Thursday, November 26, 2009

2 New Poems, New Themes, New Styles: "Childhood Calling" & "Bitter Rivers"

Childhood Calling
your childhood is calling
collect, because
you left it stranded on the
inflammation super-
highway to hell.
no pocket change, and no
pockets in footie pajamas for that
matter. you
amputated it like an appendix when
they told you
like it was anything to aspire to,
when things like belief and wonder and
were too immature for a
comp'ny man.
your childhood is calling
long distance, because
wolfchild howling epiphanies don't reach your
ears, years
down the line when the bottom
dropped out of your bottom
line, like roadkill behnd the limo
double-parked when you had to
drive yourself or just
walk from point A to point B,
discovering a secret alphabet of
outcast letters between the two that
resonated with the ones carved in your
bones, the things that should be
engraved on your tombstone, just another
dead kid dressed in old man's
your childhood is calling
you names, playground
vernacular, street urchin gospel,
words you thought you outgrew by
degrees: BS or BA, MSW, PhD, MD,
A through Z when
A is for Another Aspirin and
Z is for Zoloft, anything pharma-
copious and
alphapolitically correct to
disconnect your train of thought and
leave your childhood behind, a
useless caboose, and when,
and when you need,
and when you NEED it
most, no
ghost of a map shows you the
tracks of your tears to reconnect,
recollect, because
your childhood has hung up the
phone, and now, something
worse is calling your name . . . .


Bitter Rivers
bitter rivers
shiver your reflection
into shards of imperfection, seven
centuries of bad luck every time
you cry, and whales and coyotes are
symphonies for
"goodbye." croon, tune,
misfortune, all to soon, and other things that
rhyme with rune, scrawled
on the wall
above your
hollow ckull
mouldering like a jack-o-lantern
mourning its candle of thought in
nine hundred ninety nine points of
light, outposts blown out
in a countdown,
empty integers all adding up to
zero. ignorance
is bliss because it's
blind to all you've left behind,
and only lasts until, at last,
catches up with you.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

15 Things that Make Me Angry

Essentially, what I'm trying to do here is write out my frustrations. I seem to have lots of them. I seriously have to watch my oil pressure. I'm surprised there aren't jets of steam coming out of my ears sometimes.
One thing that often helps to soothe the savage mind is making lists. So, here's a list of things that piss me off:

1) Lame-ass remarks on the web that are supposed to be cute and clever ways of getting sex, but they're only cute and/or clever in the minds of those who compose them. Which leads us to,
2) Mental midgets whose brainpower would be increased by having one of those hamster-wheels hooked up to their heads. Even a SLOW hamster would be an improvement. Shit, even a DEAD hamster could at least swing back and forth a little and produce SOME current.

3) Politicians. Any and all.

4) Muscleheaded jocks who don't have the ability to engage in verbal repartee or even peaceable discussion, so they beat the shit out of anyone who looks, thinks, acts, talks, or smells a little differently from what passes in their minds for "the Norm;" these selfsame jocks are the entities that spawn Columbine-like reactions, and have the AUDACITY to look SURPRISED when somebody wants to shoot that smug look off their faces.

5) Stupid neo-nazi-wannabe kids with no coping mechanisms who think a bunch of guns and plastique is gonna solve anything, or that Hitler was anything but a maniac who should have been shot up with thorazine and locked in one of his own concentration camps, but like the gutless phony he was he took the coward's way out.

6) Muscleheaded jocks and stupid neo-nazi-wannabe kids who grow up and either become soldiers or cops so they can continue their barbarism and total ethical meltdown on even larger scales.

7) Oblivious fat people in supermarkets who look at YOU like it's YOUR fault they're walking around creating impact tremors like Jurassic Park as you try to squeeze past one of their elephantine buttocks just to get some fucking BREAD while they're moseying around buying diet soda to eat with their 500-pound lardburgers, or deciding which fat-free dressing to top off their salad with (said salad loaded with more cheese, ham, pepperoni, and anything else greasy and fattening that can be put into a salad and still be considered a salad).

8) Anorexic yuppie chicks who think that Barbie is overweight, and so they compensate by making themselves so damn thin a strong wind would snap them into, but they don't have to worry because they'll be DEAD from NOT EATING long before a strong enough wind comes along, unless Rush Limbaugh starts talking to them.

9) Rush Limbaugh. The very IDEA.

10) When my mother calls me "paranoid," as if that's an excuse to avoid admitting that there are some things out there, PARTICULARLY with regards to the government and big business, that one should be suspicious about. They're not out to get "me," they're just out to get EVERYONE.

11) People with a knee-jerk first response tendency to MEDICATE in order to solve whatever perceived mental/emotional problems they may have. Big surprise: when people do shitty things, they're SUPPOSED to feel like shit. And just because your kid's mind is moving faster than yours is no excuse to dope them up with ritalin. And when you act so HORRIFIED that somebody is smoking pot, you'd have a fit of the screaming heebie-jeebies if you couldn't get a refill on your valium prescription (which is an ADDICTION).

12) People who favor one "brand" of politician over another (see above under "politicians.") If you have to choose between the "lesser of two evils," THEY'RE STILL BOTH EVILS.

13) Racists. Any and all.

14) "Officers of the peace" and/or "peace-keeping operations," which are Orwellian neologisms for "forces of oppression" and "Hi, i'm a cop, i'm going to kick your ass and get away with it!" And, finally,

15) Making a list of things that make me angry in order to calm me down, only to find out that i'm more angry than i was when i started it!

Now THAT was a total waste of time.

New Poem: I Identify "I" (maybe retitled at a later date)

the only thing that links these things
is time, and the times in which
i identify "i"
this whole concept of "i"
like why i write, what my eye
sees, and the trainwreck of mixed metaphors
and past participles that form the collective whole
of "i."

walk around Bonsack.
i can tell you where the sweetest water
flows into a cattail swamp,
where a naiad lives in a waterfall
with bloodroots around her feet,
where Solomon's-seal, black nightshade,
water hemlock, St. Jonhswart, and jimsonweed grow,
where the red barn once stood in a suburb,
one road named "Red Barn Road" after they tore it down.
this is where myth and reality walked hand-in-hand
as i walked, learning the lay of the land,
finding places that seemed like dreaming legends
and the made-up names i gave them in my heart.

walk around Union Square, NYC.
i can take you to the circle where the park-rats sit,
where street intellectuals and sidewalk philosophers talk.
i can introduce you to people with legendary names:
Smoke, Spider, Conscience, Old School, Papo, Shadow, King Twice.
i know where to find: street artisans that would make Salvador
weep with joy, nag champa incense, chess games, sparring, and cannabis.
there's a map in my soul that i could follow blindfolded
to restaurants, poetry dives, coffeehouses, and bookstores.
this is where i wed myth to reality, becoming mythical myself,
an outsider looking in and an insider looking out,
finding a hunger, and learning what hunger was all about,
and growing a few streetwise hairs in my ragged, thinning pelt.

walk around Hinton, WV.
i can point to the land that my great-great-grandfather owned,
and sold when they came to build the dam.
i can take you to the place where the water sounds like thunder,
and where a single misstep can pull you under.
i can show you the Cave Ridge, the Old Rail-Yards, the point
where Greenbrier and New River's join in their flow.
i can show you the building that held the store
where my great-grandfather worked when i was a boy.
this is where i merged bitter with sweet,
just like the Greenbrier and New River meet,
and flow together like nostalgia and nightmares join
and from troubled waters dive for darker pearls.

the only common element is this insignificant particle
that i identify "i," and the thread that binds
them all together
is time.
at any point along that line, i could have turned
another way, made
another choice, or breathed
my last breath. this mortal thread
is finite. i keep the cords
wrapped tightly as i can,
binding them with words, binding
words into poetry, and trying to make sense
of senseless things,
and when people tell me these things aren't connected,
i tell them, "yes, they are.
you're looking at the common element,
the rare earth that has tied the knot."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Poem: Untitled

there was a deer stepping with unconscious precision
through the scrubby brushthat borders the field
where, i'm told, a strip-mall
was once pondered
but, real-estate being what it was,
and the economy being where it is,
was a discarded concept.

what was the pretext of adding yet another
bland carbon-copy
of a thousand other strip-malls
to our already blighted landscape?

there's nothing missing from this picture.
gray, flat sky, evanescing on the mountain;
tawny field, shrubs, people passing in cars
staring at somebody
who isn't indoors letting the simple plans of wonder
occur beyond their sight-lines,sacrificing something insignificant
on the altar that would make life
so much more convenient.
what kind of a man
would do that?

can't you see that we're dying here,
not for want of another Starbucks
or Burger King
or nail salon,
but from an overdose?

i hope that deer survives hunting season
when hordes of idiots with guns
will descend upon the unspoiled
in faux appreciation of nature
to mount a stuffed head on their wall
and let the meat get freezer-burn
because Whoppers have ruined our palates
for venison.

watch out for that tree . . . it's only growing there
so that a winter storm
can send it crashing down
on your crackerbox
and spill your human crumbs
out into the street
that's due to be repaved next week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Giving Thanks: Grace, Mercy, and American History

After a long hiatus of poetry and various rantings, it's time to take the cap off the old blogger's pen and actually write about some things in a more organized fashion.

This time of year, most folks--including my own family--are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving. When i was younger, the basis of Thanksgiving as a holiday was given to us by our history teachers, obviously boiled down and sanitized, that it was a "time when the settlers and the Indians (which is what they called Native Americans at the time) gathered together and shared a feast." This was, one presumes, before the settlers decided that they'd rather just intoxicate the natives with firewater, slaughter them wholesale, and kill them with kindness by giving them blankets--smallpox blankets. A lot of the food that we now enjoy in America--corn and pumpkins being two of many--was given to us by long years of historical use by the Native Americans. The early settlers of Jamestown, not knowing what they were doing, at one point tried to eat datura stramonium, now known as "Jimsonweed," a contraction of "Jamestown Weed," in memory of their stupidity. A large number of them, of course, died from the lethal poisons--including atropine and scopolamine--in the plant. I'm certain the Native Americans could have told them--had they been asked--that this was a stupid idea.

The early settlers had moved into a world (not a "new world," as it was often referred to) that was in many ways different from the one they left behind. "Manifest Destiny," in its amoebic march to engulf and digest other cultures for its own benefit, had expanded into a new era of exploitation. The natives had lived in this land for millennia, quite independent of European culture. Even Amerigo Vespucci (after whom the Americas were named) and Christopher Columbus (a geographic dunderhead who died of syphillis) weren't the first Europeans to land on the soil of this land . . . archaeological evidence shows that the Vikings landed on American soil much earlier. Europeans, for the most part fleeing religious and social oppression, eventually began a new type of oppression, seeing the "savage and hostile natives" as ignorant creatures who needed to be "educated" and/or eliminated. Some people don't regard anything done by white Europeans as "wrong." The Native Americans attacked them, made war on them (nevermind the fact that they WERE here first, and had every right to defend their homeland from what eventually became aggressive and destructive expansion), and so it was obvious that the only "logical" course was to kill the natives to make "homesteads" where the white settlers could (over the course of time): plow under, clear-cut, and hunt species like the buffalo into near-extinction. Perhaps one of the earliest forms of biowarfare practiced on American soil was the "smallpox blankets," exposing the Native Americans to a disease that their immune systems had no defense against.

But i started talking about Thanksgiving, didn't i?

Jesus told a parable, once, about a Pharisee and a Publican (a tax collector) coming to the temple. The Pharisee "bragged" to God about what a good person he was, how he tithed from his largesse, and how glad he was that he wasn't a "heathen" like "that Publican over there." The Publican, not even daring to raise his eyes, begged instead for forgiveness for his wrongs. He was considered the lowest of the low in ancient Israel, a man who had literally "made a deal with the devil" by working for the invading Romans. Jesus told his listeners that the Publican went away right with God. At a time when we, in America, enjoy more wealth and freedom than many other nations, and have in recent times--with the exception of 9/11--been free from attacks from outside nations, we have it good. We were told after 9/11 that the terrorists "hate our freedom;" if that's the case, then the draconian wipeout of the Constitution done by the "Patriot Act" must have pleased them mightily. Even after that, we still have a great deal of freedom that a lot of other nations don't enjoy. And yet, rather than being grateful of this, we lord it over the "heathen nations," acting like simply being born on American soil makes us somehow "better" or "more moral." We act like the "planet police" as we invade other countries to "make them safe for democracy"--as long as it's our kind of democracy. God bless America? How about "God FORGIVE America?" I still believe that the USA is one of the best places on the planet to live. Even though there are forces within our own government who are hell-bent on removing any individual autonomy--the freedoms we send our children to war in foreign countries to protect--and eroding the Bill of Rights to the point where it's only a vain posturing, a fragile skeleton of the once robust concept it represented. We are hardly AWARE of the profound nature of these things we enjoy. The odious self-righteousness of our politicians and "world leaders"--here and abroad--is not only a smear to the reputation of America as it has been presented to the world, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . it is blasphemy. This year, at Thanksgiving, i want all of us . . . Christians in particular . . . to think HARD about everything that we DO have. When we sit down to tables laden with food, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the football games on television, and relish good times with our family, friends, and loved ones, we should be astounded by what we have. And a part of that astonishment should be shame, both for the apathetic way we take these good things for granted, and for the evils falsely perpretrated in the name of God and of liberty. There should be no attempt to whitewash the history of the nation that proudly proclaims "in God we trust" when that hardly applies. Gratitude--true appreciation for the quality of God we call "Grace" (which is defined as the good things we receive that we don't deserve)--can never be blind, lest we forget to be grateful as well for "Mercy" (defined as the punishment we deserve that we don't get). People who are raised in comfort and relative wealth may develop a false sense of entitlement, that the world somehow owes them something . . . the World doesn't owe us anything but suffering and death.

I'm not saying you should spend Thanksgiving day in mourning, appalled at the gravity of our history. In fact, Thaksgiving should be just that . . . giving thanks to God for his mercy and grace, which surely staggers the imagination. When you're eating, sitting with your loved ones, enjoying creature comforts great and small, remember to be thankful for them. Be grateful to the men and women of the armed forces who are honoring their commitment, and who for the most part--in my opinion--are honestly going to war because they want to protect the freedoms we enjoy. And be constantly aware just how fragile those rights and freedoms are. They are, in fact, like muscles . . . they have to be fed and exercised in order to be kept strong. If they are neglected, they will grow weak and will atrophy, and when we most need to depend on them, they will fail us. It is that part of defending freedom that falls to each of us, as citizens of America. It is, really, a profound gift for those of us who have been born and raised in America, and such a gift should NEVER be taken lightly. NOTHING should be taken for granted; circumstances can change, and those good things you enjoy could be snatched away while you're not looking. Thank God also that each and every one of us has the capacity for a critical intelligence, if we only have the willingness to use it. Do not be wasteful ingrates . . . because much will be expected from those who are given much.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Poem: No Accidents (work in progress)

No Accidents
i have seen the smile in the alligator's eye
on the Suwanee River,
and worked with one teenager
who had the same look in his.

i have waded the waters of the Gulf Shore,
a school of rays parting around me,
making me for one moment
a part of their dance,
and from there to New Orleans
in a car filled with laughter
and the redolent reek of marijuana
for a Ghost Tour in the Vieux Carre.

i have looked through a telescope, breathless,
at the Orion Nebula;
my friend, an astronomer, beside me,
telling me, "You're watching a star
being born." That crucible of Creation
is a spark reflected in God's eye,
in Whose eye i also dance.

i am not the protagonist of this story,
but these are no accidents of Fate . . .
tracing these lines back to their Source,
i feel as ever the incredible force
of the first poem spoken
into the audient void:
"Let there be light."

And there was.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rescued from Myspace: Untitled Poem

am i at the right station to catch the train i'm chasin'?
you tell me . . . is it just one of my phases, traces, ornate
races from place to place, cannonball-crazed through
this maze of worm-tunnels of the womb-belly beneath
this bawdy beldame, the city that i can't claim as home
where i'm still takin' chances? i fell in love with her like
one of those doomed romances.
she rode a wrecking ball through my poetry in one of our first dances,
raped my sleep-schedule like a lioness in heat,
laughed an icy gasp down my throat
with a January kiss to a reggaeton beat,
clenched me in her sweaty, dusky thighs in the August streets
right there where the juices run hot and the flesh tastes sweet
. . . by turns fiery and frigid, fitting firmly into the grooves and
ridges of my bipolar soul--and that's no small feat.
what makes me believe i belong here? i long to believe i can
be strong here, although i know i could go wrong here, become
just another outcast that the throngs fear, but i'm trying so hard
just to be here, to stay here . . . stay. please, just listen to what i say.
i want my poetry to be
what warfare is to a piano, like shooting a man
with a guitar solo, like ripping your balls off
and making you sing soprano
i want my poetry to be
the margarita-colored eyes of the 13-year-old street-rat
who sells me pot in the park,
to be tough enough to walk the Bedford-Stuy
after dark, to cry like an angel with
the body of a wolf, howlin'
like Ginsberg to Giovanni to Gilgamesh,
thrash like a skateboard-huckster kicking
apart a Wal-Mart, giving all the old ladies
a heart attack. am i on the right track?
you tell me,'cuz i'm still dazzled by the mystery,
still hassled by my misery,
still fallin through the shadows of my history,
stallin' for time still hustlin' twilight through a pen
that's runnin' dry.
hey, i only laugh when it hurts, but that's all the time--and you don't wanna see me cry.
i'm on a mission, receiving a transmission
that could drive like fission into the big dictators,
the master baiters who regard me with
derision til i'm screaming a revision
that's turning the tables, drive this corkscrew
into their souls, yank 'em out, tell 'em just for whom the hell's bell tolls.
write the runes of their doom on the walls
of this city, this bitch, this angel, this whore,this queen of mine--am i on the right line?
you tell me, 'cuz i'm running out of time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rearranging the Landscape (Yeah, another long-winded rant, just deal with it)

We've dug a hole, collectively, and we're pulling the dirt in over our heads. And anytime anybody shows us a way to climb out, we take our shovels and kill him or bury him under the dirt to shut him up. You know, I wonder why God always gets our "sloppy seconds." We wheel and deal, and when that doesn't work, we manipulate behind the scenes, and when that fails, we put on the "poor me" show . . . and when everyone stops falling for that, we increase the self-victimization until we alienate even the most stalwart of friends . . . and then we come crying to God. I mean, when He got to me, there wasn't much left to work with . . . so, if what you see before you looks like a wreck of a man held together with spit and baling twine, that's just me. If I seem at all to speak well or eloquently, THAT'S the miracle, that Poetry breathes through the likes of me. The world needs poets who, like outlaws, rearrange the landscape. Like terrorists . . .and although one could argue that plastique and bullets are immediately more impactful and thus more effective, words have shifted spiritual and emotional landscapes like rapid-moving glaciers since the dawn of time, before bigots and tinpot tyrants ever earned the name "dinosaur." The emotional energies that power this machine are furious in the extreme, insatiable, and usually ungrateful of what they receive. It's never enough, is it? Vicarious living at your fingertips, television and world-wide-web, landscapes and terrain erased to create space for a mini-mall that's a clone of every other mini-mall . . . access to goods and knowledge is practically unlimited . . . so why the fuck are you so mentally bankrupt? These are the clinics where they operate on your brain, and with all the assholes out there who throw bombs in response to abortions, how come nobody's bombing THOSE clinics? You catch and cage every thought you have, strangling them with the umbilical cords of your broad-band intentions and short-spanned attentions . . . because if one of them survives, you might develop something like perspective, and if that happened, you'd have to be HONEST and face the fact that you're DAMNED by the very engines you built to pave your way to a pseudo-paradise that was never worth living OR dying for! How many of you are already walking around, bought and sold, not even missing the soul they're sucking out of you from every television set, every political media whore, every Mega-Macro-Store, the whole damn lot of them vampires, and you not only invited 'em in, you let them have a house party! Slap a brand on me, a scarlet P for poetry, make me wear it on my forehead in the streets--right next to the L that's apparently already there . . . not that you'd ever have any trouble figuring it out, when I'm ranting loud enough on the subway to make people back away from me, when I compose poetry while I'm chasing two parakeets around in the pet store I work in trying to convince myself that I'm not just a manager trainee, I'm a POET, dammit, a POET, and someday, if you stupid fuckers don't finish the job of ruining the world, maybe I'll be able to reshape a piece of the landscape . . . not for a monument to myself, there's too many people in that business already, and unlike a lot of others who claim to be Christians, I have some concept of "humility," which is basically "A man's got to know his limitations," and brother, I know mine--most of 'em I learned the HARD way. I've seen the way people bristle, the way they're picking up their shovels and pickaxes where they've been working on that mass grave for humanity, ready to commit murder in the name of the System, the icon of their Idolatry, as related by the Industry Standards and Ratings and Product Tie-Ins, combining to create a revolution-proof culture-condom. I know what it means, and I'll bet YOU know what that means, and if you mean what you say when you say "by any means necessary," then now's the time to start arming yourself with what you know, because the next war that will be fought will be for the space between your ears. Just because resistance is futile doesn't mean that it's not an obligation--it IS an obligation, and even if everything I fight for is a "lost cause". . . at least I know where I am.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Out of the Ashes: Excerpts from my previous blog

What follows is a series of excerpts from my Myspace blog that i considered worthy of salvage. They're in no particular order, and i'll probably end up doing at least one more entry like this, but for those of you willing to wade through my rambling, here goes:


With God, ALL things are possible.
Now, THERE'S a scary thought! No? But consider--once something enters into the realm of Possibility, it becomes something that needs to be considered, to be dealt with. Jesus taught us that nobody who gave up anything for His name's sake would lose out--in fact, they'd gain more than they ever believed possible, and while that included incredible blessings, it also included troubles! Now, some people would whine that a loving God shouldn't "provide" troubles. It's probably one of the most telling points of debate in the whole of Christianity that what C. S. Lewis called "the problem of Pain" is such a roadblock. Our entire society, at its present, is concerned with the providing of and obtaining of comfort, convenience, and conspicuous consumption. To a culture like that, Pain is something to be avoided, detoured around, or subdued . . . our culture invalidates Pain, and equates suffering with Lacking. Poor people suffer because "they lack money," not because those who have money are lacking in compassion. Comfort, convenience, and conspucious consumption: those are the idols whose lies make us think that "if we're uncomfortable, something's wrong." I challenge that thought! If we're COMFORTABLE, something's wrong! People who have become empty shells for that triad of idols may lack suffering, but they also lack many other things. God brings us a fulness of experience that, while it has some hard nights and rough accomodations, also provides us with a deep and complex personality, not a shallow mirror for the corporations to preen in. It's a hard thing to understand when we're undergoing those "learning experiences," but when you look back on them, they often point to a refining process. God pares you down to the bare essentials, and then says, "Okay, now let's start over at the Beginning. Back to square one." People who look at my life at various points over the past 5 -10 years or so would think I'd had it really hard at times (as I did while those times were going on!) But, it is those rough spots, sort of the equivalent of scouring a pot, that helped me shine where I do. Getting back to basics helps you understand what you really need, and it further helps you recognize the abundance of your blessings. That is both an uplifting and humbling experience (as are most things in the Christian lifepath). With God, all things are possible. Things both wonderful and terrible loom over us with their Possibility. God, who spoke both things into existence, provides the perspective and understanding to deal with them. Revel in the richness of your experience. Rejoice that you can still feel and understand Pain, because without it you would never fully appreciate Joy. The bitter underscores the sweet. People who fall before the idols of comfort, convenience, and conspicuous consumption don't know what they're missing out on.


Slam poetry is, and as long as it endures probably will be, a rather chaotic thing. It will inevitably seek to break any bonds of conventionality that attempt to restrain it. People who come to the Slam are often seeking something, whether they're members of the audience or wordslingers themselves. Granted, its inclusivity is bound to invite a variety of elements that are, taken out of context, divisive, but given the common bond of appreciation of, and seeking expression and affirmation in, poetry. That perhaps is a rather idealistic and simplistic "definition" of Slam poetry and its denizens. As a working template, though, it might also serve as a potential model that the Christian church might consider!
It sounds ridiculous . . . on the surface. And yet, I've known many poetic communities wherein: the attitude towards the newcomer was warm welcome; there was a sense of, "you can let down you're guard here," a sense of safety and security that would seem contradictory to the rather intimidating concept; newcomers weren't expected to know the ropes, and early mistakes and missteps were to be expected; the generally flaky and quirky nature of poets was well-known, and having been through quite a few self-induced catastrophes, the poets tended to be forgiving of such things in others, and were there when one of their poetic siblings needed them; guidance was provided, and although sometimes poets tend to have a kind of abrasive "tough love," the love was clearly evident--that did not, however, mean that excessive indulgence or liberties taken by any one poet would be treated lightly. These attributes, placed within the framework of a Christian perspective, would certainly be considered admirable in any Body of Believers. As a "vagabond poet," I've surfed many sofas, and have found that Slam communities tend to "take in" any wandering poet and treat 'em well. Sure, household duties and some expenses were often shared, but it was a light thing compared to laying out funds for a hotel room and a solitary meal in a restaurant. Imagine a travel-weary man and his pregnant wife, probably a little rough around the edges, coming into your community, in need of a place to stay for a few days. I know plenty of Slam communities where they'd be taken in at the drop of a hat, given at the very least half-decent crash space in somebody else's home and a meal; how many churches could that same couple expect that kind of treatment from--would we even let them sleep in our toolshed?
Sure, I'm exaggerating a bit to make a point. But not by much. And as to those who would point out the scandal, the lust or drunkenness or plain-out stupidity that often dogs the Slam . . . are these so different than the same things that dog the Christian church? Simply stated, no. The difference is possibly that the Slam doesn't attempt to cover up its scandals, and the Church often does . . . so which is the more honest approach there? Did the Adulteress pretend NOT to have committed adultery in front of Jesus? Did Matthew hide the fact that he was a Roman sympathizer, or Simon the Zealot pretend NOT to be a freedom fighter committed to overthrowing the Romans BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY? No, of course not. We all have quirks and flaws. To utterly succumb to any of these quirks and flaws is wrong; but it is equally wrong to deny or attempt to cover up these wrongs. I suffer from these limitations, myself . . . there are things I've stood up and admitted in a poetry slam that I would be hard-pressed to stand up and admit in a Church, when someday I am going to have to stand before God and admit them, one way or the other . . . but, wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if there was a Church in which confession did what it can often do in a poetry slam . . . simultaneously make you aware of your own vulnerability while feeling utterly free? That awareness of vulnerability and sense of freedom and possiblity is a precious thing. Most of us experience it as children, less and less as we grow old . . . but Jesus said that unless we received the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child, we'd never find the way in . . . and in that condition that both acknowledges our own weakness and yet at the same time makes us free, a sort of free-fall, we understand the Principles of Grace and Mercy. Grace is the state that is, while it lasts, so much like flying; Mercy is the chute that we can absolutely depend on to open us. Perhaps Fear, turned upside-down, is Joy and Awe. If I've seen elements of all this in such a humble place as a poetry Slam, shouldn't I also be able to see them in the Christian church, and in myself?


I have a problem with winter.
The light that falls on the trees and rooftops here make it look like everything and everyone is experiencing muted emotions, like music robbed of all its vitality and heartbeat. I can remember being in offices or elevators, hearing that "muzak" that's supposed to be soothing, making my pulse pound until my head felt like a furnace, and I wanted to scramble up, yank that speaker out, and stomp it into the floor, screaming, "QUIT IT! YOU'RE KILLING ONE OF THE FEW THINGS THAT MAKES MY LIFE TOLERABLE!" But, see, in the winter I hardly even have that much energy. It sucks me dry, dries up all my sap, turns my pithy potency into something that would barely light a candle, let alone a bonfire. It's almost like my "disorder" is tied to the seasons. I feel manic pretty much for all of spring and a good part of summer. Autumn is when I usually have my flare-ups or flake-outs or breakdowns. Whatever you want to call them. And then there's winter, where I have a season where everything sort of collides with me like a big snowball. As Lou Reed says, "It makes me mad, and that makes me sad, and then I start to freeze." That pretty much follows the progression. I've leaned on a lot of people during my winter seasons. This year I'm not going to make anyone bear the brunt of my depression. If you keep on reading this, you've been forewarned: I plan on unleashing a lot of the stupid drama and angst in here. Maybe when the chrysalis breaks open again in spring I'll feel like I have been pounded into shape.
Some of the frustration I feel (and here those of you who are anti-religious are going to start squirming around in your seats, I know), is the way Christmas is turned into the Ultimate Capitalist Holiday. SPEND! GO! NOW! PEOPLE ARE DYING ALL OVER THE WORLD, YOU COULD BE NEXT, SO GO . . . RIGHT . . . NOW! RUN! RUN TO ALL THE SHOPS AND SPEND ALL YOU CAN! HELP KEEP THIS STUPID BROKE-ASS ECONOMIC SYSTEM FROM COLLAPSING! BUY MORE SHIT THAT YOU DON'T NEED, THAT YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY AFFORD . . . GIFTS THAT WILL BE EXCHANGED ON THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS!!! This is how we celebrate Christ's birth? You are bombarded on all sides by commercials that don't just perch on the edge of Blasphemy, they dive right in and take a bath in it. Every day, they continue to hammer the idea that "Captialism and Christianity go hand in hand." Notice how very few people quote that verse "You cannot serve God and Mammon (i.e., the Bank, Profit, Capitalism)"? We don't even NOTICE our own excesses anymore. That's what happenes when you're constantly beaten about the head with commercialism, you sort of go numb, and you suffer brain damage, too. So, brain-damaged consumers, pimps of the corporate whores, war-mongering capitalism-pushers . . . BACK THE FUCK OFF!!!! This year, if commercialism tries to hit me, I'm not just going to duck and run, I'm going to hit back. I've HAD it. I remember when Christ chased the moneychangers from the temple, overturning their tables and brandishing a braided whip (yes, that's what happened). There's a DIRECT APPROACH, laid out there in the Scripture, the Word itself, that FLIES DIRECTLY IN THE FACE of this whole Dragonball Z Fusion Technique of Economics and Religion.
Now, see, there's where I get mad. I want to grab hold of the things that Christmas SHOULD mean to me. Christmas, in its original context, as the focal point of History, the amazing concept of God-With-Us, God-AMONG-Us, taking on the flesh and doing for us what we could never do ourselves. It is that Gift that should drive us to give abundantly, not some farcical commercial contrivance. And it is in that Spirit that the gift should be given, not in some vanitorious "look-what-I'M-giving" sense or with some sort of hidden pretext . . . but lavishly, with joy. There are gifts you can give that don't come out of some catalogue or commercial--those are the best kind. If I make THIS important enough, can I stave off the frozen wastes of January and February as well? Or, if it were possible, to LIVE in that Spirit, CONSTANTLY, could all the Soul's Winters widen their eyes at the sight of blossoms that do not wither, warmth that does not grow cold, winds that are not bitter?
And, having said that . . . will you help, too?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Ghosts: A Question of Definition

Lately, i've been watching a lot of shows on television such as "Ghost Hunters," "Destination Truth," "Ghost Adventures," "Most Haunted," and the like, and that--along with personal experience--has prompted me to write out my own take on the theme of ghosts and spirits.

Let me say first and foremost that i do not believe in ghosts in the sense that they are spirits of the deceased. My faith holds that, once people die, their souls reside in the Afterlife--Heaven or Hell, in other words--and they do not appear in this realm, in any fashion. There is, however, enough empirical evidence that there is SOMETHING going on in places that are reputedly "haunted." Even if 90% of the evidence is false, forged, or anomalous, the remaining 10% still deserves consideration. What follows are several categories that i believe that reports of ghosts could be attributed to, not including hysteria or common natural phenomena.

1) Demons: One of the fundamental truths in Christian belief is that there is an ongoing spiritual warfare that surrounds us--as Christians, we are participants in this warfare, through the agencies of prayer and the direction and authority of the Holy Spirit that resides within us. Demons are spiritual entities that are inimical to all humans. They seek, among other things, to deceive mortals, to cause fear and empty superstition, and to lead people into fallacious belief-systems. I believe that, when people see or communicate with what they suppose are the spirits of deceased loved ones or relatives, they're actually communicating with demons who are disguising themselves as "ghosts of the departed." The Biblical prohibitions against mediums or sorcery are not just there as part of a system of rules, but as protection, a way of setting boundaries. People who attempt to communicate with these spirits are in danger, not just from deceptive messages, but in literal physical and spiritual danger. Those who do not have the protection of the Holy Spirit, that seal that says "Hands Off!" to demons, could easily open themselves up to possession or spiritual poisoning, especially in cases where the person attempts to "channel" the spirit. As to Christians who might be uncertain in the faith, or unsure what to believe about ghosts, my advice is to avoid it altogether. Some "manifestations" might be attributed to the other causes i've listed below, but it would be unwise to assume that.

2) Elementals: my personal belief is similar to that of C.S. Lewis', that there are spiritual creatures who are, in intelligence and behavior, essentially animals. They would exist in the spiritual realm that coincides with our own earthly realm. Like wild animals, they would tend to avoid human contact. Also like wild animals, they are not to be trifled with, as they can be dangerous. Legend associates such creatures with certain geographic locations or natural forces (rivers, streams, caves, oceans, storms, and the like). A person who attempted to "channel" one of these would be, essentially, similar to a child who attempted to play with a wolverine, or a man trying to charge a battery by holding the battery in one hand and grabbing the third rail of a subway in the other. As to whether or not these creatures can manifest visually (the way demons do in order to deceive), i'm uncertain. I remember a near-drowning experience in the New River when i was 19, when i was underwater, a strong sense that there was something there, some intelligence, regarding me . . . it did not seem hostile, but more aloof from my struggles, the way a human might regard the struggles of a fly in a spider's web. I don't know whether or not that perception was merely my imagination being acted upon by a high-stress situation, or an actual "encounter" with an elemental . . . but i DO know that it's not something i'd be anxious to repeat. There is a regularly recurring event in a place called Brown Mountain, NC, where lights seem to rise from the mountain into the sky . . . this might be something explained by elementals of some type.

3) Psychic Remnants: I believe that events or situations that involve extremely strong emotions, especially negative emotions, can leave traces on a location, the way a human can leave fingerprints on something, or the way a person's sweat or blood has DNA in it that can identify that human. Houses or buildings where fearful or traumatic things--especially in places where these things would be repeated, like prisons or sanitariums--might retain some of these emotional traces, and some people could be more sensitive or receptive to these than others. The visual, audial, or olfactory sensations that such people experience in those places are probably attempts of the mind to "translate" the information. Because places steeped in that kind of negativity could easily have been the result of demonic activity, again, it's dangerous to attempt to "communicate." On one level, it's foolish to try to communicate with these "remnants," as they don't have any intelligence of their own . . . essentially, it would be like trying to talk to a photograph. On the other hand, "opening up" to try to gain more information is likely to draw demonic attention, and any information gained would then be tainted or false. If you see or experience something uncanny in a certain location, and later discover that the experience seems to relate to something that happened there before, it could easily be just a "remnant," a psychic "fingerprint" left on a place by an event that occurred before. And, again, it's safer not to delve too deeply into such an experience, or place too much importance to it.

4) Temporal Anomalies: Those who study quantum mechanics have postulated the existence of particles called "tachyons," which are essentially already moving faster than the speed of light (Einstein's theory would allow the existence of such things, provided that they weren't simply sub-light-speed particles that somehow accelerated). I'm no physicist, but i understand that in certain theories, a high presence of these tachyons could cause a sort of "fault" in time-space. Things like this would certainly explain "disappearances" such as the type associated with the Bermuda Triangle; a temporary "rip" or "weakening" of time-space could also explain certain ghostly manifestations or other unexplained phenomena, effectively offering a glimpse into the past. Because i believe manifestations of this type would be extremely rare (if they happen at all), they probably wouldn't be explained by any of the causal factors i listed earlier, and would be--in effect--"freaks of nature," encountering them probably wouldn't have any true spiritual context, other than the possibility that some weak-minded people who saw them might foolishly assume that this was an evidence of their "psychic ability," or something trying to communicate with them.

These are just a few of the possible explanations of such things, and i've simplified my theories in the interest of brevity. In some later post, i'll probably discuss teratology and cryptozoology (which are areas that would more explain such things as the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster). The long and short of it is this: there is both an visible and invisible world, and God was and is as attentive to both, as He created them both, and understands the intricate ways in which they interact. There are more wonders on this planet, and in the part of the universe that we can perceive, that simply cannot be easily explained by man. I believe that some of these mysteries were created by God to inspire us with awe for Him, the Divine Creator who keeps the wheels of the Universe in motion. I believe that many of them will never be completely unravelled by the mind of man . . . and that is fortunate. Long before anybody ever thought of baseboard heating or toasters, electricity was used to put people to death in Sing Sing. Einstein's Theory of Relativity explained more about the material universe than we'd ever understood before, and Einstein himself said that there were probably only about 6 physicists in the world who completely understood it's implications . . . but mankind's first use for this knowledge was a bomb, and Einstein also said if he'd forseen the use his theory was going to be put to, he'd have become a watchmaker instead. Perhaps the mantle of mystery that many of God's creations wear are there to keep us from knowing something that, ultimately, we'd only use to bring about more destruction.

Keep in mind, as well, that everything i've written about this subject in this blog is based on my personal knowledge and experience (both limited). It is enough for me to know that i have seen things and experienced things that have only caused me to feel more awe and respect for the Creator, and to understand that the world i walk in is no less wonderful--and dangerous--than Narnia, Middle Earth, or any other "wonderland" described by those who have the gift of transcribing dreams.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Freedom of Speech in Action: The Poetry Slam

It's been over 2 weeks since my last cigarette, and the craving is pretty rough. But, if anything, i've got an extra reason to hold off on the smoking coming up tomorrow night. That's right, after a long hiatus, Grendel is going to hit the Slam scene again, this time in the town that gave him his first set of Slam wings.

To newcomers to the concept of Poetry Slam, a bit of explanation is probably in order. First and foremost, someone interested in the concept should check out, and . The first is the website of Marc Smith (SO WHAT?) (you have to be an insider to the Slam to get the "SO WHAT?" reference, but trust me, it's cool). Marc Smith is the "Slam Pappy," a man who has started the whole movement. Very few people can claim that they've inspired a movement, but Marc has. He's a Chicago poet who, in the mid-1980's, began bringing poetry back to the people. For years, poetry had been "caged" by the academia, the purview of readings where the only people in attendance were academics, other poets, and students. The decorous silence and golf-clap applause, where people were expected to HANG ON EVERY WORD, even if the speaker droned on for an intolerably long time. The Beat poets were a breath of fresh air in their time, Allen Ginsberg's live performance of "Howl" probably breaking the conceptual sound-barrier, actually being a "banned book" (a laughable concept which probably means that even people who would not normally read it would fight to get their hands on it). But as the Beats aged, finally gaining a grudging acceptance by the academia (and Allen Ginsberg turned into a really creepy guy who would take his clothes off in public and make everyone watch), poetry seemed to "slump" back into its former state. Along came Marc Smith . . . and everything changed again. At the famous Green Mill in Chicago . . . a BAR, of all things . . . the concept of having poets "compete" for prizes, with randomly chosen individuals in the crowd holding up scores in imitation of an Olympic event, became the epicenter of a movement that would sweep the nation, and even reach other nations . . . Great Britain, Germany, France, and even Israel, and by now probably many other countries around the world. Suddenly, people who normally would not even THINK about poetry, much less read it or listen to it, were attending these events, participating, and finding themselves enjoying it. Once you come into a Slam, whether you're a performer or a member of the audience, you're part of it, an integral part of something that is much greater than the sum of its parts. It's often intense, in-your-face, aggressive, perhaps a little intimidating, always entertaining . . . freedom of speech in action! I've seen poets perform all types and styles even in our hometown Slam . . . everything from hip-hop to villanelles, ages ranging from 7 to 70, subject matter that spanned the entire consciousness of this time and the times that preceded it.

Marc Smith, for somebody who started a movement, is a down-to-earth, likeable, friendly guy. He makes it a point to introduce people to one another, to "bring them in." It's an attitude that makes coming to a Slam that holds true to its roots a lot like "coming home." I've attended a number of Slams, including 2 Southeastern Regional and National competitions, and i've got to say that, like Kenny Mostern said, in his "Cheap Art Manifesto," i've been to one-horse-town Slams where i met 12 of my best friends that i've never known before. My own personal Slam experience began here in Roanoke, taken under the wing of a banty little Jew named Ian Cohen, a manic street-poet who encouraged me, and--along with poets like Mark Skelley, Patricia Johnson, Ian Mack, John Beard, and a number of others--gave me my early chops, showed me what it was all about, and ultimately convinced me that yes, i could do this. I'm not going to say that all my experiences with the Slam have been clear "wins"--it came to me at a time in my life when i was struggling with a lot of things, and there were situations where (especially once i accepted the responsibility of maintaining or running a slam) i mishandled it--it has also been the vehicle for many good things, probably most of the positive things in my life. I felt like i found something that the odd equipment God had given me could be put to use. It was at a Slam that i met Pastor John Ault and his wife Jane, two people who eventually became mentors and leaders as i re-encountered Christ on a new level. It was the Slam that put a hunger for travel and an edge to my senses, made me brave enough to tackle Jersey, and eventually NYC, for years . . . and not without some success. Some people who have become the best friends i've ever had, or ever will have, i met through the Slam. One individual i met through the Slam, Taalam Acey, has become--especially after seeing him twice in New Jersey, and purchasing his 2-CD set "The Market 4 Change"--almost like a prophet, and certainly somebody who made me more aware of what an awesome, dangerous responsibility it is to take on the title of "poet," to apply it to oneself. I can only hope that i could become one tenth of the poet that he is.

It's really no surprise to me that "Stevedogg," one of my friends from the old Wits' End days, is at the helm of the current incarnation of the Roanoke Poetry Slam. His energy and creative ability will no doubt sustain the new Slam, and i'm looking forward to seeing him, and many of my other old friends, at Studio Roanoke tomorrow night. It will be worth coming back to Roanoke just to see this new incarnation, and to be part of the wind in its sails.

Poetry Slams in general might "shock" or "offend" (oh, how i hate that word!) some people whose concept of poetry begins with Hallmark Cards and ends with Reader's Digest, and it might seem silly or wonky or perverse to people who've been freeze-dried in the academia . . . but, as Marc Smith would say, "So what?" I strongly believe that spoken word venues like this are the last bastion of true "freedom of speech," where people of different social, political, religious, racial, and national backgrounds can come together and find out just how much they have in common . . . and how much they have to learn from one another. A Slam isn't about scores, or about one or two divas who show up just to suck up the attention, or the applause or heckling or even "boos" of a bar-crowd . . . it is a thing that is greater than the sum of its parts, art happening before your eyes. Yes, you'll hear things that you may disagree with. Yes, you'll likely feel the prickly contact with more than a few artistic temperaments. Yes, you'll probably experience everything from rage to tears to hilarity. And, yes, you will probably learn something in spite of yourself. Is it for everyone? No . . . but it darn well should be. I've always maintained that freedoms, liberties, are like muscles . . . if you don't exercise them, they'll grow weak and atrophied, and when you most need to depend on them, they won't be strong enough to hold up. And, from a Christian perspective, if your Faith isn't strong enough to handle being in a place like this, a place where you might encounter in-your-face opposition, a place where people are WHO they are at the top of your lungs . . . then how can your Faith walk in the world there these things are real, but might otherwise escape your attention?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

New Poem: Bitterness Enough

Bitterness Enough
winding through the thickets, laurel hells,
mosscrowned forests . . .
like greenbrier, tangles of something wicked,
wretched, vetchlike strangling
what could be underblossoms here.

when something has clutched so long
that it's regarded as part of the mental scenery,
it isn't hard to see the disease,
here in seasondeath, winter's colder breath
breathing down your neck
in icy, fetid gusts
a yeth hound looking over your shoulder
reading it's own legend in every book.

pound the keys,
clutch the pen in a deathgrip,
spill the ink like blood,
and build a cage to trap it in . . .
and once you make the key,
throw it away.

you need only survive until the vernal equinox,
and Spring, and Rebirth . . .
forgiveness covering the jagged scars
in the earth
with gentler blossoms
and kinder foliage.

with every seed you plant in the heart's soil,
say a prayer for the crop that will come,
so you don't need to fear the harvest . . .
there is bitterness enough
in the foulness others have sown
seeking only to stuff the barns of their own appetites,
their bloated self-importance gloating
over sharecroppers
who never even received the gleanings.

there's poison in that soil.