some poems from old notebooks 3/25/17

I was a child in a house on a hill                                                                                                                   I had my pick of four porches and the widow’s walk on the roof.                                                     there was a porch for watching people pass                                                                                            a porch for sleeping outside                                                                                                                            a porch for waiting                                                                                                                                             a porch for eating together; my mother, my brother and me.

there was a widow’s walk for watching airplanes                                                                                     as they swung in to Logan                                                                                                                         and for gazing at the salt-ice cataract on Dorchester Bay                                                                in the leafless winters.

for my first two decades I returned daily to a tall house                                                                       on a hill-

a house with four porches hanging off it like petals

and a widow’s walk in it’s crown.

 

***********************************************************************

There are young women taking baths                                                                                                     two or three to a tub                                                                                                                             washing each other’s hair                                                                                                                          with their legs out over the lip                                                                                                              they’re giggling in apartments                                                                                                             above taquerias trattorias patisseries and delis                                                                            they’re eating each other’s laughter instead of bread.

 

***********************************************************************

Avarice and Ego                                                                                                                                       donned their crowns                                                                                                                                     and went to the parade.

Avarice took its place                                                                                                                                among the sad clowns                                                                                                                                   Ego followed the man                                                                                                                              without a face.

you should have heard the clamor                                                                                                               the people made                                                                                                                                                   a child scrambled beneath horses hooves                                                                                               to touch the hem of Avarice’s cape.

they marched to no music                                                                                                                           they grinned in no light                                                                                                                               until the merciful fall of night.

 

 

 

 

 

End Times report 2/9/17

So much has happened since I last weighed in on the state of the world that I hardly know where to begin. Plus, you are all glued to your array of information sources, just as I am, juggling words and images in your brain, shifting from panic to numbness to moments of sweet forgetting. You know how bad it is. Here in Berkeley the rain is coming down like mother nature is trying to cleanse the earth of the foul stench of moral rot. It’s not working. At the beginning of the week we saw the confirmation of Betsy Devos as secretary of education after Senate Democrats actually did their damn job and stayed up all night fighting tooth and nail against it. Not because they’re saints, mind you. Because they want to get re-elected and they know that the huge majority of Americans send their children to public schools and are much more aware of and impassioned over the handling of public education than almost any other issue. Yes, the constituency is quite aware that Devos is a woman who seems to have no appreciation for education, learning, and literacy as good things in and of themselves. Nor does she have any grasp on the role public education can play in creating some socio-economic mobility, some possibility for the realization of big dreams for children who are not born to wealth, as she was, and who do not have access to financial resources. She wants to privatize public education. Which means you can get a voucher for 7000 dollars a year (that’s taxpayer dollars that have been siphoned off from their previous allocation to support and improve Public schools) to send your kid to a private or parochial school. The only problem is most private and parochial schools annual tuition, even for kindergarten, is 15 grand or more. So if you don’t happen to have 8-13 thousand dollars a year lying around (according to multiple recent studies, including this one in Forbes, most Americans can’t come up with 500 dollars in an emergency, no less 8,000 every year) you are shit out of luck. Your kid is going to be one of those shunted off to a public school system that’s been catastrophically defunded. Considering how difficult it is to deliver anything resembling a quality education in the U.S public school system with the current levels of under-funding, over-crowing, teacher shortages, underpaid and overworked teachers and staff, etcetera, it is difficult to imagine the Devos plan leading to anything other than public schools that are little more than holding pens (read: Prisons) for the very poorest of children and teenagers. And even these public schools will be privatized, the way prisons are now. You see where I’m going with this. The whole thing is basically a neat way of transforming our public schools into an expansion of the for-profit prison system. The public schools will become for-profit prisons for poor, mostly black-and brown children and teenagers. And it’s an even better business model than the for-profit prisons, because they don’t even have to do anything wrong (aside from being born poor) to be there! there’s no need to criminalize particular behaviors, substances, ways of dressing, etcetera. These children are forced to be the prison population simply because they’re poor and their families can’t buy them out of it. Furthermore, most families rely on public schools to be the only free child care that exists in our country, enabling the parents to go to work. The dream of pulling those beautiful little people out and taking them for a hike and teaching them to read the best books and ask questions and think critically under the big blue sky is just that- a dream that could only be reality for those priveleged enough to not need to go to work to put food on the table every day. And last but not least, delinquency/failure to attend school can lead to interventions either from DSS or from law enforcement, which leads to those other hells of the foster system and the prison system.  Now if this is not sophisticated coercion, I don’t know what is. Isn’t it disgustingly clever? I’d like to think that Betsy Devos is stupid and doesn’t realize the massive profit potential of privatizing public schools, but the functioning part of my brain is sure that she has holdings in private prison companies and whoever manages her portfolio has made her fully aware of how much money can be made by turning the public schools of this country into for-profit private prisons for poor children. I imagine many of the contractors behind the private prison industry are standing in the wings, eager to step in and place their bids as this new business opportunity opens to them.

As I said in my Post ‘Don’t Tread on Us’:The collective contributions of the good, dutiful, obedient American taxpayer add up to a huge pot of money. After all, there’s a lot of us. It is infuriating to those who want to play with or pocket some of this money (and are used to getting what they want) that we’ve managed to keep their hands off it for so long.”

That, my friends, is the beating heart of the drive to privatize all that is public. It has driven them crazy for too long that they haven’t been permitted to put their hands in this money. Privatizing is just inserting a middle-man who will take a cut for himself and his share-holders (of which Devos is sure to be one), and who in so doing will pull even more of the meager resources allocated to poor families away from them and into some Cayman Islands account far out of the reach of the IRS.

Then there’s the confirmation as A.G of Jefferson Sessions, one of the most KKK-loving, black vote suppressing, power-abusing, white supremacist motherfuckers to ever be refused a seat in the federal judiciary of the United States due to the aforementioned KKK-protecting, suppressing of the black vote etc.

The day this man became the head of the Federal Justice Department should be regarded as a day of national tragedy, shame, and sorrow. To think that we will need to fight AGAINST the USJD to secure equal protection under the law- to secure JUSTICE- for all our people. Whew. Excuse my language, but that is fucked up. We are living in some dark and twisted times when Jeff Sessions is Attorney General. It’s so mind-bogglingly messed up and infuriating that I can’t even be articulate about it.

And to top it all off, 45 has another executive order coming through today or tomorrow, which is worth taking a look at. It’s just a couple pages, so you can really read the fine print. The thing to focus on (I think), is the huge discretion given to the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, notorious racist and supporter of white supremacist terrorist groups in this country, to determine what constitutes an insupportable level of resistance to “local law enforcement”, and to alter the criminal codes in order to “protect local law enforcement” from what he feels is an undue amount of resistance, lack of compliance, lack of cooperation etcetera. That sounds to me like drastically expanded criminalization of protests, marches, and resistance activism generally. In particular resistance to White Supremacy in this administration (such as, I dunno, the Justice Department halting it’s investigations into local PDs all over the country murdering unarmed black people with impunity?) We are about to see the new COINTELPRO. We are about to see Black Lives Matter surveilled and brutally attacked the way the Black Panthers were in the 70’s. This Executive Order is just one of the things- this designation of authority to the racist A.G – that might just make it all “legal”. We must remain vigilant and be prepared to fight. If you’re Black, start thinking of yourself as a warrior (you probably already do)- if you’re White, start thinking of yourself as a human shield, and get good and comfortable with the idea of putting your body on the line to do all we can to protect our Black family. There will be no sitting this one out.

Oh, just one more thing. Every Authoritarian regime needs a propaganda arm, and 45 took care of that (or at least laid the groundwork) with his stealthy, Putin-esque re-structuring of the Voice Of America. This one is gonna be a slow burner, folks, but the importance of an entirely regime-controlled broadcasting arm has never been a thing to scoff at, from Hitler to Pinochet from Rwanda to North Korea to the USSR to Putin’s Russia, so it’s probably a good idea for all of us to pay attention to this. Hats off to Rachel Maddow and her team at MSNBC for this invaluable piece of real reporting.

 

Also, just in case these assholes are over there, making a file on me- put this in there, will ya?

 

 

*painting by Hans Memling, 1470

 

 

Ancient Writings (probably ca. 1997-98)

My mother recently found the following writing on her computer. I know that I wrote this, roughly 20 years ago, at roughly the age of 16 or 17, and it is completely familiar to me, yet also completely strange to me. In some ways I am still the person who wrote this, and in many other ways I am no longer the person who wrote this. Many of my pet images and pre-occupations are the same, and yet experience has made me both more cynical and more purely motivated in my (increasingly complex and variable) marriage to language. This week I have been reading Wonderful Words, Silent Truth; essays on poetry and a memoir by the poet Charles Simic. This quote from him was sticking in my brain as I re-read the words of my past self:

“The difference between poets comes down to how they experience the commonplace realities of their everyday life. Whatever ideas they may eventually have come out of such unpremeditated particulars. The poet who loves the wind has different gods than the poet who loves the stones in the earth. What we make passionately ours is what defines us. The possessions of even the greatest poets are small. A few objects, a few vivid scenes and shadowy figures- and that’s all. ”                            -Charles Simic from Introduction to the poetry of Aleksandar Ristovic

 

A series of blue doors that I should choose from, but don’t.

Each one holds an example of what my life should be-hidden mentors that I choose to ignore. I learned to shun opportunity. The apprentice of escapism and occasional despair. Maybe ambivalence, anyway, a definite lack of interest in self-advancement.

My city? Well, it isn’t much. I keep my eyes to the gutter while I’m skateboarding and spend hours watching the sides of warehouses, waiting for something to occur.

I saw two dock workers exiting through a back door, rough men- one with a face pitted by acne (marked for assesment, and for the next turn of time. he’ll never decieve anyone about where and who he’s been )they are dressed in a familiar costume, joking loudly.

An orphan destroying public property, overturning newspaper boxes, ripping the advertisements from billboards and the sides of buses, prying bricks from the paths in parks and slashing at seats, signs and banners with no artistic intent, simply because he is scornful of pride in a community or a place.

He laughs and says “this sacred plot of ground!-

The founding fathers?”
“as if they knew what they were founding!” {no one would, with any forethought, found this}

You guessed it. This is a friend of mine.

Weaving colored ribbons into the spokes of parked hubcaps on the first of May, braiding what’s left over so it won’t drag and unravel, splicing the threads as they fray. I’m meticulous. I have time to be.

A vehicle owner returns with a fist full of quarters to hold the maids off, back to her meeting, quickly, in beige high-heeled sandals and sees me decorating her car. I raise my hand as she approaches, and wave at her, my legs splayed around my skateboard, having just tied off one whole wheel and feeling proud. She doesn’t smile wide back at me and I remember that there’s a hole in my shirt under the armpit which she might have seen.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”-I explain. She wants to know am I in Art school {I tell her I’m in NoSchool} and is this a joke {I tell her it’s a gift} She says confidentially here’s some advice, go to school and direct my energy and apparently considerable gifts so I don’t wind up homeless {I tell her that technically, I already am}.

 

 

 

“It’s over” he says

 

“what?”—any idea I had about my destination. Because I’m starting to understand that I don’t really have one, and especially not one that I can predict and set my compass on. I’m navigating, sure, but my navigation is a game. These instruments are toys to me. I spin this and chart this because of the mechanisms involved in plotting. I like the way these wheels whir. I like a drawing determined by the stars. It can’t take me anywhere.

 

“I’ve never been” he says

 

“what?”—This person before. This is an unfamiliar body, a strange voice, a vacancy. A mother walks by me with her weak-necked baby lolling in a bassinet, it’s seal eyes rolled to the sky. It’s never been this person before.

 

There is a place that someone told me about a long time ago, before I broke off from my family. It might have been my father, brother, cousin. It might have been a bunk bed good-nite.

Where individualities floated and swam. Where you couldn’t despise something {anything}, because characteristics crept around, entering you like a sweet scent, and to hate something outside was to hate the something inside of the future. I liked the pretty visions of dream-swaps. I liked to know the pearl shellak, the muralled heights, the patterns of someone else. There are other reasons why I decided not to fall in love.

 

I’ve been invited to a festival. I ask this little braided girl

“what kind?” and

“what time?” so she gives me another flyer instead of answering the questions, which is alright. I stand on the corner holding two neon yellow flyers while she runs on her rubber heels after a gaggle of nice looking boys with gel in their hair and fancy watches on their blond-hair wrists.

 

“I can’t” he says

“what?”—-Go with you. Anywhere. But definitely not to this.

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t ever be estranged.

I haven’t seen my mother for two years, my brother for six months, my cousin for a little more, and my father’s left the country, but they’re all right here. I go into a convenience store and the aisles are filled with familiars. The counter is manned by everybody I’ve ever known.

 

As an extension of the original idea; I can never be estranged from my “self”, because I pass hordes of me and weave in and out of me and long to be me in another configuration. Levels of stamina. Stages of development, but one material, one direction and revolution.

 

“will that be all for ya?” Pushing my purchases towards myself.

“yeah.”—counting my change.

“and cigarettes for me” he says from behind my shoulder. So I buy cigarettes from myself in the name of friendship.

 

I skate to the graveyard, stopping at intervals, wating for him to catch up. We imagine, sitting between the markers of the shortest lives, that there is nothing under this trash-heap of monuments, that as a grand joke, a drunk April fool’s day two centuries ago two men said ha ha let’s use our money to fake a graveyard. Let’s make people foolish, weeping over ground that’s never been pitted and planted.

 

“Rich people must have such great April fool’s days”

“what sorts of holidays do you think they celebrate?”

“I would rule out Christmas, halloween…”

“Columbus day, Groundhog day, easter—“

“Saint Patrick’s”.

 

He proposes that rich people have special games that we don’t know about. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him that I can imagine anything in existence, anyone’s games, discarded formulas, fantasies, lunacy. He scoffs and tears up clumps of good green wheat grass and weeds, piling this tangle where the Babylove’s toes would be.

 

I spotted children, ragged and reeling on the roof of a Clubhouse. I heard their schemes from where I perched under the floorboards {rusty nails coming through}. They were practicing cheating at cardgames, using pennies as poker chips. The jack of spades went spinning over the edge and they let it lie.

 

“hey- how are you?”

“you’re cheating! Give me that!”—-my cousin answers in a new voice I know.

 

 

 

 

He wants to kiss me precisely because I’m not the type of person who kisses naturally. I am awkward, pre-occupied, child-like. If I were willing to enter into such experiments, it would most likely be discovered that my nature provides a small expanse of inventiveness- a slight diversion from normalcy- but cannot be satisfied by some emotional playground, under observation, with any permanence.

I imagine my pillow-talk with amusement. What would I say to a {this is hilarious}”lover”? The pillow is a curbstone. It’s dangerous to be naked in my bed. It’s dangerous to be in my doorway-bed at all.

 

Circling a rack of postcards. Castles, cafes, meals posed and flattered by golden light. The art of centuries, photographs of bodies bent and twisted, the faces of authors “so full” so rich with insight “so more than bodies” so irrelevant. Welcome, welcome to the exhibition of correspondance.

“Don’t you want to go places?” he asks. Like where?—I don’t know, he says, picking up a postcard at random—Venice? As charmed as I am by your gondoliers, your spanish bullfighters in their sequined slippers, your meadows and grinning british sheep, your IRELAND…

“I don’t see any difference between there and here” I tell him. He raises his eyebrows, shrugs his shoulders, obviously irritated. He steals a Rita Hayworth,

a San Francisco at night.

 

All across the city as it gets dark people appear on the rooftops, flashing signals. There is a woman pouring dishwater into the alley from her window, and a herd of white horses drags the remains of a caravan clattering through the streets.

 

I want to find the window, door or sewer grate—

Whatever hole I need to go through to enter the system that I know exists. I try to explain that it is different from changing your location {he’s still thinking of Venice, Spain, Brazil}—It would be FLUX I tell him. FLUX is an incomparable place.

I made the mistake of trying to explain it in terms of cancer (fear the conditioned analogy). Cancer is nature attempting to become something better—abusing her instruments, ignoring their mediocrity in an effort to illustrate the law of expansion, of constant, bizarre production. The body as fractal, producing tumors. The body as FLUX, irregularity, adventure. If I could just find that entrance.

I always follow the clues.

Unedited notes from a 2009 notebook part 2: on Poetic Vocation

Cyclical time, how you mock me. Time moves from past to present to future, but it also moves from future to present to past. I’ve gone westward to succulents and packed dust fire-trails and that must mean… that I am again 17 years old, in a saltmisted and sandswept sailor’s grave-yard, Provincetown, overlooking the dunes and the chopped lichen-green high surf with Conor Sullivan, the weekend of the Hurricane, and I say “don’t worry, we’ll sleep under an overturned boat”…

Part of morality is to not be at home in one’s home…

“Poetry is the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another” -Frost

“I should like to be so subtle at this game as to seem to the earnest person altogether obvious. The earnest person would assume I meant nothing, or else came near enough meaning something he was familiar with to mean it for all practical purposes. Well, well, well.” -Frost

Pound’s exhortations to the poet- objectivity, and again, objectivity. “Direct treatment of the thing”. Clarity and precision.

the “emotion of art is impersonal”, and “Permanent literature is always a presentation”   -Eliot.

Yeats and ideas of the audience-

“For Yeats, poetry couldn’t exist without an actual, defined audience to ground it. Just what that audience was vacillated in his mind between the peasantry and the aristocracy, from writing “as an Irish writer and with Ireland on my mind”, to writing for an elite international audience, “fit though few”, which is “greater than any nation, for it is made up of chosen persons from all”. At other times he declared that his ideal audience was, respectively, “the town of Sligo”, “Young men between twenty and thirty”, “a few friends for whom one always writes”, and “A man who does not exist,/a man who is but a dream.” -Michael Ryan

“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” -Hazlitt

The poet as an “unacknowledged legislator of the world”… (Shelley)

Civilization is a “botch”. Poetry can do something about it (?)

“A multitude of causes, unknown to former times, are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident  which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies…reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable melancholy , had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain great and permanent objects that act upon it, which are equally inherent and indestructible.” -Wordsworth

Memory and Imagination

Nature

Eliot working in a bank…into his old age…wrote “Waste Land” essentially during a 2 week vacation from his job. Pound trying to fund-raise a little pension so Eliot could quit the bank to write poetry.

the “best thoughts of mechanics and farmers” that “wait unspoken, impatient to be put into shape” (Whitman)…

to go out every day among the people. essentially a Whitmanian research and development methodology for poetics. No ordinary, everyday person, but a poet who, in Yeats’ words, is “never the bundle of accidence and incoherence that sits down to breakfast; he has been re-born as an idea, something intended, complete.”

 

Once, beautiful girls serenaded my blue jeans                                                                                                      in a bar, their faces gathered to splendid                                                                                                          bouquet above a puddle of well-vodka                                                                                                                    on the round linoleum table.                                                                                                                                  There were no stages                                                                                                                                             though there should have been. Instead,                                                                                                                   a dusty couch in the corner where cobwebs                                                                                                       held the pipes as gently as we held each other.                                                                                                     we kissed and intertwined our limbs                                                                                                                       and dozed, our brows together, til first light.

 

the idea of VOCATION.

from Whitman’s “deathbed edition”, 1888:

“I have had my say entirely my own way”…

Whitman’s certainty that America would become a nation of poets and prophets.

The PERSON who has to live the poet’s life, and what he suffers in the service of a grand creative undertaking. Whitman’s anonymous review of his own book, where he says the poems have “fallen stillborn on this country”, and “certainly wrecked the life of their author.”

Why is it considered an inexcusable crime to be Utopian? Particularly post-WWI?

Being a poet is like being a monk of a forgotten order- a druid in the 21st century- keeping knowledge and form alive because you yourself would suffer too much without them.

“Paradoxically, by virtue of the material worthlessness of his product, the poet has a unique chance to become a free agent with a free imagination. He doesn’t have to tack on happy endings or direct his message to urban dwellers between the ages of thirty-four and thirty-nine who make over a hundred thousand dollars per year. Knowing how important it is to have “worthless” art in a market-driven economy, some foundations, endowments, and universities do not want the poet starved into extinction, although the poets they choose to support are not likely to be the ones who challenge the ideological premises by which they themselves exist.” –  Michael Ryan

 

“how can I know what I think, until I see what I say?” -Forster

Eliot- try, as a poet, to look into “a good deal more than the heart…into the cerebral cortex, the nervous system and digestive tracts.”

 

to look very hard and very gently at things. observation is a serious activity. observe- towards keeping, for holding. Love desires intimate knowledge and shows itself in close observation. Self-definition as a “believer in total immersion” (Bishop).

Saint Ignatius’ Jesuit meditation formula: Memory, Understanding, Will.

Bishop- showing the break between the object and the mind that perceives the object by using qualifications in the poems, i.e: “It was more like the tipping/of an object toward the light”; “If you could call it a lip”- etc.

“Making something secret gives it value. Indeed, a secret creates in us a sense of interior life” -Sisela Bok

smell of citrus on the warm wind, blowing through a glass door as it swings…

you have to observe something closely before you can render it vividly. The strangeness of identity, of the accident of being human.

“We think in generalities, but live in detail” -Whitehead

a formal exercise is sterile unless it uncovers some rich, unavoidable secret.

“I write the way I do, not because it pleases me, but because no other way pleases me.”-Stevens

Smell of citrus on the warm wind                                                                                                                    blowing through a glass door as it swings                                                                                                              on Labor Day the jobless think that living is a job itself                                                                         awkwardly, opportunity                                                                                                                                          seems to elude all but the traveller                                                                                                                         who casts her lot with Luck

 

“I dream of an art so transparent you can look through it and see the world”-Kunitz

“One of my unshakable convictions has been that poetry is more than a craft, as important as the craft may be: It is a vocation, a passionate enterprise, rooted in human sympathies and aspirations.” -Kunitz

“If it were not for the poet’s dream of perfection, which is the emblem of his life-enhancing art, and which he longs to share with others, generations of men and women would gradually sink into passivity, accepting as their lot second-rate or third-rate destinies, or worse. If one is to be taught submission, in the name of progress or national security, it is redemptive to recall the pride of one (Keats), who averred that his only humility was toward “the eternal being, the principle of beauty, and the memory of great men”.” -Kunitz

The poet is “an embodiment of resistance”-

“resistance against universal apathy, mediocrity, conformity, against institutional pressure to make everything look and become alike- this is why he is so involved with contraries” -Kunitz

“The poet, in the experience of his art, is a WHOLE PERSON, or he is nothing… he is uniquely equipped to defend the worth and power and responsibility of individuals in a world of institutions.” -Kunitz

“The poet speaks to others not only through what he says, but through what he is, his symbolic presence, as though he carried a set of flags reading have a heart, let nothing get by, live at the center of your being. His life instructs us that it is not necessary, or even desirable, for everyone to join the crowds streaming onto the professional or business highway, pursuing the Bitch Goddess.” -Kunitz

POETRY IS A VOCATION INHERENTLY SUBVERSIVE TO CORPORATE IDEOLOGY

“Poets are subversive, but they are not really revolutionaries, for revolutionaries are concerned with changing others, while poets want first of all to change themselves. “-Kunitz

A LIFE OF INTERNAL EXILE IN A SOCIETY BUILT FOR PROFIT AND CONSUMPTION

“We have to fight for our little bit of health. We have to make our living and dying important again. And the living and dying of others. Isn’t that what poetry is about?”-Kunitz

The way you use language is inherently political- even apart from what you are saying. deliberate use of language AS gift. sincere use of language. A way of using language that is meant to share, and not to manipulate. These all challenge the dominant order, and a wide-spread and quite cynical understanding of, quite simply, what language is FOR.

the poets first obligation is survival. No bolder challenge confronts the modern artist than to stay healthy in a sick world.

“To squeeze the slave’s blood out of my veins” -Chekov

Yeats: “gaiety transfiguring all that Dread”

Dickinson: “My business is circumference”

 

Stephen Mitchell’s translation of The Tao Te Ching and the poems of Yeats. When pressed to re-locate only what I needed, these are the books I carried. the Tao Te Ching because its proven and re-proven truths need constant re-enforcement. There have been times I read it cover-to-cover every morning, and times when I traced and retraced parts of  it on my forearms for easy reference. I have found it too easy when afraid or full of lust to let these truths fall by the way. 

Yeats because my courage comes from him- his book a well of defiance and fearless craft. I must have it near to lower the bucket into when I’m parched. Whenever I think, briefly, that it’s useless to keep striving for intangible ends, he reminds me, as no-one else can, of vocation. That the poet is somebody, that what I do is necessary. Firefighters and Doctors save lives- so do poets. How many times has a writer long dead sent a sentence- a heroic combination of WORDS- into the burning house of my being, and rescued me, from one kind of death or another? How many times has a poem sewed up my gaping wounds and soothed insistent pain?

 

 

Codromaght/unedited notes on Irishness from a 2009 notebook

What I wanted from Ann in her kitchen in Dorchester the day before yesterday was a blessing, and miraculously, it was procured. For the first time I can remember she seemed to think I had turned out alright: I turned out to be someone you could talk to, someone who could understand, who it hadn’t all been lost on, who didn’t need to be condescended to and who didn’t require a translation of the basics. What’s more I think she saw how much like her I’ve turned out to be (for she raised me, I’m hers); she who has been learning all her life, an ocean between her and the land of her birth, working, and when necessary working through pain. I think she knows that I am, in my way, a person of enormous faith.                                                                                                                                          Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death…

-My Irish Soul-

“Look, I know it’s stupid, but I’m funny like that. I like my space. Crazy, I know, but what can you do? I think it’s because everyone at home asks so many bloody questions. Where were you? Until when? Who were you with? And the great bloody existential conundrum of course; Just who do you think you are? ” – Joseph O’Connor

Codromaght- equality

(ontological parity…)

“The Irish have a shrewd knowledge of the world and a strange reluctance to cope with it”- Sean O’Faolain

Thomas Addis Emmet + the United Irish Uprising of 1798 (My Scots-Irish Ancestors?…)

“The Irish were distinguished by qualities which tend to make men interesting rather than prosperous” – Moynihan

“I don’t think there’s any point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually” – Moynihan at JFK’s funeral

Mo cuisle- my blue-eyed darling- my lost lover- my blood… (Brendan, Liam, Brian…)

Derry- Point of departure for all my Irish Ancestors, Catholic (Dad’s side) and Protestant (Mom’s side). The Irish word for “Oak Grove”. Land of Cuchulain. The place where Columcille once prayed. Bloody Sunday. The burning Bogside. Wild Donegal to the West, Scotland to the East. Southeast to Belfast, Dublin, Wales and England…

Uisce fe talamh- Water under the ground. A consciousness of Race and place formed by history and circumstance whereby one grows up knowing things without realizing from where.

“Life is not lived until it is understood as a tragedy” -W.B Yeats

in Irish karma, too much success is only a prelude to catastrophe-

“Death makes life meaningless unless life achieves a form that Death can’t alter” -Seamus Deane

 

 

The Border Campaign

by Seamus Heaney

Soot-streaks down the courthouse wall, a hole                                                                         smashed in the roof, the rafters in the rain                                                                                        still smouldering:                                                                                                                                         When I heard the word “attack”                                                                                                                   in St. Columb’s College in nineteen fifty-six                                                                                              it left me winded, left nothing between me                                                                                           and the sky that moved beyond my boarder’s dormer                                                                      the way it would have moved the morning after                                                                                    savagery in Heriot, its reflection placid                                                                                                        in those waterlogged huge paw marks Grendel left                                                                               on the boreen to the marsh.

All that was written                                                                                                     and to come I was part of then,                                                                                                                      at one with clan chiefs galloping down paths                                                                                              to gaze at the talon Beowulf had nailed                                                                                                  high on the gable, the sky still moving grandly.                                                                                  Every nail and claw-spike, every spur                                                                                                        and hackle and hand-barb on that heathen brute                                                                                was like a steel prong in the morning dew.

don’t tread on us.

I should start by saying I am indebted to a couple of things I read recently for the brain-storms behind this post: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century, and the Wall Street Journal of Monday, November 14, 2016.

So… “Make America great again”. Let’s dig into that for a minute. What does it mean? Sure, to many it means a return to a world in which straight, white, cis-gendered, gentile men ruled over us all and didn’t have to worry about anyone successfully elbowing in on their hoarded stores of power, money, respect, freedom, and basic physical security. Maybe some of those people would like to re-live the thrill of the rest of us stepping off the sidewalk, curtsying, and hiding in the shadows in shame. But there is more to that time, that time that is so great in the collective memory of these former masters of the universe. In fact, there were some things in that time- the middle of the 20th century- that did hold a promise of greatness, if yet to be fully realized in equitable distribution, particularly to non-white people. Specifically, as Thomas Piketty shows, it was the only time in history that wealth has been re-distributed from the top percentiles of earned income and more importantly from the greatest inherited fortunes, to a middle 40%- the much touted great American Middle Class, which has been in decline since roughly 1980. During that great time in the mid 20th century, Private Capital, through unprecedented high post-war tax rates on the top decile that has always held a great majority of the wealth of all nations, became Public Capital in the form of subsidies and support- the G.I Bill and all of it’s provisions being an important example- in Social Security, Medicare, a well-funded public education system that was affordable to all, through the University level, a well-funded and powerfully unionized Public Sector from Teachers to The Postal Service, to Public Utilities, and on and on. The Quality of life and broad prosperity of that era were due almost entirely to the transference, through taxes, of Private Capital into Public Capital. During this same era, and again, in large part due to government aid as part of the G.I Bill, a significant number of American families were able to build equity through home-ownership.

The middle class in America lost a huge part of the equity that differentiated it from the bottom 50% (those with no equity, no capital, nothing they can pass on to their heirs) in the subprime mortgage/foreclosure crisis of 2008. A massive amount of housing stock at that time became bank-owned and was then auctioned off to already-wealthy venture capitalists, leading to a boom in the rental-market for these re-couped single-family homes. Many Americans now are not even given the option of owning a home, even a fixer-upper in an undesirable neighborhood. They must rent, and the main difference between renting and home ownership is that through home ownership one can build equity and potentially have something of value to pass on to one’s heirs, improving the lot of the next generations, if not ones own. In the rental scenario, one is forced to pay and pay to a (increasingly likely to be corporate) landlord just to stay housed, while building no equity, and probably not saving anything for future generations.

The loss of equity in home ownership left the middle 40% (and even the bottom 50%) with one precious resource. Increasingly the only thing we, the bottom 90%, own. Though we own it collectively, and not individually, we do own it. We paid for it, and continue to pay for it, together. That is our “Public Capital”- Social Security is our collective savings account for retirement. Medicare is our collective safety net for our medical needs in our old age. Our Public Education system is a collective investment in the care and education of our children. When we look at our paystubs and see certain dollar amounts accruing to these programs, we have a level of confidence in that investment. We are okay with handing over that money, because we feel confident that we are going to see that money again, that it will be properly safeguarded, will accrue a little interest, and will do us a world of good someday when we really need it. Enter the Republican Congress intent on “privatizing” Medicare, Social Security, The U.S Postal Service, our Public Education system, etcetera etcetera. The argument, as far as I can gather, is that the private sector will far more efficiently manage our money. If we turn the huge well of taxpayer money in Medicare and Social Security over to portfolio managers on Wall Street, they will most certainly maximize returns in morally defensible ways, and we will all benefit. Never mind the bailout they so recently required for their recklessness. Never mind the 401Ks so recently reduced to crumbs by their shitty greed and life-lived-in-blinders-made-of-money. Supposedly the Postal Service will benefit from privatization. Really though, The idea seems to be a brilliant way to (As with the privatization of public schools and elimination of the Teacher’s Union) phase out one of the last good forms of public-sector employment, one that offers job-security, good pay and benefits, and enable the replacement of employees one is obliged to take care of with temporary workers to whom one has no such obligations. I’m sure it is an added enticement that privatization of the Postal Service can happen simultaneously with the selling off of Post Offices themselves, since they are public property- one piece of the physical infrastructure that is part of our “Public Capital”- the things that all the people, including you and I, own. Our Prison system has already been largely privatized, which has led only to an impetus to grow the prison population through racist policing practices, to keep that federal money flowing into the pockets of investors and the private prison industry. Our State-funded mental hospitals were privatized by Ronald Reagan, and the result is that we have a huge and ever-growing population of homeless individuals with untreated severe mental illnesses on America’s streets. Our Public Universities have been largely privatized, and the result is annual tuition hikes that make higher education a giant debt-trap for anyone whose parents can’t fully foot the bill, if they’re even able to get there at all.

All of this push to privatization means a fire-sale of public capital- all we, the people, have left of the middle-class equity built in the mid-20th century, to the highest private sector bidders. In other words, to the people who already own everything else. We will continue to need these services (or at least to want them. I guess we’ll find out how much we need them when we no longer have access to them), but from the moment they’re privatized there will always be a middle man taking as large a cut as he can get away with. There will always be some asshole on Wall Street playing with a chunk of your paycheck and my paycheck, and maybe giving some of it back to us down the line. Or maybe not. It depends on how he’s feeling.

The collective contributions of the good, dutiful, obedient American taxpayer add up to a huge pot of money. After all, there’s a lot of us. It is infuriating to those who want to play with this money (and are used to getting what they want) that we’ve managed to keep their hands off it for so long.  If they do get their hands on it, what will they do with it? An article in the Wall Street Journal on The Alaska Permanent Fund, which manages Alaskan Oil Revenue, gives us a clue. As global oil prices have plummeted, Alaska’s oil revenue has declined 80% over the past 2 years, but the fund made a lucky bet four years ago when it put major funding behind a company (now publicly traded), called American Homes 4 Rent. This company is one of those (mentioned above) that swooped in after the 2008 crash and scooped up huge numbers of foreclosed homes at bank auction. It is now permanently operating as a corporate landlord for single-family homes that, if on the market for purchase, would have been an opportunity for working americans to build equity through home-ownership. The headline for the article is “Alaska’s bet on Housing Bust Pays Off”. My point is, an increase in risky mortgage swap-type financial instruments are the almost inevitable outcome of a de-regulated financial industry (virtually guaranteed under a Trump presidency), and we should have learned our lesson from 2008: investments of this kind, as profitable as they may be in the short term, are risks that cannot be taken with people’s retirement and healthcare savings. Particularly since risky financial instruments are certain to be damaging working Americans in myriad other ways, as the foreclosure crisis shows. Privatization of our public capital and de-regulation of the financial sector, taken together, can only lead to utter ruin for millions of people.

Which leads me to my conclusion. I am fucking pissed. I am fed up to here. I thought I had reached a zenith of fury during the Bush/Cheney war profiteering years, when it was completely clear to me, and I believe, to most Americans, that these guys had illegally invaded and destroyed a country halfway around the world so that they could pillage that country’s oil reserves (Geneva Conventions be damned) and award massive government contracts (read: TAXPAYER’S MONEY- OUR MONEY) to their buddies, or in the case of Halliburton, to themselves, to “rebuild”(not very well) the country they had illegally destroyed. The Iraqi people and all the U.S Military and civilian personnel, including relatives and friends of mine, who were and continue to be traumatized, injured or killed in Iraq, are collateral damage in a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of American people to the top 10%- mostly to the top 1%. I remember thinking at the time “god-damn them, they really will not rest until they get it all”, because the scheme was so transparent. I had already considered going off-grid to avoid paying federal taxes at that point, due to my deep discomfort with war profiteering and my natural resistance as a being with a modicum of self-respect and some healthy moral fibre to the idea that a chunk of my hard-earned and meager paycheck was going into the pockets of the slimy greedy pigfuckers at the top by way of foreign plunder, rape, and murder. I just couldn’t figure out, logistically, how to do it. But if they pull off this privatization crap, I have to figure out how to do it. WE have to figure out how to choke off their money at the source. As long as we all sit down every April and obediently send our few coins down the chute into the pool of grease and blood and deep dark shadows, they will not give a flying fuck that we’re protesting every night. They will wipe their satanic buttholes with all of our petitions demanding equal rights and respect and dignity and an end to wars for plunder and “regime change”. The only way forward is to just stop giving them our money, because if they privatize what is left of our public capital, the collection of federal income taxes will be reduced to mere naked, bald-faced robbery of the poor by the rich. Will we stand for that?

I think it is interesting to ponder the realities of other countries, where rulers and governments are known to be entirely corrupt, leaders known to be eager thieves with fat offshore accounts and golden mansions far from the common thoroughfares: In those places, a majority of economic activity takes place on black markets, thereby entirely surpassing the corrupt government intermediary, and choking off the flow of tax dollars that would be pocketed by the oligarchs in power, never to be seen again. There may be systems of barter and trade in place, and all sorts of under-the-table informal economic arrangements. We here in the U.S would do well to study the informal economies people around the world have designed to bypass the groping hands of a greedy and corrupt central government and its tax authority. We would also do well to remember that the initial inspired rebellion that led to this country’s independence was a refusal to bow under the yoke of unjust taxation.

Elect Yourself

Another U.S Presidential election is upon us, and more than ever before, technology enables the electorate to see (if it chooses to), even to understand in some measure (if it so desires), the nature of power and disempowerment , political and otherwise, in this time and this place. We are experiencing the humiliation of seeing, if not all of the picture at least more of it than we’ve seen probably ever before, and feeling that there is nothing any of us (the vast majority of the population) can do to alter the picture of Power and its abuses one iota. This is because the outcomes of our electoral politics seem pre-determined. As Thomas Frank points out in the Guardian after reading through the leaked Podesta e-mails, there is an entrenched wealthy elite which controls the economy, the political process, the disbursement of federal tax revenue (often for its own enrichment), the wise and unwise military/geopolitical ventures funded by our tax dollars for the further enrichment and advancement of this entrenched elite that very very rarely experiences or has experienced first-hand the trauma of warfare. As Frank further exposes in Harpers, our media, our “serious journalists”, are mostly complicit in supporting the ideologies and agendas of this elite, and often work to manipulate public opinion in favor of it’s pre-ordained attitudes and courses of action. Frank supposes that these journalists are playing the game out of some sort of aspirational loyalty to it’s relative enlightenment and out of a silly hopeful illusion that because there are also some Ivy League degrees in the rapidly shrinking ivory tower of highbrow journalism, playing nice might net an invitation to the white house, to the Met Gala, to the hollywood afterparty, or ultimately onto the Ark when the next deluge comes (could be any day now).

And that’s just the Democrats. The truth is, starting with this election cycle or the next one, the U.S will become a one-party system, ruled by the elite class described above. The G.O.P, the “other party”, in a two-party system (which seems to be the most we could hope for here), which ostensibly should have been a voice for the masses outside of Wall Street, the beltway, Greenwich and the Vineyard, has collapsed. In an obviously and increasingly pay-to-play political system, Republican legislators are largely (if not entirely) in the pocket of the industry lobbyists who finance their campaigns and sometimes cushion their paychecks. These interests are by-and-large their only constituents in any significant sense. And interestingly enough these same special interests also finance and control quite a few legislators on the other side of the aisle. Our Congress, as a collection of free individuals who represent the views and interests of human constituents in their places of origin across the country is an illusion. Both parties have foundered on these rocks. The Republicans however, are the ones who are going to fade into utter political irrelevancy, leaving the Dems as the sole surviving Political Party in our One-Party Plutocracy. This is because the G.O.P has also run aground on the twin shoals of racism and unfavorable demographics. As the base of the party becomes ever more vocally racist, xenophobic, essentially manifesting itself as a White Nationalist party, white christians for the first time slip into minority status in the electorate, and will never again be in the majority, since most of the demographic growth in the U.S is among non-white ethnic groups. Soon there won’t even be enough votes to put those spineless G.O.P lackeys in the congressional seats they shit on all day every day when they’re not on paid vacation (which, incidentally, is a lot of the time. And you know who is doing the paying). So that leaves us with one-party rule. Like China. And Egypt. And Zimbabwe. A corrupt, self-serving, incestuous, disgustingly (and increasingly) wealthy, self satisfied, astonishingly ignorant despite their gold-plated academic honors, and in truth, exceeding cruel and morally bankrupt elite will rule this country. They will level more and greater taxes on us while lowering their own tax rates and refusing to tax their own inheritances and capital gains at any meaningful rate. They will slash funding for our education and healthcare while themselves enjoying the highest quality education and healthcare in the world. They will design legal structures and rhetoric to go along with them, and use a militarized police state and mass surveillance to incarcerate us in greater and greater numbers and use us while imprisoned as a slave labor force for their own gain. Worse yet, they will use money taken from the half of use who remain free as tax revenue to imprison the other half, and somehow the check will still be cut to them.

What’s that you say? This isn’t the future? This is happening now?

This is happening now. Right now. At this moment an unknown number of our incarcerated brothers and sisters are participating in a historic strike against Prison Slavery which the elite media is not reporting on. At this moment First Nations and others are standing with the Dakota Sioux in Standing Rock North Dakota against an oil pipeline that a corporation in cooperation with the state and federal government is driving through Sovereign Sioux lands at great risk to that land, to the water that runs through it, and to the sanctity of Tribal Sacred Sites. The Sioux and their allies are standing to protect the earth and water and air for future generations and are being beaten and gassed, attacked and arrested for TRESPASSING on their own ancestral lands. They are under attack from U.S military personnel and from private security forces/mercenaries. Yes, it is happening now. Right now. Not in spite of the election, or because of it, but because this is where we are, people, election or no election. The fact is, this is where we’ve been for 50 years or more. Remember Kent State and Jackson State? Remember the AIM led and brutally put down occupations of Alcatraz and of Wounded Knee? Remember the Black Panthers? Once again the illusions of Democracy are fraying, disintegrating and revealing an ugly picture of Oligarchy, a militarized, racist, classist police state that is willing to kill to quash internal dissent, mass surveillance, war profiteering, and earth-raping. An absolutely nihilist world view, against humans, indeed against all sentient and non-sentient life, which underpins a seemingly unassailable fortress of greed.

This is an intimidating picture, and yet, we must not be intimidated.

This is a discouraging picture, and yet, we can not afford to be discouraged.

We must commit to defend ourselves and each other. As the Panthers said 50 years ago- by any means necessary. As Ice-T said a couple decades later- what the Black man needs is 3 things: Justice, Freedom, and Love. That’s what we all need, and if we can’t get these things by voting, we must, and will- as our parents and grandparents and ancestors did, as our brothers and sisters in the struggle all over this sacred suffering planet are doing-

we MUST seek other ways.