Wall

There’s no shortage of old stone walls in Connecticut. Most have been standing for hundreds of years. They were built from materials pulled from the land. When the glaciers melted and land masses were pulled apart by the forces of nature, Long Island was blessed with rich, fertile soil, leaving New England with an unyielding rocky coastline.

Walls are built to keep things out, or in

Walls define borders

Walls are passive by nature; they are not weapons—they are defensive

I’m sitting on this one, so I can view what’s on either side…

Redemption

I have so much information floating around in my head, much of it of dubious value. This assemblage has been collected, coalesced and distorted by fading memory, so that even the formidable powers of Google fail me when I try to reconnect the original source. Such was nearly the case for a quote I would likely have attributed to one of many famous existential authors. Instead, said quote helped me rediscover other long-forgotten gems from the brilliantly twisted mind of Kurt Vonnegut, and this particular search will serve as the motivation to revisit his work.

I had a professor who knew Vonnegut personally, and used his teaching platform to spread the author’s insights into the values of big business and society. Vonnegut’s view of existence and Man’s place in the world, like many of his generation, was colored by the transformation from his personal exposure to World War II. Ironically, this quote was the runner-up to the original quote I was seeking, which was from a relatively obscure book of poetry from 1970 entitled Black Out Loud. At the risk of misquoting the original poem and taking liberty with language that some may feel I have no right to use in any context, I have supplanted it with the following:

“Trout was petrified there on Forty-second Street. It had given him a
life not worth living, but I had also given him an iron will to live. This
was a common combination on the planet Earth.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

My intent was to channel the energy, imagery and frustration of the speaker in the original poem to springboard into my own work.  

 

Redemption

Must I die upon the cross

To grant salvation for a life that’s lost?

Progress?

One foot

in front of other

moving forward…

stardust

to sanguinary

baptismal waters

baby step revolution

“No, you may not!”

Phone cameras capture

Atrocities

Assault weapon wielding

hero and

heroin

Loosed

Unhinged

Digitized celluloids chronicle

Immolation of a Nation

Surreality TV

Speak thee of the divinity of Man?

Rather,

extinction event

hastened

Blind Faith and Stick Figure Jesus

Sketch courtesy http://www.handdrawnalbumcovers.com/blind-faith-blind-faith/

This is not a review or retrospective of the album released in 1969 by the band of the same name led by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. I found the hand drawn representation of the original controversial album cover by happenstance while doing a Google search of blind faith. The website is interesting and included a link to share, so please visit. I think the sketch dovetails nicely with the drawing featured with my poem.

I was born into the Catholic church, was baptized, received my first holy communion, and later the sacrament of confirmation. Like many children who attend public school, once a week I was excused early to attend religious instruction. There I committed to memory the tenets of the church along with the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and the Apostle’s Creed. The language is elevated and beautiful, designed to make us feel safe and loved, and to remind us that we are all sinners.

Shortly after confirmation, I came to realize that the choice to continue my religious education and to attend church was my own. I soon decided that whiffle ball and street football were more interesting pursuits than studying scripture. However, a question raised by a young layperson teacher, who was studying to enter the priesthood, has stuck with me.

“Why did Christ sacrifice himself on the cross for mankind?”

This one was easy, and several kids answered at once, “To open the gates of heaven.”

He smiled, then asked, “What does that mean? Did Jesus come with a key and actually unlock and swing open some huge gate in the clouds?”

What was this? Were we actually allowed to ask questions about our faith and all of the pat phrases repeated to us over and over? At the same time, it was a challenge to look beyond the words to understand the meaning. This was going to be complicated. It is so much simpler to get on your knees, fold your hands and recite what you’ve been taught, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

Like any other artistic trait, some people draw better than others. For most of us, our drawing skills haven’t progressed beyond what we learned in grade school. Ask the average adult to sketch a landscape and the result would be hard to distinguish from the efforts of a third-grader. However, the novice can improve their drawing skills, if not intrinsic artistic ability, through instruction and practice. The same is true of one’s understanding of religion and scriptures through guidance and study.

This similarity is the focus of my subject in Stick Figure Jesus. The young woman becomes five-years-old at her desk while exercising her underdeveloped artistic skills to draw a simple representation of Jesus on the cross, or when she kneels to recite the prayers from her childhood. For the innocent five year old girl, the young woman, and her own children, perhaps this is enough. The speaker in the poem is demanding more.

Art is large, the techniques of drawing are small. Spirituality is large, religion is small. My intention is not to measure the relative spiritual benefits of confession and penance, fasting and dietary restrictions, zazen, or even sun worship as a path to enlightenment, but to show through the image of the child turned woman how little her relationship to God has evolved.

Darkness of Skin

Sharing poem written by my son Cliff

The increased darkness of skin
akin to sin
We can judge a man
Beat a man
Kill a man
without repercussion
As long as he is justifiably dark enough to warrant such hatred
Words of hate
can freely exit the mouths of a lighter shade
and incite similar feelings
Mistrust
Misunderstanding
Misguided fear
if we continue to turn a blind eye
And continue our history of blind hatred

How can we live in the land of the free
Under the pretense of innocent until proven guilty
And watch men and women killed in plain sight
Because of the darkness of skin?

Our politicians speak without conscience
Our police act without consequence
Racial division in our everyday consciousness
And we are to pretend that this is not an ever growing problem?

If we are to grow
and succeed
How do we continue to make decisions based upon the darkness of skin?

Stick Figure Jesus

Five year old on her knees

eyes closed to her world

hands clasped, or cupping air

in prayer

to the God of Man

fish

Five year old at her desk

draws a stick figure Jesus

smiling sun with a face

beside puffy white clouds

veiling heaven

fish

Religion, Religare

Green-eyed, earth bound

assassin of the spirit

False security of thy balustrade

Imprisons my soul

fish

The young woman prays

As it was, so it shall ever be

Five years old on her knees

Eyes closed and averted

from judgment

fish

“Bless me father, for I have sinned,”

I have killed the Buddha

served sour milk to Ganesh

I’ve eaten swine on the Sabbath

and worn white after Labor Day

fish

Five years old at her desk

Defined by adolescent artistry

and faith

draws a stick figure Jesus

for her daughters and sons

Got No Use For Love Songs

Got no use for love songs

when love is in my heart,

Got no use for trees and mountains

when they’re right in my back yard

 

Got no use for blankets

in my house that’s bright and warm,

And got no need for sturdy shoes

I drive everywhere in my car

 

Got no need for understanding

I don’t have much to say,

And got no need

for God…

or religion,

all things that I can’t see

 

Got no need

no need

no need…

no tears

no pain

no joy

no art

 

I search through the garbage

for something to eat,

I’m hungry.

Check the cracks in the sidewalk

for a blade of grass,

my garden.

 

The children run, and jump, and shriek

and laugh as they defy me

destroying my rules

set for them

and me

 

But children need to play

If you can’t beat them…

I run, and jump, and shriek

Got no need for rules

when the child is in my heart

 

 

Time Traveler

My memory

is a heartless

unthinking

creature.

It forgets

what I long to remember,

and remembers,

in excruciating detail,

what I beg to forget.

 

THE GAME

I like to play this little game; it’s simple math, but I must have some kind of instinctive need for perspective, a desire to understand my position in the universal timeline. It goes like this…We all walk around with our personal little history. For those like me, that history spans the launch of Sputnik to Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for President. Between these points is where the game is most intimately played as it draws from memory, experience and a couple billion heartbeats, but in no way am I limited by my brief existence. The Time Traveler recognizes no such boundaries. The present is the only thing constantly moving. The past, despite memory’s power to color and alter our viewpoint, is inherently set, prepared for our visit, and the future is waiting patiently for us to catch up.

You’re a seven-year-old kid in a time when the Beatles are on Ed Sullivan, the New York Mets are moving into a brand new Shea Stadium and the World’s Fair is in Flushing, Queens. If you took the subway to the fair grounds it cost you $.15. President Kennedy had been assassinated less than a year prior, WWII had ended less than 20 years before, and the musicals of choice at your elementary school were by Rogers and Hammerstein. “Ooh–w-w-Oak-lahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”

Viewed from a 2016 perspective, all of these events happened a long time ago. WWII is ancient history, having ended more than 70 years ago, but in 1964 the Kennedy assassination was still an open wound, more recent than the Sandy Hook shootings are today. D-Day was fresher than the Gulf War is in our memories, and as for those old stale musicals, they were more contemporary than a Tupac rap would be today.

As part of a Shirley Temple film marathon a few months ago, I watched The Littlest Rebel and thought, “Wow! The Civil War…that was a long time ago!” But, playing my game I realized that at the time the film was made in 1935, there were people still alive who had experienced it directly, people who had been born into slavery, and that the distance from the end of the Civil War to when the film was produced was shorter than the distance from the film to today.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released 33 years ago. Does that seem right? That’s the distance from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, from the Holocaust to The Killing Fields, the distance from a slide rule to the iPhone.

DEGREES OF SEPARATION

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

In my infinite wisdom, I misinterpreted this theory as a generational link, whereby one could trace their lineage back to the time of Christ in six generations. Of course, this is absurd. Ma and Pa Kettle would be challenged to prove out this faulty calculation. However, stupidity sometimes breeds insight, in this case leading me to view generational connections, and our personal histories, in a different way.

I have always been amused by the circumstance by which I shared many of the elementary school teachers who taught my mother a generation before, most notably a social studies teacher named Abigail Babbitt, a spinster who taught in the Roaring 20’s and had teaching materials that outlined all 48 states in the union. So much fodder for my game!

The true spirit of the six degrees theory, I suppose, is to emphasize the closeness of mankind, but no amount of email and social network linkage changes the reality of the average person’s small circle of family, friends and acquaintances, or the transience of memory. Most of us have a close relationship with one or both parents, a good number of us have also been close to one or more of our four grandparents, and likely only a select few have memories of a great-grandparent. We share the rest of our life overlapping those of our extended “family.” As we pass, one-by-one, so does our memory and the imprint of our existence. This can, however, be liberating; the same limitations of memory assure that all failures, disappointments, and embarrassing moments will fade over time.

Wealth, prestige and fame provide only a temporary reprieve from this immutable law. What millennial can’t name the cast of Saved By The Bell? Is there a person under the age of forty who understands all the fuss over the passing of Muhammad Ali? Does anyone remember Mary Pickford? Who will survive to refute Al Gore’s claim that he invented the internet?

DEEP TIME

So far, I’ve expressed a typically American point of view. Despite that slant, I realize I’m not the center of the universe. OK, I really am the center of MY universe, but nobody else cares about that. We all know that Beyoncé is the center of the universe. It’s true! Twitter, Facebook, the television and newspapers all tell me so.

The life of an individual is short…American History spans only several hundred years, and the recorded history of Man only several thousand. Dust in the wind to coin a cliché, a pimple on a dinosaur’s ass. When you look at the estimated age of Earth and the universe as we know it, 4.5 billion years, now you’re talkin’! The passage of millions of years is hard to grasp and a billion years is nearly incomprehensible. Extinction events are measured in durations of millions of years. How can something that drags over that length of time be classified as an “event?” Beyoncé performing at Madison Square Garden is an event.

At absolute zero, allowing for a certain amount of resistance, electricity travels through a piece of wire, or a microprocessor circuit, at nearly the speed of light. The best visual illustration I’ve seen of the difference between a millisecond, a microsecond and a nanosecond, all very tiny measurements of time, was by a professor who used lengths of wire to show how far electricity would travel over each time interval. For a millisecond he held up a piece of wire a few inches long. For a microsecond, he lifted a long length of wire rolled into many coils. Finally to show how much further electrons would flow in a nanosecond, he open the classroom door and rolled in a huge, heavy spool full of densely wound wire.

Playing a variant of my game, a nanosecond (ns) is a SI unit of time equal to one billionth of a second One nanosecond is to one second as one second is to 31.71 years. This all still seems limiting for the Time Traveler; the concept is too linear. Luckily, time also travels in parallel paths, those paths being the tiny little histories, each of us carry through our day. If a bit more than half of the world’s population–at last count, over 7.1 billion–kept a diary for just one year, we would have the equivalent of 4.5 billion years of recorded history. That should keep someone busy reading until the sun becomes a Red Giant and scorches the Earth. No fear! I’m sure by that time, we will all be happily settled on the planet Beyoncé in the far away Western Kanye  galaxy.

 

 

 

I am

not bitter

I am

bittersweet

I am

not a raisin

my black curls

shriveling in the sun

I am

of the windblown seed

progeny of millions

I am

not dark

I am

a black hole

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