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

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

BELIEF, KNOWLEDGE, CON

Belief

In much of my faith’s religion

Knowledge

The fact that belief is not fact

Evidence

Foundation for fact, confirmation, confidence

Credence

Credo, personal consent, passionate, dearly held, deeply felt belief

Concrete

Facts the which personal consent plays no part

Con

Fabrication of alternative facts

Confusion

Belief for knowledge alternative credence

Conflict

Fact, faction, fractious, fracture

Connection

Faith, fact, fidelity, solidarity, community

REMEMBRANCES OF ICONIC CHICAGO

I remember old, green copper and concrete lighthouses,

Green algae seaweed patched concrete water level lighthouse bases,

Water-worn wooden posts standing at angles in front of them

We floated past on the Chicago River tour boat that afternoon

They render in my mind more than

 

the iconic Chicago skyline,

the angular, massive, stainless-steel Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park,

the Aquarium,

The Sears Building we went up in to the observation floor,

The Green Mill Speakeasy where Al Capone used to hang,

 

As does the folk art that covered the walls on all three floors in The House of Blues

A shrine, it seemed

I remember one set depicts images of folk shot with bullet holes, bleeding

Every folk in the paintings shot, in that African-American artwork’s neighborhood

I remember the second-floor stage with nine world religions symbols across and above it

Symbols captured in language in the central iconic image above the stage

 

UNITY IN DIVERSITY

ALL ARE ONE

 

The burning heart on the ground-floor stage curtain

Iconography like the Catholic Sacred Heart

(Yes, I remember, too, the disappointing blues band there in iconic Chicago)

Taking home rather the impression of a visit to a shrine

 

As does a black man at Buddy Guy’s who remembered me from The House of Blues last night

Joined us at our table tonight, with funny jibes, japes, and jabs

While his wife smiled and shook her head sometimes

 

As does the personal appearance of Mayor Lori Lightfoot on the 4th of July

At an outdoor concert in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park early evening

Seeing her more memorable than the event itself

And now in Canada we see Mayor Lori Lightfoot on TV and smile at each other

 

(Maybe the free Picasso “Untitled” in Daley Plaza)—Carol liked it perhaps the best

 

Of course, I remember the patient, eager, hour’s wait to get into the Art Institute of Chicago

Paying extra for a special exhibit I now forget

Waiting in line to just view certain paintings:

“Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare,” by Monet

“American Gothic”

And me being the only one in a whole exhibit room of early Christian art

(Part of me is glad that the proximity of religion

Hasn’t let Christian art be considered art in the same sense as Monet’s Impressionism)

 

Carol and I talk about what we remember

We talk about the trip

Things that meant, what Chicago meant

Chicago meant

CANADIAN GEESE

The Canadian Geese don’t know that today is Thursday

They stand in the park with their necks extended high

Some sit on the grass with their necks tucked

They pluck at the grass in the park with their bills

I have a meeting tonight at 7:00

But don’t need to know that today is Thursday

I know there will be tomorrow, and that tomorrow

I have a morning meeting at 9:30 and a good band is playing at 7:30 that night

But right now I’m eating a hot dog and watching the Canadian Geese

And that’s all I need to know

My hot dog has nothing to do with the day of the week

Or the Canadian Geese who will soon fly south, but I don’t know when

And I don’t suppose that they know when, or know that they will fly south at all until they do

These Canadian Geese are not in my week and calendar

These Canadian Geese plucking at the grass in the park with their bills

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