Second Thoughts from Momsʼ Day

Yesterdayʼs post* ended with a bitter pill: “the restʼs just sin.”** However, some reflection, inspired by coincidence and dueling theologies, has made me think twice about the idea of life as merely utter error and inescapable sin. Perhaps I have been overly programmed by my culture to misperceive reality too darkly.

I have mentioned that with the new job and its eleven-hour days***, I have fallen depressingly behind on reading the periodicals to which I subscribe. I try to skim through the weekly Science News, Time and Newsweek as they arrive (or at least within the next week), but the TLS (also weekly), The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books (along with Discover, Smithsonian, National Geographic, The Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American and others not leaping to mind right away) have become a horrible stack of journalistic information and insights unsounded and unread. So, having awakened an hour after Janet on Sunday morning, I sat with a cup of (caffeinated) coffee to try to read a few book reviews, pulling from the top of the stack the London Review for April 14, 2011 [Volume 33, Number 8] and beginning with the first review, “Whatʼs next?” by James Wood, examining After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory by John Casey.

The so-called Christian Dextreme: take science and twist the facts away… (Click the pic to see what I mean.)

The book sounds intriguing, and the review was stimulating. The point it raised that made me reconsider the end of my sonnet is what Wood, expanding and reflecting on Caseyʼs arguments, said about the Pauline/Augustinian invention/interpretation of Original Sin as indicating the utter depravity of human nature, redeemed only by belief in the sacrificial and beneficial nature of Christʼs suffering on the cross (that is, Faith). Furthermore, according to the classical reading of St. Paulʼs sour views, Salvation is available only by Grace, and God has mysteriously reserved that gift merely to an elect few (known, [super-]naturally only to God since before creation). From Paul through Augustine through Luther and Calvin, the eerie doom of humanity to hell is reinforced.

Without our loving Godʼs (capricious?) boon of Grace, even multitudes of the Faithful are destined for hell. Period. No further discussion permitted. No arbitration possible. (Gee, thanks for that, among so many other miserly-sphinctered rulings, Saul of Tarsus.)

Nothing one can do on oneʼs own can redeem one.

That dour theology is essentially at the heart of my grim little poem, which is what gives me second thoughts. What both the reviewer and the original author perceive, however, is that such a dire worldview has only slowly evolved historically (and temporarily, too, as current popular theology, outside the vile extremes of fundamentalism****, has more or less discarded that Pauline dark destiny in favor of a kinder, liberal, more Pelagian perception). Without the tightassed theologians of salvation-by-grace-alone, we humans have generally held a more generous and forgiving view of frailty and error. (Hey, weʼre all only human, after all.)

Maybe my emphasis on maternal love as the only redemption in the face of such patriarchal parsimony isnʼt off the mark…

However, I meant originally, as I began to type, to explicate my own little Jesusʼs-age-old poem, and I havenʼt done so. Maybe, work permitting, tomorrow. But for now, having never quite finished Woodʼs book review, perhaps I should read on to the end.

* (a sonnet, by the way, rhymed very tightly but oddly as ABCAABCADAEEAD — with C and B being nearly identical, except for a final consonant)

** (incompletely, as it turned out, when The Lovely One summoned me to depart for the Wal and some necessary purchases, including potting soil for those plants she had bought the day before)

*** (days which are now, with me having a half-hour commute at the beginning and end of each, perhaps going to extend more toward twelve hours, I fear)

**** Ironically/coincidentally/interestingly, Time made a cover story, the same week as my London Review issue, out of an evangelical (presumably, therefore, fundie) minister writing a popular book on the (possible) nonexistence of hell — utterly upsetting the fundamentalist applecart (because without hell, thereʼs no stick for the Appointed Authorities to beat the sheeple into the party line) and earning the author the brickbats and outrage of the Dextreme SelfRightous.

My brother-in-law, Brian the minister, once observed, “Itʼs a fine and splendid thing to get called ‘pastor’ by the congregation, but that title doesnʼt say much for the flock…”

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Choosing My Religion (or not)

Although the sun peeked out for maybe an hour, it was a gray afternoon on Wednesday, yesterday. With the weather having warmed just after the new year, the outdoors has gotten to that ugly stage when the snow is brown and gray and black, and the army-drab* grass shows through the spots of melt. I spent some hours in the morning putting close to five thousand words into the Scrivener document for “Mistakes by Moonlight,” getting Søren and Judah down from the entry they forcibly made into the Green Tower and ready to commit their theft. Judah even got two or three touches of magic into the mix, but right now thereʼs trouble brewing as threatening footsteps are tromping down the stairs toward our two heroes…

And then Janet called for some advice on a bit of business for her boss, and suddenly once the phone was hung up, I was wasting time. Again. As usual.

And therefore you get a post to read today, my punishment for idling away the afternoon learning about:

  • what my Facebook friends have been up to,
  • how I lost out on the MegaMillions lottery jackpot,
  • selfish Tightists (Ayn Rand — a name which the Dictate software had no trouble interpreting, scarily),
  • the End of Days (some whack-job in California, who has failed to correctly predict the end of the world twice before, has gotten gullible so-called christians of some self-centered sort and/or another[s] all disturbed that theyʼre going to get Raptured, May 21 — yeah, right, sure, and Iʼm gonna go with ʼem),
  • Santorum” (he of the insistent rear-entry fixationprotesting too much, wouldnʼt you guess? — could-be Prez candidate, not, no matter how many times he pollutes my state with his perverse presence), and…

Well, as this list has gotten a bit bizarrely frightening, weʼll just say and other things. (There really are a lot of scary, stupid pass-for-humans*** out there. Perhaps the snow conditions match the Nutjobs.) Suffice it to say that I got my overdose of the wigged-out unreality of the lunatic Dextreme. Again. As I wish was not usual.

But it got me thinking… well, reminiscing rather…

Back in college, sitting around one of the big tables in the student union at IWC on a late winter or early spring day, possibly in 72 or 73, some of us having read Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins (thanks, Denise, for that initial recommendation and thereafter a lifetime of periodic vast entertainment), a few friends and I briefly contemplated/laughed about creating our own religion to put over on the plebes and make a lot of cash** (just like a megachurch pastor these days), but I concluded no one would be gullible enough to swallow the kind of idiotic santorum subsequent history has now proved far too many dolts are hideously eager to consume uncomplaining, without hesitation or question. And all of that before Ramtha, ghost-hunting and the New Age! If we had only known. If only we had a crystal ball to see what demagogues and deluders have anti-accomplished since. Again. As usual.

Iʼd have to forego the beard, though…

Oh well, another missed opportunity unrealized. (Just like the lottery.) Thatʼs life. Mine, at least.

Left Behind.

Again.

Per usual.

However, maybe itʼs not too late… According to folly, Iʼve still got until May 21, and in my own case October!

I wonder if anyone outside really (and too easily) misled Buddhists would accept a plump, bald prophet/messiah/avatar-of-divinity…

Scientologists probably. Hmmmmm…

If I had only gotten that PayPal button to work here on the blog, You Could Start Sending Your Contributions Today

But back to reality, or in my case, fantasy. I left Søren and Judah in a real predicament, and there are still hours before I have to make supper, breakfast and lunch and get ready to work a little on Thursday/today.

 

* Now thereʼs an outdated reference to put me in my place chronologically, as I meant olive, not camouflage.

** I say “briefly,” but I have pondered and periodically developed story ideas arising therefrom and have not forgotten the incident since…

*** I really, really wanted to drop the “p” in that hyphenated phrase. But good taste and restraint won the day (along with not linking to a particular website one can discover when googling “Santorum gay”).

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Fishing with Darwin

Having given blood again Monday (conveniently at the United Methodist church just up the street), I may have sucked any clear purpose from my writing. I had found something on Sunday, checking over my blogʼs stats, that got me musing, and today, those vague perturbations turned into a post…

A screenshot that shows the WordPress Dashboard for this blog. Click to enlarge.

Browsing through the statistical information that WordPress provides on oneʼs blog can be fascinating (too fascinating, killing hours of time periodically). That was how I developed one previous post, having spent far too long musing on the ways and means that had and had not brought readers to Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog. (I promise that today, unlike that previous exploration of statistical marvels, I wonʼt affix an endless series of blog links to this post.)

The most obvious statistic which a WordPress user finds is the count on the number of hits each day. WP presents that on a bloggerʼs main screen, the Dashboard, along with possible spam, recent comments, oneʼs own recent drafts for the blog, and a summary of the most popular posts recently. But the WordPress enumerators have much more available under the Site Stats link.

There you can get not only the numbers but also some interesting other information, such as recent websites referring viewers to you and what search terms lead viewers from search engines to your site. It was the list of search terms that let me know so many people were looking for images and information on Impressionists, probably for assignments in art history. By the way, that single Impressionist essay I posted with pictures (mostly borrowed from other sites, just as the hitters on this blog were likely doing) remains among the most popular items on the blog. Site Stats is a favorite stop for me when I’m checking e-mail, Facebook and the status of the blog as I begin each day.

The belegged fishy symbol in question/being searched about…

Recently, one search drew my interest. The day after Christmas, someone had arrived at Wakdjunkaga’s Blog by searching for “darwin fish rather than the religious creationist view.” Itʼs not a particularly profound request, but it touched me emotionally. My interest wasn’t because arriving here would be inappropriate for such a search (I am clearly no creationist) but because of the peculiar wording of the investigative quest. The latter part of the antithesis, “the religious creationist view,” makes a fair, mispunctuated sense. It’s the opposition of that wishfully contrafactual point of view with the “darwin fish” that intrigued me, putting that parodic image in contradistinction to a barely theological belief.

The emblem is merely a kind of joke (it actually began as a joke that blossomed into profit, even with legal suits, moreso than the smiley face provided for its creator), perhaps most popular as a Jeffersonian sign of resistance to the aggressive intrusion of (what should be a personal) religion into daily life, or personal opposition to deliberate ignorance wailing in terror of scientific rationality. Unfortunately, the parody emblem in no way posits any particular point of view, merely a vague mistrust or antagonism to willful fatuity. I sport a Darwin fish on my truck (and unfortunately sold the old vehicle, rapidly, a decade ago with its better, plastic emblem still attached) not in opposition to religion but to empty, wish-fulfilling falsehoods.

Can you see the fishy emblem?

Faintly amusing to me, back in the Nineties, when I subscribed to the MacAddict periodical, on the more-or-less humorous final page of one issue, the writer listed “things that were so over” and prominently featured the Darwin fish as the emblem of a debate long-settled (I guess that writer underestimated the stubbornness of wishful self-deception in America). And one of my neighbors-to-the-westʼs kids (at least at one time, a year ago) had a “Truth”-fish-eating-a-darwin-fish emblem on his vehicle, which I guess wasnʼt meant to concede the debate (by having a larger specimen consuming a smaller one — thus admitting survival of the fittest?) but rather to assert oneʼs personal denial of the the rationalistʼs parodic imagery, as acceptable as my truckʼs rear end. I do enjoy the aggressive and devouring “Truth”-Christ asserted in what must be deliberate defiance (or ignorance) of the Saviorʼs Gospel preachments (the link, just to present an evangelical view on that matter).

But I didnʼt want to post today to vent my spleen against nonsensically self-referential bias-defense maneuvers but rather to briefly imagine what might have caused that search which landed, however briefly, on this blog. Was this some poor homeschooled kid in an unobserved moment trying to find some unbiased, objective information, using the pathetic misinformation s/he had available? I can see this child hunched over the computer in the postChristmas haze, struggling to acquire knowledge rather than mere propaganda but only possessing the jargon of the True Believers, attempting hastily to discover what might be learned before the Authoritative Presences intervened once again. A sad scenario that perhaps could become a story…

Of course, alternatively, it might as well have been someone searching from the other end of the rationality spectrum. But if so, I donʼt have a good guess why the fish emblem would be the alternative to religious prejudice* rather than a biological point of view. Surely even an adolescent scientist wouldnʼt oppose the symbol to a creationist belief?

Of course, the information from WordPress is what it is. I donʼt know who searched that eight-word phrase or why. My awareness that it happened, however, just stirred my imagination. Maybe I should have put my effort into that story I mentioned instead of huffing my internal furies by discovering all those shrill creationist sites I have linked. In that other universe, you might have read instead…

Christmas was over. We went to church on Sunday, the day after, the day that the Brits call Boxing Day, and heard about how the wicked evolutionists are headed to hell. Including everyone who has a demented Darwin fish on their car.

I had seen a Darwin fish on one of the cars that came to the church building in the fall when the pastor permitted a blood drive. I think I know which nurse was driving it, and he had been the one to take my pint of blood. He seemed like a nice man, and I thought he was kind of cute, being so solicitous about just another girlʼs state of mind as she got her elbow pierced. Was he going to hell?

What did that silver emblem on his Camaro even mean? All the pastor and my parents ever said was “godless communism.” And thinking back to his big brown eyes, teddy-bear personality, suddenly I donʼt feel all that certain I know what their accusation even means.

And that could begin the story the search inspired.

*Oh, boy. That site is crazed.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

No Carol… but Wishes Warm for You and Yours

Merry Christmas!

When I was not still young — in my high-school teens and college years and even those first years as a single dolt out teaching school — I was not given to appreciating mornings. I liked to sleep and sleep late. That behavior made Christmas a bit of a puzzle. I was still young enough to be uncontrollably eager for presents, but I was too adolescent to even want to get up when comfortably and utterly out and off in sleepland.

I wasnʼt very pleasant when awakened in those days, either (perhaps I am still not much better; I think I am, but Janet usually awakens after me when I do arise early to run or shovel snow…). My brothers, sad to relate, used to bribe each other to be the one stuck with waking me up on Christmas morning. Paul, next younger and nearest me in ways more than age, had the cash to pay Stephen or David to do the dirty deed. Somehow, at least as I recall it now, older sister Margaret wasnʼt involved in the yanking-John-out-of-bed-so-we-can-all-start-opening-our-presents bit. Itʼs displeasing to recall that I must have behaved like such an ogre that no one wanted to have to nudge me toward consciousness…

Sorry, siblings. I hope Iʼve already apologized a long time ago. I should have.

You can see (not quite in focus) some of Janetʼs wrapping skill under our tree.

I donʼt know how well I will awaken this morning, but it wonʼt matter. If all went well — and with that up-to-seven-inches of snow the weather folks predicted for yesterday (and the night before), it isnʼt easy to predict (writing on Thursday night to be prepared for distractions on the Eve and today) whether the storm will trouble the transportation plans of Janetʼs sisterʼs family, who were supposed to arrive about noon yesterday — the ceremonious events wonʼt commence until around lunchtime, when the Norton parents arrive from Anamosa. I donʼt even know if Janetʼs planning much of a breakfast at all.

I spent Thursday, around all the tasks The Lovely One wished to have accomplished by the stay-at-home spouse (shower scouring, vacuuming, fixing my special potatoes, shopping for groceries…) and, most important, wrapping Janetʼs gifts. Sheʼs a fantastic gift wrapper (and crafty all around, thus the now-famous decorations), but I am clumsy at it, incompetent, creating saggy wrappings and lousy extras on every package. However, I tried, and after all it’s the contents that count (no, wait — shouldnʼt that be the thought that… ?). So I hope we are all ready.

I had originally intended to write a little dissertation on A Christmas Carol and my lifelong experience and heartfelt attachment with that wonderful story. But it will have to wait. I have this started, and I donʼt want to make a Christmas Day post any too long. Besides, Janetʼs gotten home (on Thursday), and although sheʼs busy in the kitchen doing her own preparations, itʼs rude of me to peck away in here (the office) without her. Very unsociable. Very unseasonable (if Dickens has anything to say, and he does, on the subject of Christmas).

I hope everyone enjoys a very merry and serene day (with or without that first syllable included in the holidayʼs name).

Iʼm only a week away from the complete year (365 plus one) of posts!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A

Of Wind, Trees, Mirrors and Stars

With a title lifted vaguely from David Frieberg and Robert Hunter (“Harp Tree Lament”) off a personal-favorite Paul Kantner Jefferson Starship album (in those halcyon days before that name became an actual band), hereʼs a girlfriend-lost poem from those early years teaching (poorly) in Ft. Madison. I left JA (and JS) behind me for a long time once I moved to Maquoketa, even though Kantnerʼs roaring, lyrical (sci-fic) marches have polished an eternal spot in my soul (and amidst the constant, cicadic, scratchy ringing in my ears, which that same music  — played utterly too loud in my youth and loudly nowadays, too, to overcome the tinnitus  — probably caused, at least in part). However, I acquired my first Walkman shortly before Janet and I went to Fiji in 1986, and I got reinterested in my old albums by making tapes from the vinyl originals for the portable player and for our cassette deck. Two ninety-minute mixes were a carefully programmed sequence of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship Kantner/Slick music, heavily falling on those first three non-JA albums  — Blows Against the Empire, Sunfighter and Baron von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun. We returned from the cannibal islands to Los Angeles for a two-night stay before flying home (and a necessary recovery after the twenty-hour flight it was). I listened on the headphones to those tapes flying home and in a wholly exhausted state (and jokingly-possibly yangona-hungover  — more on that adventure one day) falling asleep in the dire hotel where Janet had placed us. (I really should recreate the sequence of those tapes as an iPod playlist; I wonder what hearing all those songs in the appropriate order might do to my head these days.)

I donʼt think I appreciated or recognized much Jefferson Airplane before the Woodstock album (my copy of which came from an abortive Spanglish haggling session in Mexico City while on a Presbyterian Youth Fellowship mission trip and which we played to arouse the troops for “morning maniac madness”  — yes, an inext quotation, and deliberately so — by playing “Volunteers” on a creaky church phonograph in an Oklahoma City church basement; later that day I purchased my first Osibisa album — and theirs, too  — because of the Roger Dean cover art, such is the cleverness of record-industry marketing). Kantner cemented his place in my musical mind with the Blows album the year I graduated from high school  — all those songs (thank you, Jerry Garcia on pedal steel) still rouse me in a strange (but now faded) manner.

And I only bring up all this personal musical-history summary to admit that if one were fully versed in all the music I listened in those high-creative years of the mid-Seventies (lots of Yes and Who and Rolling Stones in that unconscious mental mix, too), you could probably spot my interpretations of the song rhythms that I was hearing as I wrote (and my interpretation of rhythm is an amusingly personal and idiosyncratic thing, indeed  — just ask Janet). So it is strange that once I had a rhythm (undoubtedly stolen because I really donʼt think I am all that inventive or creative), I could usually create a poem, like the sonnet below.

Aeolian Harp Song

What you get when you search for “wind moon”

White air disturbs trees, dancing the leaves.

The wind passes, dark air wet with wonder, a spirit,

fraught with eyes, telling lies: here the wind weaves

a fabric of oaks, vines and reeds. You can hear it

whistling the sundown, surfing the sea while it heaves

up the moon (a many-faced lady). You must fear it

when moonlight rips holes in the air — then the wind deceives

mortals and hushes the trees. Do not come near it

then, when birds sought the south, safety and sun:

silence too dreadful to touch, when the white moon breathes

blackness and stars burn without twinkling. You must shun

forests then, seeking mirrors. Moonlight sickles reeds

in that season as women make blood. Remained then and you

will see wonders unwritten in trees but the hawthorn, elder and yew.

evidently after losing the lady and reading The White Goddess

23 April 1976

I must have found incredible solace or inspiration (or steal-able imagery anyway) in The White Goddess because it pushes to the front in nearly everything I wrote for about two years, including of course this poem. The list of trees at the end (and the earlier trio inline 4) is directly referring to Graves (and reading the book would help understanding why those trees in those trios, too), and I think his goddess is behind the menstrual image, as well. The sickle is also lunar and therefore Gravesian, I guess, and therefore the moon has to be “white” in line 10). On the other hand, the mirror is more personal (check back on earlier poem-posts  — hereʼs just one example, and another — for some of my other uses of that imagery) and does tie in my mind with knives, so therefore the moonlight ripping “holes in the air.” As for stars, well, theyʼre hiding over, under, around and within the currently posting story.

I like the tight rhyme scheme, more Italianate than English  — abababab (only two sounds for the octet!) cdcdee. I donʼt think I have any meaning in that pattern, however. It just sounded cool to me (more or less still does).

Although I have already taken note of what I decided to record in my own note to myself (the green line above the composition date), I kept it in because I havenʼt remarked that those lines are on the original typescripts as notes to myself (to help me remember what I probably should recall anyway, right?). Although I am sure I remember which girlfriend, I appreciate my own delicacy in the maladroit (and so Seventies-Romantic) wording of the notation. I also just noticed that I wrote the poem on Shakespeareʼs birthday.

And, yes, now I remember: I do owe apologies to Samuel R. Delany (and Vonda McIntyre) for ripping off your title styles (I was thinking of McIntyreʼs “Of Mist, Sand andGrass” when I devised this postʼs title, but it may really owe more to Delanyʼs little essays that adhere to his later science fiction novels)

(I really do have a good time using old poems to hocus up a post…)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Advice

The current Census operation is wrapping up quickly (good thing, too, according to the numerous citizens who have been contacted in person or by phone four and five times now — at least according to them). And I am busy keeping up with the influx of work to correct (nope, not a teacher any more: make that — “check over and pass along”). So I searched for a poem to present, discovering in the process that although I have used stuff from the Bicentennial Year liberally in this space already (try a search on “1976” to see for yourself), not everything in that creatively fruitful era was good. And I may just do a post soon on that subject  — bad poems from a time of evident inspiration. So here is one from the next year, my first in Jackson County, before I had even begun to teach (I think, although August 29 is pretty late for school not to have started, even 33 years ago).

I have a notation attached to this poem to tell me that, the best I knew at one time, this was the first poem I wrote in my new home in Maquoketa, after the unpleasant staff reduction sent me packing from Ft. Madison. Although I had a girlfriend at the time, the Coe College student (who would dump me in just a few more months, on my birthday ironically/appropriately after just over a year together), you would probably not know that from this sour/savage bit of  “advice.” Perhaps the signs of the approaching split were unconsciously apparent even to me, unadmitted.

On the other hand, I know I felt I still needed to take lessons from my job loss, as well.

Advice

A truly inappropriate knife, but this is more or less the model I carry, as I have done for almost forty years. I think I am on my fifth…

Arrowhead, bayonet, dagger, knot.

The knives of nature are double-edged

and keen: don’t force them; cut only

easy and without effort — time stabs

slashes and bruises you enough, shaves enough

blood in its quick unspoken passes. Don’t

reach for life’s thin knives as they slice

past at you, lest you lose your fingers or

your hand, lest a thoughtless point

pierce your eye and spill your brain.

Blood is ink: preserve it for the songs

your love will have to write; don’t waste

it on yourself — let others bleed for you.

Love carefully, for love’s a rare sword,

razoredged, hiltless, with two points.

It’s awkward to handle; better to thrust

it from you (don’t hug its steel), and love

will spinning like a star return to you

to spit your heart. Fear not,

for love allots you little enough.

You can know nothing only remember that;

so lose cheerfully, and sever everything —

such cutting unites. Discover that sword dance.

A book’s a blade, like love, cuts

you as well as others: words reveal

and conceal pain as bright as steel

infects the air and laughs as ice.

Speak foolishly only, you have

no other choice. Words pass out, severed

breath, to cut you tomorrow. Remember,

nature’s knives all burning turn

and take your blood. Recognize them.

Possibly the first poem in the new house on Emma Court in Maquoketa

29 August 1977

I donʼt really think thereʼs anything too hard here. The imagery of knives had me fascinated (check back on “Freyaʼs Steel” about that), although I think it fits here.

And I donʼt know if it works as one big stanza or if I should break it up. If I were to do so, the breaks would probably come before “Blood is ink” and “You can know nothing only.” But I donʼt know if those phrases or the sentences theyʼre in deserve that much attention (that they would receive if they began stanzas).

Oh, yes. I stole my street for a character in “Mantorville,” didnʼt I? Emma Court always made a fascinating fantasy beloved for my imagination and may have been one reason that I liked that schmaltzy Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour time-travel, love-story movie. (Yeah, I knew the name, but I liked my temporary description too much to drop it.) A pity Emmaʼs not playing that romantic role in the story.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Pushing at the Limits

Yesterdayʼs post still needs your attention, folks. (I admit it was long…) But for today I thought, as itʼs been since Fathersʼ Day that I last put up some verse, I would treat you to my most unreadable poem of all, one that derived from just too much Joyce (and a personally pompous attempt to ape his technique in Finnegans Wake, as noted below).

Perhaps one of the most personally meaningful lines in Shakespeare for me comes from the mouth of Hamlet: “Oh, ʼtis most sweet, when in one line two crafts directly meet.” The Prince is speaking about mining and undermining in siege warfare, but I have always heard it (as the intended reference first of course but also) as my favorite definition of poetry. A poet (like Joyce) packs all the meaning into every word and phrase as possible, and then through the magical medium of reading acquires some more in the reader. So in a poem lots of various and varying meanings are all pulsing along together, sometimes in conflict with each other — but all there always.

Joyce just tried to make the multiplexity of meaning multilingually obvious in Finnegans Wake, and envious, I played around at imitating his skill at combing many words into each stretched/distorted word presented. Trying to say it all out loud (as recommended for the Wake) works well but incompletely. Multiple readings of every genuine poem ever is necessary always.


And bellow them at the moon


But Is It Art?


Djuna Barnesʼ sketch portrait of Joyce after eye surgery — from Wikipedia

Sir Alloyseeus gerund-doppleganger groundhog,

bend your incorporal (real dead) ear this way.

Iʼm in tough strayts, con-fused, unsureten.

Render a reply.


Outside insigh doubt ankh out innkeeper than before —

my troubleʼs words.

Words are women, maenads, mayknots, gnats and nods

and mirrors, vane and merrytrickious, blooming words.

Rants of semensis, rinds of windywinding electricity

(so civilized) recharging retreating inscaping

berating and beating off and on-tellecturealizing:

intwo out often nineigh braykekeke coaxial axed and

antsirred all at ones. Blowing blown this away and that. Get the point?

Words are worse than — wrong! words are the

worsted mess itself, wonderfultonsfolliesbrrgene-ing.


Look: (all right, listen — look in the figurative preterate)

each precioshush pleads to make a mini-moustearaeon

menufactchurch mycrowcosmick mirror of the (eye-Kant-

be-cer-itʼs-there) outside nonmentalick varyturd.

Warysimillatoitʼs a word, but the Heisenburgerʼs

catsup pickles the palymer inside. Sinister to be sure.

Re-alley-T is Unmi, but talk is not listen, and is

ether sea? We wee oui, all the whey home (paean, peonye)

have a problem hear. Thatʼs the diffickletee there or

their or theyʼre: Iʼm drowning in the see explayned.

trying to play at Finnegans Wake

4 February 1978

I added one sentence in presenting this old fossil here today. I also cannot decide still if “sea” shouldnʼt be “si.” I also (after the initial post this morning) just decided to change “weigh” to “whey.” An improvement or not? The etymology of “weigh” attracts me still. (And my minimal multilingualism is even more forced than the Addressed Audience used in his big book of dream[s].)

Yesterdayʼs important post was long, so I will keep this one short and see if this poem can explain (explayn?) itself…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ending the Longest

With these last three sections (9 and 10 plus an epilogue to equalize the prologue with which the poem began, although the number twelve is not necessarily as important numerologically as the number ten), we reach the end of my longest single poem (although I assume most actual readers have realized that it is essentially composed of smaller poetic units that just donʼt quite stand on their own as individual poems). I also hope that weʼve observed that without the prologue and epilogue, itʼs all just science. Right?

The mysticism is all just in the framework (or whateverʼs left).

Part 9 explores the creative possibilities of utter darkness, into which all sparks of light are cast by the simple force of gravity, pure and essential. As astrophysics is basically mathematics, we are back to numbers, too, of course. The physics of creation and annihilation overlapping at the ends of time intrigue me. Also, black holes were still relatively novel at the time I wrote the poem. The black-hole caused lumping of galaxies (and their relation to quasars, a theme I ended up deleting from the poem back in ‘84, although I dearly wanted to include and explore the most luminous objects in the universe) has since become commonplace and accepted. I wonder today why I chose (or didnʼt choose) to mention only four people by name: Hawking, Gell-Mann, Russell and Wittgentstein… And no females, except my imaginary australopithecine. Whereʼs the Shekhinah, then?

More literally, I like right now to call part 10 “Tinnitus,” having over the past several months noticed that I have developed that annoying symptom of screaming celestial crickets sibilating constantly, a supernatural susurrus whispering and rustling at the very frontier of my high-pitched hearing. I hesitate to complain, knowing friends suffer much worse — actual Ménièreʼs Disease, for instance — but this unreal scratchy feedback is evidently a part of my life now. I have tried (irregularly, over May and now into June) to cease aspirin-consumption, having been a daily doser, and I have wondered if caffeine is a causative agent, having increased my caffeine intake as a Census operative, consuming a convenience store cappuccino a day. (Too much of me for what was meant to be an utterly impersonal poem: thus the tone and voice, which I am afraid the plethora of links may have undermined.)

10 does refer to the discovery of the evidence of creation, effectively proving the Big Bang. Is this unheard hiss, this darkened light, expended energy, the remnant (soulless) sparks of creation?

The epilogue returns clearly and directly to traditional Kabbalah, referencing the Sefirot and the Gates and finally ending without punctuation.


Ayn-Sof (concluded)

9.

The effect which causes
the gathering of stellar material into galaxies
could be superstrong
gravitational singularities

(the probable existence of which was first calculated by
wheelchair-bound Cambridge mathematician Stephen Hawking).

A so-called black hole
derives its name
from the dark fact that the intense gravity
resulting from star’s utter implosion
absorbs not only all matter
to the most charming quark
but also
curves back all energy, all light.

A particle at the inner edge
of the funneling accretion disk
around the singularity
experiences
a relativistic paradox of nearluminal acceleration:

in the instant of annihilation,
time stops.

10.

In 1965,
while trying to locate
the source
of low-level static occurring
in Telstar communication satellite transmissions,
two Bell Telephone Laboratories
research scientists, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson,
discovered a 3-degree Kelvin black-body radiation.

Further investigation revealed
that the faint microwave background
emanated almost equally from every direction in the universe.

This subtle hiss
is all that remains
from the energies released
at the instant of creation.

י א

ten elements they list by name in the language Aquinas could
not read, like Greek, which reach enchained from nothing
through angelsong to the mighty wrack where mortals scream.

ten figures in lightwheels breathe the matter we believe,
and someone counted four eights doors that made the faceless
void conceive: the silversilent sword of Words.

ten facets among themselves commune in complex webs of will,
and he who speaks their compound lights redeems the thickly
murky world and rides alone upon the photons’ chariot.

keter chokmah binah chesed geburah netzach yesod hod malkut

where’s beauty now, you ravenlunged and milkdrunk seers?
we’ve consumed the combination to your ancient, dreamy fears

July 1984
©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Longest a third time

Here are three more parts of my so-called longest poem. (I spent Saturday afternoon reading back over the Mantorville story in “Longer Items” and fixing some minor mistakes, trying to get myself ready to work today on writing some more. I also have to get into digital form the fifty pages, handwritten, that currently exist on the Sepharad fantasy tale, which in my writing has almost reached a climax, starting the denouement in chapter 6. It actually feels a little odd to get back into writing mode.)

About todayʼs portion of the poem…

Part 6 archaeologically deals with the invention of fire, of which we havenʼt much evidence yet (as noted below through the use of the near-incantatory list of prehistoric fire sites). Fire links to cooking, which as Lévi-Strauss observed is a key step or distinction in human evolution (from eating food raw), which brings us to DNA (biochemistry and evolution, I suppose) and back to hidden Structure(s).

Part 7 brings the visible universe down to earth through a kind of contemporary fire-use, returning the astronomical themes along with death (more biology perhaps).

Oxen and the alphabet get the Kabbalistic elements stewing again in part 8.

Two further parts will soon conclude this not-epic.

Ayn-Sof (continued)

6.

Nine very ancient sites show evidence,
certain or possible, of fire use,
reaching back as far as one-point-five million years ago.
Four are African, two Chinese and three European:

Chesowanja, Karari, Yuanmou, Gadeb,
Choukoutien,
L’Escale, Olorgesailie, Terra Amata, Vertezollos.

More recently, use of fire is obvious everywhere
from the more modern Paleolithic to the present.

Paleochronologists can date organic material by measuring
relative amounts of radioactive carbon-14,
knowing the natural half-life of such material ―
occurring as only a single atom among
million million naturally here on earth ― is
5730 years:

and carbon is necessary in the twentysome amino acids
comprising all the varied proteins which make life work,
including wood to burn and meat with vegetables to roast.

A thousandtimes less complex than a protein or an enzyme
is the spiral molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid,
winding and unwinding an acidshaping dance
every time a living cell divides,
bearing in its assortments of polypeptide bases
(adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine)

structure

which with incandescent chemistry encodes
the primal names of life.

7.

After first in June of 1983
voting to install high-pressure sodium
streetlights,
the San Diego city council reversed itself
six to three
in February of the next year and
redecided in favor of twofrequency
low sodium lamps.
The choice prevented further
light pollution
of the night skies
for astronomers using
the nearby 200-inch reflecting telescope
at the Mount Palomar Observatory.
Acrimonious dissent
was voiced by one councilman
who felt the yellowish illumination
made pedestrians look like corpses.

8.

א

ALEF

The initial letter of the alphabet
began its history as a consonant,
a pictographic representation
in the written traditions of
Ugaritic, Aramaic
and other North and West Semitic languages
about four thousand years ago.

The original symbol signified an ox.

The English vowel is pronounced
with some seven different sounds.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Religious Reconnoitering

Yesterday I told the story of composing my first full-length play, Speak No Evil, explaining that I have tended to write my long plays from frustration (anger) with falsehoods rampant in the world. If you read that little essay, anger wasnʼt really the flint that sparked that first dramatic endeavor into existence but the wonderful uplift of science (thank you, Carl Sagan).

Feel free to put these crosshairs on the bilious hypocrite(s) of your choice.

My second play, however, arose directly from anger at the reactionary and ignorant religious right and put hate-mongering televangelists dead in the center of my literary gunsights (hey, itʼs not just the wacko/Palin Right that can utilize figurative weaponry). I donʼt know why as the Eighties dawned I started taking so personally the scamming and con-artistry so blatant on the televangelista circuit. Perhaps it was growing up; perhaps, later, it was growing together (with Janet) and getting married — both indications conjuring maturity. But the money-grubbing, false-as-sin-we-donʼt-admit hypocrisy and cant got my ire up. And my dander, too.

In order to get married, Janet and I had to endure/survive/experience Pre-Cana classes. She was raised Catholic, attending Catholic elementary school and the whole gambit, so she wanted to get married in the church. I agreed, being of no firm faith, naturally (and at that particular era, drawn powerfully toward Judaism from my reading and nonfiction studies — frightening my mother that I might actually convert, unfortunately; but naturally I lacked the full conviction, although on our honeymoon in Minneapolis, I dragged The Lovely One along as I sought Jewish bookstores for purchases.)

My own religious background was more mixed (-up). My family was United Methodist, to which my older sister Margaret and minister brother Paul (going full-time at it once he retires from teaching this spring/summer) adhere now. Younger brother Stephen also finds comfort in his religious values, mostly confined to Bible study, I believe, these days. Youngest sibling David has sought solace in the UCC, whose generous spirit of liberality he finds welcoming (as do I, differently).

I was confirmed a Methodist in sixth grade in Rock Island. It was a hot June day. We wee believers were clad in our best church clothes (including wool jacket and shirt with tie for me) and then covered in choir robes, so we were dropping like flies in the awful heat, including me. I only have vague recollections of the minister putting his hands upon my head as someone held me up, lifted from my unconscious state on the carpet, and then being rushed off to a recovery room nearby. Maybe my semi-conscious condition explains why the experience hasnʼt taken.

The next summer the family moved to Olivet, Michigan, where my father took his only college teaching job. With no Methodist church in town, we became for the two years we remained in Michigan Congregationalists (perhaps helping to explain Davidʼs choice?), and I was confirmed yet again (I think that next spring, as an eighth grader) into the bosom of that New England faith. But then my father wearied of college faculty politics, and with him going back into high school teaching, we moved again to Mt. Pleasant, where there was a strong Methodist congregation that confirmed young people as sophomores in high school. So I went through the confirmation classes for a third time (and each experience, disregarding the subtle theological distinctions of two different brands of Protestantism, was different from the others) and got the official sanction for a third time, too.

One time in Olivet I even got “saved,” having gone to watch a magician at the next-door Assembly of God building. His show was so inspiring that I felt the spirit in me move (something), went to the front during the Call and got reborn, I guess (or something). I went directly home, into the garage where I had hidden a pack of cigarettes, and destroyed them all in my blissful, heart-so-light reinstalled innocence. Iʼm not sure how much more than three days that exaltation persisted, but I guess I share a little something with the pea-brained Bimbo from Alaska, however briefly in my case. (I shall have to reserve the sorry tale of my youthful evil — and it is a sad story — for another post.)

More complexly, I went Presbyterian without the formal rituals for nearly five years in Mt.Pleasant, drawn thither by the allure of romance (the then-girlfriend was of that persuasion) and friendship — a lot of my peers attended there as well, drawn by the warmth and even radicalism of the pastor, whom we all called “Rev” (thatʼs how cool he was, although he once lost it with me during adult discussion group — no mere Bible-studying Sunday school for them! — when I wouldnʼt admit I was terrified to die/unaware of my incipient and eventually certain demise). The more-than-liberal Rev even made national news (and Time magazine) for sheltering illegal Salvadorans in the later Seventies and early Eighties once he had moved off to the Southwest, having become a strong mover in the Sanctuary movement. I liked that church a lot, although I also recall committing some less than holy actions there. As most of this period was  college for me, I believe my parents (who were both very sincerely devout) were just glad I was going to a church of any kind.

More twistedly, I continued to attend the Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church at least once a year through college… in order to qualify for a UMC scholarship that covered a good deal of my tuition at Iowa Wesleyan College (yep, that good old religious connection again).

But after commencing from college summa cum laude, the church stuff pretty much withered away, although like most Americans I would still attend with the family for Christmas and Easter if I went back to my folks for that holiday. Withered away, I guess, unless you count those years in the late Seventies when I was gobbling up every Talmudic and Kabbalistic volume I could acquire (and in the process worrying my poor mother that I was headed straight to conversion perdition). My Dante studies were equally drenched in theology — Christian this time, of course, and Roman Catholic, as I steeped myself in medieval scholarship, scholasticism and Thomas Aquinas (and possibly more comforting to my mother).

So there you have it: thrice confirmed, once saved, and having dabbled in lots of beliefs, probably damned eternally.

Which brings us back where we began… Janet and I attending pre-Cana in Dubuque to get married in her hometown Catholic Church, after six weeks of soul-searching and counseling with the local priest in Andrew, Father Maichen — a really excellent gentleman who sincerely tried to help me understand that my own sense of what he called “doubt” was a perfectly acceptable aspect of oneʼs serious, tortuous road to Catholic faith. Although I had no intention of taking the plunge for a fourth (or fifth) time, he and I had some good discussion about church fathers and theology in general (matched or superseded only by visits with my late brother-in-law Brian Sullivan, he of the “I thought I heard a joyful noise” incident).

—But I have greatly exceeded my thousand-word limit for posts without even getting back to televangelical shenanigans and deceptions and the rocky road to Magick. So thereʼs got to be more to come. Soon.

(And let us not forget to mention Bertrand Russell, key philosopher in my spiritual development. And Spinoza, arising from Judaical studies and Shelley, too… And Gandhi… )

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.