A City in the Air

Eleven thirty.

I let Aesop out of his little prison down the hall after my zoom meeting was done and he barked at me to tell me he wanted his milk bones. The white light of day makes the room appear green, a greenness that reminds me of the cover to a book of Robert Frost I once had when I was a student. If it weren’t so cold out, I’d say it was kind of like the springtime with all the blooms and bird activity, and it stays lighter now for longer. The greens also are souvenirs of a serotonin buzz many years ago from taking Prozac. The drug made me feel impulsive and sociable, but also sleepless and finally suicidal, so I had to stop it. 1991 was very long ago and I can sense how much I’ve aged. It isn’t like Goethe anymore, a creed of seize the day. Rather, it’s a time for quiet reflection and study. Still, the green outdoors is a distraction from cerebral things. It is entirely possible to get too comfortable; security can be a trap that keeps you from pursuing happiness.

And then you ponder the difference between green pastures and ash gray pavements littered with cigarette butts. Where do we go from here?

Quarter of one.

It’s doable to be young at heart. Not to spit in the wind and give up your dream of paradise. They say poverty sucks, but poetry will never desert the pauper. It is there if you look for it, like the kingdom of God. It dwells within you.

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Keats

Nine PM.

The news from my sister was not good. Funny how the sun can shine on a crap day, or a day of mixed tidings. I retired for a nap not at all confident that things were peachy for my family, then had dreams about my late parents. Before that, I thought maybe I ought to visit church again this Sunday, because this will be the only family left to me when my siblings are gone.

I’m not sure why I picked Keats to read this afternoon, and I saw that scholars disagree on whether he took transcendence seriously: Stillinger says he does, while Bromwich takes the contrary view that this world is good enough for Keats. What a strange disagreement. I don’t know who has the stronger case, but I tend to favor Jack Stillinger’s opinion only because I learned it in school long ago. I put aside the introduction and began reading Endymion again to let the poetry speak for itself. I got as far as his sister leading him away to a bower to fall asleep in after the worship ritual to the forest god Pan. I remember that Diana appears to him and they make love: so how can this not be transcendence? It’s the same issue as happens in “Nightingale.” Already with thee! tender is the night… Does poetry have the power to unify us with the Ideal? If Keats didn’t believe so, then Baudelaire and Mallarme wouldn’t have taken up the concern. Then what is Romanticism really about? Maybe it’s an American foible to take everything literally, even matters of spirituality. It’s hard to tell from an armchair. 

Under the Atlantic

Nine thirty PM.

A bit ago I remembered my love for Chris Squire’s bass with Yes, back when I bought every Yes record I could get my hands on. This was forty years ago and I was in high school. The band did beautiful work: creative, artistic, and poetic. I want to say that their lyrical inspiration came from Romantic and Victorian poetry, particularly Blake and maybe Tennyson; but I can find no hard evidence of such influences. Nobody seems to know about Jon Anderson’s reading habits along these lines, though I imagine that every young English student was exposed to the classics. So all my guesswork on it is fruitless at least for now… Sometimes I think that, for the sheer quality of the poetry, no one can compete with Alfred, Lord Tennyson. You can see it in a short lyric like “The Eagle,” especially the last line: “Like a thunderbolt he falls.” If I were to dedicate myself to poetry writing, I’d want to be like Tennyson, even though I’m American and he was English. Indeed, such an ambition is probably absurd… 

Sleepers

Quarter of seven.

I see no light on the horizon so far this morning even though the store opened at six o’clock. Often it’s hard to have faith in our present and future but we have to continue as if nothing were wrong.

Quarter after nine.

I slept in for a while. Last night I read a little known poem called “The Sleepers” by Whitman. It’s good but rather strange, though it contains truth that most people wouldn’t acknowledge, particularly Christian people or anyone who doesn’t like Freud. I enjoyed it, actually. The poem is honest and goes very deep into human experience. I’m not sure exactly when he composed it but it had to be after 1855 and before 1892. It seems the time was right for Freud at the turn of the last century, though he was preceded also by Henry James. I don’t know where the quote comes from, but when I took Shakespeare I heard something about being awakened by the secret police at four in the morning, and how awful this idea was.

Soon I have to face the music of another day, go to the store and see who tried to call me on the phone. It’s a merciless world but thank goodness for our poets.

The Letter Needn’t Kill

I’ve just been reading Walt Whitman tonight, and I see how he would disagree with my attitudes where I talked about people and the moon. He sees the most ordinary things to be no less grand than the greater things. Everything to him is significant— kind of the way Hindus perceive life and reality. But also it was William Blake who spoke of seeing infinity in a grain of sand. Even as I write, I notice how I tend to define and limit the things I describe, putting them in tiny boxes, suffocating them. Whitman doesn’t do this in his poetry. And if I try analyzing it then I’ll probably kill it because that’s what dissection does to every subject and everything under the sun. Somehow his poetry promotes life rather than snuffing it or etherizing it on a table. Thus I wonder what is his secret. And it reminds me of Eiseley’s policy of description instead of analysis. It’s like taking a photograph and not shooting it down as a hunter does… I will benefit by reading a lot more than I have been lately.

Wrangling Visions

I haven’t done any reading for a week or so. It would be easy to read a little more of Whitman, and yet it’s quite a labor for me afterwards trying to process it. Even my subconscious mind works on it like some kind of puzzle, creating weird dreams and thoughts. If I could ask Harold Bloom about his ideas as a critic and so forth, I would. It’s a complicated situation for me because I was never able to go back to college, so I feel exiled from the university and the campus; and also, Bloom happens to be dead. Thus, the answers to my questions are securely locked away in the mind of the Sphinx, forever a mystery. Time rolls on and everything will be forgotten, surrounded on every side by millions of years. I’m actually getting this idea from Sandburg’s poetry as well. His message is quite different from Whitman’s, by saying the past is a bucket of ashes and the future equally insignificant. Whitman claims he will be immortal through fame and his body’s atoms will continue to be cycled through nature after his death. It’s almost as if Sandburg scratched out what Whitman said about everlasting life.
I don’t know which attitude I like better, let alone which is the truth. I think Sandburg is pessimistic. But, he makes a point that is nearly indisputable in the wake of Whitman’s attempt at self deification. Both visions are very powerful and hard to reduce. They oppose each other, even though Sandburg admired the other poet.
Therefore I’ve been trying to figure out my readings in two different books.

Whitman

Quarter of nine at night.

Gloria called and canceled her workday tomorrow morning because a friend of hers is visiting and it’s her last day here tomorrow. So I said okay. The air quality was “unhealthy” in Eugene this afternoon and I could feel the difference in my well-being: my body ached and my head hurt so I needed to rest a while. They said it would rain Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which should help clean the air.

This afternoon I peeked into the book of Walt Whitman that came last Friday. It’s a selection that zeros in on the personal side of his poetry, but still I’ll go back for a closer look later. If he was gay, then I can see why he would swear off Christianity and sort of replace Jesus with himself in his cosmos. Bloom’s language isn’t totally lucid in critiquing Whitman’s poetry and his life, or else I’m dense as a reader; but I think I tend to be more obtuse and blunt, as well as direct and perceptive… Maybe I shouldn’t mess with the book, yet I’m quite curious to understand more about it. I’m reminded of the song by John Lennon with The Beatles, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” It would’ve been even harder for a guy in 1855 to be gay. How much of himself did a very great poet want to share with the world? It’s hard enough in 2022 in the more jerkwater places in this country to just be yourself. It’s worth thinking about. 

City Life

Quarter after seven.

The city installed a cable on N Park to monitor the speed of drivers nearby Randy’s lot. They ought to do that on Maxwell Road, where the limit is 35mph and people actually go 50mph or faster. I didn’t see the moon this morning, though I did the last two days. “Wake up in the morning with a good face / Stare at the moon all day / Lonely as a whisper on a star chase / Does anyone care anyway?” An old Queen song by Brian May. The world needs more beauty instead of the industrial ugliness I see around me every day. To witness something pretty, I have to raise my eyes to the blue and wish upon the moon or the morning star. But this is the curse of the suburbs. The psalm goes that the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. I ought to be content with my daily bread. And yet so much is still desired. When the reality isn’t very attractive, this is the time to make poetry and pull humanity out of the gutter. “…Some of us are looking at the stars.” Remember that you shall not live by bread alone, but the gospel we need is beauty.

“Look in thy heart and write.”

Parameters

Wee hours.

It still is 81 degrees in my hallway. But hopefully this is the last day of the heatwave. Yesterday I asked myself what good is reminiscing on things, other than that it makes you feel happy temporarily. Now I ask what’s wrong with that. I think a revival of the Renaissance is a great idea, after we solve our most pressing problems. Some people believe that the root of our situation is laziness, so we need to be industrious and diligent to fix it. But this wouldn’t help with our inhumanity. “Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?” Nobody is a poet anymore. I should have gone to see Primus doing A Farewell to Kings last year. They came to a place near Portland to play the old Rush album in its entirety in August. Tribute bands are on the rise currently. This might be the way for me to go if I want to keep being a minstrel. The only problems are transportation and the drugs that musicians often use… Now it’s the same old question: church or no church this morning? There seems to be no other outlet for someone like me. My objection to it is the religion. There’s a drawback to everything, so you just pick the lesser evils as long as you have any choice at all. When those options are all gone, I guess you create your own options. But life is making it much harder to pull off. I wonder why that is? The parameters are shrinking a little more day by day until no one can be a real human being anymore. This is the course America is on. The concept of the individual is going away. I hear a breeze in my maple tree outside, and in my head, the last chord to a piece by Schoenberg done in 1909. Beauty in the dissonance.

I’m sick of church. 

Koko

The economist,

Chatting with canine Cerberus,

Paddles his troubled boat 

Through the Inferno

Of God’s forgotten friend.


For the reason

We will ask sage Koko,

The signing gorilla,

Who signs for all of nature

From an ebony throne

Under a daylight moon.

Coleridge lies in her lap,

Open to “With my crossbow

I shot the ALBATROSS.”

She closes the book and,

Hearing lunar movements,

She signs:


“You are not above nature,

But a part of it.

Ecology precedes economy

Both logically

And chronologically.

And I say to you,

Hold to your chest

The body’s commerce

With green grass

And gold flowers,

For all things are love

And love is all things.”


Then Koko hums 

To belugas in Arctic waters 

And the humpbacks in Hawaii,

As part of a telepathy

Humans still don’t understand

Because we dangle the albatross

From our necks.