“. . . things keep growing where we put them . . .” (Kay Ryan)

IMG_6336 - CopyA couple of days ago I needed a cup from a kitchen cabinet I seldom open. My company-for-dinner dishes are there, a complete set of tableware my late partner and I bought so we could appear to be grownups rather than graduate students when guests came to dinner. These days I seldom need to appear grown up at dinnertime, so I don’t open that cabinet except when I want a specific item.

That cabinet is also home to a few keepsakes, sentimentally valuable reminders of loved ones who are gone, including a commemorative plate from my paternal grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, May 31, 1963. It is not high-quality china but no doubt was expensive in those days because my uncle, whose signature “with love” is on the back, had it inscribed for the day. It wasn’t one of those made-to-order items from the internet (t-shirt or coffee mug, or . . .). I remember that celebration well – three weeks before my high school graduation.

IMG_6459-002On my desk is a copy of The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan inscribed by the poet to me. It is the collection for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. She signed my copy after she did a reading of her work at SMU last year. I had ordered it on the internet just in time to receive it before Ryan’s reading.

As I took the commemorative plate from the cabinet, Kay Ryan’s poem “A Certain Kind of Eden” was in my mind. I had just read it because Google reminded me it’s National Poetry Month, and her book was the handiest volume of poetry on my desk. That was the poem to which I randomly opened the book.

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.

I don’t recall holding my grandparents’ plate since I put it in the cabinet thirteen years ago. However, I have used another of the keepsakes in the cabinet, odd little rectangular salt and pepper shakers at least as old as I am, an inheritance from my mother that commemorates my birthplace, Wyoming. I used the little souvenirs the last time I had company for dinner and wanted to appear to be a grownup. The Morton sea salt container and the McCormick black pepper box I usually use are definitely graduate student style table settings.

You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re give
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.

When I first read “A Certain Kind of Eden,” I assumed it is about a lifetime of decision making. I’ve made decisions in which I have “overprized intention,” thought I was in control. I think of my life since I left my parents’ home after high school graduation in four chapters: Southern California for university and a few years beyond; Iowa for graduate school; Massachusetts for a career as an organist and then 17 years as a college professor; Dallas for graduate school (in a new field) and for love, 23 years and counting.

IMG_6463Anyone reading that litany might assume I’ve made some momentous decisions, that I “chose the bean and chose the soil” in Ryan’s poetic terminology. I have a 54-year-old plate and 70-year-old salt and pepper shakers that indicate a different reality. And I have more. My grandmother’s father was born in 1860 and died in 1937 (he died in an automobile accident on the way to my parents’ wedding). Great-grandfather was over six feet tall and office chairs did not fit him. He shortened the back legs of his favorite chair so he could lean back and be comfortable. I have that chair. It is at least 80 years old, but I would guess much older.

Three ordinary objects. Three family memories. For me, a plethora of decisions to move or to stay, to work or educate myself to change work, to be in a relationship or be alone. With each decision, I have carried with me those three ordinary objects.

I have made each of those decisions in the belief I was acting autonomously, doing what was best for me, following my dreams and desires, abandoning one place for another. But – it’s almost too obvious to need writing – wherever I have gone, whatever decisions I have made, I have with me decisions my great-grandfather (whom I never met), my grandmother, and my mother made before me. I “can’t go back and pull the roots . . . and replant.” I am bound, too, by all the decisions I have previously made.

kay ryanKay Ryan’s “one vine that tendrils out alone,” perhaps the shape of my own life, grows by “its own impulse.” I do not, ultimately, control it. My greatest hope, but finally my greatest sadness.

“A Certain Kind of Eden,” by Kay Ryan
It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

Kay Ryan, “A Certain Kind of Eden” from Flamingo Watching. Copyright © 1994 by Kay Ryan.

“I Go for Joe” (Smith, that is)

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The home of the richest man in town. He said so.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted the following grouse:

I have an old new theme song from junior high summer camp. “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. . .” At least this country’s not my home. What happened to the place I used to live where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for?

Silly, yes, but several of my friends responded positively, one – who is not quite my age – at some length.

My complaint could have several meanings, of course. The old camp song is about mortality and heaven.   I wonder what a bunch of junior high school kids could possibly have known of mortality. The Baptists were preparing us to believe we will be ushered directly into heaven if or when we die. However, at that age we surely did not think the angels would, in point of fact, beckon us. Ever.

The song raises and, for the faithful, puts to rest the question of mortality whether or not a bunch of 13-year-olds might understand it.

However, these days I take it to mean more, much more. In fact, I find it meaningful even though I have long since given up any belief in heaven.

In 1956, one of the most influential men in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, my home town, was a delegate to the Republican national convention. He was indignant about the inevitability of the nominations. When it came time in the roll call for the Nebraska delegation to pass so Richard Nixon could be nominated for Vice-President by acclamation, the delegate took the floor and nominated Joe Smith, a fictitious person. I wrote about this event awhile back.

Terry Carpenter  was not, at least by the reckoning of the adults I knew, admirable. He was wealthy, egotistical, and politically opportunistic. He famously said he wanted to help the little man because when the revolution came, they’d go for the biggest house in town, “Which is mine.” It was his – a two-story mansion on half a block of property, just down the street from our home. During his career, he was a member of Congress, mayor of Scottsbluff, and a member of the Nebraska legislature, switching back and forth from Democrat to Republican depending on which party was in power.

Something I read recently about the new “populism” reminded me of Carpenter (which incidentally indicated to me how bizarre the use of that term is in our current political milieu). I googled him. He died in 1978 at the age of 78. If we had been septuagenarians in the same place at the same time, I would like to have known him. I know no rich and powerful folks well enough to engage them in conversation about what they think and feel, but I’d like to ask such a person if riches and power preclude a person from thinking

. . . the angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

Terry Carpenter’s life and career remind me of other folks. For example, do Donald Trump and members of Congress, more than half of whom are millionaires, think “This world is not [their] home; [they’re] just a-passin’ through”?

As a kid at Baptist camp, I memorized the entire Sermon on the Mount from the book Matthew. I know the admonition, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2, RSV).terry-carpenter-lincoln-journal-star-file-photo-1968

Senator Terry Carpenter opposing 1971 course in Homophile studies at the
University of Nebraska.

I’m probably judging (my friends would say there is no doubt about it), but I’m trying to understand how one might (apparently) live in such certainty of one’s place in the world, if not in the universe, to seem to have no awareness that “[their] treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Is it possible to be unaware? Why does Donald Trump need to own towers all around the world? Why does Betsy DeVos need to be head of a government department? Why does Darrel Issa, with his half-billion dollar fortune need to be in Congress? He’s only 63, so perhaps it makes some sense that he’s not thinking about heaven. Yet.

I’m moderately certain that nowhere beyond the blue a treasure is waiting for me when I die. Or for Terry Carpenter, Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and Darrell Issa. I am, however, relatively certain that whatever meager treasure I have this side of the blue is not going to keep me from dying. I am more and more certain with each passing day that this world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through. And I may be wrong, but I think  those other folks are just passing through, too.

My Facebook post was incorrect. I have never lived in a place “where equality and civility were at least seen as goals to work for.” Terry Carpenter was around when I was a kid, and all those other rich and powerful folks are around now. I was in Scottsbluff then, and I’m in Dallas now, judging and criticizing and being cantankerous (and perhaps jealous) as I apparently always have done.

Oh well. It doesn’t matter in the long run if we are civil or work for equality or do any of those things that seem like nice ideas – because there is no long run.

A CAMPAIGN STATEMENT BY JOE SMITH’S OPPONENT, ADLAI STEVENSON.
I think one of our most important tasks is to convince others that there’s nothing to fear in difference; that difference, in fact, is one of the healthiest and most invigorating human characteristics without which life would become meaningless. Here lies the power of the liberal way. . .  in helping ourselves and others to see some of the possibilities inherent in viewpoints other than one’s own; in encouraging the free interchange of ideas; in welcoming fresh approaches to the problems of life; in urging the fullest, most vigorous use of self-criticism.  (Quoted in John A. Buehrens and Forrest Church. A Chosen Faith. Boston: Beacon Press (1998) 81.)

“. . . the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation . . . “ (Walter Rauschenbusch, 1920)

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The Union Pacific Railroad Station, Kearney, NE (Photo: FamilyOldPhotos.com)

The Union Pacific Railway station in Kearney, Nebraska, was familiar to my family in about 1951. We went to the station regularly for a full school semester to take my father to the train and to pick him up. He went (perhaps weekly) to Denver to study at Iliff Theological Seminary. Several years before he had finished most of the work for his degree at Central Baptist Theological School in Kansas City, but he had not completed the final work, writing his thesis.

Why he chose to go to Iliff instead of Central Baptist I do not know. It was theologically a much more progressive school. Kearney is a college town, and my guess is he was influenced by the well-educated members of the Baptist Church of which he was pastor. That is pure speculation.

My father’s thesis was a study of the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) interpreted in light of the writings of Walter Rauschenbusch, a leader of the “Social Gospel” movement. Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) was a theologian from Rochester Theological Seminary and a Baptist pastor. He was the great-grandfather of Paul Raushenbush whom many know from his years as Religion Editor for the Huffington Post.

Much of my father’s preaching on the Sermon on the Mount over the years is clear in my mind. I think his study of Rauschenbusch was an academic pursuit and did not overtly influence his preaching. Its basic tenet that the Christian gospel demands a morally responsible and compassionate approach to social problems, however, was at the heart of my father’s life and teaching. He and I often disagreed on how that was to be achieved, but the goal of a benevolent society and government was never in question. My father was often surprised when my understanding of some issue obviously came directly from what he had taught me but with widely divergent conclusions.

I have been trying to imagine what my father would think of Trump. My father, who worked closely with the Mexican Baptist Church in Scottsbluff, NE, which is still in a joint ministry with the First Baptist Church 60 years later. My father, who supported his friend Emily Wilks, member of the school board in Scottsbluff, as she worked to enhance and improve the public schools of the city. My father, who considered Edwin T. Dahlberg, pacifist and President of the National Council of Churches, a friend and teacher. My father, the Baptist preacher, who never once in my life admonished me or rejected me because I am gay, and who traveled across the country to spend time with my partner and me.

My father was not a saint. I was disappointed, particularly in his later life, with some of his intolerance, with his support of the Iraq War (simply because President Bush was a Republican), with a few of his other attitudes and beliefs. However, at age 90, he read Bishop Spong’s Why Christianity Must Change or Die when I gave him a copy, and we had lively discussions about it. A couple of years before that we had the same interaction with Oliver Sacks’ A Leg to Stand on.

This writing did not begin as a remembrance of my father. I would be foolish to attempt that because my memories are my memories. They bear a strong resemblance to the truth, but they obviously come from my perceptions of events from 50 or 60 or even 70 years ago. They are also, as all childhood memories are, shaped by my relationship with my father – over the years at times good, at times strained.

This writing began as an attempt to explain to myself the ground reasons that I am so repelled by Trump and so appalled that he is President of the United State. One of my professors of rhetoric in graduate school said, “We write to know what we think.” I am trying to ascertain what I think.

This began with my father because I am trying to understand where my ideas about government and politics came from. He was a conservative Republican. But his understanding of that mindset was far different from what I hear today. He was not interested in making anyone wealthy. He was interested in justice and equality, and he thought “big government” gets in the way of those ideals. I would have to have long conversations with my siblings and the few friends I have left who knew him in order to sort out all of those political ideas.

But I am absolutely certain that my father would have been heartbroken if he knew that his President purposefully and with ulterior motives made up and spoke “alternative facts.” He assumed that much of what passed as political discourse was alternate interpretation of facts, and he assumed that those alternatives were used as propaganda to change people’s minds to win elections. However, it would have shocked and angered him to hear the President lie – purposefully and blatantly – about the size of a crowd, for example.

I believe that my father and the vast majority of his generation expected political discourse to be grounded in truth – with strong disagreements, but with the integrity of the truth. He, for example, told me many times that he hated the atomic bombing of Japan and President Truman’s justification of it, but he understood why Truman had made the decision. I am most likely being Pollyanna about this. Politicians lie. They always have lied. They always will lie.

Lying to win a political conflict, however, is different from making up a wholesale alternative reality in order to get and keep power. Where is the line between the two? I don’t know. I only know that we have crossed it. The problem(s) or situation(s) Trump’s alternative realities are meant to fix or change will pale in significance in comparison to the destruction of the fabric of our society that will be the result of the triumph of “alternative facts.”

(Note: My own attachment to the religious texts Rauschenbusch quotes is so tenuous that I hesitate to copy his writing here. I do not mean to imply that our nation needs to be in a relationship with a particular God or concept of God. I simply mean to offer Rauschenbusch’s words on the moral responsibility of a nation.)

from Christianity and the Social Crisis
By Walter Rauschenbusch
London: Macmillan 1920

The prophets were public men and their interest was in public affairs. . . . Our philosophical and economic individualism has affected our religious thought so deeply that we hardly comprehend the prophetic views of an organic national life . . . We usually conceive of the community as a loose sand-heap of individuals, and this difference in the fundamental point of view distorts the utterances of the prophets . . . [The prophet] ridicules the attempts to appease the national God by redoubled sacrifices; he urges instead the abolition of social oppression and injustice as the only way of regaining God’s favor for the nation. If they would vindicate the cause of the helpless and oppressed . . . then their scarlet and crimson guilt would be washed away. . . Of course the text is nobly true when it is made to express God’s willingness to pardon the repentant individual, but that was not the thought in the mind of the writer. He offered a new start to his nation on condition that it righted social wrongs. We offer free pardon to individuals and rarely mention social wrongs.

We have seen that the prophets demanded right moral conduct as the sole test and fruit of religion, and that the morality which they had in mind was not the private morality of detached pious souls but the social morality of the nation.

Rauschenbusch’s book is available here.

 

“. . . While the deepening shadows fall . . .” (W. F. Sherwin ― 1877)

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Man made structures huddling on the earth as seen from the top of Scotts Bluff National Monument. (Photo: Harold Knight, August 21, 2016)

On August 24, 2016, my sister Bonnie Sato and I were in our childhood home, Scottsbluff, NE. We wanted to see a Nebraska sunset from “the bluff,” that is, Scotts Bluff National Monument. We drove to a small observation point we knew at the west base of the bluff. The sunset did not disappoint us. A cloud cover broke just above the horizon, and we were able to see the sun set under the clouds ― a common Nebraska event. I took about a hundred pictures.
___During the sunset I had in mind one of the first hymns I learned to play on the organ (I began lessons 62 years ago when I was 9 ― in Scottsbluff). In our hymnal, the tune was in the key of A-flat. The fifth note of the melody is D-natural, the raised 4th in the key of A-flat, creating a tritone, the “Devil’s interval.” It’s not harmonically important in this tune, simply an embellishment. But I heard it as a harmony tone and would often elongate the rhythm at that beat when I was alone. I did not know the name of that interval, midway between a 4th and a 5th, and, according to the Medieval theorists, difficult to sing and of the devil. I simply thrilled to the sound.
___The next time the Devil’s Interval impressed itself on me was when I was in high school (by this time in Omaha), and I learned to play the entire piano version of the songs from West Side Story. Tony sings the Devil’s Interval as the second note of “Maria.” Make of that what you may. My ultra-conservative Mennonite organ teacher would not countenance the worldly music of Broadway, of course, but he did explain the Devil’s Interval to me.
___Yesterday I was looking through my sunset pictures for a new “cover photo” for my Facebook page. I found one similar to (they are all similar to) the one below. As I was looking through my photos, I was taken back to August 24, even to the point of singing “Day Is Dying in the West” ― aloud here in the my apartment where I am alone.
___I thought of recording it on my Steuart Goodwin pipe organ (yes, if you don’t know, it’s in my living room) to put on my YouTube page, but I wanted the words, so I found the YouTube page of Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA, by googling the hymn. It is here. Listen for the Devil on the word “the.”

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Scottsbluff National Monument in shadow seen from the Wildcat Hills, 20 miles to the south. (Photo: Harold Knight, August 25, 2016)

___The hymn is musically too sentimental to be in sophisticated hymnals like those of the Episcopal and Lutheran churches (that’s not an elitist or sarcastic statement; they are the most musically sophisticated hymnals in common use). That begs the question, however, why the Episcopalians have not found a more sophisticated tune for those words. The hymn does not mention Jesus or “salvation.” Many fundamentalist Christians would think the almost “deistic” words would appeal to the Episcopalians, who, they suppose, are only marginally Christian. And yet I learned the hymn from a Baptist hymnal. Go figure.
___Perhaps because I learned the hymn when I was so young, even in my educated (presumably sophisticated) musical taste I still love both the tune and the words (mea culpa).
___Or perhaps my love of the hymn and tune is situated in my present age and understanding.

And when fading from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night. . .

This week I celebrated my 72nd birthday. Last night from the National Geographic TV channel, I watched an installment of the series Earth: The Making of a Planet (2015). Through the entire program showing the gathering together of space “debris” through millions of years to form the earth, I sat thinking (and several times saying aloud here in my apartment where I am alone), “How do they know that?” Is our science so advanced that we can state with (apparent) certainty what rocks, what elements, what minerals formed the earth, and how water managed to “cover the face of the deep?”
___Of course, the implicit question for me was, “If we know how it came together, do we know how it will end?” It will end. Our sun, a mature star, will become a red giant, and a red dwarf, and a supernova, and a black hole eventually (10 billion years? who knows?) and will take our solar system with it. More than “day” is dying in the west.

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Sunset over Wyoming as seen from the western base of Scottsbluff National Monument. (Photo: August 24, 2016, Harold Knight)

___I no longer use the language of that hymn, “Lord God of hosts.” I find it difficult to understand any more the concept of God ― at least of a god who controls what our eyes will see (the sub-text of the hymn, of course, is that the dying day is really the image of our dying selves) when we die or any time later or sooner.
___On the other hand, watching from Nebraska as the sun sets over Wyoming I cannot help but find in the core of my self the hope, perhaps even the belief, that

“While the deepening shadows fall,
[a] heart of love [enfolds us] all,
And through the glory and the grace
Of the stars that veil [its] face,
Our hearts ascend.”

I don’t believe that in any religious sense ― or even in the ever-popular “spiritual not religious” sense. Here’s what I think: some force that we, homo sapiens, cannot control, did not put in motion, and cannot stop ― whether by building walls around ourselves, or by allowing the overwhelming forces of the material world to dictate our social structures, or by refusing to care at the basic physical level for all the people in our sphere of influence, or by deeming ourselves to have the only correct understanding of “God” ― is responsible for all of this, from my heart to the two black holes astronomers recently saw merge in space.
___It is as convenient to call that force a “heart of love” as anything else. Or express it as the Devil’s Interval. But I’ll bet anyone standing where they can see the openness of our “prairie,” even with its plethora of man made structures huddled on the ground, for long enough will know that in the

“pass[ing of] the stars, the day, the night . . .
eternal morning [will] rise
And shadows end.”

Neither National Geographic, nor Donald Trump, nor the National Council of Churches, nor I can have any concept of how that process began or how it will end. We can’t even know our place in it.

Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA
Ron Bechtel, Organist
Words: Mary A Lathbury, 1877
Tune: W F Sherwin – Chautaugua, 1877

Day is dying in the west;
Heaven is touching earth with rest;
Wait and worship while the night
Sets the evening lamps alight
Through all the sky.
REFRAIN
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of Thee!
Heaven and earth are praising Thee,
O Lord most high!

While the deepening shadows fall,
Heart of love enfolding all
Through the glory and the grace
Of the stars that veil Thy face,
Our hearts ascend.
REFRAIN

And when fading from our sight
Pass the stars, the day, the night,
Lord of angels, on our eyes
Let eternal morning rise
And shadows end.
REFRAIN

. . . seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all . . .

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Scotts Bluff from the east, as migrants on the Oregon Trail would first have seen it.

Between August 18 and August 25, 2016, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I made a small pilgrimage to the cities in Nebraska where we lived from 1950 to 1969 – Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha. Scottsbluff, 21 miles from the Wyoming border, is where we have the most memories in common. Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the horizon from Scottsbluff the city, as it does all of the small cities in the area, Gering, Mitchell, Bayard, and others. The bluff is to this day a constant in my memory. I wrote the following shortly after our trip to try to explain the significance of Scotts Bluff to me.

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From the southwest, approaching from Gering.

As geological formations go, Scotts Bluff National Monument in far Western Nebraska is not overly impressive. Its elevation above sea level is only 4,659 feet, and it rises only 800 feet above the North Platte River at its base. The Riverside Park in the City of Scottsbluff, is on the other side of the river.

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From the south. A quintessential Nebraska view.

As a kid I discovered in the Encyclopedia Britannica that if the Empire State Building were in Riverside Park in the city of Scottsbluff, it would be almost half again as tall as the Bluff. I used to try to imagine how that would look, but I could never in my mind’s eye get the New York building even as tall as the Bluff.

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The South Butte of the Bluff.

My birthplace is Douglas, WY, at the base of Laramie Peak. I have memories of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming from the first five years of my life. I went to college at the University of Redlands, nestled at the base of Mt. San Gorgonio in Southern California. I lived in Upland, CA, for several years at the base of Mt. San Antonio. I know mountains. I know Scotts Bluff is not a mountain.

However, the Bluff dominates the lives and thinking―the consciousness―of the people of Scottsbluff (2013 population, 15,023), Gering (2013 population 8,084), Mitchell (2013 population 1,685), and several other small towns in its shadow.

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From the top of the Bluff looking southeast.

Scotts Bluff still, 56 years after our family moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, in some way I cannot explain, dominates my consciousness. This past week I was in Scottsbluff for only the fifth time in those 56 years. Driving across the plains of Nebraska and seeing the Bluff come into view brings me to a place of peace and self-knowledge that I have achieved nowhere else I have ever been.

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From the top of the Bluff looking east toward Gering.

The Bluff apparently gave many of the settlers 150 years ago crossing the country on the Oregon Trail a sense of peace and understanding, or at least hope and courage.

Many times in my life I have wondered how I would be different if I had spent the 10 most formative years of my life in the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Library of Congress in Washington, or Mount Vesuvius, or the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, or the Great Wall of China, or La Scala Opera House in Milan.

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Looking northeast toward Scottsbluff the city.

If I had read Proust or Heidegger instead of Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather.

It is, of course, pointless to speculate how my life might have been. I know only that my consciousness was shaped in part―a very large part―by seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all. The processes of the gathering and demise of the great North American inland sea, and the uplift and erosion of mountains are fairly obvious here. The geological history spans 33 to 22 million years.

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Looking west toward Laramie Peak (128 miles away and visible on a clear day).

The history for me began in 1950. It is the history of knowing day after day the power of the natural world to create itself, to build structures that show us―me, at any rate―how little power or control we have over anything.  The Empire State Building may be taller than the bluff, and we could build another one exactly like it. But we could not―cannot― build another Scotts Bluff. It is not spectacular like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It simply is. The bluff is the farthest extension of a reality stretched across the horizon of my life, the edges of my mind, reminding me that we, all of us humans together, cannot, did not, and could not create anything remotely like it. It is the embodiment of the mystery of my life.

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Sunset from the base of the Bluff looking toward Laramie Peak.

Let’s have another Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT talks, anyone?)

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There’s bombs in them thar hills. Wildcat Hills, Western Nebraska.

The first seven months of my life were, I think, fairly idyllic. Oh, sure, there was a war going on all around the world, but when I was about 4 months old, Germany surrendered so the only war still being prosecuted was with Japan. We lived in Douglas, Wyoming, where there was no direct threat to my family and neighbors from the war.

And then with one horrendous act, the United States changed the world forever. August 7, 1945, when I was 7 months old, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The United States has not had a moment’s peace since that day.

That is obviously a ridiculous over-simplification of history. A ridiculous over-simplification, but not demonstrably untrue. I know the rhetorical truism that one “cannot prove a negative” (“the United States has not had”), so I will phrase my thesis another way. Since August 7, 1945, the people of the United States have lived in a more-or-less perpetual state of fear and discomfort.

I remember my father speaking of the travesty of Harry Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I remember my father’s sadness at the death of Sen. Robert A. Taft in 1953 because Taft did not believe in foreign entanglements as first Truman and then Eisenhower did and, according to my father, Taft should have been President. I remember the Suez Canal Crisis, Sputnik, Gary Powers, the fall of Fulgencio Batista, the Eisenhower Doctrine―all during those ‘50s we so often hear touted as an idyllic time of American stability and economic growth. And I remember the guided missile silos surrounding the area of Western Nebraska where we lived.

Throughout this time (and continuing vestigially to the present day), lurking in the background was the constant awareness of the “nuclear arms race.” Negotiations between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (whose “Godless communism,” was pronounced to be the cause of all of the fearsome brinkmanship leading perpetually almost to war) continued over decades, not to “rid” ourselves of the ever-present threat of bombing each other atomically into oblivion, but to “control” the threat.

When exactly did that threat end? Christmas Day, 1991, with the demise of the U.S.S.R?

Now we want to “rid” Iran of all possibility of making one of those atomic weapons that have kept us so frightened since 1945. Never mind that Israel has a bunch of them, or that India and Pakistan rattle the sabers of annihilation toward each other periodically. And China has as many of the dreaded bombs as we do. And does anyone know what happened to the U.S.S.R.’s bombs and missiles when it dissolved. ALL of them?

I am well aware that the possible carpeting of the earth (thank you, Ted Cruz) with nuclear weapons is no longer the greatest source of fear in the U.S. Now we have ISIS and the other “Radical Muslim Terrorists” waiting for the next opportunity to kill us. I am not being flippant, and I do not minimize that danger although I wish anyone who might be reading this would read this article by John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart.

We have made mortal enemies of vast numbers of citizens of the “Middle Eastern” as opposed to the “Western” world. For 70 (and in the case of Britain and France, 100) years we have run roughshod over not only its economies, but its very political structures, creating nations where there were none and destroying nations where there were. And all the while pumping billions (trillions?) of barrels of oil out of that part of the earth for the benefit of our part of the earth. All in the name of keeping the world safe for democracy.

None of this is unknown to the general populace. I know my writing about it is unscholarly, disjointed, incomplete (and probably so biased as to be laughable). And, yes, I know about Hitler and Stalin, and Emperor Hirohito and all of the other perpetrators of evil against the world.

But the fact is, we have brought much (most?) of our fear and suffering on ourselves. And the NSA, the police departments with armored vehicles, and the metal detectors and terrorism alerts and warrantless cyber-snooping, and . . . . are all reminiscent of the “air-raid drills” we practiced when I was in fourth grades. And about as effective, I’d guess.

We live in a fear-and-hatred-based society. But if we did not ourselves bring about our felt need to fear and hate, we at least have done and are doing nothing to alleviate the need.

And now, it will seem I’m changing subjects by pointing out one of the  best examples of our Western penchant for xenophobia, of creating an untenable Sitz im Leben (“setting of life”), and then blaming the (perceived or real or conveniently created) enemy, the “godless Communists” or the “Radical Muslim Terrorists,” for the fear and loathing in which we live. That example is the State of Israel.

The U.S., the U.N., and the Zionists of Europe and the Middle East created a country by confiscating most of the land belonging to an indigenous people and made a new nation where it did not exist before. 1948. Since that time, and with increased persistence since 1967 when Israel took over all of the land of the area, the indigenous people have protested, usually legally and peacefully, but, at times, violently.

And just as the U.S. convinced its people―and most of the world―that the “other” was responsible for such realities as the Cold War, the Israeli government has convinced its own people and the U.S. that the indigenous Palestinians are to blame for violence and unrest. (Please see this site for current news of the situation.)

Our nation and nations like ours seem loathe to take responsibility for our mistakes, for our ruthlessness, for our self-centered grandiosity as the first step in fashioning not simply the control of arms and war and violence and hatred but the reality of peace and equality.

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Palestinian Bedouins, live in these hills. The village of Sousia, Palestine Occupied Territories. Photo by Harold Knight, November 7, 2015.

“Time has grown up on its own without me. . .” (Yousef El Qedra)

Their companion piece is missing.

Their companion piece is missing.

The color blue is not apparent in my apartment. The first noticeable color is the red of the fake Persian rug straight ahead from the front door. The two deep blue Palestinian glass pieces I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are now on the shelf of the table straight ahead, but they are below eye level.On the table in front of the living area window are two (I think) lovely pieces of blue glass, each of a different not-real-Waterford that Waterford sells under its name. I like them. I paid more for each of them than I should have, but they are blue.

For a year or so I had another piece of decorative blue glass, a small many-faceted blue bowl made by Jim Bowman of Bowman Glass in Dallas. His wife Mary Lynn, who is also an artist in glass, is an acquaintance of mine. The bowl sat on the table by the window with my two pieces of marginally Waterford blue glass.

However, I have lost Jim Bowman’s bowl.

How does one lose a blue art-glass bowl? I don’t know. It’s simply gone. Non-existent. Probably not non-existent, simply not in its assigned location, and not where I can find it.

I could blame its disappearance on old age. I’ve put it somewhere and don’t remember where. I doubt that. Besides, I couldn’t blame that sort of forgetting on my old age. It would not have been out of character for me 40 years ago to have misplaced a decorative piece I like very much. Forgetting, misplacing, losing have been my constant companions my entire life.

That’s probably because I don’t pay attention. It’s no mystery. I go through life floating just a tad above reality, never quite putting my feet down, never quite sure I know where I am. That’s hyperbole. But it’s closer to the truth than I wish it were.

It’s not because I am so otherworldly or preoccupied with important ideas or have too much on my mind. No, I simply don’t pay attention. I will give myself the benefit of the doubt and say I don’t because I can’t.

If one of the symptoms of aging is forgetfulness, I am destined, I fear, to be (or already am) that confused little old man everyone finds either pitiable or comical. But how will anyone be able to tell? Anyone who knows me well knows this is not a problem of aging for me. It was a problem when I was 12.

From time to time I have blamed my spaciness on TLE. I don’t know if that’s medically accurate or not. I fear it’s probably a simple matter of my not paying attention.

That the husband of my friend made the blue glass bowl is not only reason my losing it is weird.

Blue is my favorite color.

I remember the exact moment I realized blue is my favorite color.

I was at Anna Bleyle’s home in Scottsbluff, NE, playing with marbles she gave me to keep me occupied while she was looking after my siblings and me. I was in third or fourth grade. She was our favorite adult, a few but not many years older than my parents. Her husband and his brother owned a jewelry store. Her niece became a Methodist Bishop. Her nephew was the only boy we ever knew who was high school cheer leader (in the dark ages of the `50s).

The blue ones are best.

The blue ones are best.

I remember thinking, “Wow! Those blue marbles are the best ones. I love that color!”

My question: how can I remember those details (and many more) about those wonderful people from 60 years ago but not remember where my beautiful blue art glass bowl made by Jim Bowman is that was on the table by front window for about two years until sometime in the last few weeks when I did something with it I can’t remember?

I know. I know. “The short-term memory is the first to go.” Well, perhaps.

Now a jump from one topic to a totally unrelated one.

I’ve become fascinated by Palestinian poetry, both old and current. I may, after 30 years of teaching college English, have found my “specialty.”

The Gazan poet Yousef El Qedra and I have so little in common it’s almost absurd for me to say that I find my own experience in his work.

But listen. Listen to these lines.

Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me.

Can a 70-year-old Caucasian American man who has never wanted for anything, whose most difficult moments have been tiny seizures and a bit of discrimination because I’m gay possibly relate to a young Arab Palestinian trapped in the hell-hole that his home has been turned into through dehumanizing Israeli onslaught after onslaught?

The total of what I know about Mr. El Qedra is that he

is a poet and playwright who lives in Gaza. He has a BA degree in Arabic Literature from al-Azhar University in Gaza. He teaches drama, literature, and writing. He has written, directed, and acted in several plays. He has published four collections of poetry and some of his poems have been translated into French and Spanish.

(Banipal, Magazine of Modern Arab Literature 45 – Writers from Palestine.) Banipal has published several of his poems.
He knows from experience what I begin to know from age.

I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

What does that have to do with the color blue? Or a small piece of blue art glass. Only this. Loss does not necessarily mean despair or even depression. Viewed with hope (and perhaps humor) it can impart a sad, strong desire to live.

My inconsequential hope―to find that blue bowl. Silly? Yes. But a manifestation of my need to catch up with the time that has grown old without me.

“I HAVE NO HOME,” BY YOUSEF EL QEDRA
I saw clouds running away from the hurt.
I have no language.
Its weight is lighter than a feather.
The quill does not write.
The ink of the spirit burns on the shore of meaning.
The clouds are tears, filled with escape and lacking definition.
A cloud realizes the beauty she forms—
beauty which contains all good things,
for whom trees, gardens, and tired young women wait.

I have no home.
I have a night overripe with sweats caused by numbness all over.
Time has grown up on its own without me.
In my dream, I asked him what he looks like.
My small defeats answered me.
So I asked him again, What did he mean?
Then I found myself suspended in nothingness,
Stretched like a string that doesn’t belong to an instrument.
The wind played me. So did irresistible gravity.
I was a run of lost notes that have a sad, strong desire to live.

Translated by Yasmin Snounu and Edward Morin
From BEFORE THERE IS NOWHERE TO STAND: PALESTINE ISREL POETS RESPOND TO THE STRUGGLE. Ed. By Joan Dobbie and Grace Beeler. Sandpoint ID: Lost Horse Press, 2012.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks fro Anna's. A fortuitous blue car in front.

Our house in Scottsbluff (2005), six blocks from Anna’s. A fortuitous blue car in front.