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

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

AMBITION’S AMBIGUITY IN AGE

I’m not sure I know

 

How to about whether I can

Assert this point’s possible ambiguity

 

Things upon aging looking back

 

Ambitions to attain a name

Good job be important get ahead all the way to the top

 

Mystical experiences recast matters

 

I recall the litany I told the cabbie

Of failed attainments I felt entitled to by cheated life

 

Myself a failure disappointment and life half done things undone

 

Is it mysticism?  Workplace satisfaction?  Found love?

Olding?  That fuels my contentment

 

The whole question of ambition

 

Where’d that come from?!  How widespread in humanity

Nascent?  Acquired?  Self-imposed?  My grandmother?

 

My recasting of what I thought were failed attainments

 

In my age I realize that Swedenborg’s values were inscribed in maturity

For maturity?  And where would the world be without ambition in the younger

 

In my mind I distill a modicum of peak importances

 

And my failed ambitions fade into a fractured joke

And in my age I now understand Swedenborg’s values as mine

BEING AND EXISTENCE

Activism isn’t the sole truth

Being and existence

Existential issues of the day matter

The human being Being persists through the day

From days past, centuries, millennia

Gilgamesh is past present

Issues of the aged transcend

Queer theory, eco-justice, prison reform

Existential issues of the day matter

In my day was Vietnam, peace, love, Woodstock

Where are they now?

And I, from then, where am I now?

As I compose, now, death and/or afterlife verses

Transcendence of the moment, of existential issues

Old friendships over decades, new love of one decade

Recasting time, reconsidering decades

Considering the time I have left

WILDFLOWERS

We love to see a meadow of wild flowers

And take delight in sweet pea, bluebell, pansy

But if we try to pick and hold their beauty

We find they fade and wilt in only hours

 

Still after we have placed them in a vase

We love their delicate pedals and scent

Like flowers, time with friends is only lent

Though beauty in friendships gives life grace

 

And we love it when our friends are nearby

But time with friends tends to be uncertain

If long or short, impermanence is certain

People change; in time we’ll say goodbye

 

Buddhists say that joy in friend or lover

Still is dukkha, suffering or grief

I see the transient nature of all life

Yet still take joy, delight, and pleasure

As it is in friendship, love, or flower

A REFLECTION ON THE ’80’S

I remember back in the ‘80’s

How often I heard how hard life is

How tough you have to get, to be, to get ahead

How many were reading Sun Tzu, The Art of War

How many longed to be back in college

Protected, with their friends, the camaraderie, safe

 

Fighting your way to the top is hard, tough

Clawing your way into obscene wealth is hard, tough

Competing with your fellows, maybe screwing them over

You have to get tough, and it is hard if you choose these paths

I haven’t studied war, and haven’t become tough

I know disappointment, grief, crushed dreams

The consequences of too much love

 

Creativity is hard, but not conflict with my fellows

The satisfaction I know in word or tone shames wealth

I claw my way into creations I love to live with

I compete with my piano, with pen or keyboard

I do not know where the top is, what it is, but I will likely not be there

I know the struggle of satisfying art, soul satisfactions

 

The path I have chosen tends toward calm

The friends I continue to make make community, trust

I continue to learn, learn peace, wisdom, love

I find that is a struggle with mortal stakes

That life is hard, yet it doesn’t make me tough, and I wish no retreat

Into adolescent protection, sophomoric camaraderie

The realization of such a longing would be retreat indeed

From all of my struggle to grow in peace, wisdom, love

And I wish nothing more

THE GIFT OF FLOWERS

We love when someone gives us flowers

And we love the mum, petunia, rose, or lily

Though knowing as we gaze on their beauty

That they will stay for many hours,–but only hours

 

Still, while they are in the vase

We take delight in the delicate pedals, scent

Like the gift of flowers, people in our lives are lent

A gift people are, a certain grace

 

We take delight when people are nearby

Yet the time we have together is uncertain

Long or short, impermanence is certain

People change, come and go, we meet and say goodbye

 

So the Buddhists say that enjoyment of friend, lover

Is dukkha—grief—suffering

Knowing the impermanence of everything

Gives the gift of delight and pleasure

For what it is, in friend, lover, or flower

EARLY COVID-19

My distance and loneliness

In a poisoned world

My amusements and study

Grow vapid and I wonder

What to do in all this

In my state of shock, my enervated will

I can’t bring myself to do anything

Struggle with the clock that doesn’t seem to move time

Distancing, social isolation, and loneliness

How strange commercials from the old days seem

Tight social groups at cafes, parties, mobs at pop concerts

And New York city streets like a ghost-town

I try to wrap my mind around it all

What it all means, what it will mean

The economy, unemployment, isolation

How long?  What it all means

Shops shut down, restaurants, businesses

And all those workers unemployed now

The number of incidents rises, the death toll

They say weeks, probably months of this

Then we will emerge—but to what?

The scar COVID-19 will leave on the world we used to know

For now, the greatest love means isolation

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Some Swedenborgian Truths in a Time of Crisis

Religious people may have mixed feelings about the Covid-19 virus.  In addition to the strange new restrictions on our social life, the growing numbers of sick, and the death toll, religious people may want to force meaning onto this pandemic.  I think that we are in a kind of state of shock as we try to understand what is going on.  Religious people may ask why this is going on.  But asking theological questions while in a state of shock, or panic, is not wise.

The first thing that Swedenborgians would assert is that this is not punishment from God.  God doesn’t punish.  From one way of looking at it, you could say that God can’t punish.  God is good and can do only good.  God can do only loving things.  God does only loving things.  God does only good to us.  Consider this quote from Swedenborg,

as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish.  He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (True Christianity n. 56).

So Swedenborgians would say that the pandemic is not punishment from God.

The pandemic is not a sign of the Last Days.  The Book of Revelation talks about a plague coming in the Last Days.  Swedenborgians say that the Book of Revelation is about what goes on inside us.  The battles and plagues and earthquakes are symbolic of our spiritual struggles.  After all, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come visibly.  Neither will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’  For the kingdom of God is inside.”  There have been several “plagues” in my lifetime.  There was h1n1, swine flu, and the sars virus.  Either one of these could have been called the plagues pointing to the end times.  Then there was the Black Plague of the middle ages.  That happened in the 14th century.  People then thought that they were in the end times.  But we got through all these plagues and forgot about them and the end times.  And we will get through this.

In these hard times, more than ever, we need to think about our neighbor.  We need to practice social distancing to protect ourselves and our neighbors.  Many of us will experience financial hardships.  Those of us who are fortunate financially are in a position to wisely help out when they can and as they are able.  I don’t mean to minimize the difficulties we will go through in the months ahead.  But we will get through it.  Now, more than in times of prosperity, neighbor love is needed.  As we all struggle through the uncertainty, fear, and hardships, love will get us through.  And though we practice social distancing, we are not alone. God is going through this with us.  “Behold I am with you always.”  Let’s be with one another, too, always.

 

 

 

BEFORE AND AFTER YOU

There was a time before you

life was hollow

There was a time before you

time itself was a bitter pill to swallow

 

There was a time before you

I cowered in insecurity

Now you are with me

I measure my steps with confidence and surety

 

Now you are with me

in every trying situation

Now you are with me

with constant affirmation

 

Now you are with me

life is meaningful

Now you are with me

for you, for us, I am grateful

 

You and I are us

your joy is my study, my occupation

You and I are us

our joy is a continuing vacation

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