Every good story begins…

In every good story someone dies
(sometimes, but more frequently,
in bad ones as well); not always
tragically or poignantly, not always
sadly or in a timely fashion, usually,
importantly a death is required.

It may be that it’s a way to make
tales more authentic, but it ironically
renders death’s severity a mere ploy
in the hands of desperate dramatists
longing for gravitas yet in failure;
simply turning dust back to dust.

Occasionally it’s accidently but
unexpectedly; and if the desire is
manipulative – the death of a child,
boy or girl, either will do – to tweak
the emotions of even the hardened
with an appeal to the weak.

Now multiple deaths are a waste
to an author and thus school bus
fatalities (a kindergarten field trip
tragedy) are typically avoided
and mass murders’ victims aren’t
the story in the first place.

Too many tales are funereal,
too many yarns come undone
and too many wakes begin stories
of too many things gone wrong;
dramas of dads and mamas
until death does everyone part.

Narrators, of course, play God
knowing, seeing all, all at once
what’s in heads, hiding from light
but telling us only part of a story;
this or that reason for lost life,
providing knowledge we lack.

But the human story’s author
has wasted over a hundred billion
anonymous deaths littering lands,
mocking prophet amidst dry bones;
as the deity’s wonderful plan for life
trumps all novelist’s narratives.

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Steinbeck and a pastry…

As we talk about others and ourselves and others
until we start back on us again across
the small coffee shop table with the whole world
rushing past us, nibbling on a pastry we share,
what Steinbeck said about having to get all our
autobiographical material out of our system
or it will hound us until we get it said
keeps interrupting my train of thought,
and yours as well as you ask me where my head is,
and am I listening, which, of course I’m not;
but that’s because we’re only pretending
to be the authors of our lives and this dialogue
we try every day – which you’re so much better at –
seems more accurate about others than us;
and I wouldn’t have it any other way
even though it doesn’t always seem so, and,
no, I’m not going to finish the pastry.

Where everything is…

Either I was stupid or just too much a child
sitting with an Encyclopedia Britannica
propped open in my lap, turning pages and
nodding along, eyes darting here and there
at letters making words I couldn’t read because
I was just three, but I knew everything was here.

Do we even imagine such things as everything
anymore? On pages, in words made of letters
we can’t read because we don’t believe it’s possible
to understand in a way that includes everything –
it doesn’t seem so, does it.

But on page 127, Volume 8, Edward to Extract
there it was all about ‘entropy’ – just another
way to say there’s a degree of disorder to it all –
a lack of predictability that does not mean there
is no everything but we see a gradual decline into
disorder which is just less of the more that makes
it possible to sleep at night.

And isn’t that the everything I couldn’t read about
when everything’s were all I knew with the Encyclopedia
Britannica propped open on my lap when I, like
our sad world, was just a few years old?!

On the Termination of Professor

All the tenured others have a name,
but he had transcended delimiters
and his surname became what was
for others simply a title – Professor.

Such was his reputation, amassed
over years of walks across the quad,
tattered tweed and unkempt, thinning
hair, never so proud so as to style.

His flair was the attentive mind
of the absentminded academic, but
he knew where every scrap of paper,
book, idea, and every word rested.

The office was never neat, swept,
untouched by time even dust shunned,
a couch for naps, chairs for stacks
of papers begun and undone.

Diplomas, awards hung on a wall
hidden behind tassels, programs of
graduations long ago, and three walls
shelve-covered and book burdened.

Office hours maintained sacredly
but scarcely attended but for a few;
puzzling and time passed to most,
sought and honored by only some.

Matter of fact questions earned the
reply of a tale, legend, story to explain
the unexplainable why ; every plea for
a story earned a who-what-when-where.

His time had passed, but he stood still
convinced that learning was progress
granted the guarantee of title his battle
was now one of perceived value.

Once freshman seminar his load,
now only electives and covering
for sabbaticals of the young, restless
who used post- in journal submissions.

Post-tenure review was the remedy
from a utilitarian board in the know,
failing to manage an unsustainable shift
from Professor to professionals.

What’s more than more…

There isn’t always, always more
to season’s joys or love’s embrace
to mothers’ love or men’s war
there isn’t always, always grace.

When what’s lost is lost indeed
not misplaced but put away
not forgot but must concede
when what’s not stolen is gone today.

To do what’s asked, asked of one,
with true design, studied course
with stoic aspect, end undone
to do without will, without remorse.

Life entombed, entombed unbound,
this coward bent and now crushed,
this hero followed and crowned,
life unearthed, death hushed.

There isn’t always, always more
when the promised one, only one
when none are left, left but for
there isn’t always, always none.

On learning who I am…

tree falls in the forestI am the tree that fell in the wood
with no one caring to hear,
the one at whom dogs bark
out of hatred instead of fear.
I am the one who spoke loud and clear
with no one knowing I uttered,
the door that is still a door
and not a jar unshuttered.
I am the book written but unread,
with a spine uncracked or bent,
the lure considered but dry,
un-tied, untackled, and unsent.
I am the road often taken and trod
derided in gospel and verse,
the angel that didn’t fit on pin head
in the sophistry that is so perverse.
I am the billions ten times over
who have lived and loved and died,
the everyman ignored or enslaved
and for whom no one has cried.

What is the Great American Novel anyway…

Dear Author

It has taken me all month to finish your novel,
the one about two friends who were once close
but for some unexplained reason are no longer,
living lives vaguely dependent on each other
in some mysterious, invisible cosmic fellowship
which you take six hundred pages to explain,
how once they finished the other’s thoughts,
liked the same ordinary, everyday things
which fill lives without reason or purpose
but define idiosyncrasies like dental records,
they both had a bad experience with wisdom teeth,
girlfriends, tomatoes, an inability to finish things
like friendships until they meet again on a train,
airport bound and discover nothing’s changed,
just older and fatter and both flying to Houston
for the same trade show, one selling, one buying,
same hotel, both divorced, kids indifferent
and unimpressed by life, they should grab a bite,
catch-up, where has the time gone, etc.,
but they never see each other it turns out,
and that’s okay – that’s how you end the novel,
and the dust jacket is dotted with quotes
from famous peers, all filled with praise
about how this is the Great American Novel,
because this is America according to everyone.

Keeping a bag packed…

Keep a Bag Packed

Some days it just isn’t worth trying
but I do
because that’s how Dad told me to,
it won’t make sense when you do
he’d say
but trying is its own reward one day,
that, and keep a bag packed always
he did,
but never said he was going away
until it was too late for me to say
not to,
but that’s between me and you.

Words are good enough for me…

words2Words are good enough for me…

Living this way is more than a creed – it’s like air to the lungs… like air to my lungs. But bad words – the bad use of words – seems pure evil to me, and I can’t get beyond it (that’s my burden to live with, or die with).

Words are good enough for me, so I play with them.

Words are good enough for me, so I let them play with me.

Words are good enough for me…

Workman by Day
A nobody to professors, a workman by day
this subtlety ordinary man said we write
(if we do) for others and not ourselves;
a simple diversion for the wordy perversion
making things fit snug like a girdle once did,
hiding things curvy, restraining and deceiving
the favors like adverbs for our great, untidied
neighbors, their reading a passion for our
weakened fashion of night’s haunts which
scare us awake and forced to contemplate
the nightmares of failures and adult scares
which only verse hides what sunlight chides.

Thoughts and Thoughts
A thought that can be thought
without something thoughtful to be done
is no thought at all, but a mere pretender;
thoughts which generate no ideas
and make the weak weep, the simple
comfortable, and the frail cringe at whims
like wishes so all beggars ride. Puzzled and
rancorous ideas are harmless excuses of
unexamined life, a sermon looking for life
in the service of paranoid, naval-gazing
called spirituality, pharmacology without
diagnosis, life without death,
desire without lust, and obedience without
ignorance. Ruined lives litter the path of
thoughts, bitter disciples
are casualties of this pedagogy,
angry tears are learners’ lovers, hemlock
cocktails mixed by the bartender of the many.

And I Quote
What is a quote to be quoted
and to whom does it belong?
those marks somehow borrow
what I wish was my song;
what I want as my own
but someone found before,
almost perfect way of words
I must have, and I adore;
sometimes because of who
but I prefer what is said,
the world is but objects,
not facts’ means instead;
picture what is or is not,
but what is written is read
stop asking what it means
or you’ll always be misled;
while I will quote as I wish
call me a plagiarist as well
all’s words and other words
not things we jsut misspell.

 

What I learned as a teacher…

stonerOnce upon a time I held a romantic dream of fame and fortune in higher education. (Stop laughing….)

This was outlandish for a high school dropout, but I was undeterred by my own story. It was more of a dream for me than all or any of you – as you dutifully marched through grades and degrees while I dallied and dillied in my deficient disorder. And with effort – more than so many alongside – I arrived, burned brightly for a few years, and have dimmed ever since. But that’s my story.

There are few ‘good reads’ about such things, and with good reason. There are only a few of us who dream such foolishness (limited market), and our dream is unbelievable or undesirable (to the market). One exception is an oddly titled narrative from John Willaims – Stoner (http://goo.gl/luA0Wd). Ever heard of it? (Didn’t think so.)

In the meantime, here’s something about what I learned as a teacher…

Great Things
I spent my life doing great things
at least in my own eyes;
better words, deeper thoughts,
longer books; languages, authors
and thinking things people didn’t
think because it hurt to do so, but
I enjoyed the pain and wanted
more, to learn just to learn
and speak and write out of joy,
not compulsion or guilt,
with my delight, sometimes
out of understanding, often
just because I was contagious
in the way I loved finding out
there is so much more to
be found out, so much more;
I spent my life doing great things
and some of them were very good,
even kind because of education’s
gentle touch, so unknown, so
mysterious, when teacher is
learner and students evaluate
with agreeing nods and notes
of I can’t imagine what – what
was said worth writing down
is the mystery because this
won’t be on the test, it will
only be in this classroom,
in this moment important
because I made it seem like
the entire world was waiting
to hear what it depended on;
I spent my life doing great things
and at times I was paid to do
the things I knew were great,
but more often I had to fit them in,
in between the labor and burdens
and ordinariness of women and men
who refused to know what was new
to be known and preferred
to repeat what they’d heard
another pretend lover say
from notes composed over
a score past, including humor
to connect with the dead or
dying and good grades were
in rote memorization of
names, dates and the teacher’s
words that filled in blanks
he created like a crossword
of life and death without
real consequence, only tenure;
I spent my life doing great things
and there are still so many
great things to do but it’s
become too difficult – the fight
for space to breath, and I need
air more than money, and
money more than books now,
and that alone makes me cry;
seeing others do what I love
to do and make a living at it
but eager to retire, to quit and
I’d give anything, anything just
to have the chance, once again,
to live the life of a learner,
indebted to all there is to know.