My poems seldom rhyme. To me it seems contrived frivolity. Pushing literary toes into narrow shoes just shows clever, well-turned rhyming tricks meant not for skill, but merely hicks who hold a cowpoke's doggerel more meaningful than good ol' Bill!
When I tossed my 1968 J. C. Penney’s Towncraft wool coat, it was older than about half my co-workers. Its brown, blanket-thick fabric had kept me warm for 38 winters. It arrived in my life as I began my freshman year for high school (still to be served in a junior high school), when my mother decided my brother and I needed new coats. We both came home with nearly identical wool coats, cut at the hips, and lined with polyester faux fur. They cost $20. According to the website in2013dollars their purchase price would be $170 or so today. That’s a little difficult to believe, because I know Mom wouldn’t have spent $170 in today’s marketplace to buy me a coat, but not everything remains the same today as it was then. A gallon of gas should cost about $2.90 based on 1968, but I’m paying more than that and only briefly did I see it below $3 at all in the past twelve months.
But back to the coats. In January 2006, more than 37 years later, I threw that coat away. It had hung in our basement, only coming out when I took walks in the woods behind our house, and the coat had developed a green sheen indicating some type of moss which I couldn’t see individually had taken over the wool. I promised my wife I wouldn’t try to save it when we moved south to North Carolina.
I still hear my parents saying you wear clothes until you outgrow them or they wear out. Before I reached 30, I realized I wouldn’t be throwing many clothes away for the latter reason because I just didn’t wear clothes out much for reasons I still don’t understand. Sadly, I do outgrow them still, but these days it has to do with an expanding waistline. I absolutely love buying clothes. The fact that they will take years to wear out frustrates the consummation of that desire. I prod myself to ‘just give them away–if they don’t bring joy…’ but it’s a lost cause. Most of them still bring joy. A few bring sweet pain:
- There’s a wool Pendleton wool shirt I just took off two days ago. My father wore it in the last years before he died at the end of 2013. The shirt shows absolutely no wear, and I would bequeath it to my son except I don’t have one. I’ve donated most of the shirts I took from his closet, but a fleece pullover remains for reasons which elude me: I dislike it and wear it little, thus ensuring it will be good enough to bury me in, or at least keep me warm in the nursing home.
- Look up at my avatar photo. Though difficult to see, I’m wearing a robin’s-egg blue sweater. The photo was taken at Christmas 2009. There are several other sweaters in my closet purchased at the same time, since I tend to buy several things at once but only once or twice a year.
- Yesterday I wore a pair of sneakers which I distinctly remember purchasing when we lived in New York. We left New York in January 2006 as mentioned above.
- I’ve lucked out more with t-shirts. The oldest one (I think) appears to be one purchased while on vacation in Boone, NC. We took that vacation in May 2013. The T-shirt looks fine; I’m sure it has years ahead of it given that I’ll only wear it in certain circumstances because it’s not 100% cotton, and I dislike such shirts. (“Why don’t you throw it or donate it?” “Because…”)
In the room two doors down from this office, a leaf-green down jacket is draped over a plastic lawn chair. I purchased three items in the summer of 1972 to keep me warm while camping in the Rocky Mountains. Recently graduated from high school, I had never camped in my life, and in the fall of that year I would enroll at the University of Montana in a program featuring frequent camping trips. My new advisor recommended two things for camping: a down jacket and a wool sweater. More precisely, he recommended buying two wool sweaters at Goodwill, cutting the bottom six-to-eight inches off of one and sewing them on to the other to make a wool tunic. I bought the jacket and the two sweaters as directed, paying $1.99 for one sweater and 99-cents for a second. My mother made the necessary alterations. (The more expensive sweater fell to her shears.) When camping ended a year later, I removed the add-on, and kept the 99-cent sweater until it joined the mossy wool coat from 1968 in the commercial dumpster in my front driveway. Mostly I tossed it to appease my wife, but I admitted to myself that the high neck on the coarse wool sweater irritated my skin. The green down jacket sports a two-inch square of green plastic tape on one elbow where a spark from a campfire fell and melted a hole. It’s the original tape from 40 years ago. I wore the jacket just a few weeks ago during a cold snap when temps lived in the teens and twenties.
I’ll toss expired food as if it insulted my mother. I’ll throw away half of our Christmas decorations because I don’t like putting it all up in early December only to take it down as January begins. I once sold off virtually every piece of furniture from a 4000 square foot house prior to a cross-country move. I don’t hoard in general; I hoard specifically. To wit:
- While working in New York I picked up the habit of using scratch paper for most computer printouts. From that point forward I routinely brought home scratch paper from work once I moved to North Carolina at the beginning of 2006. I still run across paper from those years. We’ve moved three times since then.
- I recently forced myself to ‘designate for assignment’ most of the old computers I’ve clung to. Those which remain able to perform at an acceptable speed sit around waiting for a purpose in their sad little electronic lives. Until I joined the ranks of music streamers a year ago, an old laptop from 2012 sat on my downstairs bar to serve up our digitized music. Though it’s slipped into retirement again, it sits on the bar still. Perhaps it will become a photo display.
- But for a divorce, I would still own a Yamaha amplifier and its matching cassette tape deck, purchased in 1986. (Well, not the latter. I’ve not needed a cassette deck for a decade.) I still cart around the Boston Acoustic speakers which they powered; these speakers were in use through 2009 when I discovered the woofer in one had shredded. I still plan to fix it, more than a dozen years later.
I want to think my distinction involves the usefulness for the tools in my life: the clothes which keep me warm, the computers which enable me to work and communicate, the audio/video equipment which entertains me. If so, how to explain all the memorabilia, the extensive library, the suits I will never fit into again, or, frankly, the pool table which came with the house and hasn’t heard the crack of a cue stick on the white cue ball in years? Perhaps the memorabilia serves as a tool for memory, and I can rationalize the books because every few months I want to look something up in them, but the suits? The pool table?
We’re all biologic collections at war with ourselves: laziness versus industriousness versus mindfulness versus purpose; emotion versus analytical thinking versus empathy versus pragmatism; habit versus creativity versus spontaneity versus thoughtful planning; childlike wonder versus mature knowledge versus arrogant authority. Those things around us, be they physical or metaphysical, play the part of a charcoal rubbing of our psyches, of who we are. I’m going to look a bit more closely at this “stuff”. It seems to want to tell me something.
I am not a friend. I am an appliance turned off and on at whim; replaced when my performance fails. Valued for comfort, valued for feeding egos/stomachs/hearts (choose one or more) until satiated. Stress-walking, tense-talking, wondering when this misstep will negate our shared history. This just in: I too will turn you off at a moment's notice. Gardening emotionally, I prune unfruitful relationships, attempt to shape the unruly, fight invasive species, but, lately, I think I've pruned too aggressively, fought too vociferously, spent too little time nurturing those pretties who choose to live in my garden. "Window up, window down", Grandma's mantra. Why bother with gradations, nuance, shades of meaning, human failings? Today's binary, electronic culture can't see it's founded in yesterday's hard realities: "If'n it doan kill ya, it'sa prolly good, but if'n it make ya sick, t'ro it! Ain't no use hangin' onta sump'n gonna maybe kill ya, sooner or latuh." Yes, I live not in my past but in someone else's. It served our ancestors for lifetimes, it put backbone into indecipherable existence, into amorphous life: Symbolic living, roles for everyone-- must I think about myself, about you, about everyone? Surely I will die inside. I will face insurmountable walls of misunderstanding. Today's non-roles just demand different roles, other rules, other games to play. Just tweak roles from millennia past. No need to reinvent new modes of emotional transportation. But still... It's on/off, "thanks for being there, why can't you behave, why can't you act the way we act, push the buttons we push, hate what we hate, love what we love?" I've got some on/off for ya: Be who you are; I'll be the same. Maybe similar will attract Similar. Or bug off.
"Write me poems," she said. "Not that sonnet, rondeau crap. Make it formed, but not formal. Make it happy, poignant, heartfelt." Whew! Tall order. How to commit to words which don't bring despair, don't touch my psyche's crackling third rail? 'formed, not formal'? Wrapped around my neutrality entwine serpents of dark, of light, yet both truthful. One favors pain, despair, sadness. Countering, its mirror favors hopeful, joyous optimism. But it whispers-- 'gainst its brother-- screams less, asks more. "Everything's great!" doesn't cut it. Good news--no news. Seismic shifts, stabs to my heart grab more attention than goody-ness. Problems add edge, life's hoppy bite, offsetting its malty sweetness. But she challenged! Can happiness inspire poems? My life-garden hosts tangled plants, gnarled, tall, choking new growth. Little shoots blossom up regardless, and... Something happens. My ultimate Gardener, my concept of God nurtures sprouts, brings forth fresh flowers striving to vie with woody growths. Despite these new optimistic upstarts, my soul's garden remains wild: poison vines, weeds, burrs, thorns. No apologies. Who am I to question what grows, what does not? Why question my lived reality, denigrate my totality? Are we happy now? Are we mired in hopelessness? Do we focus on pretty new blossoms? Do we ignore the whole? Without yin there's no yang. Without black, white on white. Speak to truth no matter its source. Shuffle the deck; deal ALL its cards. Thirteen sevens multiplies two potent numbers, magical yet at odds with each other. She will appreciate [this].
rewritten…see later post
I’ve waited more than three months, I’ve written it in prose, then verse, then a different verse, then rewritten the prose. This may be as close as I get, and it’s not to my liking, yet I’m publishing it to get it off the e-desk and out of my mind.
Two Voices Debate
“There are rules,” she said. “Rules rule.” Pitiably, I Know what she means. ============================= Put the colored pencils in Sequence according to height, Says my ten-year-old inner voice. Nice. Now rearrange by color, Rainbow-like. (Look up the spectrum If you must, Kenny.) Now, Place the colors violet through green, Left to right, into your rack with space between, because… Double back the ‘light’ colors from Right to left, ending with red between Violet and blue. Good! But now, Arrange them alphabetically By color name. Now put them Away. We’ve no time to actually Do anything with them. Besides, You’re no artist anyway. ============================= When you walk to school, step Precisely between the expansion Seams of the concrete sidewalk. If there’s a crack, step in the bigger Piece still between the seams. For extra points, step equidistantly From each seam. No care for Mother’s back in all this—just Walking how you color… ============================= Oh, beautiful algebra! Lovely Geometry! Your rules so pristine, Your road to explainability, to All’s-right-with-the-worldness. And Diagramming sentences! Who cares If it’s useless? It’s beauty cannot Be denied! Science, though, Its physics, its chemistry, its Squishy biology stuff, no, Not abstract enough, not In-your-head enough. Too Practical, too mundane. ============================= You have to call her, man. But…today? Is three days a Proper amount of lead time? Would twenty-four hours be Too little? Would it be better if I called in the afternoon or Evening? Oh, why did I ever ask Her out in the first place? “You know, I think I’m not going To go to the prom this year after all.” ============================= ”No, I’m not going to wait twenty Minutes to eat, especially if I have To wait outside. It’s cold.” He drives Off spending forty minutes to Save twenty minutes. ============================= “We could gas up there.” Wrong side Of the road. “There’s one.” Nope. “Too seedy. There’s one!” but, Crap, every pump’s occupied. Ding! Your car says, "feed me". ============================= “Isn’t life too difficult this way?” Asks Creative-Emotive Voice. “Can’t We take it easy? Just roll with it?” Try that. Good too. Shut Obsessive- Controlling Voice into its compartment Deep within one’s gray cells. Overrule Edicts for living, for walking, for performing Every. Single. Act. Of. Human. Existence. “If you’re going to be A Writer, how Do you expect to do it listening to That Guy? Feel your heart surging? Sure you do. How can you ignore it By following these silly rules?” Drink too much. Eat too much. Drug Too much. Watch movies while Neglecting one’s bills, one’s friends, One’s social reason for being… One’s stated creative urges. But: Give Rulemaker his short leash. Gentle grid of rules on fields of Creative abandonment. Create. Create. And create. Short Circuit all words with singing, With photography, with poetry (yes), With—of all things—computer Programming. (“How can I fail At explaining what I do When I program?” Sorry, Dude, no words involved then, No words available now.) ============================= Uneasily, after many misstarts to One’s Life Direction, Let them both talk. Let one Over-rule the other, let one Overrule the other. Blend, Mend, learn Selective Voice Attention Mode. Leaving one Question, one conundrum: who selects which Voice? Who are you? Who are “You”?
When I listen to You I don't hear Her...
Them? Voices telling me (in words I've never heard before): Things I've suspected, Never knew, Don't want to believe... Never believed.
Your words resonate, Sound those harmonies, Those sympathetic vibrations Deep within me.
Her disparaging judgment of me Sits numbly in my soul-- This benign tumor neither Growing, shrinking, or leaving.
Her close (convenient) friend Blocking refuge's door: "She doesn't want to talk To you." But-- "I'll talk to him," She said; A limited engagement.
What did She say? To Her friends? To too many?
How could this man, So wanting conversation, Communication, some Shred of mutual effort To maintain a marriage, Find himself wedded to Her non-talking cold Judgment, spitting out Her assessment: Verbal Abuser?
When I listen to You I can't see Verbal Abuser. You paint me differently: Partner. Spouse. I see this. I think, Maybe, Maybe, this Her, Might have erred.
'There’s a problem with poetry,'
He said. 'Today all poets
Want to compress meaning into
Too few words. This squeezing of
Displays the poet’s desire
To be obscure,
To force the reader
To find the meaning,
Giving away nothing,
Hiding mediocrity by claiming
My meaning is clear to those
Poetry today problems itself:
Compressing fruitful meaning until
Pulp disappears, leaving it
Compressed to star-dense
Proportions, a light-sucking
Mass. Makes me
Reading stuff like that.
Searching for meaning,
This reader finds only
Consider today’s poem—
Dense with meaning—
Makes me sick!
You should use your one or two free articles per month from the New York Times to read Bret Stephens’s column “Why Wokeness Will Fail” (published Nov 9, 2021). Although Stephens dwells overmuch on matters associated with racism and the Black Lives Matter movement in particular—opening himself up to charges of “another white guy doing the defensive thing”—his points are well made, accurate, and most importantly, based in reality.
Stephens notes a particularly chilling example from the American Medical Association which apparently has urged redefining terms for patients such that they reflect the inherent racism that created their situation. As he notes, it is Orwellian. I am reminded of the clients I continually met who believed that they could change corporate culture if they just wrote better SOP’s. This is the ‘hall monitor’ approach: give me more rules and I will be empowered. One cannot redefine the world by redefining language. We cannot introduce matters of opinion into descriptive terms of objective reality. A person with little money is ‘poor’ not ‘the victim of economic inequality’. Terms which carry hateful, opinionated connotations do indeed need to be replaced. But projecting a theory onto every situation and redefining the terms? Ridiculous, inaccurate, group-think, the beginning of totalitarianism.
This recognition that Wokeness is a step toward totalitarianism is refreshing. Stephens’s assertion that it is doomed to fail because of the structure of American government and society? I’m not so sure. I would like it to be true, but I have lived too long through the simple—ketchup is a vegetable—and the complex—there were fine persons on both sides—to believe this constant assault on reality will diminish and ultimately fail. Our would-be emperors are often naked, and we must constantly point this out to the gullible.