CIRCUS FAMILIAR

  Gwen glad pty  I’ve come to accept the spectacle

The morning face that stares back at me in the mirror

Large pores packed with night-sweats and frustration

There’s lots to do but nothing to say

That will ease the guilt of not doing

Most likely I’ll clean my keyboard

       remove the fingerprints

       angry smudges that dappled my screen with hope

I’ll open the Times app before adjusting a pillow behind my aging back

I’ll sip some tea as I consider the tilt of the screen and font size

I’ll search for good news as if

I’ve not already thrust my chin up to the edge of humanity

To improve my view of its destruction

A Diary of Change

On the 18th anniversary of the day our world changed – forever.

zack-gwen-twin-towers

September 12, 2001. Last night I looked frantically for the picture of my SAVAR students on our yearly trip to NYC to no avail. But I can still see the their faces. BJ’s thousand watt smile, Kim, Thea, Byron, Jessica, Tiffany, Kristy, Nikki, and Katie all in adolescent poses of deep friendship. There were more but these faces found the camera at every turn. It is what I see when I close my eyes. And I could be wrong, relying, as I do, on the sovereignty of memory. I could be thinking of the picture we took on the eighty-third floor of the Empire State Building – different year but some of the same smiles and definitely the same Twin Towers in the background. I will always remember these pictures and yet over time I know these memories will fight a losing battle with the vision I beheld Tuesday, September 11th. Shocked, I watched the south tower as it belched smoke and flame. I saw the second plane bank and then plunge out of sight into the tower behind, propelling the fireball out beyond the south tower. I knew then that this plane was not coming in to drop flame retardant on the first tower – as I first thought. My heart raced. I held my head. Only later did I curse technology. Oh to return to the world of word-of-mouth transmission. The time when one hovered around the television or radio, listening to the newscast as it was filtered through the minds and hearts of stoic announcers. I thought of Cronkite’s voice coming over the speaker in my junior high library and how it cracked and caught on the words that president, John F. Kennedy was dead. That was a time when we were allowed space to form our own mental pictures of catastrophe – however tragic. It is different now.

 Yesterday I had a student write in her English essay, “Change is inevitable…” At fifteen she knows this. And here I am, half a century in age and barely able to remember when a postage stamp was two cents and the closest war was the ‘gas war’ happening over on the boulevard. I’ve missed something about change. Maybe it is the sameness of my days; the only changes are the ones I make.

 Now, my days are changed. An unseen hand has written a tragic script complete with murderous planes. How does one teach this? I don’t want to gather my son and the sons and daughters of others around me and have to explain hatred and intolerance. I fear it is completely beyond my ability. And yet I must.

 I left school on that Tuesday with nowhere to go. Everywhere there was nothing but television news so I watched my son’s soccer practice. I sat in the bleachers reading the local paper, the last one printed before the attack. I could believe, for a few minutes anyway, that the news of the day was light. Periodically, I’d look up at the boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds on the soccer field in the bright sunshine. The day was exquisite, with the green hillsides only hinting at the golden leaves to come. On the broad expanse of lawn I witnessed young people in innocent athletics giving high fives to friends and competitors alike. I could have stayed there forever, a frozen tableau of perfection. No hatred, no intolerance, no headlines of alarm.

 A student asked about our annual New York City trip. I was resolute in my response. “We will go. That’s one thing that will not change,” I told her. But change is inevitable. A fifteen-year-old told me this. And she was right.

April 2002. The New York City trip did happen. Phantom of the Opera enthralled my forty-five students, most from the hinterlands of rural western New York. On the subway to South Street Seaport, I decide not to make the trek to the hole in the ground that changes forever they way I view human nature. Most of the young people go with another chaperone. A few students stay with me and the vendors of cheap memorabilia. I sigh with relief. I am not ready.

Our chartered bus is faithful to our departure time and, after a last minute buying flourish of knockoff glasses and watches, we depart. I count heads then relax amid the excited chatter of adolescence. Even as darkness descends I sense we are on THAT parkway. My senses are validated by the silence that befalls the group. The bus slows to a crawl – not for traffic but for the view of the remains of the Twin Towers – the hole that has swallowed my city memories. I thought if I didn’t look – maybe things would become unchanged. I looked.

I admonish myself for my foolish, pretzel logic – to think we could achieve some type of retro-sameness. Like the skyline of lower Manhattan, we are all forever changed.

GDF – 2019

 

Comes the Fate Upon Us: Taking Adversity Seriously

King - 20th cent. martyrs
Martyrs of the 20th century – honored in granite and poetry – Westminster Abbey

December 17, 2016

I’ve just read a summation of our president’s news conference on Russia’s hacking of the election that allowed Donald Trump to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. I saw clips of our beautifully cerebral President Obama thoughtfully picking his way through the minefield of words available for times such as these; words that could highlight injustice in a big and angry way. And for that moment I wanted him to be that angry black man – the idea that so scattered the brains of bigoted whites eight years ago – I wanted Obama to tear away at that inbred institution designed for service to the very few. But he didn’t, and that saddens me. My president’s behavior revived for me the belief that there is some unseen player in presidential politics. One who holds all the rules governing this experiment we call democracy. This is the player who gladly sits sideline whispering, to the one front and center, cautionary tales; this is the preemptive hand upon which are written all the options at a President’s disposal. What were the options facing you Mr. President? Instruct the Electoral College to do the right thing, nullify the elections? Declare Hillary Rodham Clinton president? (Personally, I think your parting tasks to ensure a legacy of courageous decision making should be to put Sec. Clinton on Supreme Court and declare Santa Claus legally, officially, a black man). But no, sadly, you have no legal standing in this case. You may have been besieged by thoughts of a civil war even as you understand fully your duty to ensure a “peaceful and orderly transition”. But, there will be war – an uncivil war – waged by the upcoming Theatre of Thieves – the 21st Century robber-barons. And yes, we will protest even as we hide the sickness that resides in the thought that our beloved President, hands tied by a constitution he has taught, is as helpless as we are  watching further shredding of this democracy.

cropped-british-museum-curie-quote.jpg

December 19, 2016

It seems clear to me today – December 19, 2016 – that we are moving towards that southern economic doctrine of low wages, no unions and little concern for the environment. A southern doctrine that addresses ideas like diversity and the need for common courtesy (erroneously referred to as political correctness) as frivolous, white-power killing, sentimentality. This new “strategy” will ensure that those who live in poverty and those refugees whose fate lies in the kindness of strangers remain 2nd and 3rd class citizens (if they are allowed to remain at all). It will ensure that those who, by nature, have to work outside their small circle of cultural acceptance live in fear. Fear of a capriciously dispatched army who will bend and convert non-believers to their will. This doctrine resides in the barren drought-stricken stretch of community where women know their place, little girls don’t appear too smart and all females understand the ugly consequences of striving to be richer than a man. It is a place where the aims of decent men and the female pantsuit are outlawed.

It is time, now that the Electoral College has affrimed its predilection for inertia, to take Trump seriously and not literally, as Christy Wampole of the New York Times suggests in her piece, How to Live Without Irony (For Real this Time) Yes, we now have a president who can’t spell, who tweets his thin-skinned pain like a hurt child, who has grabbed women by their genitals because he could. Now, according to Wampole, we should be seriously prepared “for a new, expressive austerity.” I agree. It was easy to sit on our self-righteous liberal laurels and ignore the suffering of the “uneducated deplorable” citizens. We are all guilty, in some form or another, of this class combat. And these self-righteous thoughts may still be the palliative we use to soothe the cuts of loss. I know I sleep better knowing I am right; that the best candidate did not win. And, God help me, I have to catch myself, feeling happy for the sure to come ‘I told you so’s”. The low-income, less educated worker, the praise-worthy military and its veterans who will stand and die for the next war to come in spite of GOP continued resistance to Veterans Bills and continued funding, all will suffer (much more than I will) for their willingness to trust a different voice – as long as that voice promised personal well being and for some, as long as that voice as male and white. I have to acknowledge and take serious the ‘trust’ his voters have. I agree with Wampole when she says “this president-elect, seems incapable of laughter…[embodies] the thirst for profit …apocalypse fetishism, joyless ideology, and even cruelty. [His] is a punitive seriousness, a burn-it-all-down ethics that favors revenge over reconciliation.” That said, we must never normalize his brand of seriousness. We must never forget this man is a dangerous buffoon who takes money and retaliation seriously. His hollow promises, laughter and smiles are simply means to an end. As decent human beings, we must take the high road as we struggle to soften the blow Trumps tactics will surely have on those who simply wanted to “shake things up.”  God help us.

 

So, this evening, my second glass of wine has sufficiently lubricated the hinges on the doors to my big, rusted political heart and I find myself returning to a line in Homer’s Odyssey, a scene really, where Polyphemus, blinded and bested by an arrogant, boasting Odysseus, stands huge upon an outcropping, breaking off mountain-tops and hurling boulders and curses in the direction of Odysseus’ retreating ship. And, for the moment, we are Polyphemus, blinded and outwitted by our lack of seriousness and the arrogant tools of injustice. The line that haunts me? “Now comes the weird upon [us].”

 

 

Flunking Retire -ment

cropped-kw-seminar-books.jpg

 

 

 

I have flunked that good, after life

Leaving desk, chalk, and youth sublime

Eight years and a clarion light

Continues to call me to dine

~

With character filled texts and chairs

I return to a chalkless life

Anxious, faded elegance dares

To drag my dreams to “that good night”

~

Dreams die hard desire remains

I answer the call to return

Restoring dream’s dust to grain

Desires continue to burn

~

Teaching is now a brand new flight

Where time and love is now outsourced

Knowledge now comes in bits and bytes

Pass, fail with a little remorse

~

Virtual reality reigns

As 21st Century fun

As if being “real” needs explain

Over needs for real wisdom

~

So I am back to spread my grains

Of wisdom and where I found

Meanings to life ‘long side the brain

Which the “Road less traveled” is bound

 

 

 

NOV. 15, 2015: Headlines – A Poem

cropped-parthanon-relief-greek-soldiers.jpg

Attackers in Paris

‘Did Not Give Anybody a Chance

as if chance played with motive

none are chanced

when death is not feared

FEAR:

it is all that keeps us good

and goodness is relative only

to the god one is willing

to die for

this god militarized,

weaponized

expanded

personalized

assault driven

a god unknown to

civil – ization, decency

lost in three hours

of hell;

a lifetime

of blood spillage

all red being read

in black and white

newsprint echoing ancient

tales written down

the original sin

in concert with the

unconscious brain

man-made insult

the beginning of pain

the parchment of war’s genesis

held tightly in the

fists of bloodstained

armies ordered

young conscripts

avenging lives dear

motivated

by chance

motivated

by fear

cropped-parthanon-relief-greek-soldiers.jpg

THE 5th OF JULY

cropped-fireworks1.jpg

The “why?” that cannot be identified,

Defined beyond its face

A hazardous life with Newton’s law

Setting the young in motion

Long columns of face-blind,

Ghost-eyed pawns to war

For liberty and commerce.

And we celebrate – loudly

The necessary battles

On that slow arc

Rumored to bend

To perfection

The Exultation is in the Knowing

rot+Birds+Murmurate

The hardest thing about writing

Used to be rejection but now

It is the crazy aftermath

Of question marks that appear

After I’ve left all my

Answers on the page

It becomes not a matter of quality

Or quantity but a matter of why;

Why does outside acceptance matter?

Part of me sees the old metaphysical ploy

I’ll get it once I don’t want it.

Can I walk into that room and

Switch off the light of desire?

Is writing simply a vehicle

In which to drive my persona

Stopping occasionally to mop

My sweat-filled brow and rest

My silly soul dedicated to

The business of ego?

Is that it?

FOR THE CHEER LEADER OF SCIENCE

 

 Dead coral

The non-fiction writer said *art will not fix the global crisis and the vengeance

Neglect is reining down upon our dirty greasy planet.

I beg to differ.

I want to dip Mr. Bryson in the waters of

Huxley, Orwell, Atwood, Carson, and the words of

Colette that tell the world of the corresponding

Smells of the betrayed, jealous and lovesick.

Science has a fix  but a “fix”

Denied its beauty – resolution

Because there is no profit

Ensuring the earth remains

Healthy for everyone.

Right here,

Right now,

Money’s to be made

Fat capitalists sucking the earth

Dry of its natural resources

Sadly, ironically

With the help science.

In revolutions over time

Knowledge and passion is

Ignited by art

And the time is neigh

When art reveals the capitalists deniers

Who catch the money flung at solutions

Hiding it away in the pockets of those

“Rapture ready”

With no need of a future world.

Art, in freedom

Will save us

When science, in chains

Will not.

 

 

* “An arts graduate is not going to fix global warming. They may do other valuable things, but they are not going to fix the planet, or cure cancer, or get rid of malaria.” ~  Bill Bryson

 

PEACE: WHAT IF…

Dry tortugas

What if Peace was publicly traded

In every heart and highly rated

 

At the center on a trading floor

Waved slips for goodwill, ceasefires and more

 

What if Peace invested care

Opened hearts with earnings per share

 

What if Peace paid interest high

In harmonious treaties to ratify

 

Peace will need to be monetized

IPOs will be highly prized

     

Peace could trade in open exchange

Swords for ploughshares to be arranged

 

Peace stock values will rise with belief

No house of cards, dishonesty ceased

No slim margin in which to trade

All activity above moral grade

 

 But…

Peace is too polite to nail and rend

Old Wall Street brokers for their dividends