The rebel

Read. Even when the world around us is falling apart. Maybe we will find a way to stop the sky from falling, a hope that our hearts can be unbroken, words of love in an unkind world.

My son read to me today Dr. Seuss’s In a People House, a book I read to him as a baby. A mouse invites a bird to see all the things inside the house, from chairs to dishes. In the end, Mr. Bird and Mouse get kicked out of the House. The People decide what belongs inside. Mice and birds generally do not, unless they are pets.

I can’t wait for my son to read Ray Bradbury. I pray someday this part of Fahrenheit 451 also comes true:

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.”

We are reading, but what are we reading? What is taking up room in our hearts and minds? What are we remembering? What are we teaching our children to remember? Can they recite poetry and verses by heart? Will they know peace?

There was war before, throughout civilization. But the capacity for destruction is far greater now. And our detachment from this reality is profoundly disturbing.

So what of art? What of writers and their work? What do we do when the world has gone to pieces? Are we advocates, witnesses, messengers, observers? Do we call attention to the horrors? Perhaps.

Yet, Art need not be horrifying. It can provoke and challenge us to remember. But, it needs to elevate us out of darkness. Beauty can be a catalyst for change and a voice of comfort and reason amid disorienting currents of violence and hatred.

Albert Camus wrote in The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt:

“Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.”

We may not see peace in our lifetimes. But I still hope my children will know it. Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

London bookshop after German bombing, 1940

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Cadence of peace


‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

Denise Levertov, excerpt from “Making Peace” from Breathing the Water, 1987

Cadence, oil and copper on panel

Out loud

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

Wisława Szymborska

The Three Oddest Words

Words alter meaning as soon as I speak them out loud. They rarely match the thoughts inside me. With all the gifts of language, the beauty of songs, gilded or plain poetry, words cannot tell the story of us. Not enough. The telling takes time. Trust.

The mouth needs an ear. Open, yielding.

Words need time to sink in, to wander through the mind, find connections, paths to what is known, and settle in the heart. Believe me when I say …

But words often are spoken carelessly, hastily, before thought to unintended harm. Words cut, make us bleed. And then we dip into a sea of apologies that seem to be less credible the more we speak them. I am sorry. And even in that sincerity, it might have been unnecessary had I chosen a different word, a simpler one.

Or, had I chosen simply not to open my mouth.

The ear is superior.

Caravaggio

Judith Beheading Holofernes (detail), c.1599

Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

Letter to my father

Dragi Tata,

You are my rock.

You sacrificed everything to provide for your family. You crossed a border into an unknown land and layed down roots. You went to night school to learn English. You saved pennies so that I could buy the books and paints I so loved.

You cared for my mother, although she was a hurricane in our lives, brought down our house. You loved her as well as you could and stuck by her through every treatment, all the forgetting and spending and hospital stays. And you protected me as well as you knew.

You rode the tides and steered through it all, alone at the helm.

Although you were an engineer and worked with your mind, you also worked the earth and planted trees because you knew they could be useful, and it never hurt to labor with your hands, because a meal always tastes better when you sweat for it.

You taught be how to change a tire and the oil on the ’79 Monte Carlo. Now, nearly 79, beating cancer, you are teaching your grandson math and how to draw a house.

Whatever your faults and fears being an alien in this New World, you helped me to fear less, work hard, and love more. To be practical, but also to be human and to speak my mind. And never give up. I am forever grateful.

I love you always.
Happy Father’s Day

My father had permission to cross the border December 18, 1968, but he was hated still, as were so many who came with him and before him, so many without choice. Even legal immigrants and U.S. citizens were denied food and jobs. Thousands were trapped in internment camps, labor camps, forced to lay rails or harvest crops, working in dangerous conditions.

I am appalled by what is happening today to immigrant families torn apart at the southern border. They only seek a better life, refuge, asylum…what our parents and grandparents, our greats wanted.

Have we forgotten the cruelties of the past? Our grandfathers all came from distant lands. Are we consenting in our silence? And doomed to repeat the same violence against fellow humans again and again? Every father deserves a chance to be with his child today. Every father dreams of a better future for his children.
#aclu #fathersday #immigrationreform

Street out of sight

Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state,
I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.
This hour, for example, would be like all the others
were it not for the rain falling through the roof.
I’d better not be too explicit. My night is careless
with itself, troublesome as a woman wearing no bra
in winter. I believe everything is a metaphor for sex.
Lovemaking mimics the act of departure, moonlight
drips from the leaves. You can spend your whole life
doing no more than preparing for life and thinking.
“Is this all there is?” Thus, I am here where poets come
to drink a dark strong poison with tiny shards of ice,
something to loosen my primate tongue and its syllables
of debris. I know all words come from preexisting words
and divide until our pronouncements develop selves.
The small dog barking at the darkness has something to say
about the way we live. I’d rather have what my daddy calls “skrimp.” He says “discrete” and means the street
just out of sight. Not what you see, but what you perceive:
that’s poetry. Not the noise, but its rhythm; an arrangement
of derangements; I’ll eat you to live: that’s poetry.
I wish I glowed like a brown-skinned pregnant woman.
I wish I could weep the way my teacher did as he read us
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy of yes. When I kiss my wife,
sometimes I taste her caution. But let’s not talk about that.
Maybe Art’s only purpose is to preserve the Self.
Sometimes I play a game in which my primitive craft fires
upon an alien ship whose intention is the destruction
of the earth. Other times I fall in love with a word
like somberness. Or moonlight juicing naked branches.
All species have a notion of emptiness, and yet
the flowers don’t quit opening. I am carrying the whimper
you can hear when the mouth is collapsed, the wisdom
of monkeys. Ask a glass of water why it pities
the rain. Ask the lunatic yard dog why it tolerates the leash.
Brothers and sisters, when you spend your nights
out on a limb, there’s a chance you’ll fall in your sleep.

Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Terrance Hayes

Nothing I write could make more sense of that which is beautifully imprecise. I navigate to the center and begin with a stark page, a pale canvas, an open lens. I am here. With hands and eyes I begin again, and again. Good night. Good morning.

Colors of shadows

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

from Late Echo, by John Ashbery
from As We Know

My boy tries to detach his feet from his shadow sometimes. He runs fast. Jumps high, suspending himself in mid-air. Briefly, in space time, he succeeds with a ninja leap. And his shadow is left lonely and wanting a form to anchor it in the concrete. It seems silly and pointless in a translucent gray pool shaped like a boy – needing the boy to make it matter.

He needs his shadow as much as he needs light to see. Shadows give dimension in a drawing or painting. They place an object in space in relation to light and forms around it. In a photograph, shadows say something more about the poetry of light and seeing.

Without shadows we live in a Flatland without emotion or depth. Whatever we’ve achieved or left until tomorrow, at the end, in the late echoes of our days, our shadows remind us we are in light. We are alive and real in space and time.

Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting
for a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for someone
to really discover America
and wail
and I am waiting
for the discovery
of a new symbolic western frontier
and I am waiting
for the American Eagle
to really spread its wings
and straighten up and fly right
and I am waiting
for the Age of Anxiety
to drop dead
and I am waiting
for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe
for anarchy
and I am waiting
for the final withering away
of all governments
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder

I am waiting
to get some intimations
of immortality
by recollecting my early childhood
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again
youth’s dumb green fields come back again
and I am waiting
for some strains of unpremeditated art
to shake my typewriter
and I am waiting to write
the great indelible poem
and I am waiting
for the last long careless rapture
and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder

from “I Am Waiting,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from A Coney Island of the Mind