Monday, April 14, 2014

Pray, Francis, Xavier. A Poem to Southern Illinois America.


Where the hell did this thing called me originate?
I’m American born, seeded in the soils of Illinois.
I grew like corn, and turned brown in the last heat of summer--
A man harvested from plains soil, and yes, that plain dirt
Of a mother cutting shoe leather in a small town factory
And a father born of sweat, and dying of sweat, 
A man of winter sorrows,
A heart-beat stopped on a cold concrete walk on a plains winter day.
I am the stuff of the coke mill,
And the bean field,
And the born again Pentecostal Ozark wilds
And the ‘ain’t got no time for Jesus’ street-smart bootlegger
I am the Catholic boy
Born of “Where to Hell is Jesus” parents
Glad to drop the boy off at Church,
‘Sunday is my day off’ parents.
I am the Robert Louis Stevenson childhood imagination.
I am the adolescent intoxicated with Voltaire.
I am the altar boy who said he would no longer kneel.
I am the back seat lover so driven by the passions of youth
I had only one goal, and that, in a Shakespearean twist, was to know the heart of the woman,
As I wanted whatever mystery was between her legs.
I am Southern.
I am the South.
Oh, ‘Land OF Lincoln’ they say,
But as Mr. Obama will tell you, that stopped south of Spingfield.
For I am South,
I am Southern,
And misjudged as Southerners are,
For Loving God, is not a sin,
And Civil Rights is not a geography,
But a matter of the heart, without boundaries.
I am lawyer.
I am writer.
I am American.
I am
A man of the best of America’s Years
A step into her future
I span the 50s as a boy
I have survived the avalanche of disco balls
And the Cambodian Invasion
And Jane Fonda,
And I have lived though Clinton,
And tasted the bitter wine of Bush
And suffered the disillusion of mere men named gods known as Kennedy and Obama,
And God forgive that I should forget the poison of Nixon,
And names my daughter will never know except on Wikipedia.
Who Am I?
Xavier, Pray, Francis
A man with a pontifical name spanning centuries
Who has loved woman more, and less, than they deserved.
Who pierced the masked veil?
And incurred the wrath
That poets must endure.
Oh, and this country boy turned Lincoln lawyer
Born to a hill-billie mother and a beer guzzling St. Louis urchin turned bootlegger
Yes, this unexpected arrival named me to a mother of 40
Conceived of damaged semen at an eclipse of the chromosomes.
I should not be here,
But for a destiny I kept eluding
Until today
When a poem
Like a wide cast Jesus net on Galilee,
Brings a fish out upon Peter’s deck
And causes him to ask: Who are you?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Why? -- A Flash Story

“People get sick.  Sometimes they die.”  

These were the words his father spoke to him as they sat in the rain.  Everything seemed strange.  Somewhere inside was his mother.

"You will not see your mother again," his father was saying.  "She has gone away."

These words struck the boy as odd.  She would never go away.  She was permanent, always existing, like him.  Like his father.  They were inseparable, one piece, a unit. 

“Where did she go?” he asked. 

“To heaven.”  

The boy did not like this answer.  He had no idea of this place, only that it was far way, and people who went there did not come back.  They liked it there too much.  His mother would never go to such a place because she would rather be with him.
 
“Then tell her to come back,” said the boy. 

“I can’t,” said his father, the rain trickling down his face.

“Tell her!”

“She can’t hear us,” his father said, then wished he had not used those words.

The boy looked at him.  “Why?”

He embraced his son, pulled him to him, lifted he into his arms, and cried.  The boy had not seen or heard his father cry.  It frightened him.  Something very bad had happened, he was sure.

The boy pushed away, and looked into his father’s face.  “I want to go see her.” 

“We can’t,” he said.

“She is inside, isn’t she?  Let’s go back.”

“No, she’s not there.”

“Yes she is.  We saw her.  She went there to get better.  She’s there.  I know she is.”

“She’s gone now.  She’s gone.   She didn’t want to go away, but God called her to be with Him.  She is happy now.”

The boy looked at his father again, that quizzical way he had when he heard grown-up words, his eyes unblinking, his face unmoving, as if conserving every ounce of energy to process some foreign data into a framework of meaning.

God, like death, was beyond the boy, outside the here and now of his life.  The reality was the wetness of the rain, the hard touch of concrete and glass, the smell of cut grass, the softness of that grass against the bottoms of his feet, the warmth of sunshine on a summer day, the smell of his mother’s hair.  He knew these things.  He did not know “God” or “death.”  He did not trust in a place like “heaven” if that is where his mother went.  She would never go to such a place if it meant leaving him.  Something was wrong, and he could not figure it out.  His father was not telling him enough. 

“Why?” he asked again.  This word had been his portal to so much understanding of things.  He knew it would work now, if he just kept asking.  He would get his father to tell him why. 

An Author's Rejected Project Focuses on the Archetypes of Rejection.

Kurt Vonnegut graphed these classical plot lines in a Masters thesis in Anthropology rejected by his professors.  Seems rejection is a core experience of our species:

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Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories
by mayaeilam.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Propping Up Your Character -- A Fiction Exercise by Writer Katherine Sartori.

LitCentral has become my local forum for contribution by fellow Orange County writers.  This month's contribution by Katherine Sartori address a fiction exercise that adds an element of description to a character:  the "prop."  Visit the site to peruse the range of talent and dedication of over a hundred members in the online community.  Facebook link:  O.C. Writers.  And to read Katherine Sartori's article to improve your fiction writing:  Lit Central O.C.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Apotheosis Station: Trains of Thought.

Dippity Do Dah, Dippity Dee A!  Life has that wild ride feel to it, when I feel I am riding atop a statement in progress, being bounced along from one word to another, the stream of meaning carrying me to some town called "Metaphor."

Sometimes these "accidental" meanings are like two trains arriving at the same destination, each filled with passengers giving different accounts of what they saw out the windows.  If an investigator questioned  both groups of passengers, he could assemble the pieces to form a complete picture.

Yesterday, the train I was on was a reading I was assigned as my "Great Books" discussion leader.  The reading was Schopenhauer's "The Indestructibility of Our Inner Nature."  "Who would get on that train?" you may ask.  It was assigned reading.  But like many trips, it turned out to be an adventure.  

The other train was my attendance yesterday at a Memorial service for a Christian friend who died of recurrent cancer at age 72.  She was a woman of many friendships and the chapel was filled with people who were touched by her life, and saddened by her death.

These trains met at Apotheosis station for me yesterday.  During the memorial, one of the speakers spoke of life after death.  His orientation was that of an intellectual who gave a strong account of the essential Christian view of eternal life with God.  Schopenhauer has little respect for this point of view, but the Schopenhauer train, passing through different territory, rumbled with the same clickety-clack:  "What is the meaning of death?"  Yes, this question is pre-eminent over the question of "the meaning of life?" for both trains of thought.  Why?  Death gets our focus.  Death is the deep void that feeds our anxiety.  Death is the greatest of our many unknowable outcomes.  Answer it, and the meaning of life follows like a cute caboose. 

So, like Inspector Pierot in "The Murder on the Orient Express,"  I questioned the passengers.  The point of convergence was that all the witnesses said that death mystery clue is found in the recurrence of life in nature.  In his essay, Schopenhauer cites the example of leaves on a tree dying in the autumn, with new buds turning to full lush leaves in the Spring.  He argues that the leave that crumbles to dust, and the leave that takes its place, are generated from the "indestructible" principle of matter that is common to all things, and that "existence" as matter doesn't matter as to form.  Yes, I meant to write that last "loop de loop."  

Schopenhauer is not disturbed by the idea that an "individual" consciousness with a name, such as Juan or Juanita, stops in that form to become dust in the earth, to reappear as molecules in a can of corn or gold in a mine.  After all, he argues, this "consciousness" of "I" in this temporary state can be a dismal and disappointing experience, while the simple "nothingness" of returning to base matter is attractive, especially if we know the existence continues forever in many different forms, some of which will be other human beings.  For me, this has overtones of Darwinian thought that the survival of the species is of primary importance over the survival of any individual member.

The speaker at my friend's memorial gave a biblical view by quoting from the 14th Chapter of the Book of Job.  Now, this lament is from the cursed heart of Job, a man with whom God toyed in a bet with the devil that Job would be steadfast in faith and obedience even in affliction.  This is not another presumptuous modern account of heaven as an unending spa treatment.  It merits reading in its entirety:    


Chapter 14:   Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. And dost thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass; Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish, as an hireling, his day. For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands. For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin? My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity. And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place. The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man. Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth: thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away. His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not; and they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not of them. But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.

Job and Schopenhauer could share a nice dinner over this subject, and walk away friends, I think.  In the underlined excerpt, I think they arrive at the same station, and while their account of the journey differs slightly, the face of death looks very similar for them both.  Both have this idea that a person of individual consciousness returns to a inert matter, but may, after a time, return in some form to consciousness.  Job goes farther than Schopenhauer, and sets the stage for a later Christian refinement:  we have a "set time" not just for physical death, but for the returning to conscious life.  We have a time to be called forth again, by a God who "remembers me."  A "change" will come, and we are to wait until the appointed time of "change."


Saturday, December 14, 2013