Beneath the peton-riven cliffs, aluminum shell-caves fill the valley, vomiting bipeds backpacked and fitted with special rock-gripping moss-chewing shoes. They fill the trails with their buffed bodies, steely philosophies and personal electronic assistants for immediate access to their mutual funds, brokers, offices, mistresses, homes, friends, fitness clubs, hotels, airlines, casinos. Satellite locators are held by the blessed few who can never get lost and this is their challenge, to prove that no harm can come to them, that they are shielded and protected by their technology. This is their faith, their deepest beliefs are rooted in the certainty of safety so long as they stay within the electronic fence of their new world. But who is looking after their souls?
Underground subway station, deserted, except for a man who stands holding a medium-size rectangular mirror. A second man appears. He stops to observe the man holding the mirror. After a time, he approaches the man with the mirror. What are you doing? I'm holding a mirror. Of course. but why? Can't you guess? The second man ponders. Are you an artist? Good. Tha't very good. You're holding a mirror up to life. If you like. I see myself in the mirror. Then it's a portrait. I can see some of the terminal behind me. Now it's a landscape. It's not art. It's me. No. You are here. Your image is in the mirror. It's art. What does it mean? Mean? Yes, it has to mean something. You could as well say it should mean something, or it might mean something, or it would mean something if only. But you say it has to mean something. Why? I think you know what I mean. You think you know what you mean. I think I know what I mean. But I don't know what you mean, and you don't know what I mean, and if I did know your meaning, what would it mean to me, or anyone else? What you mean means very little, which is not a little idea, if you know what I mean. I'm very tired. Yes. Of course. I have exhausted you. May I hold the mirror? You may. I give it to you. The second man takes the mirror, and stands. Thank you. You are welcome. pause I feel better now. You are an artist. Goodbye. The first man leaves. Goodbye. The second man is alone in the terminal. He is holding the mirror. After a time, another man appears. He stops and observes the second man holding the mirror. He approaches...
Sometimes I get lucky and come across a good poem that I never read before. There are many such good poems, I am sure, that never make the popular anthologies or get praised in the schools.
When I find such a poem, I like to put it where I can find it quickly (for re-reading) and to share it with others. Here is one such poem.
The Housedog's Grave
by Robinson Jeffers
(American Poet 1887-1962)
I've changed my ways a little, I cannot now
run with you in the evenings along the shore,
except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment
you see me there.
So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
where I used to scratch to go out or in,
and you'd soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
the marks of my drinking pan.
I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
on the warm stone,
nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.
But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
outside your window where firelight so often plays,
and where you sit to read - and I fear often grieving for me -
every night your lamplight lies on my place.
You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
to think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that you when you are lying
under the ground like me your lives will appear
as good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that's too much hope: you are not so well cared for
as I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided fidelity's that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided....
But to me you were true.
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
to the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.
Many years ago, while driving through a rural area of New York state, I espied an old abandoned farmhouse set back a few hundred feet from the road. Since I have always been attracted to things ruined and abandoned, I stopped to take a look. The house was open to the elements, its doors and windows having been broken some time back. The usual litter of rags, wornout shoes, and such lay here and there in the rooms. I climbed the stairs to find three empty bedrooms and there was even less detritus there. But one bedroom had a spot of color in a corner holding a pile of leaves. I walked over to see what it might be and picked up an old Valentine's Day card. It had the usual boy and girl holding hands drawing on the front with a verse inside that I can't recall. But what I do remember, as clear as the water in my glass, is the inscription.
In a boy's scrawl, it said: To Kathleen, from the Lone Ranger.
And I felt again the worm of longing that feasts on our starveling hearts
Metal detectors were not in common use in town, county, state & federal government buildings
Metal detectors were not in common use in the public school system.
School districts did not have their own police force.
SWAT teams were not required to maintain law and order.
Hitch hiking was legal everywhere.
We had a nationwide passenger and freight rail system.
We had a nationwide bus transportation system.
Doctors and veterinarians made home visits.
Doors to homes and automobiles were customarily left unlocked.
Gas stations provided free air, water and under-the-hood checking of one's car.
Road maps and calendars were free and freely available.
My dictionary defines Economics as a science. I disagree. I believe it is a branch of philosophy concerned with the use of money in a socio-political context. Economists speak of 'tinkering', 'tweaking', 'waffling', 'manipulating', 'planning', and more. Markets are bullish or bearish. Formulae and equations abound, kicked about by ratios and graphs. People 'lose confidence', or 'panic' or 'pull back to wait to see what the Fed will do'. Those are not scientific terms. There are no laws of economics that everyone agrees are applicable throughout every economy in the world. Even the sacred bromide called The Law of Supply and Demand has been shown to fail too often to be considered a hard law or principle. No, the realm of Economics is more like an elaborate belief system than a science. There are factions and various schools of thought. Some economic philosophers have reached the status of Saint while others are seen as doing the work of the Devil. Frankly, when it comes to the use and misuse of money, any person's opinion is as good as another.
No one will ever love you as much as you want.
Cruelty is more common than kindness, unless one counts those innumerable times of being ignored or passed over as kindnesses.
No one will ever need you as much as you need them.
Recently I reviewed a DVD version of Zorba The Greek because I was curious to see why I remember the movie as a failure when so many critics hailed it for its "lusty life-affirming portrayal" of a free spirit. My original opinion was reinforced by reviewing the film. Indeed, more than before, I can't understand the approval this film receives. The movie begins with the arrival of the English author by boat. Disembarking in a rain storm, he is shown to be concerned about one piece of luggage, a large basket labeled BOOKS. This is the first sign we have of the deficient personality of Basil.He loves books. Learning that the weather is delaying his transportation to the lignite mine he inherited and which is the purpose of his visit to Greece, Basil goes into a waiting room to spend the time reading. After a while, he has the feeling of being watched and lifts his face from the book to look around. He sees the grizzled visage of Zorba staring at him through the window. (at this moment in the film there is complete silence, the voices of the people and the sounds of the storm recede. I found this odd because it is a common cinematic device to announce the presence of Satan. I don't know if that was the intention here but it was the first thing that came to my mind.) Zorba enters and introduces himself to Basil. During their conversation, Zorba picks up a piece of soft luggage and lays it on his lap. Basil asks if it contains his clothing. In a gentle mock-scold tone, Zorba says "You ask such sensible questions." Asking sensible questions is apparently another sign of the needed reform of Basil's personality.
Quoting from the DVD synopsis: "As the two men, utter opposites, become partners, Basil becomes a kind of voyeur to Zorba's wildly playful antics and passionate attempts to make those around him happier. Despite his philandering nature, Zorba proves himself a champion to women, marrying one who's smitten with him and trying, however hopelessly, to rescue a young widow punished by the vindictive men whose many advances she has refused." Oh, would that it were so! Much has been made of Zorba's attempts to provoke the Englishman to court the young widow whereas no mention is made of the Englishman's successful effort to force Zorba to marry the old French hotel owner. The marriage of course is faked to fool the widow who is ill and dying. This comes after the 'champion of women', having bedded her, now refers to her with curse words and would abandon her but for Basil. As for saving the young widow, Zorba takes a knife from one man who is about to kill her, then he drops the knife on the ground and turns to leave the crowd without the woman. Before he has walked ten feet, another knife appears and the young widow's throat is slashed. So much for his attempted rescue. He shrugs his shoulders and walks off. The townspeople in this movie are mean-spirited, evil, parochial, narrow-minded, bigoted and superstitious. The landscape is hardscrabble and ugly and resembles George Romero's film Night of The Living Dead. I am sure the previous two statements work symbiotically to produce these effects in the people and the land. But there is nothing 'life-affirming' about them! I have not read the book from which this movie was made. Someone I know who has read the book tells me that the intellecual character is Greek, not English. That is not a minor difference. Many reviews cite Zorba's zest for life. I see Zorba's behavior as childlike. One cannot live one;s entire adult life 'in the moment'. We all have a past and a future. Without an understanding of that knowledge, we, as individuals, are doomed to a life of defeat and pain. This "live in the moment philosphy" is not without many adherents. For some it isa way of life. I have recorded a statement from an African-American musician given during an interview on C-Span. It reads: "It be a cultural thang. We got more possession of our bodies than you white folks. You got too much mind control." I have met people like Zorba in my life. I saw little about them to appreciate and I did not consider their actions attractive. I saw narcissism, the emotional overflowing of their actions, their grinning selfish taking and pushing and entering and pleading, the mindless cruelty, the missing of all subtlety and nuance, the lack of empathy for those around them who are caught in their death-dealing clutch of life-affirming loo-oo-o-ve. I'm sorry, but Zorba is a creep. ______________________________________________________________
Last night came and we were together tossing the moon back and forth. Then I dropped the moon and broke the night - or was it dawn? When night came again I was alone and the moon was gone. From now on, I thought, all nights will be the same.
Once I stalked the world in buckskin armor, Wetzel's horny palm my only win. The rules for life I found in Prose and Poetry were useless in my time outside of school. Mom-Dad became Dad-Mom, alternating currents of power, landlords of my soul, pressing for the rent.
The angry man in the street with his hand around a stone is aware of the truth his life has become and unable to suffer alone any longer, his dream of peace now dead, with one smooth arcing motion relieves the pain in his head.
(His wife moves in her sleep, like fire in the wind.)
Forgive me, sir, for being young and having faith in things alive. I should not want your patience strung between the poles of my life's drive.
(My blood burns, even my dreams are inflamed.)
You are one who likes to ponder things like net and cost and grosses while I am one inclined to wonder if we aren't the sum of all our losses.
(My brain burns, even my thoughts are inflamed.)
How can you claim to be so right with credentials such as these: pieties stuck beneath the nails of men speaking heresies.
I must not ever turn again from the self that is my own, and you as well must never turn from the seed that you have sown.
(Lest our bodies burn, before the world is in flames.)
Oh how we learned to love ourselves, and others. Fell joyfully into sunny pools, ran laughing down streets of light, made our way through the old hotel, over the porch, across the rails, into the blue-green bliss. Oh this is living, we told ourselves and turned the clock to the wall, till the bellhop came to get our bags, Time's up, he said, that's all.
The Golden Age of Television fell between the years 1949 and 1961, although some would date the end as early as 1954. What made it Golden? There were several reasons, among them the presentation of original plays, adult drama theater on a weekly basis, variety shows that brought us the older performers as well as new talent, and most productions were live, actors acting in real time before live audiences.
There was a higher cultural output than has been seen since and it all appeared on the three major networks.
All that I have just written is well documented and in greater detail than I need to do here. I raise the subject to make note of one program which never gets mentioned in any history of this time in TV.
I don't remember the name of the program nor in what year it appeared although it was the 1950's. The program was hosted by the actor James Mason and included his wife Pamela and one guest, Richard Burton. The set was a private library with a few easy chairs, wall shelves filled with books and a stepladder. The three actors would take turns reading passages from novels and plays, or poetry from the great poets of the past.
For a young man who grew up in rural farm country this kind of show was magical and I have never forgotten how these three people treated literature with great attention and respect.
My one specific memory is of Richard Burton (his turn to recite having come round) climbing the ladder to take down a book and returning to stand on the floor. He opened the book, turned some pages, said "Ah", and began to read aloud one of the sonnets of John Keats. I can still hear the deep rich Welsh voice begin: "When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain...."
Tradition robs any day of joy. "You've always done." "Must do again." "There're expecting it", etc. So I pretend to be glad to make them, again. They pretend to be pleased to take them, again. But while I wash the pots and bowls and stow away the gear, I tell myself 'Never again, not next year.'