I’ve found my place in the cosmic order
marked it with a pen
content with my apprehension
of the eternal.
But in the all-too-temporal process of
peeling off my tight trousers
doing the helpless
in the previous quietude
of my room
a couple shiny dimes noisily fell
from a momentarily inverted pocket
and I shouted “oh screw you!”
The dimes rang accusingly
on the wood laminate floor.
Such small coins,
by mathematics and Gravity.
Mysterious and inexplicable Gravity;
unknowable energy field
into which the large bodies nestle
quantum thorn in the side
of the Grand Unified Theory.
We know this much –
the Mystery wants to see a dropped coin
perform an eviscerating hula,
each point of the milled edge
in its turn contacting the floor
in a round-robin rejection
of our race, our opposable thumbs,
our dreams of flight.
Thanks, Big Bang.
These goddamned coins!
They rang and rang and rang
“Aaaaaahh! screw YOU!”
I had time to say it again
as the dimes whirled their lil’ dervish
for what seemed five full minutes.
I said it loud,
hissed it with meaning,
one aging chicken leg
in Tom Jones sale trousers.
Another scalding victory
of the inanimate.
I so want to live.
Not only that.
When we were idling
in the university circle
she looked, as I saw it,
longingly out the bus window
as though she both
hoped for and feared your appearance,
your bounding down the steps
of that grand-looking building
where your department lives
and where you
take your good fortune
utterly for granted,
as you always have.
Oh and as we approached
our small town airport
I looked out and saw two parallel
contrails slanting up
from behind the mountains,
looking really postmodern
and painterly in the squishy setting sun.
One of the contrails was a little older
than the other
and had begun to blur.
I’ll add here that the cars
arriving and departing the airport parking acre
despite the accompanying aggregation
of airplanes and air foil
Well, I saw your first wife on the bus.
She was wearing
an ill-advised mustard yellow
the color of an organ
in a textbook.
Of course she had those
goddamned ear wires hanging down,
and of course she looked forlorn.
I’ll put it this way;
two electric mothers have I known.
One I laughed and loved alongside,
on summery bandaged days, the hours a pulling, dimwit tide,
the other rushed in, also laughing, when I had fully grown
Now in a grassy eastern park
the one sleeps in a laughing mom’s well-earned repose.
I’ll dream her on a quiet night and laugh anew,
and remember her love of life and light, and you
who, as I hurriedly type, take coffee and croissant in a rumpled bed
absent your Sunday clothes.
Love is all around
as the crummy poets never fail to say,
but, look, it’s a fact: the sunshine falls in a radiant sheet,
a confectioner’s glaze to make a mom’s day circle unbearably complete,
and where the bright light drapes down, it clings like syrup today.
Age is just a number
but at this number
I no longer feel comfortable
carrying a stupid
little fabric lunch box,
if I ever did.
Now I’ll eat only flat stuff
so I can secret my lunch
in my shoulder bag;
flatbreads, mashed bananas
flatworms, and so on.
I’ll have to develop
a taste for flatworms
but the epoch demands it.
I should have a rolltop desk
so stuffed with documentation
visitors who see it
A desk to match
my tastefully graying temples,
my lightly shaved
George Michael beard,
my gravel drive.
Instead of a rolltop
I have a bus;
an unmentionable sorrow
I can’t help but mention.
This morning the glaring bald guy
with the fist full
of tattered papers
passed all the open seats
to squeeze in next to me.
There he began
his ritual bug-eyed
spraying consumptive cough.
And me there,
refusing to alter expression, stoic
but for the little fabric
lunchbox at my feet.
How will I develop the taste for flatworms
which my new persona requires?
The same way one gets to
Last night my daughter and her mom and I (her mom is my wife, you see) watched a Netflix episode of Earth; gloried in the almost cellular movement, seen from high in the air, of great herds pouring across the denuded dustbowl of the Kalahari in search of water. All they want is water! And when they’re not eating each other they seem so…cooperative. I guess if they bitch and bicker their way across the Kalahari, none of them will get to the water, or it’ll take too long to get to the water, or some other thing ripe for allegory will transpire. Here on the ground it’s been a rough fortnight for the often graceless human animal, our anthropological manifesto poking inconveniently through the shiny veneer of civility we’ve managed, at great cost, to pull over our culture. This is a bad time to be a car in Baltimore, or a human of a certain color – and there are two unfortunate colors to choose from, neither one looking that great just now. Yeah, there’s more to it than a plaintive “Can’t we all just get along?” But it’s not a helluva lot more. Can we please move on from the Plasticene, or the Stupidlyobscene, or whatever this dumbass car-burning/secret spine-smashing epoch is called? What are we, animals? (hint: YES). Our opposable thumbs are supposed to exalt us in the animal kingdom, but so far have mostly resulted in fancier and fancier thumb-screws. Dear _____; please help us get our shit together, and while you’re walking around in your robe please make a nebula that looks like Charles. Nelson. Reilly.
Another Earth Day come to chastise us; a great pageant of patchouli-scented goodwill and self-congratulation. And what a sight! Several acres of innocent grass trampled and strewn with non-biodegradable trash, gangs of roving dreadlocks, bean bag jugglers, admirably unbathed artisans, glassy-eyed botanists, an enormous blinking music main stage with the evident carbon footprint of a leviathan, little electric cars sparkling in blanched, 13 billion-year-old sunlight. You have to plug them into smokestacks to charge the batteries, you know. Never mind. This dumb rock has been turning forever, spat out of a hot singularity, drenched with steaming rain, then germs, then trilobites, then tax attorneys; this described without irony as an ‘ascent’. It just takes time. The heavens have seen all this before. We can’t Kill the Planet. It was stone dead once already and still patiently managed to turn a smattering of amino acids into Cate Blanchett. The Earth will be fine, dear little nincompoops. Our efforts to rescue Mother Earth are valiant and maybe even noble, our blinkered little race doomed, but lightly. Lightly doomed. Not our fault. It’s a cycle. You could kill the planet down to the bare bedrock and in 7 billion years you’ll have Ms. Blanchett again. Our little cars and plastic bottles aren’t sealing any doom but our own. Yes, eventually we’ll be shaved off like whiskers. We won’t go out with a bang or a whimper. We’ll just exhaustedly hit the road some eon hence, pack our recyclable bags and hemp pajamas and give it all back to the patient, seemingly emotionless bugs. They’ve been waiting. Every time we triumphantly step on one it goes down grinning.
Are we blessed creatures, or only a self-impressed residue of the Big Bang? Is life sacred? These questions tend to bring out the worst in us. In Washington D.C. (this nation’s largest and most lushly appointed Executive Lounge), a pious lawmaker will inveigh sonorously and with great moral gravity against the taking of the Life of the ‘unborn’, and then turn on his heel and blandly wave into law a drone strike program that splashes Pakistani viscera around like rainwater. Our apprehension of the numinous is childlike, but does not always express itself as poetry.
It’s been a little less than a year since Mr. Bubble dominated the news cycle. No, not the Mr. Bubble called upon by 1960s parents to hover menacingly over the kids’ baths with his clean-freak chatter and unnerving man-giggle. I’m talking about the ‘Bubble Ordinance’, the court-ordered rule/attorney catnip that tells Christ’s foot soldiers (and others) how to comport themselves when ministering to young ladies on the steps of Planned Parenthood. The Bubble Ordinance (also known by its lighthearted nickname 9.99.010(D) Section 9.99.020) tells sidewalk Right to Life counselors how far away they need to stand from those they would loudly dissuade from seeking abortions at those clinics that offer the service.
The questions are Big Ones, and the intercession of the courts has only served to add a byzantine layer of legal gibberish and towering billables to the eternally unanswered questions, to which have been added one more: “When delicately parsing the metaphysical arguments for and against the existence of an inviolable and eternal human soul, how close may I stand to you and scream like a bug-eyed banshee before my passion for Life becomes legally actionable intrusion?” This Sanctity of Life thing – it gets people riled.
Luckily the Supreme Court has solemnly spoken on the matter, and there are few sights more solemn than that of nine bewildered oldsters wading into a room in billowing black muumuus. As one would expect in a newish country founded by angry runaways tired of being broken on the rack just for saying the wrong thing, the Justices have done their utmost to balance the sacrosanct Right to Free Speech against the more recent constitutional guarantee of the right to an abortion (or ‘privacy’, to recall Roe vs Wade’s 14th Amendment raison d’être).
What sounds Solomonic, though, is in practice moronic, a surreally choreographed minuet that serves no purpose but to ineptly enforce the letter of two very very fundamental human rights – talking and privacy. You can occasionally view the fruits of their wisdom in front of most California family planning clinics on any given day – two opposing mobs yelling like drunks and a terrified woman trying to push her way through and thankfully surrounded by an imaginary, court-ordered protective cordon; 8 whole feet of thin air ringing with the guttural cries of narrowly informed First and Fourteenth Amendment loudmouths on both sides. Constitutional chest thumpers are drawn inordinately to family planning clinics and gun shows. It’s a fact. And whatever happened to that amendment that confers the Right to Ignore ear-splitting Free Speech? Must’ve died in committee.
And so it all comes down to the usual, touchingly human attempts to embrace the Eternal through placard-pumping, fistfights, and endless litigation. In the quietude of a lamplit evening, though, the central, driving questions burn like insistent little flames. What are we for? Is there Something in the middle of all this? One gets misty thinking about the millennia of horror, brutality and bedlam spent simply trying to approach some semblance of an answer to that one. How we achieved our coveted spot at the top of the food chain is anyone’s guess.
The soul-searching provides our sorry-ass “lawmakers” in D.C. much comic opportunity. Many of these well-fed clowns seem to actually believe they can untie this ancient Gordian knot with phony, quiet-talking piety, ministerial press conference singsong and Bible-waving. They are National Defense Hawks and Right to Life Crusaders. In our leaders’ under-furnished bobble heads, these mutually exclusive propositions cohabit like two peas in a cozily impossible pod. Between explosive “collateral damage” missteps (Woops! That was a wedding party!) they have the balls to wave the Bible and preach to us about saving the unborn. Maybe you’re the wrong messenger, dimwit. If there is a special room in Heck for those who cynically leverage scripture, it’s a room that surely needs a huge daily build-out.
True to their on-again off-again desire to end life, certain of these stargazing jackasses on Capitol Hill would put a shield of hope-killing sanctity around the embryonic stem cell, a so-called pluripotent cell whose ability to be teased into becoming any sort of tissue an ailing body requires both promises large scale relief for the ailing, and makes of the scrap of tissue a magnet for the pious empathies of Sanctity of Life poseurs. When a single unconscious cell trumps a hopeful Parkinson’s patient with a family, loving friends and a life force that is struggling to continue, we have donned our thinking caps completely ass-backwards. These “Primacy of the Individual” fakes in the legislature have for decades been telling us how to screw and marry. Now they tremble tearily over the hallowed stem cell, attempting to block its use as a healing agent while lustily blowing up innocents abroad with Conscience-free aplomb. Makes the head swim.
Luckily it isn’t all dour. There are moments of levity from both sides. Take for a start last year’s episode at UCSB, complete with affronted cell phone footage, featuring a Feminist Studies professor angrily grabbing a visiting Pro-Life protester’s sign and smilingly walking off with it. For those of us who struggled as teens to stay awake in 2nd period Civics, it is heartening to know you can have dozed with your head on your desk through the whole Constitution chapter and still go on to earn a doctorate. The herky-jerky cell phone-verité footage of this self-satisfied blockhead professor wandering laughingly away with the protester’s sign is as utterly amazing a video document as a grainy film of Nessie humping out of the icy Scottish waters of her famous loch. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.
Is Life sacred? No. Life is Prima Facie not sacred. Through the recorded and unrecorded ages we have been anonymously mown down in our millions by disease, privation, mass murder, hailstones, sinkholes, ungrounded microphones, shipwrecks, faulty brakes, landslides and dogs. Pediatric cancers spring up like wildflowers in the guts of our children. If this is Life as a State of the Sacred, what on Earth is luckless, ordinary life going to look like? Best not to think about it.
I spent my teens and early college as a Born Again Christian, proselytizing, going to Bible study and worshipping barefoot in a terrific and loving hippie church. I can still reel off Galatians 2:20 (it’s a good one). But I slowly came to understand that folks who take the unvarnished view that we should never kill, never go to war, never ever murder, were seen by my Christian mentors as endearing fringe oddballs, these Jains and Mennonites and what have you, these quaint and curious relics whose greatest contribution is the smiling guy on the box of Quaker Oats.
The awkward fact is, the state of The Sacred isn’t a sliding scale, it’s not a spectrum. It’s binary; one or zero. Yes or no. We are all sacred, or not one of us is sacred. Is a fetus sacred? If the answer is yes, than so is the 18 year-old kid about to be blown up in al Bayda Province, so is the skeletal, fly-covered baby in Somalia, and so is the lady on death row. But I guess we can’t save everybody. That’d be like reaching for the stars.
SB Sentinel Vol 4 Issue 6 March 21 – April 4