Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

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Spin Again…

globeMost people live where they live
and die where they die but not me
I was going places and seeing things
I’ve heard there’s so much to see
I’ve got to; I’m not one to forgive.

You can’t tell me it’s all the same
no matter where one may travel
because even paupers and kings
know to set out on paths of gravel
to search for new views to claim.

It may be the path itself I take
or it could be the capital I’ll find
I won’t know until I spread my wings
And set out to venture resigned
Even if lost, it’ll be no mistake.

I’ve waited too long to commence
had too many excuses to stay
lingering one too many springs
there’s no better time than today
I’ve no longer a good defense.

When I was young I was brave
I dreamed nothing would interrupt
my exploration for foreign beings
but I didn’t anticipate how abrupt
just staying here would enslave.

Spin a globe, see where it lands
Risk an exotic foreign destination
Cut yourself free from apron strings
Make the journey your aspiration
Even if no one else understands.

Unless where the globe would stop
the spot where your finger lands
is a plot where a hearse brings
dreamers back to dust’s demands
and that final six foot drop.

In that case, spin again.

Learning how to handle this time thing…

Everyone needs time that’s
quiet to think or not,
just time without, not
simply unconnected, not
simply quiet, but time enough;
I’ve seen it done and done
well; my Dad would stand on
the front steps in almost any
weather at the end of each day
and do nothing – not sit
or shuffle or hum or sing;
it was his time enough;
when I’d open the door
he wouldn’t react, he
would still have his time
enough; and I could stay
with him as long as
I said nothing, did nothing;
never, not once, was I
asked by Mom to go get
Daddy, ask Daddy, tell him
a single, solitary thing
while he was on the front
steps; it was his time, and
I learned this is how the
time thing works: you just go
stand somewhere and do
nothing but that, without
trying even, and especially,
if I don’t seem to have time
enough, and I my only fight
is to wonder if I’m doing it right
or not.

Sourdough toast and life… my life…

I’m fond of sourdough toast buttered generously,
it’s an indulgence, and rare, but thoroughly enjoyable;
like children laughing where they shouldn’t be;
smiles from strangers who have no reason to notice;
kind compliments from those who care and say so;
these are all nice things, to be sure, and just as rare;
crisp autumn days as fine, and the warmth of spring,
still summer nights too, but little in winter, for me;
and that strange feeling of uncontrollable emotion
when you see something beautiful, something small
which no one else notices until they see you cry;
but mostly I enjoy sourdough toast buttered generously.

 

That interchapter I like…

It’s ponderous lumber makes
that interlude into its own chapter,
it’s dry progress threatens
the snail’s infamous reputation;
the turtle’s nameless fame
is itself a Joad, mesmeric lethargy;
it’s path is a migration against
the desiccated earth – dustbowl dry.

Yes passive, yes armed appliance
the witnesses are numerous and none,
yes agents at first swerving
then steering a targeted shell upset;
soup meat or yellow-nailed apathy
there are so many, many of us afoot;
kicking when upturned, feigned anger,
flailing limbs but our eyes lack humor.

Read on, read on the highway,
we cross and pretend to look both ways;
somehow knowing the dangers
will do something for our advantage;
go on, go on and sluggishly pilot
trusting our conspicuous shell conceals;
the road crossed is burning hot,
there’s no reason to be going this way.

I like Steinbeck’s turtle….

Read it again, please…

Today is Just a Page

The marks have no moral,
they know no stories,
nor me or mine,
no memories surfacing
in the quiet of the day’s ebb
haunting and mocking what can’t
be changed by dreams,
they are carried along
as the wave of the page turns slowly
to the next leaving anyone
reading to wonder
who writes this way,
not how but why;
and the way the words go
becomes a prophecy
because it is a path
leading to another nowhere
ready to mean something,
to be noticed
and maybe even remembered
enough to justify
a child’s plea to read it again,
and again, and again, and again.

Morning rhymes with nothing…

Too Early for Words

In the quiet of the morning
in the ease of rest refreshed
with the stillness stillness still
and the dawn God blessed

the spiders have spun a yarn
the dew has bathed it in peace
when all’s uncertain and true
and night has started to cease

there are no found words to speak
there are no new chores to do
verse has failed me yet again
and left me alone to stew

all is forgotten in fog
all too gone to pray a prayer
the unseen is left best that way
and rhyme is nostalgia there

Is there a way back…

Careening Through Life

Do trees cast off their leaves,
eager to be free of those parasites
drawing more than they offer;
do they cure and fall themselves
as birds leave nests never to return again;
or is there a romantic but exhausted grasp
which simply but reluctantly
fails in the cold of November?

Do the vivid colors of toys
cling to pathways cossetted in the
soft tissue of my memory;
a red fire truck of tin metal
and sharp edges that cut
my tender fingers as I played
the role of rescuer in the midst of
a horrible blaze; and what of the smell
of Mom’s cookies – unmistakable
and gone forever except in words
put together in strings
without sentences; is there a way back
to those sunny afternoons
with powdered sugar floating in the air
and me praying for a broken sample?

People died here…

Visiting History

It’s raining on the prairie,
but not in answer to prayer
as we huddle inside a dusty museum wondering
at the recreation of a settler’s life,
determined by weather and wind and rain
on the cut fields of earth;
if we shiver in a sudden summer storm and wonder
at the musky air it’s best to recall that people died
here – in this room probably, because they did
everything in this one dark room – and we can’t
wait for the storm to end and go on with our fun.

How we do things with words…

Only Words

The Philosopher says there are only words,
only ways of saying what can’t be said
about things like toast and coffee and love
and you and us, and somehow this should
make me feel better about how my words
trail off into air, into nothingness, but
when they were spoken, even thoughtlessly,
they were loud and important and true,
and the games we played with our words
that excited us then we reminisce over now,
those lisps of titles, and the laughs which
are certainly words and not just noises,
when a simple yes was amatory and
I waited to hear your voice say my name.