...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Friday, February 27, 2015

10. Sabots

9. Trade In

At the Maserati dealership, soccer plays
on the wall, children are offered keychains
with "Fiat" shields, the coffee's in a Keurig,
it's free, water's in the fridge.
The salesman's from Lithuania, the manager
was born in Newport, the loan officer relies
on a knee walker to move to his desk,
he checks his phone while pages reload.
A couple parks their Range Rover outside,
they walk in unsmiling, their age disparity
is not great, they said they'd e-mailed earlier,
they have the $90k car fired up, it's white.
Ronaldo scores a header, we wait for
the Toyota to clear, it was traded in
three weeks ago, the man shows us our
credit scores, he offers a warranty.
Jesus drove to the desert in an emptied
Suburu, Satan's enticements were boring,
the wild animals were immersed in deeds,
the angels, were they angels, rode in a bus.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

8. Soon Enough

Plane over the house sounds
like feedback from a hot mic,

or wounded body in bed.
People descend to earth.

Their things descend with them.
At home, finally, the kitchen waits:

In the corner, coffee, quiet,
its maker the noise drain in a tub,

cleared throat before speech.
I have several friends who’ve lately…

“I have no words,” I write each time,
not having to say anything physically,

fecklessly, accompanied by
multiple ums in erratic rhythm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

7. Good Job, Path

The tide rose and rose.
Trash on the currents swayed.

I always see cars in schools
chase down narrow channels, 

moving like trash in circles.
I saw no fish in the water today. 

Wind applied its pressure, concealing
by texture the small wigglers.

When it’s calm and clear they flash
a silver premise taken up

by tern, by pelican.
Good job, wind. Good job, tide, 

smoothing sand so patiently:
Because of you we understand

the parable of the footprints.
Cars, my feelings for you are mixed.

Monday, February 23, 2015

6. "Black Mirror," "The Loss of the Creature," Wendell Berry, and the Transformation of the Future

I've watched the first two episodes of "Black Mirror," the BBC anthology show (anthology a la "The Twilight Zone"). The first episode was suspensefully structured in a way that made it hard to turn away, especially given--or because of--the repellent premise of the plot. (Look it up. It's revealed in the first three minutes.) The second episode was something else entirely, more unsettling than any television show I recall watching. I won't discuss the plot (no spoilers here), but it reminded me of how Walker Percy's "preformed symbolic complex," which filters all experiences a person has through a lens of cultural expectations, is inevitable. It can only be transcended by awareness and great effort, or by catastrophe. (This is from the essay "The Loss of the Creature.")

If that preformed symbolic complex were monetized and centrally controlled, acquiesced to by a willing populace, you'd have the plot to Brave New World. That book wasn't compelling the way the second episode of "Black Mirror" was, with its concision and its sickening, unavoidable outcome. Charlie Brooker, the creator of the series, has said, "If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? The 'black mirror' of the title is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone." In "Black Mirror," nobody's redeemed from the habit.

Which brings me to Wendell Berry. In this interview, he says, about the two political outlooks in our country, liberal and conservative, "Both evidently suppose that the only effective limit of human conduct is technological capability: whatever is possible must be done. And both evidently assume that nature, the land communities, and the economies of land use can be safely exploited or ignored." Exhibit A, although it's really something like Exhibit 98,712,349,879,874,856,197,309,470,197,234: "Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced." As sure as law.

Hooray? Yeech?

[From the lectionary reading for this week of lent: "If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath."]

5. Song

In process...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

4. I buy organic milk, I drive a hybrid, I send my kid to a charter school

Fraser explains the economics of decline effectively. The working class may have abandoned Marxian "class struggle," but, he says, the capitalists haven't; they have pretty much won the class conflict by destroying labor unions. But the problem for him goes beyond economics; the disappearance of the left-wing political imagination is his real concern. His analysis thus focuses mostly on the cultural and ideological.

He points to the distractions offered by consumer culture, "an emancipation of the imaginary and the libidinal whose thrills and dreaminess are prefabricated." Consumerism and mass media offer pleasures that are private, that take people away from the political and social and economic grievances they share with others.

He emphasizes the particular idea of "freedom" that provides the heart of Republican Party ideology: Freedom in America is the freedom to succeed through individual initiative (rather than cooperative effort). Our heroes are the entrepreneurs, the "job creators," and the enemies of freedom are the government regulations and taxes that shackle their creativity and energy (and which otherwise might go to serve social needs and the public good).

The '60s maxim "the personal is political" meant that issues that seemed private — above all, women's oppression — were in fact widely shared and required collective action to bring change. Fraser argues that what began as a call for liberation has today become a justification for avoiding the political, for substituting personal solutions for political ones: eat organic food, drive a Prius, send your kids to charter schools.


Friday, February 20, 2015

3. flowerfence

2. "Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them"

It’s assumed you’ll give alms, you’ll fast,
     you’ll pray, that you’ll practice piety.
That reward motivates action.
That there are hypocrites who like to be
     seen suffering.
That being seen suffering brings you the
     praise of men.
That that’ll be all you get.
That you have a room with a door.
That God sees and rewards those
     who go to their rooms and close
     their doors before they pray.
That God can see through walls.
It’s assumed you have means to disguise
     the discomfort you feel, that you should,
     at least sometimes.
That you’re saving for the future whether
     you know it or not.
That the audience in the story, standing
     around or sitting, and hearing these
     assumptions knows what they mean.
That they’re not  the only audience.
That those who wrote it down got it right.
That it’s true.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

1. Ash Wednesday

You’d think by now I’d know it’s not
The mixing of drink, but the absence
Of water that makes my head ring,
Unsnoozably, mornings like these.

Consequence of Fat Tuesday, or not,
I need help and hope the forgiver
Doesn’t tire of Lord Lord from my lips,
When my body is miles away.

No matter. A moment makes its own shape,
Owns its own needs. Coffee’s a mercy.
Advil, too. What loss there is
Is cause enough to mark a cross

On the forehead each sunup,
Each evening to burn the temple down.

0. Lenten Practice 2015

I did something similar last year. I'm trying it again, though I haven't worked it all out, will never work it all out. Anyway, something everyday, just like the slogan promises...

The plan:

Weekend: Song
Monday: Something Else
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: Poems
Friday: Pictures
Sunday: A good word

Monday, February 16, 2015

Matthew 6:34b (ESV)

"Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Ben Franklin, Vegetarian

His boat lay becalmed off Block Island.
The crew caught and cooked some cod.

The scent of its singed flesh pulled his mind
Toward the man he used to be:

He used to eat meat. Applying his mind
To what he saw minutes before--on the deck,

Inert before the knife, the caught fish cut
To reveal inside smaller fish the fish

Themselves had eaten--he reasoned that
These creatures, who regard their own

As suitable food, may thereby be regarded by men
As suitable food.  He dined “most heartily”

Upon their singed flesh, grateful for Reason,
The fortune of it, the fortune of good weather

Unmentioned, the boat upon which he dined
Becalmed, Block Island just yonder.

Friday, February 6, 2015

True Comedy

In an apostolic exhortation issued at the end of 2013, [Pope Francis] labelled trickle-down economic theories "crude and naive." The problems of the poor, he said, had to be "radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality." That went quite a ways beyond the sort of tepid proposals for job creation and "family formation" that [Mitt] Romney made [recently], and the response from Republicans has involved a certain amount of rationalization. "The guy is from Argentina--they haven't had real capitalism," Paul Ryan, Romney's former running mate, and a Catholic, said.

“It’s sometimes very difficult to listen to the Pope,” [Rick] Santorum noted last month, after Francis, in remarks about “responsible parenting”—widely interpreted as an opening for a discussion on family planning—said that there was no need for Catholics to be “like rabbits.” Santorum echoed Ryan’s suggestion that Argentine exceptionalism might be at work: “I don’t know what the Pope was referring to there. Maybe he’s speaking to people in the Third World.”


Monday, February 2, 2015

What you want to do makes you read the text[s] to confirm what you want to do

It's like some sort of loop:

'Turner writes: “The way that most white American evangelicals read the Bible did not lead them to oppose glaring social injustices.” No. The acceptance of glaring social injustices led to “the way that most white American evangelicals read the Bible.”'

     As a young apprentice, Franklin had read a book extolling vegetarianism. He embraced the diet, but not just for moral and health reasons. His main motive was financial: it enabled him to take the money his brother allotted him for food and save half for books. While his coworkers went off for hearty meals, Franklin ate biscuits and raisins and used that time for study, "in which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attended temperance in eating and drinking."
     But Franklin was a reasonable soul, so wedded to being rational that he became adroit and rationalizing. During his voyage from Boston to New York, when his boat lay becalmed off Block Island, the crew caught and cooked some cod. Franklin at first refused any, until the aroma from the frying pan became to enticing. With droll self-awareness, he later recalled what happened:
     I balanced some time between principle and inclination until I recollected that when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs. "Then," I thought, "if you eat one another, I don't see why we may not eat you." So I dined upon cod very heartily and have since continued to eat as other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.
 [from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson]

In the first case, in both cases, I'm provoked to ask what ways I'm reading that's blinkering my ability to read. In the second case, I love that the first paragraph makes B.F. almost saintly in his industriousness--inspiringly so--and in the last paragraph his all-too-humanness outs itself.