September 2007 Archives

Prayer is Sustenance

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Last week, the book of Mother Teresa's private writings was published--Come, Be My Light. I suppose I should first comment on a subject that disturbs many--the publication of writings that Mother Teresa had expressly requested be destroyed. Thank goodness the Church knows a legacy when they see it, and recognizes sanctity in human form when we are graced with it. I think about the fragments of letter from St. John of the Cross, the pitiful number of them, and of the destruction of what probably amounted to a great many of them by St. Teresa of Avila as a way of detachment. What a tremendous loss for the entire world that destruction was. We have a lessened sense of the beauty of spirit and the warmth of St. John of the Cross. We're left with an image of austerity and sparseness.

Fortunately, that has not been allowed to happen with one of the great Saints of our time. A saint so great that she throws Christopher Hitchens into paroxysms of anger every time he casts a thought in her direction. (Talk about a man resisting conviction--a man who needs his atheism, his crutch every bit as much as he think those with religion do--a man who battles God daily in his attempt to remain squarely in unbelief--a man personally challenged by Mother Teresa.)

While there is much new in the book, much insight into things we had only small glimpses and hints of, there is also very much that is well-known and which reflects who she was publicly and consistently.

from Come Be My Light
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Every Sunday I visti the poor in Calcutta's slums. I cannot help them, because I do not have anything, but I go to give them joy. Last time about twenty little ones were eagerly expecting their "Ma." When they saw me, they ran to meet me, even skipping on one foot. I entered. In that "para"--that is how a group of house is called here--twelve families were living. every family has only one room, two meters long and a meter and a half wide. The door is so narrow that i hardly could enter, and the ceiling is so low that I could not stand upright. . . . Now I do not wonder that my poor little ones love their school so much, and that so many of them suffer from tuberculosis. The poor mother. . . did not utter even a word of complaint about her poverty. It was very painful for me, but at the same time I was very happy when I saw that they are happy because I visit them. Finally, the mother said to me: "Oh, Ma, come again! Your smile brought sun into this house."

Consider the details of this little note--a room with a door so narrow and a ceiling so low that Mother Teresa--not exactly a giantess--could not fit through or stand upright. Those are straitened circumstances. And the thickness of poverty, so powerful you could feel it standing at a distance.

Now consider that Mother Teresa, pained by the poverty she can do nothing about, goes nevertheless because of the joy she can spread by her mere presence. That is a powerful witness to her obedience and to her love. I wonder how many among us would be willing to endure what is unthinkable to us for the sake of bringing joy to others--the word of God? I know for a fact that I am not there yet. Poverty frightens me. The impoverished frighten me in ways I can't begin to understand or articulate. There is no cause for fear, and yet, there you have it. I am not a saint, much less a Saint. Undoubtedly, that will come in time.

Much of the book focuses on the sharp contrast between Mother Teresa's inner darkness and her outward apostolate of spreading joy and the word of God among the poorest of the poor. It is filled with extravagances of love, and as such, it is a guidebook to love--to how to show profound and real love despite the fact that inside there is nothing but constant yearning, constant desire, constant longing for the infinite that seems to have vacated the space. Well, to give an instance:

Please pray for me, that it may please God to lift this darkness from my doul for only a few days. For sometimes the agony of desolation is so great and at the same time the longing for the Absent One so deep, that the only prayer which I can still say is --Scared Heart of Jesus I trust in Thee--I will satiate Thy thirst for souls.

If you have not already bought this book, you may want to consider it. At very least get it from the library and read it carefully. As with the works of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, I have a feeling that I will be returning to this book again and again, to learn from the example of Blessed Mother Teresa-- a Saint I have been privileged to see, even if only from a distance.

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Please add my father-in-law to your daily intentions. He's in the hospital with a serious infection.

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Exit Ghost


In this, supposedly the last of the Zuckerman books, the legendary priapism of Mr. Roth, noted in comments on the previous post regarding the book, is once again fully in display, once again to no particular effect and for not particular purpose that I can discern unless it is to unite thanatos and eros in the Freudian clich´ that was ancient when Freud was a baby. Zuckerman, impotent and incontinent from a radical prostatectomy spends the entire book trying to recapture the vigor of youth in the face of decaying faculties.

Problem is, it isn't even remotely touching. It isn't funny, it isn't ironic, mordant, incisive, acute, or even particularly observant. It is, unfortunately, pedestrian--a rehash of Roth from previous years including all of the very worst aspects of his obsessions.

The really terrible part of this is that there is some lovely writing, some moving and beautiful writing. At moments even powerful writing--as when he relates the tale of the Jews who escaped from Oslo to Sweden. But there are plot encumbrances that occupy far more space than they are actually worth in effect and an unfortunate obsession with a writer with a great and mysterious sin in his past. Finally, there is an absolutely incoherent paean to George Plimpton occupying far too much of the last section of the book.

My opinion--give this one a skip and go read the only book Mr. Roth wrote that seems to be relatively free of his obsessions--The Plot Against America, you may not care for the politics--but in that book Roth has many points to make about anti-semitism (as he does in this one) and its present vigor in our society. He raises awareness about important problems without the other spirits he seems so fond of.

NOT recommeded in any way for any one.

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Philip Roth is one of those great American writers with whom I've always had a good deal of difficulty. And his most recent book is just a continuation of that difficulty. The question is more whether the difficulty is mine or if it is simply Mr. Roth's constitution.

However, I do want to raise a major point contra the current publishing mindset. The problem is exemplified in this passage:

from Exit Ghost
Philip Roth

I know it was on June 30 because that's the day that the female snapping turtles in my part of New England make their annual trek out from their watery habitat to find an open sandy spot to dig a next for their eggs. These are strong, slow-moving creatures, large turtles with sawtooth armored shells a foot or more in diameter and long, heavily scaled tails. The appear in abundance at the south end of Athena, troops of them crossing the two-lane macadam road that leads into town. Drivers will patiently wait for minutes on end so as not to hit them as they emerge from the deep woods whose marshes and ponds they inhabit, and it is the annual custom of many local residents like me not merely to stop but to pull over and step out onto the shoulder of the road to watch the parade of these rarely seen amphibians, lumbering forward inch by inch on the powerful foreshortened, scaly legs that end in prehistoric-looking reptilian claws.

There is amidst the lyrical and fascinating prose a blunder of enormous proportions, amplified by the fact that a modifier in the same sentence hints at the real relationships of turtles within the animal kingdom. Why is it that some editor allowed this to pass? For anyone even remotely acquainted with taxonomy, the mistake is jarring and annoying. Mr. Roth may have been trying to be poetic, or trying to enlarge the use of the word "amphibian" to encompass a larger sense of the "lifestyle" rather than the taxonomic level; however, as it isn't germane to the point of either the passage or the novel, the wise editor should have simply brought Mr. Roth up short and pointed out how very disorienting and alienating such an attempt is, particularly isolated in a single passage as it is. I suspect that it was merely a slip of the pen, and one that a useful editor ought to have made an effort to see fixed.

Another facet of Mr. Roth's writing that often disengages me is his insistence that the worth of a man is judged primarily, if not solely, by the correct and frequent functioning of those anatomical parts that define his maleness. This has been a theme from the earliest works, and it pervades much of Mr. Roth's writing. It is entirely possible that I have not completely understood what point Mr. Roth has been trying to make with it, if so, that is my failing. However, the obsessiveness of that theme in this novel has not made for enjoyable reading for me.

However, even in and among the ruminations on body parts that no longer work the way they once did, we occasionally find something lovely, such as this:

I simply asked him to tell me about her; what I'd gotten was a speech appropriate to the dedication of some grand edifice. There was nothing strange about such a staunchly tender performance--men who fall madly in love can make Xanadu of Buffalo it that's where their beloved was raised--and yet the ardor for Jamie and Jamie's Texas girlhood was so undisguised that it was as though he were telling me about somebody he had dreamed up in jail. Or about the Jamie I had dreamed up in jail. It was as it should be in a masterpiece of male devotion: his veneration for his wife was his strongest tie to life.

This is gorgeous, even if spoken ironically, and with a post-modern cynicism most unappealing (however, I find it difficult to read the passage in that light). And from it you can read the obsession of the present work. Mr. Zuckerman is in lust with Jamie. And lust is the closest that any character in a normal Roth novel seems capable of coming to love--the only defined thing about Nathan Zuckerman is his desire that comes without any strong emotional underpinning. And so, we have the Philip Roth novel. Now, perhaps Mr. Roth's point is to satirize these attitudes. But there is a sameness and a plodding dullness surrounding that sameness that suggest that the attitude is truly the authors and not a conceit or a feint. Again, that may be a cursory misreading--if so, I'm not the only one who is inclined to such misreadings.

Finally, the political discussions in the book are a nauseating concoction of intolerant leftist political ideation. In this book they are so extreme and so blatant, that for the first time I have wondered if Roth might not be poking fun at the intolerance of the oh so tolerant portion of our society. (Interestingly, I agree with some of the political assessment in the book, I just find them too narrowly focused. Everything said about Mr. Bush and his regime could be applied, one long tarbrush to most of the regimes post Roosevelt I. And in the diatribe painting all of this, we pass lovingly over the administrations of the nearly saintly Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I, like Zuckerman in the book, but for reasons quite different, am nearly completely uninterested in politics as a whole. I think I saw a great deal too much in the time I spent with my mother on Capitol Hill. Just a clue for you all--there are no Mr. Smith's in that gaggle--at least there weren't--I shouldn't exclude the possibility that some have showed up in the interim--but my impression is that things have rather gone downhill since my heyday.

So, while Mr. Roth's prose is elegant at times and interesting, his obsessions rapidly become tedious, and of the remaining "great figures" of recent American writing, he is one whose work is most colored by the person he is. It seems endlessly and repetitively autobiographical, and obsessed with what it means to be a man. Possibly obsessed because his characters really have no idea whatsoever. Nevertheless, there are things that are lovely, thoughts that are worthwhile, strands that are worth pursuing and occasionally prose that is sparkling, bright, and exemplary of very fine writing.

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For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. Luke 12:48

I have an interesting love/hate relationship with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. This was brought home to me by an innocuous request that arrived by e-mail this morning and provoked far more thought than I have time for or my correspondent had time to read. Pity him!

In point of fact, I belong to the Catholic Church for several reasons, approximately in this order: The Real Presence, the Church established by Jesus Christ, an ongoing authoritative teaching magisterium. Huh? What was that last? Yes, you heard it, the body of doctrine and dogma and teachings that might be termed advisory or cautionary, having not the weight of doctrine or dogma, but not so easily dismissed as many of our progressive friends would have us believe.

In fact, left to myself, I would be firmly in the ranks of the progressive Catholics. Why? Well, as much as I love the fact that there is firm and clear guidance in the Church, I know enough of the weakness of human intellect to question some of those more outré and far-flung notions that seem to come forth from this wealth of teaching. A case in point--although Jesus clearly teaches that it is wrong to kill in the cause of faith (after all, if it were not appropriate for Peter to defend Jesus forcibly, what can be justified in the name of the defense of faith?), we somehow derive from a relatively clear body of Christ's teaching something called "Just War Theory." Now, I'm not certain this rises to the level of doctrine, but let's just say that there are several aspects of this body of thought that I find disconcerting and unlikely when exposed to the fullness of the teaching of Christ.

However, I also know that in matters of abstract thought about such things, I am more often wrong that I am right. My intuition is guided by the part of me that prefers to be sensually enveloped rather than the part that seeks God. The Base Man triumphs in these matters.

But my own experience of intellect leads me to doubt the conclusions of other. What is the agenda? What are they headed for? Do they have my best interests in mind or were they in the service of some sovereign or power for whom my compliance in vassalage is advantageous? You can see what happens. I have no trust for humanity.

Now the Church informs me that all dogma (with which I have a good deal less problem) and universally taught doctrine is informed by, guided by, and kept on-target by the Holy Spirit. There is a certain amount of comfort in this. The difficulty is to know where that guidance ends and the speculation of theologians guided by more human motives might begin.

So, I'm stuck in this quandary. A little more humility and I would have no problem. a little less intellect (or a little more) and I'd probably see the matter straight. But the reality is that I am the flawed person I am. I have what I have been given. And from what I've seen, I have been given a tremendous amount. God has blessed me with a good mind (not a great one) a certain verbal felicity and flexibility, and a stubborn streak a mile wide.

It is to this last that I owe the greatest debt of gratitude. I do not join the progressive thinkers among us in large part because I have made a commitment to the Church and I intend to stand by it come Hell or high water. Period. My own doubts and questions be damned--I will stand by what the Church teaches.

That's the stubborn streak. Problem is, it means that I often have to put the brain in check for certain issues. I hear people begin to spiel out how war is just, owning weapons is a God-given right and obligation, torture isn't really against God's teaching. . . you name the controversy that rages.

Then you go to find a clear answer--what does the Church teach--and what you get is the muddy water of the millions of interpreters and theologians with their own understandings and interpretations.

So the bargain I thought I was getting in joining the Church--clear teaching--materializes more often than not. But it is insubstantial in a sufficiently large number of cases to be aggravating.

I suppose it is not doctrine I oppose so much as the ornament and filagree frequently attached thereto. However, to someone not sufficiently well versed in the sources and where to go to find the correct teaching, the doctrine and its accretions are indistinguishable.

So when I say that I don't like doctrine, I suppose I mean, I don't like the uncertainty that seems to surround some doctrine. For example, is it a doctrine that women simply cannot be priests? I don't know for certain. Some say yes, some say no. As this happens to be one matter on which a person who I came to trust completely had a clear statement, I can arrive at a conclusion which may not be doctrinal. And so it goes.

To whom much is given, much will be expected in return. For those of us gifted with intelligence, curiosity, and analytical ability, these problems will continue to chafe. Does that mean doctrine is useless? Absolutely not. But it does lead me to rely more on a direct experience of God in prayer and through the prayer and lives of the saints. Perhaps this doubt of mine is simply God's way of making me acquainted with him through a more human element. Perhaps, like St. Teresa of Avila, I should spend more time with Christ's humanity, while not neglecting His divinity.

And finally, why do I share this? Possibly because it is like the grain in the oyster that may become a pearl-malformed and mishapened as it may be. But perhaps others share similar difficulties--and perhaps their paths are likewise being directed to paths of knowing that do not rely exclusively on the intellect, but engage the other parts of our humanity.

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Rainbows End


Vernor Vinge's teenage bildungsroman is this year's Hugo winner for best science fiction novel of the year. I have to admit that I haven't kept up with science fiction the way I used to do; however, I did find this an enjoyable read.

Vinge builds a very believable near-future world in which computers dominate the landscape. There are "wearables" which respond to gestures and overlay mundane reality with "all the colors of the wind." Vinge makes these devices very likely, very believable, very complex, and best of all very comprehensible. Unlike Gibson and his ilk, who rely upon sheer confusion for much of their effect, Vinge is committed to making his world real.

In this world cures have been found for most common ailments, including many types of dementia. Our hero has been returned from near-death to the appearance of a seventeen year-old boy. And with his return to health, also his return to an absolute tyrrany of emotional abuse. His son puts a stopper in it and Robert Gu, our hero, gradually adjusts and joins an international Cabal designed to preserve the integrity of libraries. However, this plot is simply a cover for another deeper plot that may or may not involve artificial intelligences, international conspirators, and a plot to subjugate the world's people by a clever juxtaposition of (literally) viral memes.

Characterization is fine, although we never get a sense of Gu as both old and young. His perspective is always one of being older. There is no resolution to one of the central emotional points in the book, and several hints and asides are left completely unresolved.

Overall, an interesting fun read for those who like their science fiction Cyber.

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Deepest thanks and appreciation to all who said prayers for me on Tuesday. The presentation went far better than I had expected in my wildest dreams. The results have been galvanizing and envigorating. It feels like a new world opening up--so once again, thank you.

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Request for Prayers

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To anyone who may read this today before two o'clock, please remember the team I work with as we have an important presentation before officers of the company. I don't expect any difficulty, but I also don't expect it to be particularly easy.

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A New Prior General


The General Chapter has met and the Carmelite family welcomes a new Prior General. May God guide him and help him. With all these Carmelites running around, he'll need all the help he can get!

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Speaking of Critics


I love it when this happens and I'm alert enough to recognize it. This started out as a critique of something quite different and quite personal; however, as I allowed it to grow, it turned into something much more interesting. Yes--it probably still needs some work to get the remaining hitches out. But I rather like what it has become.

The Informed Churchman Examines Recently Confirmed Artifact 361752 ("Holy Grail")

Doesn't gold resist tarnish? and yet, look
there, that little spot from which no light shines.
And why, after all, gold and not silver,
wood, glass, or antimony pewter? While
we're at it, who designed this lumpen cup?
Didn't they know we'd make of it a chalice?
Could they not see how inelegant the
lines? Unseemly bulges, awkward in hand.
What are we to make of such unruly
work? Miracles? Pah. What's a miracle
with such a declassé design? Who cares
what superstition has imbued it with?
Anyone with half an eye can see it
for what it is--bargain basement gimcrack
finery. Our Lord (who had a fine sense
of style) would never have set lips to such
a cup as this. Who could think so? No, go
find another--this one will never do.

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An on-target skewering: of another of the great sins of the progressive mind--Carbon offsetting. It doesn't work, it doesn't make sense, and if you're not doing it, you haven't fulfilled the karma involved. In fact, you've just incurred more. (If karma is your thing.)

If you thought that the era of British bigwigs keeping Indians as personal servants came to an end with the fall of the Raj in 1947, then you must have had a rude awakening last week.

In a feature about carbon offsetting in The Times (London), it was revealed that the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, offsets his carbon emissions by effectively keeping brown people in a state of bondage. Whenever he takes a flight to some foreign destination, Cameron donates to a carbon-offsetting company that encourages people in the developing world to ditch modern methods of farming in favour of using their more eco-friendly manpower to plough the land. So Cameron can fly around the world with a guilt-free conscience on the basis that, thousands of miles away, Indian villagers, bent over double, are working by hand rather than using machines that emit carbon.

Welcome to the era of eco-enslavement.

I've long thought the so called carbon-footprint offsets were just another way of doing whatever I want and shifting the burden for compensation to others. So, I feel the need to fly around the world in whatever luxury I would like to be accustomed to and to salve my eco-fevered brow, I hire a bunch of people not to use the conveniences which would make their labor easier.

When I first heard about Al Gore and his carbon-offsetting measures, I thought exactly these words--the new indentured servitude. Pay someone to suffer for my luxury. And so it continues, but all thinly veiled by the palliative fib that "I'm fixing up my own ecologically blunders." Hate to tell my good buddies this--but if you don't do it, you haven't fixed it.

Now, what I'd like to see is for every private jet trip or luxury-laden cruise undertaken by our so called eco-defenders between a year or two of using a manual lawnmower, turning the interior temp up to 85 or down to 60 for a few months--walking or bicycling to work for the length of time it would take to "pay for" say six-hundred pounds, or so, of jet fuel.

If you want to be eco-warriors, don't put your battles on the backs of the underprivileged--offset your own carbon footprint.

Hmm--reading this over, perhaps I should be more straightforward about what I think of this. I'll try harder next time.

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More Reflections


Pardon the pun. . .


When we can penetrate the lies we do
not know we tell, and see for one moment
what we protect, we can begin to know.
Knowledge is a perfect mirror--bright, sharp,
hard, and cold--a knife all blade, no handle,
that cuts what it touches as easily
as it reflects light. To know truth invites
hardship and a long unknowing. And so
we avoid the knife as long as we can,
or many of us do; but some, wiser
perhaps, or more daring, learn the art of
naked steel, learn the caress of the blade
that opens up all. Knowledge is hard, but
not so stony and unyielding as willed
ignorance; it's blade cuts deep and yet heals.
To choose not to know is to lean too far
out a window without a sill, to stretch
our bodies out on the thin wind of a
perpetual fall, no skillful clean cut,
nor surgical strike; no--rather an all
out plummet to a meaningless blot,
a rorschach. Pain either way, no matter
what people end up thinking, no matter
which we choose. So, why not truth? Pain then in
the service of an end that brings us
all together, soldiers-in-arms against
the same sad nameless terminal disease.

In making this I had to cut a simile that I like very much because it cuts two ways--"we are no more what we say than air is wind."

Later: If you stop by frequently you may have noticed two or three drafts of this. Lunch hour is remarkably productive.

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America Alone

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Given that I don't care for political books, I find myself always wandering down strange by-ways when it comes to reading them. America Alone by Mark Steyn is one of those--a book-length diatribe? rant? discussion? neocon apologia? I don't know what to call it; however, I do know that I enjoyed it for the most part and it raised in me an awareness of certain points that I either chose to ignore or was deliberately keeping at arm's length because the implications of them were too frightening to deal with on an everyday basis.

Steyn's primary thesis in the book is that Islam, far from being a religion of peace and love, is in fact a religion wrapped up in a legal philosophy encased in a political system. It is, indeed, a transnational identity that eschews the boundaries of state and government and sets its priorities quite differently from the rest of us. Frankly, that is something I have admired in Islam. Above all else is service to Allah, period. This is more important than state, region, nationality, or any other variable you can think of. It is, in fact, the incarnation of "Seek ye first of the kingdom of God and His righteousness."

The problem with modern Islam is that it has been more or less willingly hijacked by extremist sects that we fund, and of recent date, fund more richly through our reliance and purchase of Saudi oil. (Let's not consider the other politically undesirable despots and monomaniacs we support through this reliance--I'm thinking of Hugo Chavez, amongst others.) Wahhabism, an extremist and some might say anti-Islamic islam was born, fostered, and continues to be nurtured and exported from Saudi Arabia in the form of huge endowments and grants to mosques and madrasses the world over.

Steyn makes the analogy that while the wahhabi's of the world are a very small part of Islam, the present Muslim approach to them is akin to that of the German people who had nothing to say in his rise to power. Of course, like most of the book this is a generalization, one can find Islamic groups that protest the hijacking of their faith in such an extremist manner; however, they seem to be small and relatively little known. If you search on Google you can find anti-terrorist Islamic groups. Reading some of these sites one gets the impression of a wan sort of main-line protestantism of Islam. That is we encounter clearly "We support the separation of religion and state." But one needs to examine this sort of statement in the light of Steyn's thesis about the nature of Islam to understand how radically it differs from "People for the American Way" and other such anti-Christianizing groups. A statement of this sort from a Muslim site repudiates the political, transnational goals that seem to be part and parcel of wahhabi Islam.

I'm no expert and not qualified to give anything other than an opinion on this book, which I found by turns amusing, frightening, and aggravating. Aggravating because Steyn conflates all sorts of disparate interests into one "progressive" package--pandering to Muslims is done by people with "granola mobiles" or tendencies toward feminism, homosexualism, or other common appurtenances of the "liberal" agenda. So while raising awareness of legitimate concerns regarding apparent Muslim trends, he spends a good deal of time taking potshots at people holding liberal ideas and values.

Nevertheless, the central statements of his thesis are interesting and compelling, thought hardly news. Europe is slowly being extinguished under a tide of high Muslim birthrates and immigration and a literal death spiral in the birth rates of developed nations. Now, in one sense, this is an example of one's chickens returning home to roost; however, given the wahhabi attitude toward the cultural accretions of groups other than Muslims, one must wonder seriously about a Louvre in the control of even a "moderate" Islamic state. What happens to the Parthenon, the Roman Ruins, and even Chartres under the benevolent enlightenment of the wahhabi regime.

Of course, these thoughts are secondary entirely to the societal and human toll of this cultural transformation. One does begin to wonder. However, Steyn's book, roundly trounced by one of the Princes of Arabia is certainly worth taking a look at. You might be surprised, chagrined, annoyed, offended, or experience all of these at once. But hopefully, you might come away with additional information and additional matters to explore to become more cognizant of the implications of some of our societal and personal choices. The whole book, although not intended to, does reinforce the concept that no sin is entirely or even mostly personal. Every personal choice affects the society around one. And this was one of the notion behind the renaming of the sacrament "reconciliation." The harm of our sins goes far beyond ourselves, disrupting and tearing the fabric of society to such an extent that i becomes unrecognizable, indeed, eventually it dies of this soul-sickness. But then, "The wages of sin is death." Personal and societal.

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Interesting Reading

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The thing about diatribe is that one can be smoothly carried along in its rampant and all-encompassing embrace. It is unsettling, leaving one to wonder how much is truth and how much is rant. But it occasionally breaks forth in a moment of pristine brilliance.

from America Alone
Mark Steyn

Most mainline Protestant churches are, to one degree or another, post-Christian. If they no longer seem disposed to converting the unbelieving to Christ, they can at least convert them to the boggiest of soft-left political clichés, on the grounds that if Jesus were alive today he'd most like be a gay Anglican bishop in a committed relationship driving around in an environmentally friendly car with an "Arms Are for Hugging" sticker on the way to an interfaith dialogue with a Wiccan and a couple of Wahhabi imams.

The sheer volume of the rant carries it along. The tone is clear and in one sweeping blow condemns the morally insensate and the morally neutral. Environmentally friendly cars are not a sign of dissolution. In a saner society they would be a sign of rehabilitation. It is when the cars replace any core of belief, any strength of conviction, any moral center that they become problematic. And yet, diatribe doesn't allow these distinction to be made. Nevertheless, as a rant goes, this one is both amusing and, unfortunately, close to the truth for a good many mainline Protestant Churches today--and that is a shame because it is the loss of a great and powerful tradition and voice. It is a diminishment, a weakening, a loss of the gospel truth--the only thing we have that is worth holding and sharing.

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Psalm Settings


This site--The St. Noel Habanel Responsorial Psalm Project looks like it may have some really good materials--there is sheet music for organ and voice that is based on Gregorian modes for chanting the psalms. Unfortunately, the several times I've tried to get into some of the more interesting stuff on my Mac, the site has forced a crash of the browser. So, Mac user just be aware.

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In Memoriam


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
--George Santayana

As opposed as I am to the war in Iraq, as much as I may question its authenticity as a meaningful action against terrorism, as much as I may find myself pondering the question of its "justness," I also find within it a profound statement of the conviction that we are simply not going to roll over and take whatever treatment the world has decided we have merited.

Unlike the Spanish election, America has not capitulated. We can debate whether or not we have taken the correct steps to confront those who would gladly deprive all of the freedoms many in the past have died to preserve; but then, we have the freedom to engage in that exchange of ideas.

For better or worse, September 11, 2001 marked a watershed--a determined advance by a small group of highly active and motivated insurgents into the heartland. For a brief time we awoke and we responded as was just and proper--we sought out the root of the problem and attempted to destroy it.

We have not been successful, not for lack of trying but because there is no root. Rather there is a mycelium--a network--small and invisible--that at any time can give rise to yet another fungal bloom. A dandelion is relatively easy to confront, mushrooms much less so.

September 11 does not justify any and all actions, but whenever we pause to question what we are doing and whether it is right, the memory of it should add weight to the reflection. September 11 was a declaration on the part of a very small part of the world that they have no intention of tolerating or respecting anything outside of the range of their political and religious philosophy.

We make a serious error when we attribute this strain of thought to an entire group. And we make a serious error if we think this strain of thought justifies the deprivation of any group of people any part of the rights guaranteed by our law; that way also lay defeat.

Rather, we need to be aware, enlightened, and seriously determined to move forward in the defense of the freedoms we have had handed to us on a silver platter. We are a privileged people living in a hard time.

from The Crisis, December 23, 1776
Thomas Paine

THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

Atheist, he may have been, but what he said then stands now; and today gives us pause to remember it.

We do an injustice to those innocent people who died that day if we ever forget the truths that made this country great. They were not soldiers, they were not martyrs, they were our friends, our families, our colleagues, our co-religionists--people we loved and whom we remember today--people whose lives give great weight to any battle we wage to prevent further such outrages. These innocent people we must not forget, for in so doing, we put the lives of a great many others at risk.

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Final Poem for the Day


See H.P. Lovecraft's "In the Walls of Eryx." Yes, I know, a penny-dreadful inspiration for a poem, but the images of that story tend to stick with you.

A Condo in Eryx

Glass tunnel in a wide
open field, perfectly
clear so I cannot see
the prison maze that binds
me to my choices. I
make these walls, no one can
see me here, no one wants
to. In time I could die
here, out in the open
unseen, unmourned, unknown,
unneeded, and alone;
but until then, I build,
making walls with the fierce
determination shown
by colonies of ants--
labyrinthine, involute,
spiraling, in and out
but always ending in
hollow chambers, the lair
of the Queen, the meaning
of the colony. And
so, lacking a queen, this
endless building tends to
end--bloated nothingness.

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After Robert Frost


Not really. For one thing Frost's poetry was more measured, less inclined to enjambment. However, I saw an anthology of poetry from some years back that was dedicated to and in honor of Robert Frost, and I thought about "The Road Less Traveled" and "How that made all the difference." And, in truth, it does. But that's not the road most of us end up seeing and so it seemed, another poem was required.

The Road Well Rutted

We travel as we travel; at the end
we are surprised to arrive at a place
we never thought to visit; and then, when
we glance at the map, we see empty space--

Terra incognita, here be monsters.
The road we have worn, worn to uselessness,
has guided us here, and made us wonder
why we chose, a barren path to endless

waste. Truth is, we don't see so well down here
beneath the level of the land. Once we
had bearings, could see the landmarks, over there
the pine barrens that guard the dunes and sea,

over here the road to the city, winding
strange and imperfect through the lonely miles.
But we walk the same old ground, now tramping
down the earth, back and forth, restless now while

we still can see, and becoming at home
as we obscure our vision. Sightless we
see what we always wanted to see, tombs
become palaces, walls-windows, we see

what we dreamed only dimmer, until all
light goes out. The well-rutted road now falls
away, and we are left with appalling
signs of how foolish we have been--how small.

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Much of poetry is a kind of posed reflection--an internalized debate, conversation, or extended thought that has had the messiness pruned away and has been made ready for general consumption. When we encounter poetry that we don't "get" it is often because we don't understand the terms of the debate or the center of reflection. I say this because the poem I am presenting may have elements that are too personal for them to mean much to anyone else. And the job of the poet is to identify such poems and attempt to enlarge their terms so that they do mean beyond the narrow limits of the personal experience. However, this should be done within the poem itself. So, if you give this a couple of tries and still cannot make sense of it, please drop me a line to help in the revision of it.

Rock in Water

"Don't touch that!" the guide's words echo in the
empty chambers of eerie light, this rock
and void wonder that makes of Earth a womb,
and the object under protection of
so vigilant a guardian--living
rock, onyx growing through the ages. One
human touch, one fingerprint, kills the stone,
one sheen of oil seals out healing water
and the white rock ends. The human touch tends
to end all things and begin truncated
projects, odd and ends, all unfinished and
so always unending.
___________________ My totem in years
that were to come, the durable, shaped by
the ephemeral, the solid made whole by
the shifting. In the depths of the water
an egg of basalt, size of a football,
weight of a car, posed on a slate shelf, smoothed
and waiting for one who will carry it
away--and a waking dream of a stone
pillar swirled round by raging water, a
flood that does not move, cannot sway, lets stand
a rock unperturbed and changed entirely.
Story of a life the solid mired, swamped,
changed and the same amid all the shifting.

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Too Short a Respite


See, a hiatus doesn't last all that long--unfortunately for you.


People to throw
away; discards,
the world's refuse,
underfoot dirt,
dust, and sweepings.

Intended as
thrown together
in less time than
it took to think
of it, age-stained
before they're done,
designed to make
each feel smaller
that humanly

And more to come--beware.

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R.I.P. Luciano Pavarotti


I'm sorry to hear of the passing of Luciano Pavarotti. While I have never been a profound fan of his voice; it was primarily his charisma and that of some fellow performers (Beverly Sills and others) that led to a brief, vibrant interest in opera, which has long since subsided to the present status-symbol supported institution that it has become. A man of great talent and tremendous personality, while he hasn't been very active in recent years, the loss of so great a talent is a loss for all.

"No man is an islande. . . "

"Goodnight sweet prince, may choirs of angels sing thee to thy rest."

And may almighty God receive him joyfully into his eternal home.

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A Poetic Haitus

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I had a poem to post today. Unfortunately, I left the notebook at home or in the car or somewhere, so it will have to wait--by which time I may have two or three. (I'm sure this has my loyal fan-base chortling with glee.)

But I did want to say something that has been much on my mind of late. It is an issue for which I do not have the answers, but to which I have been more and more exposed of recent date.

I have two friends who are retired. One of them received a legacy from his parents and was able to retire earlier than most of us. The other retired pretty much in the normal course of events. Both are having some serious problems with the health system. One friend has felt compelled to sell his home in order to bankroll any medical expenses he may have. He's had a couple of incidents in recent days--really very minor things, that have exposed him to the tremendous costs of lacking insurance.

The other finds herself in straightened means. She has a very limited income--social security and what retirement was not swept away by corporate greed, 9/11, and other market-effecting events. She confided that she is no longer buying diet sodas so that she can try to afford the medicine she needs to be alive and stable.

I know, diet sodas don't seem like a major issue. And I suppose they're not--but the point is not the diet sodas--it is the system of medicine in this country that demands from people sacrifices great and small. What is most bothersome to me is that both of these people have lived active, productive, lives--and yet they have less access to care than someone who has relied for years upon our social support systems.

I don't have an answer. I don't know the answer. But I do know that the problem faces all of us of limited means as we approach retirement age. Even people who would be classed as well-off might find themselves in dire straights as they approach the years in which medical intervention might become a more present reality.

We don't tend to think about it much, but this is another group of people who need our prayers, our support, and our active search for solutions. Instead, because they appear to be comfortably middle-class, they are forgotten and are reduced to selling houses and assets to make ends meet.

No plan I have heard thus far makes a dent in this major problem. The run-away costs of the medical industry produce rapidly escalating prices for even the simplest forms of care. Medicines, which are developed in large part through tax dollars, are outrageously priced from the get-go, "in order to recoup development costs." And yet pharmaceuticals firms are making record profits.

Perhaps this all argues for no attempts to sustain life at later stages--that pharmaceuticals and artificial treatments that lengthen life and alleviate suffering really aren't all that important. I don't think this is true. Certainly there is no "right" to good medical treatment--not in the very broad sense that people today use the word "right." But there is an imperative that people who are not in a place to afford life-saving or pain-alleviating treatments be given some support in receiving these things.

I keep thinking of the dictum--"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good mean to do nothing." The evil described here is a natural evil. I don't think there is a conspiracy among medical firms and pharmaceuticals firms to deprive people of necessary medicines and treatments. I don't think there is any intent to reduce people who have served us all well to poverty on the basis of their need for medical treatment. Nevertheless, it does happen. And it is long past time that it should have stopped. Socialized medicine is not the answer--it is a disaster in countries like Canada and Great Britain when it comes to urgently needed care. Certainly we should take more care to plan for catastrophic illness; but even as we say that, there is the need to recognize that many people don't have the means to get through the month, much less plan for what might happen to them when they're 50 or 60 or 70 years old.

It is incumbent upon us to help diagnose the problem accurately and suggest a viable solution--one that does not pile the entire care of those without treatment on the backs of people who are themselves struggling to make ends meet. What form this can take, I don't know enough to say. But I would be happy to work with those who do understand the problem well and help devise a viable solution. It is our awareness of a problem and our willingness to really work with one another to solve it that leads ultimately to resolution.

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Cold Truth


The cold light of truth in four lines from a poem.

from "The Imaginary Iceberg"
Elizabeth Bishop

We'd rather have the iceberg than the ship,
Although it mean the end of travel.
Although it stood stock still like cloudy rock
And all the sea were moving marble.

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Reading too Much Roethke


Practical wisdom: Read not too much of poets inclined to depression and naturalism.

"I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. . ."

What waking and what sleep? What images
of all and nothing mixed, all one line one
meaning? The arrow through the small bedroom
with black-framed doors and yellow walls winds up
at here and now by the blue sea rising
only in memory. The sandcastle
crab scuttling through my earliest age,
and the dolphin and the shark that mark my
present time. A friend confided a ray
sounding spoke in salty dialect of
God who is not and hears not or does and
he instead does not hear.
[________________________] This slow waking,
this reach for light that comes when I go as
I am meant to, a sounding, surfacing--
grabbing hollow air to fill a hollow
man is all that moves me now, as I have
no motion that can be moved, no movement
that can mean or be or stay or away
drift--red autumn on dark water. Where I
found myself, between rock and water, soothed
and rounded by the cool swirl, made real by
the insects and fish that move with the true
motion of innocence, of what needs no
redemption because its only fall was my
own fall--pulled down in sullied brotherhood
and brought up again in light and darkness
that mix in the autumn waters of streams
that follow their own motion and make it
{___} To join them then and there in the pools
where darkness cannot consume the light and
all motion moves in secret silence and
what is know is what is seen--innocence
is the unchurned, sun-warmed top twelve inches
still and moving where they must. An ending
that is not seen and so becomes a new
beginning that is.
__________________Full memory is
sorrow, an unending world of shadow
that shifts and shapes a life unlived but walked
through. Who I am and am to be is known
only in the motion I do not make.

I'd like to explain it, but any explanation would take far, far too many words and leave what is here spoken in ways that mean less while they say more.

And I should note that some lines were suggested, indeed nearly cribbed from a great underpublished poet friend of min, Jay Bradford Fowler, Jr. The world is a lesser place without him.

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The Monk Upstairs


The second novel in the series by Tim Farrington has most of the same shortcomings and virtues of the first. First tick off the transgressions--marriage, divorce, and remarriage without benefit of divorce, a certain haziness with regard to Rebecca and religion, use of contraception--not by the nominally Catholic Rebecca, but by Mike, the former Monk himself.

But the story is lovely if incomplete and oddly shredded around the edges. There are many events with no resolution, many mentions of things that seem to have no focus or purpose. For example, Phoebe, who has the ability to see only some people clearly sees Mike the Monk and Rory the Stoned Surfer very clearly, but almost no one else. What is the meaning of the equivalence in her vision? Why is the kitchen torn up in the first chapter, mentioned throughout the book, but never brought to repair? Why does Mike get so hung up on cremation, but continue to recite psalms in some version that is either the Douay Rheims or a poor imitation?

While I enjoyed both books, I have many reservations about both of them. Some of the focus on prayer is sharp and interesting--revealing. But most of the story is a froth of chaos, The author's purpose is not to present Catholic teaching, and yet in a book about a former monk, one would hope for a little more clarity on precisely what the Church teaches--there is none. The Author freely mixes archaic versions of scripture with contraception--lighting votive candles with marriage without benefit of annulment.

As much as I enjoyed some aspects of these stories, I can't recommend them. They are however an inspiration in that true prayer can inform a book and become even the matter of a book without the book becoming dull and pedantic. And perhaps that was Mr. Farrington's purpose--to lure people into a life of prayer; however, the lure is itself tainted--tainted to the point where the goal itself probably cannot be achieved.

But then, I shouldn't allow opinions on the matter of doctrinal correctness to interfere with my vision of the author. Shouldn't, but for good or ill, I'm afraid I do, and so my lack of endorsement here.

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To make good sense of Roethke's poem, you may want to visit one by Charles Baudelaire, Correspondences, another translation of which is appended below.

Charles Baudelaire

La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.


Nature is a temple where living pillars
Let escape sometimes confused words;
Man traverses it through forests of symbols
That observe him with familiar glances.

Like long echoes that intermingle from afar
In a dark and profound unity,
Vast like the night and like the light,
The perfumes, the colors and the sounds respond.

There are perfumes fresh like the skin of infants
Sweet like oboes, green like prairies,
—And others corrupted, rich and triumphant

That have the expanse of infinite things,
Like ambergris, musk, balsam and incense,
Which sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses.

Translation from this site q.v. for an interesting explicative note.

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The Body of Allusion


The text of one of my all-time favorite poem--posted or reposted. Magnificent and beautiful. I am often stunned by Roethke's poetry and I remember really disliking it when I first read it--go figure.:

In a Dark Time
Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

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Quartet and Quintet


About half of the references to The Bridge Between refer to it as a work of the "Robert Fripp String Quartet" which, considering it is made up of five guitarists, makes it an improbably, but certainly Frippertronic title. However, the "album" cover correctly lists it as "Robert Fripp String Quntet."

And indeed, the album is played by a group of stringed-instrument players That the stringed instruments are guitars adds a certain interest to the work. Additionally, that these guitars sometimes end up sounding very much like a traditional string quintet, becomes even more intriguing.

I have liked nearly every musical mask Mr. Fripp has decided to wear--and heaven knows they are many--Fripp and Eno, King Crimson (multiple groups under a single name with a single continuing member), the String Quintet, Fripp and Summers, The League of Crafty Guitarists, Robert Fripp and David Sylvian--and session musician and producer on countless albums. In a sense Fripp (and Rick Wakeman) is the Dostoevsky of the musical world--not necessarily in terms of quality--though I do tend to like almost everything--but in terms of sheer temporal lobe epilepsy productivity. It's phenomenal. (As I said, Rick Wakeman is also way up there--I'm astounded by the number of albums he has with a group, solo, or contributing.) Truly tireless workers in the field.

At any rate, this was only to alert those who are even less alert that I have been over the past XX years that there is much good from the days of really fine music to be discovered. Before the tide of grunge swept in and removed the electroeuroboys from the stage there was Fripp. And after grunge had washed away, leaving in its wakes a certain grittiness and definitely a fabric that could use some bluing, there is Fripp, still moving along, still playing, still producing music, ambient and otherwise--grating, experimental, soft, delicate. All the textures of the musical world wrapped up in one continuously moving producer of gorgeous sound.

The String Quintet album is definitely worth more than one listen. Go and sample at Amazon, I suggest tracks 9 and 10. Passacaglia, track 9, manages to sound considerably like a harpsichord and 10, Threnody for Souls in Torment has me once again thinking about the religious theme that underlay much of what Mr. Fripp produces.

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Listening to Ultravox, John Foxx, and other friends of other times. And this one struck me both lyrically and, far, far more, musically.

lyrics by Ultravox

Give us this day all that you showed me.
The power and the glory 'til thy kingdom come.


Give us this day all that you showed me,
The power and the glory 'til thy kingdom come.
Give me all the story book told me,
The faith and the glory 'til thy kingdom comes.

And they said that in our time,
All that's good will fall from grace.
Even saints would turn their face,
In our time.

And they told us that in our days,
Different words said in different ways,
Have other meaning from he who says,
In our time.


And they said that in our time,
We would reap from their legacy,
We would learn from what they had seen,
In our time.

And they told us that in our days,
We would know what was high on high,
We would follow and not defy,
In our time.


Faithless in faith.
We must behold the things we see.

(Chorus - Repeat 4 times and fade)

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From the Follow-Up


Despite my lukewarm review of The Monk Downstairs, I have continued with The Monk Upstairs. The passage below comes from a letter written by our monk, now a step-father, about teaching his step-daughter's communion class. (Let's not talk about divorce and remarriage in the Church--I'll get to that in my review.) Despite the errors, there is much good to be derived from reading.

from The Monk Upstairs
Tim Farrington

It is a dauntingly difficult and delicate balance, and there is no way around the fact that for a child of that age, all this amounts to a sort of bait and switch anyway. With this first communion they are beginning a lifetime diet of a love so deep that, God willing, they will be strong enough to just keep walking into it when they realize that the torn and broken body, streaming with blood, nailed to that splintered wood on all those fearful icons, really is their own as well, that Love really does go through that death, and the Word through that suffering flesh, in order to be made real in this terrible world.

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Aphorisms That Form a Whole


Call them a form of admonishment--a reminder. Nothing profound, but worth recording for reasons all my own.


Powerlessness is bred of my motionlessness.
I fail because I do not, not because
I cannot. I have never tested "can."

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What Can Be Shown


Excerpt from a journal:


It seems there is a choice to live in fear,
regret, jealousy, and gradually
increasing bitterness, or to be alive,
casting habits of fear aside, become
open, outward, alive, loving, looking
for meaning beyond what most frightens me.
Fear is emptiness, the true death of trust,
or perhaps the knowledge that trust never lived.

I remarked to a correspondent that all of my prose is broken poetry, and that exalts my prose too much, but I hear within it the struggle to mean in the relationship of words by sound. There are echoes and echoing phrases and bells and drums within words that wrap the words around and make them mean. And so, I write what I must write and I recognize it for what it is--poor poetry, worse prose. But poetry is the exercise of control on language, it is the struggle for meaning in the mundane--it is the high frontier of communication and so, better to lose the struggle there than to never attempt it.

Boy that sound pretentious. It doesn't mean to be--but it's difficult to say in other words what is meant. I suppose each writer is stamped with the form most familiar, most comfortable, most reliable--for me, for better or worse, that form is poetry--and if I make a mess of it, well that certainly isn't the fault of the muse.

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Two Ways of Saying the Same Thing


Two quite similar poems about the same thing:

Dark, Dark My Light, and Darker My Desire

The world is haunted
by shadows
flattened people and places
words spoken once
repeated endlessly
in a million places
all at once.

What we see is not
real and all that is
real is haunted by the shadows
that change the warp and weft
of what is.

We quote words we've
heard too many times
but never spoken
by a person--only
the words of colored shadows.


We live in the shadow of shadows
in the haunted specter
of what once was real
and has no substance even now

a world haunted by shadows
flattened people and places
that grow to be more real
than those we walk through every day.

We listen to the words spoken
once and resounding
through the universe
filling up time and space.

What we see is not now real
and it replaces what we
can touch as more cherished,
more worshipped, more respected.

As poetry, I don't suppose either is terribly good. I'm not pretending that. But I like the idea behind them enough to preserve them and perhaps work from them to a more robust representation of what is in my mind.

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