Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obituary Of The Diminutive

The Mosquitofish lives two maybe three years. Worker bees and brine shrimp, though they make the most of every minute get just one.

Male bees are larger than the female workers. They lead a life of leisure, doing no work while being fed by the workers. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen, thereby transferring the genetic traits of their mother. They die upon mating, or are expelled from the hive as winter approaches. Yikes.

Once the dragonfly leaves its larvae it has only four short months of impossible flight.

The Dragonfly. Contrary to popular belief, not a dragon at all. They have 6 legs but walk poorly, although they are one of the fastest insects in the world. And the deadliest! (No, not really. Another misconception.)

The winged male ants, called drones, despite emerging from the pupae at the same time as the females, after taking flight, and some rather aerobatic procreation get three, four weeks tops. And the microscopic Gastrotrichs, well they get a long holiday weekend.

Mr. Gastrotrich (Greek for stomach), is nicknamed "hairy back".

Mr. and Mrs. Mayfly, they have only thirty minutes to meet, mate and molt twice. The order barely matters as long as the eggs get laid. They are called June bugs or salmon flies or sometimes shad flies, but no need for introductions, by the time you read the list of their 2500 varieties half their life will be over.

The ubiquitous Mayfly. Here today, gone...today.

Life is a vapor. A flower that fades. Withering grass. The frailty of humanity summed up in scripture by the brother of Jesus, King David, Isaiah the prophet, respectively. Oh dear. What then? At most, a century and some change?

A 94 year old man and his infant son.

You spend the first and last days of your life in diapers and drool, completely dependent on the mercy of others. You stumble toward your best years in ignorance and inexperience and away from them in a fog of forgetfulness. And even then, those best days are fraught with trouble, dampened by regret.

How to, and how not to, use a Japanese style toilet. Or bobsled?

We spend 1/4 of our life asleep. 1/8 at work or school. A year on the toilet and up to a decade watching TV, on the internet, and playing video games. What does that leave? A few short years to really make a difference, really touch the lives of others and leave an eternal legacy.

And while so many in the first world waste those precious years, there are 27 million people enslaved today, millions of whom are children, all having their lives cut short through exploitation and cruelty. There are 100's of millions of poor in the world having their lives marginalized by a lack of access to even the most basic necessities: clean water, food, and shelter.

It seems to me there is a choice in front of us. We can choose to waste our days, to ignore the suffering around us, to remain numbed by luxury, or we can cry out for justice, and ask our leaders to follow suit. We can reduce our consumption, commit to simple living, and make our surplus available to those with nothing.

We can, as scripture says, redeem the time while there is time. It is our reasonable act of worship, it is the nature of God that longs to be revealed through us- the love that saved us, loving through us the least of these.

Life is so short, love like there is no tomorrow, live like today is your last day.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Invisible Keepsakes.

This is the blog where I geek out about:

But before I bore you, there is a particular phenomena occurring in those giant retail bookstores that I find most depressing. It is the encroachment into and onto the sovereign shelf space known unilaterally as: Poetry Section.


To the left it's the African-American Literature section compromised mostly of Harlequinesque paperbacks and on the right the Western section, both whose ranks are apparently bulging with readership as they strangle poor poetry out of its pitiful existence.

"Nobody writes bigger than Frank Roderus." Apparently Mr. Roderus gets paid by the page.

But the enemies from without are much less insidious, much less subtle than the enemy within. For within the very ranks of poetry books themselves come other cumbersome beasts. The bloated poetry anthology, the poetry writing and reading guides (for dummies), the little faux-gilded gift books of poetry, and of course the banal and bland critical essays.

I don't mean to be callous, but is Poetry on the top of the average "dummy's" to-do list?

And if that is not enough, the Classics section, which has apparently been relegated nameless, sulks alongside the few remaining slender volumes of poetry, banished from the school reading lists, into oblivion; The Iliad, Ulysses, most of Shakespeare's plays, gathering dust a few feet from Bukowski and Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson, her poems unpublished until her death, live on, for now...

Of course among the other poetry survivors are the recent Poet Laureates, hanging on by the skin of their Chardonnay stained teeth, and any famous actor with a rhyming dictionary and a penchant for catharsis, and any singer or musician with a surplus of lyrics. There will always be the annotated Poe's Raven in a cool teen goth friendly font collectors edition and the obligatory Beat poets with their calculated decadence, bankable rebellion.

"Beat Poets" is not an invitation to cause bodily harm to a bard. Above, one of the aforementioned little faux-gilded gift books of poetry.

Thomas, Cummings, Hughes; they soldier bravely on. But fallen is Miss Brooks and noble Hopkins, even the every man's friend Frost has gotten the cold shoulder, living out his life in ignominy on the bargain table between last year's calender of crazy (with a backward z) cats and a hip-hopped up cookbook called "Grillin' and Chillin'."

Party's over, Mr. Frost.

Of course near the registers there are still the packs of refrigerator magnets that offer the midnight snacker the convenience of pouring out their unrequited longings on the fridge front, that is as long as the heart's vocabulary is less than 500 words + punctuation.

It's as if, like Ogden Nash said, "Poets aren't very useful. Because they aren't consumeful or very produceful." But great poets are very produceful! Wallace Stevens defends the poet, calls him the "Priest of the invisible." Dylan Thomas said the poet reveals that "your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own."

Dylan Thomas in the "Poet's Pose". Ever lingering, ever pensive, ever pale.

Matthew Arnold described great poetry as "the most beautiful, impressive, and widely effective mode of saying things." Of it Keats proclaimed "Poetry should surprise—it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance." Shelly echoes this in A Defence of Poetry (1840). "Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted."

Perennial lingerer? Pensive? Pale? Yep. Percy Blythe Shelley passes the poet test.

Carl Sandburg in Poetry Considered waxes poetic about, well, poetry. "Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away. Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance."

No disrespect to the venerable Mr. Sandburg, but this may in fact be where rainbows come from.

On writing poetry Emily Dickinson said "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry." And "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting," is how Robert Frost defines it. He says "A poem begins with a lump in the throat." And I suppose, if it's a good poem, ends with a lump in ours.

Savagechickens.com is so awesome I just can't stand it.

Certainly poetry can be priggish, ostentatious, condescending and esoteric. But great poems are written in the universal language in which Christopher Fry says "man explores his own amazement." T.S Eliot wrote, "Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." And though great poems need not be simple, they need not be complex for their own sake. They need only be the "best words saying the very best things" as Coleridge pleaded.

Poetry then, in the simplest definition is, as Thomas Gray said, "the thoughts that breathe, and words that burn." "It is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words," according to the poet of the path less traveled. Gwendolyn Brooks condensed it to this: "Poetry is life distilled."

Ms. Brooks caught in the very act! And failing gloriously the poet's test! Her poem "The Bean Eaters" is one of my favorites, one I wish I'd written.

Perhaps though the English poet Robert Browning best puts his finger on the eternal nature of the poem, poetry writing and the spiritual kinship it engenders, as we, made in our Creator's image, imitate God, "the perfect poet, Who in His person acts His own creations."

Monday, June 6, 2011


This is the gospel I want to live...

And the one I live mostly...