The Facile Dance – A Poem

Tiny minds the magic see;
Ne’er hunger, rage or misery;
It matters little whence they hail;
From city strong or jungle vale.

Bouncy castles tethered fast;
Piñatas filled and gifts amassed;
Or bottle cap rolled through the sand;
Pulled gently on by tiny hand.

Though born to need, children don’t weep;
And through their naught, they somehow sleep;
A flashing grin comes easy, fast;
Though meager is their day’s repast.

Life is for all a lottery;
Richy rich, or poverty;
Health will find some straight and strong;
While for so many, much will go wrong.

We like to say ‘tis love that counts’;
A father’s hug, not his accounts;
A mother’s gentle caring touch;
Means most to baby, by so much.

But is that just a facile dance?
Uttered by those born into chance;
Who’ve never suffered, fled from war;
Seen tiny bodies washed ashore.

From distant lands I’ve watched them speak;
Equality, a word, a shriek;
Chimera vile, who must be slain;
Themselves, the targets of the feign.

For you who seek to kill that beast;
Listen to my cry at least;
The evil that you wish to end;
Is different than you think, my friend.

Three meals, a roof, the right to flee;
A simple word – opportunity;
That’s the thing, sets us apart;
From those who cannot even start.

So go, to feet that word a lamp;
I’ll see you soon, in distant camp;
Fighting there the monster strong;
You’ll find he’s been there all along.

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There Once Was a Dream That Was Rome…

“There was once a dream that was Rome, you could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish.” Marcus Aurelius, ‘The Gladiator’.

Republics are funny things. They are resilient; not brittle or sclerotic like we are told but bending and morphing amazingly without breaking and shattering upon the winds of invention and the changing tides of culture. Our marvelous spontaneous order, millions of free people making free decisions, responding not to the question “Who will let me?” but instead “Who will stop me?” They are hard to control, too decentralized for those who seek power to find that sacred fulcrum which would allow them to seize the state, maneuvering the ship by enslaving the citizens-become-oarsmen. “If you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep on walking in order to reach your dreams,” we are often told, music playing softly in the background. Unless we are being marched to the gulag. “Stupidity, outrage, vanity, cruelty, iniquity, bad faith, falsehood; we fail to see the whole array when it is facing in the same direction as we…” as Jean Rostand said.

Which is what make our republics also tremendously weak; people crave authority and tend to think in collectivities; part of our DNA perhaps, where we consider often the ‘pack’ and seek protection in numbers from our predators. Or we ourselves strive to become the predators in humanity’s endless efforts to impose our own ‘sacred values’ upon others. And this becomes existential when the pillars of our republic stop serving the purpose for which they were created, losing themselves in their passions as they align their interests with others ‘because it’s an emergency’ – cue our famed fourth estate.

Perhaps this is why republics have never lasted long: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage,” said Alexander Tytler. It’s a sad irony that a true democracy, a true republic generates such tremendous prosperity in excess that it produces a natural ‘spillover’ (usually in the form of entitlements through taxation) which allows the idiots to conspire and the miscreants to concoct great acts of national sabotage.

“There once was a dream that was Rome.” I often return to the Gladiator – the story always gives me chills; “A general who becomes a slave. A slave who becomes a gladiator. A gladiator who defies an emperor”. A story of sacrifice and honor and suffering. There’s something rebellious about Americans; something which does not suffer too great authority nor allow ourselves to be told, “It is not your place to challenge”. Because challenge we will – and we do. Product perhaps of our wide open spaces, our ancient history of revolt, and the knowledge that returns on life will be as great or as small as the efforts we invest.

But I am also wary. Hugo Chavez in an interview, back when he was still among us, was asked to identify his favorite movie. “The Gladiator,” he responded, much to my shock and dismay. Proving that the desire to authority often takes many paths both straight and torturous, and those who can do the greatest harm rarely see themselves as their own republic’s ‘Commodus’.

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The Boneyard – A Poem

Old champions from battles surrendered;
Designs for a world that was lost;
Shed hopes that were one time engendered;
‘Fore any had tallied the cost.

Tis common that clashes, forgotten;
And purges by sands, are erased;
Gray generals’ dreams unbegotten;
And rout leaves ambition defaced.

Yet time has a manner of blurring;
And boneyards of thought do relive;
Ideas once consumed, they are stirring;
Not caring the dead to forgive.

They lingered in towers a ’shining;
The ancients who always abide;
Through long quiet years they sat ‘pining;
Awaiting the next rising tide.

The frosts of war’s winters are melting;
The elders emerge free of scorn;
Again the vile weapons are smelting;
Dismissing that millions still mourn.

 

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Go Read a Banned Book

Don’t think about pink elephants. GO!

You’re thinking about pink elephants, aren’t you? ‘You are what you eat’ the old saying goes. ‘They shall know you by your friends’ some respond. The reality is, people will know you by what you think about; and you become who you are by the way you interpret what you see around you; which in turn shapes how you talk about your world, the friends you make and the issues that burn themselves into your consciousness. And you can’t not, can you? – Passions that capture you most often surface uninvited from the subconscious responding to sequestered fears and sunken insecurities unearthed by the daily affairs of life. Which does not mean that they are right, true or healthy – ‘that which is amenable for a life more abundant’. Prejudice, they are often called – although that word does not mean what most people thinks it means: the literal definition being, “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.”

An opinion without reason.

“Isn’t that always the way it is: if a person’s inclined to look for something, he finds it wherever he looks. Even if there’s no trace of it at all, he still finds clear evidence. Even if there’s not even a shadow, still he sees not only a shadow of what he’s looking for but everything he’s looking for. He sees it in the most unmistakable terms, and these terms become clearer with each new glance and every new thought.” Nikolai Chernyshevsky, ‘What Is To Be Done’.

curtain

My wife often complains that I was born in the wrong decade; that in each conflict, each debate, and each act of legislation I see only the commies and the struggle between the individual and the collective. That I’m a cold warrior at heart. Guilty as charged, I suppose. We are what we see, indeed. But this is why we read the classics, – why we struggle through Chernyshevsky’s 150 year-old Russian prose, though he was a dead white man and a communist to boot. Because the only way we can escape from our prejudice is by confronting our ‘feelings’ with knowledge, thought and reason. This is to be sure a deeply uncomfortable process, forcing us to spend time with those who we probably would least like to; those who do not believe as we do nor hold to the codes and ‘sacred values’ which are our daily bread; whose ideas of what troubles our broad world, even in good faith, are different than our own.

I’m almost 2/3 of the way through ‘What Is To Be Done’ – for those who don’t know, the novel that is credited with radicalizing Vladimir Lenin. But why would a cold warrior read this, of all books? Wouldn’t I find much more peace between the covers of Atlas Shrugged? Yes – of course, and I have; and I continue to. But I read Chernyshevsky for the same reason I read Camus, Nietzsche, and Oscar Pollak. I read them to engage with old ideas which have withstood the test of time and have become ‘classics’ in their own rights; not concerned that I will be converted by folly, because I am not weak minded; nor worried that I will be offended, because I am not thin-skinned. No, I read them because I want to think, and to know is a condition which suffers no surrogate.

To be sure, this runs contrary to post-modern thought: books of old too quickly melt the ‘self-licking ice-cream cones’; echo chambers no longer function when they are perforated – and for this reason the books are withdrawn. People afraid of ideas prefer to ban, to burn; realizing as they probably do that flames fade away unwritten into the mists of prejudice. “…Only a few perceived the intellectual holocaust and the revolution by burial that Stalin achieved…” Ray Bradbury once said, “Only (Arthur) Koestler got the full range of desecration, execution, and forgetfulness on a mass and nameless graveyard scale.” Back to my ‘pink elephant’ commie-fighting; the greatest ‘graveyards of the mind’ are found behind curtains Iron and Bamboo, from which there is no escape; and those are built when we are told that knowledge and truth are in fact tools of oppression.

My advice, for what its worth? Go read a banned book; you’ll be better for it.

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The Tyrant’s Screed – A Poem

There was a clearing o’er the hillocks treed;
Where silence of the spirit muchly thrived;
The churning air that stirred the grasses freed;
And hearts from bitter folly had been rived.

Yet ‘neath the toothed razor mountains bare;
Vast plains of men convulsed in torrid woe;
Supine no more with newfound strength they dare;
Defy the porcine caste to overthrow.

A child of hardship through the crust he broke;
Privation’s scabs adorn arms lifted high;
Told not to dream yet words of rage he spoke;
His maddened roar found echoes ‘cross the sky.

One at a time hearts sorrowed by their plight;
Backs bent, heads down, ears closed and blinded eyes;
Turn’d their distress to his commanding spite;
Through misery to words that once seemed wise.

Though that was then, despair does not acquit;
The torment done to innocents between;
The beetle men and those ‘would not submit;
Tis your fault too, though you have left the scene.

Yes that was then, now misery’s entrenched;
Sisyphean resistance due to fail;
Crushed by the tyrant’s hand so tightly clenched;
And naught escapes the dark, not ‘een a wail.

Oft wonder I of glade’s abiding fate;
Does darkness spread uncheck’d from mind to seed?
And so did lovely dell deteriorate;
Responding to the tyrant’s beastly screed?

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Perhaps There Were Fewer Words…

It is always enlightening to read about a thought when it was still in its infancy. We have grown old and all our ideas with us; our world of words is somehow grown fastidious – bombarded as we are by so many opinions. Not thoughts – opinions in the information age are not thoughtful; product of our ‘divided attention’ as they politely call our channeling the carelessly crafted impressions of others, our phones become smart even as we, dumb. It is said that Thomas Jefferson, when old, would read for three hours in the morning, eat lunch with exactly three glasses of wine, play with his grandchildren and retire to read again for three hours as the dusk gave way to Monticello’s muted twilight. Madison is rumored to have sent away to the vast and remote reaches of a world that was still wide, calling to himself treatises on governance and the organization of states which he poured over in his second floor study of Montpelier, letting the words organize themselves in his mind long before setting his pen to that most sacred of tasks.

Library

But perhaps there were fewer words back then … when ideas were new and exciting and the arrogance of ignorance not as proudly worn. Perhaps because literacy was something to be earned, something rare – studied at seminaries and tested by the dons of ancient colleges; rhetoric and theology and logic and Latin giving way at last to quills timorously applied to paper. They read the Bible those days, back when ideas were new – measuring themselves against the words written in Hebrew upon parchment in the misty days of prehistory. Of course nobody reads the Bible anymore; that most ancient text has been the cruel victim of a bait and switch, where abiding truths are branded tired prejudices to be discarded by one-hundred and forty characters feverishly tapped by the fingertips of an idiot seated precariously atop a porcelain throne.

But back when ideas were new… I’m currently reading “What Is To Be Done”, a novel written in the mid-19th century by Nikolay Chernyshevsky (review forthcoming). Chernyshevsky was a feminist and a socialist – and the man who radicalized Vladimir Lenin.

Can you imagine becoming radicalized by a novel? And a Russian novel, to boot – Tolstoy making Rand look succinct. In our days of “Violent Extremism” – along with all the other ‘isms’ poured by sullied hands into empty minds – ‘radicalization’ they say is done through firing the kiln of hate until it glows yellow and pure and burns away reason through a process which requires speed and violence. Novels are not good vehicles for the delivery of such hate, they move too slowly and the fire they create does not consume – which is perhaps why communism abides, embedded as it is in so many old books.

I have recently finished a scene in Chernyshevsky’s novel when the protagonist, a woman named Vera Pavlovna, who has emancipated herself from her parents and an unwelcome marriage into nobility, is finally free to construct the world as she would. She makes a simple seamstress cooperative, a profit sharing venture where all are equal owners and the business becomes a surrogate family for the wretches who otherwise would not find a place. As I read the simple description of a tired idea, I can nevertheless see in my mind’s eye the slow-burning fire of Lenin’s rage becoming kindled – as word by word, page by page a new construct takes shape and form; dress-makers as the soldiers-at-arms for the brewing class war.

Of course these days the word ‘cooperative’ conjures images of an unkempt eccentric who did linger, ambling naked through his overgrown tomato patch as his aging flesh spots and sags. And socialism? Bonfires of human flesh beside a bread line; because we know better.

Except when we don’t; because evidently we can no longer read. And it all starts over again.

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The Death Embrace – A Poem

Through dust and wind the plastic dance;
Beneath the churning grey advance;
Her steps methodical and true;
Only her fears, they did pursue.

The town sits quiet, tense and tight;
Collective breath held through the night;
Row by row, huts small and crude;
Makeshift homes for those pursued.

Her dreams, a playground for the dead;
Her past held loosely in her head;
She trudges forth, o’er bog, through field;
Knowing what that day would yield.

Upon the berm the watchman waits;
Scanning for the telltale traits;
His practiced eye, perfected gaze;
As each successive child he weighs.

From ‘top the wall he spots his prey;
‘Halt’, but will the girl obey?
Leaping down to close the gap;
Quarry found now to entrap.

What makes the fire a girl-child be?
Why does she die? A mystery;
Salvation lies two steps beyond;
By ridding herself of what she’d donned.

Child and watchman are no more;
Aggregates for those keeping score;
Eternity in their death embrace;
They’re now blanked out, without a trace.

 

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