POEM: Until The Banks Overflow

In awe of creation
I am
Not alone
There is just us
Like an ever flowing stream
Until the banks overflow
Into unquenchable cache
And from the breast
Of life
Sucking
I am left
Nothing more
Than write

This short poem, like many of my poems, has dueling parallel narratives.  The first and foremost is the awesomeness of creation.  The overflowing nature of this awesomeness is the abundance upon which life is rooted.  Only when people start hoarding more than they need, banks overflow / Into unquenchable cache, does scarcity rear its ugly head.  This utter misreading of reality leads only to perpetual scarcity, within and without.  Whether experiencing awesome abundance and/or witnessing restless greed, I am often left with only the righting instrument of a poet.  Write on!

POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

POEM: Trust is the Glue

Trust is the glue
Sticking me to you
The favored few
The spoils of many
Consume mating
The fool
Faith and credit
Of US
Divining
Kindly mirror
Or unwelcome truth
A confidence game
And quiet passably
Escaped convictions
Sow what
Is the catch
Having been borne
Into a flimsy throng
With shortcomings taut
Exposed arrears
And know weigh out
From what hangs in the balance
And scaling up intimates dread
Both
Give and take
Be for you
A present
A forward looking gift
Offering as such
Promise
Seasons swimmingly
A rested development
And good grief
Those early mournings
In one’s out look
As prodigal hearts aplomb
And despite awe
One knows
Turning out
To be
Better than goaled
And silver locks fall away
Any hitch
A mere trailer of coming attractions
The untangled web weave
And too the our
Looming cleave

Trust is the real currency of human relationships and civilization.  True community can only be built upon trust.  We are born vulnerable, and vulnerability remains at the center of human intimacy throughout life.  Authentic human intimacy can only be achieved through vulnerability.  Exploring our vulnerability with others, and sharing our burdens of vulnerability with others, is a necessary process for building trust.  If we put ourselves out there and we are accepted and embraced, the space where we can truly be ourselves and truly learn about others grows wider and deeper.  This knowledge and experience of ourselves and others is essential for reaching our full human potential.  In its most simplest terms, we need others to be fully human.  Trust is an invitation to trust.  If another reciprocates that trust, then trust grows.  If another shuts us down or hurts us, then trust stagnates or recedes.  Similarly, mistrust becomes an invitation to mistrust.

We have all experienced rejection and hurt, and many have experienced outright trauma.  These facts of human existence provide the baseline for how much trust we might expect at any given time.  However, building trust or healing from mistrust can only occur by inviting others to trust, which requires a vulnerability from anyone inviting another to grow trust.  These are the true heroes of human community, not those who “make” things happen (the purview of force).

Without trust we devolve into isolation and fear.  Individualism can only be maintained by increasing control over others whom we do not trust and consider threatening.  This does not play well with the people sought to be controlled.  This is the most fundamental division in forming, maintaining, and building human community.  There may be a nominal alignment of interests within social classes to secure common goals, but these interests will remain forever in tension and at risk of erosion if the primary driver is individual security.  The perpetual warring of competing interests, and continual realigning of interest groups, is an inescapable result of an unwillingness or inability to share vulnerabilities with other people, to invite mutual trust.

Further, the drive to control others emanates directly from a subjugation of the common good to our own perceived good.  Whether conscious or unconscious, this drive is based on the calculation or assumption that, as an individual, one can fare better by competition against rather than cooperation with others.  While this may be true in limited contexts and time-frames, such competition and subjugation erodes the potential for human progress or evolution at any given moment.  There are many things that a trusting community, of two or more people, can build than an individual, no matter how much force they can apply to others to control others according to their own will.  If you have any doubt about the benefits of trust, consider the simple advantages of unlocked doors versus locked doors.  A fortress mentality, built on mistrust, is costly both physically and psychologically.  Of course, physical security for one’s person and property is perhaps the crudest manifestation of trust’s benefits.  At the heart of trusting relationships is self-discovery in the safety of accepting and loving others, and deep knowledge of others; both of which vastly improve our functioning in the human world in realistic and effective ways.

Since community builds from a growing trust in others, it is not surprising that families and close personal relationships are the building blocks of community.  Even the trust of institutions near and far is powerfully mediated by our personal experiences and from the example, character, and opinions of those whom we trust, those closest to us.  For this reason alone, building community is a bottom-up enterprise.

You can’t legislate trust.  Trust is synonymous with authority, not power to coerce but that which we believe has a legitimate claim upon us.  Institutions seem to have a life of their own, a self-replicating or self-perpetuating nature.  However, human institutions are dependent on humans.  Any authority that an institution has is derived somewhere down the line from the “street cred,” the level of trustworthiness of that humans associated with that institution.  Institutions are comprised of a set of humans associated with it, and a set of impersonal “corporate” relationships that govern its behavior.  The consent and trust of humans determines the legitimate authority of institutions (as opposed to simply force), not the other way around.

At the nexus of the personal relationships of humans and the impersonal corporate relationships of an institution, is the next level of human community where trust and mistrust manifest themselves.  Institutions guided by trust are mere tools, a technology to be used, by humans, to achieve some common good.  They act in accord with the will of the people associated with it, and demonstrate authority in as much as it behaves in ways with legitimate claims to creating common goods.   Institutions guided by mistrust are those plagued by humans who value the tool more than the people it was designed to serve.  Such human plague trusts tools, things, more than people.

The difference is between humans using a tool or the tool using humans.  Of course, the tool does not have a life of its own, but its character is derived from the humans associated with it.   Used appropriately, institutions serve as a tool to magnify the common good, and they both deserve and build trust.  Used inappropriately, institutions are weaponized by some to control others, magnifying the invitation to mistrust, and degrading community.  This weaponization of institutions hinges on a mistrust that chooses valuing “things” over people, in a quest for individual security.  In essence, such institutional abuse is a form of dehumanization, reducing people (and their institutions) to things simply to be used for one’s own advantage.  This tension or outright conflict within institutions greatly magnifies the dividing line between people and things.  While institutions can leverage the common good, I suspect that the ease of hijacking institutions compared to the great effort required to build healthy institutions does not bode well for the total net benefit of large institutions in human life and community.  Large institutions with their relative ease of weaponization sets up access to perhaps the greatest area of power differentials in human society.  Perhaps the best basis for securing human equality is minimizing large institutions which can magnify power differentials between people.

I suspect that widespread trust is much more efficient and effective than the widespread large institutions, the hallmark of Western civilization, at bringing about healthy, happy, and free human communities.  The fulcrum between trust and mistrust is compassion, or love.  Without compassion toward ourselves and others regarding our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we will forever fall short of being whole human beings, who can only be made whole in community.  Compassion builds trust and can banish fear.  I am hopeful that the experience of authentic, healthy community is more powerful and attractive than fearful isolation and individualism.  May it be so…

POEM: Unsatisfying Kiss

A philosopher trying to ascertain God’s existence
Is like a man trying to kiss himself
And even less satisfying

This short poem is simply a poetic attempt to get at the chasm of difference between speaking about God and actually experiencing God.  Because talk of God can be esoteric, even academic, it is even less fruitful than speaking of the many wonderful things of a more palpable nature in God’s good creation; for instance, food.  At least speaking about food more reliably makes one hungry.  Speaking about God carries many down unsatisfying paths.  I like St. Francis’ pronouncement: preach the gospel [good news] at all times, speaking if necessary.  Such a life lived provides a taste of God’s goodness, and a taste is a so much better tease anyway than a food fight…

POEM: Duckiness

Long the weigh
I miss
Took some clash
Charging another
Once an abject of my affection
Now a worthy suspect
In a lineup
Of numbered whoa’s
Among many
Seedy subjects
On the lam
Yet beyond a shadow
Of doubt
To the maxim
Looking like a duck
Walking like a duck
Quacking like a duck
Then duck!
Turning in
Turning out
To be a quack
Apprehending
I’ve been doctored
Now witnessing
Neither
A ghastly tale
To be chaste
Nor a menacing bill
To be payin’
Strangely just
A beginning
Only under standing
Won mourn
The oblige-ations
Of duckiness
A-mending

This poem is a tribute to the healing process after the break up of a romantic relationship.  This healing process is about moving beyond taking everything personally and gaining some detached perspective regarding how poorly we all often behave under stress and duress.  This process is probably best captured in dealing with the end of an intimate relationship, but it applies widely across life.  Perhaps the greatest blessing of intimate relationships is that it allows us to take things deeply personally, hopefully in a safe manner.  Unfortunately, when an intimate relationship breaks apart, this vulnerability brings great pain.  Since both people in an intimate relationship are vulnerable, with lives meshed and knowing each others buttons, a breakup can be an irresistible invitation to hurt those who have hurt us so deeply.  While this may not be a particularly enlightened or healthy way to cope with loss, hurt people hurting others is perhaps a universal human experience, from both the receiving and dishing it out ends.

In this poem, this predicament and attitude is transcended by a process of “duckiness.”  Ducky simply means likeable or agreeable.  Things aren’t always as they appear.  A generous attitude toward other may very well be the most appropriate default attitude.  Of course, sometimes what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck is, in fact, a duck.  Nonetheless, even if things are as they appear, our attitude and reaction toward any given situation molds oneself, even defines oneself.  And like they say, honey will get you farther than vinegar.  Our attitudes and behaviors are, well, ours.  What other people do is theirs.  What you do and how you do it does influence other people, but we all have our own choices to make, and can only be held responsible for our own attitudes and behavior.

Of course, the trickiness of relationships is that yours, mine, and ours is easily confused.  This is probably why love, generosity and simple kindness allow relationships to continue and grow.  We all need space to be who we are, without judgment or sanction, that is, to be accepted as the imperfect beings that we are all.  In a wonderful paradox, acceptance is often the greatest medium for bringing about change!  However, if a relationship is strained or at a breaking point, then boundary issues become more urgent, perhaps even a crisis.  People may start behaving in ways one considers unacceptable, or at least greatly dis-likable.  Accepting the other person the way they are, a pretty good working definition of love, does not demand some grand control or manipulation of their defects, but rather a healthy boundary for oneself to avoid harm from another’s toxic attitude or behavior.  No doubt, moving from a deeply personal meshing of one’s lives to a more detached way of relating can be difficult and confusing, especially if one is pondering severing a relationship completely, a relationship that may have provided many good things in each of your lives.  This can be the worst form of loss in life.  While suffering the worst losses in our lives may not bring out the best in us, this is equally true for those around experiencing great loss.  Such trying situations beg for compassion — compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.  There are few situations that kindness will make worse.  Try a little duckiness.  And if kindness doesn’t work, then it’s time to duck out…

POEM: Wage Slave Be Free

I am not a wage slave
I am free
And worth every penny

This week, I celebrated 10 years free from wage slavery!  My ensuing poverty has been a small price to pay for this freedom.  I am the richest person I know.  This short poem is a stab at de-linking our worth from what somebody will pay for our labors.  Also, this poem seeks to de-link the dangerous, though widespread, notion that our quality of life is pretty much directly proportional to our income.  Both a rich set of research and my own personal experience have proven that beyond meeting our basic needs, money is very ineffective at increasing our happiness.  At this point, money is not much better at improving overall quality of life either.  Some may squeak out some extra years, but may very well be less happy.  In my case, I am confident that the last ten years have produced more health in me than the previous ten years as a wage slave.

Some may contend that “slave” is too harsh a term.  This may be true, but I have a poetic license, and I’m not afraid to use it!  However, the constellation of realities for many wage earners is little consolation for the wages they earn.  Having to sell yourself wholesale to another for a wage is a relatively new addition to so-call Western civilization and in human history.  This package deal tends to serve employers and corporate interests more than individual employees.  This is increasingly so.  This millennium has seen virtually all of the gains in productivity, rooted in human labor, go to the top few percent of the richest Americans.  Corporate power has been extremely successful at hogging up all of the economic gains of labors increasing productivity.  This trajectory is degrading the value of work for most people.  Some have simply opted out of the work force.  There are fewer people in the American work force now than at the beginning of the millennium.  I’m not convinced this is a bad thing.  However, the way it is happening is brutal.  High unemployment across a wider range of job categories, including higher skilled jobs, drives down wages for all.  Of course, many jobs lost are replaced with lower paying jobs.  Some people, in some households, have come to the conclusion that they can’t afford to work!

For myself, I am less about the money than fairness.  I am less about the money than maintaining a free and fulfilling lifestyle.  I am less about the money than about living simply, consistent with an anti-consumer lifestyle, to live a sustainable lifestyle that won’t contribute to destroying our environment and planet.  There is more to life than money.  This seems like a trite statement.  However, I see many gaping inconsistencies in the way people talk and the way people live.  Such talk is a leading cause of global climate change.  Such a walk seems to be producing ever-diminishing returns in our quality of life.  Closing this gap would be better for both people and the planet which sustains us. We can do much better…

POEM: Eulogizing Fort Hood

Eulogizing Fort Hood

It is not ours to ask
Why those so schooled
In violence
Should act violently
On a vocation so seriously
Taking
Won too many weepings
Lead so quickly
Penetrating human hearts
Our own flesh
Not at home
In alien nation
And returning veterans upon veterans
What doors have been shut
What calm
Might be expected
It is
Not enough
Guns to keep us safe
But arms withheld
Once again

Today were the funeral ceremonies for the victims of the recent Fort Hood shootings.  Such tragedies are probably not well prevented by doing violence better.  Perhaps we should try to do nonviolence better.  Let’s give peace a chance.  Maybe some day we can eulogize Fort Hood.

 

POEM: Mountain of Love

He cried out
“I would climb the highest mountain for you!”
She said
“How about doing your fair share of housework?”

This short poem goes out to all the ladies in the house.  I am a big fan of epic love.  I salute grand romantic gestures.  There is an all-to-vacant spot in our universe for such sumptuous stunts for ailing hearts.  On the other hand, the foundation of love, and all grand acts, is sharing our day-to-day lives.  This includes such mundane tasks at housework.  To be a helpmate to one another is very sexy.  So step it up fellas.  Climb that mountain of laundry.  Scale that mountain of chores.  Otherwise, she may just clean house all by herself…

POEM: Inexplicably Wonderful

The gift of life
Is quite inexplicably wonderful
But fear not
Teams of scientists
Are working
Around the clock
To redress this problem

Skepticism has its limits.  In practice, I am a skeptic of much skepticism.  Life is wonderful.  The foundation for life being wonderful is that it is a gift, something we received without any effort or merit of our own.  This foundation of life as a gift is the most natural springboard for gratitude.  Gratitude is the antidote for cynicism.  Try it.  Try being cynical and grateful at the same time.  Nearly impossible.  Of course, this poem mocks a particular form of skepticism, that of scientific skepticism.  Scientific skepticism is a religion to some, even a disease.  Not without deep irony, many of these same folks view religion as a disease.  I find very few militant scientific skeptics as happy and carefree.  While I appreciate the work ethic aroused by deep commitments, empirical skepticism, scientific reductionism, is simply unable to answer the most important questions in life.  Over-committed skeptics regularly rule out contemplating meaning as a legitimate enterprise.  If they do find some subtle tricks to allow for meaning, these heavenly concepts are confined to cramped quarters with narrow doors and frequently with no windows to larger realities.  There may just be no explaining my wonderful, carefree frolicking about.  Well, deal with it — and preferably not as a problem…

POEM: Model Citizen

Rowan was a model citizen
One-eighth scale
Painstakingly posed
With animating make up
Almost lifelike

This short poem, “Model Citizen,” is a reflection on the life-like which should only be mistaken for life at one’s own peril — or, in this poem’s case, at one’s community’s own peril.  The status quo and the powers that be provide a straightforward framework, including incentives and disincentives, to behave in a certain way.  This is a large part of what we call culture.  Busy-ness and business are dominant aspects of modern Western civilization.  Unfortunately, being busy, or just seeming busy, isn’t necessarily linked with human betterment or progress.  Like Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  Surely, the capitalist business and consumer culture feeds the need for speed, ever-increasing “industriousness” to grow the economy and standard of living.  Perhaps the best example of why this path is perilous is the reality that a “successful” growth of worldwide standard of material living requires an increasingly unsustainable exploitation and consumption of natural resources, and concomitant waste.  If such growth is not to be a fatal planetary cancer, there needs to be wholesale changes in the way we do business, and busy-ness, as relates to the urgency of the situation.  We cannot settle for life-light or lifelike.  Such citizen posers may be the death of us all.

This poem points to the role of good citizenship in creating, maintaining, and sustaining healthy communities and a healthy planet.  In good citizenship, democracy is the process and the common good is the goal.  Neither democracy nor the common good can reasonably be entrusted to elites, whether these elites are political, business, technocratic, or religious.  It is precisely these elites which have an interest in selling us something other than the common good.  The proprietary nature of modern existence, driven by the profit motive, has brought us to this place.  The common good is anathema to profit as king.  The unjust advantage held by elites is what keeps us on this perilous trajectory.  Nominal democracy is a common tool used to fool average citizens into accepting something less than the common good.  There is a great divide between elites, who are generally viewed as portraits of “success” — a mere fantasy for many — and the masses who would be greatly advantaged by securing the common good.  Of course, in affluent societies, the “middle class” comprise most of the so-called “model citizens.”  Their advantage in the larger scheme of things is sufficient to buy into the status quo, if not the powers that be.  The amorphous common good of some possible life is bypassed for the reasonable access to the concrete benefits of living in a materially affluent society.  Most simply put: if I’ve got mine, then risking that for something less certain seems like a bad bet.  So we settle.  In terms of democracy, made nominal, this appears as that oft-too-common choice of the lesser of two evils, choosing between two elites who have no real interest in the common good, other than to pacify the masses and maintain stability and predictability.  Just note the language used with the utmost importance regarding financial interests and “markets” needing “certainty.”  Predictability has many nice facets to it, but in this case, the greatest certainty is that the rich will grow richer and the poor will grow poorer.  When this almost-cliche formula receives little complaint or resistance, it is a sure diagnostic that you are richer than poorer, or at least a committed wannabe richer.  In the end, this poem is a call to the poorer masses to throw off the illusions brought by nominal democracy (in a plutocracy) and the modest temporary incentives to play it safe as a “model citizen” only one-eighth scale.  Then, we can join together in a much truer democracy able to secure the common good for all — yes, even the richer.