“These are the chickens you let loose one at a time. . . “ (Kay Ryan)

1-sousia sky

The Palestinian Sky at Sousia Bedouin Village. (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 15, 2015)

Poet Kay Ryan read some of her work a couple of days ago at Southern Methodist University, and told a about herself in the same way she writes poetry. That is, less is always more. I have been smiling at, giggling out loud at, and all-but weeping at her poetry for years. Her images and insights are precious to me, the more so because we are virtually the same age (I am eight months her senior) and she so often that it’s uncanny says exactly what I was thinking and didn’t know how to say (I think that’s the definition of great poetry).

I am grateful to have heard her read and talk a little about her poetry because I now know my intuition was right―her delightful, funny, strange little poems are “about” something. They are about the kinkiness of living in this world, and about the mixture of joy and pain getting old―among other realities―brings. At least that’s what I heard the other night.

All the ideas, experiences, (mistakes?) of 70 years I’d like not to remember seem to be taking over my life. The chickens are, re: the old cliché, coming home to roost. It’s not only the bad chickens. It’s all the chickens, even those ideas, experiences, and accomplishments I’m proud of. This is not good or bad. It simply is. In Kay Ryan’s words, they are “all the same kind,” and they are all coming home “at the same speed.” Her poem “Home to Roost,” exemplifies the poet’s―a real poet like Kay Ryan, that is―ability to say all of this precision and elegance (and humor).

“HOME  TO  ROOST,”  by  Kay  Ryan  (b. 1945)

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

This reminds me of a poem by Ogden Nash. It’s fair to quote him because Ryan quoted one of his poems. The last two lines of his poem “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man,” comparing sins of “omission” and “commission,” are

The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.

If all the chickens coming home to roost turn out to be of the same kind, returning at the same speed, what difference does omission or commission―or being or not being sinful―make?

Poets make connections between ideas and images that you and I would never think of until we read them in poems. My mind makes connections, but they are not elegant and certainly can’t be turned into poetry.

About 25 years ago in Boston I taught a college music appreciation class. One of the students was a young Palestinian man. He was had to leave this country soon because his student visa had run out. Unfortunately, the First Palestinian Intifada was just winding down, and his parents had managed to escape and were living on Malta, but he could not go there. He had no passport from Israel. Long story short. Details are not important―it’s complicated―I learned from him about the Nakba, about the Palestinian refugees, about the crushing oppression of the Palestinians before 1967, and about the totally untenable circumstances of their lives since then. He disappeared to Tunisia, and I’ve wondered since then what became of him.

One of the chickens that has come home to roost for me is my delay advocating for the Palestinians. In 1984 I had seen what outspoken advocacy could do for an international star when the Boston Symphony cancelled a performance by Vanessa Redgrave because of her advocacy for the Palestinians. I had no international stardom to fall back on.

But the truth of that situation would not let me go. When the Second Intifada was winding down (2003), I decided I had to see for myself. I went with a delegation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (their Palestine/Israel delegations are now independent as Interfaith Peace Builders). It changed my life. More aspects of my life than I thought at the time or than I realize even today.

Some of those chickens came home to roost.

My lifetime peripheral dedication to the cause of justice became in some ways an obsession. I’ve been back twice.

Since I cannot be a rabble-rousing activist, I have one little almost-private method of staying involved. I put together a blog about daily events in Palestine. Virtually every day. In the year since February 15, 2015, I have posted 255 times.

As far as I can tell, “the sky is dark with chickens, dense with them.” I have done much that might be considered “wrong” (by the Baptists I grew up among). I have done much that seems “right.” Most of my life at the moment seems “all the same kind.” My life is as it is.

My relationship with Palestine InSight is as it is. I simply do it. I’m not sure how many people read it. I used to beg my friends to read it. I wanted it to float to the top of Google searches. My purpose is to provide a place where Americans can see a tiny (tiny, tiny) slice of what’s happening in Palestine that might shed some light on their struggle―and to make available every day a poem by a Palestinian poet. Every day, a poem.

For a while I worried that no one was reading it, that I was wasting my time (about 2 hours a day). And then I realized the blog needs to be there whether anyone reads it or not. If someday someone finds it and loves the poetry or understands something about the lives of the Palestinians, so much the better.

If not, it is part of my “sky [ ] dark with chickens, dense with them.” There. Only there, not to worry about. Do it. Let ‘em loose one at a time.

1-Lifta Village

Lifta Palestinian Village, Jerusalem. (Photo: Harold Knight, Nov. 12, 2015)

“. . . to do battle with the powers of evil . . .” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Saddam_rumsfeld

Rumsfeld/Hussein (Dec. 20, 1983). “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” George Santayana, Life of Reason (1905).

The Iowa caucuses prompted me to write an essay (OK, let’s not elevate the language – a blog post) about my fear of (yes, I mean that – “fear”) Ted Cruz’s candidacy, even if he does not win either the Republican nomination or the Presidency.

However, I am stuck. No matter what I write, it ends up sounding exactly like the kind of language (therefore, ideas) I want to speak against.

The sentence I wrote from which I took the title above is

During Hitler’s rise to power, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Fanatics think that their single-minded principles qualify them to do battle with the powers of evil” (Bonhoeffer, 4).

Ted Cruz’s only “single-minded principle” is, it appears to me (remembering I am often mistaken about almost anything), a lust for power, a kind of power not unlike the power he rails against. He wants power of one of two kinds which I cannot sort out:

1) Power for himself personally
2) Power for the Fundamentalist christians in this country who call themselves “Evangelicals” but are in fact “Reconstructionists” and “Dominionists.”

Is Ted Cruz doing battle with the powers of evil? Or is he simply using Americans who want to do battle with the powers of evil to access the power he lusts after?

What―exactly―does Ted Cruz believe? What is his understanding of what he is doing? Is he using the Fundamentalist, Dominionist christians to win power for himself, or does he  believe his father’s teachings that find “in Genesis a mandate that ‘men of faith’ seize control of public institutions and govern by biblical principle” (Dubose, Web).

Dominionism is the idea that conservative Christians have the right ― and the responsibility ― to take dominion over all aspects of life, including the government. The term springs from Genesis 1:26-28, a biblical pas­ sage in which God instructs Adam and Eve to “have dominion” over every living thing on Earth. This “dominion mandate” has been popular in certain fundamentalist circles for decades, but it leaped onto online debating forums in August [2010] in connection with Perry’s Christian-fundamentalists-only, prayer-and-­fasting rally at Houston’s Reliant Stadium (Conn, Web).

Ted Cruz’s political take on the Rushdoonyite theology/philosophy was all too apparent as he spoke after his caucus victory in Iowa. Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the guiding light in Christian Reconstructionism, the precursor of Cruz’s Dominionism.

[In his first book Rushdoony] had already articulated the essence of Reconstructionist theology. The truth of biblical revelation is the only guiding presumption that will yield true conclusions, and the law of biblical revelation is the only viable framework for organizing a society: “All facts being created facts, factuality can only be understood in subordination to God. But to understand factuality, man needs a norm, and this Scripture provides.” This was Christian Reconstructionism in a nutshell (Worthen Web).

Worthen, who is perhaps the most thorough and unbiased writer on Rushdoony, warns against the somewhat irrational fear-mongering about Reconstructionism in the press a few years back (after Rick Perry’s rally at Houston’s Reliant Stadium). Her writings are balanced and informative.

However, I personally am more than mildly concerned knowing there is some possibility that Ted Cruz could become President, or is at the very least the leader of a movement who has as his rallying cry,

Let me first of all say, TO GOD BE THE GLORY. Tonight is a victory for the grassroots. Tonight is a victory for courageous conservatives across Iowa, and all across this great nation. Tonight the state of Iowa has spoken. Iowa has sent notice that the Republican nominee for the next president of the United States . . . . will be chosen by the most incredible powerful force, where all sovereignty resides in our nation by we the people . . . . courageous conservatives across the state.

. . . . tonight is a testament to the people’s commitments to their yearnings to get back to our core commitments, free market principles. The judeo-christian values that built this great nation (Lind, Web).

  • Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Touchstone, 1997, 4. Print.
  • Conn, Joseph L. “Dominionism and Democracy.” Church & State 64.9 (2011): 10-12. Web.
  • Dubose, Lou and Hannah Harper, “Ted Cruz’s dad has a very sketchy resume: Rafael Cruz’s credentials are exaggerated, at best.” Salon. salon.com. Oct 19, 2015. Web.
  • Lind, Dara. “Iowa caucus: Ted Cruz echoes Ronald Reagan in victory speech.” Vox Policy & Politics. vox.com. February 2, 2016. Web.
  • Worthen, Molly. “The Chalcedon Problem: Rousas John Rushdoony And The Origins Of Christian Reconstructionism.” Church History 77.2 (2008): 399-437.
    cruz commandments

    “We defended the Texas Ten Commandments monument, [which] stands on the State Capitol grounds,” recalls Cruz. “Until an atheist — a homeless man — came along and sued the state, saying it offended him to gaze upon the Ten Commandments. We defended the Ten Commandments, we took the case all the way to the Supreme Court … and we won, 5-4.”

    Please visit my blog Palestine InSight. Thank you.