Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Otters and steamrollers have long had enmity
over the basic structure of the Universe. Otters
pull trout from swirling streams, gnaw the fins
so as to avoid loss of their catch.
Blood drips down into the shallow ripples over gravel bars.
This is education: placing meaning behind
phenomena. Otters observe with keen eyes
how the current takes the drops.
Steamrollers see no meaning.
Their heads hang, eyes dropped
straight and down. Learning
is knowing there is nothing
aside from the pavement ahead. The crushed insects,
mashed into the asphalt are no longer bugs, they’re pavement.
At Thanksgiving, the steamrollers have difficulty
sitting still, keeping quiet, when the family goes
around the table saying one thing each:
what they are thankful for. Steamrollers
raise their voice with angry assertions
that there is no point, and that gratitude means nothing.
These are followed by long quiets. Otters take time—
cleaning fur, searching for something to say.
Otters have never repeated their thought;
year after year they find something new.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
The Park had adjusted:
elk grazed lazily; bison reclined
in dust baths, talked about the weather; coyotes
sat-up straight on rocky outcroppings
looking over the expanse.
Wolves came back
like they owned the place.
The herd’s eyes grew two sizes,
they became flighty and paranoid:
constantly looking over shoulders,
muscles taut ready for sprint.
Big bulls became stoic and stern,
flared their nostrils, lowered their shoulders
and presented arms.
Coyote’s tails curled down
between hind legs
as they slunk back
into the shadows.
Friday, November 18, 2011
We usually fought with wrenches.
Our teeth are fake, our noses crooked.
We were communicators. Strong sensitive types.
Expressive. The counselor suggested
words; or at least pillows, but
he was wearing a burgundy v-neck and penny-loafers.
Strong sensitive types did not mean fairies.
The days spent in hospital gowns puking
after concussions were times to consider
the other’s point carefully. Sometimes
there would be an apology: a fifth of whiskey
or a case of beer; most times
a counterpoint would be offered:
this is how dialogue is advanced.
I decided to make myself a cheese sandwich.
I was not good at slicing. I didn’t possess the ability
to make wise judgments on the amount of cheese needed,
and was unable to cut straight.
The sandwich was a failure. The cheese slice was a wedge—
with one end an inch and half thick, the other paper-thin.
Not wanting the failure to be seen by my sister or parents,
I fed the cheese to my dog Rosie.
I don’t know if it was the cheese,
but later that afternoon we found Rosie
dead under the rhododendron bush
in the back yard. I cried till I shook.
My nose was a fountain of mucous. My sides ached.
Each tear was a bowel movement.
There are few griefs heavier than a ten-year-old’s
after their first dog’s death.
For months the thought-bubble above my bed
contained a stubby, orange corgi sprawled out
motionless. I made my pleas to God.
No weight of feeling made them potent.
I wondered if I’d ever stop crying,
if I’d ever fall asleep
thinking of something else.
If the picture of my dog would ever blur.
I don’t know if it was gradual, or if I just woke up
one day feeling better, but I stopped crying.
The Mariners went to the playoffs, and I fell asleep
thinking about Ken Griffey Jr, and Edgar Martinez.
Thoughts of Rosie became distanced from one another,
details atrophied. Now, when I think of her
all I see is an out-of-focus dog-shaped creamcicle.
But I still think of her.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
What was her posture;
the angle? Was it quick:
hey? Did it linger?
Her voice, did it drop
or peak? Can you describe
the eye contact?
Was she already walking
when she saw you, or
was she standing still?
There are more secrets
hidden in a greeting and wave
than buried underneath the Vatican.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Slick water undulated erratic.
Wind whipped waves waffled
indecisive and unpredictable.
The miracle was more than unexpected
buoyancy; it was balance,
ankles that didn’t roll,
feet that didn’t slip.
Peter’s attempt was ambitious but less
successful for more reasons than doubt.
Monday, November 14, 2011
or at least my home and native land-ish.
A half-moon congers
a frosted donut in the thin clouds of a dawn
still dark blue. Away to my right
the color scheme softens.
The long ling of license plates moves steady:
British Columbia, Washington, BC, BC,
Washington. The wait is long
enough for me to reflect on the weekend
spent sleeping in
with a familiar comforter
in a room once decorated
with little league trophies
and ancient Mariners.
The Vancouver radio station comes in clear,
plays a new song I don’t hate anymore.
The line moves quicker.
The donut starts to fade.
Right now, ten thousand crows have started their morning
commute over East Van on their way to dumpsters
across the city. Everyday
they repeat the same trip: at dusk
and dawn the sky is peppered with silhouettes
going to, or coming from home.
Friday Saturday and Sunday
were beers and breakfasts
with friends who knew me
before I started to shave;
but with each car-length
I move closer to Canada
a relieved excitement builds.
The border guard asks disinterested
questions that I answer reflexively:
where are you coming from?
What are you bringing back? What weapons
do you have? Where are you going?
Without pause I say:
Saturday, November 12, 2011
A gang of raccoons gathered
on the back porch. You gazed down
from the second floor bathroom,
decorated with carefully hung pink towels
with embroidered big-eyed purple kittens . You let out a groan,
because it was just so precious—the cleanliness
of the marauding bandits washing their hands
in the cat’s water dish. A holler alerted your housemates to
the adorable scene, they rushed over with dry cat food.
Giggle’s erupted as you “made it rain.” You fools!!
The raccoons were washing their hands
of Mr. Wiggle’s blood—their bellies were already full,
but they would try and make room for the deceased cat’s food.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Technically he had arrived, but
the cold woman with a red leaf on
her shoulder was quick to remind him
he was not going to stay. He was unwelcome.
2000 miles of pilgrimage turned around.
Camera full—hundreds of road-trip smiles:
one in front of the “Welcome to Canada” sign.
But the cold woman reminded him,
the sign was not written for him.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
When we got there
my 1986 Toyota Camry shook,
smiled, breathed the altitude in
from proud mechanical lungs.
We reflected on sleep deprived
conversations under full moon
non-sense belly laughs
down winding roads
through promised lands.
Eight thousand feet,
dark morning still cold
in late summer we waited
watched for the dawn.
The sky changed its mind
and we scurried down to the lip.
The horizon was a palette
orange and pink bleeding
into a pale off white
leaning towards light
blue. Beams of sun
crept down the rust-colored cliffs.
We looked up and down
the Grand Canyon was not
a photograph. Pebbles nuzzeled
between our toes, potential death
falls stirred dormant fears
in our guts. We tried to open
our eyes bigger than they could,
wished they were garage doors.
We considered the morning
the serenity, tried hard
to locate a word or sentence.
it was big, but
somehow it wasn’t
what we expected.
Friday, November 4, 2011
will look like forgetting
and small children with eyes
that look like yours
and the miracle in this
will be what is forgotten
in mess and diapers and spouse’s
wandering eyes and tendencies
towards distance despite five year’s
intimacy that should have
revealed the occasions
when the space between needs
to be closed, but some times
the privileged knowledge will be
remembered and hands will be held,
dishes done, children sent in
with breakfast-in-bed and
miracles will be remembered.
The cat did not kill much.
Mostly, she stared
at her paw covered
in flowing white fur—
opening and closing.
The cat was clean,
but liked being around
She liked the way
pristine claws looked
The cat was not an outdoor cat.
She didn’t even like the thought
of the garage, or windows.
Her world was carpeted:
soft and safe.
Occasionally she’d swat
a potato bug, juggle it
until she lost interest,
which didn’t take long.
Then she’d place it
in a special corner
set aside for such things.
When the days were warm
the grass was mostly moss:
a vast warm-green carpet
sprawling out in a sun-beam
The cat spent time in the window,
between curtains and glass,
asleep on the lawn.
She let herself out,
explored every carpet
she could find. The cat
didn’t come back.
Neighbors were called,
flyers made, stapled to
poles and fences.
The cat came back
gray and red and smelly.
The back of a squirrel neck
nestled between canines
the mangled body
was missing parts.
The cat carried her trophy
everywhere, lacerated the hands
that tried to take it from her.
The cat spent her time staring
her paw opening and closing
dirty claws chipped and broken.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
He set his ear under my shoulder
tucked his knees under his chin
handed me a thin book,
colors faded—reds turned to rust,
whites yellowed and smudged.
Read this one, now!
I didn’t take the chance
to remind him
about the magic word,
passed on the opportunity
to enforce proper procedure
for petitioning adults
I draped my right arm round him
gave him a small squeeze
while his little sister summitted my left knee,
opened the book, thumbed worn pages,
summoned my best farm-animal voices.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
with hops wafting up
from a cloud of off-white head
as light emanates out;
this beer is not an escape,
a way of forgetting, a numbing
comfort, or coping mechanism.
When drank with a friend
I believe this beer is a creed
proclaiming that there is one
Holy and Apostolic Church,
I believe this beer
is grace: a visible sign
of invisible reality, the glory
beaming from the bottom of the pint
declares that ultimately things will be
better than alright.
I believe this beer is an acknowledgement
Christ is risen and ascended, and seated
at the right hand of the Father,
each mouthful looks forward to the time
when he will come again to judge
the quick and the dead—and
despite the frustration and anxiety,
the restless depressions, this beer points to
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
I believe this beer is worship:
one word savored
and sipped slowly,
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sun beams came in through Jen’s window
I debated whether to walk or nap, I was finished
with reading and it was too quiet.
Jen napped, Russell read, and I left
for a walk around
the neighborhood, not unfamiliar
but no strong pictures
to punch at the sides of my torso.
It may have been the last warm day
in October, which probably meant
the last warm day of the year.
I thought about girls mostly,
moving down a short list
changing quickly. The leaves
were pink under a bright afternoon,
branches overhanging the street
made a tunnel.
I checked my watch, careful
not to be late for Church.
The sidewalk was straight.
The air was clean and clear,
I could see the mountains
that make Vancouver unbearably
dark in winter. Today they shined
happy above the city.
The park was crowded: a man
played Tequila on his saxophone,
the audience minded their cue.
European Starlings are pests:
you should hear the things they say about you.
Robins tend to frame the story in soft-focus,
generous renditions, almost melodious. But
starlings see things in a different light.
They saw the whole thing, heard every word.
When they retell the story you come off clumsy at best,
the adjectives they use make me blush.
I don't listen to starlings often,
but they are songbirds too,
and today they sound beautiful.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
It wasn’t until the dinosaurs started wearing rain ponchos that the residents of Kalispell Montana realized that the Lord might be speaking to them. Fortunately, the local boy scouts (troops 157 and 86) were willing to decode the messages, which were sent in Morse Code through the leak in the roof of the Methodist Church. The messages were not about the dinosaurs, or the ponchos. They were surprisingly personal messages about the newly formed dating relationship that the assistant scoutmaster of troop 157 had formed with an out-of-work kindergarten teacher—this was indeed the girl he would marry. The residents of Kalispell wondered at these signs, and pondered them in their hearts.
Friday, October 7, 2011
They were not attracted
by the handsome landscape.
Northern Alberta’s frozen flats
were mundane, forgettable.
Their interest was not in making
homes, raising families, or cultivation;
but the minerals locked-up
in the soil—fuel for an addiction
second nature; a way of life
Scientists were sent in, soil examined.
The companies developed intimate knowledge
of deep places. Ways of exploitation were invented.
They shot super-heated water down into the earth,
until the resources could be pumped out. The wealth flowed
into cities miles away: cars were bought, sky-scrapers built,
and executives took vacations in warm places,
where they forgot Alberta even existed, they imagined
summer homes: hammocks and lazy days
entertaining grandchildren on pristine beaches.
When the land started to bleed toxic,
poisoning the families and homes
of the people who lived there,
change was not an option.
Disease was an acceptable consequence,
so long as it was distanced from them,
existing in depressed, dreary remoteness.
The wealthy do not change to accommodate the poor.
companies began making eyes at Saskatchewan.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.
Through stained glass we learned
to picture the path to the cross—
our imaginations organized the
familiar details till the worn road
was more memory than image.
We know those steps like our own.
We recognize echoes hospital gowns—
emaciated and gaunt.
We know the way to Golgotha:
death defeats life.
But what of the unseen steps?
Those first foreign footfalls from an empty tomb:
did the disfigured feet limp slow,
reacquainting themselves with his weight, or
did they lift him lightly from the grave
moving out nimble and quick?
What new paths did dawn find
that first pioneer wandering?
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Inflatable mattress amidst hills of clutter:
half-read books, twice worn
shirts waiting for laundry,
miscellaneous outdoor gear.
Energy leaks out slow,
dank thoughts seep in:
broken appliances ignored
by distant landlords never seen
seldom heard from, I have no skills or tools;
hope of quick repair fades.
Sun goes down earlier each day,
leaves collect in gutters, mold waits
patiently outside the door.
Crisp air brings football,
pumpkin ales, and thanksgiving.
Late afternoon, sprawled
amongst mess and errands,
I weigh these things.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
We sneak ahead and wait behind
signs dug out from snow banks.
Listen close. Footsteps crunch through
old snow. Munition perfectly packed,
molded to mittened hands. We bite our lips
to keep from giggling and giving away our position.
Prey passes unaware, we emerge,
aim carefully at a black-wool coat,
then let loose the dogs of war.
My sister yells “look Jake,
a white-backed mommy!”
and we sprint off into the deep,
where heavier legs labor to follow.
Brown eyes face
away from the altar. Little hands wander
through combed hair. She stands up
on the seat, head barely peaking above the pew,
searching unfamiliar faces until she finds one
she knows. Starts to bounce.
Hands wave. Fingers wiggle. Eyes get big!
Her mom walks tired
to the edge of the row,
hasn’t even sat down before
an elated toddler nuzzles deep into her lap.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Red cheeks bounce in splash-boots
connecting scattered puddles
through a parking-lot map-of-the-world
pristine Sunday-bests collect leftover rain
for deposit in church pews.
A caffeinated congregation emerges
from gor-tex jackets to sing—this
is the Day the Lord has made,
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Sometimes I make believe
I’m a grizzly bear:
eating slabs of pink-fleshed salmon,
napping in hopes of hibernation.
Other times I make believe my bed is a space ship
flying me through the milky-way to planet Soul Food
where consuming a breakfast of chicken-fried steak and gravy
is my coronation as king of the breakfast-gravy-galaxy.
Sometimes I like to pretend
the waitresses are actually flirting with me;
and if I asked them on a date they would
pretend to be busy until I thought of something
charming to say, and they’d say no;
but when they gave me the check they’d smile
and their number would be on the back.
When I catch my beautiful friends
stealing sideways glances, studying my expression,
I like to make believe they think I’m cute
with big-eyed grimaces, lip biting nods, and the like.
When I play basketball I make believe I’m Shawn Kemp—
the Reign Man, but not when he was with the Sonics,
when he was with the Blazers, and his knees were shot,
and he was eating his way out of the league, and could no longer jump.
My shots are rejected, and macho posturing ensues,
but I have fun.
Every once in a while I wake-up smiling
from a dream where we’re old
and you’re telling the story of how we met
to a group of youngsters—
the story familiar and practiced, with scripted interruptions.
We take turns wearing proud smirks and chuckling to ourselves
as we banter back and forth with feigned annoyance.
Sometimes I wish I could hibernate.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Maybe Memphis—I went there
once in the fall, but it was still
90 degrees. And they have barbeque
and blues music and more fried-chicken
than the stars in the sky. I could watch
the barges float by the absurd glass pyramid
and think mellon collie like it was nostalgia.
Do you remember the time
Huck saw the house floating in the river?
I wonder where all those homes and barns ended up—
some col de sac in Louisiana where kids skateboard oblivious
of the history under plastic siding? Or, more likely
splintered in the mud with catfish and eels
disintegrated into bottom.
They say trying to swim to
Arkansas is committing suicide. I remember looking
across from a bluff. Arkansas didn’t seem all that bad.
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
A pack of handsome Coyotes met
just after dusk under a fallen fir
near the edge of the arboretum
to discuss why you never called back,
and what this could mean.
They cleaned their bushy bushy tails
asked each other for assurance that
their tails were attractive. Why didn’t you call back?
It was probably that thing they said last Saturday
about women’s basketball—they were just trying to be funny,
and they were nervous—but they do respect women’s athletics.
Together they let a muffled howl drift
over the horizon, hoping you’d hear it
and recognize it as an apology. They meant no offense.
The distraught canines wondered:
what more could they do?
A poem? Feats-of-strength?
Lose a few pounds?
Eat your ex-boyfriend's cat?
They sat with these questions,
occasionally letting a melancholic whimper
escape from under their breath.
The trees countenances became downcast
as they eavesdropped around the perimeter of the Coyote moot.
Coyotes can reach levels of lonesomeness
unimagined by the rest of the animal kingdom.
The tallest one stumbled
on a conclusion he found
convincing: they must wear ties.
No woman has ever ignored
a coyote wearing a tie.
Monday, September 5, 2011
or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Enough
Esau said, "What do you mean by all this company that I met?" Jacob answered, "To find favor in the sight of my lord." But Esau said, "I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself."
Genesis 33: 8-9
I was born with five tiny bruises
on my heel, the little shit
had an innate talent for grasping.
I still walk with a limp.
Some wounds never heal.
I grew up,
my brother stole
my inheritance. I would’ve killed him then,
but my mother warned him. He slunk away.
Out of reach,
not out of mind.
I was left
to look after my lost inheritance,
with an old man who gave it away,
and a mother who mocked me for losing it—
her constant nagging refrain, reminding me
how Jacob would have done things:
it’s better to work smart than hard.
But there were wiser sayings
from kinder lips:
The Lord sends rain
on the just and unjust alike.
with visions of my brother
wearing his hand-me-down
blessing in a land of milk and honey,
and my own slow-wits.
I spent my time revising:
if only I had said this
if only I had packed a lunch.
I put my muscle against these thoughts,
it was monotony.
I threw up
my hands: Enough is enough!
I learned to let go,
to repay evil with a hug, to recognize
enough. That is my blessing—
not marked by a new name,
but a quick exit from the story.
Now, I make my own lentil stew.
It’s delicious. I eat it every day.
My mother taught me to grow into the name,
took me under her wing, showed me
where weakness lived in the family:
the slow-witted and dim-sighted,
where and how to seize my advantage.
I quit wrestling early
after a half-dozen rug-burns
from my brother’s bristled fore-arms:
smooth skin learns to think
quick and shrewd,
looks ahead of brawn, finds contests
where victory is fore-gone.
not by right but cunning:
That night was quiet,
darker than I expected:
no moon or stars, only black.
I did not see
or hear him coming—
I was alone and cornered,
no trick, diversion to rescue me.
Whoever he was, he matched me wit for wit,
left me no chance to slink,
no advantage to seize,
or weakness to exploit.
My hand forced,
I wrestled for my blessing.
The contest went through the night,
each move he anticipated and countered.
It was monotony, but I kept at it.
In the dim light before dawn I could see
him unfazed: no heavy breath or sweat.
He stood straight, stared at me, waiting.
I lunged one last time, he stepped aside quick,
but I caught hold of his ankle and clung to it;
I did not let go.
The Man laughed, gave me a limp and a new name.
Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb
Jacob was a weak-eyed man,
never stopped to wonder
where his breakfast came from,
or why Leah would get up hours before dawn,
never noticed the way her laugh filled the room,
or the way his family smiled when they heard it.
Jacob never recognized the grace
he received by Laban’s deception.
Those nights Jacob spent
with the pretty one, the Lord came
to sit with Leah, to enjoy her company,
and when possible comfort her.
almost cliché—but credible from Him:
“you should be cherished,”
“Jacob doesn’t see
the blessing he has.”
He told her secrets:
she was the favored one,
there was surprise
hidden in her.
Leah treasured all these things,
and pondered them in her heart.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
The spinach salad yearns to be something more,
to not be seen as the healthy option:
what one gets instead of fries,
or to make up for the chicken parmesan.
The green mountain
covered with crasins and walnuts and vinaigrette
wants to be a comfort food,
a reason people show up to the restaurant—
a dish that starts people salivating.
It has the vitamins and colors:
reds and yellows and whites
slightly iridescent with light bouncing
off firm leaves sprinkled with dressing.
The chef’s pour out effort onto each leaf
but their care goes unappreciated;
greenery is not exciting, not titillating—
just plain and healthy.
When it’s ordered the salad is never
what the customer had their hearts and stomachs set-on—and unfortunately the spinach salad knows this.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
It was what we did. We hadn’t won a game all season,
and it was becoming increasingly clear—we weren’t going to.
We lost a game in a town an hour away,
where they cared about such things.
A freshman football game filled stands.
It was disorientating: their parents cussing at referees,
and shouting about holding and illegal procedure—like it mattered.
A freshman football game.
We lost, but we played.
Adam recovered a fumble.
Mike hit an airborne skinny-kid in the shin
and sent him into flip—it was awesome!
I had a ten-yard run, capped with a sweet stiff-arm.
Our clothes smelled like grass.
We were muddy and smiles.
The bus was background conversation,
a dull roar with intermittent laughter.
Adam stood in the aisle, started singing quiet:
“Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you.”
The back of the bus started singing:
“bum, bum-bum, bum-bum, bum-bum-bum-bum-bum. . .”
“If you would only love me like you used do, yeah”
The rest of us joined: “Bum, bum-bum. . .” and the song picked up momentum.
We had a love, a love
a love you don’t find everyday.
So don’t, don’t
don’t let it slip away.
Mike echoed Adam.
I beg you please.
I need your love.
I need your love.
I need your love.
I need your love.
So bring it on back.
So bring it on back.
So bring it on back.
SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!!
The coach stood up with a scowl.
“What the fuck?! You just lost the game.
By two touchdowns, and you’re singing?
You need to think about that.
You lost, and you’re acting like you won!
Have some pride!
The rest of the way no talking. Think about why you lost.
Why do you even bother to play the game?”
I wonder if the question was pointed at us.
Search the beach for flat stones,
fit them to the curve of your pointer finger.
Learn to skip.
Let your toes explore the wet moss
under drooping vine-maples.
Practice your best jokes
on the Junko bouncing
near the park bench.
Stand with knees shaking
on exposed peaks,
write thank-you notes.
Learn to recognize hospitality.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
When Christ’s calls a man, he bids him come and die.
when he calls a woman
He bids her go and find
a husband and vacuum,
to marry young, die to self and live
vicariously through spouse and children,
swallow aspirations outside the home,
to work without ceasing—to become a mother
and wife only:
to live and move and breathe
the domestic sphere.
When Christ calls a woman
He bids her be silent and dress modestly
so men will not stumble
while they preach the gospel,
proclaiming good news to the poor,
and liberating the oppressed.
Monday, August 1, 2011
[This is a real different style for me, I'd be interested to hear what y'all think.]
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
define masculine, pinned down
with implicit synonyms:
passivity as effeminate,
back to the root.
in the mirror,
who lifted himself up.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
The kingdom of God is within you.
Well, more like in your midst.
It takes an understanding of
Greek syntax and particles,
but in you is a fine translation
you get the jist.
But I want to get
What do you mean:
Why are you being so frustrating?
Well, let me put it another way.
It’s a lot like
Stop. Whenever you start sentences like that
I get confused.
I like you confused.
I’m sorry I asked the question.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
[I realize this is a lot of posts, but I just got too many poems kicking around my head and a need to share them.]
I grew up in flannel-graph
With Moses and the parables:
The Sower, The Prodigal;
Crawling under pews,
Collecting sanctuary dust,
Singing Father Abraham.
I was supposed to set these aside
After Sunday school
When I left for University,
But flannel graph is sticky,
That’s how it works—and
The songs were too catchy.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
It went bad
and the lips
and the waitress
about the alright-ness
of the patrons
of wings vs
It’d be great
we could get a cake
and have toasts
the butt of
for nursing homes
hidden in the card
an open bar
like “what are
you going to do now?”
answers followed by
and a few
but I’m not
sure where to
find the paperwork
Monday, July 25, 2011
I always imagined
it would be like
winning the Superbowl.
showers of beer
and pig piles.
as long lost relatives:
as if it were present.
The win lived
the Fourth Quarter
forever just finished.
But then I remember
when they lost:
the game progressed;
The loss became present
in every game played since:
the hope forever disappointed.
If it’s like winning the Superbowl
I wonder who lost.
How is the victory ours
if it was watched on television?
Friday, July 22, 2011
(Here's my paper on The Lord of the Rings and environmental stewardship, it's just a first draft, but there's a very real chance I won't get around to revising it, so I thought I'd post it. It's not a poem, but I still think it's entertaining and worth a read. The formatting turned out weird, but I'm no wiz with that type of stuff so I'm just letting it be.)
In his book TJ Gorringe notes the global population grows between 75 and 80 million people per year; to feed this many people, the grain harvest has to increase 21 million tons per year. The problem with this is that only ten percent of land is arable, and that number is shrinking due to desertification, overgrazing, and urbanization. The potential for significant food shortages is one of many weighty problems lurking in the near future. The Earth is in very real peril. Climate change, soil degradation, deforestation, and over-fishing are only a few of the calamities humans are currently causing the planet. These problems are closely connected to many troubles impacting the human population: overcrowding, slums, disease, and malnutrition. The big problems facing the world are intimidating; the impotence one feels when considering them can be debilitating. The question is: how can humans start to solve these problems and not lapse into apathy and cynicism? I believe what is needed is an abundance of creativity and imagination.
Personally, cynicism is my natural reflex to these types of issues. Creativity and imagination help to counter cynicism because they expand the possible. Stories and pictures are key aids to creativity and imagination. In thinking about the current global ecological problems I have found J.R.R. Tolkein’s epic The Lord of the Rings (hereafter LOTR) particularly stimulating. Tolkien’s creatures and landscapes offer pictures that both critique the global situation and offer interesting alternatives. In this paper I hope to use images and characters in LOTR to argue for a particular vision of what a proper relationship between people and their local environment ought to look like.
In addition to stimulating creativity and imagination, using LOTR in discussions of such somber issues also brings a crucial element of fun. I am not unaware that character attributes of Samwise Gamgee to critique industrial modes of production is a little silly, but I think these discussions could afford to have more thoughtful silliness.
Before moving on, it should be noted that in the paper I will be assuming a certain level of familiarity with the LOTR. Given the enormous success of the films as well as the books, I feel confident that this assumption is warranted.
One potential difficulty with using a fantasy novel in a paper on stewardship is hermeneutical one. There is the real danger of using this story and it’s characters as allegorically, and painting the author as an environmental activist who naturally agreed with every point I make in this paper. Such an approach would see the character Saruman as Tolkien’s rebuttal the industrial militarism and its effects on the environment. In the prologue to LOTR Tolkien discusses how to interpret and use the novel:
Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes of views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
This paper resides in the freedom of the reader (myself). I will be drawing on my own thought and experience, as well as the other thinkers to apply this story to global ecological and human problems. The usefulness of Tolkien in this paper does not reside in his purposing LOTR to aid in thinking about these problems; I am not sure how immediate these issues were in his mind as he wrote LOTR. Rather, LOTR is useful in that it is a well-told story, and creates a stunningly expansive world of surprising depth.
Within the LOTR universe the character whose story most mirrors the global moment is Saruman. Saruman is a traitor Wizard bent on power and domination. The ways in which he works to achieve this power and domination wreak havoc on both people and the environment in ways which parallel many of the problems facing the world today. Saruman illustrates three general types of problems worth analyzing: destruction of the environment, “global” thinking, and extractive economy.
In The Two Towers Treebeard (a tree-creature known as an ent) explains to the hobbits Pippin and Merry the offenses of Saruman. He summarizes the mindset of Saruman, saying “He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” In the story Saruman’s industrialism is at the cost of the local environment. Imprisoned atop Orthanc (the tower in center of Isengard), Gandalf looked out over Isengard and noticed the formerly pleasant and green valley was now barren and marred by pits and forges; over all this hung a dark haze of smoke. The ‘metal and wheel’ represented by the forges and pits of Isengard led to the destruction of parts of the ancient forest that grew near him. Treebeard goes on to describe Orcs under the control of Saruman cutting down trees to fuel the fires, and some even cutting down trees and leaving them to rot.
This environmental destruction was not limited to Isengard. Shire, under the domination of Saruman, also experienced a degradation of the local environment. Upon returning to Shire after the destruction of the Ring of Power in Mount Doom the four hobbits (Pippin, Merry, Sam, and Frodo) find a reordering of their home. They notice an “unusual amount of burning” and a cloud of smoke coming up from the midst of Shire. When they get to Hobbiton they find that whole rows of trees have been ripped up, and to Sam’s particular horror, Saruman’s men had hewn the Party Tree.
Saruman’s destruction of the local environment under his control is too recognizable for comfort. The current approaches to environmental stewardship echo the mechanistic and utilitarian approach of Saruman. Though Saruman counted himself as wise, his actions showed otherwise. David Abram notes a parallel in the current civilization. He points out that this civilization has forfeited any kind of kinship with the Earth and understands truth primarily as static instead of acknowledging a relational element to it. This is fascinating in relation to Saruman, because before he began construction on pits and forges and the destruction of the forests, he used to walk and speak with Treebeard. There was a relational element to his knowledge of his environment. When the relational element was abandoned he began the destruction of the Isengard’s forests, and eventually hewing trees in Fangorn Forest. Abram puts this type of destruction in opposition to authentic knowledge: “A civilization that relentlessly destroys the living land it inhabits is not well acquainted with truth, regardless of how many supposed facts it has amassed regarding the calculable properties of its world.” Wendell Berry comments on the results of civilizations and economies which do not have a relational understanding of their environment, and understand in mechanical terms, writing “When the industrial principles exemplified in fossil fuel production are applied to field and forest, the results are identical: local life, both natural and human, is destroyed.” It is an ominous fact that Saruman’s loss of relationship with his local environment, and his underestimation of the power of it, is what led to his downfall.
Saruman’s attempt to persuade Gandalf to join him illustrates his own global thinking. In his speech Saruman waxes on the growing of a new power, and the rewards of joining with this new power:
As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow, and the Wise such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it. We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order.
The language Saruman uses prioritizes the large over the small, the global over the local. The ‘deplorable evils done by the way’ are acceptable because of his ‘high and ultimate purpose.’ This ‘ultimate purpose’ is control of Middle-Earth in the name of ‘Knowledge, Rule, Order.’ The ‘ultimate purpose’ ends up being nothing short of domination of the weak—as evidenced in Saruman’s scouring of Shire at the end of the LOTR. One wishes that Gandalf had quoted Wendell Berry to refute Saruman’s “knowledge”: “Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.” Berry’s own thinking about the global in relation to the local is counter to Saruman’s. Berry argues: “In order to make ecological good sense for the planet, you must make ecological good sense locally.” Saruman’s seeking of a ‘high and ultimate purpose’ for Middle-Earth came at the expense of the one corner of it which was under his care—this for Berry would illustrate the non-sense of Saruman.
The economy of Saruman not only leads the destruction of the local environment but also the exploitation of the people of the surrounding country. As Saruman began seizing control of Shire, its economy began to change. As Farmer Cotton explained the happenings in Shire to the well-journeyed hobbits he noted that much of the best “leaf” of Southfarthing (a region of Shire) was being exported out of Shire, and eventually other goods, so that there began to be shortages. Saruman’s men began carrying off goods in wagons to the south (towards Isengard). Under Saruman’s control there were even more food shortages even though the harvests had been good. The relationship between Saruman and Shire is paralleled in many ways by the relationship between producers and consumers in the current global economy. T.J. Gorringe notes that less than ten percent of the retail value of coffee actually stays in the places where it is grown. The Kenyan study shows that the current trade agreements under the World Trade Organization benefit wealthy nations at the expense of poorer ones. In the global economy it seems that wealth is being extracted from poor nations. Those producing the means for wealth are not in a position to enjoy, just as the hobbits who grew the pipe-weed were unable to enjoy it under Saruman’s rule.
Against the Sarumanic injustice of the current world order, David Orr argues for an increased agrarian consciousness. Orr understands agrarianism as being rooted in the land, respectful of its limitations as well as its properties. Orr argues this type of consciousness is opposed the “market-driven industrial mentality that perceives no natural limits and treats the land as mere raw material.” Orr echoes Treebeard’s complaint about Saruman. The fight between the agrarian consciousness and the ‘market-driven industrial mentality’ seems to be a mismatch, with the latter winning out the majority of the time. It is difficult for a largely urban population to grasp the agrarian mindset, and this is where I believe LOTR proves particularly helpful. When one reads LOTR one cannot help but fall in love with Shire. It captures the imagination. As one follows the story through LOTR Shire is always kept in the back of one’s mind. Mordor is made more distasteful and evil in comparison to Shire and the comforts of the Green Dragon, hot tea and cold beer. Shire and the hobbits bring a romantic picture of agrarian life into the mind of an urban reader, and this is a very good thing.
The life of a hobbit is lived in stark contrast to Saruman. They are local to a fault, ignoring the happenings in the larger world around them. They not only know their land, but have a kindly affection for it. Hobbits are also peaceful. Many of the problems caused by the “market-driven industrial mentality” which has enjoyed nearly free rein in this global moment would be diminished, if not solved, if more of the world emulated hobbits in their lifestyle.
Tolkien comments that Sam’s knowledge of geography was limited to the twenty-miles around of Hobbiton, but extended no further. I take Sam as a representative hobbit: a hobbit’s hobbit. He exemplifies the description of hobbits given in the prologue of the LOTR, and in the appendix of LOTR, Tolkien notes that he was elected Mayor of Michel Delving (one of the only official position in Shire) a record seven times. It seems reasonable to take Sam as a model hobbit, and his geographical knowledge as representative of hobbits in general. Sam’s knowledge was such that a day’s walk from his home in Hobbiton he knew specific trees. After Saruman’s domination and ruin of Shire, Sam went around Shire planting trees in places he remembered particular trees which he thought beautiful before they were chopped down. He illustrates an impressive knowledge of the local environment, and I think shows a rooted-ness in a particular place. David Orr comments that agrarian thinkers have always seen this type of rooted-ness in land, and respect for it, as key to stable and decent organization of human affairs.
Hobbits not only knew their land, they loved it. Affection for the actual soil which one lives on is a key part of the agrarian mindset. This affection is illustrated in Sam and Frodo’s return to a deeply marred Hobbiton: “This was Frodo and Sam’s own country, and they found out now that they cared about it more than any other place in the world.” Fondness for ones home marks the hobbit’s outlook on life. Norman Wirzba points out that this type affection for land is a necessary precursor to ethical use and treatment of the land: an ethical relation to the land can only exist when there is a certain amount of love, respect and admiration for the land. The delight in the land comes before the right treatment of it. Saruman had no love for the his local environment, or Shire. He did not delight in Fangorn Forests or the rolling hills around Hobbiton. As a consequence he treated these places harshly. In contrast hobbits love for their land led to their delight in “good tilled earth” and a “well-ordered and well-farmed country-side.” That is to say their delight in the land led them to cultivation and stewardship of that land.
This love of cultivation and land is part of another peculiar attribute of hobbits, their peaceful nature. Throughout their history hobbits were never prone to war. Faramir, when speaking to Frodo and Sam, I believe hits on the reason for this peaceful lifestyle. His farewell to the two he remarks: “Your land must be a realm of peace and content, and here must gardeners be in high honour.” The astute captain links the high regard for gardeners to peace and content. To put it another way, the cultivation of the earth is linked to peaceful living.
The difficulty in the current global moment is that it seems the world is still under domination of those who would follow Sarumans lead. The Earth is, like Shire and the regions surrounding Isengard, being exploited for it’s resources. Population growth and uncheck free market philosophy have pushed this exploitation of the land. The results have been environmental degradation, food shortages, global warming. . . Up till now this paper has been concerned with showing the parallels between the global crisis and LOTR, and what a what a better relationship to the Earth would look like, but it had little to say about how to begin to set things to right. I believe the last chapter of LOTR offers an inspiring picture of what setting things to right could look like. Central to this picture is the anti-Saruman figure: Samwise Gamgee.
Early in the novel Sam is given a precious gift from the Lady Galadriel. He is given a tiny chest with dust from her own orchard, which was blessed by her. Sam’s own personal horror at the felling of the beautiful trees of Shire, he began to fix. He began planting saplings throughout Shire, wherever he remembered a particularly delightful tree, with a sprinkle of dust from Galadriel. At this point I will lean heavily on the freedom of the reader: I believe in planting these trees Sam was acting as a guerrilla gardener. In his book Guerrilla Gardening, David Tracey defines this practice as “gardening public space with or without permission.” Tracey argues that guerrilla gardening causes a shift in posture, from passive to active:
When you’re a guerrilla gardener, you’re an active participant in the living environment. You’re no longer content to merely react to what happens to the spaces around you. You’re a player, which means you help determine how those spaces get used. And when you’re in tune like this, every plant counts.Samwise was a guerrilla gardener, who cared about the common good of Shire, and believed in the power of trees to inspire aesthetic delight enough to go around planting these trees. Emulated Master Samwise in this would mean that a person sees themselves as part of the environment, a participant with a particular relationship to the Earth and it’s creatures. Wendell Berry pointed out “The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, to many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” The ‘real work of planet-saving’ I believe will look a lot like Samwise Gamgee’s labors to beautify Shire. Reversing the work of Sarumanic forces in the world will not be done in one outburst like the raising of the Ents. It will not be one marked by epic heroic feats. It will be done by small, loving, hobbit-sized changes to ones local environment. It will be done by many people, replanting many party trees.
 Timothy, Gorringe, The Common Good and The Global Emergency: God and The Built Environment, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 190-191.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Rings (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 6.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 76.
 Tolkien, FOTR, 273.
 Tolkien, TT, 89.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, (NY: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1987), 280.
 Ibid, 283, 291.
 Tolkien, TT, 76.
 David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996), 264.
 Wendell, Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 22.
 For those unfamiliar with the story, the Ents eventually mustered their strength, attacked Saruman while he had sent his forces elsewhere, and overthrew the wizard.
 Tolkien, FOTR, 272-273.
 Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” in Collected Poems, (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1984), 151.
 Berry, SEFC, 23.
 Tolkien, RTK, 291-292.
 Ibid, 278.
 Gorringe, 193.
 Ibid, 193.
 David Orr, “The Urban-Agrarian Mind” in The New Agrarianism: Land, Culture, and the Community of Life, Freyfogle, Eric T., ed, (Washington, DC: Island Press :, 2001) 93-94.
 Ibid, 94.
 Tolkien, FOTR, 81.
 Tolkien, RTK, 378.
 Tolkien, FOTR, 81.
 Tolkien, RTK, 303.
 Orr, 99.
 Tolkien, RTK, 283.
 Norman Wirzba, The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 111.
 Tolkien, FOTR, 10.
 Ibid, 14.
 Tolkien, TT, 290
 Tolkien, FOTR, 391.
 Tolkien, RTK, 303.
 David Tracey, Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto, (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2007), 4.
 Ibid, 32.
 Berry, SEFC 24.