good-will: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Jews, atheists, and peoples of good-will whom I haven’t mentioned.  And love seeks to establish friendships, and to promote good-will.  When I say that I am a Christian, sometimes I worry that people will understand that to mean I am a media Christian, who seem to get all the press, or an Evangelical.  Practicing Christianity for me means seeking to find good in every situation and to be an agent for that good.  But I practice quietly, privately, and some might even say in stealth mode.  My Muslim friends, my Jewish friends, my Zoroastrian friends, and my Hindu friends enjoy my company, I think, and I their company.  That kind of harmony is how I understand Christian love, is the kind of Christian I try to be.  I am a definition of Christianity as much as are televangelists, Evangelicals, Catholics, or media Christians.  Maybe that kind of Christian, and there are lots like me, doesn’t make for good news stories.  Any more than the moderate peace-loving Muslims I know make for good news stories.  But that’s no reason for me to stop calling myself Christian.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are times especially for me to relax and let love be, to let myself be an agent of love, and to remember and renew old friendships, to enjoy family.  As a Christian in this world, it is a time for me to reflect on Jesus’ friendship with Pharisees, tax collectors, prostitutes, rabbis, Samaritans, and Lebanese.  In a broken and fragmented world, Jesus yet has a message of healing and unity for Christians and/or others of good-will.   

THE MYSTICISM OF US

It’s a strange mysticism, about you
Sometimes it’s like you’re not another person
We’re so close, I’m you and you’re me, too
One current into which two streams run

There was a time before you, which was no time
Time began the time of our lives blending
The ordinary world became sublime
And moments, days, and years have no ending

That space in which the clock’s hands cease to move
Is when I’m with you; then time is our own
And we make heaven of our faith and love
In a kingdom bounded by our union

I got by before you, you before me
But time was meaningless; moments absent
Looking back, I see my life as empty
Successes seemed so unimportant

All that changed when you dawned like the sun
On the darkest morning of the year
And our two lives intertwined into one
Each in each other makes our heaven here

PAS DE DEUX: MY DANCE WITH THE MACHINE: A COMEDY IN THREE ACTS

Any More Than The Way Things Are

My Irish-Catholic friend published a book
About a world-famous Irish-Catholic poet
On a highly respected Irish-Catholic university press
And teaches college in a large, deeply Irish-Catholic city

I am a Swedenborgian
And even if I wrote a book about William Blake
There are no highly respected Swedenborgian university presses
Or big cities with prominent Swedenborgian populations

I have to think that all this matters
Isn’t it why my dissertation director counseled me not to write
About Swedenborg, for the sake of my career?

–“Academics don’t know, in fact, what they are suppressing”–

The dean of a Lutheran university confessed to me over breakfast
The General Secretary of a prominent interdenominational organization
Asked me over lunch why I am a Swedenborgian, meaning, I think,
“Why on earth are you a Swedenborgian?!”

Time was I believed that if I worked hard, became good at what I do
Success would be laid at my feet, not disappointment
It takes other things than being good at what I do
And I wonder that I am passed over for so many things I am good at

I am not asking for a leg-up toward success
Any more than is the way things are in this world
My Irish-Catholic friend is good at what he does
As am I, a Swedenborgian

Disappointment

Disappointment only descends upon failed ambitions
More than just getting your hopes up, as, for example, winning The Lottery
Expectations in general that fall through
Especially ambitions’ realization evaporating as one watches

Years pass, the doors close on what could have been
Out of time; out a life; a lifetime passed by
They say Reike can heal time—the past, present, what will be
Which is a different understanding of time that I know

Carol tells me that she has no ambitions, never did
My mother wonders where mine came from, since
Neither she nor Dad craved other than their work, homelife

–Nor credited me with success—

There’s something so real about Carol, which echoes back to a place I once was
I take it her upbringing on a farm
Where dirt and the harvest cycle are as real as it gets
Formed her out of the dust of the earth

The blanched suburbia of my impoverished culture
The shallow depths I almost drowned in
The neglect and torment my nascent family ignored and inflicted
Perhaps conspired to inspire my drive to reach for what my hand never grasped

I don’t know if Carol knows my disappointment
She has come to terms with riches she will never own
Guess it is not for me to posit where I would be
Why I continue to reach; I think Carol likes it

Some Glad Morning

I raged against the machine and did my own thing
Cultivating the garden that is my soul: wisdom, love
I didn’t care if they groomed me for success
Or if they said that I was just a fool

And so, my self found development in accord with aspiration’s beckon
Ever evolving aspirations leading my meandering pathway. I am pleased.
So why do I want that machine against which I raged
Now to bless me, sanctify my works with recognition and acclaim?

I wouldn’t say that I resisted playing ball with it all
I wasn’t in it for the game.  Karma drove my play
More than systemic machinations: I never felt like

–A cog in something turning, never cared to—

I followed and worked through my karma: the issues and stages
I got out of my system, that were me, became what is not me
Yet not another; self—the salve and the wound
The problem and the solution, the lock and the key

I suppose I made too much of eternity
Some told me I was too old to be thinking like that
And yet, I am old now and had better be thinking like that
So why this desperation about credit from the system I never much rated?

I suppose it isn’t so much about credit, I have credentials
Damn craving for more laurels I will never rest on and smile!
I do smile, smile at who I was and am: this beloved self
This no self, no permanency, only eternity of states flowing into who I am

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