Friday, September 20, 2013

Two Cries while Serving Tea in an 18th Century Miniature

    I.  To My Master

Caught, I am, in servitude
Miniaturized as one
in Orient’s multitude
I am your slave to serve tea.

“Tread quietly!  Do not disturb!”
So you command.
Color given only to my shoes.
Only my outline given form,
My self to disappear into the paper

You have had me framed
in colors gay and floral
But your heavy black vines
are placed to imprison me.

I shall protest once more.

II. To my Creator

You, with the power to create a universe
as God have drawn me into servitude
yet pretending to art’s neutrality.
Giving color to the flowers and even
the lowly shoes on my feet
you drew me caught and bland,
to blend as ochre
into the paper as if I, a woman
am to disappear, becoming wall paper
for life’s passings by.  What have you
caught with the heavy vines,
if not man’s oppression?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Progress in America:

(3) A Book, A Movie and A Beautiful Day

    Ben Fountain sharply criticizes the militaristic, commercial patriotism of American society in his novel Billy Lynn’s Long Half Time Walk.  Echoing the tones of gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson’s mining of the absurdist vein of America’s celebration of its military, Fountain’s novel takes place during the halftime of a Thanksgiving Day Cowboys-Bears game in Dallas.
    Billy Lynn and his ‘Bravo Company’ had fought with great heroics in Iraq.  The battle was caught on camera and televised on FOX news.  The Bravo Marines form an over the top collection of heroic and skeptical warriors flown home for a short cross country tour to boost support for Bush’s Great Fiasco.  Wherever their tour brings them, they hear the same patriotic and religious drivel: They are ‘protecting our civilization’ by ‘fighting the terrorists,’ by their ‘honor,’ ‘great sacrifice,’ and ‘Christianity.’  They are doing ‘God’s work’ and bringing ‘civilization’ to Iraq.  They however have a much finer grid of experience and these words don’t have much purchase in their experience. 
    Having lost his best friend in the action caught by the cameras, Billy Lynn is a 19 year old virgin Marine.  The author tells the story from Billy’s point of view: utilizing a third person stream of consciousness.  Coming from a hard scrabble American family, Billy remains philosophically detached from the celebrations of American Militarism, Materialism and Patriotism.  Events cascade both in his mind and in the stadium as the NFL’s celebration of the Bravo Company escalates.
    Strangely, the criticism of American militarism echoes the action in Aida.  I saw a fabulous filmed performance of the opera by La Scala.  This performance is directed the great Franco Zeffirelli and captures the drama of Verdi's great opera on the big screen.  In the first two acts, Verdi portrays a heady celebration of war and warriors in ancient Egypt.  The celebration involves the same basic ingredients (religion, sex, and patriotism) that Fountain employs.  And the warriors’ concerns, at the center of both dramas are, though verbally supported, are abandoned by the civilian authorities and spectators.  Both end up using the warriors for their own purposes. 
    And how strange it was to exit the movie on a beautiful day to enter a car where war was still the central topic on the news.  The disbelief was only heightened by the publication of a column by Eliot Cohen in the Washington Post.  Cohen, a great neo-con renowned for his support of Bush’s crazy venture into Iraq, admonishes America and it’s President, ‘you have no cause to be war-weary.’  The war is distant for you.  You aren’t overseas fighting.  And Mr. President you must be able to lead the country to war, not celebrating the weariness of its population for war. 
    People have long had art to reflect on these all too human horrors.  But, hey, we humans have come along way.  We’ve got the internal combustion engine, unmanned remote control bombers and we’re even all connected.  Now let us try to invent institutions fit for the future - allowing us to have a chance to solve our shared problems as we share their consequences.  Only that way are we likely to survive this tumultuous century without great costs. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Lucky Retirement - a labor day poem

Lucky Retirement

Labor Day 2013 - draft

- (eventually for publication in Faculty Voice)

Can’t believe I’m retired now,
rather than in ’67 when,
being sent to heaven
care of the USN was the option.

Can’t imagine I retired instead
of dying on one of those hospital beds
when they had no meds
in boot camp.  They’d sent
all supplies  to Nam.
We wiped our shit on walls
for lack of paper in the stalls.

How’d I retire when
my company was sent
to the USS Liberty
to be blown up at sea
by planes - each flown
by an Israeli?

Can’t see how I retired when
so many lost their home
and fortune and now spend
days as greeters in some
K-Mart, Wal-Mart nothing place
perpetually owning a smiling face.

The dice were nice
in the roll for me. 
Friends say ‘you deserved it.’
Others say ‘that bastard’s lucky.’