The Answer Is “Yes”

Quarter of one in the afternoon.

Yesterday I went across the street to ask Roger for his help with my bass guitar again, since we did a rather incomplete job the first time. He smiled and agreed to work with me tomorrow at ten o’clock. It’s sort of a symbolic truce to my mind. Though he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat, still we are civil to each other and achieve something together in the name of music, which shouldn’t have an ideology… The unseasonable rainy weather keeps on day after day, with showers that come and go. I suspect that when the sun shines again it’ll be like summer already, so there’s no hurry on that. Gloria was here and we did some tidying up around the house. In passing, she expressed her hope that the former president doesn’t run for office again, saying how rude he was and how insane— and she’s a Republican. A few lines from a Yes song come up. “A simple peace just can’t be found / Waste another day blasting all the lives away / I heard the thunder underground / Tunneling away at the very soul of man.” And later: “There, in the heart of millions / Seen as a godsend to us / There stands our future / There can be no denying / Simple as A B C D / There stand our children’s lives…” Is this too optimistic, or too utopian for people to grasp? Have we lost our faith in the power of poetry and song? It is said that two wrongs don’t make a right. When love is no longer the solution to our problems, then humanity is in deeper dudu than ever before. This demands that we go back to the drawing board and search not just our minds but our hearts. “It takes a loving heart to see and show / This love for our own ecology.”

From the Archives

Sat down to read “Fra Lippo Lippi” again

And by my chin-hairs understood this time

That God is in the details, Lippo says,

In every face and body part of life.

If soul’s not there, it isn’t anywhere,

And Lippo is a liar— have his head;

A painter is supposed to all portray

In order truth to daub, to underscore,

Discover Form from form, by piecing patch

Together on the canvas Jesus’ plan—

Immanuel alive in all to see:

That everything that lives is holy Trinity.

Alcohol

Eight thirty.

Inflation is very bad, so that I can hardly afford groceries every day. For a couple of reasons I’m cutting out the Snapple tea each day and just buying bare necessities. Right now it’s mostly sunny and nice, so how could anybody have a problem? I suppose I should read more than I write to be wiser. But the older you get, the more you become a fogy and resist new ideas. I often long for not just the past but for other countries; and of course I wish I could drink beer again and sample heaven as before. When you are sober, the world weighs on your shoulders as if you were Atlas. When you are drunk, the world rolls away and you don’t even care. I know I won’t do it anymore, but I still think we are too harsh on alcoholics in hospitals and other places. Carlos Williams made a little poem about a drunkard that was quite sympathetic with him. I don’t remember the ending to the one by Robinson, “Mr Flood’s Party,” or whether he had compassion or not. Does an alcoholic have to have a reason to drink? Whatever, I think it shows strength and courage to stay sober and deal with the challenges head on rather than try to make them go away.

For a Teacher

Six forty.

I had a little malfunction with my medication for a while but now I’m back on track. I can hardly wait to use my next Peter Pauper journal, the cover design is so pretty. The image is called “Mystic Moon.” Soon I will spoil its virgin pages with the scope of my thought and probably never get anywhere; no kind of revelation that lasts more than a day. Right now I’m stuck on the problem of logic versus poetic language. If you think like a positivist, then what do you do with poetry, unless poetry is grounded in reality like with Carlos Williams? I haven’t looked at Richard Hugo’s poetry in a very long time, but I remember how dense and difficult it was. The difficulty was not due to being abstract at all, but rather the diction was quite deliberate and unexpected, original at every point, with lots of adjectives. The method of contemporary poetry is much different from Romanticism and Modernism. It cuts down all abstracts and employs details to evoke emotion in the reader. Or anyway, that’s what I was taught in my last writing workshop. It’s a lesson I mostly disregard nowadays, though maybe heeding it would benefit my writing today. And I owe this learning to Ellen, wherever she is now. She reminds me that American poetry didn’t end with the Modern movement. 

Poem





Palisade

A fence encloses me

Formed of impaled skulls on wooden spears

Shoved in the mud in a circle around my feet;

I stand naked in the center

And the radius between me and each spear

Is about two yards.

My cage of refuge

Is located in a tiny clearing

In a huge hazardous rain forest,

A jungle swarming with unpredictable contingencies,

Random accidents of chance,

Crazy events involving both the living and dead.

Occasionally as I scan past the treetops

For a patch of azure sky,

A parrot or bird of paradise crosses overhead

And shits on my shoulder or hair;

The skulls grin at this subversively,

But mostly they provide faithful service.

These bodiless heads are scarecrows,

Except more like a four yard diameter pentagram

In their portentousness,

Warding away evil from the heights

Of their ten foot javelins.

In the mud at my bare feet

I have scratched a crude representation

Of extravagant female breasts

And one mantric word:

REASON.

6/27/1999 

From the Otherworld

I’ve just got up from an evening nap. Then I checked my emails: someone liked my post from last October titled “A Calling,” after two other people had since Friday. I frankly didn’t remember it, so I went back and read it again. Turns out it’s about transcendence and also the moon in the sky over the Maxwell overpass: rather a romantic observation, especially when the surrounding streets are in a fallen state of poverty and squalor, ashy gray barrenness like a human desert. Above all that, the moonlight calls from very far away as I trudge the sidewalk early in the morning, the spirit of Diana luring me on (although I didn’t say that in my post). And now I think not of Mallarme but of Keats’ Endymion, which describes a lover’s tryst of himself with the moon goddess. But this wasn’t in my post either. Maybe it was better without the allusion to Keats and Diana. The best part of it is the contrast between reality and the ideal that you can feel tugging at you like the moon’s magnetism causing the tides; still I’m embellishing what is only implicit. I should probably write another post on the same subject: maybe when the moon shows up above the overpass again in the clear sky like a smudge of white chalk against the blue blackboard, a little hazy and dreamlike, a fantasy of Vishnu, not quite real. Kind of like when I walked out of the market and it was virtually framed by an arc of rainbow 🌈 to either side of the doors and the whole building, like a blessing from God, a token, a benediction from a high place, and again, a vision in a dream.

Sonnet

Hans Pfaal

On one side time, eternity the other:
The Dickinsonian sky’s a leaden veil
By grace so interposed that human eye
Won’t be offended and the heart won’t quail.

The landscape shows us nothing but a screen,
Blank sheet on which we paint the natural world
From Spiritus Mundi within ourselves,
Like raveling out the colors in us furled.

But if we really want to know the truth,
One way to revelation can obtain:
To ride the hills and canyons on the moon
For Eldorado someplace in the brain.

And travel by balloon’s the surest path:
You navigate by myth and not by math. 

A Bradbury Scenario

You asked me if it’s difficult to sell a musical instrument for a fair price and the answer is yes usually. As soon as you walk out the door with a new instrument the value drops by half.

Right now I’m not so concerned with my musical future. Frankly I don’t think it’s going to happen again. There’s no end in sight to the pandemic. Also I can’t afford the cost of a vehicle to get me to rehearsals and gigs— and I don’t want to drive a car anymore anyway. I like the feeling of being a pedestrian, I guess; and when I don’t drive I don’t contribute to greenhouse gases quite as directly. The expense of a car is more than I want to pay. Either way is inconvenient, with or without a car, from a different perspective. Society has to figure out how it wants to solve the problem of transportation with regard to the ecology over the next ten or twenty years— if it even happens. Probably we won’t be hauling around a lot of stuff from place to place anymore, and the internet will make rock and roll obsolete along with the same old rock instruments. The people who make rap music and post it to SoundCloud or whatever are the wave of the future, no matter how I kick at it and how untalented they seem to me to be. I’m just being realistic and honest with myself. You only have to look around to see where things are going. The Age of Dinosaurs is really over with. There will be no more stadium rock in this world except as a memory, a thing of history that few people will recall. Rock is irrevocably dead. And rock instruments will be found only in a museum someday soon. This is the wave of the mainstream; although, I can imagine a scenario like Fahrenheit 451 coming to pass, where a small band of intelligent people break away from a culture headed for World War 3 and preserve what is good for the human spirit, namely music and books. It could be like a New Romanticism, people living in the woods and committing wise words and beautiful things to memory for posterity: it’ll be a culture of Poetry.

L’hiver banal

Two forty.

I played the bass for about an hour. In the process, I stumbled over the chords to “Walkabout” by The Fixx, an old New Wave band, and I began to detect a thought pattern behind my creativity. The thrust of the song is self examination to determine your personal beliefs. It kind of goes along with my observations of Baudelaire’s poetry last weekend, regarding the discovery of novelty, innovation— invention, whether it comes from heaven or hell. My only disagreement with him is that he never thinks outside the Christian mythos.

Meanwhile, my brain keeps returning to a scene from Bartok’s Mandarin, where the chorus starts to sing, low at first and then swelling to a scream, and finally decaying in a weird wail… 

I still don’t feel one hundred percent. The virus I had seems to linger, affecting me physically and mentally. The weather this afternoon is as insipid as it was yesterday, gray and breathless like a cadaver, while the funereal fog creeps in to make specters of the trees across the street. All in all, macabre and surreal, complementing the mood of the Bartok ballet. And in some degree, the echo of Baudelaire. 

Sunday Poetry

Quarter of eleven.

Though I skipped church today, in my mailbox I found a note from Lisa attached to a more general letter to everyone in the parish. This makes my day. I slept lousy last night, still worried about my therapy sessions: will they go the way they have in the past? But I know the bottom line is what makes a person happy, not distressed and traumatized. Positive thoughts are what they are, and negative is negative. This is all you need to know to keep yourself on an even keel. When you feel unhappy, then you know something is wrong with your situation… It’s very cold out this morning, and shrouded by haze (why don’t they call it fog anymore?). The trip to the market was unremarkable. I’m in the mood for anything French: maybe Baudelaire, without too much pressure on myself to get the language perfect. It’s hit and miss from day to day; my comprehension varies. I’d like to understand what he means by the Ideal. And why does he talk about the “gulf” in his poetry?

Quarter after one.

I still have a little virus the symptoms of which come and go. Yesterday I felt fine all day, but now I feel weird: dizzy and a bit congested in the head. I sampled some poetry of Baudelaire in French and was struck by its darkness and despair; it also evokes substance abuse and glorifies it with poetic imagery like eating the lotus. The poet praises novelty and discovery, regardless if it’s divine or infernal. It was good stuff, but I’d appreciate it better if I were not in recovery. Maybe good poetry is good no matter what the message? T.S. Eliot thought Baudelaire was very great, even though Eliot was a Christian. He was objective enough to recognize the quality of the poetry and the genuine suffering of the poet. But no doubt his French was far better than mine. People worked harder at literary craft a hundred years ago. Also at music.