Thursday, August 21, 2008

Midwife Crisis, 1b

1. Opening the Door and Peeking In
continuing from August 18, 2008...

After a year of living at ocean's edge, I found myself in a state of enlightenment. Yup. So I decided I could handle anything, and I went off to travel around the world for a year, which turned out to be eight months. I spent the majority of that time in India, where I thought that as soon as I crossed the border, people would run up to me and read my soul and tell me my future. That trip was so intense and mind blowing, it was like tripping on acid 24/7 for 8 months. I got back to the US and couldn't stop laughing for six weeks. Literally. The US was so easy, so beautiful, so clean, so healthy, so politically and economically put together. I think about that every day. It helps me keep my perspective.

I remember stopping in a sprawling village of disintegrating mud brick hovels built into the waste hills and cliffs of the Khyber Pass. It was illegal, and very dangerous even then, to stop in the Pass, but we did anyway. I was hungry and looking for some bread, but the only things for sale in that whole village were opium and bullets. You think we're going to fix Afghanistan and Waziristan? Forget it. I've even abandoned my belief that we should be there.

I remember an old woman on the road in Afghanistan, all dressed in black rags. Her mouth was a withered and toothless hole. I have never seen anyone look so ancient, haggard, mythic. There was a baby tied to her back, wailing and howling. The two were a unit, some kind of spirit, not human or even animal. She was picking dried weeds out of the parched mud crags and stuffing them in her mouth.

I remember a man in Southeast India, plowing a field. I was riding a slow train north to the holy city of Puri (which, it turned out, was packed with starving beggars), coming from Pondicherry, the leper capital of the world, best as I could tell. Pondicherry! Its colonialist-built streets were full of amazingly ancient-looking, 18th century French architecture. Thousands of lepers roamed those masterfully designed streets, with open sores that oozed pus, missing fingers, stumps for hands and feet, disfigured faces without noses and ears. Or they were lying among the intricately carved stone facades, begging or not even trying to beg. I was on a slow train out of there (and I'm still on that train). It was then that I saw a man plowing a field with a single ox and a heavy wooden stick for a plow. The field was flooded. The slurry of mud was gray against a steely sky. The man and the ox were slogging up to their waists in the mud, plowing sludge, slipping, falling, re-emerging from the earth like some chthonic clay beasts emerging from a haunted corner of Middle Earth in Tolkien's imagination.

I couldn't stop laughing when I got back to the US. Oh, how I found I loved this country, yes, the one I once thought was so horrible and depraved! It is horrible and depraved, but only when you have nothing to compare it to.

And not so long after, I met a woman and married her. To quote my buddy Rimbaud, "Long ago, if memory serves, life was a banquet where all hearts were generous, and all wines flowed. One evening I sat beauty down on my knees. I found her bitter and it stabbed me deeply. I lost faith in justice and ran away."

That too was in the late 70's. And I'm still running.

So now the teenagers that surround me see me as an old man. But I don't feel old. And I am at that age where I should have settled my differences and found a straight path. "Oh witches, plowmen, opium dealers, I confer my treasures to you!"

Rimbaud could have said that last line, too. But he didn't live long enough.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Midwife Crisis, 1a

Greg Barker, my fellow seeker thru mountain, forest, and cesspool, came up with a great idea for a book: The Midlife Crisis Manual: What Chicken Soup for the Soul Never Told You. I just call it the midwife crisis manual. Prose! It’s sure a different adventure from poetry. I’ll be posting some excerpts, for your enjoyment and critique.

1. Opening the Door and Peeking In

Allow me a little retrospective, to open this conversation.

I was born in medieval times, and came of age during the Renaissance. That is to say, I was born in 1950. That means I went to university in 1968, when free love, psychedelics, the Vietnam War, and radical counter-cultural behaviors were the yokes we bore, whether we thought them yokes or not. Great times!

Alas, I was heavily yoked, pulling a plow through a concrete earth with a few equally burdened roommates. Yet we lived in a world in which we imagined most everyone else to be carefree.

The War was obviously a yoke, no matter where and which way you plowed. I chose to resist the draft, amidst a veritable blizzard of news excerpts, troubled dreams, and nightmares. I experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome without ever going into combat! When I saw Apocalypse Now for the first time in the late 70's I was blown out of my seat. It was like Coppola had sent a camera crew inside my head and filmed my dreams. I’ve seen it 20 or 30 times since, and it’s still my all-time favorite flick.

But no way do I regret my decision to resist the war. I wanted to blow off my big toe – that would have given me a legitimate and permanent deferment. Not to mention a lifelong limp. But I didn’t own a shotgun, and anyway, I wasn’t that crazy. I chose, instead, to get under-weight. I went on a wicked four month diet, and ended it by eating nothing more than a quarter pound of cottage cheese a day for 17 days, right up to my physical. I became best friends with hunger. I hated him and slugged it out with him and loved him. We’re still on confidential terms. When I got off the scales at the induction center, the grunt that weighed me sneered, “You can start eating again, fucker.

I could write a novel about those 17 days! But I don’t write novels. Anyway, about six months later, living like a hermit in a cottage by the ocean, I realized I could finally stop hating my body, and allow myself to enjoy food again. I was wearing yokes I didn’t even know about. Welcome to reality.

As for taking drugs and believing in politics that required no reality-checks, someplace else I might talk about those matters. They were a worthy yoke. I learned to live with the political flagellations my friends (and ex-friends) administered. Shoot, I learned to flagellate myself more than they did, trying to figure things out. Now, that’s something to remember: learn more! As my mentor shouted at me nearly every day, “He not busy being born is busy dying.

to be continued...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Contra Eliot and Pound

In responding to my poem, Europa, Europa, posted on 7/24/08, Chris Godfree Morrell writes:
I have a feeling this is a bit like prodding a hornet's nest, but what exactly do you think that Eliot and Pound 'did'?

Thanks for asking, Chris! I’ll try not to let the teapot boil over. (smile)

My objections to these two fellows emerged over time, and came about through a careful reading of their voices. I encapsulate that understanding in my poem, with the lines:
Their little bigots, they call them prophets,
Whose manifesto reads, "You are the hollow men."

I express three important concepts in those two lines. The first is that Pound and Eliot are often described as the greatest writers of the 20th century. Indeed, many critics have called them prophets. Obviously, I reject that, for two reasons. The first is that both men were vicious and outspoken bigots. This is not so obvious in their writings, so let me defer that discussion for a moment. Rather, let me begin with the voice, the perspective of the writer who wrote Prufrock, The Wasteland, Hollow Men.

The literalist reader might claim that Eliot writes in such a way as to include himself among the empty and inept human beings he has chosen to describe. Eliot, in point of fact, does not write, “YOU are the hollow men.” He writes, “WE are the hollow men.” But these scathing poems have nothing of the hesitance, insecurity, self-doubt, and timidity of the characters they describe. In them, Eliot writes with unrestrained contempt and disdain. He accuses and points his finger at the people around him, little people in his eyes. He says “we,” but he means “you.” YOU are hollow; YOU are Prufrock; YOU live in a wasteland and YOU are not worthy of anything better. Eliot writes with the voice of a feudal master, overseeing his ignorant peasants and his simpering, sniveling servants.

These poems express an arrogance and contempt for humanity that offend me to the core of my being. Does the author suggest any new and better path for his characters? Does he offer a means for redemption? Does he at least show some empathy for the weakness and limits of these little people that are so far beneath him? Not a word.

Given this master-slave mentality in the poems, it is not so hard to read between the lines and see what Eliot’s letters and private correspondence confirm: he is a racialist bigot. Eliot privately, and Pound openly were nazi sympathizers and fascist supporters. And both were vicious anti-Semites.

Yet, somehow, the reading public has allowed itself to ignore these facts. It is as if in some alternate reality, Hitler and Goebbels were talented painters, skilled at representing the imagined deformity of those they hated, as well as being leaders of the nazi party. And in this alternate reality, the anti-nazi public, nonetheless, raved about how wonderful Hitler’s and Goebbels’ paintings were. Impossible? Outrageous? Yet we see it with Eliot and Pound: racialist bigots who paint deformed human beings, and who, nonetheless, are accorded the highest honors in society.

So, Chris, you ask, “what have these men done?” They have slandered humanity. They have cursed their societies. And worst of all, they have misled a reading public into assuming the contempt-filled vision expressed by these two authors. The public, too, reads “YOU are the hollow men,” and sneers at the incompetent and unredeemable Prufrocks around them. Sneers, and doesn’t think to lift a hand to help.

Therefore, I say Eliot's and Pound's writing offends me. However, I am even more offended by their moral corruption as human beings. And being thus doubly offended, should I not speak out against them?

And finally, this postscript. You bigots! Don’t imagine you can hide your bigotry beneath the surface of your writing, or somehow cleanse your writing from the stain and stench of hatred and intolerance. Emotions create the foundation and shape of our thoughts. Emotions determine what we look at and how we value things. A bigot’s writing will be deformed by that bigotry. And just as their writing will be deformed and made ugly by hatred, so everything about them will be deformed and made ugly. The struggle against intolerance and hatred is a perpetual battle waged by every single person. Those who make headway in this battle become more beautiful and heroic; those who succumb become more ugly and more vile.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Europa, Europa: further discussion #2

The following is from a review of the book Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture, by Alan Sokal, written by Simon Blackburn for the “New Republic.” You can find the whole review at [].

While most of this article is not terribly pertinent to my poem Europa, Europa, the following excerpt, speaking of the limits, if not the end of relativism, is a clear statement of what is the beginning place for my poem. If you don’t understand and agree with the following, you will surely have trouble with the poem.

...but consider in this connection also "political liberalism," the heading under which John Rawls could imagine the peoples of the world willingly leaving their ideological and cultural differences at the door and coming into the political arena carrying only that which they hold in common. What they had in common turned out to be a birthright of reason sufficient all by itself to enchant them with a nice liberal democratic constitution, amazingly like that of the United States, or perhaps western Europe. Conflict could be talked through and violence abated. When the philosophers explained the right way to live, everyone would fall happily into line. Innocent times.

But no longer. The present decade is different. The United States has had its wake-up call, and may have others just as loud. It has been told, brutally, that disagreement matters, and that if our grasp of what we need to defend is feeble enough, there are people out there only too happy to wrest it away from us. It has reacted even more brutally to that alarm by declaring war on people who had nothing to do with it in the first place, and then conducting that war with counterproductive barbarity. It has learned that there is not much common reason that is everyone's birthright -- that when disagreement comes, people cannot afford to shrug.

There are times when we have to do better than [say] "whatever" and "anything goes." A country needs to understand what is good, and also what is not good, about its preferred ways of living. It needs to understand what is good, and why, about its science, history, and self-understandings; and it even needs to understand what was good, and why, about the politics and the ethics [or religion] that it may have abandoned, let us hope temporarily.

I am a Jew, not a Christian, but I have come to understand the value and importance of Christianity, in spite of its failings. The abandonment of a such a faith by the majority, no matter the reasons, will create a vacuum that will be filled, as surely as any physical vacuum. If Christianity needs to be renewed, then now is the time to do it. If not, be assured, another God-based faith will replace it. Europe, I call on you to take possession of your future, and not abandon it to “whatever.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gottverdammerung, 3

In this scene, Ertha refrains Elmallah’s lament with one of her own. She has seen her authority and power progressively fade, from being a goddess (Innonna/Ishtar, Bouk 3), to an empress (Byzantine Theyodorra, Bouk 4), to the intellectual partner of a renowned philosopher (Helloweez, Bouk 5), to what? A nameless woman caught in the onrush of history.

Rivkaz Lamment

O I hav bin a goddess;
I roze up in the sky.
O I hav bin a goddess;
I rode the waevz on hi.

O gloreyus my powwer
Tu raze the towwering waevz ,
Or klap my handz in thunder
And rowz the hewman slave.

So tell me wut it meenz tu be a goddess
Karresst intu an idel made ov klay;
And tell me how it feelz tu see yur immij
Dry intu dust and slolee blo awway.

I hu spannd the ajez
Frum Innonna and Astartee
Tu Isht and Afroditee;
Hu spanned the en-dimmensha
Frum objeks withowt mass
Tu feeldz ov antee time;
Hu spanned the raenj ov ekstasseez
Frum sex tu Elmallah;
Awl my werldz ar a lump in my throet.
My wizdem frum a bouk lernd by rote.

Lamment for my chieldz
Hu ar torn in konflikt,
And lamment for me
Huze little wunz will die.
The armeez parrade in perfekt presizhen
But thay stagger tu battel drunk on liez.

Lamment for my chieldz
Hu ar torn in konflikt;
Hu defy thaer konshents
In merderres lust.
Wut will happen tu thaer boddeez
Wen thaer Soelz ar but dust?

Now tell me wut it meenz tu be a preestess
And tell me wut it meenz tu speek the trueth.
I hav a hundred boddeez and a konshents for eech wun
Wich wun am I, and wut iz the pruef?

O I hav bin a goddess
And I hav bin a kween
And I hav bin a hor
But at leest I wuz free.
And alwayz I wuz shor
I stoud abbuv the law.
O I hav bin deluded.
I hav oenlee bin in thrawl.

Lamment for me
Huze eyz ar opend.
Lamment for me
And my histeree ov liez.
I hav wun life
And a thowzend illuzhenz.
O Elloheem and Elmallah
Lamment for me.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gottverdammerung, 2

In this scene, the Messenger, Elmallah, descends from his heavens to the woman Ertha, to once again try to lift her up. At the end of his descent...

I Had Wun Life

O, I wuz varee happee;
I livd amung my peerz.
O, I wuz varee blissful;
My werl did not kno feer.

O, I wuz full ov wunder;
The law wuz my expere.
O, all my akts wer wunderz;
My Gode wuz varee neer.

I hav wun life;
I liv 100 lieftiemz.
O, all yu paeshent aenjelz
Lamment for me.

I hav wun Konshents;
It spanz 1000 boddeez.
Yu dreemerz and misteks
Kommune with me.

Now tell me how it feelz tu be an aenjel
And tell me how it feelz tu wok with Gode.
Yu take wun step; yu kross 1000 lieftiemz;
Yu tern arownd and see them dissappeer.
And tell me how it feelz tu be exxalted,
And tel me wut it meenz tu tok with Gode.
Yu heer wun Werd; the werlz bekum tranzparen.
Yu liv 1000 lieftiemz in a Moment ov Bliss.

Now tell me wut it meenz tu be benited,
And tell me how it feelz tu looz yur site.
I bliendlee stumbel down theze naro alleez,
My shaking hand on damp and krumbling wawlz.
Wut ar the werdz tu pennatrate the darkness?
Wut ar the praerz tu open hoepless iyz?
Kan I kast down liez and brake them on the kobbelz?
Will thay shatter and retern me tu the lite?
And looking down
towards Sodom and Gomorrah...,
he saw the smoke of the land
rising like the smoke of a kiln.
-- Beraysheet 19:28

Europa, Europa: further discussion

My very good friend and fellow pilgrim, Greg Barker responded in this way to my poem of July 24, 2008, Europa, Europa:

Powerful. The Muslim flood IS coming. And it seems that you are suggesting that Freethinking-Atheism will not be providing anything more than that which can be choked on.

My thought is that hollow men do not have the wherewithal to resist people with a mission. And that an empty soul will seek to be filled.

Can you tell me more about:
Their little bigots, they call them prophets,
Whose manifesto reads, "You are the hollow men."

T.S. Eliot., the so-called great poet/prophet of C20, and his equally bigoted sidekick Ezra Pound. These men have done untold damage to culture, in my opinion. These are the kind of people that the Prophet Jeremiah railed against. And I will follow in Jeremiah’s footsteps.

I could carry on with so many more questions that this has sparked...and don't know if you want to go down these roads...but I'll put it out there anyways. I think the George Lucas of the 70's had some parallel concerns. Did he offer any solution in his mythology?

Not sure what you mean here. The battle between good and evil in Star Wars? I'm not saying Islam is evil in this poem. I'm saying Europe's soul is dying, and that Christianity is in big trouble and may need some serious rethinking if it wants to survive in Europe. I'm hinting at the fact that nazism may have succeeded in at least one of its programs. By undermining and discrediting Europe’s Christian foundations, Europe has been re-paganized, in a manner of speaking. In the end Europe’s secular paganism will not stand up against existential spiritual yearnings, and the focus and authority of monotheism.

Where might this all go? Clearly, Europe won't become Jewish [smile]. But either Christianity will revitalize itself, or Islam will make significant, even massive inroads. The revitalization of Christianity is not out of the question. We see a religious resurgence in Eastern Europe and Russia after its long-standing ideological suppression. However, the Islamification of secular Europe might be a very interesting thing if it brings about the liberalizing of Islam's fundamentalism. Wouldn't that be an ironic and surprising development? And with a liberal Islam, the religious wars of the last 2000 years might very well come to a non-apocalyptic, and spiritually elevated end! We might finally be able to put the jihadist and hate-embedded apocalyptic mythology of Christianity and Islam behind us.