Monday, February 29, 2016

Grey Hills, Georgia O'Keeffe, 1941

(link to picture)

The sand below speaks of peace
laid nearly flat between digging
fingers of wrinkled rock,
It's so dry in this erosion
that the cicadas wheeze
like a miracle.

It's so still, so melted
from the monochrome sky
to the dead stream bed.
Rock runs off.
All this earth migrates
from heaven down.

The hilltops darken
from an arid cloud
and open a mouth
begging for some kind of rain,
pleading from their ages
of survival.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Flight of Europa

Paul Manship, 1927, gilded bronze

You think you're grown up enough but who
would be fooled by that indecent tail but a victim;
who by that comic blimp bull body but one
with everything to lose? Oh, Europa,
don't smile. Everything you know
is about to die. The joke told here
isn't funny, and we laugh
because the violation's already begun
and we have no voice to resist.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trump and Fascism

Benito Mussolini, Italian fascist dictator
Fascism is not an ideology, although it can have an ideology. If we attempt to identify a person or movement as fascist based upon a laundry list of political planks or points. in a credo, we are doomed never to find a precise match and may fail in a quite plausible way to identify the rise of Donald Trump for the fascist victory it represents in contemporary American politics. Personally, l can find any number of reasons to refrain from identifying Trump with fascism. An aversion to making alarmist statements is only one of those reasons that is not utterly craven. l can no longer in good conscience refrain from saying that the Trump phenomenon is fundamentally fascist.

Here the obligation falls upon me to make my case, to show through historical precedent how requiring members of certain religious minorities to carry special ID, how having supporters who rough up political opponents, how invoking making a country "great again", how politicized xenophobia, how zealous appeal to the violence of warfare, such as we have seen in the Trump campaign, sketch a profile of a fascism. l would rebut those who say fascism requires the implementation of one-party rule and the squelching of individualism such as have not yet become manifest in Trump's career. In spite of my conscience | don't have the resources to make those arguments with the depth of documentation they deserve. I can only appeal to others from my own intuition about fascism that has been educated through a few decades of interest in history.

Beyond stating my impression | can only urge anyone who cares about the future of this country to become informed about fascism and totalitarianism in all the forms they have taken. One could do far worse than starting by reading this article by the recently deceased Italian scholar Umberto Eco who experienced fascism first hand. But even Wikipedia is a good-enough source to begin learning about fascism and its history.

The problem facing the country, by the way, is not Donald Trump. The problem runs much deeper in us as a society. The only solution I can propose today is this education of ourselves to recognize the potential for great evil when it presents itself and asks for our support--or for the glance of our blind eyes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Random Comment On Illness

Our own births and deaths we can imagine as abstractions, hidden as they are from us by forgetfulness and the mystery of the future respectively. Old age becomes an ongoing experience for many of us in the form of increases in illness and decreases in memory. But it is acute illness that informs us most intimately of all three. A bout of gastroenteritis will have us recall the humiliation of failing will and of abandoning reality through the simple wish that what is happening, the illness, was not. Thoughts of martyrs in all their guises drift through our feverish brains along with the certainty that under torture we would have betrayed any faith, loved one or military secret. All that matters is the end of suffering. We can also, once this set  of dark thoughts pass, wonder if birth and death are much different than acute illness. And when the vomiting stops and strength and appetite return, we can massage those aching joints that get us around in our declining years--oh, how they decline!--with a renewed sense of the daily grind of chronic illness they represent. But not for long. We'll forget this little birth too. Somehow we have to return to a confidence in self. We'll forget, mercifully, how we had betrayed everything.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Inferno XIX: Debridement

The things you fashioned
from holes and implanted
like a stake of silver:
either that anger, I think,
or true words unveiled me.

Inferno: Canto XIX

O Simon Magus, O forlorn disciples, Ye who the things of God, which ought to be The brides of holiness, rapaciously For silver and for gold do prostitute, Now it behoves for you the trumpet sound, Because in this third Bolgia ye abide. We had already on the following tomb Ascended to that portion of the crag Which o'er the middle of the moat hangs plumb. Wisdom supreme, O how great art thou showest In heaven, in earth, and in the evil world, And with what justice doth thy power distribute! I saw upon the sides and on the bottom The livid stone with perforations filled, All of one size, and every one was round. To me less ample seemed they not, nor greater Than those that in my beautiful Saint John Are fashioned for the place of the baptisers, And one of which, not many years ago, I broke for some one, who was drowning in it; Be this a seal all men to undeceive. Out of the mouth of each one there protruded The feet of a transgressor, and the legs Up to the calf, the rest within remained. In all of them the soles were both on fire; Wherefore the joints so violently quivered, They would have snapped asunder withes and bands. Even as the flame of unctuous things is wont To move upon the outer surface only, So likewise was it there from heel to point. "Master, who is that one who writhes himself, More than his other comrades quivering," I said, "and whom a redder flame is sucking?" And he to me: "If thou wilt have me bear thee Down there along that bank which lowest lies, From him thou'lt know his errors and himself." And I: "What pleases thee, to me is pleasing; Thou art my Lord, and knowest that I depart not From thy desire, and knowest what is not spoken." Straightway upon the fourth dike we arrived; We turned, and on the left-hand side descended Down to the bottom full of holes and narrow. And the good Master yet from off his haunch Deposed me not, till to the hole he brought me Of him who so lamented with his shanks. "Whoe'er thou art, that standest upside down, O doleful soul, implanted like a stake," To say began I, "if thou canst, speak out." I stood even as the friar who is confessing The false assassin, who, when he is fixed, Recalls him, so that death may be delayed. And he cried out: "Dost thou stand there already, Dost thou stand there already, Boniface? By many years the record lied to me. Art thou so early satiate with that wealth, For which thou didst not fear to take by fraud The beautiful Lady, and then work her woe?" Such I became, as people are who stand, Not comprehending what is answered them, As if bemocked, and know not how to answer. Then said Virgilius: "Say to him straightway, 'I am not he, I am not he thou thinkest.'" And I replied as was imposed on me. Whereat the spirit writhed with both his feet, Then, sighing, with a voice of lamentation Said to me: "Then what wantest thou of me? If who I am thou carest so much to know, That thou on that account hast crossed the bank, Know that I vested was with the great mantle; And truly was I son of the She-bear, So eager to advance the cubs, that wealth Above, and here myself, I pocketed. Beneath my head the others are dragged down Who have preceded me in simony, Flattened along the fissure of the rock. Below there I shall likewise fall, whenever That one shall come who I believed thou wast, What time the sudden question I proposed. But longer I my feet already toast, And here have been in this way upside down, Than he will planted stay with reddened feet; For after him shall come of fouler deed From tow'rds the west a Pastor without law, Such as befits to cover him and me. New Jason will he be, of whom we read In Maccabees; and as his king was pliant, So he who governs France shall be to this one." I do not know if I were here too bold, That him I answered only in this metre: "I pray thee tell me now how great a treasure Our Lord demanded of Saint Peter first, Before he put the keys into his keeping? Truly he nothing asked but 'Follow me.' Nor Peter nor the rest asked of Matthias Silver or gold, when he by lot was chosen Unto the place the guilty soul had lost. Therefore stay here, for thou art justly punished, And keep safe guard o'er the ill-gotten money, Which caused thee to be valiant against Charles. And were it not that still forbids it me The reverence for the keys superlative Thou hadst in keeping in the gladsome life, I would make use of words more grievous still; Because your avarice afflicts the world, Trampling the good and lifting the depraved. The Evangelist you Pastors had in mind, When she who sitteth upon many waters To fornicate with kings by him was seen; The same who with the seven heads was born, And power and strength from the ten horns received, So long as virtue to her spouse was pleasing. Ye have made yourselves a god of gold and silver; And from the idolater how differ ye, Save that he one, and ye a hundred worship? Ah, Constantine! of how much ill was mother, Not thy conversion, but that marriage dower Which the first wealthy Father took from thee!" And while I sang to him such notes as these, Either that anger or that conscience stung him, He struggled violently with both his feet. I think in sooth that it my Leader pleased, With such contented lip he listened ever Unto the sound of the true words expressed. Therefore with both his arms he took me up, And when he had me all upon his breast, Remounted by the way where he descended. Nor did he tire to have me clasped to him; But bore me to the summit of the arch Which from the fourth dike to the fifth is passage. There tenderly he laid his burden down, Tenderly on the crag uneven and steep, That would have been hard passage for the goats: Thence was unveiled to me another valley.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


Our hands seek out
objects to fill them
as if there weren't
enough picture frames
around, enough arms
of chairs, enough
plastic objects
we only touch,
wrapped and unwrapped,
in rooms as full as this,
in times very much
like this slowness.
Wasn't it yesterday
we wondered just how
to turn the handle,
to walk out and not
look back too often?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Inferno XVIII: Through a Mirror

Through a Mirror

There is a place
Where just an image
Of us faces blows.

But little wishes
Bring us pain.
We moan beating upon
A human face.

Inferno: Canto XVIII
There is a place in Hell called Malebolge, Wholly of stone and of an iron colour, As is the circle that around it turns.  Right in the middle of the field malign There yawns a well exceeding wide and deep, Of which its place the structure will recount.  Round, then, is that enclosure which remains Between the well and foot of the high, hard bank, And has distinct in valleys ten its bottom.  As where for the protection of the walls Many and many moats surround the castles, The part in which they are a figure forms,  Just such an image those presented there; And as about such strongholds from their gates Unto the outer bank are little bridges,  So from the precipice's base did crags
Project, which intersected dikes and moats, Unto the well that truncates and collects them.  Within this place, down shaken from the back Of Geryon, we found us; and the Poet Held to the left, and I moved on behind.  Upon my right hand I beheld new anguish, New torments, and new wielders of the lash, Wherewith the foremost Bolgia was replete.  Down at the bottom were the sinners naked; This side the middle came they facing us, Beyond it, with us, but with greater steps;  Even as the Romans, for the mighty host, The year of Jubilee, upon the bridge,
Have chosen a mode to pass the people over;  For all upon one side towards the Castle Their faces have, and go unto St. Peter's; On the other side they go towards the Mountain.  This side and that, along the livid stone Beheld I horned demons with great scourges, Who cruelly were beating them behind.  Ah me! how they did make them lift their legs At the first blows! and sooth not any one
The second waited for, nor for the third.  While I was going on, mine eyes by one
Encountered were; and straight I said: "Already With sight of this one I am not unfed."  Therefore I stayed my feet to make him out, And with me the sweet Guide came to a stand, And to my going somewhat back assented;  And he, the scourged one, thought to hide himself, Lowering his face, but little it availed him; For said I: "Thou that castest down thine eyes,  If false are not the features which thou bearestThou art Venedico CaccianimicoBut what doth bring thee to such pungent sauces?"  And he to me: "Unwillingly I tell it; But forces me thine utterance distinct, Which makes me recollect the ancient world.  I was the one who the fair Ghisola Induced to grant the wishes of the Marquis, Howe'er the shameless story may be told.  Not the sole Bolognese am I who weeps here; Nay, rather is this place so full of them, That not so many tongues to-day are taught  'Twixt Reno and Savena to say 'sipa;' And if thereof thou wishest pledge or proof, Bring to thy mind our avaricious heart."  While speaking in this manner, with his scourge A demon smote him, and said: "Get thee gone Pander, there are no women here for coin."  I joined myself again unto mine Escort; Thereafterward with footsteps few we came To where a crag projected from the bank.  This very easily did we ascend, And turning to the right along its ridge, From those eternal circles we departed.  When we were there, where it is hollowed out
Beneath, to give a passage to the scourged, The Guide said: "Wait, and see that on thee strike  The vision of those others evil-born, Of whom thou hast not yet beheld the faces, Because together with us they have gone."  From the old bridge we looked upon the train Which tow'rds us came upon the other border,
And which the scourges in like manner smite.  And the good Master, without my inquiring, Said to me: "See that tall one who is coming, And for his pain seems not to shed a tear;  Still what a royal aspect he retains! That Jason is, who by his heart and cunning The Colchians of the Ram made destitute.  He by the isle of Lemnos passed along After the daring women pitiless Had unto death devoted all their males.  There with his tokens and with ornate words Did he deceive Hypsipyle, the maiden Who first, herself, had all the rest deceived.  There did he leave her pregnant and forlorn; Such sin unto such punishment condemns him,
And also for Medea is vengeance done.  With him go those who in such wise deceive; And this sufficient be of the first valley To know, and those that in its jaws it holds."  We were already where the narrow path Crosses athwart the second dike, and forms Of that a buttress for another arch.  Thence we heard people, who are making moan In the next Bolgia, snorting with their muzzles,
And with their palms beating upon themselves  The margins were incrusted with a mould\ By exhalation from below, that sticks there, And with the eyes and nostrils wages war.  The bottom is so deep, no place suffices o give us sight of it, without ascending The arch's back, where most the crag impends.  Thither we came, and thence down in the moat I saw a people smothered in a filth That out of human privies seemed to flow;  And whilst below there with mine eye I search, I saw one with his head so foul with ordure, It was not clear if he were clerk or layman.  He screamed to me: "Wherefore art thou so eager To look at me more than the other foul ones?" And I to him: "Because, if I remember,  I have already seen thee with dry hair, And thou'rt Alessio Interminei of Lucca; Therefore I eye thee more than all the others."  And he thereon, belabouring his pumpkin: "The flatteries have submerged me here below, Wherewith my tongue was never surfeited."  Then said to me the Guide: "See that thou thrust Thy visage somewhat farther in advance, That with thine eyes thou well the face attain  Of that uncleanly and dishevelled drab, Who there doth scratch herself with filthy nails,
And crouches now, and now on foot is standing.  Thais the harlot is it, who replied Unto her paramour, when he said, 'Have I
Great gratitude from thee?'--'Nay, marvellous;'  And herewith let our sight be satisfied."