POEM: My Brand of Value

My brand value
Has plummeted recently
So says sum consultant
As some seer into my pristine hide
Speaking a bout
Clashing symbols
In the mark it place
Some limbic game how logo
Soliciting every thing
That can be taut
As I must be
Scarred for good
Pimping my horrors
To a void
Tear attacks
Or fiscal fits
In a world lackeying so much
I’ll pass
Perhaps in tact
Or knot out live
Still
Forever chaste
Know thanks
I do believe
I’ll steer clear
Of dis figure or dat figure
And risk being
De-filed

In order to sell ourselves for a high price, we need to pay homage to our brand.  We often need to distort and simplify our deepest passions and interests so others can easily recognize our “value,” that is as such value may be determined at any given time and culture.  In the marketplace of our modern world, this typically means configuring our lives to maximally monetize ourselves.  Reducing our lives to money is a dangerous undertaking for our humanity.  This poem takes issue with the assumption that we should spend much of our life trying to sell ourselves.  What exactly would be a good balance?  Perhaps 15% slave, 15% whore, and 70% free range human would be a good compromise.  After meeting our basic physical needs, it strikes me that we should be devoting ourselves to the things that money can’t buy.  Even meeting our basic human needs can be much more human than often offered by modern, so-called civilization.  In fact, if we can trade, have mutual aid associations, grow some of our own food, build or repair our own stuff, we can loosen the grip that the moneychangers have over life, trading currency for the gloriously ineffable now.  Humans are not machines to be ever more standardized, even in the most complex and beauteous contraptions.  Rather than leveraging the seductive, money-making enterprise of simplifying and reducing humans to means to some financialized end, we should develop human relationships that harness the curiosity and appreciation of the unfathomably deep eccentricity and beauty of every human being.  Then, we can move from boredom and cynicism to enthusiasm and bounteous hopes.  This glorious movement from the bowels of an uncaring machine to a feral existence may be messy, even pricey.  Nonetheless, the value of living undomesticated lives is boundless, offering more than any mechanized existence, no matter how tamed, how well-trained, or how profitable.  Branding is not for the benefit of cattle or humans, and it is painful and scarring to boot!  Branding is for the ease of those who want to own and trade you and every commodifiable aspect of your existence, rather than taking the glorious time and robust effort to see you fully for who you truly are, worthy of avoiding all mean ends, and courageous enough to face being de-filed.

POEM: In Jesting Another Triple Crown

America’s quest for monarchy
Failed again
A triple crown thwarted
The quest for total domination
Foundering
Another cracker jack faux
A for-see-able sir prize
Californian gold transmuted
Into chrome
Bronzed
A tanned hide
Soon forgotten
A hoarse race
A poorer proxy
Of true human feat
Ruled by what is
Less swift
Needing powerful spectacles
To not see
Over and over
Hour consolation prize
Ever settling for the gaming
Of plutocracy
The royal fleecing
Of sheep
Buy domesticated wolves
For equestrian
Riding
To the end of the world
In minutes
Flat
Re-lying on vain hopes
Our ambitions
Running around in circles
An opulent haunt
Of who most dashing
How ever a ware
It is US

The 2014 odds on favorite to with horse racing’s triple crown, California Chrome, finished an unmemorable third place, leaving it’s legacy bronzed and lifeless.

It’s difficult to watch the spectacle of horse racing without at least some class consciousness.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  In this poem, I use the fodder of this most apparent “gentleman’s” sport as an opportunity to expose it’s more seedy underpinnings.  Whether horse racing or NASCAR racing, sport is big business and a necessary distraction from less sporting, and even less gentlemanly, enterprises.

Americans love a winner.  More so, Americans love domination.  For Americans, there is something that resonates with one “competitor” so dominating others that it is scarcely a competition.  This strikes me as something to do with America’s love affair with “exceptionalism,” specifically American exceptionalism.  The shock and awe of being so much superior than any and all other competitors under-girds a dark morality where might makes right and vulnerability is banished from human, or at least American, or at least elite American, experience.  And while not all of US may be playing on the super-achieving Team America, we can all at least root for the home team.  In it’s most blatant form, this is killing all of our enemies, “terrorists,” who would dare challenge, or daresay “compete,” with the American weigh of life.

Since monarchy itself is déclassé, we have to repackage it into the monarchy of plutocrats and the aristocracy of celebrity.  The plutocrats sell us celebrity, and the increasingly hollow American dream of becoming rich ourselves.  Plenty buy such pablum.  Any one of us running head to head or fighting toe to toe with the plutocrats may not even be in a horse race, but together we need not re-lie on singular saviors.

Our salvation rests in the masses standing against the few, the plutocratic oligarchs, and building communities based on egalitarianism, not exceptionalism.  We need less spectating and more participating.  We need less fans and more teammates.  We need less co-opting and more cooperation.  We need less jockeying and more mutual aid.  Let’s make it so.

POEM: Suffering Artists

I heard that
Artists are supposed to suffer
For their work
No matter how hard
Beaten
Their head against a wall
So trying
I have failed
Miserably
Only finding my work
Adore
I am through
And not
Well
Done

I am not much into suffering.  Of course, some may not consider my a truly devoted artist.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have an ascetic streak.  My values of living simply and for social justice drive such asceticism.  Also, I have a level of detachment from many hedonistic pleasures where I can enjoy such experiences without unduly relying upon them (see guacamole).  Surely, life brings with it enough suffering and pain that we never ought to seek it out!  As I like to say: just because you can learn something from being hit across the face with a 2-by-4 is no reason for hitting people across the face with a 2-by-4!  I consider the so-called suffering intrinsic in the creative artistic process as a form of passion that is not fully under control.  This process is analogous to love, in which the sickness and the cure are one.  Experiencing art, like love, demands something from us.  Inasmuch as we are lazy, this can bring suffering.  Yet, inasmuch as art enhances our response-ability, life grows deeper and richer.  This is adore in which we are never through…

POEM: Owed to Racism – That Whole In Our Soul

Owed to Racism: That Whole In Our Soul

Our life is
A thin line between
Loving hate
And hope filled madness
Dark mournings
And over joy
In this may hem together
To suture self
And community bound
For wince they came
Through painful needlings
Both sides
Right
And left
In stitches
Where it hurts to laugh
At such a heeling surgin’
Please
Do not real
At my site
Unless you are willing too
In counter me
Phase to phase
Offering me
More than mirror change
Wear wee are all scarred
Leaving behind
Broken images
In its place
Bad luck
And idol
Hands speaking
In victory clenched
Lifting up
The signs of the times
I am a man
And woo man
Never the less
Hearts beaten
As won
An incite job
Game to be fixed
Equal to awe before us
That whole in our soul
Onto grievous grounds spilling
Not simply in vein
As sometimes made pale
Sometimes colored
Weave all skin in the game
In this work of heart
For as it is read
Sow shall it be ridden
Free dumb
Of oppressor and oppressed alike
No longer sullen one another
Undertaking and overtaken
In the passed
To marrow
Never for gotten
Bidding us
To not be under souled
In the ours before us
Wresting in peace
So called
Beyond words
And belief
In action
To gather
With won voice
And undivided tension
Of won accord
Hand in hand
So becoming
Full circle
Un-brake-able

This anti-racism poem came out of my recent experience with a combating racism dialogue group, as part of a larger anti-racism initiative in Toledo.  This poem reflects both the devastation and intractability of racism and group members’ deep commitment and hope for a world free of racism.  The poem calls for united action to reclaim the wholeness of our community.  The level of denial of racism by white folks in America is staggering.  Confronting white privilege often makes even dialogue difficult.  Truly joining in solidarity to combat racism with concrete actions is often seen as unduly threatening to privileged whites.  I am grateful that Toledo has the wisdom and fortitude to operate these dialogue to change anti-racism groups.  May these groups unleash a juggernaut of positive social change for Toledo and the world!

POEM: If the Shoo Fits, Ware it

They were fighting
For the sole of the Republican Party
Treading on one another
Hiking up the cost for all
No-ing only
Too exorcise their freedom
In runs for the money
And superior races
Doing whatever they klan
However big it may be
Of mice and men shrinking
Like an elephant on grass
Inevitably tramps
Leaving only
A closet full of boners
And empty, high-priced shoos
Re-lying on trite and true -isms
If the shoo fits
Ware it

This poem aims at the elephantine target of unforgettable Republican politics.  More specifically, this poem was inspired by the infighting between Tea Party Republicans and the Republican establishment — Tweedledee and Tweedledumber.  Self-destruction never looked so good!  Of course, such shenanigans are a poor way to uplift our nation.  I’ve incorporated a tip of the hat to the African proverb, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”  In this case, it’s a colonial and racist white elephant.  As the shrinking proverbial tent of the Republican Party is reduced to some pachyderm Speedo®, they will inevitably have to display their corporate sponsors’ logos as tattoos.  They might even be advised to monetize this train wreck by putting it on pay-per-view.  There is no such thing as throwing up your lunch for free!

May the Republican Party implode with a minimum of collateral damage.

POEM: Needling a Haystack

The stockpiles of human knowledge grow exponentially
And wisdom, like needling a haystack
Says, “What the hay?!”
Finding better questions is where it’s at
Not how fast you can shovel it
Nor how big your pitchfork is
Rather what thread follows
And sew what

This short poem is a tribute to questioning with a purpose.  Unfettered skepticism produces cynicism.  Wisdom recognizes that some questions are better than others.  In fact, what questions you ask determines what answers you get.  This poem cuts through the exponential amassing of knowledge by honing our attention to that which mends our reality together into a meaningful whole.  Without meaning full questions to guide our inquiries, greater access to knowledge simply leads to greater confusion.  The attraction and distraction of a tsunami of available answers to questions, i.e., knowledge, can actually hamper wisdom.  Now, this isn’t some anti-intellectual argument.  This simply recognizes that intellect lacking wisdom is much less fruitful, even dangerous.  The quests for scientific knowledge and wisdom are consonant.  Both seek to integrate knowledge into an ever greater whole.  Knowledge that serves the whole, as opposed to just some part of reality, is a better quality of knowledge.  Knowledge isn’t just about bits and pieces, mere facts; true knowledge is about a deeper understanding of the relationship of these parts to each other, and most importantly, the whole.  Wisdom has a deep respect for the whole, and an even deeper reverence for the fact that the ever greater whole can only be tentatively and incompletely described.  Thus, wisdom is characterized by both humility and curiosity.  Wisdom opposes militant ideologies and apathy.  In fact, militant ideologies are simply ideologies that have lost humility and curiosity and stopped seeking out the ever-elusive, ever-greater whole, which is at least partially represented by those outside a militant ideology.  This fact escapes many trapped in militant ideologies because they mistake totality for unity.  Wisdom is an inoculation against militancy, fascism, and fundamentalism.  This is because the humility and curiosity of wisdom breeds a generous attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with the whole.  The openness of wisdom is not merely a corollary of the tentativeness of empirical skepticism and scientific reductionism; it is is rooted in the positive appreciation for the value of the “other” which comprise the yet-undiscovered aspects of reality and ineluctable mystery.  This may be your enemy.  This may be God.  It may be both.  A generosity transcending mere openness is made possible by a trust or faith in the whole being more valuable than the parts, even the sum of the parts.  This faith is as essential to healthy scientific investigation as it is to loving human relationships.  This simply assumes, or prefers, science that serves the whole rather than some special interest.  This simply assumes, or prefers, human relationships that don’t reduce humans to things to be manipulated, but beings to be appreciated.  The generosity of wisdom is the mother to its only true child: kindness.  In humility, stripped of arrogance and egocentricity, and equipped with an overpowering curiosity and a transcendent appreciation of the “other,” only kindness remains.  And all good will follow.

POEM: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

From oasis to oasis
Straw men
Hiring suckers
Living under
Dissembled bridges
Until it’s over
Troubled waters
What’s the hold-up
Living for weak ends
And long vocations
Until
Down
Under
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
A hexing feat
A plod
Bought and paid for
Buy decisions made years a go
Putting off family
For eternal wrest
Friends only gathering in your wake
A bout time
Spent
Pourly
Until
Can’t take it
With them
Passing on
An assuming manor
And a partiality
For a stylized life
And conspicuous consumption
Wear cleanliness is next to gaudiness
Awe made passable
By a peacocky overcompensation
Surpassing one’s station
In life
A haven untaxed
In death
A surety
As won might
Have guest it
A regretful time share
As when the first homme isn’t enough
Always returning
Too more earnest dwellings
Harping on
The good old daze
Not even
For a second
Helping
But for the hole shebang
In unremitting a morality
A temporary re-treat
From the fire down below
Feeling the heat
Strokes of genius
Clever ruses billed
On foundations of sand
Offering slim hope
For the porous
As liquid assets evaporating
In a desert temp
An oasis scarcely better
Then a mirage
For those sitting on the parch
A weigh station
To check their baggage
Perhaps pick up some more
Souvenirs
For the trip
Over their own feat
Plunging an unquenchable thirst
Skewering with spit
Sweating bullets
In humid climbs
Yet like fish out of water
No matter how hard
They dry
Flailing to inspire
In any such reckoning
And knot on your life
Will they settle
For sum thing less
And weather they come
Ergo
For the wrest of US
Their goes
The neighborhood

This poem is an ode to so-called living from oasis to oasis rather than living sustainably in one oasis.  I find that the so-called “carrot” of getting to the next oasis is actually more of a “stick” to nature and our humanity.  Americans have suffered from a frontier mentality for centuries, ratcheting up suffering in increasingly exponential ways.  Instead of doing the work of learning about and living within natural limits, humans race toward extinction, with a lengthy prologue and rate of over a hundred species a day.  Living in harmony, sustainably within our natural environment, may very well be the most important lesson humans need to learn within the next few generations.  There is little reason why we shouldn’t be able to learn this lesson, but whether we will avail ourselves of the benefits of learning this lesson is unclear.  There is a classic, somewhat cynical exposition from the character Agent Smith in the movie, The Matrix, which gives one perspective on the human race and human nature:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

I find this description accurate.  However, this history leaves unanswered how we will respond in the future.  The relevant conundrum that I see in human nature is that the unprecedented capability humans have in making choices undetermined by nature is a serious double-edged sword.  This very capability to stretch nature, even human nature, can lead to large, unsustainable ventures which bound over natural limits in which other living entities would be much more “naturally” restrained or contained.  Perhaps paradoxically, this very same capability leaves open the potential to adapt quickly and recover a sustainable balance.  I find hope in our ability to adapt.  Still, humans have a long history of only doing the right thing after exhausting most every other possibility.  The stakes are high, and realizing the high stakes may be the necessary impetus for humans to make necessary adjustments.  Hopefully, we can restore a level of sanity and balance in time to avoid a catastrophic collapse of civilization and/or the environment.  Either way, living in harmony with nature is a better choice.  We can vote with our lives and lifestyles.  May we embrace our evolution, even revolution, to avoid devolution or extinction.

POEM: Just Desserts

I had a dream
Where we lived
In a world
Where everyone got
What they deserved
I woke up
And was pleased
To recollect
We receive
More than we deserve

This short poem is about grace. In more tight-fisted moments, we may fantasize about people getting what they deserve. Many times this is more about punishment or revenge than justice. Grace is the infinitely large context that allows justice to flourish without devolving into mere retribution. There is no doubt that life has consequences. And sometimes those consequences spring from wise boundaries set with other people. Nonetheless, life also has origins. The fact that you are even alive is as mysterious as it is unaccountable. This reality is the context and basis for the perspective of grace. Good things come our way without our doing. The gratitude that emerges from such a perspective may very well be the most life-affirming aspect of human consciousness. Of course, bad things come our way without our doing. The former is called the problem of good. The latter is called the problem of evil. You don’t hear much about the problem of good for the simple fact that most people don’t consider it a problem. But, good is no less puzzling than evil. In fact, whether good (or evil) arises out of our human consciousness and experience may very well depend on our focus and perspective on good (or evil). As moral agents, it should come as little surprise that humans are self-fulfilling prophets.

When facing the puzzling “problem” of good and evil, many will make little account of where good comes from in life. However, it is a rare individual who doesn’t have strong opinions about where evil comes from. Let the rants begin! Ironically, the very reality that life is so awesome and precious (and undeserved) can lead us to fixate on unenlightened actions that threaten life. Tighten those fists; it’s going to be a scary ride! Even those who are highly skeptical, thinking that good and evil come from nowhere somewhere in the human heart, have to accede to the simple equation put forth in Eric Idle’s song, Always Look at the Bright Side of Life, from the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian:

I mean – what have you got to lose?
You know, you come from nothing
- you’re going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing.

See here for the irreverently rousing version of this song from Eric Idle himself in the movie.

I believe that life comes from something, not nothing. Somewhere in the mysterious heart of hearts from which life springs we can join in its rhythms and melodies. Or, we can tighten our fists fearing we will lose what we so mysteriously wonderfully have in the first place, which ironically, causes us to lose the spark of life within us. I think that this is what Jesus meant when he said, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29) May you bubble over with life, and may others not fear that there is not enough.

POEM: Changing Kings

When I was a child
I crapped in my pants
Today I am a king in the world
Now I make others crap in their pants
This is the indigestible truth
Of too much power
That cannot be changed
Even by changing kings

Few people disagree that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Still, most people will gladly accept a little corruption, if it is backed by a little power swinging their way.  Of course, corruption seems much worse if we are on the short end of it!  Power is not distributed equally among humans, and those privileged to possess it, routinely wield it for their own advantage.  Whether through unconscious bias and egocentricity or just plain selfishness, imbalances of power in human relationships leads to corruption.  Even with good intentions, those with greater power end up molding the world into their image, at the expense of the reality of other people’s lives which are disproportionately discounted.  Who of us would not want the magic wand of power to mold the world to fit our ways?

Relinquishing power is not common, and might even be considered foolish by conventional wisdom.  The point is not to relinquish any and all power.  The point is not to have substantially more power than others.  This is rooted in recognizing that power differentials lead to human corruption; or, perhaps better put, lead to a corruption of human community.  In fact, relinquishing power in order to help establish a more healthy balance of power in human relationships is a form of exercising power.  This form of exercising power witnesses to an understanding of a higher power present in reality, that more egalitarian balances or power produces better humans and human community.  The sad truth is that most people have more faith in fascism or other forms of concentrated power than they do in egalitarian human relationships.  This is almost universally true when those with lots of power are aligned with our own particular interests. Even better yet if I am the benevolent dictator!

Large power imbalances typically result from and are maintained by violence.  A relative surplus of power quite predictably leads to a lazy humanity perpetuated by force, routinely re-”making” humanity in the mold of those wielding the power.  The purview of power is expediency, playing into our bias for our own ease rather than than often difficult work of building healthy human community.  The natural ascendency of the masses rooted in their common and democratic (in the sense of majoritarian) everyday reality can only be put down by large power differentials driven by elites.  Historically, there have been numerous rationalizations by elites to justify their minority rule over the masses.  None of these rationalizations can stand as they are founded on the bankruptcy of violence.  Violence is not persuasion; it is overwhelming force.  Violence is what people rely on when reasonable persuasion fails.  Of course, violence is persuasive in the sense that any human act carries with it the power of modeling how humans should act.  However, violence does not lend itself to reasonable human relationships.  Violence is the lowest form of community.  It should be no surprise that violence leads to more violence.  I actually like surprises!  If we meet violence with non-violence, there can be some really cool surprises made possible.  If we want something more than violence, the inevitable outcome of large power differentials, then we need to do something else.  We can do better.

 

POEM: A Befitting Size, That Matters

Starring on the big screen
Used to dominate young dreams
Super-sizing them for mass consumption
Today, celluloid immortality miniaturizes
So five minutes ago
Small screens test us
As we flail miserably
In a feudal limbo
‘Tween
Puffed up images
Flickering about
And atrophied soles
Going nowhere fast
No longer facing
A true converse
Of penetrating I’s
Present minds
And supple lips
Flush of heart
Given to a musing gesture
Deflating kings
And giving commoners rise
Surpassing hands shaking
And awe that follows
Neither settling
For collapsing our highest hopes
Nor minute fits
As souls meet the street
And welcoming nature
Banishing the might he
Of lesser woulds
And inspiring fresh heirs
To real feat
Baring our soles
Grounded in realty for all
A shared fete
A fare commune
Wear each mourning
Met lightly
With a celebration of the hearts
No longer idle worship of images
Every won an original
Not merely deference
Bland tolerance
Or thumbs down devolution
But powered by appreciation
You can bank on
A currency turning led into goaled
A redeeming alchemy
The most handsome ransom
For our ugly whirled
A watery swell so grave
Or a cowering inferno
Mything the point
With such hocus pocus
And uncounted allusions
To awe that would suitor
A befitting size
That matters
And keeping it
Reel
Never having too obsess
What’s the catch

This poem is a call to more real and human-scale relationships.  Social media technology, celebrity, and widespread shallow images of ourselves projected to others is robbing us of better ways of being.  We can easily be overwhelmed by images of celebrity, status, and wealth, tempting vainglorious dreams.  We can easily feel inadequate and too small by a juggernaut of Photoshopped images and word processed personalities.  Humans are best suited to face-to-face relationships.  As such real-time, real-world relationships are edged out by other more nominal relationships our humanity and satisfaction suffers.  Nobody wants to be multi-tasked, no matter the purported claims of efficiency.  Long-term, face-to-face, human relationships better reflect the awesome depth, complexity, and eccentricity of humans.  It is by far the best place for healthy intimate relationships to thrive.  Such relationships also keep us humble, rooted in reality.  I see humility as being right-sized, not too big or too small.  Perhaps the greatest threat to humility is technology and institutions which depersonalize human interactions.  Powering up through technology and institutions is a powerful temptation to become too big, overpowering human scales with impersonal agency and concentration of power among elites.  This is dehumanizing.  This creates persistent structural temptations to value things and concepts/ideologies over actual people.  The seductive drive of scaling up power disconnects us from our own humanity and the humanity of others.  I suspect that Western civilization is far-flung from any balance between being rooted in healthy, human-scaled relationships and powering up to “get things done.”  Further, I suspect that there may be a nearly proportional relationship between getting things done and getting humans done.  May we keep things real and not finish off humans.  I kind of like them!