Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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POEM: A Star To Be Borne — People Knot Looking Up

In dozin’s of dozin’s
They were engrossed
Fueled time and time agin
In con founding sow a ware
Their tension helled by their idol busyness
In pitches black to looming executors
As orderly
As dark
Knot knowing her
Under stand
Oh so only
A pinpoint of light
Maid awe
The brighter
Bye her dark surroundings
A soul star
Hardily seen
By fortune it few
Wile spacey masses
Worship the knows on their efface
As oblivion too her
As if
A gazillion miles away
Holy unappreciated
Yet in good accompany
Uncounted others
As bidding awe
To glisten up
And down bellow
To those untoward souls
Doody bound to knot look up
The bind leading the bind
As eyes razed
Awe through the night
Dreaming of eight hour daze
And might as well be
Taken for granite
Ahead stone
In concrete cubicles
And dead lines
In deed missing
Hi noon
Starring you in the face
As you were
Out to lunch

This poem tells a story of lives lived in such a fast and concrete way that awe is mist.  Weather the gently glistening star unseen from mansions suitable for slumber or the noonday sun unnoticed as out to lunch, people make due knot looking up.  Threw out most of human history, people looked up to the stars as entree to the eternal.  Unshrouded by big city lights, beacons of planetary possibilities bound only by imagination lucidly invite us to feast from such a contemplate.  Even in the light of day, when our own earth beckons hour attention, original peoples looked to the sun in their measure of time, as the nightly heavens did their seasoning allot.  The latest version of humanity, with each precisely distracted digital watch, now combined with a wring tone of our favorite bland, solicits us to look down time and time agin.  Fastened in a virtual reality, the only looking up we due is Googling.  Sow trying, to keep up to speed!   Who can resist such a lure?  Perhaps a generous summon from a heavenly place can raze our efface.  May the ponderings of countless stars, or a singular sun, be sufficient inspiration in life to look up without flail.

ACTIVIST POEM: With Eyes Fixed — Owed To Shannon Frye

She was tired
Enough
Fore sentries of human bondage
Still
Those precious wons
With eyes fixed
On the prize
Forever remanding us
Stay qualm
And carry on

All the darkness in the world could not put out the light of one small candle. Jewish Holocaust victim's epitaph POLITICAL BUTTONThousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened - Happiness never decreases from being shared -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem was inspired by Shannon Frye’s blazing commentary that I recently included in my blog.  Her response to why she delivered this heart-on-fire outpouring was simply “I just got tired.”  May we all get so tired!

This poem is also part of a larger, lifelong project and dream of mine that every person on earth have a poem dedicated to them.  And Shannon Frye, you are poem-worthy!

I have witnessed many candles in the wind, their flame not ensconced within an enduring heart.  I have seen too many young people embrace cynicism, unwell earned, hermetically sealing hope within suffocating rationalizations and fatal truths.  Shannon is a breath of fresh air, awe about inspiration, and connecting the unseen stars for those waiting to exhale.  May the flame in her heart set the world ablaze.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER – SUPPORT THE ARTS – Artists Make Lousy Slaves

This free poster takes a relatively apolitical statement, “Support The Arts,” and combines it with a socially and politically provocative assertion that artists make lousy slaves.  Slavery is perhaps the penultimate expression of dehumanization, literally selling humanity for simple utility and profit.  Art and artists are commonly viewed as of marginal utility, which is simply another way of saying that our vain culture and capitalist/consumerist economy finds it relatively difficult to monetize and/or control artistic expression.  Thus, artistic expression is routinely relegated to the margins.  Of course, the margins is where unvarnished truth tends to hang out more freely and where the marginalized more freely embrace truth.  Heartfelt and expert expressions of the human experience are anathema to slavery, the crude making of chattel of men, women, and children for mere utility.  Art and artists align with social justice concerns inasmuch as free expression is neither simply sold or controlled by commercial interests.  May the experiences and expressions of artists provide inspiration for free living and just us for awe.FREE POLITICAL POSTER - SUPPORT THE ARTS - Artists Make Lousy Slaves

Please feel free to share or print out this FREE POLITICAL POSTER: SUPPORT THE ARTS – Artists Make Lousy Slaves.

POEM: Gone, For Good

He is gone
For good
A martyr defined
Not buy his death
Rather buy living
Not confined by what is left
Rather liberated by what is right
That singular question
What heir will you breath
After being
Punched in the chest
Unfettering
Treasures never sought
Breathless moments
Inevitably followed
By deep inspirations
And that which was labored
Becomes awe
The ardor
As love requieted
Returns as naturally
As breath abides

This poem is nominally about death.  Nonetheless, this poem is much more about living, and living well.  The real question is not whether life exists after death - The real question is whether you are alive before death -- Osho quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem hints at the possibility of life after death, but focuses on the here and now of living that very well may echo into eternity.  This poem alludes to the transcendence of left-right politics.  This poem speaks to the victory and treasures unfettered of one being punched in the chest followed reliably by inspiration.  This poem is a reflection on the sublime triumph of love through both the gritty battles of life and quiet, tender surrender.  May our love for life and each other echo far beyond the deaths we experience.

The good life is a happy life. I do not mean that if you are good you will be happy; I mean that if you are happy you will be good. Bertrand Russell quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONLife shrinks or expands according to one's courage -- Anais Nin quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Namaste

Who dares ax
Why I am
Sow meta for
As the spear it in me
Razes up
Too meat the spirit in you

http://www.toppun.com/Religious-Spiritual/Buttons/Don-t-Have-A-Sacred-Cow-SPIRITUAL-BUTTON.htmlThis poem is an ode to my favorite version of the greeting “namaste:” may the spirit in me rise up to meet the spirit in you.  My poetic version plays with the meeting of the spiritual and physical, the spirit and the flesh.  How do the sublime and the crude coexist?  The short answer is that life is marvelously messy.  Daring to question why I am the way I am can be a precarious project.  Delving into why the great “I AM” is “I AM” can be downright dangerous.  Existence is puzzling; essence more sow.  One of my projects in life is to be in touch with my bastard nature, daring “too meat” the spirit in you.  The churning of my spirit yearns to kiss the whirled of flesh, and perhaps more.  The paradox of “Razes up” speaks to the inextricable cycles of destruction and creation, countless resurrections, risings up from the ashes like a phoenix. Re-born Again and again and again and again SPIRITUAL BUTTON This is a death-defying game: “the spear it in me.”  Still, I like to stir things up.  Things that are settled strike me as dead.  My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma. SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhere there is pretension, expect to be punctuated with vulgarity.  Where there is cynicism, expect to be flooded by my delugings of unabashed hope.  I will hurl sublime poetry over your ahead, but I won’t pick at your soars.  I will lob softballs to hit you out of park, but know one will keep score.  The hallowed and the hollowed will mete.  There are plenty of weepin’s in this life too be had.  How ever, weather I reach hi or lo, behold my arse and all.  Think good that the pun is mightier than the sored!  What ever this life is, it is the most beautiful thing I ever metaphor.  Metaphors Be With You SPIRITUAL BUTTONNamaste.

 

 

 

 

 

Please feel free to check out other spirit-filled, inspiring and life challenging designs:

A Conclusion Is The Place Where You Got Tired Of Thinking SPIRITUAL BUTTONIf you are in control, then you are going too slow. SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhy not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is? Mark Twain quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Not All Who Wander Are Lost SPIRITUAL BUTTONFind Your Own Way -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONThey will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own. Antonio Porchia quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway. SPIRITUAL BUTTONFirst Things First But Not Necessarily in That Order SPIRITUAL BUTTONReality is for people who lack imagination. SPIRITUAL BUTTON

BORN AGAIN and Again and Again SPIRITUAL BUTTONEver Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTONGot Inspiration SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The Beginning is Near SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POEM: Present Daze

God invented the eight hour day
But buy popular demand
Parently beyond what could ever be yearned
The ardor one tries
Only leaves won
With more or less
Wanting more our
In their daze
With each re-quest
First off with nine hours
Fallowed by ten
Bye and bye 11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
And sow on and sow on
Till 24
As sum backward count
Down with freedom
Until divine enough
As full, filled with presents

This poem is a bit of storytelling regarding hour ever-present knead for more time in our daze.  God is portrayed as a permissive parent granting immature children the never-enough request for more hours in the day.  This poem is an object lesson about “divine enough,” where both God and humans have to set boundaries and limits to move from merely an adequate quantity of time to a full, filling quality of time.  	 They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price -- Kahlil Gibran quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe freedom we seek requires adequate time but can only be “enough” when we learn to experience a sufficient quality of time.  This is the transcendent freedom emanating from mastery of experiencing the “eternal now.”  Of course, humans need a certain amount of time suitable to their nature and the tasks before them.  This poem plays with the notion that this amount of time may be somewhat arbitrary — a storytelling device to accentuate the governing importance of the quality of time — but humans were made, evolved befitting to a 24-hour day.  And of note, in our weakly existence, God instituted a Sabbath day to set apart the wrest.  Rest and re-creation are as integral to life as any work set before us.  This poem first imagines God as creating an eight hour day.  This is not arbitrary.  The eight hour day alludes to the successful workers’ movement in response to nearly unimaginably exhausting work schedules: “In 1890, when the government first tracked workers’ hours, the average workweek for full-time manufacturing employees was 100 hours and 102 hours for building tradesmen.”  Work, Buy, Consume, Die (repeat as unneeded) POLITICAL BUTTONThe eight hour movement’s slogan was “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.”  This movement was deeply rooted in the hard work and sacrifice — boundary setting — necessary to respect our human nature and human rights.  The defining moment in this movement, the birth-pangs of American labor, were police killings of strikers:

“On the evening of May 4, 1886, thousands of workers gathered in Chicago’s Haymarket Square to protest against the police killing of six strikers that had taken place a day earlier. As the rally wound down, a bomb exploded among a phalanx of policemen who had moved in to disperse the crowd. In the ensuing melee, seven policemen and an unknown number of civilians died.

The ‘Haymarket riot’ triggered the first American red scare. Media reporting was one-sided and vitriolic. Even though most casualties resulted from policemen’s bullets, the event was used to condemn the labor movement and its cause. Authorities quickly moved to pin blame for the event on Chicago’s working class anarchist leaders, who were arrested, tried, and convicted in a case that made a mockery of jurisprudence.

After the trial, an international campaign was waged for reversal of the death sentences, led by literary figure William Dean Howells, a close friend of Mark Twain. Of the eight defendants, four were hung on “Black Friday,” November 11, 1887: Albert Parsons, August Spies, Adolph Fischer and George Engel.

Will Work For Worker Rights POLITICAL BUTTONHaymarket is of enormous historical significance. It was the bloody culmination of the eight-hour-day movement, which had mobilized hundreds of thousands of American workers. And it was the direct origin of May 1 as the international holiday of the working class—celebrated virtually everywhere but in the land of its inspiration, the US.”

The trinity of work, leisure and sleep may be rooted in our human nature, yet there are many who would rob us of such a birthright.  The struggle continues in our culture of busyness and work/money as the alleged determiners of our identity and worth.  May we find a more balanced way, in harmony with our nature.  And in each moment, may you “divine enough/As full, filled with presents.”

POEM: Fore Awe That Can Be Souled

He lived buy
The law of the jungle
Except for that whole jungle thing
And law
Fore that madder
Welcome too
Living bye
A-morality
A-weigh of living
A-lien from nature
As not giving
One ascent
Fore awe that can be
Souled

The so-called law of the jungle is largely disrespectful of nature and law.  The presumed law of the jungle is typically a rationalization for amoral behavior.  Buying such low living is not becoming to humanity.  Greedy, fear-filled, and violent people swear by the notion of a “dog eat dog” world, even if they have never seen a dog eat a dog.  And if one has witnessed firsthand a dog eat a dog, it is a near certainty that this resulted from the instigation and/or training by a human.  Contrary to popular mythology, the overwhelming majority (95+%) of living beings on this planet live and die without being eaten.  Live and Let Live SPIRITUAL BUTTONLive and let live is a far better characterization of the nature of nature than some arena of death thrust upon us to bedevil us to our untimely end.  So, this poem is about respecting the higher harmonies of nature, including human nature — the nature of the soul, if you will — as we experience the gift of life.  Such higher harmonies lean into the predominant reality of life as a gift rather than a curse.  It is a destructive lie to characterize nature, or our nature, as a taker rather than a giver.  The jungle is a wild and beautiful place, but the awe and wander of its presents inspires its true companions to revel in reverence rather than dreadful competition or wanton violence.  A Savage Is Not The One Who Lives In The Forest, But The One Who Destroys It POLITICAL BUTTONMay you find that the wild places in your life bring you life-affirming inspiration and render you a lousy accomplice to greedy and guarded weighs.

Double Oh No: The Name’s Cadabra, Abra Cadabra

God’s
Name is knot
Abracadabra
Too be unloosed
Unwhirled
As owed man
Putting on
Some kind
Of spectacle
Who’s genesis
Giving
No quarter
To years
Behind
In a sense
Out right hostility
And udder a version
Sow called
Crater of the whirled
And awe wanting
Clear too see
Not a wood be casket
Drowning in a box
That must
Not hold water
As wee might reckon
Only too be
Delivered
In the final seeing
As figure out
By no means
Self evident
Pulling rabid
From won’s hat
Empty
Sored in passable caskets
Wee suspect
As a parent harms
As sure as there are no teeth
In taking
A bullet to the head
Wear the art
Matter’s not
And yet
Who is
The one
Cutting people in
Have
Awe that is given
Taking it
To the blank
As grater than
A loathe of bred
From nothing
Excepting freely
Wile rooting fore the nix
In a New York minute
As some goaled in goose egg
In disposed
Of whatever
Ladder day judge meant
Too due no wrung
As diff a cult
To under stand
As re-bounding
Back to the show
Is caping
Behind curtains
For the wrest of us
Only too be duped
In mere images
Peering real
Mirrorly a muse
Meant for inspiration
Knot too be swallowed
Hole in won
Or fish tails sow bred
Subject to
Dis tract
As divine accessory
And slight offhand
In vane miss direction
On the eve of knowledge
As simply a trick
Convinced one no’s
How it is
Done
Nothing
Too see
Hear
More than wee in vision
In blinding silence fallow
In a tacit urn hoarse
And yack knowledge
A bit fancy
Meager too please
As inn sufficient
Comforted buy con jury
In the worst kind
Of source err he
As if
Got hour
Back
To slots plain
As abettor
Be helled
No good
For make believe
When cloaked in daggers

This poem strikes a familiar theme of mine, the parent elusiveness of God and the unsophisticated ways of even daring to speak of such things from most any perspective brought to bear.  The dark side of religion has wreaked hellish trauma, bludgeoning both real people and tender hope for sublime understanding.  Militants, that is fundamentalists, from both theist and atheist perspectives routinely bash each other.  Religionists often infantalize atheists, and atheists are often eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   My guess is that if theists and atheists got together and compiled all of the gods they don’t believe in, that there would be a pantheon of common ground.  I view militancy, that is fundamentalism, as the primary divide, not theism and atheism.  There are plenty of poor intentions and chronic misunderstandings to go around.  As I see it, militancy bespeaks violence, that is a commitment to winning by creating losers, forever separated buy uncrossable divides in human life, terminally fighting over uncommon ground.  Fundamentalism of all types reduces perpetual paradoxes and the centrality of metaphorical ways of seeing the higher aspects of life to small-minded literalism stuck arguing facts rather than truth and stiff-hearted relationships valuing right ideology over harmonious community.  The siblings of truth and harmony, which are deep quests of theists and atheists, religion and science, or of anyone seeking to work out the seems of their worldview, knead less judgment and a sober patience unwilling to bury others in uncommon ground.

As in most conflicts, power and trust are the ultimate issues, or perhaps more to the point, abuses of power and trust.  Personally, I am increasingly convinced that absolute power absolutely corrupts.  Hell, I even believe God shares power in order to create a better overall world, that is not merely more benevolent and fair, but creates the very foundations for the highest human aspirations and shatters the ceiling of cosmological and worldly puppetry (and the inevitable puppet tiers).  I experience my most human living on a small-scale, in community, where direct accountability to one another breeds well proportioned living.  This brings humanity to power and builds trust seamlessly into the process.  Such human-scaled enterprises are far more sane, represented by the encouraging movements to local — not loco.  Large-scale enterprises are typically suited and tied in hubris, albeit the the finest hubris civilization can offer.  Only such large-scale undertakings can globalize insanity alongside the endemic learned helplessness paralyzed in the reality of “how did we get here?!”  In human community, power resides in people.  Power in human community requires consent.  Complicated — often called “civilized” — nonhuman mechanisms to consolidate power, typically under the auspices of creating “bigger and better” things, ultimately rely on people’s consent.  This often does succeed in producing bigger things; though the better part, our humanity, commensurately suffers in the accelerating smallness and relative unimportance of people in such enterprises.  Not surprisingly, people, not built for such inhumanity, become viewed as the problem, gumming up the efficient workings of the machine.  Depressingly sow, our views of human nature are then tempted to align with the misanthropic view that people are less important than things — see corporate personhood.  Withdraw consent and these nonhuman and inhuman structures and mechanism whither.  This speaks to the importance of protest and noncooperation/resistance to appointed authorities of all unkinds.  Opting out of institutional and corporate enterprises starves the beast and  frees up time and life energies for building alternative human communities.  Active noncooperation and resistance naturally arise as the dominant and dominating culture (sic) inevitably will clash with any growing culture (hopefully viral) that questions the sick assumptions and unearned trust of its immeasurable victims.  In such a project, Jesus radicals, atheist anarchists, and sordid kinds of others can find common ground, fertile for reclaiming our humanity in a whirled of profit tiers.  Let us not be distracted by our differences, but rather unite  in disavowing all things undermining the human heart.

POEM: Shame Old Story

A little bit
Of shame
Goes along
Weigh
Too much
With blinders
Knot visible
In a sense
Lost
To over looking
As awe full as life is

This poem is about the overabundance of shame, a tail as owed as time that wags the dog.  Shame is one of the all-time popular weighs of controlling others.  Shame is a lazy substitute for inspiration.  Inspiration comes with a whole lot of work, such as patience, integrity, passion, and compassion.  Shame is a seductive shortcut that cheats us out of the beauty full results of worthy effort.  In essence, shaming others is shaming ourselves.  As they say: you can’t point your finger at someone else without pointing four fingers back at yourself.  Relying on inspiration and example is a much better weigh.  There is a tribe in Africa where anytime a member commits some offense, they surround them and pummel them with every good thing about them, a wellness practice very telling.  Social psychology has well documented that focusing on building assets is more productive than focusing on deficits.  The rhythms of the human soul seem to be much more in tune with inspiration and positive regard than shame, criticism, and punishment.  In theological terms, this might be simply stated that good is stronger than evil.  Traditional religion often betrays this belief by focusing on original sin rather than original blessing; that is, accenting our inherent falling short rather than our inherent goodness.   May you readily see the goodness in yourself and others, and faithfully live out of our better portion.

POEM: A Musing Co-Mission — Nein Poems! Owed to Know One

This is nine separate poems comprising one poem, each and all on the theme of the muse mercilessly striking in the middle of the night with irrepressible inspiration from God knows where.

God bid me
Higher than I
Was willing to go
Only to in
Form me
Of whys infirm a meant
That I am
All ready
Hear

He slept
Into conversation
With that God of dreams
Where I’s are not necessary
Only more acute
And in their wake
Brake loose
Countless dawns

Apprehending
I am
A kept man
In my place
Beyond my own
Yet as if
More than
A game
Playing only
For keeps

In the mettle of the night
God has a Lot to say
In that language of silence
A partner
Worth more than
One’s salt
Never looking back
In a God so forward

He said “YES”
To harvest time
In the land of nod
Where more dreams are forgotten
Than anyone could ever “no”
Those fated few under
A night’s protection

The muse strikes
Beyond mirror daze
In the we ours of the night
Where there is know work
And never clothing for busyness

My hand rights
And awe that is mine
Mirrorly follows
Giving
One
A pause
Word
Without sound
Of won hand
Clapping

Amid night rambler
Beyond what is still
Drunk in slurs
Of lucid dreams
Never to be penned
And in mourning will
Be for gotten

The wrest of the night
Is yours
The muse supined
And you knead not worry
I will take care
Of hour many
Fine appointments

I wrote these nine poems one night over the course of a bout two hours.  The singular theme of a poet’s helpless relationship with a muse was not designed by me but a mirror reflection of this relationship.  My futile resistance was to know a veil, and pun in hand, I consider this my formal certification as gloriously disabled.  With the sole of a poet, flat on my back, I have long a go matriculated to the knead to get up and answer the muses booty call.  It is simply the write thing too due!  Sow, a light bulb goes on, and as pen is in hand, what comes is worthy of the papers.  A lass, what may be fodder to some is a parent only too me in sharing presence of what is awe to gather hours.  May you find yourself a basket-case of poetry like a sickness and a cure to gather.

POEM: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Won
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!

 

POEM: Meet Me Their

Meet me
Wear the sky
Kisses the ocean
Where the day’s heat
Meets the cool of eve
Where a child’s cry
Meets his mother’s loving ears
And a full groan man
Brought to his knees
Now stands
Before his new home
Meet me
Their
Where the mountain rises to our feat
And our souls bound
To that which cannot die
Yet awe the more
Touched
By life
All meet
You there
Where mourning brakes
As just us
Kisses peace

This poem arose from a hybrid of inspirations, from a phrase from the musical South Pacific (about the ocean and sky meeting) and from a poem read at today’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) demonstration outside Toledo’s federal courthouse to end racial profiling by police and the border patrol.  This poem is grounded in a hybrid of sorts, the daily beauty of the earth and a mother’s love combined with the longing-filled work of living for social justice.  Of course, these ongoing works bring joy and peace in both the present and the future.  Hope is well fed both by places near home and far away.  May you be well fed AND hunger for justice.

POEM: Car Less

One moment I have a car
The next moment I don’t
The universe conspires
To nourish my feral body and sole
Not with the twisted steal of civilization
But as a carrot
In a field of vision
Meting its purpose at crunch time
And the growing realization
Consummated by that instant in sight
That know one was hurt
A mist the scarred land marks
Mother Earth will breathe a little easier now
As I will
Walk and bike her paved surface
In treating me to go deeper
Ever-seeking serendipitous lifts
In tangling with the care less
And the car less
I am
Feted to join
The bus people in the world

This poem is an ode to my car being totaled in a wreck yesterday when a woman turned her car in front of me as I was going through an intersection.  Gracefully, no one was hurt.  To make a long story short, my beloved car will unlikely be resurrected, and I am not really in a position to buy and maintain another car (even if I get some modest settlement for my beater car in this instance).  Over the last couple of years, I have contemplated the notion of living without owning a car.  I figured that this would become a reality at some point in the coming years.  Due to two seconds yesterday, this reality has manifest much sooner, without warning.  Like they say: if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans!  Of course, I want to make God laugh.  Fortunately, God persistently has better plans for me than I can implement through my well-planned connivings.  I find these junctures in life as fascinating paradoxes of the worst possible timing and perfect timing.  As a die-hard metaphysical optimist, I am going to go with the perfect timing.  Yep, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it!

So, I took the bus today.  This was the first time in a long time.  Most assuredly, this bus ride will be the first of many.  I asked the bus driver if he had a schedule for the 20/24 line and he said, with a seasoned blend of acceptance and resignation,”We haven’t had those schedules for months.”  I fully expect my busing experiences to be rife with poetic inspiration.  Look out, folks, my feral trajectory is coming to fruition, fraught with unworn deliciousness…

 

POEM: In Possibility Incarnate

Alex created
A work of art
And
Another
Each infinitely improbable
In possibility incarnate
Bound only
By certain desire
One in many

This poem is a mini-manifesto on art and the artistic process; hopefully, inducing some inspiration and incarnating some guidance.  Surly, art can be enhanced by rarefied skills.  Still, art at its core is a work of heart.  Art is democratic in a sense; anyone willing to dance with desire and possibility can cast a vote.  Art is abundantly fair in that you can vote early and often in this existential dance called life.  Ultimately, the whole of our life is our work of art.  Of course, critics also abound.  Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach, criticize.  We all have areas of our lives where doing, leading by example, being the change we want to see in the world, devolves into mere teaching.  Further, we all have areas of our lives where teaching devolves into mere criticizing.  Some don’t even have the passion or self-awareness to even choose what they do, and instead of living, their life is lived for them by the forces surrounding them.  The freedom in creating art is bound by certain desire.  As certainly, our desires and passions are unique, not identical to any other.  In expressing our unique selves and perspectives, art is both intensely personal and inescapably social, an expression of our experience as one in many.  Some claim that all art is about God.  I think this means that all art is an expression of our experience as one in many and our relationship with the whole, the One, of which some call God.  Of course, many artists are reluctant to speak of God directly, often for very different reasons.  Some view the One as unspeakably beautiful and speaking falls short, even more so than our tentative art or lives.  Some view any formal relationship with God, often referred to as religion, as a source of unspeakable horrors.  I suspect that the views on this are as diverse as the art and artists daring to ponder such stuff.  Neither this poem, nor my rantings, are intended to serve as some ultimate guide to political correctness, though my life inescapably expresses a particular perspective.  While this poem is not overtly political — a little unusual for my poems — I tend to view artists as inherently political, mostly because artists make lousy slaves.

On a different note, some may wonder if the names I use in my poems are based on real people.  Sometimes they are; usually they are not.  I tend to select androgynous names, both as a way of avoiding sexist complications and as another way to pack two meanings in one.  Authors often write about what they know.  As a man, I often simply write from a male perspective; thus, I more often choose male characters.  Of course, sometimes I choose a character’s gender in a way that challenges dominant gender definitions and stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity.

POEM: Double Oh Seven Up

Double Oh Seven Up

He bought
That violence works
Buy strong
Wield men
Where once lust
Now found
Like some secret
Agent of change
As if
Like first see’d
Bared in some virgin soil
Unable to grow any further
Only ending
With another stiff
Drink
As know other
Shaken
But not stirred

This poem melds the themes of mythologized violence, superficial sexuality, and substance abuse as ultimately ineffectual coping mechanisms to deal with narcissistic adventures that shake up others lives but are barren of inspiration.

This poems title, “Double Oh Seven Up,” is one of my poem titles that ends up… being a more integral part of the poem, elucidating further its overall meaning. The “007” pun sets up the context for the poem by appropriating all of the glorified violence and easy sexuality from the Ian Fleming James Bond mythic biopics, where a license to kill and bonding one’s jimmy to anything that moves is the order — or disorder — of the day. The pop classic of “shaken not stirred” becomes a metaphor for the impotence of alcohol or other numbing escapes to soothe the real pain of violence, leaving us with mere Seven Up, like some taunting virginal martini falling flat at that. Indulging such lower ordered ways of being in the world — e.g., live and let die — represents a form of arrested human development. Such narcissistic adventures ultimately prove unsatisfying, that is, outside the timeframe of Hollywood and its cinematic consumer products. Maybe there is a reason that the term “theater” shows up in warfare! The “Double Oh” is a passing tip of the hat, a glimpse of recognition, that the merry-go-round of addiction to violence can only be escaped by refusing to order another “007 Up,” no matter how good it feels in the short run.

Combining violence and sex in such storytelling creates a seductive world view, at least for the alpha male demographic, creating the illusion that violence solves problems and that somehow chicks are attracted to bloodshed that does not foretell life-giving commitments. Mean wile, back in the real world, we are left with another stiff, soiled innocence, and soul-numbing coping mechanisms

As a bonus pun, the secret reference is also a reference to The Secret, a book and movie that almost fetishizes personal power, downgrading communal solutions and blending narcissism and spiritual enlightenment in a near perfect tour de force, which purely coincidentally harnesses consumer success in the US self-help marketplace. HINT: Never buy any product that includes ‘secret’ in its title or description, especially if preceded by The.  Of course, as they say, if it sounds too good to be true, you may have a self-help bestseller…

POEM: Quiet the View

Hope
Was
Present
On the horizon
South
East
West
North
into the fabric of existence
Be not afraid
Weather
Looking up
Looking down
Such peek experiences
Are awe ways just
Round the corner

I haven’t published a poem in a while.  I have been attending to other stuff, such as a couple of family reunions and moving my Mom from out-of-town to really out-of-town.  I have written poems during this time, though most of my poetry and verse has simply returned from whence it came.  I feel that I have irreversibly headed down the path of a poet.  My mind regularly (or irregularly) drifts toward poetry.  Most anything can trigger inspiration.  If poetry where a second language to learn, you might say that I am dreaming in poetry now, as verse becomes second nature.

This poem was written during a break from helping my Mom move.  We were in her 25th story corner apartment in a downtown Detroit coop apartment building.  Of course, she had lived there long enough that there was way more than 25 stories now.  I was enjoying the fabulous panoramic view when this poem sprung from the horizon.

As is oft the case, this poem is about hope.  Hope has always been.  Hope is present now.  Hope is always on the horizon.  Hope is SEWN into the fabric of our existence.  The phrase, “Be not afraid,” has special significance since it is the instruction that Jesus most frequently gave his disciples.  Hope, like many godly things, can be elusive.  Fear seems to be very effective at getting our attention; though much more blunt than the subtleties of hope, faith, and love.  Jesus leverages the palpability of fear to preface his deeper messages.  Fear is a great diagnostic tool to identify our personal blocks to experiencing hope, faith, and love.  If we can’t get past fear, then hope seems…hopeless.  Life inevitably has its ups and downs.  The difficulties in life can mire us in the rough edges of life, those corners that we can’t see around.  May you have the presence to seek peek experiences and find that you round the corner.

POEM: Evolution of a Writer

Evolution of a Writer

You have evolved into quite a writer
Could you write something for my company?
He solicited
Presumably thinking
I was still into monkey business
Not even grasping
I was clearly out of my tree

This poem is a playful way to address some tensions between creating art and the business of selling art, in this case writing.  Many artists struggle with having the creative process compromised based on market or business realities at any given moment.  The need to materially survive can draw in sharp relief — or deep depression — the vocational viabilities of the higher creative processes and the lower needs for material survival or comfort.  Fortunately, this can actually be a great source of inspiration of one of the many tensions in life — that of surviving versus thriving.  There are good reasons for the portrait of a starving artist.  This reality speaks both to the passion and value many artists place on their work, and the relative lack of value others may derive from the artist’s products of their work.  I separate the process of creating art from the created “product.”  I have little doubt that I derive much more joy from writing poetry than any other one individual can derive from my work.  Of course, the social and commercial nature of an artistic work product can leverage its overall value much higher because many people may experience it and derive some benefit.  The artist’s tendency to value the creative process makes sense — though perhaps not cents — since the creative process itself is typically what drives even further passion and creativity.  Selling stuff is typically secondary. Of course, the relatively few artists which can make a decent living selling their art may leapfrog to another level of freedom in their creativity and expression — assuming selling stuff doesn’t compromise the height of creativity.  Many view artists as “clearly out of their tree” if their valuing of commercial viability or success doesn’t match societal expectations.  Ironically, this may be one of the main purposes that artists serve in society: to expand society’s limits and depth of experience beyond that which can be relatively easily bottled for commercial success.  Yes, life is about much more than money.  This is the nexus with evolution.

In this poem I play around and push the limits of our current understanding of evolution.  Let me be clear, I am not claiming or even insinuating that the facts of Darwin’s theory of evolution are missing or wrong; nor that the theory is inconsistent with the scientific facts.  What I am saying is that sheer survival to sexually reproduce is too narrow a framework to explain human experience or predict human behavior.  Humans have evolved to such an incredible level of flexibility and adaptability that transcendent experiences (that would include subjectivity) outside of scientific reductionism present is difficult to ignore — if we want a more complete account of humanity.  Of course, this debate and tension between “spirituality” and reductionistic “science” are not new.  In the philosophy of science, there are understood to be limits to human knowledge.  In the case of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it does a powerful job of explaining how life evolves, but it (nor the rest of science) cannot explain how life itself came to be.  Plus, it leaves open the question of meaning or purpose in life or for life — NO SMALL QUESTION!  The theory of evolution uses “random” as a convenient assumption or framework to build an explanatory theory of how life evolves.  I consider the nature of “random” the great unanswered (and unanswerable) question within Darwin’s theory.  While reductionistic science, in proper accord with its assumptions and arising precepts, denies subjectivity as an area of investigation which science can legitimately explore.  Of course, accepting this assumption, though powerful in explaining some stuff, leaves the greatest questions in human life off-limits, and by improper cultural convenience and over-simplicity, simply ignores this aspect of reality (subjectivity), or worse yet denies it altogether.   It is no logical surprise, that the gaping hole of “random” leaves much to be desired in a more fully coherent account of human life and experience.  We need to evolve beyond this disability or maladaptation.  The sheer physical survival of a purely materialist worldview strikes me as our past, not our future.  This deterministic survival instinct, while part of our reality, becomes mere monkey business if taken as the whole truth.  So who is it in the human species that is not grasping this next level of evolution?  Maybe it will take some folks who appear “clearly out of their tree” to get us there…

POEM: Ninja Poets

Poets are like ninjas
They come from anywhere
They come from nowhere
Everybody has heard of them
Yet few actually see their work

There are lots of poets.  Though some might say not enough.  Most people do not read poetry at all.  That is, unless you include clever advertising as poetry!  I may just.  I see poetry everywhere.  This is probably why I write more poetry than I read.  While I am inspired by others’ poetry, I tend to go straight to the source: life itself.  After all, poetry is just a written result of the heart and mind making love in response to life.  The inspiration is in the source, not necessarily the effect or interpretation of the source.  Poetry may just be a grasping for God, just another elucidation of a deeper, even ultimate, reality.  Poets are like priests.  In an ideal world, there would be no need of priests.  There would be no class of people to mediate our experience of God, and deep realities.  We would directly experience such realities.  But, alas, we do not live in an ideal world, and poets play a role of elucidating, perhaps even inspiring, others into experiences of deeper realities.  Though good poets want to work themselves out of a job, to see others read directly from the depths of reality and offer up their observations, not for some other end, to publish or convert, but as an inescapable expression of joy, grief, and every human emotion and experience.  Our lives would be our poetry.  Then, everybody would be a poet and nobody would be a poet.  Hey, and who doesn’t want to be like a ninja?!

POEM: Heaven Unearth

Heaven Unearth

Place
Your hand in mine
And I will
Skip
The rest
Of the whirled
My feat barely
Touching
The ground
Where heaven and earth meet
Together
Giving thanks
For earthly existence
And your heavenly
Place
Saying a prayer
For the forever lust
And grace for awe
That is right

Alright people, it’s only a week away from Valentine’s Day!  I promise to help fulfill my dream that loved ones everywhere get a love poem.  So, will you be doing your part on Valentine’s Day?  You are free to pawn any of my love poems for a little inspiration.  Here are some suggested (only somewhat suggestive) love poems: Stolen Glances, Our Weekend Away, Relationship Advice, Unconvincing, and Love Tag.  As I have been prone to say: I want to inspire you; that is, I want to breathe you in!  I will craft a poem suitable, or perhaps unsuitable, for my sweetheart, an audience of won!  WARNING: a Valentine’s Day without poetry may put you at risk for settling for prose…