I've been reading around in an anthology edited by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland, The Making of a Sonnet and was surprised to come across the first stanza of the "The Fire Sermon."
|"For once I myself saw with my own eyes the Sibyl at Cumae hanging in a cage, and when the boys said to her 'Sibyl, what do you want?' she replied, 'I want to die.'" Petronius, Satyricon. In the original draft, he used a quote from Heart of Darkness: Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision - he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath - 'The horror! The horror!'|
But poetry for me isn't wrought. Not wrought, not wrangled, not forced, not carved, not fought for. It's not drip and dribble inspiration from the muses. It's also not something birthed; not because I think a poet necessarily needs a uterus to birth a poem, but because that's not ever been my experience with language. And when I read poets speaking of their work... and sometimes worse, when I read people writing about someone else's poetry... the verbiage is generally an active one. It's like we have to somehow justify the truth that writers spend a significant amount of time sitting down, or maybe trying to contradict the trope of the physically ineffectual wordsmith, or maybe it's an attempt to articulate the sensation of writing to a reader who maybe hasn't had the experience.
The problem with metaphors about writing is that eventually all metaphors break down. Even (and especially) the good ones. After so undetermined and trope specific amount of time time has passed, even the best metaphors need their context explained in order to truly make sense. The same is true of movies, and of a large amount of music. This break down explains why "To thine own self be true" is almost always treated as a self-affirming mantra and why Romeo and Juliet is still seen as a soppy love story. And if ol' Billy Shakespeare isn't immune, NOTHING is.
I bring this up because outside of a certain context, Babbage's mechanical brain is easy to dismiss. So to is the fact that automatons (read: robots) are recorded as having existed long before the 18th Century, when they were popularized in Europe... some accounts even written about in ancient China (400 BCE).
There are people for whom poetry is just another difference engine, or, like Jacques de Vaucanson's Flute Player (1737) is nothing but a curiosity. I find most people who don't like poetry either weren't introduced to it with the appropriate context or dismiss it because it's not generally something someone does "for a living." Making money as a poet usually means doing any number of things, and in a culture driven by neoliberal capitalism, what a person earns ends up being more important than what a person does, what they make, or what they create.
I think of myself not as someone who wroughts language into poetry but as a lens. The world passes through me like light through a lens and what poetry comes of is nothing but refracted lights and images. This metaphor, too, is breaking down -- like Babbage's machine, the legendary Yen Shi's artificial man, or King Solomon's throne (in some writings described as an ivory and gold mechanical wonder.)
My dad loved football. When I tell my story -- the heretofore still short and unfinished long form -- I sometimes begin, in the style of Tristram Shandy, prior to my conception. If it wasn't for family in-fighting and Paul Brown's bromance-style break up with Art Modell, I wouldn't have been born.
When the team debuted in 1968, the Bengals' uniforms were modeled after the Cleveland Browns. When Paul Brown was fired by Art Modell, Brown still owned the equipment used by Cleveland so, after the firing, Paul Brown packed up all his equipment which he then used for his new team in Cincinnati. The Cleveland Browns' team colors were brown, orange, and white, and their helmets were solid orange with a white dorsal stripe over the crest. (Wikipedia)
When I tell the story, I mention as an aside that Paul Brown lit out of Cleveland in the middle of night with a truck full of Cleveland uniforms -- which has more flourish than saying he actually owned them and carried them off as much out of legal right as spite. Most people don't remember, and even more don't care, and there's only so much back story I'm willing to give in this the Age of "The Internet of Things."
I was never great at sports, though I did try. But I did grow up loving football, if for no other reason than my dad did. And even after he died, I found that watching football was a way to maintain my connection to him in some, almost ritualistic way. And when I started hearing stories of former players with neurological issues, saw the doping scandals, starting with the death of Lyle Alzado, I started to wonder what it was all about. Recently, the neurological impact of the sport on its players has gotten more attention. In both cases, someone points out at some point that the players made the choice to enter the sport; and while I think that's true, I think it ignores the socialization of athletes starting in junior high and up into college, as well as the economic urgency athletes from poor families have to "make good" on their talent.
And today is 9/11, and I'm supposed to mention it because that's what we do. We rehash the day, talk about where we were, what we were doing. This 9/11 happens during a pandemic in which nearly 190,000 people have died, millions are infected, and every single one of them is erased as a statistical blip, or worse, a lie under some heretofore unfounded "conspiracy." Today, we honor 2,977 dead while whitewashing the suffering of those who survived -- all while we shrug our shoulders at not only the death and suffering in this pandemic, but using it as an excuse to ignore the suffering that happens everyday. My brother-in-law, who runs a 5K everyday and keeps a go bag packed, calls this "compassion burnout."
A better word for it is "powerlessness."
The running back is just one more sufferer whose suffering is being largely ignored today. He asked me to help read his letter from the Metro Housing Authority because he had trouble finishing it. He needs glasses, he told me. The letter informed him that while he qualified for housing, because of the extreme need for available housing, he would have to wait. I tried to pitch this more optimistically by saying it meant he was further ahead in the que. I think we both knew that was probably more for my benefit than his; but he accepted it graciously. That, a temporary chair, and kind optimism was all I had to offer him. And true, I don't know his full story... there's no Wikipedia page link for that. And even if I did, I don't know that I'd tell it here, if only because maybe once upon a time he did decide to play a sport that breaks people and puts them back together like a badly glued ceramic mug. Maybe he wasn't poor and had few options. Maybe he wasn't puffed up his whole childhood to "make good" on his talent. Maybe.
Or maybe a better word for it is "Capitalism."
Rain today and tomorrow. Some wind now. I don't mind rain or the raggedy yard. I'm making peace with the hole in the roof until the rain ends and the roof is repaired. My ankle is healing, though my hip still aches from stepping in the sump pit, especially during the wetter winds.
Was a time I'd make myself see
the positive – that maybe
our capacity to learn will overtake
our need to make the world burn –
that we can rebuild out of these ashes
some ( ) thing.
Looks more like a rerun than a reboot
I'm still a fugitive from too many apocalypses. Burning oil fields and floods and mountains on fire. Swine Flu. SARS. MERSA. West Nile carrying mosquitoes.
The first End Times galloped after me when I was four, tried to choke me in the night. The world was burning then, too. And it has been trying to kill me ever since.
It's difficult to tell whether the marketing campaign failed because the consuming public never accepted the death of the Kennedy Brothers. Or something deeper. Something more congenital. Something bred in the bones that, as the Bard says, must will out in the flesh.
Pale fuzzy globs born to be men but too fragile and sugar-based schlep and schmooze through the streets, dinosaur death reenactors, trying to conjure that hobble into being yet again, with new cheap packaging wrapped around the the same necrotic flesh.
Blame Nixon Blame LBJ
Blame Hoover Blame the bomb
The true accounting won't make the final report
and what remains will be illegible
until unborn readers learn
the language scribbled
on bone dust.
Now's no time to retreat
to some fabricated notion of civility –
some Eisenhower inspired dream carried
forward by forgetful bureaucrats
who still copy Nixon on rain-soaked memos
and send them to the capitol of Arkansas.
|artwork by Darrell McKinney|
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