Poetry

˜˜˜˜

 

The Alchemist

 (1990)

“Der Goldmacher is der einzige wahre Wohlthater der Menscheit.” 

                                                                                               Friedrich Nietzsche  

The simple shining of the world’s presence leaps forth in the alchemic Now of hope:

               transfiguring immediacy into fire,

                         changing darkness into light.

We have seen- 

               that knowledge cannot save, and founders in the despair of crumbling centuries:

                  discarded beliefs, lost paradigms flowing forever pastward,

                                              towards oblivion, into dark.

We have seen- 

               values, and the terrified face, struggle for the future listless against a backdrop

                             of realities no longer believed, no longer loved- 

                     disintegrating toward the twilight of unreality and myth.

And the centuries pound forward, adamant,

               pressing us dark against the unknown face,

                             relentless-  knowledge cannot save,

                                            merciless-  values do not sustain;

And we have seen ourselves- 

               belonging wholly nowhere,

                              in the dark of the unknown face- alone.

Yet the simple shining of the world’s presence leaps forth in the alchemic Now of hope!

               and a fire scintillates even in this stillness!

              It bursts forth shimmering, a silent spectrum of unknown sparks- 

                               Despair dissolved in the great world work, even now.

And we see- 

               emptiness shine forth its inner light,

                              beyond knowing, the golden glow breaking fast,

                                             brilliant between concepts-

                                                in radiance the silent paradigms surpassed.

And we see- 

               the simple shining of the world-presence,

                             embrace our being-in-the-world,

                               and lift us gently toward the sacred ceremony of hope,

The Eschaton breaks forth, redeeming value in the unknown light,

               of the alchemic face, radiant in mystery,

                              gathering again the world,

                                           and promising transfiguration- 

                 Our Transformation-  in the simple shining of the holy fire.

The world to be, beyond the nothingness of knowledge and utility,

               leaps forth that radiant face,

                              in the alchemic light beyond being,

                                             that purifying pyre-

The world leaps forth, beyond the dingy paths of everyday,

               out of the sacred silence of our being,

                              and toward the chemic mystery of the living moment,

                                             a fire in our Now, until that Now is all.

                                      *     *     *     *     *

Philosophy

3 May 2003

 

The dreams of philosophy, when we are young,

Are the lethal target of the teachers of philosophy,

They must be killed, and the hard reality of this

Relentless discipline, must break the student’s heart,

For philosophy today, is quite sure that,

The child is no longer father to the man,

For philosophy today,

The soul has no need to build its ship of death,

It is meaningless, the philosophers say today,

To live in eternity’s sunrise,

All you need to know, is the structure of argument,

Not that beauty is truth, truth beauty,

Philosophy to me was once life, and hope, and dream,

But then came my education, Ph.D, and danger of death,

I have had to spend my life unlearning,

I have had to live my life relearning,

The ear attends to this call from the depths,

Of our humanity, of the deepest springs of hope, and life,

Philosophy is not this thin-faced logic,

Wrapping it cerebral tentacles around the mask of death,

Philosophy is not this hard-nosed factuality,

Sacrificing the vision and wonder of the flowers in the field,

Philosophy is not this logos-driven set of abstractions,

Thrown over the buzzing, blooming confusion of our lives,

And smothering the deep purple of the lilacs,

And the ecstatic whiteness of the bridal wreath in bloom.

Philosophy without the thinking-feeling-willing self,

Is the mask of death, the empty husk of peer-reviewed publications,

Philosophy without the visionary, dreaming self,

Is a fetter on the revolutionary upsurge of wild existence,

Philosophy without the deeply wondering self,

Crushes the absolute mystery at the heart of being,

Philosophy is this longing in our hearts,

That must spring forth in all we do,

For our hearts and minds reflect the heart of being,

And the deepest springs of inspiration,

The wisdom and compassion,

The sorrow, and the ecstasy,

Philosophy is our deepest, purest life,

And the thought that often lies too deep for words.

*     *     *     *     *

Junkanoo Beach, Nassau

 3 July 2000

 

The blue-green waters of this channel, where black bodies glisten in the wavelets

and schools of fish ripple the surface in a timeless dance,

Where pleasure boats come and go in the calm waters,

                    or glisten in the sun, white in their moorings,

Where immense cruise ships spend the night at birth,

and commercial ships discharge their traded cargo,

The lighthouse on the left, white against the blue sky,

                     the sun rising at the right, the clouds, the waters full of light.

This is not Havana harbor, two hours west by plane,

            a sailboat cruises under power down the channel,  gracefully even without sails,

The air feels cooler here, fresher,  a weather pattern perhaps less thermal, more social,

                   This island of black people,  escaped slaves from Haiti,

                                        is a place of freedom and prosperity,

Due, it’s true, to the wealthy North American tourists,   arriving daily on their planes and ships,

With their stupid, shallow thoughts,  and smug, self-satisfied causal clothing

                   and vacant smiles-  but nonetheless,

The waters here do not float with oily scum,  they float the image of that lighthouse

                  and home the crabs and lobsters, fish and shiny stones on the clear bottom.

The waters here float pleasure boats,  small boats for working people,

                  large ones for the rich,

They are not empty, like Havana, except for children risking illness,

                  in the effluent of inefficient factories.

People do not risk their lives here to escape,  small boats on a vast expanse of sea.

Nassau is a stopping point for me this morning,

                 No place to live- a nightmare of capitalist smugness- 

                                 a birth for the night on the journey home.

What we want and need is not Havana, and what we need is not this pristine

                 Junkanoo Beach,

The longing for freedom in our hearts, is for deep transformation,

                 the jailbreak out of history-  genuine newness!

This channel to the sea,  where morning breaks above the passionate

                  confusion of our lives,

Is not Havana harbor – a birth for the night, a turning point

                    for reflection and for hope.

*     *     *     *     *

The Children

March, 2001

 

(i)

I have seen the curious bright faces of the Nicaraguan kids,

            in a small village far from the terror of the world;

And I have splashed with the wide-eyed children of the Cuban countryside,

           in a mountain stream barely ninety miles from the belly of the beast;

I have heard the evening echos of children in a Spanish campsite,

           in the mountainous holy north, among ancient Cathedrals of hand carved stone;

I have seen the children in the slums of Dhaka,

          bright colored saris on the girls, curious and unafraid;

I have seen multitudes of tiny children in Calcutta, in the light of first dawn,

          wrapped in threadbare blankets, no pillow on the concrete walks;

I have seen Iraqi children, twisted and swollen with strange diseases,

    their pain screaming silently, even through the innocence of a young life;

(ii)

And I have known the beast, lived in its belly � the beast of greed, of power twisted,

          its systemic, dispassionate hatred for the children of our world;

I have seen the poisonous weapons of destruction throughout the globe,

          chemicals sprayed on farm children of Columbia, child soldiers in El Salvador and Sierra Leone;

I have known it selling weapons in the global marketplace, protecting ideology:

          marketing free enterprise and jet fighters � selling children into prostitution.

And I have shuddered at this insatiable gorging of gold, clutched by twisted minds and hands,

          factory children lacerating fingers and hearts in Haiti, India, and Brazil;

I cry each night for the children without parents, without homes, without hope,

          the skies of Afghanistan and Serbia rain cluster bombs, smart bombs, uranium bombs.

I have seen the swollen veins of greed and power, towering banks, traffic jammed Wall Streets

          and monetary funds, extending tentacles through all green lands where children sing and dance;

(iii)

And my heart pours out to the children of the world in their sun-lit golden play,

          to their blind faith in the power of life � that is about to betray them;

My heart bleeds for the children � and for the cruel innocence,

          of a fate that will soon strangle bright faces into hopelessness and dead eyes;

I have seen those curious bright faces of the children of the world – everywhere,

          against the bitter black background of capital accumulation;

And my heart recoils from the managers of our global death camp,

          neck-tied accountants, uniformed officers, manicured politicians, prominent investors;

Whose dead hearts and greedy fingers pump limitless gold-black blood,

          through the insatiable belly of their beast.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Bangladesh – A Poem

13 January 2004

People dot the fields of Bangladesh,

Dark bodies in the steamy sunlight,

Bare feet lost in muddy water and vivid green new plants,

Singing a song of beauty in their work.

Songs sung together, basic to life in Bangladesh,

Rise from the depths of that communal life,

That binds the spirit in a common love,

Of country, land, and God.

Bright colored saris on the women,

Dark brown bodies of the men,

Immobile in the watery slow landscape,

Sing young and old in eternal repetition.

The Moslem faith of trust in God,

Integrates their timeless, endless work,

Into the immensity of God’s universe,

And sings these fields as their eternal home.

The watery fields of Bangladesh,

Working home for the rural poor,

A canopy of trees on high ground,

Signals village huts and simple trades.

These fields a lake in monsoon season,

For fishing, simple nets on bamboo stilts,

Village now an island, songs of the fishermen

In a world of water.

A clump of trees on high ground,

The dry season or the monsoon,

Alternate in an eternal note of sadness,

Yet joy – water and sun – the glory of God.

Hearth and simple trades,

A community of prayer and work,

Singing a melancholy song,

Of beauty, poverty, and remorse.


*   *   *   *   *

La Habana Vieja

2 July 2002

Sitting on the balcony

           of apartamiento seis in Old Havana,

The sweaty night freshened by a breath of oily air

           and the screech of brakes from Terminal de Trenes,

I watch the stately unseen drift of the planet Venus

           across the sky in splendid isolation

                    above the passion and the heat.

She slowly sinks to the horizon,

            the fixed stars behind,

                      a faint canopy amongst the inky black.

Momentarily a television antenna

           obliterates that eye of beauty,

                      among the forest of antennas

On the tops of buildings three stories up

           and crowded in the noisy city streets of La Habana Vieja.

Oh shining jewel of light!

           You sink to the horizon of tangled edifices,

   leaving the inky blackness and the perspiring electric lights behind.

Venus has disappeared!

           And with you a tiny jewel of hope among the tangle of antennas.

  • Below – a skeen of words and images drawn from the unseen night       

  •               into a million apartamientos – the sounds of Cubavision

Radiating from a thousand doors and windows

           open in the heat crowded night,

                     into myriad sparks of mental light

                                 faint as the stars in the darkened sky behind,

Into a million cravings for dinero, for sex, for love, for dance, for fantasy world USA,

           celoso, invidioso, carino, amor

                      Socialismo o Muerte!

Oh shining single star of light!

           or rather, noble planet on your independent course

                      among the pale estrellas,

You are to me the hombre nuevo of the heavens,

           you are the new humanity of deepened consciousness

                      splendid in your independent isolation

                                above our world.

To gaze upon your stately drift

           oh single eye of brightness and serenity,

                      our beacon, drawing us apart to deep awareness:

Awakening in us the universal vision,

           the embracing compassion of human transformation,

                      beyond the tangle of antennas, the electric wires,

The passionate apartamientos, the dance, the dreams,

           Your beacon arises forever again each night,

And for us each night,

           you sink unseen into the dark horizon,

                      the trackless tangle of antennas and emotions.

Un hombre viejo,

           drunk in the night,

                      ejaculates a string of Spanish curses.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Una Isla Sin Barcos

               1 July 2002

 

In the sweaty heat

   of the Cuban afternoon,

The wind feels good high up

     from the lighthouse at El Morro.

 

La Habana lies before us,

     harbor and sea, white buildings and blue waves,

         like all such things,

              beautiful from a distance.

 

La fortress grande at El Morro:

    ten foot think walls, sheer embankments

Slotted windows, cannon emplacements–

    impregnable,

Built by black Africans — enslaved.

 

We command the harbor at La Habana,

    Spanish masters command before us,

To protect their stolen island,

    With its wealth of sugar cane and slaves.

 

I meet, a Cuban expatriate

    on the walkway of the lighthouse,

         returned some 43 years too late:

“Una pregunta, habla ingles?

     “This lovely harbor and calm inviting sea 

     “Why are there no pleasure boats?

“Of course there are only few commercial ships,

      “Everyone understands el bloqueo

“But could it be that Cubanos don’t boat?

     No pleasure boats,

          Una isla sin barcos?”

 

I reply: Cubanos dance —

     With the music in their blood, bailan,

With the rhythms in their supple bodies, bailan,

      With the ecstasy of their passionate hearts.

 

The joy of male and female permeates this island,

     Ninos dance before they walk,

          The salsa, the ballet, the discotec,

Musica is everwhere.

     Socialismo o muerte!

          Pero sin barcos,

Patria o muerte!

       Pero los Cubanos no le gustan barcos.

 

From El Morro we look into history,

     A plaque on the wall to the brave heros

          Who fell in 1762,

Defending the slave-built city against the British,

     A plaque on the opposite wall to the brave heros

          of England — who gave their lives in the attack.

 

Cuba does not belong to the Spanish,

     Cuba does not belong to the British,

          Cuba does not belong to Yanqui imperialists,

Cuba esta libre,

     The Hotel Havana Hilton renamed el hotel Havana Libre.

 

In the harbor of La Habana,

     No pleasure boats sparkle in the sunlight,

To celebrate Cuban freedom,

     Cubans don’t boat, they dance.

 

The immediacy of the dance, the salsa rhythms

     The great here and now of the supple passion,

The African drum beat in la sangre,

     The sensuous movements of the female body,

Express a joy of living in the Cuban soul,

     And express a longing for freedom

          in the soul of the slave.

 

This dance is in the blood,

     of every Cuban child–

These grand children of slaves,

     who fought for their isla bonita,

          longing for freedom.

 

Sweaty sensuous bodies,

     In the freedom of the dance,

Celebrate Cuba belonging to the Cubans,

     Cubanos don’t boat–they dance.          

                                             *     *     *     *     *     *     *

                              Poetry – A Contention

26 July 2003

 

                                     (1)

“This is no country for old men,”

       sings my friend,

              that greatest of poets,

All the summer long they sing,

       the young in one another’s arms

              whatever is begotten, born, and dies,

So my friend the poet,

       with an eye upon eternity,

             sets ship to sail for the holy city of Byzantium.

I have harkened not his call,

       to board that ship,

              to where the gold-wrought artifice,

Of poetry, art, and literature reside,

       to where the collective memory of the past,

              is anthologized for drowsy students,

Or bought to decorate the halls of power,

       between the Renaissance and the Blue Period,

              where stolen wealth craves blessings on its deeds.

This country of fish, flesh, and fowl,

       in this respect is also not my country,

              friend poet,

But it is the country of your widening gyre,

       where the center does not hold,

              and the blood-dimmed tied is loosed upon the world,

It is the country of widening hunger,

       of planetary misery, unnatural death,

              of weapons, and endless war.

                                 (2)

Who will encounter that rough beast?

       that slinks through town and village,

              the young in one another’s arms oblivious,

Who will mount a crusade to Bethlehem,

       confront the infidel in his lair,

              and retrieve the holy grail of history?

Do you too, friend poet, lack all conviction,

       that you wish to escape,

              to the holy city of Byzantium?

Does the hour of the beast,

       come round at last,

              portent a fatalism beyond hope?

Where are you, friend poet,

       when there is need of vehicles,

               for the word and hope of God?

Surely you have read your Blake,

       surely you know that God exists

              and lives only through the human heart.

This is no country for old men,

       for the ceremony of innocence is downed,

               by the Lords of the Earth,

Who summon that rough beast,

       with greed, injustice,

              and endless war.

                               (3)

Does a poet have no role to play,

       in this summer land of birth and death,

              where the innocent in one another’s arms,

Are inundated by the blood-dimmed tide,

       digested by the Lords of Earth,

              and severed from the God of history?

Who is the voice of hope,

       in this land of birth and death,

              which is the land of history?

Of struggle and hope,

       of reflection and redemption,

              of miracle and ecstatic life,

You should have read your Lawrence,

       for whatever the dead or unborn may know,

              they cannot know this miracle,

Of being alive and potent in the flesh,

       this once only, the impact,

              of this miraculous, shining cosmos!

The rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem,

       but it need not be born,

              for the great hope of history,

Exists and lives,

       through the human heart,

              thy kingdom come!

This is precisely the country for old men,

       my poet friend,

              for we are not in one another’s arms,

And we are freed,

       like the prophets of old,

              to listen, and to speak,

We can hear the crawling of the beast,

       moving toward Bethlehem,

              and discern the blood-dimmed tide,

We can hear the call of God,

       and like the navi of old,

              we speak because we hear,

We must not set sail,

       for the holy city of Byzantium,

              we belong here.

                                 (4)

This is our country,

       for deeper than whatever is begotten, born, or dies,

              lie the depths of history,

We are the voice of the kingdom,

        the voice of the great hope,

               for mercy, justice, and redemption,

Do poets have no function,

       but to keep a drowsy emperor awake,

              in the holy city of Byzantium?

Set your sails for battle, friend poet,

       in the storms and squalls of history,

              forget that gold-wrought eternity,

Our ship must fly the banner,

       of eternity breaking into history,

              in action for a transformed world,

Old men must wield the helm,

       who hear that voice and heed that call,

              to write the poems of history,

Our ship must sail beneath the banner,

       abreast this blood-dimmed tide,

              of the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Thoughts of a Terrorist in West Africa

Kara, Togo, 14 June 2003

 

                              (1)

A terrorist, according to the dictionary, and the FBI,

      is one who spreads terror,

            in the hearts of men,

      In order to attain social, political,

            or economic goals.

                            (2)

Here in northern Togo,

      where all faces, hands, and feet are black,

            where they speak French, and native languages,

And I do not understand much of what they say,

      where men, women, and children smile,

            friendly and relaxed,

                  flashing beautiful teeth, and eyes.

                          (3)

Here in northern Togo, I live for a month

      with the people,

            yet not with the people, as always,

Thanks to my European and North American,

      ancestors, slave traders, conquistadors,

            who made me rich at their expense,

Thanks to the global economic system,

      ensuring that I remain rich,

            at their expense.

                       (4)

Here the people are very poor,

      houses small, crowded, one room, simple,

They know that faces, hands, and feet called white,

      are rich,

            yet they do not hate, or beg,

They smile, and give directions, and help me

      in the market, the computer caf�,

            to make a long distance telephone call,

                  and buy a doormat for my rented room.

                            (5)

I buy bread and cheese, avocados and peanuts,

      at a street-side table,

            or from a woman walking by,

A huge bucket of mangoes,

      balanced on her head,

             I hold a rich white hand out to her,

                  full of coins,

She picks out the proper amount,

      no more.

                            (6)

I came to West Africa to talk about world problems,

      and to learn – about world problems,

            which are their problems, in a certain way,

                  more than my problems.

                          (7)

Their world problems are very simple,

      easily studied, readily understood,

These friendly smiling people,

      live with deprivation,

            and disease, and daily death.

                         (8)

Clean water hard to come by,

      sanitation difficult,

Children play near the ever-present

      streams of putrid water.

            “What happens to the poorest who

                  cannot afford a few coins,

                        for a bucket of clean water?”  I ask.

“They die,” is the reply.

                           (9)

“When I work to feed the poor,”

      says Dom Helder Camara of Brazil,

            “they call me a saint.”

“When I ask why the poor are poor,

      they call me a communist,”

            or a traitor, or a terrorist.

                            (10)

Here am I an ordinary man in a strange land,

      as I turn my face to my neighbors on this Earth,

            in Brazil, in Ghana, India, or Nicaragua,

Or my neighbors here in Kara,

      my heart is filled with weariness, yet hope.

                           (11)

All I have to give,

      is my conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,

Which should be enough,

      since all humans have these abilities,

            and can ask,

                  why the poor are poor.

                          (12)

This simple question,

      so clear, so obvious,

           borne of conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,

Strikes terror in the hearts of those,

      who rule the world,

Terror in the hearts of those who wish,

      to possess their riches,

            in innocence and ignorance.

                        (13)

It is fitting that they call me,

      a traitor, or communist,

            or terrorist.

As I give a child a piece of candy,

      from my bag,

            or tip the girl serving soda,

                  a few coins,

Or share a home-cooked meal,

      of corn-mush and sauce,

            prepared by my new friend,

A woman who teaches me,

      a little French.

                         (14)

For the question why the poor are poor,

      is terror to the Lords of the Earth,

            is terror to those who want,

To possess, in innocence,

      and ignorance,

And those who dominate the rest,

      in the World Bank, Washington, DC, and the Pentagon.

                         (15)

The only question necessary,

      borne of conscience, solidarity, and intelligence,

            the question they call “terrorist,”

Is why the good people of Kara,

      live with deprivation,

            disease – and daily death.

 

*     *     *     *     *

Mountain Lake

29 July 2004

 

Great white clouds in the vast blue sky,

Hang like magical islands,

In an ocean of light.

The sky, a thrilling brilliant blue,

Darker hues above, paling to an ecstatic silver blue,

At the horizon.

 

The lake calm, jubilant with tiny wavelets,

Reflecting the bottomless joy of sky and clouds,

Green forest mirrored at every shore,

Eternal rocks and boulders salute the gray-green water’s edge.

Water, sky, and shore blend into the deep mystery,

Of nature’s eternal beauty.

 

It is enough to be still amidst this beauty,

The soul refreshed, relaxing its daily fret,

Yields to nature’s grace,

And finds again,

Its bottomless connection,

To the Eden of its birth.

 

*     *     *     *     *