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

JANUARY 20, 2021

There was a time when I had a song to sing
When verse and music rang with order and rhythm in writing and play
And now all I know is disorder, dismay, this loser presidential insurrection thing
Or whatever is the loser presidential crisis of the day

This military presence surrounding the Mall and people’s house
Where Carol and I strolled summoned by all those loser presidential lies
His drunk lemming loser acolytes genuflecting this louse
Off the cliff of reason, sunk deep in unsubstantiated mires where truth dies

And I write a song.  A good performance song on a platform upstaged
By a raucous tragicomedy loser presidential reality gong show
And piano tones I play ring hollow in an echo chamber enraged—
The riot’s cacophonic muse strings discord, a noose played by insurrectionist bow

I play the blues but hear only angry death metal
Melodic changes gift joys deliciously—those same joys seditiously supplanted
And an hour of peace with keyboard tones that ring gentle
In my heartfelt art is all that I ever want and wanted

SO SAY THE BUDDHISTS redux

The Buddhists say we are all connected
The coffee plantation in Africa and breakfast in New York
My coffee cup and a Chinese factory worker
The rice paddy that gave her supper
The exploding star that formed the iron of which the plow is made
The exploding star that made the iron for the bullets in my enemy’s gun
My enemy who would shoot those bullets at me
The iron in my body’s blood
The iron in the blood of the other political party, who stands under my flag
We are all connected, all one
My enemy as my beloved are all one with me
Everything is mine, is me
And I am one with everything
Makes me think twice about rage, about hate
About causing anyone harm, anything harm

THE SALLY HEMINGS CONTROVERSY

Seems everyone was talking about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson
When I arrived as a doctoral student in 1986 at Thomas Jefferson’s

University of Virginia

White Virginians could not abide the meaning if Thomas Jefferson
Had engaged in sexual relations with an African-American woman

Miscegenation horror

White Virginians could not abide the thought that living African-Americans’
Great-great grandfather is—Lordy!—the Founding Father Thomas Jefferson

Horror

Enslaved, Sally Hemings was incapable of consenting to Thomas Jefferson
Ordinarily, American law has language for sexual relations without consent

Monticello horror

I bristled when I heard our Monticello tour guide refer to enslaved persons,
The enslaved persons Jefferson owned, as “servants.”  Yet, I said nothing.

Expensive property

Our tour guide said further that owners treated their enslaved persons well
In order to protect their investment and to get a good return from their property

Country clubs

My African-American department head was barred from Virginia country clubs
Yet held two endowed chairs at the University of Virginia, he was that important

Historic restaurant

I gave my girlfriend a ring in the most expensive restaurant in Charlottesville
All the servers were African-American, liveried, standing backs against the wall

Waiting

I returned to Monticello in 2014, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Language developments revised the experience of Monticello in a tour entitled

Slavery at Monticello

A Y-chromosome proved Jefferson’s paternity of Sally Hemings’ descendants
I don’t know if Virginians still talk about this, having relocated upon graduation

DNA evidence

I watched the Charlottesville Unite the Right riot with swastikas, KKK, volknuts 
Confederate flags and a white supremacist drove his car into the mob and killed

Heather Heyer

NEWSCASTERS VERSUS TRUMP’S MONKEY BOYS

I saw one of Trump’s monkey boys sit at the Presiding Officer’s Desk
in the US Senate Chamber
Another Trump monkey boy hung from a wall by one arm just like a monkey
in the US Senate Chamber
A Trump monkey boy stood in front of the chair of the Speaker of the House
in the US House Chamber

Desecration

What is desecration—de-consecration?  What is desecration in a time and age
An age that holds nothing sacred?

Sacred

Indifference

Trump’s monkey boys riot and think it a good time, indifferent
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Dignity

In affront to the dignity all around them
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Contempt

Contemptuous of law, due process
drunk in anarchic party orgy

Respect

Knowing no respect for the symbol the Capitol Building is
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Disgrace

Disgracing the suggestion of a temple the Capitol Building is
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Honor

Honoring no one, nothing
in drunk anarchic party orgy

And the TV newscasters said that they were embarrassed
Look—you’re embarrassed when you walk around with your zipper down—

Embarrassed?

And they worried about what the rest of the world would think
As if to worry what others think ever mattered
Treasonous rabble bursts the oldest living democratic republic
The coup led by a president who craves power as coups will
“What kind of message does it send to the rest of the world,” the journalists ask.
Marvin Gaye asked long ago the persistent question, “What’s going on?”
Liberty stands in New York Harbor and her torch beats in every American heart
Anarchy’s fangs salivate at the edges of liberty, slinking for a chance

C’EST LA VIE IN THE METAL BAR

I’d had enough of the Metal from the digital jukebox
Late at night, in the mostly empty bar
I walked over and put on Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s C’est la Vie
Lush, strings and flute trills, accordion, ringing picked acoustic guitar steel strings
Overwhelming choral background harmonies swell amid Greg Lake’s
Melodic clear voice and echoed cavernous in the bar and the waitress’ incredulity
Of kick-drum rolls thunder, growl and hollering stomp stark jarred shock
C’est la Vie’s lyrical echo labeled me through the subsequent months
Until COVID shut us down and there was no more bar or incredulous waitress
Funny, that the song bored me in the Detroit arena when I first heard it at 18
While Keith Emerson strolled in front of a set depicting lamplit French streets
Playing an accordion to a restless, chattering crowd, my last year of high school
And they got away with C’est la Vie and the Motor City packed Cobo Hall—
Home of Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper—in fact, had the crowd on their feet,
And a Billboard article called them Heavy Metal with Keith Emerson’s orchestral
Piano Concerto no. 1 on the vinyl album featuring C’est la Vie and Aaron Copeland.
I don’t know how they got away with it.  I couldn’t get away with it that evening
But there was Yes, then, and Ian Anderson invented rock flute and Death Metal
Hadn’t arrived yet like in the incredulous bar I played echoing C’est la Vie
Keith Emerson had enough of us that concert and played Nutrocker twice in a row
—A rocked-out version he didn’t write of Tchaikovsky’s March of the Toy Soldiers
“Did you like it?”  Keith taunted, “Would you like to hear it again?”
And played it again note for note and the crowd cheered a second time
I wondered if a girl in my high school named Marca liked Emerson, Lake & Palmer
I asked her and she said, “I like Nutrocker.”   Despite those packed concert arenas,
Keith Emerson never got the validation from Aaron Copeland that he wanted

Writing Poetry after Youth

Any poet, if he is to survive as a writer beyond his twenty-fifth year, must alter; he must seek new literary influences; he will have different emotions to express. This is disconcerting to that public which likes a poet to spin his whole work out of the feelings of his youth;–T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry

T. S. Eliot wrote this insightful comment when he was 29.  He had written The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but had not yet written The Waste Land.  It is a remarkable comment, since Eliot, himself, hadn’t “altered.”  His own style was still developing and his arguably best work was yet to come.  From my own personal experience, I think that there is something in this observation of Eliot’s.

Some time in my early 30’s my passion for poetry had dried up.  Those strong feelings of youth were being replaced by different motivations.  As Eliot writes, after 25, the poet “will have different emotions to express.”  It is fair to say that in early adulthood/late youth, emotions ruled my life.  But as I aged, deliberation and understanding the large question of how the world works and the still larger question of how the map of living unfolds became increasingly important.  So the verbal filigree of young passion yielded to more contemplative works. 

However, just beginning to tackle different life issues, expression proved a fresh start on language.  So my output was inferior during this period.  I remember a friend who liked my earlier poetry once exclaim to me, “You’ve lost it!”  And I had.  I had mostly lost youth.

But as time progressed, I became accustomed to the challenges that life throws at adults and my writing began to mature, too. I was aware of the loss of my muse in my early 30’s.  I knew that I wasn’t writing very well.  I knew that my friend was right, for then.  In fact, I had almost quit writing altogether; I did precipitously stop writing for long spells.  But I couldn’t stop writing. A new style developed for the new person I was since youth. Of the poems I’ve published, ¾ are “post-30’s” poems;–that is, poetry I wrote after the age of 30.  That which was lost was found! 

Eliot’s style underwent quite an alteration as he aged, as well.  As a literature major once told me, “The jury’s still out on Four Quartets” (1936-1942—when Eliot was aged 48-52).  But the jury returned a verdict on The Cocktail Party (premiered 1949); utter failure.  The difference in Eliot’s later work, compared with that of his earlier work, though, is not only a matter of Eliot’s age.  He had also undergone a religious conversion and meant to express it in his work.  This is a major “alteration!” And even if Eliot’s artistry matched his new spirituality, the critical reception would have been skewed by the counter-religious zeitgeist of the modern age. 

Writing poetry is a dance between grasping language, grasping life, and grasping art.  All this is likely to undergo revision and rewrites with the stages of living one will experience here, and perhaps, hereafter.

VIVALDI’S FOUR SEASONS IN 1974

It’s not like I’ve seen it all before
When I was 20, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was all the rage and it was 1974
That was when I first discovered it and bought a vinyl album
I was discovering it all and everything was new to me
I was carrying it out of my suitcase, which would have warped it
In the Detroit Greyhound Station and was talking with a girl, a music student
On her way to Oberlin College in Ohio and a young black man came up,
He sang some notes, and asked, “Is that how The Four Seasons goes?”
Everything was all new to me, like how different Toledo, Ohio is from
Livonia, Michigan, I thought, gazing absently around in the cavernous
Toledo Amtrak Station, the winter wind moaning though cracks in the doors
As I waited to ride the train’s sway and rhythmic clacks across America
East to Boston, also different from Livonia and the family I grew up in,
Discovering the big city.  I’ve heard The Four Seasons in three movies.
In my mid-40’s, I discovered the Heiliger Dankgesang an die Gottheit
In Beethoven’s A-Minor String Quartet, which I also heard in a movie.
Way back I’d asked Jimmy, a jazz sax player, about Beethoven’s string quartets
When I didn’t know much about things, and was hungry to discover it all
And was figuring things out.  Jimmy and I disagreed about Mozart;
He said Mozart was a real entertainer, but to me Mozart was all tights,
Powdered wigs, silk slippers, gilt palaces and effeminate, effete nobles
I’ve since discovered Mozart’s startling harmonies and I’m with Jimmy, now
And bought a Compact Disk Recording box set of Mozart’s “Hayden Quartets”
And heard the orchestra play the Hayden Quartets at the exec’s party in Die Hard
Or was it The Four Seasons, or both—I haven’t seen Die Hard again for a while
In Thor, the orchestra played The Four Seasons at that Embassy ball Loki crashed
I wonder why no one else has noticed that John Williams’ Superman music sounds
Exactly like Strauss’ Tod und Verklärung or Bernstein’s “There’s a Time for Us”
In West Side Story is the Adagio movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 5
Which they both studied either in conservatories or in later professional life
My eyes welled up with tears which I blinked away in the public concert hall
That evening I heard the whole Messiah for the first time and I didn’t know why
Everybody stood up when the choir sang The Halleluiah Chorus to conclude
Part II of the whole Oratorio, not just the soundtrack to so many commercials
It’s not like I’ve seen it all before.  I poke around in Auden and Stevens, authors
I don’t know, and play The Rolling Stones on my keyboard and learn about rock,
Entertain myself with Thomas Wolfe and even Shakespeare, sometimes, and
Not really watch TV.  It isn’t that I keep learning, nor like I’ve seen it all before. 
More a matter of why it doesn’t feel like everything is new to me

A DIALOGUE OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

I told the French tourist I met in a bar that he had it all wrong
He said that the United States was founded by criminals kicked out of Europe
Later, I read about forced labor in Virginia imposed on British criminals
Deported British criminals condemned to indentured servitude in the United States
Who bought land and settled upon serving out their sentence

I told the French tourist that it was Pilgrims seeking freedom in the New World
He didn’t know that America was a Protestant colony
That began in the east and conquered the west
Despite all those Spanish Catholic city names already in the west when they got there
The settled land, missions, and mansions confiscated upon their arrival

Colonists defined the Indigenous Peoples in categories deported from European philosophy,
The Pilgrims’ descendants wrote peace contracts with fraudulent intent
Breach of contract, broken word, and the deported First Nations are defined as criminals
Forts, armies fighting to keep the broken peace treaties on the warpath
And yet each year we fondle the Thanksgiving story about Pilgrims and benevolent Indians

British Protestants founded the new colonies in the name of African blood
And enslaved African human beings laid the bricks of Jefferson’s Monticello
Who, in turn, wrote them out of his Declaration of Independence
While European criminals stole, sold, bought human lives and established these United States:
Conceived in slavery and dedicated to the proposition of disparity: of, by, and for criminals

WINTER INDOORS

Outside, the snow witnesses the cold
Early on the clock, darkness falls
This, the Solstice, the year’s darkest day
When we anticipate the coming of Light

The light of a small candle flame
Set before a Sarasvati statuette, Goddess
For students, musicians, poets; for me
In my indoors, today, I contemplate poetry

Made not of special poetic language only
Or a language obfuscated out of meaning
Rather, rhetoric coalesced around meaning
Truth in perfect words

Musings shining in my small Christmas tree’s lights
Every cloth gnome, owl, snowman, and mouse on it a gift
A cup of tea on the end-table next me
A pad of paper, my favorite pen, and ink on the page

Settling into a season I’m reluctant to accept
Seeing it coming in the early autumn sunset
On an outdoor patio of a favorite coffee shop
Thinking, then, about the candle, cup of tea, Christmas lights

Just as well, I don’t have any money
And COVID has closed most businesses
Locked us down, mandated us homebound
I take refreshment in the piercing candle flame

Previous Older Entries