Friday, December 27, 2013

Demonic Blessing





As I walked through a huge hobby supply store, I happened upon a crafted sign for sale. It read:

The will of God will never take you
where you want to go.
The grace of God
will not protect you.

Here I was minding my own business, having a nice day, and this terrifying message appears. Stopped in my tracks, I read again.

The will of God will never take you
where you want to go.
The grace of God
will not protect you.

Wow! You don't expect hard-core atheist propaganda in the middle of a Hoosier hobby shop. I read it a third time to make sure.... Wow!

I had stuff to buy, so I scurried on. In scurrying--and it was a big store, so the scurrying lasted a while--the message seemed less awful. After all, it didn't deny the will of God, and it didn't deny the functioning of the grace of God. The sign only asserted that they function differently from the way I want them to. Suddenly the sign seemed very wise, and it short-circuited my desire to see the world happen selfishly--as in the way I want the world to happen--instead of the way it does happen: pretty much without me in mind.

But let's face it, the sign did not say what we're used to hearing. Inner discord remained with me. When I got home I googled the words and discovered that I had, in my scurrying to and fro through the megamart, misread the sign. The popular proverb, which must have been the one actually lettered on the sign, goes:

The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.
Even with the matter of wording settled I was kind of proud of my first demonic reading of the text. The meaning seemed so spiritually tough. That the will of God would never take you where you want to go makes sense. After all, even the proponents of prayer say your pleas are often not answered in the way you wanted but in the way you needed. The second part, that the grace of God will not protect you, this seems like a new definition of grace, a grace that happens when your ego is unprotected. Who is ready to perceive grace when the ego is protected in the first place? Who can see the great gifts of God when this great big ME is in the way? Maybe grace itself dissolves that protection of ego.
All this musing is excessively theological coming from a Zen student, by the way.
I ran this story by my spiritual advisor, who said I read the sign like a Zen student. But you never know what a Zen teacher is going to say next. He suggested having two signs: one reading each way and hanging next to each other.

Note: This is a revision of a previous post.

Further Note: Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer quoting Luther about the calling of God in The Cost of Discipleship: "Not the work you choose, not the suffering you devise but the road that is clean contrary to what you choose or contrive or desire--that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple. If you do that there is acceptable time and there your master is come."


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Another Random Comment About Plato

In The Republic, Plato's Socrates, surrounded by his bevy of yes-men, tries to think up a way to run the ideal state. The option of setting up a democracy appears and is quickly knocked down on the grounds that such a government would inevitably collapse under the influence of money. Advocates for democracy might take this critique as a warning. Another use for this passage of The Republic is unspeakable.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Richard Hugo and the Mountain


Richard Hugo (adapted from cover art)

Note: The Richard Hugo House is involved in its end-of-year campaign to raise money to provide education to budding writers. As a gesture of support I'm posting part of an article I wrote that originally appeared in The Ember, newsletter of the Indianapolis Zen Center. It will become clear why Richard Hugo House is close to my heart. Please visit their website.


Richard Hugo was a poet who taught creative writing at the University of Montana in Missoula. He had an austere childhood in rural Washington followed by a full tour of duty as a bombardier in World War II. He worked with Boeing Aircraft before eventually taking up the teaching career that most successful American poets enter.

“Highfaluting” was not what you would call Hugo or his poetry, which often took small towns and other distant locales and lives as their subjects. To these subjects he brought a big, rhythmic voice, a style that infected many young poets who tried to write the way he did. I was one of them, a skinny, chain-smoking undergraduate at Indiana University who had attended one of his poetry readings, an event that was, for better or worse, a turning point in my life, determining my decision to take up a major in English and creating an indelible interest in literature. You never know when these turning points will happen.

Hugo made such a big impression on me that I chose his career as the subject of my undergraduate thesis, and I arranged to fly out to mountain-ringed Missoula to interview this man who had become my literary hero. Going there I knew he was not in the best of health. He had lost a lung to cancer a couple of years earlier, and he was sometimes fatigued, but I thought he was doing fairly well considering. At the end of the summer before my senior year I visited him.

He was tired but very friendly and considerate of my questions that afternoon. I stayed for a backyard cookout with him and his wife, talking as the sun went down. Looking back at myself that evening, I wasn’t that different from who I am now, just a little more nervous. I don’t remember the highfaluting things I was talking to him about. They don’t really matter now. What I do remember about that evening is more important.

In the middle of my literary chatter Hugo said, “Look. That mountain just changed color.” I stopped. I looked at the closest mountain. I checked its color. The sky was darker and paler. Nothing I had talked about mattered. There was a mountain in the twilight. It was what we might call a “just like this” moment in Zen. It was almost like he had delivered an answer to a koan, and the world, for a moment, opened up.

Two months later I learned that Hugo had died. Unknown to me he had developed leukemia, and complications from that disease proved fatal. I completed my thesis feeling an irrational sense of guilt. I wondered what his state of mind must have been during that interview, and I wondered if his serious illness had focused his attention on the present moment, single-pointedly, when the mountain changed color, or perhaps he was just sick of listening to me. In either case, he had his priorities straight.

I have hazy memories of the big ideas I wrote about in my thesis. But I remember the mountain.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cage 2013 in Review

For a blog meant to last three months, this one has gone on entirely too long. But on it goes.

Started in January 2013, "Working the Cage," as it was called then, intended to exhibit some old, unpublished poems for a couple of months and stop. Along the way it changed its name to "Working on the Cage" and began to exhibit new problems such as journal entries and then mini essays that qualify as actual blog posts.

I've tried a couple of times this year to demolish "Working on the Cage." But the fact is I enjoy it too much. Several posts have been taken down that I thought unseemly. Some, such as my post about the school athletic mascot and the ethic of toughness, we've taken down, reposted and then taken down again. If this has led to any frustration out there, the Cage and I apologize.

A few posts have been popular. Any blogger should know or learn fast that popularity of posts depends upon the support of others who care to link to your blog. The Cage's first benefactor was The Polk Street Review who helped promote a poem about Dante on their Facebook page. The Polk Street Review also promoted a post I did in November, a pro-writing essay about their third issue launch party. Another thing bloggers ought to know is that political screeds also have a penchant for virality. The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society helped to promote the most popular post on this blog, The Lost Art of Alexander Hamilton, on the AHAS Facebook page. So, thanks to The Polk Street Review and The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society for thinking the Cage has been worthwhile.

Sometimes, however, a post becomes popular for reasons you never really know. A rather miscellaneous post about Poe's "MS. Found in a Bottle" seems to get found again and again and continues to rise in popularity. We hope that if it is being used in other writing it is correctly cited... but remain in any case flattered.

Perhaps we've posted too many elegies here. The unavoidable one was for Seamus Heaney, whose words  inspired the title for the the Cage. Heaney was one of the first contemporary poets I appreciated.

The future of the Cage? Unknown. Every time I write it seems to be an unlikely event, increasingly so as I seek means for income. The supply of old poems has run dry. New poems will, for the most part, not appear here, though the Cage will announce the rare news of their publication. The Cage is committed, however, to provide a haiku bonanza next month!

If you are reading this, and certainly you must be, the Cage and I thank you. It has been a fun year. Best wishes.




Sunday, December 15, 2013

Buddha's Enlightenment Day 2013*


The Buddha broke
wide open into
complete life,
just like that. You'd think
more work was needed
to do something like that.

See the moment,
the Morning Star,
the Bodhi Tree,
Buddha awake.
They're right now with these
scattered cushions,
all of us already
awake, but already
that is long ago.
We blink our eyes
and see again.




*Delivered at the Indianapolis Zen Center December 15, 2013.

†Of course it did take more work.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tomorrow and Tomorrow


Exactly how would this picture not end up on this blog? I found it at Corvid Corner where you can read about the Latin legend of the raven's caw. I, foolish sinner that I am, will spend the next week in meditation, desperately trying not to waste time.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Random Comment on Plato's Sensibility

In most of Plato's works, particularly in The Republic, he advocates for uplifting art that propagandizes supremacy of the state. All other use of art is frivolous and dangerous, indulging individual sentiment at the expense of communal life. His basic suspicion about art is also ours, and so his discourses remain relevant. Even though we may not have a state that demands unflinching devotion and sacrifice at all times, we do have a consumer economy that desperately needs feeding by a narrow range of mostly positive consumer emotion, or at least by the desire for positive emotion. Plato would lament the lack of state today, but, if he gave in to the times he'd probably advocate for just about every art form casually accessible now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Who Is Ebenezer Scrooge?

Jacob Marley's ghost. Illustration by John Leech for A Christmas Carol, 1843.


Scrooge knew he [Marley] was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.
--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


I had originally intended to write a post entitled "We are all Ebenezer Scrooge" that would point out how we build walls between ourselves and others, and how we share with Scrooge that capacity to wake up and throw the shutters open on a world alive with human beings in their suffering and generosity. The post would have been rapturous. A Christmas Carol is a tale of an awakening heart, but I'm not generous enough right now to write that treatment of the story today. In fact, to do so would seem irresponsible.

If I were even less generous than I am today, perhaps the post would be entitled "Who Needs Ebenezer Scrooge?" Neither his exquisite capitalist ethic, which harms himself and others, nor the redistribution of his wealth either through wage or charity, offer much hope for his world, and to paint everyone with the Scrooge brush winds up making us seem both weaker and more powerful than we really are. Scrooge's awakening shows us the innate hope of our being. Everything Scrooge does, however redemptive or momentarily helpful, provides a shabby model for the day's conflicts.

If Dickens intended a parable about economic disparity between the citizens of his country--and he certainly did--it was a successful and moving story for a time and a place. He wrote a classic of the human heart. In my lack of generosity I wonder how this story could have possibly been equal to the problems of our day. Perhaps some people felt the same way about his story in 19th century England. I suspect Dickens felt that way having completed it, but he was a sanguine fellow and marketed the book to the rich in a sumptuous binding. The message of A Christmas Carol was a targeted one. To sneak it into the minds of the well-off, he made Scrooge look comically twisted. If you had money you could read about him and comfortably know the story wasn't about you.

But this Ebenezer Scrooge character, who is he after all besides a good man doing the best he can? He has scuttled through the streets of London for years fighting for his well-being. He was someone whose sensibilities were honed by the constant knowledge that if he wasn't smarter, thriftier and more diligent than the other guy, he would be ruined. He acted according to the ethic of the day. For all the negative adjectives Dickens heaps upon Scrooge he was a good person doing good things, and it led to a terrible mess. We are good people doing good things, too. It's in this commonality that I'm more comfortable today saying we are all Ebenezer Scrooge. As conflicts about our social values arise we start to see ourselves as good people who are starting to wonder just what we're up to.

That word "good" starts to sound hollow, almost an indictment against us that however brave and decent and hard working we have been it hasn't gone in the best direction. As far as our "goodness"--which is not the same as our miraculous nature that throws the shutters open in the morning and asks the world what day it is--that, too, comes into question, and it isn't a matter of having given enough to others; it is a matter precisely of what we have given and to whom, and whom we have met in life and feared the most simply because of their presence. Whom have we excluded?

In Scrooge's case those people were everyone including his family. His old business partner, Marley, seven years dead, seems to have been the last person with whom he had a functioning relationship. Chain-clad Marley appears as the ghost who introduces Scrooge to a process of spiritual awakening, and he does so by abandoning Scrooge to see his life no longer defined by his good values but as bound by fear and the inevitable loss that fear creates. By morning in the story questions of goodness have vanished along with Scrooge's nightmare of past, present and future. All that is left for Scrooge is enlightened action.

The Christmas goose the reformed miser delivers is a miracle in the story. In real life that's a miracle too, but one easily becoming a gesture, the temporary most we can do, and if we do it often enough we would expect payment. We have barely showed up for the Christmas punch and we're already hustling through the streets, trying to survive, pushing others out of the way. These are the circles we live in, and we have wound them into tighter and tighter knots since Dickens wrote.

I write this out of hope as much as out of despair that every one of us is Ebenezer Scrooge, we can wake up and it will matter.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

An Elegiac Fragment Mentioning December


I read their poems to conjure them,
to deny them any rest,
this ghost once a gentle man,
this ghost once a fierce woman.
Who were they in life to live so seriously,
to hammer out the hours on paper,
that for a moment I thought
they deserved some kind of honor,
as if I might weave the laurels now
in my own hands and dedicate them
to this December earth?

Monday, November 25, 2013

More Vendler on Stevens

On Twitter @lit_hum alerts us about this article at The New Republic. I've always liked reading Helen Vendler on Wallace Stevens. This article reminds us the abstract can be a matter of blood.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Three Random Comments

1. The movie Little Buddha is fraught with problems, not the least of which is Keanu Reeves's roundly berated Indian accent, and yet it is a decent movie for those with an interest in Buddhism and an extremely compassionate cinematic heart.

2. I have another idea for a fictional documentary piece that I will write, and yet it seems irresponsible to publish it here. Publishing as a concrete thing and as an abstract idea continues to pose problems for me, both in the how and in the why, to say nothing of the who and the where.

3. Maintenance of outdoor bonsai in the winter is tricky for those attempting it for the first time, particularly in the question of how damp they should be.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Story about a Destroyed Neighborhood

Cori Faklaris has written a story in The Indianapolis Star (click here) about her family's neighborhood destroyed in Washington, Illinois. It shows us some of the details we never think about when such events happen. Best wishes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Lovecraft's Providence, Literature and Reality

Illustration of Lovecraft's story "The Shunned House"
in Weird Tales (October 1937).



It's hard to mention Lovecraft without some cough of apology. Lately he's not just the darling grandfather of horror; his work has gained prestige from the attention of a number of literary figures, Joyce Carol Oates among them . Gawky as Lovecraft's oeuvre may be, he wrote with unique power about a kind of horror that he first--at least apparently--perceived and recorded. It's not because of his roots in pulp writing, then,  that Lovecraft remains an embarrassment. Many apologies, some more edifying than others, can be made for the nauseating views of Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot, but for Lovecraft--whose racism, whose complete loathing of anyone religious (particularly Jews and Catholics) stood out in his writing as a sign of the cosmic horror for which he is praised--for him the apologies always fall flat. And one wonders, after all, if that vision of cosmic horror, exquisite as it may be, is inextricable from his racism, or at least from a deep conservative longing for the familiar in its author.

Horror fans who plunge into Lovecraft's longer works will not be shocked most by Dagon's mutant minions in the fictional town of Innsmouth. They will find most surprise by contrast in the peaceful descriptions of rural New England, and then find themselves in wonder at his loving portrayals of his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, for it is here--in the words and, apparently, in the place of Providence--that Lovecraft's longing finds moments of solace.

Lovecraft put this desire to striking use in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. I find this story too long and fantasmagorical, its dreamscapes and bestiaries of dreaded creatures almost encyclopedic in their excitement as they appear before the dreaming Randolph Carter. But the narrative does have shape, one of departure from ordinary reality--a move Lovecraft always executes quiet nicely--to a lengthy dream of increasing horror, then back again to the real world. The crescendo of gaping cosmic emptiness, a kind of relief after dull pages of chimeras, arrives barely before the story's end. With it also come signs of creation.

Then in the slow creeping course of eternity the utmost cycle of the cosmos churned itself into another futile completion, and all things became again as they were unreckoned kalpas before. Matter and light were born anew as space once had known them; and comets, suns and worlds sprang flaming into life, though nothing survived to tell that they had been and gone, been and gone, always and always, back to no first beginning.

Carter's homecoming upon waking follows.  Nominally the homecoming is to Boston, but I suspect the city to be the New England capitol of Providence. The following is not Lovecraft's best writing, but, after the stupifying novelties described in the dream, we see where the true wonder of existence belongs.

So to the organ chords of morning's myriad whistles, and dawn's blaze thrown dazzling through purple panes by the great gold dome of the State House on the hill, Randolph Carter leaped shoutingly awake within his Boston room. Birds sang in hidden gardens and the perfume of trellised vines came wistful from arbours his grandfather had reared.

Descriptions of Providence appear in several stories, but in none better than The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In a description of the titular hero we may see an outline of Lovecraft himself and his relationship to the city.

Charles Ward was an antiquarian from infancy, no doubt gaining his taste from the venerable town around him, and from the relics of the past which filled every corner of his parents' old mansion in Prospect Street on the crest of the hill. With the years his devotion to ancient things increased; so that history, genealogy, and the study of colonial architecture, furniture, and craftsmanship at length crowded everything else from his sphere of interests. These tastes are important to remember in considering his madness; for although they do not form its absolute nucleus, they play a prominent part in its superficial form.

And a little later we read a full-blown paean to Lovecraft's home.

Old Providence! It was this place and the mysterious forces of its long, continuous history which had brought him into being, and which had drawn him back toward marvels and secrets whose boundaries no prophet might fix. Here lay the arcana, wondrous or dreadful as the case may be, for which all his years of travel and application had been preparing him. A taxicab whirled him through Post Office Square with its glimpse of the river, the old Market House, and the head of the bay, and up the steep curved slope of Waterman Street to Prospect, where the vast gleaming dome and sunset-flushed Ionic columns of the Christian Science Church beckoned northward. Then eight squares past the fine old estates his childish eyes had known, and the quaint brick sidewalks so often trodden by his youthful feet. And at last the little white overtaken farmhouse on the right, on the left the classic Adam porch and stately facade of the great brick house where he was born. It was twilight, and Charles Dexter Ward had come home.

And one wonders why the exclamation mark didn't appear at the end of the last sentence was well as at the end of the first.

*   *   *

I had occasion to visit Providence a couple of years ago while attending a conference about Zen and its teaching of paying attention to bare reality, waking up to it in a way as Randolph Carter woke up from his bizarre dream quest. Colleagues and I visited the Federal Hill district with its marvelous Italian restaurants and narrow streets where pedestrians, thankfully, always have the right of way. At all times in Providence, down near the smaller inlets, inlets and harbors of Naragansett Bay, I was aware of a large hill overlooking it all. I'm sorry that I don't know its name, or even precisely which direction it lies from Federal Hill, my visitor's disorientation having gotten the better of me. But always I had this bit of Charles Dexter Ward in my memory:

Westward the hill dropped almost as steeply as above, down to the old "Town Street" that the founders had laid out at the river's edge in 1636. Here ran innumerable little lanes with leaning, huddled houses of immense antiquity; and fascinated though he was, it was long before he dared to thread their archaic verticality for fear they would turn out a dream or a gateway to unknown terrors. He found it much less formidable to continue along Benefit Street past the iron fence of St. John's hidden churchyard and the rear of the 1761 Colony House and the mouldering bulk of the Golden Ball Inn where Washington stopped. At Meeting Street—the successive Gaol Lane and King Street of other periods—he would look upward to the east and see the arched flight of steps to which the highway had to resort in climbing the slope, and downward to the west, glimpsing the old brick colonial schoolhouse that smiles across the road at the ancient Sign of Shakespeare's Head where the Providence Gazette and Country-Journal was printed before the Revolution.

And from this memory of a text I felt completely oriented. I was squarely in Lovecraft's Providence. I was not lost but at home in a text while I was lost in a new place. Fortunately I was able to enjoy my time in an area of town Lovecraft might have associated with "polyglot squalor," though there was no squalor visible. I had my own experience, but Lovecraft seemed to look down on me from that higher, unnamed promontory.

Literature can do funny things to us. Read Dante's Paradiso, then look up at the night sky and see if it is the same. At one time I believed literature could be graded by its ability to contaminate our perception of reality: the greater the better. Then there are those of us unfortunate enough to have grabbed a text--be it a novel, scripture or even one deployed in the spectacle of a movie--and used it as a guide in life; as a way to navigate in a world either unknown or too full of possibilities to discriminate one course from another. We are beset by bugbears that existed in print before they inhabited our minds and made us inflexible.

Of course we remain responsible for our imaginations and how they interfere with our perceptions of the real world and of our tasks within it. I fear I share some of Lovecraft's desire to stay home at all times or at least to see home as some kind of reward for the adventure taken. My hope is that I refrain from the hateful sentiments and ideas Lovecraft expressed and lived. But my home has often been in texts of all sorts, and an atrophy has set in with regard to life, one I hope to remedy through clear sight and action. I would refer to the prospect of "personal adventure," but the term grants it too much importance.

Adventure for Lovecraft was a journey from beloved a home to a vast, meaningless void, and it ended in a return to the hearth. The process of that adventure caused no great change in its heroes. That's a particularly hard limit to any literature, and yet in that author's narrow vision we glimpse a world, albeit an inhuman one at its horrible depths, that we very well might not have known without his efforts. Even if we decide to throw off that vision as useless or not our own, we are left with the old, nagging suspicion that our true home, or the reality, or the suchness we wake up to is not as real as it could be, authors and advertisers and family members have hopelessly contaminated us to see a certain way that is not to anyone's benefit. This is to say nothing of the strange filters we make for ourselves to peer at the streets and houses and hills of our world, its history, the expanses endlessly calculated and tentatively charted.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Encounter with Borges

Jorge Luis Borges
(Wikipedia)

I trouble myself posting this fictional story about a real author. Elsewhere in this blog I have written true accounts of real writers, some of whom have passed away. In a real world where people have real lives of real effort it seems irresponsible to mix it up with lies, and yet I can't resist. What follows is false. You can research it all on the internet and find it to be complete nonsense.

Willis Barnstone, in his humane memoir With Borges on an Ordinary Evening in Buenos Aires, excludes an account of one of the Argentine's visits to Bloomington, Indiana, and only in my old friend Peggy Seaforth's article about him in The Cage is there even passing mention of Aziz, the young Arabic scholar who sometimes accompanied Borges on travels when his wife stayed home. It is at this time in my life, with myself afflicted with partial blndness along with the usual struggles of a breathing person living in a time--like all times, Borges would remind us--of broken culture and cruelty, that I choose to offer a few words about my encounter with the literary giant.

I do not recall the name of the hotel in downtown Bloomington but remember it always--except for the night in question--as an image in my rear view mirror, so to speak, that tall, prismatic building out of place had it not been clad in Indiana limestone. (Even an internet search for the hotel will not reveal its location, although mention is made of another lodging from the city's downtown history.) I prefer to remain quiet about the business that brought me to his room that evening in October, 1982, and not because I stand to lose anything by  the revelation, but because some other people concerned are still alive. Suffice it to say I was a student, the evening warm and glowing with leaves, and I was excited in a way I have seldom experienced since. This was all in the era before the internet, a time when the pace of human competition was languid yet much warmer by comparison. It was also a time for Indiana before it was awash in the larger, international culture it so stubbornly resists even today, and it was also before the hope and depredation brought on by the Hoosier Chic movement moved the State to cultural notice. I perhaps shared the innocence of the times, but only with a hostility toward them covered by a veneer of timidity.

Aziz, a thin man in his early thirties, whose eyes froze me with their steadiness, greeted me at the door of the sixth floor room.  "You are John? Please come in." The room had a round, paper-and-book strewn table in the middle. The shaded west window still glowed with daylight. Hung on a wall--picture or mirror--was a large frame draped in cloth that seemed the same shabby taupe as the walls, except for a brown stain in the lower left corner of the fabric. Perhaps it was the combination of Aziz's intensity, the room's dull inhospitality and my own excitement that I noticed Borges last of all, sitting on a chair in the corner, dressed in a suit, eyes closed, leaning forward on his cane as posing for one of his book covers. Aziz took my elbow and sat me at the table facing Borges's direction. It was then I looked down and saw the photocopies of sigils, the cracked, leather-bound editions of John Dee, von Junzt and a lead-black copy of The Book of Eibon, all part of his continuing scholarship. I put the envelope I was sent to deliver on the table.

"So kind of you to do this for us," were his first words, smiling, keeping his blind eyes closed.

"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Borges."

The conversation we had lasted longer than I can recall. I'm not even sure how it developed except that it was Borges who kept it going. As for Aziz, about whom I'm afraid I have little to say, he took off his sport coat, lit a cigarette after offering one to me that I gratefully accepted, and leaned back in a silence that seemed amused in a quaintly friendly way. Looking back I'm amazed I did not feel more uncomfortable in the situation than I did in my nervousness, but that was the kind of trust Borges inspired.

"When I was young," Borges said, "I believed in God. Now I am an atheist," and for a moment he opened his eyes and gazed in blindness, not at Aziz or at me, but at the documents that lay spread before us. "It has been a long inquiry. Aziz helps with his experience in the matter. Our work is coming to an end. Yes. Tell me, John, what interests you?"

I told him I wanted to be a writer.

"It is easier to be a reader," he said. "It was hard for me to read Arabic, but as soon as I discovered a copy of the orginal in Buenos Aires, it was inevitable I learn that tongue. But I was," and here he paused and pressed his eyelids together, "impatient. So I read the translation by Dr. John Dee. He was Queen Elizabeth's astrologer, you know." Borges chuckled. "A poor translation, but effective." He explained how after reading Dee's translation of The Necronomicon he had a dream about a vast library of horrifying dimensions, stairwells that led to infinity. "I always thought those shafts might be too melodramatic a touch for the story I wrote, but I don't mind melodrama, and one must sometimes remain truthful in talking about reality, especially," and here he paused again and looked, if "looked" is an allowable word, away from the table, "especially about the things one sees."

It turned out that the reason for Borges's visit had nothing to do with Indiana University or his friends there, but it had to do instead with a previous visit from William S. Burroughs . "Bill visited your university last year and lodged in this hotel room. He is a very powerful writer. Anyway, he left unfinished business, and he has asked me to settle it." At those words Aziz pursed his lips and glanced toward the draped wall hanging. He fidgeted with an unlit cigarette.

"But all this trouble is avoidable," Borges continued. "Avoidable. If I had a choice now, I would have continued only to read Chesterton. He is terrifying enough." Here Borges opened his eyes and looked at me. They were eyes of great kindness and great loss. "I appreciate what you have done for us this evening. Yet none of it is necessary or even advisable. I did not need Dr. Dee's works. Nor do you. You don't even need mine. Or if you do need them, better sell shoes, young man. Better sell shoes." He ended in a quiet crescendo punctuated with a bob in his throat. His eyes closed again, and at that moment Aziz rose. I took this as my cue to leave. The last I remember of the room the drapes had gone black.

No more impersonal details remain worth relating. The ones I withhold are matters of embarrassment to others and have little to do with that great author's biography.  It should come as little surprise that Borges was a Necronomicon scholar, since his home town was one of that book's capitols, and since Borges was Borges. The scandal surrounding that book of black magic has lost its cachet now that its contents lie entirely open on the internet.

We are instructed to let go of the past. Letting go the past is freedom. Apart from a kind of past that is made of negative memories we play over and over in our hearts, it turns out there are infinite kinds of past that need letting go. My memories related here are paltry, made under the influence of youthful awe, but I will always remain indebted to Borges. In that brief interview I learned enough to begin in earnest as a writer. As for the mistakes I have made, of course I have no one to blame but myself. That I have abandoned writing for other ventures just as dubious and just as infinitely fraught with opportunities for failure, well, that I also owe to Borges, or to no one. In whatever I have left to do. In whatever I have left to see.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When Quotes Go Wrong


Don't be fooled by the viral graphic in this post. Al Pacino did not say those words. Maybe it would have been neat if he had. They sound tough, like the tough little kid we might imagine Al Pacino was. But the more you think about the quote, when you imagine the kid asking for forgiveness, the quote sounds much more appropriate for a character Pacino might have played, such as Michael Corleone. But thinking about the quote some more, the words aren't as earnest as the words Michael Corleone would use. No, there's a sneaking bit of satire in them, the criticism of a certain view of God as someone who makes it okay to do anything to anyone as long as you say you're sorry. Suddenly there's no kid involved in this quote at all. Now there's some wisecracker lurking behind them.

A little googling reveals that the quote is close to something Emo Philips said in a comedy routine. This origin makes complete sense. And yet... wouldn't it have been cool if Al Pacino had said this? If Pacino had said this, it would have affirmed some kind of gut-sensed psychopathology that many of us nurse. "Yeah, screw you, Right and Wrong. I get the bike. God can sort out the prissy details." Somehow, for a moment, Al Pacino has affirmed our inner mobster. And, I regret to say, the words hit us a lot harder when accompanied by a picture of Pacino than they do by one of a skinny, pale guy wearing a big wig. Sorry, Emo.

There are lots of quotes that get better when the wrong person says them. My unscientific sense is that such misattributions account for 2% of all Facebook posts (don't quote me). This sort of meming has been going on at least since the advent of email, and it only got deeper when it became easier for people to alter photographs with cheap software. It used to be all quotes people wanted you to pay attention to were attributed incorrectly to Winston Churchill, George Carlin or Mark Twain. Lately there's a real psychological sophistication in this practice.  Wiggy, sort-of-scientific spiritual stuff sounds best misattributed to Albert Einstein and a picture of his frayed hair. Sometimes a vaguely racist rant has more cache when misattributed to Bill Cosby pictured frowning as he lounges on a studio set couch. People who agree with the words can say, "See, a black guy said that negative stuff about black people. So it must be true."

Don't expect anything to change except for the memes to become more compelling, so watch out. If you think someone didn't say something, chances are you're right.

The memers and the misquoters resemble the faux Pacino who didn't really say what they say he said. They steal a quote and ride off in glee, throwing the moral consequences to the wind. I still kind of wish Pacino had said he stole that bicycle. But now that I think of it, is that really even Pacino's picture?


Friday, November 15, 2013

First Published Poem In Over a Decade Now Available in Print

"Cherry Tree," a poem I wrote about the vanishing physical culture in Noblesville, and the first poem of mine to be published in over a decade, is in print now and can be purchased through The Polk Street Review website. If you happen to be in Noblesville and visiting the downtown you could also drop in at The Wild just across the street from the courthouse and purchase an issue.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Words as the Form We Choose



In Noblesville, Indiana, Kurt Meyer and Bill Kenley, supported by community patrons and grant money, have just printed their third annual edition of The Polk Street Review. Their publication is based on a simple premise: publish what has been written about Noblesville or what has been written by people who have lived there. At a time when the most rigorously studied languages belong to computers and when megacompanies control our media, this bit of literary hyperlocalism is a marvel. I attended their third issue launch party last Saturday.

The size of the magazine and the number of its contributors have swollen in three years. Bill Kenley noted that a surprising number of poets have swarmed to the grasshopper-emblazoned annual, a fact I noted with conspiratorial pleasure because I sometimes write poems, but not because I am part of any organized conspiracy of that controversial craft.

The party happened at The Logan Street Sanctuary, a church that John Gilmore has recently converted into a place for performances, art shows and the like. We sat in pews and listened to magazine contributors read what was printed in the new issue. The forms the authors chose to express themselves ranged from bare haiku to what I can only call "wonderfully expansive Hoosier memoir." And whenever you attend a reading you get the fullest possible sense of the reader, from tone of voice to color of dress. Speaking as someone who grew up in a fairly sheltered childhood in Noblesville, I have to admit that hearing the range of behavior revealed among residents in this former small town was utterly refreshing and reassuring.

These people who go up in front of others to read are brave. The number of reasons they are brave would be difficult to count. The first one that comes to mind is the general hostility people feel toward those who write. That level is tamped down at an event like The Polk Street Review launch party, but it's a fear all writers carry, usually only modified by the thickness of the individual artist's skin. The other fear is the fear of failure.

My personal and probably biased opinion is that those who choose written words as a form for expression have chosen a very difficult method. The opportunity for messing up starts at the typo and extends to, but does not end at, the accidental connotation that will ruin pages of material. Let's add stage fright and all that goes with public speaking and performance to those who do readings. It's a giant house of cards writers build. In the end whether that structure stands or falls seems more dependent upon some form of providence than it depends on individual talent or effort, but we always look to that author to take blame when things go wrong.

In all the risks the writer takes with words--the risks with fragile emotions using a fragile medium--the considerable value of the written word shines brightest. In the vulnerability of the words we can always see the infinite vulnerability of ourselves as humans, and we are reminded of our true place in the world. Keep reading and writing if you can.

Hats off to The Polk Street Review for reminding us what literature is all about. And many happy returns.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Then Again, The Cage....


Then again, the cage is like a shark cage, by which I mean its contents are oceanic.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Misguided Angel

Margo Timmins, from linked video.
A Facebook friend posted this link to a performance by The Cowboy Junkies of their incredible song "Misguided Angel." It is softly beautiful and terrifying. The central persona in the song seems to assert her own will in the teeth of her family's wishes, but by the end of the song that apparently strong personal agency is revealed to be a complete illusion. I've listened to the performance from the Junkies' famous Trinity session a million times. This version has one voice and a single Telecaster strumming clean. Amazing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Haiku, Form and Content


The title of this blog is about an old wish I had that I could craft poetry out of pure form, and for years that was the sort of effort I put into its making, trying to produce that bird of soul and content that Seamus Heaney said Yeats could conjure by working on the cage of form. Part of the motivation for exclusive work on the cage came from Richard Hugo's advice for students in his book The Triggering Town. The part of poetic form he singled out for his students was the most obvious one for poetry: sound. His advice was to use sound, and not imagery or ideas, to hold poems together.

It was a dogged effort on my part, a method I clung to far too long. Hugo said his sound strategy was for beginning students and meant to set them up for the long haul. Sound was not the haul itself. Once in the long haul I found no alternative to sound, and after about eight years my efforts dried up. I had almost no content. All dressed up and nowhere to go: that was the situation.

Of course you never can really separate form and content in poetry, and Heaney's comment actually points to that fact. Sometimes the content becomes clear in the process of concentrating on meter, alliteration and assonance. Working on the cage can also provide an excellent means of finding one's voice even in the absence of a conscious use of content. Such a practice puts all the formal elements in place.

After not writing much at all for a long time, I still find myself with little to say but also with an old desire to work with the words in lines again. Producing this blog has helped rejuvenate the process of writing somewhat. Another practice that has helped is the simple act of moving a pen on paper. That may seem silly, but the neural pathways that have to do with the physical act of writing and the mental one must have some overlap. I also admit to liking writing my alphabet with a pen. Don't ask why.

In January I took on the simple task of writing one haiku a day. I've not been entirely consistent with this vow, and the form is one I've never done with any success until a little bit lately. My haikus often, but not always, try to contain the reference to season and the turning of subject that classical haiku requires. The haiku is a small cage. Manageable for literary invalids.

That's a terrible way to put it, making haiku sound like something not quite grown up, like sets of building blocks with letters on them. I only mean to say that is the way I've used haiku, a form I'll never master. Working on a small cage has helped me write in other forms again, and it has made me see more clearly what content actually is about.

A realization came to me when I thought about what I'd write next year. I thought instead of a haiku a day, I'd try a tanka a day, a tanka essentially being a haiku with two extra lines. The prospect struck fear in me. Would I actually have enough to say to write tanka, to fill up those extra lines? That led to a new consideration.

Maybe I never really lacked things to say. Maybe I worked on cages that were too big, too boomy, so expansive you'd never see the bird even if it showed up. Writing haiku has brought me to a sense of how content can become central to the poem again, as long as the content is meant, is appropriate to my scale of knowledge and concern.

All of this is a rather sorry revelation, one better suited to someone younger than I am, but I'll take it. And I'll recommend a course of study in haiku to anyone lost working on a cage or lost in one. Give it a try. It might help you see more clearly until the next lesson.

Metafictional Aside from Story "Rosalind"

I keep quoting from this abandoned story. Apologies.

    There are many versions of this story of The Dramatic Car Ride. In one the protagonists find Petrucchio, but Mark’s rage vanishes the moment he locks eyes with him. In another the Z has to refuel, and in a gas station restroom Rosalind launches into a soliloquy that is an attempt to explain to Linda the full intricacy of herself and the situation they are in, but the attempt fails. In one Linda and Steve discuss, in a hushed and coded way, the romantic possibilities between them, though it goes nowhere then or later. In another possibility, the one I find most alluring, they come upon an abandoned rural church where surreal and wonderful things happen to them in a kind of Hoosier magical realist mode, events that transform them in ways at once drastic and indefinable. I choose the story that most favors the events I know surrounding that night, the one that allows the protagonists to enter and exit as themselves and better prepared for what would come, though I admit as author to a level of exploitation.
Taming of the Shrew, 4.1. (public domain image)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Chinese to Roman Zen Calligraphy

I don't present the below graphic as an example of aesthetic achievement. It's only here as a suggestion to others interested in Zen calligraphy within a European cultural context.

Calligraphy has been an important form of art in Zen, and a practice such as copying the Heart Sutra while doing a prostration between the writing of each ideogram is an example of how it has been done. When a Zen practitioner in the West takes up calligraphy there's an immediate dilemma. Either the calligrapher must learn Chinese or must write in Roman lettering that spoils the entire rhythm of the traditional form that comes into the mind mostly at one idea (or Chinese ideogram) at a time. There may be some who would object to doing calligraphy in any but a traditional form, insisting on its superiority. I can't argue with such voices. I speak and try things out only as a Zen practitioner in America who has an interest in graphics.

A possible compromise occurred to me a couple of years ago after having chanted the Heart Sutra in English in the tradition of the Kwan Um School of Zen: take the English words and break them down into their syllables and use these as "units of calligraphy." Dividing the calligraphy syllabically would, I hope, parallel the mental rhythms that would accompany the writing of ideograms. The units of calligraphy would also parallel the language as it is chanted in my Zen tradition.

The experiments I composed involved putting a light pencil grid on paper and writing the letters of syllables, the units of calligraphy, in discrete rectangles on the page. Below is the only example I have left, that of the Heart Sutra, with the Sanskrit mantra brushed spontaneously (I'll admit to sloppily) in the middle, with the rest of the sutra written around it in squares subdivided into nine smaller units of calligraphy each. Loose longhand writing is interspersed within the mantra as an accent.

I found myself counting syllables and doing the math to try to divide pages up to hold texts evenly across pages, but I'm not convinced that would be necessary in all cases.

Again, the graphic is really just provided as a kind of schematic for those who would care to experiment with this way of writing. Currently I'm doing most of my calligraphy using the Palmer method and a flex-nib fountain pen.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Effigy Mounds*


Pink Elephant Motel and Supper Club. Postcard.
We drove on a table of land.
It was actually hollow: Spook
Cave lay beneath us, though we never
Visited. I didn’t want to. You scowled.
I have no regrets. The countryside
Lay dotted with dinner clubs.
They stood like barns in the fields,
Wanting to be loved by couples
In middle age, Lutherans perhaps,
Not the unmarried May-July couple
We were. We found our motel,
The Pink Elephant, and adjoining club,
In a town carved into the steep
And crumbling bluffs of the Mississippi.
To this day I can’t remember the town’s
Name, only how it seemed so small,
Like a model railroad village
With tiny streetlamps,
As if it were settling
Easily into the limestone.
You ordered catfish for dinner
And asked, “Is catfish wild?”
And I remember feeling like a bumpkin
Making love to a July woman that night
(I’m past July myself now)
In that room perched halfway up
The stone bank on a level
With Spook Cave.

The effigy mounds lay very flat in the park,
And who could tell the bear’s shape from
An elephant (the motel’s fiberglass effigy
In the valley offered a far better likeness)?
In a photo you hold a stick
And a small purple crystal, about
To plant it in the bear’s earthen
Heart. In another I lean back
Upon a rail at the park’s precipice,
The Mississippi sliding, unseen, below.

Looking back
On that hollow land, it seems
The caverns we didn’t visit
Somehow echo our laughter.
And perhaps the humans who made
Those mounds knew their spirits
Sank, irretrievable, into the old
Earth. They raised those shallow mounds
In humility, would not raise them
To the treetops. Would not erect
Buildings on their crowns because
For them the holy was not in the sky.
No one will find the desecrating crystal
We buried. No, the spirits were too
Hungry, and ate our middle-class,
New-age rock.

And then, a year later, we’re
Fighting. We’re a thousand miles
From there, from my Midwestern,
Undermined land. We’re breaking up.
I can’t get a job. There are your
Children to think of. And I’m thinking
How spoiled you are, a little girl
With crow’s feet, emerged
From hell. I look back at myself
Reaching for your hair, for anything
To fill myself, wanting you to fill
The spaces that you, an animal
Like any other human being,
Could never fill.

The last night together the
Photographs came out, and you
Wanted me to have them, to remember.
And I remember (save me from remembering)
The picture of you standing
In the opened, lightning-struck
Tree, your hands sloped against
The lips of its wound. And save
Me, again, from the image of
Myself, standing next to the pink
Elephant, leaning on a creature
Only seen in withdrawal. See the
Pride in my eyes in having found
A monument when hunger stopped
and I posed by a being hollow as myself.
And I said, no, you keep the pictures.

Today I know these were pictures
Of our spirits about to descend,
About to enter the place the world
Stands on. You get down there
Through the hollow body of a god,
Of an elephant, of a tree.
I say this now that it is October
And we are nearing rivers of ice
With caves where the catfish swim like
A thousand moons.
Save me from saying that there
One spirit holds another,
And their amethyst hearts
Know no pride, no hunger.

*This refers to a trip to the Effigy Mounds National Monument where figures of animals were landscaped by ancient Americans.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Zen Does

Traditional Korean brush rendering of Bodhidharma,
who founded the Zen tradition in China.
Before dawn 108 prostrations. Counted breaths, counted mantras, thousands a day. Zen makes breakfast. Zen goes to the bathroom. Zen goes to work. At night, before bed, Four Great Vows to save all beings. Sleep. Repeat.

Zen completely overwhelms. Zen takes a break. It's not a religion. Then it thinks it is. But it isn't, really? Zen asks lots of questions. Who am I? I will never fulfill all these Zen demands. I'm not supposed to. I try anyway. Sometimes not. Sometimes for 10,000 years nonstop! There's no attainment. There's nothing to attain.

Zen and I got into a pissing match. Zen won. Zen always wins. Except when someone loses, but even then.

Zen sits and sits and sits staring at the floor. Zen hurts an awful lot. Zen eats it. People ask Zen if it will help them calm down. This is Zen.

I ask Zen if it is just a further amplification of the extreme stance on self-reliance everyone in my life including the yokels in my Podunk hometown told me was the only way to go. Zen says yes. Screw you, Zen. So I quit Zen. I punch the wall out with my fist. Who did that stupid feat? It all seems very familiar. Everything reminds me of Zen.

Was Zen here before you? Zen sits some more. Zen doesn't see, hear, smell, taste, touch or think. It's sort of like talking to a wall, which is a kind of inside joke for Zen people. And then it sees and hears and smells and tastes and touches and thinks and maybe there's a lot to dislike about Zen, but we keep watching it. Who's making all that dislike? Zen asks that.

Zen asks that over and over and over. Forget who answers. Zen doesn't answer.

Who listens?



for F. Kwan Zheng Dao

Friday, October 11, 2013

About Taxi Driver, Journal Entry, August 20, 2000

Both the politician  and the pimp are successes where Travis [the titular taxi driver] is a failure: they are able through words to exist in their society and to seduce the women under them into doing their work. These are the people of whom Travis is most jealous. By using firearms Travis is calling a bluff. His weapons are the literal and more powerful embodiment of what the pimp and politician do with language.

"Are you talking to me?" Travis asks a mirror. Then he pulls his weapons. In his own mind, words have become means of manipulation, a silly and trivial kind of manipulation compared to what may be achieved with naked violence.

No community or identity can exist in Travis's hellish view of things. All representation is a lie covering violence.

In his conversation with Iris the prostitute, he tries to convince her that her pimp is not looking out for her but is using her, and that when all is said and done, the pimp is a killer. What Travis does here is not only trying to do Iris a favor by trying to talk her out of a bad life, it is also trying to beat the pimp at his own game of words. That he is indeed using words and at this point not planning to kill the pimp is a hopeful moment, in a way. But Travis is still speaking from the perspective of brute force in a world he does not want to survive.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Lost Art of Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton
(period portrait)
Yesterday I read a friend's Facebook thread about the impasse in Washington. His threads attract people of opposing viewpoints, and the discussions often become lively. One participant argued in favor of the portion of the legislative obstinancy the Republicans own. A subsequent poster put up these words, which come from Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Papers, No. 70, as an overall summation of the current political situation.
Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon contrary to their sentiments.

Men of upright, benevolent tempers have too many opportunities of remarking, with horror, to what desperate lengths this disposition is sometimes carried, and how often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, and to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind. Perhaps the question now before the public may, in its consequences, afford melancholy proofs of the effects of this despicable frailty, or rather detestable vice, in the human character.*

The precise mood or meaning of many posts on the internet is not usually clear. Hamilton's words are clear. The pro-GOP poster's response to these words, that he couldn't bother with them because it would take too long to translate them, may leave emotions and meanings that are not expressed. It's nearly impossible to tell how much humor that poster intended and at what level of sarcasm. My reaction to his comment was emotional. Immediately I wanted to pour my own sarcastic humor over the irony of the situation: a conservative dismissing the foundational words of one of America's truly great conservatives as time-wasting gibberish. For purposes of this post, I will mostly address the fact of the text's easy dismissal, which may occur to most of us.

I myself was a stranger to The Federalist Papers until reading this Facebook thread, which has, apparently and mercifully, been deleted or at least purged of that part of the discussion. Growing up I always heard about how important The Federalist Papers were to understanding American political history. Unfortunately for me, the recommendations usually came from people I did not agree with, such as George Will, or people I thought might want me dead, such as contributors to The American Scholar under Joseph Epstein's reign as editor-and-troll-in-chief. In other words, it was sheer bigotry on my part that I did not get around to reading Alexander Hamilton. The words I've quoted have afforded a personal revelation of Hamilton's eloquence, and the mere presence of his words on this page make me want to write better.

Hamilton's words are not an easy read these days. Usually our best writing does not reach this level of complexity, a complexity meant to bear a lot of meaning shaded in delicate ways. For this reason we can call the writing effete. Who needs it? The poet Marianne Moore wanted to write in a plain American language "cats and dogs can read!" This passage does not qualify, but it is prose as American as you could ask for. Hamilton wrote as a member of an elite to other members of the same American elite at a time when literacy was not assured in the population. We are not that elite audience these days even if we are fortunate enough to know how to read. People who occupy similar positions to Hamilton in our society and government no long use the complexity of language he used in The Federalist Papers. If someone wants to complain that they need a translator to read Hamilton, can we really be shocked?

And yet we live with the heritage of these words, not just Hamilton's words but an era of them written by his cohorts that show a richness of spirit politicians do not dare show today without being slammed on cable news shows.

"...opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indespensable duty of self-love."

We could translate this to say, "They oppose things because they're stuck on themselves," but we would lose slyness, a sarcasm moderated--moderated!--by that softening phrase "in their estimation" which itself opens into other shades of meaning. We could, in short, write a press release for Michele Bachmann.

Which raises a series of questions. Would Michele Bachmann need a translator to read this passage? If members of the House GOP attended workshops to "get" the meaning of Hamilton's words, would they also perceive the moderation and wisdom of the eloquent human being who wrote them? Do we still have a recognizable American political discourse when we no longer care to trouble ourselves with the language in which it founders conducted it? Most importantly and less partisanly: Is it possible at all today to have political discussions in language that expresses deep human concern. If we reject, out of bigotry, ignorance or laziness, the political expression of human concern, can we expect government that has human concern at its heart? Today we must see the consequences of language gone flat and sentiments too shallow to afford the depth of compromise.

We live in a time when language must sell things and sell them quickly. A genie has been let out of a bottle, it seems, and perhaps we will eventually become the inanimate objects we desire to trade so much. Certainly we will resemble them in death. In an elitist dream world of mine, no one would get into political office without being able to understand Alexander Hamilton and his elite of strange and eloquent Americans. That complex foundational language would serve as a shibboleth allowing only the most humane a passage into halls of power.

In my egalitarian fantasy, almost everyone would understand Hamilton to begin with. Hamilton was an obstinate man by most accounts, maybe as opinionated as anyone in Congress today. But he could question himself. He had a heart and knew how to look at it. That would be our general state of affairs.

*I am almost certain the inspiration for posting this quote in the thread came from an opinion piece in The Atlanta Journal Constitution . That is where I've copied the quoted text.