Friday, May 27, 2005

Shine -- Nicole Blake

she is fifteen but amazed
when i sign to her that
the sun cannot be heard
even on its brightest days

Seattle Poetry Bus 1999

How to Make A Box -- Kathleen Flenniken

Find someone with cuts to match
your cuts, lines to meet your lines.
Fold yourself to fit, as required.
Some parts of you may interlock.
Cut out a window and use for a handle.
Carry a secret or make a display.
Hold it together or pull it apart.
You decide what to keep inside.

Seattle Poetry Bus 1999

The War Prayer -- Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came—next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams—visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation—“God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory—

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside—which the startled minister did—and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne—bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import—that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of—except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two—one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this—keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer—the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it—that part which the pastor—and also you in your hearts—fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory—must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle—be Thou near them! With them—in spirit—we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it—for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak!—The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Against Discouragement By Howard Zinn

[In 1963, historian Howard Zinn was fired from Spelman College, where he was chair of the History Department, because of his civil rights activities. This year, he was invited back to give the commencement address. Here is the text of that speech, given on May 15, 2005.]

I am deeply honored to be invited back to Spelman after forty-two years. I would like to thank the faculty and trustees who voted to invite me, and especially your president, Dr. Beverly Tatum. And it is a special privilege to be here with Diahann Carroll and Virginia Davis Floyd.

But this is your day -- the students graduating today. It's a happy day for you and your families. I know you have your own hopes for the future, so it may be a little presumptuous for me to tell you what hopes I have for you, but they are exactly the same ones that I have for my grandchildren.

My first hope is that you will not be too discouraged by the way the world looks at this moment. It is easy to be discouraged, because our nation is at war -- still another war, war after war -- and our government seems determined to expand its empire even if it costs the lives of tens of thousands of human beings. There is poverty in this country, and homelessness, and people without health care, and crowded classrooms, but our government, which has trillions of dollars to spend, is spending its wealth on war. There are a billion people in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East who need clean water and medicine to deal with malaria and tuberculosis and AIDS, but our government, which has thousands of nuclear weapons, is experimenting with even more deadly nuclear weapons. Yes, it is easy to be discouraged by all that.

But let me tell you why, in spite of what I have just described, you must not be discouraged.

I want to remind you that, fifty years ago, racial segregation here in the South was entrenched as tightly as was apartheid in South Africa. The national government, even with liberal presidents like Kennedy and Johnson in office, was looking the other way while black people were beaten and killed and denied the opportunity to vote. So black people in the South decided they had to do something by themselves. They boycotted and sat in and picketed and demonstrated, and were beaten and jailed, and some were killed, but their cries for freedom were soon heard all over the nation and around the world, and the President and Congress finally did what they had previously failed to do -- enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Many people had said: The South will never change. But it did change. It changed because ordinary people organized and took risks and challenged the system and would not give up. That's when democracy came alive.

I want to remind you also that when the war in Vietnam was going on, and young Americans were dying and coming home paralyzed, and our government was bombing the villages of Vietnam -- bombing schools and hospitals and killing ordinary people in huge numbers -- it looked hopeless to try to stop the war. But just as in the Southern movement, people began to protest and soon it caught on. It was a national movement. Soldiers were coming back and denouncing the war, and young people were refusing to join the military, and the war had to end.
The lesson of that history is that you must not despair, that if you are right, and you persist, things will change. The government may try to deceive the people, and the newspapers and television may do the same, but the truth has a way of coming out. The truth has a power greater than a hundred lies. I know you have practical things to do -- to get jobs and get married and have children. You may become prosperous and be considered a success in the way our society defines success, by wealth and standing and prestige. But that is not enough for a good life.

Remember Tolstoy's story, "The Death of Ivan Illych." A man on his deathbed reflects on his life, how he has done everything right, obeyed the rules, become a judge, married, had children, and is looked upon as a success. Yet, in his last hours, he wonders why he feels a failure. After becoming a famous novelist, Tolstoy himself had decided that this was not enough, that he must speak out against the treatment of the Russian peasants, that he must write against war and militarism.

My hope is that whatever you do to make a good life for yourself -- whether you become a teacher, or social worker, or business person, or lawyer, or poet, or scientist -- you will devote part of your life to making this a better world for your children, for all children. My hope is that your generation will demand an end to war, that your generation will do something that has not yet been done in history and wipe out the national boundaries that separate us from other human beings on this earth.

Recently I saw a photo on the front page of the New York Times which I cannot get out of my mind. It showed ordinary Americans sitting on chairs on the southern border of Arizona, facing Mexico. They were holding guns and they were looking for Mexicans who might be trying to cross the border into the United States. This was horrifying to me -- the realization that, in this twenty-first century of what we call "civilization," we have carved up what we claim is one world into two hundred artificially created entities we call "nations" and are ready to kill anyone who crosses a boundary.

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary, so fierce it leads to murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred? These ways of thinking, cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on, have been useful to those in power, deadly for those out of power.

Here in the United States, we are brought up to believe that our nation is different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral; that we expand into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy. But if you know some history you know that's not true. If you know some history, you know we massacred Indians on this continent, invaded Mexico, sent armies into Cuba, and the Philippines. We killed huge numbers of people, and we did not bring them democracy or liberty. We did not go into Vietnam to bring democracy; we did not invade Panama to stop the drug trade; we did not invade Afghanistan and Iraq to stop terrorism. Our aims were the aims of all the other empires of world history -- more profit for corporations, more power for politicians.

The poets and artists among us seem to have a clearer understanding of the disease of nationalism. Perhaps the black poets especially are less enthralled with the virtues of American "liberty" and "democracy," their people having enjoyed so little of it. The great African-American poet Langston Hughes addressed his country as follows:

You really haven't been a virgin for so long.
It's ludicrous to keep up the pretext…
You've slept with all the big powers

In military uniforms,
And you've taken the sweet life
Of all the little brown fellows…

Being one of the world's big vampires,
Why don't you come on out and say so
Like Japan, and England, and France,
And all the other nymphomaniacs of power.

I am a veteran of the Second World War. That was considered a "good war," but I have come to the conclusion that war solves no fundamental problems and only leads to more wars. War poisons the minds of soldiers, leads them to kill and torture, and poisons the soul of the nation.
My hope is that your generation will demand that your children be brought up in a world without war. If we want a world in which the people of all countries are brothers and sisters, if the children all over the world are considered as our children, then war -- in which children are always the greatest casualties -- cannot be accepted as a way of solving problems.

I was on the faculty of Spelman College for seven years, from 1956 to 1963. It was a heartwarming time, because the friends we made in those years have remained our friends all these years. My wife Roslyn and I and our two children lived on campus. Sometimes when we went into town, white people would ask: How is it to be living in the black community? It was hard to explain. But we knew this -- that in downtown Atlanta, we felt as if we were in alien territory, and when we came back to the Spelman campus, we felt that we were at home.
Those years at Spelman were the most exciting of my life, the most educational certainly. I learned more from my students than they learned from me.

Those were the years of the great movement in the South against racial segregation, and I became involved in that in Atlanta, in Albany, Georgia, in Selma, Alabama, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Greenwood and Itta Bena and Jackson. I learned something about democracy: that it does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice. I learned about race. I learned something that any intelligent person realizes at a certain point -- that race is a manufactured thing, an artificial thing, and while race does matter (as Cornel West has written), it only matters because certain people want it to matter, just as nationalism is something artificial. I learned that what really matters is that all of us -- of whatever so-called race and so-called nationality -- are human beings and should cherish one another.

I was lucky to be at Spelman at a time when I could watch a marvelous transformation in my students, who were so polite, so quiet, and then suddenly they were leaving the campus and going into town, and sitting in, and being arrested, and then coming out of jail full of fire and rebellion. You can read all about that in Harry Lefever's book Undaunted by the Fight. One day Marian Wright (now Marian Wright Edelman), who was my student at Spelman, and was one of the first arrested in the Atlanta sit-ins, came to our house on campus to show us a petition she was about to put on the bulletin board of her dormitory. The heading on the petition epitomized the transformation taking place at Spelman College. Marian had written on top of the petition: "Young Ladies Who Can Picket, Please Sign Below."

My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way that our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you. There are wonderful people, black and white, who are models. I don't mean African- Americans like Condoleezza Rice, or Colin Powell, or Clarence Thomas, who have become servants of the rich and powerful. I mean W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Marian Wright Edelman, and James Baldwin and Josephine Baker and good white folk, too, who defied the Establishment to work for peace and justice.
Another of my students at Spelman, Alice Walker, who, like Marian, has remained our friend all these years, came from a tenant farmer's family in Eatonton, Georgia, and became a famous writer. In one of her first published poems, she wrote:

It is true--
I've always loved
the daring
ones
Like the black young man
Who tried
to crash
All barriers
at once,
wanted to
swim
At a white
beach (in Alabama)
Nude.

I am not suggesting you go that far, but you can help to break down barriers, of race certainly, but also of nationalism; that you do what you can -- you don't have to do something heroic, just something, to join with millions of others who will just do something, because all of those somethings, at certain points in history, come together, and make the world better.

That marvelous African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston, who wouldn't do what white people wanted her to do, who wouldn't do what black people wanted her to do, who insisted on being herself, said that her mother advised her: Leap for the sun -- you may not reach it, but at least you will get off the ground.

By being here today, you are already standing on your toes, ready to leap. My hope for you is a good life.

Howard Zinn is the author with Anthony Arnove of the just published Voices of a People's History of the United States (Seven Stories Press) and of the international best-selling A People's History of the United States.
Copyright 2005 Howard Zinn

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Full Circles

I'm getting ready to teach again. Every year in June, my life takes a little vacation, and I sink into the hot-tub of writing and thinking and poetry. It's only for a month. Everything and nothing in my life prepares me for it.

Lately, in preparing materials & readings, I'm feeling the cyclical nature of my life that this once-yearly event -- month-long though it may be -- tends to underline.

Of course, this year, the feeling is more dramatic because I've moved back into a house that I moved out of last summer. Every morning, I walk my dog, only it's a different dog. She smells different trees and stops at different fences. But still, the sun is that early morning NM summer sun, and the grass is wet.

I've been taking some time to call and write to old friends, too, which is also increasing the feeling of all things coming back around to gather me. My friend Ben in Austin, who rightly pointed out that in my list of 15 things I would do if I had more time to spare, 13 of them are solitary pursuits. It's funny that I didn't (and probably wouldn't have) notice that myself. I guess it's just a cycle of pulling back. Pulling into myself. Re-ruminating and germinating before pushing back into the world. Maybe that's what I've been doing most of my life.

My friend Matt, who recently got married in Santa Fe, and who has yet to plan the reception so that I can finally meet his wife. I keep meaning to get his e-mail, because I think he would LOVE www.threadbared.com. We share a wacky sense of humor.

Marjorie and I have been hanging out a lot around the house, weeding & gardening & cleaning & painting. I recently moved my bed into the cooler bedroom. Poor Cleo was panting all night long in my room, since it didn't cool off until the wee hours of the morning!

The poetry on the bus thing has proved to focus on my role in connection with the spoken word scene here in ABQ. The link is historic, not recent, but it's very much alive and thriving.

And maybe that's a good description of me, too. Alive and thriving. What I feel most keenly is a sense of bursting. A ripping that precedes flowering. Maybe that's just my innate optimism, but it does feel that I'm being prepared. Or, to take a more active role, that I am preparing myself.

I don't want to think about what I might be preparing for. I've spent too much of my life looking ahead when I should be looking around. It is enough these days to notice my roses blooming. It is enough to breathe in the morning sun. It is enough. That's all. It is enough.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Poetry entries (limit 3) accepted until June 17. Download your application at www.nhccnm.org !  Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

One flu over the cookoo's test

Not
feeling
so
good

My nieces got over this in 8 hours. I'm going on hour 45.

And a public meeting tonight to facilitate! Can I do it from the bathroom? Or at least sitting down? Silently?

This is drama. Better and better.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Mom's day with Anne started with all-you-can-eat India Kitchen...


Killing time before our manicure/pedicure appointments Posted by Hello

Abbey's Stylin... Posted by Hello

Who are those cuties?


Abbey & Brenna quickly develop...Posted by Hello

What you're supposed to look like while getting lavishly served... Posted by Hello

Uneasy allies... (the healing's in the spa treatment!) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Changing Tides

And things flow.

This time: the opportunity to edit a book of Voces student poems to be printed by UNM Press.

And there it is! Grace. A visitation.

This transition period has left me so raw that I am open, and each blessing sears its beauty and bounty into still drying skin.

Tectonic shifts. The starkness of breathtaking immediate change. Volcanoes. Lava flows. Earthquakes and steam geysers.

The poetry on the bus program has a new name: Route Words.

We keep moving.

To combat seasickness, stare at the shore, the horizon cutting vision into two.

It is enough.

Cate Blanchett's Recent Good Line

Okay, it's a pun; I admit it.

Recently, Cate was quoted as saying: "I see someone's face, someone's body who'd had children and I think they're the song lines of your experience, and why would you want to eradicate that?"

Isn't that a great line? "song lines of experience"

She's classy. No doubt about it.

Anyone catch her in Smoke & Cigarettes?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Running list of what I will do when school is finished

So I have 3 days left of classes. My last masters class finishes on Wednesday when I turn in my answers to the 10 page ($%&&*%&$%!?!) final.

Today, I thought I would take this opportunity of stuckness to understand what I value in my life but fail to prioritize on a daily basis.

1. Exercise
2. Reading fiction
3. Reading for thesis
4. Making mixed CDs of my most recent favorite songs
5. Weeding
6. Planting
7. Cleaning my house
8. Selling my recently-purged books
9. Planning the creative writing class for June
10. Seeing bad dollar movies
11. Renting good foreign films
12. Cooking
13. Calling all those estranged friends
14. Planning travel
15. Going to church (if you can call the Universalist Unitarian service church.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Hitting the nail with your head

I got an unexpected bit of wisdom today.

I was talking about how it would be nice if seeing my family brought up good emotions instead of the roiling doubts about religion, politics, and personal intimacy that always seem to arise like so much detritis after an ocean wreck.

Like many people, I work really hard to understand my family, my role in it, and how I can set the boundaries that will allow me to appreciate what I have and protect myself from my own idealistic expectations. In my family, the relentless pursuit of self-improvement is a moral and human responsibility, but it often feels like beating your head against the wall when you continue to search for solutions in the absence of evidence that it will make any difference. There's no end to it; it's a life-long process.

Just when I was ready to exhaust myself looking at the future and seeing nothing but head banging ahead of me, someone said quite simply, "There is no end, but there is progress. Eventually, you stop hitting your head quite so hard."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a goal I can work toward.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Onion to the Rescue

Lest we take ourselves too seriously...

From this week's Onion:

National Poetry Month Raises Awareness Of Poetry Prevention
NEW YORK—This month marks the 10th National Poetry Month, a campaign created in 1996 to raise public awareness of the growing problem of poetry. "We must stop this scourge before more lives are exposed to poetry," said Dr. John Nieman of the American Poetry Prevention Society at a Monday fundraising luncheon. "It doesn't just affect women. Young people, particularly morose high-school and college students, are very susceptible to this terrible affliction. It is imperative that we eradicate poetry now, before more rainy afternoons are lost to it." Nieman said some early signs of poetry infection include increased self-absorption and tea consumption.