“The centre cannot hold.” (W.B. Yeats)

[Oh, dear me. I don’t know where this came from.]

The second coming - slouching toward Bethlehem.

The second coming – slouching toward Bethlehem.

.
In case you were wondering (wandering? pandering? laundering? sauntering? bantering? blundering? floundering? countering? countervailing? countermanding? contemplating? illuminating? ruminating? pondering? wondering?) about my prediction for the November election, I expect the election will be a watershed in the history not of American politics, but of life as we know it, simply because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Anyone who has even a slight list to the left as they walk will stay home on November 4 for fear of falling over. It’s not that they lack all conviction, it’s that they have already decided that it’s better not to walk at all than to risk falling. That leftward list is made more pronounced because the center of gravity has moved to the right, and they think, therefore, that it cannot hold them up.

Most of my friends are fed up with the reality that President Obama landed in the viper-ridden oligarchy of special interests in Washington, D. C., in 2009, and immediately understood a) that the agenda on which he ran was dead in the water in the political reality of the Gerrymandered US Congress that cannot (now or probably ever again) represent the majority opinion on any issue facing the nation, and b) the real power in the United States lies on Wall Street and on 37th Street North in Wichita, KS, and no one can do anything against that monolith no matter what platform they ran on or what majority of votes they won.

The most dismal truth of all of this seems to be (note, I said “seems,” not “is”) that President Obama and those tens of millions of people who elected him apparently did not understand that the causes they thought he might champion could not have been successfully championed by anyone, and, in racist America, an African American President would have virtually no power to change anything.

Now I will slip into delusion. That’s OK. I’m used to it. The earliest of my own writing about the Koch Brothers I can find is from September 3, 2011. Somewhere, however, I wrote about them long before that. It was before 2003 because my late partner demanded that I prove what I said. I eventually had enough verifiable research that he began talking about the Cock Brothers as a phenomenon that could happen only in the lower Midwest, if you get his double entendre.

[I also, by the way, wrote about the “Project for a New American Century” before the 2000 election in which its horrors were institutionalized. My friends would not believe me, but we live today in the pernicious shadow of that document.]

The centre cannot hold.

The centre cannot hold.

I was wrong when I predicted Romney’s election in 2012. I still believe had it not been for his “47%” comment he would have been elected.

I’m not trying to establish my credentials as a prognosticator. I write and think with only second-hand information, and that not very clearly. But here’s what I think.

President Obama has clearly been a disappointment to anyone who would allow the word “liberal” or “radical” or even “progressive” to be said or written in any proximity to their names. You name it, he has not done what such people want him to do.

In order to accomplish those things, he would have needed a willingness (to say nothing of an ability) to act against (do herculean battle against) the powers that be in Washington. The powers of big business, bigger money, and a Congress so Gerrymandered in favor of the Koch brothers and Donald Trump and Karl Rove, and Ted Cruz that it can never again—I’m not being hyperbolic, it will take a revolution to change it—represent majority opinion.

gerrymander
1812 as both a noun and verb, American English, from Elbridge Gerry + (sala)mander. Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, was lampooned when his party redistricted the state in a blatant bid to preserve an Antifederalist majority. One Essex County district resembled a salamander, and a newspaper editor dubbed it Gerrymander. (Harper, Douglas. “Gerrymander.” Online Etymology Dictionary. 2014. Web.)

William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming” describes our situation.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned . . .

The falcon, flying farther and farther out of control cannot hear the command of the falconer. The centre cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Our anarchy is not, of course, the classical anarchy of the far-left. It is the anarchy of a government and society spinning out of control except for the unprincipled moment-to-moment decisions by the oligarchy in favor of actions and doctrines that will benefit them without any thought for what those doctrines will do to the vast majority of the population.

Yeats’s vision of the Second Coming is not comforting.

Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again. . .

The monster of the Second Coming, the “anarchy . . . loosed upon the world,” has a “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.” The Second Coming is a “rough beast . . . slouching toward Bethlehem.” Whatever we thought the “first coming” meant (wherever we thought took place), the second coming—in the same place—will mean darkness, not light.

This will happen because

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I don’t know if “progressives” are “the best.” I do know, however, that they have no conviction.

“The Second Coming,” by W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

Gerrymandering to exclude progressives.

“. . . the old fable-makers searched hard for a word . . .”

This morning the weather was –for an old man like, at any rate—brutal. 21 degrees when I arrived at my office. It warmed up to 33 or something like that by the end of the day. But the

Ice only by the driver's door of my car. With photographer's finger.

Ice only by the driver’s door of my car. With photographer’s finger.

weather is by any reckoning strange for Dallas.

And for everywhere else in this country, I think.

I had students one after the other in my office today for conferences on the next essay they have to write. Their assigned topic is the 1956 (that is, the real) Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Everyone knows the little speech by Dr. Miles Bennell,

In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away. Only it happened slowly instead of all at once. They didn’t seem to mind… All of us – a little bit – we harden our hearts, grow callous. Only when we have to fight to stay human do we realize how precious it is to us, how dear.

Only when we have to fight to stay human.

I had several student conferences that were quite enjoyable. Fortunately the best of the day was the last.

When I left, I went to my car and found that all of the ice in the parking lot had melted and evaporated during the day—except, of course, for the little patch by the driver’s side door of my car. I thought it was pretty funny so I took a picture (with the tip of my finger in it).

On the radio immediately when I turned it on driving home was news of the Ukraine. I have written in some detail about it, but I’m not going to copy any of that here. But I am bemused, saddened, grieving over the situation. Once again might is attempting to make itself to be the right.

But in the midst of all of this news, I had a private moment of grief. A good friend and former colleague was of Ukrainian heritage. In fact, he had relatives in Kiev and went every couple of years to visit them. This was about the time (1991) when the Soviet Union was collapsing, and my friend was ecstatic.

When I moved to Texas, I tried to keep in touch with him, but after the first exchange of emails, he simply stopped answering my messages (this was 1994 when academics were just beginning to use email habitually—compulsively—and the general public wasn’t yet online to any significant degree).

I have had moments of grief over the evaporation of my friendship with Phil. Somehow the situation in the Ukraine today has brought that grief to the surface of my memory and consciousness.

When I arrived home this afternoon, thinking about Phil and wondering where he is and if there is any way to contact him or anything to be gained by it, I remembered I needed to pay my rent. So I wrote a check and took it to the apartment offices. The assistant manager was not in her office, and a guy I had never seen before was in the manager’s office at his desk. I asked if Sharon (the assistant manager) was gone for the day, and the guy replied, “Sharon has retired.”

The last time I saw her was about a week ago when she brought me (to my door—not a usual service of the complex) a package of some books I had ordered that were published in Palestine and were shipped through Cyprus (don’t ask me). She said nothing about retiring. She and I had talked about my retiring several times. I knew nothing of her plans. I have sat in her office for hours on end, the two of us yakking like a couple of old farts. At least a couple of old friends.

And she has simply disappeared. The only way I know to reach her is at a desk which is no longer hers.

"Cascade" by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

“Cascade” by Robert DiGiovanni, mutual friends with Phil and me.

My cat Groucho hid from me when I came back to the apartment from delivering my rent check to someone I don’t know. Groucho hid because he has become frightened of me. You would be, too, I suppose, if I came at you with a syringe twice a day to give you an insulin shot. Especially if you had no idea—could have no idea—that it was keeping you alive.

Today. Phil. Sharon. Groucho. I’m sensing loss so keenly I can scarcely imagine it, much less let myself feel it. More and more these days.

Growing old—I’m not old yet, but I’m headed there—means learning to say goodbye daily. We learn that  “what is gone is gone forever and never found. . .”

If that is good or if that is bad, I don’t know yet. If I find out before it’s too late, I’ll let you know. In the meantime the Irish poet Eavan Boland (*) says something akin to what I want to say. She won’t mind if I quote her, I’m sure. She is, by the way, one year older than I.

“Atlantis—A Lost Sonnet,”  by Eavan Boland      

How on earth did it happen, I used to wonder
that a whole city—arches, pillars, colonnades,
not to mention vehicles and animals—had all
one fine day gone under?

I mean, I said to myself, the world was small then.
Surely a great city must have been missed?
I miss our old city —

white pepper, white pudding, you and I meeting
under fanlights and low skies to go home in it. Maybe
what really happened is

this: the old fable-makers searched hard for a word
to convey that what is gone is gone forever and
never found it. And so, in the best traditions of

where we come from, they gave their sorrow a name
and drowned it.
__________
(*) Eavan Boland was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944.
She has taught at Trinity College, University College, Bowdoin College, and she was a member of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. She is also a regular reviewer for the Irish Times. Boland is professor of English at Stanford University where she directs the creative writing program.

FIGWORT (not really a poetry lesson)

Figwort

Figwort

This morning I discovered eyebrights — flower  of the family, figwort, plants that grow in Ireland. They have long stems with brownish flowers clustered at the top. Why, you might ask, would I need to know what an eyebright or a figwort is?

One of my best-kept secrets (I’m probably deluding myself to think everyone doesn’t know) is how little I know about anything. I suppose anyone who is sane knows they don’t really know that much about anything. A little bit of knowledge is a limiting thing, as we all know.

I was reading an article I found online–about Maxine Kumin (the American poet whose work fascinates and delights me, and who died last week–at 86), and the article mentioned the Irish poet Ciaran Carson, of whom I had never heard. Even though I don’t know much, I do have curiosity born of my awareness that I don’t know, so I looked him up. I was taken with the five poems of his I found online. I also found several biographical sketches of him which, when I read far enough into them to get to their discussions of his work, made my eyes glaze over as I realized I don’t know enough academic jargon about modern poetry to understand. But his poetry is apparently not “modern,” but “postmodern” or, for all I know, “post-postmodern.”

I have no recourse other than to believe the articles I’ve found about Carson and call him modern, or postmodern, or post-postmodern, whichever a given scholar says he is. (Academic writing is, you probably know, a giant game of “he said—she said,” and trying to come to a conclusion may be a totally self- defeating activity. When I say things like that, I may simply be expressing my sour grapes because I am not one of those scholars even though I’m about to retire from a profession which seems on the surface to require such scholarship.) Back to the proposition that I don’t really know as much as I should or could. On the other hand, I’d guess not another member of the English department at SMU knows if Carson is modern or post-postmodern or simply odd.

Carson’s poetry is some of that stuff that looks somewhat like poetry, but when you read it, you’ll be unable to relate it to the definition of poetry you learned in Miss Swanson’s fourth grade class, starting with memorizing “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

Much of Carson’s work seems to refer to or is directly about the Irish struggle for independence from England. I don’t know. But his poems frequently make reference to “British army helicopters” and “trip wired mine fields” and such.

It’s easy to imagine that the flower of the figwort is shaped like and has the brownish-red color of the red fig (not of the green variety). I haven’t been able to find the etymology of the word “figwort,” but I’d bet it is related somehow to the ordinary fig, introduced to England early in the 16th century (about the time the Christmas carol that mentions “figgy pudding”

The Irish Poet

The Irish Poet

became popular).

until

you stoop
& pluck

a stem
of eyebright

The poet and his (mistress, lover, partner, friend) walk hand in hand through the trip wired field, paying attention to nothing but each other until the other reaches down and picks “a stem of eyebright.” I was struck by the image even when I did not know what eyebright is—or have in mind a clear picture of trip wired fields.

“Let Us Go Then,” by Ciaran Carson  

through the trip
wired minefield

hand in hand
eyes for nothing

but ourselves
alone

undaunted by
the traps & pits

of wasted land
until

you stoop
& pluck

a stem
of eyebright

Writing poetry turns out to be either a mystery-shrouded activity or a monumental task. You’d think it would be easy to write a “line” of poetry like that. It’s just prose spread out.

Here’s another poem by Ciaran Carson, “Fear.”

I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.
I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be.
I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer’s fee.
I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again.

(Carson, Ciaran. “Fear.” Selected Poems. Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University Press. 2001

It seems like nonsense, gibberish. It’s so obvious, the sounds —“ee” and  —“ain” repeated in images that make little sense together. But read it aloud so your voice doesn’t fall at the end of each line. When you finish, do as the poet says, and begin again. You may be surprised. I was the first time. And I read it several times non-stop. The last time I stopped after the first line. Every syllable, it now seems to me, belongs exactly as it is. I’m not in the habit of “analyzing” poetry, so I’ll just say all of those small, prosaic, unrelated images are, in fact, “the vast dimensions of eternity.” That’s what I’d say to a class.

And then I realized Carson does artfully and brilliantly what I have been tinkering with for some time now (since I bought the huge volume of Postmodern American Poetry—and I don’t even know what postmodern is). I want so desperately to express my experience that I’ll try anything.  I have several folders on my hard drive of this kind of stuff. Perhaps obscure nonsense says it as well as anything.

“One Tree,” by Harold Knight (written, I swear, before I knew of Ciaran Carson)

One tree
in forty-one

a vacant lot

apartment
complex razed
to renew
and invest

and I
apart alone

one joy gained
another lost

turn back
to speak your
name
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