A little while back, RT fell on a concrete patio and fractured a rib. These things, painful as they are, can focus our energies and get us moving again. They can also drive us a little crazy, which might not be a bad thing, either.
Which brings us to tonight’s set of poems (and by the way, the rib seems to be healing nicely). All poems have an appointment with an anonymous meaning coach, which they may or may not keep. RT isn’t sure about this set, sidetracked, perhaps, by certain siren calls. The coach, in the meantime, taps its fingers loudly, as it should; we don’t want our words to be mish-mash.
The bargain isn’t easily struck. Each poem has its own inner necessity or logic, which is the meaning that it offers. But like the electric guitars that RT was listening to while he composed, such steely structure is offset by shape, color, tuning, and a combination of visual and musical drama. Poems can give little guidance as they emerge, or maybe all that is needed. It’s about what sounds good. And what means something (but what?).
three shorts #3
your fractured rib is;
mind forgotten, tottering.
death laughs; you laugh, gasp.
the boy next door curses—
proud, the cell-phone hum-a-lums
you back. buzz, beer bee!
before you, being
and ere February pass,
your car eyes. fat snow.
© 2017, The Rag Tree
Photo: 1990 Yamaha Pacifica 921. Freebird from Madrid, Spain. WikiCmns. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Introspection has not been much in vogue for, well, the last four or five centuries, at least in the West, anyway. The man of thought has become the man of action, the one who changes the world, makes things better. As we head pell-mell into the post-digital, post-handwritten, robot-manufactured world, the question of just where we might be going should give us pause for thought. Certainly the notion that the very act of thinking could itself alter the world, build its complexity and beauty, and of course its wisdom, would meet with a sceptical response these days. Yet RT suspects that something like this understanding lies close to the heart of Eastern religion and art. This is the world we dream of, the world which heals us and in which we have our true place. It is not magic, but a sense of a broader connection to our surroundings.
Du Fu seems to have started his career as a gifted poet, but one who had not met with profound suffering. The collapse of China in the mid-8th century forced him to flee the capital, and to confront in a basic way his life and the unfolding of history around him. Out of his despair he refashioned the possibilities of Chinese poetry, the Chinese people, and RT would argue, the possibilities of humanity as it today struggles with overwhelming change.
Winding River 1
a last petal falling marks the close of spring;
trees shed their 10,000 tears in contentious winds.
I’ll drink my wine, then, and examine
blossoms lying trampled in the mud.
and yet, in the abandoned riverside pavilion,
kingfishers flash and mate. At the foot
of high tombs in the park, stone unicorns
rest in conjugal silence.
all things live in their joy—
exiled from the palace, I wander,
Photo: Statues in the Imperial Tomb of Tang Emperor Gaozong. Zingaro. WikiCmns. CC BY 2.0.
Poems have a shaggy-dog quality; RT never knows just what may show up at his front door next. This particular inspiration began to emerge shortly after a manuscript discussion group featuring some old poetry buddies, a situation well-known among scribblers to produce new work. And it’s been a while since any critter, however shaggy, has come to RT’s attention. And so, with a brief nod of thanks to the muse:
*****It’s always 2 o’clock.
You told the lady a lie,
shed the skin of indifference.
The moment will not end,
hissing, sliding, ash ragged in
the air. The cherub is gone.
It’s still 2 o’clock, damn them.
They’ve taken your feet, your arms,
your teeth rotten with venom.
*****So what about the fruit?
*****Of course they wanted a bite, naked
down in the hollow of truth.
3 o’clock and
the cherub, head smashed, lies
half-buried in sand. The ones that burn say:
How could you? You blink. Those are
your teeth sown in the ground, your words
*****winding across the page.
Photo: Amulet of Mithras Slaying the Bull and the God Abraxas (Walters 42868). 3rd century. Walters Museum of Art. WikiCmns; CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.
RT was 26 when this photograph was taken; Ronald Reagan was 76; Nancy Reagan, 65; Bill Clinton, 40; Hillary Clinton, 39. Wikipedia reports: In 1900, non-Hispanic whites comprised almost 97% of the population of the 10 largest American cities. By 2006, non-Hispanic whites had dwindled to a minority in 35 of the nation’s 50 largest cities. In 2000, the U.S. population stood at 281 million; today, it is estimated to be 324 million (a 15% increase). In 1990, 86% of the U.S. population was Christian; that figure has since dropped to 70%. Finally, the Pew Research Center reports that the purchasing power of American workers has remained essentially unchanged since 1964.
Certainly a lot to think about, and that is one of the reasons that RT supports Hillary Clinton in Tuesday’s presidential election. The country is in the middle of a sweeping transformation that has generated deep-seated panic and anger among Americans. What is needed at a moment like this is clear thinking.
Of course, at some level, the United States has always been about change, hopefully in the form of progress, though our country’s history demonstrates that that can take its own sweet time. Something new is struggling to be born, but that is always the case.
Look hard at the usual answers. Don’t just create jobs, create prosperity. Don’t build a wall, create a just and generous guest worker program. Work to make sure that taxes pay for necessary services that individual states and private foundations, however wealthy, simply can’t afford to fund. Above all, work to create mutual understanding and cooperation, i.e., plain old goodwill. That is challenge and achievement enough.
We are all federalists, we are all republicans, as Thomas Jefferson once put it. If the other party’s candidate gets elected, exercise your right to protest, to have your grievances and opinions heard. But also do your best to hear and respond to the legitimate worries and priorities of the other side.
And by the way, RT urges everyone to vote. Take the day off, if you have to. Elections, after all, are important.
RT thinks that Hillary Clinton is by far the better candidate. Her abilities and achievements speak for themselves. But if Donald Trump should win on Tuesday, he will not go running to the post office to get a passport application. RT believes in the system, with all its flaws and failures. It has given us our first black president, and, he thinks, it will soon give us the first woman in the oval office. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Photo: President Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton attending the Dinner Honoring the Nation’s Governors. 22 February 1987. Reagan Library Archives. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Glanum? Ambrussum? Vaison-la-Romaine? Somewhere in Provence, in any case. RT has a distant but distinct memory of seeing an ancient Greek city while on vacation back in the mid-1970s. The site was small and gorgeous, oval-shaped ruins of marble sited among pine trees, not far from the sea. What made the experience especially memorable was the guide’s report of the city’s population, as high as one or two thousand people, if RT recalls correctly. And all of them sheltered in a space about half the size of a football field.
Now, RT, car-less as he often has been in his life, is doing a great deal of walking these days. It takes him about 45 minutes to walk into town by the legal but indirect route. He is actually fairly lucky, since a bike path constitutes part of the trek. At least on this section, he doesn’t have to worry about getting hit by a car. Still, there is something distinctly humbling about walking along the path, which lacks shade trees, park benches, and water fountains, while cars zoom past on the other side of the grass border. His almost daily excursions make him wonder what life would be like if we still lived in pre-industrial communities. Or, to put it another way, could we get rid of cars?
Here are some facts: ancient Rome at its height (population 1 million) occupied about 5 and ½ sq. miles; Manhattan could hold six cities that size. Nearly all Romans lived in concrete and brick apartment buildings (called insulae), some of them nine stories high; apartments of 1,000 sq. ft. (about the size of a modern 1-bedroom apartment) housed families of five or six people. Most of these apartments offered running water. Romans went to great lengths (pardon the pun) via their aqueducts to ensure water quality—and their diet in many ways appears superior to ours. Those who survived into their teens (infant and child mortality were very high), often lived to be 60.
So far, things sound pretty good. Now back to walking: horses were expensive, and carriages for the rich. Though vehicles could be hired for transport (some featuring primitive odometers), nearly everyone walked everywhere.
RT will let readers draw their own conclusions. What remains with him is the memory of a beautiful city in Provence, built to human scale; human-powered; and healthy, communal, and intimate in a way hard to imagine in our own lives. It’s a beautiful day; let’s walk to the store.
In the midst of a serious life transition, RT takes time out for a bit of beautiful whimsy from Madagascar…
Photo: Sifakas are especially adapted to… Neal Strickland. WikiCmns. CC BY 2.0.
Status Update: RT’s mom is doing fairly well as she continues to struggle with lung disease. Living in a nursing home is always difficult, but his mom has more or a less adjusted to the challenges. During his most recent visit with her, she told him, “Write another book!”
RT is of course struggling with his own issues as the drama of his mother’s health plays out. Recently, he was looking over the Wikipedia entry on the five stages of grief and was struck by how much they resemble the emotions we experience as we fall in love. RT has been vouchsafed few moments of insight over the last several months, so he felt he should share his flash in the pan:
The Five Stages of Falling in Love
Denial: “Are you kidding me? I’m not in love with them! I don’t know their name. We’ve never met. They’re not even a blip on the radar.”
Anger: “Who are you? How can you tell me we’re in love? I don’t like anything about you. In fact, I can’t stand the way you look, the way you smell, your personal habits. Go away! Get out!”
Bargaining: “I know we shouldn’t have kissed. It’s my fault. I smiled and made small talk and then, well, we got romantic for a moment. Look, the whole thing is a mistake, so let’s forget about it. We’ll wipe the slate clean and start over as friends.”
Depression: “Oh my god, we just slept together. We’re really in love. We can’t get out of it. We’re stuck!”
Acceptance: “OK, so we’re in love. Now what do we do?”
Love is like gravity; it is universal and its action continuous. People are always falling in love. There’s no way to stop it. When I recently shared my insight with a friend, they suggested that it applies only to inappropriate relationships. But all love relationships are inappropriate at some level. Nobody is ever really prepared for love or its consequences. At the same time, love is the force that makes us get out of bed in the morning. But now RT is waxing philosophical…
Photo: Tala Birell-Edmund Lowe in Let’s Fall in Love. Publicity still, 1933. WikiCmns; Dr. Macro. Public Domain.